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ASC Gets More Social

December 20th, 2009
Join the conversation with Ascend Sports Conditioning

Join the conversation with Ascend Sports Conditioning

You’ve probably noticed some changes on the Ascend Sports Conditioning (ASC) website and blog the past few days. Specifically, we’ve added several links to our presence in the social universe, namely Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr. We’ve also added (and will continue to add) links to other blogs and sites that cover triathlon, climbing and adventure sports, which you can find on the Ascending Higher blog roll. There are so many great sites out there and people writing great articles on training tips, that we’ve tried to highlight the best of the best.

So, take a second and do the following:

Also, if you haven’t done it already, subscribe to Ascending Higher, Ascend Sports Conditioning blog.

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Brewery to Brewery (B2B) Ride: An Epic of a Bike and Her Rider

December 19th, 2009

I’ve been fortunate enough to have have had some really great experiences in my life– from expeditions to triathlon races– many of which I’ve written about, but never have posted online (mainly because they were written prior to the widespread use of blogs or common occurence of writing to the web). I figured now is a great time to share some of these stories on Ascending Higher, particularly as we’re waiting for the snow to arrive and searching for some inspiration to plan out some exciting adventures for 2010. I’ll run them as a series of posts, starting with a narrative I wrote about my trip to Peru in July-August 2001 during an expedition to the Cordillera Blanca. I’ll then follow that with write-ups of my climbing trip to the volcanoes of Ecuador in December 2000, my expedition to the Cordillera Real of Bolivia in July-August 2004, trek to Everest Base Camp in March-April of 2000, as well as recaps of my experiences at bike rides (Harpoon’s Brewery to Brewery) and triathlon races (Eagleman, Ralph’s CA Half). I would love to hear your comments and experiences, so please comment on any of the posts!

This first post was written in June 2002, soon after I had completed the 2nd Annual Brewery to Brewery (“B2B”) Ride.

Brewery to Brewery (B2B) Ride: An Epic of a Bike and Her Rider

The sponsor of the B2B ride, Harpoon Brewery

The sponsor of the B2B ride, Harpoon Brewery

It began innocently enough; a beautiful sunrise over the city of Boston on June 22nd, 2002, as we pulled into the parking lot at the Harpoon Brewery for the 2nd Annual Harpoon Brewery to Brewery ride (“B2B ride”). A sadistic 100 of us had volunteered to subject ourselves to 130 miles (even more sadistic since the original advertisement said 150 miles) of cycling from Harpoon’s brewery in south Boston to their northern New England location in Windsor, Vermont. We were all ready to go, including the fearless group of four from Team Mercury Multisport—Josh, Annie, Leslie and myself.

This ride actually had an sentimental element to it for me since this was going to be my final ride on the 12 year old Raleigh Technium bike that I have grown to love and hate. For I had purchased a newer, “cooler” model bike that will force the Technium into retirement. The long ride would serve as a fine send off for this loyal beast—so I had thought.

Once out of the traffic-ridden streets of greater Boston we chugged our way northward to the NH border. The sky got ominously more overcast as we progressed and the Technium had this funny gear slipping “thing” going on. “No worries,” I thought, “I’ve dealt with this before.” All felt good at the mile 47 water stop. After scarfing down two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made on good ‘ol all-American Wonder bread, I was ready to tackle the next 90+ miles.

Pushing myself up a moderate hill around mile 50 my feet felt suddenly light and free. What had happened? Had I gained some sort of super power that turned my quads into pistons of pure muscle? This thought quickly left my mind once I realized it was me were talking about after all and I looked down to see my chain lying like a dead snake on the ground. “Good God,” I muttered, “the Technium must know this is it’s last ride and will not let me put her down without a fight”. It had not been a gear-slipping “thing” afterall, but a weak link in the chain giving me problems.

Not having a chain breaker, my hopes of an early finish in time for a date with about 10 IPAs at the brewery in Windsor were dashed. Instead, here I stood off of Route 119 in East Nowhere, NH pathetically holding my greasy chain and staring helplessly at the pavement. Suddenly a familiar flash of yellow and red appeared out of nowhere. A fellow B2B rider! This gracious knight, Colin, a citizen of Great Britain, fortunately wielded a chain breaker. All the kings horses and all the king’s men quickly put my chain back together and Humpty Dumpty was back on the road.

I was fixed and furious; ready to make up for lost time when alas, the “30% chance of showers” turned into a “100% chance of downpours” and the sky opened up for the next several hours. The rain actually felt good at first, serving to cool me down. However, by mile 75 while standing in a Dunkin Donuts convenient store shivering uncontrollably and sipping on a Gatorade, I wished the rain to Hell. Lesson number one out of the Handbook for Sadistic Cyclists says that you must always grin and bare it—finish out your ride no matter what the weather conditions. So I hopped back on the No-Large-Chain-Ring-Gear Technium and I was off.

It took about 10 minutes to heat back up and start to feel good again. The rain continued in droves over the next 21 miles to the second water stop at mile 97. The Harpoon support team was great, providing us with the nourishment and encouragement we needed to prod along. Leaving them behind, we knew it was our last stop for the day and the brewery now awaited us!

Fortunately, most of the route past Keene, NH was downhill. The rain had stopped for a brief thirty minutes or so to allow us to cruise this portion. In fact, cruising became the new theme for the day. I actually began to feel refreshed, and “second-winded”. That would not last long as the second wave of downpours arrived just in time for mile 108. Leslie and I had chosen to ride together for support, and now was my time to take advantage of that support. I am sure she got sick of me asking every five miles how far we had gone, but never showed it. Perhaps the daggers of water cascading off of her back tire and into my face was her way of silencing me, for I dropped back to avoid the acqua-induced onslaught. I dropped further back after several pee stops facilitated by drinking nearly two liters of water at the last water stop.
Around mile 120 we joined forces once again, focusing on the finish. The rain had stopped, the brewery was only 10 miles away and life was good once again. Around mile 125, the sentimentality began to settle in, for knowing this would be the last five miles I would ride on the Technium. I was determined to make it quiet, memorable five miles. As I steadily cruised along, I thought of all the good times on this bike: the numerous 22 mile sprints up to Bedford and back; the rides to the beaches along the north shore; and who could forget the 85+ mile jaunts up to the NH border and back? As I waxed nostalgically of these memories, I suddenly found myself jolted back to reality as I came off my saddle and hurled towards the handlebars. The scraping sound of my shoes on the pavement as the back tire lodged into the railroad tracks made me realize I needed to react quickly. Fortunately, I landed on my feet and stopped my fall quickly. I had made it unscathed. Alas, the Technium had not. The back tire turned into a pretzel upon impact with the tire tracks and flatted out (these tracks, in fact, caused several wipe-outs as I would later find out). One last memory, indeed.

Hitching a ride to the brewery with a B2B rider who happened to be driving by in his van, I finished the last five miles of the ride in non-ceremonious fashion. Taking the Technium out of the van, I leaned it against the fence in order to make off for the feast of grilled chicken and beer that awaited all of our hard work upon the completion of this epic. As I walked away from the bike, I heard a metallic slither. Stopping, I looked back to see that the chain had fallen off and rested on the wet grass. I just smiled and thought of all the good times.

6 Essential Pieces of Winter Gear for Endurance Athletes

December 7th, 2009

running in winterIf you’re like me, one of the biggest challenges this time of year as an endurance athlete is figuring out how you can continue to do your workouts outside while the days get shorter and colder. I’m a big proponent of cross-training in the winter and taking advantage of what winter has to offer (see my previous post, The Case for Winter: Multisport at Its Best). Whatever outdoor activity you pursue in the winter, you’re going to want to think about the gear that you will need. Being prepared for the cold temperatures, wind chill and mixed precipitation will make your experience in the winter much more enjoyable, whether you choose to workout outdoors or are forced due to challenging conditions to workout indoors.

The six pieces of gear that every endurance athlete absolutely should have as part of their winter collection are:

1. A windshirt– Whether you’re going for a run, a climb, a hike, or a bike ride, a windshirt is the most versatile, practical piece of clothing you can own. (You could also throw in windpants which are made from the same category in with the shirt). In fact, I like to state that a windshirt is the best piece of clothing EVER invented. What makes it so great is that it is lightweight, it protects you from the wind very well (although it’s not designed with a ton of insulation to keep you super warm in very cold temps), it’s breathable, and it dries very fast (which is critical in the winter). I often wear just a synthetic base layer and the windshirt when I go skate skiing or for a run in cold temps and it ends up being all I need as long as I’m moving. My personal favorite is the Marmot DriClime Windshirt, but other companies also make descent equivalents, like REI.

2. Windstopper clothing– If I plan on doing a bike ride in the winter or go downhill or cross-country skiing on a very windy day, I always make sure I’m wearing windstopper gloves, hat (or on the bike, balaclava), shirt, and — ahem– underwear. There are two things to think about in the winter: insulation from the cold and protection from the wind. You often won’t need a ton of insulation since you’ll be generating heat while moving along, but you will need protection from the wind. Windstopper material is specially designed to protect against the biting cold of the wind. It does come with the trade-off that it’s less breathable, so you want to be sure to regulate any excessive sweat build up when using windstopper material. Any wind stopper gloves from REI, Black Diamond, Craft or other manufacturer will do. As for underwear, I’d highly recommend underwear by Craft, especially for men, who will need to protect certain appendages.

3. Running shoe ice cleats– There’s nothing more tedious than relegating all of your runs to the treadmill as soon as the cold weather and snow comes. I’ll often advise my clients to do some of their runs indoors in the winter, but will always encourage them to get outside when possible. After all, the races you’ll be running are all outdoors (unless you’re track & field person), so the more running you can do outside the better. One essential piece of equipment all runners are going to want to have are ice cleats for their running shoes. Ice cleats go on the bottom of the running shoe will help with the grip on icy or snowy trails, as well as roads (although I’d not recommending wearing them on roads where pavement is showing since this will ruin the cleats). Some good brands/models to consider are the Yaktrax Pros, Petzl Spiky Plus, Stableicers Sport, or Icespike. Runner’s World did a nice review of ice cleats.

4. A headlamp– Days are short in the winter and it’s virtually impossible to do your early morning workout or after-work workout with sunlight or at least without starting (in the morning) or finishing (in the evening) in the dark. Headlamp technology has improved leaps and bounds the past 10 years and it’s really easy to find an inexpensive, lightweight model to help light your way. I’d highly recommend an LED headlamp from Black Diamond, Petzl, or Princeton Tec. Something like the Petzl Tikka, Princeton Tec Aurora or Black Diamond Ion are just the right size and strength for nighttime running or skiing. Backpacking Light has a descent comparison of LED headlamps.

5. Bike trainer– Sometimes the roads are just going to be too snow-covered or icy to safely go out and do a ride or perhaps you just don’t feel like hauling our your mountain bike to hit the trails. That’s when a bike trainer will come in very handy. In the height of the winter (roughly mid-December to early March), I do the majority of my bike workouts on a trainer (it’s much easier to get on the trainer at 5:30am on that dark, -15 degree morning). You’re going to want to decide whether you should get a magnetic or roller trainer (I’ll defer that debate to another time) or even a CompuTrainer (which I’d recommend for advanced athletes with a bigger budget). I ride a magnetic trainer and highly recommend Kurt Kinetic or Cycle-Ops.

6. Home gym for strength & power- Okay, so this isn’t just one piece of equipment, but a few (which you’ll need to vary the types of exercises you can do at home). Sometimes the weather is just so crappy (think, 33 degrees and raining), that you have no choice but to workout indoors in the winter or it’s just easier to do the particular exercise or workout indoors (think weight training). That’s when a home gym comes in (if you prefer to go to a gym outside your home, make sure they have the equipment you need). I’m a big proponent of functional movement exercise to simulate the sport you training for, which as an endurance athlete, is not body-building (read: no need to be able to bench press 300+ lbs). Given that, most of the equipment you need for the type of strength and power training for endurance sports you can store in your home, would cost you about 1-2 months worth of gym membership (approximately $100-200, with the exception of a core board, which would run the budget up), and would include the following:

  • dumbbells– get two dumbbells and about 50-60 lbs. of weight per dumbbell (you can always purchase more weight later if you need it). Having dumbbells you can add/subtract weight from will make it easier for changing resistance levels & for storage.
  • physioball– you will use this for a variety of exercises, including balance, and strength. Check the specs to make sure you get the right size.
  • medicine ball(s)– typically one 12lb ball will cover most exercises you’ll do.
  • stretch cords (or resistance bands)– these can be used for simulating a variety of strength and stretching exercises. Make sure you get the right resistance level.
  • core board– a core board is fantastic for core stability exercises and should be part of any home gym. The Reebok core board is perhaps the best one on the market.
  • pad– any foam pad will do, as long as it serves as adequate protection for the floor and cushioning for when you lie on it.
  • foam roller– a foam roller is fantastic for self-massage, which is something I recommend as part of active recovery. The more harder the foam roller, the better it will work.
  • yoga strap or rope– any 8-10 foot piece of rope or yoga strap will work perfectly in assisting with active isolated stretching exercises, which I often recommend as part of active recovery.

Of course there is all the ancillary gear that goes along with the above list to help you do you workouts (such as your bike or skis), but I am assuming you have most of that gear. The items on the above list will compliment those items and allow you to focus on your winter endurance regime much more effectively and enjoyably.

Ralph’s California Half Ironman and The Eagleman Half Ironman: Two Races, One Goal

December 6th, 2009

I’ve been fortunate enough to have have had some really great experiences in my life– from expeditions to triathlon races– many of which I’ve written about, but never have posted online (mainly because they were written prior to the widespread use of blogs or common occurence of writing to the web). I figured now is a great time to share some of these stories on Ascending Higher, particularly as we’re waiting for the snow to arrive and searching for some inspiration to plan out some exciting adventures for 2010. I’ll run them as a series of posts, starting with a narrative I wrote about my trip to Peru in July-August 2001 during an expedition to the Cordillera Blanca. I’ll then follow that with write-ups of my climbing trip to the volcanoes of Ecuador in December 2000, my expedition to the Cordillera Real of Bolivia in July-August 2004, trek to Everest Base Camp in March-April of 2000, as well as recaps of my experiences at bike rides (Harpoon’s Brewery to Brewery) and triathlon races (Eagleman, Ralph’s CA Half). I would love to hear your comments and experiences, so please comment on any of the posts!

This first post was written in June 2003, soon after I had completed the Blackwater Eagleman Half Ironman.

Ralph's CA Half Ironman now known as 70.3 Ironman CA- Oceanside

Ralph\’s CA Half Ironman now known as 70.3 Ironman CA- Oceanside

After finishing the Timberman Half Ironman in 2002, I was hooked. I knew the longer distance endurance races were why I had gotten into this thing called triathlon. Where else could you suffer for 5 or more hours (in my case at least) completing a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run and call it “enjoyment”? Or perhaps more appropriately, where else could you challenge yourself to reach beyond your limits and to seek your personal best? So shortly after I finished the Timberman I scoured the Internet for more of these endurance gems. Like a drug addict, I needed to know when the next one was so that I could satisfy my inner yearning for more torture. Just as importantly, I wanted the “good stuff”—the races off the beaten path—races with some history—races with some Mojo.

Two races in particular piqued my fancy—Ralph’s California Half Ironman (now called Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside) on April 5, 2003 and The Eagleman Half Ironman on June 7, 2003. These races not only fell perfectly into my training and race calendar for the year, but also fit the criteria for the “good stuff”. The California Half would take me to Triathlon City Central– San Diego, California– while the weather was still cold back east (and ice climbing season was coming to a close) as well as allow me to pay a visit to my sister who still can’t quite figure out why I would want to fly 3000 miles to do one of these things. Likewise, The Eagleman would take me to lovely Cambridge, Maryland (okay, well not so lovely, but the Chesapeake is nice) and allow me to pay a visit to my two year old godson along the way. Always combine pleasure with pleasure I like to say.

The California Half Ironman featured over 2000 athletes from around the world, including last year’s Hawaii Ironman World Champion, Tim DeBoom. (Not that I would ever get a chance to see him since he finished 1 and half hours before me, but it was somewhat cool to be at a race with the “big guns”). The California Half is considered the “kick-off” to Kona, being the first Hawaii qualifier of the season. This fact, coupled with its location, ensured the competition would be stiff. My only goal entering the race was to see where I was at at this point in the season. Being from New England, its difficult to train outdoors in the winter (you get no sympathy from those living in southern California—trust me) so I knew the 56 mile ride over the hills of Camp Pendleton would be quite a challenge. I was praying to the God of Trainers to pull me through!

“Be sure to wear your wetsuit, the water is freezing!”, the Race Director warned us at the pre-race meeting. However, the race day water temperature turned out to be 59 degrees—child’s play! Being in my wetsuit for the first time since last October did not worry me (but it should have as I ended up with the biggest wetsuit hickee ever seen on a human being), as I slid myself into the Pacific. With water temperatures just fine, air temperatures in the high 60s and absolutely no wind to speak of, the swim in Oceanside harbor was the best ever for a race.

The transition areas were all well-run and organized, as I made my way for my bike. Fortunately, the course is closed to public traffic since it’s on a military base (there was actually a threat of a base closure due to the war in Iraq, but luckily that did not happen). The support of the Marines handing out water bottles at the aid stations was a true inspiration, as I was reminded of how lucky we all were to be competing in races such as the California Half because of the bravery of the Marines. I gave it all I had on the ride, but the hills had taken their toll. My time was much slower than I had hoped, but I did have enough for the run.

The run took us along the strand at Oceanside and was quite a flat, scenic course. Temperatures had risen during the double out-and-back run, approaching the mid-to-high 70s by race end. I had been battling a post-tib injury since last year (and still am), so I knew the run would be a true test of mental stamina for me. For me, the run (especially around mile 8 on a half IM) is always “the meat” of the race—the time when you have just got to hang in and pull it through. I had to reach deep to pull it through this time, but I did and was rewarded with a great big hug from my sister and Leslie at the finish line. Victory!

After the California Half, I knew I had a lot of work to do. The Eagleman was two months away and I needed to get outside and train. With the weather now consistently above 40 degrees (and consistently wet) back home, there was no excuse not to get the miles in. I settled into a nice routine of long ride-long run on the weekends and even ventured out into Walden in early May to get some open water swimming in.

June 7th quickly came and race day was already here. The Eagleman Half Ironman, like Ralph’s California Half IM, was a Hawaii qualifier, so a large number of pros (some having already qualified for Hawaii) came for the event, including Tim DeBoom once again, as well as Lori Bowden. With over 1800 athletes, it was one of the largest races I have ever been in.

Fortunately, the rain held off for race day, with perfect conditions of overcast skies and temperatures in the low 70s. The brackish water in the Choptank River lived up to its name, pelting swimmers with some of the choppiest conditions ever seen at the Eagleman. Navigating proved difficult in such conditions.

Eagleman Half Ironman

Eagleman Half Ironman

The heavy rain the day before caused the transition area to be quite muddy. Not wanting to risk clogged cleats, this was the one time I actually left my “coffee shop caps” on my cycling shoes as I ran my bike through the transition area. The ride through the Blackwater Preserve was very scenic and fast. I was able to pull down a descent bike split. The run, on the other hand, would be another story.

The 13.1 mile out-and-back once again took us through scenic and flat stretches of the Blackwater Preserve. Unfortunately, my injury had not improved much since the California Half, so I was limited in my training for the Eagleman. It certainly showed on the run, but once again, I was able to win the mental battle and pull out a solid overall time.

Both races proved to be premier events and “must dos’ in the circuit of North American Half Ironmans. From a personal standpoint, I was quite happy: With two races, I achieved my one goal—to challenge myself to reach beyond my limits and to seek my personal best. And I had it done it at venues that possessed “the good stuff”.

Peru Expedition 2002: Cusco and the Cordillera Blanca

November 29th, 2009
I’ve been fortunate enough to have have had some really great experiences in my life– from expeditions to triathlon races– many of which I’ve written about, but never have posted online (mainly because they were written prior to the widespread use of blogs or common occurence of writing to the web). I figured now is a great time to share some of these stories on Ascending Higher, particularly as we’re waiting for the snow to arrive and searching for some inspiration to plan out some exciting adventures for 2010. I’ll run them as a series of posts, starting with a narrative I wrote about my trip to Peru in July-August 2001 during an expedition to the Cordillera Blanca. I’ll then follow that with write-ups of my climbing trip to the volcanoes of Ecuador in December 2000, my expedition to the Cordillera Real of Bolivia in July-August 2004, trek to Everest Base Camp in March-April of 2000, as well as recaps of my experiences at bike rides (Harpoon’s Brewery to Brewery) and triathlon races (Eagleman, Ralph’s CA Half). I would love to hear your comments and experiences, so please comment on any of the posts!
This first post was written in August 2001, soon after my arrival back to the United States after my trip to the Cordillera Blanca of Peru in July-August of that same year. I spent the first week with my wife, Leslie, acclimitizing along the Inca Trail, and then the remainder of the trip on an expedition with Roger Wall, Marco Perez, Jaoquim our cook, and lots of burros and chickens (the chickens unfortunately did not survive the trip).

Peru Expedition 2002: Cusco and the Cordillera Blanca

Winay Wayna on the Inca Trail, Peru

Acclimitizing on the Inca Trail: Incan ruins at Winay Wayna

A few days of trekking through the Sacred Valley in the Department of Cusco, Peru brought us back five centuries into the heart and soul of the Incan Empire. My travel partner (who is now my wife– we weren’t married at the time), Leslie, and I could only leave to our imaginations what the ruins at Sachsayhuamán, Tambomachay, Pisac, Ollataytambo, Winay Wayna, and of course, the most mystery-shrouded of all, Machu Picchu, were like before the Spanish conquistadors transformed them. Workers chiseling out the next stones to be placed perfectly into the city structures, gilt Incan walls, quinoa terraces tended by local farmers, guinea pigs (still a local delicacy) nesting in the stone houses of the locals—all probably were very typical at the apex of Incan society. These idyllic scenes have vanished, replaced by tourists swarming over what was once a sacred temple, Quechuan natives dressed in traditional clothing clutching puppies, begging tourists to take their picture in exchange for a sole (the Peruvian currency), and the Machu Picchu Sactuary Lodge, catering to those who pay $200+ a night to watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu without the inconvenience of the morning hike on the Inca Trail. The government has even approved the building of a ski gondola from Aguas Caliente to the top of Machu Picchu so more money can be creamed from the curious but coddled visitors to the world famous archeological site. While the concept of a gondola is in blatant contradiction to the true spirit of Machu Picchu, the demand for such a structure and the government’s desire to profit from it can only be attributed to tourists, like us.

Year after year, thousands hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu on what is arguably one of the most spectacular hikes in the world. We chose not to hike the Inca Trail for this very reason. The frat party atmosphere at Winay Wayna, where all trekkers —Inca Trail bound or not—must pass to access Machu Picchu (unless bussing it up from Aguas Caliente or hiking in from another remote route from Vilcabamba to the west) proved our decision to steer clear to be the correct one for us.

Despite the taint or overcrowding and overcommercialism, the Cusco region of Peru is absolutely one of the most beautiful places I have ever traveled. The environment varies from the tropical jungle ecosystem of the Manu Preserve in the Amazon Basin to the high alpine rock and ice of massive peaks that climb above 6,000 meters (approximately 19,700 feet), such as Nevada Veronicá. Unfortunately, most tourists who come to Cusco do not venture outside of the Sacred Valley or beyond the Inca Trail. The reason for this is the accessibility of these sites, and the shroud of mystery that still covers most of department beyond Machu Picchu. The jungles beyond Machu Picchu are a remote area, with the forgotten city of Vilcabamba (also known as Espiritú Pampa), just recently having been uncovered for visitors. Few venture to travel that far, however.

For us, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley represented not the culmination, but the point of embarkment of our journey. Leslie and I parted ways in Cusco as she prepared to meet a group to trek in the Cordillera Blanca and I readied myself for a climb in the same range. My decision to climb instead of trek was one I had made before traveling to Peru. While it meant parting ways with Leslie, it would only be for a short time and would allow me to pursue an activity I am passionate about—challenging myself on climbs at altitude—and one I cannot pursue where I live in a Boston suburb.

I flew from the former Incan capital city Qusqu (now the modern Peruvian city of Cusco) to the Peruvian capital, Lima. In the seasonal gray gloom of that city, I met up with Roger, my good friend and climbing partner from New York City. Roger and I had climbed Mount Baker in Washington State together and have ice climbed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire as well as rock climbed in the Gunks of New York together, so we comfortable with one another’s strengths and limitations. Choosing compatible partners is crucial to any expedition, but does not mitigate the other factors that can derail an expedition — as we would learn.

The elusive Artesonraju with Alpamayo in the background

The elusive Artesonraju with Alpamayo in the background

After an unexpectedly pleasant, but tiring eight-hour bus ride to Huaraz, the climbing mecca of the Andes, we were at last in the Cordillera Blanca. I stepped out of the bus feeling strong and invigorated as I inhaled the cool mountain air and absorbed the views of surrounding peaks. After picking out one of the many taxi drivers who cruised the area for business, we were shuttled through the wild streets of Huaraz to our Swiss-style hotel, the Hotel Club Andino, where we met Marco Perez, who would be leading us on our climbs over the next 21 days.

With 13 years of experience climbing throughout the Andes, Marco is one of the most knowledgeable and reliable Peruvian guides around. We were lucky to have him, particularly since we only found him at the last minute. Roger and I had debated the use of a guide and decided that since we did not know these mountains and were uncertain of how best to arrange the logistics and support for our expedition, somebody like Marco would make our trip much more enjoyable. Our expectations were exceeded.

The Cordillera Blanca, a range of twenty 6,000-meter peaks, represents the finest climbing in the western hemisphere—a climber’s playground. It is ideally suited for the serious climber — whether looking for the challenge of a famous rock face, La Esfinge (The Sphinx, otherwise known as Torre de Paron), or the second-highest mountain in the Andes, Huascaran Sur (6,768m), or just seeking a scenic spot to practice mountaineering techniques on glacial moraines. Most climbers looking to check off big-name peaks come to attempt Huascaran or Alpamayo (5,947m), both formidable climbs. We opted for lesser-traveled peaks.

After stocking up on food, obtaining the services of a cook and porter, Joaquin, and making final gear checks, we were off for the Llanganuco Valley, one of the many beautiful valleys in Huascaran National Park. We climbed to 4,665 meters in about 3 hours, gaining spectacular views of the Huascaran Massif, Yanapaqcha (5,700m) and the Huandoy Massif (6,395m) along the way to our destination at Pisco Base Camp. Pisco Oeste (5,752m) was our planned first summit attempt and we were to spend three more nights in this valley, slowly advancing until our summit bid.

Already at base camp, I noticed the altitude in a way I had never experienced before in my other high-altitude excursions in Nepal and Ecuador. Most people experience some form of altitude illness when they arrive at high elevations, whether it be loss of appetite or a headache, but these symptoms usually fade with proper acclimatization. However, my extreme shortness of breath and elevated heart rate were atypical. On the way to moraine camp, while climbing over large boulders and scree fields, I felt fatigue and began to cough. My condition was worrisome enough to Marco that he ordered me to descend to base camp to rest. I did not object, knowing full well the consequences of staying at moraine camp. My condition could worsen, perhaps to a state of pulmonary edema, a life threatening condition that causes excessive fluid buildup in the lungs. Altitude can kill. The only cure for severe altitude sickness is immediate descent, and the evacuation of a sick climber over the Pisco moraine in the middle of the night would have been nearly impossible. So I descended.

Back at Pisco base camp, disappointment overwhelmed me. This was supposed to only be our acclimatization peak and I was already falling apart! After months of preparation it came to this. I was in the best physical shape of my life, training every day (with active recovery included), aerobically for 1-2 hours, lifting weights 4-5 days a week. Now, all that effort had been crushed by a simple lack of oxygen. It hadn’t just been physical preparations that now seemed for naught: Roger and I had had difficulties pulling together the logistics of our trip , both of us having made sacrifices to get to this very point. Two other climbing partners had pulled out of the expedition when one ripped up his knee climbing in California and the other refroze once frostbitten toes when caught in a storm at the top of Grand Teton. Yet we two had still managed to make it here — and for what?

Huandoy Massif, second highest peak in the Cordillera Blanca

Huandoy Massif, second highest peak in the Cordillera Blanca

Roger and Marco had camped at Pisco moraine camp and continued on the next day for an early morning ascent of Pisco Oeste. After their ascent, they met me at Pisco base camp. I was happy for Roger and Marco when I heard that they had summited Pisco Oeste. I wanted them to push on with our original plan without me to Chopicalqui (6,345m), but, not wanting to fracture our team, Roger and Marco, decided that we should all descend back down to Huaraz, rest, and then head out for our next summit attempt. If we descended at this point and followed that plan, our chances of summiting a 6,000-meter peak would be slim. I had a hard time accepting this, especially since this was my second attempt at climbing a 6,000-meter peak (the first was a trip to Chimborazo, Ecuador that was thwarted by bad weather). Nevertheless, I reluctantly accepted, but silently vowed that one of us would push on to summit a 6,000-meter peak if the circumstances did not prohibit a safe attempt.

We decided the Santa Cruz Valley offered us the greatest range of options. This valley is home to some of the classic mountaineering climbs: Alpamayo, Quitaraju (6,040m), Artesonraju (6,025m), and what has been described as one of the hardest climbs in the world, the spired, avalanche-riddled Taulliraju (5,830m). I held out hope that perhaps we could at least get on Artesonraju or Quitaraju, which had been part of our original aspirations, but I knew that would be a long shot. After a first bout with sickness at altitude, it is hard to shake off. My lungs still festered with a lingering cough as we trekked past one gorgeous alpine route up towering peaks after another. After much discussion as a team and soul-searching for myself, we decided we would climb, but not to 6,000 meters this time. We would stay together and maximize our enjoyment of the mountains, the real reason we were in Peru.

Focusing on Millishraju (5,510m), a glorious snow-covered peak sandwiched between Taulliraju and Nevada Paron (5,600m), we moved forward with high spirits. We camped in an isolated valley at the base of a moraine that leads to Millishraju, our best campsite of the expedition. The next morning, after sucking down hot tea, bread and fried eggs—the classic breakfast of Andean expeditions— we got an early start for the summit. The moraine challenged us, as we pushed ourselves onto the glacier. The route brought us over a long snow climb, peeking out over huge sections of hanging glaciers and past large crevasses. After pushing ourselves hard for several hours, the summit loomed in the passing clouds ahead. I felt very strong. When we reached the summit, I was intoxicated with joy. There I stood—surveying the second-highest mountain range in the world, ist glaciers, rock, ice, and the blue skies that set them off like celestial palaces.

The towering summit of Piramide de Garcilaso

The towering summit of Piramide de Garcilaso

I looked forward to edging down the valley, to the point of departure for our next summit attempt. I felt once again like a king, picking among his castles, as I looked upon the unbelievable variety of mountains. We needed to plan carefully, however, since I could suffer a relapse of altitude sickness higher up and because Roger had experienced a relentless, altitude-related headache on the climb up to Millishraju. So we set our sights on Curuicashajana (5,510m), an imposing granite peak bristling with slabs of glacial ice. Curuicashajana would be enough of a challenge for climbers in our condition.

With the assistance of two burros, and reliable Joaquin, we moved camp to the base of Curuicashajana. Stuffing ourselves with freshly butchered chicken carried from Huaraz, we sat around camp the night before the attempt on Curuicashajana, admiring at the burst of stars that filled the clear Andean sky. The weather was perfect for our pre-dawn start.

As we set out, it was bitterly cold. Temperatures had fallen overnight. Since none of us had been up this peak before, we needed to negotiate an uncharted, steep moraine before reaching the glacier. The moraine proved to be a challenge in itself, with large clumps of grass obstructing our pathway as we scrambled over rock slabs. After three hours of climbing 610 vertical meters (2000 vertical feet), I stopped for a photo break as Marco and Roger plowed ahead. The sun was just beginning to send its intense equatorial rays over the Santa Cruz Valley, casting perfect light over the monstrous slopes of Piramide de Garcilaso (5,885m) and Artesonraju. I took several photos of this magnificent sight before turning to Quitaraju. Its massive western face dropped away precipitously, with its sharp ice flutes capturing the sun’s rays along the way. I thought about the climbers who were probably summiting at that very moment on the other side of Quitaraju. It was probably the first 6,000 meter peak for some of them, and they were fortunate to have such glorious weather.

Moving forward in the cold air, the strength I enjoyed just the day before quickly began to leave my body as we rose above 5200 meters (17,000+ feet). I plodded on, frustrated. After another half hour of battling with my lungs, I stopped and waved Roger and Marco onward, shouting to them that I would be going down. I could not jeopardize the safety of my partners nor my own. Obviously, the mountains would not permit me to go any farther.

I made my way back to base camp. After a near glissade down the moraine on the slick clumpy grass, I was relieved to be in this safe spot. I spent the day recounting the adventure we were on, step by step, contemplating the decisions I had made along the way. Were they the right ones? What if I had just toughed it out? I had no answers, but that did not stop me from torturing myself for my choices. This is the most difficult struggle in the mountains—the one with the mind. The mind says, “go for it”, while the body says “no more”. I reminded myself that the losers of the struggle die. I had chosen what was best for me.

When Roger and Marco returned to camp, they said they had diverted from the summit of Curuicashajana, opting instead for a traverse over the rock-glacier line right below the summits of Curuicashajana and the majestic Rinríjirca (5,810m), in the direction of Taulliraju. It took them a solid 12 hours to complete. Both were utterly exhausted. As they told their epic, part of me wished I had been with them, but the other part was very happy that I had not.

We packed up camp and made our way over the high pass of Punta Union (4,760m), to other side of valley. It took us two days to hike out, going from contorted icefalls at the head of Punta Union, to bog-strewn pampas leading to Vaqueria, our departure point. The bumpy ride in our colectivo (mini-van) over another high pass at 4,700 meters was an adventure in itself. A flat tire, wet snow, blaring Peruvian pop songs, and a driver with the terrifying habit of letting go of the wheel, kept us occupied during the three-hour ride back to Huaraz.

In Huaraz, we said goodbye to Marco and Joaquin. Both had been excellent resources for us. We promised to keep in touch, for I was already planning my return to the Cordillera Blanca for next year’s climbing season. There is simply too much to do in this mountain range, and I had only begun. Next year I would return wiser and more seasoned. We would ascend more slowly, give our bodies more time to acclimatize, and plan for high camps above the moraines if we decided to attempt any peaks that do not have frequently climbed routes. This experience had taught me two such important lessons. I would put them into practice next time. We had, with varying degrees of acceptability, successfully addressed the other issues ahead of time to maximize our chances for success this time around.

No matter how much planning for success you may do, it’s never enough. Many things have to come together for a successful summit attempt: logistical planning, physical conditioning, weather, nutrition and hydration, health at altitude, technical climbing experience, teamwork, meshing of personalities and styles with partners, and a good dose of luck. The mountain decides whether you make it or not. I kept this in mind throughout the expedition. It would have been very easy for the mountains to become an all-consuming passion, seducing me into “summit fever,” which casts caution aside. I avoided taking uncalculated risks and as a result, lived to plan my next adventure.

Ascending Athlete #5: Mike Ferragamo

November 1st, 2009

I’ve started a series called “Ascending Athletes”, which features people achieving great things in their lives and/or impacting the lives of others through athletics. I’m featuring athletes of all backgrounds, sports and skill levels. Everyone has a story to tell– whether a recreational or beginner just starting to work out or a hardcore athlete who is competing at an elite level. The goal of the Ascending Athlete series is to capture these stories and inspire others to seek similar challenges and rewards. If you would like to share your story or would like to nominate someone as an Ascending Athlete, please let me know. For more information about Ascend Sports Conditioning, visit our website.

Mike Ferragamo

Mike getting ready to kick it into high gear

Mike getting ready to kick it into high gear

Some people are just natural coaches and leaders. It’s one of those skills that is hard to learn– you either have it or you don’t. Mike Ferragamo is one of those guys who just has it. I know Mike from the high tech scene in the Boston area, having worked with him in a previous job. Wherever I’ve worked, I seemed to have established at least one good friendship that has endured over the years– and one of those has been with Mike. I not only respect Mike professionally for his leadership, but also for what he’s done in the athletic realm. I admire his dedication to sports, particularly running, and his love for inspiring others in the sport, including fundraising for charity. Mike has run in the Boston Marathon a few different times, both as an athlete, as well as a coach for Team in Training. Through his efforts, Mike has helped raise over $2 million dollars for Team and Training and Children’s Hospital in Boston. Consider joining Mike’s team, Miles for Miracles, to not only help raise your own personal fitness, but also raise money for a fantastic cause. Please visit Team in Training’s donation page or the donation page for Children’s Hospital if you’re interested in helping either organization in their fight.

Mike was kind enough to answer a few questions and help explain what makes him an Ascending Athlete:

Why are athletics important to you?

Athletics allow me to constantly challenge myself. I enjoy just getting out for a long run and being able to refelct on things and release any stress. Athletics also allow me to have a good balance of work, family and personal time.

What sports do you participate in?

Primarily running but also play golf and hockey regulary and try to mountain bike when time allows.

What is your major athletic goal(s)and/or events you are participating in for this year?

This year I will have run another 2 marathons (Providence & Baltimore) and countless other races. Because each race is different I always have to prepare for any type of race conditions while also putting in enough training to hit my time goals that I set for myself. I also strive each training season to have all of my runners complete their events. Why have you chosen this goal(s)?

What are some future goal(s) or event(s) you’d like to participate in?

I would like to run an ultra distance and participate in an Ironman at some point. I also think that being part of a team for one of the 24 hr races would be a blast.

What impact has your athletics had on the lives of others?

Ever since running my first marathon with Team in Training I was able to stay involved and over the past 6 years have trained close to a thousand runners who have raised over $2 million dollars for both Team in Training and Children’s Hospital Boston.

Name one interesting fact or story that makes you unique and interesting

Growing up and up until the summer of 2002 the only running I would have done would have been associated with team sports. I never understood why people just went out to run. I used to see people running the river in the rain and say to myself “can’t you just skip a day or wait until the rain stops”. It is ironic because I will now run through any weather and I am sure people say the same thing about me when I am out there. Another interesting fact about me is that until I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time in 2004 I had never gone out to watch it.

Thanks to Mike for sharing his story and for inspiring others to improve their health & well-being while helping others in the process– he truly is an Ascending Athlete!

To learn more about Ascend Sports Conditioning, our mission, focus and dedication to helping people ascend to new levels through athletics, please visit

5 Steps to Planning Out Next Year’s Triathlon Season

October 25th, 2009

488308180_9072dc3480The 2009 triathlon season is now in the history books. It’s time to start planning for next season.

Most triathletes enter the off season with no plan or just a semblance of a plan (“I’ll just work out every day– swim 2 times a week, bike 2 times and run 2 times. 2 weight workouts too.”). This type of plan is perhaps okay for someone whose never raced before and just getting off the couch (having a rough plan is better than no plan at all for these folks), but unfortunately, for most triathletes– beginner or professional, this type of plan won’t cut it. You need something that’s going to build on your current athletic capabilities.

Planning, however, doesn’t need to be all time-consuming. If you’re lucky (and smart) enough to be working with a coach, then you’re 10 steps ahead of everyone else. Your coach will make it simple for you and provide the expertise in mapping out next year’s season. If you’re a self-coached athlete, you have a lot more to think about. Even for non-coached athletes, it doesn’t have to be a super-complex and time-consuming exercise.

Get out a piece of paper, a calendar and pen, and do these five things to plan out next year’s season:

  1. Establish your training goals- Having clear, well-defined goals is the key for success in any triathlon season. Goals give you something to shoot for and if mapped out properly, will keep you motivated. Your goals will drive all other aspects of your training (objectives, races, volume, instensity, etc.), so spending the time thinking about them is absolutely essential. Your goals should be realistic and measurable. If you’re an experienced athlete, your goals will probably be a continuation of the goals you had mapped out as part of your macrocycle or multi-year plan. Most of the time, however, even these goals change– it’s difficult to predict 4-5 years in advance what you will be doing, so it’s important to spend the time re-stating the goals to your current situation. Be sure to factor in your assessment of your last season. For beginner athletes, you should spend the time thinking about your larger, multi-year goals, and then map them out progressively over a realisitic time period, which will determine next year’s goals. Typically, it’s good to have about 3-5 goals. They should be a good mix of physiological, nutritional and mental skills goals– in other words, well-balanced. Of course they don’t have to be, particular if you feel that you are strong in one area, such as nutrition. Some sample goals include: “To complete Ironman USA in less than 10 hours and in the top 10 of my age group.” or “To lose 15 lbs. by March 2010”. These goals are realistic (for the given athlete), clear and measurable. Write your goals down!
  2. Outline your training objectives- Once you’ve got your goals set, write down your objectives. Objectives are essentially milestones that will measure how you will achieve those goals. You should have clearly defined objectives that will measure your progress towards your goals throughout the season. For instance, if you state your goal is to “Finish in the top 5 of my age group in the Patriot Half Ironman and Timberman Half Ironman races”, then you’re going to want to have objectives that are going to allow you to measure progression towards this goal. You’ll need to start by understanding what times you will need to achieve to finish top 5 in each of bike legs of those races, then calculate the pace you will need to obtain. Let’s say that it is 24 mph over the course of the 56 miles. At that point, you’ll want to set objectives throughout the season to achieve that goal based upon the period you are in. For instance, in your Base period you’re not going to want to have an overly aggressive objective. Instead, you may have an objective such as “Hold 90 rpm at 350 watts for 15 minutes by January 15, 2010”. You could map that to a specific workout or do it in a race. I typically map out 1-3 objectives per goal for my athletes (all based on personalized and realistic measurements), which I think is fair and achievable. I also don’t map out the objectives until I get a clear understanding of how the athlete performs (typically after the first set of baseline tests I do with him or her), and I also make sure the objectives are fluid– meaning that I will change them based upon how the athlete is executing against his or her workouts. The objectives serve as nice motivators for a coach to motivate an athlete, as well as for a self-coach athlete to have their own motivation and understanding of how they are progressing towards their goals.
  3. Sign up for your races- Now that you have your goals and objectives outlined (and undoubtedly these are tied to specific races or events), you need to go sign up for these events. This seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many athletes I’ve coached had to change their races (and their goals) for the season because their races filled up. They often think “I’ll do Ironman Canada next year”, but by the time they have thought of that, the race is filled. Triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports worldwide and every year it gets harder and harder to get into races. This is especially true for Ironman races, which you often need to register one year in advance. That’s why it’s important to have a macro plan for your training (or a multiyear plan), as well as a clear and adaptive approach to your next year’s plan. Go to the website for your event, and register online. If the event is filled, check out comparable events that would work for you that may be in the same time frame.
  4. Map out the different periods (or phases) of your year- Now we’re getting in to the “nuts and bolts” of your year. I’m a big believer in the concept of periodization, which provides athletes with not only a strong structure for training, but more importantly, a sound and proven methodology for performing optimally. So, get out a calendar and do the following: mark down your races on the calendar. Circle the “A” races, or the races that you’ll be going all out on (you shouldn’t have more than 1 of these per year if you’re a beginner triathlete and definitely no more than 2 if you are an advanced triathlete). Depending upon the distance of the race, countback 1-4 weeks (for Ironman races, it should be 3-4 weeks and for shorter races less than that)– that period of time is your “Peak” period. From the beginning of the Peak period, you’re going to want to count back in blocks of 4 weeks. Each block will represent a ‘period’ (or phase) of your training where you will vary your volume and intensity (which you will do in step 5 below). The earlier in the training, the less volume and intensity (“Base” periods) and the closer you are to the Peak period the greater the volume and intensity (“Build”, “Competition”, or “Excel” periods– will vary by name). Once you’ve marked out these periods, you’re ready to figure out volume and intensity you should achieve in those periods for the year.
  5. Assign weekly volume and intensity- Now you are ready to figure out volume (or how much or hours per week) and intensity (or how hard you will go, measured by heart rate instensity (and/or other measures, such as watts on the bike) per period. Volume and instensity are functions of many things– experience of the athlete, races or events planned, time the athlete has to train, and others– so both will vary greatly by athlete. The basic concept is to gradually build up enough volume and intensity over time with your training so that your body can adapt and grow stronger– otherwise known as progressive overload. I’m not going to spend a lot of time addressing progressive overload here, but it’s a critical and fundamental concept that you will need to be familiar with to plan out your training adquately. In general, the earlier in your training (“Base” periods), you will want less volume and intensity and the later in your training (“Build”, “Competition”, or “Excel” periods), the greater the volume and instensity. The “Peak” period should be a time of “tapering” or reduced volume and intensity to get you ready for your “A” race. Assign volume by number of hours per week, and intensity by percentage of total time spent in a given heart rate (you will need to determine your heart rate zones per sport to adquately be able to measure this). For instance, let’s say you are racing a Half Ironman race. In your first Base period, you will want to plan something like 10 hours per week, with an intensity of about 25% in heart rate zone 1, 60% in heart rate zone 2 and 15% in heart rate zone 3. You will want to gradually increase the number of hours (volume) as you progress into the next period (and the period after that), as well as change your heart rate zone percentage ratios. This not only will change from period to period, but may also change from week to week within a given period. You will want to plan every 4th week of each 4 week block as a “Rest and Recovery” or “R&R” week to give your body adquate time to recover and rest. In other words, the 4th week of your training in a given period should have about a 40-50% reduction in volume, and a slight shift in the intensity ratios towards lower heart rate zones. Once you have your volume and intensity efforts mapped out per period, you have successfully mapped out your season!

The above 5 steps will get you to your plan for the upcoming triathlon season. I’ve tried to simplify it down to make it easy for you to create your own plan. That being stated, there are definitely complexities involved that require you to have some level of understanding about training fundamentals. I’d highly recommend reading up on these topics or getting in touch with someone that could help you out. I’m definitely happy to answer any questions you may have or to work with you in creating a plan that works for you.

Ascending Athlete #4: Craig Austin

October 19th, 2009

I’ve started a series called “Ascending Athletes”, which features people achieving great things in their lives and/or impacting the lives of others through athletics. I’m featuring athletes of all backgrounds, sports and skill levels. Everyone has a story to tell– whether a recreational or beginner just starting to work out or a hardcore athlete who is competing at an elite level. The goal of the Ascending Athlete series is to capture these stories and inspire others to seek similar challenges and rewards. If you would like to share your story or would like to nominate someone as an Ascending Athlete, please let me know. For more information about Ascend Sports Conditioning, visit our website.

Craig Austin

Craig getting ready to shred some snow.

Craig getting ready to shred some snow.

One of the reasons why I love participating in sports is the social aspect and connection you share with others– it truly is a community. Nothing is more rewarding than sharing your adventures with close friends, family or just someone you met who you instantly have a social bond with due to the sheer fact that you’re both out there sweating it out and sharing an adventure. I’m reminded of this fact vividly when thinking about our next Ascending Athlete, Craig Austin. I met Craig through my social media connections (through fellow kiteboarding and Ascending Athlete, Jessica Valenzuela), and admire not only his love of multisport, but his ability to relish the social aspect of the sport and his enthusiasm in wanting to inspire others with his love of sport– a core quality of an Ascending Athlete.

Craig is a co-founder in a kiteboarding related global web property venture. (He’s currently in the very early stages of the process and is eager to share his venture with the world shortly once they are ready to do so). As an entrepreneur, he’s combining his love of adventure– specifically kiteboarding– with his every day pursuits in hopes of inspiring others to kiteboard and seek adventure.

Craig was kind enough to answer some questions and share some of his thoughts on what makes him an Ascending Athlete:

Tell us a little about yourself.

Athletics opens a new dimension to the word social. As much as most extreme outdoor sports can be individual there is a social dynamic among athletes and the spectators. The energy a sporting event can create whether it be a competitive program or social is incredible! I remember one of my first kiting sessions, in Tarifa – I’d just come in for a break, after having been beaten up by the waves, separated from my board, dunked under for what felt like hours at a time – and one of the Naish team riders came up and gave me a few words of encouragement. Something along the lines of: “don’t worry mate, we’ve all been there – but you were looking good (when you were up)”. Now in my mind I had definitely spent more time down than up, but I was inspired that someone that good had taken the time to come and talk to me.

Why are athletics important to you?

When I first heard the phrase “work hard, play harder” I figured that it was simply a marketing cliché – but it is so much more than that, the reward one feels for pushing ones boundaries is so much greater than simply sliding along in a comfort zone. This applies both to work and sport. After a long day in (any) office crashing out in front of the television leaves one feeling empty – however after that same day, if I get out for a couple hours of exercise, life is just so much better.
I have more energy; more focus, and I am definitely a whole lot more inspired.

What sports do you participate in?

I am obsessed with kitesurfing. I love snowboarding, wakeboarding, inline skating and cycling.

What is your major athletic goal(s)and/or events you are participating in for this year? Why have you chosen this goal(s)?

Getting good at Kitesurfing, with the goal of doing S-Bends (an advanced freestyle trick).

I started kitesurfing 2 years ago, and in my first year opportunity to kite was rather limited, largely due to my commitments to the London Duo skate team – the two of us signed up for the Le Mans 24-hour Inline Skating event. Six months of training six days a week… and it paid off, we achieved a podium finish. Through the course of the event we skated 140 laps in the 24 hours, and that worked out to be about 280km each!

What are some future goal(s) or event(s) you’d like to participate in?

Not sure if it counts as an event, but I have put together 3 week kitesurfing trip to Brazil, where we will be doing a 10-day downwinder, this is more kitesurfing for pleasure than a test of endurance. The general idea is to spend most of each day kiting, and working our way along the coast line. I’m also signed up to for a week of coaching in Taiba as part of this 3 week trip.

Snowkiting is set for the coming winter season, after a short 2nd summer in Cape Town.

What impact has your athletics had on the lives of others?

Great question, and one that I am very proud to answer.

Skating: About 10 years ago, I bought myself a set of Rollerblades, and figured it would be a laugh, and it was. A year later, I was still rather rubbish, and could barely make my way around Hyde Park – so I took a few lessons, and improved rapidly – and then went back for more advanced lessons, and found that I had already discovered most of what was being taught… two months later I was teaching for the skate school. My skating progressed from recreational to Speed Skating, and have done several skate marathons, including Berlin, Poznan and my favourite, the downhill race of Engadin.

Snowboarding: I first stood on a board in 2001, and had a very rough start – two of us were left pretty much to our own devices to figure out how best to fall down a mountain… but we stuck with it, and managed to get a few tips thrown in along the way. Major lesson learnt is how valuable a good instructor is for lessons [in any sport]. Since those early days I have gone on to coaching many friends on the slopes, and get deep satisfactions boarding with them now, knowing that I helped get them up and riding.

Craig slicing through the surf

Craig slicing through the surf

Kitesurfing: This year kitesurfing has found me, and as most involved in the sport soon discover, it takes over. Obsessed, Addicted, and thoroughly happy. It takes priority. Kitesurfers don’t know any commitment stringer than 15-knots! The question was how this affects those around me, well, the awesomeness of kitesurfing is contagious – and now several friends are often already at the beach when I “Go Coastal”.

Sport gives me access to the perfect balance of social engagement and personal achievement. It makes me smile, when I am able to inspire and influence a variety of people with my sports. In my opinion, athletics like music, food and wine should be part of everyone’s staple needs. It is a healthy source for a high!

Name one interesting fact or story that makes you unique and interesting

I love to travel with / for my sports, and the dynamic friendships one can (and does) make when you meet people through some sporting activity are so much deeper. I firmly believe that like minded people make like minded choices, and so your personal choice of activity, sport, holiday, food will naturally assist with leading you to meet people that you are likely understand, and then of course more likely to get along with. Kitesurfing somehow manages to amplify this. A quick theory on that is the sport is very demanding, not so much physically, but requires a level of patience, persistence, determination, stubbornness, tolerance and overall willingness to have fun. I seem to have twisted around the question, as this definitely doesn’t make me unique – but somehow draws kitesurfers together.

When engaged in an activity that I love, my sports or geekery I have a fair ability to learn quickly, and then teach the same to others. Adapting my teaching approach to a student’s learning style is a trait I can confidently own up to. It is very rewarding to see a learner’s smile when it finally all “clicks.”

Thanks to Craig for demonstrating the importance of making athletics an everyday part of one’s life, his hard work and inspirational story– he truly is an Ascending Athlete!

To learn more about Ascend Sports Conditioning, our mission, focus and dedication to helping people ascend to new levels through athletics, please visit

Looking at Yourself Naked in the Mirror: Assessing Your Season

October 18th, 2009

naked-reflectionNo matter what your sport and when the season for that sport ends, it’s important to look back and do an assessment on the season– what went right, what went wrong, what to do differently next season. It’s a critical step in the lifecycle of a season (mesocycle) and lifecycle of an athlete’s career (macrocycle). If you work with a coach, a season end assessment is an important communication tool to adjustment your training accordingly.

Assessing your season should like looking in the mirror naked at yourself: fully transparent, exposed, and hiding nothing. It’s a time to be honest with yourself and your coach– don’t hide anything. Talk about what you did wrong and where you could improve. On the flip side, give yourself heaping praise when it’s appropriate. No one is perfect and always has room for improvement, which is why the season assessment is done in the first place.

Also, in addition to a self-assessment done by the athlete, I will always provide my own, independent assessment as a coach to my clients. The athletes I work with always get feedback from me throughout the season, but at the end of the season I like to do a ‘final wrap’ and provide pointed areas where I think things went well and not so well. This is often very valuable feedback to the athlete and gives them insight as well as motivation for planning out the next season. On the flip side, I also ask my athlete’s to assess me as a coach. For me, this is a great way to get pointed feedback on what I did well, and what I could improve upon. That’s a topic to drill into another time, but worth mentioning at the moment as part of assessment time.

The key things you’ll want to assess about your season include the following:

  • Season’s Strategy- I always start every season with a planning process with athletes (and if you do not work with a coach, this should be where you begin on your own). There’s an annual plan of how the season will be approached, periodizing the year around selected races. This is the place to start. Every athlete’s plan changes 100% of the time due to family, work, health or other issues. Assess why these changes occured and how you would plan differently next time. Were the goals of the season achieved (why/why not)? Were they the correct goals? Did you achieve the objectives planned throughout the season (why/why not)? Was the volume correct? How about the intensity? Were the races the right ones or far enough apart? Did scheduling work as planned?
  • Physiological training– A general look back at how you performed overall physiologically is critical. The main questions to ask yourself are: how well did I execute? How did I handle the volume and intensity perscribed over the course of the season? I typically ask my clients to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 in their discipline (in triathlon: swim, bike and run), and then provide open-ended feedback as to why they assessed themselves the way they did.
  • Mental skills- Mental skills is one of three main pillars of multisport training, so it’s important to look back and assess your mental performance for the season. Were you relaxed or agitated? Did you think positively or negatively? How did you do with the mental skills exercises perscribed in your plan? Often times mental skills training is ignored, so understanding if this is an area for improvement is critical.
  • Nutrition– Another of the main pillars of multisport training is nutrition, both everyday and race day nutrition. Everyday nutrition is what you eat on an everyday periodized in line with your physiological nutrition. Questions to ask include: did I stick with the outline of total calories, and breakdown of fats, protein and carbohydrates targeted? Did you eat the right quality of foods? Did you develop a routine with your nutrtion so it became an integrated part of your day (often times the biggest challenge for people)? Also, you will want to look at race day nutition, which is fueling for the days preceeding, day of and days after a big “A” race, such as an Ironman, or shorter distance races. I always work to make sure my athletes have a very methodical (but flexible) approach to race day nutrition, but execution is key. Questions to ask: Was the plan leading up to race day work for you? Did you follow it? Did you “bonk”, have GI issues, or other issues the day of a race? If so, why?
  • Race Strategy– Having a sound strategy for each race (particularly “A” races) is key, so looking back on how the planning and strategy execution worked for those races is important. Questions to ask: Did the race strategy planning process work? Did you execute against the strategy effectively? How would you adjust the strategy?

Be sure to document all of your thoughts on the season assessment. Having it in writing is important to capture the data, and a way for you to communicate it to your coach if you work with one. I typically provide my athlete’s a form to capture the input. I have them save it as part of their athletic journal.

Finally, the most important step of the season assessment is to analyze and optimize. It’s one thing to have collected all the data, but it’s another to look closely at it and undertake concrete changes. This seems like an obvious step, but it’s one that surprisingly gets omitted since many folks feel that if they’ve at least documented it (or had the discussion), then they’ve done what they needed to do. In fact, it’s critical that you outline exactly what changes you plan on making for next season. For instance, if in the season assessment you note that “I had difficulties getting my bike speed to where I would have liked. I really think had I spent the time on more bike speed work, it would have made a big difference in my performance”, then you’re going to want to do things to analyze and optimize this:

  1. drill into the why’s behind this (why didn’t you do more bike speed work? Was it because you didn’t plan it or was it because you did not execute what was planned? Or perhaps what you had planned did not work for you– then you should undertand why this was the case. )
  2. what are you going to do about it? Let’s say you did not execute appropriately against what was planned for bike speed workouts since they were difficult for you to hit the splits over the course of the season and you did not accurately measure your baseline bike fitness to set those split times (hopefully this would have been caught while executing at the time, but let’s say it was not). You’ll want to then be specific in optimizing by having a recommendation of “next season I will set my bike split times for my speed workouts based on results from my periodic bike tests.”

Once you have your specific recommendations, you’re good to go for planning out next season. I will be addressing this exact topic– planning out your multisport season– in my next blog post (stay tuned!).

There are certainly different ways to approach the season assessment, and I’ve outlined some ideas that have worked for me and the athlete’s I work with. Perhaps you have some ideas on what has worked for you? What are some of the things you look back on and assess? How do you see yourself when you look naked in the mirror at season’s end?

Ascending Athlete #3: Jessica Valenzuela

October 5th, 2009
Jessica getting ready to rip it up on her kiteboard

I’ve started a series called “Ascending Athletes”, which features people achieving great things in their lives and/or impacting the lives of others through athletics. I’m featuring athletes of all backgrounds, sports and skill levels. Everyone has a story to tell– whether a recreational or beginner just starting to work out or a hardcore athlete who is competing at an elite level. The goal of the Ascending Athlete series is to capture these stories and inspire others to seek similar challenges and rewards. If you would like to share your story or would like to nominate someone as an Ascending Athlete, please let me know. For more information about Ascend Sports Conditioning, visit our website.

Jessica Valenzuela

Ascending Higher is a conversation on multisport, and few people define the word multisport better than Jessica Valenzuela. Whether it’s ripping it up on her kiteboard (something even I haven’t tried yet, but would like to!) or cruising on her bike, Jessica is a multisport force to be reckoned with. I met Jessica through social media: I would see these super-cool updates on Twitter and Facebook of how she just finished a day of kiteboarding, or just got back from shredding some new snow on her snowboard. Those would be followed by updates of other adventures in her life– whether it be with her digital advertising agency, her life in the Big Apple, or reaching out to help her people of her native land, The Philippines. From those updates, I knew she would definitely qualify as an Ascending Athlete.

Recently, the Philippines was devastated by Typoon Ketsana and Jessica is helping to raise money for relief through The Point: Project Phillippines. If you are interested in donating, please visit the Project Philippines website.

Jessica also is an entrepreneur and has a fascinating professional background. When not kiteboarding, snowboarding, hiking or actively pursuing extreme sport, Jessica is a digital advertising visionary with a flair for creating and marketing global brands. She founded, and now serves as chief principal of Mavin Digital, Inc., a fun, nimble NYC boutique specializing in inspirational digital branding. Built on a 12-year career with well-known agency powerhouses like Y&R Wunderman, Tribal DDB and OgilvyAction, Jessica understands how to deliver meaningful brands from creative concept to execution and measurement. More importantly, Jessica brings industry know-how and virtual tenacity together to lead brands successfully into the digital world including online go-to-market strategies, digital advertising and marketing communications, as well as overall brand messaging. She offers a mobile “spitfire” team customized to fit each client program; and has worked on a variety of creative projects and ongoing branding campaigns ranging in size and scale for Kaplan Inc., Schering-Plough Inc., Novartis, Pfizer, Chevron, Philips, Hewlett Packard,, Cantor Fitzgerald and Accenture. Personalities have also turned to her insightful digital approach including well-known pop star Gwen Stefani. Jessica takes brands beyond traditional marketing boundaries with ease, and strategically maps brand approach to audience and successful outcome. The result is digital branding on a dime. Mavin Digital. Jessica also keeps an ongoing blog, Mavin Digital Mashup and recently released a new corporate reel for the brand. Check it out!

Jessica was kind enough to answer some questions and share some of her thoughts on what makes her an Ascending Athlete:

Why are athletics important to you?

As a child, the great outdoors and athletics were very much part of growing up. I recall flying paper kites, climbing haystacks and running with my boy cousins in the rice fields. Yes, I was the only girl in a family of nephews and was very much a little tomboy with Beatles style hair and freckles. Unusual to have a Filipina with freckles, then again I am not your typical Filipina. On the weekends, my stepdad and uncles would take us to the forest for hikes and to hunt wild birds. Our backyard was a source for big adventure! I’d climb this big tree called “aratilles” and harvest the tiny and sweet juicy fruit by popping them in my mouth before descending. When I learned to ride my bike at age 9, and after my homework and chores, I’d be gone for long hours and return at sunset. Summer camps during my teen years in the mountain region of Baguio City meant I was sent away for weeks to ride horses, play tennis and basketball, as well as mountain bike with fellow summer campers.

I’m a cosmopolitan girl with a sports heart! Today, if I were presented with the choice of kiteboarding, snowboarding or a long bike ride versus a visit to the Hamptons and laying poolside, or shopping in Soho, I would likely still choose my sport. Like my work as an entrepreneur, my outdoor adventures are a top priority!

What sports do you participate in?

I’ve tried more organized sports including tennis and softball. None of which appealed to me for the long-term. Somehow, free-form outdoor sports with the opportunity to travel to new places and meet new people is my cup of tea.

Kiteboarding is a very new sport for me. I started in July, clocked in at least 15 days in the water, with five of those days in poor wind conditions for a beginner. Kiteboarding is the most difficult sport I have ever participated in, but also one of the most rewarding. The sport requires a lot from you, including knowledge of equipment, wind conditions and environment, as well as the focus, patience and practice, practice, practice. The valley of tears can be long and will seem never ending, yet it is the best feeling of fulfillment once you’ve gained the skills to perform the basic tasks and consistently repeat it, then progress to the next level. I still recall the moment I first got up and ride. It was beautiful! I owned that moment. It is almost like being an entrepreneur, you learn something new every day, and the reward is exhilarating. This is why I find the sport so attractive and appealing.


I am entering my third season of snowboarding. I am a natural tropical person, yet somehow I love playing in the snow! It is such a magical element I can’t get enough of it when winter comes. I learned to ride in the East Coast mountains, which in itself is challenging due to icy conditions. I took at least five days of lessons and on my fifth day was taken at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain to ride down a green. It was the longest two hours of my life, falling on my behind, pushing up and lifting myself out of snow as I tried to connect on turns. It paid off! By riding with more advanced snowboarders, I pushed my boundaries and learned to ride double blacks in my first season. By my second season, I was riding moguls with confidence and ease. I also learned to weave in and out of trees. The most memorable ride last year was a hike up back of chair 9 in Breckenridge, Colorado. It gave me a taste of semi-backcountry with the winds howling and riding in deep, deep virgin powder felt like gliding across clouds.

Road biking is my city sport and when it works out logistically I bike to my appointments around Manhattan. I do love riding around Prospect Park for a few laps which could be from as little as 3 miles or 12 miles.

Last year, hiking was big on my list. I hiked Whiteface Mountain and a number of smaller yet challenging trails. It was my first biggest mountain to hike ever and was thrilled I had the opportunity to do it. I hope to hike a big mountain this fall while the leaves are changing, though my passion for kiteboarding seems to take precedence over my road biking and hiking adventure these days.

What is your major athletic goal(s)and/or events you are participating in for this year?

Kiteboarding is a sport that you can practice all year-round depending on how willing you are to travel for it. Consistency and building my confidence level handling a kite in high winds while riding the board is what I am aiming for right now. To advance, I need to work on transitions, going upwind and then hopefully have an opportunity to do a downwinder with my fellow kiter friends! Perhaps add a few jumps to the list. It all sounds simple on paper, but it is not especially since this is my first water sport. The most I did prior to kiteboarding was swim in a pool. So this is a pretty major step for me.

For snowboarding, this season, my goal is to ride backcountry and try a few new mountains including Jackson Hole and a few notables in the Rockies.

As far as events go, perhaps in my fourth season of snowboarding I would like to free ride for a charity. For kiteboarding, I have far bolder plans beyond participating in an event. With a partner and co-founder who is also a kiter, I hope to help launch a platform that will support the kiting movement and its community members. We’re at the very early stages of planning at the moment.

Why have you chosen this goal(s)?

I believe in giving back and sharing my passion to those who will take it to the next level and pay it forward. I find so much joy, freedom and blessing in being an entrepreneur and in my sports. I believe that investing my time to snowboard for a charity and to create a platform that supports the kiting movement will help influence women from any ethnic background, culture and age to push beyond their boundaries. There are no boundaries. The only limitations are the ones you set for yourself.

What are some future goal(s) or event(s) you’d like to participate in?

I’m working on that now, and currently I am considering the Mai Tai snowkite camp in Utah in February and the original Mai Tai camp in Maui in May. The camp is hosted by VC and kiter Bill Tai and professional kiteboarder, Susi Mai. Majority of the attendees are tech entrepreneurs from the San Francisco area, though the event is gaining momentum and recognition outside of the Bay Area.

What impact has your athletics had on the lives of others?

The passion I have for learning and indulging in my sports strengthens my tenacity as an entrepreneur. I am full of new ideas, creativity and drive. My sport interests teach me to be a consistent, strong finisher. This is an important lesson we all have to endure in any of the choices we make in our lives. When a mountain bend turns into an unexpected steep filled with moguls or when the kite all of a suddenly crashes in the deep water, you don’t give up. You take a deep breath, focus and carry on. Learn and have fun while doing so!

Name one interesting fact or story that makes you unique and interesting

I think that my diverse ethnic background, cultural experiences, gender and age speaks volumes of my point of view and the recognition that everyone has potential regardless. Give people the opportunity to screw you, they will. Give people the opportunity to blossom, they will.

I am a strong independent woman who immigrated to the United States. I am of strong will, character and mind, and it’s what has carried me this far today. It is about finding the people who will appreciate and genuinely be there to support the change that you believe can happen.

I am a woman that doesn’t shy challenges, especially in a male dominated world of extreme sports. In fact, I am used to it since I led and am growing an organization that is predominantly supported by talented and creative men.

Thanks to Jessica for all her dedication, hard work and inspirational story– she truly is an Ascending Athlete!

To learn more about Ascend Sports Conditioning, our mission, focus and dedication to helping people ascend to new levels through athletics, please visit