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.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Cheaters never win

I'm cheating a little bit on my time this week, but for good reason.  I usually work out alone - it suits me better as i can create my own schedule and i can also workout as hard as i want.  In the past when i've worked out with others it's been through careful selection - usually i choose someone significantly faster and fitter than i am knowing that i will suffer badly trying not to slow them down (which is the point).  But selecting the individual is key, and this is why i've tended to shy away from joining a group ride for my cycling workout.... but this week i made an exception.

You see, the local bike store recently added a wednesday evening 'hard' ride to their group ride schedule, which previously included sunday 'casual' rides and no-drop rides.  I wasn't able to fit in a ride during the day so figured i'd check it out.  I knew about three quarters of the 12 riders that showed up (a big number for Grand Forks), and at least a handful of them were without a doubt better cyclists than i was.  I was pumped.

Predictably, the riding started out easy as we headed out of town.  When things didn't immediately pick up on the less trafficked roads, i figured i'd take matters into my own hands and attacked.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

3 Injuries and a Fish

It's been a busy past 10 days.  Our kitchen has been torn up since last tuesday to replace the floor and cabinets and so we've been migrating between our house and the houses of both sets of parents.  After spending a few days in town with my folks, we headed to Minnesota to visit my in-laws at the lake.  On Sunday i took advantage of the hill right out their driveway and had my first run since my big effort two weeks prior.  It felt great and based on my splits i was more or less recovered.

But then 4 hours after  i got done, my hip was in agony.  Not sure what the injury was (or is) but it has thankfully gotten a bit better over the last 72 hours.  My attempt at diagnosis pins it as one of the hip flexor muscles or associated tendons.  Straight line movements (where the hip is inline) are fine, but any hip opening motion is difficult, and my walk is slightly limpy.  I've got another run scheduled this week but will stick it on sunday again and keep it short (but fast) to see how things go, and then reassess.

So that is injury #1

Injury #2 isn't mine - thankfully - it's the fish's.  The top picture pretty much sums it up.  We ate the fish, though it didn't amount to a very big meal - my first attempt at filleting did not go as well as my first attempt at fish archery.

Injury #3 (OUCH) also wasn't mine, although it will certainly require me to pick up some slack as Tammy now has rather limited use of her hands until she heals.  Turns out that it is possible to insert the foot-box of one shoe through the loop in the laces of the other.  It also turns out that it is not a good idea to do this while you are running fast.  Or on pavement.  Or both. Now we know.  Sometimes learning from other people is better than learning for yourself.....

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cramp my style....

I remember vividly the first time i experienced real 'exercise-associated muscle cramps' (EAMC).  It was in New Zealand during the 'Teva: Big Day at the Office' multi-sport race.  Ouch.  Since then i've cramped to some extent at nearly all of my hard and fast races, but rarely during longer (multi-day) ones.

As such, and in doing research, i have come to accept (more or less) the hypothesis that fatigue is the primary cause of EAMC.  This hypothesis matches my own experiences pretty well - the harder and faster i've gone the more likely i am to cramp.  Or another way of looking at it is that when my race produces acute fatigue levels greater than my training - watch out.

And since i'm only training two hours a week then this happens all the time, and so i've learned to deal with it.  Cramping is something i expect and embrace, rather than seek to avoid.  In fact, it lets me know that i'm working hard - at or near my limit, for significantly longer than i ever did in training - which is what i want to be doing anyway.  But i don't want it to ruin my race either - something that has happened in the past - so i've learned to listen closely to my body and pay close attention to the first signs that i'm reaching the level of fatigue where cramping will begin.

When i reach this point, my race becomes pretty well defined - i aim to sustain an effort that is right at this threshold level of fatigue.  In terms of running this usually means backing off the pace a bit, focusing on cadence, and walking significant hills.  I've gotten pretty good at this - in fact during my recent 30 miler i felt the first twinges of cramping after about 2 and a half hours as we entered the beginning of the hilly section, but adjusted my pace and managed 2 more hours of running (albeit at a slightly slower pace) without any ill effects.  

I don't have quite as much experience in terms of dealing with cramping while biking though - most of my distance biking is during adventure races where the overall pace is significantly slower and the acute fatigue is less likely to reach levels that exceed the stresses of even my low volume training (although it has happened on at least one occasion).  

The bottom line for me is that given the nature of my training and the scope of my ambitions, i'm going to routinely face situations where cramping is unavoidable.  So i don't try to avoid it.  Yeah, if i trained more (and still really intensely) i could probably delay the onset of cramping.  But this kind of goes back to the argument in the More or Less post - that last statement is essentially always true.  And for me, figuring out how to manage cramping as opposed to just postpone it has proven an effective strategy for allowing me to accomplish my goals within the parameters of my schedule.

A bad week for feet, but a good week for spirit

Goofing around on High Exposure in the Gunks
during my recent climbing trip
Last week was pretty hard on my feet.  First there was the 30+ mile run on Sunday (May 6th).  After two days of 'recovery' i was off to Upstate New York for my first real outdoor climbing in around six years.  It was a great time and made me remember why i was a die hard climber for all those years - but also why me feet look as gnarly as they do.  Three eight hour days and the crag later and my toes had had it - i'd have needed to take a day off even if the trip didn't come to an end.

My plan was to 'give up' the 15 minutes of climbing i was doing a week and add a bit of length to some of the other training sessions but i don't think i will any more - i'm visiting jason out in Bend, OR in a couple of weeks and the trip promises a day of climbing at Smith Rock, so i'll pretend that we'll somehow be able to use the climbing fitness at Untamed New England in June and stick with it.  Besides, it's only 15 minutes.....

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

We don't need no stinkin' training... (aka dying a slow and painful death)

At the start
I ran the Sheyenne National Grassland's North Country Trail with Grant Mehring on Sunday.  The total length is nearly 31 miles (roughly 30.5), or pretty close to a 50 K.  I have to be honest, i didn't feel much like running when we began - i'd been up early to drive friends down to fargo from grand forks to catch a plane and hadn't slept well the night before.  I was nervous too - my longest run since the frozen otter (FO) ultra trek 15 weeks before had been somewhere just shy of 7 miles.  My minimalist training regimen had been stretched extra thin as i spread my 2 weekly hours between paddling, running, biking (in preparation for my "A" race - a four day adventure race in June), climbing (so i won't embarrass myself in the Gunks this week), and swimming (in case i get a chance to take on END-WET in july), and i'd averaged about 2 hours of running a month since then.

But the run was a great chance to test the theory (my theory anyway) that high intensity training and mental constitution can get you through just about anything - so around noon we headed off through the first cattle gate across the open prairie.

Grant, on the trail....
Grant, a former collegiate steeple chase runner, carried the pack with about 3 liters of water, a light jacket, a few cliff bars, and a bottle with a half a dozen pills of ibuprofen.  I carried my jacket and some gu's around my waist.  The trail was flat and fast at first.  Until at six minutes in it went through an unavoidable bog.  So we'd have wet feet and mud in our shoes right from the get go.  Good adventure race training.  The mud was so gooey it even sucked my shoes - with their elastic speed laces - right off my feet on one occasion.

The first 16 miles was mostly flat.  We managed it in almost exactly two hours, even including stopping to open the dozens of cattle gates and to take our two minute 'walk, eat, and drink' sessions every 45 minutes.  About 90 minutes in i felt the blister that had been forming on my right pinky toe (that always forms) pop and drain blood and fluid into the toe box of my new socks.  It hurt for a while as i limped on but i tried to distract myself with the new and worrying tightness in my left achilles.

Miraculously, over the course of the next few miles the blister pain normalized - it was still there but remained manageable - and the achilles stopped nagging me altogether.
Me during what were the toughest four miles mentally speaking.

None-the-less, by 18 mile mark the fatigue hit us both like a brick wall.  We'd left the flat open prairie and were into the sand-hills area - gentle rolling hills for miles and miles.  It was at this point that Grant informed me that the trail was actually longer than the 28 miles it mentions on the website on the area.  In fact, he assured me that we'd see the 26 mile mark about half a mile or so before hitting the one creek we crossed, which was exactly 4 miles from the end.

As silly as it sounds, the thought of going an extra couple of miles just killed my motivation.  So i changed gears.  I told Grant we were going to go 4 miles at a time - small chunks of mileage - rather than 45 minutes, which now seemed daunting.  Miles 18-22 were the worst - maybe because they marked some sort of a hump in which we passed our half way time and also were forced to slow down into a more manageable pace than the one which we'd held up till then.

Mile 22 to 26 were much easier.  26 became the finish line of the 'marathon' and we reached it roughly 3:36 minutes after finishing.  Between the walking up the "hills" - now defined as anything with a greater than maybe 2-3% grade - and the more frequent stops to take a few sips of water out of the bladder on Grant's pack, we were barely holding a 10 min per mile pace.  So be it.

the final time
After mile 26 the mile markers disappeared.  I desperately missed them - four 10 minute increments punctuated by definite signs of progress seemed so much preferable to a single 40 minute slog.  But it wasn't my choice.  I looked at my watch way too often - hoping to see that minutes had passed - only to find i was checking ever 20 seconds.  We wondered if the end would ever come.  Grant, who'd been on the trail many times before, kept promising one more bend.  One more clearing.  But there was always another one.  Eventually, we gave in and walked for two minutes and started a regimen of run/walking for 2/1 minute intervals respectively.  Two intervals later we saw the road.

The trail crossed the road and roughly paralleled it for a final 1/2 mile.  We could have jumped on the road and limped to the car, but predictably just knowing the end was in sight gave us a second wind and we ran the last short section with a speed and lightness that had completely escaped us for the last two hours.

It was great to be done.  It was even greater to stop in Fargo on my way back to Grand Forks and be treated to an awesome meal by Grant's in-laws.  It was a great start to the best part about doing stuff like this - the half a dozen days following where the appetite is bottomless.  Yummm....
happy to be done...

Saturday, May 5, 2012

More or Less

Just a quick 'thought' of the day type thing - there are always going to be people that are faster or stronger than you and people that are looking at you thinking you're faster and stronger than them.  Another way of looking at it is that there are always things we can do to be faster and stronger - this applies to the weekend warrior and the pro athlete alike.  It all comes back to the decisions we make - the sum total of them, not just the surface level training ones.

And sum totals are tricky.  Any attempt to look at 'sum totals' in a really deep and meaningful way quickly runs into problems - our training is interconnected with things at a level of complexity that isn't easily investigated.  Yeah, we can treat it with broad brush strokes - train more and get fitter, train harder and get fitter - and have some type of broad control over the outcome, but in a limited scope.  It's analogous to what Michael Pollan discussed in one of his many books about nutrition - we like to make up simple equations (simple relationships) because they are the ones we can understand - not necessarily because they work or have a high degree of truth to them.

Sure, the body responds physiologically to stress.  And diet.  And a whole host of other things.  But the details are so nuanced and beyond the edges of our understanding that i'd guess our ideas of how to maximize our performance/health/well-being today might not clearly resemble our ideas of how to maximize these things in the next century.

So the point(s) (if there are any) are that although we might as well work with what we have (our 'best guesses' at present) when pursuing our fitness goals, the science should be viewed with a critical eye and an understanding of the semi-paradox that what accounts for truth today might be lies tomorrow.  And sweeter still is the notion that there are no ends to the fitness continuum - there is no top and bottom.  There's only middle - and we're all right there in it together.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Five minutes in

I often have a hard time with motivation.  Sure i'm motivated enough to sign up for crazy events when they are months away, but i typically find it much harder to motivate myself to train for those events, particularly since the nature of each of my workouts tends to be pretty demanding.

So i've made a deal with myself that seems to be working.  Just Don't Skip.

I don't worry about getting motivated to run the Tabata, or pour myself into a time trial on the bike.  Instead i just focus on getting the running shoes and at least getting 'five minutes in'.

By the time those five minutes have elapsed i've already committed to the time - i've showed up and started.  I've abandoned or set aside all the excuses about what else i need to do that is more important that i can't workout.  And even though it's often stressful just making those decisions (particularly since i feel overwhelmed by the details of the thousand things i feel like are on my agenda everyday), once they're made, i find myself switching gears.

I become present.  I'm here.  I'm on the treadmill, in the pool, on the bike.  I didn't feel motivated to go hard and feel the sting of lactic acid, the burning in my lungs - but since i'm here i better get on with it.  Because i don't have much time and sooner or later that crazy event is going to actually show up on the weeks calendar.  And i can't get any of that other stuff that seems so important done now anyway.  If i don't make the time count now, it simply doesn't count.

By five minutes in i've gone through all these thoughts.  My body is physically warm and my heart is pounding.  I'm ready to go.  I'm glad i came.  I'm in the moment.  And it's a good thing too, because, at least for me (and at least for my speed workouts) five minutes in my lungs have caught fire and the lactic acid is just about to show up to the party.

Tests of Time

Racers at the start line of END-SPAR, the race that i'd been working so hard on
Last week served as a great test of the truncated nature of my training.  I was busy as can be with my normal 'load' and in addition it was race week - not a race in which i was participant, but one in which i was running the show.

Essentially all of my free time was spoken for - stuffing swag bags, organizing volunteers, updating spreadsheets, buying last minute supplies, and setting the course - something which alone took two eight hour 'work days.'  In addition, my brother and his wife were visiting (and racing) so there was a full schedule of family events in the midst of the whirlwind of race planning.  And of course my stress level was through the roof.
Somehow, however, i managed to fit it all in.  A very quick few climbs on tuesday, a fast and furious 30 minute bike on my way home on wednesday, a fifteen minute swim squeezed in between printing maps and going out to vet the course on friday, and a combined 'brick' workout of running and paddling (45 minutes and 15 minutes respectively) on Sunday.  And maybe it is due to a few years of practice, but i was able to - despite the stress and frantic schedule - to settle in and push hard once i started each workout.

This is key for me - the ability to let all the other stuff go once i start the training.  I call it my 'five minutes in' rule (i'll elaborate in another post) - being able to be really present during training  - to drop all the other junk in my head and focus on the goal of getting  as much as possible out of the next few minutes of effort.  It works for me.  Well enough to allow me (still crossing my fingers every time but history gives me hope) to do the crazy things that i want to do (like the unsupported 50K trail run i'm doing on sunday) without the traditionally demanded time commitments.