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, May 31, 2013

Ancillary Benefits

you'd never guess i had such pudgy feet, would you?

I think I fractured my toe 10 days ago.  I was Stand up paddleboarding in Puerto rico. Trying to get out through the surf I lost my balance as a wave crashed on the board and hopped off into what I’d assumed was deep water.  Unfortunately, this particular break was a reef break and I jumped into inches, not feet, of water. 

The day after the accident my toe was slightly swollen and black and blue along its entire length.  Although I could still bend it slightly, doing so was pretty painful.  And although I was on vacation, I still wanted to be active, and had planned on doing a short hard run every other day (the hills from our vacation rental in Rincon were short, steep, and perfect for my style of training!).  I figured I’d give it a go.

The downhill was very painful (slap, slap) and the uphill moderately so.  Luckily, the whole episode only lasted about 15 minutes.  By the time it got uncomfortable enough that I started feeling pretty stupid  - you know, the point where the ‘hey, running with a fractured toe might not be a great idea’ realization hits – I only had about 5 minutes to go.  And feeling stupid for five minutes is ok by me.

So despite my injury, I managed to maintain my efforts during my Caribbean stay.  Although I suppose it may take me a little longer to heal, I’m not worried either.  Seems like I’ll be easily able to train right through this minor detail in a way I doubt I’d be able to were I feeling the need to log 40 miles a week or something.  Sweet. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

New methods of torture

treadmill torture
I tried a variation of a workout i'd given my brother and the Yogaslackers adventure racing team (they are the guinea pigs i guess) the last week, just to make sure i was pushing them properly.

No worries there.

It's a combination pyramid/negative split arrangement on the treadmill, and its pretty nasty.  Here's how you do it - given in minutes, and for the sake of using numbers, my pacing.
  1. flat at 9 mph
  2. 1% at 9 mph
  3. 2% at 9 mph
  4. 3% at 9 mph
  5. 4% at 9 mph
  6. 4% at 9.3 mph
  7. 3% at 9.3 mph
  8. 2% at 9.3 mph
  9. 1% at 9.3 mph
  10. 0% at 9.3 mph
you need to choose a starting pace that feels fast - so fast in fact that the fifth minute will feel really tough - so tough that you should be wishing that you not only didn't have to speed up, but that you didn't have another minute at the 4% incline, period.  And then when you do speed up, its one of those minutes where you're desperately counting every second and can feel actual physical failure starting to approach rather quickly.  The beauty is that although that 6th minute is the peak in terms of physical intensity - it won't feel like it.  the 1% reduction of incline - at best - is barely enough to allow you to keep going.  During my first stab at this workout i wasn't sure i was going to be able to finish it until sometime during the 9th minute - 3 whole minutes were spent in that glorious state of running through jello - full uncertainty as to whether body or mind would prove to be the master.  

Good luck.  You're going to need it!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Long Run - a one hour a week marathon training program.

One of the criticisms that i find reasonable of a super low volume approach to endurance racing - particularly for someone getting into the sport - is the concern that it doesn't provide adequate opportunity for physiological adaptations of connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons.  These tissues are brutalized during long events involving repetitive stresses. If they are stronger, injury is less likely.  Research during my morning cup of coffee found little in the way of easily accessible information regarding how the adaptation of these tissues occurs - but i did find one powerpoint from the University of Massachusetts (with some textbook sources cited) that seemed to suggest that it is changes in collagen fibrils that are responsible for these adaptations.  It further suggested that exercise of low to moderate intensity did little to drive this process.

That being said, there is a pretty heavy dose of conventional wisdom out in cyberspace beating the drums to a tune of "volume = necessary adaptations" and so i thought that in absence of more substantial evidence* i should work towards figuring out a way to include some longer workouts in the mix, just in case.  The added benefit of this is that for someone trying to take the low volume approach as an entrance into endurance efforts, longer efforts will help provide some of the required mental confidence.

Here's how it might work for a marathon.

  • week 1 (40 min) - 2 x 10 minute high intensity runs**, 1 x 20 minute tempo run
  • week 2 (50 min) - 2 x 10 minute high intensity runs, 1 x 30 min. tempo run
  • week 3 (1 hour) - 2 x 10 minute high intensity runs, 1 x 40 min. tempo run
  • week 4 (1 hr. 10 min) - 2 x 10 min high intensity runs, 1 x 50 min. tempo run
  • week 5 (1 hr 20 min) - 2 x 10 min high intensity runs, 1 x 1 hour tempo run
  • week 6 (20 min) - 2 x 10 min high intensity runs (later in week)
  • week 7 (50 min) - 2 x 10 min high intensity runs, 1 x 30 minute tempo run
  • week 8 (1 hr 50 min) - 2 x 10 minutes high intensity runs, 1 x 90 min. tempo run.
  • week 9 (20 min) - 2 x 10 minute high intensity run (later in week)
  • week 10 (2 hr. 20 min) - 2 x 10 minute high intensity runs, 1 x 2 hour tempo run
  • week 11 (20 min) - 2 x 10 min high intensity run (later in week)
  • week 12 (1 hr) - 40 min tempo run (early in week), 2 x 10 min easy runs.  RACE
12 weeks and 12 total training hours.  While it  might seem like the proposed marathon would be tough mentally (being up to twice the duration of the longest training run), i think it wouldn't be too bad for someone who'd been able to actually get through the program with genuinely high intensity efforts.  The marathon pace would be substantially easier than nearly ALL the training and it seems unlikely that the additional running time at these lower intensities would prove to be a significant mental challenge for someone who'd been able to consistently pour themselves into the 10 minute efforts week after week.  

Alright - who's gonna take the bait and be the guinea pig?

*I'm going to keep looking.  Honestly i'm not sure i'll find anything substantiating a strong connection between training volume exclusively being necessary for any sort of adaptation... it seems more likely, in my opinion, rather that consistent application of stresses above a certain threshold are the requirements for physiological changes.  There is already a good body of evidence along these lines in terms of aerobic adaptation, and i'm guessing that the same will hold true here.  This post provides some good context as to why these drums might still be sounding though.

** I'll provide details on what constitutes a 'high intensity effort' and give some example running workouts that fit the bill in a later post - or if you're interested in finding out more before i get to it, just leave a comment.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

80/20 principle (AKA the Pareto Principle)

From Wikipedia:
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.[1][2]
Some version of this 'rule', which seems to have a rough equivalent in sectors from business to agriculture to social media (80% of your facebook interactions come from 20% of your friends), is foundational to my training methodology.  In my love of complexity, i'm going to suggest that in truth the principle as applied to fitness is actually recursive and can be applied iteratively (only in terms of time invested) as one approaches their athletic goals.

In terms of fitness the principle goes something like - 80% of your fitness potential** comes from 20% of your training time.  The second iteration means that 80% of that 80% comes from 20% of that 20% - creating a 64/4 principle.  Now keep in mind that this really only applies in theory, and to someone following an 'ideal' training program with a proper mix of intensities.  But thus applied - it is basically sound:  80% of the fitness potential realizable on that program comes from 20% of the training time.  And i bet you already know what that training time is spent on - yep - high intensity work.

So as a thought experiment, lets consider that I might (barring likely injury) be able to train to run a 9-10 hour ironman triathlon if i could mentally and physically follow through on a traditional training program pedaled to elite athletes.  It'd likely require about 16-20 hours of effort (on average) per week, and would (in theory) get pretty close to my physical potential.  The Pareto principle suggests that by training around 3-4 hours a week and focusing on the workouts with the highest 'return on investment', i can get to about an 80% level.  Apply it again and you're at about 64% of your potential on under 1 hour a week.  And while 64% might seem pretty low to some folks (and it should) - i'm going to suggest that the majority of recreational 'athletes' - the ones whose goals and ambitions support the entire 'health and fitness' sector of the economy - are working at levels below this*.

*Quantification of fitness is messy as there are too many variables - but i think the basic structure of what you'd see using just about any metric would substantiate these ideas.  For running endurance, you might measure percentage of potential based on marathon time for example.  If I trained exclusively for a marathon and tailored my life to support my efforts, what time could i aim for?  Probably somewhere in the sub 3 hour range.  My idealized training would probably consume about 4-5 hours a week. Using the above logic, this would mean that I ought to be able to train for about 1 hour a week and turn in a respectable time of sub 3:45 (0.8*3 Hrs). My own experience corroborates this.

**Of course working out/training serves many purposes in peoples lives beyond working to reach their physical potential - stress relief, general health and well being, camaraderie, and just good old plain fun.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

minimum maintenance roads

END-SPAR minimum maint. road
My journey down this road started a few weeks ago in mid April when I helped take our youth climbing team down to Minneapolis for their first 'away game'. It was awesome, but the long travel days meant that i missed both my friday and sunday workouts.  The following week i was in the throes of last minute planning for END-SPAR and had to make Sunday after the race a family day as they'd been rather neglected as of late.  And finally, training this last week was hampered by a 'too good to miss' trip to Pembina (little south pembina river during flood stage!) in addition to race director duties for the family adventure race.

So long story short, three weeks in a row with only my 3 10 minute workouts done.  Surprisingly, i'm feeling good about it.  probably partly because i was getting outside to hang checkpoints rather than sitting in front of a computer. And although i was super busy and each of my 10 minute sessions felt squeezed in and almost an after thought, i still managed to match or better my best ever efforts on every one of them.  Sweet.

Maybe if i modify my schedule to be somewhat periodized - limiting it to the 3 sessions (for a total of 30 min) for three weeks with a 90 minute super 'effort' at the end i'd have a three week cycle where i was getting in some long enough efforts with enough frequency to cause some adaptation of the connective tissues, etc - which is one of the major limitations (as far as my research has shown) of using an exclusively high intensity approach to endurance.

ND whitewater

If nothing else, the last three weeks have shown me that, for what it's worth, even just the 3 weekly workouts are enough to keep my stimulated and feeling pretty damn fit - in a minimum maintenance kind of way.