Monday, January 30, 2012

Race Report: Snapple High Cloud Half Marathon (ish)

With training in full effect and seemingly only one half marathon in the DC area before March, I pretty much had two options -1)Not run a half marathon to check my fitness; 2) Hope that the weatherman up in the sky is nice to us and brings us a glorious January day.  Well thankfully, option 2 became a reality.  In years past, the Snapple High Cloud Half Marathon was subject to some of the worst weather imaginable for running races - blizzards and ice.  So when considering this race as an option, I was thankful to be able to wait till the week of the race to actually sign up.  So on Monday, I pushed the magic button on my computer to confirm my registration.  Now the important thing to consider with a race like this is that you need to remember your priorities.  For me, my priority is training for a marathon, so while I consider this race important from the perspective of gauging my fitness, I did not apply any taper of extra rest to ensure I do well.  I was simply training through the race.  You have to be disciplined enough to not let short sighted gains (ie extra rest days for fresher legs) take away from long term goals (hitting peak mileage for a marathon).  As a result, this was one of two weeks out of the next 3 where I will be peaking my mileage.  In fact, at the conclusion of the day, my weekly mileage hit an all time high of 60 miles - which included quite a few challenging workouts, like this one from earlier in the week at the end of the post.  So with that said, let's get to the race!

 Knowing that I was trying to put in 18-20 total miles on the day, I got to the race site with plenty of time so I could pick up my packet, get settled, and put in a solid 3 mile warm up.  This was is run along the historic C&O canal towpath, which runs nearly 200 miles from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown in DC.  It is packed dirt, with lots of rocks mostly.  Some people were sporting trail shoes, while others racing flats.  I used my 3 mile warm up to test out the terrain to get a better idea of the conditions for this race.  Regular running shoes are more than adequate, provided you don't have a history of stubbing your toes often on rocks.  I was originally going to run the race in my Kinvaras, since that have been working very well on most of my runs up to 13 miles and are the lightest pair I have, but I was a bit concerned about the rocks, since the bottom of the shoe has more grooves.  Instead, I went with the Brooks Launch, which are just a touch heavier (but still light), and offer a flatter outsole and are a bit more sturdy than the Kinvaras.  I think it was the right choice, as there were some pretty muddy sections and quite a few rock gardens to pass through.  So with a nice 3 mile jog and some dynamic stretches, I felt loose and ready to race.
C&O Towpath Today

 Miles 1-3
As is typical for races of any distance, my goal is always to go out at a pace that is slightly slower than goal pace.  How much slower largely depends on the race distance, but for a half marathon, I try to make these miles a least 10s/mile slower than goal pace.  Since my stretch goal was sub-1:30 and my previous PR was 1:31:35, I was targeting between 7:00 - 7:05 for these miles.  My legs were pretty heavy from all the training, so I wanted to feel smooth through the turnaround, and only feel like I was truly working for the last 7 or so miles. 
What the C&O used to look like

After the "Go" word was spoken, hoards of people took off like it was a 5k.  I was shocked at how many people were going out as fast as they were!  At about .25 miles into the race, I felt in total control as people continued passing and took a look down at my watch to see I was running 6:10/mile pace!  I quickly reigned that back into what truly felt like a brisk jog and heard my first beep of the day - 6:55.  I knew that was mostly due to starting off a bit fast, so I figured the other two miles would come back to my goal pace.  Not too long after this, I starting to bring back a bunch of those speedy starters, who clearly went out too hard.  A little tip - if you are huffing and puffing at mile 2 of a half marathon, you probably need to slow down! 
One of many locks along the C&O

With the elevation each way mostly as false flat downhill on the way out (toward DC) and uphill on the way back, I knew my splits might be slightly faster than goal pace, simply accounting for a few sharper quick drops once we pass through the lock areas.  Each one seemed to be followed by one or two little drop offs.  So Miles 2 and 3 came through in 7:01 and 6:57.

Miles 4-10
The goal for this section of the race was to start dropping pace down toward goal pace, but I gave myself a lot of flexibility this time, given my big training week.  My minimum goal was sub-7 so I was at least easily on pace to beat my previous PR, but my stretch goal pace was 6:49.  1:30 on the dot is 6:51/mile, so 6:49 with the slightly easier early miles would net me out to right where I wanted to be.  Given we were still heading slightly downhill and I was feeling pretty amazing, I wasn't surprised to see my paces dropping so quickly.  I kept telling myself to hold back though, because I knew I'd have a tough stretch later to deal with, so I didn't want to be fighting any urge to slow down earlier than I wanted to.  I just wanted the miles to tick by.  And they did just as I continued passing lots more people.  My splits followed to the turnaround at 6:51, 6:51, 6:47.  I should note at this point that I already knew the course markings were off.  The race mile markers were showing up way too soon, so I just kept going by my watch, while making the assumption that we'd make up the extra distance elsewhere on the course.  So I wasn't necessarily surprised to hit the turnaround shortly after crossing the 6 mile mark on my watch.

One we made the turn back, my mental game started to change from being conservative to "Go, Go, Go!".  Still wanting to not blow my legs out too early, I held ever so slightly back, but the effort was up, because we were now going uphill and I just discovered that we had a tailwind on the way out, as I now had a nice little breeze in the face to contend with.  Still clicking away the miles though through Mile 10: 6:44, 6:46, 6:42, 6:45.

Miles 11 - Finish
Those lock areas really started to get annoying around this time, as the effort to go up those little inclines started to add some unwanted strains to my legs.  It seemed like the false flatness became a bit more inclined in the last few miles, which I later confirmed when I downloaded my data.  At this point, I knew all I'd need to do was hold onto my pace and I was not only guaranteed a PR, but my sub-1:30.  This was probably the only dark moment for me, because it was just a matter of being patient enough to let the miles add up to get to the finish.  I was locked into my pace and I was just hanging right at goal pace, with Mile 11 coming through in 6:49 and the Mile 12 in 6:52.  It was right around this point that I saw the finish line and knew we weren't going to be making up that extra mile.  The course was going to be exactly 1 mile short (later confirmed in an email they sent out to all the racers).  Regardless, I picked up the pace with the finish line in sight and encouraged the female I spent the last 2 miles with to throw it down for this last bit.  We jumped down to 5:51 avg over the last .14 miles I registered and when she crossed the finish line 2 seconds back from me, I heard the announcer say she was 2nd female overall.  I gave her a big high five and congratulated her on her race.

My final time was 1:22:45 (6:49 avg), which translates out to a 1:29:34 half marathon.  Mission accomplished!

The funny thing was that I mentioned to Jessica on Saturday at our training group that it would take one of those no-taper high mileage miracles for me to achieve my reach goal of breaking 1:30.  But in moments like these, you just have to believe it can be done, because if you don't believe it, no one is going to push through the pain of running uphill and into a headwind with 4 miles to go until you get to realize that goal as reality.  I told myself this during the race and it is exactly what I needed to keep the gas pedal all the way down.  Though the race was a mile short, I still paced it until I could see the finish as if there was another mile to go.  I know it isn't an official 13.1, but I dipped under 1:30 with plenty of wiggle room, so I'm taking my sub-1:30!

The race fully acknowledged this in several emails that were sent out after.  The thing is, is that this is a race where 100% (yes, 100%!) of the fees go toward the High Cloud Foundation, which does some amazing work by providing humanitarian relief to various countries throughout the world.  All of the people working this event were volunteers and I can't really fault them too much, though a quick glance at the cue sheet does specify that the turnaround was to be 100 meters west of Chain Bridge and when we hit the turnaround, I remembered thinking that I should have at least been able to see the bridge.  I would think that any race marshal in charge of this would have referenced that same cue sheet when verifying any GPS readings before placing the markers.  So while it isn't a huge deal to me personally since this was not an important race, it was a certified course and a qualifier for those trying to race Rock and Roll USA and New York.  I am also aware that there are petitions in place to be able to use the pro-rated times, so they may still allow them to be used afterall.  I mean, lets be real - if you can run 12.1 miles at a given pace, I'm pretty sure the last mile would have been more of the same.

So that is the end of my race report.  I managed to log another 4 miles as a cool down, mostly spent with some PRR friends also doing the race to give me a total of 19 miles on the day.  Not too shabby if I do say so myself!

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Must Listen To Podcast On Stretching and Mobilization

I've linked to a number of references and articles on Phil Wharton and this here is a great podcast between Jay Johnson and Phil.  Both offer great resources for their particular focus - Jay being more on the ancillary strength work, and Phil being more on the mobilization and utilizing Active Isolated Stretching

Yea, there I said that word again - stretching.  Don't let all those naysayers convince you otherwise.  It is all about HOW you stretch, not the act of stretching that can be harmful.  Don't think there's truth to that?  Ask Ryan Hall, Meb, Deena Kastor, Matt Centrowitz about whether or not they think stretching can be beneficial.  As Phil notes, many of those athletes, who are among the top in the world, utilize AIS up to 4 times a day.  I'm pretty sure those guys are doing something right.  And no, I won't settle for the argument of, "Yea, but they are genetic exceptions".  The fact is that many who discover how effective this type of stretching, realize how powerful it can be.  In fact, Phil shares his own story of battling scoliosis and how stretching helped fix his misalignment.  So yea, maybe its not such a bad thing!

So listen up, because I think this interview is well worth the time.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter Is Strange

Early morning ice
 This year, winter is an enigma.  One week, its 25F and another its 55F.  You just never know what is coming.  Take this week (well the end of last week and into this week) for example.  We got sleet/freezing rain/snow Friday night and into Saturday, which left a hazardous coating of ice along the trail.  While Saturday was ok to run due to the initial layer of snow under the ice, by Sunday, everything was just a sheet which made walking, much less running next to impossible in my area.  That forced me onto the treadmill for Sunday's 8 mile run, which I completed while watching the end of the Pats/Ravens game and into the beginning of the Giants/49ers game.  Obviously, the excitement of both games kept me mentally busy while the miles ticked away.

As an aside, I'd like to note that sporting events are a great way to spend some time on the treadmill.  I created a game that would keep me active for the entire time.  The rules were the following:

During play:
  • For each completion or positive rushing play, decline the elevation setting
  • For each incomplete pass, sack, or negative rushing play, incline the elevation setting
  • During the time between a score and the next possession, increase the pace for the entire duration until the next play and go back to the regular speed and adjust elevation based on the outcome of the play
On commercials:
  • Each commercial alternates between speeding up and slowing down
I'd imagine you could customize this for virtually anything, but with football, it certainly makes it easy to follow along.  Plus, if you are feeling tired, you can cheer for the team possessing the ball to keep making forward progress, so the downhill continues.  And as an FYI, this was done on a treadmill that can go to a 3% DECLINE, so you do get the sensation of the recovery that comes from running downhill, rather than the reward of just a flat terrain.  If you are considering a treadmill and have the option of one with a decline, I'd strongly recommend it.  It really makes a difference - so instead of always running flat or uphill, you get more natural run feel to each run.  Perhaps some more details on the treadmill in a future post.

Now contrast that with only two days later when I was out running in shorts and a tshirt in 55 degrees and sunny weather!  Now don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining...well except when it turns cold again, because it always feels so much colder after you've had a chance to run in some warmer weather for a change.  But I will say that one of the positives of running in what I consider ideal running weather (45-55F) is that the workouts tend to feel much easier than they otherwise would.  Yesterday's workout was a doozy on paper, because I am really starting to dial in my marathon pacing efforts, so while the intensity isn't as high, the distances covered goes up.  Da plan:
  • 2 mile warm up, 2 x 4 miles at marathon pace minus 10-15s, with a 5 minute regular jog between sets, 2 mile cool down
While I knew I'd be able to do the workout (hopefully 8 miles at marathon pace doesn't tire you out too much otherwise I'd begin to think about adjusting your expectations!), its always the act of knowing that I'm going to run about 13 miles in the middle of the week, 8 of which will be working relatively harder.  At least today, with the weather so nice, I had no excuse not to run, so run I did.  And what I ended up with is:
  • 1st set of 4 miles: 7:15/mile avg (155 bpm avg)
  • 2nd set of 4 miles: 7:06/mile avg (160 bpm avg)
  • 13+ miles total in about 1:38 - not bad for a weekday!
Now I don't know if it was the magical weather or what, but running those paces at those heart rates (while I'm in the midst of peak mileage training), is very encouraging.  I'm always hesitant to base any conclusions on one workout or one metric, so I use a combination of pace/HR while also considering total cumulative fatigue over the past couple of weeks.  Now typically, your HR is bound to be a bit high when there is excessive fatigue, since your body is working harder than it is used to, so to see these numbers now is very encouraging to say the least.

Let's just hope for similar weather on race day! 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stretching Versus Functional Movement - Let's Clear The Air

Ok - I think I've heard it enough - stretching is bad.  You may have heard that too.  But dig a little deeper and you'll find that the same people that say stretching is bad, say that dynamic stretching is good.  But in most cases, they don't call it dynamic stretching - they call it "functional movement."  For me, its a case of your say "po-tay-toe" I say "po-ta-toe".  They are the same thing.  But most articles seem like they are hit pieces on stretching altogether.  I mean, let's face it, when you title an website called "Stop Stretching", you are pretty much trying to make a bold point.  But then I think about the average joe out there that reads that and says, "Well, I'm never stretching again!  What a waste of time".  And that is my concern about statements like saying stretching is bad, because it isn't all bad.  Specifically, I think it comes down to the definition of what you call stretching, so let's define that.

We've got a number of types of stretching terminologies:

- Static stretching - This is more commonly known as the reach and hold for up to 30s type.  This is also the kind that most often people say is bad.

- Ballistic stretching - This is more of the "old school" way to stretching where you bounce frequently at the end of your range of motion.  Even most stretching advocates do not recommend this kind of stretching at all, since you can bounce your way very easily to a torn or injured muscle.

- Dynamic stretching - With dynamic stretching, you take your muscles through their natural range of motion in a series of movements that closely mimic the activity in which you will be participating in.  This is what more people refer to as the good kind of stretching these days.

So with those definitions clear, we now have a distinction between them.  In each case, the thought behind stretching is to increase flexibility and thus allow us to operate at more efficient levels by increasing range of motion.  While that line of thinking may be true, it doesn't follow that static and ballistic stretching provides that goal.  Static and ballistic stretching is associated with injury risks, and some static stretching has been shown to actually impair muscle function and power, whereas dynamic stretching has proven to show a positive affect on preparing the body for specific activities.  So that is where all this chatter over why stretching is bad came from.  But again, it is all about word choice here and specifically in the form (and perhaps connotation) of what the word stretch means to people.  So don't get caught up in the word games people are playing.  In another future post, I'll discuss my warm up routines, which all consist of dynamic (or functional if you prefer that term) stretching, however that is a topic for another day.

But there is also one more element that people are jumping onto the "stretching is bad" bandwagon for.  It is based on a number of studies that have shown that there is no correlation between flexibility and running economy.  For more information on those studies, I'd refer you back to this post and the links referenced throughout it (PS - its a good read, so I'd recommend).  As you'll note from that link, elastic recoil plays the biggest role in proving the importance of some tightness, rather than complete flexibility.  With too much flexibility, the transfer of energy due to elastic recoil is lost, thereby making the super flexible runner less efficient.

However, in my opinion, I think there is something to be said of the fact that there is a difference between being completely inflexible and somewhat inflexible.  Specifically, in order to execute the activity for which you are preparing to do, you still need to have sufficient range of motion for your body to accommodate that kind of movement.  In terms of running, if you don't have enough mobility in your hips, then your form will be compromised, resulting in the recruitment of other muscles to compensate.  Often times, this leads to lower back pain or hip flexor pain, because muscles not prepared to carry a large load are now being asked to compensate for excessively tight muscles elsewhere.  Additionally, runners must have some mobility in calf/ankle region, otherwise their body can't support the stress.  Too much tightness there and you risk pulling/tearing the muscle or placing excess stress on supporting muscles around it, which can lead to a whole host of other issues. 

My point is that some mobility is needed in order to ensure your body can operate efficiently.  And while some tightness is good, too much can also be a bad thing.  So next time you read about how bad stretching is, think specifically about what they are talking about.  Don't just gloss over the title to mean that all stretching is bad.  I think in most cases, you'll find that their are promoting one form of stretching over another, but as a method or argument, they might call it something else.

To-ma-to, to-mah-to...its all the same to me!

Friday, January 13, 2012

First Shot Fired - Debunking Crossfit and CFE

I must say that I pretty impressed with this article.  While I support the notion that a solid strength foundation provides a healthy chasis for any given runner, I've always raised an eyebrow at some of the "all or nothing" claims made by those who are strict CF and CFE followers. Let's just say that this post puts to rest quite a few claims and I'm sure future posts will address some others.  After reading through this, I just wanted to snap my fingers and say "Damn!".  There is so much goodness in this that I'm just going to post it below:

Crossfit endurance, Tabata sprints, and why people just don’t get it

Crossfit endurance, Tabata sprints, and why people just don’t get it
Not terribly long ago, I stopped dating a girl because she did crossfit.
Okay, it wasn’t the only reason, but it was a major factor. I mention this not to show how messed up my dating life/requirements may be, but to show how strongly I feel about the marketing scheme that is Crossfit.  I’ve always wanted to write a blog post about it, but the article in this months Runner’s World has finally pushed me over the edge.  I’m writing this blog to give a 2nd opinion and to combat the marketing hype that surrounds crossfit.  I wouldn’t take much offense to crossfit and would let it do its own thing, except when you start telling people that this is the way of the future and that Ryan Hall would run faster if he did this stuff , then I have a problem (Yes, CFE founder has made this claim)

For this post, we’ll focus on Crossfit Endurance because it got some major publication in this month’s Runner’s World and has been getting some hype lately.  If you were at my presentation at the American Distance Summit in North Carolina, you got to hear me take a few jabs at crossfit (and Renato Canova even threw in a jab or two!).  Since it’s a question I get asked a lot, lets take a look at crossfit endurance.
The claim and exploitation:

Crossfit Endurance and CF in general is a randomized non-system of training.  It’s basically a set of random workouts that are high intensity circuit based workouts.  In CF this refers to a variety of high strength circuits and in CFE it combines this with high intensity intervals like the famous Tabata “sprints” (sets of 20sec hard/10sec easy).  There are no easy runs.  It’s simply mix short intensity work with slightly longer high intensity work and that’s all you get.
Crossfit exploits a couple different natural reactions people have to get people on their bandwagon.  First, they create a straw man “us vs. them” mentality.  We’ll go over this straw man tactic a bit later, but they try and cultivate this idea that just because it’s different and new means its got to be better.  They throw in some pseudoscience or misinterpretation of science and they’ve bolstered their selling point.  Further exploiting peoples natural habits, they promise better results with less time commitment, which in today’s “busy” world is probably the number one selling point for many products or ideas. If you’ve ever watched late night infomercials, you might start to see some similarities…

Lastly, once you’re in they do something pretty creative.  They first created their own new performance metric on which you’re judged.  Because being good at all the other methods of establishing performance isn’t good enough, so now you’re judged based on some criteria that crossfit develops.  Being a specialist at something is apparently bad?  Additionally, they really go after this hard work/pain = improvement and results idea.  This is also known as the Rocky effect.  But if you’ve been in the coaching business long enough you know that hard stupid work doesn’t get you anywhere.  You can’t just do work that is painful just because it hurts and expect to get better.
Getting beyond some of the basic philosophical tenants of CF that are ridiculous, let’s look at some of their claims in regards to endurance performance and training.
What crossfit doesn’t get:
The central claim is that you can get the same endurance benefits (or better) from doing high intensity work and limit any slower to moderate paced running.  They go on to claim that endurance training ages you faster and is detrimental to performance.  Their claim rests on their misunderstanding of VO2max as being equal to or critical to performance. 
Let’s use their main research backed claim to look into their claims.
Tabata sprints and the high intensity misunderstanding:
A researcher named Tabata did a series of studies on untrained and then moderately trained individuals in which he gave them a workout that consisted of 20sec hard/10sec rest for 4minutes.  When this program was researched, they noted that VO2max increased by a large amount and that certain aerobic enzymes also increased.  Using this and similar studies as their basis, CF has championed the idea that you can get the same, or better, performance off of doing intense work like that done in the study.  Lets use this as a way to look at why these claims are false.
#1 VO2max does not equal aerobic performance:
While I’ve written before about the measurement of VO2max and how it relates to performance and you can read more in depth on it in those blog posts, it bears repeating the conclusions reached by Vollaard et al (2009):
“Moreover, we demonstrate that VO2max and aerobic performance associate with distinct and separate physiological and biochemical endpoints, suggesting that proposed models for the determinants of endurance performance may need to be revisited (pg. 1483)”.
The basic idea is that VO2max and performance are separate things.  Just because VO2max is increased or decreased, does not mean that performance will change to the same degree or even at all.  This is a key concept to understand because often times studies will track training’s effects on VO2max and not performance.  For instance, in much of the research cited by CF or even cited in journal articles that talks about the benefit of high intensity training or strength training, they talk about changes in VO2max.
#2 Intervals increase aerobic ability of FT fibers
At the coaching clinic I presented at Renato Canova made a nice point that somewhat fast interval training can increase the aerobic ability of Fast Twitch fibers.  It’s best to think of it as an interplay between FT and ST fibers.  In that different intensities and volumes will increase aerobic or anaerobic enzymes in each type of fibers along the spectrum.  What that means is that although high and low intensity might both hit similar aerobic enzymes, they do so in different ways and in different fiber types.
#3 Why does VO2max improve?
Understanding why VO2max improves is another key to understanding this whole debate.  VO2max does not simply reflect aerobic ability.  Instead VO2max is influenced by several mechanisms.  First off, if you’ve read Noakes central governor or if you’ve read recent research on VO2max testing protocols, you’d know that VO2max isn’t an actual max.  You’re body self limits it.  One way to improve VO2max in a test is to be familiar in pushing closer to that “edge”.  If your body knows you can go there, it loosens the limits a little bit.  Very hard interval training lets the body know it can handle high stress loads.

Secondly, we know that VO2max is influenced by muscle fiber recruitment.  So if we increase the amount of recruitable muscle fibers during a test, the VO2max will rise.  What’s a way to increase muscle fiber recruitment? Sprinting, strength training, etc.  It’s one of the reasons why you see VO2max increases in untrained athletes but not so much in trained following strength training.  The trained ones are pretty good at recruiting more and more fibers as they get closer to fatigue.  The untrained, not so much.
#4 What Happens when we build a base and follow it up with intensity?
A major problem with research studies is that they are all short term.  It’s the nature of the beast.  But let me pose a few questions to all of you. 
What does the typical recreational endurance athlete do? 
If you answered jog around or do easy and moderate runs with little hard workouts you’d be correct.  Most recreational runners for instance simply go run.  Why does this matter?
What happens when you take people just doing mileage and add intensity?
If you answered they improve over a short time, you’d be correct!  Think back to your HS days when you spent a summer building a base of almost just mileage and then you hit the season and your coach starts throwing interval training into the mix.  You get a nice boost in performance right?  This is essentially what happens in these research studies.  They take recreational runners who just do easy/base stuff and then throw 6 weeks of training hard on them and they improve.  Ask any coach and they’ll say this is just a simple old school peaking/training program. In fact, it might resemble your typical HS application of Lydiard training.
#5 What CrossFit endurance does is reminiscent of training done in the early 1900s:
I harp on people to know there history so that they don’t repeat training mistakes.  In the history of endurance training it’s been a constant back and forth between intensity and volume of work. Early on there were very very big swings.  So we went back and forth between training that was almost all easy slow running and that which was all hard interval training.  As training has evolved we’ve gotten closer and closer to that sweet spot and mix.
What CFE has done is ignore all that and try and go back to a time when all that was done was very hard very fast interval work.  It worked to a degree, but performance got much better when we modulated things so that there was a nice mix.
Essentially, Crossfit is living in like the 1940s. We’ve learned from those times and evolved. 
#6 A straw man of LSD vs. high intensity:
Crossfit, and many others, typically create a straw man where they compare their training to a type of training that isn’t used but by very beginners.  They paint running training as almost all LSD (long slow distance), when the reality is if you look at any elite, college, or high school training program there is a nice blend of volume and intensity.  No one is just jogging around each day.  Yet that is what they have you believe.  This even happens in research when they compare interval training with just jogging around, as if jogging around was the norm for training. 
What happens in the real world of course is that there is a nice mixture and blend between volume and intensity.  Essentially, they are arguing for something that doesn’t occur. 
#7 Two ways to improve aerobic endurance
In fact, if you look at how some endurance adaptations happen, you can see that to increase things like mitochondrial density, several different intensities trigger similar adaptations.  This goes along with the point on enzyme activity and FT/ST fibers.  But if we look at this nice graphic from Laursen (2009), we can see that two different pathways to achieve some of these functional adaptations are activated by endurance and interval training.  So why the heck would we want to use only one pathway when two different means of getting these nice adaptations are there.  If you just attacked the problem from one side, you’d maximize that side quickly and have nowhere to go!

Additionally, we know that repetitive stress and activation of signaling pathways is what triggers adaptation.  It’s one of the reasons why we train pretty much every day for maximum performance even if some of it is low intensity.  That low intensity easy to moderate work helps to enhance recovery and applies a consistent signal for adaptation.  Pure rest in this case isn’t better (which is often the counterargument).
#8 Periodization matters:
It seems simple enough that people would know that how you plan and periodize training matters.  Training isn’t a random collection of hard exercises or workouts.  There has to be some sort of logical sequence and progression.  If there’s not, then you can expect to get exactly what you trained for, random results.
The bottom line is that so called high intensity interval training (HIIT) which is the new fad word with strength coaches is good.  But for endurance performance it’s even better when it is supported!  You have to support it with something.  Endurance work of various kinds and even pure speed work (with lots of recovery) serves as support for the intense stuff.
#9 Interaction matters:
Endurance and strength gains fight each other a bit for adaptation.  While I don’t want to get bogged down in the details, if we look at the signaling pathway for some endurance adaptations and then muscle hypertrophy which are two goals of CF and CFE, we can see that they interact and in fact impair each other in some cases.  For example, doing endurance work right after strength can impair hypertrophy because the mTOR pathway(which signals hypertrophy among other things) is basically switched off with endurance work. This isn’t meant to show that they are mutually exclusive, but instead to show that when you do things matters.  Sometimes a whole heck of a lot!  Thus why you have to think about and plan things, not just do random hard workouts.

This goes for not only sequencing of endurance and strength work, but also in regards to sequencing different strength workouts.  You have to know what pre-fatiguing muscles does to the subsequent training effect.  And you have to know what the effect is on the Central Nervous System.  Crossfit doesn't think about this at all.  They don't care.
#11 Individualization
My number one pet peeve.  There is no individualization.  Workout of the day.  That's the norm.  Beyond that, everyone does the same crap for the most part.  I could go on for days on the importance of individualization, and CF and CFE fail miserably.

What does this all mean?
What happens in the long term?
Again, I’m going to ask a rhetorical question, for you HS coaches out there what happens if you mess up the balance and do too much intense interval training after that base phase?  The answer is the kids fried.  You see it all the time in High School.  A kid hits the interval training hard, runs some amazing early season times and then fizzles out and is fried by the end of the year.  That’s what happens training wise.  If you want lactate proof, this is what happens aerobically if you mess things up.  You shift the balance to working anaerobically too much (Test #3) and you produce more lactate at each pace, and you are done!
The reason is that there is an interplay between easy to moderate running and intense running or even strength training.  If you work too much on the intensity or strength side you shift things towards that way.  In practical terms your lactate produced at each speed might go up or you might decrease aerobic ability a little bit.  Same goes if you do too much volume with not enough speed support.  You’re speed side would be neglected so that would go down.  It depends on what you are training for but achieving some sort of balance is key.
Additionally, if we look at very long term implications for performance we know that the foundational aerobic mileage does a few things.  First in long term studies on Cross Country skiers, the high volume of training created a fundamental shift in fiber type towards those which improved their performance.  So we got a ST fiber type shift for guys who needed lots of ST.  Secondly, the high volume of training leads to long term increases in efficiency.  Yes, high intensity work or even lifting can do this too but again it’s through different mechanisms.  Lifting for example can increase efficiency via modulating stiffness of the system.  Or essentially creating a stiffer spring.  High Volume training on the other hand works via increase the efficiency of both motor program patterns (because of the repeated nature) and at the muscular level in terms of oxygen utilization and waste product removal.  Again, two different ways to hit the same functional adaptation (improved efficiency), so why would we just want to work on one of them.
So we have research showing that in very elite runners, long term high volume training is needed to make functional changes.  We have practical experience in that throughout history we’ve shifted towards the volumes we do now and that practically every single good runner does a solid amount of mileage (with good intensity mixed in) and we have the theory of why mileage should work.

If we simply put crossfit endurance through the same kind of review we have:
Research- short term studies on high intensity training shows improved VO2max and in some cases performance, but we have looked at why those don’t apply neatly already.  No research on crossfit endurance in particular
Theory- It goes against all known scientific theory for how endurance performance should be improved and how it actually happens.
Practice- No good runners do it.  We know from history what happens and what kind of performance you get even if you do a lot of high intensity work with very little volume.
And lastly, it doesn’t help that they subscribe to every fad from diet to pose method of running that there is.
Finally, if you want a very interesting research approach to the high volume/intensity paradigm read Stephen Seiller’s nice summary here:
And finally, I’d like to point out that finishing and racing are different.  I’ve heard far too many times that so and so did crossfit and finished a marathon so it must work.  No offense and sorry to sound elitist, but if I took off 6 months and did nothing I could still finish a marathon.  It doesn’t mean my program of doing nothing worked. 
What does this all mean?
While this was a lengthy rant, it only touches the surface of the Crossfit or Crossfit Endurance phenomenon.  My point wasn’t to critique everything they did (that might be later) but to teach you why some of their claims they make, even research based claims, might be wrong.
In the future we’ll look at some of the specifics behind crossfit.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First Snow Run of the Year

First runs of any kind each season always offer a newfound excitement and appreciation for something.  Whether it is the first shorts run once Spring finally breaks from a long winter or the first snow run when Winter is finally settling in, each once provides a little extra reason to get out there and appreciate the goodness outdoors. 

Our footprints
I think he prefers the summer
But before my run, I had to take Tucker on his inaugural snow walk.  You see, Tucker and precipitation don't work out so well for running.  The last time we went for a run in the rain, let alone in the snow, he hit the deck a few too many times when darting for random squirrels and whatnot.  So we decided to take our normal walk, so I could get my run in as planned.  I was planning to do a tempo run afterall, so I normally wouldn't take him on one of those torture sessions anyways.

Some of the tougher runs I complete each week are of the tempo variety and always provide some sense of doubt prior to starting them as to whether or not I will "win" or "lose".  Obviously, just getting out the door is winning, but overcoming any obstacle always provides a sure sense of pride not often found in your traditional easy day run.  So when these types of runs are scheduled, the mental willpower to follow through and get out the door is always required.

When I looked at the paper this morning, I saw that the forecast was calling for rain showers late.  When I checked on the hourly forecast, it appeared that they would occur pretty much about the time I typically run.  I don't really enjoy running in the rain, much less cold rain, so while I accepted the fact that I'd likely be running in the cold rain, it really wasn't getting me pumped.

But that all changed at about noon, when this magical white stuff started falling from the sky.  And suddenly, there was no rain - only fluffy, white snow.  And while I thought it was too warm to stick to the ground, I found that by the time I headed out for my run, it was starting to stick.  In some sections, it was about a 1/2 inch, while in others it was just a dusting to nothing.  For the most part, this was fine, though uphills presented a bit more of a challenge than normal.  Either way, I'd still be able to enjoy the snow, instead the cold rain slapping my face.

On tap was about a 15 minute warm up, followed by 2 x 2 miles at what would normally be my tempo pace, with a mile between sets.  However, given the conditions, I had to go by effort, which resulted in about 10-15 seconds per mile faster than marathon pace, rather than my true tempo pace.  Since I was heading out in the dark and in wet conditions, I was all reflectivized to ensure high visibility.  This included, a skull cap with neon yellow strips, ViziPro gloves, shoes with ViziPro coloring, and a full on reflective vest.  I was clearly visible, because upon approaching an intersection, a car literally stopped to let me go through, rather than my usual wait till there is a safe gap to cross.  It made me happy to know that the effort to remain visible was clearly seen by cars on the road.

In the end, this was another solid run of about 9 miles.  A great way to start off the week.  Big mental boost for heading outside in some tough weather and a big physical boost from a quality 4 miles of running in the middle of the workout.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What A Difference A Week Makes

As runners, we all deal with little aches, pains, etc as part of our typical training cycle.  But more often than not, they don't get mentioned much until it is already a full blown injury (see here for more on that). Not sure if it is fear of others judging or what, but in the interest of full disclosure here, I'd like to tell the story of a recent issue, how acting immediately as I described in this post only left me with minimal downtime, and why I am proud of the way I am handling it.

How It Happened
So let's go back to a week ago (its actually more than that now, but you get the idea).  As part of our training program, we were offering a trail run option to get away from the usual and have some fun in the woods.  In order to plan for this option, which I would be leading, I wanted to make sure I knew all the details of the run, any difficult spots to watch out for, etc.  For some people, this was their first trail run, so I wanted to make sure I could manage everyone's expectations.  I went out on Monday for my first survey of the trails and had a great 7 mile run in pretty dry conditions.  I went back on Thursday, one day after it rained, and found significantly more mud.  For Thursday's run, the plan was to get in about 10 miles which is about the farthest I'd have the runners go, since this was a recovery week, and 10 miles of trail running is plenty!  On my way back on a downhill, I managed to catch my foot on a root or rock, resulting in a quick trip but without hitting the deck.  A short step later, I felt some pretty intense pain in my toe.  Yes, THAT toe.  I continued running for a number of miles (I was about 4.5 miles from the car), but the pain started to get worse, so I shut things down and walked it in.  In fact, I think walking hurt more than running, but I was afraid of doing more damage with a bad step running, seeing as how it was muddy and I was still in the trails.  Frustrated and in some pain, I left the trail and headed home.

First Responder
Among the first things I did when I walked in the door was to call up my doctor to make an appointment.  As I'm sure you know, one of the most frustrating things about any potential injury is the period of not knowing what might be wrong with you.  In my case, I was sure it was a broken toe (again).  The pain was in the exact same spot, walking was becoming increasingly difficult, and in my heart, I thought that was it.  However, I don't let setbacks define me, so I carried on with life.  I put on my boot that I still had from when I last hurt the toe and wore it everywhere for 2 days.  In my mind, if it was indeed broken (and even if it wasn't), I might as well start the recovery process ASAP, instead of "testing" it out in a day or two.  My doctor's appointment was in 5 days, which is practically a week, so if it was broken, that would be one less week I'd have to add to my recovery if I just let it sit in the boot.

72 Hours Later

Needing a shower and doing some sock changing, I noticed that the pain had gone down significantly in my toe.  In fact, I was able to balance on my foot without feeling like I needed to keep all my pressure on the outside of my foot.  Still keeping it mostly immobilized, I remembered that I could go to spinning when I was previous injured.  I tried putting my cycling shoe on and sure enough, no pain!  So I attended a class and got my sweat on, which at least gave me some reassurance that all is not lost when you are hurt.  Besides running, there are still ways to workout.  The next day, my toe felt even better and I thought, maybe the elliptical might be fine, since you don't actually flex your toe (well you can, but I would try to avoid doing so in my case).  Another trip to the gym and 40 minutes later, my legs felt the same burn as they did following a nice jog around the neighborhood.  I could manage if I can spin and go the elliptical, I told myself.

The Doctors Visit

The next morning, I woke up with nervous energy, almost like pre-race jitters.  This would be the defining day.  Will I be enduring another drawn out recovery or will I be allowed to progress back to running?  I must admit that by this point, I was pretty confident that it wasn't broken, because the intense pain that I initially had and had previously stayed with me for a few weeks, was already gone after a few days.  Still, I remained cautiously optimistic.  We took some x-rays of every angle of my foot and then I sat in the room for some five minutes while they processed, trying to contain myself.  As a doctor entered the room with a smile on his face, I sent out a pretty vocal exhale, as I could tell by his demeanor that this wasn't going to be bad news.  We zoomed way in to look at the big toe joint and he showed me that there were no fractures and that the joint integrity is still there, albeit slightly smaller than ideal due to the bone spur.  And then he uttered the words any patient craves to hear a doctor say:

"Looks like you just tweaked the joint a bit, but it shows no signs of injury.  I'd urge you to go get back out there and try running."

The news was what I was hoping to hear and I was glad to be able to confirm what I had suspected after the pain had receded from the initial 48-72 hours.

The Moral of the Story

So let this be a lesson to all, that should you be faced with any issue or injury, react immediately.  Don't wait a week to see if it feels better.  Make an appointment with your doctor first.  If you feel 100% better before the appointment happens, you can always cancel, but in my opinion, it is always better to have someone confirm what you believe, especially if you are going to go back to progressively training pretty hard.

So the net result was a total of 5 days of no running, with 2 of those days involving activity of some sorts.  So really, minimally any impact on my training.  And exactly one week from the Thursday where I initially hurt it?  Well, I ran 8.5 miles with the last 2 at half marathon pace.  And this past Saturday?  16 miles with the last 6 at marathon pace.  I'd say I'm back to regular training alright :)

Friday, January 6, 2012

When Rest Doesn't Help You

We all know that rest is important in any training program.  The rest period during the week is when you get stronger as your body restores itself from the stress of training day in and day out.  But there also comes a point is most people's training where they start getting a pain in one or more parts of their body.  Often times, the advice of RICE (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) is given to people for any host of pain, injury, niggle, etc.  You see it everywhere as if that is some magic formula for getting better.  And in the short term, it is.  But I've also observed people who stick with the RICE principle for weeks/months.  Well I want to tell you that RICE is not necessarily the magic formula people think it may be.  This isn't to say that RICE is a bad thing - there is surely a time and place when it can be effective.  For example, when an injury is in the acute phase. But doing RICE over a long duration doesn't serve you well as a stand along treatment and can be a waste of your time.  Let me explain.

The Situation

Let's paint a typical picture of a runner and call him "Fred" (sorry if you're name is Fred, I mean no harm to you!).  Fred has been having this ache in his calf for a few weeks now and despite his best efforts to make it go away, he is left with no other choice but to stop running due to the pain it is causing him.  Pretty typical if I do say so myself and for many people, you can just insert calf for some other body part, muscle, tendon, etc and say that you've gotten to that point in your running before where a pain became chronic to the point where it forced you to stop.

Now, I'd first like to point out that Fred likely went through the five stages of grief already as it relates to injury:

1) Denial - This is just an ache that will go away if I avoid it, right?  Yea, nothing to see here, move along...

2) Anger - Often times, this isn't impacted through running, but more through the home life or job.  Typically, Fred has a shorter fuse than normal and seems to be a bit snappy at things out of his frustration that running isn't going so well right now.  But nonetheless, he carries on...

3) Bargaining - I'll just keep up with only 3 workouts a week instead of the usual five, so that I give my calf enough time to recover.  I can still train on 3 days of running, right?

4) Depression - This sucks and doesn't seem to be getting any better.  The calf still hurts, I'm running less than I was initially, and who knows if I will even make it to the startling line?

5) Acceptance - Well, I guess I'm an injured runner and need to do something about this, because whatever I'm doing doesn't seem to be getting better.  Hi, my name is Fred, and I'm an injured runner (Hi Fred).

Don't tell me this doesn't sound familiar.  I think pretty much everyone has gone through some set of these phases before.  Maybe not as clearly defined, but when something starts bothering us, we typically do follow a similar path till we get to the point of not being able to continue with "x" activity.

What To Do?

So with that said, our running friend Fred has a busted calf that has become chronic.  Read most advice, and they'd tell Fred to go with the RICE principle and just stay off running for an indeterminate amount of time (a day, a week, a month...who knows), at which point he should be able to get back into running.  In fact, some doctors may even give this advice!  But let me tell you that you won't resolve anything and will just kick the can down the road by doing so.  Assuming Fred follows that advice and takes a month off (he no longer feels tight in his calf now that he isn't doing anything to aggravate it), he gets back to running and is so relieved to have "solved" his calf issue.  Except there is one problem - Fred didn't solve anything.  He simply "rested" till the issue went away and came back.  Well, once he gets back into the swing of training again, his calf problem will undoubtedly crop up again, thus forcing another period of downtime.  And thus the cycle repeats and/or Fred just gives up on running and moves onto something else (how do you think so many people have become triathletes!), because he says "his body isn't built for lots of running".  But that's where he's wrong.

RICE is just fine for a niggle here and there and for acute injuries, but when we start talking about chronic issues (ie problems that last weeks into months), all that does is make the problem go away for the time you are not doing said activity, only for it to come back sooner or later, because you didn't fix the underlying issue.

So that brings up the next piece of the puzzle - what is wrong with Fred's calf?  Well it could be a whole host of issues, but my point is that so many people think they are making a problem go away with rest or some combination of RICE.  But in reality, they aren't doing anything other than wasting time that could be spent figuring things out. 

Notice I haven't mentioned self massage yet.  The reason is because while self massage will likely prolong the amount of time Fred can run, due to working out any number of knots in his muscles, that still doesn't solve the reason for why he has such a terrible issue in his calf.  So while you may think self massage is the secret sauce (I do think it is completely beneficial and perform it nearly daily), if you are suffering from a chronic issue, there is something else going on downstream or upstream in your body from where the problem is.  Massaging those areas will help manage the pain/tightness, but it will not prevent the soreness from happening in the first place.  General tightness that can be resolved through self massage is normal, but if the tightness is at the point to where it is limited your activity, there is something else going on that needs fixing.  Extreme pain/tightness is not normal, no matter what the activity.  And despite your best intentions to stay the course (you are probably still in denial), your best bet is to solve the issue before it becomes a problem.  Doing so ensures a long term solution to the issue, rather than dragging it out over the course of a few months or even years.

In order to solve this issue, Fred would need to strip away the immediate issue of the calf and look more holistically.  This may involve a visit to a PT to see if there are any functional issues going on or perhaps something else.  Based on common sources of running injuries, his calf pain is likely caused by some form of weakness or imbalance that may or may not be as result of his form, his training approach, his shoes, lack of hydration, etc.  It could be any of them or a combination of a lot of things.


So the next time you are dealing with a chronic pain, don't just decide that RICE is the long term solution to your troubles and take a week or however long till the pain magically goes away.

- Take immediate steps to look at EVERYTHING (weaknesses, form, approach, history, shoes, diet, etc)
- Don't wait till you hit the Acceptance phase to take action
- Treat acute injuries with RICE, but if you don't see improvement after a few days, seek alternative methods
- At the first onset of an issue, go into problem solving mode to find a solution, not band aid

I've found that more often than not, most issues can be nipped in the bud long before they become chronic.  And on the brighter side of things - if it is something that requires significant rehab, you just saved yourself weeks, months, or even years of torment from trying to grind out painful miles on your bum calf while you were stuck in denial that you were suffering from anything.

Trust me, you can thank me later for being so proactive in helping to manage your pain.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2011 Year in Review

Like I do each year, this is a chance to look back and see what worked, didn't work, and where I can find improvement.  From a purely racing standpoint, I didn't have a ton of action going on.  Mostly, that was hampered by my toe injury back in May.  As a result, I spent a fair chunk of the year just getting back into the swing of things.  So that meant fewer races.  No biggie - once I was able to bounce back, I've found myself in the best running shape of my life, so that is something I am looking forward to carrying myself over into 2012.  Because of my injury, this year will be known to me as "The year of the toe".

Let's take a closer look at some of the fun times:

I ushered in the new year by training for the Shamrock Marathon in March.  As a result, my training for purely focused on that race, which I finished with a solid PR, but well out of the realm of where I had been trained to run.  Harsh windy conditions set my time goal back and forced me to run at goal pace until I could no longer go.  That turned out to be about 18-20 miles.  I entered that race with the intent on running sub-3:10 for a BQ time and since I knew I'd have no other shot until the times got bumped down, I had to go for glory, despite the wind.  Well, I proved to myself that I am willing to race a marathon, rather than just survive it.  While I didn't get the time I wanted, I learned a lot about myself and how to effectively train for a marathon.

Shortly after the marathon, we made our annual voyage south to Richmond to participate in the Monument Ave 10k.  Though I knew my legs weren't quite recovered from the marathon, I went out at a hard pace.  After noticing things weren't running properly, I shut down the system and pulled things back to cruise the last 3 miles.  This was the smart decision, as I didn't want to jeopardize my future training by digging too deep of a hole just after the marathon. 

About a month after the marathon, I started kicking training back into high gear with some solid workouts, including my first 5k baseline test since the marathon.  I found out very quickly that my fitness was at near peak levels when I rocked a solo 19:10 5k time trial, which was only 5s off my PR.  At that point, I felt like I was on top of the world and ready to crush sub-19 for the first time.

Then things came crashing down pretty quickly when I was dealt with the news that I had a chip fracture in my big toe.  That meant no running for 6 weeks and having to walk around in das boot.  But fear not, we got another companion to help wipe away my tears during that tough time.  Tucker and I managed to go on some epic walks while trying to burn off some calories to keep my from going insane and/or getting to pudgy during my time off.  Well sure enough, I only gain a lb or two, so at least I have him to thank for that, because solor 3-4 miles walks just aren't much fun at all.

After I took some time to get re-acclimated to running again I finally set my sights on a goal for the Fall.  I decided that I'd make an attempt at a 10k PR.  During that time, I was putting in more miles than most of my marathon training weeks and throwing down some really solid workouts.  I knew a PR was in the works, it was just a matter of how fast I'd run.  Turns out because of some tough scheduling conflicts, I selected a course that wasn't so ideal for fast running.  Despite that, I still PR'd by more than a minute, won my age group, and just narrowly missing my goal of sub-40.  Quite the comeback if you ask me!

And it was around this time that Rebecca and I started celebrating the new changes to our family.  Despite that "minor" situation, we traveled to Philly to see her rock her first 13.1 in style.

This year has been a great success for our running program.  We started with approximately 50 participants willing to brave the cold winter conditions in last Winter's DTP, which increased drastically in the Fall to 150 people, many of whom were training for the Marine Corps Marathon.  This Winter, we've returned a lot of the same core group, but the number has increased from last year to 100 participants.  It makes me so happy to be able to work with such a fun, dedicated group of people who are equally passionate about running as I am.  As we continue to spend more time together, I've developed some great friendships along the way.  Just thinking about their races gets me more jazzed up than anything I do myself.  The motivation to help them achieve their goals gives me the strength to push hard when things get tough.

Year Over Year Comparison

Obviously, with the toe injury taking a big chunk of time out of my running, my miles weren't quite what they could have been.  With 6 weeks in the boot, and another month of running a max of up to 10 minutes, I am pretty excited to see that I was able to maintain a pretty consistent mileage total, with a lot of great, quality workouts.

Here are the stats from the previous years:
2009: 942 miles
2010: 1374 miles
2011: 1230 miles

Add in those missed months and that total would have been a bit over 1500 miles on the year.  While I didn't have a stated goal of 1500 miles, I considered that a very reasonable year over year increase.  Moving forward, I like to be at around 1500 miles.  I don't see too much more of a need to run that many more miles than I already am, so as long as I am somewhat consistent in my training, I think that is a reasonable goal.  Oh and yea, I guess some of my time might be devoted to this so I don't want to set too unrealistic goals.

Looking forward to a happy and healthy 2012!

How about you?


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