Forty Years of Running: Less Than Ten Injuries.How?
Efficiency and grace.
Efficiency plus grace equals bullet-proof?Here are four ways to safeguard your running without wearing kevlar:
Improve your alliance with gravity
Educate your core
Soft, supple and sensitive feet
Pound less pavement
(For more on these four, see “Bulletproofing Methods” just below)
Is Running Your “Drug of Choice”?
If running is a vital lifeline for you like it is for me, you have to minimize your risk of injury.Along with these four tips, there are specific key skills to running that are quite subtle, yet very profound and absolutely essential to lifelong running.I have discovered and developed these over my decades of ultra running. I’ve created methods for teaching them through my extensive experience as a technique coach.Bring them all together and you:
Run with your whole body
Minimize ground time and maximize flight time
It’s impossible to guide you to whole-body running with words alone.That’s why I created The Running Lab.Interested in hosting a Running Lab?Contact me.
Improve Your Alliance with Gravity
Among endurance sports, running is notorious for injuries.Why? Impact: We get injured when we hit the ground.We blame it on gravity.And yet…
If we forge an alliance with gravity, we transform that enemy of impact into the force of propulsion.Efficient running technique begins with this partnership.It’s the foundation.In The Running Lab, you will learn a sequence of drills and running exercises to forge your personal alliance.
We translate the (vertical) pull of gravity into (horizontal) forward movement.I call this alliance “Effortless Power”.
Educate Your Core
The primary source of lower joint running injuries (foot, ankle and knee) is a poorly trained and uneducated core.By “core” I mean your whole torso:
Pectoral girdle* (See below)
Matrix of nerves, muscles and connective tissues from your shoulders to your hips that connect these two girdles together
“Core work” is not about six-pack abs.Read that heading again:“Educate Your Core”.Muscular strength is only part of a bulletproof core.Design and implement a regimen of exercises that educate your core to be articulate and responsive to all of the forces you encounter as you run – vertical, lateral, fore-aft, rotational.Stop forcing your feet, ankles and knees to compensate for poor core function and instability.
Education is neural.Along with muscle and connective tissue strength, your core education targets neural training. This is the path to kinetic intelligence.
* Yes, your pectoral girdle: Your shoulders, scapulae, upper spine and neck are critical to efficient whole-body running.They comprise your “Swing Set”.In the Running Lab, we focus first on creating a stable Swing Set.
Let Your Feet and Ankles be Supple and Sensitive
Look at your feet and ankles:
Feet: Many small joints, with very little muscle mass.
Ankles: Two highly articulate joints that move in every plane, again with very little muscle.
Let’s be honest here:Each foot and ankle is a sensitive and articulate instrument.It is not designed to stabilize the towering hulk of mass that looms and teeters above it.
Your feet and ankles excel at three things when you run:
Respond as a supple and highly articulate suspension system to cushion your ground contact
Interface each foot contact with constantly varying surface conditions such as pitch, camber, terrain
Provide instant sensory information to your hips and pelvis so that you can stabilize from your core
When your core is educated, your feet and ankles can perform brilliantly.Stop forcing them to be stabilizers.And stop trying to protect these instruments with rigid tension, or with shoes that restrict their articulation or muffle their sensitivity.Let them dance when you run.
Pound Less Pavement
Vary the terrain you run.Let your body train and articulate its agility by responding to a constantly changing running surface. Mixed terrain running is the most effective way to improve your running craft: PAGES running strides for all conditions.
Combine 80/20 Metabolic Training With 100% Neural Training
This is the optimal ratio of low aerobic intensity in proportion to moderate-high aerobic intensity training that optimizes your metabolic fitness and health as an endurance athlete.The 80/20 Method greatly simplifies the metabolic science of training – making it accessible to anyone, with or without monitors, meters or GPS.Beyond simplicity, this 80/20 ratio is the foundation of almost every successful elite and professional endurance athlete.
Optimizing aerobic fitness doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate.Renowned author Matt Fitzgerald, in collaboration with David Warden, recently published “80/20 Triathlon” – a comprehensive training guide for the 80/20 Method.This book is invaluable for every multisport athlete – novice to elite – especially those who self-coach.
As C.E.W. of Kaizen-durance and as a lifelong endurance artist, I emphasize the pursuit of Kinetic Intelligence (KI) as the priority in your daily training for an engaging, empowering lifelong pursuit of mastery through endurance athletics.
Do you have to compromise aerobic fitness and focus exclusively on neural fitness to pursue Kinetic Intelligence – the wisdom of the master athlete?No!
80/20 Plus 100
If you really want to maximize return on your aerobic investment, you can and you should pursue both metabolic and neural fitness during each training session.It is possible and practical to successfully optimize both without complicating your training sessions, and without increasing your training load.The 80/20 Method actually supports our emphasis on neural fitness.And the patient pursuit of KI through mindful rigorous neural training supports 80/20.
80/20 Brief Overview
To illustrate this, let’s start with a brief overview of 80/20.
The “80” in this method is the percentage of time (not distance) you should be training at low intensity – at or below your Ventilatory Threshold (VT).VT is slightly below Lactate Threshold (LT).This is your “base” training.
The “20” in this method is the percentage of time you should be training at moderate-to-high intensity – at or above LT.(See Matt’s book for specifics on what delineates moderate- from high-intensity.)
Most self-coached athletes habitually train in the “gray zone” between VT and LT when they are targeting base training: “Easy” is not really easy. This compromises aerobic fitness and performance.(Neural training is also less effective.)
Most self-coached athletes either train too little or too much at moderate-to-high intensity.This too compromises fitness.
Base training above VT, and excessive moderate-to-high intensity training at and above LT increase the risk of mechanical injury, as well as the hormonal imbalance of overtraining that leads to sickness, long-term burnout and steady fitness decline.I learned this the hard way when I first got into triathlon 20 years ago.It took me almost two years to recover from Chronic Adrenal Fatigue.The severe endocrine imbalance almost killed me.
This is a grossly simplified overview of the 80/20 Method.Read 80/20 Triathlon for a working knowledge and guidance.
When athletes initially buy into and implement 80/20, they find that training at or below VT for 80% of the time feels very slow.Very slow leads to impatience and insecurity.
Impatience leads to either disregard or boredom.Insecurity leads to either panic or abandonment.How can we stay engaged, confident and motivated as we patiently build that base?
One alternative: Switch to auto-pilot and just put in the junk miles.Ho-hum.Face the boredom now and hope for the glory later.
Another alternative: As you build that base, maximize return on your aerobic investment by simultaneously training the Four Vectors of Kaizen-durance Mastery.Improve your skill as an endurance artist beyond just aerobic fitness.
Four Vectors of Kaizen-durance Mastery
Alliance with Gravity
While your aerobic fitness is limited, your capacity for mindfulness, neural fitness, KI and the strength of your alliance with gravity are infinite:You can always improve.
Training at or slightly below your VT is the perfect opportunity to cultivate and develop these four vectors.And they are the foundation of PAGES technique:
Why not invest in every stride and every stroke, regardless of your speed or aerobic intensity?
Why not strive continually for PAGES?Maximize return on your aerobic investment.If you are going to put in the time, go for the maximum return.
Optimal Operating Environment
In a previous blog, we explored the function of our metabolic system: It provides the working systems of body and brain with an operating environment:
When that environment is hostile (hypoxic, acidic, etc) our muscles, nerves and brain struggle to function well.
When that environment is optimal we perform well and we learn most effectively.
If you enroll in a college class that is held in a cold dark lecture hall with no sound system for the professor’s lecture, you will struggle to learn.If you are chronically fatigued and inefficient at converting O2 and energy into movement, you will also struggle to improve.
During your low intensity 80 training, you are maintaining an optimal operating environment.
80 is Opportunity
During that (ho-hum) 80% of your training, when you are training with an optimal operating environment:
Your metabolic system is gradually improving its ability to provide that optimal environment at faster speed, for longer duration.Gradually you perform better.However you can learn faster immediately.
These are perfect conditions to hone your PAGES technique right now!!This is the learning part of training: Lots of time and opportunity to hone your craft as an endurance artist.You are acquiring Kinetic Intelligence – wisdom of the master athlete.
As you improve your PAGES, you are more efficient.You begin to go faster at or below VT.This means you can sustain your pace for longer distances: Endurance!
You reduce your risk of injury, illness and burnout.
You also train mindfulness skills.These skills are your greatest asset, essential to your functionality and performance in every area of life.
20 is Also Opportunity
Make the most out of your limited precious moderate- and high-intensity training.This too is an opportunity to pursue mastery:
Learn to maintain PAGES even when the operating environment is sub-optimal.
Learn how to adapt your PAGES technique to faster paces: efficient speed.
Learn how to remain calm, relaxed, mindful and vigilant when you are experiencing discomfort and pain.
High-intensity endurance training also trains mindfulness.It trains you to cope and function well during the high-stress moments of your life outside of sports.
You must build, strengthen and maintain your foundation: To invest well in your “80”, diligently pursue the Four Vectors of Mastery and the endless quest for PAGES technique.There is no limit to Precision, Alignment, Grace, Efficiency and Seamlessness: You can always improve your virtuosity.
As an artist, here is my advice during your 80: Be patient, curious, engaged and grateful every time you train, every time you practice.
We train three physiological systems:
The neural system is the one that improves the most.It will continue to improve far beyond your peak aerobic potential, as you (dare I say it) age.Neural training is the portal for mastery that transports you from endurance sports to endurance arts.Train neural fitness with each stroke, each stride.Experience and enjoy a sense of enduring mastery over a lifetime.
For over four decades, I have targeted neural fitness and KI during my daily training sessions.Using the 80/20 method, I have enjoyed now 18 years of great training and racing, with very few injuries, free from any recurrence of overtraining endocrine burnout.I continue to experience consistent improvement, and an ever deeper engagement in the craft of endurance arts.
Check out Zeman’s Bio for a summary of my race history.
80/20 Aerobic: Check out 80/20 Triathlon: “Discover the breakthrough elite-training formula of ultimate [metabolic] fitness and performance – at all levels”.This book is well-organized, easy-to-follow, clear and concise.I highly recommend this resource for those who self-coach, and those who may question or doubt the advice of the coach.
Saturday, 17 November, 56th Edition of the JFK 50-Mile Run: Near Hagerstown, MD.Approximately 900 runners.This event includes 12 miles of paved roads over rolling and sometimes hilly terrain, 13.5 miles of technical single track on the Appalachian Trail, 26.5 miles of flat unpaved tow path on the C&O canal. Finish 12:17:43, 25/45 in age group.
Transition: Shower, quick massage, shuttle back to start line, drive to hotel, reorganize gear, some food, 2.5 hours of sleep, depart at 2:15 AM, solo drive 3 hours to Philadelphia.
Sunday, 18 November, 25th Edition of the Philadelphia Marathon: Throughout the city of Philadelphia.Over 12,000 runners.This event is all paved, mostly flat, touring the city, with thousands of spectators, dozens of musical ensembles along the course.Finish: 5:59:37, 158/178 in age group.And then, the 4-hour drive home.
I have been intrigued with running these two events on consecutive days for years.Along with the obvious endurance challenge of completing both of them on consecutive days, and the logistics and travel between, I was curious about juxtaposing two events with such different character and atmosphere: The quiet, remote and natural environment of JFK with the big city atmosphere and activity of Philadelphia.
The JFK-PHL Double offered an opportunity to challenge my craft as an endurance artist.To complete this double (at age 61) would require finesse. It draws upon the Four Vectors of Kaizen-durance Mastery.These four vectors are the essence of the slogan “Finesse is stronger than force”:
I want to briefly share with you something I have been contemplating throughout this 2018 endurance season: displaced people seeking asylum.Please take a moment to read these reflections.And then, for those interested, I offer the details on my preparation for the JFK-PHL Double, and the actual experience.I conclude with a tribute to a friend and endurance brother.
Migration and Asylum
For months now – in my daily training, and during these endurance events I am so fortunate to experience – I have contemplated the migrants who travel great distances to seek asylum here in the US.While we as endurance athletes choose to participate in events with much support, fanfare, glory and a hero’s welcome at the finish, the displaced migrants of the world have a much more difficult journey.
Asylum seekers often flee their homes and nations due to violence – domestic, gang, military – as well as poverty and hunger.We are privileged with so many resources and the stability in our lives to actually prepare and train for a scheduled and chosen event.Fleeing migrants have no luxury or choice to train or to prepare for a desperate journey that is much longer than even our longest endurance events with no knowledge of what awaits them during the journey, or at the “finish line”.
Their journey is not along a clearly defined and safe course lined with aid stations and cheering spectators.There is no finish line with an announcer, a finisher’s medal, food, and the promise and certainty of retreating to a secure and comfortable refuge after the finish.Instead, their finish line is just the start of even greater uncertainty and risk.They are scorned, rejected, detained, often separated from their family members, and possibly deported back to the situations they were so desperate to escape.
What Can We Do?
As endurance practitioners, what can we do?This is a question I invite you to consider as you train and race, as you choose to endure.I welcome your insights here in the comments section.I will return to this in a future blog.
For now, as you train and race, put yourself in a displaced migrant’s shoes making the desperate journey.Imagine what it must be like.And please consider supporting the Asylum Seekers Advocacy Project.
JFK-PHL Details: Training
Prior to running Cat’s Tail Trail Marathon (29 September), I was experiencing a slight overuse injury to a metatarsal joint in my right foot.This event exacerbated it, so I took two weeks off from running after completing it.Cat’s Tail is not your typical marathon.It offers over 7,000 of climbing (sometimes on exposed rock faces), rough technical trails, few aid stations and just one road crossing (at 9.5 miles).Entry for this event is stringent, since you can’t drop out after Mile 9.5, without walking out.
In the 2-week break from running, I swam more and continued with strength work, along with some cycling.On 12 October, I resumed running 3-5 times a week. – my typical 40-90 minute off-pavement run sessions in Vibram 5-Fingers.And then… 22 October, as I was doing Box Jumps, I injured my shin when I failed to clear the height of the box.I sustained a moderate wound over the bone of my shin, with a lot of bleeding.And the next day I had dental surgery (a bone graft).As a precaution for the surgery, I was required to go on antibiotics.(Heck, at least I didn’t have to worry about wound infection in my shin.)
The shin injury was slow to heal, although I continued to run.Combined with the malaise I usually feel from the effect of antibiotics, I did not run any longer than 10 miles in a single run leading up to the JFK-PHL Double.The “climax” of my training was on Sunday, 04 November (2 weeks out):
I ran 10 miles of my “Tour de Cornell” course in the morning – lots of hills and mixed terrain, from home, ascending up to and through the Cornell University campus.
After a break to eat and work at the desk, I ran another 8 miles in the afternoon on the Black Diamond Trail – a maintained rail trail.
As always, I maintained a regimen of functional strength Pilates-based mat work throughout.Evolved over the past 4 decades, this is an essential part of my craft and the very first thing we explore in the Running Labs that I offer.I largely credit functional strength (especially pelvic and pectoral core, and lateral joint stability of the hips), along with mindful, efficient running technique with my JFK-PHL success.
Again… Finesse is stronger than force.
JFK-PHL Details: Event One
There was snow on the JFK 50-Mile course, slowly melting on race day.Consequently, we all had wet feet for most of the event.(Note: I was well-trained this year for wet feet, given my diet of trail running events – especially Twisted Branch 100K.For that event, we ran in water up our calves and even to our knees for a total accumulation of 2 miles, and thick mud above our ankles for over 30 miles.)
The melting snow and mud slurry actually “smoothed” the rocky sections of the Appalachian Trail (13.5 miles), making the running seem easier than all of the past years – a welcomed surprise.The C&O tow path also included several wet and muddy sections, though nothing like Twisted Branch.
Knowing that I planned to run a road surface marathon the next day, the theme of the day was soft andgentle.This may seem like a paradox: How can running 50 miles – or even two miles be soft and gentle?This is possible through a harmonious alliance with gravity.
Gravity is our curse and our blessing.
The real paradox is this: Gravity is the source of impact that leads to fatigue and injury, and yet we cannot run without it.It is our curse, and our blessing.Indeed, this is the runner’s dilemma – one resolved by mindfully cultivating a harmonious alliance with gravity.
As with past years, I was patient on the AT so I did not fall or injure myself.(Note: I learned this the hard way during my first JFK, in 2005.On the AT that year, I tweaked my left knee and ruptured the bursa sac. I was barely able to finish that year.) This year, safely off the AT, I patiently settled in to a 9:00/3:00 run/walk cycle for most of the 26.5 mile stretch of the flat and uniform C&O tow path.At some point, I switched to a 7:00/3:00 cycle, which made the math a bit easier in my delirium.
I began to feel some soreness in my left hip and IT around 38 miles.I did not let the discomfort adversely affect my most efficient technique.Deviating technique to alleviate discomfort will usually cause injury.The 8 miles of rolling hills comprising the final road stretch to the finish line offered variety that enabled me to vary my technique and spread the fatigue.With patience and grace, I reached the finish line.My time of 12:17 was over an hour slower than last year.
During the entire event, I consumed 150-200 calories and hour – a little more than usual, in anticipation of Philadelphia.
JFK-PHL Details: Transition
At the finish, without delay, I showered, got a brief message and took the shuttle bus back to the start.I arrived at my hotel room at 8:40 PM.It took me a little over an hour to reorganize – selecting my gear and nutrition for the next day and packing everything else for a quick and early departure.I ate some granola with whey protein and bananas and finally laid down at 10:30.As anticipated – due to high cortisol – I slept about 90 minutes, and then ended up laying on the floor with my legs elevated on the bed, resting as best I could until 1:45 AM.
I departed at 2:15 AM for Philadelphia to meet Dave Weiss at 5:15.The roads were desolate, and the weather clear.Dave had picked up my race packet and instructed me on where I could legally park on the street, just a half mile from the race start.Meeting with him, and sitting together for a few minutes in his car made the arrival and critically important transition (read “Reality Check”) much easier.Our walk to the start enabled me to loosen up my legs for another run, while our conversation helped me compose my attitude and approach.
As I anticipated, I had difficulty thermoregulating – staying warm – until my start time.I had dressed very warmly for the walk to the start but eventually had to give up much of my clothing before entering the start corral.Even with two hats, a neck gaiter, light running jacket, arm warmers, gloves and a vest, I was shivering during the 35-minute wait until our start.My already sore hips were aggravated by the tension from shivering.I did my best to keep them loose as I awaited the start of the last wave.
JFK-PHL Details: Event Two
I was relieved and slightly surprised at my ability to begin sauntering along at the start without much “rust” in my joints.I rarely run on paved surfaces in my daily training and was concerned about the added impact, especially after a 50-mile precursor.
My greatest asset for running pavement is that I have evolved my running technique craft to keep my feet soft and supple throughout the stride cycle – especially during ground contact.This minimizes impact, in spite of the firm and minimal Merrell Trail Glove shoes I wore for both JFK and PHL.
By mile 3, my left hip and IT band were sore again.I focused on crafting the gentlest strides I could and again adapted a 7:00/3:00 run/walk cycle.The most challenging miles were from 3 to 10.During this part of the run, I used these sensations to orient me to my gentlest technique.Gradually, much of the acute soreness in the hip and IT dissipated.Relieved, I settled into a very patient and graceful approach with each and every stride, enjoying the “Philly Marathon Experience”: the natural, historic, cultural and architectural sights of Philadelphia, the bands and musicians that came out to play for us, and the spectators in costume, with humorous and clever signs along the course.
I’ve run Philly once before, so I anticipated running Main Street Manayunk along the Schuykill River – miles 17-22.This place has a small town feel, with lots of creative, bohemian spirit and illustrious characters that lift my spirits.I declined all of the offers for beer in Manayunk, as I continued to focus on being as gentle as possible.I ran a very consistent pace: The results show that I ran the first 10K at a 13:34 mile pace, with my overall pace for the entire distance at 13:42.
I enjoyed sharing the experience with such a diversity of participants – feeling humble and grateful to be out there with so many brothers and sisters.I am honored to share this with many who are struggling not only with their marathon journey, but also in their life journey – as we all are.I was able to peer into their personal life challenges as they were revealed in this marathon journey.At the “back of the pack”, this is truly a life quest.
I was able to complete the JFK-PHL Double throughthe Four Vectors of Kaizen-durance Mastery.I am grateful for the moment-to-moment patience required – not just during the events, but in the transition between them, and the 4-hour drive home afterwards.
The JFK-PHL Double was the realization of something I have been curious about for years.Two times previously I have signed up for both, and then elected not to drive to Philadelphia after completing JFK.There were two circumstances that changed the conditions this year – one I consider insightful, the other heartbreaking:
Insightful: Previously, I planned to drive to Philadelphia just after JFK and then find somewhere to sleep.However, each time I felt too fatigued to drive safely.This year, the decision to sleep for a few hours first and then drive was the key to this critical logistical element.
Heartbreaking:Traditionally, I run JFK with my close friend and endurance brother Larry Lewis – a true legend in the field of endurance sports.Every year, Larry and I share a hotel room, and celebrate afterwards with a feast.(Note: Years before I met Larry, he and Willie Williams completed the JFK-PHL Double.)
2018 was to be Larry’s 20th JFK 50-Mile, and November 4th was to be Larry’s 35th consecutive NYC Marathon.However, on November 1st, he had a minor stroke.Larry and I are the same age.As of this publication, Larry is still in recovery and rehabilitation.He is progressing!
The sobering emptiness offered no incentive to pause for celebration after JFK, even though I was sincerely grateful for the health and capacity to cross the finish line.
Completing this Double this year was far less satisfying and epic than sharing the JFK 50-Mile pilgrimage and reunion with Larry each year.I prayed for him throughout the event, and felt his absence.I will be overjoyed to celebrate our reunion – and Larry’s induction to the 1000-Mile Club – in 2019.There will be no need to head to Philly after that.
Let’s compare two scenarios – excerpted from Book One of my “Kaizen-durance, Your Aerobic Path to Mastery” series:
Athlete Joe Primetime wants to do Ironman next summer.Joe hires a coach and declares, “Coach, I don’t care what it takes!Just get me to that finish line!I want to hear Mike Reilly say “Joe Primetime, you are an IRONMAN!!’”With a locked-and-loaded focus on the result, Joe is going to follow (and maybe exceed) his coach’s step-by-step plan – come hell or high water.
Now let’s look at a different scenario – an artist scenario:Aspiring musician Sabrina Serenade begins to study violin.When she seeks out her teacher, it’s not likely that she will declare “Maestro, I want to play First Violin for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the JFK Symphony Hall next year!I don’t care what it takes, just get me there!”
Why does this seem perfectly normal for the athlete, but absurd for the musician?The short answer: Goal versus Process:
As athletes, we are conditioned to be the fastest, to win the game.
Our eyes are on the prize, fixed on the end result.
This fixation means we may have little patience or regard for the actual process – the craft – that enables us to pursue the goal. We just want to “hit the numbers”.
If the martial artist is narrowly focused only on beating the opponent (goal), without concern for what is arising in the present moment (process), he may miss something that could cost him his life.
Returning to the scenario from Book One:
The musician doesn’t narrowly focus her daily practice on chasing one Big Goal Event.Certainly she may (and should) have visions and goals.First however, she patiently develops her individual craft as a musician.She focuses on cultivating excellent technique and on developing a desirable and distinctive “voice”.Her technical skill and distinctive voice will enable her to play with excellence, and not just speed.Her patience and perseverance will bring the opportunities to play in fine symphony halls, and an enduring, satisfying career.
Every artist knows that s/he cannot achieve any goal without first patiently and diligently investing in her/his craft and developing a unique “signature”. In my experience as an ultra athlete, my unique craft is the key to finishing the longest, toughest races.
Artists know: Finesse is stronger than force.
Beyond the distances you have reached and the finish times you have cut, how do you define your endurance character?Are your identity and success as an athlete completely bound to your results?Do you have a unique approach to the way you train day-to-day?
Hitting the Numbers
In sport, our drive is to get a specific result on race day. To achieve this, we focus on “hitting the numbers” during each training session.But what happens if we fail to get that result on race day?Has the considerable sacrifice and investment of time and energy to hit those numbers yielded any benefit, any dividend?
And then there is the bigger question every one of us eventually faces: What happens as we begin to decline with age?What happens when our numbers sag?As we grow tired of banging our heads against the Aerobic Wall in an attempt to delay metabolic decline, should we quit because we are slowing down? Instead, we can become endurance artists.
Athletes decline with age.Artists improve with age.
If we relax our obsession with the fastest time to the finish line and a specific end result, and focus more on the unfolding journey and discovery of our craft, we are empowered to pursue kinetic intelligence.KI is the essence of our craft – our art.
In previous blogs, we have identified KI as the wisdom of the experienced master athlete.With KI, we focus more on PAGES technique:
Your PAGES technique is the most significant element of your unique signature as an endurance artist.
When we are no longer distracted by and attached to an end result that we may or may
not achieve, we can invest our attention more in this present moment.Less constrained by such attachment, we can craft this stride, this stroke perfectly – the swim stroke or the run stride we are generating right now.This is true in each moment, whether it is during a mundane early-season training session or the finale race of the season.And this pursuit of excellence in each moment is the surest way to create and realize our masterpiece – our race of the season – regardless of age or speed.
A great painter begins with a vision.That vision becomes a masterpiece one diligent and well-crafted brush stroke at a time.
I have advised many athletes that Ironman is not 140.6 miles.It is one mile 140.6 times.And like the painter’s masterpiece, each mile is crafted one PAGES stroke or stride at a time. Just like us, each of the great painter’s brush strokes must be PAGES.
Endurance Arts Forum: Join Us!
I invite you to engage with us in a dialogue about endurance arts.You can participate by joining our Endurance Arts Forum on Facebook, and by sharing your experiences and insights with me by leaving your comments below.I will draw upon and may even quote your contributions in future blogs on the endurance arts.
Here are some questions to initiate our dialogue:
How does creativity enhance your endurance athlete/artist lifestyle – in training, competing and even in everyday life?
Do you regard your sport as a craft, an art?If so, how?Has it changed the way you approach your training and racing?Has it changed the way you measure success and satisfaction? How?
Within your endurance sport(s), are there any specific formats, venues or events that encourage a more creative, innovative and/or intuitive approach?
Both sports and live arts focus on performance.How are these performances similar?Specifically, endurance sports performances?How are they different?
What is your greatest asset or resource as an endurance athlete/artist?How does this asset or resource empower you?Is it more, less or of equal value in training vs. racing?
In the next entry, we will consider the balance of science and art in our pursuit of excellence and our quest for mastery through “kaizen-durance”:
In the previous blog “The KI Hack Explained”, I introduced Kinetic Intelligence.This is a promising resource for improving athletic performance beyond the metabolic peak each of us encounters early in adult life.Just like the virtuoso musician who continues to perform more brilliantly with age, we too can become virtuoso athletes.
With KI, Paula Newby-Fraser won her eighth Hawaii Ironman World Championship at age forty.As the Queen of Kona, Paula was truly a virtuoso.
In this blog, let’s explore an alternative to the conventional method of metabolic fitness training.To pursue virtuosity through KI, we have to expand our training method to also strengthen and build neural fitness.
Let’s begin by clarifying the term “metabolic fitness”, commonly known to athletes as “aerobic fitness”.Exercise physiology excels in the science of metabolic fitness and how to optimize it.So, what is this metabolic/aerobic fitness?
Your working muscles need a supportive and favorable operating environment to perform.This is the function of your metabolic system.
Metabolic fitness is our ability to convert oxygen and fuel (fat, carbohydrate and protein) into energy that moves our muscles.Your metabolic system includes your heart and lungs, your vascular (circulation) system, and specific components in each muscle cell that convert the oxygen and fuel into energy so the muscles can move.Think of this as the environmental control system in a building that maintains a suitable temperature and clean air for all of the workers, as well as lighting, plumbing, etc.If the environment is inadequate or hostile, function and productivity suffer.
Your metabolic system provides your muscles and your nerves with an adequate operating environment and the necessary energy to support and sustain the repeated strokes and strides.As long as the operating environment is favorable, we are able to maintain that goal pace and feel like the glorious athlete-warrior.If it becomes to hypoxic or too acidic, or if we are not converting the fuel into energy fast enough, muscle function is impaired.We go from glory to bonk.
However, even with peak aerobic fitness, if your technique is inefficient, you won’t perform at your greatest potential.
To go faster or longer, we have two options:
Improve metabolic fitness to our greatest potential to support a higher level of output by the muscles, and/or for a longer duration: Work more.
Improve the efficiency of our technique so that we require less energy – taxing the metabolic system less: Work less.
It’s important to note that we can target both metabolic fitness and technique efficiency simultaneously, in every training session.However, if we ignore the promising resource of KI and focus only on chasing the numbers that measure metabolic fitness, our training devolves into “banging our heads against the Aerobic Wall.”
When we expand our training focus to include neural fitness, we can stop “banging our heads against the Aerobic Wall”.
The Aerobic Wall?
Imagine that your peak aerobic potential is a wall.Let’s call it the Aerobic Wall.Until age 25, your wall moves forward as your potential increases.But after age 25 this wall begins to move backwards towards you and your potential decreases.Now it is a limiter – it begins to encroach and limit your performance.In desperation, we feel driven to push against it, to resist its encroachment.
Bottom line?Nobody wants to get old!So we keep banging our heads against that Aerobic Wall day after day, year after year.Where is the joy and satisfaction in that?
The science of metabolic fitness has advanced significantly in the past few decades and is now very exacting and very affordable.That makes metabolic fitness training very attractive and reliable.
We can measure metabolic intensity (through heart rate, blood lactate levels, respiratory gas analysis) and correlate that with pace and/or power output with great accuracy.Such accurate measurements provide clear guidance and a sense of reassurance.We grow to depend heavily on exacting metabolic metrics to govern each training session.
So, even if we are beyond aerobic peak, metabolic fitness remains the gold standard for improving athletic performance. After all, what else is there?
What else could we possibly rely on so confidently to guide and structure our day-to-day training and our long-term preparation for goal races?Anything else seems foreign and less trustworthy.
To explore an alternative, let’s begin with this: As athletes, we train more than our metabolic.We train three physiological systems:
Of those three systems, which one do you think you can improve the most?
The physiological system that is most trainable – the one that can continue to improve for many decades – is not the metabolic.It is the neural.
Our neural system is the most “plastic”, most adaptable system.This is the system that learns.It gets smarter and more functional with experience and consistent, mindful practice.Experience and practice come with age.We build and strengthen kinetic intelligence through this neural training.KI is the wisdom of the aging master athlete.
So… What is this neural system?
In simplest terms, your neural system is a matrix of “wires” that conduct electrical signals between locations – most significantly, between your body and your brain.Some of the wires conduct in one direction (say, from body to brain) and others conduct in the opposite direction.
Your neural system is your body-mind connective network – so vital to everything you do, including endurance sports.
Mind Over Matter?
The skills we have learned in life and use each day – from tying our shoes to driving a car – are like computer programs that we store and activate.Some of these skills – like driving the car – require us to activate multiple programs simultaneously.Each of these skills/programs must be stored (in IT terminology “hosted” ) somewhere within us.
Many forms of human intelligence – like solving a math problem, verbal communication – are housed in your brain.So you may think that KI is also housed in your brain, yes?However…
To be specific, our intelligence and skills are hosted by our neurons.Neurons are cells within the wiring of our neural system.In humans, 80% of our neurons are in our brains, while 20% are in our bodies.KI is body movement intelligence.The best place to host this form of intelligence and our movement skills is in close proximity to the muscles that express that intelligence.
Ever heard of or even felt your own “muscle memory”?That’s mind IN matter!
“Muscle memory” isn’t quite accurate, since the memory is actually neuronal.But it is close since the memory/intelligence for your PAGES technique is stored in the neurons embedded in your muscles.In contrast, our day-to-day activities that are so dominated by spoken language rely on skills and intelligence hosted in the neurons of our brains.
The “brain intelligence” we engage most of the time cannot host or govern KI and PAGES technique skills.So why do we feel so compelled to approach our training through methods that are brain-directed?Why do we use the “mind over matter” approach as we strive for our next PR?
Because we are most familiar with tasking and engaging the neurons in our brains to solve the problems of our daily lives.
Our attraction to the metrics of metabolic fitness – that have us banging our heads against that Aerobic Wall – arise in part from our desire to stay in the familiar territory of our brain neurons, rather than venture into the less familiar territory our body neurons.
How do we get from “mind over matter” to “mind IN matter”?
The first step to pursuing athletic neural fitness is to trust your body intelligence.This intelligence functions through sensations, rather than metrics.Our pre-occupation with metrics can prevent us from actually feeling what we are doing.Many athletes are lost without the heart rate monitor, power meter and GPS pacing.
Years ago, I worked at a triathlon shop.I can remember fitting seasoned athletes for running shoes:
“How does that shoe feel?”
“Well, what size it?”
“Never mind the number printed on the box, how does the shoe feel on your foot?”
“Well, how should it feel?”
Many athletes would rather buy the shoe based on the number printed on the box it came in than buy a shoe that felt good to their foot.They trusted the metrics more than their own sensations or their ability to evaluate those sensations.This is profound when it comes to how we approach training.No wonder we train by numbers instead of by feel.
When we trust the sensations of our bodies for guidance, we are more willing to venture out of the familiar territory of our brain neurons and venture deep into the less familiar territory of our body neurons.
Start with the “Tips for KI Training” from the previous blog to get out of your head and into your body.
Learn to measure your level of metabolic intensity by Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), without having to rely on the metric monitors.These monitors distract us from feeling what is occurring in our bodies.The emphasis in the term Rate of Perceived Exertion is is perception – what you are feeling right nowin this present moment.
With experience, your RPE is a much more accurate way of measuring your metabolic intensity than your heart rate monitor or power meter.Why?
Your heart rate zones and power zones are determined through tests that determine those zones for the specific circumstances at the time of testing, including – but not limited to:
Your fitness level for that sport on that day
Degree of stress or recovery (endocrine system chemistry) on that day
Blood sugar level
These and many other factors vary day-to-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute.While your “hard metrics” were determined in the past, your RPE is accurate in this moment – if you are able to accurately monitor your sensations and gauge from them.Book Two of the series “Kaizen-durance, Your Aerobic Path to Mastery” provides guidance in how to use your RPE as your most trusted tool for metabolic training.(See Bottom Line below.)
When You Train…
Get out of your head and into your body so you can accurately sense both your:
Book One of the series “Kaizen-durance, Your Aerobic Path to Mastery” supports you in making the paradigm shift from banging your head against the Aerobic Wall to pursuing KI and PAGES.It introduces you to expanding your training from a “metabolic-only” format to include neural fitness training.
Book Two of the series explores in-depth the fledgling science of neural fitness.I have devoted more than four decades pioneering this science primarily through my own training and racing, as well as educating over a thousand athletes through Kaizen-durance Arts Programs in swimming, biking, running and mindfulness skills.
Book Three of the series explores the mindfulness skills that are essential for the exacting perceptive acuity necessary for neural training.Mindfulness is actually the first of the Four Vectors of Kaizen-durance Mastery (followed by neural training).
Book Four of the series offers methods and techniques for neural training.
You don’t have to sacrifice metabolic fitness to focus on neural fitness: I have used RPE exclusively to gauge metabolic intensity as I prioritize neural fitness in my training over a span of decades.In a recent ventilatory threshold test, my VO2max ranked at 99th percentile for my age, with my lactate threshold at 89% of VO2max.
Trust your body sensations more than the numbers that feed your brain.To do this, learn to gauge your metabolic intensity based on RPE.
As endurance athletes we all face the same hard truth:Eventually age catches up to us and begins to pass us by.What we all fear begins to happen: We slow down.
If we look at this aging process strictly from metabolic (aerobic) fitness, that decline begins at the young age of 25!This is derived from scientific studies measuring VO2max as an indicator of metabolic fitness: After age 25, we start to lose it.
Twenty five??But wait!Many of us don’t discover our passion for all things endurance until much later in life.Are we starting already on the downhill slide?What’s going to motivate us if we don’t feel like we are getting faster?
There is Hope!
We can continue to get faster, even beyond that aerobic prime at 25 years old.And even when we do begin to slow down some time later in life, we can continue to experience improvement in the arena of endurance athletics.We can enjoy a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment well into our 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and beyond.
How? The short answer is “K.I.” – “kinetic intelligence”.
Kinetic Intelligence explains why the top male and female triathletes crowned each year as world champions at Hawaii Ironman tend to be in their mid-30’s – a decade beyond aerobic primetime.
So what is this K.I.?And how can it outrun that decade of aerobic decline?
To explore this form of intelligence, let’s begin with this question: “What is the benefit of KI, and how will it make me a better athlete – at any age?”
The primary benefit of kinetic intelligence is better and moreefficient technique.No matter how old you are, if you improve your technique, you will swim, bike, run, ski, paddle, etc. faster and/or farther with:
less energy and less exertion
less pain and less risk of injury
a more accurate sense of pacing – without relying on monitors and gadgets
greater flow and finesse – even at high intensity
greater versatility in the distances, formats and terrain you perform at
a higher level of perceptual acuity and mental engagement
With KI, you are a smarter, more versatile, adaptable and efficient athlete – at any age.
Training Kinetic Intelligence: PAGES
How do we train and develop KI?Will it compromise targeted metabolic training?
We train and develop KI by expanding our focus for each training session to target more than just metabolic fitness. In the entire spectrum of metabolic intensity – from easy recovery to high-intensity intervals – we focus on training “PAGES” technique with every stroke, every stride.
Underlying PAGES as the very foundation of efficient technique is our ability to translate the (vertical) pull of gravity into (horizontal) forward movement. This begins with the “A” in PAGES – Aligned.
I call this “effortless power”. It’s a term coined by Peter Ralston.Effortless power arises as we use and direct forces available to us while minimizing the amount of force we actually generate.The slogan I have for this:
Finesse is stronger than force.
I have been building and improving my alliance with gravity for over four decades now. And this improvement continues. At age 61, yes, I am slowing down.However, I enjoy both my day-to-day training and my frequent racing performances more now than ever before.
What About Aerobic Fitness?
My emphasis on pursuing KI in each and every training session does not seem to compromise or adversely affect my metabolic fitness.Recently I tested at 99th percentile for VO2max at my age group.
You can train both metabolic fitness and kinetic intelligence simultaneously.
Tips For KI Training
For most of us, our training sessions are structured and focused on “hitting the numbers” to improve or preserve metabolic fitness.We focus on heart rate, power and pace to govern each session.Expanding to include KI training may be unfamiliar at first.To introduce this new pursuit, start with your recovery training sessions.In these sessions you are not driven or distracted by metrics. You can relax and be more present with the sense-felt experiences of your body, and less fixated on the mentally distracting metrics.
During these easy sessions, focus on what you feel, and not on what the monitors tell you. Focus on each stride, each stroke and each breath.In simplest terms, BE HERE NOW: Often times when we train, our fixation with hitting the numbers distracts us from really feeling what we are doing right now.And this is the only place where we can improve PAGES – here and now.
In Zen tradition, there is an expression – Beginner’s Mind.
Approach your training session with the humblecuriosity of abeginner, instead of the proud certainty of an expert.This approach empowers us to discover, learn and improve regardless of age. Curiosity encourages us to navigate towards PAGES technique by sharpening our perceptions of what is occurring in this moment, what we are feeling in the moment.
With the curiosity of Beginner’s Mind, we are able to let go of the goals and our finish-line-focus. We can patiently develop our body’s kinetic intelligence.Yes, kinetic intelligence is stored more in the body than the goal-driven frontal cortex of the brain that typically drives us to “hit the numbers” as we train.
This Beginner’s Mind, it sounds naive and ignorant doesn’t it?Consider this:
In the mind of beginner, there are infinite possibilities.In the mind of the expert there are very few.
We learn and improve rapidly when we are curious, patient and open – regardless of our age.
Ah… The House of Cards:
I teach swimming technique for a living.As I explain to my students, swim technique is
A House of Cards:
We begin with one core element of technique.
Then we add another, and another, and another…
Eventually we realize that we lost touch with one of the elements, and that house of cards falls.
In the pursuit of kinetic intelligence, we train the mind-body awareness to maintain more and more elements of technique without losing touch.Our technique improves. We become more PAGES.
Book One of the series Kaizen-durance, Your Aerobic Path to Mastery explores each element of PAGES in depth and elaborates on the training methods for improving each element of PAGES in your technique – regardless of your sport. This book connects you with your innate wisdom as an endurance athlete – your kinetic intelligence. It guides you to expand your training focus beyond aerobic capacity so you can “hack” your performance potential at any age.
We can accelerate the process of improving PAGES technique by participating in technique-focused clinics like:
All of these educational methods are based on gravity-sourced propulsion.
However, each of us has the navigational skills to pursue our alliance with gravity and PAGES technique on our own – if we are patient, curious, and humble as we train. To do this, we must trust and listen to our body’s sensations. Most importantly, we must develop an acute sense of balance.That is our alliance with gravity.
For over four decades, I have been improving my alliance with gravity through my daily practice of T’ai Chi.It is simply the best investment I have made in my life. I produced a DVD “T’ai Chi for Athletes” that will guide you through a few easy-to-learn movement sequences you can practice for just a few minutes each day to improve your alliance with gravity.
We can continue to develop and refine kinetic intelligence for many decades beyond “aerobic primetime” and enjoy the benefits and improvements in our athletic performance. With patience and curiosity, focus on your alliance with gravity and PAGES technique.
In my next offering, we will look a little deeper into our pursuit of mastery through KI. Until then, remember this:
Less than one-tenth of one percent of the world’s population has the health, wealth, political and cultural freedom to live the endurance lifestyle we enjoy. Make it count… for more than just podiums and glory.
Note: This essay originally appeared in late in Fall 2007 on Triathlete Magazine website.
You go to your favorite triathlon store or website. With your precious hard-earned money, you purchase what is perhaps the second largest investment after your bike and all of its accoutrements – your wetsuit. You faithfully followed the sizing chart for your favorite brand, but when you put the thing on, it feels more like a trash compactor than a stealthy aide to record swim times.
Perhaps all those charts are just wrong. Perhaps there is a conspiracy among wetsuit manufacturers to drive us tri-geeks crazy enough that our wetsuits will become restraint systems – straight jackets.
As a former sales associate at High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid, I helped many people with wetsuit sizing. Even more so, my personal experience with the 3 wetsuits I’ve owned has led me to some important discoveries.
First, you can suit up in the perfect size wetsuit, jump in the lake and feel miserable and exhausted within a minute. In the world of triathlon swimming, there is nothing more disappointing than diligently training all winter in the pool to master your swim technique and elevate your aerobic capacity and power, only to see all of it squeezed out of you by a pricey piece of neoprene.
First and foremost, buy a proper fit. 2XU – my preferred brand – offers 13 sizes for men and 6 for women. Hence, there are a lot of options there. When you don your new neoprene skin, it should feel tight and constricting. A loose-fitting wetsuit will take on water, creating pools in loose pockets. These water pockets slow you down, reduce your warmth considerably and turn you into a beluga.
As mentioned above, you can put on the perfect size wetsuit and be reduced to jelly in a minute if you don’t take the time to fit the suit to your body. Each time you put it on you must “tailor” the wetsuit to your body. This tailoring process occurs as you put the suit on.
Begin by folding the top of the suit down to the waist and, gripping the inside surface of the suit, put on one leg. Pull the end of the suit-leg up higher on your leg than it needs to be. (It’s much easier to pull the extremities out away from the center of your body than it is to work them in towards the center.) Pull the slack up above your knee, and then do the same with your other leg. Draw the suit up around your waist. Now comes the most important part:
Before you put on the top of the suit, pucker and pinch the suit above the knee and pull it up into your crotch. Use both hands to do this pucker, pinch and pull process around each leg (front, back and sides) until you feel the suit snug in your crotch.
Now insert one arm and pull the sleeve end up higher on your forearm than you think it needs to be. With the pucker, pinch and pull process work the suit up to your elbow. Repeat with the second arm.
Now bring the suit up around the front of your neck. (For all you newbies, just remember, the zipper goes in the back.) Pucker, pinch and pull the upper arms and work the suit up around your shoulders and armpits. This is the area where you need the most slack – the area with the greatest range of motion.
Before you zip up the suit, do the same pucker, pinch and pull around the front, back and sides of the torso of the suit, as you work some slack upwards under your arms, around your shoulders and into your chest and upper back.
Once you have completed this, zip in and make any fine tunings you need to. Finally, you can pull the sleeve and leg ends back down.
If you have a conventional zip-up (rather than the zip-down) suit and have trouble getting the zipper started at the base by yourself, you can zip the suit up 3-6 inches before you begin putting it on. (A nice option to waking someone up at 6 a.m. just to zip you up for that dawn patrol swim.)
(Those with zip-down suits will just have to get assistance the night before and sleep in your wetsuit.)
A Couple of Tips:
Shave your legs and apply some kind of lube before suiting up to make the pucker, pinch and pull process much easier and potentially less painful. (Another alibi for male triathletes who may be questioned about those smooth hairless legs.) Keep all of your nails trimmed to avoid piercing the suit during the fitting process.
Remember that the suit will feel a bit looser once you are in the water. Each time you go through this fitting process, you will discover just how much to pull and tug in each area.
You will need the greatest range of motion around your shoulders, upper chest and elbows.
Each time you train in your suit, evaluate the fit and make mental notes as to how you can improve it – a little more pull and tug here, a little less there. Notice if you feel any water pooling inside the suit, and remember to make the suit a little tighter there next time. The places that feel restrictive will need a little more slack.
When you take your suit off, hang it inside out on a smooth plastic hanger made for a wetsuit. Keep the suit inside out until you use it again to protect the fragile neoprene outer surface from getting torn and from sunlight.
Using the pinch, pucker and pull process each time you suit up, you will become your own best tailor, at least for your wetsuit.
Adapting Your Technique:
To effectively adapt your pool swimming technique to open water wetsuit swimming requires training sessions in the suit for three primary reasons: – First, you must adapt your stroke mechanics to a more buoyant body position.
– Second, in the pool, we often work on minimizing stroke count with long strokes and slower cadence. Fast open water wetsuit swimming requires the same stroke length, but the stroke cadence increases because your body (and hence your arms) travel through the water faster.
– The other significant difference between open water and lap swimming is the continuous uninterrupted stroking without pause to turn at the end of each lap.
Adapting to the increase in cadence and the uninterrupted stroking of open water swimming are neurological adaptations more than metabolic or muscular. Consistent and diligent practice will yield fast results, provided you do not revert to old habits.
Finally, given the opportunity, swim for 10 minutes before any goal races to assure both the wetsuit and goggles fit, and for a proper warm-up and effective neurological adaptation. When the gun goes off… Get ready for a swim PR!