Tuesday, February 28, 2012


February was another hard hitting month of training on the mission to get stronger/faster. The month started with an epic 50k followed up by some rest before flipping the switch and training like a beast all over again. After much thought I drafted up a spring 50k training plan that featured time trial and speed building phases that took place this month. In an amazing development, cycling on the indoor trainer is not quite so lame anymore thanks to Sufferfest and I got time in on my road bike. The month would not have been complete without plenty of Jiu Jitsu, a little racquetball, and time in the pool.

41 hours from 30 Jan 2012 – 26 Feb 2012.  Periodization in practice: race week, recover week, and two build weeks. 

Not everything was awesome all month long. A few days were quite awful, after the 50k I came down with a sleep deprivation induced sinus infection. That is what happens when good food, rest, and sleep don’t get respect. The infection featured all out sensory deprivation and a bumping headache. It felt like a vacuum in my head and I could hear creaking and popping, my vision was blurry, hearing was muffled, smell was gone and taste muted with it. I was going mad but time and rest heals all and I came out of it. I have since better dialed in my nutrition timing and macronutrient intake and will be sleeping rather than living it up following big races.

The John Dick Memorial Crusty 50k was glorious and marked the completion of my base period. It also marked the beginning of Ice Age Trail 50k training. I am still in the discovery phase of this training and trying to get a handle on what I am capable of but it is a lot faster than 4 months ago. It appears embracing high mileage aerobic training has really paid off. It seems today’s half marathon pace is last year’s 10k pace and similarly today’s 10k pace is last year’s 5k pace. I am excited for the spring half marathon, 10k, and 50k races coming up. 

140 miles for the month with the majority of them long run and recovery miles.

Jiu Jitsu & Strength Training
During the taper Leading up to the 50k I did a lot of Jiu Jitsu. It kept me off my legs and I thought the metabolism changes and increase in testosterone from tearing up muscle might translate to a better performance race day. I have no clue if this theory is legitimate but it did not seem to hurt. I didn’t lift much at all on account of introducing intervals to running and swimming. I would like to get in chest and delt work as that seems to be the only area that does not overlap with everything else. I expect I will be spending more time on Jiu Jitsu and strength during recovery weeks from the run.

The ridiculous gains concerning my swim have slowed but I continue to see improvement. Any ambitious expectations I had for improving my swim have been surpassed. I mixed up my sessions from tempo only to intervals, tempo, and distance efforts. The highlight of the month was cutting down my 3x 500m repeat pace to 2:00/100m which translates to a 32:00 mile swim. I imagine in a wetsuit this will be less than 30:00. I will continue putting in the hour at the pool a week I have been.

The Sufferfest videos for indoor cycling rock. I have them to thank for the 7 hours I put in on the bike this month.  No real plan here other than getting in two sessions a week.  I am looking forward to the spring and getting the bike outdoors for tempo sessions and the introduction of the long ride.

A cramped bike torture chamber.

As always, this month made possible by meat and vegetables.

Beef Tenderloin and salad with avocado and blueberries.
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Swim: Struggle to Proficiency

This is my story of how I learned to swim. A lifetime can be spent refining the swim and I still have much to learn and improve. I am by no means an authority on the swim but I want to share this story for aspiring triathletes challenged by the swim as I was a year ago.  It is possible to go from struggling in the water, unable to find a rhythm to mastering longer distances while gliding through the water.

Open water swim in Lake Superior last summer.  Final prep for a sprint triathlon, my first.

I found success swimming is built on a foundation of good stroke mechanics. Combine mechanics with a strong back / core / legs made possible by separate strength training and huge gains are possible with minimal training hours. Since I started swimming January of 2011 to today I have put in 40 hours at the pool and cut pace from 3:40/100m to 2:00/100m for a mile swim. Separately I studied video and read about swimming for 10 - 20 hours over the year. Work smarter not harder, right?

In January of 2011 I began swimming by tackling a 1500m in 55:14 or 3:40/100 m. At this point I realized I had long confused my ability to survive in the water with an ability to swim. This is a very noncompetitive pace and I hated every minute of it. My mechanics were horrible and I was not breathing right, I did not exhale completely forcing air into my stomach. I could not find a rhythm.  I muscled my 100m pace down to 2:40/100m for a much shorter 500 m with seven hours of if it feels good do it swimming and hated every minute that too. After that I got worse and went sideways and gave up swimming until mid summer.
All the gear needed for swimming.

My second attempt at swimming was done with the guidance of the Total Immersion Perpetual Motion Freestyle DVD. I did lots of drilling before attempting laps and focused on stroke count and efficiency. In six weeks and 15 hours in the pool I accomplished a 500m swim in 12:30 or 2:30/100m. The pace wasn't much better than self taught but I actually enjoyed swimming this time around as my mechanics were much more comfortable and I could breathe easy. After my sprint tri I gave up on swimming again until this January. I felt weak on longer distances because I had no strength. At the time I was doing endurance only work leading to muscle wasting and not enough testosterone. 

This January and February have been ridiculous. I suspect the combination of a lot of upper body strengthening from Jiu Jitsu / throwing big weights around, and the foundation of good stroke mechanics laid in the summer has led to huge gains. I have been swimming 1600m regularly and feeling strong doing it. At the beginning of January my pace was 2:35/100m for a mile swim and now after 10 hours at the pool it is 2:00/100m for a mile swim. These gains have far passed any ambitious goals or expectations I had. 

A wetsuit is the most expensive swim gear ever but swimming in cold water like Lake Michigan and Lake Superior makes it necessary.

Swimming is very nuanced for sure, hand position during any cycle of the stroke, head position relative to spine, rotation, breathing, kicking, etc... The Total Immersion DVD builds the stroke up one piece at a time and has lots of drills and accompanying theory for how and why to streamline and swim more efficiently/faster. At $30 it is not pocket change but it doesn't require financing either. Like all self coached things it takes patience and inner drive. I am sure there are similar swimming DVDs and learning materials that focus on mechanics that are comparable. What is important is that an intellectual pursuit and critical thought accompany the swim.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spring 50k Training Plan

Dominating running from the 5k to the 50k, on the road and the trail, during the summer and winter doesn’t come easy. Hard work can get me some of the way there but it will also take rubbing some brain cells together to make the most of that hard work while avoiding illness, injury, and negative returns. Forcing adaptation and getting faster is an intricate balance of purposeful workouts, good nutrition, and rest. I don’t have room for stubborn routines and quotas that compromise this balance.

I laid a good foundation of strength and base miles down the last 4 months and now I am ready to push all my limits on the mission to get stronger faster. There is a nice spread of spring races on the horizon and I have strength and speed in me to realize before that time comes. I want the biggest return on investment and that is what planning is all about.

I still have Jiu Jitsu, biking, and swimming to fit in, and triathlons to compete in.  That is why every run I do has a purpose and no run is redundant. Call it adaptive training, what works today won’t work tomorrow. There are many different paths to getting faster and taking all of them lets me increase frequency and intensity and minimize fatigue. Every week features an interval, tempo, distance, and recovery effort. Every effort has so many nuances and variations they won’t even look or feel similar.

Spring 50k Training Plan.  This will be the third week.


Intervals are about a lot of pain and suffering in a short time, running fast to run fast. The pain meter reads 8 to 9 out of 10 most of this effort and 10 out of 10 by the end. This is about near maximum heart rate and being out of breath. I prefer distance intervals ranging anywhere from 200m to 1600m. Between is a rest interval, 400m most days, maybe I run it, maybe not. Once I feel recovered I hit it again in an attempt to turn out consistent efforts. Intervals take place on the road, on the trails, on the uphill, on the downhill, on the track, and on winding paths. Intervals are not always about hitting time or pace targets and can’t be when accounting for weather and terrain.


Long intervals transition to short tempo seamlessly. Tempo is about moderate pain and suffering for the duration at a consistent but ultimately unsustainable effort. The pain meter reads from 7 to 8 out of 10 most of this effort, optionally culminating in 9 out of 10 by the end. Tempo starts at a moderate heart rate but quickly drifts up around 90% max heart rate. Some tempos are broken into multiple efforts with recovery intervals and some are one big effort. Tempo can cover any spread of distances and effort will vary accordingly. Tempo can and should take place anywhere, just like intervals and unless it is a time trial or road race pace doesn’t matter.

Long Run

The long run is about pushing total time and distance limits and exhausting calories at a comfortable sustainable effort without cardiac drift. The long run is about packing a lunch and bringing something to drink. The long run is a laboratory for trying new things and making mistakes so they are not made race day. The pain meter starts at 0 out of 10 but may find its way to 10 out of 10 hours later. The long run needs to take place under circumstances similar to race day. Not all long runs build distance, some build speed too, enter the progression run, a long run with a tempo thrown in. The long run isn’t about pace it is about running smart because weather and terrain have the greatest effect here out of all the runs.


The recovery run is about running the day after a big effort when it feels better not to move. Effort is low, real low. The first mile is the hardest but as they roll by they get easier. By the end of the run the legs feel better than the start and the body will continue to adapt and grow stronger from the key run the day before. I like making this a social run and place it after the long run because the long run is my weakness.

Anyone can get in a good workout. The other 20+ hours of the day are what will give me big gains in comparison. Lazing around, eating plenty of nutrient dense fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables and getting plenty of sleep means I can hit it harder more often and feel good doing it. Periodization, planned and impromptu means pushing to the limit some days and weeks and throttling back to recover others. Jiu Jitsu and strength training means I will have more testosterone and all its performance enhancing effects. This is some hard hitting, high volume training with a high risk of illness and injury so I will need to be very honest with myself and abilities every day.    

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

John Dick Memorial 50k

I ran my first ultra this weekend at the Badgerland StridersJohn Dick Memorial 50k and it was glorious.  For all the preparations I took I was still unprepared for the actual experience.  For everything that went well there was plenty that did not, but being hardcore I pressed on.  In the end it was an awesome day with some awesome people.

Freeze thaw action leading up to the 2012 John Dick Memorial 50k left the course covered in thick ice.

The weather was downright balmy for February with this sunny day starting out just a touch below freezing and warming to high 30s (°F) later on.  The course started and ended at the DJ Mackie group picnic area in the Kettle Moraine Southern Forest, took place on snow mobile trails, consisted of five loops with an out and back leg, and featured 3159 ft of climbing/descent.  As the day progressed I became increasingly familiar with the course and enjoyed being able to spectate, and race at the same time.

Course map and race details from Garmin Connect.  Satellite reception was lost a couple times leading to a mile lost in the data.

My plan was to keep my heart rate solidly in the aerobic zone for greater than the first half and run it up into the anaerobic zone to finish the race if I had it in me.  I failed miserably in executing this plan.  I ran the first fifteen miles like it was a half marathon and exhausted my skeletal calories.  My legs were fresh from taper and I got caught up in competing.  The next nine miles I was mentally and physically exhausted grinding out miles in the aerobic zone.  Come the final six miles I found my second wind and finished strong in what felt like a 10k effort.

My lovely wife came out and ran three loops for close to 20 miles, the longest run of her life to date

At the course briefing the race director made it clear the course was predominately ice.  I thought I had experienced all the conditions I might encounter in my training leading up to the event and would be fine in my trail gloves.  Wrong, the race started and within the first mile I had lost traction and fell once.  It took an incredible amount of mental focus and physical effort to keep my balance by chopping my stride, high stepping, and weaving left and right to seek out the least ice.  As I spun my legs like a cartoon character and constantly slipped, better prepared runners effortlessly passed me by in their spikes.  Uphills were especially difficult to gain traction.  I will for sure be investing in some cross country spikes following this experience.

Some cross country spikes Ive been eyeing up.  Inov Oroc 280, Brooks Mach 13, Saucony Kilkinney XC4, and New Balance M700

Those first two laps were intense.  I had great focus and fought hard to maintain my place.  It was easy to let people go who passed with authority but I got caught up racing people that were in reach or running near my pace.  Everyone was real friendly wishing each other well and engaging in small talk.  On the second loop the woman who I think ended up winning asked me if my pack was heavy.  I replied that it was five pounds but at least it wasn't on my feet.  The pack slowed me down for sure but we are probably talking less than 1% of total effort.  I never did stop at the aid stations like others so it was probably a wash.  She eventually dropped me going up a large hill.  I kept her within 30 seconds until the third lap at that same hill where she disappeared for good.

Eating a Honey Stinger 20g protein bar and looking fatigued.  I ate two bars and drank  64 oz of Gatorade for a total of 1000 calories.

I made a point to attempt to eat a 390 calorie protein bar on the hour and consistently drink Gatorade during the event.  It was slipping and grinding up this hill eating that that my ambitious start caught up with me.  I made it halfway through my bar when I couldn't eat anymore and felt lifeless.  A little over two hours had passed, I had covered half the distance of the race and here I was falling apart.  My foot turnover fell, and my mind disengaged.  My heart rate dropped into the aerobic zone it belonged in and calorie burn was cut in half.  I kept finding myself on perilous portions of the trail I had actively avoided the previous laps.

A photo of the M.U.L.E. Camelbak I ran with much to the amusement of others.  At 2lbs empty it looks deceivingly big.  Gatorade and food added 4lbs.

Finishing out the third lap going into the aid station was the worst portion of the course with the thickest ice.  With my brain disengaged from the environment and my legs doing their own thing I was finding myself slipping a lot more and eventually fell hard.  It came as a surprise, I landed on my side and my knee and hip stung.  Thankfully no one was around because I coped by incoherently swearing.  This was the low point of the race for me.  I walked it off and began running again thankful to be finishing up the third lap.  

A little bit of snow provides Donna with the traction she needs with ice to  her right.

It was on the fourth lap that I had company again and it was nice to see people and make small talk.  The course was turning slushy and muddy in the sun changing the landscape.  I wished everyone well and was surprised to see some people passing me that I thought had passed me long ago.  They were stopping at their drop bag and I was not resulting in a game of leap frog.  The fourth lap grinded on and the eventual winner lapped me.  He was fun to watch, had a smile on his face, and offered words of encouragement to everyone in addition to running a very fast 3:30.  It was closing out the fourth lap that my mind began reawakening.  The woman that eventually took third passed me going up the hill that led to the aid station I had previously fell.  Thanks to her lead I safely navigated the landscape.

My beard served as a balaclava and was shaved off immediately following the race.

She stopped at the aide station where a man in yellow replaced her as my motivation.  There was a big downhill at the end of the fourth lap he passed me going into.  I followed behind him but felt a great blow to my pride.  No one out downhill races me.  I stayed with him for a while longer but lost him on some ice and uphills.  A little before the first big downhill of the final lap with six miles to go the third place woman passed me again.  She took the downhill like a professional.  I have never seen another runner open up like that.  I followed her lead, found my strength and foot turnover again and passed her near the end.  I think our mutual appreciation for the downhill made us friends.


She caught up on some uphills.  We made small talk, she asked if I was training for a mountain race with such a huge pack.  She said to pump my arms on the uphills, which I did, and it helped in a big way.  At this point my legs were feeling fresh again so I turned up my foot turnover and ran my heart back into the anaerobic zone.  Those early calories I had ate in the race were paying off.  I began passing in force and felt alive again.  I ran out of Gatorade with 3 miles to go and got hungry motivating me to push harder.

Early in the race expending too much effort.  The second half of the race took  half an hour longer but at the price of 1176 calories compared to 1827 calories expended in the first half.

That last loop out of the aid station into the finish was the most exciting.  The man in yellow must have pulled out of the aid station right behind me and was in pursuit.  I was surprised to see him behind me.  We talked a little and I saw we were going into the same downhill that had brought me shame the previous lap.  I opened up a lead and enjoyed the free speed that comes from a high turnover on a downhill.  I pushed real hard into the finish and the parking lot even after seeing him well behind me.  It felt good to finish strong.  Total time was 4:47:11 and while results have not been yet released I was told it was good for 20th place.


The Badgerland Striders consistently put on well run quality events of great value ($10 preregistration). The events are organized by runners for runners and are well thought out as such. I must thank all the volunteers for the great job. My wife and I brought bison chili to the event and it was well received, I am happy to have been able to give back to the volunteers that make these events possible. I will also need to be on the other side of some races this year volunteering as well.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January and 50k training

January was a hard hitting month of tearing up muscle and growing veins with 50k training reining supreme, followed by Jiu Jitsu/strength training and topped off with swimming.  Equally important, it was fast paced in the kitchen with plenty of meat, vegetables, and fruits getting turned into delicious recovery food you wish your mom could make.  When the days were done I slept like a baby for 8-9 hours.  That is how the mission to get stronger/faster gets done.
37 hours from 1 Jan 2012 – 29 Jan 2012.  Periodization in practice with the first 3 weeks to wear me down and the fourth to build back up.

50k training
Milwaukee Art Museum pictured during a long run.
This weekend, 4 Feb 2012, is the John Dick memorial 50k primitive winter trail run.  Naturally I have gotten in all the winter trail running on packed snow I can since December.  Each week featured 3 runs with a long run Saturday, a recovery run Sunday, and a tempo or interval like session on Wednesday nights immediately followed by throwing big weights around with my legs.  Every workout served a distinct purpose because I am all about getting the maximum return on the least investment.  I started doing daily mile at the turn of the calendar year where all the boring details are kept.              

Lake Michigan freezing pictured during a long run.

Racquetball is so much like running that it does not qualify as cross training.  In fact I ran very fast 5k and 10k races on a regimen of racquetball and strength training in a different life.  I play these days whenever a friend calls me up because I am social and care like that.  Racquetball employs a full range of motion and will ruggedize your legs better than running can without a runaway heart rate.  I am sure the same holds true for things like basketball, soccer, etc…

Milwaukee River in Estabrook park pictured during a long run
Jiu Jitsu & Strength Training
Since my glorious return to fighting and throwing big weights around I have felt great.  My metabolism and testosterone has increased and is readily noticeable.  I have more energy and sleep better.  My endurance summer was cool but resulted in muscle wasting and too much estrogen.  I haven’t made time for Muay Thai this year but would like to fold it in.  I don’t think I will be quitting in the spring as planned, the benefits are too great.
Chicken and Shrimp spicy soup

I have seen some ridiculous gains concerning my swim this month, the kind of gains that make me confident to sign up for the XTERRA and ½ Ironman races this summer.  I have been able to swim farther and faster than ever.  I attribute this to finally getting the breathing piece figured out and to all the strength training.  I swim a mile regularly and have cut from 41:44/mi to 34:23/mi.    

Venison Sweet Potato Stew made with venison stock
I got on the trainer for 10 minutes early in the month and decided this was not for me.  It was the most boring 10 minutes of the entire year and ranks worse than a treadmill.  I will hit the streets again in March and live vicariously through this hardcore cyclist until then.

This month made possible by meat and vegetables.