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TechnoGym at the Colorado Center

April 27th, 2012 1 comment

TechnoGymThe Colorado Center for Health and Wellness opened to the public on April 15, so this week I have been getting acquainted with my new gym. It’s been a while since I’ve been a member of a fitness center, most of my activities are outdoors and the locations are not convenient for me. But as the Colorado Center was opening near my work I figured I would give it a try. Also, with the way I was feeling in March, it was time for drastic measures.

Part of the process of joining the Colorado Center is a fitness assessment, and an orientation session. The fitness assessment tests a variety of metrics: blood pressure, pulse, cholesterol, blood sugar, body fat percentage, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and grip strength. From those measurements the center assigns a fitness plan that is accessible through the TechnoGym equipment. The concept is that trainers at the center will be able to track your progress and adjust your training plan without having to be there in person. For people who are new to the gym, or who struggle to find a fitness plan that works for them, this takes some of the guesswork out of the equation.

TechnoGym features a “keychain” that plugs into each piece of equipment to record your progress. When you first check in, the system tells you what the training plan for the day entails. The workout is selected by the trainers for you, and includes which exercise to perform, how many reps/sets to do, and the weight you should be lifting. If you make changes to the weight or number of sets/reps that information is recorded to the keychain and can be used to adjust the workout later. At the kiosks you can also view information on each of the individual exercises, including the muscle groups worked, and videos of how to correctly perform the exercise.

By far, my favorite feature of the TechnoGym equipment is the range of motion indicator. During your first two reps, each machine monitors how far you extend/contract during the exercise. It then uses an LED display to show you how far you need to be moving, as well as how quickly. This means that your speed is controlled during the whole exercise, and that you can’t count reps where you don’t perform the whole motion!

These features dovetail into the mission of the Colorado Center, which is to get people into a fitness program, develop the program for their needs, and follow up with them to ensure that working out becomes a part of their lifestyle. I hope that it helps me to add resistance training into my fitness plan so that it’s not just running and biking all the time!

Colorado Center for Health and Wellness

April 7th, 2012 1 comment
Colorado Center Lobby

Staircase Prominently Featured in the Center's Lobby

The Colorado Center for Health and Wellness represents a new concept in health care and health care research. The center is located on the University of Colorado, Denver Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, Colorado. Primarily a research facility, the center focuses on educating the community on healthy eating and activities. Preventative health maintenance is stressed, with the goal of keeping people out of the hospital rather than post-disease treatment.

This mission is evidenced throughout the construction of the building. From the expansive lobby, featuring a demonstration kitchen and Bistro Elaia, to the massive fitness center contained within, and finally the clinical and research labs, the center embodies a desire to get people interested in nutrition and exercise, and treating the physical barriers to fitness. The education programs developed by the center will be available to the public through the center’s website and the tailored fitness programs available either through the clinical facilities or through fitness center membership.

Fitness Center Weightroom

Fitness Center Equipment

The fitness center is also a paradigm shift from the standard gym membership. Membership begins with a fitness assessment, testing physical fitness, flexibility, and strength as well as metabolic measurements. From this a “prescription” training program is developed, creating a total health program for the individual. Progress can be tracked through the Technogym system, with each exercise tracked through a “keychain,” taking the guesswork out of a fitness program. Progress is followed up with subsequent assessments, keeping individuals on track and equipped to maintain the fitness gains achieved. These assessments are available to anyone, meaning that individuals need not be members of the fitness club to take advantage of the program.

For athletes looking to improve their performance, the center is also home to the Human Performance Lab run by Iñigo San Millán. Offering tests such as VO2 max, lactate threshold, and body composition via Bod Pod or DEXA Scan, the center can fine tune training and nutrition programs to optimize performance.

With so many health care programs aimed at treating people who are already unhealthy, it is refreshing to see a facility that aims to be more proactive. Equipping individuals with the tools and knowledge to create healthy lifestyles, the center will help to develop methods that bring on sustainable changes in fitness for an entire community.

Running Track

A section of the indoor track overlooking the golf course

Technogym Equipment

Technogym equipment tracks weight, reps, etc. and saves to keychain

Fitness Equipment

Cardio and flexibility equipment along the track

View From Elliptical

Treadmills and ellipticals look out onto the golf course

Over-training on no training

March 31st, 2012 1 comment

Is it possible to overtrain when you are not training at all? At what point does daily activity cross over into too much. This is something I think about due to the rigors of trying to stay in running shape while commuting by bike. On many days this means I am doing 3, hour long workouts, not including any physical tasks that I may need to perform as part of my job.

If I have to take my laptop with me, my commuter bag weighs about 20 lbs. Add to that a 14 mile ride to work, and I can end up feeling the burn just getting in in the morning. Fortunately, it’s all downhill from my house to the office. I generally try to take in a small snack when I arrive and keep hydrated all morning. By the time lunch rolls around I’m hungry, but can usually get through an hour run on the trails before I eat. If I’m still tired from the day before this run can be pretty painful. Now I’m faced with an uphill ride home with a 20 lb pack. I’m already beat down, and some days just riding the flat sections hurts. It’s at this point that I question the wisdom of this commute.

At first I was under the impression that through training the body can adapt to all stresses. But after a couple of seasons of riding/running almost every day I’m beginning to wonder if my body will not adapt to that volume of exercise. I find myself getting burnt out, dreading my evening ride. The only thing that keeps me going is knowing that’s the only way I’m getting home.

But, perhaps my body is adapting to the stress of commuting and running. Granted my speed specific running training is suffering, but potentially with the gain of overall fitness. And overall fitness is really my goal. My ride home may seem just as difficult as it was the first time I tried it, but I’m riding it a lot faster now. Perhaps there is a continual improvement with this training, but without a measure I can’t see it. I am not exhibiting any of the signs of overtraining, such as irritability or sleeplessness, I may just have forgotten what pushing myself really feels like.

I always assumed that if I worked hard enough I could reach a plateau where my activities would seem easier. I equated that with fitness. Now I think that fitness is a dynamic thing, what was easy one day may be difficult the next. In this way I may never achieve what I consider to be in shape, except by striving to improve every day. Instead of the means to an end, the end is the means.

Scott Jurek

March 30th, 2012 No comments

I was invited by Brooks to see Scott Jurek speak last night at REI in Denver. In addition to his training philosophy, Scott spoke about his ultrarunning adventures, Western States, Badwater, Hardrock, Spartathalon, and Copper Canyon. His love for the latter was evident as he showed many slides of the people and culture of that region. He disclosed that his thoughts were with his friend and guide in the Copper Canyon, Caballo Blanco, who had just been reported missing in New Mexico.

Apart from the amazing pictures from his journey, Scott had a lot of advice to offer about training. His advice in pursuing goals, while maintaining balance between training and life, was inspiring. He encouraged runners to run with and learn from other runners, volunteer with the community through races and trail work, and train with purpose and drive. My favorite quote from the event was Scott referencing the Zen saying, “When you chop wood, chop wood.” His point was to focus your attention on the task at hand, whether that is running, recovering, or living your life.

Scott also discussed some of his design efforts with Brooks, and touched on his nutritional regime. Scott is vegan, but his nutritional tips were not targeted at specific protein sources so are widely applicable. He has a book coming out this summer called “Eat and Run,” which he will be touring for, giving talks across the country. Keep an eye out for him!

Locally, the team from Brooks will be in the Denver metro area REI stores this weekend, REI Denver on Saturday and REI Boulder on Sunday, from 10-3 offering fittings and gait analysis.

Finding Confidence

June 22nd, 2011 3 comments

I am not a confident cyclist. I have been riding my road bike now for 2 years, and I still feel like everything is a new experience. I read about cycling and listen to podcasts about cycling. I read books about bike maintenance, and practice the techniques on my bike. And above all, I just keep riding. The more I ride, the more in control of my bike I feel. But generally I am riding to and from work, and I am riding alone, so I have no way of knowing what I am really capable of.

Last week I brought my bike to Boulder, planning to ride at lunch. Boulder is home to some great routes for both running and cycling, but I have always been drawn to Mt. Flagstaff as a challenge. Perhaps it is the fact that it seems so mysterious, so close to Boulder, yet so much effort separates you from the top. It was two years ago that I first tackled it on foot, running to the top and back down in a soaking downpour. I was amazed by the number of times the switchbacking road crossed the trail as I went up. “This,” I thought, “must be a blast on a bike!”

Panorama Point

View of Boulder from partway up Mt. Flagstaff

I have indicated to a few of the cyclists that I know that I wanted to try to ride Flagstaff, but in the back of my mind there was always the nagging thought, “Are you sure you are going to be able to do it?” I did not want to be holding anyone up on the mountain as they waited for me to drag my frame up the slope. If I was going to ride Flagstaff I knew I would first have to do it alone. It was with that goal in mind that I departed, unprepared and unsure, for my ride last week.

With the effort of the previous day’s ride still in my legs, I was not even half-way up Baseline before I felt out-gunned. Each pedal stroke felt like I was pulling through molasses. But when I hit Flagstaff road and the grade kicked up I stood up and started to find a rhythm. Standing on the pedals, my legs still felt fresh, and I was able to keep moving despite the steepness of the road. I made it to the first lookout point drenched in sweat and unsure if I could keep going. I had forgotten my water bottle at home, and I was starting to get thirsty. I made the decision that I would keep going, and that I could turn around if I didn’t think I could go any further, at least it was all downhill on the way back.

But after the lookout point it seemed that the grade of the road was not quite as extreme. I found I was able to grind away across the slopes and only really had to stand up when I hit the switchbacks. I reached some point of equilibrium where I knew I could continue for a long time at that effort level. Each switchback brought me closer to the top, and I became more confident that I was going to make it. It was slow going, I was in my lowest gear and each pedal stroke seemed to only move me a few feet up the road, but it was forward progress. At one point a car coming down the mountain was making a weird sound that I thought was my tire, so I stopped to check on it. When I found that the tire was fine (at least the back one was) I was cursing myself for having stopped, knowing what a pain it would be to try to get clipped back in on the upward slope. I managed that without too much difficulty though and it was not too far up the road from there that I saw the sign to Flagstaff Summit. From there it was only a quarter mile of road and I knew it was in the bag.

At the Summit

I made it to the top!

I made it to the top, under my own power, and I found some confidence along the way. If you never get in over your head, then you never really know how tall you actually stand! Little did I know the adventure that awaited me on the descent…

[UPDATE] Apparently I did not ride the “full” version of Flagstaff, as Flagstaff Road continues for several miles past the “Flagstaff Summit.” I’ll be back to try it again!

Categories: bike, Training Tags: , , ,

Unique Approach to Training

May 17th, 2011 2 comments

My current training plan due to my ongoing issues with plantar faciitis is less a plan than it is a lack of any plan. To update the PF issue: I seem to be able to minimize the pain through most of the day by stretching and using shoes with some arch support, it still hurts in the morning though but I think that will eventually go away. I am back to running full time, however, with the limitations that I not do any speedwork and I don’t do any long runs. This satisfies my need to run and workout, but doesn’t help me get any faster.

Since I do still want to make a semi-reasonable showing at the Bolder Boulder this year I decided that more time on the bike was the solution. My bike rides are usually not training rides, but commute rides. I am fortunate (unfortunate), that I live 14 miles from my work, and 600 feet higher in altitude, so the usual bike commute involves a fairly long uphill ride home at night. With the winds we have been having in Colorado lately this has become even more of a challenge.

I have decided to refer to my training plan as the “War of Attrition” plan. Most days my training looks like this: easy 50 minute ride to work, 6-8 mile run at lunchtime, pushups, all followed up by a 50-60 minute ride home uphill into a headwind. Usually my rides to work are quite pleasant, with just enough effort to have me feeling kind of spent by the time the run rolls around. The run is then performed on dead legs, my speed limited purely by the fact that I can’t go any faster. Then the ride home is a pain/slog fest in which I try to extract every last bit of energy that I have left. Most days I make it home. On some days I can actually climb the stairs to bed without feeling like I’m going to pass out. Those are the good days.

My feeling is that anything I do to totally deplete my muscles (as long as I throw in some rest/recovery days) is going to benefit me somehow in the long run. I am also benefitting by learning the limitations of my own body. Frequently I find myself at what I perceive to be the end of my reserves, and then I find I can continue despite the fatigue! The challenge is that I am finding it difficult getting enough to eat during the day. I try to have some form of protein/carbs after every workout, eating several small meals throughout the day.

I never know what will happen with my training experiments, but it’s fun to see how my body adapts to the different things I throw at it. The unique experience with this scheme is that while my muscles are constantly tired, they are almost never sore. I feel like this means I am working on their endurance rather than adding mass. The one and only test will come at the Bolder Boulder. As I don’t run with a watch anymore I have no idea how fast my training paces actually are, only their effort level. If I can hold it together enough to go under 40 in Boulder I will be happy, beating last year’s 38:43 will have to wait until next year.

The Tempo Run

April 25th, 2011 4 comments

Today I convinced myself to do a tempo workout for my run. The term tempo comes from the latin root tempus meaning “time” and o meaning “Oh my God, what are you doing to yourself!?!?!” The tempo run was a widely accepted “interrogation” technique during the dark ages, but was impractical due to the requirement that the interrogator needed to keep up with the running subject. For some exceptionally fit individuals, turn-about became fair play. This issue was largely the basis for the development of the first treadmills, whose etymology literally means “crush and grind underfoot.” These evolved into the machines we all know today, except that instead of a man with a whip making you run it’s Britney Spears blaring over gym speakers.

Running a tempo means running at a pace that is difficult, but sustainable over the long term. This means you can’t go too fast, so as to blow up and have to stop to rest every few minutes (i.e. interval training). It also means you can’t really ever hope to catch your breath, and in fact, due to the second law of thermodynamics, you will find yourself increasingly out of breath until eventually you pass out. The natural equivalent of the workout is being chased by a very hungry and ferocious beast that can’t quite outrun you, but is persistent.

On the off chance that I encounter such a beast at some point, I thought it would be prudent to practice this strategy in advance. My plan was to run an easy half mile warmup, then ramp up the pace to my perceived effort threshold. The rule is at tempo pace you should not be able to recite the pledge of allegiance without gasping for breath. This doesn’t work for me as I was born in Canada, so I chose the Canadian equivalent: the “Log Driver’s Waltz.” By the time I was “birling down, a down the white water” it was evident the pace was good.

Once a pace is established, all that remains is to try to hang on for as long as possible, or in my case 6 miles. At 2 miles, things felt pretty good. At 3 miles I began questioning my motivation, “Really, only halfway? Seems like longer.” By the time 4 miles rolled around the situation was dire and I would have been hard pressed to get through “Hello, my name is…” Fortunately at this point I remembered my mantra: “You’re not dead yet.” I was a little too close for comfort, however. I think I ran through mile 5, at least that’s what the armadillo on the tricycle told me. Finally 6 miles arrived and my celebration at having finished ensued. In my mind it was a triumphant victory dance, to others it must have resembled the writhings of a sea lion stranded in the desert sun.

With what was left of my strength I started my cooldown as the tunnel vision receded. Passersby stared at me with what I assumed at the time was awe of the feat I had just achieved. Yes, I ran a tempo run people! I did not die, witness the miracle! It was only afterward that I realized the sweat had “pooled” rather unfortunately in the crotch of my shorts and it looked like I had wet myself. I say “looked like” but in reality my recollection of mile 5 is not that great…

Categories: running, Training Tags: , ,

Running in Purgatory

April 9th, 2011 No comments

I haven’t written much about running lately because I feel like I am in the runner’s equivalent of purgatory. I am still suffering from plantar faciitis, and while I feel like I am making progress, it is just taking forever to heal (no pun intended). I have at least brought back base milage to my training, and with the stretching and cross-training I’m doing I am at least able to maintain some level of fitness without making the problem worse. Also, I have been living in my Brooks Ravenna running shoes (Disclosure: I am a member of the 2011 Brooks I.D. P.A.C.E. team and do receive product discounts on Brooks apparel). They are the only shoes that I can wear that don’t make my foot hurt, and so they are my “go-to shoe” for absolutely everything. This has been essential as I walk a lot throughout the day and before, when I was wearing my work shoes, by the end of the day my plantar fascia was very sore.

With these recovery steps I can go through most of my day, including my run, pain free. It is mostly the pain in the morning that lets me know I am still injured. Unfortunately, without being able to incorporate speedwork into my running I feel like I am running in an endless loop of base miles. As the Bolder Boulder approaches I am even more reminded of the fact that I will not be running a PR this year, for the first year since I started running it. I am doing my best to mitigate the lack of speedwork, I feel that a high cadence when I ride my bike will help with leg turnover. I know that the key to a faster pace is a quick turnover, so I’m trying to train those muscles as best I can without doing further damage. Hill running is also a no-no, which usually is a huge component of my Bolder Boulder training. My solution to this problem also involves the bike, as I think that doing fast climbs where I am out of the saddle work the correct muscles to get up hills. I’ve also started the “100 Pushups” (Amazon Link) program using the iPhone App. I think the added core and upper-body work will help me power up that last hill on Folsom.

I keep telling myself it will heal in time, but right now it is incredibly frustrating to see yet another season slipping away from me, and not being able to train to improve. I know this is a long haul process, and that my best times are still ahead of me, but for now it is frustrating to be pushing miles and not feel like I am getting anywhere. Like Sisyphus I am rolling my boulder, with no progress to show for it.

The Naked Runner

February 23rd, 2011 2 comments

Running naked generally means that you run without a watch, allowing yourself to adapt to the ebb and flow of a workout without the stress of meeting time goals. For me it has come to mean more than that as I come to learn more about how my body trains.

I am a “Type-A” personality, yet I have learned that I need outlets from that to allow myself to let go. Running was once that outlet for me. I would run as far as I felt I could and then walk whatever I couldn’t, that was as complicated as it got. Then, after a few successful races, I suddenly had speed goals, and target times in workouts. A heart rate monitor came soon after, and I was obsessed with numbers.

Recently I came to the realization that running wasn’t as much fun anymore. When I wanted to have fun I found myself turning to my bike. What did my bike have that running didn’t? The answer is numbers! I wasn’t trying to hit certain times or paces, I just went out to ride and enjoyed whatever came my way. For me with running the thrill was gone.

My injury changed all that, and now every time I get to run I appreciate it for what it is: a chance to enjoy running for running’s sake. I have had training goals scaled back, yet still am able to run fast times while still having fun. I believe that there is an opportunity to learn here that I will embrace as I start building back up to training.

The first lesson is to leave the watch at home. As they say “looking at them doesn’t change them” and that is especially true of a running workout. Knowing exactly how long it took to run a certain distance doesn’t tell you as much as what the effort level was for that workout. Time goals of “run for an hour” can be accomplished by choosing a course that is the approximate distance that could be run in that timeframe.

Lesson 2: ditch the GPS/heart rate monitor. If you are struggling to keep up a certain pace, knowing that you are falling off your target doesn’t help you at all. Instead of worrying about falling off the pace you could be rewarding yourself for maintaining a hard effort even when it’s difficult. Circumstances don’t always allow for the fastest paces and you shouldn’t have to punish yourself for running through these situations. That’s not to say that you should just run easy all the time, some workouts require a lot of focus to maintain a hard effort, but you don’t need a heart rate monitor to know what that effort is.

The third lesson is not to worry about how conditions will affect your workout. If you need to do speedwork you shouldn’t have to find a track. Hills or rolling terrain can only serve to increase the effectiveness of a workout and simulate race conditions. How many of us really do any track racing, so why would we seek to train on one? If your route is hilly run your intervals up the hills and recover on the way down. If your route is flat, run to landmarks, or even run to exertion. I have a good idea of how my body feels at the end of a good mile repeat, and I can run to that point before I start my recovery.

There are so many things in life that I can be guilty of overthinking, running shouldn’t be one of them. Interrupting the flow of a workout because we aren’t hitting time goals is frustrating and ineffective. I believe if I am training properly each workout should serve to improve my being in tune with my body, and ultimately prepare me exactly for the race effort that is ahead. Above all, every single day should be fun!

Categories: running, Training Tags: ,

How Hard Can Riding on Three Smooth Cylinders Be?

February 17th, 2011 4 comments

No humans were harmed in the making of these videos, only elbows and egos were bruised. If anyone has a weak stomach for crude physical humor they should stop reading now.

The other day I received an offer from a friend of mine (Ex-Cyclist)  to try out his “rollers” with my bike. Rollers are an interesting invention, they look very much like this:

A Torture Rack

The Rack

Which means that at some point, some intrepid soul must have reasoned “Hey, I bet I could ride a bike on that!” and history was changed forever. The idea is that there are a set of cylinders at the back of the frame that the back wheel of the bike sits in. One of these cylinders is connected to a cylinder at the front of the frame by a belt, which allows the front wheel to spin at the same speed as the back wheel. This effectively turns the device into a bicycle treadmill. The challenge of riding on rollers is that not only are you responsible for turning the pedals, but you are required to maintain balance as well.

Despite these potential pitfalls there is a scientific olive branch which says you should be okay. That is the concept of angular momentum which loosely states that “spinning wheels got to go round,” and in fact will apply a force (or torque) to counteract any motion perpendicular to the rotation of the wheel. Armed with this knowledge I had complete faith that my attempts to ride the rollers would be successful, as long as I could get the wheels moving.

What I did not understand is that while angular momentum seeks to keep you upright, there is almost no resistance to motion of the bike laterally on the rollers. What’s more is that the turning of the front wheel, which may be one’s intuition after riding on the road, does almost nothing to stop this side to side motion. The key is keeping your center of balance over one spot on the rollers, and I have found that this is most easily accomplished by intense concentration on a spot approximately 6 feet in front of the bike. This helps one to focus and relax, as a relaxed grip on the handlebars seems to work best. Overall, the feel is not all that dissimilar to riding on the road (in a very narrow lane), and it is a welcome change from being locked into a trainer in which I could very well prepare an omelet while riding without falling over.

As for the promised “physical humor,” here is your reward for reading this far. I recorded my first attempts and posted them to my youtube account. Enjoy!


First Ride on Rollers (Take 2)

Categories: bike, Training Tags: , ,