"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, September 21, 2018

Quick Guide to Racing Everything - part 1

When I started racing in the 1970's, it was track in the spring, roads in the summer, cross-country in the fall and sometimes indoor track in the winter. You picked a distance, trained for it for 12 weeks and then picked another distance. Now there are times when I want to run a 10K trail race, a 1500m track race and a road 1/2 marathon in consecutive weeks. That's the one thing I haven't covered on this blog.

More than a decade ago, I wrote a textbook on training and racing here. I spent a lot of time over the years talking about the mile and the marathon, as they are special cases and there are so many different ways to do them that have been published. I spent a long time on ultramarathons because I didn't know anything about them (some would say I still don't) and there was little written about them, but now there are at least a dozen books about them in print. I got more and more esoteric and discussed a lot of fads. It's time to get back to basics. For one thing, training to race a variety of distances by doing a variety of training is what beginners do - not knowing what works, you try everything and all of it, being new, helps. Now that I'm at the end of my racing career, I'm seeing this as a good retirement plan as well, because whatever you don't use, you really do lose.

There are a number of controversial things I endorse, the most controversial being the first I'll address. Even if you are completely against what I say at first, please keep reading through the series (I think there may be a dozen posts), because you'll probably find something useful. I'll give a ton of guidelines I use, but remember that they aren't written in stone; the easiest way to get injured is to rigidly adhere to arbitrary rules.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Kidding Myself and the Basics of Base Training

My continued attempts and failures at making a comeback in running have become a bit of a joke. Part of the reason it keeps happening is that it's easy to fool myself for a while; anyone who's ever had a good day training and thought "Hey, I'm in better shape than I thought" can relate.

I could run a mile every day in 8 minutes. With a few weeks of training - and the type of training is almost irrelevant - I can run a mile in 7 1/2 minutes every day. If I could run one in 7 minutes each day, I'd be back in shape, 6 1/2 and I'd be winning age groups, 6 and I'd be setting records. The thing is: I can run better than average for five days in a row (and have, many times, but never 6!), so I get to where I'm running 7 to 7 1/2 and that's just a 5 day streak, but it feels real at the time. I think I'm making a comeback and then everything goes wrong. I can fool myself longer if I take intentional days off. If I run hill workouts, because the pace is automatically slowed, I make allowances and I can fool myself some more. A bad day or even a bad week - which is actually back to average - I can attribute to weather or a poor night's sleep or something else. Then I've fooled myself for a long time and disaster strikes, I get hurt and several weeks later, I start over again.

I can't fool myself, though, with just running even pace every day, day after day, for weeks or months. That's what my plan is now and it's not going to be very interesting to report. To get where I want to be, I'll need to run 45-50 minutes on my recovery days, but that was about the limit of what I could run a few weeks ago. I set the goal of running for 45 minutes and then to the next 0.5 mile mark, which would put me in that range. After a number of weeks (only 3, as it turned out, as I really do get bored that easily), I started adding two longer runs each week, because my goal is to have two hard workouts per week.

Increasing mileage 10% every three weeks, with one easy week each cycle, then gives the following times run (in minutes) each day:

45  45  45  45  45  45  45
45  45  45  45  45  45  45
45  45  45  45  45  45  60
45  45  60  45  45  45  60
45  45  60  45  45  45  60
45  45  45  45  45  45  75
45  45  75  45  45  45  75
45  45  75  45  45  45  75
45  45  45  45  45  45  90
45  45  90  45  45  45  90
45  45  90  45  45  45  90
45  45  45  45  45  45 110
45  45 110  45  45  45 110
45  45 110  45  45  45 110
45  45  45  45  45  45 130
45  45 130  45  45  45 130
45  45 130  45  45  45 130
45  45  45  45  45  45  150
45  45 150  45  45  45 150
45  45 150  45  45  45 150

So now you know what my training looks like for the next 5 months. Not exactly exciting, but it might get me somewhere.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Where Do We Go from Here?

I was always uncoachable. The few coaches I've had would tell me what the day's workout was and I'd ask why we were doing it; either they had just made it up and had no reason or it was something that seemed to work for them or someone else said it had worked for them. They were idiots, I decided.

For that reason, probably, I've always been a teaching coach. I want my athletes to know why they're doing what they're doing, and not be a dictator or cheerleader like so many others are. I've always coached one or two athletes, those deemed uncoachable, who had odd aims, or strange plans or simply were risky for one reason or another.

I just lost my last athlete.

She'd been training to race 5K. After signing up for a major local race, I pointed out an older woman who always finished a little ahead of her. I told her "Unlike you, she runs extremely even pace. If you stay right behind her and let her do all the work, there's a downhill near the end where you can kick and pass her. It'll give you a PR and feel easy." She told me that nobody thinks that way but me, that she was going to run her own race.

So now it looks like I'm coaching myself from here on. And that leads to the questions of what I plan to do, how I plan to get there and what I'm going to write about. Blogs are dying out, but they should be aspirational and relatable. Not many can relate to those who are going for wins and records; I think I'm going to focus on one race that's always been a problem for me (I got a third place age-group award there once, long ago) and just try to get into decent shape, slowly and methodically. The journey might be worth following.

An unexpected lesson from an unexpected source

I recently ran across Fred Rogers' rules for writing on his show. One of them was to eliminate anything prescriptive, directive or instructive. Because I've been a "teaching coach," I've done a lot of: here's the facts and ideas, here's what I think, here's how that can be used. I'm going to try to stay away from that and perhaps I can teach through example.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

3:00 Marathon Training Re-Imagined

First things first: I'm not training to break 3. Those days are last millennium. Age-grading puts me at 3:10-3:15 and I'm more 3:45 shape right now.

I was looking at the Hanson's FIRST 3 day per week marathon training program and my main issue with it is that there's no training long at race pace (such as 20 miles with the last 10 at marathon pace). Then I looked at Brad Hudson's masters 3 days per week program. Then I thought about Jack Foster's program (two days per week of 15 miles and one of 20 - all at 6 minutes per mile - with a day of 3-4 hours biking and one of the 15 milers having repeat 1000m at marathon with 600m recoveries).

Maybe it can be done.

M 0
T 21.5 in 3:00 with 9 at 6:51/mile
W 0
Th 21.5 in 3:00 with either 1/2 mile or 1/4 mile hill repeats, [I'd do 7xOhio Street (0.4345 miles up, 174 feet of climb) or 14xRamsey Hill (0.2156 miles up, 117 feet of climb, but doing loops of Ramsey/Summit/Irvine/Pleasant) at steady pace.
F 0
Sa 24 in 3:00

That's the right number of miles, the right number of minutes, the right amount of tempo running, the right amount of speed. Three long runs per week, though...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Lessons 35 Years in the Making

In 1982, I went from a 3:05 marathon to 2:42 and it felt so easy, I was sure I could soon break 2:30. The following spring, doing non-specific marathon training (65-85 miles per week at 6 3/4 - 7 3/4 minutes per mile, long runs of 18-21 miles), I ran an 8K in 25:29 and a 10K in 32:46, making me think I was on my way to a fast marathon. In May, I did an easy dry run marathon in 2:52, then my first goal marathon... also in 2:52. After a summer of decent racing (15K in 51), I ran a fall marathon in 2:43.

This was the era of training schedule books being published for the running boom. I bought one by Allan Lawrence (bronze medal at 5K in 1956 Olympics) that had training schedules for every 10 minutes in goal times from 2:20 to 4:00. I looked at his plan for 2:30 and I couldn't do any of the workouts, including the recovery days. This was not good news. I then looked at 2:40 and I couldn't do any of those, either. At 2:50, I could at least run the paces, but not for any length of time; if there were eight miles at a given pace, I could run maybe 3 or 4. At 3:00, I could run the workouts, but not every day as written, but needing a week's recovery for each. I could run the 3:10 plan, but then again, I could run a 3:10 marathon on any given day without thinking about it.

I was thinking that coaching was a scam. You found someone who ran a 3:15 marathon when training to run run 2:40, found them an easier course and, when they ran a 3:09, called it a major breakthrough. It took a long time for me to realize that I was what everyone else would consider an overachiever, though I was running as hard as anyone else - just differently.

Speed runners vs distance runners

Most coaches don't recognize that there are sub-types of runners, thinking that what worked for them will work equally for everybody. There aren't many of my type in distance races and I can pick them out when coaching with one simple test: after a hard workout, given a choice of running one more mile faster than what they'd been running or running two more miles at any pace, almost everyone opts for an easy 2 mile cool-down. I will ALWAYS run one fast mile instead.

Besides being better the shorter the race, speed runners show other characteristics: they're breathing hard in the first mile but don't breathe any harder throughout a race, they go out fast and die (if they try to run a slower even pace, they just run slower and die sooner - at the same amount of time, but fewer miles) and they have unusually high VO2max values compared to what you'd expect from their performances.

Strengths and weaknesses

A question that always bothered me in training was: do you go with your strengths, or do you try to shore up your weaknesses? As so often happens, the answer turns out to depend on what you mean. I hope the rest of this post will clear it up.

What if I trained specifically for a short race? Several times in the past 15 years, I've tried to get in shape to run a fast mile. Unfortunately, after three weeks, my heels would hurt so much I couldn't even walk. It took until two years ago that I started to find a way to fix my aching heels. This year, I started training to run a mile, using a plan that I could do year-round, as long as I had access to a track once per week (that turned out to be problematic). I started in terrible shape, but figured I'd improve quickly at first and then get diminishing returns. Instead, I progressed glacially and never got in the shape I feel I need to be in to race at that distance.

I noticed some odd things. Though I could run 4 repeat 400s at 800 pace, I couldn't run 600m once at that pace in training. I had a weekly 3 mile tempo run that I could never finish, always bailing at 2. I was experiencing the same thing as 35 years earlier, but at much smaller distances (and, given my age, slower paces).

Burying the lede

But wait a minute! I ran really good 5-6 mile races when training to run a marathon in 1983. In 2007, training to run 140+ miles in 24 hours (I failed miserably), I jogged an easy 30K in 2:05. I run really well at short distances when training to run much longer races. Though I'm terrible at long distances and especially if trying to run quick paces for any length, those are the very workouts that make me faster!

I abandoned what worked. Run long and slow, but race short and fast. Maybe it'll work again.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Crunch Time and Some Hard Questions

I had planned to be in shape and have several races under my belt by this time of the year, but find myself to be way behind what I expected. There were injuries - some new - and illnesses and a spring that never arrived. Now I have 4 weeks until where I hoped to peak and 8 until my last chance to race what I want this year (what a short season!)

Tomorrow I have a hard track workout scheduled. I may not even have a track to run on, as I have to work around school schedules. The questions start to arise: Should I just bag this year? Have I been kidding myself and have I been retired all this time? If I have a surprisingly good workout, do I test myself in a race soon? What if it's just one bad workout? Should I be planning for something else, perhaps this fall, and give myself more time to do it right?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

How Fasting Patterns Inform Training Patterns

After only one track workout, I've thrown out my back (from yard work). So, back to weird ideas.

Since the 1930's, it's been known that cutting an animal's calorie intake by 20% from what it would choose to eat increases its healthy lifespan. There are several reasons for this, but I'm going to focus on blood glucose levels, as that bears on the energetics of training. Continuous semistarvation, though it may have been the common state of man before agriculture, is unpleasant and difficult. It's been shown that many of the benefits of reduced caloric intake can be achieved by eating only every other day; because of a satiation response, one doesn't simply eat twice as much on the feeding days. This too is challenging; it has led to the popular "5-2 diet," where one eats 25% of the usual day's calories two days per week, which turns out to be the same 20% reduction in calories as in standard caloric restriction, but in a pattern that is achievable for most people.

A second fasting pattern that has its advocates is a monthly fast of 3-5 consecutive days with 30-50% of normal calories. While this does not reduce the average calorie intake per month by as much, it seems to have a positive effect on insulin response to glucose levels. It's worth noting that the original carbohydrate loading plan for marathoners, as devised by Åstrand, had a three day glucose depletion diet; though the utility of this depletion has become suspect, the biochemistry of fasting is useful to know:

On the first day of a fast, the body uses its supply of stored glycogen to meet the needs of cells that require glucose, such as blood cells. This gets exhausted, so on the second day, the body starts making glucose from breaking down proteins in a process called gluconeogenesis. Because the major source of protein is muscle and the body needs muscles to acquire food, it then begins another process on day 3 without food, turning fats into ketone bodies, which the brain can use as fuel in place of glucose. After three days, the body starts making long-term changes to adapt to not having fresh sources of glucose and after 6 weeks [how sad it is that we have good scientific data on people not eating for 6 weeks] only 6% of calories come from protein and 94% from fat stores.

The ketogenic diet, popular among ultrarunners, duplicates the starvation described above by eliminating carbohydrates from the diet. Because even a lean runner stores enough fat to run 500 miles, they eliminate the constant need to feed that other distance runners have. As a short distance specialist that never ran a great marathon because of running out of glycogen, it might have been worth trying, but it seems senseless for short distance that require some anaerobic running. Muscles can't burn ketone bodies and they require oxygen to burn fat, so after depleting a very small store of creatine phosphate (5 seconds), they have to burn glucose if working anaerobically. On a ketogenic diet, this glucose comes from protein. It seems unlikely - and here I have no good science to back me up, it's just opinion - that the body would adapt to convert enough protein to glucose to form significant amounts of glycogen to store in muscles. The best evidence I can find to support this is that the body stores water with glycogen and the "shredded" look that comes with such diets comes from not storing water in muscles. I tried the ketogenic diet for a bout 4 months and hated every minute of it; it's not for me.

A third method of fasting is to eat only during a few hours each day (how many hours varies according to source). Again, the idea is that satiety keeps one from eating as much in those hours as one would if grazing throughout the day. Here, glucose levels drop very low until feeding, but not long enough for one to start gluconeogenesis. I'd actually done this for years before I'd ever heard of it - it just happened to fit with how I was living. I can say from experience that it's difficult to avoid occasionally binging on junk when doing this.

None of the fasting research involves athletes. It's generally acknowledged that exercise is important for a long healthy life, but no one's connected the energetics of exercise to that of fasting. I think there's a clear connection that will show fasting is immaterial if one exercises correctly.

The continuous restriction diet is the same as heavy training loads, energetically. If one's eating 2000-2500 calories per day, a 20% reduction is 400-500 calories, or 4-5 miles per day or 30-35 miles per week. The problem is that we are uncannily accurate in taking in the calories we expend. You'd have to stay at the same number of calories, but increase mileage 30-35 miles per week - which is possible, but requires diligence that few can muster.

Never taking in carbohydrates to keep glucose levels low is equivalent to constantly burning calories throughout the day. Hunter-gatherers might walk 12 hours or more every day, but few of us are capable of staying active all day. The closest we can come are two-a-day workouts (there are people who have run 3-5 times per day every day for months, but they are rare for logistical reasons).

Getting glucose levels very low by not eating for most of a day can be compared to a standard practice among distance runners of not eating until after they've run in the morning; some claim this helps train the body to use glycogen sparingly. What is certain is that carbohydrates eaten immediately after exercise tend to get stored as glycogen in muscles where it can't contribute to blood glucose levels.

The 5-2 diet depletes glycogen twice per week. That's also what two hard workouts per week - what people commonly do - accomplishes. The body routinely stores enough glycogen to run 13-15 miles, but one doesn't need to do two long runs each week. A truly hard workout - "running to failure," to the point where one has to stop or dramatically slow, depletes glycogen.

I said the monthly fast, as I described it, is similar to what's seen in carbohydrate loading, but it also has a connection to what's known as crash training, where hard workouts are done back-to-back, or in this case for 4 days every three weeks. I recommend four different workouts, to hit different aspects of training and deplete muscles differently. Day 1, I'd do an interval workout working on maximal oxygen uptake. Day 2, I'd do a fast continuous run. Day 3, I'd do a long stamina run. Day 4, I'd do a sprint workout. The order would depend upon one's strengths and goals. The latter workouts will be difficult and slower than usual, which is why several rest days are needed afterward.

If you wanted to incorporate all of these into a training plan, I suggest running in the morning and skipping breakfast, then having a second workout later in the day that is cross-training and either extremely long and easy (preferably on weekends) or short and explosive; alternately, add a 4-5 mile run each day. Run hard on Tuesdays and Saturdays each week and every three weeks also run hard on the Sunday and Monday to make four consecutive days.