Monday, February 20, 2017

Random Weekly Update - 2/20

Here's a random snapshot of what I did last week. As you can see, I've been keeping after the weights pretty seriously and balanced in "enough" running. Saturday at Deer Creek was quite enjoyable, my first visit there in many months (July?). Mobility and stretching work can take many months to achieve results, but I feel like things are inching toward positivity. I hope I can keep with this routine for at least 6 months and then I'll re-evaluate where I want to go with things after that.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Basics

I started this journey in October and have accumulated more than 50 sessions of strength and mobility. The first thing I am learning is that it is going to take a long time to get the basics right. My mobility and flexibility are terrible right now (the difference is flexibility is passive, mobility requires strength through a range of motion). For example, I cannot squat down without lifting my heels off the ground, which means I cannot do an ass to grass squat without compromising form. So, I have to get the basics done first. This is very disheartening because it takes a long time for connective tissue to adapt -- many months. But, it only strengthens my resolve to do this right. The last thing I need is a back injury from squatting with bad form.

Interestingly, my bench press is better than my squat right now. I would assume that has a lot to do with mobility related issues in my legs, likely also contributing to my overuse injuries running.  As I work on mobility, I think I'll dial back the strength component and work in lower weight so I can work on form and a complete range of motion. For a day-to-day structure, I that covers all the different movements, I really like Coach Dos' book Men's Health Power Training.

Here are a few mobility things I like to do:

Friday, January 13, 2017

A New Way: High Intensity and Strength

I have only been blogging intermittently lately because I am somewhat lost. This has been coming for a while now, maybe as much as two years in the making. Some combination of burn out, higher/changing priorities, "settling", and injury has led me to start to consistently wonder if I want to keep training this way. In short, I've optimized almost exclusively to nearly just one way of training (one way of "health") for five years now. It worked. In fact, I'd argue that I've seen results as good as anyone in my community of runners. My results have been good within my age group, a few with high placement, and most importantly, they have been consistent and improving.

So why change? First of all, I am injured. I've been dealing with a nagging groin injury since training for Colorado Marathon last Spring. It has reached a "chronic" state and needs a lot of therapy. It is also "chronic" in the sense that it continues to underscore the lack of balance in my body and my training. If you want to believe that I am just injured and bummed out and that's all that there is to this story, then go ahead and move on with your day and stop reading now, but there is way more to this.

As I eluded to in my intro, I have been fighting this mentality for a while now. In my self-reflecting moments, I have suspected for a while that change was needed. Being injured has allowed me to step away and gain some clarity. I started this journey as a way toward health and became pretty good at it -- addicted to chasing the next race, the next workout, the self-congratulations that came with success. I am finally seeing this as not healthy, but more of an obsession: too much repetitive motion without cross training, too much of a time commitment, too much juggling of regular life and racing.

A few years back a friend told me about Tim Ferris' book the 4 Hour Body. In the book, Ferris details CrossFit Endurance as a way to perform in running (yes, even ultra running!). The book promises to run minimal mileage and get maximal results. I was highly skeptical and still am. I do think that typical long, slow distance (LSD) "80/20" training is the way to go for maximum performance. However, I think I've detailed all the reasons why I don't think that is sustainable for a working/family person. That type of training maybe more suited long-term for someone younger and someone who trains like a full time athlete -- with time to cross train, with professional looking after them to stay healthy and recover properly. It may also be more appropriate for someone less obsessive and with the foresight to take time off during the year. Another fitness expert I trust very much, Ben Greenfield, has written some great content on the how to get fit and gain endurance and compared the two philosophies. The short story is that there is more to endurance than big volume and LSD and more than way to achieve many of the physiological adaptions.

Is this post an announcement that I am going to be doing CrossFit Endurance? Not quite. I thought about going to pure CrossFit Endurance and I was presented with several problems. As I mentioned early, I don't buy into the idea that you can run so little and be a good runner. Another problem, I don't have access to a CrossFit gym and don't want to pay to gain access. Finally, most importantly, the more I read about it, the more worried I became that I'd be trading one obsession for another and possibly induce new problems. Nonetheless, there is a sound philosophy behind the concept: prioritize strength training and intensity training to strengthen the body and "hack" fitness. Broadening the picture, there are other ways to "hack" fitness as well, like sauna training, fasting, slow/low carb dieting. Honestly, I think low-carb has had as much to do with my success the past 3 years as training. I believe that to my core.

What am I getting at? I have about 3 months to the Boston Marathon. I want to get healthy and run that race. And, I have other races that I'd like to run in 2017. I need a new way to go about things. This is honestly a new journey that I plan to take slow, literally a day at a time. Strength and mobility will be my biggest priorities. I am losing both and want to improve that before heading into the Summer. Strength will primarily be typical Olympic movements with high weight and low reps. (This is one area where I find CrossFit scary, using Olympic lifts to exhaustion.)  Next, I will be easing my way back into running as my things improve. But, my tolerance for pain/discomfort are going to be close to zero. No more compromising just to get another workout in. Finally, I will use CrossFit and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to help bridge the fitness gap. For now, my plan is to approach training like the following*:

Monday: Strength + 30-45 mins of easy running
Tuesday: Strength + 30 mins HIIT run workout
Wednesday: Strength + 45-60 mins HIIT run workout
Thursday: Strength + 30-45 mins of easy running
Friday: Injury prevention** or rest
Saturday: 60-120 mins running likely with structure/specificity
Sunday: 60-90 mins of running easy

* Mobility is something I will work on daily, so I didn't highlight it
**Injury prevention would be other types of cross training or other movements not covered on my strength days

The one thing I am learning on this is that I have a lot to learn. I've done strength training all my life and thought I knew what I was talking about. It turns out I was wrong! I need to work a lot on technique and mobility to get good at these things and not injure myself. Olympic style lifts require good technique and should not be taken lightly. It is going to be a long road, but I've got time. The goal is to be a stronger, more complete athlete and I don't plan to rush it.

I want to reiterate that I have no timeline on this. My primary goals are to get injury free, strong, and with improved range of motion. As things progress, I will adapt. Honestly, my current weekly workouts look more like CrossFit because I am doing so little running and using HIIT to keep active. I hope to adapt to the above in the next 3-4 weeks as my injury heals and then go almost week-to-week from there. If the results are good enough, I may stay with this all year. I don't know. Boston will not be an A-race, which isn't a problem because I never hoped it would be. It is more of a celebration of the long road to get here. Here is a peek at my last two weeks in Training Peaks.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Responding to LCHF Criticism

I read an article today by Carmichael Training System on the use of Ketosis for athletes and felt compelled to respond. The article is not entirely off base, but I think that the decision to consider any diet is an individual one. The athletes that come to CTS aren't necessarily indicative of the general population. Diets are lighting rod conversations and I am not trying to suggest this diet is superior for everyone, just presenting an opposing view based on experience.

Before responding to the points in their article, a quick bit about me. I am a former football player turned adventure junky (runner). There is nothing spectacular about me as a runner. My best mile time is basically 6:00 flat. I weigh about 195 pounds at a relatively lean 13% body fat, hardly an endurance build. I am a relatively large, aging athlete with a family history of high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes. Yet, I am a self-coached athlete that has managed to go sub-24 hours at Western States and qualified for Boston (3:09:55). Having tried to train and race for both health and performance and both using high-carbs and high-fat, I think I have an educated opinion on this topic. I have read the research and walked the walk. That said, I don't believe this diet for everyone. Individual factors -- age, body composition, etc... -- may sway someone to consider this diet or leave it.

After years of experimenting with many diets, including Atkins, I converted to LCHF in February of 2014. I was coming off knee surgery and unsure of what to expect once I returned to racing. Somewhat unexpectedly, my racing took off and I have had an incredible run of races the past three years, without changing much about the way I train. I have found that I need far less fuel on the run and that I recover much better from races on LCHF. What's more, I am not obsessed with eating during ultras and my energy levels are more consistent, though I still have highs and lows. Perhaps the best thing for me is that my blood pressure has dropped significantly (20 pts) and my blood markers are impeccable (particularly my triglycerides and HDL).

I have to say I disagree with this point. This might true if you look at lab results of indicators that we use to approximate performance, but in the field I don't know that this is true. My best races have all come since I converted to LCHF, everything from marathons to 100 mile races. I attribute this success to eating less during training and races: not being consumed mentally by a nutrition plan, no GI distress, more constant energy, less muscle wasting. Low carb by itself did not improve my V02 max, but it sure makes racing ultras simpler.

A good friend of mine -- a much more typical endurance (build) runner -- ran the Leadville 100 two years in a row. The first year he suffered horribly from a rotten gut and nausea. A year later, without training appreciably different, he ran two hours faster and finished 4th overall (18:43). He attributes nearly all this success to a paleo/LCHF diet which freed him from having to eat so much. Athletes such as Zach Bitter, Tim Olson, Jeff Browning, and Jason Schlarb have all used similar approaches with great success.  (Jason Schlarb's post-RRR interview in 2013 was the "aha" moment for me.)

Chris Carmichael was listing this as a positive, and I agree. This really gets at the heart of what I was saying above. Jason Koop, whom I respect very much, thinks the gut can be trained. I agree with this to an extent. Athletes have limited opportunities to train the GI system for a race that is likely more than double the length of their training runs. And, each day and each race offers something different whether it be altitude, heat, etc... There is no limit to the amount of "specifity" to train your gut for: taking a gel on a big climb, having certain products after 12 hours without real food, etc... I ran the Leadville 100 as my first 100 as a high carb athlete, eating an impressive 10,000+ Kcals (nearly 400/hr). Overall my experience was positive, but I definitely had issues with diarrhea in the second half. Converting to LCHF, I now eat more like 5000 Kcals in a race and my gut thanks me. My nutrition plan is quite simple and I can typically carry 5-6 hours of my preferred products with me at a given time.

Also, at a certain point, you have to ask if this is the right idea. Endurance sports are demanding and there are lots of questions marks about long term health on the heart as well as just the physical wear and tear. So we are all paying a bit of an unknown price. That said, is eating these products all day to train and race the best thing?  The Boston Marathon race director has heart disease.

This shouldn't be the case if done properly. I eat the same, or more even, on LCHF. Each gram of fat has more than twice as many calories as gram of carbohydrates. Eating half the volume would yield an equivalent amount of calories in one's diet. Perhaps the issue is that the athlete finds the diet too limiting (more on that later) and just eats too little involuntarily. It can be a chore to eat enough fat to keep your macronutrient ratio at 75+%. I regularly eat oils to keep my ratio high enough. The majority of the weight loss should come initially from water as the athlete's muscles dump glycogen (and the associated water) and later from fat burn. One difficulty here is the body composition of the athlete -- leaner athletes may struggle to convert their fat stores to energy.

One last thing, there is a difference between nutritional ketosis and fasting/starving ketosis. Unless you a purposely fasting, athletes should be trying to stay in nutritional ketosis. As for me, I was only in ketosis for a few months and switched to LCHF instead, allowing myself "strategic" carbs. I get plenty of benefits from the higher fat burning overall improved gut.

This point I very much agree with. Ketosis is black and white and therefore very difficult to maintain in our western culture. That is the reason I consider myself "LCHF" and not in ketosis. A typical training day for me consists of fewer than 75g of carbs -- often strategically planned around hard or long workouts -- and I occasionally cheat. However, the closer I say to ketosis recommendations, the better I feel. More importantly, when I am keeping strictly with the diet, my blood suggests my body is in superior health.

While I understand the author's point, I disagree. While exercising, the body is more tolerant of carbohydrates without bumping you out of ketosis and it actually makes you more flexible. And, you could easily take the opposite side of this point of view -- what if you need carbohydrates and get lost?  What if your crew gets lost and the aid stations don't have high-carb products you've trained your gut with to avoid GI distress? As a low carb athlete, I regularly go hours without eating with zero fear of a "bonk". When I ate carbs regularly, I was obsessed with my next feeding interval and hitting that 300-400 Kcal/hr mark.

My experience with LCHF has been very positive and I encourage all athletes, particularly larger ones or those with family history of diabetes, to try it out. People in the LCHF community often say each of us is an experiment of one. There are likely aspects of this diet that can help anyone. The points in the CTS article are all worth considering, but I hope I have given a point of view from someone that has used the approach successfully.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Year In Review

I wasn't going to do a year in review for 2016 for many of the reasons that will follow. But, it has become tradition and I enjoy looking back on my blog for personal reflection. There is a good chance that 2016 will be viewed as my climactic year in running. I hit several big goals: I ran a Boston qualifying marathon and ran probably my best 100 miler at Wasatch 100. However, I spent a good chunk of the year dealing with nagging injuries and losing motivation. How many years can I continue to focus this much on running? And, what do I really know about training? Running 2500 miles a year is pretty extreme, a fact we often lose sight of when we surround ourselves by like-minded runners. Is it necessary? I doubt it. I truly believe LCHF transformed my ultra running more than any training cycle did.

Perhaps my greatest day in 2016 was October 28th, my fortieth birthday. Knowing we'd had a mild few months, I asked my wife to climb Grays Peak with me to watch the sunrise. It required that we get up at 3:30 am and be at the trail about 5 am. It was the first time I've been the first one in the parking lot at a 14er! It was quite invigorating to be out on that trail in the pitch black (and with traction) and sharing the experience with my wife. She's not an ultra runner, so it definitely qualifies as one of the craziest things she's done in fitness. It was a blessed day and I am lucky to have a spouse fit enough and crazy enough to do something like that.
We didn't quite summit before sunrise, but this view was pretty awesome.
So cool to ascend to over 13,000 feet and look back at the valley we traversed in the dark.

Two pretty good views in that photo. Had it not been so cold, I would have stayed up there hours.
A fun collage from the day.

As for my races, it is really hard to pick my favorite. They were all great. In fact, I've been on an incredible run since knee surgery in 2013. A fortunate and blessed streak of great years. I would give a slight edge to Wasatch 100 as my favorite for two reasons. First, I was joined by some great friends and my sister. I love the team/social aspect to those events. I cherish the memories I make with my friends. Words cannot describe how deep my sister got me to dig those last 8 miles. It is something I'll remember forever. I cried. I prayed. I hurt all over.  It was worth it. Second, I think it was my latest evolution in really getting what it means to compete in one of these events. Western States was the first time I demonstrated the grit and mental toughness to run a good one hundred. But this year was the first time I added to that the gratitude to truly enjoy it and share it with others. And, I believe gratitude allowed me to run to my best.

My big sister, crew member and pacer extraordinaire

The memories, the friends.  Those are the things that last, races come and go.

In terms of achievements, Colorado Marathon may have been my biggest conquest in 2016. Having not run a marathon in four years, and doing very little pace work along the way, I wasn't sure I could do it. I trained my heart out, literally leaving everything I had out there. In fact, I spent the rest of the year feeling the impact. Once again, it was worth it. I exhibited faith in myself and just went after it. I caught the perfect day to run and made it count. My splits were near perfect the whole way. There were a few moments of doubt, but I conquered them all. As a bonus, I had my good friend Chuck running along side me the whole way. I have nothing left to give the marathon distance. But I am going to Boston to celebrate.

It is really hard to count North Fork 50k as a "throw in" -- I did finish 4th overall -- but that is kind of the way it worked out. I signed up as a "training run" and to fill the big void between Colorado Marathon and Wasatch 100. On race day, I decided to get after it and it also went perfectly. I love that race and may one day go back.

This is just running! There are so many countless awesome things that happened in 2016... family vacations to Utah for Christmas, Puerto Vallarta for summer break, I bought a smoker, I climbed 10 mountains, I started really reading again, the Broncos won the Super Bowl, and countless amazing conversations with family and friends. What a year!

As I eluded to in previous posts, I am starting to see a different focus as I approach my next decade of life. Somewhere along the line I decided my 30s was the decade to get physically fit. I think my 40s is a time to get spiritually fit. Running is a huge part of who I am and has taken me amazing places. I still plan to run and compete (hopefully well), but it feels like time to pursue a life bigger than running.

Friday, December 23, 2016

2017 Rambling....

I am more than 3 months post Wasatch and I feel like I am barely running, about 25 miles per week. That is something, but no where near my usual routines. There are some remaining niggles and my confidence and motivation to run are quite low. I am officially registered for the Boston Marathon and in the Leadville 100 lottery. But, I have zero idea how I'll get to the start of either race; in what kind of shape, I mean.

On the plus side, I've been enjoying having my life back. More time at home. Less obsession about training, diet, and shoes. More time cross training. All pretty good things. I've started reading more and trying to find ways to grow and thrive in my fifth decade on earth.

As part of my reading, I've begun to read Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. I enjoy Tim's passion for finding better ways to live and the schedules/patterns/rituals of successful people. There are some amazing tips and tricks in the book, more than one person can process in one read of the book. I plan to tinker with some of the fitness ideas in the book as I continue to refine my approach to training and a balanced life. I've already begun experimentation with cryotherapy and plan to experiment more with sauna work and fasting. Sauna work and diet (including some fasting) were a huge part of my successes the past few years. It is my belief that an individual with a focus on total life health -- diet, sleep, supplements, etc... -- can be a successful endurance athlete without putting mileage as the singular focus as a measure of "fitness". It'll be a fun challenge.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Running with Power

Being the tinkerer that I am, I bought a Stryd Power Meter recently to mess around with power and get an idea what it is all about. Unfortunately, I adopted a little to early and got the chest strap version. They recently released a footpod version that I would MUCH prefer.

To start out, I'll explain why power appeals to me. I began seriously training in 2010 and mostly trained by goal pace. Based on my marathon goals, I would find my target training paces (easy, tempo, 10k, etc...) from the McMillan calculator and work backward in training. For example, a 3:30 marathoner should be able to run sub-45 min 10k, or about 7:12 pace. If I encountered a workout that called for intervals at 10k pace in training, I'd aim to hit or exceed the pace given by the calculator. Easy enough, and relatively effective. I collected heart rate data on and off in these years and mostly used it to guide my pace.

Fast forward to my ultra years and I fell in love with volume, as do most ultra runners. In an effort to squeeze in volume, one typically has to give up on doing much intensity. I turned to Maffetone and an extreme focus -- I think obsession really -- on heart rate training. I gauged every run by heart rate intensity to the point where I was doing my hard sessions with heart rate targets in mind and graded every run by what my heart rate data told me. The most common thing my social group talks about on Strava is heart rate. I even tinkered with the idea of racing by heart rate. Fortunately, I quickly realized that wasn't such a great idea for me as it is extremely hard to predict with the terrain variation in mountain ultras. (I do think heart rate is a paramount thing to observe and measure in terms of fitness and health, but using it for the in the moment the decisions and to guide your training is a bit trickier.)

In 2016, I decided to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon and realized I'd need something a bit more solid than heart rate if I was going to narrow in on such a specific time goal and returned to training more by structure and pace. I continued to track heart rate of course, but tended to analyze it after the fact and less in the moment. Then I read Jason Koop's book and it changed the way I viewed ultra running -- it didn't need to all be LSD and Maffetone! His book encouraged me to change the focus back to training and fitness and not just volume. A return to pace and structure treated me well in 2016 as I did qualify for Boston and had a great year overall.

So, the reason to consider power? Other than wanting to tinker, I considered it primarily because I see the disadvantages in heart rate training. Heart rate training is only valuable if you have a very accurate understanding of your heart rate zones. And, truthfully, I find very few people do. This requires some good sample data -- threshold data the best -- and lots of experiments. Using heart rate guidelines like 180-age and such confuse the issue and remove any individuality. Another problem is that heart rate data can be influenced by lots of things -- life stress, caffeine, fatigue, alcohol, diet, etc... This can be a positive or negative, but definitely skews the definition of work. Finally, heart rate data tends to lag effort, so if you aren't paying attention to perceived effort, you can "blowout" your heart rate easily. Depending on the workout and your fitness, a heart rate "blowout" may be unrecoverable without full recovery, which I am not a fan of.

Power data aims to improve upon heart rate data by changing the definition of work being done. Instead of thinking of pace or heart beats, you think of force and work rate. However, by using power you can also analytically measure other areas like efficiency, training stress, and such with more precision. Power can actually measure the force you apply on multiple planes, which is valuable because any power applied any where other than forward is theoretically waste. Truthfully, it is just a more analytical, and perhaps accurate, way to measure what heart rate and pace already tell you. The difference is subtle because all of the metrics in this post measure work and stress, just in different ways. (And, TrainingPeaks is capable of using all three when analyzing fitness.)

The other advantage of power is that it isn't lagging like heart rate. If you start going uphill, power instantly increases. Of course, the reverse of that is that it can literally change with every stride, meaning you have to use a smoothed number (like 10 or 30 seconds) to avoid the noise. And, like heart rate or pace, you must know your threshold to properly set zones. So, testing and tinkering hasn't been eliminated. Like heart rate, power zones can theoretically change through the year with fitness.

So, enough with all the background and theory, I've used power data on a few dozen runs and finally am honing in on my "zones". My initial trial for threshold power was a bust due to training fatigue and wind, so I have reverse-engineered my zones by more experimentation. Someday soon I'll do my zones with a threshold test again, but those aren't very fun!

Advantages that I have found:
- I think the primary advantage I have found is in using it on a treadmill where I am often not sure if the machine is calibrated properly. Also, I prefer to run on treadmills with a slight grade, making a read on pace even more perplexing. Running indoors also wreaks havoc on my heart rate, due namely to heat, I think. So, power offers a more unbiased view of effort in these situations. You can see a slight increase in power after the first two intervals in the display below as I slightly increased the pace. Interestingly, power peaked in the fifth interval even though the 6th was my fastest. While though I wasn't looking at my power on my watch, I was making an effort to be efficient on that 6th interval.

Power data from a recent treadmill interval session I did. The data was captured in Movescount.

- Power data is measuring power in all planes, so any loss of form due to fatigue will show up as an increase in power, meaning the runner needs to slow down or improve efficiency. Slowing down on a treadmill may be difficult whether due to a drastic need to button push or admit to yourself you cannot handle the pace. However, on a track, if you only had a smoothed power measure shown on your watch, this could be quite a good way to measure and target your effort.

- Related to the above, I think the efficiency measures that could be derived from power and loss of data on different planes could be quite powerful. However, I think the individual would need either a coach or be extremely geeky to enjoy this. And, other measures like stride rate, vertical oscillation, and ground contact time already exist.

- The integration of data with TrainingPeaks and their variety of other analytics is very useful.

 Disadvantages that I have found:
- To use power, you must re-orient your entire view of how you train to power. This shouldn't be that complicated, but I equate it to someone learning a foreign language and only thinking in one language and translating to the other. A runner used to thinking in pace or heart rate will find themselves doing a lot of translation until power becomes second nature.

- The data is so accurate to the moment that it can be noisy, requiring the use of smoothed values to be useful. This calls into question which smoothed value is most useful -- 10 secs or 30 secs?  More?

Power data from an "easy" non-structured run collected by Movescount. See how "noisy" it can be? But, my hill sprint stands out really well at the end! 
- Many runners want to just run and this level of data an analytics won't appeal to everyone. Having to consider stride rate is complicated enough, but loss of power to alternate planes may blow some minds!

- *Data collection is only supported by a few watches and, at least for my Ambit 3 Run, you only get the power number, none of the other cool metrics collected by Stryd. Power is the most important number, but some of Stryd's advanced analytics would be useful as well. I don't like carrying my iPhone around when I run. Hopefully future versions of Ambit are able to capture all this data from Stryd. (The Stryd does support offline data caching so I can capture my data within the device even if not on my watch and sync with my mobile phone later.)

- *Likewise, only a few software programs allow you to dig deep into the analytics of power. Movescount collects the data, but only to graph it and display back the point values, which are quite noisy. Strava doesn't support power in their run profile yet. TrainingPeaks does support power and has quite a few good displays of the data. But, I'd like to see all the other data points the Stryd collects integrate in one place.
A comparison of power by zones and heart rate by zones from Training Peaks

In summary, I like having power as a training tool and will continue to experiment with it. I will also likely get the new version at some point. But, I think I am a little ways away from exclusively training with it. I'd like to see the software and watches catch up quickly to really make this data more powerful! If inclined, I think a runner could gather very valuable information in regards to efficiency using this tool.

*Note to the reader: With the new Stryd footpod, it does sound like most of the data may actually make its way into Garmin Connect. Also, it stores the data on the pod so you can load it to their power center later.