Friday, February 20, 2015

First SUP Race

I was hesitant to get into a SUP race at this point. So far I've viewed stand-up paddling as my little sacred activity in which I don't want to get wrapped up in data or feeling like I need to train for it and be on a schedule. It's not triathlon to me, it's not running. That said, I did buy a 12'6 race board so it's safe to say I wasn't totally just looking for a cruisey activity. Plus, when I go out I am, of course, trying to improve, get stronger and most the time, go fast.

In fact, one of the things I love about SUP is the way it challenges my mind and body in new ways. It's not like running where I can zone out. And not to diminish running -- it's complicated! -- but SUP is an activity that I think requires a special skill set and lots of cognitive training. It turns out I may be onto something here; take a look at the Sweat Science blog on brain plasticity in skill vs. endurance sport.  

Anyway, so when my sister proposed that we do a local SUP race a few weeks ago I initially said, "No way... Uh-uh... no thanks." But then this little SUP race -- just the 4.5-mile short course -- started sounding more and more intriguing; it would just be a cool experience. So then I said, "Sure what the hell." No expectations... Just like my first-ever running race (Lake Hodges 10k in 2007) where I had no idea what I was doing but somehow landed on the podium in 2nd.

Spoiler alert but I didn't have any such dominance in my first SUP race, haha! However, I did have just as much fun. I am so freaking glad I ended up changing my mind and doing it!

The race was in Back Bay, Newport Beach, which in itself was intersting because just across the small bay from where our SUP race started is where the Newport Beach Sprint Triathlon takes place, a race I've done and podiumed at a lot. It was weird to see that triathlon course and cyclists riding along the bike path while I was getting ready for an entirely new adventure. In all honesty, I was totally content with SUP on the agenda ;)

Let me back up.

Another reason I was hesitant to do the SUP race is because of this marathon training stuff, and I didn't want to sacrifice my long run quality for the weekend. But then I realized this marathon isn't everything. I want to have fun, and I want to keep a good balance and healthy perspective on things. So, as any crazy endurance athlete would do...

I got up super early the day of the race (a Saturday), ran 8 miles @ MAF averaging 8:30 pace, ate the largest sweet potato I've ever had in one sitting (with eggs and avo), hit up the farmers market, then hit the road for the SUP race, which had a convenient 11am start time. Not to mention the SUP race was only $25 to sign up! Man, I am liking this sup stuff even more ;)

It was also another perfect SoCal winter day -- in the high 70s/low 80s and blue sky+sunny by the time the SUP race started. In addition to my sister racing, my parents did it as well! Mom and dad... ah, my family. Too much lol!

The race was incredible. It was mixed watercraft so participants on everything from SUPs to canoes to outriggers and prone paddleboards. There were about 150 people racing the short course (there was also a long course that was 9 miles; I was tempted but it started early and I did want to do that run). We paddled 1 mile to the start line and I used that as a warmup and to practice some "race pace" speed and form. I could spot the legit SUP'ers as we headed out... damn they looked good and definitely most of them were younger than me, maybe some late teens/early 20s. Plus some dudes that were just build like rock.

It actually went by relatively fast, but don't get me wrong -- it was a nonstop grind of power, strength and intense focus for a full hour -- and, man, that was a new experience unlike any triathlon, running or cycling race I've done. It was like doing pullups for an hour. Oh ya, and I didn't fall!

Here's the play by play:

When the gun went off I had a brief moment of "that" feeling... the butterflies in the tummy and the surge of adrenaline to goooooo! But it honestly was not as intense as when doing a triathlon. From there it was 57 minutes of HARD paddling, out and back. My sister opened a gap of about 20-25yds on me until the 1/2 way turn around, at which point I caught her (my turning skills were better) and she never got me back. She's a better swimmer and really strong so it's no surprise to see her so good on the the SUP. But I couldn't let anyone in my family beat me ;)

Meanwhile the other SUP people were kicking my ass, for real. It didn't bother me... what I wanna know is how they paddle so damn well though, even the girls who are much smaller than me. Technique, I know, but I want to learn that!!

There was one chick who was sooo buff in the upper body and incredibly fit, but not disgusting buff. More like the kind of strong I dream to be. If I am guessing correctly, she and I were in the same division -- SUP 12'6 Open 20-39 Women -- and she won. I looked her up (duh) and turns out she's an Olympic medalist in sprint canoeing. She went ~43 minutes.... I went 57 minutes. In fact, the top few girls in that division all went sub 50, and sure enough they're all sponsored "elite/pro" racers.... Then there was my sister and I bringing up the rear in 6th (me) and 7th (karlee), literally the last two in our division hahahaha.

To be honest, where I finished in the rankings didn't bother me one iota. Hell, I've only ridden this new SUP board like 5 times, and when I first got it (December) I was still wobbly, slow and just trying not to fall. So to already be racing? Pretty cool indeed.

And I bet none of them ran 8 miles prior to the race ;)

And speaking of triathlon/running races vs. this SUP stuff. I really really liked how STRONG the SUP race made me feel during and after. In a triathlon normally I'm just depleted and dead by the end and falling over, but the SUP race made me feel like superwoman -- even after. Like that jacked up feeling you get when doing a gnarly strength training session.

Anyway... I don't foresee SUP racing to evolve into the way I've been about triathlon/running/cycling... but I will definitely still do these things for a fun kick in the butt and as a quest to hone in on the skill. It's a blast! Why not?!

In the meantime, I'm off to bed... I am signed up for an all-day kettlebell training course tomorrow, one of Pavel Tsatsouline's SFG classes (formerly RKC) down here in La Jolla. I'm really into Pavel and his philosophy of training right now. Brilliant.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The MAF Downhill "Test" & A Historical Lucho Blog

Somewhere between podcasting, coaching, SUPing, strength training I'm still finding the time to hit the run miles ;) And honestly loving it! It's weird to think I'm so geeked out on just running and not triathlon right now. How's it going? Well, I'm not marrying myself to the data, and half the time I still forget to put on my HRM, but if you must know I was proud of getting in a 40-mile run week a couple weeks ago. That kinda run volume is unheard of in my world (maybe a bit in 2011 and 2013 when I trained for Ironman and was getting in those long runs).

The 40-mile week also included my regular strength training, some other stuff, and, randomly, my first-ever SUP race (1 hour of paddling hard; ouch!), so needless to say I was kinda impressed that I got through all that in one piece feeling pretty darn good. Sorta... the following week I listened to my body and run mileage decreased to 28mi total (plus all my other sports; still a 12+ hr week). Generally I'm finding without trying I am getting in 10-13hr training weeks but keep in mind in that I include yoga, all strength training -- easy functional, heavy weights, or otherwise -- and SUP, which isn't always that intense. So it is light years different than a 13-hour week the way I was training back in ~2009ish (i.e. way too much intensity, way too often). Now I'm mostly MAF -- minus the occasional fartlek or apparently a SUP race (more on that soon... but for the record, I didn't break records entering this race and instead got it handed to me lol!!!).

Anyway let's get to the point of this blog: 
Downhill running MAF style and why it rocks.

If you think MAF is "boring" and slow, think again because there are plenty of ways to keep it interesting. In addition to the traditional MAF Test of 3-5 miles on a steady course (i.e. track) Maffetone is also a fan of having athletes do a MAF Downhill "Test" (or perhaps not really a test, and rather a workout with a specific downhill focus that's repeatable). It's not complicated... (although, anytime the word "test" is used all of a sudden it's this big thing lol. It's not).

MAF Downhill Test

How to do it? 
Locate your downhill section (a 1/2 to full mile is enough! Grade can be -1% to -7%). Run a few miles to warmup. Finish your warmup at the start of your downhill, reset watch or set new lap, and run downhill for a period of time at MAF. Stop watch when the section is over. Some folks will now find that it's hard to keep HR at MAF without it plummeting, and this is a great exercise as I'll lay out.

The keys to making it work:
1) it's on a repeatable section of road or trail.
2) It's an ALL-downhill grade.
3) You hold MAF HR (you gotta trust your legs and go fast!)
4) You calculate avg grade for reference. (For example your pace will be way different on -1% vs -6%)*
5) You do this relatively fresh but no need to be fully recovered.
6) After a while, repeat the workout and see how pace changes at the same HR. Easy.

*I've done a couple of these tests now; one was 1 mile of a -1.5% grade, and the other also a mile at a -6% average. My avg paces were in the 7's vs. 6's, respectively (at MAF).

Now the bigger question, why the heck do this?

WHY do this test???
(in a nutshell: to train smarter, not harder)

1) Get in "speedwork" without killing yourself. Not in the traditional sense because you're still maintaining your max aerobic heart rate, but downhill running at MAF HR can replace speedwork early in one's base building phase in terms of developing a fast leg turnover and basic speed; this pays off as the season progresses. If you are on a strict MAF plan and just run flat and slow you never have a chance to get those legs really moving fast; downhill running fixes that.

2) Develop neuromusclar fitness. This is similar to #1, but taking it a step deeper. Neuromusclar fitness is training the nerves and muscles -- the brain-to-muscle connection -- and it's one of the most powerful tools to developing specific fitness. In this case, the downhill running at MAF trains the movement pattern and skill of fast running and efficient turnover, without the cost of high intensity. The benefits are great for your races in which your body will now be familiar with this faster leg turnover and speed -- because the brain knows what it feels like to move fast and knows how to "turn on" those speedy legs!

3) Build eccentric strength. Downhill aerobic running is also GOOD stress that helps you get stronger. And it can tell us some interesting stuff about your body. For example, how sore did the initial downhill test leave an athlete? Then what about the 4th and 5th time? I bet not as sore...  Over time this downhill running at MAF can develop eccentric strength namely in the quads, and you reap the benefits in your racing! I remember several years ago getting back into trail running after some time off and the descents wrecked my legs with DOMS... but within a few workouts no residual soreness. Amazing how we can adapt.

4) Frequency. Again, since this is a low stress/good stress workout you can add downhill running at MAF often -- at least a couple times a week -- without blowing up. Heck, if you are like me and you live in a hilly area then downhill running is simply synonymous with running! That said, for the "test" portion I like to control the variables and bookmark those workouts as important data, not just a run that had descents.

5) Controlled motion. I find that fast downhill running is the BEST way for me to achieve total awareness and control of every moving part, and avoiding chaos. The proprioceptive benefits of this are endless. If truly running fast, you need a strong core, stable ankles, good footing, strong arm drive, chest up and looking ahead (not at your feet always), and the list goes on. Just great stuff. Especially on trail. Nothing like bombing down a steep trail on two feet.

6) More testable data. As long as you control the variables, you get another data point that we can re-test to evaluate aerobic fitness progression, strength, health and speed. In your re-tests you'll want to see improvements over time of course, but these could be subtle improvements, i.e. less soreness the next round even if pace stayed about the same. I love this for my athletes because there's a great conversation and analysis that comes from the progression of these specific downhill runs!


Furthermore, to quote Maffetone's Big Book of Endurance Training:

While building your aerobic base, you can help develop more leg speed without the need to train anaerobically by doing downhill workouts. I refer to them as such because I first employed them with athletes running downhill, but this workout can be used for many activities—running, biking, cross-country skiing, or skating. This workout allows you to go at a faster pace without the heart rate rising. The increased pace is accompanied by a quicker leg turnover, in the case of running.

For example, at a heart rate of 145, if you can run at a 7:45 pace on flat ground, then running down a hill at the same heart rate will force you to run much faster, perhaps at a 6:55 pace depending on the hill’s slope and distance. A cyclist may be cruising at 17 mph, and on a nice long, but moderate, downhill can average 28 mph at the same heart rate.

Using a long downhill that’s not too steep, you can train your brain to turn the legs over much more quickly than would ordinarily occur during a run on a flat course—all while staying aerobic. If you have a long steady downhill that takes you ten minutes or longer to complete, you can derive great neuromuscular benefits. It’s important to be sure the downhill is not too steep a grade, which may force a runner to overstride, putting too much mechanical stress on the feet, knees, hips, and spine. Even on the right grade, your stride length should be about the same as if you were on level ground.

If the downhill run is short, such as five minutes, you can do downhill repeats, walking or slowly running up the hill while staying aerobic to start your downhill interval again. Some treadmills can be adjusted to slant downhill, which is a nice alternative for runners.

I often suggest one or two downhill workouts per week, not on consecutive days, during the base period. Even though you’re aerobic, this workout does add more good stress to your body, and it’s best to assure recovery by not using the technique on consecutive days. When properly done, most athletes don’t feel much different from any other workout, but some may feel a slight or mild soreness in some muscles indicating the new activity. This workout need not be very long—runners can go forty-five minutes while cyclists up to an hour and a half, including warm-up and cool-down. These workouts will also help you further develop more aerobic speed.

There you have it!
 One more important thing to share:

I found this gem written by Lucho from 2011. Honestly Lucho gets MAF just as well as Maffetone himself. Trust me, I am a student of MAF Method, I've known Lucho since 2011 and Maffetone since 2013. I talk and collaborate with both these guys a lot (lucho weekly, maffetone at least 1-2x a month). You wouldn't believe their similarities, their approach/knowledge and their style -- just wow.

The weird thing is that Maffetone now has a beard, but Lucho shaved his off lol.