One Athlete’s Ironman Journey

I recently watched two of my amazing athletes finish their first Ironman at Ironman Boulder. It was even more rewarding than crossing that line myself. One of those athletes – David – sent me the below summary in an email shortly after his Ironman finish. I asked him if I could share it on my blog. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. Here it is:

Part of my Ironman journey included countless trips to my massage therapist, Karen. Countless trips to my physical therapist Lee and Jackie at International Pain Solutions…with dry needling and deep tissue massage. I endured getting crashed into and being taken out by an out of control, speeding skateboarder while I was riding up Lookout Mountain with Bill. There were: Ice bags on calf muscles. Ice baths. Epson salt baths. Foam roller. OWS? Long, boring runs up The Bluffs in the snow that felt like sand. Long, boring swims. Runner’s Edge Saturday runs. Fogged-up goggles. Swims with Lisa at Northridge masters. Swims with Cama Jo and Dennis at Greenwood Athletic Club. 5:30 am swims at Grant Ranch. Boring rides. A chilly run through the beautiful red hills of Moab for 19 miles at Red Hot. Getting over my panic feeling in open water…kind of. Workouts together. Workouts apart. Trying to keep up on my bike with Carrie and Joann at the Elephant Rock in June and all the training rides. Way too many bad tasting recovery drinks. Sunscreen. Bonk bars? Freezing ride to Carter Lake during the early spring. Sweat. Learning to and updating my Training Peaks training log for my coach Cary. THANK YOU Cary Kinross-Wright for being my coach and therapist! Early morning TRX core conditioning with Jennifer at GAC. Frogs and pikes. Jen who without saying my name would look in my direction and say don’t point your toes during one of her spin classes. Don’t forget your heart rate strap or I can’t compute the data. Trying to keep up with Frank and Jay in the pool at GAC and quickly giving up. Two flats while riding into a pothole around Chatfield. Chain grease-covered legs. Sunburned shoulders. Running with Carsten. Sore regions. My friend Phil would say get behind my wheel! Stomp on your pedals. Use your hams. Get into your Zen and breathe! Water bottles and more water bottles – fill them again with Skratch. Skratch? Another load of Tri kits to wash. Breakfast in Boulder after training. Watching Ted sweat. Countless calories in the form of Vanilla Cliff Shots. Homemade almond protein bars from Megan’s recipe. Eat more calories she said! Stiff muscles. Nagging pains. Inspired by Vince. From 14% to 11% body fat. Not enough sleep. More Garmin data to upload. Will all this training ever be enough? Keep swimming. Two loops-yeah! Keep riding. Keep running. Keep eating. Don’t ask yourself why. You know why. For one chance. One chance to go for it all. One chance to run down the finisher shoot, high five countless supporters on Pearl Street and hear those words, “You…David Poole…are now an Ironman.” Thank you Jay and Frank for lighting a fire inside me to sign up in January for the Boulder series and then train. Thank you Frank, Chris and Sara for organizing so many of our workout sessions and being helpful and answering all my questions for this first timer. Thanks to Ryan and his Kompetitve Edge staff for outfitting me with my Quintana Roo Tri bike. Thank you Kathy and The Fast Lab. Thank you to all of my Ironman Boulder 2014 Training Group training partners for all your encouragement. Thank you to all the volunteers during Ironman Boulder. And thank you Marlene, Violet, Sophia and David, Patrick Poole and Chris Poole for making all the colorful signs and being my outstanding race day crew. It’s has been a fun and very rewarding journey!

Thank you,

David

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A-T-R-O-P-H-Y is a four-letter word

Exciting news in my ankle surgery recovery: I graduated to a boot today. What does this mean, you ask? I still can’t put weight on my leg, BUT I can wash my foot, I can ice my foot, I can let my foot breath fresh air. Unfortunately, the air cast/boot manufacturers appear not to have discovered lightweight materials, but my left leg probably needs the extra work right now.

As I was sitting in the doctor’s office, wondering how they actually remove casts, the nurse walked in with what I could only assume was a handheld circular saw. When I looked at it in horror, she said, “this makes a lot of noise but it does not cut”. I was silently thinking, “then how the hell does it cut the cast off?”  No offense to this particular cast cutter, but it did not appear to be a high tech gizmo that would sense my skin milliseconds before cutting into it. A few tense moments ensued, but she did manage to remove my cast without taking bits of my leg off.

I keep expecting to see an actual foot each time my leg emerges from it’s protective shell, but so far this hasn’t happened. When my surgeon came in to remove my stitches today, he exclaimed, “it looks good!”, and all I could think was “I’d hate to see something that looks bad. I don’t have a visible ankle, my toes look like Vienna sausages, my foot looks like something you’d use while filming a zombie movie, and my calf looks like saggy elephant skin”. [I love my surgeon, by the way, he reminds me of a big teddy bear; a big, brilliant, talented teddy bear, but I still want to hug him.]

My calf. This brings me to the subject of atrophy. We all know that atrophy happens with immobilization, but it’s hard to believe just how quickly it happens. I read somewhere that most of the atrophy happens in the early days of immobilization. I guess that is supposed to make you feel better – the damage is done, eat some more chocolate! But I don’t think I grasped the full meaning of the word ATROPHY until I saw it happening on my own body. I don’t appear to have any visible calf muscle in my left leg. And the elephant skin – well, let’s not go there.

If you’ve ever had to take significant time off from training for illness or some other reason, you understand that detraining happens quickly. It requires significantly more training time than detraining time to reach the prior level of fitness. It’s not fair, but unfortunately it IS true. Atrophy follows the same pattern. It is much easier to atrophy than to de-atrophy (not a word, but it’s descriptive, is it not?). I found the following quote in an old paper on the NCBI website “An almost complete recovery from atrophy is possible, yet often the recovery phase is much longer than the total immobilisation period.”. Well, isn’t that encouraging!? ALMOST?

On that note, I’m off to the gym, where my right calf will be looking in the mirror flexing it’s big muscles while my left calf hides in it’s boot, weak and embarrassed.

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Post surgery survival guide

Sitting here, rocking a hot pink cast, I realize I don’t have any more excuses NOT to update this blog. I thought about this blog a lot over the past year, but I appear to be remarkably resistant to any outdated-blog induced guilt. Anyhow, I’m back (for now at least, I won’t make any promises I can’t keep).

As a bit of background, I had ankle surgery on October 21st. I had this planned since early in the summer once an MRI* indicated the ATFL** on my left ankle was MIA*** and that I had a bone chip or two floating around my joint. I pushed the surgery off as long as I could, deciding I would give up a ski season, thus assuring that this will be the best snow year Colorado has this decade.

I’m nearly 2 weeks post surgery, 2 weeks in which I have not been able to put any weight on my left leg, and I figure this qualifies me as an expert… in something. So here’s part one of my key steps to surviving recovery from [ankle, knee, other leg part] surgery:

1: Become a member of Amazon Prime. I notice that Amazon had a significant increase in their stock price in October, and I can’t help but wonder if I was in large part responsible for what must have been one heck of an earnings report.

2: Using this membership, buy some key items:

  • Pair of crutches from smartCRUTCHTM (I’ve never used regular armpit crutches, but the smartCRUTCHTM design is really good). They are not paying me to say this, I promise. If you don’t mind looking like a villain from a sci-fi flick, take my advice and use these crutches.
  • Cast covers. No one tells you things like “your cast will be so rough that it will ruin pants, furniture, and Pilates equipment”. I would classify this as a “nice to know”. I bought some very stylish (Zebra print) covers that work like a charm. The only bad thing about cast covers is that they cover my lovely hot pink cast, but the zebra print eases my anguish over this, at least a bit. And they have fleece toe covers, BONUS!
  • Shower cast cover. I wasn’t convinced that garbage bags and duct tape were all that reliable (no offense to duct tape, I wear it daily, really), so I went searching. Soon one Dry ProTM waterproof cast cover, complete with air removal system, was mine. You put this huge blue rubber boot over your cast, then suck out all the air with the provided air sucker, to seal the boot to your foot. “Voila!”, your cast is waterproofed. Who thinks of these things? I would like to hug them.
  • Vacuum sealed coffee cups that actually work (Contigo® is the way to go, take it from an addict). I hadn’t really thought this whole “non-weight bearing” thing through before surgery, and one thing in particular I hadn’t thought about was HOW DO YOU GET COFFEE FROM A COFFEE SHOP when you can’t carry anything in your hands? Now you know.

I could go on, but you probably don’t really want to know exactly how much I spent on Amazon.com in the past month.  If you do, just look at their earnings report.

3: Figure out what you are going to do for your exercise fix (best to think about this well in advance as it may require some planning).  When I pressed the surgeon on this issue and he said swimming would be possible at 6-8 weeks and ruSUCCESS!nning MAYBE at 4 months, I knew I needed to be creative. My Crested Butte training buddy suggested a hand cycle – her husband had used one after breaking his femur. Brilliant! Unfortunately Amazon does not sell hand cycles, but I did find a used one on Craigslist, and after some research and chats with the owner, I bought a bright yellow hand cycle. I’ve been out on it 5 times so far (thanks to my wonderful and patient husband who totes me and my hand cycle around). Today I did my first solo ride on the bike path. It was very successful in that I didn’t a) careen off the path or b) take out another cyclist/runner/walker. Very exciting!

I’ve been working out at the gym doing my leg injury training program from Rob at Mountain Athlete in Jackson (www.mountainathlete.com if any of you are interested. He has excellent programming). I have become adept at hopping while carrying weights, and I actually think my one legged burpees are better than my two legged burpees. That’s not saying a lot really…  I also have a mini skate board (thank you Amazon) so I can use the rowing machine and take my bad leg along for the ride.

I digress. But before I leave the subject of [sanity saving] exercise, I should add that Pilates has been critical to keeping my body from completely giving in to the lopsided movements I’m forcing it to do. And the instructors appreciate my cast covers.

4: Finally, if you value your sanity at all and don’t relish sitting on the couch all day at home, rent a knee scooter. I should probably put this first, because it is the one thing I honestly don’t think I could live without right now. I didn’t even know these things existed, but my husband picked one up for me while I was in the operating room. If you tried to take it away from me now I would bite your hand. Back to the “not thinking this whole thing through”, I hadn’t really processed that while using crutches you can’t really do anything with your hands. With the knee scooter, you can do pretty much anything: cook, carry things, do laundry, clean kitty litter boxes…  hey, it’s a small price to pay for sanity.

I’ll end this now because I have to go shopping. Rather, my husband has to take me shopping. Bless him. I have toyed with the idea of hanging a shopping bag around my neck so I can shop on crutches by putting things in the shopping bag hanging around my neck– but fortunately I haven’t had to go there yet.

If all goes well, I’ll be off crutches after 3 weeks. As much as I love all my new toys, I’ll be really happy not to have to crutch, hop or knee scooter any more!

Glossary of terms:

* MRI: magnetic resonance imaging – machine used to take really cool and detailed pictures of bones, ligaments, tendons, and everything else in there!

** ATFL: anterior talofibular ligament. One of the lateral ligaments in the ankle. You can look that up in Wikipedia if you need more details!

*** MIA: NOT the recording artist!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Get ready to TRI!

The sport of triathlon can seem a bit overwhelming if you are on the outside looking in: How do I train for THREE sports? How do I afford all that new GEAR? How am I going to survive the open water SWIM?

Don’t be deterred: Triathlon is a great sport and it isn’t as hard as you think to turn yourself into a bona fide triathlete. Here is your 6-step plan to get started:

Step 1: Choose a race goal. There are various length triathlons, from Sprint to Ironman and beyond. Unless you happen to be an Über endurance athlete just looking for a new game, start small! Pick a Sprint or even an Olympic distance triathlon that is close to home and use that as you entrée into the triathlon world. A simple Google search will turn up the various websites that catalogue the myriad triathlons available (a couple to start with are: racingunderground.com or trifind.com). Now would be a great time to find a spring/early summer Sprint triathlon for next year, giving yourself plenty of time to build a base and train adequately for the 3 sports. The standard distances for the various triathlons are as follows, but there are always races that fall between these distances as well:

Sprint: 750m swim / 20k bike / 5k run
Olympic: 1.5k swim / 40k bike / 10k run
Half Ironman: 1.9k swim / 90k bike / 21.1k run
Ironman: 3.8k swim / 180k bike / 42 k run

XTERRA (off-road, distances vary by race): ~1 mile swim / 15-20 mile mountain bike / 5-7 mile run.

Step 2: Learn about the sport. Like every sport, triathlon has a unique flow and a unique set of rules. Invest the time to learn the basics of triathlon racing – like “what do I do in the transition area??” – as well as the rules. If you hire a coach, they can be your go to resource for this. You can also read books, take a clinic, or offer to take a triathlete buddy out for coffee!

Step 3: Figure out how to train and then come up with a plan (or have a coach do it for you!). Your training plan is critical and should be based on your goals and your athletic ability/level to train, as well as your life and time available. If you have the means, regardless of your goals and level, I would highly recommend you hire a coach (not only because I AM a coach but because I also HAVE a coach!). There is no better way to learn the ropes than to have an experienced triathlon coach guiding you through the process. If that is not in your budget, buy a good book about the sport (there are many) and find a good training plan that you can follow. [Note that there are beginner plans available from Coach Cary through the TSE website]. You could also consider joining a triathlon club if you find one that is convenient for you and offers training resources you can and will use.

Step 4: Get the gear. Until you know whether you are going to be a lifelong triathlete or whether you are “one and done”, don’t invest a ton of money in the latest and greatest gear. Unless, of course, you have money to burn – then go for it (but hire a coach first!)!  Here’s what you need:

Race clothing:

–       There are many brands of triathlon specific suits out there. A triathlon suit/kit is meant to be worn for all three disciplines, so there is no changing required. The benefit of a triathlon suit (two piece or one piece) is that the shorts have a much thinner chamois than bike shorts, so you won’t feel like you are wearing a diaper when you come out of the swim. The other option is to wear a swimsuit in the swim, throw bike shorts on for the bike, then swap out for run shorts for the run. This will take more time and may not be as comfortable (the swim suit can chafe under those bike shorts!) but it is an option.

For the swim:

–       Goggles that fit (you can try them on in the store, make sure they fit your face. Leaky goggles are not fun).

–       Swim cap

–       Wetsuit if you will be doing an open water swim that allows/requires a wetsuit (note that there are early season triathlons that have a pool swim instead of open water). Even if the race does not require wetsuits (it is water temperature dependent), they are a terrific swimming aid as they keep you warmer and provide you with buoyancy. Unless you are a fish, I would highly recommend getting used to swimming in a wetsuit! You can rent wetsuits at many of the local multisport stores like Runners Roost. I highly recommend renting for a while, especially until you know what fit you are looking for.

For the bike:

–       Bike (if you have a road bike, use that for your first few races. You can even put aero bars on it if you want, but there is no real need to do that until you know you are hooked).

–       Helmet

–       Cycling shoes

For the run:

–       Good running shoes that fit you well! Go to a running store that can analyze your gait, and will allow you to try on a variety of shoes.

Step 5: Learn how to [check all that apply] [] SWIM  [] BIKE  [] RUN.  Invest in coaching / technique lessons for any of the three sports in which you are not proficient. You will thank yourself later. Learning proper technique in each sport is critical for your longevity in the sport AND for your enjoyment.

Step 6: Get out there and train! Be smart. Build your base first. The winter is a terrific time to focus on base and technique. Use that time wisely and you will be in good shape once the longer days arrive!

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KICK START YOUR SPRING BIKE TRAINING!

It’s spring and your bike misses you…

Ok, some of you have probably been riding all winter, most likely less than normal, but at least your rear end is not completely out of practice. Others of you have blissfully forgotten that your bike exists. Regardless of what you did this winter, it is now time to start thinking about the season and the training you need to do to be ready for it.

Here are some quick tips to get your mind, body and soul back into the swing of things:

1: Make a plan: Not quite ready to clip in yet? That’s ok: Take this time to plan your season. What are your goal races or events? How much time do you have to get back into shape; are your goals realistic given this time frame (if not, revisit goals – it is important that they are achievable)? If you have taken a lot of time off, you need to give yourself a reasonable amount of time to get back into shape! What is your plan of attack? [Note for Team Sweat Equity members – the Training section of the TSE website is a great place to start!] Creating goals and a plan will help “pump you up” to get out on the bike!

2: Get a tune up: Whether you’ve been riding all winter or not, give your poor bike a tune up. It needs love too. If you are in need of some new components, there is no better time to invest! If you are not handy with the bike yourself, take it in to your favorite shop. You will be much more excited to ride when your machine is tuned up and ready to go.

3: Speaking of tune-ups, it’s a good time to reevaluate your eating habits: For many of us, winter is tough when it comes to clean and healthy eating. The short days can be depressing, and the cold weather invites us to indulge in comfort foods. It’s time to do a spring diet clean up! Adding in more fresh fruits and vegetables is a great place to start. Ditch the heavy sauces and (bad) fat loaded deserts and start to think about more refreshing foods. Eating well will help you regain your fitness much more quickly!

4: Build your base: This is less applicable to all you winter riders, but if your cycling volume is currently low or nonexistent, you need to build back your base of fitness. In the coaching world, there are various phases of training – the two predominant phases are the base phase and the build phase. We won’t go into details here, but think of it as a pyramid. You must build the base of the pyramid first. This means doing endurance/aerobic riding, gradually increasing your weekly time/mileage. Remember to allow yourself enough training time (in that plan you put together, see point # 1) to build your base gradually; it will benefit you in the long run much more than you think!

Unlike running, you can safely increase your cycling volume a little more quickly (in running, the general rule of thumb is 10% increase each week, max) but you still have to be careful. So don’t go out and ride 100 miles next week if you just dug your bike out of the garage! Let’s say you currently ride every weekend, about 2 hours. We will assume you are doing other things for fitness as well (running, weights, swimming, skiing, whatever). So in Week 1 of your base, you could add an hour ride during the week and do your 2 hours on the weekend. In Week 2, you could add another hour during the week or increase your weekly ride to an hour and a half. Etc. This is why it is important to have a PLAN, so you know how much you are going to increase each week. It also helps give you a kick in the pants when you realize you need to start building that base NOW!

Note that more experienced cyclists (i.e. cyclists that have been riding for many years) can build miles a bit more quickly. If you are fairly new or have only a year or two of riding under your belt, it is best to build your time on the bike conservatively!

I believe it is ok to do some higher intensity work even during the base period, but only if you don’t sacrifice your aerobic base. A big mistake many of us make is to go hard on every ride – that isn’t what you should be doing now; right now the bulk of your miles should be aerobic. They shouldn’t be so easy that your great grandma could keep up, but you should be able to still talk in relatively complete sentences! If you can only get one word out at a time, and it sounds more like your last breath, back off. If you do add intensity, add it slowly, sparingly and keep it short for now. Once you build your base, you can jump in a bit more.

5: Cross train: Cross training is a great way to help improve your fitness while you are building up the miles on the bike. Your butt can only take so much saddle time until you toughen it up again, so get out there and do some cross training. The aerobic benefits will transfer to your cycling. Also consider adding in strength training if you don’t do that already. It is never too late to start, and strength training can have a huge benefit on your cycling. If you are not comfortable in the weight room, hire a personal trainer for a couple sessions and make sure you stress to them that you are looking to build strength and power for cycling. You may not think you use your whole body on the bike, but you do, so emphasize full body exercises that force you to use your body as you would on the bike (i.e. engaging the whole chain, from upper body/back to core to legs).

6: Look into some group training. Getting out with a group can be motivating and a heck of a lot of fun. It is also a great way to push yourself a little harder than you might when you are on your own. [Hint: Team Adrenalin by EPC has a ton of group training opportunities, just go to http://www.epcmultisport.com/about-epc/epc-club/].

7: Wear your sunscreen! Ok, I just couldn’t resist. Wearing sunscreen may seem like an afterthought to some of you younger folks, but when you get to be my age, you will be glad you did!

Now get out there and ride!

Coach Cary

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Masters athletes take heart

As an athlete who has just entered the realm of “Masters” (I turned 40 last September) I am intrigued by information about older athletes and the aging process of athletes. I am sure, if you are “past the threshold” like me that you have been told countless times that your performance, strength, stamina, [insert any word associated with young vibrant athletes here] is inevitably going to decline.

I am the first to admit that things definitely change at this ‘advanced’ age. I have struggled to deal with the changes in my body and figure out the training that is going to work for the new me. But I’ve always believed that I can still be fast and strong, even in my older body. (I am still working on proving this…)

You have to admit that more and more aged athletes are competing at a high level, not just at a high Masters level, but against younger competition. Yes, they probably have to train differently than when they were 20, but they can still be competitive.

I recently came across a study that gave me even more hope; hope that perhaps we shouldn’t accept that we older folks can no longer be the athlete we once were.

The study, titled “Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes” [https://physsportsmed.org/doi/10.3810/psm.2011.09.1933] ends with this sentence “This study, and those reviewed here, document the possibility to maintain muscle mass and strength across the ages via simple lifestyle changes.” Bless you, bless you, oh study authors.

I will quote the authors below because they explain it so much better than I could… Note that: PT = Peak Torque. BF = Body Fat. IMAT = intramuscular adipose tissue.

“We found that chronic intense exercise preserved muscle mass and prevented fat infiltration of muscle in masters athletes. Although changes in body composition were observed, including increased total BF, there was no decline in absolute muscle mass and the fat infiltration of muscle itself, IMAT, was not increased. These findings are in contrast with studies conducted in well-functioning men and women aged 70 to 79 years who are not considered masters athletes. In a study by Delmonico et al,19 both aging men and women were reported to have experienced an age-related increase in fatty infiltration of mid-thigh skeletal muscle. The preservation of muscle mass and lack of fatty infiltration in the muscles of our subjects are dramatically illustrated in Figure 1.

More important perhaps than mere retention of muscle mass and integrity was the retention of muscle strength in the masters athletes. We studied masters athletes aged 40 to 81 years and observed no difference in quadriceps PT until participants entered the 60- to 69-year-old age group. There was no significant difference in PT in the 60-, 70-, and 80-year-old age groups. Thus, although PT did decline beginning at around age 60 years, the decline did not significantly increase with further aging. “

I think the most telling part of the study is the aforementioned “Figure 1”, below.

FIGURE 1: Typical quadriceps MRI scan of a 40-year-old triathlete compared with the quadriceps MRI scans of a 70-year-old triathlete and a 74-year-old sedentary man. Note the significant visual difference between the SCAT and IMAT of the sedentary man versus masters athletes.

That’s all, I’m off to do some chronic, high intensity exercise!

 

 

 

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Are we as tough as we think we are?

A couple of my former adventure racing teammates and I have had an interesting discussion going, sparked by an article written by Matt Fitzgerald on the research of Samuele Marcora. In short, Marcora believes (and has done interesting research that supports his hypothesis) that we make a conscious choice to quit based on our perception of effort. He argues that we rarely reach physical exhaustion, but rather that we mentally give up. It is a fascinating – and, of course, controversial position – but it is definitely worth a read: www.mattfitzgerald.org/html/PDFs/YouAreAQuitter.pdf

I should preface the rest of this post by saying that I am not a researcher and I do not support (because I do not really know) one hypothesis over another. But it fascinates me, and I find it a compelling argument that our mind is a huge part of our performance, within the realm of our physical abilities. Think about it a little as you read the article. As my buddies and I have bounced this topic back and forth, several interesting thoughts have come up:

–       We all agreed that when we raced as a team, we were able to push ourselves to a level we would never reach if we were racing a solo race, simply because we didn’t want to let the team down – a strong psychological driver.

Things I might not do if not for the team!

Of course there were times when sheer exhaustion became unbeatable (aka “the sleep monster”) and we could not keep ourselves awake or moving. But even then, we could sometimes trick the tired teammate into renewed vigor by simply letting them sleep for 5 minutes, and then waking them up and telling them they’d slept for an hour or two. When this worked, the person would immediately believe they felt better and keep going. It didn’t always work, but when it did, it was priceless!

–       I know, from personal experience, that I have a different “gear” when I race that I don’t have in training. The only explanation that seems to make sense to me is that I am more willing to quit (to put it harshly) when I perceive a certain level of suffering during training. But when placed in a competitive situation, I am more willing to suffer. While this may not be true for everyone, I feel that I could benefit if I could learn to unlock that extra gear during training and not just racing. But how to do this, when I FEEL like I’m working as hard as I can… if I find the answer, I will let you know.

–       One former teammate, who shall remain anonymous, is now an accomplished ultra runner. He pointed out that being “too stubborn and stupid to quit” is a huge advantage when running ultras. I can’t say I disagree given what he has accomplished. He has an uncanny ability to force himself to keep going, when his body is trying everything possible to get him to stop.

–       While it is a compelling argument that the mind is important, there do seem to be some physical signs that cannot be overridden by the mind. For example, severe cramping can physically bring you to your knees. I find it hard to believe that one can will this away by sheer determination.

For anyone out there who is intrigued by this article, there are several RADIOLAB Podcasts that are also fascinating:

1) http://www.radiolab.org/2010/apr/05/limits-of-the-body/   This podcast features Julie Moss (any of you triathletes will likely know her name) and also follows several riders through the Race Across America. It addresses the issue of tricking your mind to allow your body to continue.

2) http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2011/apr/05/in-running/   This podcast features Diane Van Deren, an exceptional ultra runner who had part of her brain removed to stop her seizures. She has lost her concept of time and therefore doesn’t think about how long she has been out running. The question is whether that gives her an advantage by not having that perception of having been out on the trail for days (yes, days).

So how can you use this to help you and your training, you ask? I think the first step is to become more aware of your mind when you are training. When you are performing a hard effort try to analyze how much control your mind is exerting over how hard you can go. Perhaps this knowledge can help us, as endurance athletes, learn to find that extra reserve to push us to the next level.

One word of caution, however: This does not mean that you should push through obvious physical issues, especially injuries. If your body is clearly telling you that to keep going would be detrimental, it’s important to listen!

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A HAPPY COACH

I’ve been remiss on my blog posting lately – I guess I’ve been taking the off-season too seriously! But I was just reading the latest blog post from one of my athletes [www.godoreen.com] and it put a big smile on my face and inspired me to say “Thanks”. ‘Tis the season, right?

Since I began coaching, I have watched my athletes work their tails off to succeed. I’ve watched them struggle too. But every time one of them hits a big goal (or blows a goal completely out of the water as many of them have!), it reminds me of the reason I do this. When I see one of my athletes succeed, it makes me feel like a proud parent whose kid just scored the winning touchdown! And it makes me so happy to see them realize their potential and see their hard work pay off. I think I get more excited when one of them does well than when I do well in a race!

This year has been a good one for my athletes and they have accomplished extraordinary things. To all of them I say thank you. Thank you for trusting me to coach you and thank you for working so hard to reach your goals. I’m looking forward to a terrific 2012!

Coach Cary

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Anatomy of a 100 mile run: Reflections from the crew car

My athlete/friend/former adventure racing teammate Grant is no stranger to 100-mile runs. Last year, for example, he did 4 – the Grand Slam of Ultra-running to be exact – and was one of the 13 ultra runners to successfully complete … Continue reading

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Lessons from our furry pals

Several weeks ago we lost our running buddy and most loyal companion. “Bob the dog” (he had many names: Bob, Bob the dog, Cowpoke Bob, Bobby, Bobalo. One of our old vets even called him Robert) died in late August, and left two humans here to figure out how to live without his amazing spirit. Bob had a heart bigger than any dog I’ve ever known. Many loved him.

Bob was also an athlete – he put us all to shame with his strength and stamina. I remember thinking – when my first running buddy, Bob’s “brother” (a husky named Denali) died years ago – that we could learn a lot from dogs like them about running. So here are some of the lessons they’ve taught me over the years.

1: Run because you love to run. How many times do we go out and “suffer” through a run? Have you ever seen a dog (ok, an athletic dog) “suffer” through a run? There is no joy as great as a dog running. Bob was happy running slowly with us humans or sprinting ahead of us on skis or bikes. Skijoring with Bob was an adventure, not for the faint hearted! I’ve never moved that fast on skis! Occasionally there were collisions (i.e. when Bob decided to stop suddenly without warning and whoever was attached to the harness vaulted over him, unable to stop so quickly) but we got pretty good at it over the years.

2: Take time off when you need it. Dogs don’t feel the need to run just because they “should”. If they are tired, they let you know. As Denali aged, he mastered the art of disappearing when he saw the running shoes come out of the closet, if he was not up for a run. I learned to listen to him and let him run when he felt like it, and snooze when he didn’t. I am not always so smart with my own running, but I’m getting smarter with age (I think…).

3: Say hi. Ok, you don’t need to sniff your fellow runners, but it never hurts to be friendly on the trail! I don’t want to chat, but I always wonder why it is so difficult for a fellow runner to say “hello”, “hi”, “heya”, whatever! The only people I don’t bother to greet are runners with headphones on (see number 4).

4: Enjoy nature. Dogs have no need of headphones, they are simply thrilled with nature (and rodents, and deer, and plants to pee on…). So take off the headphones and be aware of your surroundings. You never know what you might hear or see. And if peeing on a bush makes you smile, go for it!

5: Stop and smell the roses. As Bob aged, we went on more “smell the roses” walks and runs, where the whole point was simply to be out there in nature. If a particular spot needed a lot of sniffing, we’d stop and sniff. Why not? Sometimes a run without an agenda is what your soul needs.

There will never be another Bob or another Denali, though I hope some future furry running pal will find us when the time is right. But every time I go for a run, I take a bit of them with me: They remind me to smile, to be joyful, and to be ever so thankful that I have this gift of running.

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