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, March 29, 2010

Riding high right through monday

Just a quick post to balance out the one after last weekend's horrible ride.  I had the opposite experience yesterday - went out to do my first run over 10 miles in what seems like ages (actually since November, though i got pretty close to ten about six weeks ago) - and just nailed it.  Felt great the whole time - perfect day - and more than 10 seconds per mile under my target pace which i thought going in i'd never manage to sustain.  It's amazing how such an arbitrary accomplishment in such a selfish pursuit can feel so damn good.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Group Cycling (and perils of the ego)

I went to a group cycling class yesterday afternoon in lieu of an outside ride (it was cold, windy, and my road bike was still in pieces in the back of the subaru from last weekend - good excuses, eh?).  I hadn't been to one in a while and thought it'd be nice to let someone else motivate me for once.  I ended up getting a pretty good workout, but likely won't be back.  Here's why:

First of all, it's not really anything like outdoor cycling.  Although i could clip in,  the geometry of the bike - despite several possible adjustments - didn't allow for quite the same body positioning i was used to.

Secondly - there's a huge difference in workout structure that i just couldn't get past.  We did lots of standing intervals, often with such a high resistance that exaggerated side to side stomping was both required and encouraged.  The duration of these ranged from 30 seconds to 90 seconds.  In addition we did lots of 'up and downs' - four revolutions standing, four sitting for example.  These are 'ok' until you get down to one and one - which is awkward to say the least.  i just couldn't wrap my mind around the benefit of these.

Then there's the unexpected way my ego responded to the setting, which ultimately is probably why i won't return.  Training, for me, needs to be accompanied by some measure of external validation.  The best source of this is personal - measuring a current session against some past performance to gain immediate feedback.  I had no feedback yesterday.  No HR monitor, no 'calculated speed' - nothing but my own sense of perceived exertion which i'm loathe to rely too heavily on.  To make matters worse (as far as the ego is concerned) - i was surrounded by lots of other people, all seemingly doing the same workout.  At the times when i felt like i was about to vomit - right after we'd spent 90 seconds at 90% (whatever that means) resistance, trying to stay on tempo with the music - i'd look up and see through teary eyes burning with sweat two women laughing and chatting (a little too loudly) in the corner.  The more i suffered, the more energy i spent wondering if everyone else was working as hard as i was and then for my ego's sake convincing myself that the answer was no.  

My wife will cringe if she reads this and tell me i should let it go, not worry about the other folks, and just ride my ride.  She's right of course, but as worthwhile as transcending the ego might be, it's never easy.  So next time i think i will just ride my ride - of course i'll have to put my bike back together first..... 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Next race - Minnesota AR Spring Thaw: Training plan

Seven weeks until the race.  I need to maintain my running fitness, improve my biking fitness a bit, and reacquaint myself with the kayak without giving up my new-found swim fitness.  I spent a bit of time trying to sort out a good training schedule and here's what i came up with:

  • week 1 - 3 hours

    • tu: run (~30) 10 min WU, 2 mile hard tempo (set v-dot), 10 min WD
    • we: Swim (15 min steady pace, Z2/3, negative split) 
    • th: bike: indoors, rollers, 1 hr.
    • Sa/su: Run (~1:15) - M and T paces (turtle river

  • week 2 - 3 hours

    • tu: Bike, rollers (30) - speed work
    • we: swim  - 4 x 100 Work intervals
    • th: Run, 1 hour, M pace (under 7 min miles) - outside
    • sa/su - bike, outside - 1:15, Zig Zags [at cabin

  • week 3 - 3 hours

    • tu - Run (1 hour):  20 min M, 20 T, 20 M
    • we - Swim (3 x 200 WI)
    • th - Bike (1 hour):  20 min M, 20 T, 20 M 
    • Su - Paddle, 45 - stroke work, shoulder test (take it easy!)

  • week 4 - 2.5 hours

    • Tu - Run, 50 - 10/30/10 M/t/M
    • th - Bike (50) - 10/30/10 M/T/M 
    • sa/su - paddle (50) 20/10/20 E/T/M (if shoulder allows)

  • week 5 - 3.5 hours

    • tu: Run (1:05 - 9+ miles, long run, with 4 x 1/2 mile @ 6 min pace during, 1/2 mile RI)
    • we: Swim (15 min straight swim)
    • th: Bike (1:05 - 23+ miles, with 4 x 1 mile @ 22.5 mph+ pace)
    • sa - Paddle, 1:05.  15 min E, then alternate T/E every 5 minutes, 10 WD @ M

  • week 6 - 4.5 hours

    • tu: Run 1:25 - aim for 12+ miles.  nice long run, no intervals
    • we: swim (250 WU, 500 tempo, 250 WD)
    • th - Bike, 1:45 (indoors or out - steady ride in Z3)
    • sa - paddle, 1:05 - nice Z2/3 paddle, continuous. 

  • week 7 - 1.5 hours + race

    • tu - run (30)
    • we - paddle (30)
    • th - bike (30 - mt bike)

    I've also decided to start using Vdot  training zones instead of the 1-5 categories that i'd taken from Joe Friel's triathlon training bible.  The capital letters (T,M,E) refer to these new training zones as given on the page accessible by following the link.  I may not stick to the plan exactly (for example today i was slated to ride for an hour on my rollers, but one of my boys is home sick so it makes a home workout difficult - i'll attend a 1 hour cycling class instead) - but am a stickler for schedules so should come pretty close.  

    One more brief bit of news - noticed a sudden jump in my swimming yesterday - completed a straight 1000 yds in about 14:15.  guess the few weeks of swimming intervals must have worked!

    Monday, March 22, 2010

    Fear and Loathing in (Las) Vergas

    I went riding outside on my road bike for the first time in nearly six months.  My wife was in Winnipeg at a Yoga workshop for the weekend so i'd taken the boys down to my in-laws place - a lake cabin near Vergas, Minnesota.  I'd dragged the bike along, hoping to get a weather window that would allow a ride.  Sunday looked perfect - temps in the forties and only 10+ mph winds - so i planned a 32 mile route, thinking it should take me somewhere between an hour and a half and an hour and three quarters.  

    Within five minutes of turning off the quarter mile of dirt leading from the cabin to the main road, i was exhausted.  My lungs were burning from the cold air and the wind and my legs - particularly my right one - was a sea of lactic acid.  The terrain was a continuous roller coaster, and my initial belief that i'd be able to power up the short hills was dispelled almost immediately as i watched my speed drop below 15 mph a dozen pedal strokes up the third one.  

    I tried to settle into a pace but found it impossible. I convinced myself that i was riding into the wind (i was) and that this was the reason i was struggling so much (it wasn't).  I spent much of the first 11 miles trying to stay positive, with some success.

    Then i turned 'out of the wind' and my pace improved a bit.  I hit some great sections of road squeezed between picturesque and still frozen lakes (12 inches of ice!). I almost started having fun.  But as the time dragged on i started to imagine that i'd gotten lost - i was so far behind schedule i must have missed a turn.  But then i hit the turn, after 90 minutes of biking.  I'd only gone 24 miles.  

    This is where the fear started.  I've seen the hill profile of the Silverman.  The hills around Vergas are speed-bumps in comparison.  If i'm able to maintain 17 mph after a 2.4 mile swim, i'll finish the bike section of the race in 7 hours.  At my current average pace it'd have taken 7.5.  I'd only been at my pace for 90 minutes and it didn't feel easy by any stretch.

    I headed back into a crosswind for the last 8 miles, which were filled with loathing. I nearly stopped to pull out the cell phone to request a ride but had too much pride to make the call.  I stopped pushing entirely - climbing the gentle rises sometimes at less than 10 mph and not even pedaling on the descents.  It took 40 minutes to get home, and by the time i did i was so demoralized that the idea of completing the silverman seemed ridiculous.

    Thankfully, after a shower, food, and some serious stretching i felt a bit better and have decided not to give up.  After all, fear and loathing are part of the game - their occasional presence is a good indication that i'm sure not to be disappointed with the level of the challenge.  And this type of disappointment, in my opinion, is much worse than the disappointment of failure. So with that i say "Bring it on!"  Even if it does come on rather slowly, at say 12 miles per hour.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    struggles with peaking too soon

    You might be expecting some discussion about periodization, overtraining, or the importance of pre-race tapering to follow such a title.  But i'm interested in commenting on a something that i've experienced recently on a much shorter time scale than months or even weeks....think minutes. [Note - it's probably debatable as to whether the idea of 'peaking' even applies over the time scales of individual workouts.  The system that encompasses athletic achievements might not be scale symmetric, putting it in the same category as most physical systems. I'm sure Galileo would know the answer.]

    When i say I've peaked too soon during a single workout, i'm really indicating that i failed significantly during it.  For example, last tuesday during my run I intended to perform seven work intervals at a sub-seven minute pace.  I only made three.  The remainder of the intervals i had to drop the speed significantly - to an eight minute pace - and even that was challenging by the end.  Ouch.

    Why did this happen?  Well, i can think of a few reasons - 1) I was over-reaching.  2)  I was mildly ill/malnourished/dehydrated going in to the session.  3) I was somehow mentally unprepared - i.e. i had an ill will ;-)

    After the workout i reviewed my training log and found, as expected, that i had completed the same workout several months prior while training for my jaunt on the mantario trail. If i was over-reaching, it meant i was also less fit than i had been then.  I may have also been suffering from #2, but based on my records some of my best training sessions have come when i had to squeeze them in, knowingly hungry and slightly dehydrated.  Perhaps i also experienced some lack of will - however i'm pretty sure that if i hadn't dialed back the pace i'd have ended up on the floor during the next interval or quickly thereafter.  I wore a heartrate monitor so there was no doubt that i was physiologically well up where i wanted to be in terms of training zones (HR stayed above 180 most of the time, peaking around 193 - definitely Z4/5), and this knowledge helped curb some of the immediate disappointment I felt after realizing i wasn't going to make the workout as planned. 

    The main reason i'm chosing to write about this seemingly insignificant event is that as i've been training Dave, he's occasionally missed paces or 'failed' to complete workouts as prescripted and has always seemed pretty bummed.  I'd had a long string of success until recently (maybe i'm setting the bar too low for myself!) and so didn't really 'get it' in a sense - but now i think i do.  While it can be depressing if you aren't prepared i think the truth of the matter, especially  in a one-off situation like mine (fingers crossed) and most of Dave's, is that it's a good thing. 

    Failure means you've worked to failure.  'Peaking too soon' means you've at least hit the peak.  Unless you're really dealing with a motivational issue (with genuine reflection this ought to be apparent), then you have pushed the edge of - or at least approached - your physiological limit.  Not only that, but you have done so early in the workout and so get the added bonus of exploring the mental headspace that can be so crucial during race day.  Because lets face it, when it comes to running an endurance event on only three hours a week of training, you're almost certain to feel like you've hit your 'peak' LONG before the finish line is even a speck on the horizon. 

    On the off chance that you keep 'failing' during your workouts, however, it's probably time to suss out the bigger issue or, if you're Dave, get a new trainer. 

    Friday, March 12, 2010


    A good definition of the term, provided by the all knowing internet, is
    Arbitrariness - a term given to choices and actions subject to individual will, judgment or preference, based solely upon an individual's opinion or discretion.
    I've dealt with the question on several occasions as to why three hours a week, and so i thought i'd take the time to address the issue with the following answer:  It's completely arbitrary.

    So what does this mean?  well, thats a bit more complicated.  In some sense, all of meaning is 'arbitrary' - but i won't get too into that, at least not in general.  What i will bring up, however, is the notion that all of modern athletics is arbitrary.  Percieved differences in levels of 'arbitrariness' between athletic pursuits and competitions can largely be traced to the level to which the rules/guidelines/specifics of an event or goal are culturally accepted.  I'll explain through example.

    An ironman distance race is by many considered to be kind of a pinnacle of endurance based athletic achievement.  It requires an athlete to excell in three not particularly complimentary disciplines at a relatively high level.  The distances themselves - athough now steeped in tradition - are completely arbitrary, however, and contain no signifigance outside the fact that they have gained acceptance as 'norms' to describe what is held to be a benchmark distance for endurance.  If the Greek town of Marathon had been closer to Athens, then that run at the end of your IM might well be 23.6 miles, or even 19.4.  On the flip side - it might have been 40. 

    Likewise, rules that govern and define our athletic achievements are equally arbitrary.  Aero is allowed in triathlon, but not in regular road racing.  Some tri's are draft legal while others are not.  Advancements in technology are sometimes accepted and allowed and other times prohibited.  I imagine that swimming 2.4 miles without a wetsuit would be significantly more challenging than with one - not to mention the difference in effort that would be required were you to do an IM on your own, with no opportunity to draft off the toes of the (faster) swimmer in front of you.  Do our apparent gains in fitness - visible by the dropping 'record times' - really indicate what we think they do?  Or is it rather that high tech gear, more advanced training techniques, and total focus on an arbitrary goal framed by arbitrary guidelines allows us to better specialize ourselves towards completing a particular course faster than ever before?

    Meaning, as i mentioned before, is arguably arbitrary.  And so when we create meaning for ourselves through athletic pursuits, why should it be any different?  The fact that i've chosen to see what i'm capable of on three hours of training a week is completely arbitrary.  But no more so than when person X decides to challenge themselves to see if they're capable of qualifying for Boston, or Kona, or climbing some remote mountain. 

    Not so! cries the purist.  When person X decides to seek their limits by attempting to qualify for Boston, they're really going to see what they're made of, without 'arbitrarily' imposed conditions such as only training three hours a week.

    Not so! i shout in return.  Not only is the goal itself (qualifying time for Boston) completley arbitrary, but the conditions within which the person is operating are still chosen - though they might be 'chosen' with less awareness.  Attempting to maintain a relationship, care for children, succeed at a job, ensure a certain standared of living - all of these will serve to create, as the folks at Endurance Nation like to call it - the box into which they have to fit their training.  And these are choices!  In addition, they have to decide how hard they're willing work, how important the goal is, what habits to change or give up or adopt, etc.  And then, even after all of this, they're likely going to 'choose' a training program from somewhere, that is, of course, completely arbitrary.

    Now before i end this rather lengthy ramble, i want to clear something up - arbitrary does not equal random. The marathon distance does fall within a range of distances that require certain physiological abilities to be able to complete.  Endurance events do indeed require endurance - it's just that the specifics have no meaning other than what we, as participants give them.  And this 'gift' of meaning is up to us.  Likewise, the theoretical underpinnings for my 'three hours a week' idea are based on, at least in my opinion, non-arbitrary notions:  seeking the point in the training equation where the rate of fitness return vs. time invested is near maximum - ie the point at which the training value for each one of my minutes is highest.  I'm not suggesting that this is three hours - there's no magic number here.  But I do think it's in the neighborhood.

    And for me arbitrary works just fine.  By conciously choosing to limit myself to a certain training volume, especially one roughly of a level which i believe maximizes efficiency given my personal capacity for intense work, i've defined/created/articluated a challenge for myself, and this is ultimately what i'm after.  And at it's heart this is no different than the challenge that anyone lining up at the start line or racking up at the  bottom of a climb has arbitrarily created for themselves. the arbitrariness of these challenges does not diminish their worth as a tool for learning about ourselves and our capabilities.

    At the end of the day thoughthey are arbitary.  I like to try to remember this - it brings me comfort, perspective, and hopefully will help keep me humble - which is pretty important.   because after all, i'm going to run an ironman on three hours a week.

    And come on... seriously.... how totally bad ass is that?! (;

    Tuesday, March 2, 2010

    Iceman Triathlon

    Planning events is far more work than training for them.  You have to rely on a great number of others (imagine if every time you trained you had to schedule it so that there were at least three of you doing it together....madness!), the hours are (MUCH) longer, and it's far less fun.  The satisfying part comes only on race day where, if you're lucky, you'll finally think that it was worth all the effort - if only for a brief and fleeting moment.

    I'm doing this for the second time now - filling the roll of 'course designer' among other things for the Extreme North Dakota Iceman Triathlon which will be held this coming saturday.  I've wondered a great many times over the last few weeks how exactly there came to be a second time (why don't i learn my lessons the first time?  I'm a physicist, shouldn't i possess some modicum of intelligence?!).

    Honestly though, i think i've sorted it out.  It's my time to be 'the guy'.  You see as i was 'growing up i remember marvelling and wondering first about the folk who would tirelessly put up new climbing routes (spending days cleaning and bolting a route that took 10 minutes to climb) and then later about the poor saps who would plan and direct races.  Back then i assumed that these people were, at least to some degree, the 'wanna-bes' of the climbing or endurance world.  Unable to be competitive themselves but wanting to be recognized for their accomplishments and patted on the back by great athletes, they turned to working tirelessly to establish climbs or create an event.

    Maybe some of the event directors out there fit this bill, but most probably don't.  Instead i now figure these guys are passionate athletes, competitive or not, who are simply 'taking their turn' for love of the sport, whatever it is.  Not everyone will direct or plan an event, of course, and i myself may not have had it not been for the fact that the powerful adventure vacuum up here in Grand Forks sucked me in (twice now!)  I'm glad it did.

    It's alot of work, true. But it keeps me humble and ironically (and sadly perhaps) is my first real taste of gaining satisfaction from doing something for other people.  Of course being recognized for my accomplishments and patted on the back by great athletes feels pretty good too......