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Introducing the “Leg Blaster Plus”

Today’s workout:

The rationale:

Bulgarian split squats for upcoming alpine approaches (almost certainly too little too late for this coming weekend – I should have done this workout a week ago, and then again today), heavy pullups to continue to develop excess strength to make ice climbing feel easy, side plank side pulls for some shoulder stability work.  And the leg blaster, because I haven’t done enough lactate tolerance work recently.  The extra 45lbs on the leg blaster was a kind of self punishment – but definitely worthwhile.  Normally I would not suggest the extra weight on leg blasters within the context of a regular workout, but this was a little light on leg work, and I’ll be resting the next 2 days so I could afford a little extra hurt.


Zen Mountain Biking

Zen Mountain Biking

The above blog post from is about applying lessons from the book “Zen Jiu Jitsu: How to Improve Your Game 100% in 30 Days” to improving mountain biking – I think the same approach can be used for climbing.  It’s the same general framework I advocate: figure out the aptitudes you need, which ones you need to improve especially, and then mindfully practice those things.


Another no-namer

The objective was to suck some wind, feel some burn, and then go plod at a steady pace for 30 min in a semi-depleted state.  I had actually forgotten how good it feels to use weights as the stimulus for wind-sucking.

1/2 Ab Ripper X  (ie part I)


  • squat (45lb dumbbell)
  • pushup
  • pullup (assisted)


  • X-Press (1 gallon water jugs)
  • Half moon (15 lbs)

30 minute run


Three hour trail run

I ran trails for 3 hours on Saturday, mostly zone 1 and zone 2 heart rates.  A collection of related thoughts:

  • Consuming 100 calories per hour is recommended.  I only brought 50 cal/hour.  This consisted of a scoop of dextrose – I’m out of maltodextrin – a packet of hyration mix, and 2 small dark chocolates (Dove, of course, for the little inspirational messages inside the wrapper).  I could tell that I was running short on glucose.  Not a huge deal over only 3 hours, but if I had wanted to go faster, or longer, more glucose would almost surely be needed.
  • There’s lots of damage from superstorm Sandy, which dumped a lot of snow here.  I spent a bunch of time grabbing branches and chucking them off the trail.  For an even better time I should have brought a small hand saw – run, saw, toss, run, saw, toss…!
  • My periodization plan over the past year or so seems to have done a lot for my endurance capabilities.  I can definitely tell that by cycling training volume up and down over 3-week cycles, I have slowly and steadily stepped up my endurance.  I used to be a sprinter.  40 minutes was a long run.  And now I just ran 3 hours on Saturday, and while it did hurt some, Sunday and Monday morning I felt pretty good.
  • I’m really starting to think that a major key to success is just being able to grind out the boring stuff.  Actually, running trails for 3 hours is not really boring – there’s a lot to look at and take in.  But getting out there and plodding along has never had quite the draw for me as 30 minutes of lung-busting, muscle-burning intensity.  There’s no way around it though – in many endeavors, if you want to be good, you have to put in the time.  Plain and simple.

Training to run down trails really fast

A friend of mine who is an avid trail runner mentioned that he wanted to train to run downhill faster.  I thought it was a pretty interesting challenge, so after some thinking, here’s what I’ve come up with:

The big issue with running fast downhill is walking the fine line between speed and control.  If you’re not about to fall down, you could probably go faster.  If you fell down, well, that’s slower in the end.  So the trick I think is to increase the speed corresponding to the border between in control and out of control.  Ultimately I think this means improving the proprioception in your hip and ankle, and especially in the context of fast movements with one leg out front and one behind.

So here are my training suggestions:

  • Jump lunge on an unstable surface.  A foam sleeping pad, crash pad, mattress, or a pile of laundry would work.  The more unstable the greater the challenge to your balance.  As absurd as it might sound, I think doing this on a pile of laundry might be the best way, because not only does the surface compress, but it’s lumpy to begin with (like trails).
  • Single leg squat and bulgarian split squat on an unstable surface.  Maybe on one of those inflatable half balls, or inflatable disks, or a folded up towel or sweatshirt.
  • Bound downhill (on a “safe” surface, like a road, or very smooth trail), taking exaggerated long strides.  You could try this on an uneven trail surface, but probably only if you are totally comfortable with doing it on a smooth surface, and even then I would worry about injuring an ankle.
  • Run trails at dawn or dusk in low light.  The reduced visual feedback will make the other systems involved in balance work a little harder.  Again, be careful not to hurt an ankle.

If you wanted to test if this program actually works, I would suggest doing a few timed downhill trials at the fastest pace that is just barely in control.  After doing these exercises for a few weeks, repeat those time trials, again at the fastest pace that feels just barely in control, and see if there is any improvement.  (And then let me know, because I’m quite curious!)


Benchmark #3: Five mile run in 35 minutes

Alpine fitness benchmark #3: Run 5 miles in 35 minutes or less.  Road miles are the intended media, but 5 accurately marked miles on a trail in 35 min or less will count too (though that sets the bar higher).  Endpoint of the course must be level with or higher than the start – no overall downhill for obvious reasons.

That’s 7-minute miles for 5 miles (math!!).  It’s not that fast – 7-minute miles over a 10K (6.2 miles) gets you 43:24, which is decidedly middle of the pack at your local Thanksgiving Day 10K.

But recall, we’re not training for the local Thanksgiving Day 10K.  We’re training for the Direttissima on Mount RealBig.  How many of those other racers are also deadlifting 2x bodyweight (benchmark #1) or doing pullups with 0.5x bodyweight in additional weight (benchmark #2)?  And climbing runout 5.stiff trad?  So be careful not to get caught up in comparisons that aren’t valid for the training objective.

And on the same note…you shouldn’t even actually train for these benchmarks.  Ideally, you would train for your objective and use these benchmarks ONLY as measurements of progress.  It’s a subtle but important difference.

Imagine if you decided to train for the 5-mile run.  You’d run a lot of road miles (which is suboptimal because trails provide a more uneven and realistic surface).  You’d do some speed work aimed at the 5 mile distance.  Mile repeats, etc.  Are those the training intensities you want for your objective?  Maybe.  But probably not.  The objective is probably more like a 20 or 30 hour duration effort, which requires training of different energy systems (fat vs glucose).  So ideally you’d just do your training, whatever it is, that is targeted at your objective.  And then use the 5 mile run as simply a test, not a target.  By analogy, note the consternation in our educational system about “teaching to the test” rather than encouraging real learning and thinking. Do not “train to the test”.

Anyways, now that I’ve posted the benchmark, I have to report that I’ve failed twice now to achieve it.  Earlier this week I came in at 35:15, and about a month ago it was 37:46.  I’m improving, but now I should probably forget about this benchmark for a while so I don’t start training for the test.

Question: Do you think 5 miles in 35 minutes is an appropriate benchmark?  Should it be 10 miles in 100 minutes?  15 in 180 minutes?  Or should there be an additional complementary benchmark, e.g. a “fast” 5-mile and a “long” 20 miles in 5 hours?

What it means to never get tired

No one ever gets tired at the CAT.

We may get dehydrated.  Undernourished.  Underslept.  Underrecovered.  We may not have sufficient maximal strength.  We may not have enough endurance.  We may experience central nervous system fatigue.  Certainly we have experienced the physiological failure of muscles to produce additional work.

But tired?  Nah.  We don’t speak French.

This idea started as schtick; as a chest-thumping call-out to our compatriots.  “I’m not tired!  You’re not tired, are you?!”  But it has proven to be a really useful idea over the long haul.

“Tired” is a choice.  Being tired is mental surrender.  White flag.  We give up.  Never getting tired means making a strategic decision: “Ok, I’m failing right now because I don’t have enough lactate tolerance (for example).  Let’s retreat right now, regroup, intelligently address the specific inadequacy, and then come back stronger next time and win the next battle.”

Not tired

Once you commit to never being tired, you force yourself to be more specific about why you are failing at X.  And more specific means more actionable.

I’m not tired.  Are you?