There’s no harm in tri-ing.

Done. Complete. Finito. Tough Mudder 2017 is now in past tense. Nearly three months of training funnelled towards a single event. 16 kilometres, over 20 obstacles (barring the one that caught fire. ironically it was the one involving a fire hose) and 10,000 people running up and down the slopes of St Louis Moonstone. It was an assault on the senses, the body and any modicum of cleanliness. How did 2017 rank up there?

Firstly, because this is Canada and we’re overly polite, the weather. In 2015, my first Mudder, it was bright and sunny the whole day. This was nice, as it meant the ground stayed relatively intact. With so many running the course, the difference between finding easy grip and not can be drastic. It also meant that getting overheated and burnt was a real issue. In 2016 it was overcast the whole day, aside from a small patch of rain. Ideal. By the time the rain rolled in, it was refreshing. The sun was still periodically out, but mostly it let us go about our business unimpeded by sunstroke. This year we had it all. It was beautifully sunny to start with, then overcast, then the heavens opened and we were soaked. Sustained rain and some heavy line ups at obstacles left us legit chattering teeth level freezing. Unable to run it off, we just had to suck it up as our muscles cooled down and stiffened. It was rough to say the least, throwing a heavy pall over morale. When things seemed their darkest, the sun came back out and dried us off. It couldn’t have come at a more crucial time, as tensions had risen and struggles were had.

Secondly, the team. We were a small team of three this year. Team Butts Tough, a name I made up several years ago after rambling about butts and stumbling onto a chant. I primarily liked the name because it’d sound to others like we were saying “butt stuff”. I’m mature that way. I had two team mates, neither of whom had been as obsessive as I had about training. Finishing time wasn’t important to any of us, we just wanted to get over that finish line having had a great time. One of our team mates had been having a bit of trouble with her training, as her asthma had been steadily rising over the past month. She’d been putting in work, but would often have to stop in the middle of runs because of it. She was worried that she’d slow us way down. I assured her we’d all get over the line together. Fortunately, her asthma didn’t prove to be an issue on the course. Unfortunately, she injured her hips early in the race and they steadily grew worse. By about midway it was quite severe and we basically had to walk the rest of the course. By the point where she was holding back vomit through pain, I advised her she’d probably be best to opt out and get a ride to home base (it’s one thing to be determined, it’s another to gain a permanent injury). She was determined to cross that line, so we stuck with her. All credit to her dedication, but it was pretty frustrating to take things so slowly. In my third year, I’ve yet to do the course at a decent pace. It wasn’t her fault by any means, but at the same time I did feel cheated on an experience I’d put so much work towards. It’s been the same deal each time so far. Next year I’m gonna have to set a baseline for team fitness. If I’m gonna train hard, I want to give it my all. It’s time I committed.

The obstacles were heaps of fun. The return of Block Ness Monster was a delight. A big pool of water with these long horizontal four sided rotating barriers. There was a technique and steady rhythm to it. I found I’d push up from the bottom while people had latched onto the top. I’d then grab onto the top while people pushed from the bottom. At the apex, I’d rotate 180 degrees and grab onto the top edge to pull it down and help the next row of people. Super fun and totally teamwork based. The Funky Munky was a blast. An upwards inclined monkey bar that transitioned into a bunch of spinning wheels, then onto a single horizontal bar. I absolutely zipped through, all those pull ups having done their work. Most of the upper body stuff was a cinch for me, thankfully. The Stage Five Clinger was pretty tough. There were a series of horizontal bars to move between, before pulling up and over onto a platform. The hard part was how close the bars were to the ceiling. You had only a few centimetres space to get in, which meant you were jamming your hands up and skinning knuckles. It was right after a big muddy obstacle, which meant the bars were unfairly slippery. I fell on my first attempt, then wiped my hands off and focused on the dry parts of each bar. It was hugely demanding, but I got to the end then pulled up no problem. Kong was the final obstacle. I saw basically everyone in front of me plummet and tightened my resolve. The rings looked really far apart, but I knew I had it in me. All I needed to do was get good momentum. I grabbed the first ring and swung to the second. Holding tight to both rings, I realised my body was taught, and that if I released my back hand it’d give me the momentum to swing to the next. So I did. With so few people making it, the last couple of rings were nice and dry, perfect for a solid grip. I moved quickly and swung my way to victory.

Finishing up, I felt like I could do another one a day later. Given how sore my calves are from those endless hills, I think I was optimistic. I thought after I finished I’d be relaxed, sated. Instead I’m fired up. I need another challenge. I wonder if I could do a triathlon…

Can I get a head start if my head’s in the clouds?

I don’t know why I ever set an alarm on Tough Mudder day. It’s like the night before a flight. The chances of actually getting a full night’s sleep are zero. Of course I’m gonna wake up hours beforehand too excited to rest. I hate resting on the best of days, let alone a day when I’m gonna run up and down a mountain and climb things. I was in bed at 9:11pm (never forget), but as soon as the clock struck 2am I bolted upright and that was it. I tried getting back to sleep for the next hour or so, but it was painfully apparent that I was too awake.

What was on my mind? EVERYTHING. The cosmos seemed to explode behind my eyelids and Ariel Pink’s “Round and Round” played on repeat. I’ve never been great at falling asleep, but this was Sisyphean. I tried to block out all thought, to think of nothing but black. This worked for a second before I just started thinking of different things that were black. My mind started questioning whether I needed to think of pitch black or if other shades were alright too. What about charcoal? I tried blocking things out with the mental image of a white void. Then my brain complained that black was more fitting, given it was the middle of the night, fundamentally a darker time. NO BUENO.

A friend told me that she gets to sleep by imagining a mundane task and going through it in detail. Dishwashing is her favourite. I tried, I really did. In my mind’s eye I put the plug into the sink, turned the tap to hot and squiggled a little detergent in. I put a plug into the second sink and waited. It was taking a while to fill. Isn’t this all in my head? I thought. Can’t I make it go faster? It sped up. That’s not the point, brain. It’s not meant to be objective focused, it’s meant to be dreary and boring. The sped up water flow stopped and went in reverse, back to the level it was at before the speed increase. I tapped my finger on the counter. I looked at the dishes stacked up. I don’t remember pre-rinsing these. Shouldn’t I do that before putting the soapy water in? But then I’ll have to run the water again and that’s a waste of detergent. Wait, this detergent doesn’t actually exist. These dishes don’t actually exist. Let’s just pretend that they’re already pre-rinsed. But that’s disingenuous, I never did that. STOP BEING SO FUCKING LITERAL. I got bored of arguing with myself and went back to filling the sink, but at least let myself speed it up this time. Then I figured since I was making this up I could just somehow run the tap in both sinks simultaneously. I started washing plates, holding them up to the light and checking for any residue. I saw a spot or two glinting. Should’ve pre-rinsed. FUCK YOU BRAIN.

I opened my eyes. 2:10am. Fuck.

I tried re-tracing my lunchtime jogging path. I ran all the way there and all the way back. The other joggers/cyclists/dog walkers in my brain still refused to wave and smile back.

2:30am.

I jumped back into my memory and drew on a long journey I used to take. Back when I lived in small town New Zealand, I’d drive to and from Rotorua each week to visit friends in Auckland. I sped through the route in accelerated time, seeing how much was still entrenched in my head. It was amazing how vivid my recall was, all these years later.

2:50am.

I felt hungry and maybe like I needed to poop. Why were my knees sore? One was digging into the other while stacked on top of it. How did I usually arrange my knees while I slept? Wasn’t it normally like this? What about the rest of my posture? Did I want my arms folded? Or did I want my hand under my head? Should the blanket be pulled this far up to my neck? Was I sweating? Did my girlfriend just sleep-laugh? Why was my phone blinking? Was that a message from a team mate saying that they were injured and couldn’t go? Had my ride fallen through? Well there’s no point in looking at the phone now. The blue light would prevent me from getting back to sleep. Would I be able to sleep in any case? Should I get up and start stretching? Had I overstretched already? What was the weather gonna be like? Would today bring injury? Was my meal plan solid? Or had I eaten too much roughage? Should I have carbo loaded? If I don’t sleep, am I gonna be too tired on the course? Or would I be wired regardless? Could an unsafe level of pre-workout solve all of my fatigue issues? When was I gonna find time to write today? I could just get up and take care of it before my day started.

3am.

Turn on computer. Pour a bowl of cereal. Poop. Load up “Round and Round” to get it out of my head. Start writing.

Today’s gonna be a good day.

I for one am looking forward to talking about something else. Like, did you know they’re doing a live action Jetsons? Why?

Like every other year, the last week before Tough Mudder absorbs all other thought. I’ve become a broken record. Talking about much else would be disingenuous, because I’m not thinking about an array of topics. I’ve got tunnel vision that’s concentrated on how I’m gonna get up those hills.

I’m thinking about what to eat and when to eat what. While common knowledge says that carbo loading is the way to go, I’m borderline petrified of getting constipated and having to navigate the course with a food baby as the monkey on my back. It’s a trap for sure. If your body isn’t used to certain types of food, why vary things up before the race in the hopes of getting a slight boost? I know that I’ll have shit all chances of sleeping the night before, so adding any kind of indigestion is a fool’s errand. Keep it simple, proteins, fibre and small amounts of complex carbs. Then fill in the gaps before the race with excessive pre-workout. I’ll practically fly up St Louis Moonstone.

I’ve kind of divided life into PM and AM (Pre Mudder and After Mudder respectively) and for the most part I’ve pushed everything after the race out of my head. One nagging issue though is footwear. There’s no way my shoes will be operable post race. My beloved Saucony Excursion TR8 GTXs. I bought a pair a few years back and found them to be the most comfortable running shoes I’d ever owned. So of course I got another pair once they were done. It took work and Google-Fu. I searched across the world and found a pair close to home in Edmonton. Paid way too much, but it was worth it not to mess with what my feet were used to. I’m no stranger to foot pain, which has a habit of becoming knee pain all too easily. So the path of least resistance was best paved with becoming a creature of habit. This year, the shoes are nowhere to be found. I’ve looked. I’ll have to figure out what about them worked and seek the next best thing. That’s a job for my Sunday hangover.

Tonight is all about stretching and foam rolling. In other words, a torture session. It’ll hurt like fuck now, but anything I do beforehand will only ease pressure on the day. Why is it that myofascial release is so goddamn painful? Somehow pressing dense foam into my muscles feels like a stabbing. The foam roller will deal with my IT bands, thighs, calves, groin, glutes and rotator cuffs, while a lacrosse ball can get into those hard to reach spots on the upper body. Is this boring you? Good, it’s gonna be even worse for me. I have no idea how real athletes deal with this stuff on a regular basis. Those fucking Supple Leopards. Staying limber seems to be a full-time commitment. I can’t imagine how much time you’d have to devote to keeping the machine running well if your body was the tool of your trade. Last year it was so easy. I had benefits that covered regular athletic therapy. I just offset the work and knowledge onto those who knew best. Maybe I can convince myself that doing it on my own makes it worth more or something. Am I that gullible?

Two sleeps, then it’s here. I’ll be able to remember what my life was like when it had nuance. Maybe I’ll learn from walking a mile in some different shoes.

I’ll let you in on a secret. You could still buy the coffees anyway. That’s capitalism!

I’ve been ranting a lot of doom and gloom lately, so my goal is to push further towards positivity today. Is that too much to ask? Very likely. Let’s engage with some sunnier things!

I guess you could blame an overweight childhood if you must, but I’ve had body issues for some time. Go figure. I’ve also been in heavy (misnomer) training for Tough Mudder lately, working really hard to tone up. It’s been repeatedly gruelling. In recent years I’ve had help, whether in a group fitness situation or personal training. This year I’ve run off nothing but my own grit. Knowing what I’m capable of and making a point of not cutting myself much slack. So yeah, it’s been challenging, but also rewarding to see results. At this stage it’s become an annual summer tradition, which sucks only because cutting alcohol is a shit and a half when the sun is shining out there. Toronto lives for its patios and they don’t quite have the same glory when your beer goggles are instead filled with vodka-less cranberry juice. In an attempt to get the kind of gratification that only external validation from an echo chamber can provide, this morning I posted a shirtless selfie on Facebook. The “likes” and positive comments have flooded in. It was a cheap ploy for a temporary boost to self-worth and it’s worked. I’m chalking that up as a victory.

I saw one of my musician friends, Nick Teehan, perform on Saturday night and it’s reminded me how much I love his music. He’s a tremendous live performer with an enthralling vitality on stage. Between his vibrant energy and witty quips, he puts together an engaging show that pulls you right in. Not only is he a fantastic performer, but he’s a truly gifted songwriter. His lyrics are evocative and rich, drawing on personal experience, local sights and touching storybook imagery. “Mom Song” is an ode to the intrinsic link drawn between mother and son, a relationship unbound by temporal circumstance. “Boxing Day” nods its head to the disconnect of growing out of youth and the trappings of small town life. If you like what you’ve heard, you can get his album There is Not a Snake on Bandcamp for a mere $7 CAD (or more if that’s what you want to pay). That’s like skipping one and a half coffees to support a talented local artist. You’re practically losing money by not doing it.

All my favourite good television (that isn’t already on air, that is) is coming back. All hail the Fall television slate! You’re the Worst, BoJack Horseman, Better Things, The Good Place, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and everyone’s favourite 2016 hit, Stranger Things (which sadly is in no way affiliated with Better Things. I’d love to see Pamela Adlon taking down a Demogorgon). Not only that, but along with Fall television, it’s gonna be Fall! Sweaters and light jackets, pretty coloured leaves, pumpkins to carve, Halloween, Thanksgiving feasts, seasonal beer (/the return of all my Belgian style favourites). A season full of unmitigated joy before the Winter depression kicks in.

See, I’m practically walking on sunshine.

Does it have to be arrogance if I’m Onan it?

It’s that time of year again. Tough Mudder is a mere five days away. I’m on the last leg of prep and those legs are predictably sore. For several months now I’ve been training hard. I’ve sworn off alcohol and bread (not through any anti-yeast sentiment, I’m just aware of how I love to overindulge in those two delectable consumables). I’ve been training hard at the gym, working through dedicated upper and lower body split days. Three times a week I’ve gone for lunchtime runs along the waterfront. It’s been sweaty and taxing, but I’ve seen tangible results.

Was all of this necessary to complete the course? Not in the least. Some of my team members last year crossed the finish line with zero training under their belts. All the hard tack I’ve been devoting each week could easily be seen as overkill. Without putting in the extra yards I could likely still zip through the event without dying halfway through. In previous years however, I’ve been thankful for the extra grit in the tank. Instead of slogging up and down the mountain, I’ve bounced through with the gusto of the Energizer Bunny on coke. It’s turned an endurance race into a celebration of my body’s capabilities. Instead of thanking the fates for my survival, I can thank my limbs, muscles, heart and mind for pulling me through each day with aplomb.

The event has become less of an annual task, and more emblematic of how I tie my own self-worth to discipline. Seeing my body change, feeling renewed energy and acknowledging the strength of my resolve brings me pride. Amongst the multitude of challenges that’re out of my control, I’m emboldened to rediscover each year that not all of them are. As someone who’s struggled with issues of body image and associated feelings of inadequacy, this provides me with fuel to see the best in myself.

At this point, five days away, it’s more important than ever to practice self-love. Masturbatory as this entry is, I mean compassion, rather than anything titillating. I’m not gonna be hitting any new peaks over the next couple of days. The benefits of pushing hard are by far outweighed by the risk of injury. For the rest of the week, I’m focusing on tapering down. Any workouts will be focused more on keeping myself limber. Maybe a short run on Wednesday. Mobility and stretching will be a priority. I’m gonna be eating well and aiming for eight hours of sleep per night. Cutting down the caffeine and quaffing down my greens. With the end in sight, it’s so important that I get there safely with respect for my body.

Feeling present in my skin has given me a vitality I treasure. I’m content when I look in the mirror and give thanks rather than seeking flaws. I feel confidence resonating through my core and that in itself is worth all of the effort. Tough Mudder may still be a few days away, but I’m happy to linger in this for as long as it lasts.

I’m sure Justin Timberlake would agree.

Every once in a while I’ll buy myself a toy. Most recently it was a pair of wooden gymnastics rings. I guess toys get more functional and less exciting as an adult (though nothing in the world is prohibiting me from attaching LEDs and glitter to the straps (except maybe potential reduction in functionality)). Or you know what? Fuck that noise. I’m gonna straight up contradict myself and here’s why: Gymnastics rings enable a bunch of great outdoor fitness work that would’ve been tricky before.

So what’re the benefits of rings? I’m sure you asked (though more likely you were asking where the nearest toilet was. I have selective hearing). They’re versatile and useful in all manner of places. All you need is a sturdy horizontal bar and you can use them in some manner. Full range of motion the bar would ideally be around 3m tall, but you can work around that just fine. They normally come with adjustable straps, allowing for a bunch of differing exercises at each height.

One of the fundamental reasons that gymnastic rings are such a great tool for workouts is that they’re free-hanging. Bars are usually sturdy, meaning the work of stabilisation can be offset onto them. You don’t need to work to keep a bar in place. If that’s the case you should probably find somewhere else unless breaking your body is top of your list of priorities. Rings, however, will go wherever your body lets them. It takes work just to stay in position for each exercise, let alone doing a ton of reps. You’d be surprised how hard it is just to keep still with a straight body, your arms locked out, holding yourself above the rings. For a bunch of stuff, that’s your starting position. With that in mind, if you’re using rings be kind to yourself and understand that strength and higher reps will come with time. Don’t beat yourself up for finding it difficult at first. Your body will invariably beat itself up just trying, it doesn’t need your help. This will train your core to stay rock solid.

So what can you do with rings?

DIPS: Dips are a fundamental exercise. You’re holding yourself upright above the rings, palms gripping the inner bottom of the ring. Dips involve lowering yourself with elbows coming back into a right angled position, then pushing back to the starting position. Range of motion will come with time, but this will be pretty tough at first. It’ll fire up your triceps, work rotator cuffs and help your core stability.

Pull Ups: Pull ups are pull ups, so they’re always gonna be a slog. Rings will let you do chin ups (to work biceps), wide or narrow pulls. A big difference is not having to work around the bar, so you can pull straight up. It’s killer for your lats, biceps and a slew of back muscles.

Horizontal Row: Ring rows are fantastic. It’s often hard to work your horizontal pull muscles and rings allow for a great range of movement. One of the best things about ring rows is that they’re adjustable for any skill level. The more upright you are, the easier. Eventually you can work into this kind of shit (without someone holding your foot) which is totally badass (and really fucking hard).

Ring push ups: Working the opposite muscles, you’ll find ring push ups to be far harder than normal. Keeping stability takes a lot of work and your range of motion will be different when you’re suspended. Like regular ol’ push ups, you vary the width to hit a bunch of assorted muscles.

Mountain Climbers: Get into that lower body too. You’ll find that your stabiliser muscles work overtime to keep your back flat and stop you rotating too hard. TL;DR you’re in a push up position with your feet in the rings, bringing your knees to your stomach (alternating legs).

Ring Pike (with feet in loops): This one will grind your core pretty hard (and works as great progression to Pike Press) and gets into shoulder press territory. Ever wanted to learn handstand push ups? Why not start here?

L-Sits: They’re so much harder than they look. If you can get to 30 seconds you should be pretty stoked. This takes so much core stability. Letting yourself down after a long hold has the same level of satisfaction as taking a huge shit. The height of your legs will dictate how difficult the hold is.

So most things that a TRX could be used for, rings stand in perfectly. There are also a bunch of more advanced exercises you’d be hard pressed (sorry not sorry) to try on a TRX.

Muscle Ups: Using a false grip, these take a shit ton of strength and technique. Especially if you’re doing strict non-kipping ones. I find muscle ups to be far easier on rings than the bar, primarily for the same reason that I like doing pull ups with them. You’re not having to phase shift through a solid metal object, which is a tough endeavour for non-Kitty Pryde folks.

L-Sit to Handstand: Do you wanna look like one of those old timey Venice Beach muscle men? Is holding yourself rigid off the earth not tough enough? Set up next to a boardwalk and master this shit. The transition can be worked on with a tuck to tuck shoulder stand. It’s next level shit, but holy hell is it a great show-off move.

Was all that not tough enough for you? Why not master a Front Lever? Back Lever? Iron Cross (with muscular Jesse Eisenberg)?

Who wouldn’t want to be muscular Jesse Eisenberg? What’s cooler than a billion dollars and muscles?

Sorry Hal and Joanne, but a Body Break wasn’t what I was looking for in the slightest.

Plans don’t always work out. I was gonna get up with a skip in my step and lightness in my heart. I’d then finish work early, get to the gym, have a relaxing dinner and head off to Fleet Foxes at Massey Hall. A neat, enjoyable day. Instead I awoke to the cat going nuts around 6am. My body was unduly achy and I my brain wouldn’t calm back down to restfulness. Plans deviated.

Instead of relishing a full night’s rest, I groaned on my way out of bed, nary skip nor lightness to be found. My ankle had been sore over the past few days. I’d been pushing cardio hard and my ankle was giving me its equivalent of a middle finger. With Tough Mudder looming in two weeks, I couldn’t afford to let myself get badly injured. I didn’t jog yesterday and while I was keen to get into it today, my nerves said no. It didn’t hurt to walk, but a mild twinge every once in a while said that something wasn’t kosher (like some Canadian beef sausages, apparently). At 6am instead of sleeping, I was foam rolling. I can tell you by far which I’d rather be doing.

Foam rolling is hubris personified. It’s so physically painful, but the part that really hurts is knowing that you did it to yourself. You’re paying for errors in form or pushing yourself too far. The only more demeaning thing than foam rolling at 6am is foam rolling naked at 6am on a floor that hasn’t been vacuumed in far too long. Pulling your support hand off the ground only to have amassed a grip full of cat hair and pubes really twists the knife. If I’d had pride in that moment instead of just aches, it would’ve been hurt something fierce. I didn’t, I just had aches, which hurt. Standing up after 15-20 minutes of intense myofascial release, my body slumped as if the spirit possessing me got sucked into a ghost trap. I didn’t feel feverish, but my skin was clammy and I thought I might puke. I didn’t, thankfully (though that’d likely give me cause to clean and vacuum).

I thought about skipping work, but remembered that before the long weekend, tons of team members would be absent. While I was fully within my rights to take a sick day, it’d put strain on those left in the office and that’d be a shitty thing to do. I could instead work remotely and hopefully be done by midday or so. I shambled off to get coffee, but found out my favourite local cafe was closed. Every other cafe in an immediate radius to me is backwash, so I had no choice but to try somewhere new. It also, was backwash. Don’t go there for the coffee. At least I had shitty coffee on a day when I was feeling low, rather than ruining a perfectly fine one.

Over the past few hours my body has been relaxing, knowing just how long I’ve been waiting to see Fleet Foxes. I’ve booked in a 90 minute massage to hopefully get rid of a ton of lactic acid and Gordian knots throughout my muscles. I’m wary that if my masseur pushes too hard I might burst like a sealed cereal bag. Then he’d have cause to clean and vacuum.

While plans haven’t worked out, it’s made me pretty appreciative for a life that lets me operate even when I’m feeling like stirred shit. I’m able to work remotely, rather than spending nearly an hour in transit each way. Even if coffee was shit, I know that in a pinch (e.g. not during their vacation week) I can get decent coffee from Contra. Lastly, if my body feels bent and broken, I have the ability to get care and attention from a health professional. On a day where the sun sags a little in the sky, at least it’s still shining down.