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My Book Reading




Twisted Prey - John Sandford

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold - John LeCarre

UNSUB - Meg Gardiner

A Spy Named Orphan by Roland Philipps

How It Happened by Michael Koryta

The Word Is Murder - Anthony Horowitz

Star of the North - D.B. John

The Sinners - Ace Atkins

The Outsider - Stephen King

Spymaster - Brad Thor

The Other Woman - Daniel Silva

The Man Between - Charles Cumming 

Operation Mincemeat - Ben Macintyre 

Berlin: Caught in the Mousetrap by Paul Grant 

Berlin Game - Len Deighton (for the Spybrary book club)

Desolation Mountain - William Kent Krueger

Podcast Favorites . (The life and Legacy of Ian Fleming, with author and historian Jeremy Duns, always an excellent and entertaining interview) . (the true story of Oleg Penkovsky, regarded by many as the greatest spy of the Cold War era - with Jeremy Duns, whose book on the topic, Dead Drop, is a classic) (wonderful history of Ian Fleming's involvement at Bletchley Park during WWII, and Anthony Horowitz making a presentation about his new James Bond novel, Forever And A Day. "How I Nearly Started World War III" with Mark Valley, host of the Live Drop Espionage podcast



Gym Passion (or, Where Many of Us Feel Very Comfortable)

Today I enjoyed a sweet workout at my favorite old-school training facility, Ford's Gym in Madison, Wisconsin. I've written about Ford's before, I've periodically worked out there for two decades (maybe more - I competed in their Backyard powerlifting event at the old location long ago), and always love the experience. I walked in and was enthusiasitically greeted by Sam Masino, one of their top trainers, who somehow remembers me from visit to visit. Frankly, I like that.

Energy was palpable this morning at Ford's. One guy was squatting, getting into the mid-400s. Next to him was a guy snatching, moving 155# like it was a PVC pipe. At the same time someone was climbing the tall rope in the middle of the boxing ring (yeah, a full size, pro boxing ring), with a 25# plate hanging from a hip belt. Oh, did I mention he was climbing with his arms only? While all this was going on, Sam and another trainer were putting ten female powerlifters through a group leg workout! They were doing extensions, curls, front squats, and partial back squats. Combined with a half dozen other members scattered around, the gym was rockin' and loud and shaking with energy. Everyone was yelling back and forth and encouraging lifts and banging fists. part of the dumbell rack at Ford's. Real weights!

Here's my point:  I feel good in Ford's Gym; but why? Hell, I'm comfortable in any workout place, any gym, but Ford's is special to me. I found myself wondering about this, thinking about my 40+ years working out, and remembering gyms of my past. They are places where I'm most comfortable, and feel very much like myself.

There are gyms I've used for years. On the other hand I've been in a hell of a lot of gyms around the country for one or two workouts. And I've liked all of them. Gyms have personality, they have a vibe, often brought about by staff and members, sometimes with an added kick from an interesting location or unusual equipment. I remember a second-floor gym in Dubuque, Iowa I used to go to in the 1990's when I traveled there often for business meetings. It was small and laid-out in a funny L shape, but the people were agreeable, the equipment was heavy and well-used. Frankly, it smelled like a gym and I loved it.

Joe's Gym in Marquette, Michigan is another old-timer. When I first began using it in the 1970s it was a pit; tiny, densely packed with equipment, and frankly, filthy. But I was young and it was fun. In the last couple of decades it's changed hands, been hugely improved, remains tightly filled with stuff, but damn, it's a competitive bodybuilder's environment and difficult not to get a good workout in.

For years I traveled to Austin, Texas a couple of times a year, and I've been to many gyms there. Gold's and World dozens of times, but I fondly remember a gym called Hyde Park. It was old, contained lots of funky equipment, and I remember didn't have music playing! I asked why, and was told the owner didn't like it, felt the music distracted lifters. I wonder what he thinks today?

There was an old bodybuilding gym in New York City I've worked out in a few times, but it's been 20 years and for all I know it's gone. Leroy Colbert, a Mr. Universe winner and at the time known for the largest arms ever in bodybuilding, owned or famously worked at this gym. He was there, always smiling, each time I showed up.

Of course I've been to the Mecca, Gold's Gym in Venice, California, and yeah, I felt damn comfortable there. In my three or four workouts I used plenty of old equipment in the back, and one night even had a past Mr. California ask to work in with me (wish I could remember his name, but it's a long time ago). 

I've read Robbie Robinson talk about why he competed for so many years, and worked out so hard and remained in competitive shape for so long (he's probably still in great shape). He said he loved the sound of the gym, the clanging of the weights, the verbal encouragement back and forth between lifters. Yeah, that clanging of the weight - I love it myself. Robinson didn't want to let it go.

Last week in their Road to the Arnold podcast series, Guy Cisterino talked about the same passion for the gym environment. Guy feels most at home in a gym, likes it so much he doesn't want to leave, and unless his trainers (Charles Glass and Chris Aceto) tell him to cut down on volume, he'll just about over-train from sheer joy and pleasure. Man, I so understand and share that feeling. I very much enjoyed Cisterino on the podcast. He spills over with passion and shoot straight with his opinions. Guy Cisterino

Let's not forget the crucial role training partners play in making a gym great. For years I worked out in a community fitness center that wasn't really appropriate, but it was five minutes from work, and I had a phenomenal training partner. Gary Reichert is a world-class competitive powerlifter, and our daily sessions were a wonderful mix of "what should we invent today" to serious, hardcore powerlifting sessions. Gary and I could workout together anywhere, any kind of facility, and make useful and fun training out of it.

Yup, give me some clanging iron weights and I'm happy!

@guycisterino, #guycisterino, #roadtothearnold, @arnoldsportsfestival, #robbierobinson, #leroycolbert, @fordsgym, #fordsgym, 


Macronutrient Portions are More Important than Food Quality (most of the time)

Sure, I got your attention now, don't I? 

In the general scheme of nutrition and life, of course eating quality food is the best route for health and fitness and overall life. When I'm able to afford and easily find organic produce, I buy it if the price is logical. Nearly all the meat I consume is truly organic (I know the farmer very well). Sometimes my eggs are free-range; most of the time they are organic.

But within the framework of my total calories, and the general macro-nutrient ratios I've set for myself, goals can be achieved with what may appear to be a wide variance. Last night, for example, my dinner was a bowl of Triscuit crackers and a big protein shake. Circumstances dictated this; I know it's odd and believe me, in my life it's unusual. My CrossFit workout was late afternoon, I had a post-workout shake of protein - Carbolyze - BCAA - creatine. My usual. The crackers and additional shake were 90 minutes later.

Of course I wouldn't, and don't, eat like this very often at all. But in the context of the day, following my breakfast of two Rx Bars, two meals of vegetables and ground beef, and a shake (protein - strawberries - MCT oil), I was well within a logical calorie count. My protein reached my 200 gram goal, I had four cups of vegetables. Believe me, the crackers didn't hurt me. Under the circumstances, they worked.

Body composition is always on my short list of considerations, alongside fitness and strength and wellness. I don't let any one aspect get in the way of the others, frankly. In the right situation, even Captain Crunch can provide invaluable carbohydrate calories!

I know and respect a nutrition coach, Mike Doehla (StrongerU), who's been using Captain Crunch cereal (and broccoli) as his sole carb sources for weeks. He's cutting a bit of bodyfat, but primarily using himself as a living lesson for his clients that hitting their macro's (assigned by himself or one of his coaches), for most people, most of the time, is more important than just what the food is. If body composition is the primary consideration. 

A couple of weeks ago, while staying in a hotel on an out-of-state trip, I enjoyed a lengthy, and productive leg workout at a nice gym. Squats, leg presses, extensions, curls - lots of sets, lots of reps, and a decent load. I'd been driving for ten hours and slept the night before in my vehicle in a truck stop, so my lower body was ready for this bodybuilding-style session.

Afterwards, I enjoyed two of the cooler full of meals I took with me (two cups of mixed vegetables + 8 ounces of meat in each), some red wine and a big bowl of Captain Crunch! I'd not had that cereal for decades, but thought it would be a fun and somehow appropriate post-workout meal. It was, I enjoyed it, and look what happened with all those high-glycemic carbs in my system.


Mind Over Matter

I got mad at myself during a workout a while back. Afterwards, the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became.

This was at Crossfit Green Bay. The three-round WOD consisted of three movements, and it was typically tough. The harder I pushed myself the rougher the workout became. Same as it always is.

15 power cleans were in each round (the weight doesn’t matter - it became heavy enough). I’d broken the first two sets into 9 and 6 reps, momentarily dropping the bar, catching a couple of wheezy breaths, then hitting it. Even while I was doing this, I knew I really wasn’t giving my all. I thought I needed those few seconds of rest. Not really.

One of the coaches parked himself in front of me during the final set of cleans and yelled “do this unbroken!” And I did. Sure, it hurt and was tough and all that, but I did it.

That’s why I’m angry with myself. Why do I so often “pace” myself during metabolic workouts? If a coach I respect yells at me, or encourages me (sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference), I go for it. Often I find myself performing at a level I didn’t think possible. 

I know it’s all in my head, but I’d think that after 45 years of weight-training and competitive sports, and a half dozen years of CrossFit, I’d be able to throw the switch. Some days I can, some I seemingly cannot.

Solution: Study. Learn from the best. Currently on my bed-side table are copies of Mark Divine’s Kokoro Yoga - Develop the Spirit of a Warrior - the SealFit Way, and How Bad Do You Want It? - Mastering the Psychology of Mind Over Muscle by Matt Fitzgerald.

Divine is a legendary trainer of the mind and body. A well-read copy of his Unbeatable Mind has a home on our bookshelves. My wife Anne (also a CrossFit athlete) eagerly read How Bad Do You Want It? and reports great things about Fitzgerald’s message and philosophy and writing. 

I’m diving in. 

@MarkDivine, @Mattfitwriter, @stmartinspress, @velopress, @davetrendler


Eating for Murph Today

I've a feeling people around the world are writing about their Murph workout experiences today. I'll keep it brief.

Today I slept in. Breakfast was a Best Bar Ever (chocolate peanut butter), while walking Jack the dog. Headed for CrossFit Green Bay. Drank my second cup of coffee while riding.

During Murph, I had a BlenderBottle of water with one packet of Progenex Force in it. Basically, I didn't even finish the BlenderBottle during the session; that's a tough workout to drink during!

66:18.  Dead-hang pullups. 

My post-workout Build-Recovery shake never tasted so good!

Salute to all veterans, including my 93 year-old-father who served in the U.S. Navy, Pacific Theater, from enlistment six months after Pearl Harbor through the surrender.

Thanks, Progenex and Best Bar Ever for the fuel.


CrossFit Saved My Week

I experienced a few workout ups and downs last week, creating my own formula for a weirdly-sore body.

My trusty Honda Element has been my traveling camper on countless occasions over the years. I love sleeping in it. But I’ve not done so in the dead of winter. Up north in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. So I did.

Here’s how it went down. Last Tuesday I was at CrossFit Green Bay, my home base. DT was the workout. It’s a tough combination of a dozen deadlifts, nine hang power cleans, and six push jerks. Work your way through these, without putting the bar down. Then repeat four more times for five rounds total. Prescribed weight is 155#. I pulled my Masters CrossFit exemption card and hammered through it, slowly, at 135#. It was tough enough. 

Then I did some extra work, barbell rows and tricep dips. Showered, and hit the road for the 500 mile drive through the U.P. to visit my father. Keep in mind, right from the gym to the driver’s seat. 

I enjoy eating while I drive and listen to podcasts. Usually I stop and buy some turkey and some sliced cheese, perhaps some rice crackers, and make a mess while driving and watching the U.P. go by. I needed to stop somewhere with Wi-Fi and catch up on email, place a Progenex order, and just get out of the Element, so at the three or four hour mark I settled into a booth at McDonalds, home of very hot coffee and decent Wi-Fi. And Big Macs. McDonald's in Escanaba, MI. WI-Fi was my excuse to stop.

I may not have had a Big Mac since high school, and some weird combination of workout-tiredness and windshield hypnotism may have caused this, but suddenly I was eating two Big Macs! So there, confession. For the record, they were dry and tasteless and I’ll probably go the rest of my life without another one. No fries! Just water.

Four-hundred relatively slow miles later (logging trucks, two-lane highways, consistent snow showers, coffee stops), I pulled into a Wal-Mart parking lot for the night. I crawled over the front seat into the back, where I’d removed the seats and laid down a workout mat, a camping air mattress, three layers of old cloth sleeping bags (one from my childhood, so it could be 50 years old), and had another sleeping bag and a blanket to throw over myself. Fully clothed, I slept well, watching a snowstorm through the sun roof of the Element.

Woke up stiff and sore. Hobbled into the Wal-Mart, used the bathroom and brushed my teeth, avoided the mirror, walked around a bit to circulate some blood, and headed back out to my cold vehicle. While it warmed up I made a big Progenex More Muscle-Build shake, swallowed some fish oil capsules and BCAAs, and headed back onto the highway.

Destination:  CrossFit 989, my hometown CrossFit where I’ve been wonderfully treated for three years whenever I visit (Jim Reaume, a good friend). Three hours later, more coffee, I’m there. After greetings and catching up, I look at the whiteboard:  DT! Are you kidding me? Two days in a row?

Suck it up, I tell myself. Get tough. A bunch of mobility later, I’m as ready to go as I’ll get, class begins and there I am with 135# again. I thought about going down in weight... but didn’t.

After DT I did some squatting, but spent too much time running my mouth with other members between sets, tightened up after a while and had to shower, shave and leave. Forearm after second DT workout. Jacked!

So the rest of the day was mostly sitting, visiting my father and then my brother. Post-workout shake, mid-afternoon Best Bar Ever, dinner was eggs and bacon and toast at Bob Evans with my father. A couple of glasses of wine that night at my brother’s home, and I was back to the Element in the parking lot. Not smart enough to take him up on an offer to use the spare bedroom, I remembered how comfortable I was the night before and decline.

Stupid. Temperatures dropped to between 3 and 6 below zero that night. Who knew? I didn’t, because why look at the forecast when you’re going to sleep in your vehicle in the middle of the winter in Michigan? It sucked. Even with my Carhart boots on, my feet were so cold they hurt. My sleep was erratic, I couldn’t get warm or comfortable, I somehow injured my shoulder moving around in the back of the Element... it was a long night. I think I was under-fed after the workouts, too, and probably a little dehydrated. Swell. Not enough sleeping bags...

Next morning I stumble out of my ice-encrusted vehicle into the white wasteland of the Wal-Mart lot, and into the store. My feet don’t even want to work. I clump around for a while trying to get warm (happily, no matter how disheveled and weird I may think I appear after sleeping with three layers of clothes on in my vehicle, to Wal-Mart employees and security I appear well-dressed and normal). I bought something to eat (nuts, string cheese), then headed for a Starbucks. Salvation.

My laptop, which of course spent the night in the Element also, took 15 minutes, plugged in, to even begin charging. That scared me. Two Americanos later, after about an hour, I felt decent. So where did I go?

CrossFit 989 of course. This was Jim’s “weightlifting Wednesday” so I worked through as much mobility as possible (got there early), then max-effort ten-rep strict overhead pressing, and a bunch of other Olympic lifting stuff. Two hours of workout later, shaved and showered, I was feeling pretty good.

Visiting my father again that afternoon, sitting, everything began locking up. I got some extra-strength Tylenol from him, stood when I could, and felt ok but stiff and sore in my hips. All day I was hammering water. About dinner-time was my cue to leave and hit the road for home, so back to the Element. Snow blowing in from Lake Michigan. Constantly. But pretty.

The first three hours to the Mackinaw Bridge were fine, and I felt pretty good, but as soon as I crossed and headed west for Wisconsin the snow hit. Speeds dropped, and for three hours I slowly drove through the dark tunnel of a snow globe. When the bright lights of the truck stop at Manistique finally came into view, I knew I was home for the night. In my Element. Again. 

Not able to bear the though the crawling into the back, getting on that floor and those oh-so-cold sleeping bags, I instead opted for putting the front seat back, covering myself with the blanket, and running the engine for a few hours with the heat on low. Slept like a baby! Upper Michigan roadside dining options

For a few hours until the snowplows began their work. Drove home five or so more hours, and have been sore ever since!

*postscript one week later* Open Workout 16.1 is tomorrow. I'll be sore all over again!