Thursday, November 11, 2010

Balancing At The Edge

Recently I've been thinking about "the edge". Actually, that's not true. I'm ALWAYS thinking about the I can get to the next level, or obtain that certain something that's going to give me an advantage. It's a competitive trait of mine and yes, sometimes it's directly related to competition itself and wanting to win or be the best at something. But lately it's been more about how I can gain an edge in my overall health. See, it's not enough for me to be just "healthy". When I need to check the "how would you describe your health" box at the doctors office, I want to be able to check the box that says "GREAT health". When I turn 40, I want my doctors to look me in the eye and tell me that I'm going to live another 60 years because I'm in such great health. When I'm 60, I don't want my overnight bag to contain dozens of prescription bottles. I want to be illness free! When I'm 70, I want to be running the same trails I'm running on today at 36. I want to still be able to deadlift 200 lbs, do a pullup, and chase after my dog (who will be 350 years old by then). Certain that there MUST be some sort of secret food, secret workout, secret SOMETHING out there, I've been asking a lot of much older, very healthy adults about this. And you know what they all tell me? "You've got to take care of yourself when you're young". Bingo. What I do to and for my body NOW is going to affect my longevity, my ability to do the things I want to do at 40, 60, 70, 100 years old. What I do to my body can prevent degenerative disease and deterioration of brain function. The way I treat myself is CRUCIAL and of TOP PRIORITY.

My grandma and great aunt. Two of the most energetic, vibrant, sharp ladies I know...and yeah, can you believe it...they're in their 80's and 90's!

That's why the "I'll start TOMORROW", or the "one more slice of pizza won't kill me" or the "one more hour and then I'll go to sleep" or the "I'll go to the doctor NEXT week" or the "I've got my whole life ahead of me" excuses DO NOT FLY with me. And at the risk of sounding like a know-it-all or like I'm lecturing my audience, please understand---I am VERY guilty of throwing these excuses around at times. But the thing is, I am DESPERATE to get the most out of this life, however temporary it may be, and for me, that means I've got to take care of myself so that I can enjoy the things I want to do. I'm not too keen on the idea of regret and years from now, I'd really like to say I did it right and did it well.

I know A LOT of people...AMAZING, self-less, considerate, kind people who simply don't put their well being FIRST. They feel that taking care of others is the right thing to do. All the time. And it's admirable and I'm envious of their self-lessness. However, while these people do everything in their power to make sure others around them are happy, healthy and safe, these people are not taking care of themselves. Bottom line is, they are sacrificing their own health to help others. And sometimes, they are truly RISKING their own health. So I have to ask--in the long run (or the very near future in some cases) how are you going to be able to take care of anyone else if you can't take care of yourself? It's like the stuff we hear on the airplane before take-off: "secure your own oxygen mask before you secure any one else's". I know a LOT of mothers who would have a really hard time securing their own mask before their children's masks. I don't have kids. But I'll tell you, if I was sitting next to one of my nephews when the masks drop, I'd have a hard time too. However, it makes sense--who's going to take care of your kids if you aren't around to do it?

I also know a lot of people who take care of everything else in their life before their health. They are so wrapped up in work or projects or their house or whatever that they put their health on the back burner. Again, it's a matter of longevity and priority. How can you get your work done efficiently and well if you're trying to get it done on 2 hours of sleep, six cups of coffee, and some chips and salsa? And after days and days and weeks and weeks of this WILL catch up to you. Do this over and over again, it adds up to YEARS of life that you can't get back. And for what? At the cost of what? YOU? Sure, you might make more money NOW. You might feel really great about making those sacrifices now, but how will you enjoy the fruit of your sacrifices if you are sick. Or dead.

Oh yeah...I'm lecturing. (and being kind of dramatic) Sorry. But not really. Because I really just have too many people in my life, too many loved ones who aren't taking care of themselves!!!!!! And I can't stand to think of a world in the near future without them! I watch them negotiate with themselves and tell themselves that they'll take time for themselves "soon" or "later". They say to themselves, "let me just get through this. take care of THIS. and THEN I'll work on myself". NO!!!! NOW is the time people!

So, I've discovered that this is very much easier said than done, this taking care of yourself first. It's truly another balancing act in our lives, because we really DO have a lot to do and a lot to take care of. Work is important, our kids and our loved ones are EXTREMELY important. So putting ourselves first takes a lot of rearranging and creative planning. It might be, at first, about carving a very small window in our day to cook a healthy meal, take a short run, meditate, pray, write in a journal, take a nap...whatever it is we need to do for ourselves that we've put on the back burner too long. It's imperative, though, that we find a way to do this for ourselves. It's crucial to our health---our bodies, our emotional health, our day to day function.

I am not the expert on this topic. But I'm fortunate that my job and my life is centered on searching for ways to create a balance in life for optimal health. And then I get to tell YOU all about what I've learned and experienced on the topic. So, I'll be honest...for me, lately, I've discovered that I really haven't been taking enough time to truly take care of myself. Work has been extremely busy and I've put myself on the back burner in an effort to take care of my gymnasts who are in competition season. Their mental and physical well being have been my priority for weeks now and MINE has NOT. And as a result...I am not feeling my usual energetic, motivated, strong, efficient self. It's caught up to me and I'm not happy with the results. And because I'm not happy with myself and not feeling my best...guess what? I'm thinking it's probably going to rub off on my gymnasts--the very same girls I've been focused on all these weeks. How am I going to be efficient in my coaching and motivate my young athletes, if I'm falling apart? Hmmmm.

Time to take a step back and take a look at what I need to do to get that balance back.

How about you?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What the HECK????

Okay...those of you who know me, know that I am like a spongy vulture when it comes to gathering information on health, fitness, and training. I am constantly reading, studying, observing, and experimenting. I want to know how to be the healthiest I can possibly be. I want to reach my highest potential as an athlete. And then I want to spread the word and teach others about it!

So, I've been working on my certifications for sports conditioning, personal training, and performance nutrition. I'll admit, it's tedious and sometimes boring to be on a self-study program. I'd much rather be in a classroom or hands-on training, but right now, with my work schedule...this is how I'm rolling. I'm learning a lot. I like what I'm learning. But honestly, I feel like I'm learning MORE from my own experiences and research.

If you've been reading my blog diligently (which I know you are!), then you know about my recent obsession and love affair with Crossfit--the very sport I used to raise a skeptical eyebrow at. Crossfit continues to surprise me and prove me wrong. Constantly. Now, some of the relative strength, metabolic conditioning work is stuff I had introduced to my training regimen years ago. The addition of olympic weightlifting COMBINED with the metabolic conditioning into a short, intense, sweet WOD (workout of the day) is a pretty new concept to me. As an endurance athlete (triathlon and ultrarunning) I have spent HOURS AND HOURS training for my sport. And up until my achilles injury (and introduction to Crossfit) I was logging up to 20-30 hours on the trails a week in preparation for a big ultra race. I did some conditioning work in the gym every other day, but I could barely fit it in with the amount of running I was doing. This is how I trained. Sport specific. It made sense to me to train long, long hours on the trails because that's what I'd be doing the day of the race---long, long hours on the trails. Right?

So imagine my surprise when I started Crossfit and WODs and was cutting my training time from 20-25 hours a week to 6 or 7 and was getting my ASS KICKED! (I haven't vomited after a workout in a long, long time (can't count sour stomach on long runs since that's par for the course) ). The intensity of these 10-30 min WODs is so fierce and pushes me to a point that my body is constantly adjusting, changing, and building itself into something incredibly strong, fast, and functional. At first I'd leave a workout wondering if I should head out for a run, in case I didn't get enough out of that 10-30 minutes. I actually felt a little guilty. But the true test of the efficiency of my new workouts was tested recently when I got the green light from my doctors to start running again. I was TERRIFIED I wouldn't have the endurance or stamina to complete a run. I was worried about my achilles and worried I'd be so out of "running shape" that I DREADED that first run. Again, I was surprised. No...shocked! Crossfit had managed, in those 10-30 min WODs, five to six days a week, to not only maintain my endurance, but BETTER my speed and running efficiency! How is that possible?????

Well...the best answer to that question is here:
But it's a very lengthy read that most people don't have time for. So I'm going to try and lay it out quickly and easily (note: most of this information is found on the website, crossfit endurance website and some in my textbooks, workbooks, and fitness journals ):

Crossfit is NOT a specialized fitness program. It's a "deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains": Cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. Crossfit was developed to enhance an individual's competency at ALL physical tasks. And Crossfit athletes are trained to perform successfully at multiple, diverse, and randomized physical challenges at short, middle and long distances. Crossfit achieves this through functional movement and high intensity anaerobic training. Okay, I'm probably going to piss off a lot of my fellow trail and ultrarunning friends here....BUT there is a big misconception that long distance athletes are fitter than short distance athletes. Here's the thing though: endurance athletes have typically trained themselves LONG past any cardiovascular benefit and have actually LOST strength, speed, power, agility, balance and flexibility. Their athletic competency has been compromised. It is SCIENTIFIC fact that aerobic activity DECREASES anaerobic capacity, decreases strength, speed and power. (How many ultrarunners out there can jump up to a 24" box, or do a dead-hang pullup, or squat to parallel without hurting their hamstrings or backs? ) On the other hand, anaerobic activity BENEFITS cardiovascular function, decreases body fat, and is the ONLY way to dramatically improve power, speed, strength and muscle. And what's even BETTER---anaerobic conditioning will not adversely affect aerobic capacity! This explains why I am still able to run WELL (and even better) after adhering solely to Crossfit and anaerobic training during my recovery. Now I don't know about YOU, but I'd much rather look like THIS:

Than THIS:

Who looks stronger to you?

Crossfit has found an incredible balance in achieving athletic potential. Thousands of elite athletes have some pretty awesome testimonials on the website of how their performance has changed because of Crossfit's regimen.

Okay. Great. Interesting stuff, right? BUT, I'm ready to start training again for another ultra. In fact, I plan on running a R2R2R (South Rim to North Rim to South Rim) in the Grand Canyon in April. How the heck will I be able to run THAT without training for hours on the trail? And how can I continue to do Crossfit 5 to6 days a week AND run?

Well...I've been talking to a lot of coaches, a lot of endurance athletes, a lot of fitness specialists and have been introduced to Crossfit Endurance. Check this out! They claim that if I follow their program, I'm only required to train 6-8 hours per week to COMPETE at an ultra distance! WHAT???? They claim that limiting an athlete's exposure to LSD (long slow distance) training will allow them to remain not only functionally competent in other areas of fitness and competitive in aerobic endurance pursuits but DOMINATE in ALL areas of fitness! That's a HUGE claim! So let me get this right...I train hard 6-8 hours a week and not only will I be able to run 45 miles in the Grand Canyon, I'll also be able to kick ass on the soccer field, AND maybe even throw a football farther than my brother after Thanksgiving dinner this year? Good grief--makes me wonder...what ELSE could I do?

So here's my training plan: I'll be continuing with the Crossfit WODs and add the Crossfit Endurance WOD specific to MY sport and distance (running) every day. The regimen will also include the occasional tempo or time trial on my "off days". Still--this balance will NOT push me past 8 hours of training a week. And the WODs are FUN! Yesterday, for instance, I did a clean and jerk, pullups, squat, sit ups AMRAP (As many rounds as possible) in 8 minutes and then 3+hours later did a Tabata run where I did 20 seconds on/10 second off for 8 rounds on an incline. Both workouts only took me about 30 minutes each (when you include some warmup and stretching time too). ! Sounds too easy? Well...let's just say, I had to hang out near the bushes for a while after the second workout. It's all about INTENSITY. goes! Looks like I'm off on another crazy adventure! But, I'll admit, I'm still skeptical. I realize that most successful ultrarunners are still running hours upon hours on the trails and most AREN'T doing Crossfit Endurance. But then again, I don't think enough ultrarunners have experimented with Crossfit or Crossfit Endurance. The idea is CRAZY! But what if this works? What if I actually run better and do WELL in my Grand Canyon run. Holy cow!...this will seriously change everything! I mean DAMN! What am I going to do with all this FREE time? Ha ha! Can't wait to find out! Stay tuned..