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.