Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Organic Periodization

Every one has heard the term "Train Smart, Not Hard."  But what is this?  In a nutshell the basic premise is based on periodization, which is planning your training.  Tudor Bompa, the "father of periodization" developed this technique many years ago, becoming the foundation for most modern training programs across many sports.

Macro cycles are generally yearly, or longer training plans, mapping out training and competition periods.   Macro cycles are then divided into two or more meso cycles, lasting weeks or months. And lastly, micro cycles are generally weekly schedules.  The three periods of a yearly macro cycle are the preparation phase, the competition phase, and the transition phase.

This post will deal with the transition phase, and how it helps the endurance athlete recover and integrate back into society.  Most endurance athletes spend long hours training and competing over much of the season.  This takes it's toll on the body and mind.  From a physical and scientific view point, the body needs recovery BIG TIME.  Bumps, bruises, nagging injuries, and busy schedules need attention.  The transition period is a time when volume and intensity of training backs off.  For many motivated athletes, this is very difficult to do.
Post UltraBeast legs

For many athletes, especially endurance athletes, the Fall is the end of the competition season.  Late Fall and early Winter are a great time for the athlete to naturally assimilate to the transition phase.  Shorter days, Fall clean ups, and eventually the Holiday season take a lot of time.  Workouts can be cut down to as few as a two or three a week.  This leaves time for family, chores, and reflection.  I believe it is very important to embrace this time away from heavy training loads, not only for recovery, but to enjoy life, spend more time with loved ones and relaxing activities, rejuvenating the mind and body for the next preparatory period.

Light workouts should work on base-cardio, joint stability, balance, and light strength endurance.  Any one who participates in sports with a lot of running, or contact sport athletes should minimize any impact or contact for this period.  This is a great time to practice yoga, as it can be relaxing and helps with flexibility and balance.  A good massage therapist can help restore joint mobility, release fascia, increase muscle blood flow, and break down scar tissue.

Dealing with, even the smallest injuries are important at this time.  While many nagging injuries seem to go away quickly, I highly recommend seeing a good physical therapist if they don't disappear quickly.  Even if the pain recedes, the body can be forced to compensate, often leading to imbalances.  While these are hardly noticeable to the untrained, a good PT will get you back on track quickly.

In conclusion, many people organically fall into the transition period during the Fall, others can't stop training hard.  While the prepatory period may seem like the beginning of next season, it actually starts here.  If the body is not recovered, once training starts back up, injuries and low energy will severely hamper performance.  The Fall and Holiday season are fun times to enjoy life, friends, family, food, and spirituality.  I say relax, embrace it, and come back the guns blazing next season.

Take a little time to enjoy loved ones in the off season

Ultra Beast?

Saturday morning on Killington Mtn. Photo courtesy of Spartan Race.

“People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about. " - Joseph Campbell

Third barbed wire crawl at about mile 17 (lap 2). Rolling over the camelback = a little awkward.
Going forward preparing for the Spartan Ultra Beast, I was asked several times by my friends and family why I choose to take part in what appears to be an incredibly masochistic hobby- obstacle and adventure racing. It is not unusual for one of these self-inflicted sufferfests to take on 10, 15, 24 or even up to 58 hours leaving me in a dehydrated, bruised, sore, marginally functioning haze for the better part of a week.Truthfully, until being directly confronted with the question, I have never really felt a need to come up with an answer. It has always just seemed like the thing to do. In the last few months, however, the answer to the question has alluded me and a lack of cognizant awareness of my own inner motives has eaten at me. While I continue to be a work in progress, I have begun to find clarity on the matter through some insightful conversations and a little old-fashioned introspection.

This past weekend offered me some unique insight. At Killington Mtn. I competed in the Spartan Ultra Beast. The Ultra has been heavily hyped as it was to be the inaugural marathon-distance (actually 28 miles) military-style obstacle course competition covering 70+ legit obstacles and 12,000 feet in elevation gain over the course of one day. The best of the endurance obstacle racers from all over the country applied months ago to be selected to face off against each other and see where everyone stacked up. As I normally do, I signed up without thinking twice about it. I mean, what could be more fun?

Maybe I am simply enticed by all the mud? Photo courtesy of Spartan Race

It would be easy to say that I am enticed by the competitive spirit of it all. It is true, in fact, that there is a part of me that is a competitor; however, competition alone is not enough to motivate me through long, grueling workouts day after day, month after month, year after year. Worrying about how others are training or preparing for the next event would be utterly exhausting. Unbearable.

It would be easy to say that I seek to find my own limits; however, I am still not entirely sure that I want to define them. Limits are, well, limits. Who wants those?

Still smiling and chatting at mile 9 at the first sandbag carry.

What I seek is something far more personal: something far more powerful than the celebration of a win or the devastation of a loss. As the hours wear on and my body enters the red zone I begin to find these answers. In these moments, all of the clutter disappears forcing me to focus on the moment. Not the next moment, not the moment before. There is no energy for that. Every twig snapping underneath my feet is there for a reason- to remind me that I am alive and that every moment is here for the taking. I just need to take it.

As the mountain takes my strength, it empowers me to find strength in new places. Places I normally don’t need to tap into that force me to dig deep into myself. It is then that I realize that the human body is stronger than I have imagined. Physical strength eventually fades to emotional strength forcing me to focus in a way that is so difficult to seize on a daily basis. One step at a time. One moment at a time. Limits are only self-imposed.

Mile 23 with my Spartan sandbag friend. We hugged a lot.
In these moments time stands still. Perhaps crazy hallucinations and endorphins are responsible for this euphoria? I don’t know. But I know that I am not the only one to experience it. The connections that exist between once-competitors and the mountain are lifelong. Each interaction carries with it new connections that embed themselves somewhere in your soul, only to be revealed in time.

This is what I seek. To those of you who shared this one with me, thank you. Finisher or not, we all came to learn a little something to take with us into the next one. There is no finish line.
Happily representing Simple Brandz and coaching my CVA athletes at the Teen Challenge on Sunday. Photo courtesy of CVA.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Feet, feet, feet!

"Slow feet. Quick feet. Well feet. Sick feet. Up feet. Down feet. Here come clown feet."- Dr. Seuss

While a post on feet might seem entirely unnecessary, in my opinion Dr. Seuss was on to something when he dedicated an entire book to the subject. With the UltraBeast coming up this weekend, I have been thinking about feet. Feet can make or break even the most prepared athlete in an endurance event. If your feet quit, you are done. Here are a few things I have learned along the way that might be helpful to those venturing out for their first endurance event on their feet.

Preventing foot problems before they happen is by far the easiest way to deal with foot issues. Once you have blisters, swelling and/or bleeding, treatment is going to be only temporary and will only help so much. Protect your feet, especially if they are going to be wet with a few strategies:
When the course goes this way, you need to think about how you are going to prevent swamp foot a little differently

1) No cotton. Never. Synthetics and wool are both good options. Save the stylish knee high socks for another day. Enough said.

2) I like to wear two layers on my feet. Friction is going to be your enemy, particularly when your feet are wet. A second layer can prevent the skin on your feet from being peeled away-  even the slightest amount of sliding friction between you foot, grit, and footwear can do significant damage. I often use either a thin synthetic liner sock or double layer socks like Wright socks.

3) Add lube under the socks to further prevent chafe from rubbing. Vaseline, Body glide (or other similar products) all work well. In addition, both of these products will also add a hydrophobic layer to keep wet feet from getting punky as fast.

4) Never wear brand new shoes for a long race or long run even if they are the same shoe model and maker that you had before. Sometimes, even the slightest variation in the individual shoe can lead to your unanticipated demise if you don't put some miles on them first.

5) I personally don't think there is one shoe that is the magical answer to all foot ailments. Some people love Vibrams. Some love lightweight shoes similar to racing flats. Personally, I wear old fashioned sneakers. Wear what makes your feet most comfortable is what is best. Skip the fads.

6) If at any point during the event you have the opportunity to dry out your feet- do it. Even if it costs you time, it will be well worth it in the end. A change of shoes and socks at a drop bag or even a quick stop at an aid station to wring out socks that have been wet for hours- your feet will thank you. Don't subscribe to the mentality "they will just get wet again, why bother?" In 15 dry minutes, lots of healing and damage prevention can happen.


You tried to be proactive and it just didn't work out for you. Don't despair, things can still get better. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1) Once you have identified that there is a problem, deal with it now. Don't hobble along telling yourself you will deal with it when it is convenient. It is never convenient. Again, if you can get your feet dry (drier) do it. Change your socks. Wring out your socks. Take off the shoes and socks and air dry your feet.

A change into dry shoes at Jay Peak.
2) Once your feet are dry, if you have blisters, pop them. Yep, pop them. I know- just what mom told you never to do. This is not going to feel great tomorrow- but tomorrow is another day, right? I actually use a sterilized needle to do it (alcohol pads, a match, etc.) or the tip of a pocket knife. Barbaric measures don't have to lead to infection. Once the blister is popped, you want to cover it to protect yourself from any infection. Cover it with a small amount of gauze, Band-aid, etc. with a dollop of Neosporin. On top of this I recommend adding a piece of tape that will hold the cover in place. While I shouldn't recommend Duct Tape because there are nasty chemicals in it that you shouldn't apply directly to your skin- it is what I use. You could also cover it with a more medically approved tape if you can find one that stays on when wet.

3) Before you put socks on, you should add another layer of protection. If you are developing other hot spots or trouble spots that aren't quite in need of popping and taping then a mixture of Gold Bond powder and Vaseline is a great option. I shake a little of the powder in my hand and then smear in the Vaseline to make a paste. Apply the paste liberally. It won't last super long, so you will need to repeat every few hours or so.

As soon as you can get your shoes off and dry your feet, the better off you will be. Also remove any tape (especially if you used Duct tape) as soon as you can. After thorough drying, I find that soaking my feet in an ice bath for a couple of minutes helps with pain, although I know some don't subscribe to this idea. A soak in Epsom salts for 5-10 minutes also can help with swelling, bruising and pain.  Be sure to let your feet dry out between treatments. I also find that getting up and on my feet as soon as possible helps get the healing process going.

If you give your feet the attention they need, they will reward you with lots of extra miles. Happy trails.