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.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Breathe - an excerpt from my journal

Dec 18th - I sent in a pitch to Breathe magazine regarding the 2 Hrs/week training philosophy.  We'll see what happens. Not expecting anything, but pretty sure it wouldn't happen on its own.  Still mulling over/fleshing out my theories - reading, thinking about what works and what doesn't.  Read a study claiming that athletes put on a 2.5 hours per week high intensity training regimen showed improvement comparable to a control group on a more 'standard' endurance training schedule of 10.5 hours per week.  So essentially what i'm suggesting [in two hours per week] isn't too crazy after all - just that someone in the physical shape made possible by a typical training regimen of an endurance athlete (using conventional wisdom) of 10+ weekly hours can - if mentally fit (confidence and suffering!) - accomplish pretty much any physical, non-skilled effort.  With adequate will, one can reach a similar physical condition in 2+ hours (2 hours a week!) of higher intensity training.

I've also been thinking more concisely about the overall format for being successful at a low volume approach.  Train Hard.  Use methods that ensure physically consistent and intense workouts (treadmills, power meters/wattage, etc).  Minimize time spent in training zones 2, maximize that spent in 3, 4, and 5.  Stretch regularly.  Vary workouts routinely, but in ways that allow for the consistency in effort mentioned above.  Choose an objective metric (doesn't really matter what - note - heart rate is not objective) and use it to increase the intensity of each workout, every week.  Think of this steady increase in intensity/fitness as your build phase.  There is no base phase.  Every 8-16 weeks (I prefer 12 for multi discipline events, 8-10 for single discipline) do something BIG.  A race or some other ridiculous effort.  This is what you are training for.  This is where your efforts go.  Do it.  Suffer. Develop your mental strength.  Develop your confidence.  Recover for one week (you've just hit the reset button).  Week 2 after the something BIG is your chance to establish your new baseline for building from.  These baselines will and should vary.  Your peak fitness will vary too.  Note - you are not training to win.  You won't win following these methods - probably not ever.  But you can happily enjoy 'success' - age group placements, top 10% finishes, etc, in a HUGE variety of very difficult endeavors.  And on only two hours a week of training - thats pretty damn cool, and pretty much exactly what i'm after.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I wanted to say a little something about why i choose the events i do - after all there are literally thousands and thousands of what i'm sure are high quality events out there.  Even after trimming the list based on proximity to good old Grand Forks, cost vs. value, and how well it fits into my calendar, there are still dozens to choose from.  And since I only do a handful (one or two) big ones a year, thats a tough choice. Here's how I zero in and decide what efforts are worth applying my training to:

First, it's gotta be something new - i will hardly ever repeat an event.  Part of me loves suffering, particularly when its tied to some unknown quantity.  I pretty much know how much i'm going to suffer on a road marathon.  I've done it.  I've finished.  Lets try something else.

Secondly, I like it to be HARD - the harder the better.  I prefer to be able to legitimately ask the question - "will i be able to do it?  Can i even finish?"  And so while i've yet to do a proper Ironman race (i did the first ever off road ironman back in 2003) and choosing to do one would satisfy the first criteria - the second one wouldn't really apply.  It would be replaced with "can i finish in such and such a time?"  While i'll occasionally choose to train for and do something that asks this latter question, i find more satisfaction when i can ask the former ones.

If the first two criteria are satisfied (and they often are), i decide based on attrition.  I like events where most people don't finish.  Why?  well its pretty obvious - if I finish and most people haven't, then i get to pretend i'm a super bad ass for a little while.  If I don't finish and most people haven't, then i'm pretty sure i'm in great company (after all - if the race is so tough that most people who enter don't succeed, then the caliber of people who enter in the first place tends to be quite high).  It's pretty hard to be truly disappointed in the outcome when you test yourself against such a challenge, and i really don't like being disappointed.
hopefully my name will be on this list next year....
That brings me to my current goal - the Frozen Otter Ultra Trek.  In doing a bit of digging into the race, i've found that only six people (three men and three women) have ever finished the full course.  And just who are these folks, the 'frozen few' as they call them?

There's Brad Birkholz and Julie Treder who share the course record (tie) and were the only two finishers last year.  Brad is an ultramarathoner with 56 races in the last 7 years (thats about 8 Ultras a year!) and Julie is every bit his equal - ranked among the top 20% of female ultra runners in the country with over 12 independent ultras logged in 2011 alone.  Then there's Anthony Leiton, experienced adventure racer and 7 times Ironman triathlete, with several performances under 12 hours.  And Robin Grapa, who in 2006 hiked over 5100 miles across America as a fundraiser for Aplastic Anemia research.  Brian Pfister, who will race again this year, is also an accomplished ultra runner and triathlete (although not with quite the background as Brad or Julie), and Melissa - well, she was the first ever official finisher and is likely one of those quiet and reserved tough a nails folks the midwest seems to quietly breed without fanfare.

I hope its a brutal race.  I hope the list of finishers stays small.  But of course, i hope i'm on it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ultra simple

Well, i'm running my first ultra of sorts this winter.  I say 'of sorts' because of the winter part - it certainly will be much tougher in some respects than a typical ultra, but easier in the sense that there's no way i'll be running the whole thing.  In digging a little more into the race i've gotten even more excited - supposedly the 64 miles are comprised almost entirely of single track trail.  Snowshoes aren't allowed (to make sure everyone faces the same conditions).  And rather than a 5% completion rate, the event boasts an even lower 2% - only four racers have finished the full distance over the four years the event has been held, despite hundreds of entrants.  Sweet.

My training is going very well - i'm motivated and focused and actually feel myself getting stronger every week.  I'm keeping things simple - lots of running on the treadmill to gauge progress and ensure i'm not slacking, plus an outside run at least every other week that is designed to really challenge me.  I'm running twice a week and biking once - i've also added a bit of strength work which means my total cardio time is only 1:50 per week.  Below are the details -

Run 1 (usually tuesday):  20 minutes on treadmill.  Hill program.  This program has an 8 min "warm up" period at a modest grade followed by 4 x 1 min hills, each bigger than the last, with a 1 min rest interval at no or little incline.  The last four minutes are flat or with a slight incline.  At the start of these 12 weeks i was running at a 7:30 pace on level 5.  last tuesday (3 weeks in) i was @ lvl 10 (lowest incline is 1.5%, highest is 7.8%).  by the end of 12 weeks i hope to be running the program at level 10 at under a 7 min pace, or even 6:40.

A fire like this, after 32 miles of walking, is what kills most people in the Frozen Otter.
Bike 1 (usually thursday):  30 minutes on the stationary bike.  I do some sort of intervals or tempo ride using wattage to measure intensity.  for example, week 1 i warmed up for 5 minutes @ 200+ watts, then did a 20 minute tempo ride @ 250 watts and a final 5 back @ 200+ watts.  In week 3 i repeated this workout but managed to keep 275+ watts for the first 10 minutes of the tempo ride before not being able to sustain it and dropping down to 250 watts for the next 10 min.

Run 2 (usually sunday):  1 hour.  I'll alternate this between a run on the treadmill (no slo random pro) and an outside run.  On the outside runs i'll try to keep them meaningful and hard.  I ran outside on week two for example, and recruited uber-athlete Sean Cooley to ensure that i got destroyed.  I did.  Next week i will be at the in-laws cabin and will try to do a cross-country run outside through old snow-mobile trails to get in some hills and running conditions i'm more likely to face on the frozen otter.

Thats it - short and sweet and hard.  And in another 9 weeks, or 18 training hours, i'll be ready to go run 64 miles.  In fact, if i barely make the race cutoff at 24 hours, i'll have spent less time training (over 12 weeks) than it takes me to do the race.  Pretty cool!

Monday, November 14, 2011


It had been an awful long time since i'd had a long run outside, and because in 10 weeks i'll be aiming for a  really long run outside, i figured it'd be better not to wait any longer.  I couldn't quite muster the motivation to go on my own, so decided to try to use my vast social network to get some company.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It was.  And it wasn't.  I suppose this is the way with most ideas - there is a pretty distinct separation between what is good for the short term and good for the long term.  In this case, my decision was good for the long term.  I'm pretty sure its going to kick my body into gear and make it realize - holy sh*T - he intends to be a runner again!  As far as the short term is concerned though, i'll refer you to the title.

My running partner/would be executioner.
Sure, i've felt like this before, but it has been a while.  And it has probably been longer since i felt so destroyed 20 minutes into an hour workout.  But it was my decision - truth be told i only sought company from one guy - Sean Cooley - who i learned (while running our first mile at sub 6:40 - despite clear instructions that i wanted an hour run at around a 7 minute pace) is soon to be announced as Minnesota Tri News' most improved triathlete of 2011.  I'm not a very social runner, but i needed to be pushed and knew Sean could do the job.  I just didn't realize how well he could do it, but then he is an overachiever (not many 'most improved triathletes' are also first year med students).  We eventually slowed down to our target pace by the fifth mile, but it was too little too late.  I hung on through mile eight and then cut Sean loose, jogging and even walking the remaining 2 miles to my house, and can barely walk this morning.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Next on the agenda

CP tracker nationals has come and gone with somewhat disappointing results.  6th place is a long way from the podium, although there is some consolation in that we were one of eight teams to clear the course.  One issue we had was a lack of experience (as a team) with competitive orienteering.  Another problem that we had is that we weren't all on the same page in terms of expectations and fitness coming in.  We figured some stuff out though so hopefully won't make the same mistake if we go for it again next year.

In the midst of nationals and then planning and pulling off (with Ted and Beek) END-TOMBED, our twelve hour mt. bike race that received rave reviews, the arrowhead135, which was to be my next big adventure (i've tackled it twice on bike but was going to attempt completing it on foot this time) filled up.  Bummer.  Luckily, Grant Mehring, fellow suffer-o-phile told me about the frozen otter race in Wisconsin.
Results from the 2011 frozen otter.  Only the top two racers in the purple section finished the full course!
The event takes place about a week before the arrowhead and is perhaps equally as daunting - a 64 mile romp through the woods on a hiking trail.  To be declared a finisher, you have to complete the distance in under 24 hours.  To make matters worse they have a checkpoint every 8 miles with a big fire and the offer of a shuttle back to race HQ where there is indoor warmth and food and drink.  apparently by the 3rd CP racers are dropping like flies.  In face in 2011 only 2 out of the 42 full distance racers completed the course.    Anything that has a 95% attrition rate is my kind of race.

I'm planning on making my own attempt with Grant and Tom Fisher - my partner on last year's bike of the arrowhead135, who is the youngest biker to finish that event and had hoped to be the youngest walker after 2012.  He'll no doubt be the youngest to finish the frozen otter (if he succeeds), and maybe with three of us we'll be better able to ward off the sleep-monsters and rally to push on through CP's that we reach when we're at low points (unless we're all low at the same time, which rarely happens).

And of course, i'll do it only training 2 hours a week.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

who needs toenails

who doesn't like black toenails?
Apparently i don't.  The big toe nail on my right foot has been perpetually dead or gone for a number of years.  It grows back, i do a long run, and it promptly dies again.  It came off again a month after the Idaho Expedition race back in August.  Looking down at my feet last night i realized that three of my other toes had grayish/black tinges on the nails and were only attached at the back and part way down the edges.  They don't hurt.  I don't notice any difference really.  In fact, i can't really think of any reason why we even have toenails anymore - it seems that they are an evolutionary trait that we have simply outgrown in modern times.  I mean i can still think of lots of times when i use my fingernails (picking out splinters, as a flat head screwdriver) and even my hair (keeps my noggin warm, impromptu floss substitute, deterrent to keep people from eating my guacamole), but seriously, when is the last time you used your toenails?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

micro-nutrition test

I decided to try to get a better idea of what i'm actually putting into my body these days.  Its tricky for me because i tend to be a garbage disposal for the family - any food the boys don't eat (piece of banana, crusts of toast, etc automatically goes into my mouth) - but for three days i kept careful track.  Here's the results:

Sept 16th (in no particular order):

  • 2 pieces of toast with butter, peanut butter, and honey
  • Crusts from boys toast
  • 2 cups of coffee (16 oz) with cream and raw sugar
  • 1 bite banana
  • 1 slice cheese
  • 4 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 1 vegie bowl - swt. potato, onion, green beans, cucumber.  sauteed with oil. salted
  • 1 apple
  • handful of graham bunnies
  • 1 raw rev bar
  • 1 plus bowls of pasta w/brocolli, mushrooms, onions, carrots, and feta cheese
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • handful of walnuts
  • 3+ cups popcorn (no butter, hand popped in canola oil)
  • hot chocolate (from mix)
Sept 17th:

  • 2 pieces of butter, peanut butter, and honey toast
  • 2 cups of coffee (16 oz) with cream and raw sugar
  • 2 small pieces of cheese pizza and 1 cheese breadstick
  • 1 small piece of cake (birthday party)
  • small bowl of veggie mix (same as Sept 16)
  • 1 tbsp sunflower seeds
  • apple
  • 1 tbsp walnuts
  • 1+ slice of homemade wheat bread
  • 2 bowls of homemade chicken and vegetable soup
  • orange and apple slices
  • 1 cup or so of popcorn
Sept 18th:
  • 1 piece of toast with butter, PB, and honey
  • crusts from boys
  • 2 cups of coffee (16 oz) with cream and raw sugar
  • 2 raw rev bars
  • 2 bowls of chicken soup
  • 2 pieces of cornbread with butter and real maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp of sunflowers
  • 2 handfuls of cheddar bunnies
  • all fruit fruit leather
  • banana
  • small bowl of ice cream with melted peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp left over chicken salad mix with crusts from boys sandwiches
Thats it!  Looking back it doesn't look too shabby, at least not compared to the average diet.  Lots of nuts, lots of veggies and fruit, but clearly not a very austere diet in my opinion.  Keeps me ticking anyway.  Cheers!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Peanut butter and the five minute rule

I eat peanut butter.  By the spoonful.  Probably 6-10 spoonfuls a day, sometimes more.  Awesome.

Now to the five minute rule.  It's more of a goal or a benchmark really - on my 20 minute workouts, particularly with biking and running, I usually try to be pretty worked by the five minute mark.  As of late i've consistently been doing one minute work and rest intervals, following a two minute 'warm up' which is more of just a steady pace designed to let my heart rate climb.  Five minutes in i've completed two work intervals.  A week ago during my run i outdid myself and was completely spent after the first interval - there's nothing like really high intensity intervals to make 20 minutes seem like a lifetime.  But this is the point really - how much can you get out of that time?  The biggest concern that i can think of for a reasonably fit person is risk of injury by hitting it hard right away.  I'm somewhat sensitive to this, particularly with running.  going from an 8 mph pace to 12+ mph after 2 minutes might not be a good idea for everyone, but there are easy ways around this, particularly if you're inside on a treadmill.  I've been running at incline lately - i can go from a 3 mph walk at 15% incline to an 8mph desperate run without really risking as much physical injury.  Its my lungs and Heart rate that make the effort seem so brutal.

But what about that spiking heart rate - shouldn't that also be a concern?  There may be those that disagree with me, but i don't think so - at least not for those who are in good shape to begin with.  After all, one of the physical benefits of good fitness is a responsive heart rate.  It goes up fast and it comes down fast.  Good 400 meter sprinters, for example, go from a resting (or slightly elevated due to anxiety/anticipation) heart rate to pretty near their max HR in under a minute every time they race.

The nice thing about being significantly physically challenged 5 minutes into a 20 minute workout is that even this briefest of weekly workouts provides a opportunity to also work on cultivating the mental willpower/toughness that is so crucial to having success in serious endurance sports using a limited volume training approach.

Monday, September 26, 2011


When i originally sat down a couple of years ago to try to figure out what was required for one to be a successful endurance athlete i came up with three things - confidence, a knowledge of suffering, and will. A lot of time was not on the list.  I was reminded of the issue of time last night as i watched the beginning of an infomercial on some '10 minute workout' craze by the makers of P90X. 

Its amazing how well this stuff sells - a package of information that doesn't contain anything new:  Work out really hard.  Be consistent.  you will see results.  This is like a law of nature.  Action and reaction.  Nothing more.  The motivational speaker may change.  Artwork on the box may change.  the pumping beat designed to somehow get you through the pain may change.  But the message doesn't, because it can't.  There's nothing more and nothing less.

But of course there's still an epidemic of obesity, so whats going on?  come on - 10 minutes a day people.  But what they don't tell you in the sales pitch is that for alot of people its 10 minutes too tough.  it's 10 minutes of extreme discomfort.  There are lots of ways people could improve thier lives in 10 minutes a day.  10 minutes of mediation.  10 minutes of gorging on fruits and vegetables (preferably split into 3 minute chunks and put before every meal).  10 minutes of stretching.  10 minutes of listening to your spouse.  10 minutes of journaling.  We're creatures of habit though, and this is the hurdle that is simply too high to overcome for most people who set out to make any change, even a 10 minute one. 

But 10 minutes is certainly better than 60 - people don't even try to add 60 minutes of exercise to their day - that sort of idea doesn't even register as a real possibility in concsiousness - it doesn't stand a chance.  But 10 minutes gets people to try.  And some succeed.  Its like some human form of quantum tunnelling - some small probability of folks can actually change their lives when the energy barrier is really too high, but just by a little bit.

Alright, i'm digressing.  The point of all of this was to mention how important consistency is for success any sort of athletic training program.  and consistency doesn't happen (or doesn't happen consistently (:  ) when there are too many competing needs that can't all be met.  this is why a low volume program has a better chance to get you where you want to be - because maybe, just maybe, you can be consistent with it. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Start of the 2010 Swamp Donkey
This weekend I'm heading up north of the border for a perfect training day.....the Swamp Donkey adventure race.  Its a 6-9 hour event through the pre-cambrian shield landscape in and around Whiteshell provincial park and promises to be quite a race (there are over 100 three person teams signed up!). I'm racing with Tammy (my awesome wife) and Joel Larson, a buddy of mine who has been severely race deprived this season and so is raring to go.  It will be my first stab at being sole navigator on a team, which will make things interesting, as will the fact that the three of us have never trained or paddled together, and that Tammy and I are still on the tail end of a cold.  All the same, it'll be alot more fun than whatever other training i'd have gotten up to this weekend, and a great way to meet other racers.  Team Adrenaline Hunters from Fargo, ND are the only other team representing ND and we'll mainly be racing these guys to see who can return as the fastest Dakotans in Canada.  Good luck guys!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thoughts after two years

Its now a little more than two years that i've been doing this "experiment." During that time i've cut my average training volume from 3 hours a week down to two hours a week.  Presently, i've pretty much settled into a pattern which i feel is geared to maintain a particular base-level of fitness, or get back up to that base level following a major effort (that requires significant recovery).  I'm pretty sure i'm not going to get significantly more fit than I am at that base level, unless i were willing to add more training time.

But this works for me. I like to have a major effort scheduled every 8-10 weeks, which is roughly the time it takes for me to recover from my last big effort and shift the training focus to whatever the next mission is going to require.  For the last little while i've been trying to find my baseline for adventure racing which is tough because it requires 3 core disciplines.  I'm keenly aware that my ability in each of the disciplines is significantly below where it would be were i to have a greater focus on just one or two.  So be it.  

At this point my training consists of a 20 minute speed workout, a 40 minute tempo workout, and a longer 1 hour workout where i try to hold Z3 or greater effort.  I do one workout in each discipline - biking, paddling, and running.  I also do one super-set of strength training for 'pulling' muscle groups (back and biceps) and one for 'pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, tris) a week - this additional time adds up to about six minutes a week, which i don't count towards the two hours.

I'll keep this pattern and try to squeeze every bit of fitness i can out of it until the national championships for adventure racing which takes place in five weeks time.  After that i'll shift gears to running - running twice a week and biking once - and drop the paddling all together.  This is in preparation for an attempt to walk the Arrowhead 135 in late January with Tom Fisher.  After that i'll keep up the running for a hopeful attempt at doing the Border Route trail in under 24 hours this spring with Grant Mehring.  Who knows what the rest of 2012 will hold - but likely there will be a return to competitive adventure racing at some point.... Primal Quest?!

One of these days I'll do another ironman.  Then i'll write the book.

Happy training.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fattening up

I've started training in earnest again - one week under my belt.  Felt a bit like i was starting at rock bottom, but this of course is relative for me.  Ran 5 miles five days ago and i'm still sore - the run felt sloppy, like i was doing it for the first time - and felt pretty tough throughout.

I'm still eating everything in sight, sleeping 9-10 hours a day, and drinking loads of coffee....isn't this all part of the recovery process.  Not sure how much longer i can claim to be in this phase though.  I'm off to Bemidjii this afternoon for "work" and think i'll 'drag' the tire along for a sprint workout.  Right back into the deep end.

I've also committed to having another go at Nationals this year.  The race is about 8 weeks away - pretty close to my perfect period for for peaking.  Wow.  thats some sweet alliteration.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

A month has gone

August was my busy month.  First was trying to get all the loose ends tied up for END-AR24 (the race i direct) before leaving for the Idaho Expedition race (video below), and then i had to come back from that six day event in a sleep deprived state to start my real job of teaching math at a community college before another long four day weekend of hosting END-AR24, "the toughest race in north dakota" in the pembina gorge.  Fun stuff.

Not sure things will slow down - racing Swamp Donkey, a 9 hr. race on sept. 24th with my wife and Joel Larson, and then possibly nationals.  We'll see. And all in between planning a 12 hour mountain bike race, homeschooling my 3 and 5 year old, fixing flooded basements, prepping for two classes, city council meetings regarding building a boat-house, and being a husband and father in general.  Good thing i only work out two hours a week (:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Do fit people feel fit?

Recently have been thinking about this question because i don't particularly feel very fit at the moment.  So i wonder, should i feel fit?  What would this mean anyway?  Am i expecting that there is some sort of physical sensation that essentially amounts to fitness?  My workouts always feel hard, but thats probably just because i work hard at them.  I've long since abandoned the notion that as i get fitter things are going to feel easier - because i've increased the intensity or challenge of my activities accordingly so that i spend most of my time training feeling like really pushing it.  Maybe i have this notion of 'fitness' as a physical, sensory quality because i can remember times in the past when I intellectually thought that i was 'fit', and there were accompanying sensations that i assumed were the hallmarks of fitness.  Residual soreness, aching joints - signs that i was doing things. I used to train 3 or more times as much as i do now - all that activity made me mentally more aware of my physical body I suppose.  But  now i feel antsy.  I know by my performances that i must be pretty fit - long five hour days of moderate activity where i'm setting the course for the adventure race (that i'm putting on next month) don't really even feel like an effort.  Dragging a tire for 4 and a half miles at just over a 9 minute mile pace to the point where i feel like i'm about to collapse doesn't seem to have a lasting affect - a couple hours later all traces of the effort seem to have vanished, and there is no soreness the next morning.  But as this big race comes closer I find myself second guessing my fitness because of of the way I feel, or more precisely, the lack of the way i feel.  Anyone else ever had a similar experience?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hill Sim

After the MNOC adventure-O i realized i needed to step up my training.  I was cramping the last half of the race - the fatigue of pushing hard had caught up with me.  I'm a believer in the research that suggests that cramping has less to do with dehydration or electrolytes, and more to do with how your training compares with the race you're doing - if you don't run hills and your race has hills, your muscles will be pushed in a different way, fatigue quickly, and then misfire (cramps).

But how am I supposed to train in a way in two hours a week that simulates the efforts that will be required in a week long race over mountainous terrain such as idaho?  I've found that even going out for an hour time trial or 10 k tempo run, i'm usually limited mostly by my cardiovascular ability - and that while my legs might be sore the next day they don't seem terribly fatigued during the effort.  So what to do?
Getting set up for the inaugural bike ride

Tire drag baby!  I got a 13 inch passenger car tire (yeah, it's as small as they come, but i'm pretty small too!) and rigged it up using an old length of climbing rope and a short piece of bungee cord for shock absorption.  I can drag it behind me while I run by wearing a harness or while i bike by clipping it under my seatpost.  I haven't run with it yet but went for a 40 minute ride last week and it felt like i was going uphill the entire time.  Awesome.  I'll try it out on foot on friday.  It's super fun (different and new often is), gets loads of funny looks, was free, and actually seems to work pretty well.  I'm going to limit myself to one 'tire' workout a week before Idaho just because i don't want to overdo it, put strain places i'm not used to strain, and get injured.

With enough imagination, that tire looks just like my brother!
As a bonus, dragging the tire kind of feels like i'm towing someone - so i get to use my imagination and pretend i'm hauling my brothers broken body through the mountains as we race to a podium finish.  Sure, neither of these things may actually happen (me hauling jason or a podium finish in Idaho), but hopefully this new workout will better prepare me for both possibilities!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Camp 4 Marriage

It turns out not all Camp 4 Marriages end in divorce.

Phil, my spouse for the day
What's a camp 4 marriage you ask?  It's a term coined from that crucible of climbing - Yosemite valley's Camp 4 - where two individuals would meet for the first time (often as the result of hand-scrawled postings on the message board) sometimes hours before teaming up to tackle an ascent of El Capitan, one of the most famous climbing features in the world.  Often times the only thing these folks would have in common was the desire to scale the cliff - levels of proficiency, age, fitness, attitude, demeanor - this sort of stuff was rarely considered.  Trouble is, when something is difficult almost all of this stuff is crucial to success.

I've had two previous camp 4 marriages - the only two times i've ever climbed El Capitan.  I was successful on both climbs, but have never spoken to either 'spouse' again.  I won't go into details.  Both experiences were fresh in my mind this friday at 10 pm however, as i started my 5 hour drive towards Albert Lea, MN, to partake in the Minnesota Orienteering Club's 8 hour Adventure-O.  I'd meet my race partner, Phil (i didn't even know his last name), whom i'd been hooked up with via email by the race directors and spoken with briefly on the phone, a mere hour before the race began.

I stopped just south of the cities and slept for four hours in my car - a hot humid sleep where i drifted in and out of consciousness as mosquitos (how do they get in the car anyway?) nibbled on my forearms. At first light i fueled up, got some coffee, and finished the drive to the Edgewater resort, which served as the start line.

I got a great first impression of phil.  He was easy going, helpful as i changed a front bike tire that had gone flat during my drive, and seemed fit.  I'd assumed (i don't know why?!) that i'd be slightly fitter than him, but by the looks of it we might be pretty evenly matched (hard to judge someone by appearances in AR - there are guys that look tough as nails that never finish, and then folks that you'd never identify as a great athlete that end up on the podium...).  I'd tried to limit my expectations - all i was looking for was a good training day - a longer effort to begin mentally preparing for idaho.

Phil right after the paddle rogaine, after we'd taken the lead.
Long story short, my expectations were exceeded.  Although the race was not my strong suit (more race than adventure and very fast), we ended up heading leaving the first rogaine section with team GearJunkie/Yogaslackers (the same team i'll be racing on at idaho interestingly enough).  I quickly realized that phil was NOT going to be slower than me on the bike and tucked in behind him as we pedaled to a second (and longer) foot rogaine.  Phil's navigation was spot on and we finished this section within minutes of GJ/YS for another (shorter) bike to a third paddle rogaine where we had the option of 'creative portaging'.  we entered the water 5 minutes behind GJ/YS and lost more time searching for the first CP and messing with our seats.  Phil made a bold call and we decided to carry the boats overland for a mile, cutting off about half a mile of paddling but figuring the speeds of each were about the same.  By the end of the paddle rogaine we had slightly edged out GJ/YS and pulled into the TA about 30 seconds in front of them.

GJ/YS quickly caught us as we rode through the city and had multiple stops at traffic lights, and then pulled out ahead slightly at a water stop as they'd gotten their bottles filled first (there was only one fill station).  We kept them in sight, but just barely. I was starting to feel the fatigue of pushing hard for three hours, and had likely dug myself into a hole from not eating and drinking adequately during the first few fast hours (not to mention i was hot and sunburned from forgetting to apply sunscreen!).  I tried to dig myself out - forcing down some food - and it helped eventually, but not before we lost about 10 minutes on the leaders by the time we got to the last rogaine section.  While i thought i'd be better on foot, i didn't help much.  While i was fine running (jogging) on the trails, the bushwhacking or waist to chest high grassland that we were so often wading through was very tough.  My right hamstring would cramp whenever i lifted my right heel too far, but there was nothing i could do.

The O-course seemed to take forever.  Phil's nav continued to be spot on, but he'd made the mistake of folding the map in such a way that one of the checkpoints couldn't be seen.  when we discovered this error we realized we'd have to backtrack at the end to get it.  Damn.  We eventually ran into GJ/YS again and travelled with them for the last 4 or 5 CP's - Phil seemed eager to try and break away from them but i wouldn't have been able to manage much of a speed increase.  When we arrived back at the TA we headed out to get the one we'd missed, and ended up leaving on the final bike about 15 minutes behind GJ.

The final bike was short but i was spent.  I sat on phils wheel trying to keep up and managing to (for the most part) except for on a few hills.  We were stoked at the finish - considering we'd only met that morning and had been able to push such a good team for much of the race.  Unfortunately, we also discovered that we'd missed one of the CP's in the final rogaine - one that had simply blended into the map and would have required an additional 100 meters of walking through a field from the route we took.  The next team arrive at the finish for over 30 minutes, so it was a bummer to have made that mistake.  But all in all it didn't change much - I'd had a great race with phil, been pushed hard and learned a great deal about what i need to work on (biking!  nutrition!).  That and i hopefully have earned a potential race partner for the future.

Thanks Phil!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

training for idaho

here is a link to what the folks putting on Expedition Idaho are recommending for training.  I particularly like the following excerpts:
In general… you need to do a few 24 – 36 hour trainings with no sleep, as well as with the same sleep strategies and systems you want to use in the race, including stowing them, carrying them, etc.
There is a for sure chance that at least some of you will be on the water at night. And it’s a big chunk of water. Really big...... [you'll need] kayak/canow skills and safety (like how to flip over and get back in – at night – in the rain) etc. 
One of the biggest challenges at ExpId will occur in the trekking segments, and will require you to progress “on a bearing” through some very…um…challenging terrain…for a fair distance. There’s a better-than-odds-on chance of getting “off grid,” as they say, and ending up on top of the wrong mountain…which would REALLY suck. 
Sounds like it is going to be good fun to me!

Back in the paddle again.....

I'm finally back in the boat!  After getting some good expert coaching while down in San Diego for Jason's wedding, I forgot to bring my wing blade back with me on the plane.  Bummer.  I was able to fix the rudder on my boat which snapped last fall, but only received the paddle in the mail about a week ago (thanks Daniel!).  

Eager to try to capitalize on the technique i'd learned in California, i took the boat to the in-laws lake over the fourth of July weekend.  I had good sessions in the water on friday, saturday and sunday, and another on tuesday back in Grand Forks on the Red River.  I think things are starting to gel - not sure if its the paddle weight (way lighter than my last wing blade) or correct execution of the paddle stroke for the first time in my life, buy i'm able to hold the same speed or slightly faster than i was last fall with an effort that feels sustainable for hours and without any shoulder fatigue to speak of.  Cool.

Interestingly though, its been tough to figure out how to go hard - i find that when i try to push the pace i fall back into the bad habits of using my shoulders rather than my core to do the work, and the pace probably doesn't improve much as the technique falters.  So be it - i'm really gunning for long distance ability anyway, and so good technique will probably pay the biggest dividends.  Feels good to be back on the water.  

Monday, July 4, 2011


thanks for the inspiration Michael!
I find myself drawn to simplicity.  In my attempts to describe and detail my philosophy when it comes to endurance training on limited volume, i've been increasingly compelled to try and do it with less and less verbosity.  I need a catch phrase of sorts - something like what Michael Pollan uses to describe his ideas relating to the food:
Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.
I'm not sure i can be quite that concise at this point, but i think i can boil it down to a few simple rules.

  1. Train hard (at least 3 times a week)
  2. Not too much (allowing for at least one recovery day between workouts, each of which is of the minimum duration to allow for maximal physiological adaptation)
  3. Mostly Z3+ (use intervals, HIT techniques focusing on sustained efforts at or above Zone 3)
Wow, maybe I can be that concise.  Sure this might be an oversimplification - the tag line for a set of ideas that could easily be turned into a 200 page book, but there is something very nice to be able to embody the core sense of these ideas in such a few short statements.  I'm going to try it out the next time someone asks me for training advice, or asks me how i train for all the crazy stuff i do - 
Train hard.  Not too much.  Mostly in Zone 3.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Full disclosure

Life is good but very, very busy. My training is going well and I've had the added bonus of some planning trips up to Pembina for the 24 hour adventure race we are putting on at the end of August. In a sense this is like bonus training, which I am beginning to realize might be pretty valuable. That being said, it's all pretty casual, kind of like an adventure race is for a team that is just out to have a good time. Of course 4 hours on the bike is still four hours on the bike, and i'm learning some valuable lessons.

Yesterday on the four hour ride mentioned above, I squeezed in my fifteen minute training ride by going for broke on a couple of the biggest hills the region has to offer (a monster hill even in Pembina only takes 6-7 minutes to climb when you push hard). Then I rode casually with my co-race planner(Dexter). Then I tore my sidewall beyond repair. I was miles from good roads and going to be very late getting home so my wife could teach her yoga class while I watched the boys. Bummer.

I switched bikes with Dexter and pushed hard again the remaining 10 miles to the car so i could give Tammy time to find someone else to watch the boys. The hour it took killed me. I hand't eaten since before noon (it was about 5 pm), drank my last swallow as i left Dexter, and was apparently pretty dehydrated from the 90 degree day with 80% humidity. I was more broken that i have been since nationals last November.

I felt sick as we started the drive home. I drank three liters of fluids and passed out for 30 minutes. When I woke I felt much better, but didn't have to pee until this morning. Glad to have this wake-up call with still six weeks before Idaho. A few more big missions going over the rest of the course will give me ample opportunity to learn from my mistake.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Idaho angst

I had a tough run today.  plan was to see where i'm at after all the randomness of the last couple weeks - sioux hustler, then a couple weeks of training/recovery before a 10 day stint of vacation in SD with the family at jason's wedding.  I'd sandwich a 4.5 mile tempo run into the middle of an hour outing, aiming for the 9 mph pace (6:40 per mile) - the mythical height of my fitness.  At two miles into the tempo run i was slightly behind pace and exhausted and set my sights a smidge lower to 4 miles.  I did manage the negative split but was completely spent with the effort and had to walk for a minute before continuing at a slow jog the rest of the way home.

I'm suitably anxious about idaho.  I've been here before though - far from where i want to be come race day - and know that there's no real reason to be too alarmed. I just need to find some focus and consistency over the next 8 weeks - the angst will help to ensure that i do.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

sioux hustler and a nice vacation

It's been a month since my last post but i've been plenty busy.  two 'vacations' - one of the adventure sort and one of the eat too much sort have been squeezed in with all normal rites of spring (cleaning, gardening, long overdue home repairs, etc).  The first, the long awaited (by me at least) sioux hustler trail went off without a hitch - better than expected really on a number of accounts.  First of all we got to run some sweet whitewater, a real rarity in the boundary waters i've heard, and second of all the run was rugged enough to be great fun but not so rugged that we got caught by darkness.  All in all it took us about 9 hours to run the 34 or so miles.

Then last week I headed out with the family to San Diego for my brother's wedding. It was an awesome time where i caught up with old college friends, got a few precious moments squeezed into neoprene in the pacific ocean, and ate way too much food. I also got a two hour session with an olympic paddle coach and now hopefully have the right wing paddle technique down (fingers crossed) - which will be important for what comes next.

So what comes next? The idaho expedition race - a seven day event that promises to be the biggest AR in the USA this year (because it has the most prize money, of course!) Lots of international teams are flying over, including the powerhouse NZ and french teams. But this is home turf baby, and not some stage race - Yogaslackers has their eye on the prize, or at least the podium. 8 weeks and one taper week between now and then - and three main disciplines to train for - paddling, biking, and running. Fun stuff.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Boston on two hours a week?

Believe it or not, i wasn't able to find time last week to get in two hours of training - it was the final week of preparations for the spring adventure race that i help put on, so i while i was spending a fair bit of time jogging around in the woods, not much of it was very focused.  Fun times, and worth the effort - as evidenced by the video below.

As a result of the light training week last week, however, i decided to roll over the missed hours into this week and tack a long run onto the weekend session so that i'd at least get one big effort in - something to hopefully soften the shock my body will experience in 8 days when i embark on the 35 mile Sioux Hustler trail with Grant.  Today was that effort.

I managed 16.75 miles in 2:01 - the first 9.3 miles was run at a smidge under a 7 min mile, while for the remainder i slowed a bit to just over a 7:30 pace.  Cardiovascularly i felt fantastic, never really pushing up beyond 70-80% max exertion - but the last 40 minutes were tough on my legs.  They felt heavy and fatigued - my calves got tight, arches and knees a bit sore, and little blisters formed on my pinky toes.  All in all though i was very pleased with the effort - i'm not going to be as fast as Grant next week, but i should be able to hold my own, particularly because i think the trail is going to be suitably bad so that we'll never really have much of a chance to approach our top speeds.  

I'm super psyched also to have put in a run which, in my mind, is a good indicator that if i wanted to, i could qualify for the Boston Marathon.  Sure i still had another 9.5 miles to go, but i also had an hour and fourteen minutes to run it in.  Yeah, it would have been tough to finish those miles at the 7:48 pace i'd have needed to - but then again i haven't run more than 8.5 miles in about three months.  The fact that my three runs (two hours) of running every two weeks (avg. of less than 10 weekly miles) has me sitting in a kind of general fitness state that is within a couple weeks striking distance of this achievement is super cool.  Besides, i did todays run without food or water, on a meager breakfast and two cups of coffee - no fans, no race energy, no aid stations.  

Alright - gotta go stretch.  Hip flexors are starting to lock up.  Might have to crawl to the shower.  



Friday, April 29, 2011

A good run

I had my first great run in a long time last weekend.  8 repeats on a nearly 3/4 mile dirt road loop that included a pretty decent hill climb for about 2/10ths of a mile.  I tried to run pretty consistently, knocking out all the laps in about 4:55, except for the seventh which was about 5 seconds slower.  Legs were threatening to seize up at the end, but never followed through.  overall pace was about 6:47 per mile or so - definitely a better result than i was expecting. I was pretty worked, but not completely so, by the time everything was said and done.  It gives me some confidence for the Sioux - Hustler which is coming up in about three weeks i guess!

I've also been thinking about another way of looking at this type of training.  It's beyond a doubt that i could be far fitter were i to devote more time to, well, fitness.  But if you accept a few key premises, it's a pretty logical argument that the way i'm training is the most 'efficient'.  Here's how i figure it:

High intensity work requires greater physiological adaptation than low intensity work and so provides the greatest gains with least amount of time commitment, but High intensity work doesn't necessarily mean only sprint intervals, however - race pace intervals,  longer near max effort tempo runs,  and threshold zig zags are going to be necessary to develop the mental and physical stamina required for longer events, and are still performed at considerably higher intensity than what is required for the bulk of training in most programs.  I'm pretty maxed out right now in terms of my mental capabilities.  I'm doing three workouts a week, each of them is a significant effort and gives me 10-15 minutes of Z5+ effort, about 30-40 minutes of Z4-5, and the remainder in Z3 and Z2, with most being in Z3.  I don't think i'd be able to add much effort in Z4 or above without it hurting any of my existing workouts.  If i added volume at lower efforts, the average efficiency of my training time would go down.

So in other words, i'm trying to make all of my workouts at a level that provides pretty near the best results per time spent.  I'm focusing on hitting each training zone throughout the week with a workout that focuses on short, super high intensity intervals, one that focuses on longer intervals, and one that requires longer duration tempo work.  If i took something away i would't be doing as much as i could at this intensity.  If i added something, the intensity would suffer.  If i keep doing what i'm doing i think i'm going to comfortably be able to run a rugged 35 mile backcountry wilderness trail and race at an with an elite team in a seven day adventure race.  Not bad.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Status update and a bit of nostalgia

I've gotta get outside.  I've had a good run on the treadmill and stationary bike - the automated nature of these beasts have enabled me to consistently push myself in the limited time i've been on them each week, but the sun is coming out and the repetition is getting pretty old.  Last friday I had a great run on the treadmill - three miles @ 6 min pace with easier miles at 7:30 (and 7 the last 'rest' interval) - but half way through i had pain in my left foot.  I stubbornly pushed through and then woke and then could barely walk afterwords - and in the days following.  Internet research made me believe it to be a stress fracture, but by my next scheduled run (yesterday) it seemed to be getting better.  I hate missing workouts (yeah, i know i should work on this - at least this is what tammy tells me) and so thought i'd see how bad it was.  I'm half convinced that the problem resulted from the speed work i've done over the last couple of runs - speed work on a treadmill might not be the best - and so decided to do hill intervals instead.  it was my short workout and i figured i couldn't damage too much in 20 minutes.

I don't really have any baseline for comparison but on a perceived effort scale it was right up there.  15% grade for the duration - rest intervals (RI) at 2 miles per hour (3 miles per hour for the warm up) with work intervals (WI) at a 7:30 pace for the first one and then down to 8:00 pace thereafter.  WI were 1 min long, although it took about 12-15 seconds to be fully up to speed.  This was exhausting.  I was redlining hard for the last 10-15 seconds on the last four.  My lungs burned, heart pounded at near max capacity, and my legs threatened not to cooperate.  Awesome.  I could feel my foot but it wasn't too bad - a bit worse this morning than yesterday (pre run) but can still walk normally.  we'll see how things shape up this weekend and whether i can go for my planned longer run.  fingers crossed.

I've been thinking these past weeks about the mental side of things - after all hitting it hard becomes more and more mental the longer the duration of the challenge.  I find myself worrying a little about August - my next race with the Yogaslackers - a six day event in Idaho.  Apparently all the big boys are coming from overseas - it'll be the first race with international powerhouses going toe to toe with American squads on US soil in over 5 years.  In fact, even half of the 4 time Abu Dhabi championship team will be in attendance - damn i'm getting nervous just thinking about it.  I mean i have no doubt that i'll be in good enough shape to complete the race - but thats not going to be good enough for Yogaslackers.  These guys want to win, or at least get on the podium.  So i'm hoping my belief in mental over physical is on the mark - i'm hoping that my reasonable level of fitness and superior mental fitness will be enough not to let the team down.  Again, fingers crossed.....

Here's part 1 of the Primal Quest 2006 closing ceremonies video - this is what started it all for me.  It was my second ever adventure race, and a real education.  It's also the last time a race in the US has really drawn international teams. Part 2 is below.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Minus one (excuse)

Can't eliminate 'em, but maybe I can reduce their number...
I've been thinking about what if anything i'm trying to accomplish by training like this.  I certainly won't reach my fitness potential, but how many of us are even after that anyway?  i guess what it comes down to is that i'm trying to be fit enough to do big things without putting in even close to the volume that is usually thought of as being necessary.  My goal of course isn't to be able to pull a 'one off' effort and merely survive it, but rather to develop an extremely truncated plan that is easy for me to sustain essentially indefinitely that gives me well above average general fitness and allows for some level of specialization so that i can seek to improve race outcomes over a variety of disciplines.

A simpler way of looking at it is that i'm aiming to remove one excuse that is often used for not doing endurance and ultra-endurance activities.  Its clear to me that at least 90% of what it takes to complete these sort of big efforts is mental, not physical to begin with - and my training does not really address this mental side -  but neither do most (or all?) of the more 'conventional', high volume programs.  But if you've got the mental will, are comfortable with suffering, and have confidence in your abilities, then i'm convinced that the amount of time available to train should simply not be a factor in whether or not you're able to do big things.  Granted, i'd theoretically be able to do everything faster if i had 4, 6, or even more hours a week to train - but this also assumes that the quality of each of these hours stayed high.

As it it presently (training 2 hours a week), i'm able to keep all of my training pretty high value.  I've currently structured it so that i'm doing one 20 minute, one 40 minute, and one 60 minute a week.  The 20 minute workout usually involves short, super intense intervals of less than 90 seconds, with comparable length rest periods.  The 40 minute workout is also an interval workout, but the intervals are longer, lasting up to 5 minutes.  The 60 minute workout is a tempo workout, with anywhere from 30-60 minutes being at race pace (or greater) effort.  I'm currently alternating bike and run workouts which keeps my motivation pretty high.  I'm in my fourth week and have yet to have any noticeable mental or physical fatigue going into the workouts, which thus far has allowed me to string together nearly 10 sessions where my perceived effort was very high.

Previously (using 3 hours a week) i was able to get my running up to a level equivalent to a Vdot score of 52 - I'll be testing again in about two weeks, so i'll have a bit of hard data for comparison.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


How Low can you (or I) go?  As I mentioned, i'm now on a two hour per week training schedule.  I'm getting lots done on the non-profit and spending good quality family time with Tammy and the boys as well.  The workouts are actually going great - the last four have all been pretty top quality in terms of intensity and perceived effort.  At this point i only have a few potential concerns - 1) what i call 'sudden use injury', and 2) how i'm going to craft my training when i add paddling to biking and running.

Sudden use injury, a term i've just coined (does this count as a protologism? is protologism a word?  If not, then doesn't that count?) - refers to the possibility of injury from beginning intense exercise without a proper warm up.  I'm not too worried - it's not as if i'm trying to bench 200 pounds without warming up - exerting extreme stress on cold muscles.  But i do notice a bit of creakiness when i start my runs at a warm-up tempo that's not what most people consider a warm up, or spin for only two minutes on the bike at 160 watts before launching into a 90 second interval at 300+.  If it stays as creakiness, then all will be well.

Adding paddling will be another matter entirely, and i'm not sure how to do it.  I am impressed at the quality of the minutes i'm exercising - not one is ever really wasted.  Since i'll mainly be focused on paddling technique this summer (establishing it - apparently i don't have any) i think initially two 15 minute sessions will suffice.  This will leave time for a 30 minute tempo or longer interval workout in running and an hour tempo workout in biking (or vice versa).  I'm committed to being fit enough by the time i add paddling that my 'long' workouts will serve as my tempo workouts.  Why two paddle sessions instead of one?  i think that initially i'll be working on developing muscle engrams (memory) and these are easier to develop when fatigue of any sort isn't an issue.

I'll hold off on the paddling until after i return from a summer road trip down to my brother's wedding.  It'll be tight - i'll have only about 8 weeks to figure out how to do it right and get good at it, while maintaining the biking and running.  In the meantime i'll work on getting fit enough to keep up with Grant on our run of the Sioux Hustler trail on May 23rd.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Best laid plans....

Not New Zealand, but still fun...
Keegan climbing in So. Cal.
It's May 21st and instead of sitting in a hut after an epic day on the dusky track in wild New Zealand, i'm here in Grand Forks sitting through an overly hyped spring winter storm.  A long and complicated chain of events - some of which were beyond our control (a major earthquake in christchurch), some of which within it (we were offered a full refund on the plane tickets and couldn't really say no) - we ended up swapping 7 weeks down under for 11 days in southern california.

At the time it was a great relief - the amount of stress we were facing to make the trip happen right on the heels of iceman and the day after Tammy's class was ending was brutal.  But now, after hearing that jason has just arrived in Te Anau and setting off on the dusky mission tomorrow, it's a bit bittersweet.

With the stress gone, i realize that all the energy that had been building towards that trip is still there and needs an outlet.  I've already got a busy summer lined up (no adventuring unless you count race directing) so time is short, but i've managed to hook up with a partner (Grant) from Fargo to take on a mission similar to the mantario trail run from last november.

The plan is to so a one day run the Sioux Hustler trail in the bounday waters canoe area wilderness (BWCAW).  it's a 32-35 mile (depending on who you ask) into some of the most remote wilderness in the BWCAW on unmaintained trails, recommended for serious hikers only, and estimated to take most parties 4 days to complete.  it'll be a good test of both navigation skills and fitness - not a substitute for the dusky epic, but hopefully at least a little taste of the suffering that would have been had over there.

I've also decided to drop down to only two hours a week of cardio training using the same principals as i've outlined in previous posts - i may have to up it again when i add padding to the biking and running in preparation for the idaho expedition race later this summer, but we'll see how this run goes.  We'll be tackling the trail on May 22nd and 23rd, so i've got about 9 weeks of training time.  should be no problem..... (:

Monday, February 28, 2011

putting it together

Andy Mueller, yetified.
Whew!  Iceman triathlon is done, and was a great success thanks to all the hard work from GGFYP, the volunteers that froze their butts off, and the wonderful sponsors, not to mention racers.  In the final week before the event i ended up putting in about 60 hours of work setting the course and taking care of last minute details and for the first time in well over a year didn't get in my 'allotted' time for training.  i thought about trying to make it up this coming week but this week promises to be just as busy as i prepare to leave the country for 7 weeks, heading to new zealand, and am just going to let it go.  although in the grand scheme of things this is clearly no big deal, it was in fact a small hurdle for me, as i've been pretty committed to getting three hours a week come hell or high water.  A good challenge.

A 'trail' from the Dusky Track
In new zealand i've got my next effort planned - a three day sufferfest that involves 100 miles of travel, split between packrafting (both whitewater and flatwater) and trekking/running on about 20% good trail, 50% bad trail (a trail only by new zealand standards), and 30% off trail.  the first day, which is pretty typical for all three, will involve about 15 miles of mountain running with serious elevation gain and loss, 6 miles of trail-less trekking, and 5 or 6 miles of whitewater paddling.  The second day takes in over half the distance of the infamous Dusky track, the most notorious walking 'track' in all of new zealand, after a flatwater paddle of about 12 miles.  to put things in perspective this section of track takes normal 'well equipped and experienced parties' four days walking.  Fun stuff.  In building up to this effort using the principals outlined in previous posts, here's what i've put together as a training regimine for the next four weeks....

  • Week 1 (2.5 hours) - packing for New zealand, traveling to MN on friday, flying to LA on saturday night.
    • tuesday:  StepMill, 30 min, speed.  Interval program.  lvl 14 for RI, lvl 20 for WI.
    • Wednesday:  swim, 15 minutes, tempo (aim for 1000+ yards)
    • Thursday:  Bike, 1 hour, Long.  On trainer.  gear profile 2-3 to 2-5 then back to 2-3, changing every 12 minutes, RPM 90-100.
    • Saturday:  Run, 45, tempo.  aim for six miles in under 42 minutes then 3 min WD.
  • Week 2 (3.5 hours) - in LA monday and most of tuesday, then wed-thursday travel to NZ.
    • Monday/Tuesday: Run, 1.5 hours, Long.  Aim for 12 or more miles.
    • Friday:  Run, 30, speed - 4 x 1 km in under 3:45 (6 min mile pace), or hills.
    • Saturday:  Possible paddle (hand paddle?), 30 min, tempo.
    • Sunday:  Run, 1 hour, tempo.  Rainbow reach?  broad bay?  good solid effort trail run, ideally around Te Anau.
  • Week 3 (4.5 hours) - in NZ, te Anau.
    • tuesday - cycle, 1 hour, tempo/continual hill ride.  (if possible)
    • wednesday - paddle, 40, tempo (hand paddle?)
    • Thursday/friday - Run, Long, 2:10 (up to luxmore?) - note, this workout is sort of a peak workout and so i've put it about 7 days before the proposed trip date.
    • sat/sun - Run, 40, speed/hill intervals.  TBD.
  • Week 4 (1.5 hours) - week of trip. days to be determined based on trip date. Can all be on consecutive days, or even same day.  one day of complete rest prior to trip.
    • Run, 30, easy.  around town with a few pickups
    • bike, 40, easy.  spinning in Z2/3 at high RPM
    • paddle, 20, easy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

planning a day - long workouts

Long workouts are my favorite - as i find them to be mentally rejuvenating rather than stressful.  In keeping the universe in balance, however, they also tend to be the most physically depleting.

For long workouts i try to have a time/distance goal - i'm pretty anal so i usually use the time alloted and a pace determined by armchair ambition to set a distance and use it to plot my course.  if i manage to come in under time (which rarely happens) i'll add on a couple minutes of easy running until i've hit the time mark.  if i end up being off pace, i'll try to pick it up at the end and finish the distance in as close to the 'allotted' time as possible.  occasionally i'll run a couple of minutes longer than the workout prescribes, but never more than a couple.

I like the long runs because i don't have to psyche myself up much - all i've got to do is make sure i start.  i usually have some energy at the beginning so am able to settle into a decent pace rather quickly and feel good about it.  by the time the pace doesn't feel good anymore, i'm mentally committed to the workout, the adrenaline/endorphins/whatever-other-chemicals-are-up-there-in-my-synapses are full strength, i'm grooving to my tunes, and ready to push a bit. 

The key to getting the most out of these workouts is to strive for sustained Zone 3 effort (i refer you again to Joe Friel's website for information on training zones).  Zone three, or 'muscular endurance', shouldn't feel easy by any means, but it won't be the sustained effort that your tempo runs are (where you should be pushing lactate threshold, or Zone 4 during the work phase).  Joe call's zone 3 'happy hard' - it's hard enough so that you really feel like you're doing something, which makes you happy.  Most long runs in this program are less than 2 hours and so the aim is to build until you can spend as much of that time outside your comfort zone - going happy hard - as possible.  This is very different from many ultra endurance training regimines  based on classic conventional wisdom which advocate spending lots of time in Zone 1 and 2, very little in Zone 3, 10-15 % in Zone 4, and a few brief intervals above lactate threshold, in Zone 5.  If you're training on limited volume, this breakdown doesn't allow for enough stress to be placed on your physical system for much improvement.  And if your goal is to perform well over the long haul on such a schedule, mentally it's even worse.  

The idea is to mentally (again, if you've read my introductory posts you should recall how important i think mental fitness is to having success in endurance events) make a phase shift up the scale of zones - to move towards a point where the mental effort that was previously required for physical activity in Zone 2 can now sustain activity in Zone 3.  Zone 2 becomes the easiest training zone you access in this program, and even so you use it sparingly - for recovery between work intervals in the tempo workouts, as warm-up and cool down efforts on long and speed workouts.  Mentally it becomes your 'easy' pace - a great boon when you head out for that 50 mile race or century ride.  Of course training in Zone 3 is much more physically demanding than in Zone 2 - which means that even this 'long' workout will result in some of the significant muscular soreness that is usually associated with shorter, more intense workouts.  But of course you knew that there were no gimmie days in the program, didn't you.  At least you get to take the next day off (:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

planning a day - tempo workouts

these workouts offer a consistent weekly dose of race type suffering.  granted you won't be quite going race pace for the distance of your training session, but you should always be going faster than race pace for the distance you're training for - maybe significantly faster.  Tempo sessions also take alot of mental work, and after big races or time off, i've always eased back into them. I'll usually use as a starting point for pacing my best previous effort of some distance (peak pace) - for example, i currently consider my peak pace for running to be 9 miles in an hour (6:40 per mile pace).  Whenever i start getting serious about running after a hiatus, i'll look to approach this speed during my first real tempo workout back, even if only for a brief period.  A typical 'first' workout might look something like 2 mile warm up (WU), 2 mile tempo (6:40 pace), 3 mile easier (7:30 pace).  The next tempo session would build on this one, perhaps having a 1 mile warm up, 2 mile tempo, one mile easier, and 2 miles tempo, and one mile warm down.  eventually, the lions share - or even all - of time during a tempo workout will be spent at or near 'peak' pace.

Ultimately, i find that using the three hour a week program i'm pretty much always in good enough shape to reach my previous peak levels in any particular discipline in about 6-8 weeks of focused training (although i don't always have that long between events).  Although i'm sure i could get faster, i think that my current 'peak' level is pretty close to my potential (at least as far as running goes) based on this type of program.  Perhaps i could improve so that i was running 10 miles at a 6:30 per mile pace or something, but this would likely involve more sustained periods (12 weeks?  16?) with less cross training - and the truth of it is that i typically have some big race or trip planned that is difficult enough that it requires significant recovery afterwords - these races or trips act as sort of a reset button for me.  successive endeavors usually involve different disciplines and so at this point i'm pretty content at where my peak levels seem to be.  

One key point that remains to be made about tempo workouts is how hard to work during non-tempo intervals.  It is important to allow the warm-up to build quickly into a solid effort (Zone 2/3) and to keep all non-tempo intervals squarely in Zone 2 or above.  Zone 2 can be thought of as the pace you'd be spending most of your time in if you were to go out and race a marathon at your current fitness.  In my sample workouts above, it's clear that 'easier' doesn't mean easy.  The work intervals should feel rather difficult, so much so that you're very happy when they are over.  by not letting your heart rate drop back into Zone 1 you're physiologically and psychologically teaching yourself to recover at higher levels of effort.  The payoff is that over time, Zone 2 will become 'easy' - because this is the slowest pace you ever run in training.  During the initial period of time when i applied these principals to my running, not only did i get faster at the top end, but i also got faster at the bottom end, and disproportionately so (my top end mid distance pace went from about 7:40 to 6:40 while my 'slow' mid distance pace went from about 9 minutes per mile to 7:30).  In the context of major endurance efforts, this is huge - as your 'easy' pace is where you're going to spend most of your time during an ultra distance race.  if you're comfortable physically and mentally in Zone 2, you're going to just move that much faster.  

planning a day - speed/hill sessions

these workouts can be as short as 30 minutes in length, but are often mentally the toughest.  They work well either inside or out, but i've found them to be most effective when i've got reasonably controlled conditions so that my attention can be focused on the difficult intervals that they require. I usually allow the first 5 minutes as a warm-up, building quickly up to Zone 3 effort (according Friel) for a couple minutes and then backing down to Z2 for the last minute of warm-up so that i can mentally prepare for the upcoming set.  I will usually include the maximum number of intervals that i can in the remaining time.  for example, if a workout includes 1 minute work intervals (WI) followed by 1 min rest intervals,  i might warm up for 5 minutes and go immediately into the first of 12 work intervals.  this leaves one extra minute of warm down, for two total minutes after the last set.  The shorter the duration of the WI, the greater the output you should shoot for during the interval.  1 minute intervals should have you performing at a well above lactate threshold for much of the interval, and you can expect heart rates of 80% to 90% of your maximum.  Rest interval output during short intervals should be minimal - easy spinning on a bike or walking for example - the goal is to see how consistently you can meet a target during thework intervals. push reasonably hard on the first interval and you'll guarantee yourself an awesome workout trying to always match this benchmark.

for longer WI, say 4 x 4 min WI with 3 min RI, my goal pace for the WI will be a bit more modest - perhaps only slightly above or even at lactate threshold (Z4) - but my RI pace will be a bit higher in contrast.  For me, a 7 min mile pace over 10 miles usually requires substantial effort but is possible.  for the workout mentioned above i might attempt to run three quarters of a mile and then walk between 'sets' or perhaps 2/3 of a mile at a 6 min pace with a RI @8 min pace.  The key ingredient of course is intensity - the work intervals need to be challenging enough so that when you're on your second one, even though you may have been working out only 10 or less minutes, you're realizing that this is going to be a challenge.  I have all sorts of mental tricks that i've found effective in keeping my motivation high when i'm already spent, and i'll go over some of these in a later post.

Setting a benchmark with the first interval, as mentioned above, is crucial.  It keeps you honest and able to assess your workout objectively as you proceed though it. As mentioned, having a track or planned course and watch (or some other device with which to calculate your pace), is important.  If these are not available, cardio equipment at a gym can be an excellent substitute, as it offers a way to objectively set the parameters of both WI and RI.  Mentally, this can be the toughest of the three workouts because, particularly with more numerous and shorter intervals, it requires you to muster up you will over and over again, even for just a half an hour session.  On the days where you're worried about being able to push yourself on that first interval, cardio equipment can even 'get you into' the workout without as much mental effort on your part, particularly if you've regularly trained indoors and have some historical pacing strategies to pull from.  If i know i've run 10x1 minute intervals at a 5:30 pace before but i'm feeling lazy, i can just key up the program and try hang on for the ride.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

planning a week

i've found pretty consistent success with my limited training and i think alot of that is due to these basic structure that the training follows on a weekly basis.  There are several key principals that i pretty much apply to every week, regardless of the event i'm training for, what part of the periodization phase i'm in, or other constraints.  Beyond these principals i will often change things up so that it's always felt, to me, like there is a fair bit of flexibility in my schedule.  so without further introduction, here they are:
  1. perform three core workouts a week:  one should be focused on higher intensity speed work or hill training, one on what is often called 'tempo' training, and one on a longer, more moderate intensity workout.
  2. At least one day of rest should be allowed between the core workouts
  3. At least 5/6 (50 minutes of every hour) of total training time should be spent on the core workouts.
  4. at least two athletic disciplines (whenever possible) should be practiced each week. 
I'll now elaborate, going down the list.  as mentioned, there are three core workouts - speed/hills, tempo, and long.  speed workouts are shorter in duration and usually involve intervals (either hill or pace driven ones) that can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, with typical intervals usually around the 1 or 2 minute mark.  There are lots of  different ways to approach speed training, but i've found success with total workout times between 30-45 minutes.  A key feature of speed workouts is that during the intervals you are pushing your body beyond lactate threshold, up into Z5 (according to Friel).  recovery periods are typically similar in length to the work periods, and the body is forced to continually adapt to the changing levels of exertion.  Tempo workouts are typically in the hour range and may also involve intervals that are longer (5+ minutes) but can also be continuous efforts at near lactate threshold (Z3/4).  The basic idea is to practice performing at 'race pace' - given that race is somewhere around 30-60 minutes long, or about as long as the training session.  These efforts push the body to increase aerobic capacity efficiently.  long workouts end up being from about 1:15 to 2.5 hours in duration and are primarily spend in Z2/3.  Ideally, and as one gets fitter, longer and longer amounts of time should be spend in Z3 during these workouts. 

Because even the 'moderate' workouts are rather intense, a day of rest is required between sessions.  this is one of my favorite parts of the program - and i feel it is essential.  piling the workouts back to back can lead to injury, overtraining, but more likely, low motivation.  it's amazing the gains you can make in short time frames when each of your workouts is paying off maximally - and this of course is the goal of the program.  if you can't get a day of rest, skip the workout and make up the time down the line.

Back in highschool, years before i started participating in endurance based activities, i started lifting weights.  i read all the muscle magazines and idiotically followed thier routines, lifting for 2 hours, 6 days a week.  of course i got stronger, but i also wasted alot of time towards what i now consider a rather useless pursuit - i wasn't trying to get towards some functional end - the goal was to look bigger and push around big metal disks in a gym.  While those days long gone and i no longer care about how much i can lift, i do still carry around the appreciation i gained for being able to handle my own bodyweight.  as such, it's important to me to maintian a base level of strength that i feel enhances my overall fitness.  In addition to my endurance training, i do two short sessions of strength training a week.  Presently these sessions last 5 minutes each.  when training for triathlon, i often also add a swim workout to my training, usually limited to 15 or 20 minutes.  with all these additions, a typical week during tri training might include 2 hours and 30 minutes spread over 3 'core' workouts (either biking or running) and 30 minutes of other activity.  taking much more than half an hour (or one sixth) of the total weekly training time for these pursuits is not recommended, nor necessary once adequate muscular fitness has been developed.  it is even possible to gain strength on a limited routine, but i'll leave that for another post.  limiting this non-core work to 30 minutes will minimize recovery needs not directly related to the overall goal of the program and ensure adequate time for the three main workouts.

The kernal of thought that started this whole training revolution for me a marathon training program from the furman institute of running, or FIRST.  this program advocated only three runs a week to prepare for a 26.2 mile race.  the workouts ended up totalling about 3 hours (give or take) and although optional 'cross training' workouts were recommended as part of the program, i found the uneccessary.  I actually poured so much effort into the three weekly workouts that any intermediate workout would have had to be either ridiculously easy or would have kept me from going hard on the next run.  so i pressed on with these three weekly workouts and saw my running speed and endurance shoot through the roof.  10 mile runs became easy.  my 'long run' pace dropped to about 7:30 per mile for a casual run, or under 7 minutes if i pushed it.  i'd never been fast before, but now i felt like i was.  Mentally, however, it was tough to keep up the intensity and i switched to doing one of the weekly workouts as crosstraining - typically a bike ride.  i used the same structure for these workouts - if the prescribed run was to be speed training, i'd do speed training on the bike.  the intensity remained, but by switching disciplines i was able to stay mentally focused for longer periods of time, and still found myself able to improve and maintain a high level of fitness.  Over the past few years i've continued having success (both mentally and physically) keeping the intensity where it needs to be to maximize the effectiveness of the limited training volume by including at least two different disciplines during the week.  If i'm training for a single discipline event (say a run), i always do two core workouts in that discipline and one in another (biking for example).  i'll cycle the types of workout (speed, tempo, long) so that every three weeks i'll do two runs of each.  It gets a bit trickier for muti-discipline events such as triathlon or adventure racing, but i'll also address this issue in another post.

happy training!