Thursday, July 31, 2014

Finding That 1%

I was reading an interesting article yesterday talking about the cumulative benefits UPS experienced after half a decade seeking 0.5-1% productivity improvements in their service delivery. What resulted was an astounding overall 9% increase over that time or an additional $50Bn in revenue! Of course everyone I know is already trying to improve and 1% per week in fitness or endurance seems entirely possible. The concept of progressive development will not be foreign to most athletes. But how many people are looking at their entire fitness process for improvement as a whole and trying to find those 1%s? I know I probably am not, in fact my fitness routine is basically the same as when I started right down to travel and nutrition preparation. Are there elements that I am missing out on which I could add? Almost absolutely and this is something that I am already aware of. Up until now I didn't seem to have the needed perspective to realize that what I needed was a deliberate plan for implementing changes that I need to make. By including incremental 1% steps towards changes I already know can be made I hope find a cumulative benefit greater than I am willing to commit to currently.

That First Step Seems Biggest
Identify what you should be doing, but if you have a problem starting immediately don't, work out a development plan that will get you there in a reasonable amount of time. Start practicing small elements of the behaviour that you need to see. Eventually you will accomplish improvements that had seemed harder than you were willing to attempt or even impossible.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Is Bike-Run the Only Real Brick Workout?

Over the past two days I had the chance to double down on a couple of brick sessions. For triathletes a brick-workout commonly refers to training two of the same disciplines during the same workout. So for example on monday I did an hour spin followed by another hour running, then yesterday it was an hour swim followed by an hour spin. Basically the idea is to burn more calories and pack more training into a single session. It forces your body to adapt to the sudden changes demanded from it of each of the sport disciplines very effectively. Athletes who may not be racing faster can often notice improvements from training in the comfort with which they are able to transition (a term used to describe changing from swim to bike then to running clothing).

Bike Then Run Is Hard So It Must Be Working
What struck me was the difference between the two sets (swim-bike, bike-run) in terms of difficulty. Having done the swim-bike the day after a hard monday workout should have only added to what was a relatively easy workout. I threw down 2600m in the pool and was spinning for an hour with average power at 240W no problem! Contrast that to the day earlier where I had gone conservative on the bike averaging 190W only to fall to pieces on the run coming in at 9 miles paced to 8:50/mile. If i had to assign a suffer score to each of these the swim-bike would be a 5, while the bike-run would be like a 8 out of 10. So if this is the case, what is the purpose of doing swim-bike brick sets? Above and beyond the baseline of an extended session, probably not that much actually. Which relates to a number of other triathlon specific considerations namely the amount of swim training an athlete should complete relative to the other disciplines and which parts of the body should be emphasised over the others. Narrowing that broad focus to look only at paired brick sets (sets that reflect the progression of a triathlon) it seems that if you had three brick sessions planned throughout the week, assuming good inter-session recovery, in my experience you will be much better off taking at least two of them and committing them to bike-run. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why You Should Go for a Five Hour Indoor Spin

Extended spin sessions on a trainer or spin bike can really suck for a number of reasons. Ok so maybe you do like bicycle riding but really how often do you do one thing that you like in the same place for like five straight hours. Not very often I'm guessing. Sensory deprivation, nutrition requirements, strange looks from other gym goers and people asking if you are done yet. "No I'm not done yet,"  you huff, "I have three hours left!" Raised eyebrows. These are a few of the things you may have to suffer through getting that long workout in. Why not just take it outside, after all a five hour bike ride isn't even really a workout, it's an adventure. Exactly. Being a good indoor rider is important because you can do tailored workouts and sets that aren't as easily done outdoors with varying traffic, weather, and mechanical constraints. This is the same reason you should periodically run on a treadmill, it prepares your body for a sustained effort at a set threshold. Want to run some 5 minute miles, the treadmill will give you that all you have to do is hangon! Spin bikes and trainers are no different. Including the fact that most people hate biking indoors. This is exactly why if you need to do indoor training you should periodically attempt an extended ride, it will make the one and two hour rides you frequently need seem like pop ins at a convenience store. When you've pushed yourself even once for such a long time and dug so deep into your bodies energy reserves nearly everything that comes after that will seem like speed work.

Pain: Just Get Used to IT!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Starting the Week

For me Sundays can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand it is usually a great day to break from the weekday routine, and often the day of the week where I will add an extra aspect of recovery from my professional life. On the other hand I find that even taking one day out of my entire routine is enough to partially nullify my motivation to jump backing into the various routines and schedules I set myself up for during a typical work week. Not only that but since I am literally one week older, the events of the last week that I need to replicate today to be effective are literally that much more repetitive. In some ways I'm less interested in the things I need to do today because I already did them last week and the week before. Monday is usually the least busy time at the gym in the morning (also Friday but that is a different post), and most people at work will agree that today is not their favourite to start early or be motivated.
Monday: Blah!
So what does it take to get back on track, to start the week strong and know that by Friday I will have accomplished all of my objectives?! For me it comes down to a lot of muscle memory. Monday is not that day for experimentation or a new routine. I have to know that there several key things about the morning that I'm not going to let myself change. I can shut off that part of my brain going "this sucks, monday sleep in" and allow the early-morning routine I've practiced over the last months carry me to that bike-run brick workout I would know I need to complete if only I wasn't so lethargic and unmotivated.

I do blame lazy day Sundays for Mondays suck, they are worse for your motivation than you know. Well yes and no. I mean if you are like me that one day of recovery and disconnecting is important, on the other hand it is pretty clear to me that there is something about the difficulty of Monday's that is partially established on Sunday. Here is an idea to minimize the Monday effect: start your week on Wednesday. Not sure how this would work in practice, but I'm thinking that part of the Monday effect could partially be a matter of having to start fresh, if your weekly schedules were centered around a midweek day maybe it would be easier because a lot of the routine would already be started? On Monday your mentality would be that you just have to do a few more elements to successful complete your schedule, rather than waking up to "oh, hello again, week of crushing work." Or maybe Monday's are simply cursed to being the hardest day ever to kick off a productive week. Whatever the case remember that today is a new beginning of routines you probably are already experienced with, shut off that part of your brain going 'blah', and kick butt today!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Eat When Hungry, Rest When Tired

Recently had a interesting experience involving a fork and my pillow, what was interesting being I was staying up late stuffing my face with food I didn't want to eat but thought that I had to in order to properly balance my macronutrients (carbs, protein, fats) after a long day of training. After dry heaving a bit of tuna sandwich I finally gave up and crawled into bed. When I got up and saw the dishes still on the counter with some uneaten food, it seemed a sure indication that I hadn't properly balanced my nutrition strategy from the day before or my life for that matter! Not only was I struggling to catch-up on supposedly needed calories, I put off the most important form of recovery which is sleep in order to do that. Earlier yesterday I actually remembered feeling hunger pangs and ignoring them in order to complete something I was doing. Later that night: panic. My athletes mind has been so conditioned to the fact that: you must eat xyz each day! that I had lost any measure of flexibility. I was out for a walk today and a realization came to me: I should eat when hungry, and rest when tired! Of all the things I should be balancing in my day to day life eating and resting are probably two of the most important yet when it comes down to it I often focus on unrealistic aspects that don't account for day to day changes or requirements.

Very Zen

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Strength Training for Triathletes: Using Moderate Resistance Pre-Sessions to Add Additional Challenge

Resistance (i.e. weight lifting) obviously provides a number of benefits for the triathletes body. You don't have a well balanced training plan without specific and targeted exercises to help strengthen key body parts. Technically an athlete should not complete weighted sets before their multi-sport workout for a number of reasons, not the least of which is preventing overuse injuries. Now I've never exactly blown this recommendation off but recently I have been successfully throwing in my upper-body strength training right before a swim set. The reason this has worked for me is entirely because I rarely physically fatigue in the water before I reach my anaerobic threshold, meaning that: I'm sucking for air long before I'm resting my upper body muscles. Exactly the opposite of my current workout experience on the bike or run where I'm sipping air while my body screams to rest. Why I feel this only works for the swim in my current training phase is because I am only swimming for an hour to an hour and a half at a time anyways! The reason I avoid similar exercises before a bike ride is for the exact opposite reasons I employ it befor the swim: my legs will definitely fatigue without the assistance of resistance training, and I'm much more likely to push myself to greater exhaustion naturally.

Muscle Exercise Guide for Swimmers: Target the Best, Forget the Rest!
There was an interesting article recently on that showed how being a fit biker and swimmer sabatoges your running ability. I've looked for it a number of times and haven't been able to find the article but essentially it points out that: a.) a developed swimmers upper body adds entirely useless muscle mass, and b.) overdeveloped cyclists quadriceps inhibit the proper functioning of the hamstring during the running stride.

Some Overlap for Cyclists and Runners
That being said for most people weight training is an enjoyable part of their exercise routine. Although common wisdom says you shouldn't be doing weight training before extended aerobic session with experimentation you may find that resistance work is a nice fit right before your shorter cardio sessions. I think that a good rule of thumb may be that if you know that the coming swim/bike/run workout will be well within the range of your being able to easily complete the set physically; consider throwing down some targeted resistance training right before to make sure you are getting the workout you deserve!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Big Blue Adventures Lake Tahoe Triathlon - Great Local Tri With an Ironman Esque Preview

The Lake Tahoe Triathlon (LTT) is set for the weekend of August 23rd at 7:30 a.m. LTT is a great opportunity for beginner triathletes like myself to get some practice in difficult climate and altitude conditions and work towards bigger objectives, namely the recently instituted Ironman Lake Tahoe (IMLT) which runs almost exactly one month later in September. Based on prior years results this is a largely Bay Area enrolled event making this a nice local race with a more relaxed fee; however, there were a few athletes from out of State as well. That being said it seems clear to me that the LTT will become the marquee training race for uber competitive IMLT attendees over the coming years, particularly Big Blue's recently added long-course offering (first offered 2013 but not run). I had the opportunity to travel up to Tahoe last year to compete only to be cancelled due to extremely poor air quality as a result of the massive Rim Fire burning up the Sierras. Despite not racing I did have the opportunity to survey elements of the course and spend an enjoyable week in Lake Tahoe.

Race Distances:

Half-Long Course (i.e. the training race for IMLT 70.3)


All of the events are centered at Sugar Pine Point SP on the shore of the beautiful and chilly Lake Tahoe. Expect near frigid morning temperatures for the end of August with no risk of snow being the only relief. The North Lake Tahoe area is in itself an extremely breathtaking area and worthy of a visit. Competitors shouldn't have a problem convincing their family and friends to take the trip over to help cheer them across the finish line. Camping is the adjacent Sugar Pine Point Campground in addition to the availability of a variety of rental cabins. From SPP visitors are a 5 minute drive from grocery shopping in Tahoma and 15 minutes from bike stores and a full range of amenities in Tahoe City.

Crystal Clear Tahoe Water: Inviting to Open Water Swimmers

Course Descriptions: 

Centered around Sugar Pine Point SP there are four different courses being hosted over the weekend each with slightly varying routes. A Google Maps layer has been created detailing all elements of the course and is extremely useful.
Swim: Cold and clear, the waters of Lake Tahoe are famous for both. Anything longer than the Sprint distance should require thermal layering to prevent possible cold shock or hypothermia. The swim exit is on top of a very steep embankment/hill 100-150 yards straight up from the lake. I could not determine the exact swim exit but there are many painfully rocky areas on the edge of the lake, light booties with underfoot protection for traction may be a good idea, but I can't imagine that the race organizer haven't found sandy exits.
Bike: Rolling, I won't say hilly because in Tahoe that is relative. This ride won't be a cake walk and you need to factor in elevation but for the portions that I understood to be on the race circuit you won't need to be a mountain goat to survive. All of the bike courses are looped.
Run: Trail running and road, moderately hilly. Course takes you up around the campground which should be entertaining for the campers.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Misery Loves Company

I was out yesterday for a punishing 9 mile run. This is a painful distance for me right now and as I expected nearing the end with a few miles to go I was suffering. At this point I'm sure that all of my different leg muscles are in some heightened degree of pain. As I crest the top of a steep hill I had to crawl up I get blown past by someone throwing down what I think are close to 5 minute miles and looking fantastic doing it. Augh! Discouragement. Runners are trained to run their own races which is good advice, but runners also often have goals and gauge performance by comparing results and rankings. These are the annoying fast runners you see day-to-day. Maybe even when you yourself are not running. You see them cruising along and can't help but think to yourself 'damn, that's fast'. It can be more than a little bit discouraging. Which is natural, after all if you are here to accomplish something difficult only to be reminded that there are plenty of people who aren't struggling to meet that objective. You are being reminded that you still have a lot of work to do! Feeling good about that last split? Let's have awesome runner person simply BLOW BY you. Add ten miles of fatigue and you may be ready to lay down in the ditch and be forgotten. Be aware of that feeling. Remember that everyone takes their own pace and everyone out running hard is going to suffer at some point. This is especially true of periodized training plans, oftentimes people have the expectation of themselves that they can show up everyday and be the freshest pair of legs in sneakers. It's not true, you are not going to give the same performance after three days of exercise as you did on the first. Also it may help to remember that your running career probably isn't on the line and that you are still progressing towards your own fitness goals.

Annoyingly Fast Runners Everywhere!
In my case that original flash of exhaustion induced discouragement at seeing a better runner succeeding when I was suffering was replaced with an extra squeeze of motivation. I was up and running on dead legs after them. If that person was going to be setting a high level pace I was at least going to try and match that. (OK OK I was going to keep them in sight before they crested the horizon!) I was a little surprised at the result, before long many of the cramps in my legs had worked themselves out. When I needed to I could internalize my focus and 'embrace the suck', when I looked up I had the roadrunner to catch. Anyone can tell you to be motivated by the top performances of others, this can be harder when you are exhausted and it is your neighbor at the track who kicks your butt at the local 5k every year who you are looking up to. Don't despair, allow yourself to be carried along by the abilities and freshness of others. Push for that record split on dead tired legs. That's what workouts are all about!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Working Out On a Low Energy Day

Swimming is a great activity. It is really fun and you can improve quickly over a relatively short period of time. However, and this is something I have been hearing from a number of triathletes that I train with, just hopping into the pool can be the recipe for a poor workout. What many people find about submerging themselves is that the water is actually quite relaxing, maybe too relaxing! If you are not properly prepared for your coming swim workout it is highly likely that you will not have a great session. All is not lost there are a few things you can do to ensure that when it comes to making effective use of your scheduled swims you are getting the most out of them.

Take my day yesterday, I was exhausted. I had been up early and did my usual bike, run in the early morning forgetting that my swim coach has moved one of our recurring time trial sessions to that day. By noon my body was screaming, mostly about the sprint repeats I had done, but also due to the general fatigue of having woken at dawn. Nothing new, ok, normally I can show up for swim and kind of float around a bit using that time as an active recovery. It's early evening and I arrive literally half-asleep. Oops forgot about the time trials! Now I am worried. My warmup sucks and I'm flailing around because I don't feel mentally or physically prepared to compete. I feel like a crocodile: grumpy, awkward, and not moving very fast. I think I actually yawned a few times! Anyways, so I'm not feeling into it. Now it is time trial time, and funny thing was despite being tired and sore I actually PB'ed several of the events including taking 7 seconds off of my 100m! Once coach said GO I was on fire, there was no way I wasn't going to at least try hard and when I did it made all of the difference in my swim. By the end of the day, six or seven timed events later, I had at least recovered some of the session, OK so it wasn't my best set but it started out a lot worse.

I Am Swimming, Also Sleeping!
What I needed that day was someone going: OK here is the workout go get it done, oh and I'll be timing you. So the next time you are training and not feeling into it or are fatigued, try tossing someone your watch and going: time me. By putting yourself through a time trial like event, with someone there watching you to prove it to, may be all the motivation you need to actually get something out of yourself for that session.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Running: 4-Stages of a Workout for Intensity Performance and Delivery

For all of the hype surrounding the need for planning of specific stages and steps to achieve a fitness goal every so often you stumble into something so good it make you pause for a second and reflect on how awesome that workout you just finished was. Today I unintentionally ran the perfect split workout. Setting out in the mid-morning I was planning on doing six repeats of half-miles. The pace was supposed to be slightly faster than my current 'everyday' 5km pace of just sub 21 minutes or approximately 7 minute miles for ease of conversion. So not crazy fast but definitely pushing the pace while also not going for complete burnout. After 5 minutes of routine warm-up (high lunges, butt kicks, etc.) I set my Forerunner 220 to push a notification after each half mile repeat with a full 2:00 break in between each. I was running on feel, I wanted that 5km pace which is my short term tempo but would push through as hard as I could to help progress my fitness. I was expecting a huge range in the results as I would be trying to fatigue myself as fast as possible.

When I was done I noticed that my recorded times were as follows (the even number splits were into a headwind):

S1: 3:29, S2: 3:33, S3: 3:21, S4: 3:33, S5: 3:32, S6: 4:13

I couldn't have planned for a better workout. Today had all of the elements that I wanted to see. And even more importantly I was done when my body was clearly signaling that it has had enough! Had I pushed for another repeat I would have been risking injury or possibly placing my body into a state of overtraining. Most of my experience has pointed to the fact that the human body works nicely in four progressive stages, these are: warm-up, comfort, max performance/delivery, and finally decline. When you hit that stage where your body is reaching just past its max delivery you need to shut down and start recovery. A common mistake I would have made in the past would be to look at myself and say this is great I am really struggling, I should push some more out so I can really double down on my efforts to this point. This is a big mistake and often counterintuitive for many runners. What research, coaching, and experience is telling me is that when you do a deep draw from your body, even in short sets or with low volume, you are still eating away at a lot of the progress just made in the performing stages and negatively impacting recovery.

Going forward I hope to reach the point where I am running 3:30s or better for all six of the splits, then I will know that it is time to either add more repeats or up the pace. I definitely don't want to add more to the end of a workout that I am are either not currently or poorly completing to begin with for the sake of progress on paper.