Beyond Training

June 9th, 2014

Today’s post is an interview with long-time Restwise coach Ben Greenfield whose recently published book Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life became a New York Times Best Seller. Ben took some time out of his insanely packed schedule to answer a few questions for us.

RW: Ben, first of all congratulations on the success of Beyond Training! There are a lot of books on training and healthy living, but yours obviously struck a chord. What need were you trying to address in writing Beyond Training?

BG: Ironically, people who appear to be fit and healthy on the outside struggle with health and lifestyle issues like insomnia, gas, bloating, low libido, aging too fast, injuries, performance plateaus, brain fog and a basic lack of time for career, family, and friends. Despite being incredibly fit “ on the outside” I personally tested my own blood levels two years ago and tested high for cortisol, inflammation and other markers that showed if I kept doing what I was doing I wasn’t going to be around to see my grandkids. So I started research how to be both healthy on the outside and healthy on this inside. So this book supplies a step-by-step, done-for-you guide for exercise enthusiasts to eliminate all the issues that tend to plague you from recovery to lifestyle to training and let you get the most out of life while still achieving amazing feats of physical and mental performance.

RW: Your book covers a lot of ground and balances information for different audiences. What are some of the principles of training at the elite level that you wanted to bring to the weekend warrior, the stressed executive, or the person getting off the coach for the first time to train for a 5K?

BG: Honestly, much of the concepts in this book aren’t really from the elite level because many folks training at the elite level have plenty of time to train and recover properly (not that they all do!) But I primarily wanted to give the average person who is simply an exercise enthusiast (or as you say, weekend warrior) the fastest and most efficient ways to achieve goals using a minimum effective dose that leaves time for career, friends and family. Sure, this means that the reader might find themselves learning things like how to implement cold thermogenesis or easy ways to make bone broth or even how to implement biohacks like electrical stimulation and Chinese meridian tapping, but that’s better living through science!

RW: Some of the ideas in this book fly in the face of conventional wisdom. What are a few of the biggest misconceptions about training, diet, or health in general that you feel this book sets straight?

BG: Let’s start here:

1) The best way to build endurance is to slowly build miles and volume (it’s actually to elevate mitochondrial density, which is best done through intensity and weight training)…

2) A “bonk” is due to running out of carbohydrates (it’s actually low blood levels of amino acids combined with core temperature dysregulation)

3) Working out in your fat burning zone is the best way to build fat (it actually slows your metabolism to do this)

4) Ketogenic, low-carb diets work well for fat loss (they don’t – although they do amp up diaphragm and heart muscle tissue fuel)

5) High-rep, low-resistance weight training is ideal for building muscular power, strength and endurance for “going long” (it’s actually the opposite – quick, explosive heavy lifting)

RW: If we had a lot more space, I’d love to delve into each of these, but instead I’ll point interested readers to your book instead. You have completed 10 Ironman triathlons yourself and have coached who-knows-how-many other Ironman finishers. What are some common mistakes you see triathletes make?

BG: If you’re swimming, cycling and weight training, you only need to run twice a week to be a fast triathlete runner. Most people run way too much. Short frequent swims (e.g. 10-15 minutes 4-5x per week) are much better if you have convenient access to water compared to long morning Master’s swims, etc. Indoor bike training is a huge underutilized training tool, but allows you to get nearly 30% extra volume and/or intensity due to the time-saving aspects. And finally, if you’re not testing your blood markers or quantifying recovery in some way, you will be in the complete darkness about whether or not you’re going to get sick or injured and I can’t tell you how many Ironman athletes come to me race week extremely desperate because they all of a sudden have a cold, flu or injury we could have identified and eliminated long before it happened.

RW: One of the trademarks of your approach to training is balance. As such you devote a lot of time in the book to recovery. What key advice would you give to triathletes about incorporating recovery into an overall approach to training?

1. Choose at least one qualitative and one quantitative marker per day and track it. The best place for beginners, in my opinion, is the qualitative value of sleep and the quantitative value of heart rate variability. I discuss both extensively in my book.

2. You have a limited number of stress “points” per day. Exercise is just one way to use up those stress points. A poor relationship with your loved one is another. Being lonely is another. Work stress is another. Eating a food you are intolerant to is another. You can easily use up most of your stress points without even working out, and have very little left to devote to training. That’s why a huge part of my book focuses on practical ways to reduce stress in all these areas.

3. The workout doesn’t stop when you walk in the door from the workout. I will finish a workout, then move on to things like deep breathing, cold therapy, compression, inversion, antioxidants, etc. Fortunately, all this stuff can be done while you’re – say – watching a documentary or replying to emails. You just need to know what to do and how to do it. So read the book.

RW: What’s next for Ben Greenfield?

BG: I’m currently training to podium as a top obstacle racer in Spartan races. So lots of climbing over walls, throwing spears, dragging cement blocks, flipping tires and running through mud and crawling through my forested backyard. I’ve also recently been named to the board of advisers for ThorneFX – which I consider to be one of the highest quality supplementation companies on the face of the planet. I’m going to help them develop new formulas for athletes. So those are the big things. And of course, floating the Spokane River with my wife and twin boys.

RW: Again, it’s all about balance! Good luck with all of this, and thanks again for taking the time to share your ideas with us.

MultiSport for Multiple Sclerosis

October 31st, 2013

For most triathletes, the notion of completing an Ironman anywhere, under any conditions, is daunting. The thought of finishing it on Ali’i Drive after conquering the swells, winds, and heat of Kona alongside the world’s best triathletes is lifelong dream, with just a sprinkle of worst nightmare. Now imagine breaking the tape in under 9:40 – while battling multiple sclerosis. To inspire you and help you get your head around this incredible feat, we bring you an interview with long-time Restwise user and unsung hero of Kona Chris Ramsey.

Chris brings it home

RW: Chris, you’ve spent most of your life as an endurance athlete in sports ranging from rowing to triathlon. Can you run us through the highlights your athletic career?

CR: That’s a difficult question to answer as I have competed in something just about all my life – starting with my first road race at age 2. I suppose it was downhill from there, as going sub-20 minutes at that age was probably my best shot at a world record. Childhood sports revolved primarily around soccer and volleyball, and of course running. I was always chasing my older brother Ian, who to this day owns the 800m school record at Newtown High School.

After graduating in 1991, I rowed at the Univ of Rochester (NY), did my first triathlon the summer of 1992, raced bikes at the Univ of CT, and briefly at the Univ of CO prior to getting fully into triathlon. I wanted to tell my kid(s) that I raced collegiate national championships in something. The Buffalos won their first (of many) titles that year, and I’ve never looked back: Triathlon became my sport.

While it would be easy to say that my fastest days are the highlights, I think my best days stem from a small mental switch that monumentally affected my satisfaction with racing. Historically, I judged a racing performance on the result of the race (my time / place). If I wasn’t where I thought I should be going into the run, I’d unconsciously cave in, and be disappointed with the race. In 2003, I adjusted my focus to simply give everything I had that day through to the finish line. Sometimes that meant terrific races like overall victories, 9th overall at USAT AG nationals in 2003, 9:10 PR for at the 2005 Ironman Florida. Other times that meant making the best tasting lemonade I could out of the rotten fruit dealt to me on the day – such as nabbing a Kona slot at IMCdA in 2011 while hacking up a lung or two and taking my last antibiotic dose at mile 80 on the bike. Simply finishing Kona in 2004 a super windy day, my HR monitor didn’t work, and I went too hard on the bike – but after walking miles 4-6, I resolved to run the rest of the way – and did. That race was simultaneously both one of my slowest and most satisfying races ever. I burst into tears at the finish line simply because everything had been spent both physically and most especially mentally. So rarely do things go “perfectly” in racing – especially at the Ironman distance. I’m 0 for 17 for “perfect” Ironmen. But I’ve learned that giving everything I can – regardless of the result – means I’ve done the best I possibly can that day. And I’ve also learned that when I succeed at giving it everything, I often do quite well in the results, too. I’d call that a win-win!

RW: How have you managed to stay healthy, fresh, and motivated for such a long time?

CR: Healthy. Good one. I’d say being a physical therapist has been crucial to my competitive ability as I’ve had too many strains and tendinopathies to even count. In 2000 I had a cardiac ablation to resolve a heart condition (Wolfe-Parkinson-White) which could have been fatal. In 2005, a suicidal squirrel lodged itself in my front wheel, resulting in a dead squirrel, torn rotator cuff and labrum, and broken bike 6 weeks before IMFL. That took the pressure off, and I PR’d in IM. I had shoulder surgery in Jan of 2006 to repair all that, and then set my course record in Kona of 9:25 10 months later.

2007 was going to be my banner year. Instead, I tore my calf 3 times, nearly resulting in retirement from the sport – I was tired of “coming back”. But eventually the tri-bug returned and as I was finally getting back into decent shape, when the initial signs of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) began. I became physically a shell of the athlete I had been just a few weeks before. I needed a nap just from getting the mail. I have never experienced anything like that, and hope I never will again. Facing the distinct possibility of needing a wheelchair was both terrible and terrifying. Getting back to the road of fitness again, I first credit goes to my wife, and second to triathlon. The training required getting back into shape to toe the start line of an IM, and the desire to cross that finish line again, motivated me like just as it had through so many other injuries in the past.

The 2011 IM World Championships was the first disappointing race I had had since making that mental shift in 2003. I had really gotten in good shape, and a stomach bug propelled me to the tour-de-Portopotty – 11 stops by mile 12, and forced me to walk for miles. In the car on the way to the airport I asked her why I kept wanting to come back to Kona, as I was 1 for 5 in good results there. She simply said, “It’s in your blood.” And I suppose, there you have it.

Riding the Queen K

RW: You were recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. What would you like our readers know about the disease?

CR: Mostly that MS is a disease that affects everyone differently. It can affect anything that your nervous system controls – which, it turns out, is quite a bit. Someone with MS essentially faces the aging process in a different way from those without it. One can predictably know that as you age, you will become weaker, your endurance will fall, memory will likely worsen, thinking will become more clouded, your risk for falling will increase, etc. There are things you can do to minimize the loss – exercise, play chess, read, practice your balance. Someone with MS faces those same things, but in addition, they face the knowledge at they might lose that same something in the next month, rather than across the next decade. Or they might not. The mix of that knowledge with that uncertainty forms a paradox – it can be both terrifying and motivating. What will I lose next? Coordination? Memory? Vision? Senility? Strength? Digestion? Control over the muscles for speaking? The ability to walk?

I cannot understate the importance of taking charge of body – whether you have MS or not. If you want to be active when you’re 80, you better be active when your 40. As someone who has MS, I feel the best defence is maximizing my capacity now. Not starting next week, not starting next year. Start today. Stretch more. Exercise more. Eat healthy. Read. And did I mention start now? It is the unpredictable nature of MS that makes it such a frightening disease. I dread the idea that, statistically speaking, I will find myself in a wheelchair within 20 years – age 60. That thought absolutely terrifies me, but also keeps me motivated to keep working hard. If you yourself have, or care for / about someone with MS, get them moving and actively involved in taking care of themselves. They will eventually thank you – really.

RW: You have put in some very impressive performances recently, including earning a slot to the Ironman World Championships. How does your condition affect your training and ability to race?

CR: I have been incredibly fortunate thus far in that I primarily have sensory issues – buzzing in the hands; a sense that sandpaper is being constantly rubbed on my wrists; electric zaps down my back, arms and legs when I nod my head; and most especially fatigue – with the associated irritability that comes with really needing a nap now.

RW: One of your goals at the Ironman World Championships was to best your 117th overall place in 2006, but the more important goal has been to raise awareness of Multiple Sclerosis. How are you going about this? How can our readers help?

CR: I have put together a blog to enable folks to follow my adventures. Part of my goal has been to motivate those with MS to strive for the impossible, because in striving for it, one may find it becomes possible. I know that qualifying for the Ironman World Championships is not easy. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I know that I have talent in the world of triathlon. I also know that this year may have been my last – not because I won’t want to go back, but because MS may take that away from me.

Research is needed to further develop the best strategy to combat this disease. Recently, research found exercise to actually be more effective than any medication out there in the treatment of various heart conditions. The researchers suggested that all future medication research should be compared to exercise to determine if efficacy is actually better than exercise. Numerous studies into diabetes mellitus, attention deficit disorder, hypertension, and MS have found that exercise is paramount to improving function. Research also finds that fewer than 20% of those with MS actually get the exercise they need – not to mention that 60% of Americans are overweight, with 30% being obese. If I can motivate one person – with or without MS – to get off the damn couch and get started exercising, well, I cannot tell you how happy that would make me.

In particular, I have set up a fund raising effort, through the Ironman Foundation, to raise money to investigate athletes with MS. To date, there is not a single study in the world looking at athletes with MS. The Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) is in the process of putting together a pilot study into exactly that. To date, an amazing group of people, including my employer, Therapeutic Associates Incorporated have donated over $14,000 to support this effort. To say I am overwhelmed is an understatement, but this will fund only a miniscule amount of the actual study, which often cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Through November 10th, 2014 at (again, case sensitive). After that, I will likely have a new fund raising effort that can be found via my blog. I cannot thank those who have donated enough. You are my personal heroes.

RW: You have used Restwise as a coach and athlete for a couple of years. First, how has it helped you as a coach? Has it helped you manage the challenges of an intensive training program while coping with the effects of MS?

CR: From a coaching perspective, I have found the tool invaluable. I can setup alerts to tell me when my athletes fall below a certain threshold of readiness for the days workouts. I have found that each athlete differs in terms of what that threshold is, but in general it hovers in the 50-60 range. It does depend exclusively on the honestly of athletes. Just like a training log, it is easy to dupe the reader. Fortunately for me, my athletes have been quite honest (making them easier to coach, certainly!). I also find that I need to take the exact point of the season into account. Someone I might let get to 60 during any normal part of the season might be allowed to fall as low as 50 during a hard-core training phase. But amazingly, that number doesn’t deviate a whole lot – regardless of periodization. An athlete how is training hard is partly able to do so because they recover well. Failure to do so means needing to take a day off.

As for my own training, I fall into the 60 range. Below that, I need a modified day, and below 50 I need a day off. Failure to do that inevitably results in illness for me. I’ve used Restwise since the fall of 2010, and it has been remarkably consistent. It has also enabled me to be more attentive to certain aspects of my health (namely resting HR and weight) with which I might not otherwise have been nearly as in-tune. I have found that my weight has trended down across the last 3 years – something notable given that I am currently 6’1” and about 150 pounds – I don’t have much to lose! But mostly, I find that my use of Restwise as an athlete with MS is not much different than an athlete without MS. My ability to train is certainly affected by MS, but my readiness to work out on any particular day is simply my readiness to work out on any particular day – regardless of the MS. Some days you just have to roll with the punches and take a nap instead.

Speaking of which – time for bed. Thanks for reading, Restwise, and good night!

My First European Podium

December 18th, 2012

On October 3, 2013, Amy Dombroski was tragically killed in a cycling accident in Belgium. For her exuberant approach to racing, her sense of humor and her sheer grit, she will be terribly missed throughout the cycling world. We leave this post as a tribute to her legacy, and offer this link to an obituary.

We know we’ve been invisible on our blog site for way too long, but this post from long-time Restwise athlete Amy Dombroski shook us from our lameness. Seriously good news for the dirt rocker!

Rocketing the descent

Aggressively attacking the steeps

In 1992 there was a tractor pull competition at my state fair in Vermont. The tractors were pedal-powered John Deere imitation style. Hitched to the tractor was a bucket on the rear where weight was added on. I was 5 and I pulled the most weight. I won, and my ripe & eager 5 year old mind has kept that memory crisp and vivid. My brother also entered, the 11 year-old division and he received a ribbon. I received a foot-high gold and green trophy with a tractor at the top which, until Sunday was the biggest trophy I had ever received. To my little mind it seemed I had won outright – I had finally beat my big brother…and it is still a touchy subject for him.

I imagine my first European podium will remain a vivid memory for a long time as well. I am thankful I had Carina, one of our soigneurs to basically hold my hand through the process as it was all new and foreign. She led me to the podium tent – something I had only seen on the telly, where the vedettas go to get clean & shiny & beautiful & warm and talk to the camera about their successes. There, were sat 3 sets of 2 chairs – I just followed and began to sit down, when Carina grabbed my arm and led me to the other side of the tent. It then became clear there were 3 sets of chairs for each of the 3 podium spots – 1 chair for the rider, 1 chair for the soigneur. And there I was trying to get all up in Ellen’s grill by sitting beside her. Then there was a bucket of water on the floor. To me the sight of water automatically signals “cold”, “danger” and “don’t touch, run away!”. But I was smart enough to take the towel hanging on one of the chairs and began to bend down to wet the towel to wipe my face off. “Nee, nee” said Carina – “step in it, it’s ok, it is warm” as if she knew how frightened I was of the water. I stepped in it and to my relief it was perfectly warm and then I realized that the towel was to wipe my legs clear of the caked-on mud and embrocation. Next, Carina said she would hold the curtain whilst I change my trousers. To me, I thought this meant to follow her and there would be some magical changing curtain. When she saw me at her side, basically pulling at her jacket like a kid begging for candy, she gave me that same concerned and sympathetic look as if I were a lost, stray and shivering puppy. Again she had to reassure me that “it’s ok”, no one will mind if I drop trouser and change. Right, blushing I tried to play it off, yea, hah, I’m cool. I hope she didn’t think I was expecting her to change my trousers for me. Next, I put on my podium hat – one I had never put on my little pin head because I hadn’t needed to! I looked at her and that concerned look returned. “Can I wipe the mud from your face?” in a soothing voice. After she had cleaned the snot from my nose, the crusties from my eyes and the slime from my lips, I could still tell from the look in her eye that I looked like a shit-show. So I fixed my hair the best a pikey could and tightened and straightened the hat. Finally I looked a bit more composed and we began walking toward the podium; here I let Sanne lead the way because she obviously knew what she was doing. Me on the other hand, I felt like a little unkempt duckling walking for the first time with oversized webbed feet and feathers dropping off here & there.

On the podium!

I could get used to being up here!

Fortunately I had finished 2nd so was the middle-person called up, otherwise I’m not sure I would have stood on the correct step. I just watched and observed the proper etiquette, trying not to trip on my webbed-feet. So if my head and eyes were darting during the entire podium ceremony, it was simply me trying not to screw up and look like a negative-wit. One aspect I was nervous about was knowing how many kisses to give – I can imagine myself going for 3 when the kiss-giver is only giving 2 and planting one smack on the lips. They gave me 3. I made it through with my shaky smile and simply, it felt dern good. High up there, above the heads of all the fans, supporters and photographers, holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers and knowing you were one of the best on the day. It felt dern good and it is something I could get used to.

Back to the actual race – because the journey there is the most important part. The challenging part of the course was a near-vertical embankment that we had to descend 3 times and climb twice per lap. I remembered my very first European race when I came to Hoogerheide World Cup in 2008 and that was my first encounter with the term “steep Euro drop”. I remembered my first mountain bike World Cup in Dalby Forest when Simon said “I think you’ll love this course” and I rode to the first technical feature, swallowed an “uh shit” (or something to that variation). I remembered Zonhoven last year when I was pedaling along all happy-go-lucky and came to a halt at the top of the first dune, unsure how both my bike and me would make it down to the bottom still attached to another. I’ve killed off a lot of demons in my head with these technical bits and this bank at Leuven is just another to add to my demonic bag of coal. My bike handling has improved over the years, but I think it is more learning the mental side of it. The more I ride into something technical that I may be scared of, and stop, the harder it becomes to initially ride the section. I begin attempting to wrap my head around the scary bit and thinking doesn’t come naturally to me…so everything becomes harder. I’m much better with white noise & clouds in my head – that constant and steady humming buzz of “nothing much”.

I approached the top of this bank twice, stopping at the tip of it and peering down with that butterfly feeling in my gut and the humming buzz becoming a chimp screeching. I turned around, I mounted my shuvver, I glanced at my 158 heart rate, I pounded my chest like a gorilla and let out my tribal banshee wail, threw my arse way back and attempted to not touch the front brake. I rode it, no problem, and I let out a little sigh & chuckle at the bottom because it was quite simple. It also became a confidence boost because to be quite honest, my legs felt dull and rubbish, so I knew I could rely on these features as being time bonuses.

I guess from 1992 I should have known pedal-power was something I may be good with. Ahh well, better late than never.

Thank you to everyone for the encouragement & support and to the Telenet-Fidea helpers and mechanics.

Rachel Joyce on 2011, her coach, and Kona

May 8th, 2012

Coming off an incredible 2011 season and a bit of forced rest in early 2012, Rachel Joyce looks toward Kona.

The calm before the swim

The calm before the swim

RW: First, congrats on a fantastic 2011. Your first IM championship in Lanzarote, one step from the podium in Kona, your first world title on the ITU long course… just one of those would have made most people’s entire season a success. Impressive!

RJ: Thank you. Yes, I was happy with my 2011 season. Getting my first Ironman title in Lanzarote really meant a lot to me. I’ve come in 2nd and 3rd quite a lot but a big win had eluded me so it was nice to finally do it. What’s more, I broke the run course record, which I would never have believed I could do. I ran over 20 minutes quicker than I did two years earlier on the same course. Kona was pleasing but also a little gut wrenching to be so close to the podium. As for the ITU race, that was a bonus. I was so close to wrapping my season up after Kona. I’m glad I decided not to :) .

RW: It also seems like your progression in the sport has been quietly, relentlessly, steady. Can you give us a sense of where you were when you started, and where you see yourself going in the next few years?

RJ: Yes, I think that’s a pretty good description. In my debut at Kona in 2009 I finished 6th, less than a year after my first Ironman. Since then I seem to have been methodically making my way down the places. I wouldn’t mind bunny hopping a couple of places though!

Ever since I started out as an age grouper I’ve been pretty process driven: what do I need to improve, how do I do it and then I guess I just try and get on with it. I still think I have lots of gains to make, particularly on the bike and run so that’s what I’m focusing on now and it will be hard to walk away from the sport while I know I can still improve – I just hope I recognize the point.

RW: Do you feel you have any obvious limits? And weakness that requires specific attention?

RJ: Everyone has limits but I don’t think I have reached mine yet! I certainly have weaknesses and obvious areas to improve and I find that exciting rather than demoralizing. Room to improve means room to go faster!!

Blazing the bike

Blazing the bike

RW: And with your ability on the run (course record in Abu Dhabi, right?), it seems as if Kona is dead center in your crosshairs. Does knowing that make you nervous?

RJ: At the moment it just makes me excited and acts as a huge motivator for me. Of course, once I’m in Kona and race day is approaching I get nervous but not right now.

RW: Tell us a bit about your decision to move to purplepatch “wonder coach” Matt Dixon.

RJ: I started working with Matt soon after my first Kona so the end of 2009. I think Matt would agree that I was a VERY green professional! I couldn’t believe my result in Kona and was a bit lost as to what was next and was convinced my result had been a bit of a fluke. I spoke to a few different coaches before deciding to work with Matt. I liked that he looked at the long term plan, believed in what I could achieve (more than I did at that point), we got on well and his training philosophy made good sense to me. Decision made.

RW: He seems uniquely able to extract world-class performance from a wide variety of athletes. What do you think separates him from other coaches?

RJ: I think Matt understands that every athlete is different and so he doesn’t try to apply a “one size fits all” approach to all his athletes. While his “four pillars” apply regardless, he is very good at seeing what balance works for the individual and building a program from there.

RW: You may know that he was one of the earliest adopters of Restwise. What did he say about our tool when he suggested you use it?

RJ: I have a habit of asking for more, more, more when it comes to training and this means I am riding very close to the line and have had to pull back for a few days to recover. As I’m coached remotely by Matt he felt that Restwise would allow him to track where I was in terms of recovery and avoid these unplanned for recovery days. Also, it would be a tool for me to use to see how I was respond to different training loads, to travel and to racing.

RW: I know that very recently, you were diagnosed with a difficult health issue. Are you comfortable sharing the details?

RJ: I raced in Ironman Melbourne at the end of March and I think the combination of the racing and the traveling I’ve done in the last 6 weeks left my immune system really low. In the UK I had an extremely bad throat infection.

Although I then delayed my flight to the US, I don’t think my immune system was back to full strength when I made the trip out to Colorado. I had a week living high: at nearly 9,000 feet and I didn’t feel great but figured this was part of the adaptation process. As it turns out I was carrying an infection still.

RW: Did this have anything to do with your decision to move to Boulder to train at altitude?

RJ: No, this was a decision I had made at the end of last year. I travelled a lot last year and I was keen to build a base for the entire summer. I was also keen to see what benefits I could reap from training at altitude.

RW: Obviously, Restwise is not a medical diagnosis tool, but I’m curious: what were your recovery scores before you were diagnosed, and did they help you understand that something just wasn’t right with your body?

RJ: Restwise was really useful and indicated that something wasn’t right. I didn’t feel great and my Restwise scores were consistently hovering around 40-60%: a firm indicator that I needed to pull back as my body wasn’t responding to training.

RW: Would you have done anything differently if you hadn’t been using Restwise?

RJ: Restwise made me listen to my body, and alerted Matt to the fact something wasn’t right. This meant we agreed I stopped following the program and trained by feel, and kept sessions short and very light. I was more vigilant about eating well, hydrating, and making sure I slept plenty.

I may have done this eventually without Restwise but I know my mindset: without the reminder of filling in Restwise I probably would have convinced myself that I was just “normal” tired and been less minded to take it easy.

Rachel's record-setting run speed

Rachel's record-setting run speed

RW: OK, now you are in the key part of your season, and you’ll be coming off a good block of early seasons training, a few decent results… and a chunk of downtime. How do you and Matt plan to bring your game back up in your campaign for Kona?

RJ: Luckily it is still only early May: plenty of time till October! One thing Matt has taught me in the last three years is that the number one priority is to be healthy and then shift the focus to training. So in the last couple of weeks that has been my absolute focus. Early nights, so many veggies and fruit that I think I’m going green and making sure that I don’t stress my immune system at all.

It’s worked and now I can start training, knowing I am on a firm footing.

RW: Any sense that his unexpected break may actually be fortuitous?

RJ: The season is so long now that I think this break won’t do my season any harm. Like I said its only early May and I’ve already got two big races under my belt and plenty more in my schedule. Of course, being ill or injured is not a fun enforced rest but I’m pretty philosophical about it.

RW: Will you stay in Boulder during your recovery phase, or drop down in altitude?

RJ: I’m staying in Boulder for the time being. The rest has probably been a help as its stopped me from overdoing it in my first couple of weeks here. As a training location it’s fantastic and I am now looking forward to going out and riding my bike, and running on the trails.

RW: Just a few more random questions before I let you go:

RJ: You recently switched to Cervelo. Here is your opportunity for a shameless sponsor plug (plus, I’m looking at a new bike and would love to hear your entirely biased opinion!)…

The P5 is an awesome machine: the research that has gone into designing it means it is the fastest bike out there. It feels great to ride and every time I go out for a ride I just want to ride fast. It really motivated me in IM Melbourne: it was so fun to ride that I wanted to do it justice.

RW: What food are you dreaming of at hour 4 of a six-hour training ride?

RJ: Something simple. In 6 hours I’ll get through a fair number of Power Bars so by the time I get home I’ll go savory. My favorite post training meal is an omelet with red onion, peppers and turkey with a toasted bagel and accompanied by a cup on English tea!

RW: Who are your favorites for London?

RJ: I’m going to be patriotic: either Brownlee for the men and Helen Jenkins for the women.

RW: If you turned on your iPod right now, what band would be playing?

RJ: The Weeknd.

RW: All-time favorite day of training?

RJ: A morning endurance swim, breakfast and then a long, hilly ride a short fast brick run and then feet up and sofa time!

Thanks, Rachel, for your time and insight. We’re totally bummed about your illness, but have masses of faith that you’ll be hunting the podium in October!

Getting back in the game

December 5th, 2011

Readers of our blog know that we are always excited to share the experiences of elite athletes using Restwise to guide their recovery strategies and optimize their training. We recently received an email from an athlete at the other end of the spectrum: Chad Ward is a commercial real estate executive, father and self-defined “middle of the pack age group athlete”… who also happens to be a cancer survivor. Defiantly a Type A personality, he had been trying – and failing – to regain lost fitness and stamina, after his second battle with the disease, until his coach (professional triathlete and Restwise athlete Kevin Everett) recommended that he give Restwise a shot. As you’ll read below, the result is a new approach, the return of vitality and hope, and for Chad that is a big victory.

Battle scar

Chad with his battle scar on display

RW: Chad, I don’t want to dwell on your cancer right out of the gate, but it is such a critical part of your story I’d like our readers to get the whole picture. Could you summarize what you’ve been through the past few years?

CW: Briefly, in the past couple of years I have been diagnosed with melanoma, which was treated in its early stages with 3 surgeries as the primary treatment and I have an excellent chance of not having to deal with it again… I still go get it checked out every few months and so far so good. Not long after treatment I was diagnosed with a fairly aggressive form of prostate cancer, which was treated with 28 radiation treatments over a 6 week period. Also, thinking I was a tough guy, I chose to have back surgery 2 weeks before radiation treatments because I had maxed my insurance and I thought it would be better to recuperate from two things at once so I would have less total down time. That was a bad idea.

RW: Brutal.

CW: It sounds bad but there are so many people that I got to know at the hospital who are facing much bigger challenges than I have. They are my heroes.

RW: I am sure there are and I can tell your heart goes out to them.

CW: Yes, I think about them a lot and it really makes me appreciate my health and I feel like, in some way I owe it to them to live a healthier and better life to honor them.

RW: I’ve read a lot about things like diet, life management and stress mitigation strategies to help cancer survivors. What are your thoughts on this sort of approach?

CW: I want to do anything that works including eating healthy foods, getting enough rest and the hardest part, which is reducing, and managing stress. Old habits are hard to break and just because you have had cancer you still have to work hard to actually change the way you think. I really believe stress can kill you. So, much of the hardest work I do is trying to change the way I respond to stress and finding creative ways to avoid it…that’s what I mean when I say I am trying to change the way I think.

RW: I’ve also read a lot about the cortisol-cancer link and knowing you have a demanding professional life and try to be a great husband and father, do you have any strategies that you use to control cortisol and stress in your life?

CW: Fighting cancer or losing a loved one to the disease is one of the most difficult and stressful things we can go through in life and I have done both over the past couple of years and for the longest time I was trying to just make it through. During the most difficult times I was numb. I’m sure my cortsol levels were sky high. I was not sleeping-lots of inflammation-joints were swollen and I ached. I would wake up and feel exhausted-no stamina, no energy…anyway I learned to not dwell on it-block it out-it’s a form of denial that actually helped me through it. I willed my self to disconnect from the negative and to be positive, and it helped me survive. But the net result was a survivor that had forgotten how to listen to his body. That is the great benefit of Restwise, it is helping me get reconnected with how I feel. I treat my daily scores seriously, and let them be the final word, because I became so good at neglecting my bodies feed back. And it is working…I’m slowly regaining stamina and energy and I am starting to feel strong and fit again.

RW: I’m glad to hear life is getting good again, now tell me about some of the good stuff?

CW: As you know I am not an elite athlete but I have always prided myself in being able to “say yes” whenever any one wants to do something epic like climb a mountain, ride a century, do a triathlon go on an epic anything. I love to show up, share the experience and do a respectable job.

Geared up

Taking on another epic challenge

RWAny good mountain bike rides with your son?

CW: Yes! Before cancer we used to ride all the time in the Boise foothills, and he had been out of the country for 2 years and the first full day he was home we celebrated his return, and my survival, by riding some of our favorite single track; it was one of those days I reflect on again and again because of where I was and who I was with. I feel really blessed to enjoy that kind of stuff again.

RW: When we met, you talked a lot about just wanting to feel fresh again. You were just tired of always dragging through your workouts. How are you feeling now?

CW: My approach was wrong, I thought I could bounce back from hard efforts, like before, but instead after a little improvement in fitness I just started loosing fitness and energy, and it was frightening, because my energy dropped so bad I thought I had cancer again. Get diagnosed twice in less than two years and you can get a little paranoid. I started worrying and stressing and found myself in a pretty bad place. Then through Livestrong at the YMCA I met Kevin and then you and things are going great. I feel so much better.

RW: We talk a lot at our company about understanding the relationship between stress and recovery so as to optimize the amount of time and energy you can dedicate to training. How have your thoughts evolved on this subject after using Restwise?

CW: A major change is how I view training. It is fun again, I look forward to it, and my goal is to come out of a session feeling better than I when I went in. That may sound like I’m not going hard enough, but I’m primarily after the day to day energy, plus it helps me manage stress. I am also improving my fitness (better than ever) but that is secondary. Linking together, “I feel good days” is my primary goal.

RW: So do you think you are finally starting to “respond” to training again, rather than just “surviving” it?

CW: Absolutely!

RW: Have you identified a “target” race next year?

CW: No, I’m trying to avoid setting targets right now. I have goals like, regaining stamina, and I can feel it coming back, but my goal setting has become refined and personal and a little abstract, for lack of a better word. Because when I was in the hospital or on the radiation table I had some specific target races that kept me focused. But being unable to reach those goals was devastating, so I changed my approach.

RWI won’t ask about any results-oriented goals because I know your goals are internally-defined, but can you share with us how you now think about going into a race now, as a cancer survivor?

Ready to race

Bringing a new perspective to the start line

CW: I’ve only done two, but there were moments during both that I just had this overwhelming feeling of gratitude that I was healthy enough to be there. Also, now weather, I’m racing or training, I think a lot about other cancer patients and survivors that are not as fortunate as me. They are my inspiration.

RW: Have your expectations shifted?

CW: Yes, I’m enjoying the training more, and listening to my body better and I expect to continue to grow and to learn more about myself.

RW: How do you imagine you’ll cross the finish line?

CW: I don’t know…I’ve really been trying to avoid the finish line…I mean…life is a race and I’ve been doing my best not to cross the finish line… but when I do, I imagine myself with a smile. You know… having fought the good fight and run the good race.

RW: Out of curiosity, have you shared your Restwise experience with other cancer survivors?

CW: Yes, and I want to share it with more people.

RW: I’m not a cancer specialist, but it seems possible that it could play a role in monitoring fatigue state, yes?

CW: I can’t speak for others, but it has been a tremendous help for me.

RW: Thanks for your time, Chad. I’m excited to watch you re-gain your fitness and to hear how your racing goes next year. But before we sign off, what are you listening to on your iPod these days?

CW: What’s an iPod…not really…String Cheese Incident, Slightly Stoopid and stuff like that, but only because my kids install my songs and I don’t know how to remove them.

(My) Secret sauce to a Sub 9hr Hawaii Ironman: Unconventional wisdom

October 19th, 2011

Think high-volume training is the only way to snag a podium spot at Kona? Think again. Restwise athlete Sami Inkinen finished second in the highly competitive 35-39 age group on a minimalist diet of training. We thought it worth sharing the reflections about his season that he posted on his own blog. Here goes:

To do very well in – or even just to complete – an Ironman distance triathlon (2.4mile swim, 112mile bike, 26mile run), you would need to do many bike+run brick workouts, complete weekly 2-3 hour long runs, pedal 6+ hour rides and spend at least 20 hours swimining-biking-running per week? Yes or No?

I did none of those and had the best triathlon results of my life in 2011, including a sub 9hr finish at the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. An accident, luck or a secret sauce for endurance success? Read below and let me know what you think.

I met a number of ordinary, yet super-fit, individuals during my recent race trip to the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. With a limited sampling, it seems that many of the even first time Ironman triathletes who qualified to the event train 20hrs or more per week and some consistently 25hrs a week. I was not surprised to hear that there was one common denominator between my and most others’ preparation and training: I had done almost the opposite from everyone else. Since I heard the disbelief and question “..and you did what?” so many times, I thought this topic is worth a brief post for others’ benefit.

I won’t have a scientifically or statistically meaningful sample of individuals to draw conclusions from, but I hope that I can make a point by using my own experiences as a data point to extrapolate from. For context, this year 2011 has been so far (and by far) the most successful year for me in the triathlon adventures. For example, I have become the 2011..

Overall amateur champion at Wildflower Triathlon Long Course
Overall amateur champion at Hawaii 70.3. Ironman
Age group world champion at Ironman 70.3. distance
Age group world champion runner up at Ironman World Championships (Hawaii) with a sub 9hr finish time

In addition, all objective metrics (such as power measured by “watts” on the bike, running pace) as well as relative metrics (how I’ve performed against my other competitors) are significantly up from the previous two years. So something is working quite well, while many other things have remained constant over the past three years: my overall health, work load, sleep, nutrition/diet and race body weight.

With a 300+ employee company to run and just more than an hour per day to dedicate to workouts, my training has always been “little, but with great quality” thanks to the amazing principles by Matt Dixon of PurplePatch Fitness.

Here’s what 9 out of 10 triathletes and training tips in most magazines tell me about triathlon training (the conventional wisdom), and especially, how to become a superb athlete at the Half- and Ironman distance.

1. It takes 20+ hours a week to qualify to Hawaii Ironman, and certainly that if you aim for a “top” age group performance.
The unconvential wisdom: No – it is possible with about 12hrs/week

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve had 2 weeks with more than 15 hours of training, and one of those weeks included three days (3-4hrs/day) of casual bike touring in Finland during a mini-vacation. An average week is around 12hrs, which also includes warm-ups, cool-downs and some commute bike riding.

Weekly training hours in 2011:

Weekly training hours in 2011

Weekly training hours in 2011:

In comparison to my own previous years, this volume is about the same or 1-2 hrs per week LESS than earlier.

2. You need a massive, fatigue accumulating 2-4 month build-up and then taper 3 weeks to be really fit for a big long distance triathlon race.
The unconventional wisdom: No – it is possible to be race ready almost every week without the need for a long taper, by focusing on intense efforts over a day or two and then recover well during each week without training oneself into the ground.

Even more so than limited training hours, weekly focus on recovery has been the most radical change for my 2011 “season”. Most endurance athletes (from recreational to more serious) seem to purposefully dig a really really deep hole (in terms of fatigue) over several months to barely survive until their taper period, and then start a 2-3 week race-taper and hope for the best to get out of the hole and be fitter and fresher on the race day than when they started the massive build. I’ve seen this ranging from first time marathon runners to experienced triathletes.

In weight lifting this approach would be unheard of: If you don’t get stronger (lift more weight or more repeats on a given weight) after each workout, you’d immediately change something or have a significant recovery period before next lifting session. It is obvious that if you don’t become stronger, your body is doing the opposite: breaking down due to too much or too frequent weight workouts.
Many endurance athletes tend to think that grinding through workouts day in, day out, no matter how tired, makes them stronger eventually at some point.

The approach we applied to my training this year was that of the weightlifters’. I never trained more than 2-3 days before a good rest day. And if my numbers (pace, speed, watts) weren’t up in the next workout, I took another rest day or two. The principle was simple: I should get stronger and faster every week (or day), not just hoping to get there after a 3-4 months of hard work and a 3 week tapering period.

I started using Restwise (which I’d highly recommend to every athlete) to better quantify my recovery (chart from last 3 months below). If my recovery score was too low, I took a rest/easy day until the scores were up (80-100%).

Restwise three-month chart

Restwise three-month chart

Similarly, I used quick 10-15min mini-tests in most workouts to see if I was improving; and sometimes stronger efforts like 20min max effort on the bike with maximum power. If the numbers weren’t up from previous time – time to rest.

I was race ready and well rested with 2-4 days of easier workouts throughout the previous 8 months. My final Hawaii Ironman taper was 4 days, after a 50minute all out (395Watts average; which, again, was a personal all-time record) bike time trial race just 5 days before the Ironman race. Similarly, I decided to race a Leadville 100Mile mountainbike race at 11,000feet altitude and prepare with a 48hour “taper”. These were only possible because I didn’t have 3 months of accumulated fatigue to shake off, but fresh and progressively fitter legs throughout.

3. You need to do big brick workouts (bike+run) to be able to run fast off the bike. You also have to train to run on tired legs by doing massive bike rides a day before a long run.
The unconventional wisdom: No – I’ve had my all-time fastest runs and overall times in triathlon events in 2011 with literally ZERO brick workouts in the last 8 months (except 4 races).

I couldn’t find a single real brick workout from my training log in 2011, except a couple 5 or so minute shake ups and one 10 minutes jog after a bike ride. It certainly takes a few events (or workouts) to get used to the feeling of running after a long and/or hard bike ride, but that feelings will never go away. I still feel crappy for the first 5-15minutes of running off the bike, similar to feeling in my first triathlon 5+ years ago.

Secondly, I’ve avoided doing any major run workouts with tired legs. Running with tired legs and/or bad form is the easiest way to injure oneself. I haven’t found scientific research that would explain why training with tired legs (=lower power) and bad form (=injury risk) would actually make a better runner even if you have to do that after a bike ride in a race.

Instead, I’ve had all my runs in an almost fully recovered state, which has allowed me to run much faster and stronger each time.

4. To be able to run a strong marathon at the end of an ironman or half-ironman, long runs of 2-3hrs are must, maybe even more.
The unconventional wisdom: No – most amazingly, I very rarely ran more than 80minutes and only did one 2h run during entire 2011.

As you can see from the chart below, I rarely hit the trails for more than 80 minutes. I did one 2 hour, mainly for self-confidence as I couldn’t believe that I had to run a marathon in 3 weeks but had not done a single run more than 15 miles.
At the same time, I’ve recorded my fastest ever runs on both half-ironman (13.1mile run) and Ironman (26.2 mile run) distances this year.

Instead of logging miles and spending hours running, risking injury and compromising other workouts 3-4 days following a massive run, I’ve focused on a lot of race pace (below/at/over) running. A typical “marathon” workout could be 3-4 times 15minutes where 5 minute sections are below, at, or slightly above expected race pace. That’s a 75-80minute workout and I’m able to recover in 24-48hrs vs. 3-4 days after a massive 20mile+ run.

More often than not, after people fade at the last half of the run in a triathlon, they say they need more and longer long runs. I would guess that the most common reason for fading at the end is just bad pacing in the beginning (of the bike or run), bad nutrition/hydration or simply not enough race pace running in training – and not that the long run wasn’t long enough in training

2011 runs in minutes

2011 runs in minutes

5. You need to do double sessions, maybe even triples with lunch hour training.
The unconventional wisdom: No – Except one single week in March, I never did more than one workout per day (always morning) in 2011.

I’ve found that is is completely possible to get strong performance gains with a single workout per day and 10-12hrs or so per week. Typically a big week for me looks like this:

Monday: Rest (or 30min easy swim)
Tuesday: Bike intervals on trainer (60-90min)
Wednesday: Run intervals on trails (60-70mins)
Thursday: Bike intervals on trainer (60-90mins)
Friday: Rest / Swim (40-60mins) / easy run (legs recover)
Saturday: Bike “long” (4-5h with no intervals, social time with wife/friends)
Sunday: Run “long” (80-90minutes with intervals and Swim if time)

Accident, luck or a secret sauce?
I realize that I am extrapolating from a single data point, but before you stop spending time with friends and family, reduce nightly sleep to 4hrs and spend all your time logging miles in a quest for improved endurance performance, read this post one more time. It might help you reinvent the conventional wisdom.

For the business readers: Many of these same principles apply to improving performance at the office. For example, unfortunately hours spent at the desk, lots of “hard work” and conventional wisdom are often associated with great performance, when in fact efficiency, true business impact and unconventional wisdom are the things that actually propel individuals, teams and companies to a greater performance these days. And too often the person who gets the promotion is the one who spends the most hours at the office rather than the one who comes up with a real break-through idea and executes it efficiently. Not very different from the mile counting triathlete who still follows the conventional wisdom and finishes at the bottom of the race results despite most hours in her training log?

Grand Teton Speed Project, version 2.0

August 23rd, 2011

This blog post takes a bit of a detour from our pattern of interviews with our incredibly impressive athletes. Instead we are re-posting something written by one of our incredibly impressive athletes, Brian Harder, for his own blog, Skimo Life. We hope it’ll appeal to your inner geek as much as it did to ours.

Although I realize that the speed game does not appeal to everyone playing in the mountains, summertime presents another seasonal opportunity to test oneself against the clock and others in the mountain environment. We covered this territory several times in blog posts this winter and spring reporting on efforts to climb and ski the Grand Teton and other lines in the range. With the melting of the snow pack, we are left to travel similar ground on foot as we push personal limits.

A car to car effort on the Grand Teton is the obvious metric by which to test ourselves in this region. This is a more tangible task for others since it doesn’t require expensive, extremely specialized equipment and skill set like skiing does. It still requires serious fitness, commitment and an acceptance of risk when free soloing up and down the route but there are probably more runners and climbers in this region that would be willing to step up and throw down on such a challenge.

The Standard
Unfortunately for all comers, Bryce Thatcher pretty much buried the record back in 1983. It’s hard to believe that a record of this sort has survived over two and a half decades without a serious threat. His 3:07 time is almost inconceivable let alone attainable for most suitors. There are even those who quietly shed doubt on the claimed time. I, for one, am not so cynical. I simply believe that the All American cross country athlete did what he did in the time he claims and will move on from there.

I know others, however, who start doing the math, comparing the time on the GT to other similar efforts on different mountains. Ascent rates among elite athletes are surprisingly consistent, independent of the pitch. As things get technical, rates can change, some slower, some faster. I suspect that the fast time posted by Bryce has as much to do with the conditions on the descent (snow) as it does with his fitness and talent.
First of all, I want to be clear that I’m no runner. But my interest in running was renewed after reading Born to Run this past year. I’m not running around barefoot but have adopted a more forefoot strike pattern compared to the heel strike I’ve performed forever. I like it. I doubt it makes me faster but I feel lighter and if it motivates me to get out the door than the switch is worth it.

I’m not going crazy, however, being fully aware of the dangers that lurk in the waters of obsessive running. But I’m getting out two or three days a week and running one to two hours at a whack. I’ve even been known to run a few hill repeats. I’m still riding my bike on opposite days.

So, with this modest preparation I thought it was time to give a good effort at “running the Grand”. Although I have done a few things in the Tetons with elapsed time in mind (Grand Traverse), I’ve always been scared of the Grand effort because of the run down. I’m just not that crazy about that kind of abuse and I’ve heard that Bryce was thrashed by his effort. That said, with some preparation like I have at hand, I figured I could have a go, smash the first half as best I can and give ‘er on the downhill within my comfort zone.

Ground Rules
Since I would like to see enthusiasm for this benchmark grow, we should establish some style parameters so we can keep things straight. Right now and typical of any early season effort, the route is on snow up the “spring trail” (under the Middle Teton) straight up to the Lower Saddle. From there it’s pretty dry. For my first effort, I chose the Upper Exum to the summit simply because I had done the OS the week before. I’m quite sure that the Exum Ridge is slower, albeit, a more fun route to the top.

Once the summer trail melts off, all efforts will traverse it and then go from there. The Owen-Spaulding and upper Exum Ridge routes are the obvious choices. Simply state the route when reporting times.

The only other consideration involves “alternate” routes through the switchbacks leading from Lupine Meadows trailhead to Garnet Canyon. Since the Park Service frowns upon the use of these long established routes, we’ll just leave it up to the individual how they would like to get into the canyon. ‘Nuff said on that.

First Go on the Grand – Upper Exum Ridge

My day started around 6:30 am under perfectly clear skies and warmish temps. I carried a light running pack with a one liter bladder in it. I had Kahtoola crampons and a 50cm ice ax long with gloves and a shell. I brought nine Gu gels, and three packs of Chomps – about 1,100 calories.

I felt good as soon as I started running. Not being particularly fleet of foot, I walked here and there, trying to stay below threshold, ensuring some gas would be left in the tank near the end. I was at the Valley Trail junction in about 19 minutes and at the meadows in less than an hour. I donned Kahtoola crampons there and continued with a short ice ax in hand.

The headwall below the Middle seemed endless but the Lower Saddle was soon in view and, before I knew it, I was pistoning my way up the large steps to the Saddle. I arrived in under 2 hours which was my goal. After dropping the pointy things at the Exum big box, I continued up.

I passed the usual assortment of parties heading out for their day on the Grand. As I crested the Needle and continued to Wall Street I was relieved to see no one in front. It’s always awkward dealing with the cue at the step across. So many epics start right there. The Wind Tunnel was calm. My non-sticky rubber running shoes were a little sketchy on Unsold’s Lieback but that was the only brief excitement for the climb.

I hardly paused on the summit, checking the watch (2:47) and heading down the Owen-Spaulding. A brief chat with the always-inspiring Rod Newcomb, who, at 77 years of age, had left the parking lot after midnight and was soloing the Grand for fun…again. I had to laugh when he informed me his doctor told him not to stress his heart. Really?

Anyway, I said hello to some fellow Exum guides at the rappel and cruised across the Catwalk. I was able to get around traffic at the Belly Crawl and Belly Roll and then it was down to the Saddle to my gear. A brief hello to more guides at the Hut and and it was onto the Headwall.

I spoke briefly to another Teton legend, Jack Tackle, who was out training after some downtime nursing a broken toe and then it was a full run in crampons down the glacier. I slowed below the Middle headwall and finally got on the moraine in the middle, feeling safer off the steep snow. As the angle eased, I was back on the snow and basically ran/glissaded right to Lunch Rock.

With crampons off now, it was time to see what I had on the downhill. This is what I was dreading. The upper rocky sections were slow as I felt I was always on the verge of snapping my ankles. But once on the smoother trail, I started to feel more confident and let it loose a bit. By the bottom I was at threshold again and stopped the watch at 4:47.

This is my starting point. When the summer trail clears I will go again, maybe hitting the upper Exum just to see how the time compares. But a push up the OS is in order before summer’s end just to see what I got. Hopefully, others will have a go – younger, fitter, real runners on a good day so we can get a handle on just how staggering Bryce Thatcher’s feat really was/is. Stay tuned.

Random Performance Notes
For nearly two years now I’ve been plagued by some sciatic nerve pain down my right leg. It started after commencing a weight training program in the fall two years ago. Initially, it only came on riding the bike. It seemed to be sensitive to the position of my hip. As such, it didn’t present as the typical lumbar disc-related sciatic pain I see so often in clinic. As a physician assistant who works for a spine surgeon, I certainly have a handle on the typical presentation of this problem.

I’ve been able to work around the pain and it has come and gone over the months. Recently, however, it started hurting quite a bit at night, to the point of interrupting my sleep. It has also been sometimes excruciating while riding my bike. Neither development is good. It got so desperate nearly two weeks ago that I went on a 6-day course of steroids to calm down whatever inflammation was brewing. Interestingly, a mere 3-4 hours after taking the first dose, the pain was gone. Just like that I could sleep and ride my bike again.

Since stopping the steroids, the pain has returned, albeit not nearly as severe. In order to more aggressively treat what I perceive to be a hip-related problem, I started some deep tissue body work to address whatever is going on around my hip external rotators and gluteus medius. I’ve had two treatments thus far. Curiously, it seems to be better. I am committed to continuing the massage treatment for a few weeks.

The point of bringing this up is that this problem has really wreaked havoc on my recovery. Since I don’t have pain while running, I’ve continued to train. The volume is significantly less than cycling training but the intensity is quite a bit higher and longer. For instance, this past Saturday, I did a 12 mile training run, mostly uphill, through Granite Canyon to the top of the ski area. This run climbs 4,200 vertical feet. I was able to run most of it. My heart rate averaged 152 bpm for the 2:47 I as out and was above 160 bpm for a significant period of time. It would be very difficult to do that on the bike.

I’ve written previously about the vital nature of quality sleep in athletic performance. Restwise weights both sleep duration and quality when calculating each day’s recovery score. Sudden increases in training volume and impaired recovery due to life stress or physical pain from injury that impair sleep will shift the recovery score dramatically to the left.

Although there’s a tendency to ignore some of the common niggles that crop up in athletes during training, when they start impacting sleep patterns, aggressive intervention is paramount to avoiding a downward spiral in conditioning and performance. Although I wasn’t quantifying sleep at the time of my worst leg pain, there was a clear improvement in how I “felt” training and performing once my pain was better and sleep improved. Pay attention to this stuff. Restwise puts it right in front of you everyday.

The other performance parameter that I feel I have dialed these days is on the nutrition front. I’ve been committed to using only Gu Energy products while out on “missions” since late this winter. I bring no other food. This keeps quantifying calorie need and intake very easy. Adding Roctane to the mix seems to keep me fired up, as well. As an arm chair scientist, I realize that a comment like that is nearly worthless at “proving” anything. However, for what it’s worth, I feel pretty jacked late in the game without feeling jittery.

This could also have less to do with the exact formulation of the product I’m consuming and more to do with the fact that I’m simply taking in calories more consistently. Admittedly, I’ve never been one to skimp on food but now I’m pretty precise with it, aiming for 200-300 calories an hour. If I eat soon before take off then I wait 45 minutes or so before I take my first hit of gel. After that, I plan to finish a 3-gel flask each hour after that. If my stomach growls, I will throw down 4-5 Chomps to supplement things.

I think for these big running efforts, strictly gel works best as I don’t really have to slow down to chew like I do with Chomps. On climbs where there are breaks, chewing is less an issue. One thing is for sure, it’s awesome to be cruising into the parking lot at the end of a big effort with no hunger and plenty in the tank. That’s what performance nutrition is all about.


  • La Sportiva Electron shoes
  • Black Diamond hydration pack
  • BD Raven Ultra ice ax
  • Kahtoola steel crampons
  • Marmot Precip shell gloves
  • Suunto T6 computer
  • Obviously, I had some weight on board for this effort. I can find lighter versions of everything I had. Shedding most of it when conditions permit will be worth significant time. It will be interesting to continue the project.

    Jesse Thomas

    August 12th, 2011

    Jesse Thomas -a former national-caliber steeplechaser, Stanford MBA, tech entrepreneur and now professional triathlete – surprised the tri world when he ran down some of the toughest athletes in the sport to take home this year’s Wildflower title. He recently took a few minutes between training sessions and helping his wife run their sports nutrition start-up business (Picky Bars – they are freaking fantastic!) to chat with us. And, as an aside, we’d encourage you to visit Jesse’s blog and register to receive updates. They are insightful, smart, honest and funny as hell.

    RW: Jesse, I’m going to dispense with the idle chatter and dive right in: what’s up with the race-day aviators? No sunglasses sponsor yet… or are you gunning for the Erik Estrada/ChiPs/80′s revival look?

    JT: I’m glad that you went to the important stuff first. Yes, I’m still rocking the Walgreens aviators, and I still pay full price, $8.99. And yes, I like to channel my inner Goose (my favorite Top Gun character). It keeps me relaxed and having fun out there while I’m suffering. I love it when I go by people and they’re like, “Nice aviators, dude!” and I’m like, “thanks man!” It always surprises people that I actually say something back.

    RW: We’ve all heard or read about your smokin’ run at Wildflower. Very damn cool. Tell us a bit about what you did leading up to the race, and how you felt getting off the bike. Any “tips from a rookie pro” about nailing a good run split?

    JT: Thanks man! I didn’t do anything crazy, I think the main thing I did during that race was just respect the course. I knew that it was going to be crazy hard, and that lots of guys have blown up hitting those hills too hard on the bike and the run. So I tried to focus on getting to 10 miles with plenty energy left. That means I let people go when I was riding too hard to stay with them. When I started cramping on the run, I slowed down. I walked through the aid stations to make sure I got in plenty of fluids. I think all those things allowed me to finish strong the last few miles.

    In general, staying relaxed for the first half of the run is the most important part to a quick run split. My first few halfs, wow, they were doozies. I absolutely blew up on the run because I went out too hard. It was like a death march. Now, I try to get to 8-10 miles running slower than what I feel I’m capable of running on the day. And sure enough, that last 4-5 miles still bites me in the ass. But since I’ve planned for it, I can hold the same pace while I’m suffering and finish strong. Most of the time, anyway!

    RW: You and Matt Lieto (who I had the pleasure of meeting when you guys were in Boise a few weeks ago) seem to be great friends. Tell us about “Clause C”.

    JT: Ha! The story is that Matt, being the seasoned veteran that he is, gave me a whole bunch of tips/help/life-lessons over the course of the season. He helped me set up my bike, he invited me to ride in the Man Van down to Wildflower (the race wasn’t even on my schedule). But anyway, each time he gave me a tip, he’d make a Clause, like “you have to drive the whole way,” or, “you can’t go over 250 watts on the bike.” We had three clauses going into Wildflower, and Clause C was simple, I couldn’t pass him on the run. So when I pulled up about 10 yards behind him at mile 6, without looking back, he held up his left arm and formed a giant “C” with his hand. I yelled, “Was that a C?” He nodded yes. I chuckled, came up next to him and said, “Hey man, can I get an exemption?” He paused for a few seconds, then nodded and said, “Just this once. Nice work, dude.”

    Matt is a great guy, and we have become good friends over the last season. We train together a fair amount now, and I chronicle our Man Van journey’s on my website. It’s fun stuff. We’re trying to get a plan together for next year where we do even more training and racing together and chronicle it via blogs/video, etc. Kind of like the Two Stooges of triathlon. Fun times!

    RW: Working with your coach, Matt Dixon, has clearly been productive. Besides you and Matt, he also coaches a number of other top triathletes. When you all show up at the same race, who gets the most love?

    JT: Ha! Oh, definitely Chris (Lieto). I mean, the guy is kind of like the godfather of the group, you have to respect! It’s ironic since Matt (Lieto) has been with Dixon the longest, but no respect! Ha ha. In all honesty, Dixon is really good about sharing the love. I actually asked him about that before I committed to him as a coach, because I knew I was coming into a spot where I was BY FAR the least accomplished of his athletes. I wanted to make sure I got the same treatment as Chris, Linsey (Corbin) and Luke (Bell). He said absolutely, no differences, everyone’s on the same level of time, energy, and contact. And it’s been that way, even before my success this season. He does a great job fostering people and giving them what they need individually. For me, it’s been one of the best coaching situations I’ve ever had.

    RW: Matt has been a huge advocate for Restwise. You may not know this, but we talked with him about the tool long before we even launched it. Knowing that you are an experienced athlete, how did he convince you to give it a try?

    JT: It was pretty simple. He said there’s this guy that’s a lot like you. His name is Matthew Weatherley-White, and he started this company, Restwise. He’s an absolute stud athlete and an entrepreneur, you should chat with him. Then I talked to you and it was impossible not to be excited about it!

    I think the system appeals to the analytical/logical side of my brain (which exists, believe it or not). I know that rest is absolutely key in training, but like most driven/competitive athletes, I’ve always struggled with allowing myself to take it easy. As an athlete, you don’t want to be the one that says, “I need to rest.” You want to always think that you can take more, it’s a confidence thing. So for me, that should be the coach’s job. What sold me on Restwise was that it was another “coach” that could tell me, rather objectively, “You’re tired, and you need to get some freaking rest, dude!” (my Restwise has an attitude, and I like it). It was a way for me to feel that someone (or something) else was telling me to rest, not myself. It’s another tool that gives me the benefit of rest but takes the burden off me and off my confidence.

    RW: At this point, you’ve been using Restwise for just under a year. How do you integrate fatigue monitoring with the very real fact that training as a professional triathlete is a lot of damn hard work?

    JT: Well, I use it every day, and it is a tool that helps me decide whether I stay on the plan or change the plan. If I’m buried (my recovery score is low), and I have another monster day ahead, I wait and rest. Unless the point of the workout is to go hard while I’m fatigued (which does happen, but rarely), then I’m defeating the purpose of the training by trying to tough it out. I’ve also used it the opposite way, where I thought I would be beat from my last couple of days, but turns out that I’m not, so I don’t take the day off and power through. Besides the actual recovery score, I also love that I’m logging my sleep, HR, weight, etc. I’ve used those data sets during the season to keep myself consistent, realize I need to drop a few pounds (or gain a few), etc. It’s all good stuff.

    RW: Your experience as a national-class runner has clearly been an asset for you as a triathlete. Let’s talk about something else: how’s your swim?

    JT: You know what, my swim doesn’t suck! Yay! It’s not good, but it doesn’t suck. This might not sound like that big a deal to anyone out there, but it’s a big deal to me. Like most runners entering the sport, when I started I had no swim background and STRUGGLED. But I put in a ton of work this winter – 25-45k/week with some ridiculously fast 14-16 year olds who could care less that I’m a pro triathlete and HAMMER me in the pool. Over the last 8 months, I’ve brought my swim up from suck a lot, to suck a little, to not sucking. I’m pretty happy with that. I still have a long way to go, but it’s come along much faster than we anticipated. Actually, my bike has been where I’ve lost the race the last few outings, so now that’s the #1 priority.

    RW: I’ve only been following your results for about a year, but it seems like you’ve bumped your game a level this year. A big win, several top finishes and only one DNF so far this season suggests that you’ve got some headroom for even better performances. All humility aside, where are your limits?

    JT: Well, ALL humility aside, I am pretty awesome, at least to my wife and my mom. I honestly don’t know what my limits are, and that’s the point of pursuing it, right? I have a feeling that I could be great, much better than I am now, but it’s a LONG process to realize that. And I know from my running background, that if you don’t enjoy each step of the process, it’s not worth it. So that’s where I am. Living, training, racing, learning, and having fun. I think I can be at the top of the sport one day, but I know it’s going to take a long time. And I know it might not happen the way I anticipate. It might not even happen at all. But the intrigue for me is the ride along the way, so I’ll just continue to enjoy it and see where I end up.

    RW: OK. The Boise bike split. Tom Jones, “It’s Not Unusual”? Really? Ouch. You gotta figure out how to insert some better game-day music, my friend. C&C Music Factory works if you’re desperate.

    JT: Uh oh. I will now have C&C music factory in my head the next race. Thanks Matthew. Great. Actually, you think Boise was bad, I had that “New York” song by Jay Z and Alicia Keys in my head during Vineman, which doesn’t sound that bad, except that the version in my head was the remix done by the cast of Glee. Now that was an ugly bike.

    RW: On the topic of tunes: what’s on the Jesse Thomas Personal Soundtrack right now?

    JT: I’m really digging the new Strokes album, Angles. Great stuff. I love all their stuff. I also like the new Moby album, Destroyed. I like a fairly wide range of stuff. Radiohead, Kanye, Metric, some Justin Timberlake, love it. I’m ALWAYS looking for new music, so if anyone has suggestions, send ‘em over to me!

    RW: Lastly, do you have your own bike yet or are you still borrowing your buddy’s?

    JT: Still on a lender, but a different lender. It’s kind of crazy, I realized a couple of days ago that I’ve ridden 5 different bikes this year between my 8 different races. It’s been cool to say that I borrowed a buddy’s bike just days before Wildflower, but it’s gotten a little ridiculous at this point. I like to think that I can perform well regardless of the ride, and I think that’s true to a certain extent. But getting comfortable, getting a position dialed in, and getting used to it, that’s something I’ve been missing this year. I’m looking forward to getting a sponsor and getting settled on my very own bike. I’m like a little kid waiting for Christmas. It’s going to be awesome!

    Thanks for the time, man. We’ll be watching this year!

    On Dracula, pink argyle socks, and Metallica

    June 29th, 2011

    As Restwise has grown, we’ve been fortunate to be introduced to a remarkable group of athletes around the globe. This installment of the Restwise blog introduces you to Vlad Sabu, an aspiring World Cup mountain bike racer who hails from … Romania.

    Ripping downhill

    Ripping downhill

    RW: First, welcome to Restwise! Second, I’ve got to ask you a question. For an American (who might not know a lot about Romanian history), anytime you use the name “Vlad” and the country “Romania” in the same sentence, there is only going to be one natural association: Vlad the Impaler. Do you get a lot of that when you travel?

    VS: Hello and thank you very much to accept me in the Restwise team. Regarding the association with “Vlad the Impaler”, I get it more often outside Romania. But this thing makes me feel stronger, so I think is a good thing.

    RW: You’ve been a great advocate for us since you first started using Restwise last year, and it looks like your results are really starting to come in strong. Do you have any recent races you’d like to share with us?

    VS: Using Restwise helped me to prepare more meticulously my training. I feel like I am getting stronger and I hope that I will be faster and get better results. Until now this year I had 4 races, with a victory and a 3rd place. Getting better results motivates me a lot.

    RW: I noticed in one of your race photos some very stylish socks. What’s up with the GQ fashion statement?

    VS: The socks have a special story for me. I was searching some with pink accents as the pink is in general, identify the wearer or promoter with the breast cancer brand and express moral support for women with breast cancer. I also have some pink accents on my racing bike and my trail bike is totally pink.

    Vlad floating over a log

    Vlad floating over a log

    RW: Tell us a bit about the mountain bike racing scene in Romania?

    VS: I started to race in 2002, after riding in 2001 and 2002 with my friends on the trails near my home. Since then the mountain bike scene (not only the race scene) grew up, and in the last couple of year, it exploded. There are a lot of bike and parts dealers, all the bike marathon races gather more then 300, and up to 1500 riders. This year, a friend of mine started in my hometown a local championship, especially for kids and amateur riders and it seems that motivates a lot of people to join this kind of racing. And to have a XC race with a total of 250 riders means a lot. Hopefully some kids will end up to race in the World Cup when they’ll grow up as for me I know that I can race in a World Cup, but without any important results.

    RW: Do you get a chance to race very often in Western Europe? There are a lot of really, really fast mountain bikers in places like Switzerland and France!

    VS: I had the chance to race in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. I had the chance to ride at Salzkammergut Trophy in Austria, where a lot of fast riders where in, including pro riders. They are fast, but in Romania is hard to live decently if you only ride bikes, because this sport doesn’t have such an impact yet. I think that some year will pass until cycling in Romania will be a “job”. But be sure that if I’ll have the chance to race in France, Switzerland, Spain, UK or other countries, I’ll do it.

    RW: What are your goals for the rest of the year, and how do you see Restwise playing a part in achieving them?

    VS: For me the most important thing is to finish my studies, as this is my last year, then I plan to ride my bike and enjoy it. I hope that I’ll get more podiums this year, because this is the thing that motivates me most. At the Romanian Championships I hope to get enough UCI points that next year to ride in a World Cup. Restwise helped me this year to train in a wise way and this thing helped me in training but also in the daily life as I knew when to sleep and to push harder. So if the recovery is a mystery to you, Restwise is the answer.

    RW: Do you have a coach, or do you self-coach? And how to you integrate the Daily Recovery Score into your training methods?

    VS: Right now I am my own coach. I read a lot of books about training, nutrition and recovery and maybe someday I will coach some other riders too. I’ve learned a few things during this years: If you don’t feel like you should train, than you should probably sleep more. I have some training plans made for each day, depending the races that are coming and how important there are, but if it’s necessary and the daily recovery score tells me, I change the program for the rest of the day or week. Until now it seems that I am getting faster and hopefully I will fast enough to get some good results.

    RW: How about longer-term? Any audacious dreams for your career?

    VS: For me mountain biking is not a career, because I can’t live from mountain biking. My sponsors support me more with parts and the trips to the races, but I don’t get a paycheck and this is correct because I don’t have such important results. I don’t think that I’ll become a Pro rider but if I’ll be faster and if the things will remain the same way, after I finish my studies I can get a job and ride my bike.

    RW: We know a lot about the big American bike companies. Are there any great Romanian brands that have a loyal following?

    VS: There are a lot of big American companies, but the Romanian bike brands are still at the supermarket bike level. It is very hard to get something better than the companies that invest a lot of money into the technologies. But right now is good that we have a lot of bike dealer that import everything that is important.

    RW: If you have an iPod, what bands are on your favorite play list right now?

    VS: Wow, now that’s a tough one. Usually I am listening to the radio, but if I have to name a few bands right now I am thinking at Hooverphonic, Massive Attack, Morcheeba, Lemongrass Gorillaz, Muse, Kid Cudi, Reckless Love, Enemy Lovers and even AC/DC, Metallica, Hammer Fall, Nirvana or Jamiroquai.

    RW: There may be a number of readers who could be interested in bringing their bikes to Romania to ride or race. Can you put your travel agent hat on for a moment, and give us some advice?

    VS: Right know nobody is doing something like this but if someone is interested to ride in Romania and he/she has a GPS, has more tracks from all over Romania that can be downloaded. If someone is coming near Cluj-Napoca, I would like to be a guide and show the mountain near the city or even other places that worth to be seen.

    RW: Out of curiosity, do you ever carry a spear with you when you race? You know, just in case one of your biggest rivals is about to pass you on a nasty descent?

    VS: Thanks for your time, Vlad, and have a fantastic rest of the year!

    RW: I would like to thank you too for this opportunity. Wish you all the best!

    Extreme Conditions? Check out Skimo!

    February 2nd, 2011

    At the North American Ski Mountaineering (“Skimo”, to the initiated) National Championships held in Jackson Hole in early January, conditions were epic, with near-whiteouts in gale force winds meeting racers at the top of the legendary Corbett’s Couloir. Restwise athlete Luke Nelson gutted it out to a fantastic 2nd place, confirming his fast-growing reputation as the young gun to watch, and earning his first invitation to the World Championships. Between recovering from that effort and prepping for World’s, we had a chance to catch up with this rising star.

    Luke Nelson - Photo credit to Tanae Nelson

    Luke Nelson - Photo credit to Tanae Nelson

    RW: Hey, Luke. We want to be the first of your sponsors to publicly congratulate you on your excellent finish in Jackson Hole this past weekend. Way to throw down!

    Before we go any futher: in 10 words or less, tell us what Skimo (Ski Mountaineering) is:

    LN: Racing up snow covered mountains, then skiing down in lycra

    RW: Let me get this straight: sprint up a mountain wearing skis, then ski race back down, then repeat a few times until your legs are Jell-O. Is that about it?

    LN: Pretty close, there is definitely a lot of technique involved, but a full race effort on the courses I’ve raced will surely leave you nicely wrecked.

    RW: What are the primary demands, from a physiological perspective, on a Skimo racer?

    LN: First and foremost the majority of the time spent racing is going up hill, so a strong aerobic capacity, coupled with the ability to go past the red line that is anaerobic threshold during break aways. Although simply being an aerobic monster is not enough, you still have to be able to ski down fast on very small and light skis on legs that are worked from the climb up.

    RW: We first heard about you from one of our other sponsored athletes/coaches, Brian Harder who tipped you as someone to watch. What is your connection to Brian?

    LN: Brian is an someone that I have looked up to for a long time.  I first met him a few years ago at the Wasatch Powderkeg, but I had known of Brian from many years before  when he was mentioned in an Outside Magazine article about Exum Guides. Since meeting him he has been a great source of information about training, equipment and physiology as an endurance athlete. I guess in many ways he has been mentoring me as I have pursued Ski Mountaineering Racing.

    Luke emerging from Corbett's Couloir - Photo credit to James Hlavaty

    Luke emerging from Corbett's Couloir - Photo credit to James Hlavaty

    RW: Brian has posted some interesting equipment-oriented posts on his blog recently( Are you a gear-geek, and does equipment really matter that much in Skimo? (here is an opportunity for you to shamelessly plug your other sponsors, if you want)

    LN: I worked in an outdoor specialty store for nearly 10 years so I am definitely a gear geek.  I raced for several years on light but not race specific equipment and only had mediocre results.  One of the most important additions to my race equipment has been my boots.  I am an athlete for La Sportiva and was lucky enough to get a pair of their amazing carbon race boot the Stratos.  From the day I got those boots I have consistently been able to ascend 700-800′ per hour faster than using a light randonee boot.  In addition to the boots I picked up a pair of Ski Trab Duo Race World Cup skis with Trab’s super light race binding.  The combination of this equipment has made a HUGE improvement in my racing.  The bottom line is that you can train your body to a certain point and beyond that additional advantage can be made up with equipment.

    RW: Talking about the importance of cutting-edge gear, you’ve said that Restwise plays a critical role in your training. Can you give us some insight into how you use it?

    LN: I started using Restwise about 5 months ago, I had been plagued with over training and overuse injuries prior because I had the “more is better” mindset to my training.  Restwise gave me an invaluable tool to really keep myself from over doing it, since I have been using it regularly I have seen several PR’s, and no injuries.

    RW: Do you work with a coach, or are you self-directed?

    LN: Right now I am completely self directed, but I have been getting ready to start working with a couch for this upcoming mountain running season.  As far as ski mountaineering I’ll probably keep coaching myself.

    RW: If you were helping a new Restwise user get the most out of it, what would you say?

    LN: Be completely honest with yourself when answering the questions.  When I first started using it, it was easy to say “yeah I slept good” or “my energy is normal” , but after thinking about it a while I would realize that I was just being positive about everything and not actually noting the subtle day to day changes.  Once you can truthfully answer the questions you will see it as a crucial part of your training.

    RW: Now that you’re heading to the World Championships, do you view your sport any differently?

    LN: I have to admit that I am a bit terrified, I have been working hard to get to where I am.  Now I am off to race in the big leagues.  I am more committed to working hard and recovering well to make sure I am at my best for Europe.

    RW: I know the Euros are blazingly fast. What are your expectations in terms of how you’ll finish?

    LN: To be totally honest I really have no idea, but I am not going to set myself up for failure.  I am not going to be delusional and think that I am going to go over there and win, but I am not going to discount myself by thinking I won’t race well against the rest of the world.  Whatever happens I am going to make sure that anyone who beats me has to earn it!

    RW: And what’s up after the World’s for you? Do you train for next year, or do you step right into a summer sport?

    LN: I mountain run competitively in the summer, so I mix running in as part of my Ski Mountaineering training.  As soon as I get back from Europe I will hit my first running training block super hard. I will still have a few more Skimo races, but my trail races will start just over a month after World’s.

    RW: Favorite quote?

    LN: “Being awesome is a choice, if you are whining or complaining remember that you could be being awesome instead”  Brad Pilon

    RW: What music are you listening to these days?

    LN: A mix of punk rock and punchy bluegrass… on the ipod right now Trampled by Turtles.

    RW: Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions today, Luke, and go show ‘em all the quick way home at World’s!