Friday, October 24, 2014

Get Outside!

The weather in the Midwest US is great right now, and will be all weekend, get outside and enjoy it! Taking my own advice, I'm about to go run on some trails. Have a nice weekend!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Where Coaches Go Wrong

I was discussing college track and cross country with another former NCAA competitor, and I realized I need to blog about this. Many, easily the majority, of competitive college distance runners, let alone every other sport, quit when they graduate, at least temporarily. For many, the joy of the sport that children have has been lost in a dreary 1984 like daily grind. It does not have to be this way. 

This relates to yesterday's post about happiness and the endocrine system. The endocrine system needs time to recover. Anyone who pushes physically very hard three times a week and moderately hard three or four more days per week for 25 weeks is going to need some rest so the adrenaline glands can take a break and let your body resensitize to the effects of the adrenaline. I have never heard a college coach say, "take a month off at the end of the season." Usually they recommend one to two weeks, maybe three. Don't take this to mean coaches are hard driving uncaring authority figures. Instead, I feel it is more related to the nature of training. In other words, we study for hours how workouts improve this function or that function and take a few minutes to mention eating well and getting your rest. We know from experience that two months of training is better than one month and three months is better than two months. So we think of training as an infinite incline. Do a little more or faster evey week, then you become the national champion. That however is not the truth. I don't understand all of the science behind it but when you train your body supercompensates to recover and build you stronger than before. These minicycles, after every single workout are great, but they aren't infinite. If you pump 10 microliters of a hormone like adrenaline or cortisol into your body every day, and 30 microliters (I'm making these numbers up) two or three times a week, eventually your body does not react the same way to the hormone, or externally to the stress you put it under. It's the same with coffee, eventually that one cup in the morning becomes two because one cup doesn't give the kick it used to.

The perfect example is the transition from cross country to indoor track. The better the runner the more difficult the transition. Most track programs start in early November. At this point it is the sprinters, jumpers and throwers practicing. Cross country ends for all but the varsity seven to ten people in late October. So by mid November many of them are running again. For the top people who run regionals and even nationals by the time their season finishes and they have taken a week off, everyone else on the team, maybe 50 even 100 people, are training again. The pressure to jump in workouts and start building the mileage is on. Every runner feels the need to be part of the team and to build on the successes, or make up for the failures, of the recent cross country season. The catch is, the runners who are at regionals and nationals have been putting in eight or ten or more hours of pure running, not to mention gym time and cross training, since at least June and quite possibly May. A week off doesn't cut it. 

So take a month off. That being said, "off" does not have to mean no activity. I will often be running in a week or two of a season ending big race, but often slow, short runs that keep my heart rate down. I also take more days off during the recovery. The point being, take it easy. Work hard, rest hard.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Stress, Happiness, Hormones, and the Thyroid

Everyone I know that has had a thyroid problem, has been struggling with stress of some sort at the same time. It's anecdotal, this is not the result of a scientific study. Yet, everyone I know who has had thyroid issues has had stress. In short, they were not happy people.

Our bodies are amazing, and no one understands them. For example, our hormones react to stress by rebuilding our body, influencing a myriad of functions. Hormones are excreted by our endocrine system. When someone runs hard, your adrenal glands excretes adrenaline into your body, and then people end up calling you an "adrenaline junkie". However, you can only excrete so much adrenaline before you have to let your body rest, by not excreting adrenaline. Where exactly the thyroid fits in, I can't say for sure. But, when someone has problems with the thyroid, he or she runs slow.

The logic is, when a person has stress, because of work, life, family, you ran too much and didn't take the time for your endocrine system to recover, or whatever, you are far more likely to have thyroid problems, and if you have thyroid problems, you will probably run a lot slower. Additionally, iron and B12 play a role in a healthy throid, although how they do, I do not know. All I can say is, take some vitamins to make sure you get enough of both, and more importantly eat a diversity of foods.

What is the cure? Be happy! Seriously, that's it.

Okay, since it's not that easy to "be happy" what concrete steps might one take to increase happiness and endocrine system recovery so that it is possible to perform as well as possible when the day or hour comes? For starters, get your sleep. The hardest (best) rest I know of it sleep. Second, cut out the things, if possible, that create the most stress for you. This is hard for me to give an example because I am pretty content. I suppose, coaching was something that was causing me stress because it was such a large time commitment, and I felt it was actually taking away from my own running and sleeping, and thus happiness, so I quit. Another person I know had thyroid problems, while she was unemployed. Another person I know had thyroid problems while he was counseling way too many people on a weekly basis. Not sure how reversible thyroid problems are. Many biological processes are reversible, when they go poor, a little recovery can lead to them healing, like the average paper cut, or the glycogen depletion after a long run, but more complicated things like a finger, they don't grow back.

It's an old coaching saying, "a happy runner is a fast runner" and it's true. Obviously, this is a huge simplification of endocrinology, but sometimes we make things more complicated than they have to be.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tremendous North Coast 24 Recovery

Recovery and rest matter. They matter more than the training. Seriously. The difference between full time runners, and those of us working 40-50 hours a week is that we just don't have the time to sleep as much or lay around in a state of mental half engagement. For me to run twice a day it means waking up at 5, or at least 5:30, putting in some miles, going to work for 8-9+ hours, then putting in more miles after work, eating a big dinner, and going to sleep at 9, or even earlier sometimes. There is not much rest during the day, aside from sitting in my expensive chair at my desk at work. In short, I think that working a full time job makes it harder for me to recover than not working a full time job.

However, I realize that my personality is such that I will never be a full time runner or mountaineer or athlete of any kind. Mentally, the challenge is just not enough. I need some sort of mental stimulation, and a few puzzles does not cut it, we're talking a couple dozen hours a week of a long term project, minimum. The mental challenge gives me a balance to the physical challenge. So it's a balance. I'm not sure where the perfect balance is. At 40 hours a week of work, life is great! At 50 hours a week, I start to slide in my motivation and engagement. I've never really done less than 40 hours a week so I can't say what 30 hours a week or 20 hours a week would do for me. That's kind of getting off topic, the point is, how much I work has an impact on my running.

This post is about celebrating how amazing my recovery from my first ultra marathon has gone! Simply stunning!

North Coast 24 Recovery Mileage
Look at those numbers the last month! A 20 mile run! A 28:08 8k with 350 feet of up and down?! A set of 4x mile intervals at 5:40 pace less than two weeks post race?! I took four days completely off, a three mile run and then another day off, then I was basically back into it with a 49 mile week and an 82 mile week.

I read tests about VO2Max, running efficiency, fat/carbohydrate mix, foot strikes, and all sorts of running related studies, and I have only twice been studied, both were for an undergraduate class way back in 2009. I look at this graph, and I have to wonder, how much of an anomaly am I? I mean, this is crazy! I have recovered so fast. If anyone wants to test me, please let me know. Speaking of which, between setting my 5k and 10k PRs back in 2012, I had a hematocrit of 42, which basically means, I probably stand to have a huge improvement living at altitude if I ever had that opportunity. Kind of a minor detail, but I was not drug tested after the NC24 and honestly I was hoping for a blood test because it would really cool if I was considered good enough to get a biological passport. I think I have a lot to gain my monitoring my blood, such as understanding when I need to take more iron or eat more protein. That's the scientific part of my speaking, the vast majority of what I do is based on feel. Pushing hard, but not too hard. 

In summary, Thank You God for giving me these gifts that I don't fully understand! I am not sure if I am really an anomaly, or I am an average guy with a crazy brain, whatever the case, I am blessed, and I don't want to take any recovery for granted, because I just don't know if this may be the last one I ever have.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 174

My life is awesome! I hope yours is too! I have struggled. For so long I put so much energy into Everest, and when it didn't go as planned, well, I came back and my plan was just to run as much as I could and go back to work. I knew that therapy like that would help. Of course, there was a lot of talking with friends, not even about Everest, or running, or work, and those conversations certainly helped too. Somehow or other, I ended up where I am. I just had supper with my parents who drove their new Prius C down to look at the leaves, and drop off the last of the garden food. As we were talking, and I mentioned an upcoming blog article, I couldn't help but convey how happy I am.

Work is going quite well. Oh, there are issues, but working through them has been, fun, really. It's funny, updating blue prints, also known as drawings, is generally considered tedious work that is often sent to lower paid employees. Well, I've been doing a fair amount of it lately, and I like it. It makes me more familiar with the part or assembly. I get to make decisions about tolerances and such that could have an impact on parts always fitting together or being acceptable for a decade or two to come.

Running is going well, 65 miles for the week with a day off and only one double. Only one night sweat, but that's because of running a hilly 7 minute pace 12 miler in 58F rain two days after a decently hard 20 miler. So, I'll take that to mean I'm better. I think my hormones and micronutrients were messed up after the 24 hour race. I'll blog about that shortly. Wednesday I did a little fartlek with one minute hard and one minute easy, and for the 10 minutes of hard running I averaged 4:54 pace! Friday I ran a cross country college race and ran a very nice 28:08 8k on a course with 350 feet of up and down over nine hills. I came in 27th out of 81. I like racing with the college kids, because I may be the 2014 24 hour USATF national champion, but I was solidly beat by a third of the 18-22 year olds in a corner of Iowa at a small cross country meet. It keeps me honest. My goal for the race was only sub 28:30, so to come in that much faster, was very satisfying.

I went out Friday and Saturday nights to socialize. At least going out in my mind means one glass of wine Friday, and left by 9:15 PM, and going out Saturday meant board games at a friends' house and left by 9:30 PM. A little socializing is a good thing. Plus, getting in bed before 10 PM both nights, having one glass of wine, that's my kind of socializing.

Life is good.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Better Late Than Never

I aim to blog every weekday. Sometimes that means Friday night, minutes before I go to bed. The message is simple, consistency, showing up, attendance, matters. No, no one will ever be 100% all the time, and it is doing the work when it is inconvenient that differentiates and adds value. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Better 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained. As with anything, better to work less hours, than work a ton, burn out, get divorced, and have a heart attack in your 50s. 

Life is a long term thing. It's not about a given three month period. It is not about some metric you can push higher today with a demanding extra hour of work. For me, life is about relationships. That includes the relationship I have with myself. I know, I can push myself over the healthy limit. In a way it is satisfying. Yet, ultimately it can be harmful if used inappropriately. So I rest.

Rest is not given the respect it deserves. Sometimes I sleep ten hours on a work night. We can't burn the candle at both ends, we might run out. This lesson of resting more, or as I like to think of it, 'resting hard', is something that I have learned in the last few years and I am very happy I have. I go to sleep around 9 PM most nights. That is about the earliest of anyone I know. Often I sleep until 6 AM. Our bodies and our minds, regardless of the job or hobby, work best when we have had rest.