Project Par Week 8 Update
Marc-André Leclerc, Snowboarding, and (no) Golf
Welcome Players! This week I played no golf and spent a week in the mountains of Colorado with good friends. There’s nothing to review practice-wise so I’m going to be talking about the inspirational story of Marc-André Leclerc and how we can learn to be enthralled with the journey instead of the destination like he was.
Training Week in Review
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Training Week in Review
Even if I could train for a singular goal for an uninterrupted 365-days a year, I’m not sure I’d want to.
One of my favorite trips that I look forward to every year is an annual snowboarding trip with close friends of mine. We started in 2019 just before the pandemic and have only missed one year since.
I love being up in the mountains and I LOVE snowboarding. It is an indescribable amount of fun (after you’ve learned through trials of 1000 falls). Bundle that with spending time with friends you rarely get to see anymore and a hot-tub facing the mountain peak it’s easy to see why.
Needless to say I didn’t play any golf this week. No practice. No swing thoughts. No dedicated training. Nada.
It was a week-long trip to the mountains where all I cared about was snowboarding. And I can’t wait to do it again next year!
With that in mind I’m going to use this post to talk about two things I found particularly interesting over the past week. The first being the effect of altitude on my body/performance, and the second being the incredible tale of Marc-André Leclerc.
Big ol’ goose eggs on this one. Moving on.
In order of day completed I did the following for physical training:
If you’ve never snowboarded (or skied), you might be tempted to think that it’s an easy sport that just necessitates sliding down a hill. Wrong.
It’s an extremely intense activity marked by 5-10 minutes of high-output energy expenditure controlling your body and board against the slope of the mountain and curve of the run.
I was interested on what my heart rate metrics would look like, so I strapped up my Polar H10 for the first day. Here’s what I got:
Clearly the rise in Heart Rate is correlated with when I’m actually snowboarding down a run, and the rest period is when finished and riding a lift back up. I missed some runs in these two data-captures, but from here alone we can count 13 runs in a very typical HIIT-type style.
And seeing as we were out there from ~9:30a - ~3p that’s almost 5 hours of ‘training’ not including breaks.
Point being that other activities outside of traditional Strength & Conditioning should also count as training. Even though I didn’t complete any workouts or sessions that would have been programmed as part of Project Par, three consecutive days snowboarding certainly pushes me to improve and the new stimulus is a refreshing change to my typical training.
The three main physiological metrics I track are Heart Rate (HR), Heart Rate Variability via rMSSD (HRV), and Sleep Opportunity (SO).1
Quick legend: Gray bars are daily scores, blue line is trend line, and green range is moving average.
We can see that all three metrics entered the danger zone and were signaling high-output low-recovery. I knew going into the trip that there was going to be a slim chance that I could recover properly.
We were doing three straight days on the mountain. Even with adequate amount of food, complete rest after and a full nights sleep it was going to be a challenge for my body to recover from this new stimulus as quickly as my typical trainings, not to mention that I have absolutely zero conditioning for snowboarding seeing as I hadn’t done it in almost two years.
With that in mind you can see Resting Heart Rate (RHR) spike into the 70’s for each day following snowboarding. HRV decreased significantly for those three consecutive days as well, and we can note that save for two nights of unusually high amount of sleep opportunity I got bare minimum amounts of sleep each night.
Now why would that be?
For one - the altitude had a huge impact on me.
Where we were staying is at an elevation of ~9,603 feet. While snowboarding we reached elevations as high as 12,950 feet (tallest skiable peak in North America).
Usually when I’m at altitude I experience a few things: a generally light headache, a significant reduction to my cardiorespiratory function, and a typical very short amount of time to induce labored breathing. Most people will experience similar things.
Unfortunately though on our second day and first day snowboarding things at altitude took a turn for the worse when I ended up with a splitting headache around 6pm along with some light nausea. Typical signs of altitude sickness.
I did everything I could think of - breathing techniques, drank absurd amounts of water (hydration), took salt and magnesium (for minerals), and then finally took 600mg of ibuprofen. At 7p it was so bad that I decided to just go lay down in bed and ride out the storm.
I woke up that night at 12:30a and the headache was gone. Feeling better I went back to sleep eventually logging over 10 hours of sleep that night.
Thankfully, after that night, on Day 3, I was back to full-go.
Why did that happen though?
There are a few things that are known to happen to human physiology at high altitude:
Partial pressure of oxygen drops (aka less O2 molecules available per same volume of air)
Ventilation (inhale/exhale) increases to try and get more O2
O2 levels within blood drop
Body dehydrates to try and raise concentration of hemoglobin in blood by increasing water loss
Basically there’s less oxygen in the air, so your body absorbs less oxygen into the lungs, which means less oxygen in the blood that gets distributed to your body’s tissues.
Physical activity is harder, it’s difficult to catch your breath, and oxygen is reduced in almost all tissues of the body.
How does this relate to why I got a splitting headache on Day 2? Well, I think the events played out like this.
Upon arrival to Colorado, I focused on staying hydrated. No major problems but small insignificant headache could be felt at night.
First nights sleep, difficult to sleep in high-altitude environment plus the lack of humidity made it difficult. Very sub-optimal sleep.
Day 1 snowboarding: Have a big breakfast, moderate cup of coffee (caffeine is a vasodilator as well as diuretic), and then spent six hours at significant elevation doing intense activity (snowboarding)
Finish with snowboarding, go home and get in the hot-tub to relax. Being in hot water also brings about dehydration.
We know that one of the main causes of headaches is decreased cerebral blood flow.
If we walk through my headache events again, I think it went something like this:
Altitude decreases oxygen delivered to brain, I start to feel it a little but wasn’t significant enough to cause problems.
Next morning, I drink caffeine which has vasodilation effect meaning I get more blood to my brain = more oxygen. I’m feeling great.
Go up to higher elevation and snowboard in intense conditions - hard to keep up with water intake when I’ve got the altitude, activity, AND caffeine all inducing diuretic effects contributing to low grades of dehydration.
I then finish with activity and immediately go into a hot-tub, which produces further dehydration effects and at this point I’m way to behind the curve to catch up by drinking water.
Within the next two hours the caffeine is almost completely worn off leading to a vasoconstriction effect stacked on top of the multiple dehydration-related inputs .
You can see how this was an easy recipe for a severe headache.
It would be interesting to compare my RHR and HRV relative to the altitude, but participating in the full-days worth of snowboarding makes it difficult to individualize the effects of altitude on HRV vs. the intense activity.
I didn’t practice at all this week. If you read the Week 5 Update you’ll know that I’m a proponent from time off of practice actually helping to improve your skill acquisition.
Doing that twice in three weeks might not hold up in that theory though.
Undoubtedly this week away from practice will be a big step backwards. I’ll have to get back to my swing notes and regain all the progress I was making up until the point I left. One step backwards, two steps forward.
I want to use this section though to talk about a very inspirational movie I watched and how it relates to practicing for a major goal. It was something that I found insightful and a perspective I’ll be adding to my Project Par, I think you should too.
The story of Marc-André Leclerc, a young man who grew up climbing the rocks of Canada, dedicating his life to the pursuit of climbing at all costs - but not doing it with the intention of achievement. He didn’t care about awards or accolades or being the best climber.
His motivation was pure.
He climbed because it gave him a sense of fulfillment. Freedom. Presence.
He climbed because he wanted to, because he enjoyed it, and because that’s how he felt most alive.
He didn’t solo climb three of the hardest solo climbs in Patagonia for the recognition. He climbed them because he wanted the adventure!
This is what separated Marc-André from every other great climber. He possibly could be one of the greatest climbers who was never known. He didn’t want the spotlight, he didn’t want the attention. He didn’t climb to share the achievement with others.
Most of his climbs he did by himself he didn’t even tell anyone!
Even when they were filming the movie, he would disappear on the producers for months at a time, traveling the world to climb different peaks as the show’s directors found out from sparse social media posts or sightings from other climbers.
And when they finally caught up to him and asked why, this is what he said,
“Because it wouldn't be a solo to me if somebody was there. It's just a completely different experience if somebody comes with you. It just wouldn't even be remotely close to the adventure that I was looking for. The only way I was interested was actually doing it fully by myself.”
Sometimes we get so caught up in the destination that we forget about the journey.
We want to cross the task off our list, complete a goal, accomplish a difficult mission, complete a challenge. Always searching for a finite end.
Yet arguably the most important aspect of any thing worth doing is the journey of doing it! Who you do it with, how you do it, what state of emotions it leaves you in.
This is what I took away most from Marc-André Leclerc - that you should never sacrifice parts of your journey for progression towards the destination. You’d only be cutting corners on yourself.
“When you’re in the mountains, with a mission, it’s like all of the superficialities of life just sort of evaporate, and you can often find yourself in a deeper state of mind, and that can stick with you for a while after a big climb. You appreciate everything so much…that you take for granted most of the time. It’s kind of funny. The actual achievement doesn’t really change your life, like you think it might, but what you’re left with is the journey that got you to that point.”
The words of a man who has climbed thousands of feet into the sky with nothing but his hands.
It made me really think about Project Par - My motives. My desires.
I’ve always preached that it’s vital to have a goal to work towards, something you can set out to accomplish. I still think it’s vital.
But through the deeper connection that Marc-André formed with his journey I can now see the other side. The side that says the goal doesn’t matter. Or at least matters a hell of a lot less than you think.
What matters is the journey. WHY you’re setting out for that pursuit. Whether you feel free and alive while you do it. Whether doing that thing brings you closer or further away from your soul.
I think Marc-André found his purpose and pursued it relentlessly. Freely.
As I continue my Project Par this will serve as a gentle reminder, when things aren’t going according to plan, when I’m not as far as I want to be; to pause. To enjoy the moment. To think how liberating and alive it makes me feel to practice a sport I love. And to enjoy the pursuit.
As Marc-André said, the achievement doesn’t really change your life like you think it might, but what you’re left with is the journey.
Not much else to say here.
Enjoy your journey, fall in love with the process, and chase your goals relentlessly.
Sometimes the greatest achievements are the ones you do for yourself, the ones that no one knows about, the ones that make you feel alive!
Back to Golf. See you next week.