Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

Well, I did it.

Exactly 116 days ago on January 1st of this year, in lieu of not being able to run at the time I committed myself to instead focusing on a different kind of challenge, something dubbed as “The 28 Day Challenge” (click HERE and HERE).

My goals were easy enough:

  1. Improve core strength
  2. Losing some weight

I already understood how important the core was to overall performance (click HERE), but it was never a huge focus in my training; haphazard at best.  Rather I would go through short periods of keeping up with it but then it would trail off again in lieu of other more sparkly interests and obsessions.

Anyway, mission accomplished this time around.

So good in fact that I decided to keep up with it and extended the challenge to the 100 Day mark (click HERE).

However, while I gave myself a bit of flexibility here in making it a daily ritual – no exceptions – I did raise the bar once more by setting two more personal goals.

  1. Be able to hold a 5 minute plank.
  2. Perform 60 push-ups in 60 seconds.

Mission accomplished there as well.

After that, I just kind of kept up with it although I decided to not bore any of you here with the details.

For the most part, after three posts in succession I figured you’d all be:

But, rest assured, it was still a part of my regular training regimen.

And while, yes, I did allow myself some days off (a whopping 16 in total) depending on what else I had committed to that day, it’s safe to say that this has become a daily habit now.

The big question then is what exactly did I accomplish in all this time?

Well, I ran some numbers this morning and the results had me literally performing some serious mental jujitsu on myself.

Get a load of these numbers:

  • Total mat time spent: 28 hours, 48 minutes
  • Total push-up count: 7,948
  • Most push-ups in a single week: 1,171
  • Total planking count: 8 hours, 15 minutes
  • Longest plank: 6 minutes, 28 seconds

Great googly-moogly!

So here, now let me wave something really shiny in front of you monkeys.

While not directly related solely to my core routine, I am now down 11lbs.

BOO-YAH!

The real upshot though is that I feel strong…real  strong.

My running has come a long way since those initial dark days in January (click HERE), I feel absolutely powerful on the bike and already I’m laying down some impressive paces for being this early into the season, and I accomplished my “Frank & Friends 10k Swim for Strong Kids” (click HERE) rather effortlessly in a much faster time than in previous years.

Plus, I started to get back into the yoga studio as well so you can add those once-a-week workouts to the ‘ol Bonfire of Awesome I got burning (click HERE) as well.

So, yeah, I’m kickin’ it.

The real hope is that this core strength building is going to pay off in dividends come race day by allowing me to hold my form over the course of 12-13 hours of Ironman racing.  So while I still struggle from time to time with my run pacing (aerobic and anaerobic conditioning), at least my body seems to be up to the task which makes me happy given my string of injuries leading out of 2016 and into 2017.

I’m realizing now that my body at that time just wasn’t up to the task and necessarily strong enough to do what I was expecting it to do when I prematurely forced it to go into long distance mode over the winter.  So this challenge forced me to slow down and concentrate on building myself back up smartly  before carrying on with the program, which I am currently attempting to do.

So what now?

Well, what else is there to say:

Little did I know that what Jake was really referring to was one of these:

254-voodoo-floss-band-web-h1

A “Voodoo band”.

Stay with me….

Going forward, I still plan on keeping with the program and making it an everyday thing when time allows.  I would still like to continue pushing my limits with the planking, but I have also begun now to begin incorporating more “injury prevention” type of drills into it as well, specifically those I’ve been reading about in the ‘Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally’ book (Dr. Kelly Starrett) that I’ve been reading.

For example, deep squatting in order to improve hip strength.

Who knew this was even a thing?

And, no, I cannot do it properly…yet.

Likewise, being able to do a pistol squat as a means of developing my ankle range of motion, or improve hip extension by holding a proper couch stretch which, believe me, at the moment is about as much fun as pouring hot lava into your shorts.  And, yes, I want to begin using a Voodoo band (or “floss”) more regularly to improve my range, restore joint mechanics, and unglue matted down or previously injured tissue.

So even though I am well into long distance mode now, my “strength building” is more aimed at “injury prevention” and maintaining the strength I have built up thus far and managing the after effects of those long workouts.

Furthermore, my post-Ironman plan at the moment (immediately after the whole consuming of many Brimstone beers and CRAVE Local Fresh dinner plates that is) is going to be solely aimed at continuing this re-building process of developing my core and body mobility so that I don’t necessarily feel like I’m starting over from scratch again come September/October and with it, the host of nagging injuries that typically return as a result.

Oh, and anything that enables me not to look like a transvestite resisting arrest would be nice too.

Just sayin’…

So if anything, this challenge has taught me to train smarter.

And so smarter I shall be.

I did it.  I have finally completed my “28 Day Challenge” (click HERE).  As I’ve previously stated, I’m usually very skeptical of these kinds of challenges but I needed a goal to focus on and be proud about in lieu of my steaming pile of fart pebbles that has become my current run program.  I decided then that I would pick one specific “limiter” in my current Ironman training regimen that I know I don’t do enough of and that I should do more of.  And that specific limiter was “core”.

To revisit, my goals were:

  1. Improved core strength
  2. A start at losing some weight

At the half-way point the results were definitely favorable, I was down 3lbs and able to do more push-ups in 3 minutes than I ever thought possible.  I was also able to hold a 3 minute plank (with perfect form), which had you asked me to do before this challenge I would have looked at you like you as if you had just asked me to circumcise myself with an airline spork.

Not happening.

But as it turns out, I can.

And did…many times.

In fact, not only are the 3 minute planks somewhat easy now but I also capped out in my last week at 186 push-ups in a 3 minute period.

Yes, 186 push-ups.

Look at the last weeks results:

pushups

Never in my wildest dreams!

But push-ups and planks weren’t the only specific tortures on the daily menu, there were also squats, crunches, Russian Twist’s, and those stupid looking donkey kick things, all aimed at giving me swim, cycle and run specific strength while also minimizing my risk of injury in the coming months of training.

So the million dollar question then is, did it work?

Well, in 28 days I am now down 5lbs, so that’s goal #1 successfully accomplished.  Having said that, I am also putting in 12-14 hours a week of training between the three disciplines, including two sessions with the heavy iron and at least one yoga class so is that weight loss resulting from the daily core workouts specifically?

Well, that’s up in the air really, but they certainly helped.

The real proof in the pudding regarding this challenges’ success would be the improved core strength.  And here I have to say that, yes, there is a significant improvement.

Absolutely, without a doubt!

Not only are my swim workouts going well with my ability to hold pace over designed intervals but I am also managing 12-15 kilometers per week, but I am managing 4-5 hours weekly in the pool without feeling overly fatigued in my shoulders; no doubt a result of all those planks and push-ups.

Of course, I wills say that doing push-ups after swimming certainly sucks.

Likewise, my cycling strength has also improved with my ability to sustain a higher wattage on the bike during my Thursday night 90 minute tempo spins.  They’re not “easy” per se, but I can definitely get it done holding an average of 160-170 watts over 70-80 minutes.  Prior to this 28 Day Challenge by comparison, well, let’s just say that it’s a significant improvement.

To answer the question then “am I stronger?”

It’s a very emphatic yes!

Plus, after all those squats (56 minutes worth in the last 28 days if you want to be precise) you can practically crack walnuts on my ass.  In fact, I’m more or less walking down the street now like this:

Yeah, exactly like that.

So where do I go from here?  Am I going to continue on with the challenge or what?

Abso-fucking-lutely!

In fact, I’m now making this 28 Day Challenge, the “100 Day Challenge”.

However, I am going to tweak the program a little as well as revisit my goals.  The goals of building overall core strength and losing weight aren’t changing but to those I am now adding the following:

  1. Be able to hold a 5 minute plank.
  2. Perform 60 push-ups in 60 seconds.

I think both of those goals are reasonable.

I am also making a significant change on how I am approaching the allotted time intervals for my specific core exercises in that I am going to stop looking at accumulative time but instead, focus on number of reps within that time frame.  In other words, before I was stopping the clock if and when I needed a break and resuming it once I started again.  This means that I could take a dozen 10 second breaks during, say, my 3 minutes of push-ups as long as the entire 3 minutes on the clock was spent doing push-ups.  Maybe I understood this wrong in the initial instructions of the challenge but I now think that this was a mistake.  Instead, I’m now going to keep the clock running consecutively and see how many reps I can accomplish in that time frame.  This is going to force me then to reconsider a) how many breaks I take, and b) how long I spend recovering before getting back at it.

Consider it a new twist to the whole challenge just to keep it, shall we say, interesting.

Also, I am adjusting the actual exercises to keep it fresh.  I am continuing on with the planks, push-ups, crunches and Russian Twists, but in lieu of those dumbass donkey kick things, I am adding some exercises recommended to me eons ago by Dr. Kristen Burr at Legacy Health and Performance that have since fallen by the wayside, namely bridges (quads/butt), and one-legged stands on a balance disc (calf and foot).  I’m still working all the same muscle groups, just using different exercises to target them.

And one last thing, I am giving myself permission to take at least one day off a week.  After all, if a day is aimed at being a “recovery day”, then it should be a 100% recovery day and not a semi-recovery day in that I must maintain a commitment to something else.

It’s a challenge after all, not a job.

So, here is my next months’ worth of routine heading towards the new goals:

Week 1:

  • 2.5 minutes plank
  • 1 minute push-ups
  • 1 minute lunges (each side)
  • 1 minute one-legged stand on balance disc (each side)
  • 1 minute bridges (w/ medicine ball)
  • 1 minute abs
  • 1 minute waist (Russian Twists)
  • 2.5 minutes plank

Week 2:

  • 3.5 minutes plank
  • 2 minutes squats
  • 3 minutes abs
  • 2 minutes bird dogs
  • 2 minutes waist (Russian Twists)
  • 2 minutes lunges (each side)
  • 2 minutes push-ups
  • 1 minutes V-sit (“Boat pose”)

Week 3 (same as Week 1), Week 4 (same as Week 2).

Today marks the halfway point in my 28 Day Challenge I assumed at the beginning of the year (click HERE).  I figured then that this deserves a little update on how things are progressing thus far.  Don’t worry though, I’m not going to slip in any more gratuitous fat pictures.

Well, not in this post anyway.

To review, my goals with this challenge were twofold:

  1. Improved core strength
  2. A start at losing some weight

So let’s begin with the first week, shall we?

The first seven days of the program (click HERE) called for a 2 minute plank to kick start off the whole routine.  Initially I didn’t think this was going to be too difficult as I do planks fairly regularly already.  However, what I learned – and very quickly I might add – is that what I think constitutes itself as a second is actually much faster (much, much faster) than it actually is when being ticked down digitally on the tablet I had in front of me to keep proper time.   I thought I could hold a plank for at least a whole minute, but in “Terry time”, that’s actually 43 seconds.   I did hang on for a full 60 seconds, but my shoulders more or less collapsed in on themselves at that point and I had to take a 15-20 second break before resuming the 2nd minute.

Yes, I stopped and restarted the clock while doing so.

In fact, it wasn’t until the 4th day that I was actually able to hold a plank for the full 2 minutes and, even then, just barely.

Core strength = improving.

Next, the routine called for 1 minute worth of push-ups.  Again, I wasn’t fretting too much as I do these now too.  In fact, I can snap off about 20 or so push-ups at a go until I’m fatigued enough that I have to take a break.  Thing is, that’s only 30 seconds…I still had another 30 seconds to go.  So, basically, my first 20 military precision push-ups were soon reduced to a slow, pained Sisyphean effort.  And, yeah, I had to take a 15 second break in the middle too.

My ego was definitely taking a beating.

However, the good news with the push-ups is that every day I made progress with the number I could knock off in that 60 minute time period.

Take a look at the first week’s push-up tally:

week-1

I’m pretty happy with that.  While I still needed to take a 15 seconds break in the middle I’m still pleased that I improved my overall push-up count by nearly 20 reps in just a single week.

Booyah!

The other routines called for 1 minute each of abs (using Kelly’s Swiss Ball in a fashion I’ve seen other triathletes use before – click HERE), birddogs, squats, Russian Twists, and whatever the heck it is you call this crazy maneuver:

absbutt

None of these posed too much problem, nor was I attempting to improve in number or duration so much as I was just trying to focus on doing it right.

And for the record, I took more than 15 seconds of break between each minute interval of exercise.  I needed it, believe me, and I doubt most people starting from scratch will be able to continue on with only this short period of rest.  I don’t think this has much to do with the overall routine so I’m not too bothered.  It’s not like I left, went and had a coffee and came back 45 minutes later but, yeah, 15 seconds was too short a break to be able to continue.

The only real sucky thing was that the routine also called to end the session with another 2 minute plank.

FML.

After the first 2 minute plank and the series of push-ups, and crazy abs/butt thing, my shoulders were pretty well toast, meaning that this full second 2 minute plank was only ever successfully accomplished on the very last day of Week 1 making me able to successfully hold 2 x 2 minute planks.

Success nonetheless.

Enter Week 2:

The second week was separated into 2 sets, the first set beginning with a 3 minute plank (FFS).  Now I can’t accurately relate what kind of fucked up contortions my mind acrobatics instantly started to conjure up in the ‘ol brain circus going on in my head at the point when I read three minutes.  How the fuck?  At the very least, I figured I could manage the first 2 minutes and then maybe a little more before needing a rest to complete the rest and, that’s true – I did – once and once only.  That’s right, folks!  On only Day 2 of the second week I banged out my first 3 minute plank, like…ever.   And a true three minutes at that!  So I guess suffering through those 2nd 2 minute planks in the first week were really working and I was now really beginning to see the real core improvement I was hoping for.

The other shitty thing was that all the minute intervals were now three minute intervals, not just the plank.  That means my 60 seconds of push-ups were now 180 seconds worth of push-ups and my 60 seconds of abs were now 180 seconds of crunches, et cetera and so forth.

God help me.

Anyway, after the first minute of push-ups, I was more or less reduced to wheezing like a dolphin with an itchy blowhole.  And I certainly needed more than a single 15 seconds break in the middle.  In fact, by the two minute point I was more or less doing 10 push-ups, taking a 10 second break, doing 10 push-ups, taking a 10 second break, repeat, until the end of the whole 3 minutes and trying not to pass out.  Not exactly ideal but again, what really matters is that the full three minutes were spent doing push-ups (give or take a second to get back in position after restarting the digital stopwatch on the tablet) as I was diligent to stop/start the time accurately.

Even still, again the results were impressive:

week-2

That’s 100 to 157  push-ups in seven days constituting over a 50% improvement in strength.  AND, towards the end of the second week I didn’t need as many breaks either.  Don’t get me wrong, I hadn’t suddenly turned into Charles Atlas or anything – I still needed them – but not as many of them.

WINNING!

The other three minute intervals of squats, crunches, Russian Twists and nutso donkey kick things were nothing special to write home about other than trying to support myself in the downward dog pose while doing my abs/butt kicks was challenging after popping off almost 160 push-ups, let me tell you!

I couldn’t feel myself getting stronger though.

Now, as for the overall verdict:  after two weeks (so far) my core and physical upper body strength have certainly improved.  On the bathroom scale (broken as it may be), I have lost 3lbs.  Now whether this is in direct relation to this particular workout or the fact that I haven’t been putting away the late night bags of Ring-Ding’s the way I used to is certainly debatable, but I will still take this as another success regardless.

Shit, this whole thing is just crazy enough that it might just work after all.  In fact, the web page where I found this challenge says this:

If you do everything correctly, you will achieve amazing results in just a month and, as a bonus, develop a habit of doing this simple ten-minute set of exercises every day. And if you want to improve your body even more, then doubling the effort is all you need to do!

Now I don’t know about the whole “doubling the effort” part, that shit is just KAR-azy  talk, but I can definitely see myself continuing with this routine or something similar afterwards as I no longer really dread, nor have to talk myself into doing it.

The only real challenge (and a small one at that) is just holding myself accountable every day to actually making the time for it and doing it.  But, hey, I’m already half way there and so far, so good.  There’s really no reason to make this a part of my everyday routine.

But better not get ahead of myself, I still have two more weeks to go and that’s an entirely different blog post.

It’s nearly New Year’s and, of course, the Interweb is lighting up with all the new and trendy “30 Day Challenges” for all those people who are looking to improve their fitness in 2017 to faun over.  Planks, sit-ups, squats, burpees, crunches, yoga, abs, crash diets, you name it, the Interweb is a virtual orchard of 30 Day Challenge ideas to choose from, all guaranteeing to trim fat, burn calories, maximize strength and otherwise contribute to you becoming a better you.

Lord knows what the “Little Black Dress Challenge” is but I’m sure not clicking on that shit.

Anyway, typically I would just call shenanigans on challenges such as these as my Bullshit Meter is approximately the size of Texas, so I have never actually taken on any of these challenges.  It’s not like I’m particularly sedentary anyway what with all the swimming, running and running I do now.

However, I’m currently on day seven of no running thanks to a shin issue and my cycling has been slim to none this week seeing as how it’s the holidays and we’re busy, and I’m stressing about all the extra holiday pounds I’ve inevitably tacked on since the beginning of the month.  Let’s just say that for the past 2-3 weeks while I have still been working out, I’ve also been stirring life’s cocktail a little, shall we say, vigorously.  In other words, I’ve approached my holiday diet this season with all the reckless abandon of DJ Khalid confronted with a horse trough of fried chicken and now I’ve dove headfirst into my custom made pity pool.  So I feel like, maybe, one of these challenges wouldn’t be such a bad thing to kick start the whole training program back into overdrive come January 1st.

And then there it was, proudly boasting over my Facebook feed (thanks Vilija!):  “7 Simple Exercises That Will Transform Your Body in Just 4 Weeks” (click HERE).

In a moment of weakness I clicked on the link (provided above).

The premise of the challenge is to spend 10 minutes a day performing seven different exercises, all of which I can do at home if need be, that will ultimately “change how you look in as little as four weeks”.   The site also suggests that “all you need is determination and ten minutes a day”.

Okay, so maybe I’m being a total sucker here and taking a much too enthusiastic sip from the barrel-sized cup of purple Kool-Aid that this site is peddling, but that shit is speaking my language.

For reals!

But being the stubborn idiot I am, I almost exited out from the website anyway as my inner skeptic still mentally told the author to go suck a fart.  But seeing as how my curiosity had been piqued just a tad, I decided to scroll down the page anyway just to see what these seven miracle exercises actually were and to my surprise, they were all regular exercises that I use now in my current gym routine…when I actually go that is.  All these drills are also been highly recommended in order to improve one’s core strength and thereby benefiting one’s running and cycling (which is why I started doing them in the first place).  Also, I have an extra yoga mat and a medicine ball here at home – two actually – so what excuse do I have for not actually using them?

None!

Unfortunately, I haven’t hit the gym (or my functional strength routine here at home for that matter) in over three weeks meaning that my current core program is next to nonexistent at the moment; a total dumpster fire of excuses and inactivity.

Essentially, it’s dead in the water.

Suddenly this 28 day, 10 minutes a day challenge started to light up my brain pan like a Christmas tree.

Maybe it was a sign and on the odd chance that this is the Homer Simpson green-glowing rod that starts the nuclear reactor, what harm could possibly come of my actually giving it the ‘ol college effort?

So what do I really want to get out of it?  It’s not likely that in just 28 days I’m suddenly going to have a sculpted body that someone would feel inspired to paint on the nose of a B-52 bomber.  No.  But I certainly would like to acquire two things:

  1. Improved core strength
  2. A start at losing some weight

I think that’s a reasonable goal.  It’s not like the challenge is guaranteeing me anything other than “amazing results in just a month and, as a bonus, develop a habit of doing this simple ten-minute set of exercises every day”.  Okay, so “amazing” is a bit subjective but I’d generally be happy with something…anything…resembling improvement.

The question now is how do I measure this success after the 28 days?

Well.  That’s certainly a tougher nut to crack.

I guess I would like to see a loss in weight.  Of course, I also intend on improving my diet some so it will be hard to say beyond a shadow of a doubt that this program 100% completely initiated to that loss or not, but I think it would be a safe assumption to make that it surely contributed.  So currently, I weight 218lb* (*groan*) and I will weight myself again in 28 days to see what improvement has been made.

Strength is an even harder thing to measure, but here’s a photo of my current core section that we can compare at the end of 28 days (be mindful of not staring directly into the fat).

Done gagging yet?

Clearly there is ample room for improvement and, yes, I know, my body looks like a melting ice cream cone so, hopefully, noticing an improvement will be easy to do if this challenge is genuinely successful.

At the very least, I will look like a semi-melted ice cream cone.

The real proof in the pudding will be in how it affects (effects?) my running cycling and, potentially, my swimming.  This unfortunately will be completely subjective but given that my running is currently lagging, I would hope to see some improvement in either my average pace at the end of one of my weekly fartlek runs, or a perceived improvement on how badly they suck (ie. feel) while doing them.

So it’s on.  I’m going to do this…beginning tomorrow (New Year’s Day).  It’s only 10 minutes a day. How hard can this really be?  Maybe I’m just being a total Code 3 wack-a-doo here but, seriously, I couldn’t give a flying fuck right now.  I need to do something in order to feel like I’m back on the right path towards my 2017 Ironman endgame.  I seriously need to put down the hot pocket, stop taking batting practice on my kidneys, and commit to a new short term goal that I to sink my teeth into and eventually stomp into the ground like a late season gewürztraminer.

So, ladies and gentlemen, faithful readers:

You expect to hear from me again in 28 days.

*I suspect that my bathroom scale if totally FUBAR-ed and it’s actually not that bad (closer to 207lb.) but I will use this scale in 28 days for consistency sake.

Unlimited Youth

Posted: August 26, 2016 in Motivation
Tags:

Just in case you needed some extra motivation today to get out there and at ’em, may I introduce to you Sister Madonna Ruder who, at 86 years young, has already completed 40-some odd Ironman competitions.

I mean, after the first two dozen or so, who’s really keeping track?

You can learn more about the “Iron Sister” HERE.

Happy trails today, sonny.

(Disclaimer:  This post was written not to be abrasive, accusatory or argumentative in anyway.  It was inspired by both something I am passionate about as well as some of the recent observations I have made over the past few years in pursuing and impacting that passion)

There are lots of unique “challenges” out there to incite and inspire healthy lifestyle choices like the “30 Day Plank Challenge”, the “Push-up Challenge” and the “Sun Salutation Challenge”.  Strava alone is full of specified challenges to swim, bike and run certain distances, or climb a specific elevation, or maybe “race” a certain event within or over a set period of time.  Others challenges are more aimed at creating awareness around a very deserving cause, charity or foundation and will, likely, ask you to video tape yourself doing something silly like jumping into snow bank naked or dumping a bucket of ice water over your head.  You can view my own HERE.

It’s all for fun.

Ultimately the point is to inspire and motivate others to do something healthy and positive while raising awareness around something important…be it whatever it is.

My own cause is helping kids, even more so in recent years when I actually become a parent.

To this extent, I have supported the Strong Kids program at my local YMCA which provides healthy lifestyle programs and opportunities for disadvantaged kids.  Each year I swim 10 kilometers for Frank & Friends and participate in a Cycle-a-thon in support of the cause.

I have also just completed my 4th year working with the SunRype Tri-KiDS Triathlon series.  I started as a volunteer and have now graduated to becoming a part of the actual race crew responsible for organizing and running all the kids events in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.  Through doing this, I have learned just how important and vital volunteers are in making these events successful.

But the reality is, volunteers are not easy to come by and this never ceases to surprise me.

Most sporting communities with which I am associated tend to suggest that they are interested in “community”  and, often “giving back”.   I hear these two terms being thrown around a lot but, truthfully, I don’t always see these sentiments being put into practice…at least to the extent I think they should anyway.

My own triathlon group has this built right into their mission statement:

“…a supportive community of multisport athletes for all ages and abilities”.

 

It goes on to add:

“…as a club we train with a focus on having fun, building a sense of community, and the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.”

Sounds great, right?

I agree.

So why then are volunteers often difficult to come by?  So I am throwing out another challenge to all my friends and peers:

The Volunteer Challenge.

My challenge is simple:  add one specific day or event to your calendar this season (or next) that involves sacrificing a bit of your time to instead help create a positive experience for someone else.

Period.

Full stop.

I’m suggesting that you actually go out there and volunteer for a group or organization that matters to you as a way of actually “giving back”  to that “community”  you are proud to be a member of.

Obviously, I am partial to kids and the SunRype Tri-KiDS organization in particular.  I mean, it’s the best of two worlds:  I get to help kids have a positive experience in their own triathlon endeavors and in doing that, I’m “giving back” and helping to establish the “community” that is very important to me.  I am encouraging then all my triathlon peeps (no matter where you are) to, similarly, also give it a “tri” (if you’ll pardon the obvious pun).

Here’s what you likely won’t get to do:

  1. Swim
  2. Bike
  3. Run

Notice that nowhere did I use the work “workout”.

But I’ll come back to that.

I do understand though why this might be intimidating for some.  They likely have a goal that they are 100% committed to and working towards.  Time is of the essence.

I understand that.

I’ve been there.

Really, I have.

But I have also learned this:  missing one long bike ride, or swim or your anticipated weekend LSD run isn’t going to solely cause you to tank on your being able to accomplish your goal…whatever it is.

It won’t.

Trust me.

In fact, it might just be absolutely the best thing for you in accomplishing that goal.

Allow me to explain:

Here’s what you will get.

  1.  A workout like no other

You may not be swimming, biking or running but, I assure you that you will be physically exhausted by the end of the day.  I guarantee you that you will be physically and mentally fatigued.  Often, I am more worn out after 8 hours of duty at the bike mount line than I am after any of my long workouts.  Everything is sore; my feet, my legs, my back, etc.  It is not an easy day but you’ll absolutely 100% have a smile on your face.  Can you say that about all your other workouts?

Think of it as a unique cross training activity.

  1.  Infinite motivation

I mean, c’mon!  If seeing a child complete their first (or third, fourth, or whatever) triathlon isn’t inspiring in and of itself isn’t motivating – particularly if they’re doing it with a smile on their face – I don’t know what does.

What I can also tell you is this, in my own big event back in 2012 (Ironman Wales), when the wheels started to come off and I started to go into that dark place that will inevitably come with long distances, it was the memories of some of these kids that helped inspire me to keep pushing and to continue moving forward to the finish.

And, hey, there will also be moments like this (click link below).

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FSunRypeTRiKiDSTriathlonSeries%2Fvideos%2Fvb.368867786535082%2F1084302064991647%2F%3Ftype%3D3&show_text=0&width=400

5-year-old Wesley was one of our VIP’s this year.    Wesley, as a result of coping with and overcoming brain cancer, lost mobility in his lower body and the ability to speak.  Despite all this, Wesley managed to complete a triathlon…a fucking triathlon!  I will admit, that seeing this brought tears to my eyes and you had better believe that this is going to motivate and inspire me during those guaranteed dark points in my future events.

What motivated you on your last workout?

  1.  The ultimate feel good factor

Think about it, you will help to enrich an experience for any number of kids.  In an average day at the bike mount line, I directly interact (and hopefully, positively) with around 400-500 kids.  That’s a lot of impact to feel good about.  Yes, you will have the same opportunity to directly make the experience as positive as absolutely possible.  And as with anything positive, there is inevitably a darker  side and, usually, (for me anyway) this comes in the form of some parents.  It absolutely shocks me sometimes in regards to what some parents feel is appropriate “encouragement”.  My favorite so far is overhearing being yelled from the sidelines: “GO FASTER!  KEEP PUSHING!  YOU CAN BREATHE WHEN YOU GET HOME!”

Really?

The kid was 9-years-old…and in tears.

Brutal.

Now imagine if somebody had said, “You’re doing amazing!  Keep going!”, or maybe “just have fun”, or “wow, look at how awesome you are!”  instead.  What a different experience that would have been.

Well, you will get to be that  person.

And with people like that, your “community” can’t help but do well.

So, friends, peers, triathletes, I’m throwing down the gauntlet.

Go and volunteer!

And if not for triathlon or SunRype Tri-KiDs or whatever, get out there and actually do something to make that positive difference in whichever community it is that you feel so strongly about.  Forget about the all haloed “schedule”, or that today is supposed to be “long bike day”.  Instead, go out and give back whatever it was that inspired you to become a part of that community you love so much in the first place.

Be the change you wish to see in your world.

You won’t regret it.

(Note:  You might remember when I alluded to another experiment in order to test the results that we determined during the fight-fighting testing I was a part of (click HERE).  The premise being that if overall improvement in extremely hot and shitty environments is more a mental thing than it is physical, how do you improve someone’s mental ability exactly?  This is that experiment.)

For the past two years, I’ve had the fortunate – or ‘unfortunate’, depending on how you want to look at it – opportunity to participate as a research volunteer at the Brock University Kinesiology Department.  This department, headed by Dr. Stephen Cheung, also just happens to be on the cutting edge of sporting science, so getting to be a test monkey as part of something with that scope of importance is a real privilege in my opinion.

Anyway, as such, I’ve undergone some pretty intense experiments in the past, both physically and mentally, in order to improve our understanding of human performance and the limits of our endurance.  I’ve had various sharp pointy things inserted into my arm, had my body scrutinized and measured for all posterity, seen my precious life fluids including blood and sweat (and tears for that matter) vacated forcibly from my body, and been subjected to insane heat and humidity in that god forsaken oven (click HERE  for a lengthy recap).  Basically I’ve stoically suffered whatever tortures and indignities that were deemed as either important or necessary to the project, and probably some that weren’t but only served to further humor my tormentors.

Just kidding, of course, they’re really nice guys…I think.

Oh, and let’s not forget the probe.

So when I got the message from Phil, the Principle Student Investigator (PSI), asking me to undergo yet another run of the gauntlet, it was with mixed emotions that I accepted the invite.  Shit, after that last firefighters test, surely, I can endure anything  (nearly a year later, it’s not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares of being cooked alive).  I’m not really sure what it says about me as a person that I like, no love, being a part of scientific testing that is in part geared towards breaking you down physically and mentally in order to see what makes you tick.  Truthfully, I think I may be developing some bizarre case of sado-masochistic pleasure from performing as a lab rat and I’m sure there will be some professional counseling in my near future.

All that aside, I agreed to participate in the latest (and greatest) ‘Effects of Mental Skills Training on Endurance Performance and Cognitive Function in the Heat’  study.

Doesn’t that sound like a real page turner?

In a nutshell, the test is designed to determine whether or not a psychological intervention can improve endurance performance and cognitive function in the heat.  Oh goodie.  I’m good with my limited athletic prowess being exposed but, well, let’s just say that what lies between these two ears may not exactly paint a pretty picture.  In other words, I’m hoping that this research doesn’t also expose me as being a total and complete moron.

What have I gotten myself into?

Day 1: Anthropometric Measurements, Cognitive Tests and Maximal Aerobic Capacity Testing

This is sure going to suck to get off

This is sure going to suck to get off

Similar to the other studies I’ve been part of, it’s necessary to get a baseline of my physiology and athletic ability.  What this really means is that they’re going to poke and prod my body fat and then subject me to approximately 15 minutes of torture on a bike.

Yay.

The differences this time around is that 1) there were no cute female PhD students to do the actual poking and prodding of fat folds (thank GOD!), and 2) I also had to complete an initial assessment of my cognitive abilities by answering a questionnaire and then work on what’s known as a “Purdue Pegboard”.

Sadly, it has nothing to do with pirates.

The first “anthropometric measurements” step is no big deal as this certainly isn’t my first rodeo when it comes to having my fat marked up with a Crayola marker and then being pinched with cold metal instruments; no sweat.  The second step with the “Purdue Pegboard” was certainly more entertaining though.

Now, if you consult the Interweb thingee you will learn:

“The Purdue Pegboard is a neuropsychological test of manual dexterity and bimanual coordination created by Dr. Joseph Tiffin, an Industrial Psychologist at Purdue University, designed the test in 1948.”

Now that’s all well and good but, really, what it is?  Well, what it really means is that I have to build little “castles” out of little metal pieces (“pins”, “collars” and “washers”) to test the gross movements of my arms, hands, and fingers, and my fine motor extremity, also called “fingerprint” dexterity.”  Poor Pegboard performance is a sign of deficits in complex, visually guided, or coordinated movements that are likely mediated by circuits involving the basal ganglia.  Yeah, yeah, I already hear you: “What’s ‘basal ganglia’ Terry”?

It sounds dirty, I know.

It’s not.

Basal ganglia are little nuclei in the brain that are strongly associated with a variety of functions including: control of voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, routine behaviors or “habits” such as bruxism (excessive grinding of the teeth and/or excessive clenching of the jaw), eye movements, cognition and emotion.

To start, I was given three attempts to build as many little metallic castles as I could within a 60 second period.  A castle consists of 4 parts, 1 pin, 1 collar, 2 washers for a total score of 4 points if completed successfully.  So, say, if six complete assemblies are made then your total score would be 24.  But if a castle is incomplete, then you only score 1 point for each part that was properly assembled.  If, say, only the 1 washer and pin on a seventh castle are properly placed you add each part separately (i.e. 24 plus 2, or 26 total); something like that anyway, I dunno. I’m no rocket scientist – clearly.  If you really want more information on how to score this damn thing click HERE, but all you really need to know is that in three attempts my best score on the pegboard was 34, which probably puts me somewhere between a coconut and a chimpanzee.

Whoopee.

Pass the banana.

Anyway, time for the main attraction.

Bring on the oven.

I’ve been through this same test once before coming off my Ironman peak in 2013, and given (I feel) that my fitness hasn’t been particularly on point since that time, I was little apprehensive about what today’s results were going to say about my current fitness.  I’ve spent considerable time in the pool in the past six months and my run fitness is just  beginning to come back after last year’s total and complete breakdown at the Incredoubleman Triathlon but I haven’t really spent any considerable time on the bike.  I spin 2-3 times a week with one session being a tough 90 minute Master’s class but, aside from that that, I haven’t focused too much on it instead preferring to wait for the nicer weather before amping up my cycling program.  So, yeah, what my fitness level is going to be as a result of being on the Velotron bike is anybody’s guess.

Remember then that the entire point of this test is to have my level of aerobic fitness determined through an actual scientific means.  To do that I am fixed with a soft silicone face mask to breathe through to the point of exhaustion in order to obtain my peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak) and maximum heart rate.   The improvement this time around is that the lab has been reequipped with a fancier and better fitting mask that wasn’t quite so uncomfortable or difficult to breathe in.

Check it out.

1

Am I beautiful or what?

Once the test began, I was required to warm up at 100 watts on the Velotron for 3 minutes before 25 watts were added each minute until the point of total burnout.  Everything felt pretty good for the first 11 or 12 minutes or so, as what time I do spend on the bike I train at my 75-80% threshold level.  But by the 13 minute mark (350 watts) I was clearly suffering and shortly after passing the 14 minute mark (375 watts), I tapped out.

Here are the results:

V02-Max Results

This result is, well, as odd as it was unexpected.  After analyzing the data, it was determined that my Absolute VO2 equated to 3.10 l/min, which represents a HUGE improvement of 0.93 l/min  over my last test. My relative VO2peak , however, only improved by a minimal amount to 41.9 ml/kg/min (rounded to 42.0 ml/kg/min).

Why you ask?

The short answer is because I’m fat; nearly 22 lbs worth.

Now, had I maintained my Ironman weight from just over three years ago, theoretically speaking, my VO2peak  would have been approximately 46 ml/kg/min, or in the “Superior” classification as opposed to today’s meager “Good” effort.  Or would it?

There is also the theory that by losing too much weight I will also lose some of the strength I’ve acquired; what to do…what to do.

So, yeah, basically, the official result is that I’m fatter but fitter.  Go figure.  This is definitely going to factor in later this year when I begin to strategize about what my “ideal” race weight should be.  Do I focus on dropping weight and therefore roll the dice in regards to maintaining my current level of fitness, or do I focus more on improving my fitness at (or around) my current level of fatness?

Decisions, decisions…

To summarize, I now have lots of motivation to improve this result through the quickly approaching coming season as I start to build into more speed/pace based workouts.  I may never be up there with the greats (click HERE), but in my own mind I’m already becoming a legend.

Chimps beware!

Day 2: Familiarization Testing

Its one week later and I’m back in the lab ready for the first familiarization session.  The thing is that this time around I’m also playing Dad as I have HRH  in tow because, hey, what 10-year-old girl doesn’t love watching her half naked step dad being fixed up with wires and electrodes prior to being tortured in a meat locker?   It may not exactly be a picnic lunch at the zoo but, still, good times.

The real crazy thing is that she was actually looking forward to seeing me “suffer” and had been talking about for days in advance.  I’m not sure what I’ve done as a parent to warrant this kind of excitement but, whatever, she’s along for the ride today.

According to the Consent Form:

“A familiarization trial will be scheduled prior to the commencement of the two experimental sessions to ensure that you are able to fulfill the requirements of the exercise protocol.”

It get's a wee bit humid.

It get’s a wee bit humid.

You can basically interpret this as a “Hey, this is how bad it’s going to suck. Think you can handle it tough guy?”  type of statement.

The session is intended to be identical to the actual experimental session to follow in a few weeks.  The environmental chamber (aka “the oven”) will be set to 35°C with 50% relative humidity, which may not seem like a lot but, believe me, it is.

To begin with, there’s the usual “preparation” routine that I’ve been through before on the other two testing sessions.  This process involves having all my baseline measurements done and providing a urine sample to record my over all body euhydration (normal state of body water content), not to mention getting all fixed up to a bevy of instruments including skin temperature/heat flow censors and, yes, there is that rectal probe to deal with as well (Oh, and for the record I didn’t exactly let HRH  in on the probe thing as, well, it didn’t seem like it was something appropriate to “bond” over).  Fortunately though, this whole probe business is old hat by this point.

Okay, maybe not quite like that.

No, I won’t say it’s like being reunited with an old friend but, well, let’s just say that if this whole lab rat thing doesn’t work out I definitely have a promising future as a drug mule.

Once I was all connected up, I also needed to establish a baseline for my overall mood using a Brunel Mood Scale (BRUMS) Questionnaire.  The BRUMS is a 24-item questionnaire of simple mood descriptors such as angry, nervous, unhappy, and energetic.  It has six subscales, with each of the subscales containing four mood descriptors including anger, confusion, depression, fatigue, tension, and vigor.  For the record, my mood was pretty good. Again what this says about me as a person in that I enjoy being experimented on I’m not really sure.  But I digress.

Groton maze testing

Groton maze testing

Following the questionnaire, I was required to work through a Cognitive Test Battery (CTB) on a computer tablet to assess my cognitive abilities.  These tests (designed by Cogstate Research) consist of what’s known as a ‘Groton Maze Learning Task’, a ‘Detection Task’,  and a ‘Two Back Task’.

The ‘Groton Maze Learning Task’ (actually a series of two tests, ‘Maze Learning’ and ‘Set Shifting Task’) tests my executive functions which include working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving abilities.  The ‘Detection Task’ which, easily enough, required me to hit a single key on the keyboard whenever the Joker on a deck of cards appears on the desktop (Disclaimer: it appears every time), tests my reaction time, while the ‘Two Back Task’ tests my working memory and attention skills.

Now, given my current lacking of technical prowess given I don’t owe a cell phone so I don’t text or play video games, etc., these tablet tests – while still basic – took some time general getting used to. I’m sure for HRH  it must have been like watching the monkey’s with the obelisk in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.   Basically, I felt like whatever banana I had earned with the Purdue Pegboard on my last visit to the lab was just taken away from me.  I hate computers and computer testing at the best of times and I wasn’t terribly confident in how I performed and, in my mind, I think I might have even heard monkeys laughing at me.

Purdue Peg Board

Purdue Peg Board

Computers just arn’t my jam.

Anyway, after the cognitive tests were complete (20 minutes or so) it was time to get in the oven; time to suffer.

Suffer I can do.

The trial protocol consisted of two exercise bouts, and two identical rest periods during which I would do more cognitive testing.  Throughout the protocol I had to wear the same soft-silicon mask that I wore during the V02-Max test to continue to monitor my ventilation and metabolic data throughout the two exercise rounds.  And, not to jump too far ahead, but this would inevitably be the worst part when the heat and humidity began to kick in.

The first exercise protocol consisted of a 5 minute cycling warm up at 100 watts followed by 25 minutes set to 60% of my “Peak Performance Output” (PPO) that we determined during the VO2-Max test last week (210 watts). Compared to my past runs in the oven, this particular session didn’t hold a candle “suffer-wise”.  That’s not to say however that is was “easy” either. No, spinning in that kind of hot and humid environment while wearing and breathing through a silicon tube is never fun and soon enough the sweat began to pour.

And let me tell you when all you have it this to focus on:

4

Time grinds down to an absolute haul, let me tell you.  My only reprieve from the whole thing was seeing HRH’s face appear periodically in the oven’s window as she peeked in to monitor my “suffering”.  So after 30 minutes of spinning, sweating and playing peek-a-boo, I was removed from the bike, weighed, and draped in a bright yellow rain poncho to preserve my core temperature as much as possible.

Goodie.

If I wasn’t sweating before, I sure as shit was now!

I felt like a BBQ-ed steak that had been left out to rest.

Oven selfie

Oven selfie

During this rest period (30 minutes) I wasn’t allowed to leave the oven, but asked to perform the same mood (BRUMS) and cognitive (CTB) tests as before.  From what I recall, neither my mood or cognitive abilities with the tests changed much; I was still happy and dumb as mud.

Yay me!

The second exercise bout was intended to be a “Time to Exhaustion (TTE)” test performed at 80% of my PPO (280 watts) after an initial 5 minute warm up at 125 watts.  The premise is very easy: cycle your ass off until you drop.  Yup, this was definitely going to suck.

Basically, it works like this: exercise (i.e. my suffering) would only stop due to volitional fatigue, if my cadence should drop below 60 rpm  for more than 5 seconds, or my core temperature reaches 40°C for 1 minute (talk about “hot shit”!), or my heart rate exceeded 95% of my maximum for 3 minutes.  So basically, anything that indicates you’re mere seconds away from death itself would count as viable grounds for stoppage.  Awesome!  Furthermore, there was to be no motivation queues provided aside from being asked for my RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) on the Borg Scale (taped to the wall in front of me) every 2 minutes.

Making matters worse, is that the whole thing was being filmed.

But that will have to wait for another post.

>>wink<<

Suffering

Suffering

I had assumed at the time that the best strategy was to begin spinning slowly at approximately 65-70 rpm  figuring that I could maintain that particular cadence for a while.  The problem being (or so I learned anyway), was that once I began to fade there really wasn’t much wiggle room in regards to lowering my cadence any, which is exactly what happened.

Everything went fine initially and I felt pretty good, despite the conditions and mask and stuff, but when I began to struggle cardio-wise, it was quick, slippery slope into painful torment.  Part of the problem is that as a requirement of the test, I wasn’t able to stand up at any point.  Usually, on the road when you climb in a heavy gear you can give yourself a quick break by shifting the primary working muscle group by standing up and then being seated again.  Here, there was none of that; it was ass in the saddle all the way.  So when my working muscles started to go, they went…fast.

Now I have no idea how long I lasted, but I’m estimating approximately 10-12 minutes including the warm up based on how many times my RPE were requested.  Of course, it might have been 30 seconds…who knows.  In essence, though, it went something like this:

12.

12.

15.

18.

Tap Out.

Just like that.

Die I did, much to HRH’s enjoyment.

I will admit, I was a bit disappointed with myself and I made a mental plan to last longer by incorporating a quicker cadence to start off with and then gradually wind ‘er down when the legs begin to fail afterwards; more on that strategy to come.

Anyway, immediately following this, it was time to don the poncho and complete another round of mood and cognitive testing.  This time, however, it was significantly more difficult I can assure you. In fact, the ‘Two Back Test’  pretty much kicked my ass and I was more or less just tapping at the keyboard with reckless abandon.  I was hot, uncomfortable, and didn’t really give a shit if the card was a Queen, Jack, or 10 of Spades.  I simply didn’t give a shit, nor could I if I wanted to.  However, I think I did make the ‘Groton Maze Learning Test’ my bitch.  Again…go figure.

Only time will tell I suppose.

Day 3: Experimental Session #1

Now that the preliminary VO2peak  and familiarization sessions are over with, it’s time to get on with the real festivities; the actual exercise protocols themselves.   Yup, it’s time to get medieval, time to officially put my suffering in the books, it’s go time, or whatever other popular euphemism you wish to use to associate with the underlying message of “time to put or shut up”.

Needless to say, everything else up to this point was just for shits n’ giggles.

Anyway, by now the whole pee, probe and final shuffle of shame are just part of the ordinary “business as usual” drill, every bit as routine as brushing your teeth in the morning.  Of course, I’m not shoving flexible core thermometers up my ass most mornings, but I digress.

testing

All bid’ness.

There is very little else to describe at this point that I haven’t already haven’t discussed in the previous familiarization session; 30 minutes set to 60% of my “Peak Performance Output” (210 watts) and a balls-to-the-wall “Time to Exhaustion (TTE)” test performed at 80% of my PPO (280 watts). Before, between and after each exercise protocol there is also the series of cognitive tests that I’ve described already as well.  Oh, and let’s not forget the yellow poncho to keep me as uncomfortable as possible – you know, just because.  Seriously, you’d think these lab nerds lay awake at night under their Star Wars bed sheets conjuring up ways to torture me.  Sometimes, I think this is all part of some elaborate ruse and at the bottom of some resume somewhere, there’s “making Terry suffer”  listed underneath the heading ‘Interests and Hobbies’.  Of course, I still willfully participate as a volunteer and no one is holding a gun to my head but when the going certainly turns shitty, well, let’s just say that sometimes I wonder.

As per usual, the only stimulus I am ever afforded are the three charts in front of me with which to gauge my RPE and overall discomfort.  There’s no encouragement (visual or otherwise), no chuckles, no giggles…no nothing.

It’s all bid’ness.

How’s that for “comforting”, right?

move over chimps

Move over chimps.

Same as the previous familiarization session, the first 30 minutes are boring as all fuck; total bag of dicks where I sit pedaling aimlessly, breathing into my mask in the hot and humid environment and trying not to think about how incredibly boring and shitty it is.  Basically, I just try to visualize my inner happy place from underneath my silicon mask which, for the record, just happens to be a nice pub in a remote countryside somewhere that serves decent beer, a complimentary bowl of nuts and an amazing cheeseburger.   Just sayin’.  Then I do some more cognitive testing on the tablet, sit around for a bit in the heat n’ shit and, finally, jump back on the bike for the eventual opening of the Gates of Hell.

Good times indeed.

I’d like to think I did a bit better this time around then I did in my familiarization session, but I had no real way to know for sure. All I know is that it sucked equally and unequivocally; ‘suck’ is the only constant variable in these types of tests.  In fact, I tried a bit of a different approach to my TTE in that I periodically spun my cadence up a bit from time to time to try and take advantage of the momentum generated in the pedals (not that there’s much momentum on a Velotron bike, mind you) to rest a bit but, honestly, what little rest there was inconsequential to the constant punishment being inflicted on my quads and I eventually tapped out – as I do – thoroughly broken and exhausted.

Yay me!

Mental note to self: the worst part of the testing (inserting the probe) also turns out to be the best part when you get to remove it later. The lesson here though is to avoid any bowel movements prior to inserting for at least an hour or so before testing, otherwise you end up extracting something from your ass that looks like this:

Isolated corn dog on a stick

Sorry…I couldn’t resist.

 

So here’s where the interesting part comes in.

Following this first exercise protocol, participants are then randomly divided into two categories.  For the Control group, nothing changes and in two weeks’ time they return to the oven to complete their second protocol just as before.  The second Test group, of which I was selected, will have some additional homework to do in the days (week) before showing up to complete the second protocol.

That’s right – homework.

The premise goes along the lines that scientific studies have already proven that individuals tend to perform better when they feel confident and motivated during high-energy activity.  They feel better about themselves and consequentially try harder and keep going when that going gets difficult.

I know, I know…”but everyone knows that already, Terry”.  And I agree.  But I think most often, people will tend to associate this type of motivational affirmation in this kind of light:

I know I did, or used to anyway.

But, in reality, it’s much more challenging than that.

Thinking happy thoughts

Thinking happy thoughts

For me, this whole “positive self-talk” has proven to be a very difficult, particularly given some of the setbacks I’ve experienced lately.  By comparison, I used to be able to tackle extremely difficult workouts prior to Ironman Wales simply by positively willing myself through them, but since then, I tend to beat myself up more with negativity; negativity regarding my not being able to perform at the same level, for not being in the same peak fitness, etc.  You could say that my confidence has been rattled and while I accept that as part of the current path I’m on and, hopefully, my confidence will return at some point, in the meantime…I continue to struggle.  I still persevere and do my best through all my prescribed workouts, but I’m not rocking them as I used to.  I suspect that this negativity has a lot to do with it.

Lest we forget: click HERE.

So, consequentially, these negative thoughts are really doing me no favors…and Lord knows I have a lot of them.  I am my own worst enemy in this regard.  In fact, any negative thought I might have associated with the difficulty of the task, any unpleasant sensation that I might be experiencing or the level of effort and motivation towards the end goal during any moderate and high-intensity activities tend only to interfere with the optimal performance of the task.  And God knows that cycling in that god forsaken oven would definitely qualify in all those categories.

So, I have now been officially tasked in identifying these negative thoughts and record them in what I am now referring to as my ‘Big Book of Suck’, and then counteract them with more beneficial motivational “self-talk” statements that will ultimately help maintain or improve my level of effort and coordinate my performance towards achieving the best possible performance; namely, surviving a single minute (or more) longer in the oven when the Gates of Hell are opened and the Suck begins to pile up.

On a personal note, the implications of this study are huge, as if I can determine what my “limiters” are motivation-wise through this exercise and then be able to counteract them with more positive inspirational self-talk, then I might be able to get myself back on my way to acquiring that same level of confidence that I had once before.

In this ‘Big Book of Suck’ there are some activities to help me craft my own unique motivation self-talk statements to use in the oven during both my exercise protocols, as well as my cognitive testing, when those other nasty negative comments begin to rear their ugly head and bubble to the surface.

The first thing to do is to identify examples of negative comments that cross my mind while I’m in the oven.  Now, I told you before that when it comes to elf-depreciation, I am an absolutely black belt, so listing every negative thought that goes through my head during those 45 minutes or so in the oven was fairly easy.  Likewise, there’s not enough bandwidth on these blog pages to list them all so I’ve captured a few of the more popular one’s for you:

  1. You’re out of shape
  2. What’s wrong with you?
  3. This sucks.
  4. I’m not good enough to be here.
  5. You’re a loser.

And the ever popular…

  1. I bet I look fat in these bib shorts.

When it came to the cognitive testing, the negativity was condensed into a single phrase: “You’re an idiot.”

It’s true.  When it comes to beating myself up I’m a true artist; I’m the Rembrandt of self-depreciation.  Negative commentary is just the primary tool with which I paint the wretched canvass of my soul.

Too much?

You get the idea though right?

Anyway, the next activity in the booklet challenged me to come up with some more positive phrases that I could use instead of those common negative statements, like “hang in there”, “dig deep”, or “you’re a winner!”   Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, as it turns out, it’s not as easy as you might think given I am not accustomed to pumping myself up regularly with “you’re a winner”, so I found coming up with statements particularly tailored to my own motivational drive challenging indeed.  But after considerable thought I came up with a few statements that I felt would be positive motivational when the wheels inevitably start to fall off.

The challenge now is to use, assess and then retool my suggested statements over the following week during 3 workouts, and then practice them to be as beneficial as possible come time to get back in the oven.

Here’s what I came up with for the exercise protocols:

  1. You can do this!
  2. Relax, focus and breathe
  3. Get tough!
  4. Just be calm and push on

Not exactly Shakespeare I agree, but they’ll do.

For the cognitive testing, I have two other statements:

  1. Just relax and focus
  2. Pass the banana

Okay, I’m totally kidding on the last one but, again, you get the idea.

Positive Phrasing Test #1:

Four days later I had my first trial of my motivational self-talk statements during a long 90 minute interval run.  I haven’t really acquired my running legs yet so these long runs tend to be an exercise in pain and total self-depreciation which, fortunately, gives me the perfect chance to practice my positive phrasing.

The idea is to also detail when these negative statements begin to occur in the workout which, in this case, was about 30 nanoseconds into the run immediately following my stepping off the front porch:

“Oh God, this is going to suck”.

Shit!

Okay, think positive statements:

“Just be calm and push on”.

It totally worked and I felt better.

Good.

Then another negative comment hit me again a minute later:

“Shit, that was only 5 minutes and you’re already winded? What the fuck?”

Dammit!

“Relax, focus and breathe”.

Okay, good.

Then again:

“You’re so slow you fat fuck”.

Jesus. Again?

Okay, “Just be calm and push on…relax, focus and breathe….”

And so the internal dialogue went for the next 85 minutes.  I know I’m a glutton for punishment, but I’m actually amazed at how often my thoughts turned negative during the 90 minute period.  I figure I was probably beating myself up with negativity approximately 8,897,798,990 times.  Wow.  It was being riddled with bullets from a Tommy gun.

The good news was that each time I became aware of that negativity, either of those planned motivational statements ended up bringing me back down to earth so that I was able to push through some intervals at both my half-marathon pace (5:30min/km) as well as my 5k pace (sub 5:00min/km).  Truth be told, the positive “self-talk” seemed to be helping.

Positive Phrasing Test #2:

The next morning I was in the pool for a muscular endurance workout which involved some faster sprint pace intervals which, given I am currently building for a 10k swim in two more weeks, is not a regular feature of my swim workouts.

I’m a little more confident in my abilities in the pool so I wasn’t hit quite as soon or as often with the negativity as I was the day before on my long run, but when I started sprinting they sure started up in earnest. Two or three intervals in the first negative comment reared its ugly head:

“You’re tired. Maybe you should use the pull buoy instead”.

Ah ha!

I see you, you sneaker fucker!

“Just be calm and push on….”

Nothing.

“Relax, focus, and……”

Shit.

Shit, I couldn’t even remember what my second positive motivational phrase even given as I was too busy, you know, breathing.  After all, staying alive is my top priority in the pool.

Neither statement seemed to be working. So I had to switch gears a bit and went with “You can do this!”, and “Just keep going!”   These statements seemed to work a little better as they were more direct and easy to recall once my mind began to race and the negative commentary started to bombard my lizard brain.

Positive Phrasing Test #3:

Two days later and I’m in San Antonio, Texas and it’s hot as all fuck outside meaning my speed workout around Woodlawn Lake wasn’t going to be much more fun than the oven itself.  Perfect testing ground for my next exercise protocol, wouldn’t you say?

Once I started off it was a bit difficult going in the early stages as I warmed up – literally and figuratively – as my lungs took some time to adjust to the heat and humidity and, for whatever reason, my legs felt weary after 48 hours of traveling. However, when the negativity started to hit I was well prepared:

“Just be calm and push on”.

“Relax, focus and breathe.”

Boo-yah!

Success!

Gettin er done.

Gettin er done.

Once I started with the actual speed intervals (8 x 400m), however, not so much.  I ended up having to revert back to using the more direct statements just as I had in the pool.  “You can do this!”  still worked like a charm but, “Just keep going”, however, did not.  It only made me want to check out my Garmin to see how far I’d gone and then when I realized I had only gone a certain distance, the negative commentary started back up with a vengeance.  Instead, I retooled this last statement into “Get tough!”  as I began each interval and that seemed to work a bit better.  I continued to use “You can do this!”  to see each interval through to the end.

An honorary mention also has to be made for: “Just get through this and you can have a cheeseburger”, but I decided that that’s probably not going to fly in the oven next week so it was left off the list.

So, in short, my plan of action come next Wednesday during my last exercise protocol is to use “Just be calm and push on”  and “Relax, focus and breathe”  to push through the first 30 minutes of the warm up to cope with the boredom and tediousness, then revert to the more direct and engaging “You can do this!”  and “Get tough!”  when my heart rate begins to elevate and the imminent shittiness begins to mount up during the last TTE.

As far as the cognitive testing goes, I am sticking with “Just relax and focus”; simple and elegant as it is.

Wish me luck.

God help me.

Day 3: Experimental Session #4

Not much about the whole lead into and set up for my second (and last) exercise protocol is different from the others with one notable exception: I brought the wrong cycling shoes.

Shit.

Yup, upon pulling out of my parking lot at work, I realized that I had mistakenly brought the wrong cleats meaning I couldn’t use them with the pedals on the Velotron.  In short, I was fucked and I started panic as I hated the thought of letting down the lab gurus by not being able to complete my second test protocol as planned; especially given all the work I’d done in crafting out my motivational statements.

But after a second or so of “oh shit!”, “how could you have fucked up like this?”  and, of course, the ever popular “you’re a fucking idiot”  running through my mind, I decided to take a different approach.

“Relax, focus and breathe”

Seconds later, I had pulled a U-turn into the parking lot of In.Cep.tion cycles, picked up an extra set of SPD pedal clips to match my misbegotten cleats and, Bob’s your uncle!, we’re back in business; In.Cep.tion with the save.

Thanks Brandon!

Hey, maybe this whole motivation self-talk might actually work.

Huh.

Upon arriving, I ran the pee, probe and shuffle gauntlet, got weighed, got affixed with the usual heat sensors and electrode thingee’s, completed both my BRUMS questionnaire and base cognitive testing on the tablet (which, I am fairly confident went very well when I applied my positive self-talk statements) and minutes later I was in the oven ready to go.

I’m also noting here for the record that I was adequately hydrated for this particular session as, two weeks before, for whatever reason, my hydration was pretty poor.  In fact, my urine sample resembled the liquid version of Charlie’s Golden Ticket, so I was conscientious to hydrate today like a mofo to avoid that from happening again.

sweat

Gettin’ sweaty…

The goal today was to be cognizant of all my negative thoughts and, instead, use the motivational selftalk phrases I’ve been working on for the past week.  The idea is to see what difference (if any) that provides to both my exercise sessions as well as my cognitive testing immediately following them.  In other words, shit was about to get real and I was focused on proving that they worked as I generally believe they would.

It has to be said that the first 30 minutes at 60% (210 watts) of my PPO is the most tedious.   I can deal with the 35°C temperature and 50% relative humidity, but it’s boring as all get out and very shortly into it the negativity started to creep in.

“This sucks”, “this is boring”, and “How much longer?”

No problem, I was prepared.

“Just relax, focus and breathe…just keep calm and push on…”

Worked like a charm.

One problem though.  A piece of surgical tape used to secure my probe to the sumo sling I use to keep it, well, wedged up in my ass, had begun to rub under my Charlie Brown’s.  Not pleasant.  So with every pedal stroke there was this uncomfortable scratching going on under my nut sack.  Yeah.

And let me tell you, trying to stay positive and think happy thoughts while your choda is being treated like a Lotto scratch ticket is not easy, like, at all.  Lord knows I tried.  Ultimately, I knew, boring as it was, I could do the first 30 minutes fairly easily so all I had to do was make it through that and then I could try and “readjust” myself afterwards prior to having to get back on the bike.

suck

This is the face one makes when their scrotum is being rubbed raw.

However, despite my attempt to exist in my “happy place”, it was all pretty much in vain.  After all, my happy place in that country pub does not include something coarse and scratchy down my pants.  But I made the first 30 minutes successfully and, yes, I used my self-talk statements as much as possible.

When I dismounted the bike to don my rain poncho and complete my cognitive testing I tried my best to fix the issue.  In the rare few moments I am actually alone in the oven I had both hands burrowed deep into my bib shorts and ferreting around like a squirrel digging for acorns, but to no avail.

FML.

The first round of cognitive testing I think went very, very well.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I made the tests my bitch, particularly the “Two Back”  and “Groton Maze Learning”  tasks.  I’m not surprised really as I was very dialed in and focused using my “Just relax and focus”  statement.  For the rest of the 30 minute cool down (and I use that term loosely), I put my feet up and tried not to focus on the chafing beginning to happen under my balls.

I figured I could manage one last TTE but, then again, what choice did I really have?

Eventually, I mounted the bike for the last time and had the mask affixed to my head and I braced myself for the eventual suck to follow.  I immediately reverted to my more calming and passive motivational statements to “get in the zone”, per se. I knew it was going to difficult (isn’t it always?) but I really wanted to do better and by “better”, that inevitably means “suffer”.  It’s just the nature of the beast I’m afraid.

Finally the first 5 minute warm up at 125 watts began, and as soon as it did it started:

“God, my balls are on fire!”

“Just relax, breathe and focus…”

Nope.

“Just be calm and push on…”

Nope.  Still on fire.

“Get tough.”

Okay, that worked…a bit.

Finally, the official TTE at 80% (280 watts) began in earnest and it was on.

Again with the negativity.

Ho-lee shit”, “My legs hurt”, “My balls are burning” (not to be confused with the popular 80’s song ‘Beds Are Burning’ by Australian rockers Midnight Oil)…it was a total cacophony of self pity, remorse and intense bitchiness.

Fueled by “Get tough”  and “You can do this!”, I did my best to block it all out and started with my first spin-up and then remained focused on holding that cadence for as long as it felt “comfortable” to do so.  It hurt, but I did it.

“Well, that sucked”, was the immediate response in my brain.

Fuck you negativity, “You can do this!”…and I did it again…and again…

…and again.

I concentrated on putting power into the pedals more than I have ever done before, even when it felt like my lungs were going to explode and my nuts were going to rupture.  In fact, I became a bit worried at one point that I might have some unfortunate scaring going on in places I didn’t even want to think about but, still, I focused on power.

“More power!”, actually became a new motivation self-talk statement at one point.  I know it wasn’t part of the original plan but I was certainly willing to go with whatever it was that worked in the moment, and in that precise moment, “More power!”  is exactly  what I needed to hear.

I continued to spin up an hold as best as I could and the last 2 or 3 “sprints” were every bit as agonizing as the sensations going on in my shorts, let me tell you.

I had no concept of time.  I know that the research guy in the oven with me (Phil) comes around every two minutes to get my RPE and Thermal Sensation and Discomfort readings so I should be able to keep an approximate track of how much time has passed but, truthfully, after the first two or so and it’s really beginning to get shitty, they all feel like the first.

Eventually, I couldn’t take any more and immediately following my last spin up I quit.  Now, whether I 100% gave up or whether my cadence dropped below the pre-established 60rpm for 5 seconds signaling the finish, I’m not really sure.  What I do know is that I was 100% spent and feeling rather disappointed with myself (as I’m sure was reflected in the subsequent BRUMS scale I completing immediately after getting off the bike).

A picture is worth a thousand words:

3

I figured that while I had put more effort into the pedals, the eventual cost was in not being able to go for as long as I would have liked.  Plus, I hated the feeling of having to “quit” (whether or not that actually happened, is moot).  On the plus side, I think my cognitive testing afterwards (once my heart rate came back down of course) went very well, just as it had the first time.  In that regard I was definitely happy.

In the first exercise protocol I managed to last 12 whole minutes at my 80% and today, using motivational self-talk, I was able to last 13 minutes representing an improvement of 9% overall.  So, despite how I felt about the second TTE, that positive phrasing definitely seemed to work.  But here’s the part I’m really pleased with:

During the first session, I managed 10 or so spin up’s to approximately 90 rpm before dropping back down to an average of approximately 77 rpm.  This time around, I managed 12 spin up’s overall at over 100 rpm  which I was able to sustain for up to 40-45 seconds at a time before returning to an approximate average of 80 rpm.  That means that my ride on that particular day was a lot less variable in my being able to maintain a steady cadence and power outage.

I guess I can live with that.

Where positive self-talking definitely helps with athletic performance (which is awesome), even in extreme hot and humid conditions (even more awesome), it also works very well in positively improving cognitive ability as well and that’s particularly some pretty awesome shit.

I will include all the actual results in the follow-up Part 2 to this post in the near future so, until then, hang tight, for that awesome shit is about to get real.

My official results:  TN-Handout