Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Training Failure - The Good, The Bad, The Stupid

For 6 years I swam with a Masters swim group. Not only did I meet some great people whom I consider to be friends, but I learned a lot about swimming and training. My stroke got better, leading to better swim times. But every swim at Masters wasn't my fastest. There were days I knew I didn't have it and I would seat myself back in the lane or one lane slower. That hard interval workout now became a more aerobic workout by necessity.

A while back the health club I had been swimming Masters at shut down. Tragic, but not surprising. Since then I have been swimming mostly on my own. There are many disadvantages to always being in the pool on your own. One big advantage, however, is the ability to design my workouts to my needs. Takes some work. Takes some effort. But last year I raced faster than I ever have.

Yesterday I had one interesting day of training, full of failure. Failure is not always a bad thing ... and yesterday one of my fails was of the good kind. One. On the way home from LA Fitness I got thinking about my day, which led to contemplating the three types of failure I achieved in one day.

The Good Failure - Now that we are three weeks into the new year I figured I should maybe start to do some work in my workouts. I've been on the bike, both outside and inside, but really not putting high level efforts into it. I've been exercising, but not exactly training. Yesterday was the day I thought to myself, "let's do some kick ass intervals." And I did. After a proper warm up I did three sets of short, very intense intervals on minimal rest. I worked up one heck of a sweat while hanging just the edge of not making the set. By the end my power numbers were down, my legs were shot, and the last rep was just short of completion. Failure!!! Success!!!

About an hour after the early morning trainer session I felt great. The legs had recovered (or so I thought) while my energy level was high. I drove to work, going about my normal day.

The Bad Failure - Around 6:15 I left the office with a swim workout on my mind. Didn't give my legs a second thought, happy that I could find a parking spot fairly quick (January at the gym really sucks). I jumped in the pool and did a fairly standard warm up. After completing my CSS test last week I had a specific workout to do. Today was a fairly straight-forward 9 x 200 on 3:10 (swimming the interval on 2:48). this is a set I have done many times over the years. Being early in the year, and not in the best shape, the interval times are slower for me. No big deal, I'm thinking, as long as I don't go out too fast on set number one. I hit the wall in 2:48 exactly. The next set came in at 2:50 as did #3. Remember that bike workout this morning ... yeah, my legs really weren't feeling good at all.

From there it just got worse. I gave myself an addition 30 seconds after set number four due to a side cramp, then an additional 20 seconds after set number eight because I just really sucked. Like, really, really sucked. I made it (barely) through all nine sets. If the last few were a little slow, OK, that's fine. It's January after all. No reason to be "in shape" right now. This was not a little slow. No matter how you parse the data, this is what a training disaster looks like. Failure. Bad, bad failure.

The Stupid Failure - I am sure that the reason for failure #2 is directly related to failure #1 earlier that day. Which is really just a failure of stupidity, doing too much work in one day. I'm not talking about the double, I am talking about the work I did attempted in the two sessions. I've been around long enough to know that if I do some hard interval work in the morning my evening workout needs to be more aerobic and less anaerobic. Yet here I was trying to do squeeze more into one 24 hour period than I knew I could handle. Rookie mistake.

I hate it when that happens.

Moral of the story? When scheduling your daily/weekly workouts make sure you take into account the big picture. There is more to scheduling than placing workouts into openings in your weekly schedule. Rest and recovery - things many of us totally disregard - are important. Don't get enough recover between workouts and things go awry. When setting up your week, make sure you consider the recovery you need between hard efforts, even those in different disciplines.

When I set up a day with hard intervals in the morning followed by essentially a threshold workout in the evening I should have seen the disaster waiting to happen. Instead, my focus had been on getting the workouts down on paper in a manner that worked for my life's schedule, but not necessarily what would be best for my overall plan. In retrospect, I should have stayed aerobic in last evenings swim workout. Yeah, my legs wouldn't have been great, but the workload would have been doable. Harder than if I were fresh, but doable.

Live and learn for next time.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Diet Cults by Matt Fitzgerald - Book Review

When I was two weeks old I was diagnosed with a condition called pyloric stenosis, which apparently is pretty serious. So serious that Dr. Gluck made the call for surgery, which freaked my parents out but basically saved my life. After all was said and done my folks were told that I would have a larger than normal appetite for a few years. Forty-five years later I still have the appetite of a 16 year old boy.

Clearly I loves me some food. In a past life when my obsession was lifting heavy things and "getting big" I ate a much different diet than I do today. In my day I have eaten more dry chicken and tuna fish from a can than I care to admit. Didn't think of it this way at the time, but I was a part of what Matt Fitgerald refers to as a diet cult.

Why the word "cult?" Fitzgerald believes that "cult" is "the best word to identify a way of eating that is morally based, identity forming, community building, and viewed by its followers as superior to all other ways of eating." This, of course isn't new to society. People simply want to believe in something ... and that something should give a sense of identity as well as a feeling of belonging. Science gets trumped by feelings.

Through the various chapters Fitzgerald delves into a number of different eating lifestyles that seemingly vary as much as the reasons people give for being on such diets. He looks at diets you may be familiar with as well as some you may not.

Some of the mainstream diets he looks at are the Weight Watcher protocol, the high fat Atkins plan, and the Paleo diet that came out of the Crossfit revolution. He takes on the chicken and tuna heavy bodybuilder's diet, as well as the exercise doesn't help diet. Even the Vegans, Foodies and Gatorade do not get overlooked!!!

Not only is the overview pretty inclusive, Fitgerald makes sure he speaks with people directly associated with each style of eating. This is good Most people choose a diet on social and emotional factors, and then either cherry pick the science behind the diet (if there is any science), or use anecdotal evidence to justify their food choice. The reader is able to get not just the author's vision, but also those who are actively involved in the specific diets/lifestyles.

So, if Diet Cults are bad, how should we eat?

There are two realities about food and nutrition. First, we all have basically the same nutrition needs. Yes, there will be variations from person to person, but those variations aren't that great. Obviously there are some exceptions. For example, someone with celiac disease will have to avoid gluten, just like one who is allergic to Penicillin has to avoid that specific drug. The other reality is that the human body is an amazing machine that can adjust to almost anything we put into it. This is obvious when you look at the different diets discussed in the book or, better yet, head out to your local Chinese buffet and take a look at what (and the quantity) people are ingesting.

So how should we eat? Here's Fitzgerald in his own words:

"The only conclusion we can draw from the sum of these lessons is that there is no such thing as the One True Way to eat for maximum health. No diet cult is better than the rest, and a person need not join any diet cult to attain maximum health. An agnostic approach to healthy eating that forbids nothing, smiles upon eating for pleasure, and encourages individual choice can do the job just as well or better."

That doesn't mean you can eat sugar out of the bag with a stick of butter on the side and you're all good. No, there is more to eating healthy than just eating food. Fitzgerald's agnostic healthy eating game has a 10 item hierarchy of food that looks like this:

nuts, seeds, healthy oils
High Quality meats and seafood
Whole Grains
Refined Grains
Low Quality Meats and Seafood
Fried Food

He recommends eating more of the foods at the top of the list and few at the bottom. Nothing is prohibited, meaning ice cream, chocolate or even the occasional KFC Double Down is acceptable. OK, that last one may be acceptable but not really (because like everyone else I too will judge your food choices). The first two groups are essential, must eats, the next four are recommended foods (don't HAVE to eat, but should), with everything else listed as acceptable and can/should be eaten in small amounts (if at all). Basically you eat more of what is on the top of the list and less of what is on the bottom of the list.

Who Should Read Diet Cults?

This is a book that is aimed at the person who considers him- or herself an athlete, but really the book is good for anyone who is looking to live a healthy lifestyle. We can all get caught up in believing in this or that diet cult, even if we aren't living that particular lifestyle. Heck, I did it for a long, long time. Fortunately I learned my lesson and enjoy eating while staying healthy all at the same time. Along with pizza and the occasional treat. Imagine that.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.


Outside Magazine Interview  with Matt Fitzgerald

Matt Fitzgerald talks to Tawnee at Endurance Planet here

What the Paleo Diet gets wrong 

Paleo Runner, as you would expect, takes exception to Fitzgerald

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Well, I Guess the Off-Season is Coming to an End ... Maybe

January - the beginning of  the year to normal human beings, the beginning of a "new season" to endurance athletes - is here. I know this not because I have looked at the calendar, but because I took a peak at both my scale and heart rate monitor last week and noticed the numbers are a tad bit higher than they were a few months ago. If I were a lot of other people I might find this tragic. Both numbers indicate I am "out of shape" ... or "fat" ... or OMG BOTH!!!!

Tragic .............

Or not so much .............

The whole idea of an off-season is built on the assumption that there is an IN-season, or a time where you are shooting for (your) peak fitness. And peak fitness, by definition, is something you cannot hold onto for very long. Peak fitness is why you ask yourself how you ever did a marathon or Ironman three weeks ago when today a 5 mile run feels hard.

Getting "out of shape" enables the body to do two things: destress (is that even a word?) and heal itself. Over the course of months of hard training the body starts to get nicked up at the micro level, regardless of your awareness or denial of the situation. Taking some down time allows the body to heal the trauma it has had to endure while simultaneously keeping the athlete (you) from pushing yourself further down the path to injury. We all on some level believe we are the exception and can beat our bodies endlessly without repercussion, but deep down we should all know this is just not true. The desire to keep pushing and not back off is more about our own insecurities ("I'll lose my fitness forever") or simply ego.

The Complex Triathlete

Circling back to me, I feel like the off-season has been a success. After peaking for Ironman Florida on November 1 I stopped training and cut way back on the amount of exercise I do on a daily/weekly basis. The result of all this is I have had more free time on my hands, I have slept more, read more books, and have given my body a chance to heal itself after a rather interesting year. The other side has been the 7-8 pounds I have put back on along with the loss of pure fitness that comes with more couch time.

Right now at the beginning of the new year I feel good. Mentally I am fresh; Physically I am starting to come around. After a week of doing nothing, followed by a few weeks of doing close to nothing, I have slowly morphed back into a general routine. I have a rule for the month of December where I only do what I want to do, when I want to do it. So if I don't feel like getting up and going for a run, I stay in bed. If I get up then decide I would prefer to read and stretch instead of sitting on the trainer, I read and stretch.  In the past few weeks the desire to do more has been there.

The one consistent over the past few months has been the move back into the weight room, something I quite enjoy. A year ago my goal was to get stronger for the 2014 triathlon season, which never happened due to injury followed by surgery. I am very happy with being able to race like I did in 2014, but never felt like I physically was where I wanted to be. Last year became more about getting back than moving forward. For 2015 the goal of being a stronger, better athlete remains.

SOOooooo here we are the first full week of the new year and time to start some serious training ... or maybe not. For 2015 I am almost 100% sure I am not going long (read: no Ironman) and not even sure about the 70.3 distance (other than racing Eagleman in support of my buddy Ant). I have never concentrated on shorter racing - Sprint and Olympic distances - or doing some straight up bike racing. Realistically I'm starting to get freaking old, which mean if I want to get a fast season in I need to do it sooner rather than later. And if I want to race my bike, no better time than the present.

I haven't given a whole lot of thought to my race schedule other than targeting the Philly Triathlon as my A-race for the fist half of the year. Being that it is the last weekend in June, January seems a bit early to start cranking things up. No need to be "in shape" in February or March.

Bottom line: Yeah, I'm back in the rhythm of working out but not real serious. For now, sessions will be short and intensity moderate at best. There will be a time to start cranking. That time is not now.

Thanks for reading.

Train hard. Stay focused.