Happy New Year

Happy New Year to my readers! I suppose this is my first “real time” post. The previous ones were written after-the-fact, with the benefit of hindsight to weave together somewhat of a narrative arc to my journey. Hopefully my posts continue to be compelling reads going forward!

I have not sprinted since early December. But I’ve kept up my lifting routine, I did plenty of cross-training, and have now gradually been bringing non-sprinting running back into the mix. My daily physical therapy exercise routine takes a good 20-30 minutes per day. I feel I am making good progress, and believe the doctor will tell me I am cleared to resume sprinting any day now.

Cross training has generally been 30-45 minutes on the elliptical or the bike. My last long run was a 3-miler on the treadmill at a 7:24 pace. Not enough to push the limits of my cardio, but a good intensity level to build up the newly forming muscles in my feet. Right now, for a run like that, the limiting factor is the burn on my outer shin muscles. The goal is for those muscles to develop enough strength and endurance for the limiting factor to be elsewhere.

On the lifting front, my latest targets (with 1 minute rests between sets) are:

  • Bench press: 5 sets of 5 @150lb (1:30 rests)
  • Dumbbell bench press: 5 sets of 5 @70lb
  • Pull-ups: 3 sets of 8 with a 5lb weight between my legs
  • Squats: 3 sets of 8 @165lb
  • Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8 @155lb
  • Sled pushes: 6 sets of 2×10 yards with 70lb/pole, alternated with box jumps
  • Sled pulls: 5 sets of 20 yards with 70lb/pole, alternated with broad jumps
  • 4 sets of {40sec wall sit, 40sec lunge jumps, 40sec mountain climbers}

This coming weekend, I will be flying off to Singapore for 3 weeks for work. My goal is to push forward without missing a beat during that time. Stay tuned!

Foot Problems

We tried bumping up my rest again, but my times still rapidly deteriorated after the first couple 400m’s:

Date Distance Run Time Rest Time
2017-12-04 400m 1:17+0:01 2:30
400m 1:17+0:02 2:30
400m 1:17+0:04 2:30
400m 1:17+0:07 2:30
400m 1:17+0:12 2:30
400m 1:17+0:14

And my shins were getting worse. So the next day, I booked an appointment with Dr. Caitlin Painchaud of Chicago Sports Chiropractic. It was the smartest decision I made.

Some people can wiggle their ears, and some can’t – the difference between these types of people is that the wigglers figured out how to get their brains to talk to their ear muscles, while the non-wigglers didn’t. Turns out, there are certain muscles in my feet that my brain simply doesn’t know how to talk to. Dr. Painchaud was able to diagnose this by asking me to do simple things like spreading my toes apart. I stared at my foot and the task felt as impossible as trying to bend a spoon with the power of my mind.

As a result, I’ve been running all wrong. My foot muscles are not properly flexing, absorbing contact with the ground, or pushing off to generate force. I can get a reasonable time on my first couple 400m sprints by compensating with other muscles, but those muscles, not being optimal for that role, tire quickly and then basically shut down. On my remaining runs, then, my feet basically become lead blocks that drag behind me, and I’m not able to generate any force to drive forward. Without any flex, each stride becomes a hard thump that pounds away at my shins.

Learning this was such a revelation to me. All the symptoms I had been experiencing – the shin pain, the difficulty pushing off, the sensation that my feet were just sloshing around in my shoes – they all started to make sense.

Thankfully, according to the doctor, this is fixable. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been doing a regiment of physical therapy exercises everyday, and I’m seeing great progress. I can spread my toes now. I haven’t sprinted since December 4th, but when I jog, I can feel a new set of muscles in my feet engaging. I feel super excited and confident that when I return to the track, I’ll have the foot muscle endurance to finish my 6×400’s at pace.

In the meanwhile, my current weekly regiment is slightly modified. Before, my typical week would look like: 2 days yoga, 2 sprint days, 2 lifting days, 1 long-run day. Currently, it looks something like: 1-2 days rest, 1 day yoga, 2 lifting days, 2-3 cross-training days (cycling or elliptical).

November (Part 2)

After my time trial, I was feeling pretty confident. The rest of November, however, went pretty poorly:

Date Distance Run Time Rest Time
2017-11-25 400m 1:17 1:15
400m 1:17+0:01 1:15
400m 1:17+0:06 1:15+???
400m 1:17+0:10 1:15+???
400m 1:17+0:11 1:15+???
400m 1:17+0:12
2017-11-27 400m 1:17 2:00
400m 1:17 2:00
400m 1:17+0:06 2:00+???
400m 1:17+0:09 2:00+???
400m 1:17+0:14 2:00+???
400m 1:17+0:11 2:00+???

I was able to hit the target on the first two 400m’s, but then my times spiked significantly. Increasing the rest from 1:15 to 2:00 didn’t help at all.

Furthermore, my shins started hurting. I was icing them every night, but every time I got back on the track, they began to hurt. I went to a running store, where they diagnosed that I was wearing the wrong kind of shoe, and I went back to the track armed with my new Nike LunarGlides and calf sleeves:

 

Date Distance Run Time Rest Time
2017-12-02 400m 1:12-0:02 ~2:00
300m 0:54+0:03 ~1:15
200m 0:35 ~4:00
400m 1:12+0:03 ~2:00
300m 0:54+0:04 ~1:15
200m 0:35 ~4:00
400m 1:12+0:05 ~2:00
300m 0:54+0:05 ~1:15
200m 0:35+0:04

Still not much better. And my shins still weren’t feeling great.

On the lifting front, by the end of November, my goals on the various exercises were as follows:

  • Bench: 3×8 @125lb, with one minute rests
  • Dumbbell bench: 3×8 @60lb/side, with 2 minute rests
  • Pull-ups: 3×8, with one minute rests
  • Kettlbell swings: 3×20 @28kg
  • Deadlift: 3×8 @145lb, with 1:15 rests
  • Squats: 3×12 @155lb, with one minute rests
  • Sled pushes: 6 sets of 2×10 yards with 140lb on sled, followed by box/broad jumps, with one minute rests
  • Sled pulls: 5 sets of 20 yards with 140lb on sled, followed by one minute rests

November Time Trial

After repeatedly missing the time goals Kyle set for me over the past couple weeks, I was feeling a bit dejected. At one point, I sent him the following message:

“I’ve heard a couple people estimate my chances of winning the bet at around 1%.”

Kyle’s response was exactly what I needed to hear:

“what’s your point?”

On Monday, November 20th, Kyle and I went to do our first time trial since my initial 82 second run back in September. I had no idea what I could do – my best recorded time thus far on a 400m had been 75 seconds back in September, but that was during an interval training practice, and so presumably I could do better when going for an all-out 400m. But by how much? I had no idea.

We first went to the UIC gym thinking we could get in as guests, but turns out we needed a friend to let us in. We loitered by the entrance, and I tried to work my charm on the people coming in, but was not very successful.

So we headed to the outdoor track on Chicago and Lake Shore. The conditions weren’t great – temperature was in the 40’s, it was a bit windy, and the track didn’t have the best corners. I did my warm-ups, prepared myself mentally, and then went off.

When I crossed the finish line, Kyle excitedly asked me to guess my time. I was too winded and delirious to say anything coherent, so he just showed me his phone. It read 1:07, or 67 seconds. 32.3 on the front 200m, and 34.7 on the back 200m.

I pumped my fists in excitement. A long way off from 56, but a significant improvement from my starting point of 82. On a better track, in better weather conditions, my 67 probably translates to a 65. For the first time, the goal didn’t seem impossible.

November (Part 1)

During the month of November, we gradually bumped the weights on my various lifting exercises, and also introduced interval training. Here are some of the times I clocked in at on various dates:

Date Distance Run Time Rest Time
2017-10-30 600m 2:20-0:06 1:30+???
600m 2:20-0:02 1:30+???
600m 2:20-0:04 1:30+???
600m 2:20+0:04 1:30+???
2017-11-04 300m 1:05-0:08 1:00+0:05
200m 0:42-0:01 0:45+0:01
100m 0:20-0:02 4:00+0:13
300m 1:05-0:06 1:00-0:04
200m 0:42-0:04 0:45+0:06
100m 0:20-0:01 4:00-0:03
300m 1:05-0:06 1:00+0:02
200m 0:42-0:03 0:45+0:04
100m 0:20-0:01
2017-11-06 600m 2:25+0:01 1:45-0:22
600m 2:25-0:01 1:45-0:20
600m 2:25-0:02 1:45-0:20
600m 2:25-0:07
2017-11-10 400m 1:22-0:07 1:30+0:04
300m 1:02-0:05 1:00+0:05
200m 0:40-0:02 4:00+…
Quit early due to nosebleed
2017-11-12 200m 0:40-0:01 0:45
400m 1:20-0:01 1:15
600m 2:20-0:01 2:00+potty break
600m 2:20 2:00
400m 1:15+0:04 1:00
200m 0:37+0:02
2017-11-17 200m 0:37+0:02 0:45
400m 1:20+0:03 1:15+0:10
600m 2:20-0:04 2:00+0:16
600m 2:20+0:02 2:00+0:21
400m 1:15+0:06 1:15+0:37
200m 0:37+0:01

 

The format here is GOAL+OFFSET. So if the goal given by Coach Kyle was 1:15 but I actually clocked in at 1:21, I write 1:15+0:06. If I beat the goal, I colored the offset in green. If I missed it, I colored it in red.

As you can see, we started to see a lot of red. More on that in later posts.

October

I’m writing these first few posts on Christmas Eve as condensed summaries.

The routine I eventually settled into is this: Kyle emails me on Sunday with a workout plan for the rest of the week. I forward that email onto Chef Rick, who plans his meals around the schedule. Kyle joins me once or twice a month at the gym. Each day, after my workout for that day, I email Kyle a detailed summary for that day, which often leads to further discussion, tips, adjustments.

The goal of the first few weeks was just to establish a routine. At the start, it was 2 days of lifting and 2 days of running per week. The lifting exercises started with just bench press, squat, deadlifts, and over the course of the month we started to incorporate pull-ups, kettlebell swings, and then, the ultimate challenge: sled pushes and pulls (alternating with box jumps or broad jumps). Running days started with easy 3 mile runs followed by 6x50m sprints at high intensity.

After my first week, I was already experiencing knee pain and shin pain, so we had to dial it down a bit. But thankfully it subsided pretty quickly.

By the end of October, we had added an extra day of running into the mix, and the other 2 days were designated “rest/yoga” days. I ignored the “rest/” part of that and so was up to 7 days a week. At first I was doing yoga in my living room with the “Down Dog” iPad app. Which is fantastic, but later I tried actual classes at Core Power Yoga and haven’t opened Down Dog since.

On the non-yoga days, I finish every workout with core exercises. Five distinct exercises performed back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back: left-elbow-to-right-knee-sit-ups, right-elbow-to-left-knee-sit-ups, planks, crucifiers, and an on-your-back thing where you alternate extending your feet out and up. We started with 30 seconds per exercise with the goal of getting to 60 seconds.

On the last week of October the goals on the various workouts looked like this:

  • Bench: 3×15 @95lb with 1 minute rests
  • Dumbbell bench: 3×15 @45lb/side with 1 minute rests
  • Pull-ups: 3 sets of 8 with 1 minute rests
  • Squat: 3×15 @135lb with 1 minute rests
  • Deadlifts: 3×8 @135lb with 1 minute rests
  • Kettlebell swings: 3×20 @20kg with 1 minute rests
  • Sled push: 6 sets of 2x10yards with 140lb of weight on the sled

Getting started

After the dust had settled from my initial bet and my 82 second time trial, I realized the enormity of the task ahead. One of my ex-track friends gave me an honest assessment of my odds of hitting 56 seconds before the deadline of October 1st, 2018: less than 1%. Brutal.

Over the next week, I took the following actions:

  • Hired my friend Kyle to serve as my personal trainer in exchange for a percentage of my winnings if I win.
  • Hired a personal chef, who has experience working with professional athletes, to make all my meals for the next year. His services are pricy, but I think it is +EV given the size of my bet.
  • Signed up for the swankiest gym in town – East Bank Club. Again, pricy, but +EV given my bet.
  • Decided to cut out alcohol, sugary drinks, and unhealthy snacks/desserts from my diet.
  • Decided to aim for a 10pm bedtime every night, and to get to the gym by 7am every morning.
  • Bought a ton of running gear.

Go big or go home baby.

How it all began

On Wednesday, September 27th, 2017, after a night of drinking in a testosterone-filled room filled with hundreds of traders, I shook hands with two of my friends and made what may turn out to be the most ill-advised bet of my life. The question was whether with one year of training, I could run a 400 meter race in 56.00 seconds or less. I won’t divulge the exact size of the bet here, but suffice it to say, I am a big time gambler, and this was by far the largest bet of my life.

My friends had good reason to feel confident about this bet. I am past my athletic prime at 34 years old, stand at a mere 5′ 7″ and 135lb, and live a fairly sedentary lifestyle. The highlights of my sports resume look like this:

  • Almost cleared the minimum height in pole vaulting my freshman year of high school
  • Awarded a green belt in taekwondo my sophomore year of college, almost won a match in competition
  • Captained our company coed dodgeball team to a winless season in 2009

The following Saturday, I headed to the track with my friend Kyle to do a time trial to see where I was at. I had no idea how to pace myself, as the last time I had done a timed sprint was probably a 50 yard dash in 3rd grade. I gave it everything I had on that run. But my cardio gave out halfway through and my legs ran out of juice.

I remember the grim look on his face as I crossed the finish line. “82 seconds,” he announced. I had a lot of work to do.

As I lay sprawled on my back, pondering whether to call an ambulance as I fought the urge to vomit, I started to chuckle at what an idiot I was. If I had done this time trial first I would have never made the bet. How in the world was I going to bring my time down from 82 seconds to 56 seconds?

But you know what. If Hernán Cortés hadn’t scuttled his ships behind him after landing at Veracruz in 1519, his men would have always had the retreat option in the back of their minds, they wouldn’t have been 100% committed to their mission, and the Spanish conquest of Mexico may have failed. When retreat isn’t an option, you give yourself the chance to realize your true potential.

My bet has been made. There’s no turning back. It’s time to discover what I’m capable of.