Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Understanding Our Barriers - Separating the Mental, the Physical and the Excuses

Understanding Our Barriers:  Separating the Mental, the Physical and the Excuses
By:  PCG Associate Coach Patricia Brownell

I spent the better part of my morning today, writing a block periodization plan for one of my athletes, who is doing her first Ironman in the fall.  When an athlete’s “A race” is an Ironman, well really in general, but especially for an Ironman “A race,” a coach will start at the date of said race and work backwards to the beginning of the season when formulating a long-term plan.  As such, one of the first workouts I scheduled for my athlete was a taper ride of 50 miles @ 70-75% FTP.  As I wrote those numbers, I had to chuckle at the relativity of everything.  These days, riding 50 miles would be a pretty respectable day for myself, but I remember being that Ironman athlete PRAYING for that easy taper week where my long ride was “only” 50 miles, and my long run was “only” 13 miles.  This led to a whole lot of reflection on my first Ironman experience, etc. But I digress.

Not too long after vicariously reliving my Ironman days through my athlete’s plan, I decided I needed to take a mental break from my coaching work to go for a run.  I started running again a few weeks ago, after a long “I only want to ride my bike” hiatus.  The running comeback has been surprisingly difficult for me, but I’m making some decent progress, and forcing myself to not let running fall off my radar again.  So, I laced up my running shoes, put on my snowmobile suit (joke…kind of – it’s pretty cold here in Massachusetts today,) and headed out the door.

Around a mile into my run, out of breath and starting to “feel it,” I found myself fixating on my running watch.  It was too tight.  It was hurting my wrist.  I needed to stop and loosen it.  So, I did that, and started running again.  Not ten seconds later, I realized that I hadn’t actually loosened my watch, and I nearly stopped to loosen it again.  That’s when it hit me, that my watch wasn’t actually tight.  My mind was making that up in order to give my body an excuse to stop.  My body isn’t used to feeling the pain that running can inflict yet, and my brain wanted to help it out.  I’ve been at this place thousands of times before, and my experience knows that the uncomfortable feeling would be coming, but my body doesn’t want to push through it yet.  So, I forced my brain to ignore the silly watch thoughts and tell my body to slow down and keep running -- the pain will pass…and it did.  I survived without stopping again.  Good job brain.

Which leads me to elaborate on my brain telling my body to slow down.  I started my athletic journey as a runner.  At one point, I was a pretty fast runner.  I am not as fast as I once was, nor should I be – I haven’t run for two years and I’ve only started back up a few weeks ago.  However, my body remembers my old pacing scale, and the stubborn athlete in me wants to stick to it, but my brain is sometimes not smart enough to override muscle memory and stubbornness,  “But I used to run 13 miles at a pace much faster than this after biking 56 miles!”.  When the brain fails at realistic pacing, one may find themselves at mile one of a run, fake-loosening a watch.

Which leads me to the title of the Strava workout I posted after the run: “Too much coffee, not enough food.”  This is just dumb and nothing but an excuse.  Let me elaborate, again.  While it’s true I had too much coffee and didn’t eat enough food, those aren’t the real reasons I suffered on my run.  I suffered on my run because my brain didn’t plan well to eat enough and not drink too much coffee prior to heading out the door.  It was a prime example of poor planning.  Brain fail.

As I resumed writing my athlete’s Ironman plan, after failing so many times during such a short athletic endeavor, I reminded myself to make sure to emphasize the mental aspect of training as her season progresses.  Teaching our brains to make the right decisions, and to realize the difference between our mental and physical breakdowns, is every bit as important as training our bodies to handle a progressive workload.  A well-trained body can only succeed and make gains with a well-trained brain supporting it!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Top 10 Reasons for Mountain Biking this Winter

Top 10 Reasons for Mountain Biking this Winter 
By PCG Elite Coach David Ertl

10. It’s warmer than riding on the road – when you are in the woods, there’s little wind. You can ride in the woods when it’s as cold as 10 degrees. (See note below about how to dress for winter mountain biking.) Plus, you aren’t going as fast, so you aren’t generating as much wind chill. You’ll be amazed how much you can sweat when its below freezing. You can still get your endurance ride in even in winter. A ninety minute to two hour mountain bike ride is very possible in the dead of winter on a mountain bike. You won’t freeze, but your water bottle may!

9. You can still ride the trails when the roads are unrideable. When there’s three inches of snow on the ground and the roads are icy, you wouldn’t think of going for a road ride. However, even when there’s a few inches of snow on the ground, you can still mountain bike (assuming it’s not melting – see note below about trail conditions.)

8. Even though you may not have any mountains where you live, we certainly don’t in Iowa, you can usually find some great trails to ride. Hilly trails will work just fine, but if not, flat trails are still fun and can give you a great workout. If you don’t have any trails or single track, try to find some gravel or dirt roads to ride on. Be sure to wear bright colors as people aren’t expecting bikes on gravel roads. These trails and roads give you a nice change of scenery from your road biking.

7. It’s great cross-training. You are still riding a bike, so you are using the same muscles (legs, heart) and a few new ones, but it’s a very different sport. Be sure to have your mountain bike seat in the same position relative to the pedals as your road bike so your body doesn’t have to adapt to a different position. 6. It’s a great change of pace, especially for your mind. It’s such a different activity from grinding away the miles on the road, that you won’t even realize you are training! It’s a great change of pace for your psyche while still getting in a good workout.

5. You can commune with nature. It’s does one good to get out in nature and come in contact (sometimes literally) with the trees, squirrels, deer and birds.

4. Improve your bike handling skills. Before long, you’ll be whizzing through the trees, around tight curves, over fallen logs. The terrain and trail conditions are constantly changing, and you’ll learn to react quickly to the bike moving around unpredictably under you. Learn not to freak out when your rear tire skids out from under you. These skills will translate over to being a more competent and confident rider on the road.

3. It’s one less day you have to ride your indoor trainer!

2. It’s a blast! You’ll feel like a kid again, outside bombing around on your bike, getting dirty, playing with your friends.

1. You have this urge to go buy a new bike, but you can’t justify a new road bike yet. Well, you’ve now have nine reasons to convince your spouse (and yourself) you need a new mountain bike.

Dressing for winter mountain biking: 

Body: Wear layers of clothing. Start with a wicking undershirt that pulls sweat away from your skin. Whatever you do, don’t wear a cotton t-shirt. This will get wet and stick to your skin, then get cold and you will too. Then put on a couple more layers. I usually wear a turtle neck to keep my neck from being exposed. Top it off with a windbreaker material to keep the wind from going through you. A heavy set of tights is all you will need for your legs.

 Hands: Depending on the temperature, wear light or heavy gloves. When it’s 35 degrees or warmer, a light set of long-fingered gloves will work, not the finger-less riding gloves. When its colder, invest in a heavier set of gloves, such as the lobster claw type which keeps sets of two fingers together.

Head/ears: Just a winter headband or a light riding cap that fits over your head and ears is enough on most days. When it gets below 30 degrees, consider a balaclava which covers your entire head/face. These fit nicely under helmets.

Feet: This is what gets coldest first for me. I wear a thin set and then a heavier set of socks. When its below 35 degrees, I also put charcoal toe warmers in my shoes. These keep my toes from going numb for about 1 ½ hours. Hint – they become deactivated when wet, and your feet will sweat, so I put the plastic sandwich bags over the toes of my socks, which keeps the toe warmers drier a little longer.

Be sure to bring a heavier jacket for putting on when you get finished riding. You will be sweaty and will get cold really fast standing around.

Trail etiquette and conditions: It’s important to respect trails and not ride when the conditions are unsuitable. Mainly, this means staying off them when they are wet and muddy. Riding them when muddy leaves ruts and causes erosion. Another reminder, if you come across other riders or hikers on the mountain bike trails, yield to them. Please be courteous, slow down and let them by. The last thing we need are people complaining.

 Be sure to bring water – it’s sure to stay cold. It may even freeze.

 Also, bring a pump and spare tube.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dressing for Success in Cross-Country Skiing

Dressing for Success in Cross-Country Skiing 

Deciding what to wear for cross-country skiing has proven to be difficult for many people.  Personally, I can’t help but think of the scene from the movie Step Brothers in which Will Ferrell’s character asks his therapist, “What happens if there is inclement weather? Where do you…? What do you wear?!”  When it comes to dressing for cross-country, many people can put themselves into Will’s shoes!  

As a veteran on the US Nordic Combined National Team, I have been asked the “What should I wear?” question more than once!  The good news is that your apparel does not have to be complicated in order to find comfort.  Whether you’re racing or skiing, here are some of the basics of how to dress to avoid being too cold, or more common, too warm!

Cross-country is very much a full body endurance sport, regardless if you are skiing classic style or skate.  This means that you need both upper and lower body efficiency.  Obviously, the most difficult part is getting both systems to work together.  Doing so takes the proper technique, fitness, and equipment.  The good news is that the more you ski the better your technique gets.  This is simply because the most efficient way to ski is usually also the best technique!  So, you have no excuse not to get out and ski as much as possible.  Cross country skiing is very similar to cycling in the muscles it uses.  The two sports complement each other very well for cross training purposes.  However, the same cannot be said for the sports attire.  Sure, both cycling and cross-country athletes wear spandex, and on cold days, tights and a jacket.  However, in cycling, you’re sitting on the bike, so the individual needs to dress warmer.  Cross-country on the other hand, you’re not sitting, so the same outfit that works on the bike can be extremely warm for cross-country skiing.

So let’s get right down to it.  In any winter sport, your power lies in layering, and cross-country is no exception.  Having the ability to remove a layer while out on the trail, will keep you happy and prevent you from sweating through everything you have, only to freeze when you stop skiing.  One should also keep in mind, that you’re not downhill skiing, so that heavy super warm long underwear you’re used to wearing, is probably going to be overkill.  So, keep it light.  If conditions are cold enough to warrant long underwear, I would recommend a breathable light weight version.  L.L. Bean and CRAFT both make great base layers for Nordic skiing at an affordable price.  Another option is to wear your race suit as your base layer during training.  If that is your plan, I recommend a nice pair of wind briefs to keep your unmentionables warm.  CRAFT and SmartWool are two commonly used brands for those.  The most common mistake at this point is when an individual wears the long underwear, a race suit, plus their outer wear.   Generally, a good rule to go by is if you are wearing an outerwear pant or jacket, do not go more than 3 layers deep including your wind briefs.  The upper body is simpler, if you have a medium weight top, just use that and a jacket.  If you have a race suit, wearing a light weight base layer under that and a jacket will suffice.  The goal is to be slightly chilled as you head out on the course.  If you’re warm and comfortable before you start skiing, you’re going to be too hot.  So you should be able to ski into a comfortable warmth.

For outerwear, I highly recommend purchasing some Nordic specific pants and jacket.  They are not so different than cycling gear, however they are vented in more appropriate places, making them more breathable.  Additionally, they are made for the movement patterns of cross-country skiing, which means they’re going to have a little better range of motion and therefore increased comfort.  There is no need to spend a fortune, but if you make one purchase for clothing this would be the best place to start.

I saved the hat, gloves, and buff for last.  Hats are simple.  A light weight hat is going to be best.  Something that your head can breathe through, and nothing too warm that will cause you to sweat profusely.  Gloves on the other hand can be a little more complicated.  Warmth without the bulk is key.  A thin glove allows you to grab the poles a little better and will be far more comfortable in the pole straps.  However, if you go too thin, and you’re like me, your hands will be cold.  I recommend having two pairs of gloves if possible.  One for warmer conditions, and one for cold.  This way you have a little variety to keep your hands happy.  I also would recommend using fingered gloves instead of mittens.  Mittens make it a little harder to control your poles.  If your dead set on that style however, go with a “lobster” style glove.  This leaves the thumb free and groups your pointer finger with your middle finger, and your ring finger with your pinky, but allows the two units to move independently giving you better control on your pole grip.  Lastly, the buff is a great way to insulate your neck and keep out any unnecessary drafts.  Peaks Coaching Group’s very own Elite/Master Coach Sam Krieg makes some great ones in a variety of designs to suit your personality!

So there you have it.  Below you will find links to all the items I have mentioned.  Thanks for reading and feel free to contact me with any questions!

Base Layers:
Wind Briefs:
Smartwool’s version:
Lobster Style Glove:
Light Fingered Glove:
Race Suit:

Here are some of the common training outfits of World Cup Skiers in which you can see the variety of gloves, pants, jackets, hats and buffs!