How to Complete a Distance Running Race with Confidence and Speed


While competing in biathlon and cross country skiing I found a distinct advantage of being able to preview the course a few days before and event. This built confidence and enabled us to develop a strategy for each section of it.  Luckily the trail running route for Seek the Peak is in my backyard (well close to it) so I can run it as often as I like. It has nearly been two years since I ran the trails from Ambleside Park to Grouse Mountain in West Vancouver so the details are a little hazy.

Getting the  Pace and Distance Training Device to Work

After two  years of letting my Garmin Forerunner 305 sit idle in a drawer because I thought it wouldn’t synchronize with my computer anymore I decided to try again. When the original error occurred even technical support personnel suggested I send it in and might be repaired or even better buy a new one. I was elated that after a few software downloads and installations it synchronized!

Being able to now use a training device with GPS (navigation), heart rate and pace makes the data geek in me grin cheek to cheek! More data to pour over.

Finding Stage 1 of Seek the Peak

Although it was a little chilly and looked like it was going to rain it was time to get running. Sunday’s goal was to navigate through the first two stages of Seek the Peak and test the pace. Stage one begins at Field F in Ambleside Park  then travels around Park Royal mall, along the Capilano River to finish under Highway 1. Easy to find.   After setting Field F as the first navigation point my feet started with a slow run.

The bridge was reached an a quick 18 minutes while l still felt fresh. This was the end of stage one and the start of stage two.At each landmark or change of direction I set running navigation points for future reference.

Getting Slightly Lost A Few Times

Stage 2 is not quite as straight forward. The first section is fairly fast with a gradual uphill. There is a sharp right turn  where the trail goes downhill past the Capilano Suspension Bridge, but close by you can also go straight or up to the left uphill. This bit is a lot of fun and the feet can move fast. Be quick and light footed around the roots.

Keep following the Capilano Pacific Trail through a series of ups and downs and bridges that are slippery when wet. The right on the Shinglebolt trail was a little confusing. While trail directions are clear the names of the trails were not always obvious.

There is signage for an observation deck with a short trail that merges with the main one. Stay left and the observation place will be on the right. Eventually Shinglebolt transitions to Coho Loop. The trail gets a bit gnarly. Look out for a metal bridge crossing directly over a big blue pipe. Cross over it to wind up towards a series of stairs, yes stairs. My confidence started to falter after the stairs. I couldn’t really remember where to go next.

Instead of keeping left along Pacific Palisades I went right instead which brought me into a big parking lot. Crossing the parking lot I  met up with the trail I should have been on. This then continued to climb up to an opening into Cleveland Park.

Grinding Out the Last Mile on Nancy Greene Way

The last mile made me nearly stop in 2010. It is a lot less exciting than the previous sections or even the next – Grouse Grind! Sing “the ants go marching one by one…” to stay motivated and keep plodding along. I kept looking down at my watch trying to keep the pace under 10:00 min/mile instead it averaged 13:27 min/mile at 172 bpm.

Finishing Stages 1 and 2

Maintaining a  consistent pace is more challenging when you don’t know where you are going. The lack of confidence slows you down. The data has some blank spots where the timer was stopped while I entered navigation points.  It looks like it took around 1:08 hour for 5.28 miles. Next time I run this path I will be able move more quickly and more easily monitor my energy output.

Legs felt fresh, energized and even and a spring in their step for the first 30-45 minutes. A good sign since the previous longest run was for the just over an hour on flat treadmill! However, the last 20 minutes my thighs started to burn and they lacked power to push off up Nancy Greene.  Time to do longer tempo intervals and more hills.

Click to see the full training session.

Run with Confidence and Speed

Running route before a running race increases confidence and pace on race day. It will be easier to find your way with hundreds if not thousands of people as well as course markers on event day. You will run faster and know how much to push your speed to finish with nothing left in the tank.

Learning How to Run Again with Neurokinetic Therapy

Part of my professional development  is attending several continuing education sessions each year. Both the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s  (NSCA) Provincial Clinic and Neurokinetic Therapy (NKT) Level 1 were recently held in Metro Vancouver.  My mind tends to run into overdrive after these workshops trying to figure out how to improve my client’s performance as well as my own.

In the last the 30 years I have participated in several sports including biathlon and cross country skiing, which I excelled at.  I have also completed a couple of half-marathons, one full-marathon and three distance mountain running courses. During that time I had a few injuries and previous to that two fairly serious surgeries; most recently an odd ankle left sprain. At the NKT Level 1 course I discovered how these injuries affect how I move as well as how my body has probably compensated all these years. Having other practitioners do a full-body muscle testing and resetting using Neurokinetic Therapy lead to several revelations.

Injury and Surgery History

  • 1976 and  ~1980 right abdominal surgery
  • ~1982  head injury – not sure about concussion
  • 1990 – 1999 right patella femoral syndrome
  • 1992  – right tibial fracture from cross country skiing
  • 1998 – right hamstring strain
  • 2002 – possible concussion
  • 2005 – right hip pain prevented me from running for several months
  • 2012 – left inversion ankle sprain, minor mva as driver, left dorsi flexion sprain

Neurokinetic Therapy Discoveries

  • 10 different muscles compensating for left psoas (important  for creating stability during walking and running; attached to the diaphragm which is used for stability and breathing)
  • weak distal fibers of left and right hamstrings
  • left and right quadratus lumborum inhibited – right was due to scars (important for side to side stability during single leg stance)
  • right psoas inhibited by right quadratus lumborum which tilted my right pelvis forward
  • right tibia lateral rotation – foot turned out due to facilitated lateral gastrocs (calf) and inhibited medial hamstrings
  • obturators facilitated (creating a hip jam) and inhibiting rectus femoris (quadriceps that crosses the hip and knee)
  • occipitals facilitated and inhibiting deep neck flexors
  • pectoralis minor both sides – doing a lot of work, including preventing same side rotation (spring energy storage and release during running)

The nice thing is that the human brain and nervous system are very plastic, which means they can change and mold easily to new inputs. These systems change faster than ligament, muscle and tendon, however propioceptive nerves run through all of the above including scars.

Our bodies adapt to get the job done. The motor control center governs how we move. Trauma to the body such as surgeries and injuries change our movement patterns on subtle levels that to most people are imperceptible unless we are highly in tune.

During the last two weeks my only training has been specific self-myofascial releases and immediate strengthening exercises related to retraining my body to use specific muscles as they should be along with relatively easy 30 min runs at zero percent grade on a treadmill.

Missing the opening of the Grouse Grind a week ago because I was out of town made me very eager to try the Grouse Grind on Friday.

Learning to Run By Feeling

Although the motor control center is adaptable it needs a lot of  repeated input to create ingrain a pattern so that it feels normal and become subconscious. Have you watched a child learn to walk? How many trials does it take? Do you still think before you start to walk? The pattern is now subconscious.

Focus was placed mainly on my right side because it seemed to have the most challenges. By opening up the joint capsule  I feel  there is significantly more mobility in my hips than before.   At the NSCA clinic Dr. Mike Young, CSCS, PhD, Fitness Coach of the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps delineated that speed and power is a function of intramuscular co-ordination while Dr. Keith Loshe of UBC pointed out that for learning to happen performance will initially decrease.

Each spring I look forward to trail running on the North Shore and challenging myself with the Grouse Grind – nature’s stair climber of 2.9 km with 2800 feet elevation gain. Average time to complete is  an hour and half and recommendation is two hours for a very novice hiker; my best last year was 35:32 minutes.

 Learning how to move my body differently meant I anticipated an initial decrease in performance even though the Grouse Grind and I have met 150 times due to reduced intramuscular co-ordination. The first few steps were a bit hesitant because I wasn’t sure how to  move my new body uphill fast.

The terrain starts out on a gradual incline during which it is possible to jog or run, however it quickly becomes steeper with larger steps and rocky terrain to overcome. Movement should feel light, effortless and joyful; this how my hips now feel. I could easily bound up a two to three stairs at a time, however my cardiovascular system just wasn’t able to keep-up.

As the climb continued I was concerned about more extreme ranges of dorsiflexion and how my left ankle would hold up.  It wasn’t until after the 3/4 mark that I dropped my heel and felt a bit of twinge. The only thing to do is continue on and make sure to always keep on the balls of my feet. There were two other times when I went into full dorsiflexion; one of those times  took my breath away – ouch!

Near the top my left ankle felt like it could go into spasm if I went any faster. Calf spasms are very painful and debilitating, something I really didn’t want. The opening Grind of the season is always completed by feel and meant to set a baseline for the rest of the season, so time was not a factor, only feeling.

Cresting the top my lungs were burning and left calf and ankle were aching. For those unfamiliar the Grind participants can purchase a Grind Timer card to swipe at the top of the bottom to record their times. The clock stopped at 45:24 with an average heart rate of 179 bpm.

Lessons From the First Grind

This was a good season opening time for me which I am happy with.  There were several key learning opportunities for me:

  1. Left calf and ankle to need more mobility and conditioning
  2. Need greater lateral stability
  3. Need to improve power-endurance at anaerobic threshold

For learning to occur a skill has to be repeated fairly soon after. The second Grind two days later was a little different. I incorporated more lateral line stability by releasing upper upper trapezius, scalenes and sternocleidomastoid (side of the neck to shoulder responsible for left to right rotation) and doing some side-bends to strength quadratus lumborum for side to side stability. Just before starting the Grind I released my left lower leg to reduce the chances of a cramp and provide me with more dorsiflexion capability.

There were no problems with dorsiflexion on the way up, though I was still cautious and aware of making sure to step properly. During the last quarter there was slight feeling of possible left calfcramping. During the way up I even tried to keep my heart rate down, but it did creep up to 184 bmp to pass the long-weekend.

With a time of 43:53 I am definitely on track to my goal of a sub 35 min this year. However, I am still trying to figure out why my left calf is taking most of the load. Perhaps it is weakness in the hamstrings?

Now it is time to add more specific strength training two days a week to support my efforts on the Grind. I am even considering  entering Seek Peak trail run again – 16 km from Ambleside Beach up to the top of Grouse Mountain.

Read more about the Grouse Grind

Read more about Neurokinetic Therapy

Grinding Out Climb Number 50 in the Snow

Friday was the end of the Grouse Grind season for 2011. The reason isn’t because the trail is closed, though with the snow starting to stick at the ¾ marker I am sure it won’t be too long until it is.. My second climb today was the last one because I am at ease that all my season goals have been accomplished.

That morning I woke up knowing it would probably be cold, wet and snowing up on the mountain, but with the drive to complete two more goals: 10 sub 40 min and 50 Grinds for the season; this meant at least two more ascents. Staying active outdoors in the late fall and winter requires wearing the appropriate layers and planning to have dry clothes close by for when you finish. I decided it was time to pull out the long-underwear for the slightly cool damp weather to avoid hyperthermia and keep my torso warm. When we are cold our blood goes to our vital organs to keep them warm, so by keeping my torso means that some of this blood could go to my arms and legs.

Number 49

It was very close to toque weather, but now quite. Instead what it is raining I need a peaked hat to stay prevent heat from escaping and water from dripping in my eyes. The magic gloves are great during this time of year, so with ball cap, gloves, long underwear, shorts and double knotted shoes it was time get my 49th Grind underway.

The canopy provides some shelter so the trail wasn’t too slippery at the start. Since, I had heard that there was black ice near the top on Thursday I knew that I had to drive my legs a little faster for the first three quarters to reach the top in less than 40 minutes. The first quarter was a little slow, 8:40 min, probably due to my body’s requirement for a longer warm-up. My next pace evaluation point was the old blue quarter sign – 11:56 min, just under my goal of twelve minutes. So, far I was definitely on pace. Finishing the second quarter in 9:18, just over my personal best gave me even more encouragement. I passed a couple of multi-grinders who mentioned that I was on target for sub 40 min. Little did they I know I might finish in 38 minutes.

As I climbed the rain started to fall a little harder through the trees. At the third quarter red sign, I might be on pace for a new personal best. There was more foot traffic after this point which made it difficult to navigate at a fast tempo. There was also some snow on the ground making each footstep a little more tenuous. When I started I set my timer to beep every 9:45 minutes, as I reached the last rocky section it had not chimed yet so I knew that 39 minutes was possible. Scrabbling over the top, I hit my watch lap button, 38:35 min! A great time, but not quite what I had hoped for. Still this was one more goal reached: 10 under 40 minutes!

Number 50

Do I go home and come back on Saturday? Or head-back out for a second time? I did bring extra clothes and an additional hat. My shirt wasn’t too wet, so all I changed was my hat. It was raining harder at the beginning this time. Overcoming the cold rain in Vancouver is a matter of mental attitude. I told myself it was sunny and 30c outside. Two objectives were set for this climb. Goals for this last ascent were first to finish and secondly to finish in less than 42:30 min which was my season average. Somewhere along the trail it started to hail. It isn’t very often that people pass me, however I could start to hear foot steps behind me after the second quarter started. Knowing that at some point he would pass me I kept to the right as best I could, but I wasn’t about to slow down at all.

He kept pace with me for quite awhile, but never passed me; there were plenty of opportunities. It almost started to get annoying, but it was admirable that he was trying to keep pace. I have always said, “run your own race and the rest will follow.” Steve Jobs was right to be a leader and innovator in business you will always need to think ahead of what is next and there will always be followers and imitators. As the fourth quarter started more space started to open up between us; it was then that I took charge and sped up.

One of my favourite parts is the last set of stairs where you can more gradually by steering left or steeper by heading right to get to the rocks. The rocky area is my favourite because represents the final push of the Grind before the trees line clears. Looking up I saw the familiar gait and umbrella of Terry, a Grind legend. The snow started to fall heavily, coating the ground with the first white blanket of the winter season. The trail was slippery, so each step had to be taken more carefully. A wonderful white world revealed itself as the trees line cleared. This climbs time was 42:07 making this season’s average 42:24; it felt like a comfortable and rewarding end to a season full of accomplishments.

I had the pleasure of coming down on the tram with Frédérique and Jim who were just one climb away from finishing 150 and 300 ascents for the season respectively (they finished their 5th Grind of the day and reached their goals later that day). Congratulations to everyone who at least completed the Grind even once.

As an entrepreneur being physically active outdoors is important to me because I am able to reconnect with the earth, be within my own thoughts and release most of the negative stress that accumulates during the week. Accomplishing each Grind goal this season builds confidence within me that I am able to transfer into my business.

Another aspect of the Grind that are powerful to me the bonds that are formed between those of us who are part of the Multi-Grind Club. There are people who have done some amazing things who continue to inspire me to challenge myself further. If you are ever to improve in business surround yourself with those who are successful and who push you to new heights.

With the snow falling I am looking forward to snowshoeing and trying the Snowshoe Grind at Grouse.

BMO Grouse Grind Mountain Run Experience

October 1st – North Vancouver Saturday was the 21st BMO Grouse Grind Mountain Run. Again it was overcast, a little foggy and looked like it was going to rain. Yes, this is an organized timed run up the Grouse Grind (some would think this is crazy).

Racing this trail is very different than using the timer card because you are running with a larger group which is about your own pace rather than when you are on your own, setting your pace and passing whomever is on the trail. I was in Wave 3, just behind the Elite Men and Women.

This was my third year, but first season that I have really connected with a group of fanatical multi-grinders. Our group regularly completes more than one climb per day; some have even done more than five and few more than 10. We are supportive fans who celebrate each other’s accomplishments while motivating each other to challenges ourselves even more.

Several of us competed in this year’s event. We all gathered before the race to encourage and cheer each other on. This year was extra special because I was paying tribute to a client who usually participated, but had passed away. Her mother Mavis, called me a couple of days earlier just to see if I would be there.

Since I wasn’t able to go up the day before I had to line up at pre-registration to get my race package, including my bib and chip timer. After all the years of competing, I am not shy about taking my warm-ups off in public. There were a few concerned looks as I sat outside of Starbucks with my track pants around my knees while pinning bib 3-131 to my shorts. My next step was to down a couple of gels and finish my water before placing my bag in the bag-check before 9:30 AM.

I found Mavis standing outside of the warm-up area. Giving her a big hug I asked her asked how she was doing. We reminisced while she showed me photos of her daughter. She wished me luck and said that she would be on at the top. To space runners out there are several waves which go off in 1 minute intervals.

There is a lot more strategy in this event than doing it on your own. Scurrying my way around the crowd gathered behind the starting shoot I found my way near the left-hand front edge of my group. With new wider start of Grind there isn’t as much of a slow down or jostling to get through the gate. It is really up to you to find your own path around people while staying on the trail. There are also new red painted ¼ markers along the way which I use as my pace markers.

Everyone is in a fairly tight group for most of the first quarter, so you expend a fair amount of energy trying figure out when is the right opportunity to pass someone or instead hang back. I really don’t like cutting people off, but with racers literally breathing down your neck there is a certain amount stress that goes with this event. At the first quarter I was slower than my season’s best for that piece of trail, probably due to the traffic and my decision to hold-back a little.

During the second quarter there was plenty of back and forth going, but also at one point someone asked me to “hold my line,” so I did expecting them to pass. I think I even slowed down, but they didn’t pass me. If your intent is to pass, then go by quickly and strongly otherwise I will find any means I need to get up the mountain and run my own race.

My next pacing mark is stony corner that has a waterfall by it. Looking my heart rate which was 181 bpm my time at this spot wasn’t where it should be if I was going to finish in less than 40 minutes. Somewhere during the third quarter I felt my right buttocks and hamstrings pull a little, not good. Survival at this point was most important so was keeping a steady pace. It seems as though when I am pushing past my lactate threshold I end up with a bit of gas in my stomach which prevents from going faster.

By the third quarter everyone is spaced out a little more and your are more or less on your own. Rounding a corner you can see that I like to bound up the stairs two at a time if I can because there is so much joy in moving freely.The intensity seems to bring on a bit of stomach gas, which makes it difficult to pursue a faster pace.

The timer on my watch was set at to go off every 9:35 minutes; it beeped as I found myself on the rocks, the last part of the climb.

Now the end is not just over the rocks, but instead the rest of the race loops around to the right, then left to finish near the chalet. The transition from steep climbs to fairly flat ground is similar to that of cycling to running in a triathlon. Your legs feel like jelly as you try to figure out a new cadence and speed.

Just before the finish is a timer pad so that the announcer knows who is about to finish. It is very nice to hear my name while crossing the finish line. The timer pad beeped as my foot struck the line. Looking at the clock at my own Garmin timer – the final time was 40:49, official time was 40:45, 11th in my age group and 77th overall.

My time this year was consistent with the average of the other the years (40:40 and 40:50). The 14 of Multi-Grinders placed in the top 5 of their age group, 9 were on the podium and 5 actually won their category. We celebrated these accomplishments and those of the season with lunch at afterwards.

Experience the race first hand with this video account (not mine)

Breaking Barriers: Achieving a Sub 40 min Grouse Grind and Business Excellence

Several weeks ago I ran into someone who mentioned that my blog and advice on the Grouse Grind have been quieter this summer. So, here I am today to tell of how I broke the magical forty minute barrier on the Grouse Grind (2.9 km, 2,800 ft elevation) and how these lessons apply to business. 38:59 minutes in the 30-39 age group within the top 12% of all who use the Grind Timer. First, if you think grinding away by completing many climbs will get you results, it won’t. If you think ” if only I work harder, I will achieve my business results, ” you might, but probably only mediocre and not excellence.

To break barriers it is necessary to have unwavering commitment to building excellence working diligently and smartly. Working smartly means consistently evaluating your current environment and what you have achieved so that you can adjust your strategy as need. You also need to firmly belief that you will and know how to achieve your goals.

Over the last several weeks I have always known that I would break the 40 min barrier; there were several times when I came close. Each climb there was a plan, some days it was to push my limits, usually Fridays while other days it was to finish faster than my average of 43:30 min. On Wednesday I had a guy trying to keep up with from about the ½ way mark, there were several times when he went of course to try to pass me, however by following the path I was able to keep ahead of him. My goal for the Wednesday climb was to keep a steady pace, so when he finally did pass me just after the last staircase I didn’t flinch, I kept to my game plan.

I am committed to finishing my 100th all –time Grouse Grind at the BMO Grouse Mountain Run in October, so no matter what is happening I am determined to three climbs per week. On the other days I am in the gym completing several power lifts or plyometrics for the legs and strength lifts for the upper-body. Plyometrics and power-lifts fatigue the central nervous system (CNS) and designed to develop quickness on the trail. The power-lifts are 3-6 reps with as much force and quickness I can generate (all with excellent technique). They might feel and look slow, but because they recruit the central nervous system, I recover fairly quickly the next day without too much muscle soreness. Upper-body strength helps me climb up and over the rocky sections, especially that last bit at the top, just before the timer.

Execution follows preparation and planning. Each climb I learned a little bit more about how to my Grind barrier. I broke my each quarter into timed sections, so that I knew that when I achieve all four lap-times and few markers in between I would be beeping in at less than 40 minutes. Last night I set the intent – “Friday, I will finish under 40 minutes!” I prepared by making sure that I completed all my fascial stretches and self-myofascial releases so that my hips, legs, back and spine were aligned and feeling easy to move. I also made sure that I hydrated well with an electrolyte drink (Nuun tablets) the night before. Just before bed I checked to see that my heart monitor watch was fully charged. Yes!

An entrepreneurs need to be engaged in what they are doing. Recently I have been very excited about what is happening at Lifemoves and what is in our future. I woke up this morning very excited. To achieve excellence athletes need to find the right level of what is called arousal, too much or too little is detrimental. I had been experimenting with different gels and discovered for cost and what my body felt was right – Hammer nutrition’s are appropriate. A Cliff bar 3 hours before, 500ml of Nuun-water up to 30 min and one Hammer Espresso Gel 30 min, with 50 mg caffeine was my energy preparation.

When I arrived at the mountain, I changed, put on my heart rate monitor and made sure that my shoes were fitting snugly around my feet, but also double knotted. There is nothing worse than sliding around in your shoes during a trail run or having to break your momentum to tie up a shoe! After dropping my bag off at the back-check I headed out into the sunshine ready start my mission. A proper warm-up is essential before the Grind, because of how steep the new beginning is. The point is to raise your body temperature, stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, get more elasticity out of the fascia, elevate your heart rate to its level during the climb and mentally prepare you for the task.

After a setting my watch to 9:45 min intervals, for the quarters and a 5 minute run around the parking-lot that included heel kicks, hops, cariocas, knee-hops and tuck jumps it was time to get going. I always time myself from the start to the big warning sign. My arrival time usually tells me how I am feeling and what my likely time will be; 2:17 min, a new record. “Ok, today is the day!” I said with a big grin on my face. Keeping my focus on keeping a steady pace while periodically speeding up places where the terrain allowed I found myself at the first quarter (the painted signs) in just under 8:30 min. “Wow, another PB!”

While everyone has their own pace it is difficult sometimes not to get caught up behind someone and slow down. What you are trying to be innovative and build an excellent business sometimes you get stuck in rut behind companies doing the same as you, just OK. This was the same as the Grind, I had to keep passing people. Yet, I was having so much fun that in a slightly exasperated way I always asked them how they were doing and encouraged them to keep it up. You can still be friendly while leading the way.

Finishing the second quarter in 9:43 min was amazing. My next unofficial target is the left hand turn, just after some stairs, up some rocks and near the waterfall. To be on track I had to be there in less than 27 min. I looked at my watch which read about 26:30 min. Yes, my mind did wander to different places including work and family, however my mantra that I kept repeating was “nothing but here and now matters, keep your mind, body and legs focused on the task at hand.”

The third quarter came flying by in 9:43 min, another quarter personal best for the season. At this time I knew I was on track, but was also wary that I had at least another 11 minutes to go. There was a temptation to push myself even further, however I learned during Seek the Peak that by pushing hard when I was fatigued meant a calf-cramp, which surely would slow me down even further.

“Stick to the plan, stick the plan. Keep a steady pace. Time will take care of itself. Concern yourself with what you are doing, not how you will finish,” I repeated to myself.

Bound up the last staircase, I could feel that I was going to be under 40 minutes. However, I resisted temptation to look at my watch until the very end. I avoided the fondly remembered rock sticking out of the gravel that I so graciously tripped over a few weeks ago. Huffing and puffing I had the final timer in my sights! Beep! “What is your time?” an older gentleman asked me.

I told him as humbly as I could that I think it was under forty minutes. He replied explaining that he was now finishing in less than two hours. We all go at our pace, be proud of what you accomplished,” was my response. While still catching my breath, I walked up the stairs to the chalet to look at the timer screen. To my delightful surprise – 38:59!

This set me grinning internally and externally for the rest of the day. Each quarter was a season personal best. Remember the sum of the parts equals the whole.

What I do in business and sport is collect and analyze data. Take a look the information collected using the Garmin Forerunner 305, including heart rates, intervals, pace and GPS – click here

More info on the Grouse Grind

Banishing Depression with Energy Management

Last year I discovered that the instesinty of my depression related to my mindset and how I managed my energy. This year I am getting unstuck from letting my work get in the way of my physical training. In 2011 I am taking a very different approach to training for Seek the Peak and the Grouse Grind while maintaining a busy Kinesiology practice.

In November I really started to monitor various volumes and intensities of exercise with how tired or depressed I felt afterwards. My depression symptoms were clearly related to how much training stress, how much work stress I was under, how much exercise I did and how much I reconnected with the outdoors. In the summer I discovered trail running and this winter I am snowshoeing.

If I had not balanced the high fatigue days with proper recovery strategies including nutrition and recovery or off days my symptoms would become worse. Last year I thought depression was something “I had to live with for the rest of my life.” Not so, it can easily be managed. It is not a life-sentence; I know believe that my depression is gone. When I feel the symptoms I know it is time to down regulate my stress a variety of ways including alternate nasal breathing, Yoga, a recovery walk, nutrition, stretching, a day off, vacation, more sleep and/or the infrared sauna.

When I look at my work schedule it is clear that most Tuesdays and Thursdays are usually full 10 hour days while I have been able to carve more time on Mondays and Wednesdays. Fridays and the weekend have less going on so that it is possible to complete more fatigue inducing training on those days and have a bit more space to recover before getting back to writing, business development and spending time with family and friends.

During the week there is a lot of fluctuation in terms of demands and scheduling, so my workout times are slightly less rigid. Though, I will always find time to fit a training session in. Anything that requires more creativity or detailed work I need to do it in the morning when my mind is clear; this means a training session before lunch. Lunch is a perfectly timed hour when I can replenish my mind and body. When 1:00 PM rolls around I am ready to tackle what needs to be done. The confidence gained from completing each training session keeps me happy and energized.

These days I am focused on managing my energy by finding ways to keep it consistent and at its peak, this included getting off the stress train of caffeine. It has now been over two weeks since I quit drinking coffee. Too much stress was contributing to my depression.

Do you manage your time or your energy? Too much stress, including exercise stress combined with poor nutrtion makes depression symptoms worse. Reduce stress by being flexible with your exercise times and quantity to stay on track with your fitness goals. For example if your day went side-ways and you couldn’t go for your 45 min walk at noon, but you have time and energy for only 20 minutes in the evening go do it, because you still receive many health benefits.

Getting Unstuck from Doing Long Slow Distance to Increase VO(2max)

From the mid-1980s to the late-1990s while competing in Biathlon and Cross Country Skiing our coaches taught us that long slow distance (LSD) would improve aerobic conditioning and VO(2max), the maximum volume of oxygen our body could process. Having a high VO(2max) was supposed to be a predictor of performance. We diligently went along with this paradigm until the debate started between LSD and High Intensity Intervals (HIT). Optimum performance is achieved through a careful, scientific and artful balance between training volume and intensity.

This paradigm shifted to more specific measurements of heart rate at VO(2max) and heart rate at Lactate Balance Point (Anaerobic Threshold or LT), but what becomes more valuable goals are to 1) increase the speed at VO(2max) and LT and 2) increase how long can you maintain these paces, T(max) and T(LT).

As a busy entrepreneur and health professional I am always looking at ways to minimize the amount of training time I need, while maximizing the long term performance benefits of the training I do complete without injuring myself; the same as professional and recreational athletes.

My goal is to regain the level of fitness I had 10-15 years ago. One measure of fitness is my VO(2max) which in 1995 was 69ml/kg/min which was measured on a bike in a university laboratory. There are many inexpensive and fairly easy to execute treadmill tests to assess your level of fitness. I chose one that increases the incline and has a steady pace, it is also suitable for endurance athletes (see test). After 6.5 minutes with a speed of 7.0mph, incline of 10% and a heart rate of 188 bpm my legs couldn’t go any further. This put me at an estimated VO(2max) of 55ml/kg/min, excellent for my age group.

How do I increase that over the next 4-6 weeks? While training 15-20 years ago that would have been by using the long slow distance runs and roller-skis. In 2003, it was shown that intervals at V·VO(2max) of 60% of T(max) is more ideal for increasing VO(2max) in trained runners than 70% of T(max). In moderately trained runners a later study manipulated the interval times and intensities. The authors showed that after 10 weeks of two interval sessions at 60% of T(max) at V·VO(2max) 8 x 1:1 with two recovery runs of 60 min at 75% of V·VO(2max) was slightly better than higher velocity intervals for improving VO(2max) and V(LT), however shorter more intense intervals with 4.5 min rest were shown to be more effective at training T(max) and V·VO(2max) (Esfarjan and Laursen, 2007).

Finding V·VO(2max) There are many different ways to determine your current, go to a laboratory if you want to be precise otherwise use the assessment as tool to see change when you re-test in 6 weeks. The Runner’s Edge author Matt Fitzgerald outlines ten Pace Zones and some easy assessments to figure out what your paces should be to achieve specific physiological adaptations. Having come from the school of five heart rate zones, I was surprised to learn that are actually some grey pace zones, zones where you are not getting as much benefit as you could be. Using the above test I know that my heart rate at VO(2max) is 188 bpm. This pace is confirmed a threshold pace test I completed a couple of weeks ago based on this PZ8 or V·VO(2max) is 8.9 mph – 9.02 mph.

Finding T(max) To find T(max) a treadmill or track, find a speed that elicits your heart rate at VO(2max), for me that was 188 bpm. After a proper warm-up, generally 10 minutes easy to moderate pace, time how long you can maintain the speed, as you fatigue your heart rate will increase for the same speed.

What Intervals are Optimal? Intervals combine a work period with a rest period. Prior to this bit of research I was completing VO(2max) interval sessions of 5 x 3:00 min at V·VO(2max): 3:00 min recovery walking at 4.0mph, twice per week and increased the work duration by 15s every training session. It took me about 90s to just get my heart rate above 170 bpm.

Perhaps if the recovery speed was a bit faster time at the higher heart rates would be longer. Runner’s Edge is challenging my concept of training only with heart rates. I monitor both my pace and heart. The fitter I get, the lower my heart rate is at a given pace.

Even with all the calculations, technology, pace zone settings and planning it still important that part of your analysis is learning the art of running with feeling. I will usually adapt my training plan according to how I feel that day or even during the session, for example during this morning’s base PZ3:PZ2 run I decided to take a longer recovery between intervals at about the 30 min mark.

Adapt your training plan to how you feel that day. Only do these types of runs twice per week and include some base and recovery runs at lower intensities.

Current plan is for 16 weeks, in 4 week intervals focus to first focus on VO(2max) while increasing base endurance then to switch to more speed endurance intervals to boost V·VO(2max) and T(max) as I approach the beginning of the Grouse Grind season in June and the taper for Seek the Peak in July.


Esfarjani F, Laursen PB. Manipulating high-intensity interval training: effects on VO2max, the lactate threshold and 3000 m running performance in moderately trained males. J Sci Med Sport. 2007 Feb; 10(1):27-35. Epub 2006 Jul 2

Smith TP, Coombes JS, Gergahty, DP Optimising high-intensity treadmill training using the running speed at maximal O(2) uptake and time that this can be maintained. Eur J Appl Physiolo 2003 May: 80(3-4):337-43.

Surviving the Multi Grouse Grind: First Attempt Stopped by Emergency Response

Part I: Most of the summer was invested in moving faster up the Grouse Grind® and setting a new personal record which I achieved on September 10th. The camaraderie of the core group who up go up the Grind on a regular basis kept encouraging me to complete at least two climbs on a single day (a multi-grind), which I finally did on Sept 26th. I was foiled by emergency response two weeks earlier.

When I first heard of Apollo Ohno and a few other high performance athletes finishing the Grind up to six times in one day as part of their training, I thought it was a level of fitness I would not be able to achieve. This turned out to be false. When you complete one goal there is always something new to achieve afterwards, goals are always fleeting. With my PR set for 2010 I knew the next step (or many) was a multi-grind.

Sept 12th rolled around and the night before I was motivating myself with positive mantras, visualizations, hydration and carbohydrate loading. In the morning I woke up to the rain – not very inspiring, but part of living on the west coast. It took me until the late morning to get myself going and out the door and up to Grouse. My bag was packed with many essentials including several changes of clothes, extra shoes and cliff bars to re-fuel in-between.

Nothing was going to deter me from my multi or so I thought! After I dropped my bag at guest services and set my heart rate monitor up I proceed out the door towards the gate through the cold rain. Directly in my line of sight was a fire truck backing up near the entrance of the Grind®. “Not a good sign,” I thought as I hoped the person was going to be ok. As the sound of sirens kept coming, closer and closer and I knew someone was in trouble somewhere on the mountain.

A bit of extra motivation is needed when it is soaking wet, when each step has a puddle and when there are waterfalls coming down as you go up. Though once you are wet, you are wet and once you start moving you warm-up. The trees provide some protection as well. I hit a nice stride most of the way up averaging a heart rate of 157 beats per minute while keeping in mind the concept of a straight line. My goal was to finish each ascent in under forty five minutes.

It wasn’t until the second half when I came across an older gentlemen surrounded with paramedics and who I think were family members. A few people were giving him shelter by holding a tarp over-his head; he had a blanket wrapped around him to keep warm. As I passed cautiously I hoped he would be ok and I was thankful that he looked like he was being well taken care of.

I stopped just over the crest on the rocks to let more rescuers come down the mountain with supplies. With some of the multi-grind club encouraging me I downed a bottle of orange juice, left my bag behind guest services at the top and rushed off to the gondola so that I would stay warm.

Until this day I never truly understood what it takes to safely get someone off the mountain when they are in distress. The response was phenomenal. When I disembarked from the gondola the upper parking lot was full with emergency response vehicles and fire personnel advised us the Grind was closed.

I suddenly realized that “My bag is at the top!” with all my warm-clothes. This was time to make a quick decision. Running up the stairs I flashed my membership card and made it on the turn-around ride up. I thought about waiting around until the Grind re-opened however, I didn’t know when that would be and KNOW I have difficulty dealing with the unknown.

There are times when it things are seemingly out of your control, however how you can control how you react to the situation. That day my best option was to head home, say my prayers for the gentleman being attended to by the emergency response team and attempt my multi another week.

Read Part II Surviving the Multi Grouse Grind: Mission Accomplished

Visualizing, Planning and Taking Action to a 39:13 Grouse Grind

After last year’s personal victory Grouse Grind of 39:56 on September 10th, I decided I wanted to be in the best physical condition I have been since retiring from biathlon, and finishing the Vancouver Marathon. This year I completed the Seek the Peak race and set a new personal record on the Grind of 39:13.

Being a competitive winter athlete taught me many transferable skills, including visualization, goal setting and planning. It was a clear sense of my own talents that gave me confidence to strive for a sub 39:56 Grouse Grind by my 34th birthday.

I always believe when I accomplish something once, I am capable of doing it again, so my goal was quite reachable. Now I had to visualize it. When I broke the board at Unleash the Power Within, I wasn’t focused on the board, but instead on going beyond the board. Each time I went up the Grind, I had 38 minutes in my mind. I knew it was challenging, yet I had the talent to do this.
If you don’t act on your talent, you will never accomplish what you are able to, but before acting you need to plan. My plan was very simple: train myself to go faster by doing speed work on Wednesdays and completing high intensity intervals on the Grouse Grind on Fridays and Sundays.
These Grind sessions challenged my current fitness, both mental and physical. Technology is a powerful thing. Having my Garmin GPS and Heart Rate monitor really helped. It was my coach and motivator. Even though I set the workouts, Garmin beeped at me when I was going too slow or even too fast. I also used the software it came with to analyze each training session and adjust the following one. One thing I did figure out is that ideal conditions for me are overcast, 55F and 70% humidity.
Of course my education as well as both my professional and athletic backgrounds helped me tremendously because I have over 20 years of training experience and 10 years of helping hundreds of others reach their peak physical fitness.
As the week started, I continued to plan and visualize how I was going to prepare, how I was going to feel and how I was going to move to set a new personal record. The weather was ideal and I was excited to push hard. Each quarter was planned.
I hit the Baden Powell Trail head in a record time of 1:30, then the 1/4 marker in just under 12 minutes (amazing for me). With my heart pounding and my legs feeling great, I continued to drive to the top, all while thinking of taking the straight line and bounding with each step.
Split to the 1/2 marker was 8:03 – still on pace. Legs were burning and the pace was getting difficult to maintain. Finally I passed the 3/4 sign at 10:21, not my fastest but still pretty good. My mind was set on a 8:30 last quarter. Coming up over the top with the timer post in sight, I was feeling really fast and strong, not tired as I had in the past.
Ouch! I hit my right foot on a rock. Falling, I caught myself in a push-up position and rebounded up. As I sprinted for the timer, I said to myself, “Ouch, that is going to hurt later.” The last quarter was just off a personal record. Beep! Beep! Beeeep! 39:13! Time to celebrate and stretch.
That afternoon I went to the infrared sauna for 30 minutes to stretch and recover, followed the next day by a massage. Next is the multiples to train my aerobic endurance conditioning. This year I am not going to take 5 months off, instead I will be snowshoeing, strength training and cross country skiing so I hit the trails in better fitness and form than when I did in June of 2010.
Sunday is the 20th BMO Grouse Mountain Run – who is with me?
Detailed history of this Personal Record – click here

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Using Lactate Balance Point to Increase Speed Up Hills

Use your lactate balance points to adjust your training heart rates and speed uphill during trail runs. This takes practice, focus, discipline and dedication. The Grouse Grind is a mountain climbing trail that a lot of Vancouver residents are addicted to, myself included. I’ll describe a speed workout later on in this article.

My quest to achieve a sub-36 minute Grouse Grind is part of this year’s theme of Seeking the Peak in business and fitness. This mark would put me in the top 10 of those who complete the Grind in my age group. I believe that being physically fit and taking care of your emotional health helps you be a more effective entrepreneur. It also enables you to enjoy the fruits of your labour more easily.
Generally, the maximum speed you can go without having to slow down is your Lactate Balance Point (LBP). I had mine tested in March and again today. The battery on my Garmin ran out, so I don’t have a graph of the heart rates, but luckily Nicola had an extra monitor. The good news is that there is a 6% improvement in speed (greater than the predicted Canadian economic growth!) and my heart rates for different speeds has dropped (a good thing), some even by 15 beats per minute. The bad news is that I am not using Lactic acid as energy as well as I could be.
In the past, the aerobic capacity was the determinate of performance. Mine – measured on a bike in university – was 69ml/kg/min (excellent). Recently there is more emphasis on lactate balance point – speed before lactic acid builds in the blood stream more rapidly than it can be buffered – and this is what forces you to slow down.
How do I beat my 39:56 minute time from Sept 10th, 2009?
First, not every trail run is aimed at obtaining a Personal Best. Set a goal for each training session. Is it technique, maintaining a specific heart rate, training a specific energy system or maybe your focus on your mental attitude?
Each run I do has a purpose. Two areas that I will be working on in the next 6 weeks are: Leg-Power and Lactic Acid use. The training plan below is for developing quick uphill speed, such as when you need to pass someone. It also includes some tempo work. Later, I will write about training your ability to maximize the use of Lactic acid.
The Grind Lactate Workout focused on training my tolerance for having a large amount of lactate in my blood. My recovery during these intervals was not enough to entirely flush out the lactic acid so, near the top, I was unable to speed up during the 1 minute running sections. With a new heart rate at Lactate Balance of 160-163 bpm, down from 170 bpm, I now need to adjust my training.
Going Fast Uphill
Goal: Training the ATP- Creatine Phosphate and Fast Glycolytic system. (depleted in 30 seconds).
Warm-Up – 3:00 min – Dynamic
Start of Timer to Baden Powell Split – Fast as Can Be, You Can’t Catch Me; approx 1:45 minutes
Interval Series 1 x 4
  • 30 second Sprint
  • 2:30 minutes 150-155 bmp
  • 5:00 minutes 150-155 bmp – to flush any accumulation of lactic acid and ensure quality of speed intervals.
Interval Series 2 x 4
  • 30 second Sprint
  • 2:30 minutes 155-160 bpm (slightly below lactate balance point)
Total Time – 39 minutes (minus Warm-Up)

Top of Timer
Heart rate of 165-175 bpm
*Note: these are my heart rates based on my test today. Balance point is usually at the fastest pace you can sustain for a long period of time. Each person will have their balance point at different heart rates. The 30 second sprint is as fast as you can go.
Estimated duration – 40-42 minutes. I will let you know after Friday’s ascent.
Tip: Stick to your own race, stick to the plan, evaluate the results, adjust the plan and repeat.
August 1st, I passed a colleague who encouraged me to go faster, but instead I “raced my own race” and kept with the plan which resulted in a new season best by not over-taxing myself.
Click Here to learn more about the value of Lactate Balance Point testing and check yours out in North Vancouver. Nicola has tested me twice now. It takes about 1 hour and isn’t that painful. It’s just dealing with a little pin prick to take a small blood sample and having the ability to really push yourself.
Janssen, Peter. Lactate Threshold Training; Human Kinetics, 2001. I have this book in my library and refer to it often. It goes beyond the Zone 1-5 of heart rates. Training zones are based on a percentage of your Lactate Balance Point. Great photos and explanations.
Have you had your balance point tested before? How do you monitor your training progress? Leave your comments below.