Wednesday, October 31, 2007

'Tis the season

Yep, it's that time of year again, folks. Drive onto any Navy base any morning in the fall or spring, and you'll see large groups of sailors in PT gear gathering on the athletic fields to do their pushups, situps, and running their one and a half miles for the PRT.

I have earnestly embraced the culture of fitness and I'm working on breaking the cycle I have gone through each sea and shore tour. In case you didn't know, being on a submarine is not exactly conducive to staying in shape. The food is fattening (at least the food that tastes good is fattening - there are no healthy alternatives that are enjoyable to eat), and there's very limited resources for exercise - limited both in time-off and in available space or equipment. On a typical 688-class submarine, I think you'll be lucky to find one or two exercise bikes, and maybe a rowing machine or a stairmaster. On the MSP, this is the first boat I've been on that actually has a treadmill.

When I left college, I was in decent shape. I was never a PT stud. My roommates in college always made me sick. They were on the 3-mile-per-year running program. In other words, they would merely show up at the PRT twice per year and run their 1.5 miles in like 10 or 11 minutes without any sort of preparation. I'm not a fast runner, and I've always had to get out there running regularly at least a few weeks before the PRT in order to get a passing run time.

Over the course of 42 months of my JO sea tour, I pretty much never exercised when we were underway. When I was standing 3-section watch, I just valued my sleep too much. Do your pre-watch tour, eat, stand watch for 6 hours, eat, do after watch reconstruct for a few hours (that was back in the day of paper plots and drawing by hand a reconstructed geoplot of what happened during your watch - man I feel old) , attend training, do your divisional paperwork, do your radcon audits and surveillances, do your training binders, review your PMS schedules, resolve whatever other crisis-du-jour had arisen, try to get 5 hours of sleep, pre-watch tour, eat, go back on watch. I think back then the "health nuts" would sacrifice some of their sleep in order to go exercise, but it just wasn't worth it to me then. Then there's the fact we had a prior-served White House chef in the galley, and the food was pretty darn good! By the time I finished my JO sea tour, I had gained 25 pounds from my college weight.

Then we went to Monterey. Whoa! Real quick tangent here...
For any of you reading this and wondering where to go for shore duty, GO TO MONTEREY!!! I mean, seriously, you get PAID the salary of a LT (or higher if you go later) to go to SCHOOL full time and get a FREE masters degree. It's more than that though - it's the LIFESTYLE! You sign up for which classes you're going to take each quarter, so you have some control over your schedule. I generally organized it so that I had a class from 8 to 10, then I went to the gym from 10 to 12 (including changing and showering, etc), then I had lunch from 12 to 1 p.m., then I had a 1 to 3 p.m. class, and then I went home. Better yet, classes were Monday-Wednesday or Tuesday-Thursday. Fridays were for labs, so if you were in a non-engineering program (like, say, National Security Affairs), that meant no labs, so you had every Friday off. The engineering students referred to NSA as "No Studying Allowed". We called it the "book of the night club" because it was like, "Here, read this 300 page history book in two nights and be ready to discuss it at our next class." There's a great paved bike path all up and down the coastline through Monterey, and I loved going for long bike rides around Pacific Grove. We also did a lot of scuba diving there. I was already scuba certified, and LW got certified there. So if you think you're going to stay in the Navy for another sea tour anyway, why bother taking your chances on "the slate"? If you sign up for NPS, you're in! No questions or uncertainty in where you're going (and I highly doubt they'll pull any one out of NPS to go on an IA assignment).
Anyway, getting back to my point... By the end of my first shore tour, I had gotten back into good shape and got my weight back down to my college weight.

Then I went to sea duty again. It was immediately after 9-11 and everyone was lobbing tomahawks into Afghanistan or Iraq (except for us - somebody had to make sure things stayed calm and under control in other parts of the world). I spent 55% of my second sea tour out at sea and crossed the international dateline into Westpac 3 times in 3 years. During the time I was in port, I was working 12-hour days 6-days a week on average. Luckily for me, my CO had embraced the culture of fitness back then, and we had Command PT built into our in-port routine two or three days per week. That helped keep my weight in check, but wasn't quite enough given the amount of time we spent at sea and the lack of time for exercising at sea. So by the end of my three years as a DH, I had regained those 25 pounds I lost during shore duty and was back to my previous sea duty weight.

Then I went to NRO. Wow. What an absolutely awesome place to work! Not just in terms of the really cool super-secret stuff that I can't tell you about, but also in terms of facilities. They have an awesome gym there and you can sign up for a free personal trainer or any one of a number of free workout classes. There are a lot of nice trails outside for running through the beautiful parks of Northern Virginia when the weather is nice, or there's a couple of dozen treadmills to use when it's not so nice out. In the cafeteria, they had a salad bar like a mile long with dozens of fresh fruits and vegetables. I actually ENJOYED eating salad for lunch there almost every day (I had a weakness for Mexican day - I know that comes as a big surprise to those of you who know me well). My last PRT I ran before leaving DC, I made my best 1.5 mile run time ever - even better than when I was a midshipman! And... I lost those 25 pounds and was back at my college weight again.

Leaving shore duty to head to Groton for sub school and back to sea duty again, I dreaded what would happen to my physical shape. LW got me this awesome Polar heartrate monitor watch, and it does a fitness test that measures out in VO2. Leaving shore duty, my fitness test VO2 level was 48. In spite of the 12-hour days at sub school, I tried to go to the gym and run on the indoor track several times per week, so my fitness test only dropped to 44 by the end of sub school. Then I flew out to meet the MSP on deployment and went into the vampire routine on mission. I was CDO on the midwatch every night and in or near the control room most of the time, so I didn't exercise. By the end of deployment my fitness test score was down to 25 and I had gained back my sea-duty weight (turns out my metabolism has not improved with age), and not happy with my level of physical fitness. So I started pushing hard to get back in shape again. I made an effort to get to the gym in port, or use the treadmill or exercise bike at sea. I was a geobachelor then, so I tried to eat-right with healthy snacks and dinners. By the time we left Norfolk in July for our change of homeport to Pearl Harbor, my fitness test was back up to 37. My goal for the transit from Norfolk to Pearl Harbor was to run at least 3 miles per day on the treadmill. I almost made it. The ONLY day I DIDN'T run was the day we went through the Panama Canal, and I think that's a fairly good excuse. By the time we arrived in Pearl Harbor, my fitness score was up to 45.

Now, I'm working hard to maintain it. Thanks to the example set by my CO on my DH tour though, I saw that it was feasible to put Command PT into a normal in-port routine. So the COB and I have put Command PT into the MSP's in port routine to promote the Navy's culture of fitness. I think our Command PT program has been a pretty good success. I get lots of good feedback about it from the crew. We muster up three times per week and the COB leads us in warm-up exercises, then we go for a run around the base (sometimes we get some other guys to volunteer as guest PT leaders). Guys who want to swim instead can go to the pool right by where we do our warm-up exercises. It has really worked out well for us over the past three months here in Pearl Harbor. I just hope we can continue to keep it up through the shipyard.


Caffienated Cowgirl said...

You're too funny Blunoz...

But bravo for doing the PT regime. So many boats say "use your lunch hour for PT"...and it never happens. Making it mandatory is great.

Loping Squid said...

Blunoz, good luck. I've suffered the same yo-yo-ing weights with regard to sea duty. And, like you I had a good example on my DH tour of how to fit command PT into the plan. I even managed to get out during lunch sometimes in the shipyard to augment the command mandated PT. Just had to give up the post-lunch cribbage games...
I thought it was easier to find the time in the shipyard than on an 'operational' boat.
Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

That's great that there's some sort of regularity becoming established. No easy feat to keep things going with the schedules the boats have. Good luck on keeping up with it! Maybe we'll be seeing your half and full marathon race reports soon. :)