Exercise is honest. Are you?

“I never try anything I just do it. Wanna try me?”

You can, or you can’t. You will, or you won’t. There is a point in every hard workout where I contemplate stopping early. Eight hills are plenty for today. You don’t feel great. You didn’t sleep well. It’s OK to back off a bit. Twenty minutes in the gym is good enough. Fifteen pushups? Not this set, let’s stop at ten. The discipline to say yes to more is definitely not automatic. It’s not a born trait. It’s not genetic. Your behavior is cultivated through repetition. Therefore, you become predictable, in a good or bad way, successful or unsuccessful, with each and every decision you make. Do you look for solutions, or seek a way out?

Comfort zones stagnate. Time, distance, weight, repetition, rest, etc. all play their respective roles in progressing you towards improvement. Each element is adjustable. Each adjustment either increases or decreases difficulty. Staying at a consistent stimulus, or working within the same parameters, causes stagnation. A new normal is continuously being defined. As you adapt to stress, via exposure and absorption (rest), you grow. This growth is both physical and mental. The mental aspect is key. Once it’s been done you know that it CAN be done. And done by you, not merely another human being. Physical growth comes during the period of rest or recovery (period of easy movement) that follows a new stress stimulus. A little faster, a little further, a little higher, a little more resistance, a few more reps, a couple more sets. Choosing one, or a few and agreeing to “go there” is making a decision to improve. You’ve planned to expose yourself to something new. When the moment arrives and you follow through, you’ve just expanded your world. That one small present-moment decision changes everything.

Schedule (plan) these opportunities for yourself to improve. Place them in your schedule often enough to build decision making confidence and success. As always, things take time. These “growth days” are green light opportunities for your mind and body. Understand that your success cannot be rushed. Callouses form with repeated exposure. Revealing yourself to the effort and demand not only callouses the body but it hardens your mind as well. Through this process, you gain the ability to accept more (load, repetition, duration) and in turn, give more the next time.

Personal Story: The year is 2012. One week prior I completed the challenging Leadville Trail Marathon. A 26+ mile run beginning and ending in historic Leadville CO, which sits at over 10,000 ft elevation. Almost two miles high! Living in Albuquerque, at relatively high elevation (5000 ft), the altitude factor was not something I worried about. Having no prior experience with physical effort at altitude, I was soon to find out its effects. The race went surprisingly well. I finished in 6th place out of 500+ runners. Not a bad day on trail by any means. The following week is when the event exacted its revenge on my body. I was exhausted, hungry, and sore… all week long. Knowing I had the 50-mile race a mere two weeks after the marathon, I had to listen to the wants of my system while also looking ahead to the big event on the horizon. Thus, one week after the marathon, and one week before the 50-mile race, I set out to run a 25-mile loop in the Sandia mountains. The idea was to harden up the legs and callous the mind to the effort and elements. You see, Albuquerque in July is hot, windy, and incredibly dry. Often times the forests are closed due to fire danger. Meaning humans are not even allowed to recreate in them. Those three elements (heat, wind, dry climate) are a dangerous combination. Nonetheless, I set off with two water bottles and a few hundred calories of sports drink and energy gel. I chose a route that would take me up the iconic La Luz trail. A rugged, beautiful climb from roughly 6,000 ft elevation to over 10,000 ft in 7-miles. It presents a nice challenge amidst a long loop in the mountains. My plan was to re-supply with water at the top and if my body was not up for that length of a run, to take the tram down, shortening the run from 25-12 miles. Early on in the run, I went to close one of my water bottles by hitting the cap on the bottom of the other bottle. Just as I did this I heard a pop and saw all of my fluids quickly draining out. I had punctured the bottom of the bottle with this action. Now, I was down 16 ounces of fluid and one bottle. Surely I would shorten the run at the tram and cut my losses. I had plenty of fluids to get me to the summit and consumed the calories I had, figuring I may as well keep my energy stores topped off. My spirit was good and legs felt OK. Cresting the summit and reaching the tram I saw a sign posted. Closed due to high winds. Hmmm… that’s not good. At this point, I am almost out of water and calories. With an almost empty bottle of water, 100 calories and a couple of salt tablets on hand I had to make the trek back to the vehicle. The day was beginning to heat up. Add that factor and it was bound to be a character building experience. 90-minutes later I found myself descending a familiar trail, coming to a spot where I had always seen water pooling. It was a spring in the mountainside. Now, I’ve always been cautioned to steer clear of any water coming out of the ground for fear of giardia, which wreaks havoc on your GI system. Undeterred, I stopped at the trail and filled my water bottle. I downed it. Then I cooled my head, arms, and chest with the cool water. It felt amazing. Filling the bottle one more time, I tightened the cap and continued descending. My pace was slow, my steps a little unsure, but my resolve was strong. Mile after mile I kept moving until finally, I broke free from the dense tree cover into the exposed foothills. With close to two miles to go, it was now a full-on assault in the mid-day sun. I finished the run. Exhausted, depleted, yet satisfied. I’d did probably the hardest thing I had ever done in my life up to that point and did it solo. What’s fascinating is that to this day I can pull from this experience and use it to push through difficult endurance events. I did not know what it meant to endure until this moment. A week later I finished the Leadville Silver Rush 50-mile Trail Race. Coming in 10th overall I again exceeded my expectations. As predicted, the race brought many ups and downs. It reinforced the idea that the mind is primary. Once the mind has been exposed to new stressors and overcomes the desire to quit, stop, or feel sorry for itself, your potential is now greater.

How do you know until you know? You don’t. Create opportunities. Adapt to challenges. Broaden your experience. Create new definitions for both your capability and possibility.

Exposure. Environment. Execution. Expectation.

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The Plan. The Process. The Commitment.

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Follow your plan and you will succeed. Quiet the doubts in your mind. Understand that they are natural, and will continue to come. Daily, intentional engagement will lead you forward, onward and upward.

Running: Speed Play

How many of you like to slip into a comfortable groove, let the minutes and miles add up, and lose yourself in your runs? Me to… this is why we run! The flow, the feeling of easy, steady effort and the satisfaction of completion keep us coming back for more of these amazing experiences!

When I first started to “train” for running, which was later in my fitness career, mid-20’s, I was introduced to track workouts and tempo runs. Man, I hated these! My ability to gauge effort was non-existent, therefore I would go too hard, too early in the workouts, and struggle to hold on and finish them. Where would this leave me? Down and out for 2-3 days not wanting to even run a step! This is how you disrupt flow.

As I’ve progressed in the sport and have a more solid grip on my abilities both in training and racing, I’ve been able to engage in these more challenging workouts and reap the benefits that come with them. I’ve also learned about another way to trickle in speed work while I enjoying my daily “cruise” runs. This form of training is termed “speed play” or “fartlek” style.

Speed play is exactly that, you mix in 10-30 second bursts of accelerated running or even sub-maximal sprinting during a run of easy pace. There is no set schedule as to when you do them, just when you feel like it. Sometimes I’ll run to a certain landmark (fire hydrant, stop sign, driveway, etc.) and other times I’ll run for set periods of time.

There are many benefits to these runs. First, I believe you can recover from them during the run much better than a standard track or tempo run. This is excellent for beginners or recreational runners, which, most of us are. Second, I believe that it prepares you to race! Setting multiple in race goals, and knowing what speeds you are capable of running makes racing fun and competing more engaging. Third, they make you faster! You’ll see your cruising speed increase, which may transfer to other runs.

How to apply:

Start walking and warm up into a jog. Take 10-15 minutes to properly warm-up before starting your first speed play interval. For the next 30 minutes have fun. Mix in some speed with your cruising pace. You’ll cover more ground, realize new abilities, and hopefully reap the benefits of turning over those legs a bit faster! To finish, slow down and jog it in. Walk around for a couple minutes and stretch your hamstrings, hip flexor, and groin area. Start with one a week and gradually increase to two of these engaging workouts each week.

Enjoy the run!

Balancing the Fitness Equation

Balancing the Fitness Equation

To ensure our health, wellness, and a steady progression, work and rest need to balance each other out. This is the same principle that defines many other areas of our life: financial, social, work, school… you name it.

I exercise everyday. Whether I’m in training for a race, or focusing on another area of my fitness, my weeks are littered with physical activity. For some time, I trained intensely almost every day. It was like a drug, or therapy, if I did not reach that lucid feeling of muscular fatigue I was not finished. For a period of your life, you can train like this. It was not stressful for me. I could handle the workload, and relished the pain, intensity, and strenuousness that each day entailed. This was my twenties. Entering the next decade I found myself seeking more balance in my life. Not simply a balance to my weekly exercise, but a balance in my life: work, social, physical, and athletic. Seeking to be “well-rounded” and diversified is a tough task. It’s easy to slip into the obsessive, single-minded state of goal achievement and optimization of an activity we see some success in. Hence, if you are good at working out, and you enjoy it, see positive changes in your self-image, you’ll make this a daily priority.

Motivation + Positive Feedback = Continuity

If I want to run a 100-mile trail race I’ll first sign up for that race. That commitment is the kickstart I need to start training specifically for the demands of running 100 miles. Otherwise, I simply go on with finding a balance in my daily life, which in terms of fitness is pretty much whatever I feel I need on that particular day.

If you don’t already love to workout every day, or even 5 days per week, you’ll need to make a commitment to develop these habits. Think of how many people you know, or have met, that run 5k’s, 10k’s, ½ marathons, marathons, or any other event that entails registration (buying a ticket J). Now, think of all those people (maybe yourself included) that hire personal trainers, and commit to scheduled weekly workouts. This helps immensely when establishing a bond with fitness and exercise. It works. Understanding the psychology of commitment is key. Once you realize that to commit is to begin, you can then move forward.

Looking at my week, during a buildup period to a ultramarathon, you would see running listed 6 of 7 days, consisting of a strong modulation of intensity, duration, and stimulus (hills, track, trails, road). Learning how to modulate exercise is the progression. The body thrives off of specific imposed demands. In a runner, this is essential to being able to deal with the stresses of racing. If I train to my strengths day in and day out I fail to prepare myself for vital elements of the race. I’ve committed, but failed to properly prepare.

How does this apply to the person seeking to enhance their image with 1 hour of exercise, 6 days per week? They must prepare. Simple preparation goes a long way. Knowing what you will eat, and when is vital. Setting aside a specific period of time each day to workout is essential. Eating well, and exercising never just happen. It’s a myth. No adult happens upon fitness. If they tell you they did, they are lying. Remember, motivation + positive feedback = continuity. If running 3 miles a day, plus doing 50 pushups and 50 situps elicits the results I desire, I’ll keep it up. Maybe after a month I’ll add another mile every other day and a few extra pushups and situps… this is gradualness. Assessing the feedback my body is giving me from my daily exercise I can then make adjustments based on my desired outcome.

Knowing your level of commitment and personal goals with exercise is mandatory. Opinions, distractions, snake oil solutions, and fad programs will constantly ping your daily life. There is absolutely no reason to get on their bandwagon. If you’ve been fit and healthy in the past, why then would you need, depend, or rely on raspberry ketones, green coffee beans, or the new 10-minute workout routine? See the message and use your brain.

Plan. Prepare. Prioritize. Balance. Achieve.

Discipline removes the element of surprise from the fitness equation. It ensures continuity, applies modulation to your week, and promotes change in the form of gradualness.

Success should never be a surprise.