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, February 24, 2010

Thoughts on Endurance nation

As I've mentioned before, i like the guys over at endurance nation.  On a recent post on their blog they produced a great article outlining the difference between their approach and traditional IronMan training programs (and endurance training in general).  I think its well written, easy to follow, and largely mirrors my own philosophy about the benefit of intensity vs. volume and does a great job at outlining alot of misconceptions and errors in traditional training methodology.  The entire article is worth a read, but i had a few issues which i think bear comment:

The article states:
Zone 1-2 = your “race-specific” zone for Ironman racing. As we get closer to your race, the volume of your training increases, intensity must therefore decrease, and we spend more time in Zone 1-2 as a consequence. We also want to make you more comfortable, confident, and familiar with all the things you’ll be doing on race day at this intensity (hydration, nutrition, bike position, etc).
and then
Race Prep: volume goes up again because the distance of the race requires it. Intensity comes down a bit so we can get you better at doing the things you’ll do on race day.
I'm not sure, after all the talk about the advantages of training in Z3-4 and how well the physiological adaptations required crossover so well into Z1-2, why they take this approach.  To begin with the idea that training volume needs to increas so that you have time to be confident with hydration, bike position, etc doesn't fly with me.  In my training plan, my long rides will be upwards of three hours long - isn't this enough time to sort this out?  won't i need to be eating and drinking on rides of this duration?  I just don't see the benefit of forcing such rides to lengthen well beyond this and come down so much in intensity - the argument is pretty weak. 

The second bit about the 'race prep' phase says that volume increases because 'the distance of the race requires it.'  I'm not even sure what this means, as they don't specify or back it up with any evidence.  My personal experience is to the contrary.  My longest run before the 14.5 hour effor on the Mantario trail was about 3 hours.  I never focused on running in Z1-2 and, low and behold, was able to do just fine in these zones for a much longer run than i had done in training.  I also remembered how to eat and drink.  I had the same experience on the arrowhead race.  I'm truly doubtful that significantly increasing my biking volume and decreasing the intensity would have helped me get a better result.  There will be serious challenges - both mentally and logistically - that have to be met, without much 'rehersal', on race day.  you don't run and IM in training so that you know what it's going to be like, do you? Race's themselves - the culmination of our training and effort - accumulate as well as the years pass. for someone needing or preferring a highly truncated schedule these events need to act as a sort of training in their own right, and lessons on what works and what doesn't should be gleened by reflecting back on them as new challenges approach.  And while i agree that intensity needs to drop a bit as a race approaches, i think this should happen in the week or two prior to the race and that it doesn't need to be attached to higher volume.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rollers (and a workout)

I brought my road bike in from the garage last week.  I'd been training exclusively either outside on the pugsley or in the gym on a stationary bike since about the end of september and so it was about time to get back on a real bike.  We've got a set of rollers down in the basement - a birthday gift for tammy last year that i get to use too.  gotta love that!  Anyway, i got on them for the first time since last winter recently and was shocked at how difficult they were.  I managed the balance alright, but could barely muster a speed of 14 mph.  of course speed on rollers doesn't necessarily have any actual correlation to actual outside speed, but it still managed to be quite disheartening - especially since there's a pretty strong web consensus that rollers should be easier than riding outside.  Humph.

I got on them for the second time on the weekend, but not without checking my tire pressure.  Low and behold it had dipped down to 40 psi while being stored in the garage.  Back at 90 psi, i found much less rolling resistance from the 3.5 inch diameter, 18 inch wide metal cylinders that served as my asphalt.  In fact, after warming up, i dropped down in the rear gears and was delighted to race to nowhere at speeds of over 19 mph!  After 20 minutes i still felt good to decided to shift to the big chainring up front.  I upped the intensity to keep the same cadence and was soon flying along at nearly 24 mph, although not without significant effort.  I started to believe what i'd read on the web.

Yesterday I took another go, having done a bit more reading online about interval training on rollers.  Here's the workout:

  • 5 min WU - developing a high cadence (90-95 seems to work well for me - much lower than i'm used to on the stationary bike - but my form goes all to hell when i try to push much faster than this - something thats immediately evident on rollers)
  • 5 min gradually dropping gears until you feel your in Z2+/Z3.  This will be your rest interval zone.
  • 5x2 min WI.  I went to the hardest gear for this.  Immediately my cadence dropped to about 80-84 and within a minute i could feel the lactic acid in my quads.
  • 2 min RI after each WI.  drop back down to the gearing that you used for the second 5 minutes of the warm up and try to maintain that pace, focusing on recovering in Z2/3, rather than Z1
  • Set a goal of matching or exceeding your first WI's speed on every subsequent WI.  Initially i thought this would be hard, but i ended up doing one better and slightly improving the speed for each of the WI by focusing on my breath, a smooth pedal stroke, and cadence.  
  • 2+ min after last WI just gear down super easy and spin until HR lowers.  
I liked this workout because by the end i felt pretty badass  - mainly because of the inflated sense of speed the roller seems to give when you're working hard (i hit 32 mph during the last WI).  I had to bring myself back to reality by remembering that even if riding rollers was approximate to riding a dead flat course outside, the lack of wind in my basement would make my effort correspond to riding that flat road with a 32 mph tailwind.  And of course the faster i go, the faster that tailwind - a strange notion.  Next time i'm going to shoot for 39 mph and pretend i'm racing away from a tropical storm. 


I've had an epiphany recently.  For the past 34 years (ok, really the past 20 or so) i've lived with the notion that there was something for me to do that would allow me to be content and that i just had to figure out what that was and then sort out a way to do it.  It's pretty much been an undercurrent in my mind as i've gone through the many transitions in my life - from student to climbing bum to teacher and now back to student/scientist.  I've dabbled in teaching yoga, directing races, writing articles about my adventures, and training people for endurance events.  I've thought about photography, some sort of travel journalism, firefighting, government work, serious academic research, and trying to become an olympic fencer.  In conjunction with trying to figure out what to do, i've also tried in vain to figure out where to do it - near the ocean, in the mountains, in the middle of nowhere; up north, down south, in another hemisphere.  I even contemplated (seriously!) talking Tammy (my wife) into moving over to Tajikistan, a country i'd never even heard of before i visited there as a teaching ambassador back in 2005.  I've struggled with these issues my whole adult life - and i finally realized why.  My assumption is simply incorrect.

I like change.

I don't know why i didn't realize this earlier.  I've LONG known about this quirk as it pertains to climbing and adventure.  Unlike many people who enjoy repeating favorite hikes, returning to awesome vacation spots, or climbing a classic over and over again - i can't stand these things.  I can probably count the number of climbs i've repeated (winter ascents of summer climbs don't count) on my fingers.  Now that i've biked the arrowhead - i'll never consider biking it again (unless i was paid to....), and each new adventure i plan has to be remarkably different for me to get into it.

I like uncertainty.

Grad school, while less than thrilling, has been 'acceptable' because it's been a new and unique challenge.  I was coming back to study high level physics after 10 years away from any sort of academics.  It was the mental equivalent to doing the primal quest as my first expedition length adventure race.  But now it's almost over and, well, the thrill is gone.  Academics held appeal only in so far as it provided uncertainty.  I don't think i'll really ever be settled - i'll teach again i'm sure - but will do so with the knowledge that it is temporary.  Who knows what else i'll do as my life unfolds.  The question is no longer 'what career can i find that will bring me contentment' as my awareness now accepts that such a career does not exist.  The question, which will need to be answered again and again - every few years (give or take) for the rest of my life is - 'what challenge am i going to take on now?'  The hard part will be finding an answer that will enable me to help provide for my family, support my kids' growth and Tammy's goals, while still giving me pause to think - "what have i got myself into now?!"

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

eating fish, post race depression, and what's next

First the fish.  I've got a freezer full of Northern that my wife won't eat, but I hate wasting food and consider fish to be good for me, so wanted to find a way to make it taste good.  After a quick bit of web research I found out about boiling it in 7-up to make 'poor man's lobster' which turned out pretty good (but not good enough, apparently, as I ended up eating almost all of it by myself).  Although I highly recommend the recipe, thats not really what i'm trying to get at, so before i digress too much, i'll get back to point:  the common connotation of "fishy".

Even among people who consider fish to be healthy, beneficial, and yummy, the word 'fishy' carries a negative connotation.  it's intriguing to me that to describe something (fish) that has the positive qualities mentioned as being more like itself (fishy), would suddenly take on a negative aspect.  For the few people out there who read my blog, i challenge you to come up with another example of this.  I'm not saying they don't exist, just that i'm interested and don't have the time to do the thinking myself.  So get to it!

Second the depression.  I'm mostly over it now, but this last week i've suffered a bit of post race depression.   All the energy and motivation and created importance that becomes attached to and necessitated by such an endurance event vanishes within a day or so of the race end.  I tried to mitigate this effect by finding people to tell my story to, writing a trip report, and putting my photos to music, but such efforts only slow the loss slightly.  This phenomenon of PRD, is, of course, why my brother continues to live the life he does (not that i blame him), as the best (and only) real cure is to have a string of big events so closely spaced temporally that as soon as one ends you've gotta jump immediately into the active planning for the next one.  Alas, this is not a possibility for me.  One more reason why the number of people who are simultaneously endurance athletes/adventurers and 'normal' folk (job, family, etc) is exceedingly small.  Who willingly chooses a route that knowingly leads periodically through slumps and feelings of purposelessness?  After all, by attempting to exist in both paradigms, I effectively negate my ability to convincingly rationalize either as being meaningful!  So it goes.

And now, of course, i need to decide what is next, which in lieu of being depressed i've committed some thought too.  i'm a schedule freak and i like things to be nice and orderly (1 adventure every 10 weeks or something) but these constraints are too limiting on the rest of my life so i'm forced into some level of flexibility.  Given that I'm committed to the IM in early November (which, by the way, i was second guessing as i suffered through the arrowhead, but thats to be expected), will try to do the third installment of my summer adventure (toomuchfun expeditions) sometime in July, and have a long standing family gathering/race (Chippewa triathlon) in early june, that really only leaves time for one trip in the spring, which is difficult because of school and the races that i'm planning.

So i'm thinking i'll drop into a maintenance phase for about a month and add some swimming and climbing to keep things fresh (i'll need the shoulder strength for the Chippewa tri and need climbing strength for TMF expedition).  In mid march i'll do a build cycle focused on biking (my weakest triathlon discipline) and drop down to once a week for climbing and swimming.  This'll culminate with a bike race of some sort to test my newfound speed!  Then i'll do another build cycle, this time focusing on paddling (Chippewa) - leading to that race.  After this it'll only be about four weeks until TMF, some of which will likely be family vacation, so it'll be easiest to focus on running and try to get to the climbing gym at least once a week (fingers crossed).  After recovering from TMF i'll take a few weeks to get back up to where i want to be (base) to launch my IM training from, which i'll begin in earnest the last couple of weeks in august (10 week cycle).  Dave, if you read this, i plan on doing the same workouts as you during this cycle, so we can commiserate.

So thats the plan!  Go team Gear Junkie, Go!  Follow them here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Arrowhead 135 mini movie.

I'm at home with the boys on monday and try to avoid doing anything constructive during their nap. I succeeded wildly today.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

evolution of suffering

I had intended to take a 'self portrait' photo every hour during the race to document the physical deterioration of my body..... i ended up with about 6 photos covering the entire race.  It turns out that things that sound like a good idea in theory often aren't easily put into practice.  That and i've never been a good picture taker to begin with - so 6 is actually pretty good for me.  the biggest problem for me in the race was my eyes (right eye particularly) and you can probably see some of the damage in the photos - i've learned that there can be 'dry eye' issues that result from lasik (which i had about 10 years ago) that are exacerbated by extreme cold.  Hmmmm.  Gotta figure out a way to keep those goggles on next time i guess!  enjoy the photos....
Here i am an hour before race start (still inside the hotel) with the sheen of vaseline all over my face.  I'd never have thought to do this had it not been for the suggestion of pat white - but without it i'd have had serious issues with frostbite for sure.
At the start line a few minutes before the gun with about 100 other shady looking ninja characters.

Ah, what a difference two hours makes.  this is about 16 or so miles into the race.  temp at starting line was -20 F, it's probably still about -16 here.

this is about 4 hours into the race.  it's a bit warmer now, but still well below zero.  for some reason my right eye always seemed to be colder - the ice never melted from it's eyelashes like it did on the left.....

At the gateway store (CP 1), 35 miles in and about 5 hours into the race.  i stopped here for perhaps half an hour to refill water, warm up, and shovel in tons of food.

Back out on the trail, about 10 hours in.  it's probably around 4 pm and as warm as it'll get for the day.  past gateway i was able to wear goggles without them fogging and this was the only part of the race where my eyes weren't a major issue.

approx. 19 hours in.  I'm riding with Bill Shand at this point, and have already dealt with the first round of sleepmonsters.  The second, third, and fourth rounds still await.  it's a humid night so lots of hoarfrost on everything.

at the CP 3 - nearly 24 hours in.  my right eye is totally worked - i can barely keep it open.  i can barely stay awake.  22 miles left to go! i'm convinced the coming dawn (1 hour away at this point) will give me renewed energy, but this never happens.
In a service hallway at the casino that serves as the finish line....   135 miles, 26 and a half hours, all on three hours a week baby!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

over and done with (arrowhead race report)

i'll write a longer 'race report' at some point, but for now just a few quick thoughts and details.  First of all, i feel pretty damn good about the race and how things went. Although i've no idea of the 'official results' (the race is actually still under way for some of the runners and skiers), from the looks of it i came in in 14th place, within minutes of 12th place (before that there was a couple hour gap).  My total time was somewhere around 26 and a half hours.

The first 37 miles to CP1 (gateway store) seemed to take forever - i felt like i should have been going much faster than i was.  I kept trying to keep up with people that passed me and by the time i got there my legs were quite sore, which worried me a little.  It'd taken me nearly 5 hours to get to the store - two hours longer than the longest training ride i'd had - pretty crazy.  I ate loads of food and did some stretching, but left the store after about 30-40 minutes wondering how i was going to ride another 100 miles, and quite honestly second guessing the seemingly quite absurd (at the time) notion that i could do this based on such limited training.

Then things got better.  The terrain transitioned mostly flat with some very minor rolling hills to almost constant undulation, with many bigger hills [keep in mind this is the midwest - the hills were rarely over one hundred feet in elevation gain, but did stack up back to back with high frequency] that were too steep to ride - or so i'd been told.  I'd been instructed by a number of people - "don't ride the hills!  it'll fry you - just get off and walk.."  The problem was that my bike and gear weighed nearly half as much as i did - pushing it up the hills was not only challenging (more so for me that someone who weighs, say 200 lbs...) but slow.  so i neglected the advice and just geared down and rode everything i could.  It was awesome, and this was my favorite part of the course. The downhills were steep, fast, and exciting where it was impossible not to think of how bad it would be to crash at the speeds attained.

The variety in the terrain was just what my legs needed and i got to CP2  (Melgorges resort) at elephant lake after about 11.5 hours total time.  I went in thinking i'd be out within an hour - i wanted to keep pushing with the goal of finishing in 24 hours.  But - similar to transition area dynamics in adventure racing - things never quite work out as you intend them too.  That being said - i didn't do too bad - making it out in just about 1:20 and being back on the trail in 1:30 after loading the bike.  When you come from 12 hours outside into warmth you just move slower anyway, so when you consider what is done during that time - peeling off the layers, sitting down for a minute, trying to think about what you need to do (ibuprofen, drink, eat, new socks, fix shoes, eat, drink, talk for a few minutes, use the toilet, more shammy butter, refill bottles, eat, drink, open drop bag, sort through to pick out new food - nothing looks good, look through the leftover 'up for grabs' food that the lead racers had left out, eat, drink, realize it's time to go, get start to put back on layers, boots, etc, collect food/bottles, back to bike, load and strap it all down...) and the lack of 'transition area' practice i've had, i'm not to unhappy.

I was riding on my own again, but roughly on pace with a guy named jeremy who was riding a 29 inch bike with skinny tires and making good time. we covered 15 miles in about 2.5 hours which was a decent pace for the section which was still very hilly.  Then he started to pull away.  I passed another rider stopped in the dark - Bill Shand.  He was getting sleepy, but pressing on slowly.  i got a few hills ahead of Bill before the sleepmonsters caught up with me.  within 5 minutes i could barely function.  i'd ride for a minute then get off and walk for five.  then ride, then walk.  I'd scream down the downhills in  state of lucid dreaming, then plod in delerium up the hills and over flats.  i'd try riding the flats occasionally but would weave so badly that it wasn't worth it - or ride off the trail and end up falling over sideways into the deep snow.  I was shoveling in food - crushed pringles, my candy mix (mike and ike's and red hots), cliff blocks, raw rev bars, and drinking coffee from my thermos, but nothing seemed to help.  i wasn't prepared for the suddenness and ferocity with which they had attacked and really by then i was too late.  I tried listening to my music, thinking about my family - but nothing worked - i just limped on, 9/10 asleep, covering maybe 1-2 miles per hour.  As my body moved towards this pseudo sleep, my core temp dropped and i got COLD.  In pieces i gradually added layers until i had most of my clothes on, and wore my full mittens inside my pogies.  the Mont-bell thermawrap jacket and pants did the trick (i'd worried about the jacket's worth in such extreme cold, but needn't have) and i was never cold again.

After a few hours of this, i was finally caught by Bill, who'd been fighting his own set of monsters in much the same way and amazingly keeping about the same pace.  but he'd recently gotten a second wind - and seeing him helped me get one (at least briefly) too.  for at least an hour, maybe more, i was awake again and we rode together - stopping together, waiting for each other, etc - both realizing that we were better off in the others company than alone [well, this is true for me at least].  After this, I succumbed to the sleepmonsters once again, but somehow managed to maintain a bit better pace - probably because i felt a desperate need to maintain contact with Bill - as without him i knew i'd become a total zombie again.  I don't know how i did it - but I largely credit Bill patience with me and his presence for keeping me going through the night.

We passed a group of 4 riders that had stopped at one of the trail shelters (little more than three walls and a roof) and had a big fire going.  most of them were laid out in sleeping bags, hoping to catch a few z's before continuing on.  Bill and i decided not to stop - although i was going far slower than i would have had i been fully awake and fresh, i knew that if my goal was to finish as soon as i could, then a constant but slow pace would (likley) serve that end better than fast, sporadic one.

We made the last CP (the tipi) at about 6:30 am.  There was no reason to stop for long.  we were 20+ miles from the finish but it was all flat.  Three hours of riding and we'd be done.  I rode with Bill for a while until i started having mechanical issues - chain suck would bind my chain between the chainring and the frame.  sometimes i'd just have to backpedal to free things up, but occasionally it would get so jammed i'd have to stop and fix it by hand.  I'd pedal hard to try to catch up, but the harder i pedaled, the more frequently it occurred.  so i decided to take it slow and steady - but then, alas, those damn sleepmonsters decided they weren't done with me yet (it was light again! i was supposed to get a second wind in the light!  but there was a nagging eye issue that seemed to intensify the sleepiness.... more on that some other time) and attacked again.  I'd doze off and come too just as my front tire would  angle into the berm of snow that marked the side of the trail.  my bike would stop tip sideways, dumping me into the powder.  this happened time ad time again.... I was passed by two riders (Don and Jason who'd been among the four resting at the shelter) and snapped out of my haze to try and keep up.  Chain suck again.  i finally had enough mental clarity to manually switch to the big chain ring in front which (for the most part) improved the situation.  In my fatigued state it was more torque than i wanted to provide, but i bucked up and started mashing hard, hoping to catch up to the riders in front of me.  I got within about 100 yds before the chain jumped back to the small chainring and got all twisted in the frame again and i ended up sprawled in the snow.

Finally the turnoff to the casino (finish line) appeared - but the casino itself remained elusive - still two miles away over rolling hills.  but it's proximity finally banished the sleepmonsters  and i gradually made up a bit of time on the last of the riders who had passed me (jason), crossing the finish line a few moments after him.  Don, incidentally, had missed the turn to the casino and went about a 1/4 mile out of his way before realizing his mistake - and so finished after me.

Alright, i guess this turned into a trip report of sorts after all.  so be it. All in all it was an awesome race.  if i did it again under similar conditions - i'd no doubt go under 24 hours (particularly if i was able to bank some sleep in the week before hand!).  But, i'm not going to do it again - i guess i'm a sucker for new challenges.  Although i have started thinking about skiing it next year.....