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Race Fueling Conundrum: Hammer Nutrition vs. Rice

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So my experiment using real food to fuel training has been a success. But what about racing? When I’m training in my MAF range below 145 BPM, I digest the rice balls, rice cakes, and potatoes with no problem. I look forward to the snack instead of reminding myself to eat. But what about race intensity? Is a rice ball going to stay down when I’m charging at 165-185 BPM? Or will I see it again, flying through the air as I vomit? Can I manipulate these snacks while mountain biking on a rough course? Or will I wrap my rice cake and myself around a tree?

Therein lies the conundrum:

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Never try anything in a race you haven’t tried in training

Racing feels totally different than training

What to do?

One way would be to try new things in high intensity workouts or race simulations. But I prefer to keep my training strictly aerobic.

Another way is to designate a race as a “practice race” to try new strategies without getting overly concerned about the results. So if it all goes down in flames, just practice recovering as much as possible and learn from it.

I will try the second approach in this weekend’s Lake Tahoe Mountain Bike Race, 4 hour solo event. Last year I went nuts and did the 8 hr solo event, but this year I will go shorter so I will be well recovered for the following weekend’s XTERRA. This year I will go shorter and test out my real food fueling strategy and see how it feels to fuel on rice, potatoes and dates while riding hard. Since it is a multi-lap format, I can set up a pit area with a cooler for food and drinks. I will fuel with real food, and hydrate with plain water in my hydration pack. I will bring a bottle of Sustained Energy and some gels, just in case the solid food doesn’t work. I will hydrate on the course, and refuel with rice and potatoes between each lap. I’ll carry dates in my pocket if needed on the course. Due to the length of this event, I think the real food will work great. In any case, it will give me valuable information for next month’s Leadville Qualifier at Northstar.

My goal is to ride 5 laps within the 4 hour time limit. If I miss it, I think I will just go out and ride another lap anyway to make it a good long day.

Fingers crossed!

Race Report: XTERRA REAL 2013

XTERRA REAL Bike Course

XTERRA REAL bikecourse

XTERRA Real

Granite Beach, CA
March 30, 2013
Folsom Lake

My Race Season Starts:

I like this race. Since it is the first race of any kind for me, it is always a rude shock to the system. After months of low aerobic intensity Maffetone training, it feels good to open up the throttle. It also hurts. A lot. Cruising around at 140 BPM is definitely not the same as charging up a muddy climb at 175 BPM. I always worry at the start of a season that I have forgotten everything that matters. Like how to pedal my bike over rocks. Or swim in open water. Or change out of my wetsuit. Even packing my transition bag gets its fair share of worry. It was nice to see that I can still do all of those things. Just not very quickly.

Conditions:
Much better than in years past. The last weekend in March can be dicey. Usually the water is very cold, feeling like it was snow maybe twenty minutes prior to race start. Five minutes into the race I was very comfortable. It’s been a fairly dry winter this year in California, so the trails were smooth, fast, and fun. There were only a couple of mud puddles compared to the usual bogs, yet judging by my bike it seems that I brought it all home with me. Temperatures were mild as well, though a bit humid thanks to the clouds and nearby lake.

Swim:
I haven’t been in the water in months due to the usual excuses. Thanks to Coach Rutherford, I can get by on muscle memory. For a half mile swim, I can probably float in my wetsuit. So I picked one thing to work on during the swim and succeeded. I focused on breathing. Many people, myself included, make the mistake of holding the breath underwater. This makes for gasping, and hurts technique. The goal is to breathe as naturally as possible by exhaling continuously while your face is in the water. I concentrated on this one thing and it worked! My stroke was much smoother, and I felt very relaxed and comfortable. When I forgot, I immediately began to tense up and slow down. So despite not training my swim at all, I was only a little bit slower than usual.

Bike:
I like this bike course since it’s a bit technical. It’s real mountain biking. There are no real sustained climbs, but you are always actively doing something: Climbing, descending, clearing rocks and boulders, swooping on singletrack. The first lap felt great even though I haven’t done much mountain biking lately. I smoothly cleaned the technical sections that often trip me up. The second lap was harder. Fatigue set in, and those technical sections tripped me up.

Run:
My legs felt like concrete, but I made them run anyway. Knowing the course, I knew where to hike to conserve energy, and my overall time was typical for me.

Nutrition:
Spot on. The effect of increasing fat burning by Maffetone training helped me race without needing as much fuel. I ate a small breakfast three hours prior, and used liquid fuels during the race. More on this later, since it worked so perfectly.

Recovery:
I also didn’t feel as drained afterwards. My legs often feel wrecked after a race, and my brain is often in quite a fog for a few hours. My recovery the rest of the day went well. After a recovery drink, I had a real lunch. I wasn’t terribly hungry until a regular dinner. Unfortunately, I slept TERRIBLY, and my recovery fell completely off the rails. I blame the altitude that always affects my sleep, and the stiffness and soreness that set in making a comfortable sleeping position impossible to find. A nap the next day made things much better.

Supplements:
Concentrated curcumin extract as an anti-inflammatory and proteolytic enzymes to help break down broken tissue to speed healing.

Overall, a great day and a solid start to the season. Much work to be done before XTERRA Tahoe City!

xterra run

A Beautiful Disaster: Tahoe Trail 100 Race Report

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(from L -R: Leadville founder Ken Chlouber, Bay Area phenom Meiling Yee with her Leadville entry, me, Leadville former race director Merrilee Mauquin)

Disaster:
I raced forty minutes SLOWER this year than last year. I was supposed to go an hour FASTER. Big disappointment. My weight is down 12 pounds and my aerobic fitness has improved. I’ve gone further and faster.I’ve thought about this race every day for the past year. I put the pressure on myself, and, I cracked. Complete gastro-intestinal meltdown. Dehydrated? I guess. Bonking? It appears so. How could this happen?

Beautiful:
Well, the weather and scenery was gorgeous, another awesome Tahoe day. Seriously, as I finished, I couldn’t help but smile and feel good about myself, even though I had my worst race ever. How could this be? The disaster was only physical, and it was temporary. The beauty was mental, emotional, and spiritual. That lasts longer.

Well, not everything went wrong. The first lap went well. I passed some people, some people passed me. I felt reasonably strong and paced well. I found a group, and we rode together through the aid stations, leapfrogging our way around the course. It felt like I was going fast, though compared to last year, not as improved as I hoped. But I got into that zone where time sped up. I kept thinking, I’m already this far? Another aid station already? This climb is over? I get to descend so soon? Then halfway through the second lap, it crumbled beneath me.

So What Went Wrong

The Golden Rule of Racing:

Never change anything on race day! Make sure any equipment, nutrition, or hydration issues are thoroughly tested in training or low priority races. Never show up when it counts acting like it’s a lab experiment. I bent this rule (didn’t truly break it) without realizing it. I slightly changed my nutrition/hydration protocol, and it seems that is was just enough to cross a very fine, gray line into disaster. I used my usual blend of plain water, liquid Sustained Energy, and an occasional Hammer Gel.

But if I had my usual set-up of water and preferred fuels, and plenty of aid stations, how could I dehydrate and bonk? After reflecting, I figured it out. I didn’t use my Camelbak, which I use most of the time. I had forgotten how rough the course was, and was unable to get water consistently. When I did stop and try to catch up, I overdid the water and fluids.

About five hours in, I realized I was behind on fluids and calories. At the first aid station on the second lap, I tried to catch up. I was feeling tired, but I should have felt tired. Then, about 20 min. later, as the carbohydrate and caffeine hit me, I felt great! My energy was up and I passed people on a tough climb. I was even singing and rapping to myself! Then it all went sideways and the crash came. I started to feel worse and worse, and the nausea became so strong I could barely tolerate plain water in small sips. Trying to push hard on the pedals on climbs made it worse, so I was reduced to walking. I couldn’t eat. I could barely drink. I was pushing my bike and sweating in the hot sun all by myself. For about an hour I sank and wallowed in this until my gut finally started to settle down. By then I had lost enough time that I would not make the time cut-off for a Leadville spot.

Beauty:
Leadville Trail 100 founder Ken Chlouber always like to exhort people to dig deep. He told me that personally the day before after the racer’s meeting. I did. I felt so bad that I almost quit. Except that I was in the middle of nowhere. As I pushed my bike up climbs, coasted descents and soft pedaled the flats, I dug deep. I reminded myself that the climbs would end soon, replaced by a long, fast descent to the next aid station. I decided to see if I could bring my heart rate down and recover a bit. I told myself that I would decide at the aid station to continue or not. When I got into the aid station, I drank two big cups of Gatorade, which I usually detest, but it felt good. My stomach was better. I drank more water and waited. My stomach felt OK. I refilled bottles and decided I was going to finish. Either I finished or they scraped my carcass off the trail. I thought about the last demoralizing climb, and figured I could walk if I had to. I did. But by combining walking breaks with riding, I managed to keep my stomach from rebelling completely. And I kept moving forward. I vowed to keep moving forward until I couldn’t. I finished.

So while my physical performance was disappointing, I’m very proud of how I overcame that adversity. Although I think I could have gone a little faster at the end, I was worried about my stomach so I played it a little too conservatively. But I didn’t quit. I reminded myself that I only have three goals in a race: 1) Stay on course 2) No DNF 3) No DFL. I succeeded with all three, and it took a lot more than usual to get to the end, making my finish very satisfying indeed.

Why Race?
The usual answer is to get better, go faster, to see and mark some kind of improvement. But I didn’t improve in any measurable way this time, in fact did the opposite, yet I’m well satisfied. So I realized that maybe we race “to boldly go” some place uncharted. We hope that this will be a new level of performance, but it could just as easily be a new state of mind. The suffering I went through pushing my bike through sections I rode last year was new. But I realized that is just pain. Not all pain is significant. And it wasn’t really that bad. It wasn’t life threatening. Yeah, I was dehydrated, but a long way from true disaster. Ditto for calories. The brain protects itself in endurance events by gradually shutting things down. I still had a long way to go before complete physical failure. And it was a race, so somebody would help if I truly needed it. So I went to a place I’d never been before where everything went wrong. And not only did I survive, I finished with a smile.

Epilogue:
My GI recovery continued after the race, and I ate, rehydrated as normal, enjoying the awards and cheering those people who got an entry into Leadville. That includes my friend Meiling Yee, who arm wrestled the women’s overall winner Rebecca Rusch for a win and an entry. My recovery continued over the following week, and now I’m back on the trail. All in all, my low point lasted about an hour before I started to climb back. Not too bad. It could have been a lot worse.
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See? I finished with a smile!

How I Recover from Long Distance Racing

What Needs Recovery:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Muscle Soreness/Damage
  3. Glycogen Depletion
  4. Mental/Nervous System
  5. Stress Response

 

These are the elements of recovery. The difference in length and intensity between a race and a regular workout affects recovery. A long run that goes further than ever before will need more recovery than an easy run you’ve done a million times. A race that puts you at threshold for an extended time requires more recovery than an interval workout. Work or family stress impacts training and racing, requiring more recovery. Here’s what I learned about recovery recently.

Fatigue:

The longer or more intense the workout, the more fatigue produced. The more volume over days, the more fatigue accumulates. This fatigue must be “unloaded” in order to move forward. This can happen voluntarily by taking time off, easy days, or getting more rest, or your body can force it on you with illness or injury. I’ve neglected fatigue, covered it up with caffeine, and run myself into the ground. The best solution I’ve found for fatigue is passive recovery, emphasizing quantity and quality of sleep.

Muscle Soreness and Damage:

Cycling doesn’t leave me as sore as running. Triathlon is worse than running alone. So after a short cross country race or regular long run, the soreness isn’t bad. I can train easy until recovered. But a trail race or triathlon can leave me so sore that walking is uncomfortable. That’s where I am now after XTERRA. I have had to take three days off with walking as my only exercise while my muscles heal themselves. Soon I will add some yoga and foam rolling, but to this point I’ve been too sore. I experimented with amino acid and proteolytic enzyme supplements to help speed recovery, and believe I have benefitted.

Glycogen Depletion:

This is easy. Following the starch based diet of Dr. McDougall makes replenishing storage muscle glycogen as simple as following my appetite. Most of us have heard of the “window” of opportunity following a workout where enzymes peak, making glycogen replenishment easier. I can tell when I’m depleted by my low energy level and high appetite. Those two factors tell me when I’m recovered. The day after long glycogen depleting races, I’m hungry more often. Then, as I recover, my appetite decreases due to less activity, even though I am still sore. Using the Maffetone Method for training helps as well, since I have trained my body to rely more on fat for fuel. Before Maffetone, I would be really wiped out after a long ride. I could literally feel my recovery progress along hour by hour as I ate more. By using more fat as fuel during exercise and eating a high starch diet, I recover faster. Taking in calories during the workout or race helps, because then there is less that must be replenished.

Mental/Nervous System:

Often I’ve felt like my body was recovered, but my mind was unwilling to go on. There are some possibilities for why this might be: depleted neurotransmitters, hormone imbalance, low levels of amino acids, or just lack of fuel. From my experience, it seems to be tied directly to glycogen depletion. Since the brain runs almost exclusively on carbohydrate, if levels get too low, the brain puts on the brakes to conserve energy. As my storage carbohydrate returns to normal, I can feel my brain come back online.

Overall Stress Response:

The body’s stress response gets engaged by non-physical events. Which is why someone can be so tired by mentally demanding, yet sedentary work, or emotionally stressful circumstances. This same stress response is responsible for getting you ready for another race or workout. The mistake I’ve made in the past is not considering life stress as equivalent to training or racing. I’ve always thought, “Hey, exercise relieves stress, right?” Well, yes, and no. My recent race at Laguna Seca, the Hammerstein, showed me this phenomena very clearly. School had ended only two days prior, and while I had decreased training to rest, the life stress had peaked. I had a very tough race. One week later, with school stress gone, I raced better. Any stress reduction techniques could help here. I think the best option is meditation, because one has the potential to learn how to control the stress response and decrease the energy cost by retraining the brain.

Conclusion:

I think I’ve finally gotten a firm grip an what needs recovery, and some good techniques to use. A little research and using myself as an experiment of one with three weeks of big races have taught me a lot. What do you do for recovery? Any secrets or effective protocols?

 

Next up:

Active Recovery

Passive Recovery

Nutritional Recovery

Lake Tahoe 4/8 hour Mountain Bike Race Report

Last year I did this race in the four hour solo category just for the fun of it. Conditions were difficult, but overall the race was a great challenge and lots of fun. I used it as preparation for the XTERRA Tahoe City race, since the bike course uses some of the same trails.
Last year, after California’s endless winter, two miles of the course had to be cut out due to snow. Even with the shortened course, race crew had to shovel for days to clear enough trail to be usable. Despite their heroic efforts, there were several big patches that had to be negotiated either on foot or as a slippery ride.
There were none of those problems this year. This year conditions were much more typically summertime Tahoe: warm, dry, and dusty. No snow or even mud to contend with. Just lap after lap of rocks, singletrack, and forested meadow. Last year I gassed myself by doubling up the racing by following the mountain bike race with a 10K trail run the next day. I did not repeat that mistake again. Instead, I doubled up on the bike and entered the 8 hour Solo category. I wanted the maximum aerobic workout I could get for the day, and boy howdy, did I get it!
I was a little disappointed with my performance at the Hammerstein last weekend, but I figured that in large part that related to the normal fatigue at the end of the school year coupled with pacing and fueling. That seems to be true. I only lasted 5 1/2 hours there, but here in Tahoe, at 6,000+ ft elevation, I lasted almost the full eight hours. I did not make that improvement based on fitness gains. It shows clearly that training and racing are truly dependent on other life stress. A week to recover from school, the race, and consolidate that fitness, led to a much better showing this weekend. A fellow racer remarked on my Hammerstein t-shirt, calling me a glutton. Yes, but I want these huge days to bolster my fitness for my “A” race, the Lake Tahoe Trail 100 (Leadville Qualifier) at Northstar in July. It appears that I have made some progress, but not enough to meet my time goal for Northstar. While I think the Northstar course is a little faster, with more road miles, I clearly have some work to do on my fitness.

Breakin’ it Down:

The Course:
Dusty singletrack and doubletrack. A rocky, tight, twisty singletrack climb, and a steep, loose, rocky jeep road climb that hurt. Some fast scary descending. Lots of forested singletrack, and a lot of leg sapping false flats that felt harder than they looked.

The Good:
I stayed upright (mostly), pedaled (mostly) and survived for nearly eight hours. I completed five 12 mile laps for a total of 60 miles, similar to Northstar. My performance was similar to last year’s Northstar, and I still have a month to prepare. My nutrition worked well. I used Hammer Sustained Energy on the bike, and steamed purple potatoes when I would pit. I took one caffeinated Hammer gel late in the race to power through. I drank plain water from my Camelbak. And I finished feeling much better than I did last weekend, or on the shorter version of this race last year. I even felt better than after Northstar. I’m recovering faster.

The Bad:
I crashed. While climbing at a snail’s pace. Embarrassing, but I couldn’t unclip fast enough. Gotta get those shoes and cleats fixed. I had a few minutes of tummy troubles due to mixing my energy drink stronger than usual and gulping a little too fast. I spent more time in my pit than I wanted to. It helped keep me going, but contributed to my biggest problem: I. Am. Really. Slow. My average speed is nowhere near what I need to meet my goal at Northstar. I wasn’t DFL, but pretty darn close.

The Ugly:
That loose, rocky jeep road climb. I hate it. I have ridden it many times in races, but it’s hard. This time I had to walk sections several times. On my last lap I walked the whole thing. I blamed my shoes, but I don’t think I had it in me anyway. Steep jeep road, I abhor thee! And, yay, next week I get to climb it two more times in the XTERRA. Lucky me.

The Puzzling:
My average heart rate was 151 bpm, last year’s four hour events yielded a 161 bpm average. According to some coaches, the Maximum Average Function heart rate zone should be 20-30 beats lower than lactate threshold. Estimating my LT at 175 from other races, my training range to maximize aerobic development should be 145-155 bpm. This coincides nicely with recent marathon mtb racing, but puts me a full 10 bpm above the range prescribed by Maffetone and Mark Allen using the 180 formula. What do I do? Stick with the 180 formula, or go with the LT formula?

I think my plan going forward will be to intersperse some workouts using the higher heart rate range. I have toyed with the idea previously of adding in anaerobic work now that I have built a base. But since racing at this distance stays primarily aerobic, I see no need for LT intervals. Instead, I will mimic race conditions by upping intensity a bit. I also need more volume, in the form of longer rides. I just need more adaptation to sitting in the saddle for so long. I will continue to use HRV and MAF tests to ensure that I am progressing and not overtraining. If I start to regress, I’ll slow down.

A Preview of Coming Attractions:
XTERRA Tahoe City: Can I beat Dave again?
Lake Tahoe Trail 100: A Leadville Qualifying Series Race

M.A.F. Test #5

After over four months of steady progress in building aerobic fitness with the Maffetone Method, I was still worried about what I would find in yesterday’s test. Since I raced so hard on Saturday, and last Thursday, would my aerobic development slow or regress? Even if it did, would that be a sign of over cooking myself anaerobically, or that I am reaching an aerobic plateau and could actually benefit from anaerobic training?

I woke up with an HRV score of 75 on my iThlete, which is about as high as I can go right now. The long-term trend for me is rising, which indicates steadily improving aerobic fitness. The short-term score shows how rested and recovered I am. Strangely, the day after Hammerstein my HRV was 74. I was expecting a crash, although I did sleep like a log.

So my HRV was good, my legs felt good, and spirits felt good on my way to the track. The weather was warm, but not outrageous. I am always nervous for the first mile because I can’t feel if I’m going faster than before. The result? My first mile was a minute faster than last month’s average! Still progressing! Miles two and three slow down a bit, of course, but my current MAF mile pace is about 45 seconds faster than the best score I achieved last season. Yay!

The Good:

I am still progressing, and I have two different objective measurements giving me that feedback. MAF average pace: 10:20. HRV scores regularly in the 70s.

The Bad:

I’m not as recovered from the Hammerstein as I thought. The soreness came back, and it was just a short, easy run. I guess even that little impact was enough, but I was feeling it in my quads, hamstrings and right calf. So I slathered them in magnesium oil a la Ben Greenfield, and elevated them for a recovery nap before administering the Traumeel and compression socks.

The Puzzling:

If my fitness is better than last year when I raced the LQS at Northstar, why did I struggle to last 5 1/2 hr at Laguna Seca? Perhaps I didn’t take in enough calories on lap 1? Did I go just a little too hard on the climbs early on? Or is it just that I haven’t done enough really long rides?

Not much time to solve the puzzle before the next 8 hour race . . .

Hammered by the Hammerstein

Many thanks and a great big shout out to Global Biorhythm Events for the awesome Hammerstein mountain bike race at Laguna Seca over the weekend. Everything went off well and it was a great day (or two!) of racing on trails made legendary by years of the Sea Otter Classic. There were categories for 8 hour, 24 hour, team and solo racing. I chose to race the eight hour solo and see how long I could go before I fell off my bike. I lasted five and a half hours, then the lights went out. So it was bittersweet. I had hoped for more. But it was a swell way to end the school year, riding myself into the ground on some sweet Monterey singletrack. I used this race as a training race, experimenting with some fueling and supplementation, and thanks to Thursday’s Splash ‘n’ Dash race, I even had some lingering soreness in my legs. Recovery from this race is paramount, and that is part of the experiment. I recently reread The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery  to help figure out the best protocols to use. Along with suggestions from the book, I decided to experiment with supplementation ideas from Brendan Brazier and Ben Greenfield. These guys are like mad scientists when it comes to nutrition, so I put the principles of MWL on hold to race my bike and try to recover in time to do another 8 hour race in a week’s time.

THE GOOD

Awesome course! Bomb singletrack descent! Singletrack climbing as well as dirt road. Plus it was cool to watch the race cars on their track too. I rode double what my longest ride has been so far this year. I basically crammed an entire week’s worth of cycling into one afternoon. Six months ago I was dying of pneumonia, Saturday I was racing lap after lap. I could be surfing the interwebs or watching TV, instead I raced my bike. Score.

THE BAD

I had time to ride one more lap. I couldn’t do it. I wanted it, but the lights went out, and nobody left at home. I asked a race official a procedural question and could barely form a coherent sentence. It was the right thing to do, even if it was disappointing. The disappointment comes from feeling like I’m fitter and faster than last year when I raced Northstar, and there I rode for seven and a half hours. But I know the reason, and that is that I have not done enough long rides. I have trained consistently, but not often enough past two hours. More saddle time!


THE UGLY

Nothing really. It was a great day. Oh wait. The wind. That was UGLY. Long dirt road climb on an exposed ridge into a stiff headwind that came right off the Pacific and funneled through the Salinas valley. That hurt.

THE EXPERIMENT

FUELING:

I tried more solid food this time for fueling, which worked well. I steamed some baby potatoes and kept them in my cooler in the pit area. Between laps I munched on some. They tasted great compared to the engineered sports nutrition I usually use. Next time I will eat more since I tolerate it well. My usual approach of Hammer’s Sustained Energy, Hammer gel and HEED worked just fine.

SUPPLEMENTS: Pre and Post Race

Before, during and after I used my usual cocktail of Hammer’s Endurance Amino and Anti-Fatigue products which helped some. This time I added Mito Caps. I don’t know if they helped or not, since I just started them. I changed up the pre and post race routine by trying Brendan Brazier’s Vega pre and post drink mixes. The tastiest and most convenient yet. Plus, I like the vegan ingredient list.

REAL FOOD:

I also scored for planning ahead a post race dinner of soba noodles, wilted spinach, cucumber, red pepper and baked tofu. Tasted great, went down easy and fueled me up for the drive home. I ate half after the race, and the rest when I got home.

SPECIAL RECOVERY SUPPLEMENT WIZARDRY:

The really big supplementation change I made was to try taking proteolytic enzymes and Master Amino Pattern (MAP) to speed recovery. The enzymes when taken on an empty stomach can help with systemic inflammation, essentially speeding the healing process along and decreasing soreness. MAP consists only of the essential amino acids, helping protein synthesis along, but without being a digestive burden. Two days later, when soreness usually peaks, I feel better. Not as sore as I expected. I’ve also been sucking down the tart cherry juice, and taken all together, I’m not as sore as usual. I am tired though.

MORE ON RECOVERY:

A nap after lunch on Sunday that would make a sloth jealous. Seriously, that took some real skill. Two recovery walks, one in the morning to the Farmer’s Market, and another around the neighbourhood in the afternoon. Woke up this morning thinking a recovery spin on the road bike ould be a good idea. Nope. Still a lot of fatigue. In the future, I need to make sure I have high nutrient meals ready to go in the fridge or freezer. Cooking anything was almost too much for me, and temptation almost won out. Today will be another double recovery walk, one before lunch. and another to meet friends for dinner. Tomorrow I will ride again.

Race Behind Bars: Race Report

Ah, life at the back of the pack. Or in this case, the Beginner category for mountain bike racing. I’d like to upgrade to Sport, but a fourth out of ten in my age group puts me right in the middle of the pack. So I’ll stay for now. After endless Maffetone style aerobic workouts and only one race, it felt good to get out and go hard. The race was billed as the Race Behind Bars because part of the course ran on Folsom State Prison grounds. I expected something dramatic, like prison walls, or at least an armed guard or two. Nothing. I never saw anything connected to the prison. What I got was a fun course that had some challenges in it. No real big climbs, but enough rollers to disrupt your rhythm. There were some tricky sections of tight, twisty singletrack that forced you to pay attention. And one set of 4’x4′ stairs with a steep ride around that I’m proud to say I powered up and cleaned on both laps. Oh yeah, there were two laps. Pay attention! I was used to beginner courses doing only one lap, until I rode through the start/finish and was reminded by the racer behind me. Oops. Back out on the course. But the second time I got to see some scenery as we rode right above the river. Never saw it on the first lap. Fun race, I’ll be back at the end of the month for the last in the series and see if I can turn in faster lap times.

BUT:

I thought I would be going faster considering my aerobic progress this spring. But when I cranked up to 175 bpm for race intensity, my average speed wasn’t that great. It makes me want to reconsider Maffetone style aerobic training. I feel I need to add some intensity, but I don’t want to hurt my aerobic development, especially since this year’s main goals are long distance events. Decisions, decisions… Another thing odd was the crazy adrenalin, endorphin high I felt afterwards. It was fun, but I really had a hard time winding down afterwards. I need to find some kind of post race routine to calm down and relax. I felt like my anaerobic engine was still cranking, even after grocery shopping and a cold micro-brew at Whole Foods. Hmm… meditation? Visualization? Some kind of biofeedback or brain wave synchronicity? For these shorter races I need something. I will have to pick a method and try it at the next race… which is-

The Chick Chaser!

My triathlon club is hosting the Chick Chaser 5K. Girls get a 3 min. head start and then the boys get to go. Should be fun.

Mountain Biking on Maffetone

More success thanks to the Maffetone Method. I went on a beautiful spring mountain bike ride on a route I haven’t ridden since September. I did a similar route two weeks ago that came shorter than I wanted, so I added another couple of trails to make a bigger loop. I wanted about two or two and a half hours, and I got just short of two. As I rode, it dawned on me that this ride took me more like 2h15 in the fall. When I double checked my training log from last season, sho ’nuff, I was almost 20 min faster than I was near the end of last season. This Maffetone stuff really works! The best part was when I attacked a climb that last fall I could not ride aerobically, within my MAF. This time I rode the whole steep fire road at MAF in the granny gear. It is true that I have added five beats per minute to my MAF, and I did briefly stop twice to allow my heart rate to recover a bit. But in September there was no chance. I was pushing.

Maffetone Method Advantages:

Lower stress overall and workouts that feel good

Maffetone writes that you should feel good after training, good enough that you would do it again. This gentle approach is what is necessary to fully develop the aerobic system. I find this to be true. My workouts help me deal with life stress, rather than add to it.

More training consistency

Because I don’t get so beat up training, I train every day. Once every 7-10 days I take a recovery day. I feel a bit worn down, and that one day off feels really good. The day after, I’m rarin’ to go. I think that during the school year I will have to all, or almost all of my training aerobically. It appears to be the only way I can train consistently, and consistency trumps everything.

I get faster by going slower!

It doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. Week by week I get faster, and I don’t have to try very hard. Although I still haven’t raced enough to see how that translates into performance at race intensity, indications are that I should race faster too.

So while I’m beginning to fidget a little and wanting to try some anaerobic workouts to get faster, I think I’ll put those off till summer. I’ll just focus on putting together some of the missing pieces, like more swimming and strength training.

Finding the proper aerobic/anaerobic balance is a tricky thing. For me it appears that very little anaerobic work is right. I feel good, so I’m having more fun this way. When I mentioned this to triathlon coach Muddy Waters, he just smiled and said, “You just said the magic words!”

So go outside and play today, just to feel good.

Vegan Strength Training for Triathlon

Conundrum:

Despite yesterday’s perplexing MAF test, my real conundrum consists of how to transition into a three-month strength training phase. Since I have been experiencing success with the Maffetone method of low stress, low intensity, purely aerobic training, I am at a bit of a loss about how to proceed. In his Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing he explains that all strength training should be considered as anaerobic, and therefore potentially damaging to increasing aerobic fitness and fat burning metabolism. Since endurance events rely almost exclusively on aerobic energy, strength training is less important. As I understand it, this is because aerobic endurance relies on the slow twitch muscle fibers and strength training recruits mostly fast twitch fibers. So, in essence the wrong muscle fibers are being trained if endurance is the goal. Maffetone explains on page 122:

“Some feel the added muscle gained during lifting will protect them from injury. But it’s the aerobic muscle fibers that perform this task much more than the anaerobic fibers. Others feel weight training improves power, which it does. But this power is not used nearly as significant (sic) as aerobic function in endurance events.”

So why am I risking it?

I fall into a couple of exceptional categories:

  • Age:  I am now at an age where maintaining muscle mass with strength training may outweigh the risks
  • Aerobic Base: I have completed six months where nearly all workouts were purely aerobic. I cut back on racing.
  • Ski season: While I am not as dedicated to alpine skiing as previously, I know from experience how helpful the gym is.
  • Racing: What? Despite what Maffetone believes, I believe that in off-road racing there is greater need for power than racing on the road.

So, I am willing to risk it. The conundrum is how to design a workout that will increase strength without interfering with my aerobic development, since I still have a long way to go, as clearly shown by my MAF test.

The Plan:

Today I trained basic movements: lower body thrust, upper body push, upper body pull, crunch and back extension. It looked like this:

Chest Press 2×12

Lat pull-down 2×12

Leg Press 2×15

Crunch 2×20

Back Extension 2×12

I tried as hard as I could to keep intensity and volume low. I know my joints will be sore for a while as I adapt. I want to do the minimum possible that will still get gains. I am trying to apply the “less is more” philosophy to the gym and avoid the injury and burnout producing “no pain no gain” mantra. So, I’ll hit the gym again this weekend and change up the exercises, but keep the same template. Knowing whether I am on the right track will come from watching my HRV and my MAF test result in two weeks.