Notes on the Triple Bypass: Riding, Descending, & Managing Fear

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I recently completed the famed and fabulous Triple Bypass bike ride. The route went from Evergreen, CO to Avon, CO in about 120 miles. It took me about 8.5 hrs to complete the ride and I felt good. I’m not sure there’s any way to make a ride like this easy but adequate training makes it a very reasonable journey.

You're not Eddy Merckx.

You’re not Eddy Merckx.

Ride lots: climbing

A journalist once asked the great Belgian cycling champ Eddy Merckx to give advice to young cyclists. His reply: “Ride lots.”

That answer embodies the best way to prepare for a big bike ride. In athletic training, the specificity principle means that if we want to be prepared for a thing, then we better spend a lot of time doing that thing. If I want to be a strong cyclist then I should spend plenty of time on the bike. Swimming, running, yoga or weight training probably won’t do as much for my cycling ability as cycling will. Thus, I pedaled a lot.

Since the Triple involved riding in the mountains, I rode in the mountains. I trained from early May to the first week of July. I averaged 100 miles per week. Most of those miles came from two big rides, one on Tuesday and one on Saturday or Sunday. I also did sprint intervals on Thursdays. Other rides were short, slow and easy. I ran sporadically and squeezed in about one, maybe two weight workouts per week.

Besides simply climbing, I did a lot of climbing intervals. These weren’t highly organized. They were mostly fartlek-type workouts in which I would ride very hard for anything from about 30 seconds up to several minutes during a climb, then back way off, ride easy, then repeat the process. My sprint interval workouts were similar.

(Many such workouts are more highly organized They usually consist of timed work/rest intervals such as 1 minute of work to 2-3 minutes of rest. I didn’t feel the need to be so precise.)

I was pleased with my performance. I felt strong during the climbs. I passed a lot of people and I was passed by only a few. (The Triple isn’t a race, but I still pay attention to such things. My bet is most people do too.)

Ride lots: descending

What goes up usually must also come down and riding in the Rocky Mountains means there are many fast downhill rides. I have been witness to some incredibly fast descents by people who appear to be fearless. I am frequently in awe of the downhill skills of some of my fellow riders. I’m a bit more cautious and hesitant than some people. I want to go faster downhill though. I want to be a better descender. I figure if others are so comfortable with gravity then so too can I.

There’s no one magic way to descend fast. Like any skill, it takes mindful, frequent practice. I watched videos, read articles, and then went out and tried to apply what I learned.

There are numerous articles and videos on going downhill efficiently. I found this article, Descending, to be very through and useful. Among the many videos I watched, I got some good information here:

(A note on braking while descending: I’ve always heard that I should brake early, scrub some speed, then lay off the brakes as I go through the turn. The Descending article discusses why braking should occur up to the apex of the turn. It’s worth reading. Also, the video discusses how to use the front brake differently from the rear brake. All of this was valuable info to me as I worked to improve my descent. I tend to use my brakes as described in the article, and I’ve been laying off the front brake if I feel the need to reduce speed further while turning.)

With the idea of specific training in mind, it’s clear the only way to get better at descending, was to descend. I practiced a lot and I stayed mindful of the skills I was developing.

Fear & learning

Riding a bike fast down a mountain can and probably should cause a bit of fear in a normal human brain. It definitely does in mine. The fear must be managed. It probably can’t be eliminated. I must live with it.

Whether it’s cycling, skiing, or the trumpet, Effective learning can’t happen in the presence of overwhelming fear. Too much fear causes us to revert back to old habits, clamp down, tense up and freeze. At best it means no new skills are gained and we stay frightened of the task at hand. At worst it can mean catastrophe and maybe severe injury. Thus, only through gradual exposure to faster speed, greater lean angles and tighter turns could I build my downhill skills.

My process was one in which I gradually took (and continue to take) a little more risk each time I descended. I worked on my position, braking, and leaning the bike every time. I worked to keep my fear in check. The result is that I’ve become faster and more comfortable on the downhills. I never made any great leap forward but rather I made gradual progress which I expect will continue.

Regarding fear in sports training, I found a very worthwhile articled titled Learning from athletes in extreme sports – know and use your fear to improve performance (and achieve more for yourself). I like this:

During a recent coaching conversation, a World Cup Mountain Bike racer described how, if he was in touch with a sprinkle of fear, he would execute his ride very well. If he didn’t have this feeling, he might be a bit more sloppy in his riding, make mistakes or choose less effective lines.

These athletes are in touch with their fear and they know it well. I believe that there is a strong link between how well an athlete knows their fear and their success. The better they know it and can work with it, the more they’ll achieve.

Thus far I feel I’ve made respectable progress in going downhill. I’ve been moving faster through turns than in the past. I wasn’t the fastest descender in the Triple but I felt I kept pace with plenty of other people. The process will continue.

Colfax Marathon 10-Miler (A Late Update)

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The Colfax Marathon, half-marathon, 10-miler and marathon relay happened on May 15 and here’s a quick update on things.

A good cause

I ran the 10-Miler to help raise funds for The Gathering Place which is a Denver shelter for homeless women, their kids and the transgender community. I’m very pleased and grateful that a total of $2343 was donated by my tremendously generous friends, family and clients. My original goal was $2000 and I’m thrilled to have gone over that goal. It’s all going to a very good cause that helps a vulnerable segment of my city. I look forward to helping The Gathering Place again in the future.

Race results

Here’s the rundown of the numbers:

Post-race nonsense and a medal.

Post-race strangeness and a medal.

  • Net time: 1:21:36
  • Pace: 8:09/mile
  • Overall place: 81 out of 1014 runners
  • Overall men: 52 out of 325
  • Division, Men 40-49: 11 out of 77

I won’t be winning any ribbons or prize money any time soon, but I’m very pleased with those results. Eight minutes per mile was my most optimistic hoped-for pace. This was on a course that started downhill and ended uphill. In three of my last four miles I averaged just under 8:00/mile. That’s pretty decent, I think.

Several things went well. First, it was a cool, cloudy day. Heat dissipation is a massively important thing for good running performance. I’m about 200 lbs. so I generate a lot of heat and I need all the help I can get.

My training went well. I ran the most I’ve ever run over the winter. I built a plan based loosely on the Hansons Marathon Method. I did speed work one day a week, tempo work on another day and a longer run on the weekend. In between those main workouts I was typically running shorter slower runs to build my aerobic abilities. These short/slow recovery runs were vital! They weren’t “junk miles.” They had a purpose which was to condition my aerobic energy system. I think it’s likely that more such running will help me be faster in future races.

I tapered the week before the race by cutting distance but I kept some of the intensity of the speed and tempo work. I replaced some of the runs with bike rides as well.

Finally, I believe I did a good job of maintaining a sensible pace at the beginning of the race. It’s always easy to launch out of the gate, run too fast, then crap out in the second half of a race. That didn’t happen. I ran within my limits and I was able to put on strong finish.

What I love about running is that there’s always room for improvement. There’s always an opportunity to do better than last time. Some time (sooner rather than later I hope) I’m going to enlist a running coach to help me get better. I’d love to run a sub-8 min/mile 10-miler or maybe half-marathon.

Charity Fundraising Via the Colfax Marathon 10-Miler

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I am very fortunate to be able to live a safe, secure, healthy life with supportive people around me. I want for very little and I have a lot for which to be grateful. Many others in this country live in far less desirable conditions than I. In May, I’ll get do something that I enjoy (running) and help people who are in need.

The Gathering Place

The Gathering Place is Denver’s only daytime drop-in shelter for women, children and the transgender community who are poor or homeless. TGP also offers a wide variety of services to this vulnerable population. I was contacted recently by TGP employee Juliette Lee to see if I’d be willing to run the Colfax Marathon on their behalf as well as do some fundraising for them. I said, “yes.”

I think I’m like a lot of people in that I know I should and I could do some charity work. For all sorts of lazy reasons it seems that at the end of the week/month/year I haven’t done much. Thus I’m very pleased that the process has been made easy for me.

I will be running the 10-mile race on Sunday, May 15. I hope to raise a minimum of $1000 in donations. Contributions will help support the following services:

  • Betsy’s Cupboard: Members may receive 25 lbs of food per month as well as toiletry and hygiene items.
  • Bridget’s Boutique: TGP’s clothing bank features items for members donated by the community.
  • Showers
  • Laundry
  • Phone access
  • Mail access
  • Physical & mental health services
  • Family program: Our Family Program provides a safe and fun space for children under 18 to be while at The Gathering Place. Staff also provides resources and referrals specifically targeted to families.
  • Housing stabilization: TGP’s only case-managed program, our Housing Stabilization Advocate works with members seeking long-term, sustainable housing options.
  • Nap room: 6 beds are available for napping on a first come, first served basis. Clean linens provided.
  • Community resources: The 1st Floor Resource Desk is a great place to learn about wider Denver Metro area resources. If what you are seeking is not at TGP, our Resource Advocates will do their best to connect you with where you need to go.
  • GED classes: The Education Classroom hosts GED Class twice a week and holds on-site testing periodically.
  • Job readiness: TGP’s Job Readiness program offers support with résumé assistance, interview prep, and job seeking.
  • Computer lab
  • The Card Project: Members create original artwork to be sold as greeting cards at TGP and by local businesses. Seventy-five percent of each card sale goes back to the artist.
  • The Writer’s Group: The Gathering Place has two writer’s groups that meet weekly on the 3rd Floor – one for technical writing and one for creative writing.
  • Knitting & crochet
  • Open art: Open Art time gives members freedom to explore creative self-expression and experiment in a variety of mediums.

Please help

I’m asking for your help. If you want to donate then a suggested minimum amount is a $20 pledge ($2 per mile.) You can follow this link to my donation page. Any donation you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

Thoughts on Ski Conditioning

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The big running season is over and now the snow is falling. It’s almost time to put the sticks on the feet and slide down a mountain!  Fun on top of fun! It might be a good idea to prepare myself as best as I can before I get out there. Here are some thoughts on how I might do that. Maybe they’ll help inform your own ski conditioning strategy.

Exercises should look a lot like skiing.

  • Some sort of squat should probably be employed, but a conventional barbell front or back squat may not be adequate. I discuss more of my thinking on this here and here.
  • Tri-plane movement must be considered. For example:
    Look at those joint angles. That is no mere squat.

    Look at those joint angles. That is no mere squat.

    • My hips will go back and forth between flexion + internal rotation + abduction on the downhill leg then more flexion + relative externall rotation + adduction on the uphill leg. The hip, knee and ankle joints must move well and the corresponding muscles must lengthen and contract repeatedly.
    • In addition to that hip movement, my thoracic spine should stay aimed downhill so I’ll be doing a lot of rotation through the trunk. Like the leg muscles, my trunk muscles must be able to manage the repeated loading that will happen.
    • I need adequate range of motion and control of that range as I move downslope.

Energy system conditioning

Good movement is massively important to good skiing. Adequate stamina is also a major consideration. I want to be able to last for a while and be able to have fun all day. If I fatigue too soon then it’s likely my movement skills will be compromised and I could get injured.

I have a good base of general endurance but I need to make it a bit more specific to skiing. A typical ski run involves powerful turning and management of variable terrain, sometimes for several minutes. Then I rest on the chair lift for several minutes and do it again. This cycle may repeat itself for several hours. Also, alpine skiing involves a lot more knee flexion/extension compared to running. My quads typically bear the brunt of all that knee movement so I’ll need to condition them appropriately. How will I do that?

Ski circuits

My plan is to put together several exercises that will target the muscles and movement patterns that are vital to skiing and I intend to them at a pace and for a duration that affects the appropriate energy systems. Here are some examples:

My most recent workout put together some conventional strength exercises and put them together with some ski-specific exercises in a super-set. It went like this:

Super-set 1

  • barbell clean + front squat: 1+5 (did as many reps as possible on the last set); two warm-up sets
  • pull-ups: 7 reps
  • 1-leg pivots aka balance reaches x 10/10 reps to each side; An example:
  • Repeat 3-5 times as fast as possible.

Super-set 2

  • Bench Press: 5 x 3 sets (did as many as possible on the last set); two warm-up sets
  • Various 3D jumps with the ViPR x 20 reps; Here’s an example of one version of the exercise using a sandbag instead of a ViPR:
  • Repeat 3-5 times as fast as possible

Super-set 3

  • cross court sprints on the basketball court x 4
  • odd-angle medicine ball squats; something like this:
  • Repeat 3-5 times as fast as possible.

There are lots of possibilities out there!

 

 

Moab Trail Marathon Part II: Done and done. All’s Well!

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The word “awesome” is thrown around in a casual way. You go to a restaurant and order the onion rings and the server may exclaim, “Awesome!” with genuine earnestness and enthusiasm. Now, I love onion rings but this type of thing does not actually generate anything a reasonable and honest person would call awe.

Puny humans!

Puny humans! (click for the original pic)

In contrast, my experience at the Moab Trail Marathon absolutely filled me with awe. Both the environment and the effort were like nothing else I’ve experienced. The language fails me and I can’t adequately describe my enthusiasm and wonder about the whole event.

Moab is another planet.

The Scorched Earth Wall. A colossal fiend. (Click pic to get the original.)

The Scorched Earth Wall. A fiendish foe. (Photo: Allison Pattillo | Competitor.com)

 

I’ve seen pictures and they fail miserably to portray the truth of the land. I come back to the word awesome… and that word fails too. The size and scale of the rocks, cliffs, canyons, vistas and mountains was titanic. It bordered on terrifying. (This is coming from someone who lives near and ventures frequently into the Rocky Mountains.)

It is a no-joke hostile and potentially dangerous place too. We ran over, jumped down and over and slid down some very unforgiving terrain. A wrong step could have caused major problems and all sorts of injuries. (I’m not saying this to tell you how daring I am but I need to describe the terrain accurately.)

The ground was very dry for the most part but there were some muddy spots and we had to run through a few streams. The vast majority of the terrain was the classic Moab concrete-like slick rock but I was surprised at the amount of sand on the trail. I hadn’t expected that. Nor did I expect to begin the day the way it began…

The Universe has a sense of humor.

Athletes in all sports often have game/race-day rituals and we don’t like to stray from those patterns much at all. It’s rarely a good idea to experiment with things like pre-race breakfast or any part of race-day nutrition on race day. I brought my typical multi-grain hot cereal, nuts, fruit, butter and protein powder that I planned on cooking in the breakfast room. I would have that with two cups of coffee then about 1/2 hr before the race I would down three scoops of UCAN with coconut milk. Too bad the electricity went out in Moab at 4:30 AM.

So I was up extra early. (My wave started at about 8:20 AM.) There was nothing hot to eat or drink at all. I couldn’t go hungry so I downed all the cereal makings except the cereal itself. (Wasn’t sure what uncooked multi-grain cereal would do to the GI tract.) I couldn’t buy an energy drink or coffee in any stores because they were darkened and the cash registers didn’t work.

Looking down from Scorched Earth. The La Sal mountains are in the far background. The picture doesn't come close to doing the scene justice.

Looking down from Scorched Earth. The La Sal mountains are way back there with the snow. This pic doesn’t come close to portraying the drama of the place. (Photo: Allison Pattillo | Competitor.com, click for the original pic.)

No caffeine?! What sort of sick joke was the universe playing on us?! (Perhaps my long-departed, sadistically funny Uncle Roy had been put in charge of events on earth…)

This story doesn’t get a lot more interesting. Panic and anger wasn’t going to help. This episode was a minor hiccup. I was fed and adequately caffeinated by race time and I felt rested. A lesson has been learned: Bring an alternative breakfast and an energy drink next time.

Notable and notorious highlights

Two sections of the race stood out. Well, let’s be clear. Every inch of the whole race was dramatic in an operatic kind of way. It was all soaring and full of perfect, humbling, breathtaking solitude. (Do you get what I’m saying? There was a lot of cool stuff to look at.) My thoughts return to two sections: one beautiful and amazing, the other, nasty and maddening.

The climb up the Scorched Earth Wall was the sort of thing to challenge Godzilla. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, this bit of geography looked like the Wall if the Wall were built on a desert on Mars. This was about 1000 feet of climbing in about 1.5 miles; all of it on hostile, dry, red, broken rocks. It it started around mile 14.

This leviathan towered to my right, looming like red storm clouds. At first glance it almost brought hysterical laughter. The psychological effects were semi-devistating. I’d encountered this type of thing on long bike rides in the mountains. The idea of running/walking up this incline was a cosmic joke that would cause Sisyphus to weep! The height and distance were massively intimidating. Looking up this eminence I could see tiny moving specks which turned out to be my fellow competitors moving up and up and up. I had work to do.

I walked most of this thing but I ran what sections I could. Mentally I wanted to slow down and plod. I didn’t though. I marched as fast as I could and I passed maybe 5-10 people.

The views from Scorched Earth Wall were splendidly desolate. This was the only place where I regretted not bringing a camera. Looking back from the trail I could see the La Sal Mountains which were powerfully enchanting as their snow-capped peaks contrasted with the red, desert-like rocks of my immediate surroundings. All of this dramatic massive scenery was tremendously humbling to my minuscule human existence.

Another part of the race was far less inspiring and wonderful. It was more of a cruel and brutal joke. Whatever malevolent supernatural force had cut the power this morning had also clearly influenced the race course design.

At just past mile 21 I could see the finish. It was a ways away but I could see and hear the end of the race! I had to run a stretch of trail along the Green River and I would be right in the neighborhood of the finish. Almost done! But “almost done” in a marathon can be an eternity of anguish.

Once to the finish area I still had three miles to go in sort of an out-and-back lollipop loop. This was no victory lap. It was horrendously difficult. I still had a rope ascent and descent as well as tough running up and down very challenging terrain.

(Let me be clear: My mom may read this blog post so I won’t use my foulest language to express my experience over this final stretch. I invite you to insert all the foul words you’d like though. I recommend a liberal sprinkling of the S-word, the F-word, a couple of words that start with C, a multi-syllable word starting with M. You may know others.  Use them!)

Muscle cramps had been threatening for several miles. I felt like I could cramp to death at any moment. I truly thought at any moment I would experience a body-wide muscle seizure from my eyelids to my toenails and I’d be reduced to crawling. I was particularly fearful of cramps while doing the ropes section.

This wasn’t true mountain climbing up some vertical surface but it was using a rope to climb up and down very steep inclines. At this point in the race, this was nothing to take lightly. A cramp and/or a wrong move would likely result in some serious and ugly discomfort at best.

By some amazing miracle, I never was leveled by cramps and I have no idea why. I did manage to lose the trail right near the end so I was rewarded with about an extra 200 m of running, again proving that the universe is a perverse practical joker.

My training worked.

Winner Mario Mendoza navigates the rope ascent.

Winner Mario Mendoza navigates the rope ascent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The modified Hansons Marathon Method plan worked very well for me. I felt strong and able for the vast majority of the race. The plan had me running lots of miles and many of those miles were run on tired legs. As difficult and tiring as the training was, it was exactly the preparation I needed.

I also believe the weight training I did was very effective in preparing me for the run. There was significant climbing in which I had to step up over and over and over…. and over. That meant my glutes, hamstrings and adductors did a lot of work.

I did step-back lunges with a barbell on my back for several weeks prior to the race. This exercise did a nice job of preparing those muscles and that movement pattern for the work to come.

Finally, a significant point of pride for me is that I overcame several injuries and aches and pains prior to this race. My ACL was rock solid and I had no knee pain. My perpetual Achilles/heel issue were no where to be found. I vanquished these foul foes to past it seems.

I will give much thanks to Denver-area chiropractor Nick Studholme and Boulder-area movement coach Mike Terborg. They were absolutely critical to my completing the race. It’s also nice to have a wife that encouraged/tolerated all my training.

Next time

I have some very definite ideas on how to better train for this race next time. As I just said, the step-up/lunge movement pattern is essential for this race. I had to move this way while in a significantly fatigued state. Unfortunately, near the end of the race I felt serious cramping sneaking in, particularly in those stretched-out, stepping-up type of situations.

(Contrary to popular belief, cramping doesn’t seem to be very closely related to either hydration or electrolyte status. Rather, as discussed here and here, cramps are more likely brought on by a very high effort and the associated intense and repeated muscle contractions of that effort.)

The SAID Principle dictates that I train along the lines of both the specific movement requirement (stepping up repeatedly at varying angles while in a fatigued state) and energy system requirement (highly exerted and fatigued.) My idea is to complete a long run and then do a high volume of step-ups (either at the gym on a plyo box or a picnic table near the trail), weighted step-back lunges, and various 3D lunges both up on to and down from various boxes. I’ll also do some jumping down in this fatigued state as the run frequently required me to jump down from rocks of various heights and land in control.

Look at that grin! Can I get an IV of beer?

Ya got a beer?

Finito

The post wouldn’t be complete without a little blatant display of my abilities. Full results are here.

  • Net time: 5:20:31 (I was hoping for an under-5-hour finish but I’m pretty pleased with this.)
  • Overall place: 171 out of 486
  • Place by gender: 141 out of 303
  • Place by age category (40-44): 17/41

I found my wife and a couple of friends right at the finish line. I plopped down and very quickly my thoughts coalesced into along the lines of, “I don’t want to train for another marathon for a while. Maybe never.” I was cooked. Spent. Demolished. Wiped out. Eviscerated. I was real damn tired too. I was looking forward to some serious eating and drinking, a soak in the hot tub and NOT running for a little while.

This was a grueling experience. The race was just the capstone of the process too. Training for this thing took a lot of time and involved frequent strenuous effort. Weekends were dedicated to long runs and resting. I spent a lot of weekdays in a semi-stupor. By the finish I was fairly certain that it would be a while until I ran another such race. Not for nothing, I’m also one of those runners who develops blisters under his toenails. Several. You do the math.

Fast forward to Tuesday, 72 hours after the race. As I reflect on this event I keep saying to myself, “I don’t know how I CAN’T run this again.”

Moab Trail Marathon Part I: Preparation & Running My A%$ Off.

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I’m running the Moab Trail Marathon on Saturday. This will be my first trail marathon and my second ever marathon. I will admit to being a bit nervous. It won’t be easy… or difficult. It’ll be tough as hell. I’ve put in the work though, I’ve had several very good runs lately and I figure I’m as well prepared as I can be. I’m estimating of about 4:48 to 5:14.

I’ve been using the Hansons Marathon Method and I adapted it a little for trail running. There are two Hanson plans and I used the beginner plan as this was my 2nd marathon. The Hansons plan features a whole lotta running. Mucho time on the feet. There are three main workouts as well as easy run days. Wednesday is the only day off though I took a few other days off as needed. Here are some thoughts and observations:

The week

Here’s the day-to-day rundown of a week on the Hansons beginner plan.

Monday: Easy Run, 4-7 miles
Tuesday: Speed/Intervals (@ 5K pace, Week 6-10, 3 miles total), Strength (@ 10K pace, Week 11-17, 6 miles total)
Wednesday: Off
Thursday: Tempo/Race Pace, 5-10 miles
Friday: Easy Run, 3-6 miles
Saturday: Easy Run, 5-10 miles
Sunday: Long Run, 8-16 miles, alternating weekly with Easy Run, mostly 10 miles
Total Miles Per Week: 40s-50s, mostly in the mid 50s for second half of the program

I ran trails twice per week. For the first several weeks my trail runs were Thursdays and Sundays. My thinking in replacing the Thursday tempo run with a trail run was that the highly variable pace of trail runs made the tempo run unnecessary (or maybe less necessary). One Thursday I couldn’t make it to the trail and I did a tempo run. I enjoyed it and I thought I noticed the following week’s runs felt better. So I switched to tempo runs on Thursdays and started back-to-back trail runs on Saturday and Sunday.

I don’t believe I could have run two long trail runs in a row at the start of the program. It seemed like a very daunting proposition! Many ultra-running plans feature this pattern though so I knew it was possible. I believe back-to-back trail runs are ideal in that part of the Hanson’s plan is to create “cumulative fatigue” in preparation for the week’s long run. Since I’m running a trail marathon, it makes sense to create a lot of this fatigue on the trail. I would love to find out from a trail running coach or coaches if this seems like a prudent strategy.

Tough Tuesdays

Tuesdays were often nasty. Tuesdays were track workouts for the first several weeks of the plan. They totaled three miles of work. Track workouts were interesting psychologically speaking. They were intimidating but exciting in their very Spartan way. They weren’t “fun” but I always felt like I accomplished something significant when I completed them.

Tuesday track workouts transitioned into “strength” workouts. These were six miles of work. I did the strength workouts on the road though because that much running on the track would’ve bored me stupid.

These workouts were tough by themselves both physically and mentally. That they came after five days of other runs made them titanic undertakings some days.

I felt rough by Tuesday. Tired, shot, worn-out and trashed. Some days I’d look at the Tuesday workout and think, “What sort of insane fool is going to do this?!  Oh… that would be me I guess…” And I’d give the Hansons book an obscene gesture. Oh well… Had to get that work done. Weekly mileage was 40-50 miles per week. This was by far the most I’ve run in my life.

The long run

The longest run in the Hansons’ plan is 16 miles and there are three of those in the beginner plan. That’s shorter than a lot of typical marathon plans which typically hit 20 miles. These long runs come every other week with shorter long runs (around 10 miles) on other weeks.

That “short” 16-miler comes after three days of running though including a somewhat long Saturday run.. So you go into the long run on some tired legs. The Hansons claim the plan trains you for the last 16 miles of the marathon. Sounds plausible to me.

All those long runs were trail runs and they were never easy. The roughest of the bunch was the Herman’s Gulch to Jones Pass trail. That started at about 10,000 ft. and topped out at over 13,000 ft. Took me 4.5 hrs. It was an overall brutal experience. The terrain was very challenging and it took me about a full week to recover from that excursion.

Did I mention being tired?

The result of all this is that at times I’ve been utterly wiped out. I had about one weight training workout per week. It’s all I could handle! I’ve learned that as I’m apparently a little older than I used to be (not sure how I allowed that to happen) I need rest and recovery more than I need more/harder work. I took a few Mondays completely off but not too many. I recognized that the plan is the plan for a purpose.

Early in the plan I sometimes substituted a mountain bike ride for the easy runs and/or for the Saturday run. Those mountain bike rides were often very challenging and I think they made the following day’s long run very difficult.

Many easy miles

Many of the miles on the Hanson plan are done at an easy pace. Some coaches insist that too many “junk miles” can be detrimental and that easy run days or recovery runs should largely be avoided.

In contrast, the Hanson Method suggests real and important benefits of easy run days. Here is part of their discussion on easy runs:

Easy Running: A lot of bang for your buck
Easy running is the foundation in which all other training can be built from. By itself, easy running will directly contribute to:

  • tendon development
  • specific muscle fiber adaptation
  • bone development
  • mitochondrial growth/distribution
  • glycogen storage/fat utilization
  • general endurance
  • improved running economy
  • improved VO2max
  • Capillary density

I would add to this that easy runs are a good time to work on running technique. It can be a time to think about foot placement, posture, cadence, addressing a possible crossover gait or other issues. The easy runs are low-stress and permit us to focus on needs such as these in a stress-free situation.

Final thoughts

It’s Tuesday and the race is on Saturday. I’m thrilled to report no real injuries. I’ve never run this much in my life so I’m very happy to have overcome the aches and pains that have plagued me for many years. I believe trail running may have some injury preventative qualities centered around movement variability. I also appreciate the psychological effects of running in nature. I’ve written about both those things here.

Bottom line is that I’ve loved the process. From the track workouts to the long runs in the mountains to the ho-hum punch-the-clock runs (of which there were many) I can say I have truly enjoyed the preparation for this race.

I’ll post more about the process later.

Pain, the Brain and ACL Recovery

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A few weeks ago I had a very interesting experience regarding my ACL rehabilitation. It’s very similar to an experience I had with Achilles tendon and heel pain. Here it is.

A perceived setback

I had ACL reconstruction on May 1, 2014. I have been very aggressive with my rehabilitation and I felt it was going very well. My PT and I agreed on a strategy and he approved of the process in general. I knew that sitting and resting was not the right way to go if I wanted to regain full function. For people like me, laziness wasn’t a problem; an overly aggressive approach might be though.

I knew that I could be in trouble if I did too much work too fast and stressed the knee too much. I worried that I’d drifted into this territory when at almost nine months I experienced more pain than I expected. I had a final appointment with my surgeon and she expressed some concern at my symptoms. We agreed that I should back off my activity and rest a bit. Seems perhaps I had reached the point of “too much of a good thing.”

I backed off lifting, running a cycling. I didn’t stop my activity completely but I cut it back significantly. After a couple of weeks I realized the knee wasn’t feeling much better. I continued to experience frequent pain; not debilitating but somewhat worrisome. I decided a visit to the PT was in order. I wanted to get some guidance and make sure I hadn’t damaged the graft.

The long and the short of the visit was this: The graft and my knee were fine. I needed more strength in the leg and around the knee. I needed to do more work, not less! Eureka! (My previous PT had moved on to another position and I had to meet with a new one. Unfortunately, the “bedside manner” of this PT left much to be desired. Right off the bat she was rude, dismissive and she interrupted my answers to her questions. I became very frustrated and it was work to keep my yapper shut and listen to what I needed to. Fortunately I got the information I needed.)

From here, I was ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

Goodbye fear. Hello confidence!

My experience was a very clear experience of what modern pain science has been finding recently. Here are some important points:

1) Pain doesn’t equal injury: In Reconceptualising Pain According to Modern Pain Science, neuroscience researcher Dr. Lorimer Moseley has made several points about pain. Two are pertinent here:

  • pain does not provide a measure of the state of the tissues
  • The relationship between pain and the state of the tissues becomes weaker as pain persists.

Yes I had an injured knee and yes I had surgery in which part of my patellar tendon was cut out in order to make a new ACL. This was all very disruptive to parts of the knee and was clearly part of the pain I was feeling. It takes about six weeks for the graft to heal. The reconstructed ACL is pretty much healed at six months which would’ve been October for me. In other words, my knee was/is healed and any pain wasn’t from tissue damage.

2) Fear is a significant obstacle that must be addressed: Fear is a powerful part of our pain. Overcoming that fear is major part of a successful rehab and return to activity. The pain in my knee caused me to worry that I’d re-injured it and it led me to avoid a lot of activity that I enjoyed. This condition is known as fear-avoidance. The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) describes fear-avoidance this way:

Psychological factors play a key role in the development of chronic musculoskeletal pain, in particular dysfunctional beliefs about pain and fear of pain. Fear of pain leads to avoidance of activities (physical, social, and professional) that patients associate with the occurrence or exacerbation of pain, even after they may have physically recovered. Whereas this response is adaptive in the acute phase—rest promotes recovery—it leads to disability and distress when avoidance behavior is continued after the injury has healed.

"Fear-avoidance model" by LittleT889 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fear-avoidance_model.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Fear-avoidance_model.jpg

“Fear-avoidance model” by LittleT889 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fear-avoidance_model.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Fear-avoidance_model.jpg

When I learned that my parts were solid and strong and that I wasn’t broken, I felt the fear drain away like water down a toilet. I was a happy dude!

Another of Moseley’s points is important here: that pain can be conceptualised as a conscious correlate of the implicit perception that tissue is in danger.

Big words. What does that statement mean? I’ll let Moseley explain (emphasis is mine):

First, there are other central nervous system outputs that occur when tissue is perceived to be under threat, and second, that it is the implicit perception of threat that determines the outputs, not the state of the tissues, nor the actual threat to the tissues.

In even simpler terms, we may feel pain absent any damage but we feel pain when our brain perceives a threat–even when there is no threat. I compare this to a car alarm that is set off by the wind. There’s no break-in occurring yet the alarm signal is going off due to the alarm sensing a threat.

3) Patient education is vital: Very interestingly, an effective strategy in treating chronic pain is patient education. This strategy of patient education is supported in several studies that are discussed in a review in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and it’s further discussed in an article titled Can Pain Neuroscience Education Improve Endogenous Pain Inhibition? Literally, knowledge of pain processes can reduce pain. (Pain is weird!) I believe that my experience supports this phenomena.

(To be clear, it’s not that I received education on how pain works. I received the message that my knee was solid, not injured and that it could be worked very hard.)

Keep this in mind.

Dr. Moseley discusses pain education in Pain really is in the mind, but not in the way that you think. I like what he says here:

“The idea that an inaccurate understanding of chronic pain increases chronic pain begs the question – what happens if we correct that inaccurate piece of knowledge?

We’ve been researching the answer to this for over a decade, and here’s some of what we’ve found:

(i) Pain and disability reduce, not by much and not very quickly but they do;

(ii) Activity-based treatments have better effects;

(iii) Flare-ups reduce in their frequency and magnitude;

(iv) Long-term outcomes of activity-based treatments are vast improvements.”

Most of us outside the medical community probably still equate pain to damage. Many inside the medical community still think that way too. (Blame Rene Descartes.) We now know better. Rather than address pain from a strictly biomechanical approach, therapists would be well advised to study and adopt what’s known as the biopsychosocial model for pain. This model is explained very well here and discussed in-depth here. We patients will be well armed in a fight against pain if we understand this model too.

 

What I’ve Learned: Principles of Movement & FASTER Global – Part I

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I spent much of the Summer and Fall going through the FASTER Global Specialist in Functional Performance and Specialist in Functional Therapy courses. It’s been a fantastic experience. At times it was incredibly challenging but such is life with anything worth learning and doing. I’ve come away from the experience with a tremendous movement analysis skill set, and a systematic way of thinking that I didn’t have before.

Sometimes I think I know something, that I’m a fairly knowledgeable trainer. Then I’m exposed to new information and I think, “I don’t know anything!” Whenever I dig into something new I have my old beliefs challenged by new concepts. That’s very much my experience with FASTER.

In this post I’m going to cover a few things I’ve learned. I’m going to try and keep it concise. I could meander all over the place….

The Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID) principle is always at the top of the FASTER thought process. We consider the client’s or athlete’s goal(s) and then we build a program that very closely resembles that goal. If we’re working with a skier then joint motions and body position should look a lot like skiing. Similarly with a bowler, kayaker, runner, rock climber, pitcher, someone who has trouble waking up and down stairs–whatever. So with that we start with some questions.

Two big questions & another question:

  1. Can the athlete get into the position required by the activity?
    Asked another way: Does the athlete have the range of motion for the task?
    gardening-tips
  2. If yes, can the athlete control that ROM?The above two are big. If we get two yeses then we ask:
  3. Can the athlete control the ROM at the speed required of the sport?

skiing_downhill_2_editLook at these activities. Lots of interesting poses here. Notice how the bodies are positioned. Notice the knees, hips, trunk, arms and head. Take note of all the angles between the joints. Here’s a question: Do any of the exercises you see or do in the gym look anything like any of these? How much of what you do in the gym puts you in an athletic or “real life” position? Does a standard squat, deadlift, kettlebell swing, sit-up or any type of machine exercise fit the bill?

In my exercise toolbox I russo-webnow have the observational skills and knowledge to address those previous there questions with my clients and athletes. I know how to progress people from very simple movements to far more aggressive movements. I feel confident in my ability to help my clients solve their own movement problems via what I hope are fun, challenging and safe exercises.

inar01_elsswing(BTW, this also applies to anyone who “just wants to work out.” If he or she has no athletic goals but wants to feel like they’ve worked hard, I can instruct them on exercises that will be both challenging and safe. If I think a squat is the type of exercise that will satisfy his or her requirement to “feel” a workout, then I still will ask those questions.) 7b1f7605c6133681547f2de831471e06_crop_north

In following posts I’ll discuss progressions and variations on traditional exercises. By playing with joint angles, foot positions and hand/arm positions, and by employing impact (stepping, hopping, jumping) we can create an infinite number of exercises that closely resemble sporting activities. With this process we can probably better prepare for sports than if we simply employ traditional exercises like squats, bench presses and deadlifts. Don’t worry if you don’t consider yourself an “athlete.” These exercises tweaks can be a lot of fun, very challenging and never boring.

tennis

 

ACL Rehab Update and the Latest Workout

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The last post I sent out was sort of screwed up. Something was wrong with the code. Here’s the new and improved version.

Thursday was a full week since my ACL reconstruction and it was the day of my first PT appointment. According to the PT, I’m weeks ahead of schedule in terms of strength, mobility and gait. This was fantastic news and I’m completely convinced that my pre-surgery workout routine was the key.

The current thinking on ACL reconstruction and recovery is to engage in what’s known as prehabilitation (as opposed to rehabilitation) prior to surgery. Surgery is a type of controlled injury. Though the overall goal of surgery is to improve function and “fix” an injury, the immediate outcome of surgery is pain, poor movement, weakness and maybe instability. The aim in prehab is to make the involved area as mobile, strong and highly functional as possible so as to minimize the impact of surgery.

My prehab consisted of lots of squats and single-leg work, deadlifts, walking, and bicycling as well as various stretches and plenty of upper body and trunk/core work. Most of my work consisted of sagittal plane (front/back) movement. This was the most stable plane of movement available to me. I also did some frontal plane (side-to-side) work but only a little work in the transverse (rotational/twisting) plane. A torn ACL typically results from way too much twisting so I was very careful not to twist and I used anti-rotation exercises in which I worked to resist forces trying to twist me.

On Friday I did my first workout.  Here’s what I did. Take note of the single-leg work. This was a big part of my prehab and will be a huge part of my rehab.

Super set 1

    • Barbell press: 65 lbs. x 5 reps – 75 lbs. x 5 reps – 85 lbs. x 5 reps – 95 lbs. x 5 reps – 105 lbs. x 5 reps – 115 lbs. x 5 reps – 120 lbs. x 5 reps – 120 lbs. x 5 reps – 70 lbs. x 12 reps
      • That last set was a back-off set. I’ll be employing back-off sets with various exercises and I’ll probably discuss back-off sets later.
    • 1-leg exercises: Watch the video for an explanation
    • Toe raises (aka heel raises or calf raises): 2-foot x 30 reps – 1-foot x 10 reps.  I alternated this pattern throughout the super set. I only used my body weight.

Super set 2

  • Leg lifts: 12 reps – 10 reps – 10 reps
    • Haven’t done these in forever.
    • I got sore and tired in the abdomen very quickly!
    • Might be sore tomorrow
  • Band walks:
    • Went to exertion in the hip abductors
    • I was very careful to keep my right knee from caving in, which is an example of working to avoid transverse plane movement as I mentioned above.

    Finally, I was able to just turn the cranks on a recumbent bike. I couldn’t generate much force with my leg but still, to get a full revolution was good news. I figure I’ll be on a real bike in maybe a week.

4/24/14 Workout

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This was a challenging workout. We’ve changed barbell exercises from the deadlift. This new exercise is something like the first pull of a power clean in which we pull the barbell up to the high hang position and hold for five seconds. I’m calling it a “high hang hold.” That was followed by a bunch of double push jerks and 1-arm snatches. I realized I can better work on my technique with the 12 kg bells rather than the 16 kgs.

  • High Hang Hold: 225 lbs x 3 reps x 5 seconds – 260 lbs. x 3 reps x 5 seconds – 295 lbs. x 3 reps x 5 seconds
  • Double push jerks: 12 kg x 200 reps
  • 1-arm kettlebell snatch: 12 kg x 150 reps done continuously
  • Bike ride: 1 minute on/1 minute off x 5 times repeated twice.