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, March 27, 2013

Loose Threads

I joined a listserve a couple of days ago on Ultra running (, participated in a couple of conversations and then started my own regarding low volume training.  In general I found the response to be far more cordial than what i'd experienced on similar triathlon type forums.  Maybe ultra-runners are to the athletic world what long-boarders are to the surf-o-sphere (and triathletes are the short-boarders).  Analogies and/or metaphors aside (too lazy to figure out which it was), i was pleasantly surprised.
Ultra-runners.  Long-boarders of the running world.

What was the most interesting was that there were a number of very smart posters that seemed to corroborate some of my ideas regarding human capabilities towards what are usually thought to be super extreme distances.

I believe very strongly that most people don't approach their actual physical potential, myself included.  This isn't a negative judgement - it just means that there are so many 'stop mechanisms' in place that are designed to convince us that we have reached that potential that removing all of them becomes a practical impossibility in almost all race situations.  Some people can get very close, but most never do.  What this means is that barring cutoffs, most people not suffering from chronic health conditions (obesity, etc) could go out tomorrow and complete a 50 mile distance if they could over-rule these mental mechanisms.  Yeah, maybe it wouldn't be a great idea - maybe it wouldn't add anything to their lives - but the physical potential is there.  It isn't the issue.  And a based on the thread that was generated from my post on Ultrunr, I'm not the only one who thinks so: 
Sure you can do almost anything without out any training...How well you do it RELATIVE TO YOUR ability is the question....
I agree with Mr. Price and a couple others who've posted that anyone reasonably healthy can complete an ultra, particularly a 50K or even 50 miler on low volume training. It just depends on how much individual discomfort to personal suffering you are willing to undergo to get to the finish line. 
In my mind there's no benefit necessarily to one training method vs the other in terms of developing the required physical potential to complete ultra endurance events.  I can do it on one brutal hour a week.  Most choose to spend much longer than this.  If you like training/running/biking whatever, great, do it.  Being in good shape is awesome.  My challenge is simply with the idea that volume and distance are requirements for doing these events.  Volume and distance can certainly provide needed ammunition for the inner mental debate with one's own central governor that is a foregone conclusion of these big efforts. But if this ammunition is already available I think that the main pre-requisites for ultra endurance events have already been met. 

Happy training. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

It's (NOT) About Time!

I was reading a fellow health and fitness blogger's post this morning that perpetuated the commonly held notion that the biggest hurdle on most peoples path to fitness is not having the time.

While I agree that time may be what people report this hurdle to be (ie the story they tell themselves to feel that their lack of fitness is beyond their control), it dramatically oversimplifies the issue.  It is clear to me that TIME, isn't the problem.  So what then is the problem?

The problem is that fitness takes effort.  I am among the fittest people on the planet (I know it sounds cocky, but come on, it's true! (-:  ) and spend only one hour - about six tenths of a percent of my time - dedicated to my fitness. Time alone (or the lack thereof) cannot fairly foot the bill for peoples poor health and fitness.

This begs the question, however, as to why - if time isn't an issue - our population is so unhealthy. Here's where the complexity comes in.  Time becomes the scapegoat because as an excuse it still seems to have legitimacy in terms of cultural perceptions. Everyone knows about being busy.  But the truth is that consistent and limited durations of exercise can and do produce dramatic benefits.  Minutes, not hours, actually matter.

Psychologically, however, people want to see and feel results. For  most of us, external validation is required in order to do the difficult work of making positive changes.  And for most of us, there is a 'window of opportunity' during which those results need to be noticed to provide the incentive we need to have these changes stick.  The time excuse is only valid in the context of these other variables - the level of work needed to produce visible results (external validation) within the window of opportunity for low volume programs is pretty high.  This means that the paths to success are either time intensive (at more moderate/accessible intensities) or effort intensive (at accessible, even for busy schedules, time). And yeah, I know, i just did my own oversimplification (-:

So the truth of the matter is that when people say they don't have 'enough time' to exercise/get fit/be healthy, what they really mean is:
"I don't have the will/mental ability/determination required to consistently produce the efforts needed to reach a point of where I'd see/notice significant enough visible/physical changes within the temporal timeframe during which i'll begin to need this external validation in order to produce lasting positive alterations in my behavior.  Oh, and yeah, I also don't have the time required to make these changes appear by working out at the intensities that i do have the will/mental ability/determination to sustain".
Although I suspect this may come off sounding pretty harsh, it's not meant too.  In truth, producing noticeable results in shorter time does require more difficult work, and I'm not judging folks that aren't able to consistently do it. I do feel, however, that taking a bit more ownership of the problem is an important step in the dialogue and that without correctly identifying the real dynamic at play the burgeoning promotion of lower volume training methodologies that are aiming to 'eliminate the time excuse' won't work.

Because, in truth, it's not really about time at all.....

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How slow can you go?

I have to remind myself not to read Mike's blog too often (around and around and around) because it makes me feel really slow.  But I read it today which is ok because 'slowness' is kind of the subject of this post.

The longer a race, the less important it is how much your training raises your speed 'ceiling'.  What really matters is how much it raises your 'floor', after all, thats where you'll be spending the bulk of your time (hopefully not literally, though you may feel like you need to get down there and crawl at times).  It's this idea of 'raising the floor' that i think is a key factor in my belief that for a mentally disciplined runner a low volume training program can produce similar or better results in ultra-distance races than high mileage programs.

I like long hours with demons
One of the things that i discovered when switching to low-volume training 4 years ago was that i got much faster, not only at the top end, but also at the bottom.  Because i was spending nearly all of my miles 'revving' my engine so to speak, paces i'd previously held to be 'long run paces' felt like active recovery - it became virtually impossible for me to run, no matter how tired, slower than what was suggested as my marathon training pace.  I'm not sure the reason for this adaptation - some of it undoubtedly came from the shift towards a higher cadence running style - but much of it may also have been mental.  Spending my few weekly miles at a 9 mph pace made 8 mph feel easy, and 6.5 mph (9-12 min mile) feel like walking.  

So when it comes to running an ultra this plays out in a couple of ways - I tend to go out pretty fast compared to folks using more conservative (and traditional) pacing strategies.  With only one hour a week of training i find i can only hold these quicker paces for 1.5-2 hours before i feel destroyed.  I hit the 'floor' but am usually reasonably well positioned in the field.  My strategy at this point is simply to stay on the floor - old man shuffling and then run/walking at some minimum pace and confronting my demons.

Compare this to people using a more traditional program.  Higher mileage moderate pace running might equip a racer to go much longer at their typical training paces.  When i looked into ultra training programs based on my paces, most had me running 40-60 miles a week, almost exclusively at 8 min miles or slower.  Assuming these prepared me to run for 30 miles continuously at a 9 min mile pace before hitting the floor, but also that that floor was a bit lower - a 15 min per mile average, we can do some calculations (for a 50 mile race lets say):

  • My race: 2 hours at 8 mph = 16 miles.  Remaining 34 miles at 5 mph yields sub 9 hour 50 miler.

  • Higher volume race: 30 miles at 6.6 mph (9 min pace) = 4 hours 33 min.  Remaining 20 miles at 4 miles per hour yields a 9.5 hour 50 miler.  
The main difference between the approaches is that the demons get more time to try to persuade me that i've got no business continuing my race.  For others looking to employ a low volume plan, this might prove catastrophic - for me, it's part of the reason I do these crazy things in the first place (more on that in my next post). 

But we'll may get to see how this works - I'm thinking about signing up for a 50 miler in May.  My training goes better when there's a more immediate goal to help get me through those damned hard 10 minute workouts of mine, and my June 29th adventure race is just a little too far out.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dan the Man

Occasionally I get requests from people to train them.  Recently i agreed to try to help a friend named Dan (DS) get ready for a 50K winter ultra marathon he was training for (which happened to be a race i was co-directing) - he had never run an ultra and decided to do it only four weeks out and figured he didn't have time for a traditional training program.  He knew a bit about my philosophy so decided to give it a try.

I'm always a little bit hesitant going in to situations like this - i tend to imagine that i haven't adequately been able to convey the depth of the challenge high intensity work presents.  But Dan seemed like a no-nonsense guy who would make a genuine effort i sent him off to do a V-dot test as a first step.  He complied - i got my pacing data - and I started feeding him some workouts.  Dan was used to running longer and slower (he is one of those guys who exercises for more than just fitness) so i eased him into things with a couple of mid-length, but moderate intensity runs.  This last week, however, i backed off on the volume and dialed up the pressure.

His response to the first workout - a 30 minute No-Slo-random Pro effort - gave me all the feedback i needed:
".... times are approximate.  When i reached the end i just hit the emergency stop and turned my back on the machine.   I could barely walk my legs were quivering so bad."
Dan is definitely 3 Hrs a week material.  Nice work Dan!