Posts in endurance
Going Long, Falling Short

Our current viewpoints shape our past and our hindsight; our outlook is artificially molded by our beliefs. Experience can be a motherfucker, as it guides us forward but it also lends to the disregarding of the truth, or even worse creates our own truths. Six-months ago a conversation erupted about the effects of different efforts. Short vs. Long and the condemnation of one or the other. Argument, in general is enjoyable, even if I agree; I believe the fire of it elicits new paths… if you are open to it. I started in this manner fighting with what I concurred. For the last decade I would have battled vehemently in the corner of “Long efforts” being superior to experience and exceptional for mental fortitude. That’s because my history would speak for me, I could only recall the truths that I knew. The slow methodical grind gives time to brew, time to decide whether or not to continue. Intensity, true intensity eluded me, sure I lifted “heavy”, I sprinted, I did “all-out” minutes, I hurt myself with physical trial. And so my experience shaped, err forced my opinion, as we can only know what we know. I fought back this idea to maybe prod or poke, to give way to a conversation, after all sitting in a room where everyone nods in agreement holds very little interest for me, even if that involves faking a stance.

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The easy resolution is to promote and experience both, as most who come to training by way of GPP (general physical preparedness) sometimes do. This was not the point as the exchange was based on the emotional or psychological revelation exhibited by those who plunge deep into the time barrier of effort. This seems intuitively correct as watching the finish to a stage in LeTour is heartbreakingly wrought with emotion. Paradoxically the chest-thumping conclusion to a 100m sprint or the lion-like roar of a successful world record Deadlift looks masked with machismo and on the surface lacks mental evolution. How much could you possibly change in less than 10seconds or less than a second for that matter? Sure, the chemicals flowing through these very different athletes are dissimilar by nature, and not just the exogenous variety as they are both profoundly riddled with them, but the neuro-chemical pathways and hormonal profile are just organically different. Maybe. This was my intuition speaking, as I’ve read countless memoirs from endurance athletes whose poetic prose and description of sport has been able to elicit emotions and evolution in myself. I’ve also felt the transformative experience of a 10hr+ effort on a bike, the way it makes you examine and take inventory all in the dust of your own collapse. Conversely watching Bolt fly through in unbelievable speed to win gold, although impressive lacks personal inspiration. My opposing side with which I stood was looking bleak, as I was losing grounds in my argument. The added punch on the subject of risk involved in ultra-long efforts was icing, as the contrived comfort of an artificial battleground cannot possibly compare to the dwindling discomfort and lack of control a mountain range offers the astute adventurer. As much as I like the process of debate, I also despise losing, as these points were starting to look infinitesimally better than my own. I walked away, tail between my legs, but I didn’t give in, I had to think and evaluate, something about the notion of single sided superiority irked me, even if an hour previous I would have been the one nodding along..

 

Free will, opinion, choices, that which defines our consciousness, are merely illusions in most cases. Dozens of Nuero-scientists have now effectively published extensive proof that not only do we not really decide our own beliefs or actions, but also we confabulate our history, excuse our decisions, and most importantly in this scenario opinionate what we deem as fact and teach it as gospel. It’s tough to sift through empirical research that basically takes away what most think distinguish us from other animals. Being aware of our own existence necessitates little else.  If this is correct, why are we in search for the truth, at least the truth of our experience? Is it so hard to fathom that our experience was individually correct and also universally wrong? Is it damning to know we are not responsible for our drive, our decisions, that motivation and opinion are substantiated by an illusive passive thought? All of this must be considered when “taking a side”, and for that matter remaining on a side. Whatever side you choose in any situation, you will be congratulated, specifically by those who made the same choice. This will feel good, to have the troops rally around you so to speak, we depend on tribalism, our brains depend on social groups and hierarchy. Most at the lower end would take their position of bottom-feeder rather then to be expelled from a social group. Walking down the middle of a line is not celebrated, as perhaps it should be, it is a lonesome endeavor, as people love to be decisively black and white, it is easier to see in stark contrast. But the positives for walking a line do exist. Avoiding self-delusion is one that comes to mind, not avoidable completely, but dodging the ever-sticky trap of becoming the indoctrinated subordinate is. Essentially this debate put me in the middle, it cast me away from those that welcomed me before, and in doing so I questioned the merit. It is a simple removal from social status story without the dullness of a church or the danger of a suicide cult. There are many groups that claim “open source” and teach to be open-minded, but how many truly are, how many change when the information contradicts their way or more importantly their income?

 

I was not a good spokes-person, for my journey with short effort was even shorter. Experience drew a line through what I was yet to comprehend. A few years trying my hand at weightlifting didn’t earn me much, as my commitment was shallower than my argument against it. How can it possibly be right that only one type of effort leads to very specific development? In my experience the world has never been so cut and dry. And there in lies the problem, MY experience.

 

My view has evolved, I’ve remained open enough about things that I don’t quite understand, and through this, revelation strikes. I think it’s in part what leads to good teaching, even if it is only teaching myself. Perhaps my evolution didn’t exactly come from the short effort but the long commute to discovering it. Along the way I participated in weightlifting, and still do. I separate this from competing as I was not a contender, and with that mindset is what I find the link between efforts becomes. You must contend, reach for something that pushes your known boundary, you must apply risk of some sort to reap a spiritual benefit. Why short hard efforts don’t seem to develop athletes similarly to their longer counterpart might just be because the interpretation while looking from afar. If the guy who wins/loses doesn’t break down into tears it can’t possibly define development, or does it? At least for us spectators, to show us that something was on the line. Matthias Steiner’s story exonerated my stance. In preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympic weightlifting event, Matthias was hit with the unfortunate death of his wife in a car accident. Weightlifting from a “long” point of view seems lazy and the athletes grotesquely “fat”, the event lasts about a second, the training for which is sitting and waiting for the next lift. There is no bad weather to deal with in the air-conditioned comfort of the gym. What isn’t realized is that volume and psychological stress is insurmountable. It is a daily process most often multiple times a day, where you must contend with a piece of metal that does not want you to win, the “rest” is to sit and confront the contempt you feel for it. The battle of attrition then is rarely seen, as the glory is the only aspect celebrated. My view is that long efforts develop the mind during, and the shorter are developed in preparation for. The mental platisicity to train for a series of 6 lifts inside sometimes a decade of training is anything but “short”.

Risk? If your experience with weightlifting is 150lb squat then I would agree, risk is not helping you experience mental acuity, but because of your lack of ability not because the experience is not available to you. I would argue the same in the opposite manner, if your scope of length is within an hour you are not participating in what we describe. Most endurance types cannot afford the time requirement involved to “feel” short effort realization, at least at the “elite” level. It might be worth noting the satisfaction of dedicating yourself specifically comes at the cost of other experiences. Those that dedicate the better half of their lives to putting 440+lbs directly overhead or unracking a 1000lb squat, only to feel their ribs break not only have a chance at greater mental clarity but also risk greatly. With this in mind, Matthias had a decision to make, as the story goes he continued to train at a loss, most likely being unable to hold up his promise of gold to his deceased wife. Effort, risk, mental evolution, emotional grit are the by-products of competition not distance or time, the annuity owed to us by our dedication. As I might have articulated the thought of literary fortitude in favor of the endurance athlete before, I would have been wrong. The exposure of my experience left me without examples, as has now been corrected by reading the works of life long power-lifters and weightlifters. Their description and in-depth transformation brings about something similar, which is just change, transformation. Matthias pushed his loss outside of his scope and focused intently on gold. He overcame great odds, mental barriers and risked everything in order to best his own insecurity, with what could be called one of the greatest sporting performances of all-time, I would recommend watching the entire story linked above. His emotional response to winning counter acts what we might have thought about depth of character involved in just “lifting weights”. I would compare his evolution to any great feat of overcoming odds. His story will inspire thousands, something we should all charge to do, and is what may be at the foundation of sport, no matter the distance.

 

Learning to lift weights in a way that leads to evolution has taken me the better part of my life, it has been every bit as enlightening as the miles I flogged in order to seek clarity through that domain. To side strongly to any camp and argue superiority is a crime against the title of teacher, as it was in this case, I believe this specific exchange happened as a defense of the profession not the stance. Teaching should not be just proving the benefits of your own experience but helping others find their own, and to this I hold coaches and trainers more accountable than the athlete who “just does”. Perhaps there is comfort with the thought that we have just done things the right way, the one true way. It vindicates our experience, confabulates our life story. The one thing I fear above being wrong is perhaps being right with a previous thought, therefore my personal growth would lead me away from truth and towards mental degeneration. By raising the banner of our single experience we lose the ability to see past the crowd gathered at our feet, and by just going long for so long we may just fall short.

 

 

Long vs. Short...Again.

This article just popped up on my dash and is making the rounds, it is nothing new, no ground breaking development, but the rate with which these gain momentum is astounding and before long if enough people recite the mantra it becomes “truth”. Read the article below.

 

Long Vs. Short

How about this: you don't have to choose one or the other. The best performances in any camp do both. That’s all I should have to say, unfortunately that’s too simple we have to mess up the waters a bit. There is nothing wrong with limiting running to avoid injury, as to the main reason the author is in favor of lower volume training, which only generally alleviates some over-use issues if the runner is adding too much speed too frequently or too much volume too soon. There is good sound science backing up conservative increases in volume proving an increase in tolerance and adaptation to the sport (I guess you could call it durability, as Matt does).

The problem here is the argument is in defense of something that has financial gain and personal interest. Of course you want to refute others bashing your program especially if that means less people buy your book. Matt Fitzgerald did an excellent job refuting the hypothesis of CFE using well-known peer reviewed material where applicable but also (non-personal) anecdotal evidence. I certainly didn’t see the criticism as a shot fired, but then again I’m not looking at the NYT bestseller list everyday looking to climb.

 

The rebuttal in this article is highly flawed, doing little to combat the points brought up, other than "we need more evidence", which is always true in any discussion, but most frequently used as a cop out. This seems to be a running theme as of late: citing science when it supports your stance and ignoring other references because it's not an exact replication of what you would like studied (cherry picking + ignorance of what it takes to actually publish a study, ie; the study used jumping onto a 20" box and I use 24" therefore it doesn't count) No study will ever perfectly replicate "your" special scenario, that doesn't make it worthless. The quotes from running coaches in the article are mostly out of context making it look like they are in support of his argument when in reality the best coaches in the world of running- hell sport for that matter blend long/short to achieve the best results whether pro or amateur. How come the most logical explanation for performance is ignored, like we have to pick a side otherwise we are fence-sitting. This tribalism stalls progress and retards our knowledge as a whole.

The notion that because you run long distance means you avoid other "functional movements" is absurd. I don't know of any coaches that are successful that avoid accessory work completely. Keith Livingston advocated a whole chapter on strength training with weights along side his Lydiard model. Steve Magnuss, who T.J. cites when defending the mileage equation, is also very well known for promoting the use of heavy squats and deadlifts and some upper body strength movements in support of competitive runners, he has even praised the clean and jerk as being phenomenal for developing power during a recent podcast. For the author to use Steve as a source to back his argument is disingenuous, as clearly Magnuss has written definatively his opinion of CFE which can be seen here:

We can pretend all we want that CFE’s blend of modalities is new, certainly the branding is new and very well done, but it is not the first time gymnastics and weightlifting have been applied to the sport of running, As any Percy Cerruty search reveals his coaching methods involved similar application well over 60 years ago and helped some of the first runners go under 4 minutes for the mile. I also don't know any high level sport specific runners who have only done HIIT work. I do however know quite a few HIIT advocates who regularly DNF longer events, have just as many injuries, even with the awesome power of "mobility". In fact I see more flare ups of plantar and shin splints (despite all the rolling around on a lacrosse ball) from those that keep to a short and fast approach to running than to those that run more volume and use intensity to peak for an event, this matches the eccentric load and velocity of higher speed running, the result of use is a higher adaptation so is the risk of injury when applying it. In fairness I see way more postural, kyphotic induced limited mobility from those that just beat the dead horse with day to day volume, but this makes sense as we send a constant signal of motor pattern which our brain helps the efficiency of by limiting range of motion or shortens flexion increasing the rebound or elasticity. Bio-mechanically this resembles a spring, in which case should we loosen the spring as proponents of mobility often recommend? Perhaps if longevity is the goal but it will most likely be at the detriment to performance.

Can we not remember from now on that some tasks are specific and require a non-generalist approach? These arguments rarely consider this. Most confrontations over this shit is most likely involving "age-groupers", and no offense but who cares if Bill from accounting does HIIT or Lydiard style spread sheet training so he can PR his charity 5km. Let's always consider whoever is preaching is most likely so sure because their wallets are dependent on their critical opinion. You back any wolf into a corner and you will get the teeth, it doesn't make the predator correct, just predictable and unpersuadable.

Running related to other sports is another animal entirely. In the CrossFit world (Games competitors so that I might not incite a correction from Russ Greene) we are seeing a huge increase in lower intensity work at the top level. Most partake weekly on 1-2 hr+ work @<70% MHR. This indeed follows the science, which would cause adaptations with the amount of mitochondria, heart wall thickness and stroke volume, ventricle hypertrophy etc. This capacity is lending to a higher top end and the ability to train more frequently as the switch in energy systems allows rest for at least some part of the body. Alex Viada has now essentially been the grandfather of applying endurance work to even powerlifting models because the increase in capacity allows for more volume which in turn allows for more top end lifts, his book Hybrid Athlete does an excellent job of distilling the blend of these 2 systems.

 

Another thought is that if you are a generalist or just looking for longevity, you also don't need to know any of this stuff because you do what you do for enjoyment. What the author of this article fails to mention is that many runners like to run long, and following instructions from authority without consideration of personal preference has very little longevity. I run long not because the science says so but because it's good for my brain, it's a drug and I enjoy abusing it. I also lift weights and sprint because I want to perform and look good, for me to think differently about what I put myself and my clients through would take an act of God, that's because what I do works, the moment it doesn't I will look elsewhere. And that's how it is for most people, they do what they like and back it up with whatever evidence reinforces their behavior and ideology, in this regard I’m playing the part perfectly. I don't hold a strong side in most things, that's because context matters. To make any blanket statement is a tool for trolls, and lacks insight to the individual in question. It makes one wonder why these arguments happen in the first place, well perhaps why one religion might try and gather more members than the other, strength in numbers, definition of self by contrast.

 

You could essentially take to the Internet with any basic statement and you would be wrong in some scenario or another, like this: "Everyone would benefit from doing 100 push-ups a day" -Wrong. It's hard to imagine but ask: how and why is that good for you? Are you looking to adapt to an amount of work so that the tolerance may be applied later to a specific task? If not why do you need efficiency? A person looking for stimulus to cause a change in body composition, efficiency is the enemy, it just means I need to add more to cause change, more work=more time which means more fuel etc. In this respect CrossFit (in it's main site form) for the everyday person with no specific goals might actually be the best choice (outside the choice of a fully constructed and personal program), essentially providing a random shock in short amounts. Athletes need efficiency (CrossFit as a sport is a reflection of this) in order to perform at higher and higher levels, the layman does not. The point isn't that I'm against doing push-ups, what I'm against is generalized statements; it's lazy and contrary to a scientific approach. Both HIIT and LSD on their own are U-shaped curves, when used properly they are not, they can be continuous rising gradients.

 

CFE could very well be the best written program for someone on a limited amount of training and too which the activities and duration prove enjoyable, especially for one looking to "participate", I certainly wouldn’t take that away from Brian MacKenzie, he seems to enjoy it, more power to him. I also wouldn't denounce his book, it's an interesting look into exercise and has merits, that doesn't mean I would promote it as the long lost secret to performance, as is usually the case. I also wouldn't go as afar to claim that those methods can help world class endurance athletes as he has done before. There is an understated theme that T.J. mentions in his article and that is individuality, I wish it was stronger in his article as that would carry over better than his use of anecdotal discussions and out of context quotes from great coaches. There doesn't really need to be a rebuttal to Matt's original article, as there is a time, place, context to which the theories of CFE are appropriate.

 

The lesson here for me is easy, and that is that we are likely all wrong, at least those of us who debate in the comments section of a Facebook post, if you have time to banter back and forth and you aren’t getting a piece of the book sales “pie”, you probably just need to run more.

 

 

 

 

Back On The Saddle

There is always this long lost love of being on two-wheels, I can't pinpoint what exactly it is, but I know when I don't have it I'm a different person.

I have always wanted to ride in Mallorca, the stories I've heard over the years painted it as a fantasy land for cyclists. Although I am more than a couple years removed to what I would consider being "fit" on a bike, my legs remembered it well. I was given a route by Janis as he has guided tours for sometime, it was partly a joke as he is most certainly looking for payback for the "death by" that I talked him into a few days back. I welcomed it, it was torture, it was a test of will not to take the shortcut home, it never gets easy to make a decision to especially NOT quit, no matter how many times you prove yourself not lazy. Thankfully the years of riding taught me how to take care of myself, how to eat, how to drink during effort, how to dose the effort when you aren't quite sure if you can make it home. I was flying...until the last climb, which was what I was warned about. Most of the climbing in Mallorca is undulating never really that long or sustained steepness, a nice roller coaster that keeps your legs fresh and your belly full with a cafe around just about every bend. The Col de Soller is different, its brutal and unrelenting, I counted 30+ switch backs but I was delirious so it may not be true. My legs gave up 3/4 the way up as someone much older than me passed me like it was nothing. I wanted to stop him and explain, that at one time I could ride, to tell him that in other facets I was considered fit... ahhh excuses! I was slow and He/I knew it, it was just now a matter of proving I wasn't a quitter. My speed dropped in half matching my confidence but I eventually made it to the summit, at the cafe I enjoyed what could be one of the best Coca Colas that I've ever had, it was worth the cramps the rest of the way home from guzzling it too quickly and chasing it with far too much water. Although it was a flat finish and just over the 4 hour mark, it seemed like every turn I had to talk myself into continuing, to call a taxi, to not stop at the next shop and take a break. This let me know it was exactly the right distance.

Destroyed

Somewhere around switchback #28

I have to say I loved every minute, it made me miss my bicycle, and my bicycle friends. The landscape reminded me of other countries that I've ridden in and brought back all the good feelings that riding a bicycle does, including the desire to spend the moment with those that would get the same pleasure out of it. Although riding alone is some of the best part, I certainly missed those that would head out on two-wheels with me just to do something stupid and test whether we are quitters. Those of you out there know who you are, know you were missed today.