Monday, November 2, 2015

Point of decision, Trail Crest, 13,700'

Risk and reward

I'm standing at Trail Crest on the path to Mt. Whitney. It's my third time here. My water supply has dwindled to less than a full Nalgene bottle, my legs are pretty cooked, and most importantly, my hiking partner (a friend and fellow athlete) is in no better shape. The hike up from the valley was longer than usual due to the early softening deep snow and a bad night sleep that has left us both with headaches. It's my first time guiding here and I'm now faced with decision to continue 2.8 miles upward or call this the turnaround point. 
5 years prior when I stood here with my brother and another friend, we watched a lone puffy snow cloud approaching from the West. Two miles of hiking later it spit some lightening at us forcing a hasty retreat. We were disappointed to miss the peak but the reward of reaching the highest point in the lower 48 states was very easily decided to not be worth the risk of dying from a lightning strike. 2500' of glissading down the snow chute was an adrenaline fueled blast and we made plans to return. 3 years prior I once again stood here, again with my brother and this time, two friends. After racing the national downhill mountain bike  circuit that year and spending a few nights at 10,000' Cottonwood Camp to the South, I thought it would be an easy climb. Unfortunately my body wasn't in such good shape, but I battled through a mild headache, and some nausea because we were on our time schedule and I was determined to see the view from 14,454'. The weather cooperated, everyone remained positive as I expected, and we hiked successfully to the top. The risk was moderate and the reward great!

So here we are, tired, pushing the plan limits, low on water, and looking at a long hike back down. It isn't my first time toeing the line between risk vs reward and it definitely won't be the last that I have to make a decision greatly effecting health and happiness. These are the times when I need to have the best understanding of myself and my partner. How will our moods change as we push past the comforts of the known? How long will our energy reserves last after the last energy bars hits our stomachs? What are the distance, time and altitude limits of our bodies? How about our bodies after the water possibly runs out? Can we carry each other or affect a rescue, and to what success, if an accident occurs? All of these questions and many more, less potentially threatening, are much easier to understand and answer with confidence when a person can listen and respond to their bodies signals. I find that being an athlete, spending time focusing on my senses in different environments, and sharing information with other like-minded people is invaluable when faced with these situations. 
In this case, my friend and I took stock of and our situation, gave ourselves an additional time limit, minimal time to enjoy the summit view and a rapid hike/slide down to Trail Camp. It worked and we enjoyed a fantastic view of the John Muir Wilderness, Kings Canyon, and the Sierra Crest towering over the Owen's Valley. The descent provided deep potholing, difficulty locating a water source due to the thick ice coverage, and 40+mph wind driven ice crystals...and it was worth it for both of us. 
To be fully transparent, there are many other questions required for big mountain (or short easy day) hikes that you need to answer. Questions concerning gear, nutrition, weather, activity skill level, medical knowledge, prior experience, etc. I am focusing here on decisions that are directly related to how well you know your body and your physical limits. 
If Mt. Whitney, or a similar big goal, isn't on your bucket list you may be your wondering if this post applies to you. It does. There are very few people who have no interest in a health or athletic  goals, even if that means a commitment to walking more each day or doing that long talked of 5K run. No matter what your personal goal or reward is, you can make it more manageable by learning how to read your body. Here are my top five things I suggest to my athletes in order to understand their bodies more thoroughly:  
1.     Stay properly hydrated. A good basic daily recommendation from multiple sources is to drink 6 to 8, 8 ounce glasses of water per day. This of course varies depending on your weight, activity level, and location among other factors. If you are outside for work or play I suggest following the guideline of the American College of Sports Medicine to "..avoid dehydration, active people should drink at least 16-20 ounces of fluid one to two hours before an outdoor activity. After that, you should consume 6-12 ounces of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes that you are outside...When you are finished...another 16-24 ounces (2-3 cups)." If you are going big, you need more fluids. Climbing in the sand dunes on vacation requires little more than the above guidelines, climbing a class 3 scramble up a mountain at 13,000' takes a bit more. Here are a few signs to look for while exercising that can be pointing at being dehydrated: Very fatigued, maybe more than normal. Not hungry, maybe even a bit lightheaded. Flushed skin, even more than normal. Feeling overly hot for the temperature conditions. Dark urine. If things are clear or light colored, keep rolling, if not, stop and hydrate.
2.     Eat healthy foods. To current successful athletes, this is obvious because they feel a decrease in energy and performance with lower quality foods. Many people new to health and fitness activities are not as aware of how much impact the items we ingest have on our daily energy levels and overall health. There are many basic rules to keep it easy but I'll just pass along my top two. First, if you don't recognize and accept all the ingredients, choose something you do. And second, the closer you eat to the organic farm the more good nutrients and less crap (preservatives, pesticides, herbicides, GMO's, binders, fillers, etc.) you will pollute your body with. People who eat healthy have fewer health problems and everyone reading my blog I hope is trying to lead as healthy a life as possible.
3.     Do complete workouts. Get your body ready for the activity by being hydrated and having enough energy. I don't like to eat much before I workout so I will usually eat a small healthy snack or drink a full glass of water mixed with Beachbody's Energy and Endurance formula. Next is a proper warm up. Ditch those ridiculous static stretches you were taught in grade school and use dynamic stretching. You want to warm up your muscles and signal your body that your going to warm up. Static stretches do the exact opposite. Now get your sweat on! If you are not breathing hard, sweating or you can hold an easy conversation during the's not doing you much good. 20 minutes minimum unless you are doing a 10-15 minute high intensity workout (i.e. Box jumps, sprints, etc.) and now do a short stretching session or lighter activity to bring your body back to normal heart rate and breathing. 
4.      Following one and two above, you now know what you are putting in your body and what you are doing with your body, right? If you're anything like me, I doubt it. Time and changing interests can cloud the memory of even the best thinkers. Keeping a basic journal may be the best thing you do to improve your health this year. You choose what goes in it but here are my suggestions: Anything you put in your stomach. Any exercise, from work-related to full on adventure level. Any health related information such as feeling tired, feeling super energetic,feeling depressed, sick or maybe elated. And of course, include specific big and small goals, thoughtful reflections, and any information that you want to remember down the road when all your activities and days start to blur together.
5.      PAUSE. Seriously. So many of us are go, go, go and fully engaged in getting things accomplished in our day to day routines that we fail to pause even briefly to notice our bodies and surroundings. It is imperative to read your body and your bodies reactions to the changing environments. To that end I strongly suggest Yoga, meditation, quiet time alone in many different environments, or whatever allows you to minimize distractions and focus on yourself. Go ahead, be selfish and pay attention to only you. The world can wait and you will be a much better equipped person for having listened. Maybe start by simply putting aside 10 minutes in the early morning or evening to start and update that journal. My big three "me" times are Yoga at my local rock-climbing gym, solo endurance exercise, and either a little time at the beach or in the mountains. Maybe your times include sitting in your car during the daily commute, people watching time between flights, or while partaking in an artistic talent. Whatever gets you in touch with your body is an improvement. Here are a few more suggestions: Foam rolling your muscles, day hikes in as many weather and topographic conditions as possible, tensing and releasing each individual muscle starting in your face and working down, turning off the headphones for today's activity, fully chewing your food and feeling it actually go into your body, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator. 
Reward is something we seek for many reasons including happiness, perceived health level, and challenge. Rewards rarely come without any risk and despite our best preparations, may not able to be obtained. The reward may even be removed or postponed due to factors beyond our control such as accidents, weather and other people involved.  Risk is something we want to be able to manage and hedge our bets on. In order to do so we want to have as much information related to that risk as possible. I hope my post helps you take more responsibility for the risks and therefore the rewards in your own life. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Stairways to fitness

This week was the tenth Tuesday night meeting of our 'Stairway to fitness' stair climbing group. It's been a great learning adventure for me. I started with a few goals that I've tried to maintain my integrity to. First; share a fun activity that I was already enjoying routinely. This goal reflected my desire to make a change without requiring a big time investment. Second; spend more time exercising with my friends. I get plenty of quiet time on the trails each year, no need to be alone in the city. Third; encourage people to take a look at Beachbody fitness programs and nutrition. As a Beachbody representative, I know how well the programs work for me, how easy it is to use them, and how well they integrate into people's busy lives. 
The workouts begin with an easy group warm up and dynamic stretching. Members tend to add something every week, which gives everyone ownership and worth. Recently I have begun to borrow warm up ideas from Beachbody trainers. This introduces Beachbody programs while adding new activities for us to sweat to. After a few minutes we grab a drink and transition into the first set of stairs. Every week these are done differently in order to  challenge everyone and avoid routine. There is no set pace and those who finish early can do more or start moving into the next phase, core and upper body exercises. These are fairly simple but effective activities. Planks, push ups, bear crawl, scissor kicks, etc. are a small sample, with burpees always getting a collective groan. Next up is the second and final set of stairs. This is a shorter set but is harder. I challenge climbers to try something new, something more technically difficult, or simply go faster. A few favorites include lunges, side-step, and running up with a weighted ball over the head. 
We finish the evening off with some stretching and by planning the next week. I will often have something to give away at this point or people can ask me questions. I get pretty excited when I hear that group members are getting together for dinner afterward! 
Is this a success?
At this point I am happy with most of the results. Participants engage in a wide variety of pursuits. Some run (up to 50 miles!), rock climb, paddle, swim, hike, bike, compete in martial arts, play Volleyball, smack around Tennis balls, and tackle half-Ironman Triathlons, while others walk their dogs, get centered in yoga, utilize the gym or enjoy an occasional long walk. All claim to have gotten a good workout, and based on the amount of joking and laughter, I feel confident that the fun factor is high. This means my first two goals are being met. My third goal has also met some success with a few members trying out Shakeology and two looking into the workout programs. 
While I have learned a lot about Facebook groups and events, I still need to boost the groups profile and bring in more members. Thankfully, I have volunteers assisting that effort. I will continue to re-evaluate the question of how this group meets my own time, health and athletic goals. As of this past week I am officially training for a 50K trail run in February of 2016. Please stay tuned for updates on our group and my personal progress.
"Stairways to Fitness" is found here:

This months Team Beachbody Challenge packs are a great way to kick start your own health program. Contact me for more information or go directly to the page here:   
(If purchasing, please select CoachDMack as referring coach)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Downhill Adventure

Gravity style mountain biking. That endeavor which lends itself to big air, high speeds, the occasional hospital visit, and dirt-filled smiles. It's in my blood. My friend Will, the guy in the photo above with his smiling son, indirectly got me hooked on this adrenaline rush back around 2003 when he convinced me to borrow my friend Alex's bike that he was storing in my garage. The two of us spent every chance we could finding trails around San Diego to ride up then blast back down. The tougher the challenge, the more time we spent and blood we spilled figuring out how to ride it. In short time we expanded our geographic range to include Mammoth (CA), Bootleg Canyon (NV), Sedona (AZ), Gooseberry Mesa (UT), and Whistler, BC (Canada) among other destinations. Not the least of these places was Snow Summit Resort, in Big Bear (CA). It had long been a stopover on my cross-country, super-d and endurance mountain bike racing schedules and it soon became a regular place to test our technical skills on steep, loose terrain, over jumps, and around trees. Then, one day, it became the catalyst for my transition into downhill or "DH" racing. I was racing an expert endurance event when I ran into a few bikers who let me camp with them overnight. After spending some time around the campfire, they invited me to race for their team, as a downhiller! Needless to say, I was a bit anxious about this since I had already destroyed my friends bike (sorry Alex), considered myself only an endurance athlete, wasn't sure I could afford the bike or parts, and had seen a number of people end up in casts or worse. My curiosity and desire to always try something "at least once" won out and I soon found myself atop the starting hill at the Southridge Winter Series in Fontana (CA) for the sport DH race. Somehow, despite my treating it like a really fast cross country course and almost passing out from wearing all that extra gear (full face helmet, 3/4 body padding, long sleeve jersey, etc.), I ended up close to the podium and I was hooked. I'll fast forward 10 years through painful lessons, great locations, my share of hard landings, a few national tours, attaining the vet-pro ranks, meeting and riding with some of the coolest people on wheels, pushing through a ton of barriers, to our lift-access riding this past weekend. 
We hadn't been up to "The Bear" in a little while and I haven't raced DH since the Ensenada (Mexico) Urban event in 2009. But my riding buddies, their kids and I still hop on the bikes when we can and get some adrenaline pumping. Saturday was special because I ran into a good friend, Steve, who I raced with on the Mongoose Tribe. We managed to throw down three quick runs and I was excited because he helped push me to clean a step-down jump I hadn't completed all day. To sum up the day, it felt like none of us had ever stopped riding. While I could spend an entire post on each of the people who have helped me become a better rider and person, I'll simply say thank you and I hope to see you "on the hill." 
You may be wondering how we can hop on the bikes and after only a few warm up runs and be able to throw down like "old times"? First off, I do not recommend anyone do this without having the proper gear, proper skill level and appropriate physical fitness. My friends and I can do this because we are all involved in almost daily exercise. Between us we kite board, hike, rock climb, run trails, ocean swim, practice yoga, and slack line, among other interests. We also have extensive experience and a clear knowledge of our limits on the bikes. 
What I can recommend and what I prefer to use are the Beachbody on-demand workouts. They are an important part of my weekly training. I can get a thorough, full body workout in under 45 minutes including the warm up and cool down, in my garage. Some of the benefits of the on-demand option include being able to workout anywhere there is Wifi, being able to access the workouts from almost any Wifi device, the option to choose workouts based on a particular program or trainer, and being able to pick from hundreds of workouts targeted to parts of the body.  On weekends or given a longer time frame I will do an endurance activity and always fit in some tennis, yoga, swimming, or stair climbing for cross training. I will also typically tone down my workout the day before a full day on the mountain.
Please follow this link to sign up for Beachbody on Demand with the first month free! You have the option to cancel if it doesn't make you feel great!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

   Hello fellow adventurers! This blog has been floating around in my head for far too long.  I apologize to all those fine folks who have asked me for photos and words since I began my travels. I think it’s only appropriate to dedicate my blog and this post to all of you who have helped me arrive at this point in my life. Without your love, guidance, lessons, and years of selfless encouragement, I would not be the person I am today.
    So who am I? A logical question, with no easy answers, which continues to be defined. I’ll do my best, from my perspective.  Please fill in the story, add color, or ask questions in the comments below.
    First and foremost I am a man of many interests, from reading novels and watching documentaries, to racing bikes and running mountains. I cannot stand to sit still with so many places unexplored nor avoid roadside attractions en route to a destination. I am primarily a man of the trails and high places although the ocean and forests seem connected to my emotions. While I commuted for many years by bicycle and ran plenty of races on pavement, it doesn’t make me happy and I find it much more dangerous than dodging trees, rocks and thunderstorms. I have an affinity for happy people, crazy weather and going to places where few other feet have tread. Given the opportunity to work or live amid a new culture I have tried to say “yes” which led me to a great work-study experience in Belize and two years in Vanuatu with the Peace Corps. Through years of reading outdoor sports and travel magazines I developed a love of photography. My background in Geography (BA degree from SUNY Cortland) and a desire to share my activities with others has caused me to learn more about the camera and lenses that were always so mysterious. As a way to fund my adventures and share them, I will have a link to my photographic prints listed on the side. I hope you enjoy them enough to order one for you or a friend.
    You may wonder why a blog that will include photography and observations from my travels is called Fit To Discover. It’s because I’ve learned many things, through much trial and often painful error, about being prepared for journeys. While it takes only interest and some borrowed equipment to get started hiking, biking or simply city walking, to go further and higher takes a bit more planning. Strenuous active journeys require me to be in good mental and physical condition through daily nutrition, hydration, rest and of course muscle work. My mind gets prepped through yoga, meditation and the researching of a trip. For physical preparedness I have found that doing short (30 to 45 minute), intense (continuous sweating and high heart rate) workouts a few times each week with a couple of endurance days (ie. swim 1 mile) and cross-training (yoga, stairclimb, etc) work best for me. I will include links to nutrition sites and exercise information that I find helpful as well as writing posts about these topics ongoing.
    I offer personal encouragement, challenge groups, resources, product information, and support to athletes through Team Beachbody.  They offer programs that fit my weekly intense workout requirements (P90X3, T-25, Body Beast, etc.), the endurance framework (ChaLean Extreme, Insanity, etc.) with unique and fun programs like Cize and PiYo for cross training. I’m currently using their versatile On-Demand workouts to get ready for my next mountain excursion. This is a great option because I can use my laptop, or even my cellphone for a guided workout from anywhere with a WiFi signal. If you travel a lot, this is an invaluable resource. Please see my Beachbody page link for a complete program list, the Beachbody Challenge and product ordering information.
    For nutrition I do my best to eat organic, sustainable, and unprocessed foods. This also makes me feel better about how I’m caring for the earth. I feel the best eating primarily veggies, some meat, very few grains and supplementing with Vegan Shakeology. I use Beachbody’s Energy and Endurance formula before some of my most intense workouts, like stair climbing, for optimal results. If you don’t have a current pre- or post-workout drink, I highly encourage looking into the Beachbody Performance line at the link provided.
    To finish up I’d simply like to say thank you. For reading this far. For sharing my blog page if you are so inclined and for for commenting or giving constructive criticism. I am far from perfect, always learning and enjoy the opportunity to share this page with you.
    Safe travels,
    Coach DMack