August 18, 2019

Tough Mudder – Beaver Creek

Team BLW: Me, my wife, Molly and Greg Londo (the "W" participant, Eric Worthan is absent).

Early this month I joined one of my clients, Greg Londo, along with his wife Molly and my wife, Hope, for the 2012 Tough Mudder. Both individually and collectively, this was our first attempt at this type of endurance event—one that presents 23 obstacles scattered over a 12-mile course. The Tough Mudder is a different breed of “race” and, the Beaver Creek venue provided the opportunity for the race directors to provide an especially challenging course—the starting corral at the base of Beaver Creek, which could be accessed only after scalling an 10-foot wall (we each certainly caught a hint of things to come with that one), starts athletes out at 8,100 feet.

Our team, team “BLW”: Beatte, Londo, and Worthan … oh yes, the Worthan participant bailed, perhaps wisely electing to attend a “surprise” family event, a graudation, instead of facing the challenges offered by the Mudder event, rolled out of the Westin and headed up the mountain at 7:15 a.m., well in advance of our 8:40 a.m. start time. After checking in where we dutifully turned in our “death waivers,” received our race numbers (having them etched in semi-permanant ink on our foreheads), and our Dos Equis “free” beer wristband, we collected ourselves and made the obligatory restroom break prior to heading to the starting line. We watched as the first two waves, the 8:00 a.m. and 8:20 a.m. were realeased downhill (the only downhill on the course for the first 6 or so miles) and headed out to face the Tough Mudder obstacles. Once called to the starting corral, that’s when we faced the wall—get it, a wall that you had to scale before even getting to the starting line! Our wave consisted of approximately 200 other participants, and we were reminded of spirit of commaraderie that sets these types of events apart (the MC directed us that we would be unable to complete the various challenges on the course without enlisting the help of both our teammates as well as other racers, before leading us in an oath to put other racers before yourself)—this certainly proved true for me (thanks Greg … as well as the nameless others)! After some additional instructions (i.e., “Take care of yourselves out there,” … “Be smart,” etc.), we were also reminded of the “Wounded Warriors” that would be participating alongside us during the event and who would be the beneficiaries of a percentage of the money raised by our support of the Tough Mudder event. The National Anthem and we were off …

What followed over the course of the next four hours was a challenge unlike any that I had faced before. As we headed down the mountain away from the staring corral and onto the course, we joked as we jumped over a “speed bump”-type haybail, that we had only 22 obstacles left to go—FYI, the haybail was NOT one of the obstacles! Instead, the “real” challenges boasting names like “Trench Warfare,” “Shocks on the Rocks,” “Artic Enema,” and “Electroshock Therapy” would soon meet us. For the most part, we worked as a team, although Molly and Greg’s youth and conditioning allowed them to move faster than me and my wife. Greg is a veteran US Army Ranger and West Point graduate—those skills also served him well. We repeatedly relied on him to assist us in scaling walls … he graciously gave us all a boost, then he would propell himself up and over unaided.

I puposelly want to leave some of the details to the imagination; however, a couple of the obstacles are deserving of a bit of commentary. This is especially true of the electroshock challenges. Although I am a bit rusty on my physics principles (Is it amplitude or voltage that is modulated to allow you to receive a substantial, but non-lethal jolt?) several challenges along the course delivered significant electric shocks to participants. As our team approached the first “live” shock challenge we were unsure about the seriousness of the shocks that would be ultimately delivered. After hitting the mud, face down, and crawling under the barbedwire laced with electric tentacles (each carrying 10,000 volts) I at least had no doubt … the first shock hit me hard, I yelped, and felt seized as the shocks wrapped around my chest. You see, I was wearing a Polar heartrate monitor strap (I had listened to the warnings that those who had metal “in” there bodies should not complete the electroshock challenges and the thought had at least passed through my mind that wearing a HR strap was perhaps not a good idea—it was NOT), I quickly pawed at my chest while staying low to avoid getting zapped again and pulled the strap away from my chest. Relieved, I proceeded through the remainder of the challenge getting hit 3 additional times. I could hear my teammates shout as they got zapped … this first round was serious, one jolt sent my chin so hard into the rocks and mud that my chin remained bruised and tender for several days following the event! We survived … I surveyed the mood of our teammates and it was surprisingly upbeat! We made some off hand jokes about ECT therapy (electroconvulsive therapy) and how we each felt eerily better after beign shocked, but the truth of the matter was that we did. Needless to say, we worked espcially hard on the subsequent electrified challenges to avoid the shocks … more came, but far less than the initial round!

Many of the obstacles featured a water element—either as an integral part of the challenge or as a consquence for failing to complete the obstacle. Perhaps the best example of the former, was the “Artic Enima.” When I approached the large pool divided by a plank wall and noticed the two refrigerator trucks standing by, I figured this was going to be COLD. It was! A quick plunge off the deck into a deep pool of freezing water, another quick check of the divider to assess the depth that I needed to dive, down and under, only to emerge on the other side through layers of ice cubes, then up on a the other side and down a steep and slick set of stairs. Hope came through immediately behind me and also felt the chill … she emerged, descended, and staggered on down the mountainside toward me sputtering something to the effer of “Never, ever, again!” (exhibiting class signs of Stage 1 hypothermia).  We gathered up our team (this was something we repeatedly did both before and after obstacles) and assesed our general well-being … we were “good” … on to the next challenge. In contrast to where the water was THE challenge, obtacles, like “Funky Monkey,” “Twinkle Toes,” and “Hang Tough” all featured an icy pool where competitors would end up if they failed to make it across on whatever apparatus was suspended over the water. I missed the final haning ring on “Funky Monkey” and took another icy plunge (Molly and Hope joined me in taking a swim, with only Greg making it through without getting wet). We all managed to stay dry on the balance challenge “Twinkle Toes.” “Hanging Tough” resulted in another swim for all but Greg—way to go Greg!  What do they teach you in Ranger school anyway?

Other challenges scattered along the 12-mile course included steep and muddy ascents, scrambles across frozen and slick snow mounds, log carries, tunnel and tube crawls, cargo net climbs, and scaling high walls, among others. The log carry challenge presented competitors with the choice to carry individual logs or to tackle a “team” log. We elected to pair up and each husband and wife team carried their own log. Molly and Greg finished well ahead of us and I jokingly suggested that they had carried a log that was hollow inside (perhaps a lodge pole pine that had fallen prey to pine bettle infestation)—they assured me that their log was just as heavy and unrully as ours … good fun!

As suggested by the event promoters, the Tough Mudder course provided many opportunities to work both as a team and to support other competitors. We extended hands and pulled heavy bodies over obstacles, hung on the base of cargo netting in order to allow other athletes a better shot at getting up and over, and pushed and encouraged others up and across the steep and slippery snow fields. As for me, I would still be on the wrong side of the “Berlin Walls” challenge if it had not been for Greg boosting me up and over … thanks Greg! I can’t even commment about the assistance both Molly and Greg offered on the vegetable oil covered half-pipe near the finish!?

Participant queue up in order to run through the "Electroshock Therapy" which comes at the end of the Beaver Creek Tough Mudder.

As was our habit, we checked up before the final obstacle and elected to push through the final shock challenge, apptly named “Electroshock Therapy” (aptly named, see above) and emerged on the other side of the electrified mud pit with big smiles and reporting on the number of shocks that we had endured: Hope, “0” me, “1,” Molly, “1,” and Greg, “1”—it was over. We scrambled to the finish line to a mass of spectators and collected our Tough Mudder headbands and other SWAG (and our free Dos Equis beer).

8 Hours at Life Time Fitness and My “Urban Adventure”


In April I placed two long training days on my calendar, each designed to support my longer-term training goals (i.e., primarily to promote changes in my strength to weight ratio) and to provide new and different fitness challenges.  For the first, I constructed an 8-hour training day at Life Time Fitness-Centennial (consisting of 4 group fitness classes supplemented with 3 hours of self-guided activity), while the second consisted of what I like to call an “urban adventure”­—an 8-hour hike from my home to the heart of Denver and back.  I elected to share these quirky training days as a means to encourage creativity and new fitness challenges.  If it is possible to devote a day off (I know how rare these are), or even string together a block of a few hours, consider planning a workout that is very different from your usual routine.  Consider roping a friend or a relative into participating in the challenge that you select.  If you belong to a fitness club, tap into some of the resources that you don’t normally take advantage of and see what new opportunities exist to progress your fitness exist there.  Finally, don’t forget that the simple movement of placing one foot in front of the other is a readily available activity that works wonders on our base fitness and body composition—a fitness adventure awaits right out your door.  Good luck in identifying and accomplishing your next “physical challenge.”  What follows is what I came up with last month:

8-Hour Training Day at Life Time Fitness

Although I had hoped to begin my quest to walk the entire length of Denver’s High Line Canal Trail (see the 2012 edition of the “Guide to the High Line Canal“) … a pursuit that I had initially engaged my friend Tom Frederick to join me in, the forecast for our scheduled outing didn’t cooperate.  The weather was expected to turn cold and wet and Tom wasn’t having it.  Instead of giving up on the training day (one that had long been scheduled on my calendar—albeit having moved around a bit), I elected to design another type of physical challenge.  I crafted an 8-hour indoor training day at Life Time Fitness (LTF) and pitched it to Tom.  What I came up with is set out below:

A copy of the 8-hour training day schedule that I threw together to guide our effort.

Tom met me at the doors of the Centennial LTF club at 6:01 a.m. and we got right to it … you see, the on-line schedules for the Centennial club (the ones that I used to plan our day) had not been updated yet for April, and the Vinyasa class had moved up to 6:00 a.m (or perhaps I just read it wrong).  Note: I have included a copy of the current group class schedule, here.  After receiving accepting glances from Sasha from our position just outside the studio door (a very capable Vinyasa instructor at LTF), Tom and I joined the class already in progress.  Note: As a rule, I NEVER join a yoga class late … you may disagree, but it’s just good etiquette, but Sasha runs a bit more informal class and kindly welcomed us in!  We quietly found our places and moved into the “flow.”  Note also that this was Tom’s very first yoga class … not an ideal way to begin, but he did his best to follow along through the relatively fast-paced series!  Next, the pool.  We made a quick transition to the pool where I spent a considerable amount of time helping Tom with his freestyle before abandoning him with orders to, above all else, “DO NOT stop moving.”  I managed 2600 m over the course of the next hour before heading off to the spinning class.  After some liquid nutrition (I fueled on NutriBiotic rice protein shake blended with flax seed, almond milk, and blueberries) it was off to Angela’s “Studio Cycle.”  After making the necessary adjustments to get Tom set up on his bike, I settled in to an easy cadence and waited for the class to begin.  An uptempo play list, a cycling video on the big screens, and a few sustained climbs helped pass the time (144 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 168 bpm)—only much later did I learn that Tom shares my affinity for techno remixes (check out his picks, via YouTube, original remix versions of Pink Floyd classic “Another Brick in the Wall: Part II” by Eric Prydz, here and here—both are close to the beats that propelled us through at least part of Angela’s spin class … note that, as Tom correctly pointed out, “the videos are a little crazy” but they will get you pointed in the right direction to finding more of Prydz’s work).  Another shake similar to the first, a quick change out of my cycling bibs and into shorts, and we headed off to “No Limits Circuit.”  Tom and I joined a group of 15  or so women (the class grew to over 25 by “go time” and included one other man)who were ready to do battle, “circuit style.”  Look, I have participated in these classes before … I know the scene and the routine … it usually goes something like this:  a group of extremely fit middle-aged women, lead by one of the fittest women on the planet (i.e., the instructor), brings this endurance athlete to his knees by challenging my anaerobic energy systems to their max while simultaneously revealing all the weaknesses in my ongoing endurance, strength, and flexibility training—I was glad to have Tom there for support.  However, it was not meant to be for Tom.  Despite my urging the he could, and SHOULD stay for the circuit class … after just 4 hours he had had enough!  I said my goodbyes to Tom and waited for the music, and the punishing, to begin.  The punishing came, delivered by Carrissa, the instructor and her regular “followers” … I survived, but it went exactly as predicted (144 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 177 bpm).  Drop in to a “No Limits Circuit” class just about any day of the week to see what I mean!  In the fifteen minute “break” I consumed another bit of liquid nutrition, knowing full well that it was unlikely to sit well with me and may even jeopardize my subsequent performance in the next class.  Next up, “Barbell Strength.”   As I went about collecting the items that I would apparently need for class, e.g., an aerobic step, a barbell with an assortment of weights, some smaller dumbbells, I discovered that a fellow endurance athlete and friend, Katie Loyd, was in the front row.  I visited with Katie for a couple of minutes and, after explaining was I up to, I assumed my place in the back row … I think she understood!?  (Katie is a veteran Ironman athlete and endurance aficionado.)  Funny, within minutes of starting the barbell workout I started to feel eerily weak—getting the appropriate amount of calories in was proving to be a real challenge through the first part of the day’s schedule.  As I worked through the initial barbell squat series I collapsed down onto one knee … seriously, right before I went “down” the lights starting to dim and the great to form around the edges of my vision—I had hit some sort of wall.  I was determined to continue, quickly recovered, and resumed squatting, all the while giving myself some serious self-talk like “You can do this!” … “Just shed some of the weight on the bar and keep going!”  For the remainder of the class I adjusted down my weights and things gradually turned around … it was still a challenge (and, as someone who teaches the finer points of weightlifting, I would suggest that you not use a “barbell circuit” class as your only reference for proper lifting technique … but if you have some experience moving weights around, these types of classes can offer a dose of variety to your routine).  My heart rate data for the “Barbell Strength” class: 113 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 154 bpm.  After class I consumed my final “meal” and headed to the treadmill (after a short visit to the on-site daycare to see how much Katie’s son had grown since the last time that I had seen him).  The treadmill (aka “dreadmill”) eagerly waited for me … a couple more hours of steady-state effort, as that was all that I could manage, and it would be over.  A little after 2:30 p.m. I called it a day and headed off to the locker room to enjoy the steam room and a shower.  At 3:06 I sent the following text to my friend Tom: “It’s over … that was crazy.  Thanks for showing up and participating (you could have done it)!”

“Urban Adventure”

I left my home shortly after 7 a.m., sporting my heaviest Vasque hiking boots, my Nathan lightweight hydration pack (essentially carrying only water, an apple, my phone, a visor, and some additional sunscreen—$20 and a credit card).  I accessed the Cherry Creek Trail behind my home and headed north.  The plan was to simply hike as far as I could between my departure time and 4 p.m.—I had originally contemplated and out-and-back route; however, as I worked deeper into my hike I committed to seeing just how far I could go.  I also carried my SPOT personal GPS beacon—a great little device that lets loved ones and friends (really whoever you allow access to you maps page) track your adventures … my wife enjoys coming “along” on my outings and she can use the SPOT map to get me out of a tough “spot” if the need arises (ha).  [I had hoped to share a screenshot of the SPOT map that I collected; however, it had expired from my account by the time put this post together.]  I shed some layers at Cherry Creek State Park and ate my apple, already beginning to feel the effects of some fatigue from this different mode of transportation (walking and running involve different movement patterns).  As I frequently ride the Cherry Creek Trail on my bike, I had anticipated much of what I would see on my adventure; however, I was surprised to encounter the following ant mounds … note that in each photograph, the ants had picked up some type of candy to dine on (you catch this kind of thing when you are moving at slower speed versus whizzing by on a bike).

   

Ants and candy (1) of (2).

Ants and candy (2) of (2).

My heart rate remained ridiculously low, around 70-90 bpm throughout my hike.  By 1 o’clock I passed into Cherry Creek North and had put over 18 miles behind me.  With my 2L hydration bag completely emptied, I landed at Whole Foods where I collected an assortment of items to eat and stocked up on fluids.  Let’s see … nearly six hours to get to Cherry Creek North … if I backtracked following the same route I certainly wasn’t going to make it home by 4 p.m.?  I had to come up with a new plan.

My lunch at Whole Foods: Water, carrot juice, kale & garlic salad, and a couple of rosemary grilled chicken breasts.

On my way in, I had noted the RTD buses and even stopped to check out the schedules at a couple of their stops.  Over lunch I used my iPhone to located the bus routes and schedules and I caught the bus heading to Nine Mile Station  (only slightly north of the Cherry Creek State Park) just beyond the Cherry Creek Mall.

The Garmin (a feature of Garmin Connect) player shows my progress (or, alternatively, click here):

<iframe width=’465′ height=’548′ frameborder=’0′ src=’http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/178951971′></iframe>

As I had an appointment that I had to keep at 5:00 p.m., I knew that I had to be home no later than 4:15 p.m. in order to shower, change, and make it—hence the “planes, trains, and automobiles” route on the way back (or, in my case, the city bus, hitched ride with a park ranger, and a taxi cab—I included a photograph of my Whole Foods lunch, bus fare, and taxi receipts as the lead photograph for this post).  Determined to put in as many miles in as absolutely possible, I walked from the Nine Mile Station deep into Cherry Creek State Park.  Again, after my vehicular excursion with a park official that I will leave unnamed but to whom I am extremely grateful (I hitched a ride as soon as I realized that I needed to get through the park in order to arrange a taxi ride to get me home on time), I landed on my feet and hiked out of the park while simultaneously arranging for a tax to pick me up at Valley Country Club (just to the south of Cherry Creek State Park).  In all, I logged better than 24 miles in a single day (just short of the marathon distance that I had hoped).  This was truly a LSD (Long Slow Distance) training day.  I simply concentrated on keeping my “heavy” feet moving (the reason that I selected heavy hiking boots over running shoes) and worked on training up my hiking/walking muscles.

I have included a slideshow of a few of the  other images from my “urban adventure” below:

 

 

USA Weightlifting – Beyond the Basics

Over the course of the last couple of years, I have dabbled in the Olympic moves (snatch, clean, and jerk) with limited success, frequently getting discouraged by the difficulty of these seemingly simple moves (I have preferred to read about these movement patterns rather than incorporate them into my ongoing training programs).  I mean you look at a clean, and you go, “Ok, I can move this bar from the floor to my shoulders.”  In practice however, it is much more difficult than it looks.  This year I decided to get serious and change from a bystander to a participant, no longer  content to look at movement “theory,” I wanted to begin formal practice.  To that end I calendared the USA Weightlifting, Level I – Sports Performance Coach Certification and made learning and teaching the “O-moves” (as they are affectionately know by those who run in weightlifting circles) a priority.  My rationale for wanting to learn more about these movement is fairly straightforward, these moves are “functional” in the broadest sense—they are ground based (as are the majority of sports and activities), they can offer a wide variety of clients an efficient workout with tremendous training adaptations (e.g., increased power, development of kinesthetic awareness, increased muscle fiber density, increased intramuscular/intermuscular coordination), and they introduce clients to fun and challenging movements—these reasons, laid out in the USA Weightlifting curriculum, are the very reasons I wanted to attend this certification course.  Over the third weekend in April, I found myself at Red Rocks CrossFit in beautiful Colorado Springs, CO.   Along with some 25+ others from both Colorado and a few from beyond Colorado’s borders, Paul Fleschler introduced both “theory and practice” and then took me way beyond the fundamentals as both an athlete and a coach.

Olympic reminders that adorn RedRocks CrossFit (many of these athletes have trained with Paul at his facilities or at the USA Olympic training center).

The Venue: Red Rocks CrossFit occupies an old trolley car building that offers the essentials and then some.  Power racks, barbells, and lots of bumper plates adorn the floors of a facility, that by both its design and decor feels “serious.”  From its high ceilings hang multiple iron rings and suspended braided ropes.  Rowing machines are the only “cardio” equipment (a frequent hallmark of CrossFit gyms).  But beyond all the necessary equipment, e.g., medicine balls, plyo boxes, PVC dowels, the thing that stands out and sets it apart from other CrossFit gyms are the large-scale tributes to the USA Olympic weightlifting athletes.  As it turns out, much of the equipment in use at the facility came directly from the USA Olympic weightlifting center, also located in Colorado Springs.

Paul Fleschler, a coach and trainer with 30+ years of experience, exuded enthusiasm for this “lifelong” sport.  Over the course of his career, Paul has competed at a national level, worked with Olympic and collegiate athletes (he was a strength coach at Indiana University in the days when Bobby Knight reigned supreme), and, like so many other coaches and trainers that I admire, he has managed to find a way to progress the health and fitness with the “everymen” of the world—average men and women who are interested in learning knew skills and increasing their fitness levels.  Oh, and I failed to mention that he represented the USA in the sport of weightlifting in the ’92 Barcelona Olympics (see more about Paul and his credentials here)!  At the outset, Paul affirmed what I have long believed, the Olympic moves should be a part of my training routine.

But you can’t just start with the clean.  One should walk before he or she runs.  And the progression of learning these hallmark O-moves, based on some 30 years of practice within the USA Weightlifting organization, begins with a general physical preparedness regimen (a general warm-up) followed by a minimum mobility assessment.  For the sake of expediency, I will pass over the details of a warm-up, just know that the completion of a comprehensive dynamic warm-up is a prerequisite for performing these movements well (as well as serving to reduce the possibility of injury).  The minimum mobility assessment, consisting of an overhead squat, straight leg raise, front squat (in “receiving” position), and an upright row with a PVC bar/stick provides a look at an athlete’s readiness to attempt the Olympic moves.  This short assessment identifies potential structural and flexibility restrictions that can be addressed with specific warm-up and even corrective techniques.  By way of personal example, I have tight latissimus dorsi muscles (upper back) and pectoral muscles.  I also perform the majority of my squat movements in the “low bar” position.  As a consequence, my overhead squat presents significant forward lean—not a problem if you wish to squat large amounts of weight, but a significant problem for getting in the proper position for the Olympic moves.  Add some decreased mobility in my hip joint and tight hamstrings and I have some work that needs to be done before I will be able to progress to higher levels of Olympic lifting!  My ongoing exercise prescription will be to work on progressing my flexibility and gradually transitioning to the “high bar” position back squat.

An overview of the weekend’s itinerary provides useful insight into how these moves are taught: Day 1: Two sections: 1) Understanding and Preparing for Weightlifting (introduction, objectives, rationale; safety and evaluation; and basic biomechanics, and 2) Learning and Teaching Techniques: Basic Exercises, Clean Related; Basic Exercises, Snatch Related; and Basic Exercises, Jerk Related and Day 2: Powers Assistance Exercises and Implementing Program Design (Day 2 also included an extended coaching session during which participants worked on the clean, snatch, and jerk movements).

Following a self-guided general warm-up, completion of the minimum mobility assessment, and dividing into small groups, we began working the progression for learning the technique of the O-moves.  First, up the “starting position.”  The starting position sets the stage for a successful moment.  As I frequently share with my clients in the weight room, “Sometimes how you start determined how you will finish!”—this is particularly true to the Olympic movements.  The keys to a good stating position are as follows: 1) all body levers are “tight,” 2) feet are straight (neutral) or slightly turned out, 3) the back is flat (or even concave), 4) the arms are straight (elbows are rotated out), 5) the head is up (again, neutral) and the eyes are focused straight ahead, 6) the hips are higher than the knees, and 7) the shoulders are in advance of the barbell.  Note: the weight is distributed evenly on the athlete’s feet prepared for the changes that take place during the movements (i.e., 1st pull: weight moves toward the heels, and 2nd pull: weight moves toward the toes).  Paul was “hands on” during the practical portions of the training (which made up more the 3/4 of the curriculum), rotating through each group and emphasizing certain critical points to the group as whole as needed.  In addition, Paul was assisted by three experienced assistant coaches, one of which, a 23-year-old female lifter, competes at the national and international level and narrowly missed an Olympic trial spot this year—she is about to begin another 4-year training cycle and dreams of representing the United States in the Olympics.  Each coach offered unique perspectives and cues to the moves that we practiced throughout the weekend.

Me, assuming the proper "start position."

By the lunch break of day 1, I  had performed LOTS of clean and clean related moves.  After lunch and another self-guided warm-up and brief work through a barbell complex, we attacked the snatch and snatch related moves.  But for the difference in the grip (the snatch features a substantially wider grip), these two moves share a great number of similarities.  Note: A surefire way to determine the proper width of the snatch grip is to use a jump rope.  The procedure goes like this: have the athlete stand with her back facing toward you, left arm extended at her side, with her right arm extended away from her hips at shoulder level.  Measure from the top of the left shoulder (the AC joint, or acromioclavicular joint) to the middle knuckle on the right hand—simply transfer this measurement to the bar.  (With the clean, the focus is moving under the bar to the receiving (aka “rack”) position, whereas with the snatch, the barbell moves on a trajectory over the head.  As with the clean, by the end of the day I had performed LOTS of snatch and snatch related, along with a good quantity of jerk and jerk related moves (the jerk features footwork where the feet split underneath the bar).  I said goodbye to my group and Paul, then headed slowly to my truck to make the trip back home to Denver.

Learning from Each Other:

The Level 1 course, in addition to providing instruction from high experienced coaches, facilitated additional learning and coaching opportunities within our small groups.  My group featured a standout named Grant Cahill.  From the moment Grant joined our group, sporting his well-worn Risto weightlifting shoes, I knew that there was something special about this 32-year-old.  Grant is a trainer who has been working through the CrossFit competition ranks, while practicing solo in his garage.  I learned a great deal from Grant as we all learned more about these movements.

Grant Cahill nailing a jerk, "spot on" just like he did on almost every movement that he practiced over the weekend.

Day 2 ushered in the power assistance exercises.  We initially focused on the snatch and clean pulling movements.  With these moves, the goal is to develop strength in the pull.  And, in the case of the Romanian dead lift (RDL), strength in the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.  The power assistance moves also include overhead pressing and lower body squatting movements.  The overhead movements include the push press behind the neck, power jerk behind the neck, and the jerk behind the neck.  The squat power assistance exercises include the squat (the “high bar” back squat is implied here), and the single leg squat in two varieties: 1) the split squat and 2) the split squat with the rear foot elevated.  Each of the power assistance movements are designed to serve to improve performance in the O-moves.

Prior to the final practice session devoted to the clean, snatch, and jerk movements we discussed the essential components of program design.  As with endurance training and traditional resistance training, training for the Olympic movements should be both rational and periodized (note that I frequently make the argument that nutrition should be similarly periodized).  Using the lift related movements (i.e., snatch or clean), the overhead movements (i.e., snatch or jerk), the squat related movements, and pull related movements, a systematic training program can be designed to promote ongoing positive training adaptations—the idea is to manipulate the application of stress over time to elicit consist and ongoing training adaptations.  Paul and USA Weightlifting break the basic training macrocycle into a 12-week block that includes three 4-week periods.  Each 4-week period is respectively devoted to preparation, strength, or competition.  The volume begins high at a relatively low intensity in week 1 (the first week of a 4-week preparation training block) and steadily progresses, via an inverse relationship, to week 12 (the final week of another 4-week “competition”/peak training block) where the volume is low and the intensity is high.  Note also that the number of lifting (e.g., the clean, snatch, and jerk) versus strength related exercises (e.g., pulls, squats, and overhead presses), as well as the repetition count, changes across the 12-week cycle).  Every third week serves as an “unloading” week, where the athlete’s body recovers and adapts to the systematically increasing training loads.  The bottom line is that it is not sufficient to know how to execute the O-moves, the athlete must incorporate the moves into a rational training plan that will serve to consistently advance the athlete’s training adaptations.

Homemade lifting straps fashioned from 1" tubular webbing and athletic tape (used to increase grip with the pulling exercises).

Coaching Tips & Tricks: Olympic weightlifting, by definition, is an international sport.  Consequently, a well-appointed training facility will offer weights labeled in the international standard kilograms and and not US pounds.  Most of us are familiar with the standard conversion of kilograms to US pounds (i.e., multiply kilograms x 2.2 = US pounds); however, there is an easier way to get at the correct conversion in the weight room: simply multiply kilograms times 2 and then add 10%.  For example, 60 kilograms of weight equals 132 (120 + 12) pounds—simple as that!  Also, I discovered a new type of “strap” that can be fashioned out of 1″ tubular webbing (note that this is readily available from an outdoor store or climbing store, e.g., REI).  These straps help overcome the limitation of grip strength (especially in the pulling exercises where grip is frequently a limiter when lifting heavy loads)—note also that this is why the hook grip is preferred.  As Paul pointed out, these straps have the advantage over the store-bought variety since they will not tear as easily.  You know the ones that wrap around the athlete’s wrist and then double back through (see one example, here).  Approximately 18″ of tubular webbing folded over on itself and then joined at the end with athletic tape (this tape may need to be reapplied from time to time) will yield a durable pair of lifting straps.

The entire weekend was a complete success.  Paul provided a wealth of knowledge along with some great stories that served to add a richness and context to the material that we covered in the curriculum.  In addition to the great instruction by Paul and his assistant coaches, the course participants were similarly engaged and eager to learn.  As I left the gym on the final day, the comments flying through the air where uniformly positive.  Through their diversity as trainers, coaches, CrossFit’ers, and competitive athletes, my fellow attendees challenged and progressed my learning.  The bottom line is that the Olympic moves offer the ability to promote tremendous muscular and neuromuscular development.  The snatch, clean, and jerk, along with the related exercises, are challenging and can add variety to your workouts.  Want to know more?  Contact me and I will be happy to share what I have learned (we can learn more together).  Alternatively, make an appoint to see Paul or drop in at Red Rocks CrossFit for one of the monthly “open gym” days—you will be able to joint fellow lifters and coaches in learning more about these great moves (note the upcoming “open gym” days are as follows:  see the Red Rocks CrossFit page for additional information).  Find a local lifting club or a local gym where the Olympic moves are understood and taught: two gyms that Paul recommended include Flatirons CrossFit in (see Randy Hauer for learning the O-moves) and Front Range CrossFit (see Skip Miller for learning the O-moves)—in addition to working with Paul, I will certainly be drawing additional knowledge from these local resources!  For an active blog concerning all “happenings” in Colorado weightlifting, see here.

I have included the core curriculum of the USA Weightlifting progression in the slide show that follows (these slides will hopefully serve to get you thinking about how these movements should be approached, taught, and practiced).  I am extremely grateful to Paul Fleschler and USA Weightlifting for allowing me to include these slides here (note that Paul authored the USA Weightlifting, Level I manual).  Contact USA Weightlifting to learn more (perhaps even take a the Level I certification) … you will not be disappointed!

A review of the “basics”:

As an aside, the majority of this post was drafted at The Coffee Exchange, a quaint and well-appointed coffee shop that is located just beyond Red Rocks Crossfit on Tejon Street in the Springs (click here to view the Yelp reviews of this independent coffee shop).

 

 

Garmin 910XT … New Training Tool

My new Garmin 910XT with optional Garmin Foot Pod.

This month I received my new Garmin 910XT along with the optional Garmin Forerunner Foot Pod.  I find significant value in training with heart rate (HR), as do many other trainers and coaches.  I recently started leaving my Polar products behind after a very positive 6+ year history with Polar’s 725X (no longer available), RS400sd, and CS200cad, having switched to the latest versions of the GPS-enabled Garmin products.  I made the change primarily to provide my coach for Ironman Cozumel, Michael Hagen, a more robust look into my training activities (the wealth of data that the Garmin products collect is exceptional, if not overwhelming at times).  Also, the switch to Garmin coincided with my move to the Mac platform (Polar’s ProTrainer5 is not currently supported on a Mac).   The Garmin units, utilizing the Garmin Connect interface offers sharing features as well as near seamless integration with Training Peaks.

Watch the YouTube Garmin video introducing the new 910XT here.

During my last endurance training cycle, I utilized both the Garmin 310XT (the predecessor to the new 910XT) as well as the Garmin Edge 500.  The Garmin 310XT was plagued by several nagging issues (primarily, although billed as multisport training tool, it lacked any true swim features).   There are others, e.g. relatively short battery life, large size, etc.  The dedicated swim feature is what sets the 910XT apart … Garmin touts the new 910’s swim metrics (e.g. stroke count, lap count, etc.) and for that, I could not be any more excited … I love to swim, but find stroke, length, lap counting tedious and monotonous (even on the high intensity days).

Note: I can’t say enough good things about the Edge 500.  It is a fabulous cycling computer that has become a constant training companion on my bikes.

My hope is to simply share my “out of the box experiences” with the 910XT.  (I will also plan to revisit this post and comment further as my experience with this unit grows over the upcoming training year.)

Out of the Box & Initial Set Up

The out of the box "essentials."

What you get in the box that are the “essentials”: (1) 910XT unit, (2) USB ANT stick, (3) HR strap and transmitter, (4) wall charger and USB cord, and (6) “Quick Start” manual (note that you receive the Quick Start manual in nearly every known language; however, you do not receive an “Owner’s Manual”—it can be downloaded here) along with some extraneous items (e.g., country-specific power adapters, extra watch band, etc.).  Right out of the box, I noticed the sleek new profile of the 910XT, sporting a significantly smaller footprint than the somewhat awkward 310XT.

After repackaging the unnecessary components and filing a copy of my receipt in the box (never hurts in case of the need to return or expedite customer service), I moved on to the “Quick Start Manual.”  STOP: Charge unit before first use (mine arrived with a 56% charge)!  On to the charger the unit went (the 910XT boats a 20-hour life, significantly greater than the 310).  So much for the quick swim, bike, and run that I had hoped to accomplish within minutes of unpacking the unit!?

Garmin's USB ANT stick (allows wireless data transfer)

Fully charged, 100%, and ready to tackle the “Quick Start” manual before heading off for a swim, bike, and run workout.  Before turning the unit on for the first time, I am directed to go outdoors to an open area … out I go.  Once powered on, the unit finds the satellites (or vice versa) in less than 15 seconds.  I take a moment to enter my “user information,” and read the remainder of the manual.  Total setup took approximately 7 minutes; however, note that due to the fact that I already train with other Garmin units I had previously installed the latest version of Garmin’s ANT Agent software (for Mac/for PC—this software allows wireless communication between the 910XT, Edge, etc. and your computer via the “USB ANT stick”—unfortunately, and somewhat surprisingly, the Edge 500 requires a “hardwired” USB connection and does not use the USB ANT stick.  Next, I set my pool length to 25M, and headed off to the pool to have the unit count stokes, distance, and calculate my SWOLF score.

Swim

A word about SWOLF … SWOLF is simply a measure of efficiency.  Although the name is new to me, the efficiency metric is not.  Your SWOLF score is the sum of the time for one length (1/2 a lap) and the number of strokes taken to complete the measured length.  The lower the score the better.

In my initial swim test, I swam 800M (I counted laps) and looked down at the end of my 800M set to see that my 910XT showed precisely 800M … so far, so good.  A SWOLF of 55 … yikes (whatever that means!? … see text block above).

Bike

I encountered a snag when it came to the bike setup.  It had nothing to do with the data capture and connection with the HR transmitter, all of the training features worked flawlessly; rather, it had everything to do with my Type IA personality (I label myself TypeIA, as a play on the slow-twitch muscle type and my innate endurance bent).  I was determined to set up each of the three bikes that I typically train on (i.e., road, MTB, and TT).  However, I was unable to get the unit to accept more than a single bike (although the unit shows 5 available bike presets) and, as the minutes passed, I became more and more determined to solve this inconvenient little problem.  Against my better judgment, I called customer service (USA: 1 (800) 800-1020) and was pleasantly surprised.  “Amanda” solved my problems in a matter of minutes.  Unlike my previous 310XT, bikes must be added and selected using the “MODE” button.  First, you select the number of bikes that you wish to set up.  Second, you select “MODE” and then select “BIKE” and you will be prompted to “change bike” (it as it this point you can enter the selected bike details through the settings feature)  The unit allows you to then toggle between each bike by selecting “MODE” and “BIKE” … simply pick the bike you wish to train on and away you go.

As an aside, I also alerted Amanda to an apparent error in the Owner’s Manual (once again note that this manual is NOT included with the unit and can be downloaded from the Garmin site here).   This error had to do with returning the unit to its factory setting.  How did I discover this error?  Was I seriously considering returning my unit to its factory settings after entering all of my user information and experience precise lap recording at my home pool?  Well, yes.  I wanted everythingto work as designed.  Anyway, the correct instructions for this “nuclear option” aka “Hard Reset” (and, one that I thankfully did not have to employ) follow:

With the unit powered OFF, press and hold both the POWER and MODE buttons = restore to factory settings.

(or so I have been told … ha).

 

Amanda spoke about future software updates that the Garmin team was already working on.  I added my suggestion to the mix and she provided me with assurances that it would be passed along.  Here is my suggestion:  The unit allows the athlete to select different units (i.e., statute or metric) for various training modes: swim, bike, and run.  I run and bike with statute pace and distance on my mind (with the exception of track workouts that keep me focused on meters); however, I swim in a 25M pool.  I suggested that it would be great if the unit would allow you to keep statute measurements as defaults for both the run and the bike, but switch to metric measurements automatically when in the swim mode if you select the distance of your pool in meters.  We shall see!?

Update: My proposed suggestion has turned out to be unnecessary.  When you change the “mode” (e.g., swim, bike, run, or other) to the swim setting, you are prompted to select either open water or a pool swim.  If you select pool swim and select a length of 25M, the unit functions in the metric units while leaving all of the other statute setting unchanged (i.e. for the bike, run, and other modes).

As expected, performance on the bike was flawless.  I slapped the unit on the TT bike currently stationed on my CompuTrainer and started a steady-state workout.  HR, cadence, distance each paired precisely with the units calculated by the CompuTrainer (for HR I utilized the CopmuTrainer earpiece).  Although my Edge 500 will remain my primary cycling computer, it is nice to know that the 910XT will function in multisport applications as it is billed.

Run

Off the bike and outdoors again!  (Note: That I turned the unit on and off to reset it from “indoor” mode).  As a true multisport device, this extra step would not be necessary depending on how you have the unit configured (e.g., “multisport”).  I ran a known course of 2.0 miles.  The 910XT again performed flawlessly, HR and distance were both accurate.

Supplemental Treadmill Test: Following my initial swim, bike, and run flash testing I put the unit to another “indoor” test on my treadmill.  I attached the optional Garmin Forerunner Foot Pod and started up my trusted Precor 93.1.  The unit detected my foot pod immediately and, even without calibration, distance fairly accurate with pace varying from ­+ 20 seconds at training pace, to almost 3 minutes at a walk.  I will revisit this issue after calibrating the foot bod by distance (the preferred method, see p. 25 of the “Owner’s Manual”).  A day later I performed a second test, again without calibration, and this time the distance measurement was accurate (no deviation) and the run pace discrepancy had narrowed to less than + 10 seconds.

Note that in each of the different modes (i.e., swim, bike, and run), the 910XT offers fully customizable data fields (e.g., HR, pace, lap time, time of day, etc., etc.—the available data fields are too numerous to name).

Data Transfer

After installing the latest version of Garmin ANT Agent, the data transfer was immediate and seamless (with new activities added directly to Garmin Connect).  No issues here.

Conclusion

After using the 910XT for approximately a week of training, I will admit that I am generally impressed.  The data collection is robust and the unit, while not exactly user-friendly, has met my expectations.  Really, it is new and improved over the 310XT and I can recommend the 910XT as a training tool for those who are inclined to collect data (if nothing more, this unit serves as a convenient device to keep track of training volume).  Spend some time with both the Quick Start and Owner’s Manual to familiarize yourself with the unit’s basic functions and you will be well on your way to collecting accurate training data.

While my review, by design, offers only a look at some of the “highlights,” several exhaustive reviews are available on the web, see one in Beyond Limits Magazine and, another, exceptional review by DC Rainmaker (a consistently reliable source for in-depth reviews of swim, bike, and run technology).

 

You Don’t Need Me, Really … You Don’t!

From time to time I encounter individuals who, due to either their independent nature, lack of availability of funds to dedicate to formal training, physical location (i.e., they live in another state) or some other valid reason are unable are unwilling to engage me in a personal training relationship; however, they remain interested improving or progressing their level of fitness.  While I believe that there is significant value in working with a well-qualified personal trainer (I would not be involved in this business if I didn’t believe that to be true), I understand the wide variety of reasons and obstacles that prevent everyone from working with a professional trainer.  Personally, although I consider my own training sessions valuable “personal time,” I know that I will typically work harder and train more effectively/efficiently when working along side a professional.  I only half-jokingly share with my clients the following … “If I could afford it, I would ideally work out with a personal trainer every session.”  This same sentiment is held even the most elite professional athletes (see the WSJ article concerning Shannon Sharpe, who, due to his training expertise was essentially left to his own devises by trainers during his NFL career, now regularly employs a personal trainer to help keep his fitness up in his life outside the NFL).  But what should one do when circumstances or “reality” prevents the ideal?  Enter Todd Durkin‘s book: “The IMPACT! Body Plan.”  Although there are many quality, “self-help,” self-guided fitness books on the market, Durkin’s book stands out among the field of current offerings and is one that I consistently recommend to clients that are looking to (or forced to) work independently.

Durkin is a star trainer (he also holds his NSCA, CSCS credential) who has had the opportunity to work with star athletes (e.g., LaDanian Tomilson and Drew Brees, to name just two).  Note: The story of Durkin’s relationship and work with Drew Brees should provide hope to those who are looking to recover from injury: Durkin led Brees out of the funk brought on by a 360-degree torn labrum tear and torn rotator cuff (a severe shoulder injury) to a complete and Championship recovery.  Durkin himself recovered from an injury that ended his professional football career at the age of 25—it was this “Impact,” sustained on the playing field, that has fueled Durkin’s drive to help others achieve peak physical conditioning.  Durkin, like me, understands that physical conditioning can be leverage to achieve what I call our “highest and best selves” (I will submit that my Christian faith commits me to viewing my ability to train, and do all things, as gifts from God).  In Durkin’s view “[w]hen you are in the best shape of your life, eating right, sleeping well, and feeling great, that’s when you achieve an energy shift.  And your energy can be directed toward creation.  And you can create whatever you want.”   Sounds good, right?

Countless other “household names,” from the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, New York Jests, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox, Texas Rangers and numerous “everymen/everywomen” have thought so.  With a singular vision to help them unlock their athletic potentials through planed and purposeful training Durkin has helped them achieve that higher level of physical conditioning.  Durkin’s book provides great insight into both his planning and his purpose—his creative methods can be followed in a stepwise manner to help you expand your fitness.  Durkin, through his “Impact!” program conveys the motivation, accountability, and know-how that can yield surprisingly good results.

I often tell my clients, especially those that are struggling with a particular goal (i.e., usually weight loss or body composition change), “I wish that I could do it for you, because I could guarantee you success!”   But I can’t—my clients are responsible for their own outcomes.  So are you.  An excerpt from Durkin’s book mirrors my sentiment and is worth sharing here—perhaps it will motivate you to take action:

“One of my mantras—and you’ll see in this book that I have a few—is “Ready, fire, aim.”  Most of us live by the mantra “Ready, aim … aim … aim.”  And we never fire.  You say that you want to start an exercise program, but you never do; you say that you want to hire a trainer and get into shape, but you never do; you say you’re going to get a better job, but you never do; you say you’re going back to school, reconnecting with the people you love, traveling to a long-dreamed-of local.  You never do.  That’s why I live by “Ready, fire, aim”—it forces me to take action even when I feel fear, or hesitation, or uncertainty.  This program is all about action.  I’ll give you the game plan.  You take the action.  I’ll motivate you.  Inspire you.  Coach you.  I’ll also hold you accountable.  But, folks, have no illusions.  You have to take action.  You need to be there for yourself.  You need you.”

Do you already put in your “time” at the gym or “time” on the road (e.g., running or cycling) or “time” in the pool (you pick the mode of activity that describes you), but frequently feel as though you are not making the gains that you feel that you should be making, or, worse still, have plateaued and are realizing no gains at all, perhaps even going backwards?  It may be time to enlist the help of a professional or find a resource that can help (perhaps Durkin’s book).  Many times we know that we need to train, so we train … but we may not know “how to train”—that is, how to train to achieve our individual goals (if we have goals at all?)  When my mind wonders at the gym, I look around and try to match up the people that I see working out with the goals that they may be training for: “What is he training for?”  “Why is she training that way?”  Frequently, I am unable to see the connection.  Don’t be that person … make your training time count, train for and achieve specific goals, get results!  Frequently, more “time” is not the answer!  I will suggest that Durkin’s book may be able to  help.  Durkin employs many of the same strategies, ones that I routinely prescribe and teach to my client-athletes (I call all my clients athletes), while emphasizing many of the fundamentals that are part of my own training philosophy!

I will hit the major points of  Durkin’s “game plan” and suggest that you “fire” and pick up a copy  (at the time of this review, you can get your own copy from Amazon for under $12).

A word about equipment (Durkin calls them cutting edge “toys”).  While Durkin provides substitutes to use in the absence of access to the supplemental equipment that follows, the “toys” WILL add additional results to your training (and add some great variety to your sessions).  TRX Suspension Trainer – an extremely portable, versatile, and “fun” training tool that uses your own body weight as the resistance.  Superbands – (I like the SPRI ones found here), used to perform multidirectional exercises and add resistance or assistance to exercises.  I frequently prescribe a TRX and SPRI bands to clients who travel frequently—extremely portable and offers a great workout almost anywhere.  Sport Cords (again, I prefer SPRI), Durkin calls these the “little brother” of Superbands—they are used in much the same way.   BOSU – used to create instability and progress a wide variety of exercises (challenges the core and increases balance).  Kettlebells (note that Amazon.com offers a wide variety of bells) – used to improve grip strength (which often limits performance of other resistance/strength movements) and allows exercises to performed through a great range of motion.  Most fully-equpped fitness facilities will have the majority of equipment that you need to follow the program to the letter (usually one will need to supplement with only a TRX system and a couple of Superbands).

The Plan

Prior to starting the 10-week plan, Durkin prescribes a battery of “self-test” exercises.  The overhead squat, wall slide,  hover plank, deadlift, pushup, single-leg balance touch, rack row, and the 300-yard shuttle run each serve as valuable measures of fitness and will serve as valuable  before and after metrics (do these)!  Repeat these same tests again at the end of the 10-week plan and see just how far you have come!

Durkin’s plan consists of following  seven phases of the “MUSCLE MATRIX” that are incorporated into three stages over the course of a 10-week training cycle.  This matrix includes a 15-station dynamic warmup, emphasizes joint integrity, places appropriate focus on core conditioning, strength and conditioning, adds power and plyometrics, specific movement training, and includes flexibility training.

An excerpt from “Impact” clarifies the value of the matrix: “The Muscle Matrix is a simplified system that utilized advanced training principles to deliver maximum results.  It combines training in different planes of motion (up and down, forward and back, side-to-side, diagonally, and with rotation), performing some exercises with only one arm or leg, and challenging your entire body in a diverse training environment.”

I could not agree more with Durkin’s statement that, “[l]adies and gentlemen, you need resistance training to get results in any program.”  Resistance training (adding weight, using bands, moving against any resistance) is essential to achieving enduring body composition changes and supporting improved fitness—it is essential!

Another excerpt of Durkin’s book drives this point home:  “Cardio burns the most fat.  Not true (emphasis added).  Resistance training burns the most calories overall.  When you do cardio, you’re burning calories during the activity.  With resistance training, you burn calories during the activity but keep burning them for up to 48 hours afterward.  This is knowns as excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), or the more well-known after burn.  Resistance training also jacks up your metabolism, improves insulin resistance, and shuts down the fat-storing enzymes in your body.”  [These are all very good things.]

The plan progressively moves you through “Stage I: Training Camp” (dedicated to learning the fundamentals), “Stage II: In Season” (four weeks devoted to “mastering” the moves and learning to apply advanced training principles like plyometrics, complex sets, drop sets, and eccentric training), and finally, “Stage III: The Playoffs” (here is where it all comes together, this final push moves you toward excellence).  Try this program, you will learn, you will improve your fitness, and you will have fun!

A word about nutrition:

Durkin encourages the reader to move toward “World-Class” eating.  This is sound advice and a terrific goal and Durkin offers eating strategies to accomplish it!  The familiar training adage, “You can’t out train a bad diet” is a staple in the training world—and it’s true.  What you eat and when you eat it is extremely important (the field of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics, that is, how food interacts with our bodies, even at the cellular or genetic level, is starting to come into the forefront of modern nutrition—food is fuel, food is medicine, and it has a tremendous impact on our health!  Durkin’s 1o Commandments work; furthermore, he has concisely outlined principles that I have long used to guide my own nutritional regimen:

  1. Get your motor started: Eat breakfast!
  2. Slow down!
  3. Fuel up before training.
  4. Refuel after training.
  5. Go wild!
  6. Remember that supplements are just that—supplements!
  7. Water your body.
  8. Keep a nutrition journal.
  9. Follow the 90-10 rule.
  10. Experiment with the IMPACT menu

Durkin correctly notes, “How you eat will help determine your ultimate success with the IMPACT program.”  I cannot agree more … give it a try!

As with all resources, I tend to “take the best and leave the rest.”  Durkin’s  10-week “body/mind fitness” plan requires me to leave very little.  Note that I personally completed 5-weeks of his program during my preparation for Ironman Cozumel and have scheduled the full 10-week program into my current year’s training calendar.  If you work out in Denver, CO and belong to LifeTime Fitness (either the Parker or Centennial clubs), and see me with my SPRI bands and TRX … chances are I am working Durkin’s plan, or incorporating some of his moves into my own routine—feel free to join in and share you own experiences and results with me!  I will encourage you to pick a copy of the “Impact” plan and work the system.  Durkin’s program applies resistance at multiple angles, with varying resistances, and at different speeds in a rational and periodized manner.  If you follow his program and train with intensity on a consistent basis, you WILL get results.

Durkin owns and operates Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA.  A world-class center that combines personal training, massage and bodywork, sports performance training, Pilates, yoga, nutrition, physical therapy, chiropractic, life coaching and more.

*Note: Don’t worry if you can’t come up with all the “toys” as Durkin offers substitute moves.  If you are a “road warrior” he also offers practical guidance on how to stay on track while you are away.

The Worst Squat Ever: Dec. 22, 2011 (Life Time Fitness approx. 12:15 p.m.)

Mark Schmukal, owner and operator of Total Health & Exercise, LLC graciously and purposely demonstrates "poor" squatting technique.

Really, I see it ALL the time. This day was really no different, but the squatting technique that I witnessed on December 22nd at the Parker, Colorado Life Time Fitness at approximately 12:15 p.m. was so bad that it inspired me to write about it (the reason I am being so specific with the details is that, perhaps, if only in jest, I maintain a fanciful hope that the individuals who were performing this “squat” session will someday read this post and consult me for guidance … I realize that it is a long shot).  Anyway, I resolved right then and there to make the first post of the new year all about the squat with hopes that it would save someone from suffering the consequences of performing squats incorrectly (the least of which is drawing my criticism).  Bottom line: if you can’t do a squat with near perfect form, then DO NOT SQUAT. Do something else, say … use the leg press machine, but don’t squat. I don’t say this to be mean but rather to hopefully protect you from a compromised spine and destroyed knees (at a minimum). This comes from someone who 1) places the barbell squat (along with the deadlift) among his “dessert island” lifts, meaning that I consider the squat an essential move, one that I might even perform if I found myself stranded on a desert island, and 2) has performed countless squats incorrectly before mastering the fundamentals (and only by the fortune of youth and God’s grace has not yet paid too high a price) and is continually striving to improve his technique.  Many in the strength/resistance community label the squat “the king of all exercises” and consider it to be the single most effective resistance training movement if performed with correct form (see Colker’s assessment, below).

In theory, the barbell squat is strikingly simple; however, in practice it becomes fairly complex due our individual variations in size, posture, muscle development, coordination, and flexibility.  The basics of performing a correct barbell squat are set out below in six steps:

  1. Approach a squat or power rack with the barbell set at approximately shoulder height (use the seam of the armpit as a good guide or set the bar at mid-sternum level) and, prior to gripping the bar, check to see that the barbell is centered in the rack (left to right); the squat is one of those exercise where how you begin in large part determines how you will finish … so start well!;
  2. Step under the bar keeping your feet at approximately shoulder width (toes may point out to 30°; however, I recommend a “toes forward” setup if you have sufficient flexibility to reach the appropriate end position), and “trap” the bar on your trapezius muscles (the bar should sit 1-2 inches below the back of the neck with the hands spaced significantly wider than shoulder width to accommodate the lower bar position—drawing the elbows toward the floor helps to “trap” the bar lower on the back, this is known as the “low bar” position and provides a platform for the safest squat execution), use a closed, palm-forward “active” grip (meaning that you should engage your forearm muscles) with your thumbs wrapped securely around the bar or, alternatively, resting on top of the bar (the thumb frequently hangs out on top of the bar as the weight becomes substantial)—it is essential that the wrists be in line with the forearms.  Note: if working on the power or Olympic moves, a “high bar” position is preferred; here the bar is positioned above the posterior deltoids at the base of the neck with a grip that is only slightly beyond the width of the shoulders.;
  3. Before moving the bar out of the rack and beginning the lowering movement, draw your shoulder blades down and back, engage your gluteal muscles (i.e. your butt), and draw you abdominal muscles “in” toward your lower back—the idea is to keep your back straight while minimizing forward lean as you descent through the eccentric (the lowering phase) of the movement.  When moving the bar out of the rack, take only a moderate step back (it is not necessary to travel several steps with the bar);
  4. Squat, keeping your weight evenly distributed between heels and mid-foot, unit your thighs are parallel to floor and the hips drop below the top of the patella (the top of the knee—this is key, descending to a level other than parallel is not a squat … period … don’t fool yourself, the complete range of motion is necessary to reap the effects of this fundamental exercise);
  5. Pause at the bottom (between the eccentric, down phase, and the concentric, up phase … note that you can choose to utilize the the stretch-shortening cycle and immediately return from the bottom instead of pausing) and return to the starting position by initiating hip extension (“hip drive”) from the bottom (note that the goal is preserve a consistent angle between the hips and the shoulders … the hips drive upward  and not forward).  It is very important to finish the movement by making sure to extend until the hip return to the starting position)—maintain a neutral head position, with the eyes gazing forward throughout the movement (ideally, keep your head in a neutral position with the eyes focused on a point approximately 5-6 feet in front of you);
  6. The body is kept “tight” throughout the movement, also note that the downward movement focuses on hip and knee flexion, while the upward movement focuses on hip and knee extension—it is important to finish the squat by fully extending the both the knees and hips.

The squat is a fundament, core exercise (note that the term “core exercise” is frequently confused … in this context it means a structural exercise that directly loads the spine and NOT a movement that is some equivalent to a crunch or other abdominal moves; however, the squat places significant emphasis on the trunk musculature).

Although much has been written about the barbell squat (due to the quality of the movement, the barbell squat, or some variation of it, is included in nearly every resistance training or fitness guide).  Perhaps one of the most complete treatments of the squat is provided by Rippetoe M, Kilgore L.  Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training.  2nd ed.  Wichita Falls: Aasgaard; 2007.  Over the course of nearly fifty, single-spaced pages, Rippetoe covers ever consideration of the squat and I have set out some of his major introductory points below:

Rippetoe begins with a quote that captures what I have often felt, “[t]he squat has been the most important yet most poorly understood exercise in the training arsenal for a very long time.  The full range of motion exercise known as the squat is the single most useful exercise in the weight room, and our most valuable tool for building strength, power, and size.”—I cannot agree more!  The power of the squat stem from the recruitment of large groups of muscles, forced to move “in exactly the way the skeletal biomechanics are designed for them to be used, over their anatomically full range of motion.”  In addition, the comprehensive nature of the squat movement, especially when correctly performed, “produces hormonal responses that affect the entire body … [n]ot only is the core strengthened, it is strengthened in the context of a total physical and mental experience.”  It is from this endocrine response that the bodybuilding adage of “squat to grow” stems.  Invariably a question concerning safety rears its head when speaking about the squat and Rippetoe addresses it straight away: “The full squat is the preferred lower body exercise for safety as well as athletic strength.  The squat, when performed correctly, is not only the safest leg exercise for the knees, it produces a more stable knee that any other leg exercise.  The important part of the last statement is the ‘when performed correctly’ qualifier.  Correctly is deep, with hips dropping below level with the top of the patella.”  On this point we also agree (see above)!  Rippetoe supports my admonition that “[a]ny squat that is not deep is a partial squat, and partial squats stress the knee and the quadriceps without stressing the glutes, the adductors, and the hamstrings.”  If you are limited by inflexibility through the squatting movement, you would be better to develop the requisite flexibility by performing prerequisite movements, than performing “full” squats incorrectly.  Begin with an understanding of the proper squatting movement and then develop the necessary skills and movement patterns to allow you to capitalize on the benefits of this essential move.  Avoid the temptation to perform partial squats, as the abbreviated movement is unbalanced and exerts significant shearing force (an anterior shear) on the knee.  Furthermore, the hamstring muscles are intimately involved with the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament, which also prevents the tiba from sliding forward)—the hamstrings are only engaged in the full squat!  As a result, the full squat is necessary to increase hamstring strength and thereby protect the ACL.  Note, as Rippetoe further points out, “athletes who are missing an ACL can safety squat heave weights, because the ACL is under no stress in a correctly performed full squat”—in the properly executed full squat the “anterior force provided by the quadriceps is balanced by the posterior force provided by the hamstrings.”  Before directing you to read the remaining 50+ pages of Rippetoe’s work on your own, I want to include a final thought about the squat that he makes so powerfully.  The goal of the squat is to stimulate a training response and increase your strength and power as an athlete (or encourage hypertrophy, depending on your training goal).  To that end, the problem with the “partial” squat is that it encourages heavy loads which, unfortunately, causes significant and frequently excessive spinal loading that can lead to premature and unnecessary injuries.  Rippetoe hit another home run with his observation about running up big numbers via partial squats: “Your interest is in getting strong (at least it should be), not in playing meaningless games with numbers … [i]f it’s too heavy to squat below parallel, it’s too heavy to have on your back.”

Final Key: For all forms of the barbell squat, the barbell ends up centered over the mid-foot in the bottom position!

Many authors, including Rippetoe (above), also identify kinesthetic awareness as a necessary component of proper squatting technique.  Kinesthetic awareness refers to the ability to sense muscular movement and position; specifically, the movement of a body part in relation to the ground or the body as a whole.  In the weight room, the sensory inputs received from visual cues, verbal cues/hearing, muscles, ligaments, tendons, are skins are collectively processed as a display of this sensory skill.  Frequently, as is is the case with the squat, we can develop specific muscle memory that will allow us to  perform movements properly time and time again.  This is why it important to develop good squatting techniques from the onset or, if our form is less than ideal, begin anew to develop the proper technique!

If you want to perform a technically correct squat, then follow the six steps outlined above.  If you want more (much more) read “Starting Strength, 2nd. edition.”  And, if you are interested in perhaps even learning a new progression to the back squat, I will encourage you to get your hands on a copy of the April, 2011 edition of the NSCA‘s Strength and Conditioning Journal (I have provided a link here, where you can read the abstract or purchase a copy of the article).  “A Teaching Progression for Squatting Exercises” by Chiu and Burkhardt outlines a sound and somewhat novel progression that works to promote proper biomechanics for the squat (note: the back squat is the move we generally associate with a “squat”).  Chiu and Burkhardt present a 4-stage progression that moves an athlete through the following progression: 1)  a plate squat, 2) overhead squat, 3) front squat, and 4) back squat.  One of the benefits of this progression is that it allows for early identification of biomechanics limiters (e.g. flexibility or muscle strength) that frequently serve as barriers to performing proper squats.  In particular, the plate squat allows the athlete to encounter resistance and promotes rapid motor learning (as the authors correctly note, motor learning adaptations often are responsible for the rapid gains that are achieve over the course of the early sessions)—I also focus my attention on the frequently present anterior pelvic tilt acts as a confounder here.  Specifically, the plate squat, while loading the spinal column, identifies (depending on whether the athlete exhibits hyper- or hpyolordosis) weakness of the erector spinae or weakness of the anterior trunk musculature (primarily the external obliques and recuts abdomens).  Once proper form is achieved with the plate squat, achieved with the torso “upright in the deep squat position, the legs rotated anteriorly with the knee in from of the toes, and the weight distributed across the forefoot and rear foot,” the largely “self-correcting” overhead squat is introduced—the overhead squat is self-correcting due to the fact that “it is difficult to perform incorrectly as long as the feet remain flat with the knees and barbell properly positioned.”  Like the authors, I agree that overhead squatting is an essential movement in working toward proper squat form, as it “develops and maintains the important qualities of ankle, hip, and spine and shoulder complex flexibility, while strengthening the lower extremity and stabilizing musculature of the shoulder complex and spine.”  Next, the front squat, which also requires an upright position of the trunk, provides the athlete an opportunity to attempt additional weight.  For some athletes, the front squat should potentially mark the end of the progression—the authors correctly note that there is a lack of evidence, at least as to developing leg strength, of any benefit of the back squat over the front squat.  Chiu and Burkhardt only suggest moving on to the back squat once the athlete has successfully completed front squats with “substantial resistance.”  Regardless of the bar position selected (e.g. high or low), the techniques developed through the profession of the plate, overhead, and front squat support the proper movement pattern of the back squat.  Once again I find agreement with the authors in instructing athletes/clients to keep the elbows pointed down, instead of outward (behind the body), as this position promotes keeping the torso in an upright position.

Chiu L and Burkhard E.  A Teaching Progression for Squatting Exercises.  Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2011; 33, No. 2: 46-54.

Don’t let the name scare you away, but a book by Carlon Colker, M.D. entitled “Extreme Muscle Enhancement” (2nd. edition) adds some additional thoughts that can be used to progress proper squat technique and gain effectiveness from a squat regimen.  Note that Colker’s book is a no-nonsense guide to bodybuilding (think serious hypertrophy = muscle growth).  As with all resources, I tend to “take the best and leave the rest,” but Colker presents many solid training principles and plans in a single concise volume.  In the introduction to quadricep training, Colker labels the squat as the “king” of weight room movements and mirrors my thoughts about the need to perform the movement with attention to correct form: “[b]y far, squats are the single most effective resistance motion there is and ever will be, if done correctly [emphasis added].”   Colker labels his 10 major points concerning the squat as follows (my summary and additional comments follow in parentheses: 1) “Warm-up before you squat.” (recommending non-impact, non-ballsitic aerobic motions, e.g. a stationary bike); 2) “Always do a full-range-of-motion squat.” (reiterating that there is no such thing as a “quarter” or “half” squat); 3) “Descend slowly.” (control this movement, as high-speed movements with only small compromises in technique can lead to big injuries); 4) “Create a “pocket.”” (tightness at the bottom without a dramatic bounce: note that this different than saying that one should not take advantage of the stretch-shortening cycle—rather the transition between eccentric, down and concentric, up is “controlled”); 5) “Use a heel lift.” (this is an aid to overcome flexibility issues that jeopardize the lumbar spine when the forward movement, or excessive forward lean is present); 6) “Maintain a natural arch in your lower back.” (correct position of the neutral, lordodic spine); 7) “Never lock out your knees at the top of the rep.” (I am not extremely concerned with avoiding lockout; however, under significant loads this can be problematic—I would add that the “active” knee position is correct, but the athlete must “finish” with the hips, that is, return to the hips to the natural position at the top of the squat movement; 8 ) “Higher reps rule for legs.” (as a general rule, the legs DO respond to higher rep counts)—try adding higher rep ranges (15-25) if nothing more than for variety); 9) “Stretch after squatting.” (this is simply consistent with the latest information that suggests that static stretching decreases strength and power if completed prior to a strength/resistance training workout); 10) “Don’t start a squatting routine before you’re ready.” (THE POINT of my entire blog entry).

Coker’s book is a good resource, pick up a copy to read more: Colker CM.  Extreme Muscle Enhancement.  2nd ed.  Manasquan: Pro Source; 2007.

The bottom line: I love the squat; however, I understand that it is a technically demanding movement that requires a requisite level of flexibility, kinesthetic awareness (or at least a fair amount of proper coaching in order to learn the correct movement patterns), and training discipline.  Embrace the challenge to learn to squat correctly and you will be rewarded with tremendous training gains.  Whether your goal is increased strength, power, or muscle growth, the squat is a gateway for achieving each of these training adaptations (it can be a fundamental move in maintaining and progress general fitness).  If you lack the flexibility or experience to perform a proper squat, use the principles and resources outlined above to get there.  The increases in flexibility that allow for proper squat technique take time to develop; however, a rational, systematic, and consistent training plan will get you there!

 

International Ironman – IM Cozumel

After nearly four months of Ironman-specific training, I headed off to Cozumel, Mexico for the 2011 Ford Ironman Cozumel.  Traveling with my wife and our two small children (3-years-old and 15-months, respectively … and their first time flying), we made the 3 1/2 hour flight from Denver on Thanksgiving Day (no turkey and gravy for us this year).  We were accompanied by two other athletes, Paul Hardcastle and Michelle Grubb as well as their families.  Additionally, both my father (who, by the way, has never seen me do anything athletic since I was a boy) and my sister from California also joined us for the event.  Note: As there were only a couple of flights out of Denver for Cozumel during the week leading up to the race event, we also shared our flight with our good friend Sonja Wieck and her family… same flight, very different race result … Sonja is a rockstar (see her excellent blog posts here).  The concept was fairly straightforward, pick a Ironman race in a tropical climate, bring the families, and combine a Ironman with a vacation.  All told the 16 of us made it to Cozumel and, after navigating the normal Mexican “logistics” (i.e. cab rides) settled in to Villa Yak Alil (the house we had collectively rented) for our “race vacation.”

A couple more notes about my  personal “logistics.”  I used TriBike Transport to move my bike to and from the race venue.  While the service was a bit pricey (approaching $375), the service was relatively flawless.  Although the pre-race pickup was not actually at the transition area (I ended up picking my bike up and transporting my bike in the car that Paul had rented … thanks Paul!), the post-race drop off was just a few feet beyond the finishing line.  I couldn’t have been happier to drop my bike off with the TriBike folks after the race and say “adios.”  My bike arrived ready to ride in Cozumel and once again when it arrived back in Denver.  I also packed all of my own race nutrition to the venue and, fortunately, I had absolutely no issues with transporting gluten-free oatmeal, gluten-free tortillas, almond butter, and an assortment of Hammer and Honey Stinger nutritional products in my checked luggage.

Pre-Race

As this was my second IM “rodeo” I knew precisely what was in store for me and spent the Friday and Saturday preparing accordingly.  I concentrated on hydration, appropriate calories, and supplemented with a bit of Heed and Endurolytes to top off my electrolyte stores.  I also tormented the chef who prepared our meals at the Villa to keep my food relatively bland and gluten-free (Edgar so graciously accommodated my “special needs” … thank you).

One thing I had learned from Ironman St. George was that I was unlikely to need much in the way of “special needs” out on the racecourse and I prepared accordingly.  I passed on the run “needs bag” and stashed only a frozen bottle of Perpetuem in the bike bag which I ultimately did not end up needing.  My only “special” preparation was the solid food that I prepared for the bike.  I have trained and raced repeatedly using a special meal that consists of a gluten-free brown rice tortilla, almond butter, brown rice, a small amount of honey, as well as a smattering of rice protein and salt (The following represents the recipe to make 4 individual servings: 2 “Food For Life” gluten free tortillas, 2 T organic smooth almond butter, 1/2 cup organic short grain brown rice, 2 T vanilla Nutribiotic rice protein, 1 T honey, and salt; the approximate total nutritional values: 790 calories, 115 grams of carbohydrates, 38 grams of protein, 23 grams of fat, and 12 grams of fiber.)  On Saturday afternoon I prepared several single-serve portions of this concoction and prepared my pre-made bottles of Perpetuem and Heed (I slowly froze a couple of my bottles so that they would be more palatable on the bike … as in training, this strategy worked well).  The solid food was to play an important part in my race day nutrition strategy; however, this was not to be … more on that in a moment.

Dropping my bike off at T!

On Saturday, I accompanied Michelle for a survey of the swim course as well as brief “practice” swim.  As I frequently tell my clients, “water is water, it is the same around the world” and this venue proved the truth of this statement; however, the water in Cozumel was especially clear, warm, and, well, beautiful.  After locating some geographical reference points (e.g. the buoy for the outbound leg was in line with a water tower on a beachfront hotel), Michelle and I jumped of the pier at the swim start and smoothly completed about 600 yards—just enough to get a feel for the water and gather some sighting “looks.”  Later in the day I returned to T1 (the swim start) and delivered my bike to transition (Paul and Michelle met me there after a 45-minute bike ride).

Race Day

As always, an early start … 4:30 a.m.  For me, the early morning came after a night where our 1-year-old son nearly had to be taken to a Mexican emergency room.  My wife and I awoke at 12:00 a.m. to our son experiencing a full-blown croup attack (we spent an anxious hour alternating in out of a hot steam shower, administering an oral steroid that we thankfully had the foresight to bring along, and planning our next moves should we need to seek emergency care).  And, if this weren’t enough, during this “excitement” I received a text message from our next door neighbor informing me that, although he wasn’t sure, he thought that our house had been broken in to?!  I am NOT making this up!  As our son’s condition improved, I tried to remember if I had set the house alarm prior to leaving … surely I had?!  Anyway, I made a quick international call to the Arapahoe County Sherrif’s office to learn that, while there had been activity in our area, our home was fortunately not involved! So much for a restful night.  Hey, but I did sleep well from 10 p.m. to midnight.

I slid into my race and pre-race clothes and headed out to join Michelle for my first breakfast: oatmeal, protein powder, a banana, some almond milk and almond butter … lots of water.  Paul joined us a bit later and decided to make a shake … we made him use the blender outside (it still likely woke everyone in the house up)!  I collected my bottles from the freezer, prepared my pre-race bottle, checked my nutrition … and, here is where I made a huge mistake, I decided to place my solid food in the freezer while I waited for everyone else to collect there things.  Well, as I realized immediately upon arriving the race start (Chankanaab Nat’l Park), my “real” food would be spending the day in the freezer where I left it!  No solid food (at least the solid food that I had planned on eating) for me.  After a few tense moments realizing that I would be short some calories, also perhaps short some electrolytes, I realized that I could adjust my nutrition as the day unfolded and still have the day I wanted.  Despite my experience and Type A personality, I had made a mistake … and, really, the mistake wasn’t leaving my supplemental nutrition in the freezer, it was not making a final checklist for the race morning.  This is something that I can’t stress enough, make a checklist for race morning a few days in advance … THEN USE IT (I always do this, I just didn’t this time)!

Paul, Michelle, and I took care of our pre-race preparations … Michelle generously recovered some unneeded Enduralytes from her T1 bag for me to use (thanks Michelle).  We played “pass the punp” and set our final tire pressures before heading to the body marking and the unbelievably long line to the Port-O-Johns.  I listened to other racers share their pre-race “jitters” and people watched before finally receiving my allotment of toilet paper and taking care of business … funny, the Port-O-John scene was a special sight, it was if our Mexican hosts had assembled the facilities from a mismatched collection of Port-O-John parts in the dead of night … they were really suspect and most definitely had been thrown together in the final minutes before the athletes had arrived.  As the start of the even drew closer athletes of all varieties were forced to abandon the “facilities” and headed off to take their chances in the surrounding jungle.  We made it through just before things really deteriorated (i.e., athletes heading out into the surrounding jungle) and headed off to the swim staging area.

The Swim

I love this shot ... I am somewhere in the midst of that!?

As we worked our way through the queue I continued sipping on a solution of diluted sports drink (Heed) and finally abandoned my Practical Coaching water bottle along with hundreds of others before heading out onto the pier and in to the starting field (free advertising … it was a new bottle).  There were options as to getting into the water: 1) jump of the pier, or 2) descend a series of stairs …, we selected the latter.  The three of us managed to stay together for a while, but soon each was lost in the mass of humanity that makes up an Ironman start.  Then we were off … for a the first few minutes I thought I was in for something a bit different to what I had experienced before … I was being kicked, pushed, and swamped in the vortex of the mass start a bit more than usual.  As the initial minutes passed, I started wondering if the pounding would ever let up or would this be a 2.4 mile wrestling match?  By the first turn buoy things did begin to improve and I managed to find my own space.  I kept myself in a type of bubble that allowed me to make clean strokes and I concentrated on covering the distance.  I was calm throughout and took time to enjoy the clarity of the water as well as the interesting features on the ocean floor.  The long southern leg of the swim allowed sighting on the coast and I swam straight; however, the current seemed to have worked to carry me farther from the turn buoy by the time I arrived there … I ended up swimming a couple of hundred yards more than I should have.  After the second short leg, I made the turn and sighted in on T1/Chankanaab.

T1

Moving up the stairs toward T1.

I clamored up the stairs suspended in the ocean and headed off the to the changing tent after noting my time and enjoying a cleansing, however brief, freshwater shower.  I elected to wear a “speed suit” during the ocean swim (thank goodness that I did, I can’t imagine how slow my swim would have been without it … ha) and stripped it in part while in the shower and had completely abandoned it by the time that I reached the T1 tent.  I focused on the essentials, a bit of hydration (H2O) and sunscreen—the sunscreen was copiously applied by race volunteers (see photo below).  I slid a pair of Craft “cycling” shorts over my minimalist tri shorts (note, this addition only takes a few seconds and adds a great deal of additional comfort to the bike leg), my fully stocked jersey, added my UV-resistant arm “warmers” and moved off to my bike.  Helmet buckled … check, sunglasses … check … 8 minutes, 19 seconds, while certainly not fast T1 IM Cozumel sure beat the 20+ minutes that I spent in a near-frozen stupor after emerging from the very cold water of IM St. George the year before!

The Bike

Early in the race, heading along the southerly section of the course along the ocean.

I ran the carpet and mounted my bike while spectators cheered … not for me personally, of course, but generally.  Paul and Michelle were already on the course as I started my first lap.  I immediately turned my focus to working out my “new” nutrition plan.  Aid stations were plentifully and well-stocked; however, I had difficulty getting what I really wanted: a couple of PowerBars (not, of course, my first choice … but I didn’t have any solid food)—it was not until the 60km mark that I scored two “Cookies and Creme” bars … ugh, but at least they would be fairly calorie-dense and something to chew (I also picked up a banana later in the day).  The west side of the island, especially toward the south, opened up to  some tremendous views of the ocean.  Although the course was relatively flat, the wind built throughout the day making each of the three passes through this exposed section increasingly challenging.  The cross winds that the athletes were warned about were definitely present along the south side of the island with relief only arriving once I headed north well beyond Punta Sur.  Once making the turn toward civilization (transecting the island westerly), the winds shifted.  On laps 1 and 2 there was a substantial tailwind that drove me on toward the Cozumel Centro; however, this same tailwind was noticeably absent on the final lap.  I focused on maintaining a steady cadence (avg. 87) and worked my preplanned nutrition strategy to the best of my ability (3 bottles of Perpetuem, with one mixed up on the course while riding … don’t try that at home!).  I made sure that I checked in on my self every 15-minutes and forced myself to do something at each 15-minute interval (e.g. drink, eat, pee, etc.).  Note that on every lap but the final one I was able to gain some additional momentum from the friendly cheers of family and friends that had gathered on the west side of the island near our vacation home—that was really special.  The bike was fairly uneventful with one major exception, as I pierced the outskirts of Cozumel Centro on the final lap the rain that had been threatening for the last hour or so finally arrived.  What started as a few drops here and there almost instantaneously turned into a full on monsoon.  The rain was blinding.  The rainwater formed large pools and streams as I moved closer and closer toward T2.  I recall commenting to a fellow competitor as we managed to navigate a couple of the turns along the route that “rain only matters in the turns” … ha!  I managed to negotiate the flooded and slick streets (other competitors were not so lucky … I saw some of the casualties as I completed the bike leg).  I had planned of a sub-6hr bike, but the day had conspired against me (specifically, uncertainty concerning my nutrition and the monsoon rain); however, I transitioned off my bike feeling fairly strong.

T2

No photo of T2 (trust me, you don’t want to see what was going on in the T2 changing tent).  The rain had turned what is normally a chaotic transition into a real mess.  The tent was filled with several inches of rain/sewer water and, to make matters worse, the Port-O-Johns that were situated inside the tent were on the high side and the changing area was on the low side … I am confident that my bare feet were exposed to some real nasty stuff.  I persevered and emerged from the tent ready to challenge the 3-loop, out-and-back run course.  As an aside, I am NOT a big fan of multiple lap courses … I prefer the see it once, see it again from a different angle experience that a singe out-and-back or, even better still, see it once experience of that a point to point course offers—I had however mentally prepared for this situation and set out to do my best.  T1: 5 minutes, 10 seconds … not bad under the circumstances.

The Run

Heading out on the run course, conducting a nutrition inventory (right before I dropped a gel packet into a murky pool or rain/sewer water).

I felt strong as I headed out onto the run course.  The rain was beginning to lift, really, it had diminished to intermittent large drops (this was an ON/OFF type of rain event) and the sun was peaking out from underneath the heavy cloud that had moved by the runners and continued to torment those still out on the bike course.  The spectators reappeared as the standing rainwater fought to disappear into the flooded sewers (the were HUGE pools of water scattered along the route—one notable intersection remained flooded with knee- to calf-deep water throughout the race … there was no avoiding it, you had to wade through it each lap both going out and returning), needless to say, my feet stayed wet the entire run. Funny story, as I was heading out on the run I dropped one of my gel packets … it disappeared into one of the murky pools of standing rain/sewer water!  As I had very meticulously planned my run nutrition, I felt as though I could not spare this loss and quickly removed it from the water and placed it back on my run belt; however, I did place it as the final gel to be consumed (I figured some nasty bug managed to get me from the fecal-contaminated gel packet, it wouldn’t have time to affect me if I took it near the end of the race).  Once that “drama” was over, I focused on running my race.  I passed my friend Sonja (go Sonja!) early on and glanced at my watch and took note that she was likely finishing and would be at or very near her Kona-qualifying pace (she qualified again, congrats Sonja).  I also passed Paul on his way back as I headed out … I encouraged him on and noted that this was likely his first lap and that I wasn’t far behind him … I knew that if I held my current pace that I would see him again sooner rather than later.  I had already turned my focus to my hydration and nutrition strategy.  Aid stations were coming at me every other Km and I alternated each with Gatorade and H2o (the water was provided in the plastic bags and at each station I took 2, reserving one to go in either my jersey or shorts to 1) consume along the route (small amounts) or 2) cool my carotid, heart, or my femoral artery—bags of ice, or “hielo,” when available, were similarly retained and placed.  Looking back, I consumed a gel and water at  miles 3, 6, 9, 14, 18, and 22 (I also supplemented with Endurolytes at the top of each hour).   I continued to see Paul, on my second lap I finally caught a glimpse of my friend Michelle … she looked strong and I encouraged her on.  At the end of laps 1 and 2 I got another boost by seeing my sister, Sherry, and my friend, Bill Grubb (Michelle’s husband) at the turn.  Day turned to night and I continued on, running my race.  My Garmin 310 vibrated with each mile and I drew closer to the end.  I passed Paul  just after making the turn to head back to the finish, just a few more miles to go!  I made my final return to the waterfront “walk” (a scenic area and oceanfront shopping district of Cozumel centro) and the route lined with masses of spectators and focused on the finish.  Over the last mile the emotions built and by the time I made the final turn and headed toward the finish I was completely consumed by the experience.  My emotions were magnified as I saw my friends and family at the final turn before the finish line … it was amazing to have them there. I crossed the line to the words of “You are an Ironman!” 12:25:05 (official).  Much later, after I had emerged from the finishers’ tent and navigated through the mass of spectators to rejoin my family and friends, I was greeted by my father by words of “I am proud of you”—although he may have said it before, this time I heard it!

Finish, 2011 IM Cozumel.

Summary

IM Cozumel offers a spectacular race venue.  Warm weather, crystal clear water, smooth pavement, and fantastic fans are each part of the Cozumel experience.  Both Paul and Michelle were successful (congratulations Paul, congratulations Michelle) and they each have their own stories to tell.  The IM Cozumel post-race experience is ideally suited to post-race rest and recovery, e.g. great food and beaches to chill out on; however, note that in November the weather conditions are somewhat variable (we were treated to a post-race cold front that dashed our thoughts of recovering on warm, tropical beaches).

Coach (Me) Gets Coached

With Ironman Cozumel looming and my fitness level being challenged as I approached TransRockies, I started to contemplate enlisting the help of a coach to guide me through the final weeks of my TransRockies preparation and help direct my long-term Ironman training.   By the third weekend of July (as I headed off to participate in the Beaver Creek Mountain Championship XTERRA), I decided to seek out a coach.  For many years I have respected and worked with Steve Pye with Practical Coaching and he was the obvious choice (I currently offer coaching services through Practical Coaching); however, I wanted to gain another perspective on training and coaching methodologies that I could share with my clients, so I purposefully looked for someone that I was unfamiliar with.  My initial thoughts turned me to “Chuckie V” (the coach that both Sonja Wieck and Michelle Ford had used to propel their respective triathlete and coaching careers forward); however, this was not to be.  As I later found out, after reaching out to “Chuckie V” via every way that I knew how … he picks you, you don’t pick him.  Ok, I get it.  Needless to say, I did not hear back from him (however, I have enjoyed following his coaching efforts on his blog which now, is only accessible to “invited users” … Chuckie V is a bit of an enigma).  However, a quick Google search for “Chuckie V” will still provide you with access to some of the writing he has done for other outlets (here is a link to an article concerning “recovery”).

I have reprinted a bit of the e-mail that Sonja kindly exchanged with me concerning my prospects of being picked up by Chuckie V (thanks, Sonja):

Part of Sonja’s response as I attempted to enlist the help of Chuckie V.

As it worked out, I found a coach while I was in the wake of the Beaver Creek XTERRA race.  While bobbing around in the pool at the Beaver Creek Westin, I met Michael Hagen.  Apparently my wife had been chatting with Michael’s wife  (Michael’s wife Eva is also a competitive athlete) who indicated that Michael was a coach.  I chatted with Michael and we more or less entered into a coaching arrangement on the spot.  You see, I had found a coach with a very different perspective.  Michael is a native Austrian and a US Army veteran and as recently as 2004 (?) was the  commander of the Army’s “World Class Athete Program” based in Fort Carson, CO.  Hagen has earned his label as a “superstar age-group triathlete” as he has earned FIVE 2nd-place age-group finishes in Ironman Hawaii (Kona, the Ironman World Championship race).  Michael’s experience and no-nonsense, straightforward approach was exactly what I needed.  By the end of the month Michael had laid out nearly four months of swim, bike, and run workouts on my Training Peaks calendar and I had completed field-based time trials in all three disciplines.  I have set out the my initial HR training zones and paces below (these were subsequently adjusted over the course of the coaching relationship):

My initial swim send off times (used when rest intervals weren’t specified or if I fell short of my programmed time goals), the goal was to move to the row above the yellow highlight as training progressed.

My initial bike HR zones.

My initial run paces and HR zones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections and Results of My Coaching Relationship

From the outset, I let Michael know that I was primarily interested in a plan that was based on my current level of fitness and one that would appreciate the fatigue that would surely come as a result of the TransRockies event.  Michael provided that and then some.  The principle benefit of working with Michael was that I had my workouts planned for the upcoming training cycle.  I simply looked at my week’s work and went out and did my best to execute the programmed workouts.  Michael provide a rational and reasoned plan that lead me to a successful outcome in Cozumel and for that, as well as his friendship, I am very grateful.  But our relationship required a bit more, as of the start of October (and really through the entire month) I felt exhausted during my workouts and I was unable, despite my best efforts, to get my HR into the higher training zones.  A visit to my very capable sport-medicine physician, Dr. John Hill (Dr. Hill is an exceptional doctor who works with elite/professional athletes, including Tour perennials, as well as the team physician for the University of Denver—he is also an accomplished athlete in his own right, a veteran Leadman) yielded some surprising results: I was beginning to show the signs of overreaching, if not slipping into the more problematic state of overtraining.  (Note: this is rare in the non-professional athlete; however, my “symptoms” seemed to match up).  As I completed some self-analysis, I felt as though that I had underestimated the  cumulative fatigue wake of training and participating in the TransRockies event.  I have set out the heart of the e-mails that I exchanged with Michael as we worked through the potential overreaching/overtraining issue below:

 

Early-October, my first acknowledgement that something wasn’t quite right.

My training response after Michael had modified my training volume and intensity downward for October.

Michael’s assurances that all was not lost.

The week off seemed to help and I returned to my final weeks of training with a renewed sense of intensity and commitment,  I approached a final 16 and 1/2-hr. training week before heading into the IM taper and completed 15 and 1/2 hrs. (I felt like the week off may have “saved” me).  An excerpt of part to that final high-volume week is shown below:

Excerpt of final “high volume” week prior to taper (marked the first week back following a self-imposed week of rest).

The two weeks of a non-linear taper followed, with 12 and 4 hours of training, respectively.  Throughout our relationship Michael and I spoke on a weekly basis and exchanged frequent e-mails.  Michael reviewed and commented on my daily workouts (I uploaded the Garmin files on a daily basis via TrainingPeaks).  Michael encouraged my best efforts and redirected me when I fell pray to distractions.  In the end, I headed off to Cozumel uncertain of the race outcome, but certain that I had followed a sound training plan and that I had done the work.  I especially appreciated Michael ability to make adjustments as my training deteriorated during October.  Ultimately, I felt that we worked together to achieve a positive outcome.  I learned and have continued to learn from Michael (he continues to provide informative training articles and responds to my ongoing questions).  And, now with the benefit of hindsight, the results were positive.  I improved my IM time by better than 2 hours.  Thanks, Michael.

More for my own records than as for the benefit of my entry, I have included some video analysis of my swim technique that Michael captured in early-September (notice that I need to place more emphasis one streamlining, keeping my head “in” the water, and concentrating on maximizing the catch and pull phases of my stroke)—I came to the swimming game late, i.e., not a swim team or collegiate swimmer:

 

<iframe width=”640″ height=”360″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/eFaX-LtgBdg?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

I have also shared  (with permission) an informative piece that Michael the all-important “catch” and swim technique:

Sardines = Tasty Little Fish?

Sardines … the word alone usually conjures up either a blank stare, facial contortions, or, as is the case with me NOW, a smile and thoughts of a great tasting, protein-rich comfort food.

Below I have outlined one of my favorite ways to enjoy these tasty little fish that are chocked full of “good” fats (primarily Omega-3s).  However, be forewarned, you MUST select the SKINLESS AND BONELESS  variety of these fish, otherwise you will be faced with (at least IMHO) a frightening and “fear factor” type of culinary “treat.”

Ingredients: 1 can sardines (skinless and boneless packed in olive oil), Jarlsberg Lite swiss cheese (havarti also works great), frisée or escarole (both a type of endive)—I prefer to use frisée (about 1 to ½ cup(s) finely chopped, 1 tbsp. (T) tahini (sesame seed butter), 1-2 tsp(s) lemon juice, ¼ to ½ coarsely chopped sweet onion, brown rice tortilla (any tortilla will do), and salt/pepper to taste.

Step 1 Collect the necessary ingredients (pepper grinder not shown)

 

Step 2 Chop the onion and frisée.

 

Step 3 Transfer to mixing bowl, then add 1 tbsp. tahini and 1-2 tsp(s) lemon juice (add salt and pepper)

 

Step 4 Combine using fingers, distributing tahini, lemon juice, etc.– covering the frisée and onions (makes a paste)

 

Step 5 Spread the mixture evenly over half of the tortilla

 

Step 6 Add the sardines (reserving the olive oil to discard, alternatively, use the oil ... if you use the olive, add it in Step 3 above), prepare the cheese by slicing it thinly

 

Step 7 Distribute the cheese evenly

 

Step 8 Fold, cut in half (if you choose), and serve … enjoy!

 

Nutritional Information:  Assuming that you include the olive oil and use Jarlsberg Lite swiss cheese, this tasty dish provides 414 total calories, with the following macronutrient breakdown: Carbohydrates, 13g; Protein, 38g; Fat, 24g; and Fiber, 4g.

Some of my fellow athletes concerned about the fat content of this dish may cringe, but the fact of the matter is that this dish (even with the cheese) is chocked full of predominately “good” fats.  Remember, some fats are good for you while others tend to sabotage your health and contribute to weight gain.  I don’t have time to tease out the distinctions here; however, look for that discussion in a subsequent post.  I will distinguish between the two groups: “good fats”: omega 3s, monounsaturated fats, and some forms of saturated fats (e.g., coconut products high in laurie acid) and the “bad fats”: polyunsaturated or refined vegetable oils, most saturated fats, and the worst of the worst, hydrogenated oils/trans fats.  Bottom line: if you are concerned about the minimal amount of saturated fat contained in the cheese, simply omit it and enjoy the remaining concoction with a clear conscience (or substitute some chopped organic walnuts, as the nuts add to the savory quality of this dish).

Omega 3s: Sardines are rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) both are omega 3s that have been shown to help control insulin sensitivity, improve fatty acid oxidation (i.e., fat burning), and dampen systemic inflammation.  Note that these “good” fats are found in wild fish (especially concentrated in the smaller varieties), flaxseeds and flax oil, and a variety of nuts and seeds.

Bon appétit!

GORE-TEX® TransRockies Run (Abbreviated)

I “ran” ha .. again, I can’t help myself … across the flyer that is the featured image for this post in a local runner’s magazine in 2008.  Since that time, the flyer had been prominently displayed in my office where I frequently contemplated when I would get a chance to complete this epic event.  Finally, the TransRockies Run found its place on my “2011 Race Calendar” and I enlisted my new friend Paul Hardcastle to run with me (teams are required, at least as of the 2011 running, in order to complete the full event).  Training for the TransRockies was fairly straightforward.  I was coming off the the Run Rabbit Run 50-miler in the fall of 2010 and would use the off-season to focus a bit more on general strength and conditioning.  I would begin adding substantial miles in early-2011 and gradually build mileage in order to be able to endure the multiple back-to-back marathon-like distances that make up the TransRockies event.  As the start date approached, I eventually used a “free” TransRockies training program to guide my preparations (the 16-week “finishers” program shown below); however, I supplemented this program with significant resistance training.

 

The free training plan that I elected to follow to prepare for the TransRockies Run.

 

I generally left Paul to his own devices as he assured me that he was getting in his mileage.  And as the event neared, Paul was even working a personalized 12-week plan provided to him by McMillan Running; however, Paul was beginning to display signs that he wasn’t going to be up for this year’s run.  Paul had generally complained about knee pain during the spring, and by the first week of July was telling me things like, “my mind and body are willing … my knee just has other thoughts” when I inquired about his long runs.  I was concerned (both for Paul’s knee and the prospects for our being able to complete the TransRockies run); note that this was the same knee that burdened Paul with a DNF at the 2010 Run Rabbit Run event.  The problems with Paul’s knee continued and by the end of July I had confirmation that Paul would not be joining me this year.  Fortunately, I had been exploring my options with Joanne with the TransRockies team and she had advised me that I had two: 1) team up with a new partner as a “free agent,” or 2) convert to the RUN3 (the shorter, solo, 3-day event that covers approximately 60 miles, from Buena Vista to Camp Hale, CO with 8,600 feet of elevation gain) … I selected the later—Colorado Runner posted an article on the RUN3 here.  I was disappointed in not being able to compete in the 6-day event; however, with Ironman Cozumel looming, I felt as though the shorter event might better serve my other training goals for the year.  Also, Paul’s withdrawal allowed me to commit to save the full TransRockies as a “team” event with my wife—we are now both looking forward to running around in the Colorado mountains for 6 days when our children get a bit older!

My TransRockies Experience

I realize that I generally offer upbeat assessments, but  they are honest and I really enjoyed this run—to date I have recommended the full TransRockies event to many other runners.  Sadly, at the end of day 3 I was not ready to stop running (albeit I was extremely excited to return home to see my wife and children).  My times for the various stages reflect my determination to finish in good form but also my commitment to savoring the experience (primarily enjoying some of Colorado’s greatest running trails).

Stage 1: Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge – 20.9 miles, 2,550 feet elevation gain (Time: 3 hrs. 58 minutes, official results here)

Stage 2: Vicksburg to Twin Lakes – 13.3 miles, 3,250 feet elevation gain (Time: 3 hrs. 36 minutes, official results here)

Stage 3: Leadville to Nova Guides at Camp Hale – 24.2 miles, 2,800 feet elevation gain (Time: 5 hrs. 17 minutes, official results here)

Note: Upon looking back at the results, I finished 13th out of 33 runners in the RUN3 men’s open division with 12 hrs. and 51 minutes of total running time—had I been following the daily results (which I did not), I would have found that less than 10 minutes separated me from a top-10 finish (10 minutes is nothing over the course of twelve hours of running)—anyway, official results can be found here.

I didn’t write while I was running the event; instead, I managed only to capture a few photos that I have set out below:

 

 

I have also included a video montage of all of the GoPro footage that I shot during the event:

 

Recommendations & Reflections

Recommendations:  This is an event of durability.  Prepare and train for running long distances on back-to-back days.  If I had a single piece of advice, even if it came at a cost of your total weekly training mileage, it would be to run multiple back-to-back long runs during each week of your training.  Also, if you are running the TransRockies event with a partner and have elected the tent camping option, get TWO tents.  The supported tent camping provided by the TransRockies staff is excellent, but the limitations posed by the large number of participants and the size of the available campgrounds allows for massive tent “cities.”  The quarters are already cramped and the thought of cramming two tired runners, along with all their gear, into a single tent should not be a pleasant one—pay the additional $$$ and get separate tents.  Also, don’t underestimate the shower truck: this is a luxury at the end of a hard day and bring along some post-shower, clean and comfortable clothes to enjoy the remainder of the day after you have cleaned up (really a special treat).  Finally, bring along sufficient supplemental calories/food.  I am NOT a picky eater (I am an omnivore); however, I perform at my best when I eat a “clean” diet.  Again the logistics of the TransRockies event challenged the food service providers along the way and, despite their best efforts to offer healthy and even a variety of gluten-free options, I was constantly hungry!  Pack some supplemental food (the concern about bears is real, but really, what are you going to do about this issue in a massive tentropolis?).  I was happy to be able to supplement my daily calories with multiple, calorically-dense Honey Stinger 20g protein bars (oh yes, and a hot fudge sundae in Leadville, CO and a cheeseburger with a beer provisioned by the guides at Nova Guides—a great reason to bring along some cash, I think the chess burger set me back close to $20, the beer was “free”).

Reflections:  Stage 1 was sandy and HOT.  As always, in Colorado you need to be prepared for just about every type of weather imaginable.  Also, if you are planning on running this event as a team, you need to operate as a one—I look back and recall the banter between two teammates as they attempted to finish stage 1: “I TOLD you we went out too fast.”  “Damn it … why don’t you listen” … “Oh, just shut up” was the reply—and it deteriorated from there (it really was sad), not pretty.  Such poor behavior stood in sharp contrast to other teams who dealt with the demands of the event (even serious injuries) in a supportive and uplifting way.  TransRockies involves individual, team, and group dynamics … it is important to work together at all three.  Stage 2 offered some of the best single track and the up and over Hope Pass was spectacular (I have provided a link to the Leadville/Twin Lakes region here).  The accommodations at Leadville allowed a good opportunity to eat more calories (hence my stop at the ice cream parlor) and reconnect with family (great cell coverage).  Stage 3 to Camp Hale offered a mix of terrain and I enjoyed the  longer stage … 24 miles of running.  I ran the better part of a mile with Dean Karnazes (aka “Ultramarahtonman”)—I had met Dean on Day 1 (see picture above) and had visited with him briefly over dinner the night before.  It simply worked out that we were able to run together for a bit and we discussed our athletic backgrounds and I inquired about the run that launched his career (I had read in a WSJ article that Dean, after a 15-year absence from running, had left out from a bar on his 30th birthday, only to run nearly 3o miles from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay in his boxer shorts and an old pair of shoes, using the $20 bill he carried to purchase Tacos as fuel—all true).  See: Finley, A., “The Cross-Country Runner.” The Wall Street Journal. April 21, 2001.  In all I had too many positive experiences along the way to count and I look forward to encouraging others to participate in this great event as well as completing the 6-day run with my wife some time soon!

View the complete details for all the TransRockies events here.