Friday, September 18, 2009

Body Talk

You know the saying, "Listen to your body." Well, seems that if you don't listen to your body, it might scream at you in return like a child's temper tantrum. Other times, it'll just throw the tantrum anyway, even if you are listening.

Case in point:

- Last weekend's long run of 12 miles. It was a night run and it was a 2 mile out-n-back repeated 6 times. The last round, I could feel the drain and my last two miles were reflecting a decline in performance and effort. The tantrum: FEED ME! FEED ME! GIMME CAFFEINE GOODNESS! Guess that's what I get for going out with water only.

- Skipped the two mid-week runs this week and chose to nap. The tantrum: SLEEPY! NO!!! NO RUN, SLEEP!!!! Looking at the last few days, I've been getting less sleep at night, so this is turning into a necessity for now. As long as I keep the long run though and maintain the strength-bias period, I should still be okay despite the mid-week run skips.

- My ability to zercher & front squat has taken a backseat to back squats using the sandbags. The tantrum: NO!!!! TOO HEAVY!!!! NOT GONNA DO IT!!!! OOPS-SIE! I MADE YOU DROP THE BAG!!! Seems my limit for now is 125-130 lbs to get into the zercher position. But the good thing is that I'm still able to do some kind of heavy squat and I'm at 140 lbs now, going to 145 lbs later this morning. Personally, I think that my 1-Rep Max for the backsquat might actually get close to 300 lbs...but we'll see if that's the case when I get near the end of the cycle. I still need to buy some heavier plates for home.

- My overhead press ability with the sandbag seems to have stalled out around 75 lbs where I can do a full 5x5 @ 75 lbs; all weight after that, I can do a 3x5 before starting to fail. The tantrum: SEE PREVIOUS TANTRUM!!!! WAH!!!!!!! Now, it could be the fact that it's a bag and not a bar. I think this goes back to the "Raw strength vs Barbell strength" thing that Rob Shaul talked about in a post awhile back.

- My clean could use some work (No body tantrum on this thankfully). But in the defense of cleaning a sandbag, I don't think I've seen anyone with 100% perfect form like you would have with a barbell (can you say CrossFit Slop?). The bag is awkward and there are multiple ways of getting yourself into position for it. Zach @ has a really good video here showing a good Power Clean example with multiple styles of sandbags - Military & the Josh Henkin bag.

Coming out the other side

Nearly done with this cycle and I've got 5 weeks to go after this week is over, YAY!!!

Trying to figure out what to program in for the next cycle is proving to be more difficult though. I'm limited in what I can do due to the equipment and time. It might end up being where I do two WODs in a day - one at work, one at home. However, we'll see what happens. I know I can't program it in the typical CF fashion since the week is setup so differently compared to a standard 3/1 or 5/2 format. But I'm sure I'll get something banged out in the next month.

Friday, September 11, 2009

6 down (almost), 50 to go...

With my last strength session for this week done, I figured it's time to put up what I've done so far on here.

I'm halfway through the strength cycle using the Stronglifts 5x5 program and a sandbag instead of a barbell (although I had to use a barbell when I was at home on 09/07 & 09/09 since the sandbag is at the office).

So far, so good. Typically, I use to lift no more than 15-20 lbs dumbbells in my past strength training routines. I wouldn't be able to lift anything heavier and I was doing isolating work. My numbers so far using sandbags and the 5x5 method:

Squat: 130 lbs (Bear Hug, Zercher, and Back Squat)
Bench Press, Military Press, and Power Clean: 80 lbs
Deadlift: 170 lbs

I have to admit though that the days that I used the barbell at home when I was on vacation was easier compared to the sandbag, probably due to the distribution of weight being so different.

Running wise, my volume is relatively low (practically 10+ miles per week for the first 4 weeks, past week was 16 miles) as well as the intensity for some of them. Although my runs for the first three weeks on Tuesdays and Thursdays were CFE-based Stamina Runs and Intervals. I've been able to run on most days, with only one unplanned rest day, one rehab day (ankle seemed really twitchy and needed some TLC, massage, & Trigger Point Therapy @ home), and one 10 miler that went haywire and ended up being a 7.5 mile distance in futility. Thankfully, this is a strength-focused period and the running endurance that I'm rebuilding in the process is just gravy. Although I have to say, my ground speed is improving compared to what I was moving at before (sub-11 minute miles for tempo runs, sub-8 minute miles for speedwork, sub-13 minute miles for easy and long runs currently)...but I still have a very long road ahead of me if I want to recapture my easy/long pace of 9 minute miles, my tempo pace at 7:30's, and my speedwork at 6:00's.

As I said in my past post, I gained some weight yet my physique has changed to look more muscular and dense. Although muscular is good, the extra weight isn't and I need to work better at getting lighter. And getting lighter will require more nutritional scrutiny on my part. However, every single person that I've read up on that has been on Starting Strength and StrongLifts has gained mass. Comes with the territory I guess.

Six weeks down after tomorrow's 12 miler. Six weeks to go to finish off the cycle and 50 weeks till the next Cascade Crest 100. Onward!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Plan of Attack, The Weapon of Choice

A bit of history...

After several races where I flamed out along with various failed training plans that I either paid for or had designed without enough forethought, I had enough and needed to take charge of myself and my destiny.

Since my original Type II diabetes diagnosis a few years ago, I got into controlling the monster via dietary changes and exercise. Eventually, things led to doing triathlon and then into ultrarunning within a relatively short period of time. Back then, I had taken things more seriously and was diligently training, a great deal of traditional methods - for triathlon, I was using HR-based training plan with some strength training during the week. For the ultrarunning, the plan was emphasizing long-steady runs on a Sunday with some shorter runs during the week to maintain my aerobic base, also cycling daily for my work commutes and doing some basic strength training 3 x Week. This took me through doing 4 50k's, a 50 miler, and pacing duties at my first marathon all in a 6 month period.

Then, as goals shifted after a few successful races and I wanted to take on other challenges (namely, my first back-to-back marathon weekend), I modified my training appropriately, doing back-to-back long runs on the weekends, medium-distance runs during the week, and a good amount of cycling to work still with some mild strength training still. Although not all the mid-week runs happened, I did do the weekend long runs without fail...well, not 100% without fail. There were some second day runs where I felt like the crap of crap (yeah, sub-crap), but my body built up stronger and my two marathons in two days went through without a hitch.

After that, things stopped working. Looking back, a majority of it was lack of proper goal setting. Sure, I got some races done like White River and others during this time, but it was like driving on flat tires on nice smooth roads. The damage won't kill your rims as quickly, but over time - you're going to be stuck on the side of the road and thumbing for a ride.

And when things stopped working, I stopped too. Basically just running in things because they were there, even though my own fitness level decreased. I was still under control with my diabetes (blood work confirmed this at my last physical), but the passions for endurance sports were practically dead.


Then sometime in early 2009, I was ready to start getting back into the swing of things...until my company relocated me further away from home for my commute. After some mild employer-loathing and spending a few extra hours driving on the road just to make a buck, I got over myself and decided that there was no point in being all whiny and bitchy about the shit that life throws at you if you don't do anything about it. So, with my endurance-life, I'm doing something about it.

Well, as promised from a couple of weeks ago, the goals and the plan:

To help setup the plan, I needed goals. To have goals, I followed the SMART criteria.

Goals should be:

S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Attainable
R - Realistic
T - Trackable

I had to think about what I wanted and it had to fit the model. I also had to think of the importance as well. Also, I've learned that you need to have long-term goals and short-term goals. So, here are my goals:

Long-Term (6-12 months):

1.) Complete Cascade Crest 100 mile course within the cut-off time (32 hours) for August 2010 race.

2.) Complete White River 50 mile course faster than previous time of 13:49 for July 2010 race.

3.) Complete Mt Si 50 mile course (three attempts, DNF twice) and finish faster than previous time of 10:37 for April 2010 race.

4.) To reach Rob Shaul's Mountain Athlete requirements of having his athletes being able to:

- Deadlift @ 2xBW
- Squat & Bench Press @ 1.5xBW
- Power Clean @ 1.25xBW
- Military Press @ 1xBW
- 20 strict BW pull-ups
- 40 strict BW dips.

However, this is already being re-evaluated and I might be better off lowering the goals for now until I can see where I'm at (since endurance training does conflict with strength training due to the catabolization of muscle):

- Deadlift @ 1.5xBW
- Squat & Bench Press @ 1xBW
- Power Clean @ 0.75xBW
- Military Press @ 0.75xBW
- 20 strict BW pull-ups
- 40 strict BW dips.

5.) Get below 200 lbs. Current weight at 239 lbs, original weight when I was setting the goals was at 235 lbs. I'll talk about this later in the post.

Short-Term (0-6 months):

1.) Complete Seattle Ghost Marathon in November 2009.
2.) Complete Pigtails Flat Ass 50k in December 2009.
3.) Complete Western WA Tiger Mountain Fat Ass 50k in January 2010.
4.) Complete Bridle Trails 50k Twilight Run in January 2010 (the week after the Tiger Mountain 50k.)
5.) Complete the Pigtails Run and Yours Truly 50k double in last month of January 2010.

Yeah, I know. There really isn't much for the short-term. But this is still a work in progress and I'm an experiment of one. Edit: There's a crap-load of volume that I guess I'll be doing. But my plan was to do one marathon or ultra per month to toughen up my aerobic base while still training for Cascade Crest.

So, with the plan, after much research into my life after my diabetes diagnosis and checking various exercise protocols and methods, I eventually landed on a blend of things from various sources. Folks like Greg Glassman, Mark Twight, Dan John, Mark Rippetoe, Rob Shaul, Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, Pete Pfitzinger, Brandon Oto, Gant Grimes, Steven Low, Brian MacKenzie (yes, even BMack), and others have provided great influence on the plan I've developed for myself. Also, a good way to plan the future is to look at the past. Figure out what worked and what didn't.

This is what I've now understood:

1.) You got to have a specific goal set for yourself. It doesn't matter if your goal is to just look good and have a lifetime of health, be the world's strongest man, or to do a transcontinental run, without something to focus on, build an intelligent plan, and take action to get to it - you're going to be FUBAR'ed.
2.) Strength Training is necessary in any training plan since it keeps injuries down in your respective sport. Functional strength training has the most superiority due to the transferability to life and sports.
3.) Power-to-Weight ratios are in ALL SPORTS. The heavier you are, you've got to have the power to balance it out. This is why at every race I've been at, I've seen beanpoles being outran by hefty guys. In cycling, most guys that look like scrawny dudes are able to attack steep inclines compared to the larger, heavier guys. However, there are some large cyclists that are excellent climbers and it's due to their power-to-weight ratio being so high.
4.) Gym work needs to be useful to your sport and/or life. This goes back to #1 & #2. There's no point in doing an exercise in the gym if it doesn't help you out in your respective sport or in the real world.
5.) Train all energy systems, but you've got to decide what takes priority based on your sport/life/goals.
6.) Eat clean. Garbage in, garbage out.
7.) Recovery is MORE important than training. There's no point in hitting it hard every single workout if you can't recover from it so you can reap the physiological and psychological benefits from it. Use your recovery tools - SLEEP, MASSAGE, ICE BATHS, TRIGGER POINT THERAPY, etc. Faster recovery is also a good sign of physical health.
8.) Adaption takes time. There are no shortcuts and you need to have patience in yourself.
9.) Training plans are not dogma. Just as people change every minute of every day, the training has to adapt to meet those changes.
10.) Mistakes are fine to make. Not learning from those mistakes are costly in the end.

So, with that in mind, here is what my plan entails:

1: Strength Focus (12 weeks)
2: Secondary Strength Strength-Endurance Focus (12 weeks)
3: Power Focus (8 weeks)
4: Power Endurance Focus (8 weeks)
5: Sport-Specific Endurance Focus (16 weeks)

This is based on Mark Twight & Rob Shaul's setup. Past research has shown that periodization when preparation for an event does create effective results. Once when a person is at a particular level of strength/speed/endurance/etc, the goal shifts to maintenance. Since I'm virtually back at zero again, this will help keep things organized, focused, and rebuild what I had in the past (and adding some more than I had before).

Twight's original design is setup as 4-6 week periods:

1. Foundational Period
2. Strength Period
3. Power Period
4. Power-Endurance Period
5. Endurance Period

However, the original foundational period is basically doing GPP training. Funny thing is that in the CrossFit world, if you're starting out at zero - everyone points at either doing scaled workouts or doing Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. Most who are solid CrossFitters have done better doing a Starting Strength cycle (or two) first and THEN going into CrossFit's GPP, their metcon capacity catching up quickly to their strength and gymnastics usually being the last thing that kicks in for most folks. Checking Rob Shaul's methods, he typically has most folks doing strength as the very first thing as well before progressing to other types of mixed-modal workouts.

Strength Cycle I

So, right now I'm focused on strength. The strength workouts are 3 x week (M,W,F) using the 5x5 program using sandbags at work (yeah, no barbell and doing these at work gives me a bit more free-time at home with the family). So far, so good, I'm 6 weeks in and although I've gained about 4 lbs during this time, my physique has changed dramatically and I've been lifting more than I ever had when doing my old strength training routines. Although, I'm going to have to find a way to add more weight to the sandbag without taking up more space in the locker that all the bags are located (I've got 150 lbs of sand at work and it's not going to be enough for my squats in another two weeks and I'm already past this weight for my deadlifts.)

On the days when I'm not doing my strength workouts, I'm focused on sport-specific work. This is based on Mark Twight's (picking another focus when not doing the major focus), Rob Shaul's (do Sport-Specific workouts when not in the gym), and Greg Glassman's (play and do sports) views. So I'm running on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The mid-week runs for now are just to get some time on my feet and focus on having good running form. I'll move to having those Tuesdays and Thursdays to Tempo/Stamina & Interval runs, using some of the running WODs that Brian MacKenzie has posted on CrossFit Endurance. (Note: Although BMack and I don't see eye-to-eye on everything, he has some seriously creative interval and tempo/stamina runs listed on the CFE site. Much more variety compared to doing regular track work and that's always a nice change.)

On Saturdays, I am rebuilding my long runs. I'm a strong believer in "you have to train long to go long" and having this one long run day will help rebuild my aerobic base. Looking back at my past training, the long run was the thing that made the serious difference between being strong for an event versus falling apart at one. So far, so good. My longest run has been 10 miles and about a month or two ago, this wasn't even possible.

I've got a little over 6 weeks left before this strength period ends. Provided that I don't have any major setbacks, I'll be able to hit a majority of the strength goals in the early stages and then strive to get to Rob Shaul's requirements for the rest of the year.

Strength Cycle II Strength-Endurance Cycle

The next period is still a strength period, but with a twist. Instead of 3xWeek, it's 2xWeek (Mondays & Wednesdays), with the Friday to get acquainted with the other areas of focus (Max Strength, Power, & Power-Endurance). The strength progression will be slower with only having two days instead of three, but there will be progression. During the off-days, there will still be a focus on running just like before.

Update (09/17/2009): Like I said, the plan is constantly evolving. Checking CrossFit along with other sources, I realized I missed something that is really necessary in my training and that is strength-endurance. Just because you can lift a really heavy object once, but get seriously gassed afterwards doesn't help most folks. From the person who carries loads of groceries into their home to the dude at the construction site who has to load all that material and tools from point A to point B, those things all require a combo of both strength and endurance. This would explain why ruck running/marching in the military, mountain trail running/hiking, and wearing a weighted vest during runs and other workouts carries over well into regular running. But strength-endurance work (as Matt Wiggins put it):

Strength-Endurance = Heavy Weights + Short Rest + Volume

Most of the CrossFit WOD's that are done for time and involve weight (either bodyweight or external weight) fit this. A good example are workouts like Fran. I think that this is where CrossFit and other hybrid-based fitness programs bread and butter really come from more than anything. On T-Nation, an editor who went to a CrossFit cert makes mention of this:

...If someone trains to get strong in the traditional sense, not only does maximal strength improve, but strength endurance improves as well. If someone just trains for strength endurance, he merely improves his performance at his current level of strength. He can't improve his maximal strength without focusing on it.

As mentioned, CrossFit programming tries to mitigate this effect by scheduling periodic low-rep, max-effort days...

Now the argument of who's fitness program is the best? My answer: If you have to ask this question, you've got too much time to think of questions and you're not spending it on your "game". Bust your ass dude!

Power Cycle

After the second strength strength-endurance period is over, the next move is to the 8-week Power phase. Power workouts are aimed at increasing the rate of force production, the ability to activate the muscle fibers instantly in a coordinated manner. This generates max cardio stress (red-lining) within a short period of time. Workouts like Olympic Lifts, Box Jumps, Interval Runs, and Hill Sprints can also be considered Power workouts since it requires fast and explosive movements. The weeks will basically having a Monday strength day (heavy slow lifting), Wednesdays and Fridays being Power-Focused. The run schedule still being the same.

Power-Endurance Cycle

After the Power period is over, the focus moves to an 8-week Power-Endurance period. Power-Endurance is a mix of both aerobic and anaerobic sources. Everyone might be more familiar with this as Tempo work, Stamina work, or Lactate Threshold work in the running world. Hard and fast endurance efforts that last up to 30 minutes most of the time. The schedule does get a bit more flexible this time. Mondays are still a strength day, Wednesdays and Fridays get the Power-Endurance WODs (running mostly), while the off-days that are running on Tuesdays and Thursdays can be swapped with Power work. Saturdays will always remain a long run day.

Sport-Specific Endurance Cycle

After the Power-Endurance period is finished, we get into the final phase - the Sport-Specific Endurance phase. This lasts for 16 weeks and the main focus is running. After consulting Rob Shaul, he recommended that Mondays is left for "gym work", trying to maintain what was developed from the previous cycles. The rest of the days (Wednesdays and Fridays) would be a mix of Power and Power-Endurance WODs that are running specific or have enough transferability to running. Tuesdays and Thursdays will be easy runs or possibly continuing as they did before using CFE-style runs. Saturdays will still be a long run.


Please keep in mind that this isn't in stone, but just a guideline that I'm following. As things continue, if I feel the need to change things around if something doesn't fit, I'll change it. If I need to scrap something, I'll scrap it (it already happened for one strength day, I chose sleep due to the volunteering at Cascade Crest and being sleep-deprived for nearly 30+ hours after working two aid stations.)

However, I'm 6 weeks into this now and I am starting to feel stronger and more durable. As time continues and as things progress, I feel very confident that this training will work and eventually, I'll be able to be on a more consistent maintenance plan that will allow me to maintain the strength, speed, and endurance that I've gained AND allow me to further refine my abilities as needed when I set newer goals for the next year.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hyper-volunteerism @ Cascade Crest

This past weekend was the Cascade Crest 100 race. Although I wasn't a participant in the event as a runner, I did what I seem to do best - help out those that do run.

The jobs - Aid station work @ Mile 23 (Tacoma Pass) and Mile 60.5 (Keechelus Ridge).

I wouldn't be the captain of the aid stations like I was at the 20th Century 100k event back in June, but I was going to bust my ass to make sure every runner was taken care of.

Saturday morning, I had a drowsy & wet start being 4am and driving through a mild downpour on the way to Easton. Thankfully, the rain stopped when getting past the Snoqualmie Valley. The runners and volunteers wouldn't need to breakout the rain gear this time.

I got to Easton around 7am after getting some Starbucks and gas, headed to the firehouse and got some breakfast with the rest of the runners and volunteers that were there. Lots of familiar people. A good who's-who of ultrarunning. Mark Tanaka, Andy Kumeda, Catra Corbitt, Christian Griffith, James Varner, Rod Bien, etc. Some that I've never met in person, some that I've ran with (or rather, got outrun by), but all of them that I consider friends and fellow brothers & sisters in suffering. I kept mental note of who was there since I knew I'd meet them again...and again.

After a few more introductions, I started lugging supplies into cars and trucks for the various aid stations that were starting early, mine being one of them. Before 9am, it was off to the first aid station - Tacoma Pass. I followed our fearless captain, Eric Sach from the Balanced Athlete with his wife Iliana in their car. Eric has been the aid station captain here for about 4 years now and knows the way all too well, driving along the washboard/pothole dirt roads like a rally car driver. My poor minivan was so traumatized!

We eventually got to the aid station location and setup halfway. Afterwards, we went for a nice run along the Pacific Crest Trail, heading southbound. A good ~60 min hike & run for me. I'm looking forward to next year to run the event and actually RUN up some of those hills with a bib number attached to me. Once everyone got back, the crews for the various runners showed up and with the help of some of the kiddies who came along, we got the aid station ready...almost.

One thing we didn't account for was a few runners (i.e. Phil Shaw) coming in faster than expected. We expected runners to appear at 2pm, Phil came in at 1:30pm! Thankfully, we got our act together and worked like a well-oiled machine (even with the wasps that kept attacking our aid station table). When you're at this aid station, you can see who looks good to go another 50 miles and who's going to suffer if they keep going. Good to know for next year. This aid station also goes very fast, since there is still daylight and there's plenty of time to get VERY TIRED later on. When the sweeper finally came in, we all jumped for joy and started the teardown of the aid station. I had the dread of having to drive along those evil roads again.

The things to remember: A tablespoon or two of Yellow Mustard can cure leg cramping/pain. Seemed to work for Randy Gierhke, the co-creator of the original Cascade Crest course. (Randy dropped later on in the race. Guess he should have taken my mustard bottle with him.)

After another traumatic drive along the roads back to the Interstate, we finally got back to the race start/finish and unloaded. It was still daylight and I had time to get to my next aid station, Keechelus Ridge @ Mile 60.5. I had originally downloaded my directions from Google Maps, but it got really confusing when you go down dirt roads with no signs anywhere. After climbing what seemed like Mt Everest in my minivan and getting lost, I eventually found the aid station.

What a site! High up, a 7 mile climb from Hyak. I was crossing my fingers that the clouds would be gone and we'd get a starry sky. Sadly, we didn't get to see the heavens that night. This aid station is where folks can come out looking like rock-stars or they're on their way to a death march.

The hurried pace from Tacoma was non-existent here at Keechelus Ridge. With our aid station captain Adam and fellow workers Cameron & Ondrej, we gave more attention to our runners that came in and I broke out the mini-stove to make up some cheeseburgers for folks (a little experiment to see who'd be up for burgers - seems that the mid to back of the packers ate them up...the elite to front of the pack...not so much).

Towards the end, we were getting VERY TIRED and the last few folks that came in did their best to continue. 4 people dropped at our aid station, two that had their crew come to fetch them. The two that were left, one had enough and was feeling ill (his vomiting when we returned to the start was a giveaway), the other drop...well, a mild injury kept her from going, but her attitude towards myself and the rest of the aid station crew was unnecessary. Keechelus Ridge is a non-crew access aid station for the most part due to the narrow roads. If someone drops, they typically have only two options: Go to the next aid station at Kachess Lake (7 miles away, downhill) OR wait until our aid station was done and we closed shop. The first option can get most folks to the next point within 1-2 hours depending on how fast they are. The second option at the time could take 4-5 hours. Plus, the human body can often times rebound if it keeps going during events like these. However, this particular runner shot all of us a dirty look when we gave her those two options. A look of, "What? You're NOT going to drive me down to the finish right NOW???" Needless to say, we had a very difficult time blowing this attitude off and eventually, the runner decided to wait it out until we closed shop.

Runs like this are hard, emotions are high, this is understood. But when you're out there running, be grateful that there are people there to make sure that you're able to eat, drink, make sure you got a pulse, etc. No one paid us to be there, so if we can only give you so many options - cut us some slack.

Anyway...aside from this one incident, aid station #2 for me went well and I learned how to cope with the lack of sleep again and being on my feet for extended periods of time. Perfect for training with future races and the next Cascade Crest 2010 run.

After a quick teardown of the aid station, I headed back to Easton to unload one final time and get to see some runners finish.

Hanging out with friends, seeing the triumph of the human spirit as various folks finished their 100 mile adventure, embracing life. This is why I'm so hooked on this sport and even though I've done less running in these things, sitting on the sidelines and lending a hand puts me in a special place where I get to see the joy (and the sadness) that comes with this thing we call ultrarunning.

...although, I do miss being the sweaty one crossing the finish line. But all in good time.