Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Catching Up

After a summer spent running in the local mountains, I decided to take an early off-season this year. It wasn't a hard choice when some achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis started to flare up.  I stopped running cold-turkey and put in a couple months of consistent strength training (mostly Wendler "Beyond" 5-3-1), which was more congruent with my "busy season" at work.  I may have gone a bit over-board, as I gained over 20lbs...not all of it muscle! I re-gained much of my lost strength in the deadlift, squat, press and pullups. I also worked with a podiatrist and sports chiropractor to resolve my achilles and plantar issues.  I know I'm going into 2014 stronger, with a freshened-up body AND perspective.

 Malibu Creek State Park
 Bulldog 50k
 Multnomah Falls Trails
 Back on the surfski!

Run2Top Mt Baldy Race, Labor Day

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Monterey Spartan Beast Race Report: Beast Mode Malfunction!

Part of me wanted to laugh, but mostly I was disappointed in myself. Racing in the Elite wave, I had made a very non-elite mistake by taking a wrong turn just three miles into the 12+ mile Spartan Beast obstacle course race. While I was wandering around moving in the WRONG direction with a growing mob of angry racers, after descending ~300 feet into the wrong valley, the front-runners were bombing down a nice long downhill at 5 minute pace in the CORRECT direction. I hate it when that happens!

This was my first race of 2013, after undergoing major shoulder surgery in January, and damaging my wrist (bruised Hamate) in May. The Spartan Beast (12-13 miles) distance is a much shorter and faster running event than what I'm used to. My "comfort zone" is actually much longer events like 24-72 hour Adventure Races. I was looking for a good baseline fitness test for the rest of my season (Vermont Ultra Beast in September and World's Toughest Mudder in November). After racing for almost 25 years, I knew from experience that I could expect a humbling, rude re-awakening after such a long break from competition.

I started the race at a very conservative pace, knowing I was out of shape and had a much lower Lactic Threshold and LT pace than usual. Over the last two months I had reduced my running mileage and elevation gain drastically as I battled some nagging achilles tendonitis. Regardless of my fitness level, my #1 goal that I had control over was to complete every obstacle. If I felt good, I figured I could finish in the top 10 in the Elite wave by executing a smart race and picking off the "nickel rockets" in the closing miles.  Regardless of my finishing time, I would get some Spartan-specific training for the Ultra Beast and a reality-check for my shoulder.

Getting lost early in the race and losing almost 10 minutes wasn't part of the plan, but it wasn't unprecedented.. The last time I raced in Monterey, at the Sea Otter "Adventure Duathlon/Obstacle Course Race" in 2008, I did the same exact thing - while leading the race - and turned the 5k event into a 10k!  Coming to the sport of OCR from a background in Adventure Racing, I am used to taking a wrong turn, recovering, and catching up. In Adventure Races (24 to 100 hour run/bike/paddle/ropes wilderness navigation events), that's part of the game, and you can recover. In a half marathon trail race, you can't afford to make ANY mistakes.

Eventually the group of 20-30 of us who made the wrong turn got back on track. I battled to re-ignite my competitive drive, and resolved to finish the race moving as efficiently as possible. I realized that I wasn't following my normal hydration/fueling plan (I normally drink 36-48 oz per hour and take in 300-600 calories of Vitargo per hour), and I was in a bit of a hole. By the end of the race, I had only consumed around 24 ounces of water and 3 gels (no Vitargo unfortunately as I lost my flask early in the race).  That's a recipe for piss poor performance.

Staying in the moment, I took mental notes after each obstacle/challenge along the way, since I'd see these again in 6 weeks at the Vermont Ultra Beast. My race for top 10 might have been over, but the race itself was just beginning. If I was going to spend more time than expected on the race course, I was going to savor every second of it!

Before the race I honestly didn't even know if I would be able to complete every obstacle, with my surgically-repaired shoulder and wrist injury.  Only recently have I re-introduced pull ups and I am still not able to do dips, push ups (wrist injury) or muscle-up type movements; at least not slowly or gracefully. Movements that I always took for granted, like jumping over high walls, climbing rope, and burpees (!) were now in the "risky" category for the remainder of the year. About a week ago I made it across monkey bars, which was scary, and climbed a rope for the first time post-surgery. Baby steps! I didn't want to risk re-injuring my shoulder or wrist, but I also wanted to test the body in "real world, live-fire" conditions.

Combine a wrong turn and 'off' day, and "racing" wasn't in the cards on this day. The race became more about finishing than racing, and learning as much as possible along the way. I was humbled and wound up much further back than expected; closer to 40th than top 10. "Off the back" on this day. Ouch!  A rude awakening indeed. My fitness level still has a long way to get back to normal, and I'll need better than normal at Ultra Beast and World's Toughest Mudder.

In a Spartan Race, if you miss an obstacle you must do 30 burpees. I have not done anything close to a burpee since before my surgery on January 4th. Additionally, I fell and bruised my Hamate bone in my left wrist in May. Two surgeons, a PT and a hand specialist all reviewed my MRI results and told me not to bear any weight on the hand/wrist for "6-9 months". Uh oh! A bruised small bone like the Hamate takes longer than a fracture to heal, so even push ups are still very painful and I have limited range of motion in my left hand/wrist this year. Falling onto the ground violently over and over (doing REAL, FAST burpees) would be the perfect recipe for re-injuring my shoulder AND wrist. I was supremely motivated to nail those obstacles! Talk about "do or die".

One thing I guess I'm proud of is that I DID complete every obstacle in my first Spartan Race, which meant ZERO BURPEES, which for a first-time Spartan racer is no small feat. With a strong shoulder and wrist this wouldn't have been a big deal, but I had no idea how things would shake out.  I must admit that after I nailed the Spear Throw, I jumped in the air with a fist pump and roared YESSSS! like a huge dork. I didn't move fast today, but at least I moved efficiently through the obstacles.

After the race I spoke with the Ultramarathon Man himself, Dean Karnazes. Dean had raced in a later wave. He completed every obstacle but the spear throw and the heavy bucket hoist. He and I both discussed how the race was a great learning experience, and how much time (a lot) we could take off by "knowing" the Spartan Race style. We are both used to much longer events, but we agreed that the Spartan Beast distance is a BLAST and more ultra-distance athletes should give it a go.

At 50, Dean is looking as fit as ever. It's hard to imagine he just finished the 135 mile Badwater ultra across Death Valley 4 weeks prior, a 100k in Copper Canyon, Mexico a week later, and travels around the world non-stop. Dean and I will both be racing in the men's Elite Wave at the Vermont Spartan Ultra Beast. The Ultra Beast will be longer than marathon (26.2 mile) distance with unfathomable amount of climbing and (supposedly) bush-wacking.  Of course, Dean and I both wish there were more long-distance OCRs like Ultra Beast.  I guess we can always do multiple laps of the Beast or Tough Mudder races, if that's allowed.

Another guy I ran into the race was none other than Spartan founder and CEO Joe De Sena.. He and I   raced against each other in the past, at Adventure Races like the Expedition Adventure Race World Championships in the early 2001, across (literally, across) Switzerland. With NBC covering the Vermont races, he and I discussed bringing in the top mountain/ultrarunners to raise the level of competition. He mentioned that the Hawai'i Ironman "blew up" in the early 80s when they televised Julie Moss's famous breakdown. His goal is to create a course that will ensure maximum suffering from the racers, which should make for "good TV".  My kind of guy, and my kind of race!

Chunkay Monkay!

In the end, balancing the promising shoulder re-hab "benchmark", hiking around for an extra mile bird-dogging an imaginary turn, and an off day, and I'm happy to take away some lessons, albeit "old lessons". I'm confident that I'll be running in the top 10 next time around if I take my head out of my ass. In the meantime I'll continue to strengthen my shoulder (it takes 18 months to get back to "normal" again, and I'm a few months from doing dips!), heal my wrist, chisel off the body fat, and build better running fitness. Fortunately I live next to the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu so I get to train on some very enjoyable mountain trails every day.

Beast Mode

My FAVORITE part of the day was seeing my wife Alla did the race! This was her first race of any kind, ever. When she was a young kid in Georgia, USSR, she was not allowed to play any sports, since she had a large family. I know for a fact that she has more talent than I do. The girl has an ENGINE and a very positive attitude.  She seems to be able to just "show up" and move well in the mountains all day, like she did in Yosemite earlier this year. I sure hope our kids inherit those genes! I love this woman so much it's crazy. She didn't train for it, she just did it, because she was going to be there anyway. We will go out on the odd hike or short run occasionally, but that might only happen  a few times per MONTH.

Alla raced in the women's Elite wave, which started 15 minutes after the men's Elite wave. This allowed us to finish much closer together than if she had run in an afternoon "Open" wave. This meant we could spend more time enjoying the area, walking around Pacific Grove in the afternoon. She didn't just finish, she came in the top 3rd of the Elite wave! She was around top 12% overall for the 4000 total racers in all waves, men and women. She nailed all but one of the obstacles, too. Best of all, she was smiling the whole time and crossed the finish line laughing and celebrating. She taunted the Gladiators at the finish line. laughing hysterically.

Your attitude really does determine your altitude, as the late Zig Ziglar might say.  I'm not going to pressure her to start training and maybe considering another race, but I hope someone else will!  Alla's positive attitude, resourcefulness and inner strength (born and raised in a big family in the USSR before escaping to the US with ZERO English at age 9) are three things that I really love about her.

The day after the race we spent some time in Carmel-by-the-Sea before driving 7+ hours in traffic back home to Los Angeles. We were in a bit of a hurry, as we had tickets to the opera; LA Philharmonic with Dudamel conducting Aida at the Hollywood Bowl.  The deal was, if I did the race, we were going to still make the opera as well. Alla is a classically trained opera singer, so hitting these shows as often as possible is a priority. I'm happy to support her passion as I enjoy the symphony & opera as well. We made it by 5 minutes!  I dropped Alla at the gate, parked half a mile away, and literally ran uphill to our seats. At the opera, one does not simply show up late. When my head hit the pillow after midnight on Sunday, I was OUT. Great weekend!

Alla Clancy laughing all the way to the finish!

My little shredder

Pacific Grove

JUST made it!

Embarassing, Painful Lessons Learned (OK, re-learned)

Question: How do you finish a race moving slower than your "easy/long" training pace, on terrain that is identical to what you're used to?

Answer: You make every rookie hydration and fueling mistake in the book, all at once. Drive 6 hours and Sleep 4 hours the night before.  Drink 24oz total over 2hrs30+, when you usually drink 24-40 oz per hour on long runs, and take in 300 calories total (in gels) when you usually take 300-700 calories per hour of VITARGO, the best fuel money can buy.  Also, carrying 20 extra pounds of muscle and fat this year makes  me slow. Gee, Whodathunkit?

You can't expect to run at even your "easy" pace if you drop the ball on hydration and fueling. I tell myself and the people I have coached the same thing...all the time. That mistake is compounded if you go out too fast in a race and burn through glycogen. There's no excuse for someone to make these mistakes, especially in my case. For the Vermont Race, I plan on arriving a day early, racing in a hydration vest, and rocking an Ultimate Direction hip belt to ensure constant hydration and a steady stream of Vitargo.  The weight penalty will easily be negated in a race like Ultra Beast where the winner takes 6-8 hours.

I have less than 6 weeks to prepare for the Ultra Beast Spartan Race in Vermont. With my shoulder, achilles and wrist "on track", I will log some better running mileage and vertical on my backyard trails in the Santa Monica Mountains and San Gabriels and show up prepared to execute a smart race.  The Ultra Beast distance is more in my "wheel house", and hopefully the terrain will be somewhat horrifying and involve a fair amount of off-trail bushwacking.  By executing on my nutrition/fueling and pacing plan I hope to out-perform my fitness level in what is sure to be a race of attrition. 

If you're reading this and you're interested in a "Pro Deal" on Vitargo or any other supplements, drop a comment and I will email you a discount code to 

Hasta Luego,

Go out and Play!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Art of the Comeback, Parts 2 & 3: "Every man dies, but not every man lives" / Change for the Better

*Hello, naughty monkeys. This is actually two posts, focusing on WHY a person -competitive or not- might focus on Obstacle Course Races like Spartan, WHY CrossFit, WHY - in a sedentary, obese culture particularly - millions of people are making that CHOICE, and WHY that is AWESOME NEWS for the world today.  

PART II: Obstacle Racing. "n=1"

Strangely enough, I got my start in obstacle racing in 1996 during my ill-fated attempt at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, BUD/S Class 207. (**Please note that I did not graduate from SEAL training but I DID get to change my life COMPLETELY in a few months of the daily physical training, including the first few days of Hell Week, before continuing my navy career as a 'regular' sailor and college student out in the pineapple fields of O'ahu, Hawai'i). At the Naval Special Warfare Center on the sandy beach of Coronado, California you will find the "O Course". Some dreaded it. Personally, I immensely enjoyed the challenge of beating my PR on the O Course, and usually had one of the fastest times out of our 100+ person class. For a 1st-person helmet cam video of the entire O-course that we raced weekly, check out the video below:



It was not until twelve years later, after years spent focusing on Adventure Racing, Ironman and bike racing that I was able to enjoy "racing" an obstacle course again at the 2008 Sea  Otter Classic's "Adventure" Mountain Bike Duathlon in Monterey (also ill-fated, when I went off the front on the opening run, only to lead the race off-course and out of contention!)

After focusing on adventure racing, Ironman and bike racing from 2008-10, in 2011 I did two enormously fun but un-timed Tough Mudder events in Vail, Colorado and Lake Tahoe, California, and qualified for the "World's Toughest Mudder", a 24 hour non-stop event where you complete as many 10 mile obstacle course laps as possible, in a wetsuit, in freezing temperatures, in New Jersey. YES! Right up my alley!

The timing was not right in 2011 to train properly for a shot at winning, due to some work/life changes and moving from Boulder to Santa Barbara, so I decided to skip the WTM in 11. I pressed "pause" on the obstacle racing journey as other areas of my life took precedence.  I knew I would have to get to the WTM eventually, since I felt well-suited to compete given my love for obstacle racing,  years of experience in 24 hour non-stop Adventure Racing and trail running. Plus, this is my idea of "fun"!

For my re-entry to Obstacle Racing,  I picked a short race to get re-acquainted, and then a couple longer events that are more in my "wheelhouse". I will be racing in the Elite wave of the  Spartan Beast (13 mile) Race in Monterey, Spartan ULTRA Beast (26+ miles) in Killington Ski Resort, Vermont in September, and the World's Toughest Mudder (24hrs of nonstop laps around a 10 mile Obstacle course) in Englishtown, New Jersey in November.

The shortest races, like the 13 mile Spartan BEAST in Monterey will be an even greater challenge for me than the ultra-distance races, paradoxically, due to the faster pace. This will be excellent opportunity to get out of my "comfort zone" (double entendre/pun intended).  In Monterey I will be looking to get my feet wet and learn the Spartan Obstacles, and also get a baseline reality-check for my fitness before the Ultra Beast in Vermont.

My wife Alla is also racing the Monterey BEAST race in a later start wave. We are both pretty fired up about taking on the challenge.  The opportunity to travel to a fun event like this with Alla is a game-changer. She was not about to train for an Ironman, Adventure Race, Time Trial, Ultramarathon or 100 mile mountain bike race that I used to do pretty often, so this is a unique experience we can share and relate to together.

In all of these races I will be competing against some FAST short-distance athletes, but I have a huge advantage in the areas of nutrition/fueling and pacing these types of events. Is that enough to bridge the gap? Will my shoulder be ready? My wrist?  I plan on training as smart and hard as possible to make that happen. I will be competing with the best racers in the sport of Obstacle Racing, and they will all have 10x the specific OCR experience that I'll bring to the table. Those poor odds are what excites me the most.

Personally, the rebuilding process in 2013 is designed to prepare me for the 2014 Peak Death Race, which will be my "A" event for 2014.  If you have never heard of The Death Race, all you need to know is the URL for the race is  ...not you "might" die, but you MAY die.   More on the Death Race next time.

As much as I'm laser-focused on my own fitness and performance, I'm also working on bringing "newbies" to the sport, who might find it life-changing, and on the other end of the spectrum more talent from the similar sports of mountain ultra running and adventure racing into the sport of OCR. Currently there are a handful of very fast trail runners competing in the sport (as their main focus) at the shorter distances, but I believe that with the prize money offered and great FUN these race offer, in less than 1-2  years this talent pool will become much deeper. More and more of my ultra-friends are following a CrossFit or Gym Jones training program for General Physical Preparedness/GPP and are seeing good results and fewer injuries. I predict the longer events will start to draw "experienced, unafraid newbies" such as CrossFitting Adventure Racers, triathletes and ultra runners looking for a new challenge. It's happening already.


"We Can Save This One!"


In August 2001, while racing the Discovery Channel Adventure Racing World Championships across Switzerland (St. Moritz to Zermatt, running, hiking, paddling, moutnaineering nonstop), Spartan Race co-founder Joe De Sena was racing on a friend's team, and our teams shared a couple pre-race meals and post-race beers together. Who would have thought that a little over a decade later he would have created a sport that now has more participants than marathons or triathlon in the USA?

Joe, the Spartan Race organization and I seem to be on the same page when it comes to the real "meaning" of a Spartan lifestyle and how it can change lives, and hence the world today.  There are far too many sedentary people wasting their lives away. Sometimes, everyone in their inner circles is doing the same. I believe these people are worth saving. It's not unlike pushing a beached whale back into the ocean, pardon the expression. Sometimes it's a kick in the ass, words of encouragement, or a reality-check that they are not just wasting their genetic potential but slowly dying. It boils down to accountability and a big decision. Anyone can make the decision to get off the couch and lose 20, 50, 100 or even  500lbs (just ask Chris below). Joe and Spartan Race have created an 'arena', community, "traveling road show" where people all over the country can thoroughly challenge both their will and physical fitness.

I'm fired up about the explosive growth in the sport of obstacle racing - and CrossFit - and what it means to our society.  

People are walking into their CrossFit gym, or getting their race number marked on their FOREHEAD at a Spartan Race, because they have ACCEPTED A  CHALLENGE.  This contrasts greatly with the typical sedentary, comfortable way of life today where people avoid leaving their comfort zones and physical challenges of any kind.  You can even find these people at the gym! They can be found on the elliptical machine, set at level 2, reading a magazine article about "fitness" or doing biceps curls in the squat rack for Pete's sake. Yes, you can also find these people walking through a marathon, consuming 4,000 calories of pure sugar. When the doctor tells them they have Type 2 Diabetes, they all wonder how this is possible if they exercise "so much"...

TOO MANY people are sleep-walking through life today.

They are moving lumbering from sleeping to sitting in their cars, to sitting in a chair at their desk all day ('DESK-BOUND" as Kelly Starett would say), and back home where they sit again, eating processed "food"  that the nightmarish (Rx for Diabetes) FDA Food Pyramid prescribes while watching TV. THIS IS NOT LIVING. THIS IS DYING! 

Time for Change.

The fact that millions of people in America alone are excited about the benefits of eating a Paleo diet, FIRED UP ABOUT CHALLENGING THEMSELVES in CrossFit, Obstacle Races or other events is one of the best things happening in our country today. It's a culture shift, and a revolution.  If more people can get off their butts and get excited about exercising while eating real (Paleo for example) food that does not come in a BOX or have an ingredient list, we all benefit.  Healthier, stronger, happier humans.

People are fired up about obstacle racing because it's FUN, EXCITING, and A LITTLE BIT SCARY to most participants. Quite the opposite of a sedentary "WALL-E" type life.  Many of these same people are also graduating from their Globo-Gym 24 Hour Fitness "bicep curls, bench and machines" memberships and actually TRAINING in a CrossFit or similar "box". People just like you, your sister, your GRANDMOTHER are now ATHLETES IN TRAINING. They're training for *life*.  At the CrossFit Games last week, you saw a STADIUM filled with 20,000 spectators SCREAMING for WOMEN'S OLYMPIC LIFTING!  Do you know what that is?

This is a revolution.

 If you're reading this, I will call  you "Dude Number One" I bet you are  part of the Revolution, and you are already eating clean, Charging Life, training your ass off, balancing out your life and your bloodwork is awesome.  You and your children are probably healthier, stronger and happier than any previous generation. You're making the most of your God-given genetic potential, and your positive, healthy energy probably impacts every are of  your your life, and the lives of your peers, in a positive way. You make sacrifices and leave blood and sweat on the gym floor or trails to make this happen. It's not easy...and that's why it is so damn satisfying.  You've been "over the hump" for some time and you're living the lifestyle, the dream.

If you are not like "Dude Number One", realize you Can Be. There is nothing special about Dude Number One. They just made a choice. They decide to eat a nutrient-dense rathter than energy-dense diet, and they exercise as part of their lifestyle. Right now it is not too late, but why waste another day? 90% of the battle is what you choose to put in your mouth.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. The fitness part of the equation can come from intense workouts under 45 minutes total, several times per week. This is a decision you can make RIGHT NOW. This minute. Give yourself a chance to succeed. Start with a 30 day Challenge that focuses on your food choices.  Mark it on your calendar.

Maybe you don't even realize you are part of the majority of TV-watching, processed-food eating, sleep-walkers destined (currently)  for a life of Type 2 and Type 3 Diabetes (Alzheimer's Disease), cardiovascular disease, while the Fittest pay your bills and your children take care of you like an infant for the dreadful 10-20yrs at the end of your wasted life?  You're probably just doing what the people on TV tell you to do or your doctor told you (food pyramid, S.A.D/Standard American Diet). Ask him how much training he or she had on nutrition, and when that happened.

How is that working out for you? This is a choice. It sure is comfortable on that couch, with excuses listed on the door, isn't it? Trust me, there is nothing comfortable about slowly dying from diabetes complications while your family struggles to pay your bills.  Diabetes is NO JOKE. All too often it is the easy path of least resistance that leads you to the Hell that is diabetes, obesity and CV disease.

If you believe you cannot do it alone, you're probably right. That's OK You are making some radical changes for the better, and that isn't going to be easy. Join a CrossFit box, and you will have the accountability factor built-in where you cannot practice poor form, miss a single rep or second of any workout, and the intensity of your workout is going to be much greater than what you'll do at home with some "P90X" infomercial.  It should not be too hard to get a group from your gym to enter a Spartan Race or something similar in your area. Don't be surprised when there are 10,000 people at your event. They're not all "elite athletes" racing for the win..they're all just people, who made a choice. They are racing against who they were yesterday.

Maybe simply losing 30lbs, climbing a local mountain, a power lifting or olympic weightlifting meet or swimming across the local bay is your challenge of choice. It doesn't matter. Pick something physically just out of reach currently, use the internet or your CrossFit box to find like-minded people, and make it happen.

If you decide now and take action, you can do it. Tell your friends and  family your goal and timeline. That way you will have both positive and negative consequences for achievement of your goal, and support along the way. Write it down. Post it on the wall. Focus on taking it to completion. When you start to feel weak, like you just can't do it, like you're not capable, watch this video about Kyle Maynard and then get back to me.

Assess your current reality. 
Pick your Dream Goal.
With your coach, Develop & Follow a Fitness & Nutrition Plan. 
Check your bloodwork regularly (the proof is in the...blood!)
Believe & Visualize Success Constantly.
Every day, do the work.
Realize 90% of the battle is what you eat.
Constantly visualize success:  Big enough "WHY" = a "HOW".
Surround Yourself with Winners & Teachers. 
Don't give up. 
Live the Dream.
Pass it on to as many people as possible.


CrossFit Level 1, Goal-Setting, Endurance, Mobility

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Art of the Comeback, Part 1

Option A: Short, Succinct "Sprint" Version (highly recommended)

After shoulder surgery in January, I was incapacitated and lazy for a few months and became fat and out of shape. I was also planning my wedding to Alla which was in March. To light a fire under my ass I picked some big end-of-season races that offer legit competition. Goal is to go from broken and worst shape ever to healthy and BEST shape ever in the same calendar year. Impossible? No. Stoke Factor = All-Time High.

Option B: Long As Hell  "Endurance" Version (Long-winded inner monologue, stream-of-conscousness gooblygob, seriously not recommended)

The Art of the Comeback, Part 1: "I love it when a plan comes together"

On January 4th I went in for arthroscopic surgery to repair my jankity right shoulder (SLAP repair of my frayed/partially torn labrum with two anchors, Brazilian-wax "acromionectomy" (picture to the left) to remove bone spurs and impingement, synovectomy to remove Indiana Jones stalactites and stalagmites in the joint, etc. Biceps tendon at labrum was fine and rotator cuff had serious PTSD but was  totally intact thankfully).


Due to the "unfortunate" combination of the shape of my acromion, along with congenital laxity of my joints, I have been dealing with joint pain and injuries due to bone spurs and impingement for well over 20 years (swimming was "a grind" since high school triathlons, and overhead squat range of motion was nearly impossible with a 15 pound bar). To spice things up, along the way I managed to tear my shoulder labrums. Yep, both.  I fixed my left labrum when I lived in Boulder through physical therapy in early 2011 (after competing in two back to back 24 hour national championship Adventure Races without full use of my left arm (not recommended)). My right labrum was tweaked in 2010, but got better. After a particularly rowdy CrossFit workout involving sets of 25+ kipping pullups in 2012, I re-injured the shoulder. MEA CULPA!  It was not improving to full strength after almost a year of solo DIY rehab, so I opted for arthroscopic surgery. At 37, I feel that I have at least another 20 years to compete at a high level, so I had to focus on the Big Picture.

The recovery process to date has been on-track, with just a few minor setbacks (such as falling down the stairs and landing on a concrete step with my stitched-up shoulder a week after surgery. Yes, seriously.). I was fortunate to have received nutritional advice and a shopping list from my friend (and international sports nutrition thought-leader) Anthony AlmadaHe gave me a detailed list of supplements and foods to take before and after surgery that would speed recovery.

I am the type of person who MUST have a specific fitness goal as a "project" that I'm working on at all times.  I simply enjoy executing on my training plan as my fitness progresses. It's as much about the journey as the fitness goal or race itself. The grind is the glam. I view the race itself as just a celebration of the fitness you have banked over the weeks and months of hard training....a release, or D-Day if you will. It's really no different than rehearsing for a play and then a do-or-die, "one night only" performance.

The day after my surgery I was stuck on my couch in nauseating pain, unable to move much. Sleeping at night was very difficult, awkward and painful. After several months focused more on power lifting than endurance training, I was up to 216 pounds after my surgery, almost 40 pounds over my normal race weight. Sitting on that couch with my arm in a sling, I realized that by the time the sling would come off, my hard-earned strength and lean mass gains would as well. With a serious winter layer and without the ability to move pain-free, I started 2013 truly in the worst overall condition of my life.

In contrast to every January since the mid-90s, I was not sure how to plan my race season or even select a reasonable fitness goal. How long would it be before I could SQUAT or RUN without pain, let alone do a pullup or shoulder press?  Before even considering a new focus for racing, I had to focus on the obvious antecedent to any wild dreams of racing. I had to patiently rehabilitate my shoulder.  Simultaneously, I had to keep this talk to myself since I was planning for my wedding, which was in March. Obviously planning for the wedding was the top priority for my time and energy outside of work. It paid off, as we had a wonderful wedding free of any hitches or SNAFUs.

The physical therapy clinic I picked in Los Angeles was more like The Muppet Show than the truly world-class rehab experience I had with Dr. Jeremy Rodgers in Boulder (he fixed my OTHER shoulder non-surgically in late 2010 after a bike crash, and amazingly fast). Thirsty for knowledge, I spent more time devouring Dr. Kelly Starrett's MOBILITY WOD free videos on YouTube to further educate myself on optimal human shoulder mobility and rehab/prehab techniques. I have been a devout follower of K-Starr's for a few years, and am also a CrossFit Mobility certified coach, after attending his seminar at CrossFit Invictus in San Diego.  After my share of CrossFit injuries, I am definitely increasing the amount of time I invest in "maintenance" each day with the lacrosse ball and foam roller.

My orthopedic surgeon, physical therapists and other athletes told me to expect 6+ months until I could achieve 90% normal range of motion, 7 months to resume strength training, and "18 months" to a full recovery. Yikes. Others warned that I would never be the same. They would point to their own experience with the same procedure. The acromionectomy alone was done to allow me the unobstructed range of motion to swim and surf without pain, and even do proper overhead squats for the first time. I wouldn't accept anything else, regardless of the nay-sayers.

My hubris and impatience has often lead to setbacks that cost me dearly when recovering from injuries. At 37, I cannot make that mistake again, but I also require a goal that would be currently out of reach to scare and motivate me. In order to define my terms and begin my next "human experiment", I needed a goal, or a primary endpoint before I could begin this controlled experiment of one.

Starting 2013 in my WORST shape, at rock bottom, made my 2013 goal as simple as it was audacious: FINISH 2013 in the BEST condition of my life. I just needed to define "Best" and build a training plan so I could indeed define my terms and write down my "business plan".  My idea was to pick just a few late-season races as fitness tests. Because I have raced extensively and often victoriously in the hardest 24 hour to 72+ hour events in the world (usually with my DART-nuun teammates), I was kind of stumped while looking for a solo event that would be as hard or harder, but different.

What would it be? Adventure Racing? Another Ironman? Another ultramarathon run or mountain bike race? AR has always been my passion since I started competing in the sport in 1997, and it seems like a no-brainer, but my DART-nuun teammates had already selected their North American and international expedition race teams for the season. That left only domestic 24-72 hour races I could race with another team, but most Adventure Races in the USA today unfortunately have become "get whatever checkpoints you want" orienteering meets, an unfortunate watering-down and bastardization of my beloved sport that I just would rather not support.

I'm not into half-assing my training once I sign up for a race. It is a full commitment and it has got to be full-ass or nothing. I needed something a bit gnarlier that would challenge not just my endurance, but my overall fitness and rehab timeline. Something that would give me the feeling I had almost 17 yrs ago when I was training for my first overnight "24 hour" adventure race.

We have all seen a hundred movies about comebacks. We know the formula for a comeback, the narrative arc. In cinema, the comeback and ultimate victory is virtually guaranteed at the outset, regardless of the impossible mission. In real life, you cannot simply "press play" and let things happen. You have to make shit happen. You have to take personal accountability from the time you set your goal through completion if you are to have any hope for success. I believe the way you define your terms and visualize success at the beginning of your journey has a profound impact on the outcome. A goal, or desired outcome without a plan is just a wish.

One critical aspect of any grand plan was the involvement of my wife Alla. If I couldn't include her in my training it was not worth it. Period. Spending time with Alla is my top priority. She is not an obsessed competitive athlete, but does enjoy yoga, some strength workouts at the gym or beach, and getting out on the trails to run, hike, climb or mountain bike for a few hours.

Whatever I picked, it had to absolutely mandate MAXIMUM total-body fitness, serious shoulder strength and mobility, full-body readiness. It had to absolutely punish any weakness or chink in my armor. It had to be something a little bit scary. Something just out of reach, a race against serious competition where the odds are stacked heavily against "the current me", but maybe in favor of the me I believe I could become....

 It would have to be a a little bit 24 hours of running in freezing rain in a wetsuit, or maybe thousands of burpees, unplanned 3 mile swims, extreme landscaping or chopping wood.

When you're accustomed to racing nonstop for 24-72 hours, in awful conditions, and comfortable outside of your comfort zone, how do you "get outside your comfort zone"?



*(If you are still reading,  sorry your flight is delayed and you're forced to sit in that uncomfortable position next to the 'charging tree' at the airport for so many hours.)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Obstacle Race Coaching and Training Programs

Obstacle Racers! Spartan Racers! Tough Mudders!

If you are planning your first or 10th obstacle race and would like a training program and/or coaching, email me at mrseanclancy AT   We will start off with a free consultation over the phone where will discuss your background, goals and life situation. From there you have a few options. Either we can set you up with a detailed training program and ongoing communication, just coaching/consulting sessions over email or phone, or a 'full meal deal' training program and coaching/consultation on a month-to-month basis.

For competitive athletes aiming to win races, training programs can be fine-tuned with additional one-on-one time, coaching days (in Southern California), equipment/gear selection, land navigation instruction (if needed) and steep discounts on sports nutrition. This is not a half-ass program. This is FULL-ASS.

The programs are personally designed and appropriate for any level of athlete, from "off the couch/working 60hrs per week" to "2:15 marathoner/full-time athlete". There is no "one size fits all" program.  My background combines military experience, ~20yrs of ultra-distance endurance racing internationally (2008 Adventure Racing National Champion, 2009 USA Triathlon All American), CrossFit coaching certifications (Level 1, Endurance, Mobility & Goal-Setting), and years learning/practicing sports nutrition and mental game with some of the world's best. You can learn all of this the hard way, over years, or I can give it to you.

Give it 100%. Don't die wondering.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Catching Up: A Year In The Life of...

A lot has happened since my last post. A lot has changed. Actually, everything has changed, and for the better. 

Let's break it down with a Top 10 List.

1.   Through some crazy miracle I met the woman of my dreams by accident at my friend's house in Venice. I didn't see her again for a a couple months. When we finally met again, it wasn't long before we fell in love. On Thanksgiving 2012, I proposed to Alla Garkusha.

On the day I proposed, things didn't exactly go according to the plan. We planned a drive up the coast from Los Angeles to Cambria on the first day, then on day two a drive through Big Sur to our destination in San Francisco. I had a few places picked out to "pop the question" in Cambria and Big Sur, but they were all too crowded! Tourists. I should have known better! That ring was burning a hole in my pocket (which I compulsively touched every 10 seconds to make sure the ring was still there!). I wound up pulling off the road just north of Half Moon Bay, moments before sunset for the Big Question. 2. After an uncomfortably long delay of laughing, she said yes, and our lives changed forever. I am probably the happiest man in the world, and certainly the luckiest.

3.  We were married on March 24th at Lake Lanier Islands in Georgia. The wedding was a reunion of old and new friends and family. It was windy, cold and drizzly, and actually snowed the next day (!), but everyone had a good time. It was never about the weather. Alla and the Garkusha family are all super talented singers and musicians. Most of them sang Russian songs and/or played guitar during the rehearsal dinner and reception. Alla sang an Italian opera aria that basically melted people's brains. I'm continually humbled by their amazing family and inspring story. We are lucky to have such role models in our lives.

Groomsmen Michael Kohn, Joey Clancy, Kevin Bar & SC

4.  A couple weekends before the wedding, my bachelor party was held at a cabin on Mount Hood, Oregon. This has always been one of my favorite places to explore, train and race. Most of my DART-nuun teammates and Dirty Avocados gents made the trip, along with some old friends from Los Angeles, Napa, Seattle and Portlandia, which was a huge honor. Nearly 20 of us made for a motley crew running amok in Portland and on Mt Hood for the long weekend. We got out for some snowshoe mis-adventures near Government Camp and managed to avoid jail, which after all, was the #1 goal.

Timberline Lodge, Mt Hood, Oregon

5. Just before the wedding, we moved into our new place in Woodland Hills, right off Topanga Canyon. What it lacks in size it makes up for in location! This makes for an easy commute: by cars to work and by bikes or running shoes to the endless trails of the Santa Monica Mountains, Upper Las Virgenes/Cheseboro Canyons, Malibu and more. So far we really like the low-stress neighborhood; having everything so close. Alla started riding, and unsurprisingly is already killing it and having a great time. We have been getting out for some longer run/hikes and rides lately, and we're planning some summer trips around California, Arizona and Utah.

New Local: Upper Las Virgenes Trails, north of Calabasas

6.  Lately I've been able to balance my work schedule with more trail running, mountain biking and hiking. Since last May I didn't really ride or run much at all. That was the longest hiatus from cycling sine I was 14 or 15 years old! With so much going on in my life, my priorities shifted. In addition to major surgery and rehab on my shoulder, planning a wedding, getting married, and moving, I also started begain working with a new company, which has involved some business travel. All of this combined left little room for endurance training or much else besides the mission-critical. Now that things have settled I'm able to get back to a nice balanced routine of live-work-play.

On our local trails I run into more coyotes and rabbits than people, which is nice. In the next couple weeks I'll bring surf ski paddling back into the mix. I'm looking forward to getting back on the water for some ocean paddling, especially after losing that ability for a few months with the shoulder surgery.

7.  Since my shoulder surgery (SLAP Repair and acromionectomy) on January 4th,  I have lost nearly  30 pounds.  Three-Zero! After a fall experimenting with gaining muscle mass and power, I was 216lbs after surgery. (That seems crazy when I have raced at 175-185 for years, but I thought I would do something "completely different" as an experiment) A lot of that weight loss was muscle, since I have not been able to do any real lifting just physical therapy three times per week that will continue through May, but most was gristle.

Waking up groggy and doped up from surgery with a newly repaired shoulder. No more kipping pullups,  I promise!

After my experiment focusing exclusively on power lifting, I actually lost the LBs with very limited excercise in Jan-March. What worked was eating Paleo, intermittent fasting, often with Bulletproof Coffee (with a bit less Kerrygold organic than Rx'd). Dinner didn't change, but the starches went away. Carbohydrate was mostly limited to veggies, 90% of the time.  With such low exercise volume, I didn't need more.

8.  For several years now, I have been a Paleo eater  (80-90% of the time), which *for me* means Zero Dairy or wheat (sorry, no pizza), zero processed foods (don't shop in the aisles), no gluten, no grains, no sugar. Instead my plate is mostly organic veggies, some fruit/seeds/nuts, the very best pastured free range eggs, wild sockeye salmon several times per week, free range chicken and occasional grass-fed beef. I am extremely fortunate that Alla cooks for me most of the time, and also eats very clean. For the last 10 years she was pescatarian, and just recently added occasional free-range chicken to the mix. 9. Lately I have shifted gradually to a more plant-based diet. I'll get into that more in a future post. That doens't mean I'm becoming a vegan or bee-gan like Rich Roll (who also lives and trains in the neighborhood) just yet. I still eat mostly like a bear in Alaska. I'm trying to eat plant-based most of the time, venturing out of the Paleo village to experiment with some pseudo grains and quinoa again. 

10.   A very generous aunt gave us a Vitamix for a wedding present. This has been on my list for years but I never was not ready to spend the money. Let me tell you: it's worth it!  This has been a game-changer. Scratch that, it's a life changer! The amount of veggies I'm consuming now has gone through the roof. It would be nearly impossible to eat this many, whole. Now I just drink them, in every possible combination. It saves time in the morning as I rush out the door to work. At this point, I think I need a Kale sponsor. Anyone? 

Breakfast has changed to massive amounts of Vegetables such as Kale, Carrots, Beets, Ginger in the Vitamix. Reckless amounts of nutrient-dense vegetables, often with a few things added like Hemp Milk, Hemp Seeds, Maca, organic coconut oil and vegetable protein powder. I have moved away from the usual whey protein, as an experiment. So far so good!  After workouts, I will include some fruit, but just enough to cover what glycogen I depleted during the workout. I still try to keep the carbohydrate to what my body needs for more.

The amount I spend on high-quality local produce more than off-sets medical care costs down the road, and buys me years, if not decades, of quality life. What's that worth? Eating this way simply increases your vitality, quality and quantity of my life. That said, I'm always looking for deals at the grocery store, and looking for local farmer's markets. 

With my family history of arteriosclerosis (my father, his brothers and one sister all have stents) I can't afford to mess around. I know how lucky I am and I don't want to blow it, honestly. Eating food from the aisles, drinking diet soda and justifying it somehow isn't going to work. It isn't just unhealthy. It's basically suicide for someone like me. My sights are set on living the healthiest, most energetic life possible. This is not a dress rehearsal, after all.