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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Unexplored Spaces

A recent WSJ article profiled new research that makes the following claims -
Opinion is nearly unanimous among cardiologists that endurance athletics significantly increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, an arrhythmia that is estimated to be the cause of one third of all strokes. "Chronic extreme exercise appears to cause excessive 'wear-and-tear' on the heart," the editorial says.
In some ways it's not surprising to me.  The research also tries to tie high intensity exercise to eventual health problems.  While any new research is bound to cause controversy, the authors seem pretty confident they are on to something.  Does it make sense?  I'm sure we'll hear more about it in the future so i'll wait for a bit before i weigh in.

Either way, it seems that what i'm doing occupies a sort of 'unexplored space'.  I do a few big events but don't chronically exercise like most endurance athletes.  I train super hard, but for extremely short durations.  When is the damage done?  If it is during times when you push the heart very briefly to extremes, then maybe i'm screwed, because i'm certainly doing more of that than just about anyone else.  But if it is when the heart works pretty hard for hours upon hour, then i'm going to live damn near forever, something that might make me pretty unique among the group of crazy folks that do ultra endurance events.  Maintainable Base Fitness!  Yeah baby!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dabbling in Crossfit (learning to listen)

I would have had a fantastically pleasant thanksgiving with family at my in-laws lake cabin in Minnesota - four days filled with hours of  food, game playing and conversation.  Would have, were it not for my evil brother in law and seven minutes of crossfit.

Yep, seven minutes.

You see, Tom - the brother in law - has been doing cross fit (CF) over the last year or so in an effort to get in better shape.  And as it turns out, cross-fitters don't take thanksgiving off.  The work out of the day, or WOD in CF terms for Nov. 22nd was 7 minutes of Burpees.

Tom came in from the garage declaring that he had managed 80, far short of his 100 burpee goal.  His pretty fit 10 year old son took up the challenge and managed 88.  Then the peer pressure started.

I started out strong, 20 in the first minute.  then 15 the next.  I paused to rest then realized that i wouldn't really be able to rest long enough to get anything back.  But i know how to push through things.  I know how to find the maximum pace i can sustain and just buck up and ignore the pain.  I know how to tell that central governor who's boss.

three and a half minutes in my triceps and shoulders were cramping and spasming.  I modified my form to minimize the use of my arms (yes, it is possible to do a burpee without really bending them, although it requires a fair bit of writhing) and kept plugging away - damn you central governor i'm not stopping!  I'm the charge and don't you forget it!  As expected the mental challenge diminished with the time remaining.  I was drenched in sweat.  My insides were squirrely.  One minute left - go go go! The governor always quiets down in the home stretch.

I managed 105 burpees.  I was proud of myself.  Looking at the reports from all the other CFers that had spent seven minutes of turkey day in an exercise of prostration, 105 seemed a pretty good score.  In fact, it is tantalizingly close to the 107.33 burpees in seven minutes that would be required to claim "off by 50 status" in this event (the record, as far as i can find, is 161 burpees) - not bad without any formal training.

The wake up call didn't come until two days later, on saturday morning.  I felt like someone had snuck into my room and punched me in the ribs all night.  My intercostal muscles were in agony - swollen and inflamed. My shoulders and triceps and upper pectorals were super tender to the touch.  It hurt everytime i moved.  It made me realize that with my new found power to exert control over my central governor comes great responsibility - i need to know when to use it - sometimes listening  might not be such a bad idea.

It's now monday and the pain is almost gone. Three days of debilitating pain might be a trade i'm willing to make for being able to push hard and finish well in an ultra marathon or 3 day adventure race.  I'm not so sure it is a fair trade for me for 7 minutes of burpees though.

That being said, it's never as bad the second time (is it?) and i do only have to beat my last attempt by 3 burpees.  So i guess i better start planning my next attempt.   truth be told - i've never been that fond of  listening anyway (:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

second helpings

Alison Kelly during END-TOMBED
During a fat bike ride yesterday with my to-be Arrowhead partner, Grant and another friend, Alison, i found myself treated to another generous helping of doubt - my second in as many weeks.

Back at home after the ride my wife, Tammy, commented that she wasn't sure that what i was doing (training one hour a week) was going to cut it this time.

I can't deny that i found myself asking some tough questions.

"Why the hell am i doing this?" for starters.

Tammy would say i'm stubborn.  Which of course is true, but there's more too it than that.  Interestingly enough - all this doubt actually fuels my drive.  Not because I want to prove anyone wrong - but rather because it points to the fact that the outcome of this thing - my attempt to ride the Arrowhead 135 in one push and, with reasonable conditions, go under 24 hours - is highly uncertain if not downright improbable.

And at least for me, it is uncertainty that is compelling above all other things.  I know i can ride 135 miles through deep winter in the wilderness of minnesota if i prioritize it in a way that allows for more significant training.  It would't be a sure thing of course, but i'd bet that even if the conditions were so bad on a given year that only 20% of the bikers finished, I'd be among them.  Based on my 2010 performance on 3 hours a week i'm pretty sure i could go under 24 if i trained harder too.  My goal this time around, however, often just seems simply absurd.

And the beauty of it (for me anyway) is that it really might be just that.  I might not stand a chance.

So when Tammy suggested that maybe i should train more to make sure i could finish the race I just shook my head.

To which she replied - "but you don't even know if you can make it on such little training."


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Pain Cave vs. Suffer Mountain

Jason and Chelsey of team Yogaslackers have are busy.  They are running around the country teaching acroyoga workshops, trying to raise money for a charity as part of their participation in the Rickshaw Rally (a two week adventure across India) and planning their return to the hardest adventure race in the world next February, the Patagonian Expedition race, where they've finished just shy of the top spot (2nd and 3rd) in the last two editions.  Seeing as how the latter comes so quickly on the heels of all the former and considering that they really really want to be on the podium again this time around, one might naturally ask the question - how in the world are they going to train for that?

Well, because they are so busy they've asked me to sort of train them - to use my experience with preparing for long efforts with high intensity training to give them some workouts that will provide maximum payoff. They have so much experience with expedition length racing that they aren't worried about the mental side at all - but they do want to go into the race faster than they've ever been before.  I've agreed and have started giving them 10 minute workouts to do two or three times a week.  They are going to keep doing longer efforts as well, with the caveat that they have to limit their other activity if it prevents them from making progress in the 10 minute workouts on a weekly basis.

Suffer Mountain - always pretty from a distance

A real life pain cave
They are now on their second week and Jason has reported back that he already appreciates how much being inside is critical in making short, super intense efforts possible on a continual basis.  In thinking about this (i've written about it in passing before), i've decided to describe this phenomenon with another one of my famous analogies - the pain cave vs. suffer mountain.

For me, the pain cave is just that - a cave.  The deeper I go into the cave, the more distractions I take away, the greater the potential I have of finding that pain.  Being inside - out of the wind and rain, warmed by a nice fire in the middle of the cave - it is easier to go deeper.  If i've got 10 minutes to pour myself into a workout, and i want that workout to be performed at maximum physical intensity on a regular basis - i need those distractions removed.  Yeah, once in a while i can head out to the track or have an epic tire drag session through the park - but three times a week?  Not a chance.  My body and mind will respond to all the new variables - the temperature, the wind, etc - and that little man in charge - the central governor, will have a better argument as to why he can't let me push quite that hard - and i'll believe it.  But by eliminating as many of the variables as possible, I can focus more directly on the sensations that matter - my breathing, my heart rate, the lactic acid building in my muscles, and that little voice in my head that is always questioning whether i can keep doing what i'm doing. So when the goal is maximal physical effort - or as close as i can get - into the cave i go. 

Suffer Mountain - usually not so pretty up close
On the flip side is the suffering of long endurance events.  This, for me, is like climbing a mountain.  It is the mental challenge of 'getting through' the point where you've begun your monumental task - previously just considered while sipping coffee in front of a laptop in cozy armchair - and first properly recognize its actual scope.  Its the realization that the moment that is held in the mind - the end result - is the culmination of many hours of moments, many of which may entail much suffering.  At times the climbing may be fine and the sun shining - but if the mountain is really a mountain, it's virtually guaranteed that you'll won't make it up before the afternoon storms.  And if it's my kind of mountain, it'll take at least a night spent in 'less than ideal' conditions. 

I don't usually do events unless i know they are going to involve a good bit of time on suffer mountain.  Interestingly, i'm now doing all my training deep in the pain cave, from which the mountains aren't even visible.  But i have of course spent many days, weeks, or even months on suffer mountain's slopes, and my familiarity with them (hopefully) enables me to spend my time preparing for my next 'climb' more efficiently and focused, neanderthal style. 

Occasionally you even find caves on suffer mountain.  They are rarely warm or big enough to train in though..... Jason and Chelsey during our 2010 'too much fun' expedition.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Swim workouts for MBF one hour a week plan

Darren Miller during 2012 END-WET (27 mile river swim).  The event is my swim goal for 2013.  
Thought i'd provide some details about what exactly i'm doing in my one hour each week.  The earlier post laid out the basic form of my training schedule but left out the specifics.  I've also changed the schedule slightly - i'm still doing three 10 minute workouts a week (one swim, one bike, one run) but instead of having the longer weekend workout alternate between these three, i'm going to always make the longer workout a bike ride.  The apparent absurdity of trying to do the arrowhead135 in under 24 hours on what would have amounted to 1 hour of biking every 3 weeks finally got to me. It seems much more reasonable to make the attempt on what will now be 2 hours of biking every three weeks - don't you think?

But i'm getting ahead of myself - this post will focus on the three different 10 minute swim workouts that currently form my three week rotation.  I'll do one workout each monday afternoon, starting them over once i've hit em all, and always trying (but not always succeeding) to improve my performance from the identical workout three weeks prior.  After 12 weeks (4 cycles), i intend to change the interval schemes a bit to keep from stagnating. 
  • Workout 1 (short intervals):  Main set - 6 x 50 yards, @ 35 sec; leaving every 45 sec.  
    • Min 0-3:00 - 200 yd warm-up/cruising tempo
    • Min 3:00-3:30 - rest
    • Min 3:30-8:00 - Main set
    • Min 8:00 - 8:30 - rest
    • Min 8:30-10:00 - 100 yd warm down/cruising tempo
    • Total - 10 min, 600 yards
  • Workout 2 (med intervals): Main set - 3 x 200 yds, @ 2:30 - 2:35, leaving every 3:00 
    • Min 0-9 - main set
    • Min 9-10 - 50 yard warm down
    • Total - 10 min, 650 yards
  • Workout 3 (single interval):  Main set - 500 yard time trial
    • Min 0-1:30 - 100 yd warm up, cruising tempo
    • Min 1:30-2:30 rest
    • Min 2:30 - 9+ 500 yd time trial (usually takes between 6:30 - 6:40
    • Min 9:0-10:00 Warm down
    • Total - 10 min, 650 yards

Monday, November 5, 2012


My doppelganger facing his own doubt during END-TOMBED

I decided to finally break in the fat bike yesterday and went out to put in a lap of the END-TOMBED course with the guy i'll be riding the arrowhead with, Grant Mehring.  The trails were covered in 3-4 inches of wet and sloppy snow - slick mud underneath.  Made for interesting and challenging riding.

The 10.7 mile lap - which was done in under 54 minutes by the fastest 'fat biker' during the race - took us a little over an hour**, albeit under much tougher conditions.  I wasn't so much worried about the time as i was by how easily Grant passed me or pulled ahead on the open sections of the course, and by the unexpected fatigue i experienced in my triceps and arms.  Ouch.  And that was only an hour.  If my arms begin cramping and my triceps misfiring, i may not be able to control my bike very well a quarter of the way into the race I'm training for, the Arrowhead 135. 

It will be interesting to see what the Arrowhead brings in terms of bodily destruction, and whether i'm able to cope with it and keep moving forward at a reasonable enough speed to meet the 24 hour mark.  But i've decided to maintain my confidence in the project and push away any and all doubts about my ability to succeed at the given task.  Because while i'm experienced enough to know that confidence is not a sufficient condition for success, I'm also experienced enough to know that it is a necessary one. 

**for those keeping track and wondering, hey - how can you ride for over an hour if you're only working out an hour each week?! Occasionally i will work out less than an hour on one week and slide the difference to the next week, allowing for a longer workout.  I've done this from the beginning (way back in 3 Hrs a week days) and plan to continue to do it with this new ultra-low volume schedule - my current plan is to do 60 minutes on week 1, 30 minutes on week 2, then 90 minutes on week on week 3, before repeating. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

The men's health dilemma (a problem of equilibrium)

I'm thinking about sending a pitch to Men's Health magazine about some of my ideas and was checking out their online magazine.  They have lots of awesome pictures of really fit, smolderingly handsome dudes right below catchy titles like "learn the training secrets for going harder and longer."

First of all, there are no secrets.  Our culture has painted a picture for us in that we are led to believe that those images represent not only an attainable state (some of us may be able to get kinda close so this isn't an outright lie) but also a maintainable one. While this picture may not represent reality - the images sure are inspiring!

But is inspiration enough?  After all, most of us not only want to get there, we want to STAY there.  Inspiration is a short term motivator for most - encouraging us to start the journey from where we are to where we think we want to be.  And this journey is such a necessary first step, most folks never stop to think what will happen once they arrive and instead actually assume that just getting there is going to be the hard part.  

Wanna look these guys?  If you're you're like most people reading men's health - it'll take lots of work and dedication but you might be able to kinda close - at least a lot closer than when you started.  Just buy one of those $100+ workout programs,  Insanity, P90X, or whatever else comes next. You know, the programs that claim to be revolutionary but are really just a repackaging** (see below) of the well known and easy to guarantee wisdom of "work your ass off and you will get fitter" (in full HD and explained by superhunks, of course).  And if you follow one of these programs, or any program that requires consistent hard work - you'll change and get fit (ripped, huge, faster, stronger, sexy, chiseled, capable, develop stamina, etc etc).

Staying that way is another matter.  Our modern lives rarely require the level of activity that leads to fitness being a state of stable equilibrium.  Maintaining Fitness - particularly a high levels of fitness - is like putting that stack of those P90X DVD's on your head and keeping them there.  As soon as you get tired of all that focus and attention, down it goes.  Sure, you can pick it up again and put it back up there - but then you're right back to devoting a fair bit of your attention to the task of finding this balance.  It is easier of course if you have a lifestyle that supports fitness (like the 63 year old Lindsay Gauld, a bike courier who recently won my 12 hour bike race against top athletes 30 years younger), but lets face it, precious few of us can make this claim.

For those of us with more sedentary occupations, it is never going to be easy - and the loftier your aspirations, the higher that stack on your head becomes.  Now if you're waiting for me to explain how i've solved these problems you're going to keep waiting.  I'm not.  Fitness, particularly the level of fitness that is peddled in our media and magazines, represents an unstable equilibrium.  That's just the way it is and barring a paradigm shift (either internally or externally produced) it is gonna stay that way.  This is why the diet/exercise/fitness industry is and will remain a multi-billion dollar market.  All we talk about, focus on, and spend money on is how to get that little blue ball to the top of that fitness hill - never mind keeping it there - which is the real challenge.

**Yeah Baby!  The "insanity" of 1929...Charles Atlas's "Personal Training In The Art Of Building A Dynamic Life!"