Friday, 26 February 2010

300 Workout, Complete at Last

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 26th February

Workout: Cheat '300' Workout

25 Chin Ups - 17, 7, 1 (two more on second set - nearly only two sets!)
50 Deadlifts (Romanian) - 30, 20 (less on first set - grip gave way)
50 Push Ups - 38, 12 (one more on first set)
50 Box Jumps - (50) (single set beats two last time)
50 Floor Wipers - 20, 10, 10, 10 (four more on first set)
25 x 2 Clean and Press with Dumbbell - right arm (10, 9, 6) , left arm (15, 10)
25 Chin Ups - 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1 (did not finish last time)

Total Time: about 33 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: scrambled eggs, pumpkin seeds and cocoa, 25 minutes later.

It was good to finish one of these workouts at last.

On the first set of chin ups I came close to needing only two sets - this would have been a first.

I need to get some better straps so I can stop being limited on the deadlift by the post-chins weakened grip. I am pretty sure I can do the 50 in one go if the grip is taken care of.

My one-rep activities with the barbell earlier in the week seemed to give my press-ups and floor-wipers a little lift, leading to better reps on the first sets of each; and I was especially pleased to do all 50 box jumps consecutively. I slowed down towards the end, but it was still a legitimate 'strike'.

This time I did genuine clean and press with the shoulder exercise rather than cheating with the snatch version. This meant 5 sets instead of two, but it was less demanding in cardiovascular terms.

Overall, 33 minutes seems quite slow - the biggest contributors were the increased sets required for the correct form on the shoulder exercise and the many sets required to complete the final chin-ups.
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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

150m Interval Sprints and Flirting with Crossfit Endurance

Location: A grass verge, London
Date: 24nd February

Warm up:10 minute jog to find some grass
Workout: 5 x 150m sprint (25 - 30 seconds each) - between 2 and 2.5 minutes rest between
Warm down: jog back

Total Time
: 23 minutes

Post-Workout Nutrition: none required, since this was still sloshing around my stomach. Fasting until dinner today!

I was away from home in a hotel this morning so I had to jog until I found a grass verge long enough to use that for the sprinting. The knee is feeling good and I'm getting to grips with the forefoot-first style of both running and sprinting... but I saw no reason to tempt fate by slamming it with sprint intervals on the cruel London pavements.

I am flirting with Crossfit Endurance, after it was mentioned by Benjamin in this exchange of thoughts on a post last week, and I took a brief look around the site. It switched me onto was the idea of trying short distance intervals from which I emerge reasonably fresh. Previously, I have approached every sprint session with a Tabata-like mindset, determined each time to emulate the experience of being pursued by a tiger and running for my life.

The idea of Crossfit Endurance is to train for endurance events without putting in the many hours traditionally assumed to be necessary. In a way this is what I have been doing, in an uninformed way, with my occasional long fell races interspersed with HIT-style cardio and weight training.

What I took away from my brief read of the CFE site was that intervals of slightly longer distances are also worth considering. This got me thinking that if I want to do these things more often - as might be necessary to follow the CFE approach - I should consider emerging from sessions less fatigued. After all, not every animal we got chased by was a tiger, and even when it was a tiger, we would not have been running for our lives each time. The tiger might sometimes have been a long way off, so we'd have fled only at the pace required to comfortably escape.

Don't get me wrong - the final interval hurt - but the effort was relaxed and controlled, and I constantly tweaked the rest time and effort level to avoid 'leg jelly'.
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Monday, 22 February 2010

Three-Rep Chest Workout - More Paleo/Primal?

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 22nd February

Warm up:10 x barbell bench press with just the bar

Workout: barbell bench press: 1 rep @50kg, 1 rep @60kg, 1 rep @60kg (2 - 3 minutes rest between)

Total Time: 10 minutes

Post-Workout Nutrition: none - fasting until dinner.

My gym partner is trying to remain motivated to perform the various remedial exercises on his own post-operative knees, so at the moment I'm agreeing to go to the gym even when it's not the right time for a workout - which after yesterday's 3-hour run, it would be safe to say it was not.

That said, I've recently got into the idea of just throwing in a few semi-difficult reps in between proper workouts as a way to retain strength and mass without sabotaging other workouts. In fact it feels like a very Primal/Paleo way to train because let's face it, very few of our ancestors' activities would have resulted in near-muscular failure they way we seem feel compelled to do in the gym. I have read articles suggesting that progress can be made using a frequent, failure-shy approach. This may be something for future experimentation.

This morning it seemed like a few chest reps would be the safest bet, given my legs were the target of the long run. I also did some stretching on my legs which, although I've read various articles suggesting it's next to useless, certainly made them feel a lot better.
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Sunday, 21 February 2010

3-Hour Snowy Run Along the Malvern Hills

Location: The Malvern Hills, Worcestershire, UK
Date: 21st February

Workout: long, easy hill run along the chain of hills and back.

Total Time: 2 hours, 57 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: this fat-fest two hours later.

We'd had a couple of inches of snow the night before. I went out first thing in my Vibrams to take the rubbish out and when I got back it struck me just how much my footprints appeared to be those of a barefooted person!

We went to the Malverns for a long, easy, persistence hunt-like outing. The plan was to run along the chain of hills and then back.

The weather was mixed - sunshine on the plains, but with the hills shrouded in clouds from about 200m upwards. Starting at the northern-most tip of the chain of hills, we tackled the early, steep climb through the forest.

...and soon gained enough height to become cloud-bound. The snow also became thicker on the higher ground where drifts had developed.

When we hit the Worcestershire Beacon (the highest spot at 400m) it was still pretty cloudy:

...but there were periodic promises of appearance from the sun, and sure enough after 10 minutes there was a clearance, revealing the remaining hills in the chain.

Along the way I took a shot of some bushes to give an idea of just how much snow was on the ground:

On the other side of the Beacon we encountered our prey. It didn't seem overly concerned about our presence, persistence or even existence, so we left it to graze while we tackled the rest of the chain ;-)

Then we tackled another hill....

...then another....

...and another...

...before finally ending up at the other end of the chain, with a great view back at the ground we'd covered:

By now the weather had really cleared nicely, allowing some scenic shots from the top of that final hill:

A quick double espresso in the local pub...

...before enjoying blazing sunshine and great views on the way back, so much so that Lightning was able to strip to his vest and air his biceps for the second Beacon photo...

The knee gave me no trouble and although I did slip a couple of times I was able to either tumble shoulder first into deep snow or commando roll to avoid bending it too much. I think I still have to be careful. My physio admonished me recently when I 'fessed up to the recent long fell race when I fell on the knee, and told me I was lucky not to have re-aggravated the cartilage.

The Vibram Five Finger Flow Treks continue to impress, albeit, as I say, that I slipped a few times. As I've mentioned before, I think I have to accept that if I want to go pseudo-barefoot then I cannot demand the same levels of grip afforded by fell running shoes. Nevertheless, Lightning is closely monitoring this segment of the shoe market, and informs me there is a convergence taking place, with Innov8, a leading fell shoe manufacturer, looking to release a minimal shoe soon, and Vibram releasing more mainstream models in the coming year.

GPS Tracking: Lightning and I both use GPS tracking via our mobile phones when we run.... but we are struggling to find solutions that really do the job. It would have been great to be able to show a speed an altitude graph corresponding to the hills of the chain and the pause for the coffee - but alas my device threw a fit when we got back and lost all the data; and Lightning's provider, whilst reliable on the phone, has such crap software that the outputs on the web are barely worth showing. We will keep working on it.
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Friday, 19 February 2010

Day of Super-Low Reps & Super Low Carb

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 19th February

Warm up
5 chin ups
10 Romanian deadlifts @ 60kg
10 x body weight squats

Sets of one, alternated, so that each round was a chin up, a deadlift and a pistol on each leg:

Weighted chin ups - 1 @20kg, failed @25kg, 1 @20kg
Romanian deadlift - 1 @100kg, 1@110kg, 1@120kg
Swiss ball-assisted pistols - 1 on each leg, slowly, going down to parallel

Total Time: 20 minutes

The Day's Nutrition: breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Just felt like lifting some heavy stuff and burning some fat with a mega-low carb day.... ... Read more

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Dumbell Chest & Ab Rollouts + O'Neill Rowing Test

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 17th February

- 3 sets of Dumbbell Bench Press (8 @ 24kg, 6 @ 24kg, 9 @22kg)
- 3 sets of Ab rollouts from knees x 10

Dumbbell Chest and Ab Rollout sets were alternated with minimum rest

- O'Neill Test (4 minutes on rowing machine) - 1063 metres

Total Time: 16 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: none - fasted until dinner.

I am doing a lot of fasting and exercising at the moment - both before and after workouts. It's not intentional, just the way the chips are falling. Since I am doing a bit more running and enjoying the ideas put forward in Born to Run, the idea of getting really lean is attractive and I am not sure I care too much about a few pounds of muscle here or there.

I am just working hard but short, looking for long, hunt-like runs and throwing some heavy around when I get the chance. If it suits me to fast, I fast. As you can see from my body composition chart, updated today, this approach seems to have led to a reasonable trend (body fat falling, weight falling.)

After this discussion with Natural Messiah, I decided to try the O'Neill Rowing Test, and was a little disappointed with the result - my comment at the bottom of his post explains my tactics and the context. I'll be re-visiting this one!

I avoided failure on the dumbbell chest press but ensured I relished the resistance on the sets, using good form and working hard on the final reps. My gym partner was busy doing leg exercises now that he's recovering from his own knee operation, so in any case spotting was not available.

Ab rollouts were tough-ish - it's been a while since I did these. It's about time I got my core doing some real work again.
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Dark Side Wrekin Ascent with 10kg Weighted Vest

Location: The Wrekin, Telford, UK (Dark Side)
Date: 14th February

- Dark Side ascent with 10kg weighted vest
- Walked descent via 'South Flank'
- Light running
- Log carrying

Post workout nutrition: this, 2 hours later.

Time to Top: 23:07
Total Time: 1 hour

I haven't run with the weighted vest for 12 months or more. Looking back through my records, I see I ascended the Dark Side in 21:20 with the vest in 2007.

It's tough going on a slope that steep when you are carrying an extra 10kg, so I was frankly pleased just to run the whole distance after all this time. Matching and beating my previous best can be a target for the coming months.

Recovering at the top

Lightning, as his account details, came in 15-20 seconds ahead and still had more under the bonnet. Looking back, I can remember when, in the early days of his mountain running, he was unable to continuously run up the Light Side - so his performance on Sunday was a reminder of how far he has come.

We did a recce of a different route on the way down, walking down the 'South flank'. Lightning has run up this before, but I have not. It looks like a really tough deal because the ground has a looser composition of leaves and soil and there are no breaks from the incline. It looks to be almost 200 metres of consistently steep going.

Coming down the South flank...

...and testing the gradient for a future ascent

We then jogged back round to the normal path and rustled a couple of logs. Carrying our 'prey' back to the cars was a good final workout. I started with a pretty ambitious size, especially given I already had 10kg strapped on... and finished up swapping it for Lightning's more modest pair of stumps. At one point after the swap I dropped one of the sumps and it careered down hill towards his legs, missing them only because I shouted a warning.

Sizing up the logs

My ambitious selection

Lightening, having narrowly avoided being struck by my rogue stump

The knee held up well in spite of still being a little tender after the 3-hour race the weekend before. It had complained a little when I sprinted the final few yards to the top, but no more than it had a right to.

The state of the weighted vest at the end

Relaxing in the sun for a few minutes
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Saturday, 13 February 2010

Swimming Sprint Intervals

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre Swimming Pool, Aston University
Date: 12th February

6 x Front crawl length, 95% effort.

15-20 seconds rest between each length; each length took about 25 seconds.

Total time: 5 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: none - fasted until dinner.

After the 3-hour fell race on Sunday, the burpees on Wednesday and 90 minutes of walking to and from work every day this week, I felt like yesterday's workout really needed to be easy on the legs. Swimming felt like a good compromise. It does use the legs, but in ways sufficiently different from the other weight-bearing activities.

I am on a roll, fitness-wise. I didn't even think about these intervals. I just got on with them and somehow tolerated the pain better than usual. I think that's often an indication that you are getting fitter. The pain is still there, but you embrace it.

These were pretty much like Tabata intervals but with the protocol adjusted by practical factors like the length of the pool; and the number of intervals was reduced because each one was longer than 20 seconds.

For once, the whole session passed without my goggles leaking. Those public pools are so full of chemicals I swear that regular users have lighter hair than the general population.
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Mixed Tabata Circuit Intervals x 2: A Good Toasting

Location: My House
Date: 10th February

Mixed Tabata Circuit Intervals x 2 (1 minute rest between)

Total workout time: 9 minutes

Post-workout nutrition: none - fasted until dinner.

I had intended to do three of these, but was utterly toasted after the second.

As I mention in my post on Tabatas, the idea is to do every 20 second burst of exercise as if your life depended on it.

I can feel myself getting fitter... but not as fit as I have been, or I would have pushed through into that third round.

Give this a go. It will hurt, but you'll be fitter. ... Read more

Monday, 8 February 2010

Knee Survives 3-Hour Fell Race & Flow Treks Prove their Worth

Location: Long Mynd Valley
Date: 7th February

The Long Mynd Valleys Fell Race.

Total Time
: 2:49:54

Post Workout Nutrition: this, 20 minutes later.

This was my first proper fell race since the knee operation. I'd been up and around The Wrekin a couple of times, so I knew my knee could take some reasonably tough incline action... but the Long Mynd Valleys race is not a small affair. At 11.5 miles and 4500 feet ascent, I was expecting 3 hours or more of running, scrambling and tumbling.

Unloading the car

Unloading the bladder

The kit and the Vibram Flow Treks

Lightning heads past fellow runners discussing the route

Contemplating the ordeal ahead

A pre-race double espresso while Lightning attaches his race number

Barefoot Buzz - Flow Treks

As an additional dimension, I was using my new Vibram Five Finger Flow-Treks for the first time in a race. Last year I ran the Peris Half Horseshoe in a pair of Flows. A similar race in terms of ascent, distance and terrain, it saw my backside and face intimately acquainted with the ground on several occasions.

The Flow-Treks are equipped with a few millimetres of tread, which made all the difference. I did slip once, but recovered - but I would have done this at least once in a pair of studded fell shoes.

Don't get me wrong - they are not the same as fell shoes. They are still barefoot, with the limitations this implies; but I am now learning to run forefoot first and getting a sense of what kind of ground I can be confident on and what kind of ground to beware of. If the path drops away to one side on muddy, grassy terrain, then with fell shoes I can rely on the studs to grip you through it - but with the Five Fingers I know I have to be careful.

I am happy to acquire these new skills at the expense of some performance, because of a growing sense that this is a much better way to run. If I was 3 minutes away from the course record I guess I'd wear fell shoes to squeeze out those extra bits of speed on precarious ground... but I wasn't, so I didn't.

It sounds pretentious, but I felt like a ballerina on the less severe downhill sections, powering forward while placing my forefoot in strategic spots on the stony ground. I am reading Born to Run at the moment and so was particularly inspired by the feeling of reeling through the mountain terrain in pseudo bare feet.

The state of the Vibrams at the end...

...and the state of all my kit, once removed.

Easy Pace, More Fun

Another difference with this race was my pace. Out of respect for my recovering knee I decided to stick with Lightning, whom I normally outpace by about 5 minutes in the hour, mainly on the uphill.

This made the world of difference. First, because we were able to chat on the flat sections and play tag on the other ones - he would get ahead on the downhill parts, then I would catch him up on the uphill and we would compare notes. The key thing for me was not spending most of the race in a state of pain.

The outcome? I was 10 minutes slower, but had a great time. The scenery, camaraderie with other runners and savouring of the moment were much increased, and the time nevertheless respectable.

Mythical Beast

So whilst I am comfortable with the idea that the occasional long run, even at 'pain' pace is in keeping with our ancestral past and the ideas put forward in Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint, I think that a slightly slower, more varied pace is probably even more in keeping - especially when you look at the way persistence hunters work.

In fact the race on Sunday felt like a persistence hunt. I think it was Lightning and Chris who both recently sent me the link to this YouTube video showing a persistence hunt. Very compelling.

At the end of our hunt on Sunday, I reverently killed and ate the mythical avocado, tuna, sardines, almonds, celery and spinach beast, which, paradoxically, I finally caught in the very place the hunt had begun. Lightning, in common with most of the other hunters, opted for the mythical Snickers beast, a huge herd of which appeared to have congregated at the finish line ;-)

The tuna, sardine, avocado, celery and almond beast, successfully caught...

...and being eaten by the hunter

Disaster in the Last 3 Minutes (well, nearly)

Hats off to the knee. It climbed the steepest inclines, it ran on hard stony ground, it bounded down heather-clad mountainsides and bounced around as I slid down muddy slopes on by backside. Yet 2 hours and 45 minutes later it was still going strong.

However, the one thing it was not ready for was being bent under my body I skidded, knee first down a steep slope. I will not repeat my utterances when this happened. At first I was convinced I would be back in the specialist's waiting room on Monday morning; but I think in retrospect it was the shock which got me initially.

Once I stood up I realised nothing serious had happened. It did hurt, as you would expect, since until then I had not required it to move through the absolute full range of movement; but I was pleased to be able to jog the remaining descent to come into the finish a couple of minutes behind Lightning.

I was annoyed to have come so close to completing the race without affecting the knee, but relieved it was not as bad as I first thought. Today, 5 days later, it feels tender, but still reasonably strong.

P.S.Lightning told me that someone videod themselves running the race... and spend the first few minutes behind Lightning and me - look our for us a the 1:20 mark!
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Thursday, 4 February 2010

300 Workout, Nearly Complete

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 4th February

Workout: Cheat '300' Workout

25 Chin Ups - 17, 5, 3 (one more on first set)
50 Deadlifts (Romanian) - 35, 15 (two more on first set)
50 Push Ups - 37, 13 (one more on first set)
50 Box Jumps - (30, 20)
50 Floor Wipers - 16, 12, 12, 10
25 x 2 Clean and Press with Dumbbell - right arm (25) , left arm (25)
25 Chin Ups - unfinished: 4, 4, 3, 3 (did not start them last time)

Total Time: 29:31

Post Workout Nutrition: scrambled eggs covered in apple puree, 60 minutes later.

I was able to do the box jumps this time (a big step forward for the knee). This is quicker than doing assisted pistols as I did last week because both legs are done in a single set... so it's difficult to assess progress on the overall time for the session.

I could have done more in the first set of deadlifts - maybe even the full 50 in one go - but my right-hand grip gave way. I moved very swiftly to deadlift from the chins, which do tax the grip. I shall use straps next time.

I still didn't finish the final lot of chin ups. My biceps were pretty wrecked. This is, after all, the first time I've attempted the second lot - but it could also could be the snatches that preceded the attempt. The penultimate exercise is supposed to be dumbbell clean and press, but since the prescribed weight, 16kg, is quite heavy for me, I do more of a snatch movement, which is quite bicep-intensive.

I am looking for ways to bring my '300' more in line with the real deal, and the next target will be trying to do clean and press instead of the snatch. I will start by doing a little 'jerk' to help with the press when I get tired. This will definitely slow down my time on that exercise, but I may get some of it back on the final chin ups because my biceps will be better rested.

My gym partner is back in action next week after his own knee surgery (it must be an infectious condition!) so the fixation with the 300 workout will probably end there and it will be relegated to its more appropriate position as a monthly gauge of fitness and strength.
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