Sunday, October 29, 2017

10 lessons learned in 100 days of training: 160 days left before I head off to Everest again

Greetings family, friends, and followers.  I am not one for lists.  The internet click bait of "7 reasons" or "10 most..." are just that - bait.  I actually learned things in the past 100 days and figured I would share them with you.  Further, my aim is not to pursue things because they serve some purpose of filling out a dossier of collected experiences.  Instead, I prefer to experience them and let others keep track if they desire.  After careful reflection during the past 100 days of preparation, I figured it might be mutually beneficial if I provided you (and me) with a written account of what I learned.  Some might find these lessons rather trite while others might never expect that training for an expedition would lead to such insights.  Regardless of the impact, I list the top lessons with a little explanation following each.  Here goes...

1.  Nothing beats a routine - find one that works for you.  I attempted to integrate several new training procedures into my preparation and slowly found that the procedures that really taxed me the most - the stuff that made me maximally uncomfortable - were those I often neglected.  I am no different than anyone else.  Comfort, relaxation, entertainment, and such drive me toward acceptance whereas the opposite often requires a greater effort to practice daily.  Lifting weights and core exercises for me are not my cup of tea; I do them because if I do not lift, my muscles will atrophy and if I do not keep up my core strength my back causes me fits.  Thus, lifting and core exercises are important parts of my preparation and yet these are the most often skipped portions of my daily training.  So, what did I learn?  I found that doing these right away ensured that I completed them during the day.  I wake up now, check all my vitals (spO2, heart rate variability (HRV), weight, etc), complete my breathing exercises, and then head straight to the exercise room to do movement prep (warm-up exercises), core exercises, and lift - all before breakfast.  By sticking to this routine, I have yet to skip these important aspects.  I also know if I don't do them right away, I find too many life events (work, family, email, etc) interfere with me getting them done.  So, my new routine helps me stay on top of these oft-neglected parts of my training.

2.  Rest and stress go together to make us (me) better.  I do well under stress.  The harder the training session, the longer, more taxing the session, the better I feel.  My HRV even shows this effect so it is not a cognitive distortion.  I was built to go forever and when I rest too long, I feel flat, uninspired, and often react paradoxically.  What I learned from these past 100 days is that my morning HRV does not lie.  If I stress myself and my body is ready for rest, my HRV scores reflect that readiness to rest.  That might not sound very insightful but consider the depth of what I learned.  My HRV scores tend to go south (low is bad) when I do not sleep enough, eat poorly, and don't drink enough water throughout the day.  Yep, nothing really insightful there either.  These scores predict how I will perform 2-3 days later.  I ignored them (a bit) early on in these 100 days and later found myself sick and struggling with sinus/ear infections.  As I licked my wounds throughout the recovery process, I saw a trend.  The rest my body needed was more subtle and was easily detectable by a slight downward progression of HRV scores until the floor fell out.  Yes, the trends are what matters - not just the individual scores.  For more on this point, I intend to post my data so you can see where I saw the trends.  Stay tuned for a future post with data.  The point is that rest and stress go together but in ways that may escape detection.  We all need to monitor what we do, how we do it, and when we do so to understand the complex relationship between rest and stress we benefit IF we actually change to adapt to that relationship.  

3.  Nagging injuries often reflect many problems - not just one.  I learned this lesson when training for my marathon swims.  My shoulders and back were aching before, during, and after my long swims and I figured it was more due to training load than anything else.  Dominic Latella - my wonderful stroke mechanics fixer-upper - noted some really bad tendencies I had with my freestyle stroke and, after I worked with him and complied with his drills, all those pains went away.  Preparing for Everest over the past 100 days, I learned that my nagging right knee pain was due to my running.  Previous years where I put in equal amounts of training did not involve as much running.  I would run between 10-30 minutes but often just jog around the corner and through the neighborhood to breathe the fresh air after too many hours of gym training.  Those runs convinced me this time that my body was ready for 30 minute runs - at least every other day.  Boy was I wrong!  My knee pain never subsided and I attributed it to too much pounding with too much weight (I was fat to begin with due to my swimming preparation).  As my weight decreased, my knee pain diminished but it remained present enough to affect my sleep.  Sleep changes, training load increases, and more pounding left me concerned that my knee might be fouled up for good.  Nope!  Thankfully, I can report that the knee pain was solely attributable to running.  I now intend to reduce running to the bare minimum, stick to no pounding exercises, and stay physically healthy.  Sometimes the pain is due to the obvious and others, the pain is more complicated.  Listen to your own body and test what might be the cause.

4.  Losing weight is easy if you have a purpose.  When I began my training in earnest, I weighed 198 lbs (almost 90 kg).  That weight was largely in my upper body with a good portion of both fat and muscle.  Upper body weight is useless in climbing.  We climbers want large legs to carry us up and small upper bodies - strong enough to hold our packs but not much more than that.  The shift in body weight is an important and difficult change for many and I found it tough initially to lose the weight because I had an inclination to keep some residual weight on to later lose while climbing.  My aim was not to lose weight while climbing per se but rather I know I lose about 1 lb (1/2 kg) per day above 15,000 feet (approx 4600 m).  Yes, that weight loss is inevitable so I plan for it accordingly.  Doesn't matter how much I eat, I lose that weight.  So, back to my weight loss at home.  I knew I needed to lose weight to train effectively and to redistribute that weight to be more productive for climbing.  Once I started the 100 days, I figured I needed to see the purpose of my weight loss.  Every day, I read about the route of my climb.  That reading lead me to internalize the purpose of my weight loss - to make every step easier.  The lighter I am the easier my climb would be provided I was not too light and too frail to maintain my strength.  I want excess weight to lose but not too much weight where I get injured training.  So, my lesson here - pay attention to the purpose and you will realize your goal.  Oh, for those who want to know how much weight I lost...stay tuned for pictures.  I went from 198 lbs (90 kg) to 177 lbs (80 kg) in these 100 days.  Not bad.  I would like to be in the low to mid-170's (78 kg) for the next 100 days to give my joints a break.  Also, I could afford to lose a few pounds of muscle in my upper body and move it down to my legs - a change that requires me to lift more with my legs (ugh!).  

5.  Nothing beats a little distraction on long, boring training sessions.  I worked my way up steadily to 90 minute sessions on the elliptical and bike - all indoors without much distraction.  The TV in the exercise room along with my computer provided me with hours of distraction.  When on the elliptical, I read/replied to email, kept abreast of research articles, posted to my research group, wrote several articles, and even ran some data analyses.  I am not that adept at typing while on the elliptical machine or on the bike but I can muster about a 6-10 words a minute.  The slow typing allows me to think.  When I am not able to think or type, I resort to the TV and consume something that keeps my mind off the drudgery of endless hours keeping my heart rate between 130-145 bpm.  I wish I could see the outdoors but remaining productive or entertained is a reasonable trade-off to the outdoors when I know I can mix activities.  Many of my students even endured meetings with me while I train.  I thank them profusely for putting up with my oddities during the Google Hangout sessions.  Without their acceptance, I might find it harder to fit these long sessions into my work-life balance.

6.  Our bodies may not fit the 7-day cycle but our lives require us to fit training into these 7 days.  I tried to the best of my ability to fit a training cycle of 10 days into a 7-day life without much success.  Early on in these 100 days, I found it easy because the maximum time demands were small enough that I could easily fit in 2 hours spread throughout any day.  Now, I have 4-5 hour days and life just interferes with those training demands.  Even if I break up the time into smaller increments, I could not accommodate the training load when I had a busy day.  Thus, I am returning to my 7 day cycle.  I know my body does not fit with the weekly cycle but my time demands require me to work with the hours that work for me.  My next phase of training (Strength Building) will be based upon 7 days and will incorporate more pre-planned rest days (see next lesson).  

7.  Looking forward to a rest day is a huge motivator for me.  I tried to schedule a rest day every 10 days.  That schedule worked for me with respect to my physical functioning and recovery but it did not work for my psychologically.  I need more frequent rest bouts where I know rest is coming.  When we climb, we know rest times well ahead of them.  We can put in an effort to get us to the rest point and then keep going afterwards knowing that the rest we had was the rest we needed.  I need both physical rest and psychological rest; the 10-day rest cycle was just too psychologically taxing for me to ever feel rested.  So, my plan is to build in rest based upon my 7-day work schedule.  Busy work days will only have brief workouts that energize me (movement prep, lifting, core, and stretching) and no long cardio sessions.  On days where I can really devote my day to training, I intend to put in my "summit" days - the days where I train for 8+ hours and get the real feeling of fatigue experienced during summit pushes.  

8.  When increasing workload, it is extremely important to limit hypoxic sleep.  I decided to experiment during these 100 days with both increasing my workload and increasing my hypoxic sleep altitude.  What did I learn?  Hypoxic sleep is very taxing and does not allow me to both increase my workload and increase my altitude.  I figured this might happen but the point really hit home when I failed to recover from several rather pedestrian days of training AND I got sick twice in the process.  My HRV scores were horrible, my motivation to train waned, and my morning spO2 really suffered - all as a result of pushing myself too hard and too quickly without adequate recovery built in to the process.  My aim now is to get strong at 11,000 - 12,000 feet (3350 - 3650m) and fully recover from my training routines.  Once I enter the final 100 days of preparation when my fitness and strength are both optimal, I intend to gradually increase my sleeping altitude and carefully monitor my HRV (recovery) and acclimatization (spO2).  When I experience a recovery setback, I intend to decrease my sleep altitude AND reduce my training intensity.  I learned from my two 10-day illness recoveries that hypoxia and training need to be carefully coordinated.

9.  Expedition planning with climbing buddies makes the entire process much more enjoyable than being a member of a group that plans everything for us.  I never really liked field trips as a kid nor do I enjoy their adult versions like tours and such.  Planning adventures are part of the adventure and when things to wrong, I feel part of the experience - not just a person who is affected by the events.  I remember in 2015 when Sam, Alex and I were trying to arrange our schedules when we returned to Everest together.  That process of collaborative planning reminded me of why I so enjoyed expeditions that I planned with friends rather than these types of climbs where we are obligated to climb with an organization (Everest climbers must register with a Nepali or Tibet organizer to be permitted to climb).  Still, even if we are dependent upon an organization, I found that interacting with Sam, Alex, and Brendan (my climbing buddy for Aconcagua and now for Everest-Tibet) made the process much more enjoyable.  I wish Sam and Alex could join us but we shall climb together again in the future.  For now, I have a pal to coordinate plans and I so much enjoy that process than to think that I am going along with a huge group without much required of me to sort out.

10.  My dalliance as a "non-fan" came to an abrupt end for a good reason.  Many of you know me as a die-hard Notre Dame Football fan.  I yelled at my TV for many Saturdays over the past 3 decades.  The weight of each play, each win, and more so of each loss often affected me for days and often weeks following.  Yes, I was a fanatic.  The fanatic in me was starting to affect me in ways that I felt the need to give up sports for a year.  I took the entire 2016 off from fandom.  For the first time in that 30 year span, I didn't plan my life around the ND football season.  Saturdays were just another weekend day filled with activities that did not include yelling, celebrating, sitting, watching, traveling, pining, hoping, praying, or anything else that we fans typically do during games.  I filled my life with reading, listening, and thinking about science and other areas outside of sports.  My cash flow benefited too.  I unsubscribed from all the paid publications that were central to the fan of ND football.  Also, I cut the cord with Verizon's cable service.   All told, I figured I saved about $1000+ just by eliminating all these expenses.  Moreover, I devoted my time to learning new skills.  During that year, I developed a keen interest in programming Arduino modules, integrating sensors into my home automation, and mastering Python and Java (after many years of just dabbling in those languages).  So, I gained a lot from the time away from fandom but I felt I was missing something in my life.  My friends and family who are also die-hard fans no longer had me as a conversationalist.  I didn't read the sports pages, kept up with no race, ranking, or happening that would soften the blow to the "hey, how are you doing?" conversations that guys struggle to honestly answer.  I needed the fandom but I didn't need the stress.  So, this year, I decided to rejoin the ranks but do so without the same stress.  My son and I watch college football every Saturday - together.  We arrange our schedules to spend the time together.  He now yells more than I yell.  I'm not sure I am proud of that but obviously the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.  I need the distraction.  I need the connection with my friends and family (mostly my cousins who I share so much in common).  I need to be a fan but not one who gets polluted by the bile that comes from the immersion into the sports.  No, I am no longer following recruiting (as I used to) and I didn't resubscribe to those publications.   I now just watch the games and I watch them with much greater appreciation for why being a fan is important for me - it gives me something to look forward to every week.  How does this lesson relate to the past 100 days?  I learned that some distractions that might appear as "bad habits" are probably more beneficial than harmful.  Bring on the Olympics in Feb and Let's Go IRISH!!!

I have many more posts to share my thoughts as I enter the final 160 days of preparing for Everest.  My flights are almost booked, my climbing adventures for this December are planned, and I am nearing the fitness I had prior to the previous climbs.  Here we go!  Expect more frequent updates.  I have a ton to talk about and hope you continue to enjoy the posts.  Thanks for following along.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Quitting isn't always failing: The four levels of quitting

A few days elapsed since I posted my latest news.  Rather than keep bludgeoning you dedicated followers with my weekly updates, I intend to send out some of my musings about preparing for these events.  Today's musing is about quitting.  

A few friends recently attempted some epic swims and some of them in their words "failed themselves."  One person went so far as to offer an insight so rarely read on the always positive side of Facebook by stating publicly "[t]hank you all for the comments and messages. The recurring theme seems to be one of assurance that I "gave it my all". Unfortunately that was not the case. Not going to make excuses. Simple answer is it all got too much for me and I gave up and quit... again" (PH, 2017 after he "quit" his North Channel attempt; permission granted to include quote for those who are wondering).   I admire the honesty in this post - especially in a forum so replete with syrupy sweet positive posts.  My friend was right.  The situation got too much for him and he gave up.  So, is he a quitter?  I think not.  Let me explain fully....

Quitting isn't always failing

Quitting doesn't always fit into a neat little box where we ought to characterize someone as a quitter and/or a failure.  Sometimes quitting is the smartest thing a person can do given the circumstances; sometimes quitting is what a person does who is not committed to an outcome; and even other times, quitting is what quitters do who never attempt anything.  To explain these dimensions, let me break down my own taxonomy of quitting and you can decide for yourself if you fall into any category at any one time.  I experienced all four and probably other levels of quitting without realizing it.

Patrick's Taxonomy of Quitting

Quitting while you are ahead:  Professional athletes who age to perfection often get questioned about quitting "at the top" rather than slowly deteriorating and retiring as a "washed-up" hero.  Those questions are tough because professional athletes often persist at their sport because that sport is all they know.  Quitting in those circumstances might be quitting on life and losing the only semblance of meaning the person maintains.  Even people outside sports understand this problem.  Do you retire early from work and "soak in" the virtues of a retired life or do you carry on with your work to provide you with meaning?  These questions haunt us all.  Quitting is part of this question and the decision to quit does not characterize who we are or what we value.  Sometimes quitting is a good thing and other times quitting can be quite foolish.

Quitting without trying:  On the opposite end of the value spectrum are those who quit without ever getting off the couch.  I quit piano without practicing one lick; quit learning Spanish without much effort; and quit learning to program in C (opted for C++) because I simply couldn't muster the enthusiasm.  I quit a lot and a quit without trying.  For those activities that I quit, I have nothing to say but that I obviously didn't have the desire to continue on.  Does that make me bad a person?  Nope.  I simply quit because the activity held little value in my overall purpose in life.  Quitting under these circumstances means that I had no staying power, no motivation to strive for more, and no will to put up with the hassles.  I know many people who quit without trying.  I'm not proud of these moments because these represent what we think when most of us envision quitters.  I fell into this category of quitter many times.  

Quitting while under duress:  Many of us have quit when the going got tough.  I recall many instances in my life when things just turned sideways and I had enough.  There were countless climbs, outings on the ocean, and such that simply overwhelmed me at the time and I felt at peace with quitting because I had no other option.  I quit when I know the stakes are too high and I don't wish to test my fate.  Quitting here is not quitting.  I see this version of quitting as the one that creates the greatest shame for those who experience it.  My friend who posted on Facebook probably felt a bit of this but I would argue that his quitting falls more with the last level than with this one.  Sure, the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland is one if not the most challenging marathon swims on this planet but quitting under duress here is not quitting and giving up.  I believe quitting under these circumstances fall more in line with...

Quitting to reassess and to attempt again:  Many of us quit while we are ahead.  We quit after we assess the objective and subjective risks with an endeavor and, after careful reflection - the kind that is so abundant for us marathon swimmers and mountaineers alike - we opt to turn around or to stop.  That judgment is hardly quitting.  Sure, we quit but that act is not the same as any other act of quitting.  Our decision to quit stems from motivation to pursue the goal, faith in ourselves to accomplish that goal, and the meaning we derive in attaining the goal.  All of these parts and perhaps others go into what we consider before we pull the proverbial plug.  After we quit, we start planning our next attempt.  Quitting in these circumstances is learning from our failures of preparation - sometimes both physical and mental.  I spoke with countless adventurers and they all recount times when they quit but never times that they simply gave up and never returned.  Each of these "quitters" were simply taking a break to reassess their objective.  They dust themselves off and dive back into the next attempt.

I admire those "quitters" who fall into the latter taxon.  These folks are my heroes.  I admire those who succeed by facing adversity - especially if they find themselves on the lousy end with several attempts.  Think about all the times you believe you quit.  Do you consider yourself a quitter or a loser?  If so, think carefully about those instances and whether you gained much from the experience.  Quitters who never even attempted the risk are those who might be most apt to criticize the failure but for those of us who have failed and then succeeded, we admire you.  Keep on quitting until you get it right!


Thanks PH for granting me the rights to quote you.  Your post stuck with me for weeks and I was bursting to write this blog post for myself and for others.  Hope you found it somewhat instructive.  Also, thanks for all of you for following along with my adventures.  You'll read more about how I quit, pick myself up, dust off, and keep going.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

Back in the saddle again....

It has been a while since I posted to my "climbing on purpose" blog.  Forgive my absence; hopefully some of you are still interested in my pursuits.  Just to keep everyone (new and old) up-to-date on my goings on, here is a very brief recap...

2014:  I traveled to Nepal to climb Everest.  After the Khumbu icefall incident that killed many Sherpa, the Nepali government shut down the mountain.  I went home bummed and $40K poorer.  The events soured me on the whole Everest experience.  I was just astounded at the whole ordeal and wondered if this type of adventure fit my tastes.

2015:  I traveled back to Nepal to give it another go on Everest.  This trip ended with a similar result - no climbing - but Mother Nature one-upped herself and gave us a nice shaking in the form of an earthquake.  Many people lost their homes and lives.  It was a real tragedy and I left again about $40K poorer without even a sniff of the climb.  I was less bummed after this failed bid because there was nothing that could be done by any human to make the mountain safe.  Also, I felt somewhat relieved to be able to leave in good shape and healthy.

I left the mountains behind for a bit while I decided to focus my energy on swimming - a long-term goal of mine was to swim the English Channel.  So, in lieu of training for another climb, I started to swim and swim and swim.  Right after I returned from Nepal in May of 2015, I started to organize my English Channel swim.  I was fortunate enough to find a slot on a late tide in September with Neil Streeter aboard SUVA.  Mother Nature again proved more powerful (as usual) than my luck and I was sent home from Dover without even an attempt.

2016:  The setbacks from the previous years gave me a focus and resolve for training and adventure.  I set my sights on completing the open water "Triple Crown" and do it fairly rapidly.  The truth of the matter was that I had originally focused on only two of the swims - the Catalina Channel and the English Channel.  After completing them 9 days apart, my swimming friends urged me to complete the "Triple" by entering the 20 Bridges Swim (i.e., swim around Manhattan island).  Everyone in the marathon swimming community supported my bid and I was lucky that all the pieces fell into place.  After August 15th of 2016, I completed the three swims in the shortest time on record.

What these past few events taught me was patience.  I am not really a patient person; I wish I were and I am practicing being more patient every day.  The events that lead to these setbacks were not controllable by me or by anyone else.  My best bet was simply to get up, dust myself off, and prepare for another challenge.  So, I am here to tell you that I am ready for my next challenge - Everest 2018.

Some of you may wonder why I would try again after dropping a few years of college tuition on this endeavor.  Often, I tell people that I am just too stupid and too stubborn to give up.  Those past attempts were not attempts.  I never got past Camp 1 on Everest!  This time around, I intend to climb from the North (Tibet) side with SummitClimb (again).  My good pal Brendan Madden and I plan to climb together.  If you followed my previous posts, you'll recognize his name because he and I climbed Aconcagua together.  We are off for Everest in April.  Follow along as I provide more details about our adventure.

For those who wonder how I am preparing for the climb, I invite you to check out my daily training log.  I completed 38 days so far and will send routine updates on my preparation.

Thanks for following and stay tuned for some exciting pictures and updates.