Tuesday, September 24, 2013

USAT meets CFE

What a weekend. It felt as if I was in a whole new world. Before I even get started, I want everyone to know that the purpose of this weekend was an opportunity for me to learn and hear a different perspective. This how we grow. I want to be a very solid coach and attending this certification seminar is so that I can understand every training protocol.

So what did I do this past weekend? I attended the USAT Level one coaches certification seminar, it was quite eye opening. Eye opening in a way that I realized this is what being a coach is all about. I was listening and learning, yet deciphering what was presented to me. I knew the perspective from the top USAT level coaches would be completely different from CFE, but I don't think I was entirely ready. As a coach looking to get better, it was truly a growth experience.

It was very difficult for me to wrap my head around the programming prescription. Obviously, I teach and believe in an opposite end of the spectrum type of training. Yet at the same time, I respect the traditional way of training. It works. I get it. Kona Ironman champions and podium finishes, but does that mean it's the way to go? Does that mean all other methods are "unsafe" and won't work? Is that amount of time a necessity for ALL age group athletes?

Certainly a tough vibe. Literally sitting in a room for 2 whole days with folks who had very little exposure to CFE. It probably felt similar to what many traditional athletes feel when they sit thru one of our seminars. I was a freak. "Genetic potential" was an answer I received quite frequently in regards to my capability for completing events. I even mentioned my athletes success. I wasn't there to prove anything. Anyways, here's the scoop from me going into the traditional community and comparing it to my coaching model...

USAT (Traditional)
  • Periodization, Base/Build/Peak/Taper/Recovery 
  • Protocol 1 - 36 weeks maximum 
  • 12 - 32 Hours (Sprint to Ironman) 
  • Taper 3 weeks "Fitness Fall Off" 
  • Volume - Intensity - Skill 
  • Durability thru volume 
  • Measurements - Heart Rate/Power/RPE
  • Sport specificity 
  • Cycles and offseason 
  • No periodization 
  • 4 Strength and Conditioning, 3 - 6 Sport Specific (6 for Ironman Distance) 
  • Protocol year round  
  • 7 - 12 hours training volume 
  • Taper 5 days 
  • Skill - Intensity - Volume 
  • Durability thru strength
  • Measurements - RPE/Pace/Technique  
  • Generalist approach 
  • No cycles, but planning 
I raised questions throughout Saturday. I more wanted to be a fly on the wall and soak in the information, but asking was important. I still think my head is still spinning. The biggest questions I had was in regards to the run technique where they taught a knee drive and hip extension verses the posture, fall and pull. In addition, I questioned the strength being taken out or very little in the build period. Skill and strength were quite neglected. The idea was to focus on the mechanics where it didn't get in the way of building aerobic base. High importance on that matter. The answers I mostly got referred to the specificity of the sport and the "aerobic" conditioning needed. Obviously I was going to have these discrepancies and the question I raised next is do you think a strength and conditioning protocol athlete will ever be on the podium at Kona? The answer was "It'll never happen." 

This is where I wonder. Because what I do know is that CFE and Traditional training both work. I don't think I'll ever classify one as being "better" anymore, but just different. I have my reasons for liking CFE because it involves... 
- less time and very similar results 
- stronger athletes and faster recovery 
- training the aerobic system thru various intervals

What I also know thru testing and
experience is that...
- my athletes continue to get faster
- they stay injury free
- recovery very quick after events
- start and finish races strong
- train based in skill and strength

In my eyes, this is way safer for the "general population" and for someone wanting that incredible experience in less time training this method can get you there. I won't deny that some people just want to run. It's fun. I love it too, but not everyone has that kind of time or is that type of person. My main take away is that there's no one way for everyone.  I happen to think my coaching style and training method is a great way to train. 

CrossFit gets a bad wrap for being "unsafe," but when done right its quite effective. We truly do focus on the technique first to develop a durable athlete. Durability where are athletes are less susceptible to injury. If we can get the mechanics right and develop strong connective tissue I believe (and based off my learning) that athletes can go the distance. One of our head coaches at CFE always says, "The only distance you have to travel is between your ears." If we can be confident trust the training both ways work.

The question will continue to spin thru my head. Can an elite athlete get to Kona on a technique, strength and conditioning and interval approach? I plan to keep testing. I know I can get there. I am confident in that. I'm sure others are testing too. Jumping into triathlon just two years ago, I have seen progress and improvements at every distance. I cannot forget the fact that finish times with all our athlete in the CrossFit Hilton Head Endurance program have drop dramatically. Maybe it's because they were not running as much before? But most likely I know its because technique and strength has been developed.

All these questions will remain. A friend of mine on the Island put it best and reminded me that "no one thing is better, it just happens to be what you think." Research and evidence can point us in the right direction. Above all, I took away so much from the weekend. The mental skills and sport psychology lecture was a great perspective. I got plenty of ideas in the sport mechanics lectures as well as programming. No matter the coach or the philosophy we can always learn something. It's about being open and keeping up with the things/research around you.

I'll continue to focus my coaching at the technique level first while targeting mobility. Then we'll add some intensity to test technique and at that point let's take it out a little further by adding the volume.

Thank you for your attention. Quick announcement. New website coming soon where you can catch all the blog action and hear more about my new business www.firecoachingconsulting.com. Less than two weeks we'll be up and running!!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

the BRR Experience

208 miles, 34 and 1/2 hours, 2 vans, 12 people, ages 22 to 55, lots of almond butter, little sleep, super smelly odors, lots of smiles and priceless memories can pretty much sum up the journey from Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina known as the Blue Ridge Relay. I question did we really just do that? Was the somewhat unimaginable achieved?

Voted the second most scenic relay race in the country and with a tag line quoting "All Others Just a Warm Up" I would have to agree that the BRR lived up to it's name. I don't think we truly understood what we were getting into. Some had an idea, but for all of us the experience became a discovering journey into who we really are. When you think you can't do something and then end up pulling it off - It's a feeling that you can't recreate every day. It's something where you have your eyes set on something for so long and all along the way pushing physically, mentally and emotionally. In a word, we "Crushed" it out there. In doing so every one's life changed.

You may ask how did we change? I mean really? A life changing event are you serious dude? Well what I have to say to that is how couldn't it have been. We realized this past weekend that we weren't just running, we were proving. Proving to ourselves that we can be better. Proving that we can put ourselves in a situation where it may not go according to the plan. Proving we can look fear in the face without extreme confidence and tackle it. We proved not only that we should be more confident in the challenges we take on, but that we have eleven other people in our lives with the same mentality. The same mentality that we can use running as a tool to be better people. We can be a part of something to prove to ourselves and others that any challenge is surmountable as long as you're willing to try. We can set out with a goal and achieve it. These are the things that sum up what life is all about. Proving things to ourselves and discovering a more confident mentality with everything that we do.

Most races a person is completely on their own, but as you can tell when the gun went off Friday morning we stayed together the entire time. I noticed a difference in the other teams out there and it had to do with the level of support.  It wasn't as strong as what we had. We cheered for everyone. We pushed each other. We all yelled "Nice Job Runner" even to the other teams. It got to the point where this was just what you did every time someone came by the van.

For the first 12 legs both vans stayed together and as the hours/miles progressed this same feeling held throughout even though Van A went to get some quick omelette's after their final leg :). The coolest part is everyone thought about everyone. It was a selfless trip. There's not many of those. We had 12 people committed to the same outcome. The outcome had to do with seeing one another finish. Seeing one another compete and complete. And above all being completely proud of one another at every single moment. I told our group that this would be an uncomfortable experience even slightly miserable, but what I didn't tell them is that they would be supported, encouraged and pushed with empathy throughout the entire weekend. That was a surprise. I've said before. There's magic in misery. 

How about the highlights? We started at 6:30am on Thursday September 5th. Being the Coach, I was excited, nervous and grateful. Excited to run the most scenic mountains on the East Coast and excited to share an incredible experience. The sharing would be in the memories we would develop and for the moments that will forever canvas our minds. When you organize something like this your only hope is that everything simply goes according to plan. What I'm most grateful for is my plans had nothing to do with what happened. Expectations were blown.

How do I know my expectations were blown? Well it could have started with the whole team in smiles as  Anne Lawless went into our "Fall From the Hips" drill generating a nice lean which launched her out on the first leg of the race as if she was shooting out a Cannon. It also could have been when I was Flying down the hilly trails at a disgusting pace and at the very ended up feeling like I needed to throw my hat into Van 2. We can't forget about Mary Mezera's "Spirit Fingers" every time she heard our team cheer or the moment Sarah turned to Jen and expressed that she "Just ate the mountain goat hills for breakfast." I don't think we'll ever forget Morgan's dance moves, excessive profanity and big time courage for tackling the event with little training and last minute notice. The dude never running more  than a 5, went right ahead and busted out 17+miles with a smile. His energy was special. He was a nice addition. We also can't forget about good old David Chesworth, running off course in the middle of the night scooping up an extra 4miles. The good news is he PRd his 10K along the way. What about Suzan Weber? Coming from hardly running to PR'ing her mile under 13minutes, to managing her knee osteoarthritis and completing one of the toughest mountain goat legs with flying colors. Yeah that was special too. The last pieces no one will ever forget would have to be Kaitlen's consistent yoga poses every time she had the chance to get out of the van and Lindsay's disgusting leg completely down hill on trails winding for nearly 8miles. Somehow she did it with a smile.

Above all, the ending said it all for me. When I heard that Miki literally ran up Mount Mitchell on the second to last leg of the race, kept a smile and still came running hard into the last transition. I could tell expectations were blown. It was completed for me though when I saw "the dance" on the last leg with Team Captain Lynn. Absolutely crushing down the remaining hills, Lynn and I rolled by at sub 8min pace witnessing a special energy. After 34 1/2 hours, lots of almond butter, no sleep we saw our teammates again. It was like seeing them for the first time. As if it were the start of the race. They had energy. They had spirit.  Its pretty much indescribable. What I do know is that is was sincere. Sincere in the fact that it was over. We had completed what we thought we could not do. We had done it together. That's what makes something an experience. Experiences come down to moments that are indescribable. These moments remain in our heads. You want to know the coolest part of all? It's only a matter of time until we capture this feeling again. Each day provides us with an opportunity. Life changing experiences are there. Don't ignore them.