For new readers

To get an idea of what I'm trying to do and why I think it's possible, check out the following entries, they'll help get you up to speed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Robert and the nature of BIG TRAINING

I had a conversation with a buddy of mine a couple of days ago that got me thinking.

He was calling after a mentally defeating workout.  He's been on a training program designed to get him ready for a marathon swim (END-WET) in july and has been putting in huge efforts - getting into 12+ hour a week in the water and workouts as long as 6+ miles.  Yikes.

He called me after one of the tough workouts which he'd found brutal.  He was doubting his ability to complete a swim so much longer - and daunted by the prospect of another 12 weeks of so much training.

This is indeed a dilemma - pretty much the central one to my thesis on this blog. I found during my 'discussion' with the triathlete bunch that there was an apparent chorus of voices that suggest that the supreme effort in preparation (traditionally) for epic events is necessary. That if you don't want to/can't do the training then it is a good indication that you shouldn't do the event itself.  But there are problems with this approach, in some cases.

For example - some people (myself included) want to do the ironman or the marathon swim, but don't want  to swim 12 hours or more a week for half a year, or bike and run for 6+ hours on most weekends.  Some people mainly love the challenge itself, finding the edge and in some cases going beyond it.  Because at least for almost all of us - the idea that we're going to go into an event at the peak of our abilities is a complete illusion.  Yeah, it's good to be fit, in particular fit enough to at least physically complete the task at hand. Suffering a bit to get a taste of what you're going to be in for isn't necessarily a bad idea either - but there's a point where this can do more harm than good, especially if you've got a few longer events already under your belt.

If Robert drops out and decides not to swim in END-WET - I'm going to do it instead (we're co-directing the event, so only one of us will participate).  My longest swim in preparation would probably be 90 minutes, and before that i doubt if i'd do much more than 15 minutes a week until the 4 weeks before.  Granted, i've got some swimming background.  But i also know that i'd suffer immeasurably during the event and am ok with that.

I just don't want to suffer during the event and every week for months preceding it.  Because what Robert faces is pretty daunting.  He has to be reminded on a weekly basis of how difficult his task is bound to be - to hit 5 miles in a workout week after week and be exhausted and know that come the day of the event he'd be less than a third of the way to his goal (the river current will travel about 1 mph with the swimmer - reducing 26+ miles to about 15-18 of swimming).

And to make matters worse - he's only going to temper his suffering on race day somewhat.... he might get so fit from his long days that he only has to push into the 'crazy zone' (the place where you can't remember why you ever thought this was a good idea and are constantly, desperately, reaching for the mental power to continue) after 8 hours of swimming, instead of 4.  But he'll still get there.  He'll still have to survive it in order to get to the finish.

And that's assuming he gets to the start - 20+ weeks of 30,000+ yards may not have him feeling much like swimming at all come race day.....

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

1-2 combo (TTD run)

Saturday is my run day.  And in my revolving schedule of speed/temp/long temp workouts it also happened to be my speed day.  I wasn't motivated to do a regular speed workout but wanted something that would force my hand and get me motivated once i started, and here's what i came up with, a tabata tire drag (TTD).

I've used the tire drag in the past to try to increase the load on my legs to simulate either towing my brother on foot in an adventure race (something i get to do often during the races).  It also multiplies the fatigue on the muscles, something that is important when i only train for such limited amounts of time.  I've also used Tabata intervals after looking into the research that suggests that the anaerobic effort they require provides aerobic benefits equivalent to much longer workouts at more moderate efforts.  Both types of workout take quite a bit of mental determination to complete on their own - so why combine them?  well for me the newness of a workout, and the lack of an expectation as to how it will go, can often motivate me when nothing else does.

It was pretty brutal.  on the way out i was fresh (of course) and felt pretty good, maintaining about an 8:20 pace or so with the tire in tow, although i was definitely working somewhat hard (zone 3 or maybe zone 3+).  The tabata intervals varied pretty widely with the first one having me reach nearly a 5 min mile pace, but most of them averaging around a 6:30-7:00 clip.  By the time i was on my way home i was cruising at right around a 9 minute pace.  By the time i picked up the pace for the last 100 yds all i could think about was getting the damn harness off, as if the extreme discomfort i was directly attached to my wearing it.  It wasn't - but at least shedding it gives me the mental relief of knowing i'm done suffering (and getting strange looks) for the day.....

Friday, April 13, 2012


In a recent issue of some running related magazine i read about what was referred to as a 'float' workout - essentially it involves a session with work and rest intervals such that the work interval is at or slightly above lactate threshold and the rest interval is at or slightly above a long run (marathon) pace.

This type of workout wasn't totally new to me - way back when i was following Joe Friels triathletes training bible i used to do what Joe referred to as 'criss-cross' workouts - essentially the same idea - some interval slightly above threshold alternated with an interval at under threshold, usually in Z3 under his scheme of training zones.

On wednesday i was slated for a bike so i thought i'd try it and, long story short - i though it worked pretty well.  I was out for 45 minutes and alternated 5 minutes of Zone 3 riding (something i felt like i could sustain for about an hour but not without some difficulty by the end) with 5 minutes of Z4 or above riding - an effort that i would have been hard pressed to sustain for more than 10 minutes.  Ideally i'd be using a power meter to monitor my actual effort (as opposed to my perceived effort) but i still haven't coughed up the half a grand to get one and am finding it hard to justify since i'm only riding once a week.  Someday.

But the workout still seemed solid - i had to consistently push during the WI and try to recover during the RI, despite not really resting.  I pretended i was in a pace line during an Adventure race with Team Yogaslackers - Chelsey and I were taking turns pulling for Jason and Daniel who could barely just keep up (hey, it's my workout - my motivation can come from the realm of fiction if i want it to!) - five minutes on - five minutes off.  We were  pushing hard to close the gap on team GJ/Wedali, who because of their superior navigation had left the final TA two minutes ahead of us.

I finished pretty worked - opting not to take the final 5 minutes as a cool down and make the last work interval 10 minutes instead of 5.  Ouch

Wonder why they look so mad in their picture?  They know that those two minutes just ain't gonna be enough.... (;

Thursday, April 12, 2012


My wife and I recently finished reading the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Yeah, i know it was written for young adults, but its really a pretty entertaining read and there's some pretty good stuff about suffering in there.  And I couldn't help but wonder where i could get my hands on some of that 'Capitol medicine' - would sure come in handy during expedition length adventure racing.

Ms. Everdeen, finding her limits
But the book really got me thinking about limits and where they come from.  I've touched on this in some of my posts before and i find it a very compelling topic.  I'm particularly interested in the idea of physical limits vs. mental limits, and how, in my opinion, mental limits are often rationalized to be physical ones.

Physical limits are comforting.  They stem from outside of our control.  "I'm just not built right."  "I just don't have the right genetics."  While this can be true in terms of performing simple tasks at some limit (i.e. running a 4 minute mile) or skilled activities (getting massive air while downhill mountain biking), it is true much less often in terms of endurance sports.

As soon as one believes they can't physically do something, the rest becomes moot.  Whether or not one actually can do it becomes immaterial - the body will only ever attempt to go where the mind leads.  It becomes a stalemate - the mind looking at the body and thinking - it doesn't even matter if i wanted to do that - it's beyond me.

But if you are like me and interested in finding (or more realistically just closely approaching) your actual physical limits - the mental limits have to be removed.  I've luckily developed (after years of 'practice') a system of planning activities that removes the mental limitations.  Here's how it works:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kelly Brinkman and new shoes

Kelly Brinkman
Just wanted to give a shout out to Kelly Brinkman, a fellow upper midwest athlete and adventure racer.  Someone did a Q and A with her on their blog that i've included here.

I met Kelly last summer during the MNOC adventure-O - an orienteering based adventure race near the twin cities.  I raced with a guy named Phil - a camp four marriage that was a surprisingly good match - and we found ourselves chasing team GearJunkie for the lead.  Four hours into the race on a trekking section i was spent, not having prepared myself for Phil's fitness level which kept me working HARD the whole race.  I remember coming meeting up with GJ on the trail as approached a CP from different spots.  As we headed off down the trail their female was just bounding ahead, circling back - apparently un-phased by all the previous effort that the day had entailed.  She reminded me of a deer, prancing and leaping down the trail.

check out those shoes!
I've always felt that compared to most adventure racers i was a reasonably strong runner.  I had nothing on this girl.

Anyway, i liked the article and am super psyched at all her success.  In addition i was thrilled to learn that she is a treadmill runner too..... and a total bad ass.

Seems like there are a handful of this type out there - an article in the newest issue of Trail Runner Magazine talks about the benefits of 'mill running for serious athletes as well.  Interestingly enough - the cover of that same issue has a runner sporting the new Inov-8 X-talon 195's, which happen to be my newest pair of shoes - i only broke them in this last saturday. Maybe the folks at TR are spying on me and reading my mind.  Then again, maybe not.
my new shoes

Monday, April 9, 2012

Things are going Swimmingly (Apostle Islands idea)

I'm restless these days.  It has been to long since i've done stupid things to my body i guess.  My workouts are good and intense but so varied and short that i never really feel their effects the next day and always feel raring to go.  I need an outlet.

I won't have to wait to long though - i've agreed to run the Sheyenne National Grasslands trail the week after END-SPAR (the 6 hour race i'm directing).  The trail is 28+ miles long and i'll be shooting for an under 4 hours completion time - nothing to write home about but about all i can hope for considering i'm only running once a week, and sometimes less than three miles, in preparation.  This will satisfy me for a bit i suppose, and i'll be suitably distracted for the rest of May as Tammy and I take our first sans kids trip together since they were born (to the Gunks - i'm not sure if i even remember how to place gear it has been so long) and the whole family is heading out to visit my brother in Bend.

In fact, the summer will probably fly by as well - Untamed New England in June, then prepping for the marathon swim race that i'm directing in July, followed by the 24 hour adventure race i'm putting on in August.  But it's this swim race that has got me thinking.

I wanna swim there
Swimming is hard.  It is maybe the most feared of endurance sports, so much so that many people don't even include it in the list of things that people like to do for a really long time.  After all there are hugely well attended marathons and ultra distance runs and century bike rides that draw thousands as well.  Put on a 10 mile swim and very few people will be there - and it will take the entire population of the country just produce those few.  So i've become fascinated with swimming lately, and after seeing a post on about a sea kayaking trip through the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore have hatched a plan:
Chart a looping course to the outermost islands, making a loop and then returning to the mainland, doing it as fast as possible - hopefully over a long weekend.  The route i've initially looked at includes about 8-9 swims, varying in length from just over a mile to between 3 and 4 miles.  I'd do it with a single partner who would accompany me in a packraft (an adventure of its own) with all the gear needed for three a three day journey.  I'd swim and they'd paddle (or we'd switch off) between the islands, running or bushwhacking the length of the islands (many have rough trail systems) between swims.  The initial route is roughly 55 miles long with about 25 miles of swimming and 30 miles of foot travel.  I'd like to be self sufficient (ie start and finish with all our gear - carrying it all overland on the islands) which is why packrafts will play a crucial role.  The swims will definitely require a wetsuit (at least for me) as the water temps, at warmest, are around 50-55 degrees.  We'd likely take dry suits as well for the person in the packraft, and possibly have a second emergency boat in it became necessary to blow it up and get us both in boats to await a rescue if the currents and wind blew us out in the middle of lake superior.    
I'm perspiring anxiously just thinking about this.  Now truth be told, only about half of my crazy ideas ever see fruition - but i'm hoping this one makes the cut.  In particular i'm drawn to it because swimming is so challenging and, in a sense, inhospitable.  Two miles from the nearest land in five foot, fifty degree seas, with white-capping waves and the rain pouring down - well - you'll find out what you're made of - or, perhaps more importantly, what you're not.