Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Training Manifesto - Part 4

My intent of this series is to document my thoughts (as of today) about what I know and how it is influencing my training moving forward. I have read quite a bit recently, as I mentioned in my previous post. After having the time to think about all of the information and map it to myself, I have developed a few principles that I plan to follow and believe apply to most others. Each principle consists of a section below.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

In this last part, I'd like to sum up my ramblings. I felt compelled to write this, partially for myself, but also for any other people that are willing to look beyond the frequent advice columns we receive daily. I continue to read one article after another, and am left at the end wondering, "How is this going to help someone?". My hope is that the logic and approach that is stressed throughout this series forces people to rethink their approach to training. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. Like I said initially, we are all different. And while this specific approach may not fit the type of training you need, the concept of evaluating ourselves, questioning what we read, and considering our long term goals can apply to anyone.

Going back to the beginning, my approach consists of the following:
- Assessing your endurance background: What are your strengths/weaknesses with regard to sport? Where can you find opportunities for improvement? What went well last year? What would you change? These are the types of questions you should be asking yourself as you look toward the upcoming season. Figure out where you are today, where you want to be tomorrow, and assess what it will take to (realistically) get there. You may have a far reaching goal that cannot realistically be met within the year. Figure out what it takes to get there and plan to improve over time. You've got to have the patience to get there. Shortcut approaches don't typically result in long term benefits.

- Building the base: It is my belief that most people do not have a sufficient base to warrant the types of workouts they do. Look at the training guidance of most experts and you'll find that only about 15% of your total weekly running should be speedwork. Why then, do most people go off and run tempos, repeats, intervals, etc? Track your mileage and be careful of doing too much stressful activity without the base to support it. Build a very large base and not only will your fitness and speed improve, but it will allow you to recover more efficiently when you've reached the appropriate time to begin adding those types of workouts into your program. But only AFTER you have built the base. Along the lines of a far reaching goal, only a very large base will ensure you achieve that. Otherwise you risk, delayed soreness impacting future workouts and ultimately, injury.

- Long Term Versus Short Term: Don't quit building the base, just so you can peak for a non-important race only half way through your plan or to your goal. Keep your eye on the prize and continue to build to your goal. Focusing on the short term will only keep you from achieving that long term goal. Don't settle for instant gratification if it is going to derail your long term plans. Similarly, you can use short term goals to guide your long term goals. If you make short term goals in line with your long term goals (e.g. improve my average pace at average heart rate of 140 by 5 seconds per mile within 2 months), then it can help keep the level of motivation there. Just don't let those pesky short term goals get in the way of the long term perspective. Use baseline tests to measure short term progress as you build to your long term goals.

- Each Athlete Is Different: You've read article after article to learn how to get faster. But how is it that one strategy can be the best approach for everyone? Take what you read with the understanding that everyone is different. Is stressful training appropriate to introduce to your body yet? Does it align with your goals? Understand yourself, what your needs are, and how the training you are considering will affect your body. I love reading about different training approaches. Some of them apply to my training right now, others don't. But I read it all with the understanding that everyone is different.

- Strength and Maintenance: In order to stay healthy through all this stress you put on your body, you have to incorporate some type of strength and maintenance program. It will keep your muscles balanced and loose. Repetitive motion such as running focuses on a few of the lower leg muscles, but not all of them. Adding in some exercises to hit them all will ensure you don't develop muscle imbalances, forcing one to compensate for the other. This limits the risk of injury and lets you focus on what you do best - run.

- Running Form: Running form tends to get a lot of attention these days, and it should. It is critical to maintaining efficient form, allowing you to maximize the fitness you've built. My focus on running form is mainly in the area of maintaining your center of gravity under your body. You do this by ensuring you don't over stride, causing a harmful heel strike with excessive amounts of force to your lower leg. Keep your center of gravity under your body and you can run using which ever form seems natural.

So that's brain dump is over. Feel free to discuss, because I'm always interested in hearing other people's thoughts. What is your training approach/methodology toward endurance?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What We Could Have Used During The Snopocaplypse

Now that the melting is FINALLY happening, it is time to start thinking about the next major blizzard. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year...but we should be ready for it, right?

One of the biggest complaints about the storm from residents all over the area has been the snow removal process. In DC, the snow removal plan is to let the snow melt. How genius! Snow removal crews have done everything they can to clear the snow. My hat goes off to them, because they worked day in and day out for a week trying to get everywhere. In the end, not everyone got plowed and there are still some neighborhoods that haven't had a single plow. But in many cases, they ran out of room to put the snow! This exact thing happened in my parent's neighborhood. There is only so much room to put the stuff.

Fortunately, others are thinking about better ways to handle the snow removal process. Not all ideas are smart. But, there is one that sounds like a great idea. It is called Yuki Taro and it is a self guided, camera equipped robot snowplow that "eats" the snow and poops it out as compressed ice blocks. And even better, they make them to look like Pikachu!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Best Birthday Cake a Triathlete Could Ask For

Even though my birthday was a week ago, we decided to hold the party to celebrate it the week after. For whatever reason, the timing just worked better. Anywho, guess who was surprised to find this cake waiting for him?

(click to expand a bit to see the swim, bike, runner dude)

It is a pretty awesome cake...and tastes just as good as it looks! The only problem is that there is a whole lotta cake left, and not too many people (me) left to eat it. This seems like a recurring theme....

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Training Manifesto - Part 3

My intent of this series is to document my thoughts (as of today) about what I know and how it is influencing my training moving forward. I have read quite a bit recently, as I mentioned in my previous post. After having the time to think about all of the information and map it to myself, I have developed a few principles that I plan to follow and believe apply to most others

Part 1
Part 2

Each Athlete is Different

Simply performing a workout because it has worked for someone else or because someone said it will do "x", I believe, is BS. Those of us who follow blogs and are online a lot tend to read this a lot in advice columns and publications. I do realize that advice is helpful for those who don't know enough to get started, but often times, there is no caveat within the advice, specifically, the advice from experts, to help anyone apply it to themselves. Add to that fact, that most people don't even realize that each athlete is different.

I've read countless numbers of advice columns, and since starting to compose my thoughts here in this series, have really been paying attention to the details of the advice with regard to applying it to myself. In most cases, that information is missing in these articles. All we are left with is some advice on "How to improve your run", or "The top 10 running workouts". But what does it mean? Can anyone just jump right in and do this type of stuff? What are the risks?

You almost never read about the risks of doing specific activities within the context of advice columns. It is almost always focused on the benefits only, because that is why people will take that particular piece of advice. Sure, it sells books/magazines, but does it work and will it help me in the long term?

Sometimes, it does. But it depends....on the ability of the individual performing these workouts and what their goals are. The bottom is this: WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS AND DIFFERENT. Become aware of your body and understand how the stress you put on your body during training affects your ability to perform tomorrow and more importantly, next week, next month, and next year.

Once again, let me talk about how this applies to me. I reason I feel I am different is because of my athletic history. I have been running competitively for a long time (15+ years), but not all of it being as an endurance athlete. I played soccer growing up and I was a sprinter in high school, focusing on the shortest of distances (55m up to 400m). After running in high school, I played rugby in college, another sport that I wouldn't exactly call an endurance sport. It wasn't until 6 or so years ago that I truly started getting into endurance sports.

While many newbie runners have a clean slate to start from, my transition to endurance sports has been a challenge. Over the years, my body has known itself to rely in the fast twitch muscle fibers. All of the sudden, I'm switching gears and relying more on the slow twitch side of things. What I've come to learn through this process is that my slow twitch muscles have a pretty low threshold. In other words, they tire easily when asked to work. Obviously, the focus on the shorter stuff all my life has something to do with this.

The majority of my training over these past 6 or so years has been built around the advice I read online and in magazines, as well as from the training plans I have followed and lessons learned being applied to each new season. I like to think that I learn from my mistakes, but I know all too well that once I feel confident in knowing something, a new concept pops up that flips everything upside down. That, of course, is why I am writing this!

Because I am different in that I have a long history of running in the fast twitch muscle variety, my training should address the inherent weakness - the application of slow twitch muscles (ie more focus on endurance vs speed).

My training logs over the years have shown a focus less on volume and more on shorter, faster workouts. But once I started to dip my foot into the longer distance arena (ie marathon, half IM, etc.), it seems that my body was not ready for the load. I've made steady progress each year and have no doubts that what I have done thus far, has moved me in the right direction. But I may have built up too quickly each time, which resulted in injury. long term focus is to enhance my body's ability to handle volume (ie building the base) first, before going back to any of that fast twitch stuff. Let me clear here though - this does NOT mean plodding along all the time doing slow, long distance stuff and putting in junk miles. It just means that short repeats and intervals are unnecessary. I've done that and my ability to throw down solid times regardless of my fitness is evidence of my capacity for that. What I need to show, is that I can translate comparative times as the distance increases. Currently, I am not there.

This type of training will incorporate fast twitch muscles during times, but the focus here is to build out my endurance capacity. Evidence suggests that until I do this, my ability to transfer my success at the shorter distances will not translate at the longer distance.

Strengthening and Maintenance

If there is one thing I can take away from the 5 times I have been to physical therapy (not all from overuse injuries), it is that maintaining strength in the supporting muscles of whatever sport you do is important. This isn't a situation about power and getting stronger though. It is about being balanced. When one muscle becomes dominant over its opposing muscle (ie hamstring vs quad), the stronger muscle compensates for the weaker muscle. This can only last so long though, before for the strong muscle raises its white flag to surrender, typically in the form of acute injury. This means you have to go back to the drawing board of strengthening again. In order to reduce the likelihood from this happening, frequent strengthening exercises are important to keeping everything balanced.

For me, this includes stretching and strengthening exercises. My goal is to get up and do these first thing in the morning, because often times I'll forget otherwise. I aim for 3-4 times a week, though if I am feeling particularly sore, I'll do them immediately, which always seems to clear things up.

Almost all of the exercises you need to do can be done with minimal equipment. I use a foam roller, elastic bands, and a big rubber ball (like the ones you use for core work). Everything else can be done on stairs, against the wall, or on the ground. Examples can be found here. In addition, I also do some leg lifts, squats, etc.

Running FormWhile I am not a proponent of the groups who say "X is the only proper form to run", I do have plenty of thoughts on beneficial form versus poor form. Everyone has a different style of running form. Once again - what works for you, may not work for someone else.

When I am out running around others, I have a problem - I can't help but pick people's running form apart. It is almost second nature. You can ask Rebecca. The thing is, is that so many people do not have a clue about proper running form and/or the negative effects their form has on the ability to run properly. I don't mean to tell people that their form is wrong though, because everyone runs differently. But there is a big difference between acceptable running form and blatant harmful running form. Afterall, I just want to help!

I think a large reason why there are so many running related injuries is because of many of the issues I have pointed out throughout this series. But the focus here in this sectionis on form.

My natural running form has always been more of a mid-foot strike than the heel strikers most people tend to be. Based on the tons of information available today, it would appear that some type of a mid-foot strike is ideal for running. This style of running minimizes ground contact time and also propels the runner forward versus the heel striker, who is putting the brakes on with every heel strike. I get that concept and believe it to be true. I would call this difference in running form, a difference in running efficiency though and not a hard rule of running properly.

I do not believe that all heel striking is a bad thing necessarily. Some people try to dramatically change their running form from a heel striker to mid-foot and get injured very quickly. Each style uses slightly different muscles and doing too much too soon will likely cause tighter muscles and eventually an injury. Part of me believes that people should run the way it feels naturally. The other part, says that you should focus on being as efficient as possible. It is confusing, I know. I believe that both are correct, but any effort to be more efficient without significantly changing things, is probably the best approach.

Next time you are at a race with elite runners, take a video of the ground as the elites run by or just focus on their stride as they fly by. You will be shocked to find that nearly everyone has a DIFFERENT style of running. Some of them are fore-foot strikers, some are mid-foot, and some are heel strikers. It is all over the place. So while they may not have the ideal, efficient form, you can't argue that their form should be changed. Afterall, they are elite runners and they have become pretty darn fast with whatever form works for them.

What you will notice however, is that most elite runners tend to land (whether heel, fore-foot, or mid-foot) under their center of gravity. As that, I believe, is the key to efficient running. So long as your balance remains strong (by keeping our landing under the majority of your body), it ensures efficient running form.

So that is the end of Part 3. I believe Part 4 will be my final conclusions and summary of this long whole list of blabbering.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Virginia House Legislature Vote Tomorrow

For any locals who ride in VA, a bill is up for vote tomorrow to increase the passing distance of cars to bicyclists to three feet, following what several other states have already approved. Feel free to contact your representative and ask him/her to vote yes on HB 1048. Below is the language to be approved.

§ 46.2-839. Passing bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, moped, animal, or animal-drawn vehicle.

Any driver of any vehicle overtaking a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, moped, animal, or animal-drawn vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass at a reasonable speed at least two three feet to the left of the overtaken bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, moped, animal, or animal-drawn vehicle and shall not again proceed to the right side of the highway until safely clear of such overtaken bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, moped, animal, or animal-drawn vehicle.

Aging Up

I didn't write about this when the calendar year changed, mainly because I am not planning to race any tris this year, but focus more on running. With that in mind, I age up today officially to the 30-35 Age Group. At first, I figured this would make things more competitive. But after taking a closer look at my race results from this past year, I'm not so sure its a bad thing. Let's take a look:

National Marathon: This Year: 99/229 Percentile: 43% Next AG: 97/219 Percentile: 44%
Monument Ave 10k: This Year: 106/1515 Percentile: 7% Next AG: 78/1506 Percentile: 5%
Patriots Cup 8k: This Year: 10/57 Percentile: 17% Next AG: 9/44 Percentile: 20%
Patriot's Half Iron: This Year: 18/42 Percentile: 43% Next AG: 24/64 Percentile: 38%
Home Run 10k: This Year: 4/13 Percentile: 30% Next AG: 4/16 Percentile: 25%
Jingle All The Way : This Year: 34/355 Percentile: 9% Next AG: 29/278 Percentile: 10%
AVERAGE PERCENTILE This Year: 24% Next AG: 23%

So overall, my placement would have similar, if not slightly better in the next Age Group.

Maybe turning 30 isn't such a bad thing after all ;)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Training Manifesto - Part 2

My intent of this series is to document my thoughts (as of today) about what I know and how it is influencing my training moving forward. I have read quite a bit recently, as I mentioned in my previous post. After having the time to think about all of the information and map it to myself, I have developed a few principles that I plan to follow and believe apply to most others. Each principle consists of a section below.

Part 1

Long Term vs Short Term

If you are someone who is looking to get faster immediately, this is the wrong approach for you. There are plenty of approaches that promise to get faster quickly. I have tried several of them. They work very well for the short term (1-2 months), but my results from this type of training came in the form of injuries and barely making it to the starting line each and every time I tried them.

After reading through my various sources, I believe that long term training brings the best results. However, it is very challenging to keep long term goals in mind, when it is so easy to reap short term rewards. However, by sticking to the plan of developing the base (the long term view), the benefits of this type of training will be realized. I mean, wouldn't it be great to just run harder each time we throw on some shoes? What you'd find is that you would either stop progressing after a short period (hitting a plateau), or you'd get injured. I've done it before and made the mistake too many times. That approach is not in my plan.

Alternatively, you could take the long term approach to training (ie building the base first). However, it is important to point out that the training programs preached by the mainstream sources we read in magazines frequently loose sight of the critical components to ensure longevity in the sport. We as test subjects of our own experiments (unless we are coached by someone else), tend to follow the advice of experts or what you read on a blog and that seems to work for him/her. But when we read this advice, we take it, assume it will work, and go off and hammer out a workout. Often times, the result is immediate short term satisfaction. Once done, we think, "Wow, the was great. I just need to do this key workout each week (and increase the distance/pace) and I will be able to conquer the world!" But herein lies the problem. The advice we are given, or the workouts we typically follow based on this advice, doesn't take into account the long term view.

I like to call this "finding the sexy workout". You know what I am talking about, don't you? A sexy workout is one that you can look at and think about how great it will be to tell all your friends about or how hard you are going to push yourself. Most advice we see are "sexy workouts" without much discussion on the background (base) needed to tackle such "epic" workouts. They need to sell books right?

Let's compare two workouts and you tell me which one you would rather get excited over:

1) 10 x 400m @ Lactate Threshold w/1:00 recovery
2) 45 min easy

I think you can tell me which one is sexy (numero uno) and which one is not (numero dos). But again, number one takes into account the short term view of getting faster today through a threshold workout, while number two considers the long term view of improving efficiency through lower heart rate training. When we approach a training cycle, and even each workout, we need to consider our goals. Specifically, how will this training cycle/workout make me faster/stronger/more efficient in the LONG TERM?

A great workout is just that...a great workout. But the way we get faster over time is to look toward the long term by becoming more efficient (ie running faster at an easier level of effort than before). This can only be achieved by long term base training to allow your body to adapt. Otherwise, I've found the short term (instant gratification through speed work type of workouts) approach results in self sabotaging of one's future ability to continue running. This is commonly because we either don't run the appropriate pace, resulting in more fatigue in our legs, and subsequently preventing other quality workouts from occurring due to the need for additional rest to recover. Or, too high a percentage of our training volume comes from interval/speed work, resulting in the inability of our bodies to efficiently burn calories (by burning carbs vs fats) and risking injury due to the larger percentage of stressful activity applied to the body. For shorter distance training, the impact is less compared to endurance training. My focus is on endurance. However, efficiency lies in the heart (the ability to handle/process work - Heart Rate), so no matter what speed/distance you run, an efficient system will lower your times.

This does not mean all of these types of workouts are bad, however. There is a time and place for speed work. But the base building period is not it. I'd guess that it may not be appropriate for many people to do this type of training either, based on where they are in terms of their base level of fitness. My advice, and the plan I am currently following, is to go back to the basics and build a very large base to ensure longevity and efficiency in running. Yea, it takes a long time to do this. Yea, it isn't "sexy". But I believe this approach will work the best for me. Only after this has been established, will I start building in the higher intensity stuff.

Let's get back to applying this information to myself and my approach moving forward. During my previous marathon training builds, I began incorporating some of the types of training you read about that the advanced runners are doing (based on my times and running experience, I "qualify" as an advanced/intermediate runner in most training programs) and that you read about in articles by experts, such as 800 repeats to "build speed", "tempo" runs to increase lactate threshold, or what have you. Over a period of a few weeks, I noticed increased tightness in my legs. This was treated with icing, foam rolling, and continuing to run...I was training for a marathon, after all! Well here is what has happened each time when my body had enough and was unable to recover from those higher intensity workouts ----> injury!

But why? While we are in the moment of training and looking at week to week results and see progress, we thing it is a good thing, right? In some cases it is. But, I have looked over my workout logs from the past few years, reviewed a ton of information from the books I have read, and it all comes down to one thing.

I should have been continuing to build a large base, without high risk speed work, until I saw the fitness gain diminish from that type of training first, before incorporating any speed training into my program.

I had the "base" to complete the assigned mileage to begin any of the programs I was considering, but had I known what I know now, I would have continued to build the base before incorporating any other types of training. Each of these types of riskier training techniques gave me the instant gratification in the short term to see the immediate impact of getting faster. In both cases however, the injuries that resulted from chronic fatigue and the inability to recover, sidelined my training for a month or more, barely giving me enough time to throw in some longer runs to even attempt the marathon. Are there benefits to performing the workouts? Absolutely. But is it necessary? I don't believe it is for most of us.

The risk of injury is simply not worth (in my opinion) the extra few seconds you may gain from doing "speed" workouts without the huge base to warrant the incorporation of those types of workouts. Had I stuck with the simple plan of putting in the mileage, while focusing in becoming efficient at a low HR in each of those cases, without incorporating extra stuff to see my speed progressing (short term results), I'm pretty sure I would have made it to the starting line with a strong build up and ran the race I envisioned when I signed up (long term results).

We are so focused on improving ourselves in the short term (to get instant feedback), that I believe it impacts our long term outlook (making it to the starting line healthy and appropriately trained without burning out).

As I mentioned in Part 1, one way to get feedback safely is by conducting baseline tests every month or so (but no more frequent). A baseline test should be conducted at the beginning, and then repeated, while attempting to maintain consistent conditions, such is not being done on a windy day. Baseline tests give you periodic assessments of where you are, without the constant incorporation of risky speed work. If you can continue to show progress in your baseline tests through base building, then your base can still be built further without incorporating the speed stuff. Only AFTER you have seen the gains drop off from the baseline tests, should those other types of training be incorporated.

Stay tuned for part 3...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

30 Inches of Snow in 30 Seconds

Ahh the Snowpocalpyse...

As if it wasn't bad enough that you came, you had to bring your younger brother with you...another 10''-20'' is in the forecast. I will NEVER run outside again!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Which Ground Type Is More Fun For Running In Winter?

We interrupt this regularly scheduled training manifesto series, to introduce some groundbreaking (un)scientific research and answer the age old question - which ground type is more fun for running in the winter.

First, a caveat - no equipment, other than running shoes, was used in this study. No real research was actually conducted. I only included conditions I ran through on my long run yesterday, so ice was not considered. And most importantly, no basis was given for the scoring, other than how I felt about each type while out on a long run yesterday.

So with that said, I bring you the ground types:

Which is best for fun? Asphalt, slush, packed snow, or powder

1) Asphalt
- Pros: If you were the conservative training type and wanted the lowest risk to injury possible, you'd select asphalt as the preferred ground type. It is smooth, gives great traction, and is easy to see in any time of day or night (with headlamp of course at night). It is likely the surface that allows you to go the fastest at any level of effort.
- Cons: We are talking about fun here, not just best for running. Traction is good, but sometimes it is a little fun to slip around. Going fast is also fun, but running hard to go fast is not. Vary your training a little bit and get off the asphalt!

2) Slush
- Pros: If you are into getting soaked and as a result, blisters, then by all means, slush is fun. For those sadistic folks, you may look forward to slopping along. I unfortunately had the pleasure of running through this stuff quite a bit, because the sun had melted some sections of the trail, but not completely, leaving me with lots of slush.
- Cons: This is not the kind of fun you have when you jump into a puddle in the middle of summer to cool down when it is hot out. If the slushy mess eventually gets into your shoe, the cold can feel quite uncomfortable. Not to mention, the blisters that can result from a long run on cold, wet feet. In order to minimize the wetness factor, you have to lift your legs like you're running through tire holes at an NFL combine. Fun for about 10 seconds, till you realize that your feel are still wet and now your legs are sore.

3) Packed snow
- Pros: This actually gives you pretty good grip while running. Given the uneven state of the packed snow, you spend a lot of the time looking toward your next step, which takes your mind away from thinking about running. Aside from running on asphalt, this allowed me to run my fastest pace, but was a lot softer on impact. I have to say, it was quite fun to run on this stuff!
- Cons: Footing can be great, but it can also be treacherous. One second of lost focus could result in a twisted ankle.

4) Powder
- Pros: Sure is great to ski on! Oh wait, this is about running again. Running was pretty fun too. Not as great traction as packed snow, but still pretty good. The benefit over packed snow is that you don't have to deal with as much treacherous footing. Since it is powder, your foot lands with a light push to the ground. Less impact = less soreness in the legs.
- Cons: Requires you to slow down a bit, because the transition from landing to push off is slower. You also risk getting snow/wetness into your shoe, resulting in potential blisters.

This run was a lot of fun (except for the slushy parts). Although my heart rate was a bit higher due to the varied terrain, the fun factor was off the charts.
- If possible, I'd try to r
Publish Post
un more on packed powder, where available. It still allows you to feel fast, but with less impact and more fun. My #1 choice for winter terrain.
- Avoid slush at all costs! Run in the morning, when the sun hasn't had a chance to melt the snow.
- Have fun by running on different terrain than you are used to. My legs are SORE from using all those different muscles needed to stay upright in these kinds of conditions.


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