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, October 31, 2012

Looking back...

I came across this story a few days ago - my recounting of a trip from back in 2009.  It is LONG and a great way to kill a massive amount of time - but for those interested, it give a pretty detailed (and engaging, at least in my opinion, but then i wrote it...) look into some of my background and the sort of stuff i credit for having given me the mental abilities that are now allowing me to continue to do really big/long things with low volume training.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Official One Hour a Week MBF plan (Part 1: Overview)

I've gone through a complete cycle of my 1 hour a week program and think it is fantastic, so i've decided to share it.  I'll do it in pieces so as not to overwhelm.

The general formula is to do four workouts a week, cycling between swimming, biking and running (triathlon order).  The first three workouts each week (on M/W/F for me) are 10 minutes long. The weekend workout is 30 minutes long.  The Monday workout is short intervals, the Wed. workout is medium intervals, and the Friday workout is a single interval/time trial effort.  The weekend workout is a longer, race pace effort.  The entire schedule will repeat itself every three weeks and will look like this:

Week 1:
  • Mon - swim, 10 minutes, short intervals
  • Wed - bike, 10 min, med intervals
  • Fri - Run, 10 min, single interval
  • Sat/Sun - swim, 30 minutes, race pace
Week 2:
  • Mon - bike, 10 min, short intervals
  • Wed - Run, 10 min, med intervals
  • Fri - Swim, 10 min, single interval
  • Sat - Bike, 30 min, race pace/time trial  - doing this workout on friday allows a day of rest before next lower body workout.
Week 3: 
  • Mon - run, 10 min, short intervals
  • Wed - swim, 10 min, med intervals
  • Fri - Bike, 10 min, single interval
  • Sun - Run, 30 min, single interval - doing this on sunday allows a day of rest since previous lower body workout
My present plan is to repeat this scheme 3-4 times (for 9-12 weeks total) which is about the length of time I usually put between my events/efforts.  I'll do the same workouts each time for a specific discipline/interval combination - so for example, right now every time my 10 minute short interval swim comes around during this 9-12 weeks i'm warming up and then doing 8 x 50 yds on 35 sec or under, leaving every 50 sec.  Doing the same workout is crucial as it allows me to have good data on my improvement and make sure i am striving to work just as hard or harder than previous sessions. If i get tired of a particular workout, i may change at the beginning of a new 9-12 week period but will make sure to keep it consistent during the period itself.  

As i mentioned in my last post, i'll eventually hit a plateau of sorts and should be able to identify it pretty specifically.  This is actually a good thing in a sense - it will help me have a goal to 'climb back up to' after each endurance event so i'll know when i'm ready to go destroy myself again. 

Finally, i'll mention once again that these workouts are brutal.  i'm not looking for a shortcut.  I have a great work ethic and a high degree of willpower.  I also am extremely ambitious, and am very much looking forward to this next year where i get to explore the limits of where this regimen can take me and when i'm sure to have lots of time out there walking that line.

Next up - details for the swim workouts.....

Monday, October 22, 2012

Stoked on Noakes (Central Governor Theory)

Dr. Timothy Noakes
I find myself reinvigorated regarding the academic side of things after reading some papers (thanks for the links Aaron!) by Noakes and his students regarding the Central Governor theory (CGT). After reading the papers i did a bit of web browsing and found heaps of good stuff that is more accessible than an academic paper: - this has lots of good stuff, most of it pertains to the CGT (these guys were students of Noakes). It's even got some interesting stuff on cold weather training - just search 'cold physiology' and it should come up. - this is a great humorous piece summing up the theory and a perfect first introduction. - Here is another good summary on a wikipedia like (i mean really like) website dedicated to ultra running.

THIS LINK goes to podcast with Noakes that was on low(ish) volume IM triathlete and world renowned trainer Ben Greenfield’s site. It can be a bit hard to hear but a link to the transcript is also provided. It is worth mentioning in that it ties some of the CGT (central governor theory) stuff in with high intensity training, something the other pieces don't do.  

It's pretty fascinating reading all this stuff for me - it gives me another way to talk about and frame what i've known through personal experience for so long - the role of confidence and knowledge of suffering is absolutely key in performance. The models that overlook the role of the central governors and the complexity it presents are the ones that end up promoting traditional training methods and the 'body as machine' idea. Yeah, there is a machine, but it is directly influenced by (and influences) this very complicated and presently little understood network of connections and systems that make up what we call both the conscious and unconscious minds. 

All that mountaineering and climbing i did, that was practice overriding the central governor.  It wasn’t necessarily even conscious - i simply experienced had what Noakes calls the emotion of fatigue, but in situations such that it HAD to be managed in a progressive way (not through ending activity). And so i learned (unconsciously even) that this emotion did not describe my actual limits.  This has served me well, and is why even initial forays into ultra endurance efforts were often successful, despite a myriad of reasons why they shouldn’t have been.  

High intensity training is also important in that it continues to offer day to day dialogue with the CG himself, something traditional training hardly ever offers.  I routinely push myself past perceived boundaries, and as a result am able to, as one of the above posts analogizes (wow, is that really a word?) slightly edge up the ‘rev limiter’ on this engine of mine, getting more performance out of what i have.  

If fitness is judged by actual performance, then this (or a similar method) has got to be the most efficient way of going about things - after all, if I can do an IM in under 12 hours by training one hour a week (i’m convinced I can...and might be half the battle), it pretty much shoots to hell conventional wisdom and is a strong case study in favor of the CGT.  

In addition, regarding my recent blog, it seems that it is perhaps also the best way to actually approach ones MBF.  Traditional training will not effectively work to move up that rev limiter, which once a reasonable level of fitness is achieved, is a significant limiting physical performance. Think of it this way - physiological research has already shown (tabata and HIIT training studies) that VO2 max and other physiological fitness indicators show similar increases for very low volume HIIT training and more moderate intensity training (traditional endurance training) at medium volumes (4-8 hours a week).  So physiologically, i can train less and harder and get the same improvement of my engine.  However, traditional training typically DOES NOT typically provide an environment (outside of races themselves) where one gets to address the CG aspect of the model, or have any hope of edging up that rev limiter.  

Yep, i could probably do long runs where i push hard at the end and get a similar dialogue going with the CG - but if i’m after economy - then the least amount of time required to both improve fitness to a reasonable level (get a decent engine) and start that dialogue will likely be something similar to what i’m doing.  Add to this the idea that I'm looking for something i can keep up indefinitely and you've and you’ve got MBF.  

I could probably improve my engine a bit more by upping the hours a bit, and keeping intensity highish.  But i doubt i could have many more than the 2-3 (at minimum) conversations i seem to be having with the governor these days.  This method should work for others too - HIIT has been shown effective and safe for ‘untrained’ subjects, and certainly dedicated application, along with my prescription of a steady dose of big races (to make sure they get lots of face time with the man himself), should allow one to get both a big enough engine and to set that rev limiter high enough, thus enjoying a level of fitness previously thought reserved exclusively for those willing to spend a lot of time getting it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Maintainable Base Fitness (MBF) explained

I've decided to describe what i'm trying to achieve with the acronym MBF which stands for Maintainable Base Fitness.  MBF describes the maximum fitness an individual can achieve using a training schedule that is maintainable indefinitely.  No periodization.  No offseason.  No peaks and valleys.  Any MBF is bound to be pretty low volume - most people keeping track of their training over a period of years would find that even something considered very low volume (in the ultra endurance world) such as 6 hours a week is not sustainable in the long term.  Traditional IM training?  forget about it. 

The idea of what MBF  means is of course open to variation and interpretation.  Different people might look at developing an MBF  for a  period of a single year, several years, or be aiming at a decades long approach, which I am the most interested in exploring.  My journey started some years ago with three hours of weekly training.  But over time i found that even three hours produced psychological stress in my life that i don't want to sustain indefinitely.  When i reduced the load to two hours it still led to some minor mental and motivational issues.  So now i've settled in to one hour a week and so far so good. 

Of course i have big ambitions, and part of what it means for something to be maintainable for me is that it must enable me to challenge those ambitions occasionally.  In other words, it's still gotta get me through that IronMan, that four day adventure race, and allow me to feel age group competitive (which for me is finishing roughly in the top third) in pretty much any event. 

I know many people read this and think that i'm crazy and should settle for less, or perhaps more correctly, that reality will force me to do so.  But i don't want to, and apparently, at least based upon what i've been able to accomplish on 3 or 2 hours a week, reality must be sleeping on the job. 

But the question remains as to whether my MBF on only one hour a week will actually be sufficient given my ambitions.  i'm pretty confident though, and not without reason - i feel as fit, or nearly so, as when i was putting in three times as much time, and succeeding at really big things. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I'm up there, somewhere, getting really near the top...
I'm still working pretty darn hard these days.  During the last of my 50 yd sprints in the pool yesterday I had to grit my teeth, close my eyes, and charge through the pain haze that comes on when the body starts to refuse to respond to coordinated and sustained effort.  It was awesome.  At least it was until i looked back in my training records and pulled off the same feat 4 weeks ago, only a couple days after my 7+ hour effort at the Swamp Donkey Adventure race.

Am i closing in on my potential based on the limits of my training?  Am I, shudder at the thought, coming to the top of a plateau - or more concretely, THE plateau?

I'll wait another month before make any unequivocal statements, but i suspect that this is indeed the case.

Plateaus in training exist for a number of reasons - some can be broken through, some can't.  I think for many people the plateaus reached are more mental than physical - your body adapts to the stresses that you've been placing on it but the level of stress can be increased without increasing training volume if you can muster up the will power to consistently push harder.  And although there may be yet a degree or two more that i can turn up the intensity dial, i'm certainly working at or pretty near my maximum.

So there you go.  If my suspicions are correct i'm not going to get much faster swimming, and maybe running and biking aren't too far off.  So be it.  I feel like i'm in a pretty damn good place to be honest - that this plateau i'm approaching (or already standing on) is quite high enough to from which to challenge any of the surrounding peaks, which after all, is what i'm after.

As long as the plateau is close enough to the summit, there's really no reason to worry....

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Karma and Pink Swimwear

I had to scramble to fit in my workout today - 4 x 150 yards on 1:55, leaving every 2:30.  After incorrectly looking at the pool hours and a longer than expected lunch meeting, my only recourse was a mad dash to the new Choice Health and Fitness center right after work.

Even though i was at the 3 lane dedicated lap swim pool right when it opened at 5:30 pm, there were already five people in it.  I had to share a lane with a guy wearing a striped pink speedo (yeah, the skimpy kind).  This cramped my style and threw off my mental game so much that i missed my goal paces by a mile (coming in between 2:00 and 2:05) - at least thats my excuse. It was the first workout in a while where i didn't show improvement.

To make matters worse, the pink bathing suit pretty much schooled me, even though i was sprinting and he had a pull buoy between his legs.  At least i hope that was a pull buoy.

The fact that all this happened the same day i wrote a post about what a bad ass I am is no coincidence. Karma is a bitch.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Being a Bad Ass

Ok, first of all, I don't actually think I'm that much of a bad ass.  Not really.  I just think I've gotten lucky somehow and so now might appear as one.  I've certainly taken an unlikely path - from the world of serious climbing/mountaineering/adventure (where I was proficient but not at all a bad ass compared to many climbers/mountaineers/adventurers) to the world of endurance sports.  While success as a climber/mountaineer/adventurer does depend in some small part on physical abilities, it overwhelmingly depends on mental ones.  And so my formative years were spent, even unconsciously, 'training' these mental abilities.

Over the past 10 years my life has changed.  I live about as far from mountains as one can get in the USA.  I've got a family.  And as a result i've largely given up climbing and serious adventuring in favor of ultra endurance events which offer more security, require less of a time commitment, and are easier to manage logistically.

The journey has allowed me to realize a few things.  While ultra endurance events tend to be physically harder than most serious adventuring (in terms of pure physical output), the mental challenge they present is significantly less.  Additionally, i've learned that mental supervenes physical -  mental determination is required to access physical potential.  More of the former means more of the latter.  My success in completing and doing well in ultra endurance events on what is viewed as absurdly low training volume stems from my ability to access greater levels of my physical potential than most people (I wrote about this using my peanut butter analogy).

It is also interesting to note that although the physical potential i have to work with is diminished somewhat compared to what it might be with greater training volume, the gap between where I am and where I would be (or where others are) following a traditional higher volume training program (of say 10 hours a week) is not nearly as great as one would assume.  This is due to the fact that my now one hour a week of training is done almost exclusively at higher intensities and provides excellent 'return on investment' - the minutes in my training program provide, on average, greater physiological adaptations and thus a greater fitness gain (per minute) than average minutes in higher volume programs.

These two things - the fact that i can still develop my fitness potential to a reasonably high level through consistent application of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and the fact that i can access more of that potential in race situations because of my mental abilities - continues to enable me to do really 'hard'  things that, based on my training schedule, many people would think were impossible.

And I guess maybe that is pretty bad ass.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Loving what I do

ENDracing/GUP's Family Adventure Race, 2012

I really love what I do.  Not all of it of course, but the part that follows my passion.  It doesn't really even matter that i haven't figured out how to make a living from it even though it takes up most of my time and energy.  If i waited for this to happen i'd be waiting and not doing.*  Not my style.

So what do i do?  I'm passionate about adventure, and so share that passion in whatever way i can.  It's where i came from.  And as crazy as it sounds, living in Grand Forks North Dakota has taught me that adventure really is so much more about frame of mind than about mountains and wilderness.  Yeah, that stuff helps, and adds to it and all that - but it is not absolutely necessary.

This week I helped put on (although the lions share of the credit goes to Jim Grijalva) a family adventure race.  Watching kids from age 3 to 16 running, biking, and paddling and discovering adventure (many for the first time) in their own hometown was just amazing.

Putting on races is A LOT of work.  And the pay (at least the way we do it) is pretty lousy.  But truth be told - the fact that i get misty with emotion and joy as i think back to yesterday while writing this, as silly as that sounds - tells me that I'm doing the right thing.

And that i'm pretty lucky for it.

*I am fortunate to have this option - having a great wife and family that is pretty happy with a very modest lifestyle is really what makes it possible.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ben Greenfield, chronic cardio, and the BEST reason to train long

Ben Greenfield
I ran across an interesting piece written by IM triathlete and coach, Ben Greenfield.  It talks about the dangers of what he refers to as 'chronic cardio' - something prevalent among folks employing 'typical' training schemes to prepare for ultra endurance activities and events.

In it, he presents 10 (well 9 actually) principles that can be employed to reduce the typically extremely high training hours (20+ per week on average, according to the article) of IM athletes.  While Ben himself still trains roughly 10 hours a week, his ideas are all ones that I agree with whole heartedly, although I take them to a more extreme end.

While the entire article is worth reading, I found one of the reader comments and Ben's response to be of particular interest.  One of his readers, Kate, comments:
SUPER article! I provide strength coaching for a large number of endurance athletes & I agree-there are smarter ways to train than what many try as they prep for big-distance races. It’s fascinating to me that you recommend only 1 long run a week…and seriously shorter swims…have your athletes felt like, come the real-life moment of being in the race, they were prepared to handle the long distance despite not having gone that far in practice?
and Ben's reply:
Kate – mentally, the answer is NO. Athletes actually feel intimidated when they know their friends are running multiple times per week and doing long runs of 2-3 hours. That has been my biggest barrier as a coach – getting my athletes to TRUST that minimal training works.
But physically, the answer is YES, and once that first Ironman is under their belt and they see that they actually don’t need to train 20-30 hours a week to accomplish their goal, or beat the people who *are* training 20-30 hours a week, it’s a pretty cool switch to see flipped.
I think this is a great answer that applies to all ultra endurance events, not just Ironman.  In my opinion, the best reason to choose traditional, high volume training for endurance type events (particularly as an amateur athlete) is if you lack the confidence required to complete such event.  LONG training can provide some of that confidence.  But if you've already got that confidence, or can get it in another way (trusting your coach, for example, as Ben's clients will have to do), then I think the jury is no longer out: low volume, high intensity training can and does (if properly carried out - but that's another post entirely) provide an adequate physical base from which to take on even ultra endurance challenges.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Public Display of Committment

I'm all in - $200 and a public declaration of my intent.  The mind is a vast and wondrous thing that allows us to willingly revisit moments (even rather protracted ones) of great suffering.  Awesome. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Skid Marks

I'm trying to develop some consistency with my current approach - structuring my three a week 10  minute workouts so that each week i do a swim, bike, run and a short interval, medium interval, and single interval workout. 

Depending on the discipline, i find myself fearing most one of the particular interval schemes.  In swimming the medium interval scheme is the toughest for me.  In biking,  it's the shortest intervals that cause the most dread.  Which leaves running.

Last week was the week for my single interval (kind of an oxymoron, right?) 10 minute run.  I decided that this would be a timed mile on the treadmill.  I find it easier to get myself to the point where i 'need to be' to maximize my efforts when i can just desperately try to hang on to an objectively controlled pace.  Since this would be the first week i was doing a single interval run, i got to pick where to start.

11 miles an hour, or just under a 5:30 per mile pace.