Friday, 30 April 2010

Cheat 300 Workout, Minus Final Chin Ups

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date:29th April

Workout: Cheat '300' Workout

25 Chin Ups - 17, 3, 3, 2
50 Deadlifts (Romanian) - 50
50 Push Ups - 35, 10, 5
50 Box Jumps - 50
50 Floor Wipers - 25, 15, 10
25 x 2 Clean and Press with Dumbbell - right arm - 15, 10; left arm - 15, 10
25 Chin Ups

Total Time: 23:56

Post Workout Nutrition: paleo breakfast of champions with kiwi and cocoa, 30 minutes later.

I didn't fancy that last set this time. It's been a while since my last cheat 300 and chin ups are always the first exercise I get weak on, making that final set a torturous sequence of low or single reps for the last 5 minutes.

However, 24 minutes is not a bad time to get that far, which I attribute to the fewer sets I required overall. I have realised that a narrower grip (shoulder width) is much better for the floor wipers, which reduced the sets to 3. Could even get this to 2 next time.

I will try to throw a few more random chin up sets into my normal activities so that when I come to my periodic 300 tests, that final set does not seem like quite such a mountain to climb. ... Read more

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Llantysilio Fell Race, Fasted, Virtually Zero Carb

Location: Llangollen, Wales
Date: 24th April

Workout: Llantysilio Fell Race - 6.2 miles, 2100 feet of ascent

Total Time: 1 hour 16 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: a large piece of beef, 6 hours later

This was an interesting experiment for me, because this race took place at the end of virtually zero carb week. The race started at 11am and I hadn't eaten since the night before, which had been a bowl of slow cooked chicken leftovers and bones.

Pre-Race Cake and Five Finger Discovery

, on the other hand, was apparently on a max carb experiment, as this photo taken an hour before the race shows. As I enjoy a pre-race coffee, he sets about an impressive slab of chocolate cake...

Cake? Not me guv'nor.

As we registered and collected our racing numbers, we met someone else wearing Vibram Five Fingers. This is the first time I have seen another person running a mountain race in Five Fingers. Lightning was clearly amused by this, and took this photo:

Two members of a rare breed of fell runner spotted...

Lightning has his own amusing take on the significance of these 'rare breeds' coming together, which you can read on his blog here. As I say in the comments, I would have been happy if some kind of weird, non-sexual FiveFinger breeding alchemy could have produced additional pairs from nowhere so that I wouldn't have to pay £150 to get them shipped over via eBay and UPS...

The Race

Competitors meandering at the start line

This was the route - more or less a circuit, going clockwise from the bottom right and with a brief, steep section up to the highest point, where the runners coming to the end of a gruelling set of peaks watch others careering back down past them:

The GPS altitude graph shows that final, highest peak about three quarters of the way through. The long haul up there was a struggle. Mercifully, after that it was downhill all the way, with the final mile being a tarmac road, allowing me to unload entirely, since there were no nasty stones to hurt my feet through the Vibrams.

Compared to the faces I usually get captured pulling on the downhill sections, this is a relatively good shot of me, taken not long after I had started coming down from the highest point.

Battling the downhill stones in the thin-soled Vibrams
(photo by Alistair)

Having been beaten in Wednesday's Wrekin Streak race by Lightning, I was motivated a little more than usual to put in a good performance, and really did this one as fast as I could. I came in about 2 minutes ahead and felt pretty strong through most of it. As will always be the case when you run a race as fast as you can, it hurt. But it was the right kind of hurt: the kind which, with hindsight, you enjoyed.

After the race, there was time to relax at the pub, where Lightning and I continued to exhibit contrasting approaches to nutrition. Behind the camera, I am nursing a pint of iced water...

The Zero Carb Verdict

As I mentioned in my post at the time, Wednesday's short race saw me feeling sluggish of leg, at least in the early stages. I had been inclined to wonder whether the zero-carb days leading up to it were to blame.

However, for this race, three days later, I had eaten even fewer carbs. Literally, I'd eaten a chicken, a rabbit, three eggs and a tin of sardines. Yet I had all the energy I needed. Perhaps my body had made some radical changes in the meantime - or perhaps Wednesday's sluggishness caused by something else entirely.

Would I have grun faster this time on a higher carb diet? Probably. I might even have shaved a couple of minutes off my time; but I am not within a couple of minutes of the course record - I am within 30 minutes. So what really matters is whether I can run the race comfortably and enjoy it - which I could.

I am not saying I will now always eat zero carb or go out of my way to fast before races - but it's good to know that I can if I need to, and that I don't have to scuttle around preparing special meals because I have a race the next day.
... Read more

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Upper Body Tabata Intervals

Location: My House
Date: 23rd April

Workout: Mixed Tabata Intervals

Total Time: 9 minutes
Post Workout Nutrition: sardines and boiled eggs, 1 hour & 10 mins later.

I only wanted to hit the upper body, so I took the four exercises that avoided the legs and did each one twice in each Tabata set of 8. It did two Tabatas in total. It was, as any Tabata should be, tough, but the absence of quad involvement did keep me out of the vomit zone.

Floor Press - 20 seconds
10 seconds rest
Bent Over Row - 20 seconds
10 seconds rest
Seated Knee Raises - 20 seconds
10 seconds rest
Upright Row - 20 seconds
10 seconds rest
Floor Press - 20 seconds
10 seconds rest
Bent Over Row - 20 seconds
10 seconds rest
Seated Knee Raises - 20 seconds
10 seconds rest
Upright Row - 20 seconds

1 minute rest, then the same again.

The weights I chose we pretty low, but I find that when you are doing Tabata-style high speed, high intensity reps, it's very difficult to go too light. Lighter means faster, which means more effort. You still end up struggling towards the end of the 3rd and 4th set.

Update: I have changed the exercise from Press Ups to Floor Press - this was a copy and paste error - my comment below about not doing press ups should now make more sense!
... Read more

Friday, 23 April 2010

'The Wrekin Streak' Fell Race - Fasted

Location: The Wrekin
Date: 21st April

The Race: up the light side and down again. 2.75 miles, 810 feet of ascent.

Time: 26:56

Post Workout Nutrition: a rabbit, an hour later.

Two years ago I ran this in about 24:15. This time I am a little heavier, a little less fit and a little slower downhill because of my 'barefoot' footwear.

The last excuse I can live with, the first two, I must work on.

That said, I am growing in confidence with the downhill, which is heartening. Last time I ran down the same route I was much more afraid and less surefooted. Perhaps my feet are strengthening, but I have a sense that I am also becoming less afraid.

There were also three interesting dimensions to this run.

First, I had not eaten since the night before, when I had eaten a mackerel. Yet I was able to fuel nearly 30 minutes of hard running, then drive home for 45 minutes. At no point did I feel faint.

Second, I have been on a virtually zero carb diet since Monday - there were no vegetables with that mackerel, as the photo shows.

Third, earlier that day, I received two combination vaccination jabs for a variety of diseases. Can I workout later? had been my question. Just make sure you eat plenty was the response, which as you see, I duly ignored.

I must confess that at the start of the race, my legs felt heavy. I am not convinced this has anything to do with any of these factors though. They had felt heavy all week, even before I started the change in diet. I attribute it more to the combination of a long, easy run on Sunday after 'incorrect nutrition' the night before!

Update: Lightning has posted a few videos from his headcam, which he cunningly secreted aongst the branches of a tree at the start/finish. Here is one of them. You can see me trundling home in the last 20 seconds, and can tell that by this point my feet were feeling the wrath of the stoney ground.

... Read more

Monday, 19 April 2010

Easy Wrekin Trail & Impromptu Weights Same Day

Location: The Wrekin and My Dad's Garage
Date: 18th April

Morning workout: run round the Wrekin hill - route and GPS map on Lightning's blog.
Evening Workout: weights in my Dad's garage
- 9 dumbbell bench press @60lbs
- 15 upright row @30kg
- 7 pull down with narrow reverse grip @ 160lbs

Total time for run: 1 hour 18 minutes
Total time for weights:
5 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: fasted until the evening, so no food after the run, but this 30 minutes after the weights.

To understand the humour in these pictures, you may need to read my post about the book Born to Run...

[click for larger picture]

I hadn't intended to do the weights as well, but my Dad and I were standing around in his garage-based gym chewing the fat when the urge to do a few sets took me. This feels like the random event we would have encountered in the wild, so I was comfortable with doing more exercise than might be sensible on typical workout days. ... Read more

Friday, 16 April 2010

12 Minute 'Barbell Tens Circuit'

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 14th April

Workout: Barbell Tens Circuit

Total Time: 12 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: eggs, coconut cream, pumpkin seeds, 45 minutes later.

I 'invented' this routine because I wanted to minimise rest time by just using 3 bars with three different weights. There is more detail on the routine here. As you can see, it involves 3 x 10 on 6 major exercises in 12 minutes.

Of course this is just another point on the continuum between traditional sets and rests that give rise to hour+ sessions and Body by Science that polishes it off in as little as 8. In my view is that this is more fun than the latter and clearly more efficient than the former.

The trick is getting the weights right so that you start to approach failure in the final round. My weights were:

Bench Press - 45kg
Romanian Deadlift - 50kg
Clean and Press - 25kg
Bent Over Row - 45kg
Squat - 50kg
Floor Wipers - 45kg

...which was about right in each case, except deadlift, which could have stood another 10.
... Read more

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Training in the Malverns: What a Difference the Music Makes

Location: The Malvern Hills, Worcestershire, UK
Date: 10th April

- Long, easy run
- 1-minute burst up a steep hill
- A little wall jumping and tree-climbing.

Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: this 90 minutes later.

I got a little creative with Windows Movie Maker and stitched together the highlights, along with captions and the tongue-in-cheek application of very different sound tracks to the same sequence.

As well as wearing the head cam, I also had Mrs M tracking my every move like the Paparazzi. I was doing the thing where I run forwards and backwards, up and down in her general vicinity so that she doesn't feel left alone while I am running and she is walking. I think the camera work gave her something to take her mind off the walking. She was a little hungover and not feeling in top shape.

Interestingly, I received an email from YouTube telling me that my video may include copyrighted material owned by Sony music, but that no action by me is required. It also mentioned that I may see adverts on the video (presumably by way of indirect payment.) This is irritating, but a better approach than simply removing the sound, which is what they used to do.

... Read more

Monday, 12 April 2010

There's Running, and there's Running

I've recently read two books which have inspired me to think about endurance exercise and Paleo/Primal in a new light: Joss by Keith Richardson and Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I have also recently read some posts about the possible dangers of running which reminded me how polarised the coverage of this topic can be.

I doubt I would have read either book if copies had not been pressed insistently into my hand by a friend. I'm Paleo, Primal, a caveman, a hunter. I don't run - I sprint or I walk. So don't try to indoctrinate me back into the cardio-obsessed world I escaped from a few years ago.

Flirting with Endurance

Perhaps my friend had noticed that in spite of my supposed opposition to what Mark Sisson in the Primal Blueprint calls ‘chronic cardio’, I had been flirting with distance running by taking part in mountain races lasting up to 3 hours (e.g. here and here.) In fact not so long ago, I hauled my 10kg weight vest up 250 metres of incline, which was 23 minutes of solid, throat burning effort. Not distance running - but not exactly sprinting either. I reported that one here.

In fact my flirting had been inspired by something else Mark says: that long, low intensity exercise is good - and that occasionally busting out five miles or even a half marathon at full pace can provide outstanding fitness benefits without doing harm. It was a second reading of the PB that reminded me. Prior to that I had simply allowed purism to sabotage the potential for a more varied workout portfolio.

And now that I have read these other books, I am more or less sold.

Two Inspiring Books

Joss and Born to run are very different books – yet they share an underlying theme.

You won’t find Joss on Amazon – yet in the English Lake District Joss Naylor – or ‘Iron Joss’ - is such a legend I expect more people know who he is than who is the current prime minister. He is a man whose achievements are almost impossible to do justice to with the written word.

I could tell you that at the age of 50 he ran up 214 peaks in the Lake district (the 'Wainwrights'), a total of 391 miles 121,000 feet of ascent, in 7 days; but this won't mean much to you. It barely does to me. The numbers are too big. It's too far outside the sphere of my own experience.

I once hiked the peaks around Buttermere valley with my brother. There were about 10 of them, it took us 9 hours and we were utterly destroyed by the end.

To achieve what Iron Joss did, we'd have had to do 30 peaks instead of 10 that day, travel twice as fast, then get up every morning for the next 6 days and do the same. Oh - and for the 3 hours each day when we were not running we'd sleep in a matress in the back of a van.

Some of the things Naylor has done will probably never be repeated by anyone, ever. He has a list of achievements so long it occupies and entire section at the back of the book.

One of the reasons they won’t be repeated is because in some cases one suspects he almost killed himself doing them; doctors who supported him during his challenges soon learned that their pleas for him to stop were pointless.

Joss is a Biography of Joss Naylor and a hymn to the culture and history of the English Lakes district. You come to appreciate that he is a product of the very landscape over which he roams with such ease, and that the seemingly unbreakable spirit occupying his body could simply not have been forged in a different environment.

In Born to Run, the author's own journey as a runner is interwoven with the story of a secretive Mexican tribe of virtuoso runners who beat the best endurance athletes in the world. Books about sport often lack a certain literary flair - but you quickly realise McDougall can actually write. He opens with compelling tasters of the story and themes to come, begining with his hunt for an elusive white man, known only as 'The White Horse', who gave up everything to live and run in the desert alongside this tribe.

Two races dominate the story. First, the Leadville 100, a breathtakingly gruelling challenge in the Colorado mountains that has seen some of the best athletes in the world fail. This was the race in which members of the Tarahumara stunned the ultrarunning world by beating many of their most talented members.

A Tarahumara runner trains with ultramarathon athlete Scott Jurek
Then, later, when The White Horse - or Caballo Blanco - is finally tracked down, a second race comes into focus. Caballo wants to stage a seemingly insane ultrarun around the dangerous and more or less inaccessible Copper Canyon where the Tarahumara live, bringing together stars from the ultramarathon scene and the best runners from the tribe.

There is a strong sense that the Tarahumara's running and the landscape in which they dwell are somehow inextricably bound - and that their ability has nothing to do with interval training and power bars, but rather some fundamental state of mind which to some extent we are all hard wired to be capable of experiencing.

Along the way, we learn some startling facts about human physiology that separate us from every other animal and point to our being designed for endurance running. Further evidence points to persistence hunting being a feature of our recent past.

McDougall also takes breaks from the story to educate us about the way running shoes have evolved - not in response to our real need, but in response to problems created by the shoes themselves and, of course, the desire for profit.

The common theme between the books is the human urge to run - the running psyche, if you like. I got a sense that this drive is something that transcends the clinical analyses of ancestral behaviour and physiology that tends to underpin our discussions around distance running.

The two stories choose as their centrepieces runners whose cultures could not be farther apart, yet whose lives are influenced in a strikingly similar way by an innate desire to be at one with the landscape through the medium of running; and how that very philosophy seems to unlock abilities beyond those exhibited by athletes trained in the sterile labs of modern athletics.

There’s Running and there’s Running

In recent years there have been a number of studies, articles and blog posts about running and it’s effects on health. Of course for years we had been told it was good for you. Then studies started to cast doubt on that assertion.

Art Devany’s blog post, Top Ten Reasons Not to Run Marathons was my first exposure to an emerging doctrine on exercise, which ultimately led me into the Paleo/Primal arena and to the more general principle that exercise patterns that do not mimic our ancestral ones – such as the kind of training marathon runners perform – are likely to be bad for us.

Recently Kurt at PāNu re-opened the topic in the Paleo blogging sphere with his post, Still not Born to Run. Chris at Conditioning Research added some little insight with his post Long Distance Running – Bad for the Heart and drew some interesting conversations from commenters, some of whom raised the point I am going to make here.

There is a fundamental problem with the debate about whether or not running is good for you, or whether we were ‘born to run.’ Simply - there are different ways of running; and the problem with many of the studies fuelling the debate is that they use as their subjects the types of runners whose training program is about as far from our ancestral activity patterns as it’s possible to get – elite distance runners.

Let's say that once per week I jog in Vibram Five Fingers for 3 hours around my local hills at a pace allowing me to easily chat with my running partner at a sub-150 heart rate. Am I having the same effect on my body as an elite marathoner who spends at least 10 hours per week in Nikes on the road with a much more aggressive heart rate profile?

Clearly not.

Yet we both run; we are both ‘runners’; we are both endurance ‘athletes’ in the loosest sense of the word.

So until someone studies some real people running in all the different ways it’s possible to run, I won't pay too much attention to the headlines and will carry on running, sticking to a pattern that feels appropriate given what I’ve read and my own instinct.

Update: by coincidence, Richard at Free the Animal has posted on the same subject, including an excellent letter from one of his readers. Worth checking out: Born to Run?
... Read more

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Swim Sprints

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre Swimming Pool, Aston University
Date: 9th March

5 x Front crawl length, 95 - 100% effort.

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

Total time: 5 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: scrambled eggs with melon and cocoa powder, an hour later.

Swimming sprints never fail to leave me feeling violated. On the first few lengths I was only really at 95% effort, but lung burn had set in by the third, so I was already looking for the end. I hadn't decided whether I would do 5 or 6, so opted to up the intensity to 100% in return for only doing a further 2. I was still breathing heavily in the shower a few minutes later. I suspect the Easter weekend has robbed me of a little fitness. Nothing a few Tabatas can't solve. ... Read more

Friday, 9 April 2010

20-Minute Stay-in-the-Game Glycogen Dumper

Location: My House (and the scaffolding outside a neighbour's house)
Date: 7th March

8 Chin Ups
15 Press Ups
x 3 (no rest except to quickly move between locations)

1 minute to walk back into the house...then....

10 x Dumbbell squats (35 kg in each hand)
10 x Ab rollouts from the knees using the wheel
x3 (no rest between except to reposition)

Total workout time: 19 minutes

Post-workout nutrition: this, an hour later.

This session was really just to keep me in the game. I'd had a pretty heavy Easter weekend (too much booze, too much food) and I wanted an intense all over workout that was quick but dumped some of the muscle glycogen it felt like I had crammed myself full of over the weekend.

Normally at home I would not be able to do pull ups or chins, but a nearby house has some scaffolding up at the moment and at 6.30 am there was no one around to object to my using it... ... Read more

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Improvised Hotel Quickie Workout

Location: A hotel, London
Date: 31st March

Outside the hotel: 15 chin ups on a road sign, with a hanging leg raise between each
15 second sprint back to the hotel
Back at the hotel: 35 slow push ups
2 pistols, one on each leg, not quite to horizontal

Post workout nutrition: none - fasted.

Total Time: 15 minutes.
... Read more