Category Archives: Training vs. Life

We Are Weak

Yesterday I was going through the first of Gray Cook’s DVD series on the Certified Kettlebell-Functional Movement Screen or CK-FMS. The FMS was developed by Gray Cook as a way to consistently and accurately assess an athlete via only 7 tests. It could tell you where your muscle inbalances were and your weaknesses that need to be corrected. In fact, if Gray trains you, he will put you through the FMS and you must correct your inbalances before he gets into the meat of your training! This totally makes sense – too many coaches just throw you into intense training for competition without figuring out whether or not your body is ready for the training.
In the first DVD, he goes through the origin of FMS. I am amazed at some of the videos he showed during the development process of FMS. There was this one video of a girl who played basketball. As a test, she jumped down from a plyo bench, and then leaped up to grab a basketball suspended pretty high up there. She made it fairly easily – great for a basketball player! HOWEVER, when she leaped down and landed, her knees bent inward to absorb the shock of landing and provide spring for the leap upward! Definitely not an ideal movement pattern.
In fact, during the FMS development process, Gray found that they could predict accurately where an athlete would eventually develop problems or get injured, based on the inbalances and weaknesses they found with the screen! That’s frickin’ amazing!
But then I got depressed. I thought back to when I first began triathlon. We had no FMS back then and I got injured a lot. There were points where people told me I was genetically disinclined for this activity and almost believed them – thankfully, part of me told me that this could not be, and I spent the next several years figuring out what really was right and fumbled my way to a mostly pain free athletic career.
Still I rewound further in my head. I thought about my life. In grade school I never played sports. I was always the small guy and other kids were always faster and stronger. It didn’t help that I was born in November so I was actually physically younger than everyone else in my grade. So I got discouraged from doing physical fitness and my parents weren’t into fitness so they would rather see their kid study than run around outside.
After I got into college, it was only then I began some martial arts and some weight lifting. But that was 18 years of pretty much little or no activity and then leaping into martial arts and pumping iron! And I got injured here and there. My muscles and nervous system were not keyed for movement at all. Still I made it through Tae Kwon Do, a bit of Aikido and Shotokan Karate, and trying to get huge via the Arnold method of lifting to failure.
After college, I became the typical worker man. I sat in front of a computer for the bulk of a day. And in doing so, sitting destroyed a whole bunch of movement patterns mostly by giving me gluteal amnesia. I did weight lift here and there, but it was to get huge and not to train for strength or movement.
No wonder when I got to 2002, I started triathlon and got injured a lot! So many years of basically making my body weaker and weaker, never training movement patterns and strengthening them. Just sitting around on my ass typing on a computer. And working out but not in a way that strengthened my system, muscular and neural.
But in the middle of it all is the fact that I got weak. I got really weak. I didn’t have even the basic strength profile of a triathlete and I started training. Looking back, no wonder I got hurt.
Fast forward to today – after watching Gray Cook talk about his ability to PREDICT injury in athletes by their inbalances and weaknesses, I now thought back to how wrong we are in general about training and injury. If I had taken the FMS back in 2002, I bet it would have told me exactly where and when I would have gotten injured. But also I needed a change in philosophy and an update in my training knowledge. There is so much crap out there about training now and it sickens me every time I read yet another expert’s training advice.
Still the way our society is, our lazy, sedentary culture – who hauls wood and bricks any more, or does manual labor? – has become weak. We need to change this. This is why I’m building my REAL strength now and learning how to teach others how to reclaim their strength – and I’m not talking about the bulked up size of bodybuilders – I’m talking basic strength, strength that comes not from size, but proper and maximal activation of the body’s resources towards a common physical goal.

Coaches and Remembering What It Was Like Just Starting Out

I was going through my last TI training session and recalled an important moment. I remarked to my coach that many swim coaches tell you what to do, or describe something to you, but it never seems to work. I never seemed to improve enough with what advice I get from them. However, in the 3 lessons that I’ve had with my TI coach, I’ve improved so much, probably more so than in the years I’ve had going to Masters swimming.
He said something very insightful in reply, which was that a lot of coaches forget what it was like to be a beginner. They only know the present, which is at a high level of mastery of the skills and they attempt to describe that mastered state to us beginners, but we miss what it took to get to this state. Thus, we have little knowledge on how to get there, but only a description of the end result.
Total Immersion attempts to capture and teach the journey to mastery of swimming, and thus we do a lot of drills and exercises which may seem to be ridiculous to many, but there is a purpose behind doing these drills, and practicing and isolating the various elements of swimming mastery.
I find this to be true for coaches in all aspects of triathlon as well. I had a friend who was training with a pro-level coach, and he gave the whole group a training program that was based on HIS level of mastery of cycling and running. It was a program that was too advanced and assumed a level of skill and fitness which was not necessarily everyone’s level. This is bad because you may push someone to do something that they’re not ready for, and ultimately dissatisfaction for the sport and injury can result.
The best coaches are those who remember what it was like when they were just starting out. They remember AND can bring newbies on the journey to mastery of the essential skills of swimming, cycling, and running. Stay away from those who are insensitive to your current skill level, and treat all of their athletes like pro-level athletes. Working with these coaches puts yourself in danger of hurting yourself and inevitably cutting yourself short of the physical achievement you might get working with someone who is more sensitive to your individual needs.

Racing Photogenically

Friday, I picked up my official DVD for the NYC Marathon. It was the first one I’ve ever bought and thought that it would be cool to see how I ran on video.
It was really well done. It covered the pros and saw Paula Radcliffe’s amazing acceleration at the finish, and the men’s finishes.
And then, there was me.
ACK! I ran like a dork! The great form I thought I had was an actual bouncing, half limp. When running, you strive to keep your head at the same level and reduce the up and down motion of your body. Obviously I did none of that. My head bounced up and down quite a bit. Also, I was reminded of my growing blister on my right foot and could see me limping slightly to favor it. It made my stride much stiffer and didn’t help the up and down motion of my body as I ran.
The first time I raced, I saw pictures taken of me at various stages. I thought I looked kind of lame and wanted my race pictures to show me looking like I was racing well. On the bike, I would be upright but I thought that didn’t look as good as being in aero position. So now, when I see a camera man, I go into aero position whenever possible, even if I’m going uphill to make myself look better in the picture. Sometimes I smile, but sometimes I try putting on a Lance Armstrong-esque grimace. On the run, I have a similar strategy. Generally, if you are running with the compact step that is typical of most of an Ironman marathon, you’ll look like you’re walking in pictures and not running. I discovered that if you just simply lift your heel a bit more as your foot goes back, almost like you’re going to kick your butt, the pictures look like what is the popular perception of running versus walking.
Also, there are finish line pictures where I do not raise my hands all the way up, but only partway. Ugh! That might be a great way to show your enthusiasm at the finish to do a bent arm fist pump with both hands, but it looks real dorky in a picture. Raising your hands all the way up looks much better! In fact, pausing under the finisher’s arch and raising your hands/fists all the way extended upward looks great and gives the photographers a chance to snap the shot!
It sounds silly, but I have learned to race not only to finish, but photogenically as I want my official pictures to look good. Sometimes they have great photographers to help take great pictures, but most of the time you have to do a bit of posing yourself.
Now, upon receipt of this NYC Marathon DVD, I have another thing to worry about and that is to race for video and not just still pictures. I need to figure out how to pose a bit to make sure I look great on video !
With video, I think there is also a method to the madness; after watching the DVD, I am now thinking that I should use video more often as a check on my form. This gives me ideas on bringing my video camera to the track and videotaping myself as I run my intervals.

Strongest Dad in the World

Forwarded to me by a buddy of mine. Truly inspirational. Like Rick Reilly says, compared to Dick Hoyt, I suck too.
Strongest Dad in the World
[From Sports Illustrated, By Rick Reilly]
I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay for their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots. But compared with Dick Hoyt, I suck.
Eighty-five times he’s pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he’s not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars–all in the same day. Dick’s also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike. Makes taking your son bowling look a little lame, right?
And what has Rick done for his father? Not much–except save his life.
This love story began in Winchester, Mass., 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs. “He’ll be a vegetable the rest of his life;” Dick says doctors told him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. “Put him in an institution.”
But the Hoyts weren’t buying it. They noticed the way Rick’s eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. “No way,” Dick says he was old. “There’s nothing going on in his brain.”
“Tell him a joke,” Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain.
Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? “Go Bruins!” And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, “Dad, I want to do that.”
Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described “porker” who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. “Then it was me who was handicapped,” Dick says. “I was sore for two weeks.”
That day changed Rick’s life. “Dad,” he typed, “when we were running, it felt like I wasn’t disabled anymore!”
And that sentence changed Dick’s life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.
“No way,” Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren’t quite a single runner, and they weren’t quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway,
then they found a way to get into the race officially: In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the following year.
Then somebody said, “Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?”
How’s a guy who never learned to swim and hadn’t ridden a bike since he was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried.
Now they’ve done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii. It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don’t you think?
Hey, Dick, why not see how you’d do on your own? “No way,” he says. Dick does it purely for “the awesome feeling” he gets seeing Rick with a cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together.
This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992–only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don’t keep track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a
wheelchair at the time.
“No question about it,” Rick types. “My dad is the Father of the Century.”
And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95% clogged. “If you hadn’t been in such great shape,” one doctor told him, “you probably would’ve died 15 years ago.”
So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other’s life.
Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass., always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father’s Day.
That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy.
Watch the Video

No Ironman Training in Beijing

This week I was vacationing in Beijing. I was appalled by the amount of pollution in the air, which made me wonder if anyone trained Ironman here. My conclusion is that going outside in that soup they call atmosphere is not a healthy thing. Couple that with the possibility of theft, the crazy drivers in China, and you don’t have much cycling going on in the city itself.
A friend I met here said there was a big mountain biking community here. That surprised me. I wandered around looking for a good bike shop to buy a local bike jersey and shorts, maybe with some local brand on it and not the usual Tour De France teams on it. No dice. I saw some bike shops but they were devoted to keeping the millions of what seems to be 20-50 year old bikes working as a main means of cheap transport for the population. No high end carbon fiber bikes there! But maybe you have really have to look to find that elusive bike shop.
Swimming isn’t so bad. There are definitely gyms around with decent pools. Swimming is more popular in China.
Running wasn’t a problem. There were parks where I saw joggers. Tons of local brands abound, mimicking Western brands in logo design. I saw tons of running shoes too, but have no idea if their cushioning is as good or as durable as Western brands. But definitely the problem was braving the pollution which turned the skies a white/grey every day I was there. At first I thought it was fog, but the pollution here is much worse than the pollution was many years ago in LA. Only God knows what your lungs will look like after a few years of living here.
Perhaps this will all change with the Beijing Olympics next year in 2008. Already they are selling logo wear and souvenirs a year in advance of the Olympics. Supposedly they will find a way to lower the pollution by next summer – who knows for sure. Somehow, I am not sure I would want to be training and racing under those hazy, polluted skies even if it is for a short while.

Reebok Run Easy Ad Campaign

I saw some ads for Reebok on the sides of bus stops. They say:
Why Hit the Wall? It Hurts. Run Easy.
Run Easy?!?!?
I must say that Reebok just lost me as a customer.
To me this Run Easy messaging means:
Don’t train so hard.
Don’t bother. It ain’t worth it.
In fact don’t even bother going to gym, just put on your comfy Reeboks and sit around.
Watch TV.
Drink some beer.
Be a sloth.
Unbelievable that Reebok would put out such a campaign. As an athletic shoe manufacturer, you want to motivate people into being more active not less.
I think back to NIKE’s campaign of Run Like There is No Finish Line. So inspirational and aspirational. It speaks of being the ultimate athlete, and also the best that you can be. Life is long and glorious and it’s a long road but you’ll be running like you were pushing hard to the finish line every single minute of every day. It speaks of living life to the maximum every moment of your life. That is why I buy NIKE stuff.
The Ironman tagline: Anything is Possible. Because it is. And, like life, it ain’t easy.
Run Easy? No way. Not for me. I live my life like there is no finish line.
4-24-07: On Sepulveda in El Segundo: Yet another winning ad slogan:
Why Run Till You Can’t Walk? Run Easy.
Running easy as the main message is just plain wrong. It should say something like Run Motivated and Smart. Running easy should be a function of your mental and physical condition, your fitness level, and whether your are energetic or recovering. Sometimes you should run easy, but sometimes you shouldn’t. But running should be about being motivated to do something, like lose weight or entering/finishing a race. And doing it smart means you should run with the appropriate exertion level when it’s the right time to do so, thereby reducing your chance for injury but getting fitness gains. You do the same thing over and over again (like running easy every time) and I guarantee you’ll get bored or see no fitness gains after a while and stop doing it…

The Abuse Begins…Hill Repeats

A while back, a training buddy of mine remarked that he trained with another Ironman guy who basically did everything he could to make it hard on himself. He would not take nutrition on training rides while force his body to greater effort. He would also not use as much fluid, and also ride hard paths versus easier ones. His reasoning was that if he could get used to the abuse beforehand, then the race would seem like a cakewalk.
I am believer in pre-training my ability to deal with the physical abuse of racing Ironman as well. It is a combination of mental and physical training.
During this phase, I am building strength and endurance on abusing myself on hill repeats, both on the bike and on the run. Every week I go do my favorite hills and add one or two more repeats. I didn’t do this in previous years and it has showed in my inability to deal with hilly races. I aim to change that this year. I am hoping that introducing these hills into the middle of training, or at the end when I am most tired, will increase my ability to retain my strength through any terrain.
Are they fun? Ha. I wouldn’t call it fun. But it’s the only way to build your body to deal with hills mid-race and also when you’re in a tired state. I am a big believer that the body can do amazing things. But sometimes it’s super-uncomfortable and there is definitely pain involved. Dealing with pain is a fact of life and we should not be afraid of it.

Dean Karnazes is the Man!

I love this guy. Ever since I bought his book Ultramarathon Man, he has been an inspiration to me. Here are some excerpts from his interview with Outside Magazine. So relevant to everyone in this day and age. It isn’t about running; it’s about how you run your LIFE.
How does someone take your model and apply it to their own life?
If you’re a basket weaver, that’s fine. Be the best darn basket weaver there is. Throw yourself wholeheartedly at your craft. Immerse yourself in what you love, and you’ll find fulfillment. We all have different passions. Running isn’t everyone’s bag.

Does it have to be painful to be fulfilling?

Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, it all comes easy. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.

So would you recommend ultrarunning to a normal person?

I think ultrarunning is symbolic of life in so many ways. You realize that nothing comes easy, the things that are free in life are really not that rewarding. Things that you really dedicate and train for have the greatest reward, and I think that ultrarunning teaches you that. Running 100 miles is a huge commitment. There’s no way to fake your way through a 100-mile run. You have to pay your dues. You have to commit, and when you see these people cross the line, it’s a huge achievement in their lives.
You seem really adaptable to stress. What are your techniques for handling pressure?
One thing I’ve never done and hopefully never will is take myself too seriously. [Laughs] Shoot me if I do. I think that helps reduce stress right out of the gate. The other thing that I’ve done is being wiling to give up control. You can’t control everything, especially when you go into a 200-mile run. At the starting line, you’re thinking, “Geez, this is so daunting, how am I gonna get to the finish?” My commitment is to do my best, to always try my hardest, and even when I fail, and I have certainly failed, I don’t feel like I’m a failure because I’ve given it my all. I know I struggled and tried my best, so I think that in turn takes out a lot of stress.
In your book, you talk about being competitive not with other people, but with yourself. Is that really how you live?
It’s very much how I feel. You can’t compare yourself to other people. You’ll always come up short. I think you’re always gonna be your own toughest critic. There’s no fooling yourself. What I’ve learned is that shortcuts just don’t pay off in running or in life. If it comes easy, it’s not worth having. One thing that ultra distance running seems to do is…if you take short cuts you pay the price. Not only do you pay the price in performance, but when you’re out at mile 80 and you’re ready to give up, in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, “man I compromised on my training. I should have done those extra ten miles. And I know I didn’t.” Or you’re saying in the back of your mind, “man I paid my dues, I laid out my training, I didn’t compromise, I ran those extra ten miles, I can do this.” So not taking shortcuts has been both a performance and psychological advantage.
What about ego? Where does that fit in? Do you need a pretty healthy ego to power through 100-200 miles?
I would say that ego gets in your way. It’s exemplified in looking at some of the women in the sport who are amazing and routinely beat men. Head to head, women can win outright. I think what you find with men a lot of times is that they go out so hard, especially young runners who are strong. They will hammer through the first 50 or 60 miles of a 100-mile race, and then at mile 70 or 80, they’re in a stretcher, and then a woman will come along at a steady pace with no ego concern and pass right by. Ego is really a hindrance.
But you obviously need to have the self-confidence, or conviction, that you can do it.
I think that’s a belief more than anything else. A belief in yourself that you can do it. I believe that’s a learned trait. And that’s what I think the symbolism of ultra endurance running is, that you prove to yourself you can do things you never thought you could. If someone had said to me, before I started doing this, you’re going to go out and run 100 miles through the mountains, I would have said, “No, a human being can’t do that, let alone me.” And then when you actually achieve that, it teaches you that you’re better than you think you are and you can go further than you think you can.
What about mental tactics to get to the finish line in a particularly challenging race?
There’s a technique I use that I just call “baby steps,” for lack of a better term. The first time I ran 200 miles, there was a point at mile 165 where I could not get off the curb. I’d run for about 40 hours straight, and I sat down for the first time and I couldn’t get up, and I thought, “there’ s no way I’m going to make this 200 miles. I can’t even stand up, let alone run another 35 miles.” But what I did, I just shifted my paradigm. I told myself, “Don’t think about 35 miles in front of you. It’s too daunting. Just focus on standing up.” So I struggled and struggled and I finally just stood up and I celebrated the accomplishment. I kind of pumped my fist. And then I said, “ok you stood up, now get to the stop sign down the road. Don’t even think about the 35 miles, just make it to the stop sign and be satisfied.” So I got to the stop sign, so I said, “ok just get to the lamppost 100 feet up the road, don’t think about what’s left in front of you.” And I did that over and over again and at the end of ten hours, I’d run 35 miles. So I just take baby steps. Break larger daunting tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces.

The Ups and Downs of Training

So I talked about the ups and downs of cycling, and now a post about the ups and downs of training.
We all wish we could blast through our workouts with 1000% energy and feel great afterwards, every time. But the reality is that our bodies can’t sustain that kind of effort over time. In short bursts we can go all out and do great; but over time our bodies slowly wear down and need extra time to recharge. This is both physically and mentally.
This last week has been a weird series of ups and downs. A combination of stiff muscles, not enough sleep, and hard training days in weeks prior have left me drained for this week. But instead of dwelling on the negative, I take it in stride. This has happened before and I know that if i back off this week, I won’t lose fitness and next week will be better.
My coach has already recommended that every 4 weeks or so, you reduce training by about 20-30% so as to recharge and let the body heal. It’s probably time for that right now.
It also applies to winter recharging and the off season. Your body remembers how much fitness it had when you entered the off season, and getting back only takes a few weeks of easy training to get the muscles primed for harder efforts.
So I glide through this week, knowing that my energy level isn’t as high as it could be, and patiently wait for next week.

Balance and Training

Sent to newsletter of the Pacific Grove Triathlon’s request for thoughts on Balance, or balancing your training/racing with other parts of your life:
Balance between training/racing and the rest of my life has always been the eternal challenge. In solving my issues, I’ve found that there are three essential things to keeping training in your life without driving you or others around you crazy:
Oh don’t we all wish we had 40 hours a day so that we could do all the things we wanted to! But it just isn’t so. I have found a few things to help find time to train. The first is getting your training out of the way in the morning. I get up at 5am every day to hit Master’s swimming and/or run or bike and get it all over with by 9am. In doing your workouts before the rest of the world gets up, it doesn’t interfere with others’ “awake time”. Besides, doing your workout in the morning gets your energy going for the rest of the day. Also, sneaking workouts during the day is another way to get them in, such as during your lunch break or maybe even in the middle of the afternoon if your employer allows it. Doing mid-afternoon workouts is nice to combat that “take a nap” feeling that happens around 3pm.
Gaining the Commitment of Others:
Talk it over with your friends and family. Get them on board with your training. Tell them how important it is to you. Keep telling them until they understand everything. You’d be amazed at how many people have no concept of what it means to train 6 days a week and 3-4 hours each training block. They also have no concept of how much energy drain it can take and how that affects your ability to interact with them later in the day. Make them understand what it means to you personally and how your feel about it. The more they understand and can empathize with how much it means to you, the less likely they will be to react negatively when you are mid-way through your 4 month training program and their growing but hidden hatred of your absences explodes in your face…
Your Own Attitude:
Having the right attitude towards triathlon can make or break your commitment to the sport. To me, triathlon is more than just racing – I rave about its benefits to my overall health. When you think of triathlon training as your daily exercise workout in addition to competition, then it helps you prioritize it in your day as a lifelong commitment to health, versus just to the next race. It also helps you manage disappointment as having winning first place as your goal when you’re an average age-grouper isn’t realistic and sets you up for disappointment and ultimately quitting when your lofty goals aren’t met. Instead, you can enjoy the fact that you have more energy each day and you’re able to eat just about anything you want without gaining an ounce.