A Lifetime of Wellness by Brad Rassler


Achilles tendonitis re-focuses a runner’s goals

The worst non-lethal injury known to the long distance runner, the despoiler of the best laid exercise plan, is a rupture of the thick white cable extending from calf to heel, known as the Achilles tendon. Runners can exert upwards of 16,000 pounds per square inch on the Achilles, but it only takes 14,500 PSI for an Achilles to snap, and much less to cause tendonitis, according to a 2008 study; thus, the Achilles is arguably the most vulnerable connective tissue in the runner’s body. I knew this, of course—every runner does—but perhaps lulled by feel-good hormones coursing through my brain every time I ran, I ignored those telltale catches in my gait, and was only jerked out of denial when my right heel locked up and a robin’s egg-sized lump protruded from the sheath. When it did, I realized I had not only bollixed my chance for athletic glory, but also dropped the ball on a mid-life makeover, an attempt to prolong the life of a middle-aged man whose family crest bore a garland of clogged arteries surrounding a tureen of Hollandaise sauce.

How could this setback—in my case, the dreaded Achilles tendonitis—happen now, in the midst of a return to former svelte athletic prowess? I considered blaming my doctor, the preternaturally agreeable Andy Pasternak; my partner, the insightful and optimistic Jane Grossman; my coach, the wise and compassionate Julie Young. All were above reproach. It was nobody’s fault but mine. Indeed, Young designed the perfect exercise program, which, if I had followed it, would have saved me money, pain, shame and this very public apologia regarding my failure to complete what would have been a glorious thing indeed: an autumnal circumnavigation by foot, cycle and paddle of the inland sea to which this publication owes its name.

Julie Young, Owner/Head Coach at o2fitness Coaching and Training
Director, Silver Sage Sports & Fitness Lab

I embarked on a Fitness 5.2 project at the beginning of 2014 and I had begged Pasternak and Young’s help. Why? The problem, as I saw it, was I was flirting with death. I sat too much. My family tree looked more like a shrub when it came to my male progenitors; none lived long enough to collect Medicare.

My father died at 44. Paternal forefathers passed in their early 60s. My younger brother endured quadruple bypass surgery in his early 40s.

Not an auspicious gene pool.

Somehow dodging a bullet thus far, but not wanting to drop dead in the middle of a whimsical run around the local trail system, I figured I needed more than a standup desk to nudge me past 75, the average life expectancy of a Caucasian U.S. male. Not only would I have my comeback, I’d gild the effort with the circumnavigation of The Lake.

So I spoke with Pasternak, who is accustomed to me shambling into his medical practice with all manner of phantom pains, along with theories about their root cause based on Internet research. Certain members of Pasternak’s staff took to asking me, “You, again?”

“Sure, we can help you out,” said Pasternak when I asked about the sports fitness side of his practice.

Andy Pasternak,  MD, MS
Silver Sage Center for Family Medicine
Silver Sage Sports and Fitness Lab

So he and Young, who is the director of Silver Sage Sports and Fitness Lab, took me by my atrophying arms and thickening midriff and led me into an adjoining room.

Pasternak produced both tape measure and calipers, and pinched and prodded both my muffin top and the fleshy spheroids I once called my chest, and produced metrics proving I was in as crapulous a state as I thought. Young designed an exercise plan to whittle me from flabulous into a lean fighting tiger by revivifying a heart muscle that needed more stimulation than it was getting scribbling essays for school and work.

“I mainly want to experience that wonderful feeling from the old days, of moving like a kind of machine for miles,” I wrote Young a week before she devised the plan. The machine, I knew, long since surpassed its warranty, but I aspired to longevity, and indeed, greatness, nonetheless.

Young subjected me to a series of humiliating tests. First, she strapped a mask resembling the creature from Alien to my mouth—remember the face hugger that deposits eggs into the unfortunate John Hurt character’s gut? This test measured my basal metabolic rate and determined how many vittles I would be allowed to eat to maintain fitness and to shed pounds. She asked me to perform one-legged squats and balance drills and various stretches proving I was

1) weak of hip; 2) soft of core; 3) limber as a 5-foot-9-inch length of number 18 rebar.

She used a goniometer to fit me to my road bike, and she used Dartfish video to help straighten my running gait. Young is a retired cycling goddess, one of this country’s best international riders of the 1990s, and she still stomps in regional endurance races. A full-time coach for the past 12 years, she’s known to be firm but flexible, as interested in mind as body. As I knelt on the floor of Pasternak’s office one day, an outsize rubber band looped around my knees, performing a dog-like move called the Fire Hydrant, I had plenty of time to admire Young’s own shapely and well-muscled gams; compared to hers, mine resembled those of a Modern Game fowl.

At first I carefully followed Young’s training regime, which appeared each evening in my inbox and consisted mainly of road and mountain bike riding and running, and a series of exercises meant to strengthen my core and hips. These floor routines seemed to be quaint “nice to haves,” not “need to haves,” so time-constrained as I was, I ignored them. Here’s where the soundtrack to the film version of this story shifts from major to minor key, but I’ve already made clear where this narrative is heading. Regardless, I knew my body responded well to training loads. I told her to bring it on, and before long I was heading out the door almost every day. I hadn’t run regularly in a few years, so Young mapped slow and steady 45-minute trail runs in 3-2 intervals; three minutes walking and two minutes running. Within a few weeks we increased those sessions to an hour.

“Brad, you really should be working on those hip stabilization exercises,” Young told me during a check-in chat, her chipper, can-do soprano tinged with a bit of concern. “You’ll be happy you did in the long run.”

“OK, Julie! I will,” I said, trying to match her buoyancy, imbued with the best of intentions and a desire to make her proud. But every few weeks when Young and I checked in, I’d have to admit that I hadn’t. I also played catch-up on Saturdays and Sundays, going longer to make up for missed workouts during the week.

“Just take it easy,” said Young, advising me to stick with the day-to-day program. “We’re going for lifetime wellness here.” But those long days felt good, and the running felt better than the cycling, liberating even, bereft of the flashy kit and spare tubes and helmet and the company of amateurs who fretted about their body weight like Georgia debutantes. Running was so utterly stripped to its core, a sandblaster for the soul, and I wanted to revisit the 90-mile weeks I enjoyed in my youth. I watched On the Edge, a film from the last century about an over-the-hill and once-disgraced distance runner played by Bruce Dern who returns to his home in Sausalito to race the Cielo-Sea, a fictionalized version of the Dipsea. The runner, Wes Holman, persuades his old coach to help him win the race. “I’m gonna take your bloated carcass and teach you how to become a mountain racer,” the coach, Elmo, played by John Marley, tells him. Running made my body hurt so good, and the miles indeed cleaved the jigglies from my torso.

Of course, well before my fall from my athletic state of grace, I started thinking about jettisoning bike and boat and circumambulating The Lake via the Tahoe Rim Trail. I figured I’d don a Go-Pro, drum up sponsors and wear their patches, tweet and Facebook my progress from the field. So I happily practiced by downing Nature’s Bakery’s fig bars and Clif Shots as I sidestepped Young’s recipe and upped my hour-long runs to nearly three. And that’s when the damnable arrow, the runner’s bane, found my Achilles.

I called Andy Pasternak’s South Reno medical office in a state of near panic. I was several weeks away from driving to Vermont for a gig at a climbing magazine, and I needed a remedy AchillesASAP. I was referred to a physical therapist whose ministrations included wretch-inducing cross-fiber massage and electro-stimulation, the latter of which made my toes twitch like a machine-gunned mobster—and this at $200 a throw. Those nostrums did nothing to repair the tendon in the short term. The therapist recommended I curb my athletic ambitions. She diagnosed weak hips, and prescribed the same floor routines Young wrote into the plan, which she had insisted were critical to my middle-aged fitness. I felt wretched and guilty as I drove across the country with an Achilles aching each time I depressed the gas pedal. When I reached my editorial residency in the Green Mountains, I admitted to Young what I did, and braced myself. But instead of shaming me with invective and giving me the boot, she rolled with it.

“Brad, what we’re doing here is laying the foundation for a lifetime of fitness,” she said, and she calmly recalibrated the plan. So rather than run roughshod on the Long Trail over Mt. Mansfield, I noodled my road bike between the Upper and Lower Pleasant Valley roads, drove to Mt. Washington to climb its moderate Henderson Ridge and slowly roller skied past verdant fields of happy heifers whose milk would go into Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. As I began putting less pressure on myself, and experienced more joy in the workouts I performed pain-free, I realized my tendon-sprung project hadn’t much altered the warming climate or slowed the universe’s rate of expansion. Even Jane said she still loved me. My ankle pained me, but truthfully, all was well with the world. In a way, my strained Achilles was a signifier of ambition, of overshoot. I didn’t need to run around The Lake or train like an athlete to live a longer life; all I really had to do was move my body.

In No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness, the University of Michigan’s Michelle Segar, a coach and kinesiology expert with a doctorate in behavioral psychology, makes the startlingly simple research-backed proposition that we doom ourselves to failure when we launch diets and exercise routines with the “wrong whys:” dropping x number of pounds, exercising for x number of hours or miles per week, decreasing cholesterol by x number of points or losing x number of inches off of one’s body; these metric-oriented goals are freighted with must-do obligatory angst, and most aspirants quit within six months of starting a program. Focusing on weight, mileage, actuarial tables and The Lake’s perimeter were more sticks than carrots, promoting episodic fitness rather than a lifetime of wellness. Young attempted to set me straight, but I’d deluged a noble urge with these extrinsic goals and drenched the whole business in glorified treacle. I emailed these thoughts to Young, along with the apothegm that “The journey is the destination.”

“I agree wholeheartedly,” she wrote back. “And you sing to the choir. This is my mission statement, even with hard-core endurance athletes: less performed with purpose and intention is more. The whole goal is to provide more balance to a demanding life.”

It occurs to me that this story of my inflamed Achilles is neither apologia nor elegy as much as it is an ode to wellness. Fitness really is about the journey; the destination, after all, we already know.

Now, Jane reminds me that it’s time to hike Galena’s trails. And so I go.


This article originally appeared in Tahoe Quarterly, Best of Tahoe 2015/May 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Contributing editor Brad Rassler is a Reno-based writer whose stories have appeared in Alpinist and Ascent. Find more of his work at

Adopting the Will of Whillans

Whillans450x370Brad Rassler’s regular post, continued…

After re-reading my last post I became so depressed I had to go out and have a breakthrough week. So I did.

I’ve been on the mountain bike more than the road bike these days, reasoning the extra oomph required to pedal through dirt would translate well into the fall whoop-de-doo, which rather than a circum-Tahoe adventure, will be some sort of endurance High Sierra backcountry climb. I mean, after a summer of working at Alpinist Magazine, why shouldn’t it be so? I miss my beloved Sierra.

To climb a peak I’ll have to approach it, so I substituted road bike riding with roller skiing, double poling the flats and skating the uphills. That’s me in the photo appearing somewhat surprised to have returned to weight-bearing exercise. What looks like a beard is actually a grimace.

Feeling no pain from my gammy heel after skating, I ventured out with trekking poles to stroll a few thousand feet up a local ski hill (I promised to turn tail at the slightest pull of the Achilles). Three hours later I was back home, pain free. I think I’ve turned a corner on that damnable injury. I’ll not run until 2015, though – and that’s a promise.

Meanwhile, I psyched myself up by thinking about Don Whillans, the late plumber from Lancashire, and one of Great Britain’s best gritstone climbers. Whillans was a brute of a man, all 5’4”, of him, stout as a fire hydrant. He climbed hard and partied harder; he lived much of his life well into his cups, and had the beer belly and scarred knuckles to prove it.

Whillans was a staple of Sir Chris Bonington’s high altitude expedition teams; few were as strong and tenacious. But he’d arrive in Kathmandu prior to an expedition several stone too thick and wheezy from too much tobacco, droll humor flying and flaying the unfortunates in its path.

By the time Whillans had trekked to the mountain’s base camp, however – say, Annapurna or Everest – he had whittled himself down to near fighting trim. On the actual climb, few could match his pace and tenacity.

He was filmed by a BBC crew as he returned to Camp I after making the first ascent of Annapurna’s treacherous South Face. A reporter asked about the thin provender on which he and his partner Dougal Haston had subsisted during the final push to the summit. With beer in hand, cigarette jutting from his lower lip, and nose grown too big for his broad face due to the weight he had dropped on the climb, he intoned in his nasal Lanky tenor, “I had two days on cigars and snow water.”

Whillans had freakish strength and a redoubtable vim, and I’m no Whillans. But I figured I have enough left in me to pull a Whillans-like maneuver, showing up on the assigned day in less than optimal form, but gaining strength as I move up the mountain.

This Saturday I light out from Vermont and begin the long drive home. The next post will likely be from Nevada.

Hakuna Matata?

Brad Rassler’s quest continues

So this guy limps into Vermont…

thatchingI traveled to the East in May with high hopes of using the Green Mountains as my aerobic proving grounds, but developed a case of Achilles tendonitis that has hamstrung my midlife comeback story. It’s nobody’s fault but mine. Rather than adhering to Julie’s running program, I followed my own flawed Phidippides muse and hopscotched from hour-long gambols to 2.5-hour trail runs: too fast, too far, too soon. Now running is out of the question. Even cycling hurts (although compression socks seem to help a tad). This makes me sad. When I launched into the Live Longer program in February, I expected to suffer from the redemptive pain of reactivating dormant muscles, but this chronic, tendonal variety is a horse of a different color, and it sucks. And from what I’m told, it’s long-lived.

The reminders of my laming occur daily. Each morning I swing my legs out of bed and stand on feet so immobilized by stiff ankles that it takes two minutes of shambling to get them to flex. I was in Golden and Boulder, CO this week for a conference at The American Alpine Club and was invited to run with a Sherpa and Swede, and had to decline. A procession of whippet-thin cyclists and runners passed me each morning as I hobbled between the Colorado School of Mines and the American Mountaineering Center, and I was left with a contrail of memories about fast days gone past. I desperately hope to reclaim a bit of that kind of fitness. But not this year. Not this year.

(Photo caption – Brad Rassler thrutching through krummholz after climbing Mt. Washington’s Henderson Ridge)

Yes, I’m whinging; I own it. Many beset with troubles heroically focus on the positive and prevail. I’m fortunate to have what I do. Ironically, I’m spending my waking hours writing about mountaineers overcoming privation and maiming to gain unclimbed summits. I should take note…

And it’s not like it’s been all sad sack stuff. I’ve had some ok if not achy days on both road and mountain bikes and I’m activating my hips and climbing rock (although the emphasis I’ve put on leg-sports the past 10 years has me looking more like the hakuna matata meerkat Timon Berkowitz than Mighty Mouse).

I’ll start wending my way home from Vermont in a couple of weeks and launch into the fall semester at UNR. I’m still planning on completing the promised day-long denouement to celebrate revivification, but I’m not prepared to cause further injury in the doing of it.

A circumnavigation of Lake Tahoe by Segway?

Nous Allons!


Brad Rassler – Now where were we?

Cardiac-Ride-Albans-LoopThe continuation of an on-going blog by Brad Rassler

Oh, right. On Mt. Tam with Bruce Dern and me at home, nursing a crapped-out Achilles.

Since that post well over a month ago, I’ve driven some 2,888 miles to the Green Mountains of Vermont. I consumed seven donuts on the Trans-Canada Highway. I occupied my office at the headquarters of Alpinist and Backcountry Magazines, where I’m spending the summer, scribbling for a non-living. The first three weeks on the gig I worked well over 200 hours and consumed more donuts and maple syrup. No shortage of Dunkin’ joints around here, dontcha know.

Back to the Great Basin…Prior to lighting out from Reno, Julie gave my bike a good going over; rather, she fit me to it…using a groaniometer (nah – it’s really called a goniometer). Anyway, I’m sitting on my bike properly, and for the first time ever, I  inhabit it rather than it having me.

During the same session, Julie asked me to execute a series of one-legged squats. When my knees tracked inward, she diagnosed weak hips and emphasized the importance of performing the floor exercises she had prescribed early on.

She analyzed my running gait using video and Dartfish.  She re-emphasized the criticality of hip activation exercises.

On a series of too-long runs, I aggravated an old Achilles injury and the tendon sheath bulged in precisely opposite
the pull-tab of my new Brooks Pure Grits (no Achilles notch on that model).  When I begged for relief, Andy Pasternak sent me to physical therapist who informed me I had weak hips (Julie: 1, Brad: 0). This kindly soul – the PT — forbad me to run, hike and climb. So I scrapped a planned foray into the Sierra’s Palisades and attended her torture sessions instead.

Turns out that sweet PT possessed a sadistic streak, evinced by the going over she gave my tendon. I grunted, ground my molars and attempted to stifle agonic squeals as she cranked on the lump to shred the scar tissue. She worked my gastrocs, hamstring
s and glutes. She plied the Achilles with ice and stuck electrical patches to my ankle, cranked the knob and redlined the stimulation meter; I watched in fascination and delight as my toes twitched like a machine-gunned mobster doing the frug before hitting the ground for good.

The following week, I lit out for Vermont.

So here am I. Turns out I landed in the midst of some of the best road riding in New England. Smuggler’s Notch is just up the road, and on the other side of it, Stowe and a 20% climb to regain the notch. Rain falls nearly every day, which puts the “green” in the Green Mountains. There are a lot of happy cows around here. The locals are mighty friendly in that reserved, New Engandy kind of way.

More soon. Meanwhile, here’s a pic of one of the scenics just outside of Alpinist’s headquarters. It might look flat, but it isn’t; all terrain’s a false flat around here.

On The Edge

on-the-edge-mountainA regularly occurring blog post from o2fitness athlete and author, Brad Rassler

SO IT’S MARIN COUNTY in the 1960s, see, and there’s this great all-star distance runner by the name of Wes Holman. Wes was the pride of the North Bay; he was hungry and fast and he even qualified for the ’64 Olympics in the 10K.

Holman was poor. He spent all of his time training. Back in those days, there was no prize money, no shoe sponsorship, no endorsement deals. You ran as an amateur, and if you wanted to eat, you worked another job.

Holman loved to race and he liked to eat, so he swallowed his pride and did what everybody did: He cashed in the airline tickets sent to him by race promoters, pocketed the money and drove to races. There was a name for it: shamateurism. Everyone knew what was going on, but no one wanted to name it. Holman saw the hypocrisy in the practice and he tried to organize the running community press for reform.

Holman’s arch rival, fearing that the roof of the fragile “shamateur” house would come crashing in, ratted him out to the amateur athletic commission. Holman was banned from running. He turned tail on the sport, moved far away from his home and tried to forget the past.

Twenty years later — 1984 — Holman returned to Marin to train for the Cielo-Sea, a brutal race from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach by way of the summit of Mt. Tamalpais. Wes badly wanted to win the Cielo-Sea for reasons that had quite a little bit to do with redemption.

So Holman moved into derelict dredge floating in a Marin back bay, and gave it up for the Cielo-Sea.

Sound too plot-riven to be true?

Well, yeah. I’m cribbing from On the Edge, a 1986 film starring Bruce Dern playing Holman. I won’t spoil the film – you’ll have to see the movie to learn how the film ends – but the denouement proves a refreshing twist on the Hollywood comeback trope.

I’m nursing a crapped out achilles tendon and I’m riding a bike when I’d rather be running, so I’m thinking about On the Edge.

Maybe there’s been a time in your life when running served as a kind of sandblaster for the soul. You ran because you had to. You stripped your life to the quick, and your time on track and trail ennobled and enabled. If so, you’ll love the film.


My favorite lines all come from Holman’s coach, Elmo, played beautifully by John Marley:

“I’m going to teach you everything  there is to know about the Cielo-Sea…and that’severything to know. I’m going to take your bloated carcass and teach you how to become a mountain racer.”

“There are three things about the Cielo-Sea. There’s philosophy, strategy and training. Any one without the other two is worthless. You’ve got to be an artist to take on this mountain.”

Elmo on downhill running:

“This is where philosophy ends. This is pure religion.”

“How do you run the downhills? I just put my foot out. As soon as I put my foot out, I’m committed. You see, I have to find a place to land…it’s just like falling. The last possible moment you catch onto something. Now that’s fate. It’s crazy. But that’s how you run the downhill, see?”

Elmo on Holman’s banishment from the sport and his attempts to do the right thing:

“There’s politics in sports. There’s good politics and bad politics. Just like the labor movement and every other goddam movement. You know that Wes threw away his chance to run in the Olympics because he had the balls to stand up and face the whole damn sports establishment and let them know that the rich set up amateurism so the poor couldn’t play?”

Elmo’s last bit of advice to Holman:

“I want you to go out and feel the course. Burn the uphill and soar the downhill. When you burn, you say soar. When you soar, you say burn.”

Great to watch Holman burn while I cool my heels, and wait for a healthier day.

Makeover at the Movies

There’s been a pregnant pause since I’ve updated this picaresque series of posts intended to depict my athletic rebirth: shhhhh…can you hear it?

Remember, I had fallen into disrepair. I was sitting too much and moving too little. I’d fallen down on the job of staying fit, and I’d vowed to turn my life around…but I’ve failed to provide the promised bi-monthly reportage of the journey.

C’mon, Brad! What’s the dealio?

The dealio is that I’ve been thinking of you, dear reader. Seriously, there’s an art to writing these comeback kid narratives, and I struggle to post when there’s little to report. I’m sparing you from the kind of drivel that would have you dropping me like a fedora-wearing hipster riding his fixie up the Eastern Sierra’s Onion Valley Road:

“I came, I ran and I crushed. I did everything my coach asked me to do this week. Feeling great! More of the same next week. Thinking about buying a pair of not-so-minimalist running shoes. Can’t wait to fill you in next Friday.”

Yawn, gap and stretch. And if I didn’t care so much about my readers’ user experience, that’s the kind of narrative I’d deliver, even if it were perfectly true (which it isn’t). So I’m attempting to shape these posts into an arc, a yarn, a tale, a chronicle, a missive that’s neither too tall nor too small. Namely, a story that’s compelling enough to keep you reading when you really should be getting back to that report your boss has asked you to deliver by the end of the day, or that dear yelping child pulling on the hem of your running shorts, or that Pinarello Dogma 65.1 you’ve got tucked under the sheets on the barren side of your California king.

Double-Indemnity1-e1395088479189Question: what do The Wizard of OzStar WarsRepo Man and Son of Flubber have in common? Why, the hero’s journey, of course. To wit: An everyperson falls into an accidental adventure that morphs into a redemptive quest to capture the boon and to bring it back to share with the world. (Almost as heroic as Fred MacMurray’s career arc, which took him from the film noir classic Double Indemnity (1944) to The Absent-Minded Professor(1961) and its sequel,Flubber (1963). What was poor Fred’s boon? I’ll get back to you on that one.)

My point is that everyone appreciates a well-told everyman’s tale, as long as the highs aren’t too high and the lows aren’t too low. At the same time, who wants to read about the Übermensch who’s just killing it every week, and has gone from doughboy to heart-lung machine in a month’s time, outpeddling guys who ride 7,500 miles a year? Incipient admiration would morph into envy, which would funnel into hatred.

Even my alter ego would quit reading this blog.

On the same token, who would willingly consume the chronicles of a total loser – say, the story of a guy who reports each week that he’s failed to perform the Pilates program his brilliant coach, Julie Young of O2 Fitness, designed for him well over a month ago. Ahem.

Finally, there’s little demand for a colloquy without a crisis, and thus far, that’s precisely what this “story” is, because we’ve yet to nail the stakes to any kind of adventure that might prove the story’s climax. Or anti-climax. Or something from which a denouement might flow.

Enough. I’ll come out with the truth: I totally fell down on the job last week. I missed four workouts. I consumed two cans of Pringles and swilled a bottle of Squirt. I was stressed, spent and dealing with the kind of stuff that made working out seem trivial.

Can you relate, mate?

Here’s my learning: One day’s break: fine. Two consecutive days? Well, all right, take them if you must. Three consecutive days of inactivity? Not recommended when you’ve spent most of the past two years practicing slouchdom. Four days of sitting around? Well, you might as well go back to start, because here come the butter-toffee macadamia nuts and Cherry Coke.

The good news is that I pulled myself out of the sewer – again! – and put in 4.5 hours of training on the weekend – just what Julie slated on our Training Peaks package. Despite the Pringles and old-fashioned chocolate donuts (forgot to mention those), I’ve lost five pounds. My pudge pockets are not quite as evident when I’m riding in the drops of my road bike, and my chest doesn’t jiggle (as much) when I run. I undoubtedly have more strength and endurance than I did a month ago. And after jumping back on the horse this weekend, I actually feel better than I have in a long while.

Now – for that grand ordeal. What should it be?

Run? Hike? Climb? Peddle? Paddle? It has to be an endurothon, it should take place in a wilderness-ish setting (big mountain road bike riding is fair game, too). I’d like to stay in the Sierra Nevada or beyond. It can last more than a day. Should take place in August or September. No formal races.

Email me at brad (at) sustainableplay (dot) com with your thoughts.

Your fantasy adventure might well become my own. If I select your idea, you’ll become the feature of a blog post. Imagine that!


If you’re on this page, maybe you’ve come with your knives sharpened for a heaping helping of schadenfreude – but for those who might have just wandered into this shinola show, here’s the basic conceit of this series of posts: I’m out of shape. If my family medical history were a book, it would be composed of many short stories. Or blurbs, maybe. So as a middle-age male who’s trending toward slouchdom, I need to do something, now, to sidestep premature mortality. I’ve learned that getting fit is a lot easier when you’ve got a compelling reason to push yourself out the door, so I’m hatching a plan for some sort of culminating event. More on that later. For now, know that I’m working closely with Julie Young and Dr. Andy Pasternak of O2 Fitness and Silver Sage Sports Performance to slap me into shape.

Julie set me up on Training Peaks software last week, and she populated this first week of workouts on Sunday night. When I opened the program to preview what the week would look like, my body began to tingle. Can you say “frisson?” The fearful kind.

When I saw what was ahead of me, I realized I’d be upping my activity hours five-fold in this first week alone. Included in Julie’s menu was a goodly ration of running, cycling, and a buckdancer’s choice day, along with a couple of resting intervals. The enduro bits I could  deal with, but Julie had me performing a bunch of Pilates-inspired exercises each morning, and these were a bit more difficult to square. First, I had to lie on the ground. Second, I had to tie a big-ass rubber band around my thighs. Next, assuming various angles of repose, I was to spread my knees and stretch the rubber band as far as possible. All while smiling. These I found physically and psychically trying in the extreme, and I can only hope they become easier as time goes on…if I can get around to doing them at all. As for the aerobic bit: running and cycling, both mountain and road.

I had to do the running at night. “There’s nothing for it, Mr. Frodo,” as Sam Gamgee, the faithful halfling, said. Nothing for it. That first night I so badly didn’t want to do it. Though I own enough inner and outerwear to open my own sporty clothing boutique, I spent an hour faffing around with layering systems, retying laces, looking for good reasons to blow off the workout. Too exhausted. Definitely not psyched. Too cold outside. Too dark. All alone…and there are mountain lions out there (seriously, there are). Did I mention I felt exhausted?

In years past, I’d push myself out the door at the end of a work day knowing I’d shed the fatigue within two minutes, and in within 10 I’d be happy to be outside. Thankfully, that truth still holds. I enjoyed the quietude and dark skies, big old Orion and his three-star belt (one of those stars is the Horsehead Nebula), and lenticular clouds undershot by the light coming from downtown Reno. I wouldn’t have made it out the door if not for Julie’s training plan, and I’ll look forward to more night runs.*

Wednesday: two hours of cycling. Battled a stiff headwind on the return leg of my 30-mile out and back. Glutes and hamstrings tired and sore.

Thursday: Another run. A trudge, actually. I used to be called “the rabbit,” because I’d tear out of the starting gate on a group training run at a sub six minute pace. My new handle is “the gastropod.” Slow to start, slow to finish. Hey, at least I’m consistent.

Friday: Thankful Day of Rest.

Saturday: A nearly two-hour mountain bike ride in hilly terrain. Ouch. Forgot how much mtb’ing recruits the upper body. Sore lats!

Sunday: Two-hour run in hilly terrain. Double ouch. Starting to feel IT band and achilles tendon on left leg.

Sunday night: Urinate blood.


The upcoming week is much the same as last: Monday and Friday days of rest, and aerobic excitement on the others. I’ll be running at night again. Love it while it lasts; we spring forward in two weeks.

In terms of the Grand Challenge. I may crowdsource ideas. Seriously. I’d like another couple weeks of miles on my legs before announcing a run or ride or climb.

My vow: I’ll attempt to do my floor exercises this week. I promise.

For nighttime pursuits I’m using  a Light & Motion Solite 250, which is really small, unobtrusive, and incredibly bright headlamp, with adjustable settings and a max output of 250 lumens. Completely lights up a trail and everything around it. I like that they’re made stateside, in Monterey, in a small machine shop on Cannery Row. It’s already my go-to light source, and it will become more valuable as workouts take me past sunset.

Mid-Course Correction V 5.2

Below starts a regular blog post by Brad Rassler…o2fitness trainee, embarking on an athletic rebirth – photo-1-2-1024x768Carpe Diem Brad!

After 30 years, it finally happened: I was on the verge of going to seed.

Bereft of a desire to exercise, but happily pinioned to a demanding graduate school program and a new writing career, I was feeding my mind but spending a prodigious number of hours on my bum. Hours that would have normally seen me outdoors on a run or ride were filled by slouching in front of, say, a string of Frederick Wiseman documentaries, or composing reams of content for Sustainable Play, an e-zine devoted to celebrating the human-powered activities I was now avoiding like the ebola virus. Unable to shut off my overstimulated and increasingly hypertrophic brain come eventide, I had taken to gobbling Ambien like M&Ms to induce a few hours of shallow sleep. Upon rising, I would drink very strong coffee, down a bagel with peanut butter, and call it good until evening, when I’d binge eat. And start all over again.

I knew I was walking a razor’s edge between health and despair, and I, more than most, had a compelling reason to change my profligate ways, and find my own true path to “sustainable play.” This effort was gonna require a bit more than a stand-up desk.

Why Change?

On April 4, 1983, at approximately 11:30 p.m., Richard H. Rassler, an athletic and handsome 44-year old commercial real estate entrepreneur — my father — stepped out of his West Bloomfield Hills, Michigan home for a late-night run. Five hours later, he was found dead on a neighbor’s lawn, where he had been felled by a massive heart attack.


His father, Jack, had died of the same condition just eight years prior, at age 62. Julian, my mother’s father, had suffered a stroke at 50, and died of heart failure 11 years later. And my younger brother, who certainly hadn’t intended to follow in our father’s footsteps, stopped by an ER in 2008 because he wasn’t feeling quite himself, and four hours later he had four new tubes feeding his heart muscle. He was 43 when he had the quadruple bypass, and thanks to the heart surgeon, he’ll turn 50 this summer.

But mine is not exactly an auspicious family medical Hx.


Richard H. Rassler (right) 1938 – 1983 / Rassler collection

I was 21 when my father passed, and his death hit hard. I swore not to succumb to the same premature fate, so I set out to understand how I might make my arteries slick as teflon. I adopted the Pritikin diet, and launched into a running habit that morphed from 30 miles a week into an obsessive and increasingly fast 90. When I became so emaciated that I could tie a standard bandana around my waist with fabric to spare, my mother and stepfather made clear that I looked unwell — like a concentration camp internee, they said — and the bade me to lighten up on my ascetic ways. (The long-distance running crowd I had taken to hanging out with was warped enough to consider the “you look as skinny as a concentration camp prisoner” a compliment of the highest order).

But truth was, I was a fit and happy young animal. And so I remained until I hit my 41st birthday, when weird stuff started to happen. I began to experience episodic chest pain so severe that I became habituated to emergency room protocol. I was sent home after each of the eight or so times I had rushed to the hospital, with a prescription of Prilosec in hand, but no idea of what was causing my distress. A false positive on a nuclear treadmill test led to an angiogram that revealed pristine pipes, but it wasn’t until this past year that a UCSF gastroenterologist concluded that esophageal spasms had been my bane. But that diagnosis came after a host of other niggling medical concerns, some quite legitimate, some bizarre and some, frankly, fueled by my increasing anxiety (which kicked in in earnest in my 44th year), that I’d drop dead as suddenly as my father had.

At 52, I’ve exceeded his lifespan, and up until the past year or two, have stayed fairly active and fit. But given my troubling family history, I’ll have to be vigilant about my health to make it to 75, the average life expectancy of a Caucasian U.S. male. And if I’m not destined to become an outlier on the far side of the bell shaped curve, I hope to wiggle past its apex. I’ve still got stuff to do. But my current path isn’t going to take me there.

Sitting’s the New Smoking

A plethora of studies have been released in the last many years positing that exercise is a “non-negotiable” to attain a healthy body and mind. In addition to the basics: improved cardiovascular system, lubrication of joints, staving off diseases, maintaining memory, etc, exercise also acts as an anti-anxiolytic, an anti-depressant and even a catalyst for creating states of euphoria (the hormone anandamide, released when engaged in endurance activities, contains endocannabinoids — our bodies’ very own marijuana analog). Whether it’s running, cycling, hiking, walking – it doesn’t much matter what a body does, as long as it doesn’t just sit there, because sitting, peer-reviewed studies have shown, is deadly. The new smoking, in fact.

In theory, I simply needed to consistently move my body vigorously to reap a host of benefits that, if not lead to a longer life, certainly contribute to one with more vitality. In practice, however, I knew from years of exercising that nothing kickstarted my mind’s resolve to set body in motion like a compelling athletic goal; especially one I considered beyond my ability.

So a goal I’d need. And I’d need help to accomplish it.

The Power of Coaching

I’ve seen all manner of endurance athletes come up lame when their enthusiasm outpaced their connective tissues, exercising so hard they were working counter to actual fitness. And who can blame them? It seems the public is introduced to new truths in exercise and diet every year, and the myriad voices are confounding and often contradictory. It seemed prudent and expedient to reach out to people whose lives were devoted to grokking the truth, and to rely on them to filter the bits that were most relevant to me.

As an organizational development consultant and executive coach, I’ve been approached by ailing organizations wanting help. I’ve been trained to help them solve their own problems, building capacity and organizational self-sufficiency to solve their own problems. Gather metrics, create a strategic plan, and chart progress. I wanted to work with fitness and health professionals who operated in a similar manner.


Coach and collaborator, Julie Young / Julie Young collection

Several years I go I wrote a feature for Tahoe Quarterly about the region’s top 10 guides and coaches, and met Julie Young, founder of O2 Fitness. Young was a leader on the women’s professional cycling peloton in the 90′s, and she’s won many races, but none as prestigious as the 1992 Tour de l’Aude, a stage race often called the women’s version of the Tour de France. She’s still an elite athlete, winning or placing in nearly every human-powered endurance sport as can be found practiced in the Sierra Nevada. As fine as an athlete as she is, however, Young has the reputation of being an even better coach. When I interviewed her, she had impressed me with her commitment to develop her clients’ minds as well as their bodies, leveraging their aspirations and passion to catalyze their training plans, and helping them develop richer lives through sport. She works with her charges in person, even trains with them. She struck me as a kindred spirit when it came to working with people – and I made a mental note that should I ever want a coach, I’d call on Young.


Dr. Andy Pasternak / Pasternak collection

Given my family history, I didn’t want to embark on the Brad 5.2 reset program without metrics, and I thought it prudent to work under the observation of a doctor. My primary health care physician, Andy Pasternak, is a University of Michigan-trained doc who was awarded Northern Nevada’s 2013 Physician of the Year. He’s also an avid Nordic skier, tennis player and trail runner. Pasternak, it turns out, partners with Julie Young through his Silver Sage Sports Performance, which sits astride his family practice.

My decision to work with Pasternak and Young was an easy one to make.

Strapped Down and Maxed Out

On Friday, February 14 — Valentines Day — I headed down to Silver Sage Sports Performance Center after a 12-hour fast, for what would be the first of many tests to come: this time, it was a resting metabolic rate test (RMR), which would determine my body’s consumption of calories when, say, I’m sitting around in my pajamas on a perfectly beautiful Saturday afternoon, writing these very words. Results of the RMR will tell us how much to subtract from calories I’ll burn when I get around to exercising, which in turn will tell us how many calories I’ll need to maintain or lose weight.

Young, who administered the test, described it as straightforward; all I needed to do was chill in a chaise lounge for anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Easy enough. But I was meant to do so with a facemask trussed to my cranium, so as not to allow any of my outbreaths to escape into anything but the corrugated pond tubing that trailed from the mask into a device called a Parvo – a name I associated with a particular canine virus. A registered claustrophobic, I found myself thinking about the movie Alien, and the facehugger that inseminates the unfortunate John Hurt character whilst clamped to his mouth, but I attempted to banish the disturbing (but apt) image to concentrate on the present moment while I wondered why the mask’s designer hadn’t taken Semitic noses into account, since mine had the schnoz pocket at full capacity. Young remained in the room, and though tempted to whinge, I truly didn’t want her to think of me as girlie man – just yet – so let the test run, and thankfully it ended after 30 minutes rather than 45.


Attempting to cultivate Parvo mindfulness / Brad Rassler photo

Pasternak came up to the plate next, and with a set of skinfold calipers, went about measuring gobbets of my thigh, waist, and yes, dear reader, what I had come to think of as my chest, but will now refer to as my breast. My height was measured, along with my weight, my waist, arms and breasts, and I recoiled when I was told that 22 of my 163.8 pounds were pure fat. Skinny fat, I think the term is called. In other words, cleave me from the nave to the chops, and you’d find my innards well-marbled. Kobe beef. Veal piccata. Pasternak surprised me by telling me it wasn’t too bad a number, not bad at all, actually pretty good for a sedentary kind of guy – but clearly, I have my work cut out for me.

And so here I am, having survived the poking, prodding, near-suffocation. Soon more tests will come, but Young wants to get me off my lardo butt before plugging me into any additional Parvos.  I receive my first assignment on Monday. That gives me the remainder of the weekend to slouch. And slouch I will.

My plan is to concoct an audacious athletic goal to kickstart my exercise mojo and tease me back to into the daily habit of moving my body. The pursuit itself will be a pleasant end result. The process — reestablishing healthful habits — will be the real reward.

I’ll chronicle the journey as the mood suits, and you’re welcome to come along. Just be sure to pack a hefty ration of schadenfreude.