Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Sufferfest: Revolver, Running Edition

So let's start by noting that my computer has apparently developed a Pavlovian response to seeing emails from David McQuillen (even when they contain fantastic pre-release videos for review). It goes into full panic-attack mode. Revolver is so suffer-inducing that it crashed Windows four times.

I live in a place that is frequently gray, cold, icy, and overrun once a year by Furries. So I've done my fair share of dreadmilling, during which I usually stare into space, listen to medical review lectures, and silently judge other people's run form. We now have a more entertaining and inspiring option - after many years of producing outstanding videos geared at training actual cyclists, The Sufferfest is moving into the running world.

Before we get to my Revolver test-drive, here are some facts: three vids will be released on July 31st 2014 - The Machine (38 minutes), Steamroller (45 minutes), and Revolver (30 minutes). All feature Officially Licensed footage from Diamond League Track & Field and marathons from around the world. Workouts were designed by elite coach Neal Henderson of Apex Coaching. 

The workout is simple:
1) 6:00 warmup, gradually building speed

2) 9 x (1:00 HARD, 1:00 easy)

3) 2:00 Cooldown

So, for any other ex-trackies, think of it as 9 x 200-400m repeats (depending on how fast you are) with short jog rest intervals.

Perceived effort cues are graded from 1 to 10 (1 = "Sofa.Beer.Repeat", scaling up from easy jog to 5k race pace, culminating in 10 = "AGONY! GLORY!"). Also on screen, you have % grade, interval time, and an additional cue for when the interval is about to change.

THANK YOU, Sufferfest, for including cues on GOOD FORM in the warmup: upright stance, relaxed shoulders, head up, strong core. Now the judgy girl on the treadmill next to you will be a lot happier. Note: take a minute and do some glute and hip activation exercises before you get on the treadmill too, especially if you sit at a desk all day.

The warmup builds up some speed and elevation as you watch the Milan Marathon take off. You build all the way to 5k race pace (thought stream: hmm, haven't raced a 5k in a year and a half - which means I should go with my 5k PR pace, right? Delusions of grandeur. College me would be embarrassed by the hyperventilation that's starting to happen. Maybe I should go back to short course racing.)

Recover easy and get ready for the meat of the workout. The video pans to a bunch of tiny women on the start line of a track. Now this I can identify with. There's even steeplechase! It almost makes me wish I was down at the CMU track dodging undergrads playing quidditch on the infield, but then I remember it's Pittsburgh and there are frogs raining from the sky and that's why I'm on a treadmill being virtually tortured by David McQuillen in the first place. Back to the video.

BOOM. 60 seconds hard running. Feels damn good. Recover and repeat. There are some typical Sufferfest surprises thrown in (e.g. time warp, inspiration from Nietzsche) to distract your brain from what your body is doing.

The recovery intervals cut back to these dudes still on the road in Milan, who look pretty effortless but are probably running 4 minute and some change/mile pace:

That blur right there is a hamster reminding you to go faster, which happens if you move all parts of your body faster. Hamster is Sufferfesting voluntarily, so don't call PETA. Also, I wish I had his turnover.

If you did it right, this is roughly what you should look like after your workout.

In sum, this was a great quick high-intensity run (especially for the time-pressed, as it fits neatly into 30 minutes). I feel obligated to add one caveat - make sure you're used to running fast on a treadmill before attempting. If you're comfortable doing strides with good form and hammering out some track repeats, you're golden. If you're not, I still think this is a great workout, but build into it carefully and keep an especially good check on your run form. So runners, go forth and suffer.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Musselman 70.3: The Sea Was Angry

This was not my day. I still loved this race.

Musselman has a great reputation for good people and personal touches that you won't find at an Ironman-branded race. First, signing the Mussel Mural the day before. Note the nice sunny day, and that super cute Mussel discarding water cups on his way to the finish line.

My other favorite part: they asked us a random question during registration (which I did back in November, and have no recollection of) and turned it into a message on your bike rack in transition. This year: Describe the best version of yourself in one word. I figured I had written something corny and type A endurance athlete-like, which I did, resulting in "Be RELENTLESS today, Adrienne."

I walked around and looked at a bunch of the other ones afterwards, and there were some winners.
"Be BAZINGA today, Jill."
"Be OLD today, Bob."

The Swim: in which I learn that tiny people and big waves don't mix well.

It was a chilly windy start, and I watched the three waves in front of me run through the shallow-ish portion for a good couple hundred yards before they even started to swim. Silly people, don't they know that it's faster to be swimming than running through the water? I've aquajogged to China and back, and I know this to be true. It looks deceptively calm here:

Then I got in the water, felt the chop and current pushing me back, swallowed those words and ran through the water like everyone else. After a few minutes, I started to dolphin dive and stroke. That chop turned into swells the farther out we got, and did not let up. 3 long strokes forward, water pushes you half that distance back. I let the swim PR thoughts go, focused on breathing in between swells, and staying calm. I came out of the water 5 minutes slower than last month, in just under 40 minutes (eek) and chalked it up to a learning experience. Side note, the volunteers out there in kayaks were amazing - that couldn't have been a fun job that day, between rain, wind, cold, and pulling unhappy triathletes out of the water - 38 DNFs in the swim.

The Bike: in which I learn that I can, in fact, bike through a tornado.

I am a weather wimp on the bike at home - rain = trainer - and I paid for it today. Because you never know, a tornado might touch down 20 miles south of where you're racing (for real, that happened). On the bright side, I now know how my race tires handle in a storm.

The first 15 miles were tough, a false flat into a 20mph headwind. I will be the first to admit that I have no clue how to race 56 miles on a bike yet. I went more conservatively this time in the beginning, but in retrospect could've pushed harder in this section. After turning off out of the wind, I took advantage of the real flat road and hit an average 22mph for the next long stretch. And then it started pouring...after riding conservatively for a few miles and gaining confidence on the slick roads, I tried pushing the pace back up again. My body was just not having it on the bike this day, though - no excuses, just a bad day. Maybe I didn't taper enough, maybe it was my arthritic SI joints giving me hell because of the rain (yes, I'm secretly 80 years old), maybe my spirits were just dampened (ha! rain pun) by the numbers I was seeing (and if so, the garmin needs to stay at home next time. I always ran better by feel...) I'll be honest, there were points where I really wanted to stop. That's not normal for me. So I went one mile at a time, slowed way the $^&! down when the rain got too heavy to see well (which was right where I hit the 4 mile unpaved trail through the state park - really, course planners? an off-road section? I know, suck it up, Adrienne.) People were flatting, losing wheel spokes, and one dude in front of me went over his handle bars. I sang "Stayin Alive" in my head, followed by "Ice Ice Baby", which is a strangely calming, rhythmic, distracting song. I laughed, I cried, I did deep vagal breathing, and non-judgementally acknowledged my thoughts/feelings/physical sensations (mindfulness experiment, N = 1), and made it to T2 in record slow time. The women next to me goes "this is the worst half ever right now." Part of me agreed, and part of me still thought this was awesome, because this is what I love to do, and it was clearly a mental toughness day, and it's a really good feeling to win that battle even if what the clock says is godawful.

T2: It is time to RUN! Let's forget for a second that I haven't managed a run greater than 5 miles in the past 3 months, and I now need to do 13. Plenty of run mileage was accomplished in the deep end of the Greater Pittsburgh YMCA swimming pool. If you have the mental tolerance to aquajog for 90 minutes, I think you can do pretty much anything. So now there's nothing to do but hope that resting those unhappy joints paid off. Every running coach out there and all my former track coaches (Hi Mike! Hi Nicole!) are cringing right now, sorry guys. I really wanted to do this race. So I squished away through the rain in my wet socks. I thought about going sans socks given that wet socks are pretty useless, but then I heard my mother's voice going "WHERE ARE YOUR SOCKS??? NO WONDER YOU'RE SINGLE!!!) in my head (yes, she really said this at a previous race, because whether or not I'm wearing socks is apparently directly correlated with my relationship status), and left my socks on.

The Run: in which I am very happy.

I went out guns blazing because I figured I had nothing to lose, and within a mile found a nice guy to pace with. It must've been because I was wearing socks. A few miles into the run course there's a nice steep uphill on grass (wet grass) and I go "feels like cross country!!" a little more happily than is probably normal for someone running up a steep grassy hill. It turns out that was a great conversation starter, as my new friend coaches high school cross country. So we had a nice long chat. Rick, if you ever read this, I think you saved my run and you were my favorite person in the world for an hour and a half. My brain kept trying to body-scan for pain in my joints, and you brought me right back to the present each time. We slowed down quite a bit but time was already irrelevant to most people at that point. Like all good cross country coaches, Rick told me to go ahead as we reached the last couple miles, and I waited semi-deliriously at the finish line to thank him. The fact that he didn't seem to be bothered by the fact that a sweaty rain- and lake-soaked woman he met a couple hours ago was hugging him whilst holding 5 bananas is another testament to this guy.

The chiropractic tent marveled at my out-of-alignment SI joints and popped my pelvis back into place (thanks guys!), I ate a lot and found my Pittsburgh people. So a typical post-race. All around, I was satisfied.  On paper it sucked, but I still felt like I got a lot out of myself. The DNF rate was sky-high, and it was certainly a rollercoaster. It took me a good 6 years to figure out how to really run the 5k, and it's probably going to take me a while to put together a really good long course tri, no matter how fast I think I should be based on what I'm seeing in training. This is a learning year. And Musselman, you sure threw pretty much everything at me.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Sufferfest: Half Is Easy

This workout reminds me of high school cross country. It feels sort of like the pain of 12x400m, jog rest intervals, with the bright yellow "workout bucket" in case you needed to puke (I ran with the boys). So, awesome.

Disclaimer: I like The Sufferfest line of cycling training videos. Enough to have ridden 10 of them back to back when there was no structured training on the schedule. So it's not really a surprise that I like this one too.

Half Is Easy comes to us with the help of British National Cyclocross Champion Ian Cross of Dig Deep Coaching. This dude knows what he's doing. I'm constantly after my cycling classes to make their hards harder and their easys easier during HIIT workouts, and this vid will force you to do that. It fits into 39 minutes for those days when you need your a$$ kicked in a short amount of time.

After a 5 minute warmup, there's 3 minutes to get your motor neurons firing (2 x :25 sprint, :60 tempo). Then comes the first 10:00 set of 20x (:15 All Out/:15 Easy - hence "Half Is Easy"). Great cycling footage to motivate you during the Hard, and try not to bust a gut laughing at the Easy footage (hint: champagne, lounge chairs, a wildebeest just chillin', puppies, and lovely Italian landscapes). Spin your legs for 4:00 easy recovery, then do that interval set again. Harden up, you can do anything 20 times. Cool it down and you're done.

As always, steller footage of (officially licensed) cross and elite U23 men's and women's riding, soundtrack to keep you moving, a convenient on-screen countdown timer, suggested cadence and perceived effort can be found on your screen. Beat the trainer boredom and watch your FTP rise!

Go forth and suffer, friends.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hacking Mobility Training with TRX

I have a problem. I like to pick up heavy things and put them back down. Because (a) I feel like a badass, (b) it makes me faster, and (c) there is a direct inverse correlation between how much I've been lifting and the likelihood of me getting injured (R= -0.82, p<0.05).

But after having ankle surgery a year ago, I still don't have all my bent-leg dorsiflexion back in my left ankle, despite copious amounts of PT, stretching, ART, and joint distraction. Squats are a problem. Single leg work like pistol squats? I get about a quarter of the way down. Turns out dorsiflexion is important.

Poor flexibility -> Poor mobility -> Poor strength

So in the meantime, I've mostly been deadlifting, deadlifting with the trap bar, hip thrusting, and single leg deadlifting. Did I mention deadlifting? Oh, and whining about my inability to squat a$$ to grass.

Whining rarely pays off, unless, it turns out, you have a side job at a gym with lots of talented trainer friends with magical strength-training hacks in their back pockets. Enter my introduction to the TRX - a beautiful torture-apparatus that has reunited me with the pistol squat. The beauty is that with holding onto the suspension handles, you can subtly alter your position to make it as challenging or easy as needed, thus letting me unload/leverage enough bodyweight such that I can get deep enough to start working my glute med again.

Sad attempt at pistol squat on non-bendy ankle.
Boo ya TRX pistol squat!
I'm not usually one for extra contraptions and the latest/greatest "new thing" when it comes to training (see: deadlifts), but I'm on board with this one. There's real potential here to improve strength while my functional mobility continues to catch up. I also got some super-satisfying TA soreness (see: masochism) from the core circuit I went through while I was at it (mountain climbers with suspension! pendulums!)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain? (Or, what I do all day.)

A little while back I did a media interview for an article on the emerging science of mindfulness (and then promptly forgot about it until the proof showed up in my inbox) - it gives an accessible glimpse into what recent research has found about how being mindful vs being stressed changes your brain, including work I've done over the course of my PhD.

The post can be found here, check it out! Scientific American Blogs: 6/12/2014

What people think I do in lab.
As I told the good folks who were kind enough to call me up, it's clear that effective stress reduction techniques are increasingly important for our health in today's world, as is our ability to focus our minds (thank you smartphones and multitasking!). Want to perform better at work or school? Want to stay focused during your 10k race or hold onto your swim form mid-Ironman? Want to reduce your levels of circulating inflammatory markers? Mental training can help you. If "mindfulness" sounds like a bunch of woo-woo science to you, or brings to mind images of monks chanting in the woods, think again - it's hard to argue with pictures of brains, and can be done with 10-45 minute guided audio on your ipod (I like these from UCSD). 

What I actually do in lab.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Presque Isle Bay Swim

A quick day trip to Erie, PA for the Presque Isle Bay Swim. A quick 1-mile jaunt across the bay on a beautiful day.
I've got some awesome swim cap conehead going on here.
Now I know what clean water looks like. I could actually see feet in front of me! Although I had a hell of a time finding the buoys, thanks to blurry vision + vague instructions to "keep all the boats on your left and swim towards the dock with the blue roof". Time for new lovingly attached as I've grown to the bug-eyed alien look the trusty Aquasphere Kayenne's give me, 2 years of abuse is enough. Orange looks the same as every other color through these buggers now. This was a non-competitive (no ankle chip!) swim, so no harm done, I'm not complaining about a little extra clean lake time :)

That's some decent sighting right there!
When you finally find the mysterious blue-roofed dock and haul yourself up the ladder, some very nice volunteers drape you with a finisher's towel (SO MUCH better than another t-shirt) and point you towards the bananas. Mmmm bananas...
I may look like a half-drowned vampire, but I have bananas and a towel, therefore I am happy.