Monthly Archives: December 2015

Holiday Reading 1: Joe Friel

I read and re-read Friel’s Training Bible books for years. When it come to heart rate training, he’s one of the best, and if you’re a cyclist with $, his work with power meters is just as good. But when Fast After 50 came out, I gave it a pass. I already know his training method, and it clashes with Maffetone, which is my preferred way. Plus, I’m not in that age group anyway. But I heard a great review from a friend who competes in the 60-65 AG, and who successfully used Friel’s methods to self-coach his way to the XTERRA World’s for his AG. I listened to a few podcasts with Friel, and it sounded intriguing, so I added it to my holiday reading.

This book is definitely different from the others because of its narrower focus on aging. It also has much more of a personal story to it, since Friel just turned 70. He has also coached a zillion athletes, including many masters. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research on aging athletes. Exercise science is pretty young anyway, and it’s only recently that there were any aging athletes to study. So, a lot of what we know about aging is based on a sedentary population and will be different for athletes. Friel dug into the research to see what was available and combined it with his own decades of experience as an athlete and a coach. It’s all definitely a work in progress, because there are no definitive answers. Not yet. That’s what makes this so exciting.

So the book lays out what research shows, as closely applicable as possible to athletes and explains the limitations. It’s much more of a discussion than a prescription, though he does give his best guesses.

He identifies three factors for an aging athlete:

Decreased aerobic capacity
Decreased muscle mass and strength
Increased body fat

These are the factors that aging causes, and athletes are no exception, though compared to the average Joe, they will still be way ahead.

To fit these issues he suggests:

“High” intensity interval training (high here is relative, and specific to his method)
Year round strength training, planty of it intense
Strict diet (high fat paleo for him)

He believes aging athletes slow down because they start training slower all the time. As for intensity, it’s not necessarily as hard as you might think, and not as much as you might think. It sounds very similar to 80/20 training, as another aging concern is recovery. Focusing on intensity means being very careful with recovery to avoid injury, illness, and burnout. The evil trifecta of overdoing it. As an exapmple, he interviewed Ned Overhand, one of the legendary pioneers of MTB racing and still very active and fast, who explained he still the same training he always has, it just takes him longer to do it. One of his suggestions is to rearrange training cycles into nine day “weeks” instead of the traditional seven day calendar weeks.

The good news is, according to his research and experience, a lot of fitness and speed can be maintained until age 70, when there is an inevitable drop. Serious athletes who are also data nerds might notice a decline begin at any point from the mid 30s on, but that’s only if they always trained and competed without taking any real time off. So many of us leave sport for awhile, or don’t take it up until later in life. Good news for us, a lot of that decline we thought was inevitable may really just be inactivity.

A good read, with a lot to think about. This book is for those who want to be as fast as possible. This is not about what is necessary for good health. It’s for those who have tougher goals. The whole idea of aging athletes is fascinating, and with baby boomers that started a lot of it getting older, there will be lots more to learn.

Should I change trains, and move away from Maffetone towards a higher intensity plan? If so, at what point in the season? Food for thought.


Northstar LQS: Fully Cooked


The coveted Leadville coin

“Crash” training worked. Sort of. By packing in the aerobic hours leading up to Northstar, I did get a big bump in fitness. I felt great throughout the race, made the time cut-offs, then was the second name called in the lottery. So finally, I’m off to Leadville!

Leadville Trail 100 August 13, 2016

I wasn’t fast, but I was smooth. My times for the first and second laps were very close. And even though I pushed hard the second lap knowing I was close on time, I still felt good. So crash training delivered the goods as promised.

It also delivered the “bads” as well as the goods. The risks of crash training are slipping over the thin line from “overreaching” which builds fitness, and overtraining, which erodes it. I didn’t rest quite enough after the hard endurance block before the race. I took enough days off to do well, but I needed a little more time absorb that training. I needed a few easy days on the bike to put it all together. I also should have done some more overt stress reduction during the block and as recovery after. Meaning I should have done some yoga and meditation to help everything along.

But none of that was clear during the race, because everything worked. I felt pretty beat up afterwards, but it was a race after all, that’s normal. My low back was pretty sore, which I attributed to 8 hours of pounding on an aluminum hardtail, but had other causes, more later. My pervious season’s hip flexor issue reappeared, but on the other side. After a week of barely doing anything, I eased back into triathlon training by doing a short morning run, and a short afternoon bike. Nothing like what I was doing in the pre-race block. All training done at MAF, and I kept it at the low end just to be careful. That crash block paid off, as I was definitely faster, even at the lower heart rate. I felt great.

Until I didn’t. My HRV scores looked a little wonky, but I thought it was OK. Then degradation set in. I got slower. A lot slower. I kept all my workouts short and strictly MAF. But I didn’t improve. My sleep didn’t seem to be working, plentiful though it was. The fatigue, while not extraordinary, just didn’t go away. It took me awhile to realize it was a form of overtraining. That often happens after a peak. The crash block, the long, hard race, and training afterwards dug a hole I fell into. What makes it so dangerous is that you feel so good, right before you fall in. The wonky HRV was a subtlety I hadn’t noticed before that showed by nervous system was out of whack, even though the software thought it was good. HRV is highly individual, so it takes some experience to be able to interpret the measurements in a relevant, personal way. Lesson learned. I turned to traditional Chinese medicine to help my recovery, I learned that my low back pain was not directly and only related to the MTB, but depressed “Kidney” function. (The organs in TCM are utitlized differently than in the West) A little self-diagnosis revealed the pattern.

Fortunately, Maffetone style training is beneficial. I continued to train, but always short, never over 90 min. and always under MAF. I didn’t want to lose fitness, and I didn’t get worse, so I plugged on. Some yoga, meditation, and qigong worked their magic on my nervous and endocrine systems, as well as the energetics as used by TCM.

It was a valuable learning experience. I’ve overtrained before, but this was different, and not so bad. My only regret was that I lost the enthusiasm for racing, and so missed out on some great fall races. But that lack of enthusiasm is a very important signal, and I’m glad I heeded it. I kept riding throughout the remainder of the dry fall weather, so I haven’t lost much fitness. And I have some good experience to draw on in preparing for Leadville.

Diet Wars: A Fable

Diet Wars: A Fable

A short time ago, very close by, we forgot how to eat.

For over 10,000 years, home cooks and gardeners took the bounty of the land: starches, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices and lovingly crafted meals to nourish body and soul. In touch with the seasons and the local powers of nature, generations of trial and error yielded a treasure trove of foods that sustained, and when necessary, healed. On rare occasions, special foods could be gathered for celebration as kinfolk would come together and praise.

Then a Dark Power began to emerge. The relaxed pace of working with the land and plants sped up as the Age of Machines arrived. With increased mechanization, the droid machines began grinding up our precious food. The Dark Side of Food sent its minions out into the world in search of the largest and cheapest sources of fat, sugar, and salt. They added this unnatural bounty to our food, concentrating the addictive power, enslaving the consumers with the Pleasure Trap. No longer was a simple bowl of rice with fresh local vegetables and spices adequate. Our taste buds and brains screamed for more! The Dark Side responded by colonizing much of the galaxy with their military-industrial power enslaving the locals to produce the much needed sugars, oils and Himalayan Celtic Black Purple Sea Salt. Not satisfied, the Dark Side turned to our animal companions. Huge factory farms replaced pastures, and their eyes shone with terror instead of peace.

Just as farm animals to slaughter, people ate these food-like products, and developed many chronic diseases. As the rich food of the Empire, people celebrated “progress” while they developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. Deadly diseases never seen before became commonplace, heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. Then the ultimate Dark side disease emerged, cancer. A mysterious disease that eats away at you when your own cells rebel. Another Dark Power emerged to “manage” these conditions with even more chemicals at an enormous cost. Laboratories worked into the night to create medications to “cure” these new diseases. No cure, just inefficient management of the symptoms. But plenty of profit swallowed by the gaping maw of the Empire.

All was not lost. Some people managed to reconnect eating and health. On the fringes of the Empire, a perceptive few noticed something a bit odd. Some noticed that the colonized natives eating their “poor” diet were actually stronger and healthier. If violence ensued, these skinny locals were difficult to put down without fancy weapons. Dr. Burkitt treated patients from both sides and saw who was healtheir. He realized the value of the ancient ways, and sought to spread this knowledge to improve the health of Empire citizens. “Fiber!” he cried out. Meanwhile, in the heart of the Empire, a near implosion took place with two Great Wars. Food was disrupted, stolen, and redistributed. People had to reconnect with the “poor” food of their past. And despite the stress, became healthier. But despite a few lean years, the Empire was back on track, making their addictive “food” concentraed in flavor even cheaper and more convenient. Buy and eat you meal in your vehicle in five minutes? You bet.

Meanwhile, a small Rebel Alliance was born. Pioneering Jedi such as Chittendon and Kempner led the way. Chittendon challenged the protein myth, showing simple foods were best. Kempner solved incurable health problems. Others, like Pritikin, discovered the now arcane art of eating and disease reversal through their own study of the Force of health. John McDougall saw simple folk from far side of the Empire eat thier traditional diets with better health. Other Rebels, at the fringes of the galaxy, revived their marginalized traditions of native plants such as macrobiotics and ayurveda. A crack appeared in the Empire’s armor, when these Rebels applied simple foods to complex health problems and succeeded.

These rebels faced opposition in the form of convenience and the Pleasure Trap powers the Dark Side had made ubiquitous. But they trudged on. The Force began to speak to new warriors. McDougall, Ornish, and Esselstyn, struck out against the Dark Side from within the belly of the Beast. Setting up scientific studies in the Empire’s own language, they proved where much disease and suffering came from, and better, how to fix it. Farmer’s markets grew rapidly, organic standards were set and enforced. Gardens began to replace lawns. People were beginning to see the Light, then . . .

The Empire Struck Back

On the covers of national magazines, the new low carb warriors fought back with pictures of bacon, butter, and steak. “Fat does not make you fat!” they exclaimed, and Darkness gathered once again. Grass fed is OK, your brain needs saturated fat and cholesterol. Upset about the past 10,000 years, these Dark warriors went even further into the past, to fabricate an entirely new paleo paradigm. The foods that nourished and healed generations was bad. Only the rich foods of the Empire can save you!

These are turbulent times. The Dark Side is strong. It is quick. It is easy. It is seductive. It is tasty. Those concentrated flavors and nutrients enslave you.

But there are plenty still willing to fight for good, whole, natural, healthy plant food. New doctors continue to step away from the Empire’s health practices to help patients see the Light side. Athletes, chefs, gardeners, writers, and bloggers spread the word amid a cacophony of Darkness.

The battle rages on . . .

With the greatest respect, admiration, and gratitude for George Lucas