Lessons From the Water

The route--3 km lake, 22+ km river, 9 km lake

The route–3 km lake, 22+ km river, 9 km lake

Last Sunday, on a whim, I texted Arno to  see what he was doing the following day.  I’d decided rather spontaneously that it was time to tackle the mission I’d been thinking about for over a year–a swim from Te Anau to Manapouri.  I’d planned on ‘getting fit’ for it and having a go in a month, but something inside me on Sunday told me I wasn’t really going to be getting fitter than I already was, and that I just needed to get it done.

With Arno available to pilot me down the 23 km or grade I river and carry my food for the journey, I had no more excuses. Details were hammered out and at 10 am on Monday I waded into the calm waters of Lake Te Anau for the first 3 km lake crossing.

One of the benefits of a spur of the moment decision to take on something somewhat epic is that you have less time to really worry about it.  Sure, there was still plenty of worrying between the time Arno committed and when I started swimming, but there was only a 12 hour window for that worrying to happen in and at least some of that time was spent sleeping.  

I worried about being too cold mostly. While the water temps have warmed up nicely from what they were this winter (15-ish degrees celsius vs 8!), my longest swim in ‘training’ had been roughly an hour–far short of how long I’d be immersed if I was to cover the 35 km of lake and river that lay between the towns.

I was full of nerves moments before starting the swim

I was full of nerves moments before starting the swim

Which brings me to lesson one: Most of what we worry about never happens.  Depending on your source, social and psychological sciences place the ‘needless’ worry at between 85 and 92% (or thereabouts).  Which means that an awful lot of mental energy is wasted on worrying about things that either we can’t control, cannot change, or that will never actually happen.  In this case, most of my worry, and my pre-swim’s fitful night’s rest, were the result of such a worry. Thankfully, there was a limit in my case, temporally speaking, to how much I had to sit with this worry. Once I started my journey it’s mootness became more concrete–I was wearing what I was wearing and I’d either get too cold or I wouldn’t, so worrying about it was pointless. I could just swim.

And swim I did. A bit more than 3 km across lake Te Anau–a good solid pace to start with but nothing too ambitious. My goal was to finish first, and push second.  I was feeling pretty good as I jogged the half kilometer gravel path around the control gates at the head of the river.  I was an hour in and took the opportunity to grab my first fuel, some gummy powergel snacks and a couple of swigs of Raro (a New Zealand version of Tang).

The river was awesome. I’d swum the first half of its 22 km length a number of times recently and so knew it well–it’s rocks and chutes and corners.  It was fast and exciting, especially the second half which I’d only swum once.  I had a bit more apprehension here–this section has a few tree choked braided sections where collision with something is a real possibility and there are frequent spooky moments where carcasses of ancient trunks reach up like claws from the abyss–the river carrying you relentlessly forward over their outstretched fingers.  But I had Arno as my guide (he really is a guide–regularly leading commercial packrafting trips down this section of water).

Perfect swimming conditions, nothing to worry about!

Perfect swimming conditions, nothing to worry about!

So I tried to relax and embody lesson two: go with the flow. There is simply no activity I have engaged in during my rather storied life where this lesson becomes so obvious as when I’ve been swimming down this river.  Any form of resistance to the literal flow is immediately felt.  The experience is visceral.  The more I was able to be at ease with what was happening and save my ‘reactions’ for what was genuinely occurring, the more relaxed I was both mentally and physically.  Awareness was a big part of this–in the section of the river that I knew well it meant planning ahead, understanding the nature of the flow from experience, and working with it. I lined up for the corners, allowed the current to sweep me towards the outside knowing that I wouldn’t get pushed too far, and enjoyed the speed.  I didn’t fight the rapids on the surface, gasping for breath against the chaotic waves, but dove down and rode the under currents for a smoother ride.  I saved my energy by stroking it out when the river turned placid and I could swim efficiently. I fought the flow only when it was absolutely necessary, when the consequences for not doing so were both unimagined and negative.  

And for the part of the river where I felt uncertain, I practiced lesson three: commit to trust.  While it is important to decide carefully who you are going to trust, when you’ve made a decision, commit to it.  I was lucky to have Arno with me as our relationship and his water reading skills made it easy to trust him.  Whenever I’d considered this section of the swim previously, even without a committed date, I’d been anxious about this section of the river. But with Arno as chaperone, I was able to relinquish that anxiety by knowing that he had my best interests at heart, would be attentive to those interests, and that as a result I could ‘let go’ of my need to control a situation that would otherwise have been very stressful.  The act of trusting is linked to the ability to take risks as well–those more likely to trust in general tend to be more likely to accept a certain level of risk in their lives. And at least in my opinion, the acceptance of risk (and the inevitably resulting failures) is a key factor in a robust life. And as I finally swam out of the river mouth and into Lake Manapouri, my life certainly felt very robust.

My body, on the other hand, did not. As the adrenaline response from river section slowly faded, I became more acutely aware of how shattered I felt, and the BIG question as to how my body would hold up over the next 9 km of lake.  A year ago I’d had some issues with my right shoulder that required physical therapy and it continued to bug me when I pushed too hard, even on shorter swims.  By the end of the river it was already feeling pretty wrecked–would it last another hour?  Three?  Although I’ve got plenty of experience in land based endurance efforts, my longest swim ever was a 10 mile affair, took just over 4 hours to finish, and happened 15 years ago.  It was a rather outdated litmus test from which to draw strength for what remained ahead, especially considering at the time I’d been healthier (shoulder wise), fitter (swimming wise), and even then been plagued by such severe cramping in my left elbow by the end that I swam the entire last mile with on arm.

Thankfully, all that being said, I have learned a thing or two in the intervening year, one of which I’d been reminded reminded of via a FB post recently.

The final leg...9 km to go!

The final leg…9 km to go!

Lesson four: fatigue is all in your head.  Ok, maybe not all, but certainly the point when you decide that you’ve reached your limit is. When I started to really feel broken only a short distance into the final lake swim, I relied heavily on this idea.  I knew from all my big adventures on terra-firma that the general pain that I was enduring was self-limiting. If I was broken it was almost certainly in a way that was repairable.  The pain caused by low-impact repetitive joint use, on a single occasion (not chronic overuse such as in high volume training)–hardly ever leads to actual acute injuries.  And so although the pain was great enough that I would have traded my little finger for some ibuprofen, I didn’t allow myself to listen to the part my brain that tried to tell me I should stop because I was causing permanent damage.  But it wasn’t easy.  The 30 minutes in between feeds seemed to stretch for hours so that I was continually convinced that Arno wasn’t keeping track of the time. One of my achilles started to cramp.  Both hip-flexors threatened to join it. I altered my stroke in turns–windmilling arms to keep them straight for a while, then shortening my stroke dramatically to keep them bent.  I’m not sure whether the pain even got better, but I was able to keep going.  Eventually, I rounded the headland of Supply Bay and could see the finishing beach. It was still nearly an hour away, but that sight was all it took to let my head know I was going to make it.  After my last feed I was close enough to make out the car my wife had dropped for us.  Despite having stroked continuously for over six hours at this point, the fatigue (almost) disappeared and I felt as though I was finishing the last kilometer of a 2 km swim, not a 35 km one.

All in all, my shoulders (which I am having trouble moving today) carried me for 6 hours and 45 minutes of more or less continuous freestyle. It was an incredible experience and one I hope to offer to the public next year as a marathon swim event  (www.koharacing.com). Happy training.

PostScript: In addition to the above more profound lessons, I also learned a couple of other things that bear mentioning.

The first of these is why distance swimmers almost always rely on liquid diets.  I learned this the hard way as I nearly choked on my first water based feed that consisted of PowerBar energy blasts, a brand of gummy sports chew.  I almost choked! Swallowing food is so much harder than swallowing liquid and the act of chewing and swallowing while swimming proved almost impossible.  Thankfully, I had a couple emergency Gu’s that proved more easily consumable, and some sugared drink mix I was able to fall back on (I’d planned on primarily consuming the blasts), and it saw me through.  

The second is how awesome the NoNumb swimming device is.  Typically for me, after an hour of swimming my hands get cold enough for the claw to develop.  I’d toyed with the idea of wearing thermal gloves, but the downside of gloves is that even the best of them take on some water and thus add a non-insignificant amount of  weight the the hands.  Over the course of some 15000 odd strokes, a few extra grams really matters. The NoNumb device is an ingeniously simple piece of silicone (so much so that calling it a device seems silly) that slips around your fingers to keep them together.  The lack of water circulation between fingers keeps your hands warmer, and keeps the claw from making an appearance even when your hands do get cold. I’d tested it in a time trial of my standard training course, a 800 odd lap around a set of buoys, a couple of weeks ago and posted my personal best by nearly 30 seconds, so figured I’d give it a go on the swim.  It worked marvelously–my fingers stayed together, my hands felt warm, and it was so comfortable that I forgot I was wearing it.  Awesome.  Check it out at http://nonumbsurf.com/


Wake Up Call

The moment before the alarm goes off--Caleb and Adrian, getting ready for the ascent of the Monument.

The moment before the alarm goes off–Caleb and Adrian, getting ready for the ascent of the Monument.

It’s roughly two months to GodZone, a seven day adventure race on the South Island of New Zealand.  Because of the depth of AR talent in NZ and the sold out status of the event, it is probably going to be one of the most competitive expedition length ARs of the year.  It is also the next big race I’m going to be doing.

The problem is, I haven’t really been training.  Sure, I’ve been staying in shape–swimming a bit, doing a few 3 minute time trials on the SUP or 4km loops on the road bike.  A few weeks ago I was even doing a shortish 3km hill run every other week ago, but then I hurt my knee and so have had to take a bit of a break from that too.  It’s true, I’ve had a couple big days here and there mostly working for my teammate and boss, Adrian, a task involves an occasional 8 hour day hiking through the New Zealand bush, and this probably counts for something.as well.

But GODZONE!  This beast is seven days of non-stop paddling, trekking/running, and mountain biking.  It’s a big undertaking in itself but the fact that I’m doing it with Adrian and another couple of super athletes who happen to be my inlaws (link to article) is what really scares me.  Decades of big missions in the mountains make me relatively assured that I can survive pretty much anything, GodZone included. But yesterday’s wake up call makes me realize that keeping up will be another matter entirely.

So about yesterday then….yesterday I had three hours between the time I dropped my kids at a birthday party and picked them up.  It was the perfect amount of time to get in a ‘longer’ but still hard training session to jump start things and start getting serious.  Adrian and I had agreed that we needed a bit of focus on paddling (including canoe paddling–a mandatory skill for the race) with a little bit of hiking to test my knee.  The B-day party was a bit of a drive from home but near lake Manapouri, home of ‘the monument’–an iconic point of rock jutting out 300 meters above the lakes surface.  Sitting 8 or 12 km from the access beach (depending on the paddling route and portage), we figured we’d have to push the pace in order to get the ascent done in the time window.  We invited a third person too. Caleb, a young buck who’d been visiting (and sleeping on my living room floor) for the last 6 weeks, had more endurance experience at 23 than most athletes twice his age.  It was a good crew, notwithstanding the fact that Adrian had just finished the Milford Mountain Classic (a 120 km road race) only 14 hours before and his legs were ‘still a bit tired.’

The paddle, to be honest was fine.  It was good adventure race style training–i ended up sitting/kneeling  in the center of the boat, using a paddle that was slightly too long and leaning awkwardly to one side of the other to get the paddle in the water.  Caleb, at 6’3” sat in front with a paddle far too short (half a kayak paddle with a t-grip).  Still we hammered, pushing the very non-hydrodynamic hull through the water at around 5 miles per hour.  My shoulders got sore and then adapted nicely to the effort.  The portage was quick and efficient with Adrian demonstrating why he was such a good choice for a teammate by leaping out of the boat, yoking up to a sling on the front, and taking off down the trail at a 10 minute mile pace towing the bright yellow canoe. Flat legs indeed.


At the top!

20 more minutes of paddling and we beached below the Monument, discarded lifejackets, and headed into the bush and uphill.  The goal was to hit the top in under 20 minutes.  The DOC sign predicted a 2 hour return.  I started out in front.  Adrian again lamented his tired legs.  Whew.  My own legs weren’t feeling great–the knee was fine but the calves were complaining about the steep grade almost immediately–so the idea I’d be able to cruise up at a  moderate pace was pretty nice.  Then fallen tree forced me off the trail.  I chose the long way around and was soon behind both Adrian and Caleb.  Within minutes, they were out of sight. I was pushing hard–heart rate up, calves now screaming, and lungs burning.  I’d occasionlly catch site of Adrian, followed closely by Caleb, when the bush opened up or they came to a trickier bit that slowed them up.  But by the time we hit the ridge proper and started the third and fourth class scrambling, all I heard were their voices–shouting encouragement down, “come on Andy!  Keep pushing. You’ve only got five minutes!”

In the end, I reached the top in about 17 minutes, only a minute slower than the other two.  It was the same on the way down too–my fleetness of foot and confidence on the downhill were no match for my companions skill either. I was relieved to be back in the boat where I actually felt a bit stronger by comparison, but where even if I wasn’t, a gap wouldn’t appear to expose the truth. We took an alternate way back–a longer portage and shorter paddle, hoping to negative split the journey.  This time Adrian and Caleb tag teamed the canoe and had it careening like a toboggan along the winding portage trail at what was, according to the data log on Adrian’s watch, the trip’s top speed of nearly 8 miles an hour.

Caleb negotiating the chimney. He was faster going up...and going down.

Caleb negotiating the chimney. He was faster going up…and going down.

It was an awesome outing–perfect paddling conditions, great company,  and just the right amount of suffering (kneeling for half an hour can get quite uncomfortable!) We didn’t quite make our time window and I was a bit late to pick up the boys but they didn’t even notice, the party was still going full swing.  We even got to participate in the lollie scramble, which was a bonus as I was getting pretty hungry (I hadn’t eaten anything before the mission).

As I headed back to drop Adrian and the canoe off, he commented that it was a ‘pretty good rest day’.  I asked him politely if, whatever he thought of it privately, he at least called it ‘active recovery’ when I was in earshot.  All in all though, whatever he calls it, it was necessary.  I’ve seen the writing on the wall and it’s time to get serious.  I’m no slouch, but if I want to keep up enough to not let the team down during GodZone, it’s time for a more dedicated training program for the next eight weeks.  I’ll be working on that today (my kind of rest day), and throw it on here for accountabilities sake, and in the interest of N=1 science (my favorite kind).

Happy Training


Doing well



For for than a decade now I’ve pursued the goal of being a ‘jack-of-all-endurance’ trades. I have aspired simultaneously to train so that I could both ‘do anything’ and ‘do it well’.  For quite some time I’ve left the notion of what ‘doing it well’ meant purposefully vague but have long contemplated the phrase, wondering what, at least for an ambitious recreational athlete like myself, it should actually mean.  The time has now come to offer up a more concrete criteria.  

I’ll begin by admitting that these criteria are going to be largely (entirely?), arbitrary.  But in truth, at least from a suitably wide perspective, everything else is largely arbitrary too. Arbitrariness is unavoidable.  That being said, arbitrariness can be more (when backed by reasoned arguments) or less (lacking any meaningful justification) sensible. The bit of arbitrariness in question here falls into the former category of course–in my opinion anyway and since this is my article, I guess no more justification is required. So without further ado:

Doing something well (as an age group, non professional athlete) implies–at least when concerning athletic endeavors that are measured by ‘time to completion’– finishing within a time no more than 50% greater than that of the world’s top athletes in the given discipline.  In other words, you’ve done it well if you are ‘Off by 50’ or less.

If you think that this sounds too easy – that 50% is too generous a cushion – consider the following examples:

  1. The fastest marathon time is just over 2 hours.  By my criteria, an age grouper who runs a 3 hour marathon is doing dandy.  In fact, they’ll qualify for Boston with time to spare. This evidence clearly supports my thesis and scarcely have I seen a better start to a well reasoned argument.  So far so good.
  2. The fastest IronMan (IM) distance triathlon is somewhere right around (slightly under) 8 hours – so breaking that 12 hour barrier puts you in pretty good company.  Additionally consider that if you look at the results of most general registration (no qualifying time is required) IM distance races on reasonably flat courses, a sub 12 hour performance would put you in approximately the top 35% of the field.  Considering that there are no ‘average’ athletes running such a race and you get an idea of the achievement.  If you ask me the logic, at least for efforts at the top end of the scale, is simply infallible.  But what about shorter endurance efforts?
  3. Well, what about them?  A sub 4-minute mile is clearly in the realm of elite runners at this distance (the world record is 3:43). This translates to a good goal for an age grouper like myself being a sub 6 minute mile, or if we’re going with the hardcore expression of the criteria (50% increase over the WR) a time of less than 5:35 is needed.

Wow.  I think I’ve nailed it, don’t you?  It’s hard to find fault in such an arbitrary criteria that is also so sensible.  Completely coincidentally, it just so happens that these numbers pretty closely define the edges of my own abilities which is pretty awesome.  The target goals created by the criteria are met often enough to placate my ego but challenging enough to require quite a bit of hard work and focus which keeps me lean and keen.  Not that these two coincidental factors have any influence on such a well reasoned, logically derived, but arbitrarily chosen measure of meaning, because that’s just silly.  

No, it was chosen simply because it makes sense.  In fact, it’s so good that I’m convinced it’s just a matter of time before it catches on, becomes the industry standard, and enters our everyday lexicon:

Athlete A:  So how’d you do in your race Saturday?

Athlete B:  Excellent!  I was only ‘Off By 50!’

Athlete A:  Whoa! You’re really doing well!

Can’t you just hear it?

Here are some more ways to be ‘Off By 50’. How many can you manage?


100 meters:  9.58 seconds.  Off by 50 time:  14.37 (equivalent to running 3:53 mile pace for 100 m)

1 mile: 3:43  Off by 50 time: 5:34

10 K (road): 26:44  Off by 50 time: 40:06

Half Marathon:  58:23  Off by 50 time:  1:27:35

Marathon:  2:03:06  Off by 50 time:  3:04:39


50 meter freestyle:  20:91  Off by 50 time:  31.36

1 mile (open water):  16:23  Off by 50 time:  24:35

10 K (open water):  1:54:30 (approx)  Off by 50 time:  2:51:45


10 mile:  17:57  Off by 50 time:  26: 55

40 km time trial:  47:36  Off by 50 time:  1:11:24

[Note–this piece was originally published back in 2012 on my early blog, three hours a week, as two separate posts.]

Know Thyself

My wife turned me on to a recent blog post from one of her favorites, Mr. Frank Forencich of the Exuberant Animal.  It discusses the ideas of ‘lifestyle intelligence’ and bricolage–an ability to adapt and successfully reach a desired outcome using diverse and available materials. In reading and reflecting on Frank’s piece, I was struck with the importance of being able to assess your strengths and weaknesses as an individual in order to have a shot at achieving your goals.

I’m not talking about recognizing that your swim times aren’t as on par with your bike times compared to other age group athletes or anything like that.  I’m talking about understanding who you are as a person when it comes to following through on workouts, best times of the day for motivation, and being realistic both in setting goals and then in how likely you are to meet the demands of any particular workout program you attempt to follow in order to meet them.

My wife, for example, is a morning person.  She’d rather get up at six A.M. to go for a run in the dark and be back and showered before anyone in the house is up.  She’s more likely to find excuses not to do her workout the longer the day goes on.  Mornings work for her.  Mornings do not work for me on the other hand–not much works actually until after a cup of coffee or two.

I am, however a pressure player–a procrastinator.  I will put off workouts until the moment where if I wait any longer I won’t get it done.  If my wife needs to head to work at 5:15 in the evening (as she did a couple of days ago) I might wait until about 5:00 to start running.  It suits me primarily because most of my workouts are really hard and really short.  The ‘hardness’ makes me put them off as long as possible whereas the shortness means that I can, in fact, squeeze them in at a last minute here or there.

Timing aside, another huge part of knowing thyself has to do with understanding one’s personal capacity for both volume and intensity. So many programs prescribe efforts as though everyone is capable (mentally and phyiscally) of any combination of these elements, assuming they can decide to commit the time.  Of course this is anything but true.  While it may be the case that committing time is all that is required to meet the volume side of the equation, meeting intensity is another thing.  Some people just can’t do, or won’t do, intensity. For most of us, however, it’s more a matter of how much and how often.  All out sprints or proper Tabata protocol might be a once a week thing for some or a once a month thing for others (just long enough to forget the taste of blood and/or bile in the back of the mouth).

My training has been modified over the years based on my changing circumstances and my diligence in understanding what these changes mean in terms of what I can/will realistically do.  I was able to manage three true high intensity workouts a week during winters in North Dakota when I was a member of a gym, had a great range of high end cardio equipment, solid race goals, and spent most of my day sitting in front of a computer.  Now-a-days, living in New Zealand with no gym access, adventure rather than race goals, and a daily routine that involves more general activity than I’ve had in a while, the mental demands of putting up more than one or two true high intensity efforts a week are beyond me.

Training programs in and of themselves aren’t bad things of course–following a plan that someone else has put together can certainly seem to take some of the pressure off and even allow you to benefit from someone elses (hopefully sound) knowledge about training and fitness.  But it is important to remember that the biggest factor in success or failure is probably not the viability of the program itself, but in how well it is matched to your actual abilities and how well it fits itself in with your other life needs.  Just because you think you want to do something doesn’t mean you will actually do it. Take the time to understand realistically who you are in terms of not only what you want, but what you’re willing and more importantly able to do to reach your goal.  And make sure any training program you adopt serves this pragmatism.

Alright, that’s it for this post.  It’s 4:39 and I’ve gotta get changed and get my two mile time trial in and then pick up the kids by 5:00–talk about perfect timing.

Happy training,




I prefer really big waypoints that I don't have to build as often...

I prefer really big waypoints that I don’t have to build as often…

Every so often I feel the need to build a waypoint.  For me, these are points that serve to let me know where I am fitness wise in the larger ultra-endurance landscape–not necessarily compared to other people, but compared to past iterations of myself.  Waypoints ground me and give me confidence in where I am, and that what I’m doing (my training), is keeping me moving in the right direction (capable of doing anything).

I usually get antsy after a couple months of not doing anything big enough to make me want to lie in bed and not move for a few days, and it has pretty much been since John and I’s mission on the Hollyford back in January.  I’ve been busy, but busy isn’t really and excuse.  My original plan had been an epic swim, trialing a course for a possible swim event in future years, but I kept putting it off and now the water is so cold that it wouldn’t be as much a test of fitness as a ‘how long will it take until my body shuts down and I die’ sort of mission, so I’m going to be forced to put it on the back burner for now.

That leaves me wondering what to do–or rather trying to decide between the available choices.  On the one had I’ve got a list of adventures ranging from long days to multi-days that are all within a few hours drive, but that will likely require a partner.  On the other hand, I’ve just learned of a local 6 hour lap race happening this weekend.  I’m tempted by the latter, both because it’s only 6 hours (and apparently has bouncy castles for the kids) and because it would be an interesting experiment, considering my weekly running mileage has been hovering right under 3 km (less than 2 miles) for the past couple of months.  That twisted part of my brain that I serve when I suffer is definitely keen to see what happens were I to tackle this challenge.

I feel far fitter for wood chopping these days (I spend more time chopping wood than running, biking, and swimming combined), but unfortunately my google search for ‘ultra wood chopping competitions’ returned a null result. Whatever I end up deciding, I’m going to need to get out there soon and get building.

Success…well almost.

nopicIt’s been a couple of weeks since the big holly-day mission and I think I’m mostly recovered.  It was great fun and I ended the day and two hours (it took us about 26.5 hours, car to car) suitably shattered.  The last 10k I suffered from IT band pain that seemed determined to stop me in my tracks–all this in a full on fiordland rainstorm that left even the most expensive gore-tex as effective as a cotton t-shirt.  My partner was stronger than me on the foot sections and this allowed me to really reach my limit which was the plan all along.

The paddling sections were brilliant, the demon trail was epic as expected, and much of the most difficult to find parts of the route were encountered in the darkness.  We got lucky, barely squeaking by around Long Reef Point  just after high tide.  John also got lucky that the massive sea lion that he surprised and who barked and lunged at him as he passed a meter in front of where it lay under a rock overhang was a female and not a more territorial and aggressive male.

We got lost twice–once for about an hour or so looking for the track from the North end of Big Bay heading toward the Pyke Valley.

By the end I had elbow tendonitis, the IT band issue, chaffed nipples, a chaffed butt-crack, a raw lower back from pack-rub, chaffing at the very top of my inner thigh/groin from the hem of my undergarments (to the point of even a bit of bleeding), and size-able blisters on both pinky toes.   All the discomfort was of the self-limiting sort thankfully, but I did have to do some pretty serious mental gymnastics to keep running at all during the last 20K back to the car.   [It’s interesting too to note that ‘running’ at this point was predictably more of a shuffle than a run–perhaps movement speeds shifted from 5 to 7 kph (3 to 4.5 mph)… but over the course of that distance such a seemingly small gain in speed is quite significant.]

The bridge back to the car park finally came, an hour after I started hoping it would.  And after changing into dry clothes in a damp porta-potty and sitting in front of the car heater on full blast to stop the incessant shivering (the result of being soaked to the bone and the inability after such a long day to produce any of my own body heat without voluntary muscle movement–which I no longer wanted to produce!), John and I were even able to split shifts to drive the two hours home in time for dinner.

Sorry – no pictures of the trip.  It was so cutting edge we couldn’t admit the weight of a camera.  Or maybe I just forgot it on the dash.

Mission #1: Getting one under the belt

A week ago I managed to get away for the day with local Te Anauian, Jarod, for an adventure.  It was great to finally be out in the bush and not just looking at maps.

Then plan was to hike up Mistake Creek (in the Eglington Valley), around the North end of Consolation peak, down the Melita valley, then pack-raft to the Southern end of lake Gunn and down the Eglington river back to the car.

View Larger Topographic Map

In my head the whole thing should have taken 6-8 hours, and this is without running.  Ha!

I learned some valuable lessons on this trip.

  1. A trail on a map in NZ means nothing.  In my head I see a trail and think it is ‘runnable’.  I’m used to being able to cover at least 8K (5 miles) an hour on even ‘tough’ trails.  The Mistake Creek trail was not even thought of as a particularly tough trail and it seemed to take ages!

    Jarod enjoying off track travel

    Jarod enjoying off track travel

  2. No trail on a map in NZ can mean anything.  Sometimes we were able to move down a boulder bed stream at 3K and hour.  Other times we were reduced to crawling through bush at less than 500 meters per hour.
  3. Don’t second guess the locals. Looking at the contour lines around Consolation peak, I was sure it would be a walk in the park getting to the Melita valley.  It wasn’t.  We managed, but there was some seriously steep ground in a few places and I was very very glad to have decades of climbing experience under my belt.

    Jarod enjoying easy ledges on the sidle around Consolation peak

    Jarod enjoying easy ledges on the sidle around Consolation peak

  4. Things are hidden in the bush!  Maybe the topo maps here are often based off of the top of the canopy (because the canopy is so thick).  Whatever the reason, we stumbled across some creek gorges that were 30-50 meters deep and only a few meters wide on our descent of Melita creek–stuff I’d have expected to show up on a topo with 20 meter contour intervals.  Invisible.
  5. It rains a lot up here.  Although our day out was perfect weather, much of the forest was covered with moss up to 30 cm thick.  Sloped tussock drainages were sopping wet even after 48 hours without rain.  There is water to spare in fiordland.

    the moss in Melita Valley

    the moss in Melita Valley

It was a good, long day out that ended up taking about 11 ours to get to the end of the lake.  The river turned out to be too low for pack-rafting, but that turned out to be a good thing, as we were already an hour overdue.

About to put in on Gunn's Lake

About to put in on Gunn’s Lake

Tomorrow John Kenny and I tackle Mission #2, the previously mentioned Big-Hollyday! (see last post)


Doing more with less: An alternative approach to training (for everything) for the ambitions amateur

Pic3There is a bit of a reliance on the ‘trickle down’ wisdom in training programs these days, particularly for those aimed towards people with ambitions of longer events. The routines of top athletes are tweaked, shortened or otherwise modified and then touted in magazines, online training programs, DVD’s, and the like.

A random sample of such programs targeted towards, say, marathon or longer distances, will have the following things in common – LOTS of volume, and an emphasis on the physical training. While these approaches can indeed work for those able to stick to them without getting injured, in my opinion at least, there is another way.

I’ve been personally experimenting with the effects of low-volume, higher-intensity training, as preparation for ultra-distance events for about three years now. During that time my weekly training time has been limited to under three hours for the first two years, two hours for the nine months after that, and is currently at only 70 minutes.

That’s right, I only train, on average 10 minutes a day. What’s remarkable though is that I’ve found that I’m still able to perform ‘well’ (by most people’s standards) at events ranging from multi day adventure races to triathlons to ultra distance runs and bike rides.
My success is based on three things – not any of which are likely ever to come out of the distillation of pro athletes’ workout regimens

  1. Cumulative gains (over years, not weeks and months) from a program where long term consistency is actually possible
  2. Excellent Return on Investment (ROI) from very short duration, high intensity training, and
  3. Proper emphasis being placed on the mental requirements necessary for any ultra distance effort.

Although I’m primarily interested in seeing how to maximize my endurance potential while minimizing my training time, these principles apply equally well for those who have more modest goals of getting fit and doing well at sprint triathlons, half marathons, or even 5/10 Ks.

In the next few posts, I’ll talk about each aspect in more detail and then describe how to put them all together to create your own custom workout plan to do more with less.