Saturday, February 23, 2008

Positive thinking & the mega training weekend

I remember the first time I was exposed to someone doing a "long run". It was just after college and my house mate mentioned he was going out for a 10-mile run. This blew my mind, as it seemed an impossible distance for any non-Olympic marathoner to run. Less than two hours later he returned and to my astonishment, he could walk around and function normally after this mega-long run! This left a huge impression on me and I drew from it as I made it through my first 10-miler a couple years later. Years passed and while my astonishment meter has raised its limits a bit, I remain very respectful of the long run ... whatever the distance that defines it for the individual. These are the thoughts floating around in my mind as I sat in my office on a Friday night preparing for 3 days of back-to-back long runs, the first of which was already a few hours behind schedule. The plan: a total of 12 hours of running with the duck (my fully-weighted MDS backpack). The video below picks up on Friday night -- a few hours after my planned start ...

After surviving my late night run and getting a good night's sleep, I set out on a 4-hour run on Saturday ...

Man-made and natural features of Saturday's run ...
I rarely plan my long run routes -- instead I make them up on the fly relying on Switzerland's amazing network of Wanderweg paths. I run from village to village -- sign to sign -- and it usually works out just great time-wise (and certainly adventure-wise!).

With Saturday's run in the bank, albeit with a new injury collected along the way, I did my second ice bath of the weekend, stretched, enjoyed a Swiss-style fondue night, and prepared for the closing act on Sunday. The plan for Sunday's run was 5-hours with steep hills. I picked a general direction to head (toward the hills!) and decided to let the rest of the route take care of itself. The weather was surreal for late-February in Switzerland and the only real concern I had was a revisit from Saturday's glute injury.

The video tells the story the best -- in the end, I experienced a 6-hour run on Sunday. After a great first hour, my leg/glute issue became a major problem and I was in pain with each step. At 3 hours, I applied a cocktail of positive thought, aspirin, muscle gel, and warm soup, and somehow I turned a miserable injury experience on its head and enjoyed a wonderful closing three hours (with most of that in the darkness). I don't quite understand the turnaround, but I sure don't question it!

This was a very important weekend in my preparation for MDS and I was happy to reach our doorstep in one piece Sunday night with this mega-training weekend successfully concluded!

Thanks for reading and checking out the videos - as always, I really appreciate your support!


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Finding balance and getting to the core

Greetings from a morning in Zürich where it again feels like winter. I'm wrapping up an easy week -- designed for recovery and catching up with long-time friends who are visiting from the U.S. It's all about creating balance, in the body and in life, so this is my balance week. Leading up to this weekend I've only done 2.5 hours of running this week -- and I only have a 1-hour run on the weekend schedule. I think it's wild that a marathon's worth of running throughout a week makes me feel like I'm slacking off! The rest time is a smart move though as next weekend I have 3 back-to-back days of long-runs (12 hours of running over 3 days). During this recovery window I sense that my body is energizing and building the reserves back up from weeks and weeks of intensive training.

I decided to focus this week's blog on an element of my program that I never would have pursued without a coach -- core and strength training. In prior years, when I trained for a marathon, I just ran a lot. When I trained for a triathlon, I biked and ran a lot -- and made a few cameos at the pool. Visiting a gym was something I did during the off-season and it usually consisted more of doing bench press and curls than stability and back/abs work. As I mentioned in a prior post, Coach Lisa got me started with core work about a year ago when I started my Inferno training. I quickly learned that I was pathetically weak in my core (I could barely make it through even 20 of the 50-rep sit-up sets she called for!). I committed to the core work back then and it really paid off during my long running and cycling sessions and especially during the race. When I moved to Switzerland and started my MDS training, I joined a fitness center and began to work with a local trainer, Ivo. Ivo designed an excellent core and strength program that fits into Lisa's overall plan, offers a lot of creativity, and certainly challenges me. We meet monthly to review the plan and adjust it with new exercises for the month ahead. Once or twice a week I hit the gym before sunrise to do some cardio cross-training and then I complete a combined strength and core session. As for the cardio cross-training work, it usually consists of cycling, elliptical or stair machine, and rowing. The rowing has been new for me in the past year and I find it a great cross-training addition to the program. I'm not sure why, but 5 minutes into a rowing session and I always become very competitive with the rowing machine display that tells me my pace and distance covered. Any way, at 6:30 AM at the gym, it becomes fun and definitely wakes me up!

My targeted core work hits my abs, back, and obliques and consists of medicine ball crunches on a Bosu ball (above) and several other drills using Swiss balls and other items from the gym's assortment of squishy steps, ramps, and torture-looking devices! The variety is wonderful though and really holds my interest. Oh yeah, and it's rarely torturous!

Swiss balls offer endless opportunities for imaginative exercises. Here I'm working my back, chest, and arms like a traditional push-up, but I'm having to engage stabilizer muscles and my entire core to balance over the two balls (and prevent falling flat on my face!). We've recently made one adjustment to this drill-- my feet have moved up to a Swiss ball as well. With the recent addition though, I've had a sudden encounter with the floor on more than a few occasions!

I do all of my strength training with added elements of core and stability training. That is, it's all combined. In this exercise, I'm doing a one-legged balance on a squishy Bosu ball. The balancing part is great for developing ankle and knee strength and it gives my quads a good burn too. My core is also engaged as it's fighting to keep me from toppling over. And finally, I'm doing lateral raises with dumbbells of unequal weight. This exercise requires a lot of focus on different parts of your body all at once - especially balance. It also targets your shoulders and triceps. It's great fun and forces me "into the now" as there's no chance for the mind to wander!

I attribute this focus on core and strength training as a key reason that my body feels reasonably good 4 hours into a run with a backpack and that I've avoided injury during many long trail runs on uneven, rocky and often wintry-terrain. I'm a believer!

Next week is intense and I'm looking forward to it. I'll plan to capture some video during my back-to-back long runs to capture the experience. This much running over 3 days will be a new experience for me, so I'm anxious to see how the ole' bod responds.

Thanks for your notes and encouragement, and as always, thanks for reading!

Cheers from the land of chocolate,

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Dialing it in

Just capped off a great week of training with a 5-hour trail run with friends in the hills outside of Zürich. It was great to run with company -- long solo runs get a little mind-numbing after a while! I made sure that I didn't overweight the duck (like some other recent runs) -- I kept the backpack right at 20 lbs. (9 kg) for today's run and I hardly noticed it until 4 hours of running when my ankles and knees stared to question this whole "run with a backpack" concept. It really is getting easier to run with the extra weight -- not easy -- just easiER!
I also made some small, but important nutritional changes during today's run. I upped my calorie intake by about 100 calories an hour. Recent long runs have been around 200 calories an hour, with the first couple of hours about half of that. In those runs I bonked (hit the wall -- started to feel really weak) around 4.5 hours in. Today I made sure to get in 300 calories an hour starting from the beginning and it made a huge difference. At 5 hours my legs were feeling it a bit, but my overall feeling (breathing, heart rate, motivation, and mindset) was great and I felt that I could have pushed on for quite a bit more -- not enough to deviate from my plan and actually add more though!
Today's ice bath was fun as always. Looking forward to enjoying some homeade veggie soup I'm cooking in between keystrokes -- a little stretching -- some Swiss chocolate -- and a good night's sleep.

For those inclined to hear a few more training details, this week I also did a couple sunrise 10-milers (with the duck), a strength/core session, and a little bit of early heat acclimatization (sauna time, something I'll do progressively more of as the race approaches). Next week will be fairly typical training-wise and then the following week I'll be building up to three consecutive days of long runs. Other than doing my best to stick to my training schedule, I've been spending a lot of time reviewing gear and pack list recommendations and planing my nutrition for the race. This requires a lot of up-front research and planning, but it's a key to a successful race experience, so I'm logging the time now as I read a plethora of recommendations from people and search for products online in Switzerland, the rest of Europe, and the U.S. I didn't realize how good I had it when I lived in the States -- sports supplements (like bars, drinks, and gels) are so much less expensive and easier to find in the U.S. than in Europe -- often 3-4 fold cheaper!

Upcoming posts will be on core and strength training, some of the medical testing I've recently undergone, and a charity announcement.

All the best from a surprisingly warm evening in Switzerland! Thanks for reading and have a great week!


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Make it fun

Just finished a stellar week with friends from the U.S. and Germany in the town of Verbier (in southwestern Switzerland). While I knew going into this week of holiday that I’d have a wonderful time, I was a bit concerned about creating the right balance between socializing, downhill skiing, après-skiing, and training for my desert fun-in-the-sun that is rapidly growing closer. Coach Lisa put together a plan for me that stressed key workouts that I needed to accomplish without worrying about specific training for each day. I packed a wide mix of gear for the trip: skate skis, touring skis, snowboard, ice climbing equipment, trail running shoes with ice spikes, and of course the Duck. This was my first trip to Verbier (to the French-speaking part of Switzerland for that matter), so while I did expect an interesting journey back to the dusty corners of my brain to search for the French I learned in 8th grade, I had no idea what to expect for terrain or conditions. I decided to front-load my training for the week and tackled a 2-hour hill run the day after we arrived. The plan was to seek out rolling hills, but Verbier sits on the side of a mountain, so it was either straight up OR straight down – all at an altitude that shortens the breath a bit. This run and a snow run on the following day went great, although the Duck made it’ presence known on the long ascents.After learning that skate skiing would have to be removed from the menu this week (unsuitable terrain up high and lack of snow down low), I decided to trade in a hilly run for some randonee skiing (earn your turns).

This is all about having fun though, so after the climb, here's a twist on making the descent a blast ...

Notice the snow spraying from my feet toward the end of the clip. This is me putting the brakes on franticly as I approached a slope so steep that I wondered why in the world I was setting off on a 10K long descent on a little wooden sled! 45-minutes later though and I arrived in one piece at the bottom of a twisty, icy, bumpy sled run that's so dangerous it would be outlawed in the U.S. and so fun that tears from hysterical laughter were frozen to my face along with a constant ice spray from my boots digging into the snow for traction.

I polished off the week with a great snow run, another ski tour (this time with the descent on skis though!), more sledding, and my first ever curling match. This week was another reminder that it's possible to train for a big event and still have lots of fun and many laughs along the way. And yes, that's a regulation curler's mustache.