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.

Monday, January 27, 2014

5 MPH speed limit

Today many of my good friends are taking on the Arrowhead 135 race, a ski, bike, or run ultramarathon in what is historically the coldest place in the continental US on what is historically the coldest average week of the year.  Most of the 150 odd participants from around the world attempt to tackle the 135 miles of snow-mobile trail through the Minnesota wilderness on bike.  Among these is Matt Burton Kelly, known as 'Beek' (ENDracing's right hand man)--one of a handful of Arrowhead first timers.

It is a bit strange not to be there with them, as I've spent 4 of the last 5 last weeks in January freezing my ass off either attempting the race on foot (failed) or challenging the clock on bike (crossed the finish line all three times, once unofficially). I've changed a flat tire at nearly 20 below, survived ambient trail temperatures as low as -40 degrees F while riding through the long night, and even endured 'the push' last year.

There is something special about races like the arrowhead - races that aren't about speed (even the fastest riders seem to be going at a joggers pace!) - races that are light on competition (everyone seems to know each other) and heavy on adventure.

So this is a shout out for those who are now several hours into this great adventure through the frozen forests and swamps;  those who will pedal and push their way up hills that feel like mountains--over and over again; those who will then careen with wild abandon (and crazy grins on their faces) down the other sides of these hills, as if they were at a local sled hill rather than the inhospitable and unforgiving places they really are. This is a shout out to those who toed and wheeled the start line at this morning, every square inch of skin covered against the bitter cold; those daring and perhaps deranged folks who started walking or pedaling towards a goal 135 miles distant, knowing that for many of them, there is a 5 MPH speed limit.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Why high intensity work matters

Genuine High intensity training is simply too hard and too painful for most recreational endurance athletes and most serious ones are happy to commit lots of time to their physical pursuits.  It is not a surprise, then, that almost all endurance athletes seem to favor traditional training programs that focus on volume at lower to moderate intensities.  Higher intensities are typically only used by elite athletes with superior recovery abilities and even then, used sparingly.  There is good reason for this - adding high intensity training into a program with typical endurance program volumes  creates an extremely demanding program only suitable such athletes. Sure, some non-elites will occasionally use high intensity effort, and many will emulate the programs of the elites by using higher intensity work (not really the same thing).  But my experience has shown me that--assuming i'm somewhat typical of the ambitious amateur athlete--adding genuine high intensity work into an endurance geared training program using traditional volumes is, well, problematic. There are just too many excuses.

However, at least in my opinion--it is clear that we can only reach our actual physical potential in terms of endurance training by including high intensity work. High intensity training is what gets you faster. Increases in speed always have corresponding increases in endurance but it is a one way street--increasing endurance will not always increase speed. High intensity work also develops a capacity for intense but limited duration suffering that is critical for strong and fast finishes. If you want to race long and you want do it as well as you can, you will  need to develop your ability to consistently perform high intensity workouts.

In my experience this is far from easy--even under the best of circumstances.  Those interested in learning how to perform high intensity work and developing their ability to do so consistently might be best served by spending time on a program such as the one i'm doing now (3 x 8 minute sessions a week, one each of biking, rowing, and running).  For an accomplished and eager athlete, elimination of all efforts other than high intensity work might provide the needed incentive to really learn what high intensity work feels like.  For someone used to 5 or 6 hours a week, anything less than a maximum effort during these three weekly workouts would feel like 'selling out'. The athlete would, after even one sub-par performance, feel like they weren't really working out at all - caged and restless.  Such restlessness, combined with the ample time for physical recovery based on such a low volume program, helps create an environment in which many of the mental and physical obstacles to experiencing genuine high intensity work are absent.  This is the ideal environment in which to begin to cultivate the relationship with mental and physical anguish that defines these efforts.

If you are able to learn how to feel  completely empty after an 8 minute workout--drained mentally and physically to near the point of actual physical incapacity (for example i sometimes finish my bike workouts in such a state that i am actually unable to walk down stairs without falling on my face for up to 10 minutes), then you have essentially developed a new fitness tool. This tool can then effectively be used in conjunction with more traditional methods and intensities in pursuit of your true fitness potential, if and when you decide to make this your goal.