Wednesday, November 23, 2011

An Ode to 2x20

Winter Bike Training...  It's a love/hate thing for me. 

Riding the trainer sucks.  It's boring beyond words and more painful than that.  At least the way I do it.  

That said, the winter is when I get fast.  While most folks are base building, or recovering, or doing some candy ass group bike workout or whatever...I'm getting faster. 

But getting faster hurts.  Sometimes it hurts alot.  My winter bike training sessions rarely go over 75 minutes.  That's my trainer insanity threshold.  But every time I ride it's all about racking up as many minutes as possible at threshold power.  It starts slow, 8ish minute repeats in zone 4, but by the end of the winter I'll be doing the equivilent to 3 20K TTs a week of zone 4 work, mixed in with LOTS of zone 3. Riding at zone 2 doesn't exist in my winter bike training.  I have all summer to put endurance on top of my threshold training, and in reality it takes about 6 weeks to get it back.

This is my second year of training this way.  I'm a big fan of the results.  The trick is in the doing.  The worst part of the entire process is power testing.  My preferred power test is 2x20@100% on 2'.  I go all out, and then use the normalized power of the 42 minute range as my new 100%.  I test every 6 weeks. 

For me, that 2x20 workout starts about a week before my butt hits the saddle.  I start dreading it.  I know it's coming.  I'll start loading with my normal suppliments, and stop eating with any calorie deficit.  The worrying starts.  "What if I lost a bunch of fitness in those few months of rest I took?"  "Will my FTP bounce back?"  "How much work am I going to have to do, to improve again this year?"  I try to start rationalizing with myself.  It doesn't hurt that bad really...and it's only 40 minutes. 

Then there is acceptance.  The day comes. I resign myself to the pain.  One last shot of caffeine, a few puffs from the inhaler, a long warm up, and then the test. 

The first 10 minutes aren't so bad.  I target what I think my FTP is.  By then I've totally burnt out my anerobic ability to create power.  The second 10 creep by. 

Making it past the first 20 is the easy part.  Two minutes easy, I try to catch my breath, and brace myself for the second 20 minute interval. 

The second 20 minutes isn't targeted.  I don't have a magic number to shoot for.  I pedal as hard as I can.  That's it.  It's just all out, 100%.  The litmus test is "can I pedal any harder?"  If the answer is yes, I do.  My breathing is completely ragged.  I'm probably struggling not to vomit, and my pain compensation strategies are all in play.  I'm probably thinking "This is the most painful thing I can imagine, but hey, at least I'm not running..." 

By the last 5 minutes, if I paced well I'm ready to really drive myself to the edge and leave everything out there.  If I didn't pace well, it's even harder to push because my power output is dropping and the suffering is worse. 

And then it's over.  I can stop.  I try to walk, and usually can't, so I sit down on the bottom step to my basement and take a few minutes to recover. I immediately feel it in my legs, I'll be trashed for a few days. 

It's an impossibly hard workout.  The gains are also as impossible to describe.  Last year I gained almost 40W of FTP, which worked out to about 1.5 mph.  But there's more than that.  Acquiring the mental toughness needed to really suffer, put your head down, and then reach down inside yourself and suffer just a little more is invaluable.  Learning how to "disengage the safety mechanisms" the mind puts on the body has been a real key to my improvement as an athlete, and firmly confirms (for me) Dr. Noakes central governor theory, that says fitness is as much in the head as the legs. 

So, I'm a fan of the results...but 2x20 all out is still a workout that scares me.  I have a healthy respect for the demands it places on me, and I certainly don't look forward to it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

High Milage Running

I've recently decided to give higher volume running a shot this winter.  I've dropped out the intensity and I'm working to slowly, steadily increase volume.  Most of this comes from reading Lydiard and some of the other running greats, but some comes from having done an intensity based program last year, and not really getting anywhere with it. 

Anyway, this came up in a forum post on  I got a chuckle out of it. 

If you spend most of your time running, you don't have time to have any fun or do anything else that might affect your running

Yeah, that feels about right.  I can't even finish reading the book I was reading (on running) because I've been too busy running.  :)  Oh well. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recovery Drinks: Why, What, and How?

So, recently I've had an opportunity to work with a sports nutritionist.  She had a few tips for me on how to optimize my nutrition.

One of the questions I went to her with was something like "So, when I'm training I get seriously, no screwing around, ravenously tear-the-doors-off-the-fridge hungry and stay that way all do I fix that?"

After analyzing my normal food logs, she asked me about my recovery protocol.  My response was something like "Well, for a big 4 hour bike I'll usually hit up a smoothie or a bar, but for the 1 hour runs I just take a shower and get breakfast."

The nutritionist really keyed in on this.  She suggested that missing out on those recovery calories might be firing off some wierd signal to devour everything in sight.  It sounded really odd.  I'm a calories in/calories out kind of guy and besides I want those workout calories for fun food later on...

But here's the thing.  The next day I got about 180 or so calories in immeidately post work out and guess what?  I didn't have to remove any fridge doors.  It worked.  Did I feel more recovered or less sore or anything?  No, not really in a noticable way, but hey I wasn't starving the rest of the day.  I can't explain why it works, and the nutritionist really couldn't either, at least in the peer reviewed "prove it and cite your sources" kinda way I operate, but it does...for me at least.  For me, recovery drinks are now the difference between being very uncomfortable all day as a calorie restricted athlete, and not. 

Okay, so I need a recovery drink immediately after a workout.  I can do that. 

So, recovery nutrition is important for me, and you might be thinking it is for you too, if you've read this far.  So, what should you drink?

First of all, why should it be a drink?  As a long time dieter I know that one of the golden rules of dieting is to not drink your calories.  So, why would you want to drink calories?  The answer is you want to get those carbohydrates into your blood stream as soon as humanly possible.  Liquid is ideal.  Solid is ok too of course.

Ok, so you want to drink a liquid.  Other than water, what should it have it in.  Well, mostly carbohydrate.  After exercise you're very insulin sensitive, which means that CHO will be whisked away quickly into cells that need it.  A little protein helps increase the rate of muscle glycogen resynthesis.   


Well, if you know anything about me you know I'm anti "food with labels."  I like real, unprocessed food, as much as possible.

So, what is minimally processed, has carbohydrate and protein, and doesn't leave you with a glass full of "wow, I wish this was something that tasted good."

Well, I'm a big fan of smoothies with banana, whey  protein, and cocoa powder with some BCAAs and glutamine thrown in.  But...that's alot of work for a tuesday morning run before work.  That's great sometimes, but it's not fast.

So then you have chocolate milk.  Chocolate Milk is goodness, and if you buy it in the small aseptic containers that don't have to be refrigerated it's a little more convenient if you're at the gym.  It tastes good.  It doesn't have Glutamine in it, which I do kind of like for recovery.  Also, it's not exactly minimally processed.  Look at the ingredient label on most of the premixed stuff.  It's extensive to say the least, and there is bad news in there for the HFCSaphobes amongst us as well.

That leads me to Fluid Recovery Drink.  I'm a big fan.  In fact I'm a big enough fan of their ingredient list, or rather their lack of one.  I made a HUGE spreadsheet of all the recovery drinks out there, and compared/contrasted.  There are a few decent drinks out there in the market, but in my opinion Fluid is the best.  Here's why I think that:

  • Like any recovery drink mix, they're uber convenient post workout
  • The chocolate flavor tastes awesome because it has...get this...real chocolate in it!
  • The price / serving is very reasonable
  • There is nothing herbal or otherwise weird in it, so my pharmacist wife won't chase me around the house asking me how I really know that cactus bark and monkey tears are safe to ingest (It's totally happened).
In fact, here is the ingredient list for Chocolate Fluid Recovery Drink:

Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Fructose, Whey Protein Isolate, L-Glutamine, Natural Cocoa, Chocolate Natural Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Organic Vanilla Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Ascorbic Acid, Soy lecithin, Potassium Chloride.

A broad spectrum of sugars, protein, L-Glutamine, flavoring, electrolytes, Vitamin C, and a thickener/emulsifier.  That's it. 

Full Disclosure/Fine Print:  Fluid did offer me a sponsorship this season so of course that creates some bias, but I approached them because I liked their product.

So anyway, I'll get off my soap box now, but if you're finding yourself ravenously hungry, low on energy, and generally feeling kinda crappy all day long while training hard, especially if you're running a (reasonable) calorie deficit give a recovery drink a shot.

Here's my advice, executive summary style:

  1. Drink your recovery drink while you're still sweaty, but don't sit on the couch while you do it, that's just gross.
  2. Shoot for some carbs and protein, and try adding in some L-Gluatmine.
  3. Drink real food first, but when you're on the go give Fluid Recovery Drink a shot!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ironman Recap - Victory Over Self

Hi Everyone,

I've taken a bit of a break from blogging recently, along with a break in structured training.  I've still been at it though.  In the last few months since IM I've really gotten my running back on track, gotten my nutrition dialed in again, and in general gotten my head screwed back on right.

I've got a few posts brewing my head that should be coming up shortly.  I've really missed writing.  Until then...I'll leave you with this:

On December 1st, 2008 I wrote this crazy blog post that said:

Today is 11/11/11, a little less than 3 years since that date and about 4 years since I was the 400 pound, nearly dead, and very unhappy Mike that I was.  It was so long ago that sometimes it seems as if I have lived two lives, each with a separate set of memories and experiences.

I can see old pictures, and know they were me.  I can remember those moments, but they seem surreal now.  

The truth is that's me though.  That person was me, just an inferior version.  These last 4 years I've been battling with myself, fighting not just over my weight.  I've had alot of victories in the last 4 years, and some losses to be sure. I'm so thankful for the journey though.  The person I was was smart, and dedicated, and a hard worker.  I'm still those things, but along the way I had to become brave, confident, and strong. 


2005 / 2011

I finished an Ironman, and that's pretty cool.  But there is so much more that is even better, that seemed mundane at the time.  It really is the journey.

I became strong enough to do the right thing even when it wasn't the easy thing.  I survived a divorce that cost me nearly every possession I owned and every friend I had.  The morning I was due in divorce court I woke up and went for a run.  

I became the person that shows up every day.  Last winter I ran in a snow storm, because the gyms were closed. 

I became the person that never, ever quits.  This summer I rode my bike 120 miles in the rain, on a challenge course called "Dairyland Dare" that is billed as "The toughest ride in the midwest."  After I was done I took a shower, ate a sandwich, and drove about 3 1/2 hours to Chicago so I could cheer for Lana the next day when she ran a half marathon in Chicago.  

And then there was Ironman Wisconsin.  It was a day filled with challenges, and more downs that ups.  In my race against the clock, things didn't go so well.  But the person I am managed things the best I could, persevered, suffered through the bad stuff, and smiled when my friends and family cheered me on.  Old Mike wouldn't have had a shot, even if his body could hold out, his mind never could have. 

Aristotle said that the hardest victory is victory over self.  My victory over my previous self is something I hope I never forget.  This journey has undoubtedly been the hardest thing I've ever done, and has become something that will frame who I will be the rest of my life. 

I count him braver who conquers his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self. - Aristotle