Category Archives: Strength Training

This is Not About Pickles

I HAVE THESE URGES, YOU SEE.

They started years ago when I began regular fitness training, and especially once I started running races. They are what get me out of bed and onto the road on a winter morning, into the gym on a hot afternoon, or on the bike for a “quick 25 miles” at the end of a long day. Anyone into fitness activities can relate, I think.

Yet as beneficial for my body and my mental discipline as these urges are, sometimes they can be a real pain in the ass.

This past weekend I was on my feet a lot, managing the Zero Waste program for two morning races; Running Between the Vines on Saturday, then Swim to the Moon on Sunday. Both days I was at the venue by 5:30 a.m. and in more or less constant motion well into the afternoon checking stations, hauling collected compost and recyclables, and performing emergency sorting on unlabeled bins that well-meaning people had set out without my knowledge. (I’m not bitter about that. Really, I’m not.)

There are some advantages to working events like this!

But I survived, and all went well. This is what I train for, right? Running long races, and working long races. And sometimes both, as with last April when I ran the Trail Marathon and then worked the waste stations.

So what had me feeling oddly guilty on Sunday evening, when the work was done and I could put my feet up for a bit?

I didn’t get a run in.

And that had me feeling inadequate.

I get it, okay? I know it’s silly to feel this way. And it’s not like I slacked off. This morning my body felt just as fatigued as if I’d done a long run the day before. I actually looked forward to today’s afternoon workout, cuz I knew the heat and humidity would get my sore and creaky body warm and loose again.

Oh yeah, that hits the spot!

And so it proved; those thirty minutes of brutality worked out the kinks and soreness, and I’m back to feeling pretty good again. So I’ll plan on getting in a good run tomorrow.

Yet the drive to stick to my regular training schedule, and not miss a run or workout for any reason, is hard to turn off. Perhaps it’s fear that drives it. Not a fear that I’ll lose fitness, but that I’ll lose the desire to remain fit.

And that would suck.

See? Even potatoes can get off the couch!

I know life comes with no guarantees about lifespan or health. But I can give myself the best shot at a long, healthy life by eating right, getting enough sleep, and by staying active and fit. I want to have a high quality of life for as long as possible.

Plus, for whatever reason, I enjoy the activity; the ultramarathons, the long bike rides, and the ability to work all day keeping stuff out of landfills. This, too, contributes to my quality of life. And I have some goals yet to achieve too, like a six-minute mile, a half marathon in under 90 minutes, and plenty of races of all kinds that look intriguing.

And so I’ll put up with the urges.

Because they’re for my own good.

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And since you’ve read this far, you deserve this link to one of the classic jokes about urges: The Pickle Factory. Enjoy!

Peak Training and Power Loss

WELL, WHAT A WEEK IT’S BEEN. From fatigue to power outages, to working Zero Waste at a frigid 5K on Sunday, it’s been an eventful March!

Last year’s winter training was the toughest I’d ever been through, as I prepared for a Boston qualifying marathon in April, and my first 100-mile race in June. “This is peak training,” I remember telling a friend while running on the Body Specs treadmill following a workout. “This is as bad as it gets.”

Well, this winter’s training put the lie to that.

Like last year, I’m training for a spring marathon (Boston!) and a June 100-miler. The difference is that this year’s big race (Lighthouse 100) is on pavement instead of trail. The harder surface affects the legs much differently than dirt and grass, as evidenced by how my legs felt after the Martian Marathon last year. The race was on a Saturday, and my quads stopped screaming the following Thursday.

And just think – I had two whole weeks until my next race!

So as my new coach and I agreed, I need to toughen up my legs for a road ultra. And the best way to do that is – surprise – run more miles. So in addition to my stepped-up strength training, I’m running 5-6 days per week instead of 2-3, with distance up from 20-30 miles per week to 40-50 miles.

Damn right I’m always hungry! I’m training!

To my surprise, my body responded well to the extra work. At one point I ran 14 days straight, with legs feeling strong. I was rocking it!

Until last week.

Last Tuesday I went out for an afternoon tempo run. After a warmup jog, I kicked up my pace to 7:00 per mile, a strong but not all-out effort for me. Almost immediately I realized it wasn’t going to work. After just a quarter mile I stopped to catch my breath and reset.

Just get through this, I told myself. Go slower, but don’t stop again until the tempo part is over. I did it at a 7:15 pace, but the next day I hadn’t recovered well and was sluggish at the gym. Then I went home – and found the power was out, thanks to Windstorm of The Century here in southeast Michigan.

Feeling overtrained plus dealing with no electricity at home was an ideal opportunity to take a break and recover. So I rested both Thursday AND Friday. Such luxury!

Saturday, feeling better, I ran with my coach, who’s recovering from an injury and gradually increasing his pace and distance. He was doing “just 12 miles” that day and said he felt bad he wasn’t up to running 20 miles yet.

“You’ve got plenty of 20-milers left in you,” I told him. Then I admitted that I understood his frustration. After all, I felt guilty taking two days off.

I’m sure that sounds crazy to my non-running readers, but that’s life when you’re a committed runner. It’s as another blogger recently put it; you feel guilty when you run too much (at the expense of the rest of your life), and you feel guilty when you run too little. You can’t escape it. So you just acknowledge it and keep on running.

This morning, finally, our power came back on. I’d like to say I felt like Superman at the gym today. Not so much, but it wasn’t bad. And they went easy (relatively) because I have the Pi Run 5K on Tuesday. It promises to be cold and miserable. But hey, it’s good training!

As Nature Intended

Near the end of my Monday workout at Body Specs, one of the trainers and I began talking dirt.

Mud, more correctly.

As I was catching my breath after a particularly strenuous set, she (Rachel) asked me how I got into running. I explained how I’d started with occasional short runs, which eventually led to a half marathon, which started me on the slippery slope to the full marathon and beyond to the land of Ultra.

And *up* the slippery slope, too.

Slippery slopes go both down and up in the land of Ultra!

Rachel said she had no intention of following me down the ultra trail, but she did sign up for a Tough Mudder later this spring. And just as she no plans to start running ultras (which I completely understand) I will not be following her into that kind of event. Chacun à son goût, as they say, but a TM is definitely not to my goût.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Tough Mudder, it’s one of a popular genre of events collectively known as obstacle races. These events combine running with various types of calisthenics and man-made obstacles to climb over, duck under, and crawl through. Here’s a sampling of typical Tough Mudder obstacles, courtesy of the Wikipedia article:

  • Arctic Enema – Participants plunge into a dumpster filled with ice water, dunk underneath a plank that crosses the dumpster, and pull themselves out on other side.
  • Electroshock Therapy – Live wires hang over a field of mud which participants must traverse.
  • Funky Monkey – A set of incline and decline monkey bars over a pit of cold water. The bars are slicked with a mixture of butter and mud.
  • Everest – Participants run up a quarter pipe slicked with mud and grease.

tough-mudder-pipe-crawl

Now I have nothing against getting dirty as part of a run. I’ve run several trail races where rain either before or during the event has turned the course into a slippery, shoe-sucking morass. My first trail 50K was a 6-hour slog following an all-night rain, and at some of the hills were impossible to climb without hand-over-hand grabbing of bushes and trees. I’ve even run through an actual swamp. Below is what happened when I stepped off the log I’d been dancing along.

DWD Hell - Deep in the Mud

I’ve run ultras in the rain, in 95 degrees and high humidity, and as of last month, in the snow. I’ve sweated buckets and frozen my tooshie. I’ve climbed piles of boulders and slid down ravines. I’ve flirted with hypothermia, bonked due to hyponatremia, and been sore everywhere a body can be sore. All with no regrets and every intent to keep doing it as long as I can or want to.

So why, you might reasonably ask, wouldn’t an obstacle race appeal to me? After all, trail race course designers make you run through tall grass, swamps, rivers, and up and down incredibly steep hills. Aren’t those obstacles?

DWD Devils Lake - Heading Down

But there’s a big difference between a muddy trail race and a Tough Mudder. The first is created by Mother Nature and the elements. The second is created by sadists with construction debris and garden hoses. And to me, that makes all the difference.

I like tackling a trail race as Nature intended. When I sign up for a trail race, I have no control over what conditions will be on race day. The trail could be dusty, hard as rock, soaked and slippery, or a paradise of soft pine needles. The uncertainty is part of the experience. It’s expecting the unexpected, as it were.

I may get covered in mud, but it won’t come about by dragging myself under electrified wire or sliding around flaming tires.

tough-mudder-burning-tires

Like Spartan Races, which I’ve written about previously, I find the concept fascinating but don’t really have the interest to participate. That said, I have yet to actually attend either a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race, so I won’t be saying “never” just yet.

Best of luck, Rachel!

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P.S. For those of you hoping my title might mean the kind of run that, say, one might do at Run Woodstock, I’m sorry to disappoint you. However, you can read a couple of stories about my experience there. Here’s a post from 2012 (my first such experience) and one from 2014. Enjoy!

Are You “Spartan Fit”? Would You Want to Be?

NOTE: The following is a review of a dangerous book. If you’re happy with your life in every way, I advise you to avoid this post. And if you think you’re some kind of stud/ripping bitch athlete, the Surgeon General has determined that reading this book will be hazardous to your ego.

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YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

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When I got an invitation to review a new fitness book, I didn’t jump on it at first.

After all, the world is full of such books, and the basic advice is universal: Exercise toward your goal. Eat better. Sleep more. Drink lots of water. And so forth. Good advice to be sure, but nothing new under the sun. And the book was about obstacle races, which don’t appeal to me. But the person issuing the invitation was persistent, so I agreed and downloaded the preview copy.

I’m glad I did.

Spartan Fit cover

Spartan Fit! by Joe DeSena is a book aimed at making you exactly that. It contains a 30-day program to prepare you for competing in a Spartan obstacle race. But its true purpose is to challenge you to overcome your biggest obstacle, which is, of course, yourself. And you don’t need to run a Spartan Race to do that.

So what does it take to get “Spartan Fit”? Here’s DeSena’s simplest “training program” in Chapter 1:

Go outside right now and run as far as you can. Then do as many burpees as you can. Then run, walk, or crawl home. Eat whole foods, skip dessert, don’t get drunk, get some sunshine, take cold showers, lift something heavy, use the stairs, meditate or pray, find someone to love. Lights out at 8 p.m. There’s your program— go do it.

To me, that’s a Texas penitentiary, not a desirable way to live. So you might think I wouldn’t encourage anyone to read this book. But you should read it, even if you have no interest in Spartan Races, or running a marathon someday, or in pursuing any Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

It’s worth reading just for its stories. Like Jay Jackson’s fight for his life with a home intruder, or “The Barn Beast” attempting a 100-mile snowshoe race, or Steven Pressfield’s descriptions of life in ancient Sparta and how and why Spartan warriors became legendary for their ability and fearlessness in battle.

And for current and aspiring athletes, there’s lots more in here for you. Descriptions of typical Spartan Race obstacles. The “seven pillars” of the program (endurance, strength, athleticism, recovery, nutrition, mind, and code). Nutrition guidance and recipes. And throughout the book you can feel the intense sincerity of the author in trying to get you outside and do some living, dammit.

Rather than describe more of the book’s content, I’ll share how reading the book affected me and why I consider it to be distinctly different from other fitness books I’ve read.

In sum, I was awestruck, inspired, humbled, and terrified. All at once, more or less.

Awestruck by the incredible things the human body and mind are capable of, as evidenced by the stories in the book. Inspired, because I thought to myself, I could do some of this.

Humbled when I read through the 30-day program and realized that as fit as I am currently, I’d be absolutely obliterated by it. Pick up and carry a 115-pound stone? Not yet, thank you. And terrified, because I began to get the nagging idea that I just might want to try a Spartan Race someday.

But what got me so into this book? Here are three things I believe make Spartan Fit! different from the rest.

Training for adaptability. Spartan Race training is designed for competing in Spartan Races, obviously, but each race is different in the obstacles that the athletes will face. So basic techniques such as running, crawling, and lifting are stressed over specific challenges (such as climbing over a slippery wall).

Adaptability allows you to face any unexpected obstacle – physical, mental, whatever – that you may face in the course of your day. It’s like the jazz musician who doesn’t practice improvisations directly, but all the skills needed to successfully improvise. If I get nothing else out of this book, improving here would make it worth it to me.

Focus on simplicity. This training is meant to be done with things found all around us, or are readily available. VersaClimber in the gym? Run up that hill a few times instead. Kettlebells? Who needs them? Find a rock. Carry logs, drag tires, climb ropes, run and crawl through muck. That’s the essence of Spartan training.

Emphasis on training outside. DeSena points out that the original “gymnasiums” were outdoor athletic areas where the athletes trained together. He contrasts that with the “depressing dungeons,” air-conditioned, carpeted indoor gyms full of fancy equipment, and believes that the surfers on the beach would crush the bodybuilders in an obstacle race. So his workouts are outside, in any weather. And as a year-round, all-weather runner, I understand the benefits, and I agree with him.

Get outside and live, man!

Get outside and live, man!

And the book has already affected my life. This year I participated in the 22 Pushup Challenge – 22 pushups a day for 22 days (read about the purpose here). One day I forgot to do them. When I realized this the next day, I assigned myself the standard Spartan Race “failure penalty” of 30 burpees. Let’s just say I didn’t forget again. As much as I disliked doing them, I could tell how lots of them could make one that much stronger.

One more demonstration of how much I recommend this book; when the preview edition expired, I bought a copy. I suppose that’s really all I needed to say. But since I wrote the rest of this post anyway, guess I’ll use it.

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P.S. I was also provided with a discount code for a future Spartan race. If I ever use it, I’ll be sure to write about the experience here!