Sunday, February 19, 2012

Current Fitness and Training Plans

Ok, so before I continue on with verbose explorations of etymology and other philosophical inquiries, I thought I should discuss my actual training, as this is mostly meant to be a blog about my athletic endeavors. I'll go back to defining and labeling things in future entries, so stay tuned all you word geeks.

The Winter of My Content

Well, I just wrapped up my Nordic ski season and my ninth year as a high school coach. It's always a ton of fun to work with kids, teach them to ski, and get to ski with them. It's great training for me, because I have to be there everyday, and it's one of the few sports where the coach gets to do the workouts with the kids. I typically love the preseason the most when we're dryland training, mostly because I get to spend the most time working out and getting to know the kids. Once we get snow, I do a lot of standing around coaching technique, spend countless hours waxing skis for meets, and freeze my arse off during meets, usually standing at the top of the biggest hill cheering the kids on.  Cheering is great fun, the arse freezing part is not. Needless to say, I don't get to train nearly as much once we're on snow, but this year was different. We didn't have a single meet on real snow due to the crazy warm winter we're having, and most of our workouts were running with poles. Truly, we should have changed our team name to the Nordic Pole Running Team. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed it, because for the first time in my life, I've wanted to run more than ski, and I got my wish.

The whole season was a grand experiment. I had started more seriously with minimalist running at the end of the summer, and couldn't get more than 2.5 miles on any given run before my calves blew up. It wasn't until a very informational and educational running mechanics session with JoeDPT in October that finally gave me some insight and better form. Thus, going into the ski season, when I knew I would need to run everyday for an hour-and-a-half including hard intervals on trails, gave me pause for concern, to say the least. It was, however, an amazing breakthrough. I was forced to pay attention to my form and improve so that I'd be able to run the next day. After only a week or two, I was running blistering lactate threshold intervals with the varsity boys, and keeping up relatively well! I was adapting, and getting really fit in the process. The trail system is also quite enjoyable.

Once the meet season started I didn't get to run as much, but I didn't seem to lose too much of my fitness. It was only in the last three or so weeks of the season when we made a point to get practice time on snow at one of the various snow-making facilities that my running legs suffered a little. My first major postseason run was last week, and it definitely killed my calves for a few days.

Since then, I've been out running regularly, and all is well. Yesterday I did a 4-mile tempo run at 6:54 pace, which is by far the fastest pace I've run, and for a tempo that's longer than any I've done before. Today I did an almost 7-miler at an even 8min pace in my Vibram KSOs, mainly because my Merrel Trail Gloves were bothering the top of my left foot. I've been doing all my running (through the ski season and now) in my Trail Gloves until today. The VFFs were ok, but they always hurt my pinky toes, and I stumbled twice on my run today, tearing a small hole in the top of the left big toe. I'm not digging them, but I think it might be because I had socks on too. They work best without socks. In any case, I'm extremely happy with where I am in my training, and am excited to continue on.

What's Coming

So I came to the realization that I should probably consider an actual training plan for my half marathon in April and the 25km trail race in May. I've always been Jekyll and Hyde with this type of thing, because exercising is how I let go of all the stress from constantly planning things in my teaching and with my personal life, and yet I am a planner and love efficiency and maximizing output. Part of me wants to just be mindful of the variety I should have in my training and just go with what I feel I want and should do that day, and part of me feels I should set up a more regimented plan. Considering that my life shifts so often, I've given up complex plans and decided on a few steady routines and flexible options surrounding them in order to reach my goals. Before I go any further, I suppose I should pause and consider my goals:

1) Be able to climb some 5.11's in the gym before the Black Hills trip Memorial Day weekend
2) Run a steady 8min/mi pace at the half marathon (that may be adjusted later)
3) Finish the trail race in 2:30 or under (average 10min/mi pace)
4) Have fun! This includes my training.
5) Use all of this as an excuse to eat lots of delicious food and drink more beer

At this point, I figure I'll organize my workouts around a routine long run each weekend, loosely following the add-one-mile-per-week plan that many marathoners do. In between, I shall consider and do some or all of the following:
- climbing (this is a passion I won't neglect, and plan to climb twice a week)
- tempo runs (3-5 miles)
- hill repeats
- intervals, mostly over/under LT (alternating with tempo runs)
  **description at bottom
- strength/circuits - I don't have access to a gym, so this will be body weight
  exercises, MovNat type stuff, and plyometrics
- Parkour? - I've gotten out of this in the last year, but find that it could be a
  great way to crosstrain, focusing on strength and power in the leg-based

Once the trails open up and aren't covered with packed ice, I'll be running mostly on trail, and I'm quite excited for the ski areas to close for the winter season and dry up so that I can do some big hill work there. Overall, I'm not worried about the half marathon, but more concerned with the trail race. I'll need to do some serious hill work to get ready for the elevation change. That shouldn't be too hard though, because I'm most excited and motivated for that one, and I like hills.

From my perspective, the mainstays of speed, strength, and distance need to be addressed, but I feel strongly that variety is important, and a body forced to adapt to different types of movement is a healthy one. Keeping your body guessing is a good way to maximize it's usability. Although I won't consider climbing to be a direct part of my running training, I know that it will help to diversify my strengths, and will also give my legs a chance to recover from running while still getting a workout.

So that's it. A loose plan it is! As I said before, exercise is my way to let go, so I'm not gonna stress out too much about it, at least not until I decide that I'm ready to be a serious competitor...with other people. I'm always a serious competitor with myself.

Until next time!  Prost!

**Over/unders - This is a lactate threshold interval workout designed to raise your lactate threshold (LT) and let you perform at a higher heart rate for longer periods of time. You need to have some idea of what your LT is, however. You can either have it measured (there are various ways to do this, most of which cost money), or you can get a general feel for it after a while by noticing the point at which you start to "huff and puff," leading soon after to the burning sensation in your muscles. With this workout, you start by running 4min just under your LT, building in that time to 2min of just above your LT. Drop down for 4 again, above for 2, and repeat once more. That's one set. Do ten minutes of *easy* jogging as recovery and then do another set. If you're a beast, do three sets. These can result in huge gains if done correctly, and it's friggin hard. Good luck!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Inspiration: what it is, what it's done for me, and how a Clark Bar can save your ass

Inspiration. It's a simple concept really, but a word that is often thrown around on sappy TV talkshows and bad local newscasts as an attempt to make people feel good about life, right after they've punched you in the throat with all the hatred, catastrophe, and destruction in the world. It's my firm belief that we need to amend the definition and start using it correctly. Let's take a look at the word itself, shall we?

The word dates back to the 14th century, stemming from the Latin word inspirare, parsed as in - "in" and spirare - "to breathe." It was originally used to refer to an act of influence by God or gods, thereafter referring to the actual act of inhaling, and then taken to a more figurative meaning of breathing into others - an act of stirring new breath or new life into someone. Okay, so I'm a language geek, but this helps me in my point here, because the Merriam Webster definition uses more tepid language to define it as "the action or power of moving intellect or emotions, or the act of influencing or suggesting opinions." You might be saying, "That sounds like an acceptable interpretation," but you'd be wrong.  (insert snarky face here)

Inspiration is not merely suggesting something, nor is it only moving intellect or emotions, but rather in my opinion it is - in its true form - breathing new life into a person to move them to action. It must move the emotions or intellect so greatly as to create new patterns of living, positive changes, and improved resolve in a certain area or areas. It's not enough to see a cute report about a blind boy saving a neighbor's kitten from the tallest tree in the neighborhood that moves you to feel all warm and fuzzy, but rather a report about governmental approval to build a hydroelectric plant in Brazil that will displace 40,000 Natives and destroy 400,000 hectares of rich and vibrant forest that causes you to get off your ass and start writing letters, joining protest groups, and blog about it to create awareness. We must be moved to act.

So what inspired me to start this blog, run crazy distances in minimal shoes, and make my life adventurously awesome? What breathed into me to alter my patterns, provoke change and create more positive results? From my first post (you might need to dig through the vast archive to find it, if you have lots of time that least 2 minutes), you can probably see that my friend Joe and the Western States 100 were the key factors, along with the idea of barefoot and minimalist running, which is true and they remain the largest motivators, but I would say that these were the final tipping point in a list of people and things that have influenced my thinking along the way, adding perhaps a half-breath here and there, but never truly filling my lungs completely with new and fresher air. Let's take a look at some of those key people and events.

1. "The Book" - Born to Run. Okay, I know this is totally lame, which is why I'm starting with it.  Every runner and their grandma knows this book and it's almost becoming clichĂ© at this point, but I must say, it had a positive impact on me and inspired me to think and act differently. No, it is not the reason I started barefoot/minimalist running, nor have I begun to include chia seeds and pinole in my diet, but it certainly renewed my determination to run more often. More importantly, it did two things, similar to my experience at Western States: 1) it proved to me the amazing abilities of both the human body and the human spirit and got me thinking about what I personally could accomplish, and 2) it helped to renew the fun of running by changing my perspective and general approach to it. It is a general human trait to hear about or see something cool/fun/amazing/rewarding and wish to copy it in the hopes of achieving the same end, and I must admit that the quality of Christopher McDougall's writing and storytelling inspired me to start new adventures. That, in its essence, is only a good thing in my humble opinion.

2.  My wife. I have been married for a year-and-a-half now, and I still find my wife just as inspiring as I did in the beginning. She's finishing up vet school, which in itself is an amazing feat, but has also managed to make me think about things in a simple and practical way that cause me to want to change for the better. Because of her I started eating better, signed up for my first half-marathon (I got jealous after she did it last year, so I'm running it this year), traveled more, and have become more introspective about what I want out of life and how we can achieve awesomeness together. I am definitely the more competitive and determined athlete of the two of us, but she has had moments of sheer badassness when we climb. She has led more crazy climbs without a second thought than I have even considered.

My "special lady" atop Gossamer in the Black Hills

3.  David Belle and Parkour. In the fall of 2006 I discovered the sport/art/discipline of Parkour, a means of moving through the environment as efficiently as possible, overcoming obstacles with just your own body, created by a Frenchman named David Belle. David based this new form of movement on the training his father used as a soldier and firefighter with the purpose of "ĂȘtre et durer" (to be and to last). Continuing on the general theme of amazing human potential, I knew I had to explore this unique art of movement. It opened my eyes not only to the potential I have regarding how my body moves, but it also changed how I view the world around me. Practitioners speak of "Parkour eyes" - the condition of seeing normal architectural features or natural landscape as your own personal playground or escape route. As a kid on long road trips, I used to pretend there was a guy on a dirt bike or snowboard (depending on the season) following along side the car in the ditch, jumping over driveways and doing crazy tricks. Parkour has renewed that childish creativity in how I see my environment. It makes the world a little more alive for me, particular in "the concrete jungle," and it has inspired me to move in a direction that will help me to be and to last. A great example of David and his philosophy of human-powered movement can be found here.

4.  Herb and Jan Conn. I have been a climber now for about 13 years, and it's truly the longest and most consistent athletic passion of mine throughout my adult life. My first major climbing trip was in the spring of 2000 to the Black Hills of South Dakota, and it was life-changing. I had visited the Hills once before as a kid on a family vacation, and was struck by the incredible, monolithic spires and needles that stirred in me a desire to just run into the forest and explore for the rest of my life. I didn't get more than 10 feet away from the Needle's Eye parking lot though, before my mom made me get back in the car to continue on. I vowed at that moment that I would return to explore later in life.  Now I have been climbing in the Hills every Memorial Day weekend for the last twelve years, and this year will be no exception. Along the way, my good friend Jen joined us for a few of those trips, mainly because she shares the same love of this place and also worked as a park ranger at Jewel Cave National Monument for three summers. There she met and became friends with Herb and Jan Conn, the local legends who came there after the war (that's WWII for all you youngsters out there) in search of good climbing. There they stayed and explored the Needles, the Cathedral Spires, and the Sylvan Lake area, making over 220 first ascents, using hemp rope, homemade gear, and wearing Keds sneakers. After "retiring" from climbing, they were recruited to explore Jewel Cave, which at the time was a yet unmapped, unexplored jem (no pun intended). Herb and Jan explored and mapped the first 62 miles of the cave, which now stretches more than 159 miles and is officially the second largest cave in the world. For you adventurers, it also has the longest and most strenuous public spelunking tour in the nation, which I highly recommend.

Herb and Jan with the wife in 2008 after a hike

The climbing and caving are badass in their own right, especially when you see the climbs they set up with the gear they used, but more of note to me is how they live. At this point they are now in their early 90's and live without electricity and have only a water pump.  Neither of them has held a steady job since the war, and they make money here and there with their talents and Herb's military pension, but the key is how simply they live. They make their own candles and have a tiny house that I've seen from the outside but apparently no one has ever been in. Rumor has it that it's built into the hillside because it's actually a huge cave that stretches on and on. Whether that's true is irrelevant; the two of them still chop and haul all their own wood for the stove, and they are still very much active: Herb with engineering stuff and writing, and Jan with her music. She has written numerous songs and even has her own CD, a possession I will always treasure. You can get a taste of her music here, although I will warn you that it has children singing instead of her, and we all know that children singing on recordings causes distemper, scurvy, and homicidal madness.

With as truly badass as they are, they are the most humble and friendly people I've ever met. They don't like talking about themselves, but will be happy to show you around and give you advice on good climbs, although the beta will be rather vague, because finding the route is part of the adventure. If you tackle one of their big routes, you might just need to bring a few extra Clark bars, their go-to snack of choice. Jan will certainly give you this free advice; "A two Clark Bar climb is a real humdinger!" Spending time with them on several occasions has "breathed" numerous plans into me to live simply, focus on the uncomplicated joys of life, and live a life of meaning by creating, exploring, and helping others. 

There are certainly others in my life who have inspired me, but I wanted to share the people and things that have had the most direct impact on me.  From time to time, I will devote whole posts to one particular badass or inspiration, as to truly give each their credit, but that's another story.

So tell me, who or what has inspired you to act?  Comments away!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Year of Being Awesome: An Introduction

A warm welcome to all of you who may be starting out with me here. (…crickets chirping…)  It’s been a while now since I’ve contemplated starting a blog, wondering if it would have any value in and of itself, but after corresponding with several blogger friends and reading some advice on various other blogs, I’ve come to the conclusion that for me it’s just one more step in becoming awesome at life.  The advice I received, by the by, is to do it if you love it, and for no other reason.  Thus, I’m not as concerned with who and how many read it; writing helps me formulate and firm up ideas that will hopefully lead to an improved and kickass life.  It would be an added bonus, however, if any of you find it interesting and/or enlightening.

Every now and again people have epiphanies (or complete breakdowns) in their lives that cause them to re-evaluate their situation in life.  For me, they come somewhat regularly, as I tend to be a whimsical and contemplative person, constantly reflecting and evaluating my life, and the greatest of these moments are when I’m inspired by someone or something amazing that they do.  I’m blessed to be surrounded by amazing people, and I’m forced to take pause in my thoughts almost everyday by one thing or other.  I gotta say, it’s a good way to live, because a life without inspiration is simply not a life.  On to the actual point here.

Last June, I had the honor and pleasure to crew for my good friend Joe when he ran the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race in California.  He had started with ultrarunning earlier in the year and was picking up steam. After poking around the WS website, I decided that I had to be part of it, so I emailed him and asked if I could be of any assistance.  As it so happened, I ended up as crew chief, organizing a group of 13 people consisting of friends and family who would crew, pace, and cheer Joe on in this momentous occasion.  To say that this experience had an impact on me is an understatement.  To watch Joe begin in Squaw Valley at 5am, meet him at various points throughout the day on the course, and then see him finish 20 hours later just after 1am the next morning in Auburn, 100 miles away, was something I could barely grasp, but knew it would resonate with me in a huge way for a very long time.  Thus begins my own journey.  What I experienced there was not only the amazing possibility of human potential, but also the wonderful community that ultrarunners have.  I have always been drawn to vibrant communities of people, and this one seemed uniquely energized and positive.  I guess I’ve always known that runners are, on the whole, a peaceful and fun-loving sort.  This might just be where I fit in, despite the fact that I’ve never really loved running, mostly because I had been viewing it in completely the wrong way for so many years.  That, however, has changed.

Barefoot/Minimalist Running

About the same time that Joe was getting into ultras, I was intrigued with the notion of barefoot-style running – an approach to improve form, overcome and prevent injury, and rekindle the joy of the sport.  I bought a pair of Vibram KSO’s and started experimenting with them, having a blast, but trashing my calves every time I ran.  I knew it was going to be a long process, but it was a fulfilling one, mainly because every other injury and problem I’ve had as a runner over the years melted away, especially the sesamoiditis under the ball of my left foot, which seemed totally counter-intuitive, since I had no padding at all under the problem area (read the treatments on the website and see what I mean about it being counter-intuitive).  Combine this new-found fun with the experience I had at Western States and something completely exciting, challenging, and beneficial had begun, which fits my personality perfectly.  I love to exercise in unique ways outdoors, I love to learn, and I love a good challenge.  Voila – instant passion!  Not only was I determined to get better at barefoot running, but I also knew that an ultra must be in my future, even if **only** a 50-miler.  Whether or not I will officially become an ultrarunner is yet to be seen.

As often happens when I’m inspired by a new passion, I research the hell out of it.  I started reading everything I could find on the interwebs, watched YouTube videos, scoured race reports and performance studies, and I’ve come across some awesome stuff.  One particular blog that I’ve been following that has ramped up my passion is Jason Robillard’s Barefoot Running University.  Not only is he a solid writer with wit and humor, but he is extremely informative, like-minded, and motivational.  He has viewed his barefoot running and ultrarunning as one more piece in leading an awesome life of meaning, on which I will be writing more later.  In any case, his blog, along with my interactions with Joe since that momentous day last June, have inspired me to make 2012 The Year of Being Awesome!  I want to take life by the horns and truly make some positive changes in my life – ones that will lead to greater improvement of my person, not only physically, but mentally, spiritually, relationally and any other –ally that applies.  This is the reason for this blog.  I hope that it can be my head check to keep me on track, not so much like homework that I must do, but a place to voice my thoughts and track my progress in a fun way.  It will include race reports, more “scientific” stuff on exercise and the body, general pontification and dumbassery, perhaps some footwear and gear reviews, and any other topic I find noteworthy and relevant.  It seems to me, however, that every blog should have some sort of theme, so that it doesn’t start out talking about ultrarunning and end up discussing the benefits of breeding yaks and cows together (otherwise known as yattle).  Thus it has been decided…

In Search of Badass

After a bit of contemplation and consideration, it seemed to me that all of the athletic endeavors I embark upon, along with the goals I have to lead an awesome and meaningful life, can be summed up as the quest to become a total badass.  Now then, there are any number of definitions to be found on in regard to the word “badass,” but I think the following will suffice for now, summarized in three points;

1. Intelligent
2. Technically proficient
3. Driven by challenge
   ex. Performs cutting-edge heart surgery while listening to 
              Widespread Panic

Now I can’t say much in regard to Widespread Panic except for a few tracks I have on a mixed tape and seeing them by chance at a music festival in Germany when I was in college, but I think the three statements above are quite accurate for what I’m trying to achieve here, and I'll elaborate more on the topic later.  Whether it deals with me personally or relates to someone who is already badass or has done something badass, it’s all fair game.  It should be noted that although I may have done some badass things in my life, I do not feel that I am near the qualification of being a badass yet.  It may be a long and arduous process, perhaps never yielding full results, but it’s gonna be damn fun along the way!  Won’t you join me for some badassery? 

Coming soon…
- More on inspiration
- Badass in-depth
- Bacon?