Friday, June 21, 2013

Getting Edgy

In the past I've always climbed, run or cycled to stay fit. I really don't like sitting still and I feel like my self esteem is directly tied to exercise (maybe not the best thing). Goal-oriented training is something that's new to me. This year, with a number of goals in mind, I've really begun a more focused training effort. My physical endurance has increased, my cardiovascular fitness has improved, and I've lost some weight. Watching my body change has been interesting and rewarding. My pants are looser and the climbing harness feels a bit less comfortable resting on bonier hips. Motivating to work out has become less challenging.

I've been exercising all of my life, and in a way I still feel like I'm just stabbing in the dark. I get run down, I'm battling significant tightness in my upper left leg, and my right knee hurt a bit after my 10-miler on Sunday. My fitter-than-average, but non-training, friends tell me I need to rest. I think they're right, but I don't think the answer is quite so black and white.

Training is all about finding the edge, that place where you can make huge gains in your personal fitness. These gains allow you to accomplish goals that wouldn't otherwise be possible. If you step over the edge though, you can find yourself feeling like you're "overtraining". I've been toeing that edge the past week or so.

Last week was week 2 of a 10-mile race training plan that I've adopted. I'm more or less following it, modifying some of the workouts, or splitting higher mileage days into two sessions on occasion. I ran 28 miles 2 weeks ago and 32 miles last week, including a Sunday 10-mile run. Last week, perhaps 60% of my mileage was on roads, or dirt roads in town around Northampton. The road mileage is hard on my body. I've known that, and in the past I've avoided running on the roads as much as possible. However with two sessions a day some days and running 5-6 days a week I don't always want to drive to a trail every single time I want to run. It's more convenient to run from my house. It seems kind of silly to drive your car just to go on a run, doesn't it?

Last week's workout schedule, according to the plan I'm following, suggested running 2 x 2-mile LT (lactate threshold) tempo runs Tuesday, as part of an 8-mile run, a track workout Thursday as part of a 7-mile run, and a 10-mile run at 80% of my MHR (max heart rate) Sunday. The week felt hard, but not impossible. This Monday was a light, 4-mile active recovery. Tuesday was another LT day. I decided to attend a Tuesday night X-C race in town instead. The race ended up being pretty fast, and I went out hard. I felt like I was running faster than I had in other races. I hit the 1-mile mark in 5:45. Much to my surprise I was 5 seconds slower than during my last race. Just before the end of mile 2, with a laggy left leg on my mind, I pulled out of the race and jogged the rest of the course.

I'm more fit than I was 5 weeks ago, the time of my last race. Getting slower despite your efforts is a sure sign of overtraining. Another sign is chronically achy joints; I've got those. Yet another sign is weight gain. I don't have that, but I had stopped losing weight despite being careful about what I was eating.

Now, for the rest of the week I'll be doing a combination of easy runs (HR at or below 120 at all times), full rest days and climbing. I jogged 3 miles today. It felt good. I'm eating carefully and resting as much as I can.

Will I be going straight back to my 10-mile race training plan after this week? Probably not. I'm thinking that some modifications are in order. Most likely, from now on, all of my longer runs will be easier than 80% of my MHR. Going for 1.5-2 hours at that pace on roads felt pretty destructive for my joints, muscles and connective tissue. An exercise session of that duration and intensity, it seems, can also significantly deplete glycogen stores in the muscles. Knowing that it can take several days to recover and refuel one's glycogen stores, it would seem wiser to make the long runs easier (to rely on stored fat as well as muscle glycogen), or spread intense workouts out a little more to allow muscles to build up their glycogen stores again. Scheduling LT workouts just two days later doesn't seem practical.

I'll also be including more 1-mile and greater length intervals in my training. I've found that I have plenty of leg speed and good endurance at shorter interval distances. On the track during workouts I'm pretty comfortable running around 4:50-5:20/mile pace for distances under 800 meters but longer distances feel significantly harder.

Training, especially when we don't have access to the latest scientific equipment and the best coaches presents a significant challenge. There's a lot of science involved in the process, but as humans we operate largely on an unscientific "feel" to gauge how we're doing. Despite the fact that I've considered myself an athlete my entire life, I'm learning new things about training, fitness, nutrition and rest that I've never known. Each day and week I reevaluate where I'm at and modify accordingly. Gone are the days when I would just push through, thinking that hard work is the only thing that will make you stronger. Our brains are good at tricking us into thinking we need to work harder. The reality is that we need to work smarter. Training plans that work for some won't work for others. Each of needs to do what's best for our own bodies.

There's so much out there on the internet. A lot of it is gimmicky and much of it seems suspect at best. I stumbled upon the website below while reading about overtraining. It seems "overtraining" as an actual phenomenon is debatable. However, there are real effects that occur when we're working too hard and not resting properly. Here's a list that I found useful. Hopefully you do too.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Saturday Night Live Clinic: Recap - Knots for Joining Rope and Webbing

Six people attended the clinic I gave Saturday night in the Uberfall. The main discussion topic was "knots for joining rope and webbing". We also discussed friction hitches, rappelling and a bit of toprope anchor management, but a large portion of the time was spent covering different knots for joining rope ends.

Knots for Joining Rope Ends During Rappels and When Tying Cordalettes

Flat Overhand

Perhaps the most common knot for joining rope ends during a rappel scenario is the flat overhand (euro-death knot). Honestly, this knot is a bit of a crapshoot. If it's tied neatly (dressed and pretensioned) and with long tails it behaves more-or-less predictably, beginning to roll somewhere around 1000 lbs. However, if it's not tied and pretensioned properly it will begin to roll in the 200 lb range. If the tails aren't long enough the ends might roll through the knot. As a result of unpredictable inversion or "rolling", this knot is only appropriate for low-load scenarios like rappelling. One of the reasons it's a popular knot when rappelling is because it's easy to untie and it allegedly does not snag. Here's a basic list of where it's good and bad to use:
  • Good for joining rope ends, even of different diameters, for rappelling
  • Bad for joining ropes in belay/climbing scenarios
  • Bad for tying webbing together
  • Bad for tying cord/webbing when replacing material on cams and hexes
  • Hard to maintain proper dressing and pretension for joining ends of cordalette, use with extreme caution
The flat figure eight - a BAD knot to use - it
inverts easily and eats up it's tails as it inverts
The flat figure eight, which is similar to a flat overhand, but uses a figure eight, is less desirable and more unpredictable. It really should not be used at all. It rolls more easily, uses more tail as it rolls, and it's a bit harder to dress properly. Many rappel accidents or rappel anchor failures have been recorded while using this knot. It's unstable and it rolls easily.

Flemish Bend

The flemish bend - good for rappels, belays, and tying
cordalette together
The flemish bend, a retraced figure eight with the ropes entering the knot from either side, is a good strong knot with predictable behavior. It's easy to tie, easy to recognize visually, and relatively easy to untie afterward. This is a good knot to use for joining ropes while rappelling or while belaying. Here's a general list of good's/bad's for the flemish bend:
  • Good for joining rope ends, even of different diameters, for rappelling
  • Good for joining ropes in belay/climbing scenarios
  • Good for joining ends of cordalette, can be untied so cordalette can be cut or used as a single strand

Double Fisherman's Knot

The double fisherman's knot - stable, strong
and hard to untie
The double fisherman's knot, is another good all-around option for joining rope ends together in any scenario. Even the sloppiest dfk's stay tied properly and don't fail prematurely or unpredictably. It is hard to untie, making it a good choice when you want the knot to be permanent.
  • Good for joining rope ends, even of different diameters, for rappelling
  • Good for joining ropes in belay/climbing scenarios
  • Good for joining ends of cordalette, canmot be untied easily. You'll need to cut the cordalette to leave some behind.
  • Good for tying webbing on rappel anchors (permanent)
  • Good for reslinging cams and hexes

Knots for Joining Webbing Ends

Water Knot

The water knot, is a good choice for webbing when you want to untie the webbing afterward. As I've mentioned in past posts, the water knot slips through cyclic loading, making it a bad choice for webbing on rappel anchors in the Gunks that see hundreds of rappellers each weekend.
  • Good for tying webbing together for toprope anchors, it will untie with relative ease
  • Bad for tying webbing on rappel anchors, where the webbing will become permanent, because of slippage during "cyclic loading"
Water knot - good for tying webbing together if you need
to untie it afterward

Double Fisherman's Knot

This knot is good to use when tying webbing together. It's strong, it's permanent, and it will nearly always hold despite the fact that it looks sloppy.
  • Good for joining webbing ends for permanent use, like rappel anchors.
  • Good for reslinging cams if you're going to do that by hand.
The double fisherman's knot - rarely seen using webbing, this
is THE knot to use when equipping rappel anchors, even when
using webbing

For great information regarding pull testing of water knots and flat overhands check out this webpage:

Ryan Stefiuk is an AMGA Certified Rock Guide. If you like what you see here consider hiring an AMGA trained and certified Rock, Alpine, or Ski Guide.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Approach Shoe Comparison and Review: Scarpa Crux and La Sportiva Boulder X

Readers of my other blog, Bigfoot Mountain Guides, know that I have really big feet (size 15), that they are quite narrow, and that I'm really particular about footwear and climbing gear in general. As a climbing guide, footwear needs to be sized properly for both climbing and hiking. It's hard to find footwear that bridge the gap between the two. Most shoes climb well, or they hike well. Very high end approach shoes seem to be built mainly for climbing.

I've worn most approach shoes that are made up to size 14, and there are only a few that are truly utilitarian. Two recent offerings from the big italian climbing footwear makers stand out - Scarpa's Crux and La Sportiva's Boulder X. At the cliff, from the look of things, these two appear to be the most popular approach shoes, and for good reason. They're both well-constructed, nice looking and reasonably priced at roughly $99.

On paper, these shoes seem nearly identical. However, after wearing each shoe to the cliff I've noticed substantial differences. I feel these differences deserve some explanation, and I think making this information available will allow others to make an informed decision about which shoe to buy. Additionally, reviews without comparisons to other similar products always seem less useful. Without further ado, here we go.


One of the interesting changes in approach shoes at this pricepoint ($100) is the transition from proprietary dot-tread climbing shoe rubber outsoles to molded Vibram rubber outsoles with a more hiker-friendly tread pattern. Both the Crux, and the Boulder X have Vibram soles, whereas their predecessors had stickier, thinner, dot-tread like soles. The Vibram sole is thicker and less sticky, meaning that both of these shoes don't climb as well as past iterations of the same shoe. For the Crux this was the Quest and the Espresso. For the Boulder X this was the Cirque Pro, and the classic Boulder. For what it's worth I'd prefer to have a durable upper with really sticky, thin resole-able soles. I'm guessing these companies are catering to the crowd that uses these shoes more for the approach and less for climbing afterward.

Overall, the Crux and the Boulder X are designed with similar fabric, similar foam, and similar soles. The seem nearly identical to the untrained eye. After wearing each shoe for a while though, the "feel" of each becomes noticeable.
The Boulder X above and the Crux below. The difference in
width between these shoes is obvious from this perspective

The Crux's feel softer everywhere. The suede leather upper is softer, The foam underfoot is also softer, and the rubber rand is less substantial. The Boulder X, on the other hand, feels rigid, boxy, and stiff. The foam is firm, giving the shoe a hiking boot like feel. The one piece suede upper, thick padded tongue, rigid rand, and Mythos-style lacing system give the Boulder X's a "glued to your foot" feeling.

Ultimately,  this means your foot stays put, like a climbing shoe, in the Boulder X. They don't breathe well, and the toes can feel a bit crammed in the typically narrow Sportiva toe box. The Crux, on the other hand, with it's softer feel, acts like a running shoe or sandal. They're roomy in the toe box with wiggle room for the toes and plenty of space down the length of the shoe.


I wear a size 48 in both the Crux and the Boulder X. I have the green Superfeet in both shoes. At Rock and Snow I also tried a pair of Crux's in size 47. I don't think I could fit into a pair of Boulder X's in size 47. This alone clearly illustrates the difference in fit between the shoes. The Crux's are roomy. I can slip into them, I can wiggle my toes, and I can wear them all day without worrying about a little foot pain. If I don't lace them tightly they feel too loose. They have the typical, wide straight fit common to most Scarpa footwear. Again, the Crux's fit like a broken in running shoe - they are soft and roomy.

Width at the heels is greater in the Crux too. Crux on right

The Boulder X is narrow. I'm in my second pair of them, and they take a long time to break in. For a few weeks when they're new they almost feel too tight. I want to take them off by the end of the day. They make my feet hot. I almost don't need to lace these shoes, yet I can walk around in them and they remain on my feet. The Boulder X's fit like a climbing shoe.


In the end, this is all that counts. If a shoe doesn't do what you need it to do and do it well, it's not worth having. I've worn both shoes for work and play for at least a few weeks now. I wear them to the cliff, and I like to guide and climb easier routes in my approach shoes too. If possible, it's nice to guide everything easier than 5.6-5.7 in them. So, in a way, I suppose my criteria are: all day "wearability", good performance on moderate climbing, adequate support, and reasonable durability.

The Boulder X, on the right, is a narrower shoe, placing
more of your weight over the big toe. This helps make
this shoe a better "climbing" approach shoe

The performance of these shoes is what separates the wheat from the chaff. There are pretty noticeable differences between the two shoes - one is a reasonably good performer, the other, uninspiring. Below are my observations and opinions. Be forewarned - I have strong opinions (and I detest the mediocrity that's so pervasive everywhere today) when it comes to certain gear items, and approach shoes are one of those items.

The Crux's works fine for trail approaches, and with a lightweight pack they seem fine. I can climb easy stuff on a toprope with them too. For serious climbing, or schlepping heavier loads they just don't work though. I've already rolled my ankle once in them (on a flat, soft trail), and the shoe edge rolls when you try to stand on small edges with them. While smearing, or walking on slabby rock my foot slides to the outside edge of the shoe. It feels like my foot is going to slide off the shoe. This has been disappointing, and leaves me feeling like the Crux (which I think is the nicer looking shoe) has a really limited range of uses. With softer padding you can feel everything underfoot also. If the shoe climbed well this would be a good quality, but in such a mushy uninspiring climber this bad. In general, I feel like Scarpa dropped the ball with these shoes.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm on my second pair of Boulder X's, which have been available a bit longer than the Crux. They are the most durable approach shoes I've owned, and the leather upper is burly. The full-wrap toe rand keeps your toes in place (good, but sweaty on warm days) and keeps the toe box from stretching much. A few years ago I hiked into the Absaroka Range in Montana with a pair of the Boulder X's. I was loaded with four days of food, camping equipment and climbing gear. The 18-mile round trip was fine. My toes felt a bit cramped in the shoe, but I experienced no blisters, had no serious soreness and never rolled my ankles. They hike well, and feel more like a boot than a sneaker. When it comes to climbing, the Boulder X's are a step down from their predecessor, the Cirque Pro. Additional foam underfoot and a Vibram sole detract from this shoe's climbing performance. Despite these changes, the shoe is stiff and reasonably sticky. It edges well provided the edges aren't too small, and it smears well enough, but not as well as a pair of Five Ten Guide Tennies (they have the stickiest rubber I've ever seen but are very soft). I like climbing in the Boulder X's. I'll lead most Gunks 5.7's in them as long as the crux doesn't involve too much technical footwork. Still, as climbers they don't compare favorably to the old Cirque Pros or the Scarpa Gecko Guide's. I could comfortably lead many Gunks 5.9's wearing either of those shoes.


Which shoe you choose is going to be based partly upon fit and mostly upon what you're planning to do while wearing the shoes. If you have a wide foot, the Boulder X may not fit at all. I suspect though, the even if your foot fills out the entire Crux, they will still feel mushy and have a collapsing edge while climbing. I will continue to wear my Crux's for toprope group days and around town, but I won't be buying another pair of them. My Boulder X's, despite feeling less comfortable for casual use, will get used heavily this summer for guiding at the crag and in the mountains. I'll be taking them with me to the Bugaboos and putting a strap-on crampon on them for crossing the small glaciers there. I don't like wearing them longer than I have to, but I feel safer using them for climbing. I'd like to resole a pair with sticky rubber too, to see if they work really well for climbing afterward. 

It should be pretty clear at this point that I prefer the Boulder X to the Crux. It seems like most people will agree. Still, the best way to get an idea which one you should buy is by doing your homework. Read reviews online and visit your local climbing shop to try stuff on before making any decisions for yourself.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Motivation with Temperance

There are two types of "feelings" we have that pertain to training. One type of "feeling" is the "I don't feel motivated to hit the gym or run right now because I've had a long day". The other type of "feeling" is the "I'm trying to work out but it feels like I'm towing a small truck behind me."

Sometimes, especially at the end of a long training cycle, these two feelings can become related. Repeated poor workouts, muscle fatigue, the inability to recover, and general exhaustion can make your body feel like dog crap, and keep you from feeling like leaving your couch.


However, most of the time how your body feels and what your mind says are two separate things. I've been learning that knowing when to listen to your body, and when to ignore your mind are really important skills to hone during a training regimen.

According to a training schedule I'm trying to adopt and modify for my own use, I was supposed to do intervals on a track last night. Yesterday I drove two hours each way to the Gunks and worked in the sun for a good portion of the day. By 7:30 pm I had no interest in working out. I wanted a beer. Housemates and friends were already at my house with beer and food. After a lot of hemming and hawing I slipped out of the house with my dog and headed to a trail along the river nearby.

I was able to beat my lack of motivation, a victory for me and my fitness. As I began to warm up and think about the workout ahead of me I felt my legs. Yesterday's seven mile road run left my legs feeling heavy. I'm trying to run more. The goal is to stay injury free and run a 10-mile race in September. That's four months away.

Prior to last week I was taking two rest days per week. Now I'm shooting for six days of running each week. It will be the first time in more than eight years (probably more like 15 years really) that I'm doing that. Top that off with a few climbing gym or outdoor rock sessions and each week feels pretty hard.

At this point, for me, just running six days a week is a giant hurdle. The final 20 minutes in an hour run is hard (I need to make sure I'm not near my house until the very end!). Long runs, even at an easy pace, still make my legs tired. The only days that I recover are days when I'm completely off.

Killing myself just to check a box on a training schedule didn't make sense last night. Three weeks ago it didn't make sense either. After three hard weeks of training, several fast track workouts, and an X-C race PR my legs were tired. I arrived for a track workout and did the first interval. I struggled to finish, running a moderate pace. Instead of pushing through the remainder of the workout I cooled down and left. I took 4-5 full days of rest after that.

When I returned my legs felt great and I was psyched to work out again. Lance Armstrong (doping or not, the man was a master at training) did something similar to this. He used a 4-week training schedule each month, which left him with several rest days at the end of each monthly cycle.

As long as one is careful about eating well and sleeping enough, no harm will come of a few extra rest days. The opposite isn't true though. Overdoing it with too much speedwork or too many hard workouts will decrease your performance, ultimately causes weight gain, and makes motivating to exercise seem impossible.

Motivation seems like the single most important tool we have as athletes. Without it we'll end up on the couch or stuck in front of the computer. However, our motivation will be the most useful when combined with temperance. By listening to our bodies we can decide where the "edge" lies, stay excited about training and ultimately gain exceptional fitness.