At the trailhead or on the starting line, the coronavirus may wreck your plans

Climbing Mount Everest has been canceled for the year because of COVID-19 concerns.

The news cycle tends to dominated these days by one thing: the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

It’s going to affect pretty much all areas of life for us here in the United States, and from what I can see, things are just starting to ramp up. And “all areas” include those things that we love to do the most: live adventurously.

As an example, China took the extraordinary step to close the north face of Mount Everest for the season. Not long after, Nepal announced plans to close the south side. Himalayan mountaineering there and on the other peaks is pretty much shut down now.

I can imagine that’s going to be a similar story in a lot of places outside the Himalayas. Given the severity of the outbreak in northern Italy, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine a near-dead climbing season this spring and summer in the Alps. Certainly that will be the case in the Italian Alps, and as the disease progresses in neighboring countries, it may be a quiet year in European mountain towns for some time.

I don’t know what that means for us here in the States. For now, there haven’t been any restrictions on travel inside the country, but should we experience the level of outbreak seen in Italy, it could happen.

Local races can draw hundreds of competitors and thousands of spectators. Will these events still happen this year?

There’s something else, too. The same community that heads to the hills for adventure also tends to find itself on starting lines. From 5Ks to ultramarathons, and any number of cycling races, the spring usually brings on a ton of events that draw outdoor athletes from all over the place.

Close to my neck of the woods, we’ve got a local half marathon and full marathon coming up next month. In late April, the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon – a big event by most standards – is on deck. In my city, Tulsa, we’ve got an IRONMAN triathlon set for late May, and the annual three-day Tulsa Tough cycling race series in early June. All of these events draw anywhere from several hundred to several thousand people, be they competitors or spectators.

Will they still happen? It’s difficult to say, but the NBA just suspended its season indefinitely after two of its players came down with COVID-19. College and pro leagues initially looked at playing games with no fans as a way to salvage television revenues and not endanger the public, then came back and canceled events and postponed seasons. Some of the same conditions that are giving these organizations pause exist in running and cycling events, especially the big ones. Will there be a Boston Marathon this year? A summer Olympics? Should there be?

And what about us? Should we be out doing the adventure thing? Should we be racing? Some of that is personal, for sure. Foremost on our minds ought to be one group of people: those most likely to suffer the worst effects of the disease. You never know who might give it to you. And then, who you might bring it to. At this point, I’m playing it by ear. I want some mountain time, but no summit is worth someone else’s health.

One last thing: Don’t underestimate the financial impact all this mess is going to have on the businesses you know and love. People whose shops depend on adventure tourism and sports are going to be hurting. I’ve got friends who are race directors, and know a bunch of people in different outdoor industry circles. Their experiences are going to be a lot like those who count on fans showing up to regular sporting events. If you think canceling a race is no big deal, think about how many businesses in Austin lost out when South by Southwest got canned. It’s no different for businesses (hotels, restaurants, bars and gear shops, to name a few) that are connected to big city races, as well as all those mountain town enterprises that make or break their year by how well the high summer season goes.

Looking for advice from me? I don’t have much. Take care of the things you can control for you and those around you. And when the time comes, be there to support those who are going to take a hit from this outbreak. Aside from that, buckle up. It could be a bumpy ride.

Bob Doucette

Tulsa’s triathlon win: IRONMAN picks T-town for three-year deal, and here’s why

Cyclists race by as crowds cheer – and drink- at the Riverside Criterium of Tulsa Tough on Cry Baby Hill. The success of events like Tulsa Tough is likely one of the reasons IRONMAN picked Tulsa to host its Midwestern race.

When I moved to Tulsa eight years ago, the city surprised me. I was more or less expecting all the stereotypes that go with a metropolitan area smack in the middle of stroke alley: it would be flat, hot, and not much going on in terms of fitness or outdoor recreation.

I was proven wrong. It’s not that my city or state is the healthiest place on the planet, but as it turns out, there’s an active cycling community here, a bunch of road and trail runners and loads of events catering to these crowds that have only grown over time.

So I found myself surprised, yet not that surprised, when the organizers of the IRONMAN triathlon series announced that Tulsa would be the site of its next three Midwestern races.

WHY TULSA

IRONMAN, if you don’t know, is the lead dog when it comes to triathlons. The race includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full marathon road race. The two biggies include one race in Florida, and the premier triathlon event held annually in Kona, Hawaii. IRONMAN has sought to stage races elsewhere in the country and settled on Tulsa as that place.

I was surprised, mostly because of that whole stroke alley image Oklahoma has. We’re talking about one of the most high-profile endurance sports events anywhere is doing its thing right here in T-town. I’m not saying big stuff doesn’t happen here, but when it comes to endurance sports, this is big. Real big.

But why I’m not that surprised takes a little explaining.

As I said, Tulsa has some active endurance sports communities. Folks love their bikes. They love their mountain bikes, too. And both are used frequently inside our city limits and in nearby communities.

The city hosts Tulsa Tough, a three-day racing event that started out as a hopeful endeavor on the cycling circuit that has grown into a must-stop race for cyclists nationally. Upwards of 10,000 people show up to watch that last day’s race (and party a lot) every year now. That kind of support probably meant something to the IRONMAN crew.

In long-distance running, the Route 66 Marathon started out modestly and has grown into one of the finer marathon and half marathon events in the country. People from every state and several countries run in it every year, and it grows yearly. The Tulsa Run, the city’s venerable 15K road race, has been the USTAF Masters 15K championship race for a few years now. And the city hosts another marathon in the spring (Golden Driller) plus numerous other half marathon, marathon and ultramarathon races on both road and trail.

Open water swimming may not be big here, but northeastern Oklahoma has no shortage of lakes, with a big one – Lake Keystone – conveniently within riding distance for all those IRONMAN competitors.

All of these things, plus the amenities the city offers visitors (I had one guy from Texas tell me that Tulsa is being talked about as “the next Austin”) provided just the right mix. In that vein, I can see what IRONMAN chose my city.

BIGGER PICTURE

One thing I’ve told people is that Tulsa is underrated in terms of outdoor recreation. The city’s road and dirt bike paths are plentiful, and we even have some local crags for bouldering enthusiasts. I joked that Outdoor Retailer should have given the city a look back when it was looking for a new home.

But on a more serious note, consider this: There is a nexus between endurance sports and outdoor recreation. Many runners, cyclists and triathletes are also people who enjoy other outdoor activities. Trail runners in particular end up crossing paths with hikers, backpackers and mountaineers. Killian Jornet comes to mind as the most famous of them, but beyond the elites, there are legions of people who, when they’re not racing or training, are making the most of their time outdoors.

The city and the state are in the midst of a big tourism push, focusing in things to do and places to see along Route 66 — the Mother Road of old that stretched from Chicago to California and winds its way through Oklahoma. It’s a good theme, and I’m sure a lot of cities and towns will be able to take advantage of this.

But what I’d say is don’t sleep on the state’s outdoor recreation potential. People are interested in this stuff. The cycling community is active statewide. Trail running is booming, and road running is strong. The same people who run in the Route 66 Marathon, ride in Tulsa Tough or await their shot at IRONMAN will be looking around the state for other ways to get their outdoor fix, which includes plenty of hiking, backpacking, water sports and climbing. The folks looking for such activities include people from outside the state.

IRONMAN gives the city and the state another opportunity to keep that outdoor recreation momentum moving. Frankly, it’s low-hanging fruit and an opportunity to help the region shed its stroke alley reputation. Tell your story. Go get it. If you do, don’t be surprised if the city and the state cash in on another big win.

Bob Doucette

Numbers don’t lie: Women are fueling the explosive growth of endurance sports

I’ve never participated in the Color Run or similar races, but after seeing photos from these events, I came up with a theory.

The last one here in Tulsa had somewhere north of 20,000 people participate. And that number is probably a little low. In terms of participants, it was by far the biggest running event in the city ever.

I know several people who ran in the Color Run. They were all female.

I saw tons of photos on social media from the Color Run. Overwhelmingly, the participants photographed in this one were female.

And given the explosive growth in endurance sports overall, I believe that the fuel behind that growth is an increase in women participants.

Seriously, a couple of decades ago, this was the popular image of a fitness-minded woman:

aerobics

Nowadays, that image looks more like this:

Saucony.com photo

Saucony.com photo

My theory is backed by facts.

The number of road race finishers has increased by 170 percent in the past 10 years, up to 13.9 million people in 2011, according to Running USA. That same figure was just under 5 million in 1990. Also in 1990, just a quarter of all road race finishers were women. In 2011, that number had increased to 55 percent. And given that spending on running shoes has increased by 68 percent over the past 12 years, can you guess who is behind the bulk of these new sales? (Thanks to the Imarunnerandsocanyou blog for these figures.)

Many races have become communal events where groups of friends enter and race together. Forget the image of solo male runners focused solely on times and a finish line. What’s become much more common – even ubiquitous – are groups of gals, sometimes dressed alike (or even in costume), having a ball together as they lope down the road. Entire races have been built upon this phenomenon.

That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of serious female competitors out there to win, and there are plenty of women running some very serious, difficult races. I’d also bet that their numbers are increasing right along with the rest of them.

And I will guess that similar trends are popping up in triathlons (think SheRox triathlon events, all-women races with thousands of participants each), cycling, mud runs, obstacle races and adventure races.

The next question: Why?

Is it fitness? Losing weight? Doing stuff with friends?

Yes to all of that, but I think there is one more really important reason driving this.

Empowerment.

If you’ve gone much of our life having never run more than a couple of laps, then train for and finish a 5K, that’s a confidence builder. Next thing you know, you’re running 13.1, 26.2, or more.

Finding the mental and physical strength to do big things suddenly makes the more ordinary challenges of life look much more doable.

Or perhaps it’s reclaiming past athletic glory. Hey, lots of us have been there. It’s empowering to know that the prowess of your younger days isn’t gone forever. It can be reclaimed, in part or in whole, or maybe even improved upon.

These are universal truths, regardless of gender. But somehow I think it’s different for women than men, or at least it has manifested itself differently in the past several years.

I don’t want to presume too much, but you tell me. Am I right? Are there other reasons why we’re seeing such an increase in women’s participation in endurance sports? Let me see your comments below.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

Fitness: Build a workout that makes sense, avoid those that don’t

How well your workout benefits you depends on a lot of factors. Key among them: Matching proper training methods with your training goals.

For more than a couple of decades now, I’ve been hitting the gym. I’m fascinated by fitness, bitten by a bug when I first began hitting the iron and saw the fruits of my labor in quick order.

Like any eager young gym rat, I devoured any piece of knowledge regarding weight training and fitness that I can find. Powerlifting, body building, plyometrics, you name it. I still see myself as a learner, not an expert. So I still absorb what I can, and watch new trends with interest.

The hottest trend in fitness right now is Crossfit. I won’t jump into anything I haven’t analyzed, but I know people who do it and love it. It has a lot of interesting concepts and non-traditional training methods that are intriguing. But like a lot of things in this field, I like to see it vetted before I jump in.

Crossfit has its boosters and fans. But it also has its critics. To me, however, judging it comes down to breaking down fitness goals, training methods and marrying the proper methods with the desired goals. It’s going to be under this framework that a fitness system will succeed or fail.

In short, Crossfit combines a number of different forms of fitness into one quick workout. Speed is emphasized. Crossfit combines plyometrics, weight lifting (with an emphasis on Olympic lifts), body-weight work and high-intensity cardio work (such as speed work on a spin cycle).

What this reminds me of is circuit training or station drills. But unlike most circuits, Crossfit is more radical in that is mixes a number of types of training methods into one workout.

So what do all these things do? Will they work together? And will they give you the desired fitness results?

Plyometrics (box jumps and exercises like that) are designed for explosive power. Power lifters, football players, track athletes, fighters, basketball players and a number of other athletes will use these to facilitate power in jumping, sprinting, takedowns (in wrestling), and lots of other tasks that deal with fast-twitch muscle performance. They key is performing these exercises explosively and repetitively. It’s hard work, taxing the muscles as well as the heart.

Weight lifting is designed to build mass, strength and slow-twitch power. The key, as so eloquently put by the folks at Lean Bodies Consulting, is tension. You are taxing your muscles, using dead weight in the form of barbells, dumbbells and other weights to stress your body to the point of muscle breakdown and rebuilding. The key to exercising your muscles with tension (as opposed to explosivity) is to perform the exercises in slow, controlled repetitions, with minimal breaks between sets. I’ll see unfit lifters break form by trying to go too fast or use too much weight and completely thwart their goals in the process. Anyway, you’ll notice I mentioned power as a stated goal here, but it’s a different power than plyometrics. Think of it like this: the explosiveness of plyo work is a lot like a high-end street bike that can rip 0-60 in less than 4 seconds. Tension work with weights is more like the low-end torque you get with a 4-wheel drive truck in low gear.

See the difference? People who employ this type of training will include all the athletes I mentioned before, but it will also include body builders. This type of training is how you build bulk, strength and symmetry.

Olympics lifts are their own animal, as they combine elements of both. But unlike plyo work or traditional weight training, Olympic lifts go way beyond “good form.” They are very heavy on proper technique. You won’t derive the benefits of Olympic lifts unless you do them right, and that’s a learning process that takes time and good coaching. Learning how to do a proper snatch or clean-and-jerk isn’t like plopping down on a bench press and slinging the weight around.

What’s more, Olympic lifts, while able to be performed in single reps or multiple reps, are not done “fast.” They are performed with explosiveness, but this is not a form of exercises you do with stopwatch in hand, looking to see how many reps you can do in a given amount of time. Sets are done with technique in mind, with the lifter taking as long as he or she needs to properly complete a set without breaking form. This is important, and I’ll come back to it later.

Cardio is likewise broken up into different types, and again, it’s very dependent on what you goals are.

If I want to lose weight – particularly fat – I’m going to do intervals, where I start slow, then increase intensity in segments of time, rising to a crescendo of difficulty (speed) and then drop it back down to an easy level of effort. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) follows this pattern; many runners and triathletes will be thinking of fartleks when people talk about interval training.

But if your goal is running a marathon, competing in an Iron Man, or perhaps mountaineering, this type of cardio training will only get you so far. I can speak from experience here. HIIT cardio helped me drop a lot of weight fast, and it helped me from an athletic perspective in activities that involved lots of jumping, sprinting or other short, intense levels of physical activity. It’s also great for quick recovery. But when I’m hiking or climbing above 12,000 feet, intervals by themselves fell way short.

And needless to say, intervals alone won’t get you very far in endurance sports like distance running, long-ride biking or triathlons. To succeed here, you’ll need those long-burn, steady-state workouts that last an hour, two hours, or even more for marathoners and triathletes doing Olympic- or Iron Man-length races.

But steady-state cardio, even when it’s on the higher end of effort, is not the most efficient way to drop weight. Sure, it can be done. But intervals just work better.

In any case, you can see what I’m getting at here: Specific goals need specific types of training. If you do it wrong, it just won’t work.

If you lift too fast, you will injure yourself.  Half-hearted box-jump routines will leave you wanting. Similarly, low-intensity interval training will do little good. And no one finished a marathon by sprinting from start to finish.

But what if you mixed all these methods together? Isn’t muscle confusion a proven way to get fit fast?

Well, sort of. But I would argue that the concept of muscle confusion (exploited well in programs like P90X) is different than mixing methods. A program that employs muscle confusion that’s worth anything will still have continuity in methods that are designed to achieve a specific fitness goal.

So here’s where Crossfit comes in. Crossfit mixes methods. It combines plyo, tension and high-intensity cardio, and does it all at a high pace in a short amount of time.

So here is what I’m wondering: Aside from getting your heart rate up, can this blend of rather incongruent methods of training actually work? My thinking is that in the short term, it might. But over the long term I have my doubts. My fear is this: Lifting fast is not inherently bad, as long as you rep slow. Repping fast (performing repetitions fast) leads to injuries. Doing Olympic lifts for time (repping fast) can and probably will lead to serious injuries.

And this is where I find fault with this type of workout system.

I know there are a lot of people certified in this, and many of their clients, who will staunchly defend Crossfit and similar workout plans as effective. There are likely loads of positive testimonials to back it up.

But I will stand by this premise: You will get more out of your training when you match your training methods with your training goals. You can’t bench-press your way across the finish line, you can’t swim your way to a 500-pound squat and you can’t rush your way through weight training for the sake of getting your heart rate up.

In short, analyze your workouts – any workouts – to see if they’ll work for you or if they’ll work at all.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088