New Year’s Resolutions Part II: Motivation

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In Part I of the New Year’s Resolution series, I said that motivation is crucial for success. Let me say it another way: If you aren’t sufficiently motivated then you will fail at your resolution. I’m not being pessimistic. I’m being realistic. Here’s a discussion on motivation.

Extrinsic motivation

If you say, “I want to look better,” then why? Do you want to be more attractive to others? That means you need validation and a sense of approval. (Dare we say you’re looking for love?) Or maybe your workplace is having some sort of 10-week new year’s weight-loss competition. The winner gets a prize and adulation! These scenarios are examples of extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation may work well in the beginning. It may keep you working out and eating better for a few weeks but it won’t sustain you for the long haul. What happens when it’s February and you don’t look like a cover model? What happens on week 11 of the 10-week weight-loss challenge?

Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation often involves guilt and shame. If someone feels pressure to live up to a certain physique standard, then he or she may feel shame for not living up to that standard. External motivation may make someone feel obligated and burdened to exercise and eat right. Those who are exercising due to extrinsic factors may feel forced to exercise. It’s very difficult to feel positive and optimistic in this situation. No one should live that way.  You must find and cultivate intrinsic and/or identified motivation if you want to win at this thing.

Intrinsic & identified motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from inside you. With intrinsic motivation, there’s a strong emotional bond that connects you to your efforts. For example, many of us simply enjoy lifting weights, running, skiing, cycling, swimming, hiking, etc. It feels good and it’s fun. The activity is the reward. We like the way we feel when we eat right and get enough sleep. The energy and vigor we get from a healthy lifestyle keeps us coming back for more. If you can find a way to enjoy your efforts then you’ve found gold!

Identified motivation is similar to intrinsic motivation. I used this example in Part I of this article where I described a mother’s love and devotion to her child as a motivator to exercise and eat right. She doesn’t love exercise. She’s not motivated by the pure enjoyment of working out. She is absolutely certain though that exercise and healthy eating will not only give her health, energy, and longevity but will also set a good example for her child so he or she will grow strong and healthy too. The mother’s motivation is tied strongly to her values, so the hard work gets done even if the hard work isn’t fun. If your closely held values are linked to a healthy lifestyle, then you’ll  succeed at your resolution.

Motivation killers

  • The resolution is too aggressive. For example:
    • You don’t run but you decide the way to get in shape is to run a marathon. Running is a great way to get fit but perhaps aim for a 5k instead. (Most importantly, you should focus on the race training—the process—not just on the race. More on this later.)
    • You hate mornings and you don’t work out, but now you intend to wake up early every morning before work and go to the gym. How long will that last? Probably best to look to lunch or after work to visit the gym.
    • In order to lose weight you decide to completely eliminate  all your favorite foods (sugar, bread, pasta, booze for example). What happens when you transgress? The guilt monster will come for you! Might be a good idea to reduce some of these foods, not ban them all outright.
  • Unrealistic expectations: This is similar to a resolution being too aggressive. Fitness takes time, persistence, and patience. This is fact. If you expect quick miracles (dropping 20 lbs. in three weeks for example) then you will be disappointed. You will reach your goal and you will do yourself a massive favor if you focus on the process rather than the outcome. Put another way, you should focus on what you can do right now over what you don’t yet have. Trust me on this.
  • Trying to do too much: A wholesale overhaul of your lifestyle can be overwhelming, and that’s understandable. It’s absolutely fine to start with one thing. Maybe you’re ready to start exercising but not yet ready to change your diet, or vice versa. Maybe you’re ready to start walking but not yet ready to join a gym. You can and should take one step at a time.Taking on too much and failing will derail you. Succeeding at one small thing will keep you motivated.
  • No support system: If you’re surrounded with people who hate exercise, only want to go to happy hour, eat poison, and play video games then you’re going to have a tough time of it. Do you have friends, coworkers, and/or family members who are on board with your efforts? Enlist their help to hold you accountable and give you encouragement for your goals. Also, hiring a trainer (like me!) can be a valuable investment.
  • The wrong environment: As it relates to working out, if you don’t like the place then you won’t go. While gyms are simply buildings filled with workout equipment, they may be aimed at very different clientele. When looking at gyms, you should visit several. Get a feel for each place. Do you feel comfortable there? Does the staff seem friendly? Maybe you don’t need to be in a gym at all. Perhaps the outdoors, a pool, a dance studio, yoga studio or some other non-gym environment is best for you.
  • Comparing yourself to others: Someone will always be leaner, stronger, faster, wealthier, funnier—something-er than you. Looking for “fitspiration” from photoshopped Internet fitness celebrities is not a healthy endeavor. An article from the National Academy of Sports Medicine titled
    Social Media and Body Image: #Fitspiration at Its Worst says,

“Social media messages aren’t typically backed by science. And self-taught fitness gurus are not health professionals. Unfortunately, seemingly innocent messages can do unintended damage including bad mood and body dissatisfaction (Brown & Tiggemann 2016). You’ll find militaristic posts (“You can have results or excuses, not both.”) that grab attention but also breed inadequacy. A more compassionate post might read: “You can totally improve your health and fitness and occasionally make excuses not to work out every single day. That’s fine and normal” (Van Hare 2016).”

Find and feed your motivation

We’d love to believe that one word, one phrase, one picture of George S. Patton standing on top of a Sherman tank would light off a magic nuclear motivation bomb inside us. That’s what happens in the movies doesn’t it? What do you think? Don’t believe everything you see in movies. Motivation doesn’t always drop out of the sky like an angel. A successful resolution won’t be built on one uplifting saying that fits on a t-shirt or Facebook meme. If you’re not already intrinsically motivated to live a healthy lifestyle then understand that you will need to put in a little bit of work before the motivation engine gets going. Here’s a way to start.

Take a moment and write down your “whys.” Here are some questions you should think on:

  1. Why do you want to be in shape? Why is it important?
  2. Why now? Why didn’t you start this journey three months ago?
  3. What event has sparked your fitness resolution? A health scare? You saw yourself in the mirror or saw your weight on a scale? A friend or family member decided to get in shape and inspired you?
  4. If your answer is, “I want to look better,” then WHY???? Just looking better by itself isn’t enough.The real question is what/how do you want to feel? You’re looking to change the way you perceive yourself. Get under the hood and explore those feelings.
  5. Fast forward several months or a year. You’ve achieved your resolution. What does that look like? How do you feel as a result? Describe yourself and your feelings in detail.

Why would I suggest this exercise? Because it’s of paramount importance! You need to know this stuff. You need to feel it. To achieve your fantastic goal you need significant emotional buy-in. The reason(s) behind your resolution need to be clearly defined and crystalized in your mind. This project is going to take a lot of work. It’s not going to be easy. Don’t take it lightly.

(A note to your conscience: If you can’t find the time to write down your “whys” then it’s a clear indication that you’re not ready for this resolution. Truth.)

Next, I’ll discuss planing.

Two Good Articles: Endurance Athletes & Income, Olympic Lifts Are Overrated

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Two recent articles are of interest to me. Maybe they’re of interest to you too. Here they are.

Wealth & endurance sports

It’s easy to detect a difference between the strength sport world and the endurance world. You’ll find a lot more tattoos and speed metal among the lifters. I’ve yet to hear a Slayer song at the finish line of a trail race or bike century. I’m not sure why that is! I love both ends of the exercise spectrum. Why doesn’t everyone?I’m not sure it has any direct correlation to this article from Outside Magazine titled Why Do Rich People Love Endurance Sports? but I’m guessing there might be some tie-in. The article is from Brad Stulberg is one of the authors of the great book, Peak Performance.

Stulberg delves into data about endurance athletes. Not surprisingly, the cost of endurance sports prohibits a lot of people from participating. Bikes, race fees, travel costs, all sorts of equipment costs all factor in to whom can pursue endurance activity. What I found most interesting is the discussion around the question, “What is it about the voluntary suffering of endurance sports that attracts them?”

“This is a question sociologists are just beginning to unpack. One hypothesis is that endurance sports offer something that most modern-day knowledge economy jobs do not: the chance to pursue a clear and measurable goal with a direct line back to the work they have put in. In his book Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, philosopher Matthew Crawford writes that ‘despite the proliferation of contrived metrics,’ most knowledge economy jobs suffer from ‘a lack of objective standards.’”

“Ask a white-collar professional what it means to do a good job at the office, and odds are they’ll need at least a few minutes to explain their answer, accounting for politics, the opinion of their boss, the mood of their client, the role of their team, and a variety of other external factors. Ask someone what it means to do a good job at their next race, however, and the answer becomes much simpler.

“’The satisfaction of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence has been known to make a man quiet and easy,’ writes Crawford, who in 2001 quit his job in academia to become a mechanic. ‘It seems to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He simply points: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on.’”

I would like to know about strength athletes such as powerlifters, Olympic lifters, bodybuilders, and strongmen. What do we see there as it pertains to education, income, and vocation? Certainly lifting very heavy things, seeing the weight go up (or not), observing the muscles grow provides similar objective feedback that endurance sports offer. Do rich people also lift heavy?

My feeling informed by my casual observation is that the strength sports have more blue-collar participants. If so, wouldn’t the cost of participation be the main difference? A gym membership is a lot more affordable than bikes, multiple pairs of expensive running shoes, race fees, travel fees, wheels, tires, high-tech gear, etc. I’d like to know more.

Olympic lifts are overrated

I think many coaches and trainers put certain tools or methods ahead of the needs of their clients. We become wedded to the idea that one tool or strategy is the be-all-end-all best way to make someone stronger, faster, etc. We become convinced (often due to very effective marketing by gurus) that something like the stability ball, the BOSU, the barbell, the kettlebell, or the Olympic lifts are the ultimate thing for everyone, when in fact they should simply be considered tools that may be right for some jobs and wrong for others. (I plead guilty to having sacrificed my objectivity to certain tools and methodologies. I’m trying to get better.)

Olympic lifting has gained in popularity in recent years. They can be a lot of fun. I feel they can help develop coordination and general athleticism. That said, Olympic lifts probably aren’t ideal for most athletes, so it’s good to see an experienced, well-regarded coach and Olympic lifter like Charles Staley give an objective analysis of Olympic lifting.

The Olympic Lifts are Overrated discusses three reasons they’re not the best way for all people to improve their bodies and their abilities. Briefly:

  1. The Olympic lifts are too technically demanding.
  2. The Olympic lifts are overrated for developing strength or size.
  3. The Olympic lifts are highly overrated for developing athletic power.

Read the article to learn more.

 

A New Year’s Resolution Part I: Why?

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Unless you first change your mind, don’t expect your health goals to materialize. As the saying goes, it’s not the horse that draws the cart, it’s the oats. It’s not the gym, Pilates class or diet that will change you – it’s your mind.

That brilliant statement comes from an article in U.S. News & World Report. The same article says, “By the second week of February, some 80 percent of those resolution-ers are back home with a new kind of remorse staring back at them in the mirror – the remorse of disappointment. ”

That has been and soon will be the fate of hordes of Americans as they embark on a myriad of ill-fated health & fitness voyages. I believe failure comes down to two vital issues: motivation and planning.

Motivation

This is your “why.” It’s emotional investment. With motivation you have a sense of purpose. Motivation is the be-all-end-all for success at anything. (Last year about this time I wrote about motivation, and I’ll expand on the concept in the next post.) Your goal must be important to you on an emotional level. A true sense of purpose comes with emotional investment. One example:

An intermediate runner wants to run his first marathon. He’s spent time running, enjoys it, and has progressed from a raw beginner to a more serious athlete. The marathon represents to him a major sense of achievement. He knows it will take a lot of hard work and if he finishes then he’ll feel a powerful sense of accomplishment. He’s motivated by that sense of accomplishment. Accomplishment gives him a deep sense of satisfaction. Accomplishment sustains him on an emotional and spiritual level. The marathon is not just an arbitrary goal to him. This is important too: the goal of running a marathon is both challenging and realistic.

Another example:

A new mom isn’t as fit as she used to be, and she knows it. She recognizes several things: First, she’s going to need a lot of energy to keep up with the new kiddo. She knows exercise, a healthy diet and good sleep habits will help. Second, she wants the child to be healthy so she decides to set a good example by living a healthy lifestyle. Next, she wants to live a long life so she can spend as much time as possible with this wonderful little person.

Her profound love for her child is her motive to live a healthy life. She’ll do anything for the kid! She can’t lose! Success is the only option. Even if she’s not a serious athlete and she may not be in love with exercise, the love she feels for this new baby has ignited a tremendous sense of purpose in her, so her motivation is sky-high.

Hard work is made feasible through motivation. Or as Matt Fitzgerald puts it in his book Diet Cults, “Motivation allows for the application of willpower.”

For good or ill, the truth is that if you aren’t sufficiently motivated, if you don’t have a strong emotional bond to your resolution—if you don’t have a purpose—then it won’t happen.

The plan

No significant accomplishment happens without a plan. Saving for retirement, building a house, writing a novel, attaining a degree, running a successful business all require a plan. Your resolution is no different. How many days will you exercise? Will you lift weights? (You should!) If so, which exercises will you select? Do you know how to lift properly? When will you add weight to the bar? What about cardio? What about rest days? You need those! Have you thought about nutrition? You can’t lose weight without it. What changes will you make to your diet? Should you go on “A Diet?” (Probably not. Everyone “used to be on a diet.” Most of them aren’t sustainable.) Have you thought about adequate sleep?

Far too many smart, well-intentioned souls enter a gym with no plan and no knowledge of how to exercise properly. Stumbling through the dark and stabbing blindly at your goal is inefficient at best and a sure ticket to failure at worse. Bad planning or no planning can kill your motivation. Do you have a plan? If not, then get one.

*****Please note: A generic, cookie-cutter plan made for someone else’s needs isn’t your best option. It’s best to have a plan custom-made to your needs, skills, and preferences. That’s why I have a job!

I hope I’ve convinced you that in order to attain your worthwhile New Year’s Resolution you must think hard about it. It won’t happen through luck or chance. I’ll expand on motivation and planning in subsequent posts.

 

 

Getting Serious About the 5k

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A 5k? You can do that in your sleep can’t you?”

A client said that to me when I recently told her I’m training up for a March 5k, the Cherry Creek Sneak in Denver. She knew I’d run several big, difficult trail races and two marathons. She figured a 5k would be easy for me, and in terms of distance, yes, running 3.1 miles isn’t a big deal. But to run it fast…? That’s the challenge.

(In case you didn’t know, the 5k is an Olympic event. Look at an Olympic 5k runner at the finish line and and ask him or her if the race was easy.)

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It seems like most grown-ups think about running longer and farther. Many of us look at the marathon, or in trail running circles, ultra-marathons, as the ultimate running thing to do. Similarly many of us look at 5ks and 10ks as fairly easy runs done just for fun. Most runners progress from the shorter runs to longer runs, leaving behind those short runs doing them mainly for training purposes around their long-race goals.

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In contrast, grown-ups rarely look to run faster. (In comparison, ever watch kids run? They only sprint!) I want to run faster. As I’ve said before, I love the training process. I want to experience the process of speed development. I’ll be doing track workouts and tempo runs, which are very different from trail running. I like the idea of doing work all along the energy system continuum, with short, powerful efforts at one end, and much longer efforts at the other. It seems to me a well-conditioned, athlete should make stops all along the way.

 

Strength Training Fights Cancer

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“The study shows exercise that promotes muscular strength may be just as important for health as aerobic activities like jogging or cycling,” said Associate Professor Stamatakis.

“And assuming our findings reflect cause and effect relationships, it may be even more vital when it comes to reducing risk of death from cancer.”

That statement comes from Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis of the School of Public Health and the Charles Perkins Center at the University of Sydney. He’s the lead researcher in a study titled Does strength promoting exercise confer unique health benefits? A pooled analysis of eleven population cohorts with all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular mortality endpoints. The study appears in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

I’m surprised and delighted by this finding. Most of us have known for a quite a while that exercise of some variety or another helps reduce cancer risk. Most of the research has looked at exercise with a cardiovascular emphasis such as walking, cycling, and swimming. This study is novel in that it looks at strength training.

This is great news to those of us who like to lift heavy stuff! However…

Strength training has a negative connotation for some people. Some people say, “I don’t wan to get too big,” “I don’t want to get hurt.” Other people associate strength training with the bizarre bodybuilding steroid stereotype. None of this needs to be true! Lifting heavy stuff can be very safe, it can be done by normal people in an enjoyable way — and now we know it’s the smart, healthy thing to do. If you’re not lifting, then you should be and I’ll be glad to help you do it right.

 

Try Harder? No. Relax.

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“If you want to get a little zen about it, you could say that the non-doing is just as important as the doing.”

-Todd Hargrove

I appreciate and enjoy professional instruction. Coach Mary-Katherine Flemming has been a huge help to me as a runner. She’s helped me bring up my weaknesses and train smarter. I also try and take at least one ski lesson every year. Mountain biking is much safer and a lot more fun since I’ve gone through several skills clinics with Lee Likes Bikes.

I recently started working with my fellow personal trainer and boxing coach Zane Beck. He’s teaching me how to throw punches the right way. I’ve met with him twice and I’ve had a amazingly challenging workouts in just 30 minutes. We’ve broken down the mechanics of punching and it’s been fascinating.

During our last session, I could feel myself tensing up on some punches, particularly the right hook and right upper cut. Those are awkward punches so I tried harder to throw them. Trying harder was a mistake. I was too tense. Zane could see it and feel it. So I slowed down and stopped rushing. I worked to throw good punches one at a time and I worked to relax. The effort to relax led to a brief conversation similar to conversations I’ve had with my clients.

“I worked to relax…” That’s an odd concept, no? Relaxing should be easy, right? If my arms are overhead then I relax them and they drop to my side. Simple. By sitting down my legs relax. Also simple. Seems like relaxation shouldn’t even require any thought. Sometimes though, relaxation is remarkably hard to come by though, especially in athletic endeavors.

I often see clients try hard and harder to perform certain exercises, especially new exercises. For example, kettlebell swings and cleans are often performed with overly tense hands, straining arms, tight necks, and an overall rigid body. Clients try to muscle the kettlebell into the air rather than using the stretch reflex of the muscles to do most of the work. Similarly, I have a client who often defaults to rigid high tension on medicine ball throws. He braces his whole body like it’s about to be hit by a truck. The result in all these cases is poor performance, poor exercise technique, and excessive fatigue. The same teeth-gritting, wasteful strategy might be employed by someone swinging a golf club, swimming laps, or sprinting.

Thus, I work with my clients to bring awareness to their unproductive tension and help them turn it down. Relaxation can take a surprising amount of work. Bearing down harder is the exact wrong way to get better. While many if not most exercises should be performed explosively, one shouldn’t rush too much.Impatience is rarely a virtue in any circumstance. Athletic movements require the right amount of tension, not necessarily more tension.

Steve Magness is a big-time running coach, writer, lecturer, and running expert. (His recent book, Peak Performance is superb. If you want to perform better in life, not just in athletics, then you should definitely get a copy.) He captures the importance of relaxation in this recent Facebook post:

Another excellent discussion of relaxation comes from movement expert and author Todd Hargrove. He wrote The Skill of Relaxation in 2008. It includes these important points:

“Most people trying to improve their movement ability for sports will therefore spend time lifting weights to train their ability to quickly and forcefully contract their muscles.

“That is a fine idea, but it sometimes ignores the equally important flip side of the coordination coin. If coordination means all the right muscles firing at the right time, this also means that any muscles not involved in the movement must relax in the right places at the right speed at the right time. Therefore, any act of coordination requires the skill of relaxing the muscles that aren’t essential to the movement. If the non-essential muscles aren’t relaxed, they will cause extraneous movement or tension that interferes in the desired movement and wastes energy.”

Read These: I Became Obsessed & the 7 Pillars of Running

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Two recent articles are worth reading. If you have time then definitely have a glance.

Has extreme fitness gone too far?

‘It’s intoxicating – I became obsessed’: has fitness gone too far? comes from the Guardian. It discusses some negative consequences for novice trainees caught up in extreme fitness fads. These hopeful gym-goers are lured into inappropriately brutal workout routines by attractive online fitness celebrities who may have no idea what they’re doing. In this world, boring concepts like patients, persistence, and gradual progress is replaced by more-is-better high-intensity punishment. Bad idea. I like this statement:

It is a sentiment echoed by one health and beauty magazine editor, who asks to remain anonymous because her views don’t tally with that of her employer. “These days, a strong Instagram following, good gene pool and even better spray tan can make you a fitness star, regardless of what qualifications you have. Not only do many of these ‘fitness stars’ know little about what constitutes safe exercise (the truth is that no amount of likes come in handy when you need to solve a gym-induced injury), they also create a false sense of what fit and healthy looks like – and it doesn’t always look 21 and great in a bikini. Add to that the fact that these social media stars get paid to shift fitness gadgets, gimmicks and protein shakes, and you’ve a whole load of dangerously misguided followers.”

So many of of these and similar workouts cater to the desperate hopes of people who want to be in cover-model shape right now!  Unfortunately, that isn’t the best mindset for gaining true health and fitness. The enduring fitness facts are there is no magic, there are no miracles, there is nothing new under the sun. The only path to long-term fitness and health is through persistent hard work, patience and (this is highly undervalued) self-acceptance. Read the entire article to gain all the insights.

Running wisdom from a wise man

In contrast to fitness extremism, we have the sober, reasonable, and frequently skeptical voice of Alex Hutchinson who writes the Sweat Science column for Runner’s World. His latest, and sadly, his final piece is titled The Seven Pillars of Running Wisdom.

I always appreciate his writing in that he discusses the science behind many of the latest running and fitness trends, strategies, and equipment. We are often told with certainty that some latest-and-greatest tech will revolutionize our running or that some extreme type of diet will cure all of our ills. Hutchinson discusses the actual science behind many of these claims The truth is typically far less exciting than the sales pitches we hear from the snake oil sales force. Big surprise here: most of the magic silver bullets are some familiar ideals: persistent hard work (sometimes very hard work), generally healthy diet, lots of patience. These are the best routes take for peak performance and lifelong health. The seven pillars are:

  1. Running is good for you “in moderation,” which is defined as “a lot more than you’re doing.”
  2. If it comes in a bottle, it’s probably not going to make you faster or healthier.
  3. The best technology for tracking and guiding your runs is the device between your ears.
  4. You probably got injured from doing too much, too soon.
  5. The magic workout, shoe, or superfood is whichever one you’ve been ignoring lately or have never tried.
  6. You can probably run better; start by running more.
  7. You’re capable of more than you think, but it will take time to get there.

Read the whole shebangabang to learn much and more!

Feet & Toes Should Be Strong and Able

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When was the last time you walked into the gym and said, “Okay, it’s foot day! Let’s get to work?”

Most of us aren’t too excited about building strong, healthy feet, probably not until we encounter pain. But why not? After all, it’s only every single step that we need those lower appendages to work well. Unless you don’t have feet, unless you walk on your hands, or maybe unless you live on a planet without gravity, then there’s no question you need a pair of mobile, stable, well-functioning feet.

And if we encounter foot trouble then we want to put in an orthotic, buy shoes with arch support, or do something other than make the feet stronger. Why is it that we don’t think to treat the feet like the rest of the body? Why don’t we see the need to work the feet like all the other muscles and body parts we have? I suggest that rather than resort to external aids we should work the feet in a wide variety of ways.  Here are a few ways to do just that.

I don’t promise that any of these exercises will fix a specific injury. If anything hurts then back off. See a physical therapist, chiropractor, or podiatrist for a full diagnosis and treatment strategy.

Big toe adduction/abduction

There’s no fancy name for this exercise. You can experiment with all sorts of bands. Please notice that I do this exercise under control. I’m controlling the exercise, the band isn’t controlling me. Allow the big toe to come in far enough that you feel a stretch.

Toe differentiation (aka yoga toe)

Can you do this? You should be able to. It may seem 100% impossible when you first try it. Keep working on it. Most people can figure it out in a day. Takes work and concentration. Take notice of my arch and inner ankle. Notice that the arch doesn’t drop, and my ankle doesn’t dive in as I move my big toe.

Toe grabs on a box

Sounds like one of Vincent van Gogh’s very obscure works. It’s not. I just don’t have a better name for it. It works well though. I learned it from Denver chiropractor extraordinaire Dr. Nick Studholme. You can do this on the top of a flight of steps or over a book.

Funny walks

This is a quick, easy way to engage, stimulate, and strengthen all of the muscles of the lower legs and feet. Try it and see how you feel.

Imogene Pass Run Race Report

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The stage

I ran my first Imogene Pass Run last weekend and it was a monumental experience. The race was both exhilarating and brutal. The environment and scenery were stunning beyond words (but here are some words.) Living in Colorado, we get used to seeing some amazing scenery. That said, the landscape of this race course was inconceivably dramatic. The San Juan Mountains are the creme de la creme of what Colorado is all about. My wife and I loved the town of Ouray and we can’t wait to go back.

The wife, dog, and spectacular Ouray, CO

The wife, the dog, and spectacular Ouray, CO

The weather was beyond perfect. No rain whatsoever until just after I finished in Telluride. I can’t fathom running this race in foul weather, but run this race in foul weather indeed they do.

Before going much further, I must give credit to my coach, Mary-Katherine Flemming for helping me prepare for this monster. My hiring her to help me was an excellent decision. She planned a variety of progressively challenging workouts, gave me honest, useful advice, and made me feel confident as I moved toward the race. I plan to enlist her again in future races.

Uphill

I was very pleased with my uphill abilities. None of the climbing was easy but 99% of the time I felt strong and able. The final mile was rough. And by rough I mean nasty. (I’m holding back on the foul language that’s essential to describe what I’m talking about.) The average gradient was 18.9% with a max gradient of 33%! Steep slopes plus an ever thinning supply of O2 was almost overwhelming. That the fastest runners are still running at this point in the race is an absurdity to me!

A brief pause before the summit. Look closely at the trail below. Can you see the people?

A brief pause before the summit. Look closely. Can you see the people on the trail?

Slow-slogging it was an attractive option at times. I saw many participants doing a sort of meandering tromp and the siren song of a slower pace was enticing. It definitely felt good to slow down just a bit. I didn’t allow myself to get comfortable though. I was there to do the best I could, not be comfortable. I didn’t “just want to finish.” So when the going got very tough I continued to push as hard as I realistically could while not blowing up.

I found smaller quicker steps were better than long strides. Try climbing stairs two or three at a time vs. one step at a time and you’ll experience this. Sure you can go faster if you take longer steps but you’ll burn out faster too. That’s not a successful strategy for this race.

The hard part is over! The MONUMENTALLY hard part is about to begin.

The hard part is over! The MONUMENTALLY hard part is about to begin.

 

Downhill

Savage and unrelenting are good words to describe the descent. The entire route was loose rocks and dirt of the sort that demanded constant attention, focus, and concentration. There was never ever an opportunity to coast, to relax, to take it easy in any way. To let the mind wander was to fall and f__k oneself up badly.

The start of a long, technical downhill. Much soreness awaits.

The start of a long, technical downhill. Much soreness awaits.

I experienced a very strange sensation during the descent. There were were times when I wanted to close my eyes and fall hard asleep. It was almost like I had narcolepsy or something. I’ve never had it happen before. I actually felt like I could’ve napped on my feet. I have no idea why. Do I have to mention that this experience was no help at all?

The technical descent demanded that I focus just a few feet out ahead to know where and how to place my feet. This was an exceptionally difficult task, especially as the descent took over an hour. The urge to let up a little, concentrate a little less, and look well down the trail was alluring but it would’ve been a disaster had I done so. So the entire descent involved determined concentration. If you’ve ever had to concentrate while (extremely) fatigued then you know it’s a uniquely difficult task.

I have no idea where that switchback road goes. I'd like to find out.

I have no idea where that switchback road goes. I’d like to find out.

 

Battling cramps with ducks & pigeons

I had some cramping near the top of the ascent. They continued to flare up during the descent. I had some cramping episodes during training runs and I wasn’t surprised to cramp during this race. What worried me is that I’d cramp badly and be reduced to a walk. That would’ve crushed me. Fortunately, I developed a strategy during training that allowed me to keep the cramps at bay to an acceptable degree. I employed that strategy in the race and though not perfect, it again allowed me to keep running.

I ran while internally and externally rotating my femurs. In other words, I’d run for several strides alternating between a duck-footed or pigeon-toed position. Somehow this would push the cramps away for a while. I had to do this several times during the descent. It’s definitely not an optimal way to run, especially over rough ground, but it worked. I also had to walk but only a very little.

My belief is that I employed the principle of reciprocal inhibition to relax my cramping muscles. Here’s an example: The muscle opposite your bicep is your tricep. Contract your bicep and your tricep will relax to allow for elbow flexion. That’s reciprocal inhibition and that’s how we move. In my case, my adductor muscles (inner thigh muscles, aka hip adductors and internal rotators) cramped. Thus I guessed that by activating those muscles’ opposite numbers (my hip abductors and external rotators) that I might be able to calm the cramping inner-thigh muscles. Seems to have worked. Further, it’s possible that by altering my bone and joint positions with this weird running technique it allowed some of the cramping muscles to rest just a little bit.

External rotation of the femurs

External rotation of the femurs

I won’t go into all the details of muscle cramps but I’ll say that it’s highly unlikely that it’s either dehydration or electrolyte depletion that causes them. It’s more along the line of intramuscular dis-coordination. For a brief and worthwhile discussion on the current ideas on muscle cramps and how to avoid them, then follow that link.

Internal rotation of the femurs

Internal rotation of the femurs

 

The final statistics

To see all the final stats for all runners go here. My numbers are as follows:

  • Time: 4:07:47
  • Overall: 451 out of 1227 finishers (Roughly top 1/3 of participants. That’s pretty cool!)
  • All males: 311 out of 645 (Top half of men. I’d love to improve on that.)
  • Males 40-44: 36 out of 82 (Top half. I’m happy about that too and improvement would be good.)

I like those results. This race was no easy fun run. You have to come prepared to finish it. I worked hard and I feel like I belong among some high-end athletes. I want to do my best and I want to get better. The top finisher in my age category finished in 3:02. I wonder how close I can get to 3 hrs… Coach Flemming, what are your thoughts?

(Honestly, I’m amazed that I’m thinking of running it again. After that finish I was certain that I didn’t want to run anywhere for any reason maybe ever again. What nonsense!)

What would I do differently?

I would love to get this thing done in under four hours. That seems realistic in good weather. If I want to race this race faster and/or just feel better then I need to improve my downhill conditioning.The descent is 7.1 steep, loose miles which is a very long distance. With that in mind,  I need to dedicate more time to running downhill on witheringly tired legs. There aren’t many opportunities outside of this race course to descend that far. (If you know of one in the Front Range area, please let me know about it.) I will confer with my coach on the subject but in my mind, I might want to incorporate something like giant hill repeats. For these I would run up something like Chimney Gulch, Mt. FalconDeer Creek, parts of the Bergen Peak Trail, or maybe best of all, Herman’s Gulch, then run back down and repeat the whole nasty process a few times. I think a few near-crippling workouts like this might help me survive the horror show/descent a little better.

Finally

Here is some superb photo documentation of the race. This guy isn’t me and I don’t know him but he deserves accolades for how well he captured the runners and the exquisite scenery.

The Imogene Pass Run Looms Before Me…

Standard

The main event for the year is the famed/notorious Imogene Pass Run. (Three days and a few hours to race time! Am I ready? Doesn’t matter does it? That’s when I’m running.) The website gives the basic description:

“The Imogene Pass Run (IPR) is a 17.1 mile point-to-point mountain race within the western San Juan mountains of Colorado, run along a route which connects the towns of Ouray (7810 ft.) and Telluride (8750 ft.) by way of 13,114 foot Imogene Pass.”

This race has us climbing 5300 ft. After having run multiple 3000+ ft runs, I can confirm that THAT’S A LOT OF CLIMBING. I ask you to ponder, as I have, this passage from the course description:

“Mile 5.45 –   Lower Camp Bird bridge (9755 ft.), spanning Sneffels creek. At this point the runner might philosophize a little and consider just where he or she is in this effort called the Imogene Pass Run. At this bridge you have climbed 1945 feet (net) of elevation in 5.45 miles, at an average of 356 ft./mi., or 6.8% gradient overall. To reach Imogene Pass from here you must climb 3365 feet in the next 4.60 miles, at an average of 731 ft./mi., or 13.85% gradient overall. Your effort so far has simply been a warmup. The steep gradients of the named hills below you are now less than the average gradient ahead of you.”

If you’re not familiar with trail running and/or hiking then these numbers may not mean much to you. If you are a trail runner and you’re a mere mortal such as I, then your head might swim.

My coach, MK Flemming, says she has no worries about my completing the race. That’s solidly reassuring to me. My hope is that I complete it in a respectable time. (That it’s called a “Run” is optimistically generous. Most of us will be doing something like a power hike up that mountain.)

The site suggests that our run time will be similar to our marathon time. My only road marathon was 3:57. A finish time of 4-5 hours sounds good to me.

I’ve done the work.

Not only do MK’s words give me confidence about the race, but I also I know that I’ve put in the time and effort to prepare for this race. I’ve spent a lot of time trail running. Training started in March. I’ve completed several 4+ hour runs. The race tops out at 13,000 ft. and I’ve been in and around that elevation several times. Runs at 10,000 ft. and above have been common in my training. Gaining elevation has been bread and butter on my runs. Several times a week I’ve gained anywhere from 2000 ft. to nearly 4000 ft. of elevation. Much of that work has been done on 15-20% gradients which is what I’ll encounter on the IPR.

The only minor worry that I have is that I haven’t actually gained 4000 ft. during a run. I’d planned to do so but there aren’t many routes that boast that elevation. I considered ascending one of the nearby 14er peaks but most of those peaks contain scrambling over boulders and scree to get to the summit. Those conditions won’t exist at the IPR. Again, this is not a major concern to me.

Loving the process

In order for success to happen, one must find a way to love the process. (I’ve discussed the idea here.) The mountains are my favorite place to be. I crave time in the wilderness. Solitude and epic views are magic. I always want to go and I never want to leave. (BTW, Time spent in nature can have powerful positive effects on us.) Trail running in the Rocky Mts is more than just fun or recreation. It’s church. Some of my favorite runs include:

I can’t say my heart swelled for every run. A good portion of my training occurred on the steep pitches of the service roads on N. Table Mt., Green Mt. and the short but utterly ridiculously steep Mt. Morrison Trail. These weren’t the most scenic runs. They were nasty and dirty. Thinking of them, I envisage a world filled with the most towering foul language. Still, I love the process.

Loving the gear

All that time on the trail demands adequate gear. Two of my favorite items are these:

Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 3.

Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 3 plus some dirt.

The Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 3 has made my feet very happy. I’ve gone through two pairs. What I like most is the roomy toebox. I’ve had problems in the past with losing some toenails due to friction up front. I’ve had no such grotesque problems with these shoes. And though there’s plenty of room up front, the rest of the shoe is comfortably snug which is reassuring while running over variable terrain. The grip is very solid. The shoe is comfortably flexible and it has what seems to be just the right amount of cushion to protect my feet from sharp rocks and such.

Next, the Ultimate Direction PB Adventure vest has been an excellent purchase. It’s light, breathable, comfortable and it carries a lot of useful gear. Conditions can change rapidly in the mountains and it’s necessary to carry several items in case of bad weather or an injury. Starting at the top: 70 oz bladder, knit hat, soft flask, 1st aid kit and antiseptic, long sleeved technical shirt, waterproof jacket, light neck gaiter, gloves. I can also carry hiking poles but the race doesn’t allow them so I haven’t been using them. Not pictured: the phone which took this picture, lots of bars, gels, cheese sticks, and other fuel.

Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest plus most of the gear I carry in it.

Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest plus most of the gear I carry in it.

Finally

I am tremendously grateful to be able to train for this event. It’s been a memorable experience. I spent several years in my 20s unable to run due to chronic pain. That’s gone now. I’m very durable and strong. I take more than a little bit of pride in both my willingness to take on this race and my ability to train for it. This undertaking is not in everyone’s wheelhouse. It’s in mine though.