Fitness Weightlifting

The rabbit hole

Personal fitness post ahead! Flee now, or proceed at your own peril!

So two years ago I was basically a plant. I owned a shirt that said “Unathletic” in that college Athletics Department font. It was funny, but also true.

A year and a half ago I started Weight Watchers. I dropped 45 pounds in five months and started integrating physical activity into my week. I started taking my family camping, something I hadn’t done in many years.

About a year ago I started hiking up mountains. I’ve worked my way up (hah) and done some tough hikes, including some beautiful peaks over 11,000 feet. I connect with the solitude of a summit like few other things in life; it’s an awesome hobby.

Somewhere in there I also started backpacking again, although that one’s harder to make time for with all the summer camping. I’ve gone out twice now, and will be going out again next year.

Seven months ago I decided I wanted to look like Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and I started working out every day. For six months I progressed from flailing around to doing a pretty good weightlifting routine and alternating weight days with light cardio.

About three weeks ago, having seen strength gains and some definition but no real size changes in six months, I started seeing a trainer. Holy shit has that been eye-opening. One of the biggest surprises was that I wasn’t eating enough to get bigger — my body was cannibalizing the muscle I was building for calories.

Now I’m eating every two hours, eight 400-calorie meals a day, and am working on overhauling my diet completely. My workout is about to shift to four weightlifting days a week, which is going to feel nuts at first. The kitchen looks like a supplement store, and I’m still trying to figure out how to bring healthy, balanced, 400-calorie meals everywhere I go.

Looking back, if Past Martin from two years ago had read this, he’d have said, “Riiiiight. That’s never going to happen.” And maybe he wouldn’t have started Weight Watchers at all.

But step by step, the whole elephant is being eaten and digested. Which is apropos, since I feel like I eat en elephant on a daily basis. (Fun fact: Three of my favorite burgers from Five Guys, which I can’t eat anymore, would fill my daily calorie goal in one whack.)

I probably won’t ever hit the Chris Evans level (too many other commitments, realistically), but I’m going to get as close as I can. Having never been a strong person, setting aside having been born with reasonably strong legs, this is a weird feeling, and it hasn’t gotten less weird despite living it for the past few months.

TL;DR: Fitness is a rabbit hole unlike any other rabbit hole I’ve ever fallen down, but I don’t regret falling down the hole. The notion of rewiring and rewriting my own body, and seeing it happen — slowly — is totally wild.

Fitness Hiking Peakbagging


Today my friend Christian and I hiked up Pfeifferhorn (Utah, 11,326 feet), my second elevener and the third-highest peak in the Wasatch range. It’s a 9-mile round trip with quite a bit of elevation gain (about 3,700 feet in 4.5 miles); my ass feels pleasantly kicked.

Pictured below is the sight that greets you when you get your first full look at the summit: the “bridge in the sky,” a knife ridge of jumbled boulders you have to traverse to reach the trail to the summit, and what I called the “wall of death” — the actual summit route, which looked impossible from here.

Neither were as bad as they looked. The boulders were actually a lot of fun, and up close there’s plenty of options to get up the final 600 feet or so. My route took me up the white line roughly in the center, the one that has green scrub just to the left of it.

Fitness Hiking Peakbagging

First summit over 10,000 feet

When I started hiking again last year, I came up with a plan: Get to the point where I could hike up Utah’s highest mountain, King’s Peak (13,534 feet and a 30-mile backcountry hike), this year. The plan was basically 1) hike up mountains, 2) keep going higher, 3) do some backcountry camping, 4) get in better shape.

I won’t bore you with the fourth one, but I’ve been doing the first one since October, with lots of lessons learned along the way. But I don’t have the expertise to hike up higher peaks in winter, so I waited for this summer to start on the second one in earnest. The tallest peak I summited last year was Mt. Olympus, 9,026 feet.

Today, over the course of a 9-mile hike, I summited my first peak above 10,000 feet: Mt. Raymond, 10,241 feet. It’s got a slightly higher neighbor, Gobblers Knob (10,246 feet), so when I got back to the pass that links them, I summited that one as well.

Prior to these two peaks, the highest I’d ever stood was 10,023 feet, the top of Haleakala in Maui. But I didn’t hike up that — I drove up with my wife, on our honeymoon. It was fun to beat that height!

Next week I’m going to hit number three, a two-day backpacking trip built around summiting Mt. Timpanogos. Mt. Timpanogos is 11,749 feet, which — assuming I make it up and back — will be my highest solo summit, the highest point I’ve ever stood, and the first time I’ve backpacked in about 22 years.

The picture above was taken at the summit of Mt. Raymond, looking west. (It’s a lot better than the tired selfie I took atop Gobblers, because I wasn’t as bushed and I didn’t take this one.)

Fitness Hiking Peakbagging

Getting to the top is optional

My mom snapped this while we were out hiking a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t think I’ve ever looked more badass than I do right here — pink water bottle and all. (If you know me in real life, you know there’s nothing badass about me whatsoever, but the camera adds 10 pounds of badassery.)

Ironically, it was taken during a hike up Grandeur Peak when we didn’t make it to the summit: After hiking through two feet of fresh powder for an hour towards the top, we hit a dodgy spot just 20 vertical feet from the summit and turned back. Twenty feet!

That was an educational experience, to say the least; I thought I knew this mountain pretty well, but the depth of the snow up top was a complete surprise. I hope to be hiking up mountains for years to come, eventually rather taller ones, and I suspect that 20′ record will stand for some time.

Fitness Hiking Peakbagging

Dooly Knob

Here’s Lark at the summit of Dooly Knob (5,278 feet), not the mountain we set out to climb. We couldn’t make it up Frary Peak, and turned around when we hit a snowy patch that neither of us felt comfortable attempting. It was a good lesson, and we had a great trip.

I decided Frary Peak would make a good first-summit-since-I-started-peakbagging, and a good hike for my daughter (age 4). While I got a lot right, I somehow missed that it was 3.5 miles one way, not RT. D’oh! Given that I was doing it with my daughter on my shoulders as much as possible, that was a big difference — and longer than I’ve hiked in one whack in about 20 years.

We started seeing snow around the 2 mile marker, and compacted snow on the trail around 2.5. At about 2.75 we hit one of the steepest spots, which looked like it went up to the false summit (radio tower). With compacted snow and a long drop to the left, neither of us felt comfortable continuing; we were scared we’d fall. Solo I might have tried it, particularly as I’d have been less tired, but being responsible for Lark as well I knew turning back was the right choice.

It was disappointing, sure, but we still had a great time. On the way back, we had time to summit Dooly Knob instead, a much easier hike that we completed with no problem. All told, 6.5 miles in 4 hours, 6 of it with Lark on my back. I was bushed.

I would love to have made it up Frary, but in retrospect I learned a lot from not making it, and from the trip itself. It makes a good benchmark for my own abilities, and hers at this age, and will help me decide what I need to do and learn before trying it again — and climbing other mountains in the future.