Thursday, October 25, 2007

Setting Limits

"Aerodynamically the bumble bee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn't know it, so it goes on flying anyway." - Mary Kay Ash

This quote is a bit pollyanna and odd coming from me. Generally, I am a realist and most people would not consider me a “happy go lucky” kind of guy. That said, I’ve rarely allowed others’ views of my potential or talents influence my aspirations or goals.

I’ve had a lot of time this summer to explore my triathlon potential and expand my endurance training knowledge. Despite what others may percieve as a lack of measurable progression and documented physiologic limitations, ironically I continue to dream of better race days.

That’s not to say that I don’t have fluctuations in self-evaluation…some days I feel great about my singular accomplishments and other days I consider myself a failure. And often I find myself wondering whether is it possible for me to continue to improve in the sport or if there is any point in trying to become faster. But through it all there are three factors that motivate me:

  1. the overall sense of well being that I derive from being healthy and fit.
  2. the satisfaction I feel from self-discovery through the process of improvement.
  3. the infinite number of areas I can still improve.

After a yoga class I took with my tri club (TriCoWS –Tri Club of Winston-Salem) this past week, the instructor read us the following quote:

"You yourself are the being you are seeking" - Swami Veveknanka

The process of self discovery is really enjoyable. So much of sport and the pursuit of well-being have little to do about specific time goals or race finishes. Experiencing new levels of success as I define them continually motivate me. I enjoy the gratification I receive after each breakthrough and it motivates me to keep searching for new ways to improve and expand my horizons.

The number of pathways to improvement seem endless to me. So much so that I laugh inside when people tell me of personal limitations, whether they are mental, physiologic, or environmental. Everyone one of us has multiple areas to improve in every aspect of our lives.

It is refreshing to be reminded of this by guys that most of us would consider elite. When top athletes like Lucho talk about reaching the next level by mental preparation and toughness, it makes me wonder how much I have to gain in this arena as well. Many people may say that they are so physically talented, that this is an advantage they get to experience…super genetic physiologic gifts. I like to think that successful athletes are the ones that find ways to overcome the barriers they are given and exploit the talents they are fortunate to possess. In contrast, others may only complain of the gifts that don’t have.

Gordo’s speaks of this often as well. There are so many detractors who want to prove that he has some “secret” physiologic gift that many of us don’t have. And I’m certain he is more physiologically gifted than some, and less than others. But I think many people miss the big picture on his success. He does what it takes…whatever that is for him. That is one of the many things I’ve learned from him.

I will close with one final quote for the week.

"He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying" - Friedrich Nietzsche

Best of luck to all those out there expanding their limits.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

30 Runs in 30 Days

The picture above is Erin and I enjoying a zip line trip. The longest one we did today was 800 feet more than 100 ft off the ground. Spectacular!!!_______________________________________________________

Following my requisite break from IMC, I posted a run challenge to my local triathlon club (TriCoWS) to help jumpstart the slow road back to fitness. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly we decondition. Many people, my wife included, wonder why I’m starting back so quickly…here are my reasons.

1. The longer I take off, the harder it is to break the bad habits I build up.

2. The more deconditioned I get, the harder it is on my body to get fit again, injury free.

3. It allows a looooonnnnnggg ramp up to get into shape. By starting very slowly, there is no urgency to rush things.
4. Building a big, aerobic base by starting so slowly prevents injury and burnout.

I think the concept of the 30 runs in 30 days originated with Molina. I certainly heard it first from Gordo that Molina suggested it to him. The idea seems simple; in reality, few people can actually accomplish the goal. I think the way it was originally described is nothing less than 45 minutes constituted a run and it had to be a continuous effort…no running part of it in the morning and part of it later.

I’ve adapted the challenge a bit. You have to understand the basic premise in order to maximize the potential opportunity of the challenge. The goal is to safely increase your frequency in running and improve your aerobic base. Given that, the 45 minute minimum shouldn’t apply to everyone. To that point, everyone’s minimum is different based upon their running background.

The primary reason I believe people aren’t successful is from going too hard cardiovascularly. This has two results…one is mental/physiological burnout and the other is resultant musculoskeletal damage. We are wired to push ourselves…therefore, without wearing a hr monitor, people are repeatedly pushing above their aerobic ceiling and preventing adequate recovery.

I have more knowledge about the musculoskeletal limitations. The body responds to stress by “rebuilding itself” in a stronger fashion. To some, it would be intuitive then, to continue to go harder. However, the tissues are also constantly being resorbed during the remodeling process. This continual process of tissue breaking down and rebuilding is generally balanced. Problems arise when the balance is upset such that the breakdown is occurring at a rate more rapidly than the buildup. This results in stress fractures and overuse syndromes if the new stresses are applied too quickly. To avoid these complications it generally takes bones, tendons, and muscles approximately 6-8 weeks to rev up the building process. I believe those that aren’t patient enough to wait this period of time are usually those people who are plagued with recurrent injury and inconsistency.

Therefore, for people that aren’t accustomed to frequent running, their goal should be to build their musculoskeletal system (joints, tendons, muscles) up to the point of achieving a new remodeling homeostasis sufficient to withstand the new daily stress. This method hopefully can lessen the aches and pains that are the result from starting too rigorously that prevent continuation of running for most people. So those athletes who are patient can proceed with a gradual build-up (6-8 weeks) to provide sufficient time for the tissues to respond and strengthen to the initial stresses. I believe this increases the success of a those starting a new running program.

So on to the challenge. 30 runs in 30 days. Nothing fancy-no pace or distance requirements. Just get out and run 30 separate times in 30 days. What constitutes a run? For those people who have done sprint and oly races, 30 minutes. For those that have completed a half or full ironman, 45 minutes.

A couple of tips: need a day off? Run in the morning and once in the evening on a given day to “bank” a run for your day off. Ideally this shouldn’t be done more than 1/week. Tip #2 Use the run walk protocol on those days when you are feeling tired. Start off by walking 2-3 minutes, then begin running. After 10-15 minutes, give yourself a 30-60 sec walk break. I recommend posting your daily runs on your local tri forum…this can be motivating for yourself and others. Group peer pressure is always fun ;-)


I wanted to post one thought as we are 13 days into the run challenge. It is interesting to see people push themselves despite the warnings. Even those who begin with a bit of humility and self proclaimed lack of running experience are running harder and more often than planned. I was running with Erin today and we were cruising around at her typical steady pace/effort. Given the large variability in our run experience, my effort/hr was pretty low (115) during the majority of the run. However, during each ascent, I was keeping pace with her, only to see my hr sky rocket to 150. Despite the obvious effort, she would continue to push the pace and accelerate past me. This is a common event I experience with less seasoned runners and I asked her about it.

My perception was that she felt it necessary to hammer up the hills and was looking at me and questioning why I wasn’t going harder. Yet she said, she just assumed that was the effort required to go up the hill and her perception was that she wasn’t going that hard (She didn’t have a hr monitor on). I suspect this is the same reasoning I commonly see when running with a group.

My suspicion is that these efforts are the ones that make it difficult to recover and come back the next day. But to best build endurance, you need to be able to repeatedly back up your prior days training. The repeated many day efforts of continuous training are superior in my mind than intermittent bursts of high intensity training separated by required rest b/c you are too wrecked to train.

Hope everyone is enjoying the fall. Best of luck to the Kona Athletes.


Monday, October 1, 2007

Poker Pacing F/U, Economy & Efficiency

A couple of different thoughts I would share this week.

The first is a reflection on “poker pacing.” Although this was just a fun exercise I developed during training this past year, it is amazing to me how many times I’ve seen this same concept discussed in different contexts. Anecdotally, I knew I was getting faster as the year progressed practicing this technique. Nearly all my results demonstrated that negative splits WERE possible; especially when appropriate pacing and training were in line with my goal split at the end of the day.

It was a hoot to see the new marathon record go down this weekend. Interesting was to look at the pacing strategy. I would love to see his hr rate efforts. The effort required to run that much faster at the end of the marathon requires a much “easier” effort early in the day.

The course is described as reasonably uniform, so I think it unlikely that the course plays much role in the pacing effort. There is 5 ~ 80-100 ft elevations over the course and 2 of them are in the 1st 10K, with one each in the other 10Ks. Berlin Marathon Elevation Chart

Haile Gebrselassie at the Berlin Marathon
5 km: 00:14:44
10 km: 00:29:27 / 00:14:43
15 km: 00:44:16 / 00:14:50
20 km: 00:59:10 / 00:14:54
25 km: 01:14:05 / 00:14:55
30 km: 01:28:56 / 00:14:51
35 km: 01:43:38 / 00:14:43
40 km: 01:58:08 / 00:14:30

I find it humorous when people are offended when told that their pacing strategy isn’t realistic for their fitness if they positive split. For some reason, we have this funny programming that makes us think we can have some super heroic day b/c we go fast early in a race. Rarely, people learn from this mistake. It is really fun when you take the chance to run with appropriate pacing and can finish a race strong.

After spending the week working on the metabolic cart with Alan & Mat at the Endurance Corner Lab, I realized that I’ve chosen wisely when it comes to career choice. Though I certainly don’t consider myself an intellectual giant, my physiological limiters are far greater than my intellectual ones.

In any case, it was interesting to see that I’ve been able to achieve reasonable IM success despite a pitiful VO2 max. How, you might ask? Well, it’s pretty obvious on any of my group training sessions. Nearly anyone can bury me in a training session by revving up their engine a bit and putting in a burst of speed, as a result of their larger engine. But the longer or later we are in the session, the less chance this is likely to occur.

Why? Well my endurance is reasonable. Though I’ve not had a muscle biopsy to prove it, I suspect I’m nearly all slow twitch fibers and my training has created the peripheral adaptations necessary to be very economical. Based upon the numbers we generated, I’ve really maximized the economic side of things.

So that leaves efficiency. These two terms are often confused. Whereas economy is the final outcome (velocity) for a given energy, efficiency is bit more “upstream” and the power output for a given energy. The latter can be affected by anatomic structure and technique, therefore affecting the final outcome, economy. Fortunately, I know that I still have tremendous room to improve in technique in both swimming and running which will result in an improved efficiency, and henceforth, economy.

Of course, that leaves cycling. I don’t think I’ve achieved my economic ceiling here. Furthermore, I think I’m leaving quite a bit on the table in regards to positioning for maximum power output. Though this may be (and this is a BIG may be) a bit less aerodynamic, our early calculations suggest an overall improvement in speed. More on this a later post.