Thursday, July 26, 2012

The cats snickered and fitness improvement thoughts

I was beginning to wonder if this day would come. My back has been cranky forever, it seems, but I know it's only since early July. Just enough to put me out of the nice outside weather. Sigh. But it's been easing, especially since the acupuncture appointment the other day. Tonight I was down on my mat doing some really good stretching, and actually feeling some mobility and some good clicks in my back. There are still some tight muscles, no denying that, but it was much, much better.

This was not a Katie Kore (hard core) session. Just some good stretches, cat/cow, pigeon, clam, squats, forward bend, plank (!), dog, and a few others. Breathing into the stretch. Not trying to overdo it, just get things moving again. The cats kept me company and were snickering at me in their genteel way. Cats don't have much of a sense of humour so they weren't actually laughing at me. Just showing off.

There is no way I'll be ready for the 70.3 so I've mentally resigned myself to DNS. Better that than to have a go and injure myself. I'll still go down to the expo and look things over. I only work a couple blocks from there, anyone want to visit it with me and do coffee/snack after? I'm also now planning to cheer. There will be cow bells!

I've been thinking lots about fitness over the last little while, off and on since IMC. Some blog buddies have helped push this along. Tiff just completed the Sylvan half IM. Deb is doing Calgary 70.3 this weekend. SG has been getting back into running after having to take a medical break. Just like I did a few years ago, they started to work on improving their fitness and have been making huge progress. Take a look at this graph, hand drawn and everything.

The slope is not the important point. Some people will improve more rapidly, and hence have a steeper slope. Let's assume you decide to get more fit. It doesn't matter where you start. The graph still applies. Fitness is defined as an envelope of things your body can do, measured by such things as strength, endurance, cardio capacity, flexibility, lactate threshold, mental toughness, tolerance for pain, ability to recover, and probably some other stuff. Whoever you are, you have a certain capability envelop at any given time, and it will all improve with practice.

Now look for the orange line. It really does start near the vertical axis. Look harder, it starts very thin, and gradually gets thicker as it wiggles up and to the right. It really does dip slightly after starting. I remember that point well. This orange line is a representation of a perfect program to improve your particular fitness. Imagine a 24 hour a day coach that knows everything about you and pushes you to the maximum every time but without going over the edge. You have a gym with all the toys in your house. Imagine not having to work so you can work out at the perfect time for you, and take the perfect meals at exactly the right times. You can nap at the right time, and your bedroom is perfect for you getting the maximum amount of sleep. You can afford massage therapists, ART practitioners, or whatever aids will help you, and even better, they come to your house. People deliver food, prepare meals, and clean up after.  That orange line is you, training perfectly, just on the verge of a breakdown every workout, but recovering so you don't get injured. Nobody can do this, not even the pro-est of pros. We simply don't have enough information.

Injured, that's the red line. The orange line is probably much more jagged than it appears, and if you go over it into the red zone you will almost certainly be injured. Or you'll stress yourself beyond the optimum and need a longer recovery time. Trying to train in the orange zone all the time would be very stressful.

My training life has aimed for the upper end of the green zone most of the time, trading off faster improvements in exchange for a lower risk of being injured. An injury shifts all three lines vertically downward at a particular point in time, and leads to a lower result. I'm really sure that slow and steady wins this race. Even the green zone builds fitness, just a little slower than the orange, but a lot faster than the red zone.

Back to the orange line. At first the difference between a safe workout and risking injury is razor thin. It doesn't take much to overdo it. I dip the line down just after beginning because once you start, your body starts wondering what is happening. For a while it believes you will stop again, after you outrun the bear. Then it starts adapting to the loads, and for a time it seems like you are going backwards. Hang in there. Give your body a chance.

Then as you continue the workouts you'll find that you can do more, faster, and longer. Sure, there are days that don't go so well. Keep a journal and you'll see the general trend for improvement. Then one day you'll come in thinking you had a super crappy workout, but when you write it down and check back, you'll see it wasn't all that long ago you wouldn't have been able to do that at all, or it would have been a peak effort.

That orange line gets thicker too, in that there is more margin between a regular workout and an overload workout. You'll get better at knowing where you are in terms of an overload. You'll know how long or how hard you can push, and when to back off. At first I tended to back off rather than risk injury. Even so, I've still had injuries that have restricted my training and racing. That reassures me that I'm not being a total slacker, given the motto that if you never fail you haven't been trying hard enough.

Even if I could somehow live in the orange zone, I wouldn't choose to. I enjoy the work I do. I enjoy seeing my friends, and really enjoy sometimes eating "bad" things. Or taking a day off to sleep in, or staying up late watching trashy videos while drinking too much wine and eating the Skystone crackers and cheese. (I wonder how many of my readers will get that joke?)

At the moment I'm really missing working out. I itch to be on my bike riding towards the mountains, but I know it would be painful pretty quick. I should be good to run tomorrow. I'm aiming for next week on swimming. After all, it's hard to do flip turns when your core muscles are AWOL.

When I get impatient about it, I think of Sister Madonna Buder. She is in town for the 70.3 and recently turned 82. Let's think about that for a moment. 82, doing a half IM, and it's probably a tune up for IMC.  I will stay to cheer her across the finish line, because holy Hannah, if she doesn't deserve the respectful adulation, then nobody does. She is a perfect "What's YOUR excuse?" moment. I'll be happy if I'm still alive, up and around, mentally sharp, at 82. Maybe I'll still be able to do a half Ironman, and I'll be trying to arrange it, but that's not the way to bet.

Here's a couple photos just because. This is a slightly dressed up photo of the view on the way to work the other day.

This is a new piece of artwork in our building. I quite like it, but cannot understand who approved putting it right in front of the door.


  1. Nice graph. Pretty colours!! And thanks for the mention. I usually am all over the green zone, I rarely hit orange, mainly b/c I have never made my training "optimal". As in, my diet has never been "optimal", haha. Although it's getting better, thanks to CSA box and aiming to run 10k race again.

  2. I really hope to see Sister Madonna Buder on the course. Janelle Morrison is also supposed to race, and her comeback story is amazing. Some serious inspiration in the two of them!

  3. PS: I am going to go to package pickup around 5. What time were you planning on going? It will probably be one of the busiest times, but I feel like I should catch the pre-race meeting at 6.

  4. I was there at lunch time. Disappointed in the expo. I guess you're there now, hope it's more fun with more people there.

  5. I'll be spectathaleting for sure. Watch for the 'stache, and listen for the bells!

  6. With Kris cooking, how could it NOT be optimal? That 10 K will come soon and fast!


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