Episode 2 of the Winter 22-23 Season
Training for Mountaineering – This is the first in this multi-part series. Plus we have a big introduction to make today, Chantelle Robitaille is our new director of coach training and athlete success. Chantelle is a coach, an ultra-runner, holds an advanced degree in High Altitude Physiology, and is coming to Uphill Athlete from this same position at CTS, Carmichael Training Systems, the world’s largest endurance-coaching company.
Listen to this Episode:
Welcome to the Uphill Athlete podcast where our mission is to elevate and inspire all mountain athletes through education and celebration. My name is Steve House and I will be a host today along with Alyssa Clark. We’re thrilled to have our newest member of the uphill athlete team joining us today. Someone who will be taking the lead on coach training and continuing education athlete placement and success and also serve as the technical editor for the website and other training specific content. Chantalle Robitaille thanks for being with us here today. We are so stoked to have you and introduce you to the whole community.
Woo. Thanks Steve I’m super stoked to be here.
Yeah, I’m so happy to be able to finally kind of introduce you to the public as this has been something that we’ve been talking about over the last number of weeks. You kind of represent the ideal fit for the uphill athlete community and our coaching staff and I’m really excited for them to get to know you.
Likewise we’ve spent a lot of time talking and planning and I’m excited to finally make it official and finally have the chance to work with the team in an official way.
I Have to say I’m just excited to know your name now because you’ve been an unknown coaching lead for a long time. So it’s fun to put a face to the name and well the unknown name and have you on board and from your background. We just are really really stoked to have you be a part of it. So with that Steve what did you see in Chantelle that made her the perfect fit for uphill athlete?
Well I think that we’ll spend the bit of time going into that and we’ll let most of that reveal itself over time. But you know Chantel comes from CTS as their head of coaching development. And has been working in this exact sort of role for the last couple of years and she’s got a lot of coaching experience. She has a really impressive educational background but more than that I think that as I’ve been working to rebuild the coaching team, as you both know, I’ve often used this word that we want to rebuild very deliberately and with people that are entirely aligned in terms of our values and what our mission is. And that’s the piece where I felt like Chantelle most of all fit really well with whose appeal athletely is what we do and how we do it.
Definitely and Chantelle, actually to go back a little bit, what is your background and coaching and your education? We’d love to give the audience a little bit more about who you are.
Ah, well I’m old so how much time do you have to listen.
That’s called experience.
That’s right, that’s experience. I had my first exposure to coaching when I was pretty young. I was 14 and it happened by accident because I played hockey and I grew up in a really small town in Canada if you can’t tell from my accent.There wasn’t any girls team so I played with the boys and then when I was around 13 they started thinking it was a little bit weird. And when I was 14 they said this is definitely weird and you can’t play anymore which was devastating. So my dad said well you know you’re a good skater try figure skating and I continually got yelled at by the skating coach because I was skating around she said like a neanderthal you know, hunched over like I had an imaginary stick in my hand and I couldn’t master the posture. So, my former hockey coach felt bad for me watching this happen on the ice and asked what I would think about coaching and so I started coaching hockey. Even though I was super bummed not to play anymore I was just really shocked how much I got from coaching and that’s something that stuck with me throughout my life. You know I had different types of jobs in different parts of the world, but coaching always kind of lingered there for me. I got into running races kind of late in life. But once I got to that point I really enjoyed getting back to helping other people do the things they wanted to do and challenge themselves and at the ripe old age of 43 I decided to ditch the corporate life of suits and uncomfortable high heel shoes and going back to school and I earned a master of science degree in high altitude physiology. So I did that in Colorado in Gunnison and that was just amazing to be able to dedicate myself full time to coaching and I’m still kind of pinching myself that I made this happen kind of later in life.
It’s amazing. Also I’m so excited to dig into the high altitude because I know that’s so much a part of the journeys of our athletes. So I think that’s going to be amazing. So why did you want to come to Uphill Athlete? What was the attraction to the company?
Well I would say that Uphill Athlete first came onto my radar when I was in grad school and I was working on some projects with ski mountaineers in Colorado and you know living at a higher altitude so Training for the New Alpinism and that training log as well that you produced. It was very dog eared and very well loved during that time and I just continued to follow the work that Steve and Uphill Athlete were doing throughout. So I’ve worked with ultra runners. But I’ve also worked with a lot of ski mountaineers and other athletes working on different mountaineering projects. So it was always a really important resource for me when I started talking with Steve about his vision to sort of rebuild Uphill Athlete in an intentional way with a focus on improving access and inclusion to a variety of different athletes. I couldn’t help myself with wanting to be part of your team.
I feel that completely it’s one of the things that I was most attracted to as well. I think that there’s huge room for us to grow in that regard and I think that Steve’s commitment to that is really exemplary and I think it attracts some of the people who want to do the same work. Absolutely, but with that,, we’re definitely going to keep learning more about you. But, we also want to have these podcasts be really tangible resources for people and one of our major goals is to help educate mountain athletes to be their best selves. So, drumroll, we are kicking off a major series of educational material on the podcast starting with this episode. Chantelle is here not only as an introduction, but she is beginning our multi-part series. Focusing on training for mountaineering is one of our huge pieces of our company and this is a series of podcasts that we are putting on to help you be your best. So our goal is to discuss the steps of training for a mountaineering objective. And give you actionable items to take with you on your training, so really, what we’re going to dig into with this first episode and focus on is aerobic training fundamentals and how you can set yourself up for success from the first step.
Thanks Alyssa, you know this is really fundamental because this is really where Uphill Athlete began, was talking about training for mountaineering and specifically alpinism, a subset of mountaineering and you know we’ve always been about applying conventional endurance training methodologies to you know what I like to call unconventional sports and as such there’s a few pillars of endurance training that are universal to all mountain sports. First and foremost among those is probably having a well developed aerobic base. It’s a job of every mountain athlete adding to that having a periodized progressive strength training component is probably job number 2 for any you know serious mount budding mountaineer in training. And then the third leg of that tripod is really the sport specific muscular endurance training. We’ve talked a lot about that in other places throughout our writing and website and podcasts. And while the ME as it’s sometimes called, muscular endurance training, sometimes gets all the glory because it’s a fun and sexy kind of training. It’s only done as the icing on the cake and we want to start at the beginning here where people will see the most important things.
Sort of foundational layers of a training plan which is to build our aerobic base so starting with aerobic based training, Chantelle let me just ask you a question. How would you define an aerobic base and what importance does that serve?
I think aerobic base or base training is one of those terms that you know if you looked it up or googled it, you’d find all kinds of different definitions just like lactate threshold. You know I think it’s one of those terms. So if we think about it, where did this concept first start? It probably dates back to the 60s and was popularized by Arthur Litard’s work where he had athletes doing a lot of low intensity volume to kind of build a base and his training structure was kind of like a pyramid where they would build a base. Onto which they could layer on some higher intensity work in a safe way and you know the base training would be at the bottom which would be most of the athlete’s training time and then the middle was some higher intensity work in around their lactate threshold pace or intensity and then the highest intensity work was kind of the sharpest end of the stick done closer to their event and over time you know this concept has morphed into different things for different people. But I feel that the concept of a base implies that something’s going to be layered upon it and so I think it’s important to think about what happens if we’re approaching an athlete or talking to an athlete about developing a plan. What’s happened before this base space and what do we feel is important to come next and for a lot of uphill athletes they’re doing longer endurance events whether that’s a mountain project, whether that is a hundred miles or some other long, long event that’s going to take more than a couple of hours. It might not make sense for them to do this you know, typical sharp end of the stick on the sharp end of the pyramid before their event and so their training does definitely need to be periodized to account for where they are starting from and where they need to go to reach their goal or their objective. So although they might have a block of endurance work planned throughout their training, they have to be starting with a good foundation and so we have to think about where they are starting from. Are they recovering from an injury, are they just you know a month after a race or completing an objective? Or are they completely new? You know, is this something new that they have decided to do and we have to think also about the goal that they’re planning for and how far away that is. So we can’t really look at this in isolation because developing this foundation is going to depend on the answers to those questions. So we always have to think about zooming out and then sort of I like to think about it as sort of zooming out and then zooming back in. You know so where are we going, where are we starting from and then how do we get from point a to point b. And building endurance is something that we’re doing throughout our lifetimes right? It’s not just one block of training even though it is our foundation. It’s something that we’re spending a lot of time on like you said Steve there’s maybe other aspects of training that might seem to be more might be perceived as being more fun or more sexy. But if we don’t establish a strong level of endurance and a strong aerobic engine first then we can’t successfully or safely do all those other fun things that we might want to do.
So there’s a couple things I want to dig into. One is knowing what are some of these other sorts of euphemisms for aerobic base you mentioned aerobic engine. We talk about other places in writing. We’ve talked about having someone having a quote unquote big engine Those kinds of things. What are some of those other kinds of euphemisms or structures that people might find useful, like if you’re brand new to this? How do you visualize that, what we’re talking about?
I would say probably something that you know colloquially is if you know for an athlete that might be new is like cardio training right? Cardiovascular training that’s probably another one. That’s thrown out a lot if someone is going to the gym. The first thing that happens if someone walks into a gym on January 1st is typical right? I want to lose some weight. I want to get fitter all right? Well then we’ve got to do some cardio and you’ve got to do some strength training so that’s probably something that someone is going to learn first in terms of a word cardio, which is cardiovascular training. Training our cardiovascular system and also thinking about how someone wants to get fit. They want to do it fast right? They think about okay, well then if I’m going to get fitter then I should just do more of the stuff I’m not doing. Or they look at someone else that they consider to be fit or fast or inspirational for what they want to do. They think let me look at their training and what they’re doing and let me try to copy that and I think that’s why the gyms tend to not be as busy in March as they were in January. People go and they try to maybe approach things the wrong way or do too much too quickly and they get hurt or they get injured or they get frustrated and they don’t show up again. So that’s why I think you know having a proper periodized training where we’re spending an appropriate amount of time. Building an aerobic base before we start layering on all the other fun things or all the extra things because if we’re not giving our bodies enough time to recover, that becomes a problem.
There’s a lot of things that are happening right? When we’re training to build our endurance or build our aerobic system these things don’t happen in isolation. So we’re training our metabolism so that we can handle the work better. So that eventually the work is going to feel easier for the effort that we’re putting out, but also it’s important we’re not thinking about just our heart and lungs. But also thinking about our bones and our ligaments, making sure that our bodies can withstand that and also our minds. That’s an important part of this process as well in understanding our own limitations and being able to really have a good sense of how hard we are working and how much it’s costing us. Not only physically, but also mentally to do the work that we’re doing and if we’re not in sync with those things then it’s really easy to make some mistakes that might not always be visible upfront. But you know they certainly will be visible with time.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense and I think probably we are remiss in not saying that health underlies everything first versus physical and mental health and then training can come on top of that. I also think we’re going to dig into this more in a minute if I know but this whole concept of endurance training being a process of training your metabolism and aerobic-based training being a metabolic process rather than a physical process and the way strength training is commonly perceived as. I think that is a really important way to view these things. So the next question is if you’re an athlete listening to this or coming back to training and you want to go climb some mountains next year and they hear us talking about base. You know a strong aerobic base? These kinds of things like how does a person know if they have that? How do they know where they are in that process?
That’s a great question. I think we have to look at a couple of things. Do you know if this person is new to this whole concept of climbing a mountain or is it that they have been active doing a lot of other things? But now they want to add this new goal. I think of a good friend of mine who’s always been active as a cyclist but last year he turned 50 and his goal was to climb the grand teton. He was active for many years and definitely had a lot of good skills and abilities already but he did have to train differently for that adventure because it was going to be something that was going to test his body and mind in very different ways and then that’s going to be obviously different than someone that has not really been very active for most of their life. They watch a documentary or a movie on I don’t know, let’s say Alex Honnold and they decide okay I’m not an Alex Honnold, I’m not going to go free climbing or anything but I would like to learn how to climb. That’s a starting point. So just thinking about where the person is starting from and how to start. If someone already has a good long history of endurance training then they’ve maybe just had a little bit of a break. Maybe it’s been a break in their season or they’ve spent some time doing some other kind of activity and they want to check in with how they’re doing. For example, if they have the ability to go out for what should be an easy run with some good cues so they’re breathing well and breathing comfortably.
Can they go out and run for an hour breathing comfortably with a steady heart rate for an hour?
So if we’re looking at an athlete who has had a good amount of experience doing endurance training throughout their life and they’ve just had a short break that’s going to be a lot different than how you might approach things with someone who is totally new or taking on a new challenge. If I think about someone taking a break I’m talking to someone that’s maybe they’ve had a bit of a break after a big event. Maybe they’ve taken a month off and typically those types of people are not just sitting on the couch eating Doritos. They’re still doing things. If we’re looking at someone who’s had a little bit of a longer break, we’d have to look at what they were doing during that break and maybe it’s someone who’s unfortunately had an injury or they’ve had surgery. So now we’re looking at if it’s been a longer break I’m thinking three months.
Definitely, yeah I think that’s one of the things that I often remind my athletes as well is that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon or an ultramarathon and sometimes the parts that you don’t see the most are those ligaments and Tendon Buildup and that’s so key to not getting injured. That’s, I think, something that’s really easy to forget when you’re so excited about your goal. That’s the fun part but you really do have to take time in each step of your journey and really embrace that which I try to emphasize.
Sometimes they need a little bit more time to ease into things as well because if we’re not careful, I think a lot of people that are interested in endurance sports tend to be pretty strong mentally right? They can bully their way through a lot of things but that’s not always the best way because I think for me as a coach I want athletes to think about themselves as you know if these are the things you love to do you probably want to do them for a long time and you probably want to do them with your kids too and when that time comes in your life and your grandkids.
That’s such great advice. I think going forward too, we want to touch on some key points in the actual journey of building an aerobic base and kind of get into the background of what that actually means so Steve, you kick us off on that.
Yeah, absolutely I think that you know there’s sort of these gates in the approach that we’ve developed at Uphill over the years and one of the first ones is establishing training zones.
And we do that by assessing a person’s aerobic threshold. It’s a little different than what is typically done in most systems. They start by assessing an athlete’s anaerobic threshold which can be thought of as let’s say a race pace for most athletes, like as hard as you can go for an hour, is a good definition of anaerobic threshold whereas what we’re trying to do is more figure out where an athlete’s aerobic training zone is and so that they can focus most of their training on that because as we’ve just talked about. We’re going to prioritize and emphasize building a good aerobic base. So I really say that that’s the first step in the journey.
So Chantelle tell me if there is anything you’d like to add to that beginning process.
Yeah I think for when we think about what are our limiters and what you know when we’re out doing these bigger adventures. Endurance is kind of limited by the rate that our muscle cells can sustainably produce the energy that they need for their contractions. So probably everyone has experienced you’re going along and all of a sudden it’s like your legs are so heavy. You know they just don’t want to. They don’t want to move. If you think about marathon runners, they talk about hitting the wall. So if your event is sort of 2 hours or less, you can struggle through a lot. But if it’s longer then our fuel stores are a major limiter and also those muscle contractions whether or not those muscle contractions can continue or not. That’s also a limiter right? The fatigue that we get into is definitely a limiter so that’s why it’s really important. You know as Steve mentioned looking at what the aerobic threshold is so that we can guide athletes to train within that aerobic threshold so that they can allow themselves to improve their metabolic processes and that means improving things that we don’t see. It’s easy to go to the gym and lift some weights and you start to see the muscles growing, or maybe if you’re running you suddenly notice that a route that you normally take takes you an hour. You get really excited because you realize wow that felt really easy but that only took me 50 minutes a few months ago that took a little longer and it’s hard to see those changes happening day to day but actually as we do this type of training endurance training or aerobic in our aerobic zone we are able to get faster with less effort because we’re making some really cool biochemical changes happen. So here’s where you know the nerds get excited. I’m pointing to myself and looking at you two over there. This is where us nerds get excited because what’s happening is by doing that training, we are improving the oxidative capacity and metabolic efficiency of our muscles by improving the way that our bodies use oxygen.
Yeah I always tell people that they’re training their metabolism and even in that sense, the word training sounds misleading. It’s really the metabolic adaptations that we’re talking about here that support endurance.
We think about you know ATP which is the energy currency and we have the mitochondria they’re the ones that are actually growing their muscles right? They’re getting stronger and their little army is growing as well. So we think we’re improving the mitochondrial density.
We are improving the way that Oxygen is delivered throughout our body because we actually are able to through our aerobic training. We’re actually able to have new blood vessels forming from preexisting blood vessels. So that’s pretty cool and something that we don’t see happening.
And we’re actually able to improve the way that our bodies are using the fuel that we’re giving it the way that they are using carbohydrates the way that they are tapping into our fat stores as well and as our muscles also start to adapt to this exercise you know our tendons are getting stronger.
Our ligaments are getting stronger. We also will use our fuel a little bit more slowly and so that means that we can do more work for less effort which is great. We always want to work. Not necessarily work harder but work smarter and that’s what we’re training our bodies to do.
Metabolic processes to do through aerobic training.
We’re going to dive into some of the more nitty-gritty of that as we will. But first let’s go back to you know, sort of setting up zones and an athlete kind of coming in designing what they want to climb. I’m putting myself back in the mindset of this person.
Okay, I’m going to go climb Mt. Rainier next summer and I feel like I need to start training. I want to get in shape. I want to have a good experience. I want to climb the mountain safely and efficiently and relatively quickly and so they’re, probably at this point thinking, I need to build a big aerobic base and I need to do some sort of test to figure out what my aerobic threshold is whatever that means and then I need to start doing something. One of the big misconceptions I think is that there’s some magic bullet.
And I think that if there’s any kind of magic bullet I just want to dispel this notion right now. It’s figuring out your training zones and then distributing the intensity of the training in the right way which means what Chantelle has been talking about doing most of your training in.
It’s a lower heart rate which is the the zones in which you build your aerobic capacity and doing most of your training in those heart rate intensities and if you just simply do that one thing, you’re 80% of the way there. In fact, it’s often called polarized training or some people call it 80/20 or there’s different terms that refer to the distribution of the intensity and the intensity simply means the heart rate is a high heart rate, high intensity, vs low heart rate, low intensity. It’s the easiest way to think about it. So there’s a couple of ways we do this. We have a lot of uphill athletes who we will be familiar with already. We have a pretty well-established protocol for sort of doing an aerobic threshold test in the field or you can do it at your local track. You can do it on a treadmill and we found that’s a really pretty good way for people to get started. Chantelle have you had experience with these tests as well with your athletes and how does that work out?
Yeah, absolutely, that’s always something that I start with as long as I feel the person’s capable of doing it right? If they’re just coming off an injury, maybe we don’t want to test the waters. But if we feel like they can handle that kind of test I think it’s good for a couple of reasons. It helps give them a reality check. Sometimes you have people that sandbag themselves and they go out and do the test and they can gain a little bit more confidence of where they’re at because they might say I haven’t been running or I haven’t been doing much for a couple of months and feeling really down. So they might be able to gain some confidence to see that things aren’t as bad as you thought you knew all that training that you’ve been doing throughout your life. This is why it’s important to keep going because it stays with you. On the other hand you might have someone who is maybe not in tune with where they’re at and they’re maybe a little overconfident so it might be sometimes it’s a bit of an ego check. To say okay, yeah, you’ve been going out on your weekly group run but if I look at your training peaks maybe I get the sense already that they’ve been running harder than they need to and that they’re spending no time at all in their aerobic zone and they say no, no that effort was really not that hard for me.
But then you really see how they’re maybe not able to maintain a stable pace. If they are out there and you see that they are running at that pace but you see that the heart rate response isn’t what you’d like it to be and these are tangible things that you can show the athlete their data afterwards. If it’s someone doing it out on their own. You know it’s a good place for them to start again if they’re getting some good guidance from the information that Uphill Athlete has online. You know how to do the test and how to put the information in after the test.
It also gives them some advice to say that you know your aerobic capacity is in a good place or you know you could definitely benefit from spending more time doing some good volume at a low and slow intensity. So it gives someone a start point.
But also I think these types of tests are easy to do. It’s also a nice check-in you know if you’re training and you’re running along and you’re not really sure whether things are improving or not. You can easily redo this test you know, recreating the same situation as well as you can and really see how much progress you’ve made or whether you are making some progress.
Yeah, absolutely I think that we’ve often seen that with athletes who will have their benchmark test every couple of months. We don’t recommend that you do it too often because you actually need to be a little bit rested so you don’t want to taper for just a test just to check your own gratification. But the other way you do it is just like you mentioned in an example earlier. You know we tend to train at the same places from home and you tend to do the same loops or whatever and you tend to notice like oh this is feeling easier and I’m going faster. That’s always a kind of subjective feedback. It is very real, very important and I think it’s worth stepping back again and just remembering one of the things we’re talking about here is we’re talking about without going into the Nitty gritty detail. I want to make a clear distinction between what we’re talking about which is training and what I would call exercise and what I mean by training is that some of the exercises are structured. The workouts are structured. The workouts are timed and those of you that are familiar with our books will remember this diagram which I think is one of the most important diagrams in any training book where you have a moment in time where you go for a run you apply a training stress and then after that workout is over you are more tired. You’re driven into fatigue and then as you recover through eating and sleeping and so on then you come at some point in the future. You come back to homeostasis and then you overcompensate and you get a little fitter than you were before. And it’s maybe completely imperceptible to you. But at that quote unquote moment you apply another bout of training and then that drives you into fatigue again and this cycle repeats over and over and over again for days and weeks and months and years and that’s how long-term progress is made and that’s very very different than randomized exercise where you know maybe you’re going for a group run once a week but maybe the other days you’re not doing anything. I mean this is sort of the pattern I fall into lately in my current role as you know director of uphill athlete and dad. This is mostly what I do. I get out and do something on the days I can but by no stretch of the imagination is it structured. It’s like I have a half an hour today, okay go run for a half an hour. Okay today I’ll go for an hour, but training is a little different than training that is structured and organized and works off of these principles. So I think it’s important to understand that sort of definition.
Definitely, I think that’s a good differentiation and I think I want to get more into that later on recommendations for new athletes. But we’ll leave that for another episode and in another episode actually the next one we’ll be talking about the specifics of how to perform that aerobic test. I think that’s a question we get quite frequently and also different ways that you can assess this aerobic threshold and our recommendations and kind of the ease of that. But that’s for another time. So I’d actually be curious to dive into specifics because that’s one of the things we do want to show in these episodes is like specific examples and then also specific takeaways. So Chantelle, do you have any specific examples of really focusing on this aerobic base building that you could share from athletes that you’ve worked with?
I would say the athletes that I’ve worked with that seem to have struggled the most with running within their aerobic zone are athletes that come from a traditional, maybe collegiate running background. They’ve run a lot of track or maybe cross-country shorter events and even marathon runners who they have had training plans that are very focused on miles and maybe a lot of hill repeats and even their long runs are done at a pretty moderate effort. There’s not a lot of running that’s done that easy and so they tend to be kind of stuck running at a certain pace for a certain amount of time. And it’s really difficult for them to kind of make the mind shift that you know the pace is not the goal. Particularly if they’re preparing for a trail-based event right? We’re not running on the road or on a consistent surface. They’re going to be transitioning to running on a more variable surface, but they’re still trying. They’ve still got these things in their brain that I’ve got to run at a certain pace and it’s got to be a certain amount of miles and that’s going to be really different right? If I say go run 10 miles and you’re running on a flat road versus go run ten miles on a given trail, even ten miles on one trail in another trail in your neighborhood is not going to be the same right? Because there’s going to be different elevations. There’s going to be different technicalities on that trail. What’s your experience with that technicality is it snowy is it’s slippery and icy.
That’s going to really vary so trying to get them into the mindset of paying attention to how they’re feeling is one thing and being honest right with clueing into how they’re feeling. How are they breathing? What heart rate does that easy effort correspond with?
And getting away from looking at the pace because the pace is really going to be irrelevant. You know it’s the amount of effort that they’re putting out that’s going to be more relevant and having them focus on that. So if you say I want you to go out and run for an hour and I want you to keep it really easy and aim to keep a nice steady heart rate.
Yeah I can’t tell you how many times I get asked, oh what’s your pace during an ultra. I’m like you know sometimes it’s a 30 minute mile and that’s a really fast mile because I’m going straight up a mountain and sometimes it’s a 7 or 8 minute mile and so pace just does not matter on a trail compared to a road. I have a hard time convincing my road runners I actually really don’t care what your pace was for this section. How’d you feel and how did it go for you? So, it’s a really great point. But Steve, what were you going to say?
Yeah I was going to so I don’t remember now what I was gonna say but it doesn’t necessarily have been too important.
Ah, okay. Have you seen this? Or something along these lines from one of your athletes or do you have a reference point or even yourself?
Yeah, well, all of the above. But I think that I often see it when somebody’s out training and somebody might be me but you know might not.
That means that on a given trail. You might not be able to run a section of that trail right now. That’s going to be a hike or that’s going to be a walk and that’s really hard because it’s really been ingrained in them to be looking at their pace and to be you know running.
This is like one of those, this is one of those jokes, one of these questions like suppose I had this friend and he without running and somebody passed him on the trail and then he had to speed up to catch that person.
Running is running right? And if I’m not running. It’s not a run so that could be really kind of tricky sometimes and getting them through that is hard.
And ah, you know his ego got the better of him and he started running out of his training zone because he couldn’t bear to be passed. This is another. When this happens, I think it’s hard actually and I’ve had this discussion with a lot of athletes over the years where they start to realize they can’t just do their fun runs or other fun training events with their friends because they actually have to stick to their training zones if they want to see improvement. And it becomes a little bit lonely because everybody’s going to be at a little bit different spot and one person’s going to be traveling through the mountains at a heart rate of 120 and that’s going to be as fast as they should be going and somebody else is going to be doing the same trail their heart rate going to be 155 and they’re going to feel like it’s super easy and they’re obviously going to probably be going much much faster. Those two people can’t be friends. I mean they could be friends but they can’t train together I guess. No friends on training days. It’s training gets a little solitary for sure. I certainly experienced that in my professional climbing days that I did all my training pretty much by myself except obviously the climbing itself. But it’s a gig that definitely gets me a little lonely.
And I’m with you on that. My husband will always ask why haven’t you joined a running group? I’m like no one’s doing a 4 hour Tor Des Geants paced run on as much elevation as they can get today like I wish I knew that person but I think that person’s just me.
Yeah, right? Yeah, that’s also at the same place in their training journey as you right? like? That’s the other piece even if the event was the same. Yeah I want to go back to the metabolism a little bit because I think that this is such an important point and such a core sort of tenant of conventional endurance training and therefore the uphill athlete approach. I just want to unpack a little bit when we talk about what’s going on with the metabolic level when somebody is what we call Aerobic simply means with Oxygen essentially right? It’s a metabolism that’s happening with oxygen. There’s another type of metabolism I mean broadly speaking and aerobic metabolism which is what happens when you’re without oxygen at the cellular level. So for those of you that have read our books or want to reference our books, there’s a chapter in them called the physiology of endurance. I think it’s hard going, especially the first couple of times but the more you can kind of understand this the easier it is to understand your training and understand the principles behind it and so we need to first talk about is pyruvate and sort of the secret or maybe not secret but maybe the misunderstood journey role, is the word of lactate and sometimes called lactic acid in the whole metabolic process. I can’t remember when it happened but at some point, writing one of the books, Scott came up with what I think is a very clever mental model for how the well-trained aerobic system works. That is as a vacuum cleaner. Now bear with me for a second and Scott has talked about this on another podcast which we can link to in the show notes. But, picture a muscle fiber that is working really hard and when a muscle fiber is working really hard, it’s burning sugar and the muscle fiber is producing a lot of power. It is also producing a lot of waste and that waste comes out in the form of lactate and hydrogen ions. Those lactate molecules can have two fates. One it can build up in the muscle and cause acidosis which is that feeling that you know the end product of which is we slow down or it can be combined with pyruvate. And then it is able to be shuttled by the aerobic pathway back to produce more work in the aerobically adapted, the aerobically functioning muscle so in a simplified sense if we think about it in metabolic terms endurance training has a two step process. Step one is to minimize the amount of lactate produced through lots of training at low duration, low intensity. Step two then is to maximize the power that a muscle contraction produces when operating at or above the anaerobic threshold.
And those two things combined, when you’ve done both of those, that’s when athletes really see significant gains and changes in their performance and they kind of go, you know we call it colloquially, Beast Mode. I think we even have an article on the website titled Beast mode which is precisely about how this works and how it’s really slow to come on because there is no shortcut to doing a lot of long duration, low intensity training on a consistent basis. And there’s no shortcut to then doing that. The specific muscular endurance workouts then help maximize this. But once you kind of get all those things, all those ducks in a row, it’s really pretty life changing for most athletes.
I think that analogy is such a good one, like an easy one for people to think about how that metabolic process works. I think it’s good to keep reminding people because I still hear people talking about it. You know when I’m out running sometimes they’ll say oh I have lactic acid in my legs. And first of all lactic acid doesn’t exist within the body and lactate is not our enemy right? It’s actually our friend and it’s something that’s really when we can train our bodies with a lot of aerobic exercise it becomes our secret weapon to keep us going. When our bodies have a greater need for energy.
That’s really helpful to break down for all of us and just keep those reminders and break those old myths. It’s one of my husband’s biggest pet peeves when people talk about lactic acid incorrectly.
Going off of that, what mistakes do you most often see athletes make in this aerobic base building phase?
Oh boy I think we’ve alluded to this a little bit before getting distracted by what other people are doing. You know they’re looking at Strava they’re getting a little bit of fomo or the weather’s good or conditions are good and they say like I’m supposed to do a 3 hour, you know, easy run today but I’d rather go climbing or I’d rather do that thing.
So they’re getting just distracted by what else is going on rather than focusing on what they need to do because as you said Steve, it can be lonely right going out and doing your own thing. Or if don’t have anyone else that is you know at the same level as you preparing for the exact same event in the exact same way. So it can be easy to be sidetracked and the other thing that I often see is that they just think okay I need more volume more easy volume so they’re just going out and they’re just piling on the miles and you know, but it’s easy. It’s easy work. So I can do what the plan says I’m supposed to do.They go for an hour but it felt pretty easy. So I’m going to go for 3 and so they’re constantly just going beyond what needs to happen because they’re trying to fast-track their success but you know that it doesn’t work that way.
So Steve, what kind of mistakes do you see athletes make in this phase of aerobic building?
Well I think what Chantelle just described is essentially the mistake of not trusting the process. You know, sometimes I think of it and we talk about it in the coaching circle as buy-in. Sometimes athletes just don’t have buy-in.
And they think they can have their cake and they can eat it too and you know the truth is and this is one of our jobs as coaches and educators is that you know you can’t improve you know progress aerobically.
You know it. It takes time and they need to be prepared to take the time that it needs and to do what they need in their training to improve their own unique physiology.
Without a certain amount of discipline and without respecting the basic principles of training which are continuity, doing frequent workouts, and gradualness. The gradual increase of the training stress over time might be gradual; it really means gradual and modulation, which is the concept of having harder weeks and easier weeks. Just the basic concept of stress and recovery and there’s no shortcut around those things, you can’t cheat that system.
And so they’re sort of like the laws of nature and you sort of ignore them at your own peril If you’re trying to advance and progress in your training.
Yeah, just as a small anecdote back when I ran a world record of 95 marathons in ninety five days I was asked continuously, how do you train to do something like that? And my response was always well, I ran ten miles when I was 12 and was an endurance athlete as a cross-country skier starting at 14 so about ten plus years of endurance building capacity not something I did in six months. So it really is honestly a lifelong pursuit I think and not that anyone can’t begin.
But it’s not just that I woke up one day and I started running a marathon. It’s a continuous process of consistent training. But sorry for that aside , what?
That’s a great aside. Don’t no apologize at all. It’s great.
No, it’s yeah, it’s just kind of funny. I’m sure Steve you got that question quite frequently as well as how you were training for your athletic pursuits. But what is good?
Well I think I’ll just quickly tell that story though it’s been told before that this is where the training for the New Alpinism book came from when I was on the book tour with Beyond the Mountain.
Please do it.
When I published in 2009, everyone kept asking me what to do for training. What do you do for training is either the first or the second question it became and the answer became I could tell you, but I’d have to write another book and that’s eventually what happened six years later was another book was published. And that book is 464 pages of what’s that phrase? I don’t want to say what ifs but, it’s 464 pages of conditions.
It depends. Yeah, oh I see yeah well I think we’re already getting into it.
It depends. Yeah, right? Yeah, his whole life. Yeah.
What if we can break down some major takeaways for athletes that are starting out in this mountaineering journey and Chantelle, I don’t know if you want to go first or Steve.
That’s the standard coach’s answer right? It depends.
Yeah I agree with all of that and there’s so many ways to expound upon, you know, different pieces of that. But I think that for me the major takeaway is to get started. You know it becomes the process but the process starts with the first workout and the first workout is only as good as a second workout is only as good as the third and the fourth and the fifth and you know that process will unfold. I think that one of the mistakes.You can make it to not start and start figuring it out and start just getting engaged. Training is a gritty 2 step forwards 1 step back. Imperfect you know.
All right I’ll go because mine’s pretty short. Be realistic with where you’re at and where you want to go not only now within this year within this training season. But in the future too. So it’s important to have a good plan. Be consistent with your training. Ask for advice from a credible source and I’m going to really put bold italics and sparkly lights on credible sources when you need advice and when you need help and most importantly, enjoy the ride. It’s a process. It’s a journey you know and we’re all hopefully going to be on for a really long time so it’s important to remember that building your endurance is going to be happening over your entire lifetime as an adult and as a human being.
It’s not made for TV, not a pretty you know thing. It’s just like a lot of being consistent and it’s just getting into it. Getting stuck into it and and and staying with it and letting it unfold for yourself and your own place that you’re starting from and your own destination where you’re going to. I mean that’s kind of the brunt of it. It’s very individualized and you know I think that the most important thing is to just get started and make it a priority to do it and then it will happen.
It’s great I always say that the secret to success and endurance training and I guess life is consistency and if you don’t have consistency, you can’t build off of that platform. Awesome!
Thank you both so much for this incredible episode. I feel like there’s a lot that athletes can take away whatever step they are in their process. So if you want to learn more about our resources, we have lots of training plans. We have a forum, we have 1 on 1 coaching phone consultations all available at Uphillathlete.com. You can also write to me, Alyssa, at email@example.com. But those emails that get distributed to people who can help the most so it isn’t just me. I’m just the first point of contact. But if you like this podcast, I ask that you rate, review, and subscribe on all podcast platforms, it really helps us to be able to keep bringing you this education.
Thanks for being a part of it.