Thursday, November 06, 2008

The plan keeps coming up again

Date: Nov. 5 and 6
Mileage: 17.3 and 16.0
November mileage: 190.2

I feel like I have a lot going on right now. I have been putting in quite a bit of time outdoors - out of habit, out of mental necessity - but it seems like my mind is usually somewhere else. There is a little voice of reason that is starting to shout: Training! Focus! Training! It's early November. I need a plan, I really do. And yet, when I'm out on my bike, aiming for miles or speed or a few bumpy turns on the ice-crusted snow, I'll find myself gazing blankly at the horizon, legs spinning on autopilot, focus elsewhere.

By this time last year, I had a pretty good plan for Iditarod training. It centered mainly on hours of exercise and time in the saddle - valuable, but in hindsight, only a small part of what I needed to actually be ready for the race. This year, I know I need more time on my feet, more weight on my bike, more impact, more upper-body everything. And that's just the physical fitness part, which only amounts to about 20 percent of being ready. After that there are gear decisions and testing, food planning and testing, weather conditioning, sleep deprivation, bicycle maintenance practice and mental preparations. And even if I get all of that right, that only factors in to about 20 percent of my probability for success. Everything else is luck and willpower. That's why I love this race.

But yes, training is still important, and my inability to focus right now may become a concern if it lingers much longer. There remains the option of soliciting the help of a coach. For anyone who knows me, the very idea would make them laugh out loud. "But Jill," they'd say, "Coaches are for people who race, you know, more than once a year. Coaches are for people who enjoy structure and who chose activities based on fitness value, not on how many pretty pictures they can take along the way. Coaches are for people who enter races that aren't based 80 percent on luck. Coaches are for, you know, athletes. Real ones."

And yet, any coach who says he's interested in the abstract discipline of "ultra-endurance" has my attention. Would such a coach share my view that success in this arena has as much or more to do with mental landscape as it does with physical conditioning? Or would the coach defer to what may actually be more useful knowledge, encouraging me to buy a heart-rate monitor and stick to my planned 15-minute intervals even when I think the weather that day calls for six hours of long slow distance and a few dozen pretty pictures? There is a chance I would never see eye to eye with a coach, but it certainly is worth some dialog, at least.


  1. I think that when you have a good coach, they take your personality into consideration of the plan. Instead of barking and running you over with what they demand you to do.

  2. I've had both good and bad experiences with coaches. My first coach was too structured. I found one a couple years before RAAM that allowed a lot of flexibility while keeping me on an overall plan. Having a coach when I was training for RAAM was a huge help.

    I think having the right coach could take you to the next level without making it too structured. It could also make it more fun if you feel stronger and don't get injured as much.

    Although I know a lot of the theory of training, I need someone that can give me perspective. Having someone that understands you is important. If you feel tired, they need to know whether to push you or tell you to back off.

  3. Coaches have to be able to draw on the race experience. How many Iditarod former racers who coach are out there? Now, knuckle down and prepare. Stop the self pitty and doubt in your skills. Draw the line in the sand and read last years recap of the race. Embrace the feelings you had each day and learn from the result. This is the type of race, distance and conditions, where the training plan and motivation has to be from you. You a STUD now go out and train.

  4. Hey Jill,

    Sierra has had a coach here for the past couple of years, she competes in triathlons and ultras (including winter ultras) and really knows her stuff. If you are interested, shoot Sierra an e-mail.


  5. I think you should be able to train, work out hard, and still take pretty pictures. If you aren't enjoying it, it's not worth it anyway.

  6. you can get an online coach. it works pretty well.

    it seems like you are a real athlete. just a crazy one.

    i would analyze the course very carefully and know where you can and should move quickly, and anticipate where you will run into slower going. this is partly dependent on conditions of the course at the time. but then you can focus on the sections / conditions that really slow you down. you would know that if this section has these conditions, i will behave this way.

    in alpine climbing so much is knowing how to take care of yourself over several days. not getting dehydrated, getting enough salt, not losing energy while setting up your cooking and sleeping kit. efficiency. marc twight wrote a book called extreme alpinism, climbing light, fast, and HIGH. I know that you are doing something quite different, but it is worth checking out.

    i used a heart rate monitor to learn my zones, then i ditched it when i could feel what zone i was in.

    training with power is supposed to be the cats meow. power meters are expensive. but you could do benchmark tests from time to time on someone elses trainer and do specific exercises to increase your power.

    all i know is that when i start doing uphill interval training, i get stronger fast.

    knowing is half the battle...

    via con dios!

  7. I believe that you are right when you say that mental attitude has to be as important as physical conditioning, and quite frankly any coach worth his salt would have to agree, especially when you are preparing for such an endurance event. Now I'm just a lazy old welshcyclist, but I know I'd hate to have a coach telling me what to do. The thing to ask yourself is, how do you think you'd cope with orders?

  8. OMG. If *YOU* need someone to keep your butt in gear, I'm d*o*o*m*e*d. Does tapping your foot while sitting on the couch burn calories???

  9. "There is a chance I would never see eye to eye with a coach,..."

    Any coach you see 'eye to eye with' would be the wrong coach. In fact that sounds like the resume for cheer leader, not coach.

    Dr Codfish

  10. Save your money!!!! Do what you have been doing and enjoy it.

    What about Geoff? He seems to have plenty of experience that he should be more than willing to share with you.

  11. You are out there on the edge of one, endurance racing under extreme conditions, and two, potentially life threatening environment and conditions.

    There's no way that less specific training, less education, or less coaching could ever be better when entering that kind of danger.

    I told one of my friends I was going ice skating (at a rink), and he responded with, "Don't you ever do anything that isn't dangerous?" To which I said that ice skating isn't really all that dangerous ...

    Compared to even my most aggressive outings, what you do is potentially much more damaging.

    I vote for the best gear, most education, and highest level of training possible. With a great coach and your level of commitment -- one never knows ...

  12. You know Jill -- if you had an agent to sell your photos ...

  13. Unless you're going to the race with some kind of intentions of winning it then why bother getting a coach ?. If you're just doing the race for fun, or to beat last year's finishing results then there's no need for a coach. You've already done the race once, and know what to expect out there, so you should use your experience to improve your weaknesses from last year.

  14. I think your ready to bike Tibet, or Egypt, although Turkey would be challenging, too.

  15. Is that a Built to Spill reference?


Feedback is always appreciated!