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, January 30, 2012


I was up much of the night coughing last night.  In fact, at one point i was coughing so violently that it somehow triggered my gag reflex to the point where i threw up a bit.  According to a friend of mine and childhood asthma sufferer, this isn't really that uncommon.  I guess i'm lucky that its taken me 36 years realize this.  Needless to say i'm getting a good abdominal workout without trying.

But now to the point - I always try to use that middle of the night awake time to explore things that have been on my mind.  Recently, i've been thinking about the role of fear as a mental limitation in reaching physical potential.  I'm not sure exactly how it works - but i'm pretty sure that it plays a part.  Much of my mental 'training' in the early days had less to do with suffering (although i did end up suffering my fair share) and more to do with fear management.  Climbing is good about that.

Ridge descent after climbing the face of Mt. Talbot, NZ (2006)
Any big ambitious route my brother and I set out to do was chock full of uncertainty, and sometimes that uncertainty contained a fair amount of risk.  The ability to accept and manage that risk - or the potential for it - probably plays a significant role, in combination with my intimate knowledge of suffering, in why i might be able to access more of my physical potential than people with different backgrounds.  I learned to be very much present, even in very dire situations, and just deal with the facts in front of me.  I think this has served me well in my pursuits, and i find myself drawing on it both two days into a four day adventure race and two minutes into a super hard tabata interval.

The latter of which, by the way, is not unlike the violent coughing i experienced last night in that it too, is quite capable of triggering the gag reflex.  It's always nice to come full circle.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


My weakened immune system succumbed to the pathogens floating around my house from a sick three year old.  I don't feel horrible, but i can tell when i cough that its not just a seasonal thing - big chunks of phlegm come up and i've got that unmistakable sick breath.  Its my own fault of course, and i half expected it as my confidence gets the best of me sometimes.... i long ago decided not to try to avoid sharing stuff with my kids, even when they are ill - simply because it is too hard -  they never quite finish their dinners, i'm always hungry, and i hate throwing away food.

I like to believe that i've got a super immune system and won't get sick.  I'm the eternal optimist - its how i plan my adventures and, apparently, also how i approach illness.  So be it.

Problem is that i'm terrible at actually being sick - much worse than i am when things my optimism lands me in hot water on an expedition, where i actually tend to thrive.  I'm also bad at recovering after long events (although i'm getting better), always wanting to get right back at it.  Double whammy.  But it gives me a chance to think a bit and realize that all the importance i attach to all this fitness and racing and ultra endurance stuff is fine and dandy, but it's also completely arbitrary.  Of course most of the things we attach importance to in life are arbitrarily decided, with a few exceptions.  One of those - at least in my book - is family.  So today instead of being bummed that its been a week since i've got any good training in and that i might have to wait a few more days, i'll let my focus shift to the wonderful little boy that gave me this cough but then spent the morning curled up on my lap - and how that was  pretty important, too.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Critical Gear

Gear plays an role of varying importance in endurance events.  I've watched teams of converse wearing, cotton clad, poorly equipped newbies grit their teeth and excel at a 6 hour adventure race, beating their lycra wearing, fully kitted, and more experienced brethren.  Sometimes, as in the above example, WILL, love of SUFFERING, fitness, and even maybe naivety weigh far more heavily on the outcome.  But as the temperatures drop and the miles pile on, gear sometimes becomes a far more critical factor, as it did in this year's frozen otter race.
after this years Frozen Otter finish,
carrying exactly what i started with

I've typically plan my gear strategy based on two rules - light is right and less is more. A trip or race is perfect if i really need every piece of non-required gear i choose to bring.  As for the required stuff? Meet the bare minimum and make it as feather-weight as possible.  I'll take enough to know that i'll be able to survive, just barely, but no more. When it comes to the Frozen Otter, I overdid it a bit (carried too much), but what is interesting is that the gear i used - that actually made it out of my pack - worked AMAZINGLY well.  And since i fielded so many questions leading up to the race about what to wear/what to pack, i thought a rundown of my system and the philosophy behind it might be useful.  One thing to note - on the race website it talked about it being an unsupported race.  As it turns out, racers were to be allowed to return to their at the half way point and pick up anything they wanted (food, changes of clothes, shoes, trekking poles) or drop off anything that was no longer useful (a wet pair of socks, sweated through base-layer, etc).  This was kind of a bummer for us so Grant and I decided to forgo the opportunity and plan as though the only support we'd have was water every 8 miles.  We packed.  We packed for - and ran - the race we thought we were signing up for, carrying or consuming everything we started with for 64 miles.  The race day temp was a low of 9 and a high of about 20, with strongish 20-25 mph winds developing after about midnight.

So how did we do it?  I'll start at the bottom.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Frozen otter movie

Thanks Grant for the awesome song!  Bonnie and Mike - i'm putting together a second piece from all the candid interviews on the way to the race - stay tuned!  Gear review coming soon as well...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Frozen otter race report

Wow - what a race!  Grant and I ended up finishing tied for third, 32 minutes behind the lead trio and 37 minutes off the course record.  I'd spent much of the week leading up to the race worrying about it - but in the end the training had me in good enough shape to get to the point where mental factors take over and i'm more in my element.  This race was the longest i've pushed consistently for so hard - Abu Dhabi is a close second but in reality there we were already pretty worked by the time the desert came along and were already well into 'slow and steady' mode. 
Grant and I seconds off the line

By the looks of things there were some good athletes among the 80 that lined up to start the full course at 10:15 (the 30 half course runners were let loose at 10:00 which was nice because they'd pack some of the trail for us).  The faster folks were told to move to the front so that, in our optimism, is where we headed.  At the gun though, Grant and I unexpectedly found ourselves leading the charge up the 50 feet of stairs that led to the single-track hiking trail heading south along a ridge and through the forest.  Two other runners quickly caught us and stayed on our heels for the first 8 miles, Brian - one of the six people who had finished the full distance before, and JP - who'd won the half distance race a couple of years prior.  I got to lead most of the time as we passed all but two of the 32 milers by the first CP, just over 8 miles in. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

accolades and peanut butter monsters

I'll start with the accolades - apparently this blog has been included in a list of 'top 125 triathlon blogs'.  It's just one guys opinion, but at the very least it means someone's reading it!  I'm not even sure who the guy is but he obviously deserves to be respected, i mean he did choose my blog out of what i'm sure amounts to millions and billions of choices.  Awesome.

Now for the meat and potatoes of the post.  A bizarre incident occurred today in the Magness household - we actually ran out of peanut butter.  My wife used the rest of the jar for an early morning breakfast of peanut butter and honey toast while the rest of us were sleeping (she had done an hour of yoga and an interval running workout and returned home by the time we were getting up - but that doesn't give her the right to polish off the PB!).  I was forced to break out the spatula to get in all the nooks and crannies which earned me enough peanut buttery goodness for a single, meagerly covered slice.  While i was pouting and chewing, however, i had an epiphany that relates directly to my thoughts on the connection between the mental and physical requirements for serious endurance undertakings.  And since thats pretty much the premise of my blog, i thought i'd share, so here goes - (damn I AM verbose, aren't i?)

THE PEANUT BUTTER MONSTER ANALOGY:  I really love peanut butter.  I also really love analogies (and chocolate too, but peanut butter and chocolate has already been done).  So I thought these two loves deserved to be combined to create 'The Peanut Butter Monster Analogyan alternative approach to successful endurance training'.**   

Thursday, January 12, 2012


A few things to report quickly -

#1)  a few days ago i posted a few of my training ideas on a forum at beginner triathlete - i wasn't sure what to expect but got quite a response (much of it predictably negative - fair enough - its a crazy idea that flies in the face of conventional wisdom).  I learned a few bits of internet lingo - trolling, OP - and a ton about my own ideas simply because i had to articulate them, with great attention to detail, to a 'hostile' audience.  Good discussion with critics is one of the best ways to flesh out your thoughts.  One thing that i said which was challenged over and over again was my statement that i wasn't really genetically gifted.  Most folks disagreed, claiming that i must be even to think i could run a boston qualifying marathon (BQ in triathlon-forum speak).  Hmm - perhaps i 'understated' my own genetics.  I guess i'll have to think harder about realistically how these old genes of mine measure up before ruffling feathers with these kinds of claims.  After all (and i'm no exception), people like to think that folks that are doing things that they "can't" have some unfair advantage... anyway, for those who are interested - you can follow the thread here. Warning - its a bit long and could easily distract someone for an hour or so!

#2) i've received the go ahead from Breathe magazine - a canadian adventure rag - to write a piece for their march issue about training for serious endurance events (or 'some of the toughest events on the planet' as i wrote in my pitch) on 2 hours per week.  I'm excited!  now i just need to make sure to finish this race i'm about to do so there can be a cool 'editors note' in the sidebar:  A few days after this article was written, the author put his training to the test in the Frozen Otter Ultra Trek, a 64 mile winter trail race - finishing in a time of 21 hrs and 42 minutes.  In the five years the race has been held only 11 people have finished and the race boasts a success rate of only 6%.  

I'll make sure not to mention that I had Grant carry my pack and tow me the last 25 miles.....

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why it works

During the desert trek of the 2010 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge

Ultra endurance efforts, for the vast majority of folks, require only a relatively easily achieved level of actual physical fitness.  What is required in desperately hard to obtain quantities, however, is mental acumen. The longer the event, the more the balance of power needed shifts towards the mental.  Sure if you you're going to expect to win ultra endurance events, you'll probably have to aim to have both a super high level of physical ability and mental toughness, which might mean more training hours.  [While 80-90% of your actual physical potential can likely be reached on very limited training hours, that extra few percent (to get up to 95+%) will come at the expense of a severly diminshed return, which means longer hours]. But in addition to this you'll have to be genetically blessed, which isn't really up to you, unfortunately. Not genetically blessed?  Sorry, winning isn't probably going to be an option for most things (national level adventure races are a still a possible exception, however).  Bummed?  Don't be - you can still compete at an age group level, if you can find a way to get that mental toughness (Confidence, Suffering, Will!) you end up with alot more time on your hands than most of the other folks you'll be lining up next to, who still believe that those long hours of training are somehow necessary for success.

I've just come to this conclusion on a consciousl level recently, despite several years of evidence staring me in the face since i've started this minimalist training experiment.  It is why all of my training protocal has seemingly prepared me so well for the adventure races i've done - whether they be 24 hour efforts of six times that.  Even Abu Dhabi - the elite international stage race that i competed before last christmas was pretty much 'defined' by one particularly brutal 36 hour trek through the desert that tested primarily, at the end of the day, a participants mental toughness.  No wonder i was so prepared on 3 hours a week of training - i've had the mental side down for years, and three hours a week was more than enough time to get close enough to my physical potential to take the challenge in stride.

This realization essentially brings one part of this experiment to and end - i'm satisfied that there's nothing unique about my training methods - any efficient, low volume approach that gets me in the best shape possible given the time requirement (ie high intensity training) will sufficiently prepare me physically for adventure racing, or major ultra-endurance events, because the primary factor effecting success in these events is not physical at all. Another way of stating it is this:  for the average (not genetically gifted) ultra endurance athlete a threshold of physical fitness that is accessible via a low volume/high intensity approach is, given suitable mental fitness, all that is required to enjoy success at any length/difficulty of event.  Two things are important to note:  1) the "any' above obviously doesn't include certain types of events, namely those that would only be accessible to elite athletes (the tour de france, for example), and 2) this whole argument begs the question about how the required 'mental' toughness is best gained - but i'll leave that discussion for another post. 

I want to end this post by shifting my focus onto a new area - which in some ways brings me full circle - Ironman.  As i mentioned above i no longer have questions about whether my training can prepare me for the type of events that favor mental toughness over physical.  But what about ultra endurance events where it is more of a balance?  While finishing an Ironman within the time limit certainly falls within the criteria above (i could stop typing and go run one right now and accomplish this task), what about breaking 12 hours?  Now it seems like this is a legitimate and presently very unanswered question, and its the one towards which i'll now turn my attention.  Rephrased, it sounds like this - can a limited, focused, high intensity routine produce a high enough level of fitness to achieve age group success in a more physically based ultra endurance activity like Iron distance triathlon?  Hmm.... 

I'm currently devising a 12 week program (22.5 hours of total training) that i'm going to be looking for guinea pigs to try out - testing fitness at the beginning and end, and then running a half or full Ironman at the conclusion.  Interested?
Sure if you you're going to expect to win ultra endurance events, you'll probably have to aim to have both  a super high level of Chris Charmicheal - elite triathlon coach and author of "The Time-Crunched Triathlete" "You're not going to do well at an Ironman or a stage race on six hours a week," Carmicheal says.
I've no question of my own mental strength when it comes to pushing through when things get tough

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Video blogs

decided that it would be more efficient to do video blogging, at least on occasion.  Here is the first one - good way to start the year.