For new readers

To get an idea of what I'm trying to do and why I think it's possible, check out the following entries, they'll help get you up to speed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

In the paper

Andy Magness uses Friday's blizzard as an opportunity for a training ride. Magness bikes on Belmont Road in Grand Forks to train for the Arrowhead Bike Race in International Falls in Feb. Herald photo by John Stennes.

I ended up in the local paper (Grand Forks Herald) on December 26th after going out for a brief ride.  In all honesty it wasn't really much of a workout as the riding was so technically difficult i never got my heart rate up.  It wasn't much good for trouble shooting gear issues either - i was hoping to test the merits of the new winter cycling shoes i'd just received from santa but the conditions were so treacherous that i abandoned the idea of clipping in after taking a spill only five blocks from my house where i wasn't able to unclip.  Because the powder was so deep the cleats had gotten quite jammed with snow and it had taken me four of those blocks just to clear them and get clipped in in the first place, i just figured it wasn't worth it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Winter riding

Me just returning from a 2+ hour training ride last sunday.  Notice the 5 inch icicle coming off of my chin.  I was oblivious to it the entire ride.  

I went out for another longish ride (just over two hours) yesterday.  The temperature was about -2 F with 10 or more mph wind - so reasonably cold.  I tried out a new 'layering' scheme - a VB shirt (stephensons warm-lite with 'fuzzy stuff') next to the skin with an IceBreaker merino wool base layer over it.  On the bottom I donned Ibex wool bike shorts, knee warmers, and a pair of Craft Storm tights.  A fleece balaclava and goggles covered my head and VB socks, thick wool socks, inov-8 Goretex boots, and neoprene shoe covers.  I also tried putting toe warmers between the shoe covers and the boots. [note - although i do like most of my gear, i'm not providing the specifics as any sort of a endorsement - rather just because as anyone who has done anything nutty like this can probably attest to - getting a good system down is a huge challenge, if it's possible at all.  I often read other peoples accounts of similar exploits to try to figure out what to do myself and vague and general descriptions of gear are generally worse than no description at all....]

I felt a bit ridiculous heading out into the cold with such threadbare layers on my torso, but knew from two weeks ago that i'd heat up quickly (although it had been nearly 20 degrees warmer then).  I couldn't leave without some insurance so i took a lightweight fleece and a nearly non-existent windshell and stuck them in the bikes frame bag, just in case.  I could have left them at home.

I rode mostly in Zones 2 and 3 on a fairly even mix of 'singletrack' or ungroomed XC ski trails and a paved (though spottily covered with snow and ice) bike path.  I was initially cold but as expected that didn't last long - i was soaked within half an hour or so.  I stayed warm (for the most part) despite my lack of clothing and my wool shirt stayed essentially dry (it was snowing a bit and so some of the flakes melted creating a very slight dampness) so that worked well.  However, when i was on the paved trails i was moving faster and more exposed to the wind.  Because my upper body was leaning slightly forward on the bike, the VB shirt and baselayer were allowed to form a bit of a gap away from my skin.  My sweat seemed to pool there and the gap allowed for the air to cool to a much greater degree - so much so that the sweat froze on the inside of my VB.  Brrrrrr.  It wasn't horrible and i didn't really notice it unless i shifted my riding position, stretched, or had to get off the bike to push for some reason - but at these times it was, well, quite chilly.  My legs on the other hand were toasty throughout and remained pretty dry - i seem to perspire almost exclusively from my torso.   My toes seemed cold - the size 9 shoes are a bit snug with the heavy socks and i think this limits my circulation a bit.  The toe warmers did next to nothing to help.  It's a bit hard to tell the difference between cold and kinda numb and actually numb/frozen - but it's an important distinction.  My left toes were the former, my right the latter.  As a result i got to experience the 'hot aches' for the first time in a while as i re-warmed inside after the ride.  OUCH.  [For those who have never experienced the hot aches - count yourself lucky.  Although luckily of a transient sort - the pain is the most intense i have ever felt and absolutely immune to ANY means of mitigation or desensitization that i'm aware of.  There's a cool video of the experience here.]

My head was also a problem, as i've yet to figure out how to keep my goggles from fogging up, especially during higher exertion levels.  They were unusable about 25 minutes into my ride - the vapor from my breath had frozen in thin sheets on the inside of the lenses.  I rode for nearly another two hours squinting to keep the flurries from hitting my eyeballs.  As a result my upper and lower eyelashes were close enough together to periodically freeze to each other, forcing me to take my hand out of the warm pogie and use my fingertips to thaw the ice so i could see again.  Fun stuff.

I also tried a new 'water' system this time - i placed a 250 ml bottle filled with gatorade (lower freezing point) in each of the pogies.  The liquid was just starting to show signs of ice formation when i got home after more than 2 hours, so I may do this during the race.  the downside is that my hands weren't nearly as warm  - some of their heat going to the bottles.

All in all it was a good day - i worked out a few logistical kinks, developed much greater bike handling skills (due to all the trail riding), suffered a little, and, of course, the icicle.....

Friday, December 11, 2009

Periodization on three hours a week (and why a blog is a bad thing)

As i struggle to feel as though i'm adequately preparing for the arrowhead bike race (even though it's still a long way off) i end up thinking a lot about how best to schedule my workouts while keeping to the three hours a week.  it's actually a bit ironic - although i'm technically exercising only 3 hours a week, the whole effort takes significantly more time than this.  Partly because it probably needs too - there is a lot to consider in order to optimize the time - and partly because it's a means of procrastination.  This blog tends to make it worse - i like writing down my ideas so much that i'm starting to post instead of working on my thesis.  This has got to stop, at least eventually....

I also spend some time thinking about scheduling in an effort to make Dave's workouts as efficient as possible.  One thing i've been turning over in my mind recently is how to best introduce 'periodization' into this program.  it's pretty easy (i've found) to improve handily in a discipline just by doing a fairly balanced, unperiodized set of workouts that incorporate moderate to high intensity efforts.  This is most of what i've done over the past 6 months - one speed, one tempo, and one 'endurance' workout a week - always changing to avoid boredom - with the disciplines changing at least once a week (ie never 3 run workouts in a single week).  But as i'm gearing up for a bike race that is probably going to take me anywhere from 20-40 hours, it's clear that a bunch of one hour workouts is going to potentially leave me underprepared.  I say potentially because the arrowhead will not be a 'fast' race - the environmental and logistical limits that will present themselves with likely determine an optimum speed, which will likely be one at which even my present fitness will see me through.  My proposed ironman however, is another story.  if i want to stand a chance of getting top 25% i'll need to be able to 'push' moderately hard for 12 or more hours.  how do i do this when thats all i train in a month?

I've had a couple ideas.  Joe Friel's 'build' phases in his Triathlon training bible are characterized by 4 week blocks where the first three weeks have increasing volume and the fourth week is kind of a 'recovery week'.  splitting six hours over each to weeks, i can easily emulate this.  for example:

  •  week one (2.5 hours)
    •  a 1  hour bike
    •  one hour run (both with tempo intervals, for example) 
    •  half an hour swim.  
  • week two (3.5 hours) 
    •  30 min run
    •  30 min bike (both with speed work)
    •  15 min swim
    •  45 min bike (race pace or greater) followed by 90 min run
  •  week 3 (4.5 hours)
    • 30 min run (easy/moderate) or even swim
    • 40 min bike (tempo/tt) - much faster than race pace.
    • 3 hour ride (race pace) followed by 20 min run (race pace)
  • week 4 (1.5 hours)
    • 30 min bike (easy/moderate)
    • 15 min swim (race pace)
    • 45 min run (moderate, race pace)
This schedule could be followed the next month by something similar, but with the weeks using 2, 4, 5, and 1 hours to allow for slightly longer 'long' workouts.  Keep in mind that this schedule is based on the fact that i'm a decent swimmer and won't be working much on swimming prior to my race - other than trying to make sure i have a good 'water feel'.  of the 12 hours, 6:25 is spent riding, 4:35 running (or 4:05), and 1 hr (or 1:30)  swimming.  Interestingly enough, looking at this, it appears that these ratios are roughly what i'd hope to be doing in an iron distance event.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Too much of a good thing

Yummy fiber rich foods

I know eating a diet high in fiber is supposed to be good for you.  However, the age old adage "moderation in all things" -which pretty much applies well to almost everything - should particularly not be ignored concerning fiber, especially in individuals attempting intense exercise.  This goes doubly so when said exercise is performed in an environment without nearby 'facilities' - either man's or natures.  

I imagine i've been overdoing it for about a couple of weeks.  While i've always periodically struggled with 'hollow bowels' following abnormally intense workouts, it's recently become more of a regular battle.  Instead of two or three movements a day it's been more like 5 or 6.  Ok, I know that's probably more than anyone needs to know (for some reason having young kids makes this subject far less taboo since it ends up being discussed so frequently with them....) but, well, there you have it.  Anyway - i wasn't sure the culprit of my regular 'runner's trots' as they're commonly called is a high fiber diet, but, according to research this may be a contributing factor.  In thinking back i realize i've been eating an awful lot of veggies, beans, whole wheat pasta, etc. lately and am fairly certain that my average daily intake has well surpassed the recommended 25-30 grams. I'll be keeping track over the next few days to try to get a better estimate and to make sure that i'm eating an amount closer to this range - hopefully i'll notice an improvement.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter's here and training challenges

Well, after an abnormally long and pleasant fall, winter has finally come.  the snow fell and the temperatures dropped simultaneously on Dec. 1st.  It's been white and cold ever since.  I'm pleased really - i needed to get out and start training in it as the arrowhead is only a couple of months away.

Yesterday i did just that - completing my first ride on the borrowed pugsley that i'll be using in the race (thanks again Rick!).  It was awesome.  The thing weighs nearly 40 lbs (without any of the gear i'll be required to carry) and drives like a tank which takes some getting used to, but is really a pretty sweet machine.  The 4.5 inch tires at 15 psi give it the feel of full suspension downhill bike when going over obstacles and provide reasonably good floatation and traction in a variety of conditions.  The pogies that cover the handlebars allowed bare handed riding and were almost too hot at times - which of course i'll gladly deal with considering the alternative.

I learned a few more things from my ride - 1) it's hard to ride for an extended period at high intensity.  There's always resistance because of the snow and low tire pressure, which means it always feels like riding up hill. 2) moisture management is going to be a key issue.  When i'd put it in a big gear and try to push i'd start sweating like crazy which would become rather unbearable in short order under the several layers i was wearing.  When i'd back off i'd immediately get a chill. 3) two hours outside goes by a lot quicker than two hours inside!

I learned some other technical details as well - like the efficacy (or lack thereof) of using a camelback and the fact that i'm going to be soaked no matter what unless i can find an option to the traditional layering scheme (i'll try a vapor barrier shirt next time - although I'll be soaked, maybe my insulation will stay dry) but i won't expound on them here.

I've also been struggling a bit with the confines of my training schedule.  Because my long rides are either limited to a 'cardio bike' which is mind-numbingly boring or outside where it's hard to push the intensity for any duration because of the cold - i'm worried that too much of my three hours is going to be spent doing a less vigorous workout than i'd prefer.  I'm having two great and hard workouts each week, but they've grown increasingly shorter as my long workouts get, well, longer.  This past week they were both only 30 minutes - and while during them and immediately afterwords i feel fully worked, i've found myself raring to go the next day, as they require less recovery.  I've been trying to sell myself on the idea that i need to feel like this so that i can truly hammer on the weekends, but these last two weekends haven't ended up feeling like i've done so (last weekend it was lack of motivation and possibly residuals of the thanksgiving food coma, and this weekend it was the learning curve of the new bike and difficulties associated with the cold).  I know i'll need to have some long outdoor rides to adequately prepare both mentally and physically for the Arrowhead, but i'm a bit worried that my fitness will decrease as these eat up more and more of my threadbare schedule....

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tip #5 - proper (balanced) use of machines

Dave had a bad workout this last weekend - his first since starting my training program.  He'd been crunched for time and was trying to squeeze the 80 minute run in late at night and so ended up at the health club on the treadmill.  Running this long on a treadmill sounds like torture to me and I can't imagine choosing to do it.  In fairness though, I spent last saturday on a stationary bike for an hour and forty five minutes (although I certainly didn't like it).  I routinely choose to do my shorter workouts, however, on the trainer or the treadmill and view these options as extremely valuable tools for a program such as mine.

Why?  Because they create and allow for competition and highly controlled efforts with constant feedback.  I can choose the pace for my intervals ahead of time and have a target to shoot for.  I don't have to factor in wind, road conditions, detours, etc.  The number of variables at play during a given workout are reduced down to possible variances between machines (probably slight or even negligible if you get the same machine) and factors that are stemming directly from the person doing the training.  It is these latter factors that are most important and which are able to be isolated by consistently reproducible training.  Improvement can be tracked very closely and immediate modifications can be made to a training program based on each individual workout.  If you're time-limited enough to be hell bent on maximizing fitness in three hours a week, these things begin to matter.

Another benefit of machines is that they can effectively be used to overcome low motivation or to have a good workout despite it.  A machine, especially when used for interval work, more easily creates a 'challenge to be met'.  Once you set-up that first interval, all you have to do is hang on for the ride.  The belt becomes an adversary - and if grabbing the bar is not an option (or is only an option if it's immediately followed by the expulsion of some type of bodily fluid) then it'll be hard not to walk away from your treadmill glad that it was such a worthy one.  And I'd bet your low motivation is long gone to boot.

Of course most people groan at the thought of treadmill/stationary bike work and I don't blame them.  I vastly prefer running on the 8 lap track at my health club to a treadmill and it offers many of the same benefits - a controlled environment and nearly continuous feedback - but I get to actually move through space.  This brings me to the idea that although, as I just mentioned, cardio machines can be super useful - a well balanced workout plan will not rely on them entirely.

Running outside (or even on a track) is not like running on the treadmill, and unless you plan on racing on one, you'll need to make sure all your indoor effort translates to outdoor results.  It's not only physically harder dealing with the elements, but there are also important mental components that won't directly transfer beyond the walls of the gym.  For example, pacing needs to be worked out.  Perceived exertion and HR levels may differ significantly between indoors and outdoors, usually in a way that favors the one done the most (i.e. if you run inside a lot, it will end up feeling easier than running outside at the same pace).  Ideally you'd develop a balance so that this difference is minimized and workouts can be transported inside or outside with similar results.  In addition, the types and forces of will required to maintain a pace on the treadmill versus out on the road are two entirely different animals.  It's analogous to what's happening with the guy who's barely hanging on at the back of the lead pack rather than out front, driving it.  Believe me, they're both hurting (probably badly), but what's going on inside their heads is quite different.  When you're on the treadmill, you're the guy in the back.  I don't always want to be in back, do you?

Friday, November 27, 2009

tip #4 - running barefoot style

When Mario and I reached the car after the LONG day of our Mantario trail run, the first thing he did was take off his running shoes to slip on a more comfortable pair.  They looked pretty sweet and I asked him why he hadn't done the run in them.  His took one off and bent it in half to demonstrate how flexible the sole was.  "These shoes are good but they're like going barefoot - not suitable for such a run" he said in his characteristic eastern european accent.  In response, I pulled the mud-encrusted trail runners I had travelled the 40+ miles in the day before, bent them in half both ways, and said - "Oh really?"

I had worn a pair of inov-8 x-talons - aggressively treaded trail oriented shoes that weigh less than a pound for the pair (212 grams each).  They use technology that intends to mimic and support the mechanics of barefoot running - allowing for the arch and calf to play a much greater roles in cushioning and propulsion.

I first learned about barefoot running some 6 or 7 years ago after my brother touted it's benefits after reading some research about it (he always seems to be one step ahead of me with this stuff).  I briefly toyed around with the practice - going out once a week for a three mile run along sidewalks in San Diego.  My feet gained some slight callouses and my calves were sore for days after each jaunt, but i found it difficult to push the mileage much beyond what I could cover in half an hour.  When I moved to NZ in 2005, however, i gave it up as most of my running was on trails - I wasn't willing to go short enough distances at slow enough speeds to allow my feet, tender from 30 years of wearing shoes, to become tough enough to handle the terrain.

But after joining a team for the 2006 Primal Quest that was sponsored by Inov-8 shoes and getting a few pair, I discovered the next best thing - footwear that let me run like I was biomechanically meant without necessitating a high pain tolerance to sharp objects.  I've been running in Inov-8's, and only Inov-8's, ever since.  Old knee, hip, and lower back injuries that were aggravated (and probably caused) by running have gone away.  My ankles and feet are undeniably stronger and healthier.

While running in such 'invisible' footwear takes time to grow accustomed to - muscle memory needs to develop, gait needs to change - it will be worth the investment.  There's loads of research backing this up - some of it starting to make its way into mainstream media.  I'll list a few links below and then leave it up to you to make your own decisions.....

Runners World article    New York Times Article    SportSci article    Barefoot running website 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tricks #2 and #3 - simple recovery aids

The best recovery drink is also probably the cheapest!

It's pretty damn hard (if not impossible) to motivate for an intense workout if you're still feeling the effects of the last one.  Furthermore, it's usually counterproductive.  It's during the rest between efforts that the body rebuilds - repairing micro-tears in the muscle, increasing number of fast twitch muscle fibers, etc etc.  I won't go into all the physiological details here (one reason being that I don't know all of them...) - but suffice to say if you're working intensely every session, it's important that you're able to recover quickly.  As I've mentioned before, the fact that you have a whole day off (ideally) between workouts is a great start - but there are a few more things that need to be considered to make sure you're ready to go in 48 hours....

#2 Stretching.  If you google 'stretching in recovery' you'll have plenty to read on the subject.  Taking just the first link ( - for me anyway) and peeling your eyes away from the 'gallery of the day' on the right, you'll be able to read all about why it is important.  In case you can't be bothered - here's the gist:
After an intensive workout, muscles need to repair themselves and fibers that are entangled impede the recovery process. When you stretch a muscle, tension in the fiber increases, aligning the disorganized tissue in the same line -- like when you pull on a wrinkled shirt. In addition, it keeps the blood flowing and tendons flexible.
Studies have shown that performing stretching excercises reduces the risk of injury and soreness. It also reduces soreness felt the next day by decreasing the build-up of lactic acid in muscles. Stretching can also prevent cramps; some muscles, like calves, have a tendency to cramp up more than usual.
Committing to a stretching program is therefore pretty important.  I've got a 6 or 7 'move' sequence that I do every day that I workout, ideally soon afterwords when my muscles are already warm.  I use some principals of yoga (nose breathing, focus on the breath to deepen the posture and the idea of proper alignment) but these would be uneccessary for those unfamiliar with the practice.  I'll try to take some pictures of my routine to include in a later post.

#3 Recovery Meal:  Research shows that for about an hour after a hard workout (a bit longer as the duration of the workout starts to increase beyond an hour), your body is much more efficent at utilizing protien to repair muscles and carbs to replace used muscle glycogen, the preferred fuel source for high intensity aerobic activities.  So if you're going to be engaging in said activities every other day, it's wise to include a specific 'recovery meal' into your training schedule.  Now you can spend ALOT of money on nutritional supplements which are marketed as the perfectly formulated recovery food but the bottom line is that you don't need to.  If you're eating healthy enough to make sure you've got adequate stores of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements from your regular diet, then all you really need is the proper ratio of protien and carbs.  It just so happens that, at least according to (I'm just going for consistency here people!  I truly have no affiliation with the site (:   ), the number one recovery food is plain ol' chocolate milk.

Now I personally don't buy chocolate milk (my kids would drink too much of it and I try to stay away from overuse of corn based sweeteners), so I end up using regular 1% milk and dumping a few spoonfuls of regular sugar in to get the carbs up.  My son Keegan calls it sweet milk.  Although I don't have a glass after every workout (often I workout in the middle of the day while at school) I make sure to have one after my longer weekend workouts, even when a meal is soon to follow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Tricks of the trade #1 - running cadence

In the next few blogs I'm going to endeavor to impart some wisdom for those interested.  I can't take credit for any of these 'tricks' - all I can do is vouch for their effectiveness on a personal level.  Some of these i've arrived at independently, but have since seen in print elsewhere.  i'll try to give credit and/or links to further information whenever i can.

Trick number 1:  Develop a high (90+) running cadence.  The ideal running cadence is one in which your right foot will strike the ground at least 90 times every minute.  This is a far higher turnover rate than most 'recreational' runners will find that they are using.  I first tried this out after reading Joe Friel's "triathlon training bible" right after i moved to New Zealand back in the fall of 2005.  I trained myself over about 6 weeks to have a 'default' cadence at about this level and have never looked back.  The theory behind this notion is sound and well explained in Friel's book for those who are interested - but in a nutshell the idea is that when running, the ability to change cadence is far more limited than the ability to change stride length.  When transitioning from a 'long run' pace to a sprint, for example, a typical athlete might double stride length while only increasing cadence by 10%.  A high base cadence allows for greater speed.  Something I don't recall Friel mentioning, however, that i feel plays an important role as well, is the idea of a minimum stride length.  It's natural for someone attempting to train the body to take more steps every minute to shorten each individual step.  But once steps get too short, they feel un-natural.  I found that just in adapting to a higher cadence my 'slow run' pace had increased by more than 30 seconds per mile - simply because i couldn't comfortably take short enough steps at the new cadence to run my old pace.

Since then, my 'warm-up pace' has dropped more than a minute per mile and running at 8 minutes per mile feels positively like a stroll (at least for the first 10 or 15 miles).  I've also noticed benefits during triathlon - the shuffle step that many athletes face for some time right after the bike ends up being a lot 'faster' when you have 90+ of them as opposed to lets say 75 every minute.  When I did my olympic tri this fall I was surprised at the end to find out that my pace for the run had been under 7 min/mile, despite the fact that my quads were cramping within the first two minutes.  The cramping lasted for the duration and served as a major limiter to my speed because it kept me from stretching out my stride - but this mattered less as i was able to maintain my accustomed high leg turnover rate.

As alluded to above, a further benefit of making the switch to a higher cadence (in addition to a faster 'base' pace) is an overall greater potential as a runner.  Just as there's a lower limit to stride length, there's a higher limit as well.  a runner who goes 75 steps per minute at max stride is simply not going to be as fast as one who's taking 20% more steps of the same length in that time.  90-95 seems to be the optimum cadence, however, as higher cadences are apparently physically harder to maintain for long distances and don't allow for effective adaptation by your body.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Hill profile for bike portion of silverman triathlon

I guess my proving ground is starting to take shape - or at least i'm creating a financial incentive to enter the field.  I signed up yesterday for the Silverman Triathlon - an Iron distance race next november (early registration discount only lasted through the month) out in Las Vegas.  it's touted (by Dave Scott anyway - but hey, what does he know?  (:  ) as being the toughest race of this distance in the united states.  The race has over 12000 feet of elevation gain.  Although the course doesn't start and end in exactly the same place there is nearly as much 'down' as there is up (with the exception of a final 20 mile long climb on the bike) which means that all that elevation is gained over roughly 60 biking miles and 13 running ones.  So doing some quick estimates this gives an average elevation gain of 150 ft/mile or about a 3% grade for those 73 miles.  mind you there will be 'flat' sections of the course and consequently much steeper climbs, but it gives an idea of what i'm up against.

Dave has signed up as well - so there'll be at least one other 'grossly undertrained according to conventional wisdom' athlete out there to commiserate with.  My goal, which mind you is completely meaningless as i sit  in my office, typing this, a year away from the race, is to finish top 25%, which based on past year results puts me somewhere around 13 hours.  it's going to be brutal.  For now though i'm going to try not to think about it for at least 9 months or so - when i start training for it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Arrowhead 135

I've just been informed via email that i'm now admitted (pending payment) to the Arrowhead 135 race this february.  The field was initially capped at 75 but due to overwhelming interest this year (last year only 59 lined up at the starting line) the DNR has been successfully lobbied to increase the limit.

The race is staged in International Falls, MN, which is regarded as the 'icebox of the nation' since it has the record for the coldest average temperature in the contiguous united states.  It's part of a series of three 135 mile ultra-marathons that includes the notorious bad-water ultra that has participants running from the depths of Death Valley to Whitney Portal (base of Mt. Whitney) in the heat of summer.  I guess the planners figured they had a hot weather race and needed something similarly grim at the other extreme and chose the location accordingly.

Because not very many people are crazy enough to run 135 miles along snow-mobile trails in the middle of winter, the race directors created two additional categories that allow for entrants to ski or bike if they don't want to run.  Decisions don't have to be made until race day, so some people even bring all the gear and then decide based on the conditions at the time.  I myself tried to complete the course on foot two years ago and made it just over half way (70 miles) to the only 'aid' station - a chalet at elephant lake where racers are allowed to come inside, warm up, and eat hot food provided by volunteers.  My feet were a horrible mess and i lost the will to continue after i was told i had been disqualified because i was running with my brother, who hadn't paid the entrance fee (long story) - which meant i was 'receiving assistance from a non-racer'.  For a long time i used the disqualification as my excuse for not finishing, and although it did probably contribute somewhat to my decision to drop, the over-riding reason was, truth be told, great amounts of pain (i mentioned in a previous post what a wimp i am when it comes to really bad blisters).

This year I'm biking.  A friend of a friend who's attempted the ride a number of times offered his bike up for a worthy soul to use (although not everyone does, most riders use pugsley bikes in an effort to 'float' over the snow) and apparently i qualified.  i'd been interested since my attempt on foot to bike it but was simply financially unable and unwilling to shell out several thousand dollars for what would amount (most likely) to one race - but with the generous offer, this problem has been solved.  Now all i have to do is figure out how to train, on three hours a week, for a race that will likely take 8 times that long (if i'm lucky).  Biking has always been my weak point, but i'm a bit burnt out on running at the moment so  excited to be diving in and taking on a new challenge.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Recovery and Kids

Me and my boys AJ and Keegan, this summer.

i've realized a couple of things rather slowly after my last few major 'efforts'.  Not only do the joys of having a family make it a bit tougher to train (well, not really on my schedule, but i suppose this is a common problem for many 'endurance' athletes) and make carving out enough time for longer adventures difficult, but they also affect recovery!  my whole focus leading up to events like the recent Mantario trail run (see previous post) is on the event itself - staying healthy and sticking to the training program that i'm hoping will prepare me for it.  I schedule things solely based on the logistical requirements of pulling off the adventure, and don't give much thought to the days that will inevitably follow it.  I'm now feeling that i need to amend this practice!

One thing that a limited training volume + extended effort seems to produce is rather acute DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).  the morning immediately following the run both mario and I felt pretty good, considering.  Two mornings after i could barely walk, while mario fared much better.  To make matters even more painful, i was stationed at home with both boys for the day as my wife was working.  They had missed me over the weekend and so were amped up to wrestle, climb on me, and otherwise be the spirited devils that they are.  I'd gotten very little sleep the night before as my aches had kept me up until around 3 am when i'd finally taken some vitamin I (ibuprofen) - only to be woken at seven when the kids decided it was time to get up.  Hmmm.

I found myself thinking about my brother jealously - he'd just finished a 4 day adventure race on the west coast, his team taking second (nice job guys!!!).  he was undoubtedly extremely fatigued and sleep deprived as well, but i envied him a little in his ability to direct his own recovery, rather than have it directed for him by the blissfully unaware minds of two energetic little boys who want their dad's attention, all day long.  Of course the envy is temporary, as is the discomfort.

And as I struggle to keep my frustration in check when keegan digs his elbow into my thigh as he climbs into my lap for the 10th time in half an hour i think - maybe someday, if i keep fit enough, i'll be able to feel their pain and sense their envy as we recover from some epic journey that we've taken together.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mantario trail (aka test #2)

Mario at about the 10 hour mark of our South to North run of the Mantario trail on Nov 7th. 

When we dropped off our bikes at the north trailhead at 10 pm and studied the trailhead sign I was feeling a bit smug.  It noted that the trail was "very challenging" and would require most experienced hikers nearly 26 hours to complete, necessitating an average pace of 2.5 km per hour.  They must be catering to some pretty out of shape folk, i thought - i could walk backwards faster than that.....

the trail was about 63+ km long.  we took a wrong turn for 1.5 km that required backtracking and made one other unintentional side-trip, finding ourselves at an oddly familiar sign after another 1.5 km or so, for a total distance of about 68 k (nearly 42 miles).    Since it took us 14 hours to complete the journey, that put our pace at just less than double my backwards speed.  i no longer feel smug.

The trail was brutal.  We ran at a good clip whenever we could. i figure we were probably actually 'running' about 60% of the total distance, give or take.  sometimes we'd run for several km at a time, but more often that not we'd encounter a beaver dam, swampy section, un-runnable climb or descent, or just get lost several times for every km covered.  

Mario was a champ - he physically pushed me enough so that i'd welcome the forced 'breaks' - or 'pace killers' as we called them.  As it began to get dark he became single minded in his determination to log as much distance before headlamps were necessary and drove me relentlessly on - running over the granite tops of the hills and through the forests that were untouched by the fading rays of sunset.  

We ran only very occasionally after this - the flat white LED white and difficult trail combined to demand focused attention to the ground immediately before the feet so that spotting the trail markers at the same time was all but impossible.  after getting lost several times we decided we'd be faster walking at a quick clip and focusing on our route.
All in all it was an amazing experience with a great partner and another bit of personal validation that my training is effective.  Now its time to go take a nap.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Me after a 10 mile run in Feb. of 2010 in Grand Forks, ND.
Temps were -20F, -40 wind chill
My training program is completely doable. But it's not easy. As i've mentioned elsewhere in the blog - it's one of these things where every workout has to count - and not just in a way that would make the American Heart Association happy. It's one thing to suffer and be uncomfortable when things are on the line - when you're three days into an adventure race, barely making cutoffs; at the bike turnaround in your first Ironman; when the sh*t has hit the fan on an expedition and you're out of food and still in the heart of a trackless wilderness. This is what you've trained for. You're confident in your ability to adapt. You're well versed enough in suffering to maintain some semblance of spirit and mental clarity while you exist at the edge of your perceived abilities (and this edge is a good deal closer to the true edge for you than it is for most). But if this confidence and knowledge of suffering are the only tools at your disposal your ambition will be kept in check by your actual physical potential.
Physical potential is a reality of life. I simply can't go out and run a 4 minute mile right now, and this fact is independent of my motivation level and my capacity to endure suffering. And while physical potential may have an actual limit, it clearly isn't static, nor is it's importance fixed. Depending on your chosen goal, it may be more or less relevant - in my thoughts it would be much more so for a 100 meter dash than for a 100 mile run. In the latter case - while physical ability is still clearly a major factor, mental components weigh in more heavily than in the former. So the bottom line is that if someone, as i do, aspires to "do anything" on 3 hours a week, it is a necessary endeavor to, through those three hours of weekly training, become as physically capable as possible. this requires WILL.

Only in rare cases these days am i amped up for a workout before i begin. I am currently in the middle of dealing with major issues at graduate school that threaten to derail 3 years worth of work. I sit and stare at a computer most of the day - by the time i leave to head to the gym my eyes are often bleary and i have a low level headache. I rarely remember to drink enough water during the day (although i'm trying harder!) and the thought of another session on a treadmill or stationary bike or worse yet, an indoor, 8 laps = 1 mile track, is hardly motivating. But i'm stubborn. I'm determined. I'm trying to keep up with my brother. It's also a release - something that I can control and work at - where the outcome rests much more heavily on things that i am in charge of. there's a comfort in this that i find to be central to my coping mechanisms. In this way many aspects of my life are supported by stubbornly pursuing arbitrary goals that require, at least 3 times a week, regular and consistently intense attention. I'm just lucky I guess.
I can imagine that this program would be hard to start from scratch. In many ways i have no doubt that it would be harder for many 'athletes' to keep it up than their present regemin - even those who are currently dedicating much more than 3 hours a week to fitness. In some ways working out more can become a crutch which must be unceremoniously removed for a truncated program with such lofty aspirations to work. Although i won't say it is impossible - i'm convinced that working as hard as i do for three hours a week would become increasingly difficult for say, six. Sure it'd be ok for the first week, but then problems would arise. Motivation. overtraining. injury. Rationalization rears it's head and arguments (not without merit) for going easier some of the time to remedy the above problems are created. Soon, the athlete is back to doing a more 'normal' six hour a week program, with more periodization and sessions at moderate efforts.
And while there's nothing wrong with getting fit and reaching your fitness goals on 6, 12, or even 20 hours a week, the whole point of this thing is to test the idea that it is also possible, given the right combination of 1) confidence, 2) knowledge of suffering and 3) will - to do it in just 3.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Graeme Crouchley (aged 16) and I nearing the end of a one day "run"
up and down Mt. Titaroa from Manapouri (NZ), including swimming the
river.  We were told it couldn't be done.  It took us just over 8 hours.
Ok, so now lets assume one is confident in their own abilities and doesn't need to rely on externally received notions of what is possible. What else stands in the way of 'athletic greatness' in the world of endurance sports based on a three hour a week training schedule? Suffering, of course.
Endurance events, for everyone (at least those performing near their limit) involved, require suffering. Sounds horrible, but in all honesty, suffering is just, at its bottom, a state of being like any other. it doesn't last any more than happiness does, and like happiness, as we get accustomed to it, it's effects seem to fade. As humans we're amazingly capable of adapting to things, if given time. the problem these days is that for many of us, we are lucky not to have to take that time if we don't want to - in other words there is very rarely (in modern society) any situation that REQUIRES protracted endurement of physical discomfort. Most people, even athletic people - have brief run-ins with it - an all out sprint in a soccer match for example - when they encounter it at all. Many people even tolerate it well during these limited exposures. Unfortunately, if you're planning on running an IM, swimming the english channel, or pushing through an ultra, your going to be on much more intimate terms with pain.

This is the bow-out point for many. During the primal quest (a 10 day adventure race) in 2006 i saw teams of far better athletes than myself fold. Blisters suck whenever you get them - but when your feet are bleeding and you're still faced with 50 miles of walking? Almost everyone (and remember now we're in the subset of people who actually thought they could 'do' this in the first place) quits. My feet were bleeding 8 hour into the race, but I ended up being lucky - i had a pair of flip-flops i'd brought along for transition areas. I spent the next 8 and a half days racing in these, and when they wore through, borrowed another pair from a teammate. If i hadn't had this option - i'd have quit too. I'm not familiar enough with this particular brand of suffering to always keep going - Blisters stopped my attempt at the Arrowhead 135 ultramarathon in 2008 (although at the time i blamed many other things). But i'm 'immune' to many other things that serve as roadblocks to most: Fatigue, hunger, extreme soreness, cold, heat, and lack of sleep. I've made my peace here and am able to acknowledge the experience of these things as simply another sensory state of existence that will be transient too. This helps me proceed during trying times.
The more experiences an ambitious athlete/adventurer has with suffering, particularly positive ones (ie suffering that enables success), the more likely they will be to see suffering as an important tool that needs to be embraced, not avoided, in the pursuit of their goals.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


At the Harris Saddle, half way through the 'out' leg of an out-n-back
run of the Routeburn track in New Zealand
So what is confidence anyway? Lets see what Wikipedia has to say:

Self-confidence does not necessarily imply 'self-belief' or a belief in one's ability to succeed. For instance, one may be inept at a particular sport or activity, but remain 'confident' in one's demeanour, simply because one does not place a great deal of emphasis on the outcome of the activity. The key element to self-confidence is, therefore, an acceptance of the myriad consequences of a particular situation, be they good or bad. When one does not dwell on negative consequences one can be more 'self-confident' because one is worrying far less about failure or (more accurately) the disapproval of others following potential failure. One is then more likely to focus on the actual situation which means that enjoyment and success in that situation is also more probable. If there is any 'self-belief' component it is simply a belief in one's ability to tolerate whatever outcome may arise; a certainty that one will cope irrespective of what happens. Belief in one's abilities to perform an activity comes through successful experience and may add to, or consolidate, a general sense of self-confidence.

I like this - in fact, there's no way i would have articulated it as well without a great deal of effort. The bolded sections seem to sum things up nicely. The first bold bit speaks to the ability to deal (or accept) whatever may happen, even unforseen things, with grace and calm. This is reiterated down below, with the additional thought that such acceptance allows for more focused and reasoned action which makes a desired outcome more probable.

So how does one develop the 'self-belief' in one's coping ability for all possible turn of events? Well, in my estimation it is partly do to practice and perhaps partly due to something innate. That is to say while i think it can be developed, it is certainly easier for some people to do so.
I'm lucky in a way. I became fascinated with climbing during my senior year in highschool (in Alaska) and took a mountaineering course at the local college (it was this or Calc II). I loved it. The next year i went to college in Oklahoma (no mountains!) and so took up rock climbing - spending every weekend driving 2 hours with my twin brother, Jason (who was at the same school) and another aspiring climber to the nearest crags. we taught ourselves all the ins and outs of the craft and started lead climbing in the spring of that first year.

We were hooked. we read all the magazines and started aspiring to do bigger things. My brother and i were perfect partners and very close - we believed in each other, which helped us launch some attempted climbs that we likely wouldn't have had the courage to go through without the bond of twinhood. The first few years we nearly ALWAYS had an epic. An unplanned open bivy at 12000 feet in colorado in the middle of february. A huge snow storm on a spring attempt of Longs Peak. A forced retreat from 5 pitches up Petit Grepon (in the Rockies) in heavy sleet without any storm gear. We made mistakes, we survived them. We became bolder.

After a handful of epics in which a 3 day trip turned to 5 and we ran out of food we realized we could survive hunger. We started planning trips accordingly (5 day big wall climbs on 1200 calories a day). 12 hour pushes with huge packs were the norm - especially when descending from remote peaks. We developed, in my opinion, a much greater sense of the reality of what our bodies can do (when the mind agrees) than most people possess (and i'm aware that there are many who live far closer to this truth than I).

Beyond this, we learned how to deal with fear and doubt constructively. I remember a climb in Canada, this time not with jason, when my partner and I decided to head up with only one rope (to save weight), effectively eliminating the possibility of retreat. Half way up we ran into a part of the climb that traversed nearly straight to the left for 35 meters. It was a relatively straightforward bit (5.9) consisting of a good edge for a handhold running horizontally across the wall, with small knobs and smears for footholds. I was only able to place one piece of protection about a third of the way across the span, which ended in an outward sloping ledge two to three feet wide covered with loose shale type rocks. There was no anchor possible. I was petrified. My partner would be climbing with a pack. If he fell, he would pull me off the ledge and we'd both take huge swings across the wall. the one piece of gear was unlikely to hold. If he fell after getting to the gear, the end was certain. There were no options. I wanted to panic - i wanted to wake up from a dream, or push the magic button to be somewhere else. But there isn't a magic button and it wasn't a dream. I fought back the panic and forced reason into my brain. Although the climbing was steep, it wasn't particularly difficult. My partner was unlikely to fall. So I simply shouted across to him, unseen behind a slight bulge - "DON'T FALL" - and held my breath as i counted every meter of rope that came in.

Most of my experiences (even the epics) have been at a level well below this (the one exception being when Jason and I paddled a 12 foot long, 2 person open kayak - ie no spray skirt - to catalina island during a small craft advisory on Dec 31st of 1999 with no emergency radio and therefore no hope of rescue should we have capsized) - but have still taught valuable lessons and served to instill what is now a considerable degree of confidence in my ability to, as wikipedia says, 'tolerate whatever outcome may arise'.

One last thing - confidence is key because without it you end up relying primarily on the opinions of others. When you set out to do something near 'the edge' and others (rangers, other athletes, friends, etc) find out about your plans, you will invariably be told that you shouldn't or won't be able to do it. What people are really expressing is their lack of confidence that THEY would be able to do it. This is being projected on to you. It is important to listen and learn from the information others might provide (logistical and route details, etc) and to take these into consideration - but what you can ignore are the statements like 'its too dangerous' or 'you'll never make it in that amount of time'. These statements are both meaningless and useless, unless the person speaking has both an intimate knowledge of your abilities (mental and physical) and has actually done or seriously considered undertaking something similar to your plans. Even then they are so subjective and vague and provide very little actual information. You'll find that when the advice comes from someone worth listening to it will never be 'you won't be able to do it' but instead 'well, it's tricky, you might find it takes longer than you expect'. They likely know, at least to some degree, that what is seen as possible by the mainstream is significantly distant from where our true potential lies.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

IM distance in 3 hours a week

I was just checking my email and found's triathlete newsletter in the inbox. As a means of postponing doing work, i started to give it a read. After catching up on the recent goings on at Kona, i was drawn to an article about 'balancing life with training' for the long distance triathlete, and then started looking at all the 'low volume' training programs they are hawking to the everyman athlete who's dream it is to complete an IM distance race. Even though i know from experience what i'll find, i'm none-the-less always a little bit surprised and then inspired to continue my own experiment.
Here is an excerpt from a training program designed for the 'experienced' athlete hoping to break 13 hours in an IM distance race - without the typical 20-30 hour a week committment that many other IM training programs require:
This is the sister plan to the famous “Thirteen Weeks to a Thirteen-Hour Ironman Distance” plan and is appropriately titled “Thirteen Weeks to a Sub-Thirteen Hour Ironman Distance Race.” If it is possible to train to successfully finish an ironman distance event in 13 hours with 13 weeks of preparation, not training over 13 hours in any given week; how about breaking the 13-hour mark in 13 weeks of training? It is that very question that inspired me to design this plan.
 This plan is for the experienced triathlete, who currently averages 12 hours of training per week. You can swim two to three times per week for about an hour. You ride two or three days per week and a three-hour ride is easy and normal for you. You run two or three days per week and can comfortably run long for between 1:30 and 1:45.
 Weekly training hours for the plan are between 7:15 and 18:00. To best utilize the plan you need to know your T-Pace in swimming (see the Swimming Intensity document on my Training Plan page) and heart rate zones discussed in the Intensity document.
Originally appeared in the June 2001 issue of “Triathlete” magazine

Since most coaches would probably consider the following to be cutting it thin at the very least - it makes my own approach seem completely absurd. Even when i think about it, i'm faced with YEARS of indoctrination against my own ideas. The status quo changes slowly, when it changes at all. It is always resistant to giant 'jumps' in the way things are done. More than this, because the status quo is where the majority of the research is done (out of necessity and circumstance as much as anything)forming a rational basis for radical new ideas becomes exceedingly problematic. Much has to be based on personal belief and experience and is unlikely to be supported by others, until there are a great number of successes.
For example, I imagine that if i (when i?) do succeed, many will likely consider it to be a stunt of some sort, or explain it away by assuming that i am a superior athlete (after all, no one would blink an eye if Lance Armstrong completed an IM distance race in 12 hours on a modest training schedule). But i'm not. I'm fit, to be sure, and I am willing to work hard. But what really matters and makes this goal possible for me - i'm convinced - is the mental aspect of it. There are three things that i think are key - I'll mention them all here and then blog on each one seperately in the coming days.
1) Confidence. I have developed a confidence in my abilities. In my early days as a climber i'd set out to tackle routes that others said were beyond me, or that conditions weren't favorable for. I wouldn't always succeed, but i did so often enough that i learned that I , not others, are the best judge of my abilities. This realization alone is both more subtle and more important than it might first appear, and i will address it in a later post
2)Knowledge of suffering. Confidence in my abilities only allows me to approach my actual potential because i've actively explored (and explore) the edge of this potential. When i was writing to Mario to enlist his partnership on the Mantario trail (see previous post) i talked about my greatest type of trip being one in which the results (success or failure) were uncertain and the goal was completion, not a certain place or time. You push as hard as you can - find your limits. Fail. Have an epic. Enter survival mode. They say failure is the best teacher. I disagree. Failure certainly offers more lessons than success, but these still pale in comparison to the lessons of surviving.
3)WILL. This perhaps is the hardest mental aspect to cultivate. Success will breed confidence. Repeated stupidity can breed a decent knowledge of suffering (not the recommended route, however), but a force of will is not so easily acquired. What i mean is that in order to be able to get the most out of a limited fitness regimine you have to be able to PUSH. HARD. WILL allows for the reduced quantity of workouts to be done with elite racer quality.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

mantario trail

Plans are starting to firm up for an attempt at a thru-run of the Mantario trail in Whiteshell Provincial Park up in Manitoba, Canada. I've got a partner (Mario Czarnomski) and a date (November 7th) and now just have to sort out the details. Mario is without a doubt the fittest guy I actually consider a friend (which considering my friends, says a great deal!), but has little experience doing this sort of crazy 'stunt'. Nonetheless, he's willing (most important), capable (2nd most important) and smart, which means he'll be a fast learner. He's also incredibly determined and a fiercely stubborn competitor, so i'm confident that if we don't succeed, it won't be in any part due to my choice of him as a partner.
 The mantario trail is a 60-67 km long (depending on who you ask) trail through a roadless section of wilderness a few hours east of Winnipeg. The 'trail' is normally done in the late summer/early fall and takes (again, depends on who you ask) normal parties between 3 and 6 days. Of course normal parties are walking it and have packs full of overnight gear, which we won't have to carry. As the date approaches i'll try to post some details about what we'll be carrying, as well as the anticipated conditions.
 It will undoubtedly be cold, and ideally we would have gone sooner, but family birthdays, a local climbing competition that my wife is looking forward too, and halloween push it back. so be it. i figure freezing temperatures and a bit of snow on the trail will just make it more challenging. The biggest issue will be staying on the trail and staying dry, both of which are unlikely to happen for it's entire length, as there are notoriously confusing and notoriously wet sections. again, so be it.
 two sundays ago i went for my first long run - 90 minutes - in preparation for the attempt. Yesterday (saturday), i went for my second - doing just over 16 miles in about 2 hours - despite a 30 degree temperature and 25 mph winds. mario tagged along for 90 minutes of it - it was his first long run for a while and he didn't want to push it. I found it to be physically harder than normal, probably due to the combination of a mild cold my body is fighting off, the frigid temps, and the fact that mario and I talked for most of the time. All in all it was a good run that has left me with the perfect level of soreness today - enough to make me feel like i've done something but not so much as to be uncomfortable or limiting in any way.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Partner in crime

Well, I finally found someone else on whom to test my crazy theory.
Dave Madvig (on the right in the photo, with his wife Cathy) - a friend of mine for about the last 8 years or so, is a firefighter and new father living out in LA. He's really the perfect candidate: busy, crazy, stubborn, sufferaphile, (didn't i mention that i was a protologist?) and he has some familiarity with endurance events so that hopefully he'll be able to effectively translate the 'program' into results for much longer races.
We've tentatively agreed to run an ironman distance triathlon together in either july or september of 2010. we won't do an actual IRONMAN sanctioned event, mainly because they fill within 24 hours of registration being opened and they cost nearly 5 times as much! He's agreed to stick to 3 hours a week of training (or 6 every two weeks to be more accurate) and eventually will hopefully be following a specific program that i make up for him (in the meantime he's just trying to develop a base fitness). He'll keep track of his workouts for reference, and may even post occasionally on this blog, if he feels like he's got something interesting to add. Below i'll give you a little bit of background on Dave and I's history together.

Dave was a friend of my wife's first - they met at a yoga class at San Diego State University. I met him after my wife and I joined him and some friends on a climbing trip down in Baja. I immediately sensed he was a rare soul that could be talked into things and proceeded to do just that for a number of years. He was my partner of choice in the area and one of only 4 people that i would trust if i was headed out to do anything serious. He accompanied me on several big walls, including El Gran Giraffe - A4 (on Baja's El Trono Blanco) and another scary grade IV wall in Red Rocks, Nevada, on which i'd broken my ankle in a fall two years prior. In addition, he was talked into joining my brother and I for our first iron distance triathlon, the MXT, which also happened to be the first ever off road ironman. He ended up training almost exclusively indoors for the event, and did the race on a bike he borrowed the day before. It took him nearly 23 hours, and he escaped being pulled from the course by slipping into the night as he heard volunteers at an aid station radio in for a car to come get him ASAP. He threw up at least a dozen times on the course, but somehow still managed to finish. He also agreed, when i was unable to come up with a team for a 10 mile open water swim relay (1 mile laps) to enter the 'animal' division with me, in which participants do the whole 10 miles themselves (touching bottom or coming ashore amounted to a disqualification). He kicked my ass on that one - despite his lack of training. Perhaps he channeled his days as a college swimmer.
Dave shared a house with my wife and I in San Diego (things are expensive out there!) for two years and then even moved with us to New Zealand for 6 months. He helped me fill the birthing pool for our home birth and was the first person to know my son keegan. Since he left NZ we've only seen each other a handful of times. He's gotten married, gone to firefighter school (he was an electrician all those years we lived together), bought a house in the hills outside of LA, and is a new father.
I'm excited to be planning another adventure with him!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The role of Nutrition

Well, i had a friend ask me if i was ever going to blog about the nutrition side of things, so as i sit down to lunch at my desk today, with 10 minutes to spare, i thought perhaps i would.
This is a rather complicated subject. There seems to be quite a number of competing views about what is best in terms of fueling for athletes. With every research study saying something different, how do you know what is 'right'? WEll, my personal feeling is that you don't. The problem has its foundation in, of all things, research methods. The Omnivore's Dillema discusses this at some length - suggesting that we simply don't know enough about the way everything 'work's together' to accurately be able to make the statements that we seem, nutritionally speaking, to want to make. When a study is done that isolates vitamin X or protien isolate Y to study their effects, those effects are studied, by design - in as controlled a way as possible. The results then can only be interpereted to suggest a benefit or consequence of including said vitamin or protien in the VERY LIMITED scope of the test. This leads to widely differing opinions on what is the best 'diet' to pursue - depending on the studies looked at by the expert in question.  So what do i think?
Well, for starters, i don't much care fore strict nutrition analysis in the way i enjoy strict exercise analysis, so i opt for a sort of 'common sense approach'. I know enough about general nutrition (i.e. eat a wide variety of foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, leaner meats, drink lots of water, etc) and have developed a healthy enough lifestyle that i don't really have to think about it too much. In other words i tend to have a reasonably healthy diet as kind of a default position.
I drink coffee and water almost exclusively (no soda, little juice), with occasional glasses of milk (with sugar added) as a cheap post-exercise recovery drink. I force myself to eat breakfast (although occasionally skip it on accident) - take lunch to school (often leftovers + fruit), and then have a healthy (or reasonably healthy) dinner. Then often i have dessert (ice cream with melted peanut butter is one of my favorites) - probably at least 4 or 5 nights a week.
I've just finished my lunch now (meatballs in gravy brought by my brother in law - a bit less healthy than normal - three slices of whole wheat bread, an apple and an orange) and have to get to class, so that'll do it for now!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I didn't want to wake up last sunday. I was exhausted. My face hurt from a mix of sun and wind burn. I had my worst headache in memory. And I didn't even do the race. As i lay there in bed, my chest about to be jumped on by my three year old, i kinda wished i had.
END-AR stands for Extreme North Dakota Adventre Race. during the inaugural event in 2007 (planned by, among others, my twin brother) i fielded a coed team of 3 and, as navigator (and the only experienced racer), led them to victory in our category.

Jason left North Dakota shortly after the race went off, promising to return the following year to host it again. Promises being what they are, this never happened (he got too busy). For a while, as 2009 dates were batted around and then rejected, it seemed like it never would. Then a friend who was involved in the planning the first time around said we should just organize the race with out jason (my brother) and asked if i could help.
3 months and somewhere around 200 hours later, on September 26th at 8am, 19 teams started the race. (here is an article in the local paper)
This was my first experience directing a race. It was far more involved and intense than i had imagined. It was always on my mind. The details and to-do lists kept me awake until at least 2 am every night the three weeks prior to the event. It was consuming. My workouts suffered. My family suffered. My schoolwork and research all but vanished. I was more continously stressed than i can ever remember being.
But it was awesome, and i'll probably do it (or at least some part of it) again. My favorite element was designing the course - using my experience and love of suffering and intimate knowledge (at least to some extent) of true human potential (ie what we can really do instead of what we think we can do) to put teams through hell and in touch with, many for the first time, their real capabilities. It was more than inspiring - it was captivating.
But much like the intense and consuming musical theater events of my highschool days - it is over too fast. My brother and I used to refer to the phenomenon as 'post play depression' - pretty much the same thing as what athletes refer to as post race depression. I'm no stranger to this, and know the greater the input the greater the effect (10 day adventure races take weeks to psychologically recover from). I just wasn't expecting it to be more pronounced behind the scenes than it would have been had i actually participated in the race - but now it seems obvious that this would be the case.
As for now, i'm looking very much forward to getting my life back together and taking the next four weeks to get 'back in shape' for a 60+ km trail 'run' of the Mantario trail in Manitoba, Canada, tentatively scheduled for the 24th of October.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

warrior of the north

Went out this morning to the local 'warrior of the north' bike race - a supposedly 32 mile (i clocked 31) local road race in grand forks, ND (my hometown). it was intended as a stand in for my weekend training session. There wasn't a huge field, but UND (university of north dakota) was represented by 3 team riders (who intended to break away early), the local bike shop had a couple of good riders out, and several guys i didn't recognize from fargo looked like they meant business. There was also a pretty dedicated local triathlete, aerobars and all, at the start line. All in all about 20 lined up at the start line.
I've only done a handful of group races but knew that you've got to work harder than you want to in the first 10 minutes - this is where the guys who have come to win make sure they get separated from the guys who just come to ride. My first reaction when i look down at my computer to see that we're going more than 29 miles an hour - into a slight headwind - is to think - hell, i don't belong with these guys, i better slow down. I'm lucky to (through years of practice) be able to effectively ignore this voice and just make it my solitary mission to 'stay with the group', even when i feel like i'm going to vomit only 3 minutes into the race.
And so i did. gradually the starting field shrunk to 12. Then the fargo guys broke away, followed successfully by one UND rider. initially i tried to follow as well, but found myself redlined about 20 feet behind the UND riders wheel gaining on them at a snails pace. Thinking that since there were three of them and one of me they'd certainly outlast, and that the group of 7 now 50 yards behind would easily be able to organize and catch them (after all, weren't all the UND guys planning to work together to win this thing?), i slowed up to save my energy to be able to contribute to the group effort.
We never saw the group of three again.
it took the 8 of us a while to organize, and of the 8 only 6 of us were working full time. The two UND riders would occasionally give a good pull, but more often than not their time at the front would see the speed from from 23-35 mph down to below 20. We'd get on them about it, they'd do better for a few minutes, then gradually slow again. Pat White, one of the bike store riders (and a very experienced rider) tried to pull them off or hang them out, but they stuck with us. i couldn't figure out what they were up to, but then around 3/4 of the way through the ride, as i pulled off the front after a pull, they (in positions 1 and 2) took off. We'd lost the triathlete off the back and so now were down to 5. then 4. we couldn't get them back, although they were always within a few hundred yards. Bastards (:
I'm a terrible sprinter and so had to settle with 3rd out of our final group of 4. 8th overall across the line with an average speed of 22.8. Although there were definitely moments when i was pushing quite intensely, for the most part i felt we could have gone significantly faster - our 'group speed' wasn't really very demanding, and on average (except in a few instances) not any faster than i'd have likely been able to go on my own - the problem was that had i been on my own i'd have been working significantly harder..... this type of cycling truly measures more than just athletic ability.
All in all a nice way to spend the morning.

Monday, August 31, 2009

34 years old!

I had a birthday last week - 34 years old now. I'm going to start putting my weekly training on here. There's now a link to my training log on the right side of the page. I'll also going to try and get a tentative event calendar up - of which i'll be lucky if i actually do half the events - so that readers, when and if i get them, can see what my plans are.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Underpinnings

I Have started putting together the idea of 'training for anything' in 3 hours. The real idea is that from a fitness base that is developed and maintained by a 3 hour/week* training schedule, new skills can be learned and any type/length of event can be successfully trained for and completed (in good style) without upping training hours. In a sense, i'm making the argument that a dedicated 3 hours/week* focused specifically on fitness can get you (me) fit enough to 'do anything'. more specifically i think that outside of learning any new skill/technique that might be involved, i can be ready for any particular event with only 3 months (39 hours - less than a work week!) of targeted training. [*averaged over two week intervals]
Ever since I discovered weight lifting during my sophomore year of high school, fitness (training) has been an integral component of my life. The way it manifested itself has changed dramatically, however - i've gone from trying to emulate the physique of pro bodybuilders by putting in 12 hour weeks pumping iron to training for and running ultra-marathons and iron distance triathlons. I've gone from the end result of my efforts being entirely focused on pushing my rock climbing abilities to not climbing at all and concentrating on developing proficiency in new skills, such as road biking or endurance kayaking. I've trained at various times throughout my life for races, adventures, competition, to placate my ego, to maintain general fitness, but always on some level for peace of mind.

These days i find that the landscape of my life presents more challenges than ever before. I've slowly taken on more and more responsibility - a marriage, two children (aged one and three), a mortgage, and graduate school. While success and happiness in these aspects of my life provides tremendous fulfillment, my athletic ambitions have (unfortunately) not diminished along with the amount of time i have to pursue them. I still want to be able to do anything.

It is this goal towards which my present training aims. I believe that based on a three hour per week fitness regimen I can maintain a high enough level of fitness to be able to do whatever i want, regardless of the difficulty. This sounds crazy, but the idea is based on, at least loosely, some evidence. For the past two years i have trained (and thoroughly documented) with roughly this number of hours. Each of the two years I ended up putting together a major adventure (see links here and here) with partners that should have been, at least based on training hours, much fitter than i. I either matched or exceeded their performances in both cases. Maybe this is due to the fact that i wanted it more (the adventure) because i get it so much less. Whatever the reason, it made me start to develop and research my ideas/theories and now consider how to better test them.

Since i'm already confident that the fitness garnered from three hours a week of dedicated training plus whatever mental acumen i've developed through past experiences is enough to get me through whatever mega adventure (or adventure race for that matter) that i might want to do, the next step is to see whether it can be applied to higher intensity events, like racing. Towards this end, I propose to train for, and run, an Ironman distance triathlon, based on only three hours* a week of training.

There is a law of diminishing return at play here, that might be best described with a figure, were one available. There is something here that provides a similar idea - which i will now articulate. For elite athletes, training volume plays a much more important role than for a weekend warrior. The elite athlete is almost entirely focused on improving athletic performance - this priority sits above any others they may have (at least during periods where they are competing and actually performing as an elite athlete). Emulating the hours of such an athlete but not the lifestyle is counterproductive. As seen in the graph where runners are divided up into groups based on finishing times, the 'slow runner group' - into which i'd nearly fall (my 10 mile race time would likely be around 1:10) actually increases mileage beyond 40K/week to their detriment.
The above discussion makes no mention of intensity, which also plays a crucial role. The web-group Endurance Nation has many good (and free) resources on high intensity training and suggests that the volume of typical IM training programs is higher than necessary if the intensity is ratcheted up. I share many of their core ideas, but think that they can be pushed even further. High intensity work (or even medium intensity work) demands recovery. This makes it well suited for someone with limited training time available. This approach also has a growing number of proponents in fields outside of endurance training - Mike Mentzer's Heavy Duty training and CrossFit for example.

High intensity and low volume routines complement each other and lead to a training regimen that is maximally efficient. High intensity work produces the greatest need for adaptation (ie growth) possible in the shortest amount of time. The low training volume allows for for the growth to happen between workouts and for the body to recover so it is able to do high intensity work again.

In reality, it is impossible to work at 100% effort all the time. It takes tremendous mental discipline to even approach this mark and there is some thought that doing so might even have associated dangers (especially if regularly repeated). Most people don't even possess the mental discipline, however, to approach maximum intensity in a physical endeavor. For most of us, feeling like we're at 100% means we might be approaching 85-90. The ability to get that extra 10% is inaccessible - unless a situation is so dire that all our rationalizations and default excuses are overridden by environmental factors than cannot be ignored (Mike Mentzer used to write that you'd only done a truly intense set if, were someone to walk up and place a gun to your head, ordering you to do one more rep, you'd end up dead). As physical machines most of us are far more capable than we're aware.

Maximal intensity isn't necessary (it isn't practical). High intensity - pushing far beyond the realms of what is considered comfortable (and therefore redefining the boundaries of these regions) - is. As far as endurance training goes - i've found a weekly periodization works well towards overcoming the difficulties of 'ponying up' mentally, so to speak. This is something that I first discovered after reading about a running program by the Furhman institute of running and scientific training (FIRST). I adapted their half marathon program to my training (I was running and biking) and ended up doing about 3-3.5 hours of cardio a week as a result. My running times improved dramatically - my min/mile pace for a long run (10-15 miles) dropped by nearly a minute (about 10%) within six months and i was averaging only about 13 miles of running a week. More impressively, i found my middle distance pace - something that had only ever been mildy lower than my long distance pace - drop as well. I went from feeling really good about a 7:20 pace over a 10K distance to having training days (hard ones mind you - but not quite race pace) where i ran 6:20.

1) Some 'activities' that i may want to do might require learning a new skill. In this case, performance at a competitive amateur level as an 'age grouper' would obviously require a greater number of weeks prior to any event be dedicated towards the skill. The 'three months' would begin after a good working knowledge of the skill existed and at least a moderate level of muscle memory had developed. Luckily, for someone who is athletically inclined and confident, reaching this level of development takes far less time than might be anticipated.
2) My interests like mainly with endurance sports and/or adventure activities. It is to these activities that the statements herein apply. I feel that such activities tend to be good measuring sticks of ability in a way that some other sports might not be. Muscle memory alone can allow one to shred a few waves, even after years of inactivity. I've seen men a hundred pounds overweight dominate racquet ball tournaments on more than one occasion. A daring half-pipe artist is undoubtedly a gymnast of sorts, even though he may be wheezing for breath after running one lap around the local skate park. It is hard, in such instances, to label these individuals as 'fit' based on these accomplishments alone. However, when you meet someone whom has just completed an ironman triathlon in 12 hours, you don't face this difficulty.
3) Training time will not always add up to three hours a week, but it will always add up to 6 hours for every two weeks. This is done to allow for longer training sessions to occasionally be included in the workouts. For example, week 1 might include two 30 minute sessions on tuesday and thursday followed by a 4 hour workout on sunday. Week two would then have only two 30 minute sessions, perhaps on wednesday and saturday. The following week workouts might resume on tuesday. This is an extreme example, but illustrates how, given the minimal hours per week, longer workouts would still be possible.
4) There are limits to what can realistically be expected in terms of competitive results. These limits may or may not be dependent on the length of event you're training for. Of course you will be able to perform at nearer your absolute potential in a short event (say a 5K run) based on 3 hours a week than you will on a longer event (50K run). This may not, however have an effect on your 'relative' performance - based on other competitors. Taking myself as an example - if i entered a well attended 5K race i would do only ok (my time would be around 18:30, possibly 18:00 with dedicated training), as there are heaps of even high school athletes that would come in at well under 18 minutes. my placing among recreational age groupers, however, would probably be quite high. Now consider a 50K - my time would probably be somewhere in the vicinity of 4.5 to 5 hours. I'd get beat by some dedicated ultrarunners, but would also probably place high among the 'recreational' athletes. Of course this is just an untested theory at present.
5) The mental dedication required for this type of training to really pay maximum dividends is not easy to come by, which is why it wouldn't be suitable for everyone. Although the number of hours is a fraction of what other programs recommend, the fact that there are no 'gimmie' days makes it a challenge. Of course one 'not so great' workout every once in a while will not be an issue, but an athlete that made a habit of slacking on even one workout a week would likely lose much of the benefit associated with this type of training.
6) The mental dedication that is required to allow this type of training to adequately prepare someone for a much longer distance event (longer than 4 hours say) is not readily available as part of the program itself, and as a result would need to already be in place, or would need to be cultivated. The latter would be hard to do without some additional 'ultra' type experiences in which the aspiring athlete was able to experience and work through the unique novel challenges (mental and physical) associated with continuous exertion over long periods of time.