Friday, April 25, 2014

The "Ultra" Training Plan

My goal of running 30 miles by my 30th birthday (12 weeks away at this point...) is rather... well... ambitious would be a nice word. I wouldn't be trying it if I didn't already have a strong baseline of fitness and enough experience to believe that, with appropriate training, my body can do this without badness happening. 

This past year, I trained for a half-marathon within an 8 week period immediately after having healed from stress fractures in both feet (the fractures were not due to running, FYI). Because of the recent injury, I was very conservative in my training. I stopped at even a hint of pain and I walked more than I ran. However, when I was able to run, I ran my heart out. Towards the end of my training period, I was amazed at how much better my training felt than in the past. Most of all, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to gain both speed and distance. I had started my training hesitantly, thinking I wouldn't be able to run the race completely; I ended my training in the best running shape of my life.

Based on that success (and other stuff), I plan on training similarly for my "30 by 30." I'm going to do a couple of short-fast-hard runs during the week (seriously, just two of these) along with a long, gentle-paced run on the weekends.

Derek took this plan and added to it based on his own experience and research. He created a comprehensive training plan for me that includes cardio, strength training, and core training. His plan incorporates a great deal of advice found in Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnston (Derek wrote a book review on it if you are interested; If you live around here, you can also borrow this book from the Transylvania County Library).

I'm sure that the additional strength training will help me improve my power and my overall bone health, too (my doctor will be pleased I'm sure; I can never leave an appointment without some comment about how frail & skinny I am..."You'd better put on some weight, or you'll break a hip when you get older!" [eye-roll] Maybe I'll rant about that in a different post). Strength training is something I've always been slack about, and I'm hoping that making it part of my running training will help me do better with it. 

We'll see how it goes :) I'm off to do my first double-digit mile run of this training cycle! 

30 by 30

This year will be a milestone birthday for me (me = Susan... I felt the need to make sure y'all know it's me writing today since I've been a huge slacker and most of the posts have been by Derek this year.. okay, ALL the posts have been by Derek this year).

Anyway, on July 24th I will be turning 30! In honor of this life achievement (umm... because yes, getting older is an achievement. It is awesome. It means you didn't die yet. Be excited about birthdays people!) I wanted to do something big. When I've got friends like Clay Kennedy, who did the Linville Crusher to celebrate his 30th with Derek, it is easy to be inspired to do something awesome!

At first I thought, "Well, running a marathon would be big." A marathon has been on my bucket list ever since I've had a bucket list. What a great, healthy way to bring in the next decade of life! But then I thought, why stop at 26.2? How cool would it be to run 30 miles for my 30th birthday?

So that's what I decided to do!

I immediately started looking for 50k races in the region (since that's the closest standard race distance to 30 miles) and quickly discovered that nobody else thinks it's a good idea to do a 50k in the south July... there are no 50k races to be found around my birthday anywhere near where I live.

The Art Loeb trail in the Black Balsam area.
Photo Credit: Hike WNC
Rather than take this as a sign that maybe I should hold off and do this at a later date, I'm just going to make my own 30 mile run. I'm still looking for the best place to run it - Derek suggested the Art Loeb Trail in Pisgah National Forest. It's a possibility, though I'm a bit worried about sprained ankle potential. Open to suggestions there! I know I want it to be a trail run or at least a dirt-road run.

I'm also looking for friends who may want to join in for any or all of this adventure -- as running buddies, race support, or just joining us for the post 'race' birthday party that will take place.

If you are interested in getting involved or just want to shout out some positive encouragement (always appreciated), get in touch with me whatever way you normally do (comment, FB, email, phone).  We'll make some plans.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Book Review of Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete.

Recently, Patagonia Books published Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete by Steve House and Scott Johnston.  Constantly seeking to better myself as a climber, I could not resist the title.  I have read Mark Twight’s Extreme Alpinism:  Climbing Light, Fast, and High cover-to-cover numerous times.  At the time of publication, it was widely considered a template for cutting-edge alpinism involving structured physical training and unconventional techniques on next-level climbs.  House and Johnston’s new book appeared to be a worthy successor to Twight’s title, and it certainly proved so on the first read.

The first thing I noticed when I got the book was its size; this thing is BIG.  The author’s choice of the word “manual” for the title was clearly intentional.  The book is textbook-sized and organized like one.  Like any good textbook, though, the material is presented in an extremely accessible manner.  The writing style utilizes clear, concise, and palatable word choice.  It addresses complex topics in a way that allows for comprehension while avoiding oversimplification as well as unnecessary details.  The text also features great full-color photographs to inspire and motivate, in addition to vignettes from some of alpinism’s finest.  The list of guest-authors for these mini-articles reads like a who’s who of cutting edge alpine climbing from the 1970s to the present. 

As for the content itself, the reader will find little that is groundbreaking from an exercise physiology or sports science perspective.  Much of our knowledge of the unique sport of climbing is drawn from the vast annals of decades of research and experience in other well-studied pursuits such as running, cycling, and Olympic lifting.  However, whereas much of this information is left scattered across a variety of texts to cobbled together piecemeal by the interested alpinist, House and Johnston’s valuable tome compiles the wealth of knowledge into a single location.  Further, the extraneous information is winnowed from the climbing-specific knowledge, leaving the reader with a wonderfully dense amalgamation on­­­­­ the pursuit of alpine climbing as an athletic endeavor.

The text guides the reader through all the necessary fundamental lessons in physiology before addressing each phase of a well-designed training program, from recovery and transition, to base period and muscular endurance, to peak and tapering.  Also included are specific treatments of altitude physiology and training, nutrition, and mental fitness.  Finally, accompanying spreadsheets available for download aid the budding trainee in constructing an appropriate program and recording progress. 

True to the nature of the alpine environment, the text pulls no punches in reminding the reader that training is difficult, self-discipline is demanded, and peaks in strength and ability only happen at the end of a long march through a challenging build-up of fitness.  A few quotations prove telling and unapologetic:  “You can’t coach desire.”  “Eliminating all alcoholic beverages may be a good idea while training and climbing.”  “The only good reason to climb is to improve yourself.”  “No movies, no television, no gaming…reduce music…reduce internet and e-mail…avoid drama.”  “Progress is simple:  you must want who you might become more than who you are right now.”  However, to the reader who can cope with these Spartan recommendations, the fruits of the labor are promised as literally “being in the best shape of your life.”

While the text is no doubt compelling, it does have its limitations.  A few more typos and editing errors than normal provide occasional distractions to the reader and demand a bit more thorough line editing.  This slight inconvenience aside, the book is quite clear in its target of alpine climbers.  Those looking to improve their sport climbing game could certainly learn volumes about physiology, structured training plans, periodization, and nutrition, but they would likely be better served by the many books Eric H├Ârst has published specifically regarding training for technical rock climbing.  There are prescriptions for gaining the cardiovascular fitness to move heavy loads uphill steadily and quickly, but none for maximizing your hangboard workout or sending that sick project at the Red River Gorge.

Training for the New Alpinism provides a wealth of knowledge and inspiration for both well-trained alpinists and those just entering the realm of structured, goal-directed exercise.  The text unabashedly advocates a plan for becoming a better climber in the lofty realms of snow, rock, and ice guarded by tempestuous and hostile environs.  Finally, it does this while extolling the virtues of disciplined training, exhorting readers to push their limits.  It waits patiently, hoping to bear witness to the next generation of strong mountain athletes willing to follow its precepts, pushing the limits of human possibility ever-further.