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.

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!