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.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I'm in love with power.  But is it worth the price?  Like $1500?

I think i might need to start saving up for a power meter for my bike because i'm hooked.  Over the past years i've realized that, at least for me, having some sort of objective metric through which to analyze my training efforts is one of the keys that allows me to maximize the results.

What this has meant in the past is doing at least one workout a week where i used this metric both to create the 'target' for the session and as a means of tracking progress.  For runs this is most easily done using the treadmill, although back when i was a graduate student i favored the indoor, 8 laps=1mile track over running in place.  And while i certainly don't love running on the mill, i've come to tolerate it simply because it allows me to push myself in the objective way that i think is so important (and see my progress very clearly).

A year ago i started using Wattage as my metric of choice for the bike during the winter.   I'd ride at the YMCA on an older precor model stationary bike, which is fine when its cold.  The wattage seems consistent from machine to machine (it should be, a watt has a standard definition after all, and you are actually doing work on the bike... as compared to a calculated speed or distance.  I don't know about you but unless i pick up the bike and move it i don't actually go anywhere from all that pedaling) and, at least in theory, could actually be compared to an outside ride. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Darren Miller in his element, without anyone to lock horns with
Darren Miller, an 'ocean's seven' pursuitist (is that another new word?!) who I've been keeping up with on FB ever since he agreed to come up and participate in ENDracing's down-river marathon swim this summer, talks about the phenomenon of lock'n'horns with another swimmer during a workout.  He describes it in detail here but basically it amounts to trying to swim faster than the guy or girl in the lane next to you.

I've been back swimming at the YMCA for about 6 weeks now and although there was one guy who was always there when i showed up on friday afternoon that initially looked like he was going to give me a run for my money but never really managed to keep up.  I started to imagine i must be pretty fast.

That all ended last week.  I showed up for my longest swim yet - a planned 45 minute straight effort that i hoped would net me 3000 yards.  Not only did i the workout result in disappointment when i only made it 2800, but I also got totally got totally schooled in a game of lock'n'horns.

I first saw the guy in the locker room as i was getting changed.  He looked pretty fit, but so did the regular who ended up being slower than i was.  This new guy was already in the water by the time i slid into the pool and i could tell right away he was faster than anyone i'd yet seen during my workouts.  I was excited!  maybe this was going to be a great challenge! 

I was quickly and thoroughly disabused of this notion, though, as i pushed off the wall to start my workout right as he came in for a flip turn.  In fact, he pulled away from me so quickly (he must have been a third of the way back when i completed my first length) that he probably didn't even realize we were racing.  Ouch.  The disparity between our speeds was so great that i couldn't even milk it for a great workout.  I felt slow.  And i swam slow as a result.  Interesting how that works. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

spring time

Walking towards the UND memorial union this afternoon i was reminded of my own collegiate experience and the happy humor of youth.  It has been an early spring this year (really early actually) and the weather today is a very comfortable 60 degrees or so.  And so predictably, all the frat guys and sorority girls who have suffered through a long (well short for North Dakota actually) cold winter without many chances to take their clothes off in public seem to unanimously be rejoicing by doing just that.

Many times i actually feel like i'm in my twenties (and forget how long ago those college days really were) - i'm in what is probably the best shape of my life, work part time, have an old beater car in the driveway, feel broke, and act like a kid for a significant part of each and every day (one of the perks of having my own kids is that it gives me a sort of societally acceptable license to act juvenile myself).  But walking down fraternity row and seeing all those mostly naked bodies i am reminded of my age. 

Its not that i don't look pretty good without my shirt on.  its more that i just don't really think about taking it off so much any more. 

But i can still remember that time when my young hormones were raging at flood stage and the sexually charged microcosm that is so often the university experience had me wearing nothing but shorts in temperatures where i now wear a light jacket.  Good stuff.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Slush run

The Slush Pond
Spring in North Dakota.  the gutters become awesome pooh-stick courses, the sidewalks a fill with ankle deep cold water, and University Park, a mere two blocks from my house, forms a pond of calf deep slush for a couple of days. 

Last Sunday i took advantage of all three.  I put on my inov-8 goretex ultralight running 'boots' (288 grams per shoe baby!), a pair of Inov-8 'debris' socks, some old shorts (yeah, it was that warm) and went out to run 8 miles.  I ran straight through all the puddles and took to the snow-mobile trails once i hit the greenway.  It was brutal running and despite the vast quantities of water i encountered my feet stayed dry for nearly 40 minutes, finally succumbing to the wicking nature of the socks and one too many over the ankle puddles.  After the run i spent an hour with my boys, Keegan and AJ, watching sticks and leaves race down the street towards the storm drain - careening under half melted blocks of ice and through twisty valleys of snow.  And then after a nice hot shower, the whole family walked down to that pond in University Park to watch Keegan go 'swimming'. 

What a great day.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Elaborating on Confidence

Uncertainty is pretty much guaranteed when you have no idea what's ahead
As i was stirring my oatmeal on the stove this morning i had a bit of a realization about confidence as it pertains to my musings on ultra endurance efforts.  I've previously written about confidence as though it was a single thing.  Today i realized its not and suddenly things make more sense.

In my opinion (now) there are two separate confidences that need to be considered.  One can be thought of as a confidence in one's physical body or physical abilities. The other is more correctly considered a confidence in the ability to deal with the unknown.  My previous treatise on confidence really only considers the latter of these two, and it is important to recognize that while this second type of confidence can be an asset to the aspiring endurance athlete, it is not required in many cases.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The good old days

A friend, Troy Rhodes, recently reconnected with me (ah, the marvels of FB) and sent a scanned photo-album pages from a couple of my very first actual climbing expeditions (both failures, but great educations in suffering!).  Fun to walk down memory lane.  This first set of pages comes from a March 1994 trip to Longs Peak, CO where we set out to climb Keiner's route, the easiest way up the massive East Face.  We only made it to Broadway, a massive ledge system that spans the entire face before retreating. I just love the old photos - i was only 18 but already had such impeccable style.  Enjoy!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Another flawed analogy

Sometimes this is what a 'route' looks like.  Photo by Nick Wilder

The challenge presented by ultra-endurance events (UEEs) is kind of like going up and down Mt. Whitney in a day.  Most people have never been to the summit (done anything like a UEE).  Of those that have, the majority took a couple of days to make the 22-mile round-trip hike that ascends nearly 6000 feet (analogous to running a marathon). In the unlikely event you run across someone that did manage the car-to-car-in-a-day feat, I’ll give 100-1 odds that they took the trail. Therefore, in all likelihood, if you were to seek advice from this already rare individual on how best to approach this difficult challenge (a genuine UEE), they would assume that you’d be taking the trail too.  They probably believe that there isn’t any other way. But they are wrong.  There is
In the context of this analogy, the “way” that I’m proposing might better be called a “route”. After all, while a trail can be followed, a route must be forged anew each time – heading cross-country over rough terrain at steep angles. It doesn’t offer company and is described by a few terse sentences rather than by an entire guidebook, when it is described at all. It is much, much tougher than a trail but also much, much shorter - a more or less direct line to the top. Considering their differences, there’s no wonder the trail – the high volume, traditional method of approaching a UEE – gets all the traffic.  You can go online, buy the guidebook/training program and be told just what to expect and how to get ready in a handy day-by-day format. It calls for physical preparation over mental with little mention of the latter, and if you’ve got the time to follow it’s prescription, you’ll have a fair shot at reaching the goal.   

The experience of following a route, however, is fundamentally different. In our Mt. Whitney analogy, the “route” tackles the steep East face directly, requiring deep proficiency in navigational and mountaineering skills. Similarly, the low volume route to UEE demands mental “skills” over any sort of physical conditioning. In fact, there are three in particular are crucial: knowledge of suffering, confidence, and will.  Master these and the “trail” becomes nothing more than a suggested way to reach the summit.  Yeah, you can still follow it (i.e. put in those big hours) and it will still get you to the top, but you now have the option to choose other routes as well - even ones that seem so crazy that most people can’t see them – like doing UEE on only two hours of training a week.