Posts Tagged ‘The Suck’

As I have alluded to in the past, I had another opportunity to step back into the Brock Kinesiology lab to participate in another series of tests and, consequentially, further develop my overall ‘mental toughness’ this year.  This time around the research dealt with the effects of heating and cooling on firefighters.  Yup, this means I got to dress up as a firefighter and live out the dream of every little boy on the entire planet including myself.  Seriously, who didn’t  want to be a firefighter growing up?

I got the email from Matt a few months ago inquiring if I was up to the challenge.  I like to think that he remembered me on account of my God like level of uber-fitness and total domination on the bike, but as I disclosed in my previous blog post during the Separate and Combined Effects of Hydration Status and Thirst on Voluntary Exercise Capacity’  study (click HERE) that, well, sadly, this wasn’t necessarily the case.  It was probably more along the lines of ‘who else would be stupid enough to do it?’, but I digress…

Whatever is was, I agreed immediately.  What can I say?  I like testing my mental fortitude in interesting and challenging ways; I’m a sucker for data and information about my current level of fitness; and maybe…just maybe…I missed having something stuck up my ass.  Who knows?  But, hey, they promised me a t-shirt…so how could I say no?

Anyway, this particular study went by the rather spiffy title of Effects of Cranial Cooling on Temperature, Ventilatory, and Perceptual Responses to Exercise in Fire Protective Ensemble’  (say that  three times fast).  The purpose of the research was to study the effects of cranial cooling during recovery on temperature and breathing responses during exercise with fire protective clothing ensemble.

When we exercise, our muscles produce heat.  If the heat can be released to the environment the body can “thermoregulate” itself and, theoretically, remain somewhat comfortable and functioning adequately.  The protective clothing used by firefighters traps the heat, which often results in a condition called “Uncompensable Heat Stress” (UHS).  In UHS, body temperature is elevated and work capacity can be severely impaired.  In order to reduce the effects of UHS, the study is seeking to explore countermeasures that help to cool the body either during exercise or during recovery periods.  This particular study was designed to evaluate the effects of a cooling strategy that pumps cool water through aspecial green balaclava-like hood that can be easily worn during recovery periods.  The testing for the study involves periods of hard exercise followed by recovery periods aimed at monitoring how this cooling strategy might affect body temperature and breathing.

What this meant for me in the long run (or short walk, if you will), is four separate parts scheduled over approximately two to four weeks.  The duration of each part will vary between 1.5 and 3 hours.  The first includes a ‘Graded Exercise Test’ (GXT) which measures my peak oxygen uptake (VO2peak) while walking on a treadmill wearing the full fire protective ensemble (FPE) and breathing with a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA); the second part is a practice familiarization session of two 20 minute periods of exercise and two 20 minute periods of recovery, complete with measurements on my core temperature (yes, this means the probe), skin temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, perceptions of effort, breathing and temperature stress, respiratory muscle strength, body weight, and urine specific gravity.  Sounds like fun, amiright?    Fortunately there was no need for blood samples so I wouldn’t have to undergo the whole IV insertion unpleasantness, so that’s good.  The next two parts consist of the actual study sessions identical to the practice trial; one trial will use the cranial cooling technique during recovery. The initial explanation and consent form said this about the study:

“The exercise and heat stress experienced in this experiment will be challenging.”

This could quite well be the understatement of the century, but more on that later.

Day 1: The Graded Exercise Test

The GXT involved about 15 minutes of exercise on a treadmill where the exercise gets slightly harder every two minutes or so.  The treadmill speed is set at a normal walking pace and will not change throughout the test.  At the start the treadmill will be level but the grade will increase slightly every two minutes.  As the test proceeds the exercise gets more and more challenging until, eventually, I can’t go any further due to the extreme exhaustion.  At this point, they can determine my highest rate of oxygen consumption, or my VO2peak.

Here is a snippet from the consent form:

“The graded exercise test requires maximal effort in order to keep exercising until exhaustion. There may be some health risk with this type of exercise. During and following test, it is possible that you may experience symptoms such as abnormal blood pressure, fainting, lightheadedness, muscle cramps or strain, nausea and, in very rare cases, heart rhythm disturbances or heart attack.”

Basically, nothing I mightn’t experience on a typical Friday night anyway so, yeah baby, let’s get it on.

Getting to play dress up.

Getting to play dress up.

During the test, I was expected to be dressed in the full FPE and breathe through a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).  I will admit to being really excited for this part as, like I mentioned above, I had that typical firefighter fantasy as a child.  With some assistance, I was fitted into the rather heavy outfit complete with cotton shirt and pants, jacket, overalls, hood, tank, helmet and gloves.  In all, the entire ensemble adds an additional 22.5 kg (50 lbs.) of weight and therefore resistance to the workout.

Once I was successfully ensconced in my suit, I kind of felt like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man but, still, it was pretty cool.  Complete with the inhaling and exhaling sound through the SCBA gear, the whole getup reminded me of that classic horror B-movie scene where you see the psycho killer approaching the unsuspecting victim from the vantage point of looking through the eye holes of their mask.  The breathing especially is a bit challenging at first and the minimal visibility of the visor makes things rather claustrophobic.  Now I know how Anakin Skywalker must have felt behind the Darth Vader mask.

First all the usual body fat and weight measurements were taken.  If I ever see another pair of calipers again it’ll be too soon, let me tell you.  However, making things a little more awkward this time around was the PhD student in charge of the study was a girl named Maz and another assistant, Tyce, was from Brazil.  So, yeah, just what every insecure, aging, fat triathlete wannabe enjoys: having his folds of body fat scrutinized and recorded with attractive females in the room. “Oh boy, can we?!”

Not.

Eventually, we were ready to begin.  Before the test started I was allowed to warm-up on the treadmill to get accustomed to being in my suit. Imagine walking normally on a treadmill.  No big deal, right?  Now imagine doing it while dressed in a 50 lb.  clown suit complete with head; the SCBA apparatus was particularly awkward and definitely took some getting used to.  Now imagine that while walking in that clown suit, somebody keeps increasing the grade on the treadmill every two minutes.  Still sound like fun? It’s not.

Trying to stay positive.

Trying to stay positive.

Motivated by my meager “Good” result last time around, I was determined to do better.  I spent the first few minutes, 10 or so, focusing on my breathing and simply trying to get ‘in the zone’.  I focused on maintaining a strong and relaxed breathing pattern through my nose as I’ve learned to do when I start to get uncomfortable.  Every few minutes I was asked to give my rating on a series of scales posted to the wall in front of the treadmill including ‘RPE’  rating my physical exertion, ‘Breathing Stress’, how labored my breathing feels, and ‘Thermal Comfort’, or how my body was actually feeling in relation to the heat stress being placed upon it.  Other than those stimulating visuals to focus on, there was only the hand that would magically appear out of my peripheral to increase the treadmill grade one agonizing percent level at a time; there was none of the usual motivation stimuli to give you that added push.  Sure, the research assistants would offer the occasional praise or motivation but, truthfully, you couldn’t really hear them above the sound of my own labored breathing and the loud din of the oven’s fans overheard.  All you really had to egg you along was your own mental fortitude to keep going at all costs and this was fine for, say, the first 10 minutes or so.

By the 13-14 minute mark, I felt my composure begin to break down.  My breathing became labored through the SCBA gear and I had to break my steady walking pace into that of a light run against the ever-increasing grade while carrying all that gear.  By now it was a matter of survival and simply hanging on and my mental fortitude was beginning to wane.

Not too shabby this time around.

Exhausted but pleased.

Now, I’d love to tell you here that I had lots of inspirational thoughts going through my head as I did on the bike previously but, well, this was an altogether different feeling.  The only thing I really remember towards the end was simply counting the seconds down in my mind until I collapsed (or died) as I was definitely reaching critical mass.

At approximately the 17 minute mark, I had officially reached my ultimate end game for the test and I tapped out for good.  I collapsed into a chair while my overall results were calculated.  Turns out, my original VO2peak score of 41.51 ml/kg/min.  during November’s test had improved drastically to a 47.75 ml/kg/min.  now, which, is still 10-15% lower than what it would have been had I not been wearing that heavy firefighting gear.  That means my VO2peak score might have scored as high as 52-53 ml/kg/min.,  classifying me as almost “Superior” on the general VO2-Max classification for men my age (40-49); just a tad bit better than “Good”, huh.

Here’s the official results: firefighter2

Yeah. Who’s your daddy? That’s right, bitches. Me. ”Almost Superior”…sweet.  How fucking awesome is that?  I found it extremely reaffirming to know that the past months of training were paying off. So despite my present battered condition, I felt…well, pretty fucking awesome actually. I won’t lie.

Day 2: The Familiarization

After the previous weeks GXT I can honestly tell you that I was less than excited for this trial session.  The novelty of getting to dress up in a firefighters outfit had long since passed and I more dreading having to get back into it, anticipating that this session was going to be much worse, like, way worse.  Remember, the exact term the PhD students used was “challenging”.

Now, the word ‘challenging’ itself isn’t very scary, nor does it ever phase me anymore, Lord knows I’ve done ‘challenging’ things, but the look in their eye when they used it actually sent chills down my spine.  As it turns out, this was the only ‘chill’ I would ever really experience the entire time I was in the lab (with the exception of the cold shower afterwards).  The look was like what you might get from a veteran when they talk about their experiences during the war.  They may say ‘bad’, but it’s almost spooky the way they say it.  You just know it was much worse than they are willing to say so you don’t press for specifics.  The way the lab assistants used the word ‘challenging’ was exactly like that; you just knew it was going to be much worse than they were able to say, except I didn’t know by how much…yet.

I did however take one piece of advice to heart from Phil (one of the PhD students) to make sure I was adequately hydrated so, for the next three days, I hydrated like it was my fucking job.  In fact, it was seldom I ever went more than 90 minutes without having to go to the bathroom.  In fact, I barely made the drive from my office to the Brock lab – a mere 20 minute commute – without pissing myself.  So mission accomplished there.

Getting ready...

Getting suited up…

The first 30 minutes or so in the lab were spent getting prepared and dressed.  This process included (among frequent trips to the bathroom of course) such things as being weighed, providing a urine sample (no problem there) to determine my hydration status, strapping on a heart rate monitor, attaching heat sensors to my body,and, yes, inserting that damn core thermometer (not to mention the dreaded ‘Shuffle of Shame’  from the change room afterwards).  I am pleased to announce though that the term ‘Shuffle of Shame’  has now been adopted by the kinesiology department as standard terminology for this short walk between the change room and the lab with a probe up your ass.

Again, from the consent form (just in case you missed it the first time):

“Core temperature will be monitored continuously during all practice and experimental trials. The system used for monitoring core temperature requires that you insert a small diameter, flexible plastic probe to a depth of 15 cm into your rectum.”

If ever a single sentence could strike fear into the hearts of men, this would be it.  Well, most men anyway.

For me, however, this whole insertion process was old hat and was more like getting reacquainted with an old friend (click HERE).  Well, maybe not an old friend so much as someone who used to bully you as a child perhaps, but you get the idea.   Let’s just say that this definitely wasn’t my first rodeo and if anyone needs any information or clarification on the proper procedure for shoving a probe up their ass – I’m your guy.

Probe?  OH BOY!

Probe? OH BOY!

All this was accomplished rather quickly and soon it was time to begin the trial and really open the floodgates…literally.

The first time I stepped into the environmental chamber (or the ‘oven’ as I likened to call it) back in November, the climate was set at 35°C with a relative humidity of 45% and bearing in mind that I was only wearing a typical cycling kit made of light, breathable materials.  Today’s session was about as far from that as you could possible get, like, eons apart.  Not only had the Velotron bike been substituted with a treadmill inside the oven itself, but while the temperature remained at35°C as it did before, the humidity had now been cranked way up to 65%.  Oh, let;s not forget to mention the added  50 lbs. of FPE.  Yeah, this was going to make my first foray into a hot yoga class years ago (click HERE) seem like a day at the beach by comparison.

Here’s how it was described in the consent form:

“The protocol will last approximately 100 minutes, and during this time you will walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes, recover for 20 minutes and then repeat the cycle. At certain times during the exercise and recovery we will measure heart rate, blood pressure, skin and core temperature, oxygen consumption, and breathing. We will also ask you to provide your perceptions of exercise, temperature and breathing stress using simple scales that are graded from “0” (no stress) to “10” (maximal stress).”

Sounds easy enough right?  Where’s the ‘challenge’ right? The fuck.

Think happy thoughts.

Not so sure about this. Just think happy thoughts.

Prior to beginning the first 20 minute session I was asked to walk on the treadmill for 3 minutes at an easy 3.5km/h  pace at a 1% grade (2) which was approximately the equivalent to my grandmother walking to market.  It was just an opportunity to get moving comfortably, well, as comfortable as possible with all that FPR and SCBA gear anyway and get used to breathing through the SCBA.  Immediately following the warm up, it was the ‘ol familiar “THREE…TWO…ONE….”

and the gates of Hell were opened once again.

Each of the actual 20 minute trials were programmed into the treadmill at 5.6km/h  for a 4% grade (5.6) incline. It’s work, but barely.  What was making it difficult (as you might expect) was carrying that50 lbs. worth of added weight and those preset hotter than fuck atmospheric conditions.  Soon, I was sweating like the pig who knows he’s dinner.  Every 2 or 3 minutes the research assistant (Bryan) asked me for my subjective perceptions based on those scales posted the wall in front of me, just as I had done during the GXT test the previous week.

I have to say, the first 20 minutes wasn’t bad.  Sure it was hot, yes I sweated my bag off but, really, it wasn’t overly difficult.  Following the first session I was allowed off the treadmill and cool down passively in a chair.  By ‘passively’ they simply mean remove my helmet, hood and gloves.  That’s it.  Big deal.  I was hoping for maybe a cold beer or a margarita, a Slip n’ Slide maybe, anything that might offer me some relief from the intense heat and humidity.  The good news was that I was half way done and just beginning to think that this wasn’t going to be too bad.  Yeah, right.

Following the 20 minutes cool down I stood up and immediately, things got ‘challenging’.  Oh shit.  My neck was sore from supporting the helmet and I felt lightheaded and disorientated and not at all like putting all that shit back on and climbing back on the treadmill.  Furthermore, while I was a bit more comfortable, it was clear that my body was still very hot and the thought of putting the hood, helmet and gloves back on was not a happy one.  About this time, Phil had a conversation with me about their expectations to only ‘do as much as I can’; but there was that faraway look in his eye again.  Determined to make a go of it, however, I staggered back on the treadmill and allowed the researchers to put all that shit back on.

Maz takes a selfie while I'm suffering in the background.  Can't you just feel the love?

Maz takes a selfie while I’m suffering in the background. Can’t you just feel the love? She may be happy with my progress but, clearly, I am not.

The second session began with the same 3 minute warm up, except that by the time the second 20 minute trial was ready to start it was like my body was on fire.  So this is what a pot roast feels like? I can’t say I liked it…like, at all.  I tried as best as I could to regularize my breathing and clear my mind of negative thoughts but, seriously, there’s little one can do to calm themselves when they’re being roasted alive.  My mask started to fill with perspiration so that each time I exhaled I was splattering the inside of my face mask with droplets of sweat and my hands felt like somebody was applying a blowtorch to them inside the gloves.

Seriously, this  is what firefighters have to deal with?  Hol-lee fuck!  It was all I could do at this point to trudge on as best I could and wait for the sweet release of death to rescue me from this agonizing torment.

It’s safe to say that I have never experienced anything like this before…and I have done some crazy ass shit.  This, however, was completely different.  If my initial goal for this study was to find a new way to test my mental toughness, well, I need look no further as this was about as tough as its ever going to get.  It was excruciating; words simply cannot express.  The only way I could ever communicate my perceptions of stress levels was by holding up fingers and even then, that was effort. Phil’s words ‘you can quit whenever you want’  were resonating in my brain but I trudged on.  I knew at this point that making the whole second 20 minute session was slim to none as I was feeling faint, my vision was beginning to blur and I was getting sick to my stomach.  It was hard to breathe and my organs were cooking.  I almost tapped out 2 or 3 times but, somehow, I managed to carry on with my Death March.  ‘One more minute…one more minute…one more minute…’ was the only think I could think of.

Am I looking glamorous or what?

“Hello, dum dum’s”. Am I looking glamorous or what?

When Bryan counted out the 10 minute mark I knew I was 99.9% spent.  By eleven minutes I was done and finally tapped out.  By this point I was ready to chew through my helmet in panic and they couldn’t get it off fast enough.  They quickly ripped it off (albeit not quick enough for my liking) and a tidal wave of sweat was instantly released out of the helmet and onto the treadmill; so much so it splashed my running shoes.  It was like a water balloon had been dropped out of the helmet.  I was allowed to sit again, this time with a green cooling hood that kind of made me look like the Great Kazoo…not that I gave a shit mind you.  It was bliss.

Including the initial 3 minute warm up I lasted a total of 14 minutes.  Now that may not seem like a lot of time but, I assure you, it’s an eternity in those fucked up conditions – or so it felt anyway.  It was a while before I felt comfortable enough to stand up again and disrobe and it wasn’t without a great deal of help that I managed to get out of my FPE and SCBA gear; I might as well have been a newborn infant for all the assistance I could provide.  My cotton shirt and pants were completely saturated with sweat.  It looked like I had jumped into a pool and they made the same sound that a wet towel makes when it hits the ground after being dropped from a height…SLOP!

Feeling lucky to still be alive.

S Feeling lucky to still be alive.

To put it all in proper perspective, before the trial started I weighed in at 88.16 kg, afterwards… 85.96 kg., which represents a total loss of 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs.) in a mere 37 minutes.  Yeah.  That’s insane.  I do believe that’s a new lab record for sweat loss.  And since I’m seldom ever setting ‘records’, per se, I’m choosing to take it and run with it.

Here’s the evidence:

And right there, folks, is a whole lotta nasty.

And right there, folks, is a whole lotta nasty.

Gross, right?

Anyway, all the sensors were then removed which, I might add, is much easier to do when you’re completely dripping with sweat.  The tape practically leapt off my body in protest.  I was asked to provide another urine sample (I’m actually surprised I had any fluids left) before I was allowed to remove the probe (which, is much worse than putting it in – go figure) and cut loose with an earth-shattering fart, or ‘fartgasm’ as I will now call it (let’s see if that term catches on at the lab).  Oh, and I had what might very well be the best cold shower I’ve ever had. Not that I care to relive it any, but here’s a brief glimpse for you of the trial itself in progress (pardon the shitty sound of being in the oven):

Day 3 – Experimental Protocol 1

To say I wasn’t looking forward to the next days experimental protocol would be an extremely accurate statement; so would ‘I’m as excited to get back in the oven as I am to get a root canal’.  Truthfully, I’d rather just be hogtied to the treadmill and have the research students take turns kicking me in the junk but, hey, I’m going to persevere and get this done just as I agreed to come Hell or high water, which, in my case, are almost practically guaranteed.

After the last weeks’ familiarization session, the first thing I recall is having one serious appetite…like, ravenous.  Seriously, on top of the leftover sandwiches I was offered in the lab, I could have easily made short work of any buffet table I might have encountered had I been given the opportunity.  I mean there’s ‘hungry’ and then there’s HUNGRY, and I was definitely HUNGRY.  Secondly, I was probably more tired than I’ve ever been in my entire life.  Not just the typical kind of fatigue I experience after my other workouts and events, but the ‘holy shit, I can barely remember my name’  kind of fatigue; I could have slept for weeks and I was practically useless at work the next day.  I didn’t really work so much as I just stared blankly into the computer screen.

The good news is that I know now what they mean when they say ‘challenging’.  String Theory is ‘challenging’; following the plot to Inception  was ‘challenging’; running a marathon is definitely ‘challenging’.  This was torture…pure and simple.  So while I was still nervous about the days protocol, I felt I was more mentally prepared than I was the week before and I was determined to give ‘er, even if for only one minute longer.

For that particular protocol the girls took over applying the blood pressure cuff and all the heat sensors to my pudgy body with tape, and afterwards helping me to get dressed; definitely not one of the finer moments in my life.  I guess they have to learn somehow by talk about awkward!   The indignities we lab rats subject ourselves to.  Within minutes, however, I was all fixed up, attached to all my bodily devices, dressed in the FPR and SCBA gear and ready to get my sweat on.  It’s evident how nervous I was when my first blood pressure reading came in at 155/91.

Here we go again...

Here we go again…

Although I had been through all this once before, it was almost worse this time around knowing what was going to unfold.  Ignorance is definitely bliss.  During the previous week’s familiarization session it had all been revealed how incredibly difficult today’s protocol was going to be; Pandora’s Box had been indelibly open.  I knew now how challenging that days session was going to be.  It was going to suck on a proportionately epic scale.

Whatever fun we might have had last week with the joking and humorous back and forth banter was now tossed directly out the window and I was beginning to focus myself on the task at hand…survival.  It was go time.  It was really no different than the moments before any major triathlon events, all is silent as the participants ready themselves mentally and put their game faces on.  The mood in the environmental chamber got serious…fast.  After getting squared away on the treadmill I was asked if I was ready to begin and I gave a very nervous thumbs up and within seconds the countdown started, “THREE…TWO…ONE…”

…and my return to Hell started.

Much like the previous week, the first 20 minutes were manageable and were completed fairly quickly.  I mean, it was hot and it sucked but it was doable.  Unfortunately, today’s protocol was passive cooling (no cooling hood), so my subsequent 20 minute “cool down” (and I use that term extremely loosely) was going to be passive (i.e. no hood).  My body was so hot and uncomfortable.  As part of the cool down I was offered a water bottle with only 200 ml  of water to sip on; in impossibly small amount given the nature of what I had just completed.  It’s like offering someone who’s just crossed the Sahara Dessert a Dixie cup.  But I made due by rationing my meager portion accordingly and resisting the urge to dump the entire contents over my head.

Simply hanging on...

Just hanging on…

While sitting, my blood pressure was retaken a few more times which was extremely unpleasant given my current state.  Each time the blood cuff was inflated, I could feel my heart beating in my teeth.  My fingers tingled to the point of extreme discomfort and I felt like crying out in pain.  I just can’t articulate how discomforting it is to have your blood pressure taken when you’re hotter than Hades and feeling cranky and uncomfortable.  It’s brutal.

I also have to say that sitting idly for 20 minutes is almost as unpleasant as walking on that damn treadmill.  You become keenly aware of all the sweat dripping down your body and pooling into your shoes.  Within the first five minute the towel I was given was completely saturated.  Likewise, knowing how intensely shitty the second 20 minutes is going to be its rather like waiting to be executed by a firing squad.  Not fun.  You just want to get up and get it over with, but you don’t.  It’s a total mixed bag of emotions.

Once the cool down session is over, the next two minutes are also particularly ‘challenging’ (insert faraway look in the eye here).  Immediately upon standing, all the blood that has been running to your legs immediately rushes back up to your head and you become extremely disorientated and dizzy.  You almost want to quit altogether at this point as it’s hard to imagine continuing doing, like, anything.  All you want to do is lie down, preferably in a Turtle Pool full of beer…ice cold beer.  But what choice do you have?  So you allow yourself to get suited up again, slip that fucking mask over your face and before you can protest it’s “THREE…TWO…ONE…”

…and you’re off.  Let the Big Suck commence.

Eventually, the queasiness passes and after the initial 3 minute “warm up” (I guess it goes without saying that this is another understatement of supernova-like proportions) on the treadmill we begin the second 20 minute session.  At first, it’s not so bad.  I’m still hot and uncomfortable but, again, it was manageable.  I was beginning to think that I might be able to make the distance this time so I tried to focus on anything but the burning sensation in my gloves, the sweat pooling in my mask, the soreness in my neck from supporting the helmet and the ever rising temperature rising inside the suit. Remember, this is all I have to look at for the entire session:

The view from within.

The view from within.

Not very stimulating is it? Fuck no.

After, say, the first 10 minutes into the second session what little confidence that had started to build suddenly began to crumble…rapidly.  It’s incredible to me how fast your mental and physical state can deteriorate in the oven.  I actually started to pray.  It’s true.  I would have happily converted to just about any world religion at the time had it provided me with any actual relief.  Shit, I would have sacrificed my firstborn to the Dark Lord himself had someone offered to save me from this torment.  As the heat and discomfort continued to escalate and my breathing became more difficult I asked my mom for strength, I continued to recite what few verses of prayer I actually know and genuinely tried to convince myself that I only had another 10 minutes left…I can do anything for only 10 minutes right?  How wrong I was.

A single minute later (which still felt like an eternity), Maz reminded me that I had reached last week’s tap out time (11 minutes) and to keep it going.  She reminded that I still had lots of oxygen and to try and breath comfortably but by that point it was all to no avail…I was cooked.  Quite literally!  I was growing desperate.

By 12 minutes I was reaching my critical mass again.  My breathing was extremely labored and I had that pot roast feeling again.  Just…hang…on…

At the 14 minute mark (17 minutes including the warm up) I tapped out.  Same as the familiarization session, the researchers scramble to get me out of the gear.  It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ kind of deal, all scrambling simultaneously to release me from my confines as if my life depended on it which, truthfully, it certainly felt like.  I didn’t even make it through the next 20 minute “cool down” session, after my blood pressure was taken (which I’m surprised didn’t explode off my arm) I begged to get out…like, begged.  It was right out of Oliver Twist, pleading eyes and all.

“Get me…out…of…here…like, NOW!”

I was nice about it, of course, but still very insistent I’m sure.  I just wanted out badly as I’m sure you could tell from this video:

Taking off the tank and jacket might just be the most joyous thing I have ever experienced; I swear, angels sang.  I stripped out of my drenched clothes down to my skivvies (running shorts) in what must have been the unsexiest striptease ever attempted.  I’m sure the girls are probably scarred for life now and I couldn’t care less. Oh, and yeah:  Mental Note to Self: NEVER step on the core probe wire as you’re trying to undress.

Ouch.

The final measurements were then taken and consistent with the previous week I had expunged a complete tsunami of bodily fluid; this time exactly 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) of sweat during the 40 minutes of testing.  Yay me!  Not quite the achievement I had been looking for originally but I’ll take ‘em wherever I can get ‘em.

Day 4 – Experimental Protocol 2

It is with mixed emotions that I begin the next  protocol session.  Where I wasn’t at all thrilled to go back into the oven (never mind the core probe, heat sensors, FPE, etc.), I was extremely pleased that this would be the last time I had to do it.  Likewise, knowing I was also going to be allowed to wear the cooling hood this time around that that will make things in the oven marginally more comfortable and (dare I say it) less ‘challenging’.

By then I had the whole pee, weight and probe routine down pat.  I’m certainly beyond the embarrassment and indignity of having my chubby frame taped up and affixed with sensors and what have you, so with little difficulty I was all dressed rather quickly and ready to roll.  You could say I was pretty eager to get this last torture session over with…pronto!  I guess my mindset was similar to the common philosophy for removing a band-aid…STRAIGHT OFF!

I was determined to make the distance this time, well, I’d be happy with one minute longer anyway.  To help, I decided to take matters into my own hands and provide my own motivation aside from those damn scales taped to the wall:

I give you:  Exhibit A

Exhibit A

Of course, Maz wasn’t too impressed.

So much for that!

Boo! So much for that.

Similar to before the first 20 minutes went by pretty smoothly.  There was a little complaining from Thunder n’ Lightning given I ran 17k the day before but, other than that, things went pretty uneventfully.  Helping matters along, of course, was knowing that I was going to spend the next 20 minutes during the cool down session wearing the cooling hood. So upon finishing the first test session, I took a seat and allowed the hood to be applied and just reveled in the instant relief it offered against the roasting feeling in my body. I also took the advice from another peer who is also doing the test, to raise my legs on an incline against the treadmill to help prevent the blood running to my feet and then back to my head afterwards when I stood back up and, hopefully, avoid the whole nauseous light-headed feeling again. So there I sat, legs raised, Nalgene bottle in hand, and pretending I was looking at this:

Awesome right?

Awesome right?

Of course, this is what I was actually looking at:

Yeah, not so much...

Yeah, not so much…

Once again…quite the let down.  But what can you do?

Truthfully, the cooling hood really helped improve my recovery and I definitely felt more comfortable for the first cooling session.  If my body was still roasting (and apparently it was) I couldn’t really notice.  I was beginning to think that maybe my next 20 minute test session was going to be a bit easier, then Maz explained to me that, physiologically speaking, while I might feel better now, the test was rigged in that ergonomically it was still going to be ‘as challenging’ during the second test session.  My positive can-do attitude began to shatter around me like breaking glass. Thanks Maz.

Making matters a bit worse is that the cooling hood started to fail.  I felt completely ripped off.  For 4-5 minutes it lost its cooling properties and my normal sense of heat discomfort began to return.  Thanks Christ Phil got it all sorted out pretty quickly and I had the remaining time of my cool down in relative comfort, but then it was back to the grindstone I’m afraid.

Fortunately, my legs up strategy worked and when I stood up I felt relatively good and I didn’t need that extra moment to collect myself.  I had the hood, helmet and gloves put back on and began the process of mentally preparing myself for the complete Suckfest to come. Eventually Bryan counted me down: “Exercise to begin in THREE…TWO…ONE…

…and here we go again.  God help me.

Just as Maz explained, the heat returned rather instantly; so much for my whole physiological argument.  Don’t you just hate it when girls are right?

Just...keep...going...

Just…keep…going…

Anyway, I labored on just as I had before and the suck factor ramped up quickly to nearly unbearable.  After the 12 minute mark my breathing started to become labored through the SCBA gear and I heard Maz whisper to Bryan that it probably wouldn’t be long now.  How I ever heard that I’m not sure; maybe some super natural presence wanted me to hear it.  I gave her a look and shook my head…whether she had understood or not that I had overheard her I’m not sure.  I wasn’t angry exactly, but I definitely more determined than ever to suffer.  14 minutes was my benchmark to aim for and as it approached I was trying to mentally assess how much longer I could go.  At exactly the 16 minute mark, I made the mental choice I was going to go for broke and shoot for the 20 minutes, if anything to prove Maz wrong.  Hey, in this kind of experiment you simply take your inspiration wherever you can get it.

Now, I know what she mentioned to Bryan was not intended for me to hear, nor was it a challenge or pre-determination on my ability.  She was only basing it on her past experiences and observations with us lab rats in the oven under these circumstances, as any significant increase in breathing difficultly typically spells out the beginning to the end.  I get it. In fact, by the 18 minute mark I was beyond suffering.  The torment was almost surreal and I almost tapped out twice.  My ‘RPE’  was 19, my ‘Breathing Stress’  was maxed out, and my ‘Thermal Comfort’  was definitely a 9 to boot, or ‘The heat is unbearable’  according to the rating system. In other words, I had pretty much maxed out across the board and it sucked.  It sucked bad.  This was making my whole experience with the heat and humidity during the Cancun 70.3  competition seem like a walk at the water park. For whatever reason, I thought about this from the consent form:

“If you become ill or injured as a result of participating in this study, necessary medical treatment will be available at no additional cost to you.”

It did considerable little to comfort me.

By this point, however, Bryan was counting down my time in 30 second intervals and I was simply taking it one painful interval at a time.  The last two minutes were brutal and were far beyond any realm of discomfort I have subjected myself to in any of my previous training or competitions. In fact, simply being flogged for an hour would have been infinitely more pleasurable and preferable.  Words simply cannot express.

Eventually, I reached the 20 minute mark and there was an all out panic to get me out of my FTE and SCBA gear.  I swear, I could not get those gloves off fast enough.  The feeling of air, regardless of how hot and humid it was, was still an immediate relief once the mask came off.  I was spent. I was pleased to have finally made the entire 20 minutes but I was barely cognizant of that fact at that exact moment.  It was rather like being rescued from a bad dream in that everything was still very surreal.  The consequence however was that I was 100% broken mentally, physically and emotionally.  It was a few minutes before I could really stand or communicate effectively.  All I could really do was bury my face in my hands and thank Christ it was finally all over.  Luckily, when you’re that sweaty nobody can instantly tell if you’ve been crying or not.  I’m confident that sweat was not the only liquid that poured from my helmet, believe me.

I think the end results tell the true tale: another 2 kg (4.4 lbs.) of sweat lost during the testing.  Now, how much of that was actually lost in tears will forever remain a mystery.  I have never been so happy to be finished anything in all my life.  This was definitely harder than anything I’ve ever subjected myself to.  Shit, even the 35 kilometer mark of the Ironman Wales marathon was more bearable than this.  I could probably spend a month in a Turkish prison at the height of their summer season and say, ‘Hey, at least it’s not the oven at the Brock University kinesiology lab.’

See how happy I am?

See how happy I am?

So, that’s that.  My time in Hell is finally over.  Based on my time in the oven (as well as others), the lab researchers were able to determine that…well, I’ll have to blog that when the results get officially published.

In the meantime, I’m back focused on my training and preparing myself for September’s competition. What about future testing you ask?  Well, I’ve already volunteered for the next two series of lab experiments beginning in July and November respectively.  Maybe I lost a little a few marbles through this experience, but I really do enjoy testing my limits and seeing the quantifiable results afterwards.  Plus, by now I’ve developed a rapport with the researchers and I take great pride in having some part in them completing their studies (however small a part suffering on a treadmill provides I guess).

So while I won’t say I’m necessarily excited to get back in the lab, I will do so happily when the time comes. Besides, after this total horror show, how bad could it really be?

P.S.> I am also happy to report that I got my promised t-shirt.  Yes, it might be for the Edmonton Fire Department but, shit, I’m thrilled nonetheless.  After all, a well-earned trophy is a well-earned trophy.

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A few months ago, I was offered a unique opportunity to participate in an athletic performance study taking place at Brock University by a training peer of mine.  Now, first, let me get something perfectly straight…I’m not accustomed to hearing myself being referenced (even in the most general of terms such as this) to being an “athlete”, so the initial request really took me as much by surprise as it was flatteringly.  So, hey, how do you turn down a request like that?  I’m in!  Of course, it might have helped to have read the fine print first but hindsight is 20/20 right?  As it was, I was totally in taken by the rose-tinted lens of being considered as some sort of athlete.  What followed over the next six weeks could only be described as my own epic journey to stretch both my physical and mental capacities, all in the name of science.

The particular study that I was invited to participate in was being hosted by the university’s Kinesiology department called the Separate and Combined Effects of Hydration Status and Thirst on Voluntary Exercise Capacity’ ; that doesn’t sound so bad does it?  The whole purpose of this study was to test the parameters of athletic performance in regards to determining the real limiters to athletic performance as being either the actual physical state of dehydration, or the perception of thirst.  Considering I’ve pondered exactly the same thing during my own Ironman training back when my long workouts tended to fall in the middle of a scorching heat wave, I thought this would be a great way to learn more.  Here’s a short video (by the actual PhD students conducting my own test) discussing the effects of heat on athletic performance:

I’m so in.

So after a few initial conversations with the professor leading the study, I was forwarded both a ‘Screening Form’ complete with questions regarding my health (I have no issues so I passed with flying colors), and a ‘Consent Form’ providing all the details required by and of interest to the participants.  The primary ‘Invitation’ segment of the consent form sounds rather, well, fun.

“You are invited to participate in a study that involves research.  The purpose of this study is to examine the separate and combined effects of thirst and hydration status on performance during a 20-km time trial. You may participate if you are 18-50 years old, a cyclist or triathlete, and comfortable with a “hard” two hour bike ride and time trial type efforts or competitions.”

Sounds like a piece of cake, right?  Hey, I can’t remember the last time I’ve cycled only 20k so it was hardly perceived as being any real challenge on my part.  How wrong I was.  But I’ll get to that part shortly.

The study was divided into 6 different segments.  The first being the anthropometric measurements and maximal aerobic capacity testing; which is fancy lab talk for taking my height, weight, and body fat content with a pair of calipers.  Oh goodie.  What person doesn’t look forward to having all his fat folds scrutinized in a laboratory setting, right?  Anyway, the consent form also made mention that these tests would be performed by a “member of the same sex” so at least it would come with minimal embarrassment.  The real benefit as I saw it was the ‘maximal aerobic capacity testing’ part which would be determined through what’s known as a V02-Max test.  Basically, this test was my opportunity to have my level of aerobic fitness determined through an actual scientific means.  What triathlete-wannabe is ever going to pass that up, right?  Not this guy.  The entire session took approximately an hour, with the actual V02-Max taking up about 15 minutes or so.  I could further break that 15 minutes up into approximately 8-9 minutes of relatively comfortable cycling, followed by 2-3 minutes of flat out torture of Herculean proportions.  Coupled with this bitch of a workout, was the fact that I was also connected up to about a thousand electrodes and required to breathe through a soft silicone face mask until exhaustion in order to obtain my peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak) and maximum heart rate.  Yeah, like I said…torture.  It was like trying to breathe through a toilet paper tube; not comfortable in the slightest.

Seriously, how much fun does this look?

How happy do I look right now?

How happy do I look right now?

But survive I did.  Here are the results:

V02MaxSo, based on this information I am, apparently, get ready for it…”Good”.  Whoopee shit.  Yeah, three years of intense Ironman training and I’m – *sigh* – Good.  I could offer the excuse at this point that when I conducted this test, I hadn’t even begun my bike training and was primarily focused in the pool, nor had I done any cycling as a matter of fact for at least a month prior.  I could also mention that I was still in the grip of suffering “hot spots” on both my feet, leading for a very unpleasant cycling experience throughout the test but, regardless, it is was it is.  I’m confident that if I were to conduct the test again now at the point where I currently am in my 2014 training plan, they would be very different, but ‘c’est la vie’  suppose.  It is was it is.

The next week’s session was the ‘familiarization session’, where I would be required to conduct the entire test, including the 20k time trial, under the normal conditions to “ensure that (I was) able to fulfill the requirements of the exercise protocol”.  Hmm.  Should I be worried?  Nah.

The familiarization session was conducted in the environmental chamber at 35°C with a relative humidity of 45%.  The chamber has the ability to adjust the heat (or cold), humidity, or even simulate a desired altitude.  Whatever, its basic functionality is to make things as unpleasant as possible, no matter what end of the spectrum you wish to suffer at.  Couple that with the fact that I’m also not permitted to have any fluids whatsoever, or even so much as rinse my mouth, I think they should call it the ‘Suffer-o-Matic’.

When I first arrived, I was met by the research assistants with whom I would work with closely over the next months’ worth of sessions.  Matt, Greg, and Phil (the research assistants) were extremely nice and pretty non-assuming guys; too nice maybe.  Their friendly and accommodating manner immediately got me to suspect that all may not be what it appears to be, in the same way that it’s always the character you least suspect in your typical who-done-it movie that ends up being the axe murderer.  Considering what was going to unfold over the next few hours, it might have been more appropriate had they met me in the lab wearing devil horns and furiously rubbing their palms together while cackling all evil-like.  Just sayin’.

Wires anyone?

Wires anyone?

Similar to the first session, I was required to be hooked up approximately a thousand different electrodes (forehead, abdomen, forearm, hand, quads, shin and foot) to calculate a mean skin temperature and heat flow, heat flow sensors (chest, upper thigh and abdomen) to quantify evaporative heat exchange, and one particularly intimidating devise, the “core thermometer”.  Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like…a rectal probe.  Umm, pardon?  I think I might have skipped over that part in the consent form but I was already in too deep (no pun intended) to back out now.  Upon rereading the form, this procedure was described as thusly:

“Insertion of the flexible rectal probe may cause slight discomfort. You will be given instruction about how to prepare the probe, and will self-insert the probe in a private room.”

DSCF0674

Ummm…

Discomfort?  Really?  No shit Sherlock.  My first thought was ‘do I really need instruction on how to shove something up my own ass?’   Well, as it turns out, I did.  As Greg put it to me as he handed me the impossibly long and menacing looking device and a packet of lube: ‘less is definitely more’, meaning don’t lube too much.  Again?  Really?  Because the miniature packet he handed me seemed impossibly inefficient for the task.  If left to figure it out myself, I would have emptied an entire barrel of the stuff onto the probe prior to insertion but, as it turns out, he was right.  Too much and it just slips and slides all over the place; everywhere but where it’s intended to go that is.  So, hey, what’ya know?  Just a little dab will do ya.  Who knew such wisdom could come from a 60’s Brylcream commercial?  It was still not without a whole lot of struggling and finagling on my part however.  It should also not go without mention that the listed risks in the consent form included – *ahem* – and I quote:

  • Insertion of the rectal probe can stimulate the vagus nerve which can cause slowing of the heart rate which may lead to fainting. This is more likely to happen if you have a low resting heart rate.
  • Perforation of the bowel can lead to peritonitis, a serious infection of the abdominal cavity.
  • You should not participate in this research if you are pregnant, are under the influence of alcohol or other sedating substances (tranquilizers, sleeping pills, street drugs) or have any history of fainting or heart disease.

To so say I was uber-careful and concerned mid-insertion would be the understatement of the century.  Wait, ‘vagus nerve’?  I have no idea what that is but I sure don’t want to find out the hard way.  But, regardless, eventually I managed to get it in there successfully and shuffle-stepped my way back down the hall from the change room to the lab (something I would later dub the ‘Shuffle of Shame’) in order to begin the madness.

Before we began, it must be said that they take into account absolutely everything.  Absolutely nothing passes through my pours or bodily orifices’ that isn’t officially accounted for.  Sweat, blood, pee, tears…you name it.  If I even so much as had a juicy thought pass through my brain, I’m sure they knew about it.  I was weighed about a zillion times not only before, but several time throughout the entire session; during and after.  Eventually, after a base sample of VO2 was taken, we were ready to begin.  Finally!

DSCF0646

and it only gets worse from here…

The first part of the session is easy enough, pedal at 50% of my VO2-Max for 90 minutes while having my weight and VO2 tested again by breathing into that damn tube and having my heart rate taken every 30 minutes.  At other times, I was required to provide subjective information on how I was feeling during the session as based on scales posted on four paper charts taped to the wall: ‘Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)’ or, how hard I was working, the ‘Thirst Sensation Scale’, how thirsty I felt, the ‘Thermal Comfort Scale’, how comfortable I felt under the circumstances, and the ‘Thermal Sensation Scale’  or, how I felt temperature wise.  Usually, they just pointed to the chart every fifteen minutes and I grunted out a number.  And so it goes for 90 very tedious, unstimulating, stab-a-fork-into-my-brain minutes of total boredom.  Afterwards, I was weighed again and asked to empty my bladder before being given a brief minute to brace myself for the all-out torture that was to follow.  By the way, ever try to piss into an orange container while wearing bib shorts and even then, only after sitting on a bike in a hot chamber for 90 minutes?  Talk about frustrating, it was like trying to masturbate with a catcher’s mitt.  Certainly not a high point on my short list of athletic endeavors, that’s for sure.

Then came the time trial and with it, the open gates of Hell.  And, no, that’s not exaggerating in the slightest.  Now, 20k may not seem like a whole lot but, when you’re already hot, thirsty and have absolutely no mental or visual stimulus to motivate you like – you know – scenery, like other riders, or a bike computer to display your pace, distance, wattage, cadence and what have you, that 20k tends to feel like an eternity.  And eternity is a long as time, I assure you.  Remember, this is what I look at not only for the time trial, but for the whole session.

Not exactly the Sunshine Calendar pin-up, is it?

Not exactly the Sunshine Calendar pin-up, is it?

Not exactly stimulating, is it?  I’m sure this what Lance Armstrong will have to stare at in Hell.

The only queues I get during the time trial are the kilometers being counted off one at a time.  So, it kinda goes like this:

“ONE!…TWO!…THREE!…”

“And, he’s off!”

And then it begins to feel like time stands still.  Shit, it goes backwards.  I swear that from the third kilometer to the fourth, an entire day must have passed, with each progressive kilometer taking longer and longer to achieve.  And so it went for the entire 20 kilometers with every five minutes the need for another V02 sample by breathing through that damn tube as well as more information from the scales on the wall.  By the time it was over, it felt like weeks had passed.

I felt worse than I look, believe me.

I felt worse than I look, believe me.

What I remember most is coming off that bike nearly cross-eyed.  Seldom have I ever brought myself to the point of collapse and that’s about as close as I ever care to get, thank you very much!  All I wanted to do was plop my sweaty ass down again which is exactly what I did.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be finished something in my entire life.  I was so wobbly on my legs from extreme exhaustion and dehydration that when I shuffled across the lab to take a seat, I’m sure I won a dance completion of some sort.  I remember that drive home from the university campus (in St. Catharines) back to my home here in Ridgeway as being the longest drive of my entire life.  I felt abused…violated…and fatigued beyond anything I had ever felt before.  I felt almost empty…except for the sensation of still having a huge space occupying my asshole where the probe had been for the past 2+ hours.  But I digress.  Of course, this was just the familiarization session…I still had four more actual sessions to complete.  Little did I know that this was only the beginning (click HERE for an appropriate response).

DSCF0576When the next week rolled around I can honestly say I was less than excited to begin the official sessions.  I knew I could withstand the spin, the chamber, the probe, the time trial, etc. and so forth, but there was going to be a very notable difference, namely, the need to be infused with fluids (or not), as well as 20ml blood samples to be taken before periodically through the testing.  This required, on top of the multiple gadgets and gizmos that I was already hooked up to, the need for two IV catheters to be inserted (one in each arm).

Oh joy.

To such an end, I was introduced to another member of the team who had been so far absent from the other sessions, Vaughn, a local Advanced Care EMT paramedic who would literally be what I would come to think of as my guardian during the next three weeks’ worth of testing.  Fortunately, it has to be said, that Vaughn turned out to be just about the nicest, easiest going guy I have ever met.  I’m sure he could calm tropical storms simply by looking at them.  It was his responsibility to insert the catheters in each of my antecubital veins located in my forearms prior to being weighed, sampled, hooked up, lubed up, etc., and then oversee the drawing of blood and monitoring of fluids should I be getting them.  Based on his familiarity with my bodily fluids, Vaughn is probably more knowledgeable about me now than, say, my own girlfriend.  In fact, I think we might even be engaged.

Now, to my knowledge, whenever any is presented with the need to be perforated with an IV, they typically won’t respond with: “Oh boy!  Needles!”  Clearly, I am certainly not of this mindset myself as the thought of being hooked up to two IV’s simultaneously was, well, not ideal.  Needless to say, I stressed about this.  A lot.  However, Vaughn made this whole process as painless as possible by talking me calmly through the procedure and by the third session, I didn’t even mind this part so much.  Well, okay, I still hated it but I was a lot better at hiding it.  But in the beginning, well, not so much.  I labored over it and stressed about it and whined throughout the entire thing.  I hated it as was evident by the sky high blood pressure reading immediately afterwards before I hopped off the examining table to get into the chamber.  Regardless, I recovered well (I’m a trooper if nothing else) and we were always able to proceed as planned.

Yeah.  Fun?  Hells no!

Yeah. Fun? Hells no!

Blood samples were taken at the beginning of every session (as a baseline) and then every 30 minutes from the offset and every so often, he would fiddle with the IV bag that I was hooked up to.  Now, whether or not I was actually being infused with anything I have no idea as they put this big menacing black bag around it, again, to prevent from know, well, anything.  The idea for these tests was to manipulate my hydration status and thirst perception in a randomized fashion:

1) EU-NT. Euhydrated, or “normal fluid balance” (± 0.5% baseline body mass) and absence of thirst (based on subjective thirst sensation scale)

2) EU-T. Euhydrated and presence of thirst

3) HY-NT. Hypohydrated (~ -2% from baseline body mass) and absence of thirst

4) HY-T. Hypohydrated and presence of thirst.

DSCF0720

The ominous black bag

Now, the only real difference on my end regarding these states was my being able to rinse my mouth out with water to simulate the absence of thirst.  Not swallow, mind you, but RINSE.   But if I was receiving actual fluids at the time to aid me along in my suffering, God only knows; it all sucked equally and unequivocally.  And so it went for the next four sucktastic weeks.  While I can’t say my fitness or bike prowess improved at all over the course of these sessions, what I can say is that my mental toughness conditioning improved by spades.  I mean, cycling for two hours at a go (including the balls out time trial) while attached to a series of wires, electrodes and other scientific instruments was, well, medieval in nature.  If I can endure that, then I can endure anything and I still reflect back to these tests while suffering in my current spin workouts.

So what were the official results you ask?  Are they in?  Well, yes they are!  But I’ve been asked to keep them confidential for the time being until they are properly published and officially released to the athletic world, so I will follow up later once that has been accomplished.  I mean, I could tell you now, but then I’d have to run you over with my bike.  So you’ll just have to wait.

In the meantime, I have another opportunity in the very near future to participate in another unique series of tests and, while not being directly triathlon-related (or bike for that matter), I’m sure they are guaranteed to boost my mental toughness capabilities.  After all, that’s the theme for this year, right?  Besides, I’m sure it’ll make for a great resulting story and more than enough unflattering photos; the essence of any successful blog post.

UPDATE (May 6th, 2015):  Here is the official published document to validate this study; not to mention that this actually happened at all.  Please click on the link below.

Cheung-2015-Hydration

The Big Suck: The Next Chapter

Posted: November 16, 2012 in The Plan
Tags:

I’m desperately trying to get back in some sort of regular fitness routine again, despite still not being able to run given the on-going issues with my left foot.  FML!  Regardless, the next chapter to the ‘Big Suck’ is back once more; time to put down the Ding-Dong’s and Ring-Ding’s and get my hurt on with some sort of designated Plan.

At the moment, I’m trying to take advantage of the remaining off-season “downtime” by remaining primarily focused on strength building and resisting the urge to do something stupid and end up exacerbating my injury further.  Had I known – even three months ago – that I would be so stressed about not being able to run I might have strangled myself right then and there with a bicycle chain and simply ended it all for good.  However, as it is, I’m coping as best I can so that when I do return to the usual pavement pounding program and the normal volume that I’ve grown accustomed to it won’t be quite so in vain (i.e. it won’t kill me).

In the meantime, my current weekly schedule rounding out 2012 now looks something like this:

Monday Swim / Interval Row / Yoga

The week starts out early; morning that is. I’ve enjoyed the sleep-in to be sure, but my swims need to be early – like, stupid early when it’s still dark and shitty cold out – if I’m even going to come close to spending any time with my family.  In the pool I am back to incorporating drills and kicking exercises while also getting accustomed to this whole bi-lateral breathing beast.  My Masters swim class has been moved to another facility on another day of the week and at a different time altogether so I’m not able to attend.  That means then that this guppie is all on his own now.  Therefore, I have put into effect an Action Plan already and I will work diligently on it to keep my form and ability intact.

In lieu of not running, I am rowing instead as I’ve already posted about.  As such, I’m structuring my weekly rowing sessions to mimic the typical run workouts I would be doing if/when I’m able to begin reinstating them.  This interval row session is a moderate tempo row infused with some fast, hard ‘sprints’  thrown in for good measure, similar to my run speed workouts.  I try to maintain a 2:05/500m  pace with minute intervals of 1:45/500m  every 5 minutes for 25-30 minutes in total.  Believe me; this spikes my heart rate higher than a jack rabbit on crack.

Afterwards, a nice long yoga stretch to loosen up and restore some lost flexibility, balance and core stability from being relatively inactive for two months or so.

Tuesday – Cross-fit (Strength)

Let the ass-kicking commence.  I have been joining this Cross-fit class offered through the YMCA for a few weeks now and, let me tell you, it’s hard.  It’s a combination of plyometrics, endurance building, strength conditioning, and everything else you can imagine thrown in for good measure and the instructor is absolutely ruthless.  You can see it in his eyes, he absolutely delights in making us do, like, a billion burpee’s and squats and push-ups and frog jumps and, and, and….yeah, it sucks oh so good.  For 45 minutes it’s like being a willing participant in some evil, Nazi fitness camp; definite ‘mental toughness’ conditioning for sure.  This officially compromises ‘Day One’ of my specifically designated strength building program.

WednesdayRest Day / Yoga

Rest day or a long slow stretch either at home or in a quiet corner of the gym somewhere if given the opportunity.  Ideally, I’d like to spend about 60 minutes or so focusing on flexibility and balance.  Periodically, I may initiate my Plan B by substituting Sunday’s workout instead and take my rest day on the weekend instead.

ThursdaySwim / Long Spin

Thursday is my only real difficult ‘Double-Duty’ day.  It’s back to the pool in the morning to complete my weekly 7k  distance goal.  In the New Year I’ll throw a third swim day into the mix and up the distance to 10-12k  per week. There will be more kicking, more drills, more bi-lateral bullshit and, yeah, lots of laps.

In the evening after work I have joined a 90 minute spin class hosted by the local Liberty! Bicycle shop with my triathlon group.  I’ve never participated in a spin class of this nature before but I’ve been enjoying it.  Lucille is now housed at the shop and I set her up on my trainer to spin my ass off to ‘Sufferfest’ videos lead by our instructor.  Where’s it’s fun to work out to videos of actual race clips from the Tour de France and imagine being shoulder-to-shoulder with actual professional riders – which is very cool to imagine being able break away from Andy Schleck up Mont Ventoux, or attempting to run down Taylor Phinney in the Prologue – I’m definitely capping out my exposure to spandex-clad man ass for the week.  Whatever, Lance Armstrong will be my bitch by the New Year.

FridayEasy Row / Strength

This day contains the rowing equivalent to my easy runs; just holding down 30-40 minutes on the ergometer at an easy pace (approximately 2:15/500m) for the purpose of burning as many calories as possible.

Afterwards I’m doing some specific core and weights workouts designed by Natalie, a current ‘Exercise Science for Health and Performance’  Graduate student at Niagara College.  She has outlined a challenging functional strength building plan closely resembling the one I have been following in the ‘Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Triathletes’.  I more appreciate the one-on-one communication and interaction with a live human being and keeping things dynamic beyond what I read in black and white though, so this is a very welcome opportunity.  This is ‘Day Two’ of my strength building routine.

SaturdayLong Row / Yoga

Saturday is my official LSD day equivalent to my usual weekend long run.  I’ve been increasing my distance on the ergometer by 10% each week and I am already 13k into the plan, so I project that I am well ahead of my goal to row a half marathon on Christmas morning.

Then it’s another slow, solo Hatha-style yoga session focusing on muscle recovery and breathing.  Basically, it’s an excuse to plug into song easy listening tunes and chill out on my matt, so you can expect some more ‘Yoga Music Picks’ posts in the near future as well.

SundayStrength / Easy Spin

My week ends with an easy spin (either at the gym or at home on the trainer in front of the boob tube) and ‘Day Three’ of weights, hopefully, after a nice leisurely pancake breakfast at my favorite diner.  ‘Slow and Easy’ is the overall objective of my Sundays and they will eventually transition into my Rest Day come January providing my ‘Masters Swim’ class isn’t reinstated by then.

The Big Suck Strikes Back!

Posted: July 27, 2012 in The Plan
Tags:

“Time to nut up or shut up…”

Time to nut up or shut up or, as my coach delicately puts it:

This is the period where the men are separated from the boys, where you pull up your socks, where you grin and bear it… I think you get the picture.

I am currently entering into my final period of my Ironman training, otherwise known as the ‘Preparing to Race’ period that I similarly described last year.  Of course, I’ve come to know it now by a different name:  ‘The Big Suck’  (for the last phase of ‘Suck’ click HERE).  Or, perhaps it should more aptly be known this time around as: ‘The Big Suck Strikes Back’.  After the months (and years) of training, it’s all coming down to the final month or so prior to the big event.  While Ironman Wales will be no walk through the tea garden, the next month and a half before I begin my final taper is going to suck large (hence its name).   Yes, it’s ‘maximum suckage’ to be sure.  The biggest limiting factor now is my mind in being able to push my boundaries to willfully propel my body forward…endlessly forward.  Always forward…

So without further ado, here is the final weekly schedule for my summer’s training:

Monday:  Swim / Easy Run / Yoga

This is my easy “recovery day”.  Big whoop.  Nothing has changed much here from my last schedule.  I’m still cranking out the distance each morning in the pool and working on my kicking.  In fact, I am kicking anywhere now between 800m – 1.2k  at a time in my warm-up alone before I start my main set.  I am banking on this to improve my efficiency in the water and, therefore, my overall time in it.  Already, I am feeling stronger and more efficient in the water as is evident with my time in last weekend’s Toronto Triathlon Festival.

My runs on Monday afternoon/evening are all at an easy pace just to flush out whatever stiffness and lactose sludge is still sloshing around in my legs after the weekends big training days. There is no distance or pace expectations on these runs.  Just me, some good tunes and all the positive thoughts I can muster.

I am still perfecting my yoga home practice and I now have a few convenient locations nearby in which to sneak out (time permitting) and stretch along the shore of Lake Erie.

Tuesday:  Hill, Tempo or Fartlek Run / Easy Bike

Tuesday is still a double-duty day focusing on an easy, yet semi-lengthy ride which I usually complete in the evenings and then a specific run workout in the afternoon, be it a hill, tempo or Fartlek run.  I’ve ditched the Speed workouts for the time being in order to more focus more on building over all leg strength to cope with the four rigors of the challenging Ironman Wales run course.  And, yes, I’m still breaking out the tire drag every so often as a means of accomplishing this.

Wednesday:  Swim / Tempo or Easy Run

It’s back in the pool in the morning for more laps on Wednesday as per usual, typically focusing on Musculature Endurance specific drills.  Later, it’s a 60  minute easy run with the odd tempo run through in their for good measure, depending on what kind of run workout I did the day before.

I consider Wednesday to be a fairly easy day in anticipation of the overall suckiness of the days and workouts still to come.

Thursday:  Tempo Bike / Brick Run

Thursdays – as they have been for some time – are my designated Brick days.  Usually, the bike is 90-120  minutes at pace followed by a long(ish) 60  minute run (also at pace).  However, this formula is beginning to change a bit as I’m preparing to start incorporating certain ‘Mega Days’ on the weekend that will encompass long swims, bikes and runs all in the same day to begin getting used to the consecutive distances as well as practice my race nutrition strategy that I am still experimenting with.  Yes, ‘maximum suck’ will certainly be had.

Friday:  Open Water Swim / Long Run / Yoga

“And on the fifth day the triathlons god brought forth the pain…”, or at least it currently is in my world.  My open water swimming workout at the Welland International Flatwater Center  is fun and I look forward to it, but after that it’s all bid’ness as Friday also means long run day, where time, rather than distance, is the overall focus.  These runs will span anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5  hours depending on the week.  At least once or twice in the next month these long runs will be completed on the weekend instead after a swim and bike session to simulate the wear and tear I can expect on ‘ol Thunder n’ Lightning come race day.

This is also a day to begin formalizing a successful race day fuel strategy.  Currently, I have been relying on dried dates to get me through the long runs but I will want to begin switching to and using the same nutrition plan I will use on race day.  This plan will need to take in account approximately 60-90g  of simple carbs, (at least) 1L  of water and energy drink, as well as up to 1000g  of sodium per hour.  Let me tell you, that’s a lot to remember and continuously take in when all that’s going through your head is how much this sucks and how much time you still have to go.  Now I have to also be conscientiously monitoring my body’s performance throughout and then taking in the necessary fuel in a timely fashion to be able to keep up the pace beyond the normal limits I’ve managed before.

Hopefully, providing I haven’t experienced a cardiac arrest, I’ll also have a long yoga stretch by the lake to heal my sore, aching muscles.

Saturday:  Rest Day

Considering what might be coming the next day, I plan on doing as little as possible on Saturdays.  It’s still important to me though to make sure I am doing something fun and productive with the family whether it be necessary errands, visiting with family members, garage sale-ing, or whatever.  Let me tell you, after Friday’s long run and what may be coming tomorrow, I absolutely LOVE  me my Saturdays.

Sunday:  Long Bike (or ‘Mega Day’)

Sunday is still about being long on the bike, in excess of 4-5  hours at a time (I may even Brick run afterwards for 5-10 minutes if I’m feeling really crazy).

However, the coach has now also through in the odd ‘Mega Day’  workout where I will complete three long workouts with minimal rest in between.  Either way, this is another opportunity to get used to a few things:  1) practice race day nutrition plan, 2) simulate raced day stress, 3) get used to having my ass plopped in the saddle for 5+  hours which, let me tell you, is the absolute hardest part of the long bike…never mind the fact you have to run afterwards.  My ass usually feels like a marble slab by the time I get of the bike.  These ‘Mega Days’  will compromise of approximately 8+  hours of nearly continuous perpetual motion.  Fuck me.

Also of importance on Sunday is one, titan-sized meal at the end of the day.  And I’m not talking about no salad here, no; I’m talking about steak, burgers, potatoes, what have you…and lots of it.  Heck, I might even put mashed potatoes on a burger and then place that burger beneath two juicy steaks and just eat it like a huge ass sandwich.

With only little less than one month to go before my triathlon season officially begins with the Welland Half Iron event on June 24th, I have now finally locked into my rigorous Ironman training schedule that will take me into the Big Show come September.  And, boy, is it a bitch and a half!  Yup, the winter training plan has officially been over for a while now and I’ve already amped things up drastically in the past month and a half. Already, I have set two new PB’s at the half marathon and 30k distances, so things are seemingly going well.

However, it should also now be noted that my life has evolved significantly since last year and even since the beginning of this year when I first launched into this Iron-madness; namely, I’m a family guy now and need to juggle those important responsibilities accordingly.  Where this hasn’t necessarily slowed me down any, it hasn’t been without its challenges to initiate either.  But I think I have incorporated a successful weekly plan that now enables me to balance these personal obligations with the anticipated rigors of Ironman training.

I now give you the new summer Ironman training schedule for 2012:  Revenge of the Big Suck.

Monday:  Swim / Easy Run / Yoga

Despite being a “Double Duty”  day, Monday’s are still pretty light.  I have transitioned into more of a morning person since necessity has dictated that my swims all need to be early morning workouts prior to my having to be at work (luckily, I work from home).  My morning swims are usually a little over an hour covering distances of 3  to 3.5  kilometers each depending on how many drills I decide to do.  I am primarily focused on improving my kicking lately and I am now beginning to unconsciously kick throughout my swim.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no motorboat, yet, but at least I’m kicking more unconsciously now, meaning, I don’t have to focus on it specifically as much anymore.

Later in the day, either on my lunch hour or immediately after work when, hopefully, it’s a bit cooler, I can go for a nice easy jog to explore my new surroundings here in Ridgeway and Crystal Beach.  It must be said, parts of Crystal Beach are like running through the looking glass; there’s never a dull moment in ‘Whoville’, believe me.

Lastly, as a good wind down, I’m planning on fitting a slow bendy-twisty session in the evening.  I’ve had to let my YBS membership lapse for the summer as there is simply not enough time in the day to do everything given that I’m a thirty minute drive from St. Catharines now, but that doesn’t mean I can’t continue my practice at home.  I’ve moved from my specific strength training period, so I’m more interested in slow, restorative stretching at this point.  Having said that, I might still try a few classes at the local Yoga Joy studio just for shits n’ giggles, or head out the lake for some solitary quiet time on my mat.

Tuesday:  Speed Run / Easy Bike

Officially, the ‘suck’ starts on Tuesdays with a Speed workout.  Now, it’s already documented that I enjoy running like I enjoy hot lava being poured down my pants and speed workouts are my least favorite of the bunch. After all, my body was more designed for comfort that it ever was for going fast, but, I understand the importance that speed work provides and am committing to completing at least one speed run each week.  Fortunately there is a local high school nearby with a soft running track as well as a long stretch of not-too-busy road (Thunder Bay Rd.) immediately behind my house that I can use for these sessions.  My speed workouts, including approximately 10  minutes of warm up and warm down, are about an hour in length and are extremely taxing, particularly now that the hotter, dry weather is finally here.

Afterwards, I jump on my ‘Daisy’, my road bike, for approximately two hours of riding the back country roads of Port Colborne, Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and all points in between.  It’s beautiful here, and this is my chance to simply get out and enjoy it without too much stress about distance, time or pace.  Often I bring my camera with me and use the opportunity to go exploring and snap some scenery.  Typically, these rides cover anywhere between 40-60  kilometers (give or take).

Wednesday:  Swim / Tire Drag (Hills) / Yoga

It’s back in the pool early in the morning on Wednesday’s, or once it’s a bit warmer and comfortable, I will move this workout outside to the open waters of Lake Erie (careful to avoid the pleasure cruisers, of course) or the Welland International Flat Water Center.

In the afternoon, its tire drag time!  I know, I know…say whaa?  Hey, I’m all about incorporating strange and innovative training methods into my own training plan and I’m banking that this particular workout is going to help me strengthen my legs while enabling me to deal with the hilly marathon at the end in Wales…especially, given that there is a total lack of hills on which to train in this area.  I know, I’m crazy, that’s a given already.  But I’m banking on this to work.  I started these drags at 30  minutes each and intend to amp them up each week to approximately an hour in length.  What they lack in duration, they certainly make up for in total ‘suckitude’…truuuuuuuuuuuuustme!

More yoga in the evening; hopefully, somewhere outdoors, peaceful or even just in the coolness of my basement studio.

Thursday:  Tempo Run / Tempo Ride

Thursday are ‘Go Hard or Go Home Day’  with a 60  minute tempo run in the blazing afternoon heat where I try to cover approximately 12-13  kilometers at a go, followed by a two hour tempo ride spanning 70+  kilometers on my tri-bike (Lucille) in the evening.  It’s all about finding ‘pace’ on Thursdays with no break or rest intervals, so my legs are pretty well shot or fatigued by the end of the day.

Every four weeks during my ‘Recovery Period’, I’ll inevitably join my triathlon group for their shorter interval Brick workouts in North Pelham just to be a bit more social.

Friday:  Swim / Long Run / Yoga

It’s another session in the pool in the morning working on either speed, musculature endurance or form specifically, as opposed to simply distance.

Friday is my dedicated long run day.  I’m running for endurance here, not pace specifically, so I try to be out for two plus hours as I ramp up continuously through the summer.  These sessions will inevitably begin to push the 3-4  hour duration as I prepare for my first ever attempt at the marathon distance, lending themselves to outright ‘maximum suckage’  at times.  Likewise, to really enhance the ‘suckage factor’  somewhat, periodically these long runs will be done on Sundays after my long bike rides instead.

By the end of this day, I’ll really be looking forward to that yoga warm down at the end of the day.  I can foresee lots of pigeon pose in my future.

Saturday:  Rest Day

Saturday is all about family whether it be accomplishing some forgotten errands or household tasks (like cutting the stupid lawn), or planning something fun with the girlfriend and kid.  They are both extremely supportive and understanding of all this Ironman business so I feel it’s equally important that I similarly schedule some dedicated time for them into my plan to enable me to spend some quality time doing fun stuff.  Lately, it’s all about the garage sales and trolling the area for the perfect piece of crap for our front yard garden, but I’m also game for trips to the zoo, visits to the beach or the local Splash pad, or short cycle rides along the Friendship Trail…whatever they wish, it’ll be my command.

Sunday: Long Bike (or Long Brick) / Yoga

Sunday is my dedicated long ride day of 3-4  hours plus.  This is also a highly anticipated day for me because, not only do I love cycling, but I also get to join up with members of my TryForce club and I will even lead a few of the rides myself.  Afterwards, we get together and hang out with a nice cuppa  Starbucks Joe to discuss the days ride (and each other’s training plan), but sometimes I’ll have to forgo these caffeinated soirees to complete my own long runs should my schedule call for it that week.

I’ll also try to slip in another short yoga session at home time permitting just to completely stretch out after the day’s long bike and/or run.

So it’s a new year with a completely new set of goals and with it, a brand new training season.  And you know what that means:  more Suck.  It’s true, the overall level of ‘Suckitude’ is about to amplify significantly given the task at hand come September.   Yup, the ‘Big Suck’  is back with a vengeance.

For the past two months I have been developing a winter training strategy with my coach that is possible to follow throughout then week given the other things I enjoy and need to accomplish, like spending time with the girlfriend and other family and friend-related shit.  Last year, being single and not specifically committed to anything or anyone in particular apart from my own selfish needs, it was definitely much easier to plan out all my weekly workouts; but now there are others to consider as well.  But this is a good thing, and it definitely doesn’t make the ultimate challenge any less possible, albeit, maybe just a little more difficult to execute perhaps.  However, I think I have finally found a good weekly formula to see me through the next few months that enables me to train properly as well as get in all the necessary mileage prior to all my 2012 events.  To this effect, I now give you ‘Maximum Suckage’:

Monday:  Yoga / Run (Speed) / Weights

Last year, the week started off in the pool.  This year, it starts off on the track (or treadmill if the weather is either too dangerous or shitty).  Part of fitness goals for 2012 (linked above) is to better my time at the half marathon (1:47:05)  and 30k (2:39:04)  distances, as well as my Half Iron time in Welland so I need to plan accordingly and make sure I’m getting some speedwork in there somewhere.  I may not have been well designed for going fast, nor am I any great Kenyan marathoner, but I’m going to give it my best in slipping under these benchmarks and that means practicing going fast.  These are not the kind of workouts that I particularly enjoy, but I am all about going hard or going home so I will suck it up and get ‘er done come Hell or high water.  Afterwards, however, I get to look forward to nice, slow weights session focusing on both my upper and lower body muscle building.  Likewise, I’m going to begin working towards that ‘Push-Up Challenge’ I started last year but never accomplished; I’m close, but still have some conditioning to do.

Furthermore, it will also be my goal to attend as many morning yoga classes as possible, Monday through Friday, in order to keep me flexible and functioning at 100% and, hopefully, injury-free.

Tuesday: Easy Run / Yoga / Bike / Swim

Tuesday is ‘Maximum Suck’ Day starting off with an easy run for 60-75  minutes in the early morning prior to getting into the yoga class to stretch out properly and recover.  I’ve never been a morning person, but it will be necessary once or twice in the week in order to accomplish my required mileage.  This run is not intended to be difficult, but rather an opportunity to simply get out and get the legs working; perhaps enjoy the quiet solitude of the dawn without having to battle traffic or navigate busy intersections, partake in some deep thoughts or just mentally doze off with some good tunes.

Later that evening, it’s on the trainer at home for either an easy, or tempo spin for up to 2-3  hours at a time.  Having already used my legs once that day, this is my equivalent of an ‘easy brick’ workout to begin getting the legs accustomed to working while slightly fatigued.  This intensity will increase significantly come springtime, but right now I’m just facilitating that ‘muscle memory’ that I will draw on later in the season.  So far, I am working through the BBC’s ‘Planet Earth’ series as well as Season One of ‘Storage Wars’ to pass the time.

Afterwards, it’s off the pool for the last workout of the day.  I am lucky to have a swim coach this year who is allowing me to join him through a series of drills and pool workouts designed to help me perfect my swim technique.  So there’s going to be lots of exhausting kick, stroke and breathing drills to finish off an already exhausting day.  On the average, we’re covering anywhere between two and three kilometers distance-wise and I receive lots of feedback to focus on during my other swim workouts.

All in all, this is a 4-5  hour training day and we’re only just getting started!  Oi vay!

Wednesday: Yoga / Run (Tempo or Hills)

Back to more running again, only this time with the focus on either tempo work or hills.  For my tempo drills I have a regular 9.5k course with minimal intersections or other reasons to slow down or stop that I can use then to gauge my progress time-wise.  On other occasions, I will partake in some challenging hill runs to build my efficiency at tackling this kind of course as, unfortunately, there are going to be lots of challenging hills in my future events – ‘Around the Bay’ and Ironman Wales specifically.  Suck it up, Buttercup!

Thursday: Swim / Yoga / Brick

It’s another long day indeed, beginning with an early morning swim workout from my all-exalted swim training bible.  The focus now will be on Endurance, Speed and Form specifically, ranging anywhere from three to four kilometers in distance.  These are not fun workouts but, rather, long and mentally tedious while doing your best to avoid the other swimmers (post to follow in the near future)  that might happen to get in the way.

In the evening, it’s into the spin studio to have my ass handed to me by ‘Coach Bill’.  Bill has been kicking my ass for the past three years since I first decided to embark on this whole triathlon crazy train.  He isn’t afraid to push me well and beyond my comfort zones for 90 minutes at a time, and since the YMCA has upgraded their spin bikes to include power meters that read your overall wattage; his Brick workouts have come to closer resemble medieval torture sessions.  He’s not trying to condition our muscular and aerobic capacities so much as he’s trying to extract information.  Regardless, this is the kind of mental toughness conditioning required to compete in triathlon and I credit Bill and these style of workouts for a significant portion of my success in previous years.

Friday: Hot Yoga / Weights

Friday is my official ‘Recovery Day’…thank Christ!  However, I don’t really have ‘Off Days’  anymore; instead, I take ‘Active Recovery Days’.  On this day I will spend some time doing some leisurely weights at the gym with a magazine before heading over to YBS for a Hot Yoga class.

Saturday:  Long Run

This is my “LSD Day”, and, No!  I’m not referring to any psychedelic Timothy Leary nonsense either; I’m referring to ‘Long Slow Distance’  (even though I attempt to do them more at pace these days).  This is true running mileage day.  I increase my mileage each week by 10%  starting with 16k  way back in December.  My usual distances now are anywhere between 18.5  and 25  kilometers, depending on the week.  Right now, these are all being conducted on fresh legs, but come springtime, I will begin running all these LSD  jaunts on fatigued legs after my long bike rides.  Goodie.

Sunday:  Masters Swim / Bike / Core / Coffee

Rounding out the week is my early morning Masters Swim class with my TryForce buddies.  It’s a 60  minute workout with on-deck Coaches putting us through our paces with carefully designed workouts to improve out form, speed and over all endurance.  There is also the opportunity here to receive an added little push from your peers swimming in the same lane as you and, although I hate getting up at 5:30am, I do enjoy this friendly camaraderie.

Afterwards, we immediately adjourn to the spin studio for a 45  minute Interval spin session to practice the swim-bike transition followed by a 20 minute core workout lead by other members of the TryForce team (yours truly included), so, it’s lots of crunches, planks and various abdominal torture routines to close out the week.  Luckily, there’s always Starbucks afterwards.

  • Twenty Valley Half Marathon (click to see stats & route)
  • Chip Time = 1:52:54 (click to see race stats)
  • Category Place = 10/21 (M 35-39)
  • Overall Place = 48/171
  • Avg. Heart Rate = 166 bpm
  • Max. Heart Rate = 175 bpm
  • Avg. Pace = 5:19 /km
  • Max. Pace = 2:56 /km
  • Calories = 2010
  • Temp = 26º C

When I originally signed up for this event I had three purposes in mind: 1) a nice pretty route through vineyards, country roads and through “secret tunnels” under the QEW, 2) an excuse to keep my running up over the summer months leading into Cancun come September, and 3) the post-race BBQ ‘Finish Line Party’ afterwards.  After all, any event naming itself the Twenty Valley Run, Wine & Dine Weekend is A-okay in my books.  What happened instead was a painful, torturously hot amble through the steep hills and dusty back roads of Jordan; an odyssey that makes Moses’ 40-year trek through the wilderness seem like a weekend in Majorca.

I have been making an effort to get accustomed to the heat but it’s been a slow-developing process.  Yesterday’s event was a unique way to celebrate my 39th birthday as well as providing me a decent opportunity to train in the heat and humidity.  Honestly, I this is any indication how my next year is going to be, well, let’s just say I’m battening down the hatches now.

I wasn’t interested in attempting any new PB’s but, rather, was more interested in testing out my hydration and fueling strategy in dealing with the heat during this first long workout since the Welland Half Iron, only three short weeks ago; you know, my basic ‘go with the flow and see how she goes’  philosophy of racing.

I was very careful in my preparation as I am learning how to do.  I made sure to hydrate well in the days leading up to the event, endured a simulation experiment in the yoga studio this past Friday night, had my customary race day bagel with peanut butter breakfast, downed one bottle of Perpetuem  exactly one hour prior to race time, so by the actual start of the event I was as prepared as I was ever going to be.  I didn’t even experience any of those pre-race butterflies I normally get, nor any anxiety whatsoever about what was in the cards for the day – go for a run with my Coach, eat some burgers, maybe enjoy a glass of complimentary wine, then go home and eat pie.  Sounds easy enough, right?

Oi vay.

From the onset, the pace started a bit fast which is normally the case for running races of this nature.  Instinctually, I latched onto the heels of my coach who was also running the race with me and just settled into the pace as I always do. I enjoy running with company from time to time and this was no different.  I almost missed our early morning runs together into the minus-zero degree weather throughout the winter while training for the ‘Around the Bay’  race…except, well, you know, it was now in the mid-20’s already by only 8:15am.  Whatever, this wasn’t going to be so bad, or so I thought for the first few kilometers anyway.

We ran together like this for approximately the first 4-5 kilometers.  The quicker pace (4:41 /km) felt pretty comfortable for the most part and I was beginning to think I was sweating this whole heat thing a little too much (pun intended).  We rounded another corner and entered into the Schenck Farms vineyards and through those ‘secret tunnels’ under the QEW that I was so interested to see.  Big whoop.

By the 6k mark, maintaining my pace was beginning to get more difficult.  Moreover, my Coach was looking like she was just starting to find her comfortable stride and, slowly, she was beginning to pull away.  ‘That’s okay’, I told myself; she likes the heat where I tend to perform better in colder temperatures.  It is interesting to note here, maybe, that the vast majority of my PB’s this year have been set in either sub-zero, or at least at uncomfortably cool and rainy conditions.  So I made peace with the fact that I was not going to be able to keep up with her that day and set about the task of settling into survival mode, anticipating another long ‘mental toughness’  training day – time to get my suffer on.

And suffer I did.  The first 10k were still respectable at a time of 49:24 but, already, the story was starting to unfold:

Lap (5k)

Total Time

Avg. Pace

1 (5k)

23:27.46

4:41 /km

2 (10k)

25:57.43

5:11 /km

3 (15k)

28:02.11

5:36 /km

4 (20k)

29:10.97

5:50 /km

 

My second 5k lap was already two and half minutes off my first 5k lap – uh-oh.  I ran through a mental checklist of what I was experiencing.  My legs felt fine, the pace was something that I should be able to sustain easily, I felt well-hydrated as I had been stopping at all the Aid Stations along the way, but my body felt like it was melting and my heart rate was soaring off the charts – it felt like all my strength and energy was being directly siphoned out of my body.  Shit.

I popped a caffeine gel at the 13k mark thinking it might provide me a much-needed zip, and it did stimulate my brain into a ‘Hey, awesome!  Let’s get going!’  kind of attitude, but my poor body was helplessly stuck in ‘Go fuck yourself’  mode.  And so it proceeded for the next 7-8 kilometers.  I even did something I have never done in a race before: I walked through the Aid Stations so as to not miss any precious opportunities to drink some water and cool myself with cold sponges.  I enjoyed the quick return pass through the tunnels as it offered a brief reprieve from the sun, but the run back through the vineyard at the 16k mark had, by this time, turned itself into a grungy dust bowl that kicked up clouds of dirt that caked the back of my throat and stuck to my sweaty skin.  Gross.

At 18k more water was being dumped over my head and down my back than actually going into my mouth as it was beginning to feel like my body was on fire.  One cute girl volunteering at an Aid Station offered to ‘help’ me by splashing a cup of water on me.  Sure, why not?  ‘Have at ‘er, kid’,  I said, and with open-arms braced for the imminent splashdown; I may as well let the kid have some fun, right?  Instead, I was greeted with what must have been an overhand pitch aimed directly at my head as the water – then cup – bounced off my forehead.  Thank you, Nolan Ryan!

Furthermore, all this water was beginning to pool in my shoes thanks to the poor choice of cotton socks I put on that morning (way to go, numb nuts).  The added rubbing and sploshing around inside my runners had led to blisters forming on the sole of my right foot.  Damn!  I never blister.

It was around this time that I decided that I had had enough. I don’t even know where I was distance-wise other than close to the end, but I decided to pick up the pace just a bit thanks to another runner whom I had been see-sawing with back and forth with over the entire course.  As the finish line came in sight, I felt no desire to sprint or finish ahead of this woman, particularly since her family were also there to cheer her in so I contented myself just to cruise in behind her just happy to be alive.

Okay, so I definitely have my work cut out for me.  I am realizing (and it pains me to say it – believe me) I need more long runs in the hot weather…period.  The hot yoga may assist me with my breathing and mental focus, but I still need to condition my body to be able to cope with the heat stress as well.  No rest for the weary I guess…

Yes, it’s going to be a hard, hot couple of months, folks.