Training within a weighted-vest dialectic… what we can learn from Charles Ives and Shaolin monks.

Well, I finished off Week 2 of my training plan with a 27-mile run on Saturday afternoon. In total, I managed 62 miles this past week, and so far I’m feeling great. In fact, I was less sore on Sunday morning than I have been the past few weeks, perhaps because my body is getting more used to the long run. That said, I was considerably slower in the long run this week (8:40 pace compared to last week’s 8:07), and I just went with the flow when I started feeling that because last week was a more concentrated effort. I experienced three different types of freezing precipitation during my Saturday run: freezing rain, snow, and sleet!

If I can get through days like that, psychologically, when I have to worry about so many other things, I think it’s pretty much money in the bank account of my mental toughness. The other run where I made quite the deposit this week was my first day back in Montreal – on Thursday morning, after taking the overnight bus from NYC and not getting much of a good night’s sleep, I immediately ran a slippery 12-miler at 7:55 pace. Just getting it done.

Today was the first day of school, and I am thinking a lot about what I already knew when I started formulating this plan: it is going to be an epic challenge to balance all the things I need to do this semester. In a way, just making it TO May 1st seems like the hard part: in addition to grad school (although I’m only taking 2 seminars), I need to organize the Ensemble Inversus concert, continue my assistant job for Jordan, and keep up with my church job and choral gigs, all the while steadily increasing my mileage roughly 10% a week and lobing a weekly long run anywhere between 25 and 31 miles. Another top priority is maintaining a simple but consistent strength routine so my spine doesn’t go all flaccid again. I try to fit in 2-3 upper body workouts a week (per workout, like 120 mixed-grip pullups, 200 pushups, 40 wall-assisted handstand pushups), and 2-3 core workouts a week (mat work: superman [the BEST exercise for skinny guys with bad posture], bridge, metronome, plank variations…)

The theme I’m identifying in all this – in both the actual content of my workouts and the structure of my life this winter – is what I privately call the “weighted-vest mentality.” The name is fairly self-explanatory: if you wear a 20-lb vest while you’re doing bodyweight exercises, they become a hell of a lot easier when you take it off! I started always doing my pullups with a weighted vest a couple years ago, and when I was in top shape, I could take it off and bust out a set of 45 pullups, no problem… it felt like I had this explosive power once I took it off.

An actual weighted vest is a very easy example to use, but this concept goes way beyond strength training, and I’d consider it a major part of my general strategy for life. Charles Ives’ father made him play keyboard theory exercises where his left and right hands would be in different keys simultaneously. As I recall, Julian Wachner once told me that his mom did something really similar with him – she’d have him transpose the right-hand part of a piece up a half-step, and the left-hand part down a half-step. When all he had to do was play the piece as written, it was easy. That’s nuts! But it’s probably part of why Julian and Ives are both such musical bad-asses.

In this excerpt from Relentless Forward Progress, Jamie Donaldson discusses her training for the legendary Badwater Ultramarathon, in which she set a course record:

“Get your body so comfortable with being uncomfortable that it feels normal to you. I run in a 200-degree Fahrenheit sauna (work up to one hour in it ) for six weeks prior to the Badwater Ultramarathon. At first I can barely handle 10 minutes, by the end my body can handle an hour with no problems. This makes the conditions at Badwater feel cool!”

My jaw literally dropped, and stayed that way for a while, when I read that. 200 degrees Fahrenheit!? She should have had a cameo in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. This training method is actually more unbelievable than some of the stuff that Gordon Liu had to pretend to be doing in that movie. To me, this is a really awe-inspiring “weighted-vest style” training method.

Is there any better way to accomplish what you want, in any discipline? Once you practice something harder than what you need to do, you can laugh your way through what other people consider difficult. And then it’s fun again, because it’s easy!

I wish that I were able to incorporate more interval training into my preparations for the trans-Canada run, because that’s the perfect application of this principle in running. Unfortunately, I think it raises the risk of an injury and makes it a lot harder for me to make my all-important mileage increases. All the same, my “weighted vest” is the fact that I have to balance all these other obligations with the training right now; the removal of the vest will be the act of setting out on May 1st with absolutely nothing to worry about but doing this one thing that never fails to make me feel at peace. Putting one foot in front of the other. Vacation.

One of the real tricks in life is just figuring out, when do you take the vest off? Because you want to be able to reap those rewards, but you don’t want to go soft… if you leave the vest (literal or figurative) on your whole life, all you’ll accomplish is some weird kind of penitence, right? Like Harrison Bergeron in the Vonnegut story of the same name. If you want to accomplish something, but also enjoy yourself, you have to establish a balanced dialectic relationship between the heavy-duty training and the freedom you experience without it.


~ by edmundmilly on January 9, 2012.

One Response to “Training within a weighted-vest dialectic… what we can learn from Charles Ives and Shaolin monks.”

  1. Training within a weighted-vest dialectic… what we can learn from Charles Ives and Shaolin monks. Well, I finished off Week 2 of my training …

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