Thursday, January 30, 2014

Playing By Numbers

I'm at the stage with my Stronglifts program where the weights go up, then down, then up, then down, and I don't mean up and down like a bench press. After a few sessions, I'll finally manage to squeak out 5 sets of 5 reps, which means next session the weight goes up. When I first started out, it might take one or two sessions to build back up to 5 sets of 5 reps, now it takes three sessions, and some times I don't make it in three sessions, which means the weight goes down again. The only exercise where I am continuing to steadily add weight is my deadlift. On all my other exercises I am cycling up and down to gain a few kilograms overall.

 Beautiful Century, Rocky Mountains, AB


Riding home from the gym today, I was thinking about how fixated you get on a number that is essentially fairly meaningless. I'm not sure that there is any really robust scientific reason why 5 sets of 5 reps is the magic target number for strength gains, but once that number is out there, my attention sure gets glued on to it and it becomes to some degree the measure of success or failure.


I know too many climbers who get similarly attached to climbing grades, often to the point of absurdity. They'll thrutch their way up a route in the poorest possible style, dogging on all the gear, simply because the climb is rated a certain number and, once climbed they can “tick off” that grade. This is like completing your reps/sets with poor form, such as not squatting deeply, and calling that level done. It ain't done unless you did it clean and with good form.

Care Aid, Waterline Wall, Selkirks, BC


Years ago I belonged to women's climbing club and I can remember the instructor teaching us about working up through grade pyramids. Essentially, you start the bottom of the pyramid at a grade about one level above what you can climb easily, say a 10a (Ewebank 18) and you aim to redpoint three different 10a climbs, then two different 10b climbs, then one 10c climb. After that, you start the pyramid again with 10c on the bottom. I thought the whole thing seemed quite obvious. Climbing one 10a doesn't make you a 10a climber as there are a whole range of 10a routes out there in the real world. But, this concept was totally lost on the rest of my team-mates all of whom were gym climbers (it's an interesting aside to note that they all quit climbing after a year or two) and the instructor really struggled to get this concept across. 

Functional strength, start of Evolution Ski Traverse, 
Sierra Mountains, CA


You see the same concept in all kinds of recreational endeavours. People think if they nail an eskimo roll they know all there is to know about kayaking, or if they can make some parallel/tele turns they know all there is to know about ski mountaineering, but there is so much more involved in traveling safely and efficiently in the big, wide outside world than simply mastering one fairly minor technical skill. A big part of becoming more proficient is simply getting out as often as you can. My kayaking has got better from more mileage in more varied conditions not because I have simply been banging away at learning to eskimo roll. There's a similar analogy to weight training, if you keep working at it, your form continues to improve and, while there may not be big gains on each end of the bar, you do get better at recruiting all your muscles, stabilizing the trunk under load, and moving through a full range of motion. Hitting a new PR on any particular lift is nice, but a secondary achievement to simply becoming a stronger more functional human being.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Storm That Never Was

After a little bit of kayak sailing on Sunday, and all kinds of winds forecast as Tropical Cyclone Dylan ambled it's way closer to the coast at a leisurely 9 km/hour, we had big plans for surfing and sailing during the coming week. 

On Monday, we kayak sailed from Machans Beach to Yorkeys Knob in moderate winds (20 knots) with our new 0.65 square metre test sails. Monday's trip actually felt like a doddle compared to our trip from Machans Beach to Ellis Beach back in December when I was sailing in circles and barely able to stay right side up. Either the new smaller sail is the key or we are getting better at kayak sailing. I think it's a little of both. Certainly, reducing the size of the sail by 35 cm2 greatly reduces the heeling force and, with the boat not broaching on every wave, steering is much easier. We tried doing some surfing at Yorkeys Knob but we could only manage catching a few short waves. 

On Wednesday, with some trepidation as gale force winds were forecast, we went up to Yorkeys Knob at low tide. Before we left, we storm proofed the house bringing in all the outdoor furniture, tying things down and putting all potential missiles away. When we got to Yorkeys Knob, the tops were blowing off the waves and the tide was low enough, but the waves were not really that big. There is a continuous cycle of dredging at Yorkeys Knob which is really changing the sea bed and, to our minds, reducing the wave potential. 

 Saltwater Creek

Right now, the waves are very narrow and tend to rise up, only to drop away again in 50 metres or so. Rides are consequently very short and haphazard. You get on the wave and seconds later, the wave subsides back down and you are left as flat as the actress with the bishop. The presence of a hundred metres of dredging pipe that is always inevitably anchored right where the best waves break adds to the frustration.

On Thursday, with Cyclone Dylan far to the south of us – where it is undoubtedly wreaking havoc – the wind pretty much dropped off to nothing, and we did not even bother taking the kayaks up to Yorkeys Knob. I cycled down to the Esplanade and bouldered for an hour - the first time in almost a week as we have had lots of rain. The walls were washed clean of routes, but everything was dry, except for the cycle path which was 40 cm underwater by the big king tides that are running this week. Apparently, a few of the beach side communities in Cairns were flooded as the tide ran up to 4 metres. And so the week that was supposed to wash in on a torrent of rain and maelstrom of wind, came in as gently as a mothers caress.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

There Be Crocodiles

“Hey, hey, you there, better watch out, there's a big crocodile swimming around here.” A couple of guys in a fishing boat anchored not far off shore near Brown Bay shouted at me. I thanked them and kept paddling. Clearly, they thought we were crazy, but, what were we to do, abandon our kayaks and walk on water to shore? The presence of a mobile crocodile did, however, make me rethink the half hour we had just spent practising eskimo rolls not 200 metres away. 

We had launched from the boat ramp at Lyons Point and paddled east towards Cape Grafton. Rounding False Cape, we got into the full brunt of the southeast wind and made very slow progress into Misson Bay towards Yarrabah. The winds had not been forecast to increase until the afternoon and I thought we would have time to paddle in past Cribble Point to Yarrabah before we turned and caught the wind back home. Forecasting, however, is not an exact science and the wind had arrived a few hours early.

How cute is that, matching sails


After beating into the wind for a while, never much fun, we turned and raised our new 0.65 square metre test sails. With wind in the 15 to 17 knot range, the smaller sail was ample to get us moving fast and I found the smaller size felt way more stable than our regular square metre sails. The only time I had to brace was when a gust of wind hit me directly abeam and threatened to tip the kayak. Doug's test sail has a separate section that can be ripped off to reduce the size of the sail to about 0.35 square metres for very strong winds. By the time we tested out the smaller sail, we were partially sheltered from the wind so the smallest size didn't get a very good test. 

There is a monsoon low up near the Solomon Islands and a building ridge from a strong high down in the Tasman Sea so the next few days could be pretty windy and good for kayak surfing and sailing.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Progress

The only thing faster than the speed of thought is the speed of forgetfulness. Vera Nazarian.

A New Year has come and six weeks has passed since I first posted my goals for the summer in Cairns. Although this is supposed to be the wet season in Cairns, to date, there hasn't been that much wet. A few short periods of heavy rain interspersed with longer periods of hot dry weather. 

Yesterday, made brave by having a spotter (Doug), I climbed the bouldering area roof, once from the east and once from the west. There are a couple of moves on each variation where you definitely have to keep moving through and it really helped to memorise the holds before I went for it. I guess I can check that goal off, but I won't stop climbing the roof as there are a dozen more variations to do.

 My spotter

The last time I was out eskimo rolling, I got 7 out of 10 rolls, which is not quite my goal of 4 out of 5. I'm not really “there” yet with this goal yet as I tend to progress in a forward and back step-wise fashion and I'm probably due for a bit of step back now after having gone forward sequentially the last few practise sessions.

Finally, I'm squatting (5 sets of 5 reps) 47.5 kg and deadlifting 60 kg, so I still have 2.5 kg to go on the back squat and 10 kg (seems a lot) on deadlifts. Right now I am deloading (aka resting) for a few days with hopes of going back stronger next week.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Deloading On Liver

For the last couple of weeks I have been feeling as if I got run over by a bus. Every muscle, tendon, and ligament is sore. Foam rolling and stretching helps, but not that much. I've been pushing on with the lifting and bouldering while a niggling little voice has been saying “you really should deload.” After this mornings weight training session, I knew I could ignore that irritating little whiner no more. I do need a deload week. Sooner rather than later. I doubt I'll be able to manage doing no training for a week, but I will cut out the weight training for 5 to 7 days and I'll try and reduce the bouldering intensity. Cutting out bouldering altogether for a week is just not an option -it's too much fun. Walking, biking and kayaking remain fair game. I gotta do something to stay sane.

 Snowy River Sunset

The gym is pretty busy these days with all the New Year's exercisers. At first I was feeling reasonably heartened because I saw some new folks actually lifting free weights, but, more and more, I've been seeing really unhappy looking folks grinding away on the “cardio” machines. I'd be pretty miserable too if I thought the road to health and fitness was reached by endless miles on a treadmill. 

 Bridal Veil Falls, Blue Mountains

There's a lot of new trainers and clients too. One young man with his older and fairly heavy lady client happens to overlap with the days/times I spend in the gym. He looks like an earnest young fellow, no doubt doing his best to get this lady into some semblance of reasonable physical condition - to his credit his client is not grinding away with a death rictus on the treadmill – but (isn't there always a but), after watching a series of work-outs that feature exclusively muscle isolation exercises, I started to think that getting in shape for this woman will likely take longer than she has left to live. I have been tempted, who wouldn't be, to go over and say, “right, enough with the one leg at a time squat on the silly machine, stand up and squat, onto a chair if you have to, but really squat.” I actually feel quite sad watching this scenario play out each day. The road to health and fitness for this particular lady is clearly so long and not getting any shorter with work-outs that are not time efficient. I think, if it were me, I'd be tempted to just go back home and sit on the couch again. 

 Bouldering

My latest pet peeve is the whole “super-food” bat-crap. Inevitably these “super-foods” are some kind of exotic extract, algae, ancient Aztec grass seed, ground up tuber from a remote Hindu Kush valley, or goanna turd extract chewed up and regurgitated by a full-blood indigenous Australian. According to the pundits, these “super-foods” can cure cancer, prevent heart disease, balance estrogen, testosterone, oxytocin, prolactin, DHEA, and a hundred other hormones you've never heard of (all at once!), reduce inflammation, normalize blood sugar, blah, blah, blah and put not just a man but a whole city on the moon. Seriously, who really believes this shit? Strangely, animal organ meats are actually the most nutrient dense foods (if you use standard measures of nutrient density) available to us, yet you never see anyone calling liver a super-food.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Million Attempts And Lessons Learned

Eskimo rolling a sea kayak, if you get everything right, is physically, at least from a perceived exertion perspective, pretty easy. Intellectually, however, there is a lot of mental gymnastics going on. First, you are upside down in water, you can't breathe and are some what disorientated. The first thing you intuitively try to do is get your head up, the second is pull on paddle, and the third, is pull on the off-side knee – generally all at once. Taken individually each of these is enough to precipitate you back into the water, and together, they are a recipe for remaining inverted.


Spring climbing in the Adamants

My own journey to eskimo rolling is long and tortuous. Last summer, I had a quasi-reliable roll under perfect conditions, but, somewhere over the winter, I completely lost the ability to roll, and, repeated attempts and learning sessions almost inevitably resulted in many more failures than successes. I was often tempted to quit, and, the only reason I didn't is that I am the classic type A personality, with that A in super big bold font. I simply don't quit. 

Summer climbing in the Monashees

So, as someone who has finally learned a physically easy but mentally challenging activity, what works and what doesn't:
  • Persistence, practice and patience. Nothing more needs to be said. No-one ever got better at anything without these three P's.
  • Accurate feedback. All that rah, rah, “dude, you crushed it,” bullshit does not help anyone get any better. You need accurate feedback on how well you are performing. There are thousands of misguided mediocre recreationalists out there thinking they are top-draw climbers/skiers/paddlers because some one once told them they were a “badass.” Unless you are at the top of your game, you're not a badass. Don't wear the tee-shirt.
  • Knowing when to switch strategies. You are either in “the dip” and on your way to final success, or you are on your way down the rabbit hole to mediocrity. The key is to know when to change strategies and when to push through. This is a tough one because, if you can't master the skill in question you are unlikely to know what to do differently.
  • The ability to back up and learn the things you think you already knew, but actually know jack about. I thought I knew how to eskimo roll. After all, I had done a fair number of successful rolls in the past, but, I really didn't understand the process or exactly what to do with my body and paddle. I had to back way up to the first stages of learning before I could move forward. This takes a little bit of humility and a lot of insight.
  • A desire to succeed and not be satisfied with anything less than success. No excuses, not now, not ever. 
Summer climbing in the Selkirks
 
 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Seventh Day

I don't believe in the oft-repeated adage about training that “just showing up” is good enough. That might work for novice exercisers who need to build a habit of regular exercise, but, if you are serious about getting better at your sport, whether it is running, weight lifting, climbing, kayaking, or skiing, you gotta do more than “just show up.” Showing up is a good start, but once you are there, get after it – whatever it is - with focus and determination. Don't slack off, don't make excuses, don't waste time, focus on your best efforts and go all out until you are done, physically and mentally. Then, chill out and rest. Rest is as important as training. 

This is what I follow for five or six days out of the week. Three of those days I thrash myself in the gym lifting heavy, the other two or three days, I thrash myself on the bouldering wall (providing it's not wet). On the seventh day, like God, I rest. Usually by going for a longer hike or an easy kayak. 

Today was my “seventh” day. I hadn't walked up the Whitfield trail to Mount Lumley for almost two months (I had no idea it had been that long until I checked our handy trip database), so I cycled down to the trail head first thing and hiked up to the lookout on top. I doused myself liberally with repellent before hand as I thought the leeches might be bad after all the rain, but the guy who (voluntarily) maintains the trail had obviously been busy and the trail had apparently been manicured with nail scissors (at least it looked that way). 

Scouts Cap from Double Island


After breakfast (bacon and eggs for the 2,000th time in a row), Doug and I took the kayaks up to Palm Cove for an easy paddle out to Double and Haystack Islands. The winds were light from the north and it was hot in our dark coloured stinger suits so we dunked ourselves in the ocean before we began to paddle. With light winds, it was a good day to work on paddling without a rudder which means steering by tilting the kayak up on edge. I find this a very frustrating way to paddle when it is windy as our Prijon Marlin kayaks do not track well at all and it is hard to have a really efficient forward stroke with your boat tilted way over on its side – plus you get a horrible cramp in one side and a sore butt cheek on the other side. But, rudder cables do break so being able to paddle without a rudder is an essential skill.

We ambled out and around Scouts Cap (aka Haystack). The water was a bit murky after all the rain and wind recently, but we still saw a half dozen turtles and the water close into the shore-line was teeming with schools of small fish. It was calm enough to paddle just a metre off the rocky shoreline and to weave in and out among the boulder gardens. 

Doug, caught mid-roll


From Scouts Cap we wandered over to Double Island and paddled around to the beach on the western end where we did some eskimo roll practise. I was pretty happy to get seven out of ten rolls on the first shot. As usual, when done properly, the rolls were physically easy. In hindsight, the whole long process of (re)learning to eskimo roll has been really good as I now understand exactly how to roll the boat up and can identify where I am going wrong when I don't make it. I'm certainly not at the “bomb-proof” stage, but I have improved dramatically in the last month, and, I am glad that I persevered when I often felt like quitting. 

Finally, a wonderful friend gave us half of her kefir grains and these are now sitting on the kitchen counter growing into some fermented goodness.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Experiments In Kayak Sailing

After our incident filled Bramston Beach to Cairns sea kayak trip, we came home and made a list of all the things we had to check, repair, refit, and/or modify on our kayaks. One of the things we wanted to modify was the size of our kayak sails. At a square metre, they are fine in winds up to about 20 knots. Beyond 20 knots things get interesting, and, up near 30 knots kayak sailing is downright thrilling. 

After doing some more research, we decided that a sail somewhere between 0.60 and 0.70 square metres would be a good size for windier days. I managed to borrow a sewing machine off a friend, sourced some fabric from a local store, and made a test sail roughly 0.70 square metres. Then, we just had to wait for some wind.

We got an up tick in the wind yesterday and raced out with the kayaks and sails before the wind had a chance to drop. A good test would be a 20 knot wind but those days seem fairly rare now summer has arrived, so we had to make do with a 13 to 15 knot wind. I gave Doug the new sail as he was the designer, while I, the common labourer, took our usual metre square sail. 

Kayak sailing to Lizard Island

With the bigger sail, I was definitely going faster than Doug if neither of us paddled, but, as the wind dropped a bit, the spread between us became less evident. My kayak felt a bit tippy in the wind gusts and I had to brace a few times and even throw in some stern rudders to stay on course when the wind was stronger. Doug, with the smaller sail, felt stable, and did not need to brace or stern rudder. We both thought that if the wind had been stronger, the benefit of having a bigger sail would be overcome by the increased difficulty encountered tracking the kayak, and the need to brace to stay upright. 

The design needs a little tweaking as the reduced length of the sail area makes it impossible to reach from the cockpit to fold away completely when on the water. We are even thinking of having a three stage sail with a full metre for light winds, 0.70 square metres for moderate winds, and 0.35 square metres for strong winds. We just need a series of windy days to complete all the tests. 

Doug kindly did the car shuttle while I stayed in the water and worked on my eskimo roll. I was stoked to get four in a row using the paddle in an extended pawlatta position. If past behavior is a predictor of future behavior, I'm due for a step backwards in the process, but, maybe this time I can beat history.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wet Season Bouldering: Better Than Nothing

On Friday, the first monsoonal rain system moved into the area, and, in the last week, we've had about 250 mm of rain. No problem for kayaking as it isn't cold. A slight problem for hiking – leeches become virulent and the already steep trails can become really slippery, but, pretty challenging for climbing. In fact, I haven't been down to the Esplanade bouldering area since last Thursday, the day before the rains started.

It was raining lightly when I first got up this morning, but, by the time I'd had a cup of tea, the sun was out and, despite a forecast of “a few showers” there weren't that many clouds about. A few showers in Australia can mean either no rainfall or 200 mm of rain, there really is no reliable way to tell in advance, so I find it best to not let weather forecasts deter me. After all, I frequently regret not going out, but, rarely – if ever – regret going out. 

 Working the roof on a dry day

Despite being all over sore from yesterdays workout, I felt energetic. Seems quixotic but that is the beauty of maximum effort weight training workouts, you can be totally smashed, yet full of energy at the same time. I wasn't too hopeful about being able to climb too much after all the heavy rain lately, but I did think the roof at the bouldering area might be fairly dry.

Cycling down in the sun actually felt really good. Even in a warm climate, there is something about the sun shining that lifts your mood. I was surprised to find the bouldering wall relatively dry when I arrived, except for all the water sitting in the cups of the jug holds. Too bad, a heavy shower came over exactly as I arrived and doused everything down. 

Undeterred I put on my shoes, queued up a podcast (Mark Sisson has some new podcasts out), chalked up and started climbing. Before I started climbing I thought slippery wet footholds under greasy damp shoes would give me the most grief – a lot of the holds are pretty polished from the typically novice climbers that boulder here – but, the handholds were actually the slickest features, and I realised (duh) that the entire base of all the walls is actually undercut so the footholds were not too bad. After greasing off half a dozen times trying to warm up, I switched to climbing under the roof. But, only about two holds on the roof were actually dry, the rest were under a continuously streaming drip of rain water that tracked under the roof. 

I got half way across the roof a dozen times, but it was really hard to “go for it” as you need to do when climbing something strenuous. The holds were just too slimy under hands and feet and I was way too worried about a nasty fall onto the hard ground below. Doug climbs the route in a vertical position, but I work it in a horizontal position. Dropping off vertically is easy, imploding down horizontally, not so much fun. In the end, I found two or three holds that were dry when I started – wet when I finished – and worked a bunch of “Peter Pans” until even the last key holds were slimy and wet. Definitely worth going out.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Problem With Chunking

One of the ways we learn new skills is to chunk them into smaller parts and then assimilate all the chunks into a whole. Chunking is how expert chess players visualise all the possible sequences of any one move on a chess board. I've been learning to eskimo roll in chunks, which is one of the positives aspects of learning a sweep roll versus a C to C roll, but also one of the negative aspects. 

Doug on Lake Cootharaba

The problem with chunking is, although it helps you master complex skills like an eskimo roll, at some point, you have to sequence all the chunks together into a fluid whole. In drills, you practice the hip flick, then the sweep, then the finish position and then, hopefully, you put it all together into a smooth effortless eskimo roll. But, learning in chunks introduces an artificial division between each of the component parts of an effective roll. In practice, a chunked eskimo roll changes a smooth effortless sequence into a series of disparate parts.

My rolls are improving, but, I am not getting right around into a solid finish position with my torso rotated and my head looking down the shaft of the blade. I had read that you can tie a piece of bright ribbon to the paddle shaft to give your eyes something to follow and this can naturally lead you around into a solid finish position. For various reasons, I found this drill counter productive. Not only did my sweeps deteriorate – because I was focused on that dratted ribbon - but I really felt the sequence of the roll slipping back into a series of separate chunked moves. Any drill is worth trying, but, you need to recognize which drills are helpful and which are regressive. This is the secret to pulling out of “the dip.”

Beating Your Genes

These are my genes. As you can see, my genes run more to Stocky the Dwarf than Twiggy the super model. Without giving away too much personal information, my family tree contains plenty of the fruit of modern non-infectious diseases that are rampant in western society. 

Hopefully, you can work out that my Mum is 
the one on the right


While I have never been fat, I have worked over the years to stay slim – at least as slim as a stocky body type allows. Previous to the last few years that typically involved what conventional doctors and dieticians prescribed for maintaining a healthy weight – lots of exercise and a diet based on “healthy whole grains”, lots of vegetables, some fruit, plus a bit of protein – lean, of course – and low in overall fat. During this time, I also read lots of books and articles on nutrition, including many books that specifically addressed sports nutrition and they all emphasised a diet high in carbohydrates and low in both fat and protein. Many, if not all of these sources, while not strictly advocating a vegetarian diet certainly did not discourage vegetarianism or highlight any of the pitfalls of a vegetarian diet, and none ever acknowledged any idea that the body might run efficiently on fat. Carbohydrate was mostly assuredly king, despite the fact that there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. 

Fun exercise

 Luckily, I like exercise and was quite happy doing hours of exercise every day (I regularly did four hours of exercise every work day and another eight hours each day on the weekend). Which, in hindsight, is probably a good thing, as without all that exercise to lower my insulin and burn the excess carbohydrate I would have been in a highly inflammatory state. As it was, I merely struggled with continual hunger – which I could never fully satisfy for fear of “getting fat” - and a series of almost daily hypoglycaemic episodes which left me shattered for hours afterward. If it sounds pretty grim, it actually was. 

In addition to daily hypoglycaemic episodes I had a host of other grain and carbohydrate induced irritations which, like most Westerners, I assumed were normal. My own list of symptoms induced by the standard high carbohydrate, grain heavy diet included (note that I did not eat junk food):
  • Abdominal gas and bloating.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Frequent and overpowering hunger. If I did not eat every two, or at the most three hours I would deteriorate to a state where I would eat anything and everything.
  • Irritability, particularly when I was hungry, which was often.
  • Moodiness.
  • Hayfever.
  • Asthma.
  • Various skin rashes.
  • PMS and painfully debilitating menstrual periods accompanied by vomiting and diarrhoea (those symptoms were particularly fun).
  • Poor recovery from strenuous exercise.
  • Anaemia (during the dark days when I was vegetarian).
When I got involved with Crossfit, almost five years ago, I changed my diet radically. I went from eating around 70 to 80% of my calories from carbohydrate and the remainder from fat and protein to the Zone diet (40% carbohydrate, 30% fat and protein), and I completely cut out grains of any kind (yes, quinoa is a grain). Within one week most of my annoying symptoms had disappeared and those that I still had were much ameliorated. 

More fun exercise


About 18 months into the Zone diet, a friend introduced Doug and I to the Paleo diet and we switched, very easily at this point, to a Paleo diet. That was nearly three years ago, and every single symptom I had has completely resolved. Being symptom free is wonderful, but just as wondrous is the freedom that comes from staying lean without doing hours and hours of exercise each day or being continually hungry.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Kayak Surfing, Rolling, Rain and More Mountain Bike Tracks

With about 100 mm of rain in the last 36 hours and a deluge in progress, it was clearly not a morning for bouldering down at the Esplanade. But, I wanted to do something before we went out kayaking in the afternoon, so I went off with a brolly and a rough plan to walk a loop around the local area. On a previous walk I had seen a rough road leading east into some bushland but the gate at the start was full of the usual Australian signs forbidding entry. On that occasion, I was on the way home so I walked on by, but this morning, I decided to do what any real Australian would do – ignore authority.

Kayaking in Moreton Bay

Initially dirt, the road then changed to tarmac, but, off to the side of the road I noted a dirt track heading into the trees. I left the road and soon found myself doing what I often seem to do – going uphill on a downhill mountain bike track. I followed this track up over a nice flowing trail and eventually came out at a big water tank. A really sketchy trail headed up a ridge above the water tank and I followed this until it ended in thick bush. The clay track surface was super slippery descending in my worn out running shoes. On the way down, I followed a bike track on the other (south) side of the tarmac road which switchbacked very gently down through casuarina forest. Apparently these are the Palmer trails. They don't seem as popular as some, probably because cyclists actually have to ride up hill (a very short hill) to the start instead of driving. 

In the afternoon, we took the kayaks up to Yorkeys Knob to see how the wave was coming in. The wind has been less than forecast and the low tides are fairly high right now so we weren't altogether optimistic. Everything has to come together for the Yorkeys wave – low tide of under 1.2 m (ideally) and a good easterly wind to blow up a swell. It all looked pretty sad when we got there, but there really is no point looking at something from afar, you have to get up to it. So we launched the boats and went out for a look. 

Leaving Peel Island

The waves were certainly rideable, although coming in a little too close together as they tend to do when locally generated. I had quite a few of those super easy rides where you don't even need to steer, just sit on the wave and ride into the beach. Recently, there has been a lot of dredging activity in Moon River and the silt is dumped out in the surfing area. The shifting sandbars seem to be changing the shape of some of the waves coming in, and today the waves were frequently coming from two different directions and overlapping.  A big squall came in while we were surfing and pounded the surface of the water. I sure wished our underwater camera would come back from warranty as the sky, the sea and the rain made amazing images. 

The water was very brown from all the recent rain and, even though I managed to get four eskimo rolls – still shaky at the finish – I didn't manage to watch my paddle throughout. I think this was a combination of murky water and simply forgetting to watch the paddle right through to the finish position. I had tied a piece of green fabric to my shaft so I could follow that with my eyes, but, through the brown gloom I could barely see it. Next trick is to tie on a bit of our bright yellow floating tow rope. Perhaps that will help me get through solidly to the correct finish position.

Adventures in KetoLand

If you follow this blog, and I can't imagine why you would be reading this if you didn't, you would know that I recently embarked on a quest to stay in nutritional ketosis for an extended period of time. While good long term research is admittedly slim, there is nothing to indicate that being in nutritional ketosis for an extended period of time has any negative health effects. Conversely, there is a good deal of research that indicates that a high carbohydrate diet (even a supposedly "healthy" plant based diet) has many, varied and significant short and long term sequelae. 


I've been chugging along quite happily for about two weeks feeling very well and making some impressive (come on, throw me a bone, I'm 50) strength gains without any difficulty. Most days I eat just twice a day and my first meal is anywhere from 10.30 am to 1.00 pm. On days when I expect to be doing a lot of activity before my first meal, I'll drink a coffee with coconut milk - full of wonderful medium chain triglycerides (aka MCT's) which can help kick start ketosis. Otherwise, I just drink a cup or two of black or green tea. 

Nice head down position



This morning we met some friends for a morning paddle out to Double Island off Palm Cove. We had a wonderful paddle over to the island (I even managed to land two out of three eskimo rolls in the lee of the island), puttered around a bit, and headed back for brunch. We had a delightful brunch of wonderful paleo foods, but, for someone who subsists on about 30 gm of carbohydrate a day, the paleo granola (yummy) and fruit turned out to be a bit of a sugar shock. 


A couple of hours later I felt as stumbly and bumbly as back in my carbo-crashing zombie days. I assumed my blood sugar had spiked as a transient decrease in peripheral insulin sensitivity has been observed on ketogenic diets, and, keto-adapted mice have elevated levels of glucose for up to six hours after glucose challenges compared to chow fed mice. Even though I wasn't hungry, I ate some protein and a good amount of saturated fat (bring on the heart attack) and went out for a walk to see if some exercise could burn off what I assumed was mild hyperglyceamia. It took about 45 minutes of stumbling along before I felt myself normalize and, by the end of my 90 minute walk I was back to my non-hungry, clear headed, energetic self. 


In hindsight, and after a bit more research, I realized I merely experienced what 98% of people live with every day. A surge of insulin in response to carbohydrate with a concomitant drop in blood glucose leading to – stated bluntly – feeling like shit. Luckily, I have normalized my hormones enough that eating some good fat and protein, and taking a little easy exercise was enough to set me right again.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Know When To Walk Away


I have never taken any exercise except sleeping and resting. Mark Twain.

As one of those tedious, goal oriented people who think that all that talk about the journey being as important as the destination is merely the excuse of the unmotivated, I am like a terrier down a fox hole in pursuit of my objectives. I'll climb until I can no longer hang on, lift until the bar falls on top of me, or virtually drown myself trying to get a reliable eskimo roll before I would consider giving up. Persistence is important in striving for goals, but it has taken me half a century to realize that stepping away and resting is just as important. 


 Resting after a days climbing in the Selkirk Mountains

As a compulsive exerciser, it has been hard for me to reduce my training volume, but, decreasing the frequency of my weight training days while keeping the intensity maximal has resulted in the biggest strength gains I have seen in years – and remember, at 50, I am well past my use by date. This is not just useless strength like doing bicep curls with a dumb-bell or sitting at a leg press machine, this is real functional strength that allows me to hang on all the way across the roof at the outdoor climbing area in Cairns, or easily lift my sea kayak overhead. 

Hamish, caught dozing after a day climbing at Skaha

Last summer, I had a semi-reliable eskimo roll in my sea kayak. I could roll up three to four times out of five, and, if I missed a roll, I could usually get up on my second try. But, somewhere over the intervening months, I ended up doing almost all my practice when I was tired from a long day in the kayak. And, my technique deteriorated. But, with my badger like disposition, I did not quit. I would just keep flipping over and trying to come back up until my face was as blue as the ocean. All this did was ingrain poor movement patterns which are now taking hours of diligent – and intelligent – practice to erase. 
Now, when I go out to work on my eskimo roll I go out with the sole purpose of practicing my roll. That way I am focused and fresh. As soon as my form begins to deteriorate I stop. I no longer keep flipping over and failing to get up. It is, however, important to end skill training sessions on a positive note, so I will regress a little to a hip snap drill that I can do easily to finish off the session ingraining correct movement patterns and finishing in a positive, forward looking frame of mind. 

 Marv, resting after climbing four 11,000'ers in the Purcell Mountains

I often see climbers trying to eke out one last pitch when they are tired and pumped. In some instances, it is good to push through the pump, particularly if you are more mentally fried than physically exhausted and if the fall is safe. But, when your entire form deteriorates to the point that you've completely lost body tension, it is time to quit. Pushing on through this is generally worse in the long run as you ingrain sloppy movement patterns that are difficult to correct later. As Kenny Rogers said “you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Cardio Goes Kaput

Evolution never looks to the future. Richard Dawkins.

As I wrote in my post a few days ago about Pottenger's cats, I'm not convinced that human kind is not actually devolving at this point, but, gross markers of human trends aside, my own personal lifestyle continues to evolve. 

Years ago, I did group fitness classes that were all about “cardio” - as almost all group classes, in fact most prescribed exercise in general is. Those classes were fun, relieved a lot of stress and got me up off my chair in the middle of my workday – all good things. Once I stopped working, however, I rarely sat for an extended of period of time. Instead I was pretty much always out and about doing something – skiing, climbing, hiking, and I just evolved away from standard “cardio” as it all began to seem a bit useless. I kept lifting weights, of course, because lifting weights just made sense. After all, we all begin to loose muscle mass in our twenties, something that cardio does not address. Strangely enough, I noticed that I was plenty fit enough for my activities – fitter than ever in fact – without doing that “cardio” gig where you elevate your heart rate to certain level for an extended period of time. 

 Bouldering in the Selkirk Mountains, BC

Finally, the research is beginning to show that there really is “no such thing as cardio” - kind of reminiscent of “no such thing as an essential carbohydrate." The health benefits in terms of body composition, better performance, reduced morbidity and mortality are far greater when you train to maximal effort in short periods than when you pound away for hours doing the dreaded “cardio.” 

Disturbingly, given the rising popularity of endurance and ultra endurance sports, large amounts of “cardio” are actually bad for health. Who would have thought that marathon runners have worse atherosclerosis than matched sedentary controls? Not the runners themselves I would bet, who are no doubt running “for health.”

In the spirit of maximal training to full physical failure, I spent all my time at the bouldering wall this morning working on the roof. I got one side, I got the other, now I just gotta join up the one move in the middle!

The Dip

I first learnt about The Dip in a little book by Dave MacLeod called “9 out of 10 Climbers Make The Same Mistake.” As an aside, this little book is a real gem that focuses on direct action to improve your climbing instead of putting out all kinds of complicated training regimes that tweak tiny little issues that make no real difference in the end. 

Pulling the big roof on Jungle Boy, El Portero, Mexico


The whole concept of The Dip is that there are times to persevere and times to quit, and recognizing when to stop and when to push through is critical to success. A couple of days ago, I was down at the bouldering area on the Esplanade looking up at the roof and wondering if I was ever going to “get it.” I had been working the roof for a few weeks – off an on – and was beginning to think I was never going to “get it.” 

I am many things, but one thing I am not is a quitter, so I pulled up on the opening moves again, and, to my utmost surprise (I was actually feeling pretty thrashed from a big Stronglifts work-out the day before) made it almost all the way across. I had probably two moves left. Suddenly I realized I had been wallowing in the dip for the last few sessions and that now was not the time to quit but the time to push through.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Running to Stand Still

I was listening to my new favourite podcast the other day and the guest speaker was Danny Dreyer who, apparently, has developed a new running technique/program/protocol/method (you can see I am not really sure what to call it) called “chi running,” which, again I say apparently, enables you to run “easier and injury free.” As an aside, is it a coincidence that so many running sites advertise something about being “injury free” or are endurance athletes, as I suspect, at higher risk of injuries than the rest of us?



 Doug by Katoomba Falls

Anyway, what caught my attention in this podcast – which was in general of zero interest to me as I am not a runner and never will be – was Danny's comment that running was great for burning fat, you just had to run further, and once you were running further, you should run further again. And therein lies the reason that the big machine with the conveyor belt in the gym is called a treadmill, 'cause once you're on it, you can't get off. Our bodies adapt very quickly to training and soon the 5 km you ran yesterday becomes 10 today, 15 tomorrow, and, before you know it, your entire life is about running further in an attempt to get any significant result. 

Climbing the 1,000 Golden Staircase

Of course, the whole idea that running burns fat is a crock unless you have got yourself fat adapted by cutting your carbohydrates down (which seems almost akin to asking a Repulican to support universal health care in the endurance world). If you haven't done that, you just burn whatever carbohydrate you just ate or have stored in your muscles and liver and, once that is gone, if you don't eat more carbohydrate, your body just starts to canabalize muscle to convert protein to glucose. Which doesn't really sound like a great way to burn fat but perhaps explains why endurance athletes are always scrawny with little muscle mass. 

When we were still living in Nelson a few of my friends got involved in triathlons. It often seemed that was the last I saw of them because, by the time they had finished whatever run/bike or swim training they had going on they had no time and no energy to go skiing, climbing or hiking. After their first triathlon they all swore they would never do it again because it ate up so much of their free time. But, the very next year they would all be back at it again. Strangely, despite Danny Dreyer's claims that endurance running would burn fat, they all had a cortisol cushion around the mid-section that never got any smaller, and, they never got any better at breaking trail, breaking a climbing grade plateau, or hiking uphill with a big pack on. In fact, they seemed to get worse. Funny how something that is supposed to be so good for you is actually so bad. 

Overlooking the Kedumba Valley

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pottenger's Cats

Every body (even people who live in a cave like me) has heard of Schrödinger's cat, but how many people are familiar with Pottenger's cats? I recently listened to a podcast where Gray Graham presented this intriguing research. It started me wondering if the generation immediately behind my own is the human culmination of a handful of generations poorly nourished on too much carbohydrate, too little protein and a diet of polyunsaturated fat. The result is all too apparent, soft squishy bodies which may not be “overweight” but are certainly under-muscled, a plethora of auto-immune diseases ranging from Hashimoto's thyroiditis to inflammatory bowel disease to polycystic ovarian syndrome, insulin resistance, and rapidly rising rates of type two diabetes – and etcetera, as this partial list is only that, a partial list. 

Despite all this, US News ranked the Paleo diet 31st – that is dead last – against other popular diets. Of particular note, Slimfast, Nutrisystem, and Jenny Craig all ranked higher! As the Paleo diet gains momentum, criticism is increasing, prompting many in the Paleo/low carb community to latch onto Gandhi's famous quote: “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Unfortunately, I am not as sanguine as some, and don't really see “winning” coming any time soon to a society addicted to frequent carbohydrate highs.

Indian Head surf

Which brings me to a curious, little known fact, humans have no real nutritional requirement for carbohydrate. There are essential proteins and essential fats, but there is no essential carbohydrate. So much for the diet rich in healthy carbohydrate argument. True, most people will find they run better with a certain amount of carbohydrate in their diet – you'll have to experiment on yourself to work out exactly how much – but, apart from anearobic exercise (which we can't keep up for very long in any event), performance, even in endurance athletes, improves when people metabolically adapt to using ketones for fuel. 

Today I deadlifted my body weight, which, by Crossfit standards, isn't really all that exceptional, but, for me is a new record. In fact, I am currently lifting heavier on all my weights than at any other time in my life. Performance gains that I attribute to more rest, less carbohydrate, more protein and more fat. Additional benefits include not having to do all those tedious core exercises any more. If you lift heavy weights, particularly over head, there really is no need to pound out all those boring – and largely – useless “core” exercises. 

Doug looking small at Kanangra Walls


I am also enjoying eating only one or two meals a day without being hungry or suffering any kind of performance issues (including brain fog) in between those sporadic meals. True, this can be a little awkward because I am never really hungry at conventional meal times and my hunger frequently does not coincide with Doug's hunger. But, apart from those two minor inconveniences, not eating all the time, or doing chronic cardio to not get fat from eating all the time, is tremendously liberating. 

As the Paleo diet becomes more mainstream, which I suspect is mostly driven by our society's desire to lose weight, I think we'll see a lot more “faileo” diets which will, unfortunately, feed the fire of righteous indignation among the establishment crowd (and I include the vegetarian/vegan contingent among this group). People will fail for many reasons, a big one, of course, is that losing weight is such an external goal, and not likely to hold up against the sacrifices that have to be made to gain real health. The low-carb flu will knock out all the people who can't tolerate a little short term pain for long term gain – and, face up to it, that is probably 98% of the population. 

In the end, the only people left eating real food will be the odd-balls, cranks, and anti-establishment types who have the wit to think outside the box, and we will have come full circle.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Earl Hill Sweat Session

Queensland continues to swelter under a heat wave. About 1800 km to the south of Cairns, around Brisbane, temperatures have been up into the low 40's, which almost makes our mid-30's look cool. I'm not sure when the wet season is really going to arrive – it has been very dry lately - but the sweat season is definitely here. I laid kinda low for a couple of days, only going out early in the morning to the gym or bouldering wall – where the heat and humidity led to both over-gripping and excessive chalk use - but today, bored of being less active, I pedalled off on the bicycle first thing. 

It was 28oC when I got up just before 6 am, so there seemed no real need to rush off. A cup of tea, to gain a little preventative rehydration (and to wake up) seemed a good idea, and it was nearly 7 am when I headed out on the bicycle. This mornings walk was to Earl Hill lookout which is in the suburb of Trinity Park, one of the northern beach areas of Cairns. I've been up this way many times before with the kayak to Yorkeys Knob, but never on the bicycle so I had to stop a couple of times and check the map. As usual, there was a great bicycle trail that took me all the way to the interpretive sign-age at the start of the walk. 

A new sub-division is going in at the base of Earl Hill, a singularly buggy looking place with tidal Moon River nearby. I imagine the sand-flies are horrendous at certain times of the year. Strangely, those particular details didn't appear to be mentioned in the real estate literature emblazoning various signs. 

Track marker

Earl Hill is a couple of hundred metres high and takes somewhere between 10 and 30 minutes to hike up. This is clearly the Whitfield Track of the northern suburbs as there were a lot of regulars pounding up and down. I had that annoying thing going on with another couple on the trail who I kept leap-frogging all the way up. A bunch of people were obviously trying to go up as fast as possible, although I don't see the point of that when you are gasping so hard you lose the ability to hold your trunk upright and end up hunched over with your hands on your upper thighs.  Losing form is poor form whether you are running, walking or weight training.  Stop it right away if you do.  

Looking out to Fitzroy Island

There is a view point at the top where you can see Yorkeys Knob, the Yarrabah peninsular and out to Fitzroy Island. There wasn't even a hint of breeze at the top and the view point is fully exposed to the sun so I did not hang about too long. There is supposed to be another track that leads to a lookout over Half Moon Bay (there's an original name) but despite wandering about the newly cleared and essentially empty sub-division on both foot and the bicycle, I couldn't find it. Neither could the other couple who were wandering about with a couple of dogs. After a while I gave up and biked home to down the usual three litres of liquid that barely begins the rehydration process. There are some showers in the forecast for the next few days but rain in the tropics seems like snow in the mountains, when you are waiting for it, it never arrives. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Arbitrary Days

Here it is, that time of the year again where the gym gets crowded for a few days or at most a few weeks until all the folks whose New Years Resolutions are actually “to do” lists for the first week of the new year fall back into their old habits. Coincidentally, today was Stronglifts day so I was at the gym and found it surprisingly quiet. The only people there were the regulars who work out week in week out. We all nodded at each other and then got down to it.

 Clifton Beach on a 33 degree day

I've never been one for New Years Resolutions – but then I've never seen the point of any conventional celebrations, birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day, whatever. As a non-traditionalist, I can't see why an arbitrary day on an arbitrary calendar should make any difference in having goals you work towards. If you couldn't motivate yourself in the middle of July to make a change, give something up, or do something new, there is no magic to January 1 as the day that suddenly your life is going to change. 

I'm enjoying working towards my own essentially meaningless goals right now. Weight training crushes me (in a good way), bouldering down by the ocean in the outdoors under the shade of big fig trees is fun, and a good way to work both technique and strength, and eskimo rolling, well, it's good to have some thing that keeps you to be humble.