Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Volume Wk2 W/O1

I ended up doing a little routine on Monday night. Mainly focused on my climbing wall (laddering), but I put some effort in to a bit of rope climbing. I find rope climbing is a great warm up for fingers as well as being a great exercise in and of itself.

I only have 2m of rope to play with, but if you start seated and try to maintain an L-Sit climbing slowly both up and down (with a lock-off at the top), boy does that 2m feel hard.

Back to today's routine. The following is still a deloaded phase of 90-95%.

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (35 mins)
1. Rowing 1x500m 00:01:40
2. Pistols (8x53kg, 8x53kg, 8x53kg)
3a. Wall Walk/BackBridge (3, 3, 3)
3b. Cuts/Splits (1x20s, 1x20s, 1x20s)
3c. Advanced Frog Planche (6x10s)
3d. Straight Back Lever (6x10s)

I crushed the rowing - not trying that hard but putting in a 1:40. The pistols were also duly crushed. I cannot wait for next week and the chance to go for 100% effort.

The planching was a revelation. I changed my tuck so that my knees were resting on my triceps (rather than to the sides of my arms). This pushed my hips much higher than normal and put me in more of the intended pose.

It was very hot and on the last set of planches, sweat dripped off me in to my eyes I go the double vision last seen on the Welsh 15 3ks. This suggests that my double-vision on that walk was sweat related rather than being due to grave health and energy concerns (I wrote that the double vision only occurred looking down rather than ahead so it should have been obvious to me at the time).

As it was a day of blue-sky, I finished off with some pillar jumps, pillar split jumps, hand walks, pillar assisted HeSPUs and cartwheels. Then spent ten minutes just walking around the courtyard where I train, relaxing.

When I walk I imagine someone is pulling me upwards by my hair on the top of my head. I had removed my footwear and strode around in just shorts, letting my mind drift.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Volume Wk1 W/O3

At the risk of alienating Anonymous, a more generic, deloaded routine:

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (40 mins)
1. Deadlift (one or two warm up sets, 5x88, 5x101, 5x115)
2a. HSPU/Press/Snatch (12x14kg, 12x14kg, 8x16kg)
2b. Splits (2x10s 2x10x 2x10s)
3a. Tucked Ice Cream Maker (6, 6, 6)
3b. Assisted One Arm Chins (12x41kg, 8x41kg, 8x41kg)
3c. Wall Planche Press Ups (6, 6, 6)

This felt hard so I cut some reps. I messed up the routine as well and got stuff in the wrong order so it took a little longer than normal. The deadlifts felt solid but the last few reps of the last set were tougher than I had hoped. The OACs were brutal throughout.

Still, I left the gym feeling good.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Volume Wk1 W/O2

A deloaded phase with lower body emphasis:

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (25 mins)
1. Rowing (00:01:42x500m)
2. Pistols (8x47kg, 8x47kg, 8x47kg)
3a. Wall Walk/BackBridge (2, 2, 2)
3b. Splits (20s, 20s, 20s)
4a. Frog/Tuck Planche (2s/20s, 2s/20s, 20s)
4b. Straight-Back Lever (20s, 20s, 20s)

Monday, 21 June 2010

Forest School

Forest Schools were developed in Scandinavia in the 1950s. The idea is to educate in a 'natural' surrounding; the principle being to provide, '' innovative educational approach to outdoor play and learning.’ Since the 1950s the idea has been adopted across Europe including the UK.

Research following this approach found that:
  • "...children attending forest school kindergartens in the countryside environment are far happier than children in kindergartens located in the urban environment. The study concluded that children in the forest school are more balanced with greater socially capability, they have fewer days off sick; are more able to concentrate and have better co-ordination than the city kindergarten children."

Without access to the research we cannot take too much from this, but looking at the concept from a paleo perspective several principles stand out (my emphasis):

  • "The result showed the children attending the forest school to be markedly better at concentrating than the city Kindergarten children. It appeared that the principle reason was due to the greater range of opportunities present for play in nature, children played for longer at a time, with less annoyance or interruption of each other compared to the children in the city kindergarten.

    The study observed that when children in the city kindergarten were interrupted, they became irritable, their stress levels rose significantly, and their ability to concentrate fell. When they could not concentrate there was a clear tendency to selfish and inconsiderate behaviour and aggression. The forest school children were much more considerate towards each other."
This is such an appealing model of education and there is no reason why such an approach couldn't integrate more abstract elements of the modern curriculum such as science and mathematics.

Wouldn't it be great if this concept was taken to its natural conclusion and the children were fed a silvaculture diet? Can you imagine the skills developed in catching, preparing and eating game? Or foraging for seasonal plants and seeds to eat? Those VERY triggers that led to our enhanced brain development being exploited?

I cringe at the thought that lunchtime at Forest School might involve a packed lunch of sandwiches, chocolate bar and a can of soda (sugar free of course). But, hell, this is one heck of an approach to education.

Volume Wk1 W/O1

Time for another bit of volume training:

Warm Up (5 mins)
Main (30 mins)
1a. Sprinting (10s, 10s, 10s)
1b. Planche (1x20s, 1x20s, 1x20s)

2a. Three MU to Ring Routine to Body Lever to Chins (8, 8, 4/8)
2b. Cuts to Split Scissors (3x1 each way)
2c. Fingerboard (5x1, 5x1, 5x1, 5x1, 5x1)

3. Handstand (Play@LGKF for time)

Friday, 18 June 2010

Welsh 14/3Ks: Part 5 Stage Three (Final)

Recap Stage One
This stage was well known to me and the team. We did it in four hours and came back to camp. You drive up hill to the start of this section but lose all this height at the end. There were some sore knees as the descent is steep. I felt great throughout this stage.

Recap Stage Two Having lost all the height from descending stage one, we had a big climb at the start of stage two. Within an hour of leaving camp I was suffering big style. V-Footing was looking like a good idea, but the fasting....less so! I 'saw toothed' the ascent and things improved immediately.

Over a period of four hours (from the first feelings of fatigue) I found with a saw-tooth burst of energy on intense sections, things were vastly improving for me. Similarly on the plateau and downhill sections I was able to 'power up' simply due to the lack of intensity required. The completion of Stage two involved a long and occasionally steep descent that brought us to Ogwen Cottage and stage three. I felt good at this point. My feet were in excellent order and energy levels were good.

Stage Three
At the end of stage two, we had lost all the height we'd gained at the start. So, as with the start of stage two, we now had to gain height back at the start of stage three. 3000ft here we come!

I started slowly and steadily up the front of Pen Yr Olwen. The fear of a repeat of what had happened at the start of the previous stage hanging over me like the Sword of Damocles. I soon realised I actually felt fine on this ascent. I could keep going. I kept stopping and taking in the scenery every ten minutes or so and on a few occasions, dug out my camcorder to do a piece to camera. Looking back at this footage it is obvious that I am in very good spirits throughout (the joke-number goes up although joke quality is debatable as always!).

The regular, small breaks of a minute or so were leaving me very refreshed. Another 'crash' never felt remotely likely, even though this climb must have been similarly demanding to the start of the last stage. We summited after an hour or two and I knew the worst was behind me. From now on there may be a few tough sections, but nothing like the one we had just done. As intensity dropped at the end of the walk, the rests required diminished massively - now it was simply a case of endurance. I could sense an ability to keep going. I felt pretty good.

On the summit of Pen Yr Ole Wen the sun was hanging low in the sky, the temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up. The day was ending as indeed it had begun. Rain would follow shortly.

We picked off a series of summits which, on this section, are typically a pile of stones on an undulating plateau. I was typically at the front, forcing the pace (psychologically I find being at the back quite tough), tracing our route on my map. There was one 'dog leg' - the last serious bit of up and down, to pick off Yr Elen, and then the worst really is over. Before we knew it, we were at the final summit; Foel Fras, twenty hours after we had started. There would still be over an hours walk to get to the car park and finish line.

The carpark is a long and drawn out 'romp' away. It feels never-ending; boggy and monotonous, but I felt 'on the ball' and was happy to navigate and lead on - a stark contrast to the last attempt of this route when exhaustion meant that I would rather just follow. (Navigation requirements meant that on the last attempt I actually had to assist in the navigation).

Again on my previous attempt at this walk, during this latter section my right knee gave in to Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITB). A staggering pain that really hurt, meaning I had great difficulty walking. I had never had anything like it before (or since). It is the reason that now, on this attempt, I carried a trekking stick with me - just in case.

But there were other differences with the me of now and the me of then - not just those of diet. On my previous attempt I had been a runner - completing around three five-mile runs a week. I had also done a lot of 'Stepper' work in the months leading up to it. Since those days I have abandoned distance running and stepper machines and adopted sprinting (only once or twice a week for about 5x10s per session), and become a fan of pistols and pillar jumping. I was curious about how my new training would play out in terms of knee-health. And what of the diet? Paleo is in some respects a 'low inflammation' diet. Maybe by avoiding grains my body was more responsive and sensitive to its own immune response?

When we stopped for a rest, the other guys would chow down. On one or two such refeeds you could see the energy response in them. Once or twice a few of them opined about the discomfort of climbing on a full stomach - a consideration lost on me! In terms of general energy levels I was acutely aware of silence and conversation amongst the others. It ebbed and flowed. A few times I tried to strike up conversation, but to little or no response (this was an ongoing activity and a situation I was actively analysing, trying to gauge how others were feeling in comparison to myself).

Here was the game-changer. Here was the point I knew that I'd be doing this again; V-Footed and fasted. My energy was constant. I could go on. I was mildly physically tired but muscle fatigue I could push through (although I am unsure if I could do another big uphill section - but then maybe I could as I had found the start of this stage surprisingly easy). At the carpark I arrived in a chirpy conversational mode, happy to have fulfilled my goal. There was more in me but I couldn't test it as there was nowhere else to go.

We got to our final destination in the small hours. We had been walking for 20 hours first summit to last summit, and a few around 23hours in total. By the time we got back to bed we had been up for over 25 hours.

Two support drivers welcomed us with a can of lager each (see photo above - you should be able to spot me amongst the Thousand Yard Stares!). I enjoyed it although it tasted VERY sweet to me. I was worried about the consequence of drinking a can of lager on an empty stomach so decided to eat my emergency ration of two boiled eggs. If it was not for the lager I would not have eaten until the following day.

Of the five who completed this walk, I would have classified myself amongst those feeling 'best'. A big turnaround from the stage two sentiment of 'amongst the worst'.

22 miles. 15000ft of ascent and descent. 25+ hours without sleep. 8kg of equipment. 20-odd hours of walking. Four hours of feeling 'down' but zero hours feeling 'out'. I am a sprinter who climbs and throws. Burst of speed and energy are my preferred means of exercise. I walk quite a bit - but when I walk it is at a sedentary pace, relaxed and usually in conversation.

I think I may well be the first person to have completed this whole walk in VFFs. I also think I might be the first person to have completed this walk completely fasted (by which I mean my last meal was the evening previous to the walk itself). Certainly I would imagine that I am the first to be fasted AND V-Footed on the walk (although this combination does seem to be popular amongst the paleo crowd).

No place for Vibrams?
The number of blisters and aches had increased amongst the team throughout the day. In the past I myself have had major blisters on my heels from long walks in boots - but in the VFFs nada, nothing, zero! My feet were absolutely fine.

You can see from the picture documenting stage two that the terrain was incredibly rugged. You'd have thought it would be no place for VFFs. But in truth I was launched in to this final stage of the mind that the VFFs were the ONE piece of kit that NEVER let me down and kept exceeding my expectations. Although I had planned a change of footwear at Ogwen Cottage, the VFFs were going to be worn for the duration.

Fasting Thoughts
Would I do it again? Undoubtedly YES! I think I need to train my body to handle ongoing physical activity but I have this feeling (!), that now I have taken my body this far, I could attempt this walk again in a month or so and, with a saw-tooth approach to the hard bits, in addition to a newly developed metabolic imprint to work from, I would fare much better throughout.

I have a superb set of video clips documenting the adventure and it is very rewarding looking back through them and seeing my response over the day (mentally and physically). Having reviewed the footage I know that it pushed me hard, but I also know that the anxiety generated by the nadir of the walk was misplaced. Once my body mustered its resources, things were always going to get easier.

I look shredded at the moment. Lots of vascularity - along my abdomen, arms and chest. Oddly enough when I did stage one as a fasted training walk a few weeks ago I followed things up the next day with a mammoth breakfast in the local cafe. I assumed I would be able to eat a similar sized breakfast after this walk as I had done so much more work....but believe it or not I struggled to eat exactly the same meal. I was just not that hungry. Clearly my body was still serving up energy! No need for an endogenous source of calories, it was doing very well on body fat thank you. Amazing. There is already talk of the 'next challenge'. My stove will NOT be packed.

Since the walk I have developed a love of goats cheese and lamb (cold). I have also desired cold showers (they don't seem so cold at the moment). My appetite is growing as the days since the walk elapse. Perhaps my body is 'standing down' now the trauma is over?

A few people have asked me 'why did you do it?'. The question is a bit vague and can be interpreted and answered in several ways depending on how you interpret the question:
  • Why walk the hills? - I need my 'greens'.
  • Why do the Welsh 3000s? - I like a challenge.
  • Why do it in Vibrams? I find them comfortable and allow me to be surefooted. No blisters, no damaged knees. The foot is allowed to work as evolution intended with the rest of my body to absorb the shock of the footfall. V-Footing is the only way I see myself walking in the wilds whilst shod.
  • Why do it fasted? Hmm, this comes from a position that snacking en-route is the norm. I take the opposite view. Assuming that it is normal to be fasted before exercise, why carry food and/or eat if you don't need to?
Ultimately though, I guess once in a while I need to embrace an outlier. On Saturday 12th June 2010 I rode a Black Swan.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Bodyweight Quickie

Due to the intermittent training for the past three weeks or so, and in a bid to take opportunity of today's most excellent weather and top up my tan, I did a quick body weight workout today.

The (improvised) routine was a leisurely three rounds of the following (with PLENTY of sunbathing in between):

Warm Up (5 mins)
  1. Handstand walk for distance (to 'collapse')
  2. Pillar Jumps x 6
  3. Tucked Body Lever x 20s
  4. Chins x 8
  5. Planche x 20s
  6. Back Bridge x 20s
I felt a bit weaker, but wasn't really trying. My approach was one of play rather than 'grrrrr'!

My 'Regular Joe' weight is somewhere above 82kg. I weighed myself today (on the usual set of scales), and came in at 'just over 79kg'. I should have weighed myself before and after the Welsh 3Ks. I cannot be sure that I am not still in 'fat burning ramp up mode', dehydration or if this is a loss of muscle mass. I have been drinking a lot of water since the walk, my appetite seems to be increasing since the walk. Curious.

The final part of the Welsh 3Ks will be up tomorrow.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Welsh 14/3Ks: Part 4 Stage Two

Recap Stage OneStage one of the walk had taken four hours. We were now rewarded with a thirty minute rest at the campsite (which, by the time we had started moving again, had morphed in to something closer to an hours rest). As we had descended out of the clouds shrouding the summits of the previous section things had warmed up. The cloud broke and we were treated to warmth and the occasional ray of sunshine. The wind had also dropped. I was feeling great and was quite psyched for the next section.

I had done the Welsh 14/3Ks several years ago and on this second section (the climb up Elidir Fawr), I recalled it being the hardest part of the whole walk. You have a lot of height to gain, perhaps more than at any other point on the walk. Once upon the massif itself, there would be no more ascents like this on section two. From memory, the previous attempt had involved a long, grinding slog uphill and we had had the sun beating down on our backs. It looked like today would be similar - although a few clouds promised to shelter us from the worst.

Stage Two
So, rested and with replenished water supplies on board, we set off. The climb takes about 2.5 hours and is quite monotonous. As I ascended I started to feel heavily fatigued. About an hour or so in to the walk I had to take a rest. When we sat down I immediately felt the need to close my eyes. When they closed, I felt I could sleep straight away. I remembered this feeling from my previous attempt on the route - so was not overly concerned - I mean we had been up since 0300hrs after only a few hours sleep, and had done a lot of walking already.

I ensured I was hydrated with regular sips of water from my Platypus, but found the pace tough, and as I walked realised that I was having occasional difficulty focusing on my feet - as if both eyes wanted to move independently. If I gazed a few meters further forwards I was fine, but anything closer than two or three meters was difficult. Worse was to follow. My need to rest increased. I need to rest more and more - only for a minute at a time or so, but the drive was deep within me. I stopped speaking and when I did speak it was slightly slurred. I could hear how I was failing to enunciate each word and was lazily expressing them - trying to minimise movement of my lips. I could walk and think, but things were not looking good.

It was strange. I felt incredibly tired, but knew I could carry on as, although tired, my mind was conscious of my predicament. My subconscious fell in to a logical analysis of my situation (which was shortly to prove quite profound). Prior to this my thoughts had been peppered with the idea of breaking the fast. Somehow it seemed easy to rationalise that if I ate, I'd be fine. But something about this conclusion didn't sit easily with me. I would hold out on the fast for a while longer.

On one of the rests I reflected on how hard I was feeling this climb to be; the level of intensity. I was also aware of how refreshing I was finding short rests. Part of me thought that this was a possible case of lassitude (a la Rum Doodle), or perhaps a grave consequence of fasting. (Prior to the walk I had expressed to my colleagues that I felt a bit nauseous in the morning; I was unsure of the source and purification methods of the water at the local campsite so this was another possible explanation for how I felt).

But another thought that occurred to me was that I was suffering from the long and intense nature of the climb. I could see that short bursts of activity followed by a rest are actually EXACTLY how I train and this might explain why short bursts of walking with short rests suited me. (It also dawned on me that my once-weekly training walks were lacking the level of sustained intensity currently demanded of me).

This was a MASSIVE boost - perhaps the psychological pivot point of the whole walk. I had had the realisation that I should tackle this event in a 'saw tooth' pattern of activity. This was truly liberating. I was now confident that I had a strategy to get to the top of this particular summit.

I will add at this point that most of us in the team were feeling the difficulty, but I would offer that my position was amongst the worst. However now, I had growing confidence that I would at least make it to the top whilst maintaining the fast if not beyond.

The others - including distance runners and ball-sports enthusiasts, were suffering even though they were regularly eating and snacking en route. Rather than trying to fight this mountain on its terms or stick with the pace of the group, I decided to apply my 'saw tooth' strategy and use 'power law' bursts of activity for the remainder of the climb; resting as required.

At the top of Elidir Fawr and having gained the principle amount of height for stage two. I felt relieved. I recovered quite well on the less strenuous sections; those that were downhill and along plateau. These were sections where, whilst walking, I felt I was able to 'power up'. At every stop I would quickly sit down and relax.

I took a video camera with me on the walk and filmed something on every summit and many bits in between. After summiting on Y Garn we stopped at Llyn Y Cwn prior to the ascent of the Glyders. I am lying down talking to the camera, The sun is baking me and I know I am tired. But as I pan the camera around and talk to my colleagues, their heads are down and their response barely audible.

My last moment of lassitude (which was nothing in comparison to what had happened on the ascent up to Elidir Fawr, more of a heavy fatigue,), occurred at Glyder Fach. I was now 20-odd hours in to the fast and my rate of fat metabolism, I guess, was now optimised as I started to feel much, much better.

It was clear that metabolically, everything was now ramped up. My body would understand that this was a black swan event, not my usually profile of exertion and chronic in nature. Thus informed it, was adapting accordingly, and was getting stronger all the time.

The Glyders are a plateau of rocks and boulders. It is like walking on the cheval de frise surrounding the Iron Age hill forts of Inis Mor, to the west of Ireland. Eroded vertical bedding planes have left sharp fins of rock. Lots of loose boulders ranging in size from golf balls to basket balls await the foot-fall of the unwary hiker. The VFFs were superb. They again demanded a lot of foot-eye coordination to avoid sharp edges or stubbing a toe, but the feedback through the soles is addictive. Like an ongoing massage (albeit vigorous).

Large blocks the size of SUVs form twisted structures reminiscent of Gothic castles. Castle of the Winds between Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr is one such feature. Here, at Castle of the Winds, suddenly I was whole again!

A descent down the scree slopes to the right of Bristly Ridge and then up to Tryfan ensued. Tryfan has two pillar-like boulders on the summit called Adam and Eve. There is a challenge to jump from one to the other. It is quite expose, heavily polished and the consequences of a'd likely only fail once! But my legs felt great. I did the jump from Adam to Eve and back again. Twice.

We scrambled down from the summit of Tryfan. I was feeling better with each step. Ogwen Cottage would be the end of stage two and offer a further thirty minute rest.

Short bursts of power with a rest in between. This is how I train so, given the nature of adaption (specificity is the number one rule of training), my experience is not unsurprising. Given that I had never done so many repeated chronically intense exercise events then you'd expect SOME kind of 'adjustment period' as the body seeks to transition. The thing for me is that I stuck with it. I felt things would get better...and it did. It BLOODY WELL worked! I was relieved and amazed.

But the challenge was not over. There was still stage three! Last time I had tackled this walk I was eating a vegetarian, carb-rich diet; snacking along the way. I recall that the ascent of Pen-Yr-Ole-Wen had proved VERY hard. As with the climb up Elidir Fawr, it is a big ascent which gains the majority of the height for this section of the walk. This was another bit of the walk I was dreading - but for several reasons

On the previous walk itself, particularly the latter stages, I felt heavily fatigued both physically and mentally and, to cap it all, I developed a debilitating pain in the outer right of my knee. This was later diagnosed as Illiotibial Band Syndrome. The knee injury was about two or three hours from the end of the walk. The cloud came in, visibility dropped, it rained, the wind picked up and it became dark. We were on a featureless plateau and progress was significantly slowed. This added had on about three hours to our already exhausting journey. Basically that previous hike had turned it to what we call 'An Epic'. I was keen not to repeat the experience.

I had other concerns on this occasion. Not only had I had problems climbing Elidir Fawr which I still could not rule out happening again on this final stage, but also this latter stage was the one section where, in the preparation stage for the walk, I had seriously considered abandoning the VFFs for more traditional footwear. The thought of more Cheval-De-Frise walking in the cold/wet/dark filled me with dread.
So how would I fare? Should I continue V-Footed? Would I need to break the fast?

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Monday, 14 June 2010

Welsh 14/3ks: Part 3 The Route and Stage One

The walk comprises of 15 Peaks. Originally there were 14 summits over 3000ft, then a fifteenth, Yr Elen was added. Some then argued that there were other candidates for the term 'summit' (the jagged ridge of Grib Goch containing obvious examples).

More recently, Tryfan (initially measured as 3002ft), has been put under scrutiny to assess whether it actually an 'elite peak'. But hell, for the sake of tradition alone we were going to include this summit regardless of what geodesists might want to tell us!

The Walk breaks down in to three obvious sections.

Section 1: Start at Pen Y Pass and ascend to Crib Goch (1), Garnedd Ugain (2), Snowdon (3) then descend to Nant Peris campsite.

Section 2: Leave the campsite, ascend to Elidir Fawr (4), Y Garn (5), Glyder Fawr (6), Glyder Fach (7), Tryfan (8) and descend to Ogwen Cottage.

Section 3: Leave Ogwen Cottage and ascend to Pen Yr Ole Wen (9), Carnedd Dafydd (10), Carnedd Llewelyn (11), Yr Elen (12), Foel Grach (13), Garnedd Uchaf (14), Foel Fras (15) and then a final walk of several kilometers over undulating boggy and rocky ground to the car park.

Stage One
The first section is by far the most technical terrain. We started from Pen Y Pass car park shortly before 0400hrs. The car park was packed with 30 or so mini-buses and there were more arriving by the minute. You could see cars snaking up both sides of the Llanberis Pass, their headlights shining out through the dark. Horns were tooted as several hundred people shivered in a gusting gale whilst marshalls from different events herded the groups around (there are several 'events' that start, finish or at least include Snowdon in their route and June offers the longest days to complete these challenges - thus the popularity of the venue).

The climb up to Crib Goch was fine - very windy and cloudy but nothing unusual there. We traversed the ridge, bagged Garnedd Ugain, ticked Snowdon in a howling gust and then took the steep descent back down to Nant Peris. Some of the team found this descent quite hard on the knees, but I didn't think it too bad. Certainly I found it easier this time than on my previous descent via this route.

I had recce'd this first section of the walk some weeks previously to test out the VFFs over Crib Goch in particular. I knew that cold toes were probable but that a couple of pairs of leggings and, if needed, some waterproof trousers were put over the top, I would be relatively comfortable regardless of how wet my feet got and regardless of wind and rain.

The ground was rocky underfoot but again, experience in the VFFs was crucial. Careful foot placement is a must as the rocks can be awkward and heavily 'edged'. These edges reach in to the arches of your foot. If your foot as spent much of its life sheltered in a boot, shoe or thick-soled sneeker/trainer then this can be unforgiving. Similarly the dreaded 'toe stub' on rocky terrain is a wince-inducing experience. But I have enough mileage underfoot to mean that walking in VFFs on all kinds of terrain is second nature. Eye and foot work in combination rather than the blind 'clomping' gait of the heavily shod walker.

Starting the walk at 0400hrs meant that I was already ten hours in to a fast (my last meal of six boiled eggs and half a chicken had been eaten around 1800hrs the previous evening). I have to say that I was in a very comfortable state throughout this part of the hike.

As with the VFFs, when I completed this section of the walk some weeks ago I did it fasted and was sure that I could repeat this feat without a problem. I knew that getting back to Nant Peris would be quite within my abilities without needing to eat.

I normally fast for at least sixteen hours every day as I do not eat breakfast and so my first meal each day is usually at lunchtime. On two days each week I fast for 24 hours. On these 24hr-fast days I go the gym at lunchtime (around 15 hours in to the fast) and then attend an hours martial arts seven hours later.

Being active like this on a 24hr fasting day is not a problem. In fact two intense workouts as outlined above (one at the gym and one in the dojo several hours later), are more than comfortable and my sparring in the gym feels way sharper unfed.

Back to the walk. By the time I completed stage one I had done around four hours of work, some of it quite intense but from my weekly training experience of multiple fasted workouts a day, I anticipated that after a thirty minute stop at the campsite, my body would be ready for stage two and the climb up to Elidir Fawr.

But things were about to change...

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Friday, 11 June 2010

Welsh 14/3ks: Part 2 Equipment & Preparation

My attempt on the Welsh 14/3ks will take place on the weekend of 12th June (tomorrow). I am intending on trying to pull together quite a detailed write-up of it next week - which you may find of interest, particularly if you 'barefoot' (or rather 'V-Foot') or are considering fasting and its implications.

Training History
One thing that has worried me is that if I did get in to an 'emergency situation' on the Welsh 14/3ks and Snowdon Mountain Rescue have to pull me off the mountain, I KNOW there will be a roll of eyes from both MR and the media; they'd assume that anyone tackling such an event without food and without 'proper' footwear (Vibram Five Fingers) MUST be both stupid and asking for trouble.

However, I HAVE prepared. With several weekly 10 mile fasted hikes under my belt since the start of he year, one or two longer fasted hikes, over three years of twice-weekly 24hr fasting (including bouts of intense exercise in this fasted state), and a lot of mileage over technical ground in my VFFs, I have put a lot of thought and preparation in to this challenge.
The weekly training walks have been undertaken whilst carrying the kind of loads I will take on the day, and in the clothing and footwear I will wear on the day. The 14/3ks route is known to me and the more technical stages (Crib Goch), have been recce'd in the VFFs and is a ridge I have walked many times before. I have performed night walks and walks over rocky and muddy terrain. I have walked in hot sunshine and heavy rain. Unprepared I am not.

I am not taking it lightly and would urge a degree of caution should you try something similar, especially if it is an 'outlier' event; something out of the norm; a 'Black Swan' challenge. At the very least have a plan B (always a good idea no matter what you are doing in the hills). I have a high level of confidence that the walk will be successful, but you can never rule out a further Black Swan!
Kit List
Minimalist. I am going to wear shorts, VFFs and a T-Shirt. My main pack and bum-bag will hold:
  1. Cam-Corder (MiseryCam)
  2. First Aid Kit
  3. Emergency Rations (Fish)
  4. Head Torch
  5. Leggings and long sleeved fleece
  6. Windproof top
  7. Gloves, Hat and Neck-Warmer
  8. Walkie Talkies (to chat with support driver)
  9. Walking Pole (in case of a repeat of the knackered knee that hampered me last time)
  10. GPS, Map and Compass
  11. Bladder (3 litres)
  12. Phone
I also have the option of picking up a waterproof layer for the final section at a rendezvous with a support driver at Ogwen - the weather report is currently for dry conditions with cloud above 900m on the Snowdon range . I have also packed some boots in the support vehicle - just in case the VFFs prove too hardcore.

Why the Challenge?
Whenever the notion of exercise (particularly endurance exercise), crops up, we are told to carb-up. For some intense activity, particularly that which is performed against the clock, then arguably you want fully topped up glycogen stores. And it seems that you may well need to top up these stores if you wish to sustain performance levels. Marathon runners are basically speeding eating - linking feeding stations in as short a period as possible. But if you go slower and for much longer - well the question becomes one of how far can you go and at what intensity.

In contrast is the idea that animals perform their most intense and demanding activity to either get something to eat, or to avoid being eaten.

Plants, unable to physically avoid predation, have gone on to develop physical defences such as shells for their seeds or thorns, and chemical weaponry. Sure now, fatally/injuriously poisoning a would-be predator is fine, but the smarter plants (grains), have gone for a superb form of chemical warfare - perhaps THE most successful, based upon addiction.
What makes this addiction so successful is based upon their customer profile. Having gotten the smartest animals on the planet hooked on their drug, grains have taken control of the planet's economic and military superpowers, dominating politics, research, education, media, business, agriculture, economics, ecology and latterly their health (which means grains now control whole swathes of medicine).

We have arrived at a point where we need to eat regularly by both necessity (anyone I know who eats a lot of refined carbohydrates cannot go for long without some form of snacking), which is further driven by recommendation of governments and NGO's who seek to guide us through the minefield of diet and exercise.

To undertake something like the Welsh 3000s advice is typically along these lines:
  • Food and drink
    This is largely a matter of preference, but try to eat and drink regularly.

    You are likely to become dehydrated during this walk. I would recommend that in addition to water, you take some form of isotonic drink eg. normal Lucozade Sport (not Lucozade Energy, Hydro Active or the Lucozade Sport with caffeine boost) or Isostar. Fluid from an isotonic drink is much more readily taken up by the body.

    Salty food, eg. ready salted crisps, can also help rehydration if accompanied by a drink.
Hmmm - you see those pesky grains even manifest their control to hiking and leisure! Obviously I will ignore this advice, other than drinking only water. For me, having adopted a primal/paleo/EF/LC diet, fasting has become second nature; desirable even.
Fasted Training
I started kickboxing fasted, and felt sharper. The sessions could be brutal - but I was fine in terms of energy. The fasts became critical to the quality of my fighting. Two or three fasts a week seemed instinctive. I could fill my day with activity - in the gym or playing in the park with the kids - fasted and all 'un-hungry'. All with no visible downside.

If this felt right, how could it be wrong? How far could it be taken? I started walking significant distances with nothing more than a litre or two of water. Everything OK, I pushed the distance. Everything still OK.
And so now I am here on the eve of a major adventure. Demanding in every sense. A real test of my mental and physical strength. A test of fortitude and determination.

Sure I have food - I am carrying it internally. No Lucozade or Isostar. No Kendal Mint Cake or Malt Loaf. No sandwiches or chocolate. Heck, no eggs or liver, nor cheese or lamb. No butter or fish.

Do I need it? I guess we are going to find the answer out very soon!

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Welsh 14/3ks: Part 1 History & Detail

This walk links up Wales' 15 summits over 3000ft. According to the Welsh 14 3000s website:

  • "In order to complete the Welsh 3000s Challenge you are required to have been at the top of all 15 of the mountains over 3000 ft in Wales within the space of 24 hours, without using any form of transport.

    The length is about 24 miles, but the walks to the start point and down from the finish point can take it to over 30 miles in total.

    The walk is also known as "The 14 Peaks" (although there are officially 15 peaks, or possibly 16)."
The site goes on to describe the challenge:
  • "It’s very rocky, and both uphill and downhill sections are demanding. Navigation can also be problematic without previous knowledge of this area of Snowdonia. For some, the walk involves camping/bivvying at the top of Snowdon the night before, adding to the weight of kit for the initial section. Additionally, one mountain, Crib Goch, is very exposed – several people have died on it.

    This challenge is commonly underestimated - you need to be very fit to walk it in 24 hours. Times below 12 hours (first peak to final peak) are sometimes achieved by exceptionally fit walkers."
Sounds like my bag! A classic 'grow your soul' challenge. I completed it once before several years ago and found it pretty tough. I remember vowing 'never again'. But it would appear that I have a new 'dimension' to explore. This journey is going to be as much 'inwards' as outwards.
I have spent the last week resting. In the evening I have typically devoured a large piece of lamb or half a chicken a day with lots of cabbage, some carrots and generous amounts of butter. Lunchtimes typically involve goats cheese along with tinned fish (sardines/mackerel) or boiled eggs. I only eat twice a day, but make sure I eat until satiation.
As I pack for tomorrow's departure I have prepared a tub of several boiled eggs, some goats cheese, some chicken and some (soaked) nuts to fuel me throughout the day. Come Saturday, the day of the walk, I will fast once again. I have two tins of fish to carry with me to be opened in emergency!
Fasted exercise is nothing new. It is fundamental to nature. In our society the notion is treated with disdain and suspicion. How can you 'do stuff' on an empty stomach? Our disenfranchised relationship with our body mandates metronomic feeding on low quality food. Both are attributes I have moved away from. I eat quality foods and feed/fast episodically.

This approach means I can never be hungry - certainly not in the space of 24 hours without food no matter what exercise is demanded of me. The fat within our bodies is evolutionary fast food. This food can be rapidly mobilised under the right circumstances and delivered faster than a pizza delivery boy through sublime metabolic process in to cellular furnaces before you can say "McHunger". Finger licking good energy delivered to your mitochondrial door; no tip required.
No energy drinks like a marathon runner. No 'Kendal Mint Cake' like a rambler. Just my inner fat stores, like a hunter.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Holiday Workout

I have just got back form a week in the south of France. We had fantastic weather (no need for my 10000 IUs of Vitamin D). My diet erred from 'paleo' - there was a bit of pasta, croissant and pizza in the mix, but I was happy to indulge in some fine French grog, fish, plenty of eggs, butter and cheese. I kept up with my IF approach - seldom eating before midday and one or two longer fasts.

My workouts were sporadic and typically involved:

1. Short Sprint
2. Five Bar MUs
3. Short Sprint
4. 10 Pull Ups
5. Short Sprint
6. 10 Chins
7. Short Sprint
8. Body Lever (20s)

There were variations on this theme - with extra MUs throughout the day and one or two planching sessions. Needless to say there was a LOT of handstanding, 'skin the cats' and the odd pistol sprinkled throughout the week - oh, and plenty of swimming!

Pool-time with Flash and Captain Kid lead to plenty of messing around and saw the resurgence of 'Flash Throws' and the CK Press.
The place we stayed had a 'Salle de Masculation' but I preferred the chinning stations littered around the sports courts. You could play a bit of football/soccer and in between games mess about on the bars (with the kids).

You can see in the shot of Flash and I above how I look today compared to this shot from two years ago. I reckon I am a bit leaner with perhaps more muscle mass on the shoulders but still short of Dorian and Arnie's physique. Still, I think I can hold a tucked body lever somewhat longer than either of them!