Thursday, August 4, 2016

High Volume!

High volume! No, I'm not talking about your headphones. I don't wear those when I exercise anyway. I'm talking about exercising. A lot.

A lot a lot.

I've talked plenty about motivation (and how it totally sucks) in the past. If you can get into a routine where you exercise every day (or almost every day - my friends keep insisting that you need rest days), then that's a great start. But if you want to kill a marathon, or you're really insane and want to do an Ultra or an Ironman, then you need volume.

At the bare minimum I'll exercise for at least an hour on any given day. That's my "rest day". Most weekdays I'll exercise at least 2 hours, split up before and after work. On weekends I'll go 3 or 4 hours each on Saturday and Sunday, if not more. No, don't ask me about my social life.

I lift weights. I run... just, a huge amount. In July I hit a couple of 70 mile weeks. I got over 265 miles for the whole month. I also swim (not often enough), and bicycle. That probably looks totally insane, even to folks who do exercise regularly.

Don't mind us. We're just insane.

How do I keep my body from exploding in a goopy mess? How do I keep myself from burning out? How do I stay sane? On Saturday I ran for 3 hours. I had no music, no company. Just me and the seemingly endless road. Sunday I was exhausted. I still swam for an hour, then hopped on a bike for a couple hours, then ran five miles after all that. At no point did I really feel energized. It was a slog the whole time.

I know, that doesn't sound comforting.

Since I already hinted at it above, I'll mention this first: Variety. Even if you focus primarily on one activity (I'm primarily a runner), you still gain benefits from crosstraining. Weightlifting strengthens my legs and core. Swimming and biking both increase my endurance, heart and lung strength, and all that other good stuff. Eating ice cream strengthens my.... spoon lifting muscles.

My forearm will be bulging after this!

An argument can be made that if you crosstrain too much, it takes away from your focus. Full-on triathletes, for example, have to split their time evenly between the three events. And in my case, weight lifting certainly isn't entirely compatible with running, as it adds weight to my frame that I have to lug around.

A little crosstraining won't hurt you though, and in fact will help. Plus it uses different muscles, so you can exercise more without pounding on the same muscles constantly. But the most important thing is that it helps keep you engaged.

Doing the same thing all the time is boring. And doing the same thing for a long time is exhausting! Doing three things for an hour each is mentally and physically easier than doing one thing for 3 hours straight. Of course, if you're training for a marathon, you need those long runs. But if you're just building strength or burning calories, then you can mix it up to get in the time. And of course you're not always training for a race. The off-season is a great time to try new things and keep yourself fit and energized.

How do you increase the volume without killing yourself? Gradually. You don't go from being a couch potato to a super-athlete in a week. Some folks decide that they're going to lose weight and get in shape overnight. They make the decision overnight... and then want to see results overnight. So, two days.

Look like this in 2 days or your money back!

But if you add that much exercise that soon, you'll crash - mentally and physically - very quickly. Sorry to disappoint you. If you decide to become thin and/or buff, it's going to take time. It took me 6 months to lose 50 pounds. It's taken me over 2 years - really a lifetime - to reach this volume of working out. I slowly add volume, and slowly subtract sleep. So I'm definitely excited about daylight savings time.

After doing the Tour de Keuka century ride, I couldn't imagine then immediately doing a full marathon (like in an Ironman). But before that I couldn't imagine bicycling for seven hours straight either. Before that I couldn't imagine running for three hours straight, but that's not a big deal at all anymore. There was a point in my life where even one mile was challenging.

Your body gets used to it. And more importantly your mind gets used to it. It just does.

I'm not sure how to express what that feels like. When I start a long run, I don't think of it as 20 miles (or whatever). I just think, "it's a quick run and it'll be done before I know it." A total lie that is. And after that I just pretend I'm stuck in a tunnel, and the only way to get out is to run to the opposite end. The sooner I do that, the sooner I get to rest and eat.

Food is a pretty huge motivator. If I don't exercise, I don't eat. And if for some reason I cut my workout short, I'm going to be stuck eating steamed kale. Definitely no ice cream. So, every mile is an extra half cup of sweet sweet dessert. Talk about inspiration!


Some more notes in no particular order:
  • Scheduling: When you're doing this much volume, you can't just squeeze it in whenever. You need a time when you do it, and enough time to finish. That means getting up early enough in the morning. Or making sure you've got nothing else going on that evening. Don't sabotage yourself by staying up late the night before or making big plans when you know you have to do a long workout.
  • Food! Most of my posts make me sound like a fatass. But the fact is that it's actually a struggle for me to get enough calories during the week. Whereas I used to count calories to make sure I didn't eat too much, I now have to count calories to make sure I eat enough. Sometimes that means a pint of ice cream and half a tin of nuts right before bed. I know, awful. And make sure you get enough protein!

    Cook for yourself and you can eat whatever you want!
  • 80/20 training. This is the idea of doing 80% of your exercise at low intensity, and 20% at high intensity. You can't go full throttle all the time. You'll destroy yourself. Well, I mean, some superhumans can. Definitely not me. My race pace is about 7 minute miles, but most of my runs are closer to 10 minutes. This always seems to surprise people.
  • Races. Races are awesome. It's the whole point of training this hard! But make sure to fit your race events into your plan. Don't accidentally plan an 18 mile run on the same weekend as a half marathon. Or do, and then run 5 extra miles after the race (which, really, isn't bad). And while you're scheduling your races, keep in mind your ultimate goal. For me that's qualifying for Boston at my next marathon. That's what I'm training for. Everything else is just for fun, and shouldn't effect my volume of training too much.
  • Meet equally crazy people. Whenever I lift, run, bike, swim, or whatever with someone else, I push harder, move faster, and go longer. It works!
    Crazy people make great workout buddies!
  • Going out solo? Create interesting challenges/goals for yourself! When I did my last 20 mile run, I decided to do the last 6 miles fast. The first 14 miles didn't feel slow or tedious. I was warming up for the fast finish! And I enjoyed going slowly because I knew I would have to push it hard in the last hour. It was luxurious! There's lots of possibilities besides just a fast finish. Throw in some gnarly hills! Or a few fast splits in the middle. Try a new route. Try to stick to a specific pace without using your watch. Try to beat a previous record. Make it interesting!
Ultimately, this is about changing your life. Exercise is a lifestyle, not just a hobby. If you don't have a purpose in mind for what you do, you'll fail. If you don't know why you're working out so much, you're going to hate it. You won't stick with it. Everyone wants to get into shape, but for most of them it's on the same list as winning the lottery. Just a thing that's nice but not realistic.

Anybody, anybody, can exercise. It's one of the most accessible things out there. But if you don't desire it down to the bone, you'll fail. It has to be one of the most important things in your life. If your friends say, "I guess she works out sometimes," that's not good enough. If they say, "yeah, he's an athlete," that's great! If they say, "she f@#king insane," then that's perfect.

Turn it up to eleven.

PS. It's been two months since I quit drinking. It doesn't relate much to this post, except that it's a lot easier to push my volume when I'm not hungover all the time! Running for three hours sucks when your head hurts, your body's dehydrated, and just all of you feels like poop. But anyway... Two months! Woohoo!

No booze means more ice cream!
I'm dead serious about this ice cream thing.

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