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, January 27, 2010

mountains of perspective

At 8000 feet on Mt. Rainier last May, during a trip that was definitely harder than the Arrowhead135.  For a complete (and lengthy) read of my perspective on the trip, click here.

Writing the last entry helped me deal with my anxiety.  maybe it helped me too much.  Now i'm convinced that i could win this thing.  Don't get me wrong - i'm not convinced that i WILL win, just that i could.  Before you discount this as a matter of logic and semantics, let me explain.

I've done lots of stuff more serious than the arrowhead.  What, you may ask, have I done that is more serious than an event with the tagline 'only the toughest dare apply' that involves over a hundred miles of self-supported wilderness (roadless) travel where daily high temperatures typically don't even get out of the single digits?  The list is too long to even mention (seriously!).  So while i'm sure there will be a great number of competitors that have done dozens (or more) ultra-distance events; dozens of guys who could ride a century in well under 5 hours; and even a handful of athletes that have spent weeks covering thousands, not hundreds of miles in the extreme cold at other events - that doesn't change this one simple fact: THIS (the arrowhead 135) is a race that, while tough, is well within my physical and mental limits.

Given this fact and the many unknown factors that contribute to performance in a particularly grueling race like this - i have an outside shot.  Sure i'd have to have a great race and a number of other people would have to have less than great races, and sure it's a reasonably remote chance, but it isn't quite out there in the realm of a 'purely' theoretical possibility (as it would be when considering my chances to win the Boston Marathon - where a giant earthquake caused fissure in the planet's crust would have to open up with some convoluted geometry so that it swallowed up everyone more than a minute in front of me - and that just to give me the sort of odds i feel i've got in this race - sure there'd still be some competition, but many could be discounted because they'd be so rattled by the freakish nature of what had just transpired).

I truly doubt i'm going to win, but i do hope to do 'well' (although i'm with-holding an exact definition of what this means until AFTER the race, when i can spin it appropriately).  The bottom line is that i'm confident enough in my abilities (mental and physical) to race hard.  This sort of confidence is an absolute prerequisite for winning this sort of race, and whoever stands on the podium will certainly possess it in spades.  I've also got an ego of the sort that is useful for racing (but less so in other areas) - one that is big enough to create fairly ambitious goals, but also self-aware enough to allow me not to attach my sense of contentment to the degree to which those goals are met.

For those who are interested, i think you can follow the race via the race director's blog - here.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Too many trip reports

A photo of a biker during the 2009 Arrowheadultra taken by Mike Curiak
click on the photo for a link to a video about the 2008 event.

The arrowhead is quickly approaching and i'm starting to get nervous.  i tend to get nervous as things like this approach - so thats not unusual. The problem is i'm heightening my own anxiety by reading trip reports.  I've been much better this semester at using my time at work efficiently, but have fallen into the habit of, right before i leave from school to head to the gym for my workout, reading some past participants experience of the event.  I rationalize this by thinking that it'll help clear from my head the muddle of physics concepts that are trying to gain some sort of coherence and replace it with a bit of motivation for my impending stint on the treadmill or stationary bike.  At least it does the first job pretty well.

Instead of quickly motivating me however, the trip reports tend to 1) suck me in for longer than 5 minutes making me have to 'squeeze' my workout in and 2) give me lots to worry about.  The first issue isn't too much of a problem - once i get on the treadmill or bike i have a good ability to focus quickly and become absorbed in the task of trying to get the most out of my body and mind for the duration of the workout.  But as soon as i'm done, riding home, i start worrying again.

One of the reasons i think i'm prone to all this worrying is that i don't do things like this as often as i used to.  When i was adventuring all the time, an event or adventure carried less psychological weight than it does now - occurring as it does with less frequency.  The prolonged periods of 'inaction' also create an environment where self-doubt more easily flourishes.  When i read about people barely making it, nearly losing all their toes, it makes me wonder if i've got the right gear.  When i read about all the veteran racers - hard men that win huge ultra-distance national races - bonking less than half way in, dropping out, getting lost, and barely making it i question my own hardness - not to mention fitness.  When i read the forum and realize the tremendous amount of thought, planning, and experience that goes in to most peoples gear selection (testing each piece, etc), i can't help feel woefully unprepared - after all, i wasn't planning on testing out my sleep system, stove, headlamp, etc. at all!

For me, writing about something allows me to move past it - to let it go.  Acknowledge and release.  That's really the purpose of this entry.  Logistics, at least for me, are the biggest hurdle.  They create a situation where an infinite degree of second guessing is possible - and i'm prone to second guessing, particularly when i've got time to think about things.  While it's possible that a race finish will hinge on logistics (race strategy, gear choice, etc) - it's unlikely, at least within the range of choices that i'm actually considering, that this will happen.  Logistics will certainly have something to do with the speed at which i'm able to complete (knock on wood) the thing - but the variables involved and my profound lack of experience in long distance winter bike riding will prevent me from knowing ahead of time what the optimum choices are.  So be it.  I want to finish.  I want to do well too (though i'm not sure what this means exactly - the calibur of the 'average' rider seems to be quite high - go figure). I'm excited and nervous and also pretty damn scared.  It's been a long time since i've felt this way, and i'm trying to remind myself that i used to think it was a good thing..... and to convince myself that it still is.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Endurance Nation

I really like the guys over at Endurance Nation (not that i've ever actually met them - but i like what they're trying to do, their philosophy).  In fact, when i started thinking about the ideas that have become this 'three hours a week' project of mine and began seeing what like-minded information was out in cyberspace - their website was the only endurance sport oriented one that seemed to articulate any of my own thoughts.  They've become quite popular among 'age group', 'real-life' athletes - folks with jobs and families and commitments who still aspire to train for and perform well (amateur age-group competitors) in long course triathlons.  Here is the first part of a three part article they've written for's newsletter.

I encourage you to read this as most of it is just spot on - particularly the idea towards the end about intensity being the best training tool for those on a limited schedule.  The one key difference i have from these folks, however, (obvious to those of you like dave who have been part of this for a while) is the amount of time that needs to be invested.  For example, they talk initially about the fundamental importance of having a program that fits the need of 'real world' athletes (not those that have 30 hours to train a week and who can get 10 hours of sleep a night) and then immediately follow this with examples of 'real world' time commitments:
Your training plan must reflect your reality: training one to two hours per workday, max, with consistent three to four hours per day available on the weekends, maybe.
Holy SH*T! i simply can't imagine finding the time for 11 hours of dedicated training a week (and this is at the LOW end!  the high end in the example is 18 hours!).  It seems to me that this also goes a little against the later thoughts on intensity and efficiency - particularly for those of us who are not genetically gifted in this regard.  When i really have my intensity dialed high at present i can't imagine adding much in way of additional high intensity work time for a given week.  Sure i could spin for several hours in between high intensity sessions, but if this isn't progressively challenging my present 'fitness' in order to cause adaptation, is it, under there ideals, an efficient use of time?

But again, i like these guys and applaud what they're trying to do - i just think that perhaps they haven't bucked conventional wisdom quite as much as they think they have.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

basic principals and new faces

I've added a few more folks to the list of guinea pigs - dave is thrilled to have some company. 

Kristen is a friend of my sister in law whom i've never actually met face to face.  She hails from Ohio and has some background in endurance running.  She's regularly trained for much longer durations  (even in single workouts) than i'll be prescribing, but typically at much lower intensities.  One of my goals with her is to get her legs moving and see if we can't move her from where she is now - comfortably running a half marathon but taking about three hours to do so - to covering the same distance in about 2 to 2.25 hours. We'll see how it goes.

Jason (Schaeffer) is my 'average joe' subject.  He's a reasonably fit normal guy looking to get stronger and faster through a training program.  He doesn't have a ton of time to devote to things but has assured me that if he can get things done in three hours a week he'll stick with it.  He likes challenge and (as far as i know) has at least some experience with willful suffering, so i'm excited to have him on board.

For the benefit of these new additions i'm going to outline briefly a few of the basic tenents of the program:

1) the three hours a week really means six hours every two weeks.  however, most weeks will still include three hours of training, with variations from this occuring typically closer to target events during what i call 'build cycles'.
2) most weeks will be comprised of three workouts - one focusing on 'speed', one on 'tempo' and one on 'endurance'. 
3)  Speed workouts will typically be a bit shorter than an hour and have an interval structure - brief bouts of HIGH intensity work (called work intervals or WI) alternated with recovery periods (called rest intervals or RI). 
4)  Tempo workouts involve longer duration WI, often greater than 20 minutes long.  Pacing tends to be near or slightly above target race/goal pace.  These workouts will typically be about an hour long.
5) Endurance sessions focus on aerobic endurance and physically and mentally increasing the duration over which moderate level workloads can be maintained.  These are typically performed at what i call a 'base pace' and will often last slightly longer than an hour and have few or no specific WI or RI, favouring continuous efforts at lower (but not low) intensity.
6) Base pace will be a crucial element of the program.  it will develop and improve significantly over the first several months.  it should be thought of as the slowest pace you should be working at at any point in your workouts with the possible exception of RI during speed sessions.
7) Workout spacing:  although this is largely up to the schedule of the trainee, i find that a T/Th/weekend schedule works well.  What is crucial is to allow a full day (WHENEVER possible) between these workouts to more fully recover.  They should all, at least to some degree, be both physically and mentally taxing to the point that back to back workouts would, at the very least, not be something you wanted to do regularly
8) feedback:  i will rely heavily on the feedback you give me about the workouts.  The more details the better.  look at dave's training log to get an idea of the sort of details that are useful.  his later entries have been more tailored to what i'm looking for in terms of feedback.
9) Running cadence:  a previous blog entry (under tips and tricks) speaks exclusively about this.  I believe an important starting point in running training is to develop the proper technique.  a good place to start with this is running cadence.  Counting the number of right foot strikes per minute regularly during your runs will be important, especially at the beginning, as we try to get this number somewhere around 90.  This will be the focus of our runs until this cadence is automatic.
10) Recovery - there's another blog post on recovery that highlights it's importance.  High intensity work is useless and dangerous if you don't recover properly.  stretch regularly (i prefer to stretch immediately after my workouts, everything is nice and loose!).  Try to always have a 'good' recovery meal within an hour after each workout.  This can be as simple as a 16 oz. glass of chocolate milk.

Alright, that covers many of the basics.  Jason and Kristen start next week (my training weeks run from monday - sunday).  In the meantime, dave is in his first build cycle which will culminate in runs and bikes that should be half the distance he'll be doing in the ironman.  and thats still a long way off.  he's riding a high right now which hopefully will last him through these longer workouts.  I'm going to try to get him to write on here soon - will be nice to have another perspective.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Maintenance workout #1: 'No-Slo-Random-Pro'(gram)

This is a run workout on the treadmill and i think it should work on any machine.  You can vary the time but i've found it particularly effective for a shorter workout, say 30 minutes.  Here are the steps -
  1. select the 'random' program - most treadmills should have one of these
  2. once the belt starts, bump the incline down until the maximum grade during the program is 5% or less.  On some treadmills that are equipped to go to negative inclines (ie downhill) this will create a 'rolling hills' type of profile.  The downhill intervals are typically maxed out at about a -2% grade, but this will effectively give you a sort of rest period.  If your treadmill doens't include negative grades, you may want to lower the maximum incline to 3 or 4%.  This will create more 'flat' sections (ie RI) but these won't be as easy as running downhill.
  3. Choose a starting pace that would put you in Z3/3+ but that you could confidently (and relatively easily) keep for the entire run, were it to be flat and get up to this pace within the first 2-3 minutes.  This is your 'base' pace and you won't go slower than this the entire time
  4. every 5 minutes, based on the upcoming hills and valleys (which will be different every time), your level of percieved exertion, and the time remaining, decide whether or not you think you can speed up.  The catch is, when you speed up, you commit to not slowing down (ie after 15 minutes you think 'hey, i'm pretty comfortable at this pace - i think i could push it a bit' you need to make your best attempt to maintain your new speed, or faster, for the duration of the run).
I think this is a great workout for a number of reasons.  First off, it's short - although it could be adapted to any length.  Secondly, following the same protocol, it allows for a number of different intensities (I recommend developing a sense of a 'base pace' from which you begin - something that you don't go below even when motivation is lacking.  see the previous post for thoughts about the 'base pace').  Thirdly, it's random which means it's less boring, difficult intervals will usually last no more than a few minutes, and there's no 'benchmarking possible'. [Benchmarking - the habit of allowing a given performance/workout (particularly a good one) to become a standard against which future workouts are measured and/or create expectations for subsequent workouts.  Benchmarking definitely has a place in any fitness regimine, but can also serve to undermine motivation and create anxiety and stress, particularly, in my opinion, in the case of a highly ambitious athlete using a low volume/high intensity training schedule]. Lastly, it allows for training (at least to some degree) mental aspects that are important for good racing - pace setting and undulating terrain.

By having to assess your present state every five minutes with the ultimate goal of only ever increasing (or sustaining) your speed for the entire workout, you will eventually learn, perhaps after some failed attempts in which you had to slow down, how to better make judgements about your abilities based on feedback from your body.  When the ultimate goal of a race is to finish the entire distance as quickly as possible this can be important. typically if you run so hard that you can't sustain the effort, the end result is a time slower than what would have been possible had you chosen a different pace.  The second benefit is practice in maintaining a pace over slight gradients.  since the maximum gradient in the workout as given is 5% or less it's not really simulating a significant hill (5% means 5 feet of elevation gain over 100 feet of distance) but even a few percent grade will be noticable, and effort will be required to keep from slowing down.  In a race setting such a hill is often unnoticed visually and an untrained athlete might respond to the increased level of exertion required by slowing down, sometimes carrying the slower pace up and over the hill onto flatter ground.  By developing confidence in 'charging' these slight inclines and learning to recognize how they change your percieved exertion you'll race (or just run) more efficiently when the time comes.


I continue to think about this whole program as i train for the arrowhead.  I'm beginning to realize that i need to flesh out some of the ideas - particularly when it comes to the maintenance of a base level of fitness.  about 12 weeks ago i decided to target my training for this arrowhead race and crafted a schedule that would aim towards this.  the problem is that my expectations were that i would see improvement every week.  given my relatively 'high' base level of fitness, this turned out to be a tall order.  In looking back over the past 6 months and beyond, i recognized that i typically felt the best, strongest, fastest, and closest to my 'peak' typically after about six weeks of dedicated, 'ramped up' training.  Mentally, especially when coming off of a maintenance period, i'm easily able to sustain increased motivational levels for this period and have solid, focused, consistently more intense workouts.  After this amount of time i've tended to feel some sort of a plateau - probably mainly motivational but perhaps somewhat physical - and end up coping with this by hitting kind of 'reset' button after a number of less than satisfactory workouts.  What i'm finding out now, however, is that after hitting reset i tend to have a couple good workouts and then start to stagnate again.  In reflecting a bit and re-reading some of the original theory that i wrote about, i think i know how to deal with and correct the issue.

I have what i think of as a 'maintenance' zone for my training.  There is a bottom level fitness that i feel comfortable having and as long as i'm maintaining these basic capabilities, if i'm not training specifically for anything, i am content.  During these times there is much less pressure mentally during my workouts - i'm never lazy but i also don't have a specific agenda/goal with each workout (at least not going in - i often craft one immediately before or during the warm-up, based on my percieved energy levels/fatigue at the time, this keeps me from having any truly 'easy' workouts) - so there's no anxiety attached as there sometimes is going into, say, a preplanned speed workout where i'm trying to meet or exceed some benchmark.  Essentially what i've done is place my 'mainenance' zone in a place where i'm able to maintain/develop/increase a relatively high level of all around fitness without worrying about motivational and/or mental struggles.  This zone then is an already well positioned springboard from which a small amount of dedicated and more mentally difficult training can produce a jump in ability targeted at a particular race or discipline. 

I believe that i can maintain this fitness easily on the three hour a week schedule in (possibly) up to three disciplines.  This would allow for competetive age group performance in triathlons and adventure racing, in addition to single discipline events such as endurance running or mountain biking.  There are a couple of things that need to be made explicit: 

1).  My maintenance zone is NOT comparable to many other training programs 'off season's'.  I don't take any off season.  I commit three hours a week to a reasonably high intensity work, but without a particular agenda.  If i considered myself an adventure racer, for example, i might bike, run, and paddle one day each week, with a rotating schedule of speed, tempo, and endurance focused workouts.  This ensures variety and that in time, the power, muscular endurance, and aerobic endurance can all be trained for each discipline.  In addition, because of the limited training time, no 'off season' is needed to prevent overtraining and recovery.

2) Maintenance zone workouts are not 'easy'.  The goal is to develop and improve what will be considered your base level of fitness in the disciplines that you are interested in.  as such, it will be important to continue to challenge yourself occasionally (i've decided to have one workout a week be considered my 'challenge' workout during periods of maintenance, hitting a different discipline each week) with a higher than normal level of intensity.  All other workouts should be aimed at or above what you want to be your 'base' level of fitness.  For example, when i started running seriously a couple years ago i decided i wanted my base level of running ability to enable me to run a 1:30-1:35 half marathon, and worked to get it there.  This means that today, even though i'm only running once a week, typically for less than 40 minutes - i could go out and do this tomorrow if i needed too (though the next day would be interesting...).  I hope (and plan) that barring those times i'm ill or recovering from an event i'll be able to do so essentially on a whim.  In a sense your 'base' level of fitness is your floor - it's your 'off the couch' ability because, well, it's as 'off the couch' as you ever plan to get.

3) Although i haven't yet tried, i'm thinking that, as suggested above, six to eight weeks of dedicated training will be the right amount of time to move from my base level to near my peak level of fitness (based on a three hours a week program).  Again, this is just based on past data, but i'll have a chance to try it out after the arrowhead - when i plan to return to a mainenance schedule until about six weeks before the chippewa triathlon in June.  we'll see how it goes.

One last thought - I had a decent workout yesterday on the treadmill that i think is a great 'maintenance workout' - it is random (which leaves nothing to be anxious about), allows for the challenge to be built slowly and be dependent upon immediate feedback, and has built in intensity intervals.  It's going to serve fairly exclusively as my run workout over the next three weeks - since i'm only running minimally now in a maintenance phase as i get ready for the impending arrowhead race.  i'll detail it in the next post.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Well, the holidays have come and gone and things are about to get 'back to normal'.  The family and I had a wonderful visit with my brother and his girlfriend for a week,  a couple of days at my in-law's cabin in Minnesota, and then a week with my wife's sister and her family down in wisconsin.  I ate enormous quantities of great food (most - but not all - of it healthy) and had one of two glasses of wine (with the occasional Bailey's over ice or hot buttered rum thrown in for good measure) nearly every night, and must have put on at least a pound or two, which is more than worth it.  I struggled a bit to have good workouts - probably largely due to the lack of any real schedule.  On the other hand, I did enjoy skiing up and down Granite Peak ski area a couple of times (great way to avoid paying lift tickets - according to my brother, as long as the land that the resort is leasing is public land you can 'skin up' and ski down for free, although don't bother asking the resort - they'll likely claim otherwise) on my own in addition to a more traditional day on the slopes with my sister in law and a couple of her kids.  I even mistakenly took one of the nephews down his first double black diamond which he descended using the invaluable 'survival' technique (at least it was invaluable to me on Rainier last May!) of side-slipping all the way down.  He was super proud of his accomplishment despite not attempting a single turn - and i hope it gives him confidence to 'safely' overstep his limits in the future.  I also had a pretty tough run up the mountain followed by a screaming fast and exhilarating one down the snowshoe trails back to the house.  There were also a few good workouts during Jason's (my brother) visit - he and his girlfriend are going to try out my 'method' for the next four weeks to try to get a bit faster for their big adventure race down in patagonia.

I'm still struggling with the biking and had a less than great workout on a stationary bike before heading down to wisconsin, but then a much better one yesterday (during which my mother in law - Mary -snapped the photo above) which i'm going to use as a mental springboard into this last month of training before the arrowhead.  As i got into it and kept my motivation high i just let the negativity and anxiety that i've been accumulating as of late surrounding my training (and also the rampant uncertainty that seems to exist in the rest of my life right now) become the sweat that coursed out from my pores and onto Mary's basement floor.  Sorry Mary (-: