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

Friday, January 23, 2015

100 Mile: Standard Model - The Long Run

It seems that everyone is looking for the least possible amount of work they have to do to finish a race, so there's an unending supply of training schedules out there that cut out various things. The book "Run Less, Run Faster" sold really well to people who thought the title meant "How to run faster by running less" rather than "Train less, but train much harder." I thought it was time to explain the Standard Model for training to run 100 miles in detail, as it's not easy to find anywhere.

The Long Run: Rule number 1

 "Once per week, most weeks, run 24-30 miles in 4-6 hours on a course as difficult as you can manage."

The first thing that I wondered about training for a hundo was probably the same as everyone else: "How do you train for what will happen after 15 hours, if you never run that long?" If 30 miles is good, wouldn't 50 be better? As it happens, the longer you run, the greater the stress and the longer it takes to recover. So, if you run too long in your long runs, you can't run them often enough. You also shouldn't try to do one every single week, but rather 2 out of 3 weeks, or 3 out of 4. Giving yourself the option of skipping one occasionally keeps it from becoming drudgery (and decreases long-term fatigue). If you have a favorite course that's 50 km. or 32 miles, you shouldn't think that 30 miles as a limit is set in stone; 35 won't help and 40 will hurt.

The time frame of 4-6 hours is important. 24 miles in 6 hours is 15 minutes per mile. If you can't do that on flat ground, chances are that you're going to not make some time cut-offs in your race, so you won't finish. If you can run 30 miles in 4 hours, first you're undoubtedly a sub-3 marathoner, second you should be running on a more difficult course. Adding hills will slow you down and will get you into that 4-6 hour time frame. If you look at the Superior (Sawtooth) 100 Mile, everyone who finishes runs the first 20-30 miles in 4-6 hours. This long run should feel like the start of a 100 mile race.

This run should be done as you would do a race. You should carry whatever you need, eat regularly (200-300 calories per hour, about 1200 total) and dress as you would for the race. Walk when you need to and rest when you have to, but keep the watch running.

It's common to feel a "collapse point," which marathoners call "hitting the wall;" this happens when your muscles run out of glycogen. When it happens, you suddenly feel very fatigued and want to quit. It's important to keep going past this feeling - it actually gets better! Note when it happens and you can measure progress by how much later it occurs when you get in better shape; it also becomes less sharp of a transition and may eventually go away altogether. Many ultrarunners never experience this sensation (they're the lucky "naturals" of the sport), but it's good to know about it before you start, rather than getting surprised by it.

How you make an adjustment for getting used to running for longer than 6 hours is the back-to-back run, the next installment in this series.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Have you tried the standard model?

When writing about any subject long enough, you start writing about weird stuff just to have something new to say. This is post #1157 about running here, and I haven't resorted to reviewing shoes or showing pictures of vacations [cough cough, like every other blog], but I have veered off course a bit.

There's a weird fascination with food among runners and the latest craze is eating low-carb (defined as anything less than what one ate last week). The way these things work is that a successful runner gets interviewed and there's nothing new for them to say [I trained really hard and was a little lucky], but they mention something about their diet and voila! there's something to write about. Then another says the same thing and it's a trend.

Runner A runs 140 miles per week and eats a low carb diet. Runner B runs 130 miles per week and eats a low carb diet. Average Runner hears about this and says, "Well, I can't run that much, but I can change what I eat. That's the way to be a better runner!"

The breakdown

If you run 10 miles fourteen times per week, your muscles are always being depleted of glycogen and you burn a greater per centage of fat to sugar because of it. If you're doing that and eating a high carb diet, your body also becomes better at storing sugar at the same time. If you're eating a low carb diet, your body doesn't have any sugar to store, so you burn a slightly greater amount of fat than you do on a high carb diet - the difference is generally small.

Now, if you're only running 10 miles three times per week and you switch from eating 60% carbs to 40% carbs, it does absolutely nothing physiologically. If you dropped to eating 5-10% carbs, your body will indeed burn a slightly higher ratio of fat to sugar than it did before, but it will mean absolutely nothing to your racing ability.

Run more.

What you eat might account for the last 5% of improvement and what shoes you wear might be the last 0.5%, but training accounts for the rest of it.

Go out and f#$%& run!

I'm really talented at squeezing out the last couple per centage points out of runners, getting someone whose run a half dozen marathons in 3:05-3:10 to finally break the 3:00 barrier, but that's really just the frosting on the cake. You have to do all the work necessary to get to 3:10 to begin with. What you eat won't get you from 4:00 to 3:10.

Stop reading this and do your workouts!!!!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Dreaded Yearly Fashion Post 2015

I've always loved that at the Golden Globes, teenage TV starlets play dress up and pretend to be movie stars, creating some interesting, fresh ideas. The year that "Glee" first aired was a field day for me. Unfortunately, this year in television consisted mostly of "women of a certain age" that complain that they can't get roles. They also seemed to have heeded my advice from previous years that you can't wear something off the runway unless you're built like a model; most dresses this year were made for the person and occasion, giving me less to say.

Of course, you might still catch Christoph Waltz eating a Fatburger, if you're lucky.

Most people's best-dressed awards went to Allison Williams (who could walk a runway, if need be). The dress was heavily laden - reportedly 40 pounds - with crystals, which are a way to get the effect of metallics, a huge trend for several years, without looking like lamé. The heavy eye make-up is a shame, however.

Most talked about was Amal Clooney, who obviously thought very hard about what to wear. Knowing that people wanted to see her, but that it was her husband's night (after all, George was getting a life-time achievement award and you only get a few of those - unless you're a country music star. Garth Brooks has 112). She wore a simple black dress with a long train and simple hair and understated make-up and jewelry. That, however, was insufficient for the occasion, so she added white leather opera length gloves (making me think of the movie "Frozen"), with a white clutch. On the clutch was a Je Suis Charlie Hebdo button, proclaiming, in essence "If you MUST make it about what I'm wearing, it's STILL not about me." Brilliant, really. If the gloves had been a different fabric, it would've worked better and she had the problem of not being able to touch anything; no handshakes, no drinking.

My vote for best dressed goes to Greer Grammer, even though it looks like a prom dress. But I remember that I also liked Rumer Willis when she was the Golden Globe girl and she's looked horrid ever since.

Compare Anna Kendrick to Greer and you'll see how good Greer's dress was.
There weren't many architectural dresses, which is a shame, and the best of them was on model Chrissy Teigen,  about whom I have never had anything nice to say before today.
Among other models, Heidi Klum looked much better than usual. It's like these women were taking notes from what I've said in the past! The asymmetric wrap with the near-Veronica Lake hair, go together perfectly. She's one of the few that could hear that the Pantone color of the year is marsala (or as I call it, bloodied brick) and get someone to make her a dress in the closest shade to that that suits her - marsala is a very tricky shade.
Claire Danes was dressed for time-warping from the 1970's in a granny dress.
Diane Kruger's form-fitting silver suited her, but looked stiff. She time-traveled the other direction.
I love Ellie Kemper, but this dress is wrong in many ways. For one thing, it draws attention to that one spot about 5 inches below her waist.
Emma Stone's pants just weren't enough for the occasion. Lorde was a little better, others a little worse. There's not much one can say about pants.
This color on Katie Holmes is wonderful, but maybe not on her. And the cut is wrong. And her make-up is wrong. And her hair is wrong. Still, it's a nice change from all the reds and whites. Someone else should try something like this for the Oscars.
If you had Kate Hudson's body, you'd be tempted to wear this too. Side panels OR cleavage, not both, please.
Julianne Moore's dress gets everything wrong and still looks good on her! She often makes my worst list, but this - inexplicably - is a very flattering dress. She should stick with this look until we tire of it.
Jessica Chastain's draped metallic dress was on point, but I think it isn't the right color for her. I've gone over this before; for her, color is everything. Her hair and make-up (wish I had a decent close-up) were excellent.
Many are praising Jennifer Lopez's dress. I cannot express enough how much I hate it. It's a Klingon warrior's bathrobe. You don't wear low-cut cleavage and thigh-high skirt slit without screaming how desperate you are. Every time out, you can see something wrong with her dress by looking at her left breast (it's okay; she obviously wants you to look); once it was a nipple guard showing, once tape, once spirit gum residue; this time you can see the indentation of an underwire. She has very nice skin, but we don't need to see all of it all the time.

I even like watching Gwyneth Paltrow walk away! What is happening to me?! I've become everything I hate.

Felicity Jones (who?) wore a nicely structured dress with the new high collar fashion trend and in a color that stood out.
Keira Knightley... went insane. I'm sure someone's following her with a net, though.
Kerry Washington gets points for doing something new in metallic and in trying color blocking, but this looks like someone drew a pattern for a dress on another dress... and she wore both.
Sadly, Lupita Nyong'o, who could do no wrong after last year's red caped dress, has made progressively worse choices and has now hit bottom. Theo Huxtable's prom date has arrived.
Naomi Watts was one of many in a lemony yellow and wore it best with this very simple dress. It's the jewelry I want to point out: that's making a statement and a half.
Prince showed up, dressed like Prince, as only Prince can. He did Prince stuff.
Rosamund Pike did the white cut-out dress that was everywhere, but it's functional! She's nursing. Really - that's the body of a woman with a 3 week-old baby, who was nursing during the show and after party!
Salma Hayek looked elegant, as usual. The cheap-looking metal belt makes the dress. It takes a great eye to make that call.
Sienna Miller looked better than this photo suggests in what may be the last waterfall hemline we'll see. She looks like she could be going to a wedding on the beach, yet it didn't look out of place.
Emily Blunt, in an over-praised dress. Blah.
And now for something completely different. Conchita Wurst in what looks like green velvet ("Gone With the Wind" inspired?) that needed a different undergarment, but otherwise was a very interesting choice.
I... I've done worse.
Lana Del Ray in yet another metallic draped dress, plus the worst hair of the night.
Matt Bomer was one of many who wore blue suits (not purple, as it appears in this photo) and he looked terrific in it. Among the men, Jared Leto looked good, as usual, and Alan Cumming needs to learn that matchy-matchy looks good on no one.

And all that's left to cover is the after-party wear. But this is the end.
Alessandra Ambrosio's end.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Happiness is Overrated

I've been diagnosed as having a "Major Depressive Disorder." I've not been depressed maybe 6-10 weeks in the past 45 years, but a lot of those years, I think I felt okay, because I didn't think about how I felt. Dissecting a joke makes it lose its funniness, and in the same way, if you question whether or not you're happy, you're not happy.

First of all, society needs depressed people. I, like everyone else, long thought that depression was a bad thing, a flaw to be removed, but natural selection has not bred depression out of us because it is useful to society as a whole to have a few depressed people. Depressed people are the canaries in the coal mine, the ones that point out the dangers that others don't see. When things are really terrible, astoundingly awful, depressed people are in their element. The Pollyannas walk gleefully into the gas chambers, oblivious to the peril; others succumb to shock when the happy veneer falls away and they see things to be as bad as they truly are; the depressed, meanwhile, go about business as usual, keeping things going until everyone else has a chance to adjust to conditions. The depressed often end up sacrificing themselves for the greater good: as long as someone succeeds, it doesn't have to be them (after all, they wouldn't enjoy success anyway). It's just that things are rarely that dire, so the depressed are just sitting there, waiting for the other shoe to drop and making others uncomfortable.

Almost everyone wants to be happy, but doesn't know what happiness actually is. It's not gratitude. It's not hopefulness. It's not enthusiasm. It's not optimism. Happiness is the emotion one feels when one obtains something one considers good. If someone gives you a present - a good present - you feel happy (you might also feel thankful and grateful). If you achieve something - something good - you feel happy (you might also feel content, or relieved). This is a rather mercenary vision of happiness, but that's why I think happiness is overrated. If you feel wealth is good, then one should be happier with greater wealth, but study after study shows that once one has met one's basic needs and has an expectation that those needs will continue to be met, additional wealth doesn't lead to happiness. This is because ease of obtainment deceases one's sense of the value, making it less "good."

We tend to conflate "the pursuit of happiness" with the "happiness of pursuit," that we should be contented with the desire to be contented. Unrealistic expectations and perfectionism keep people from being happy because one never obtains what one desires. There is a belief that we should live in the moment, that dwelling on past failures or worrying about possible future problems rob us of the happiness of the moment, but that is a statement about contentment, not happiness. There is a belief that comparing oneself to others keeps one from happiness, but that is a matter of "good" versus "better" and as I stated, wondering if you could be happier will make you unhappy.

So, I am not happy. I am not unhappy. I am depressed and I'm okay with that.

Monday, January 5, 2015

One Week Until...

The Dreaded Yearly Fashion Post of 2015!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

New Trends in Marathon Training

Top marathoners now have about 90-95% slow-twitch muscle fibers; it used to be 95-98%, but running 4:30 miles requires more speed. About half the population has 50% or less slow-twitch and I'm in that group. If you try to run marathons on fast-twitch fibers, you end up "hitting the wall," unless you run very slowly or you take steps to store as much glycogen as possible and use it as sparingly as possible.

In previous posts ("The Puzzle," parts 1-3), I pointed out that the standard carbohydrate loading program of three days may not be sufficient and should be made 7-10 days. I also pointed out that those who have adopted the "fat-adaptation" diet have decreased needs for glycogen, but that while full adaptation probably takes several weeks, major muscle adaptations occur after only 5 days. Lastly, I suggested that muscles don't care whether they lack glycogen because one's diet lacks carbohydrates or because one has depleted them through exercise.

This leads me to a training plan suited for 3K/5K specialists such as myself who are trying to run a marathon well under 4 hours (ideally under 3 hours). Those running slower should be training like ultramarathoners and those who are better at running longer distances have a multitude of training plans that they could try. It's a variation of "crash" training, with several difficult runs in a row, which must be carefully controlled to avoid burnout.

Saturday: 90 minutes, with 3-4 miles at half-marathon pace and 4-5 miles at marathon pace. This is a fast continuous run at anaerobic threshold pace and should deplete slow-twitch muscle fibers.

Sunday: 150 minutes long slow steady run. This keeps the slow-twitch fibers depleted and forces the body to use muscle fibers it reserves for when the "most-favored" muscle fiber bundles can't be used. This should be done slowly, to keep the fast runs separated by a day.

Monday: 75 minutes, with 3-5 x 6 minutes hard alternated with 3 minutes easy. The hard sections may range from 1200-2000 meters. These are maximal oxygen uptake intervals and the recoveries are incomplete, making each one harder than the previous one. The third should be difficult toward the end, the fourth should be difficult right from the start and one should fall apart on the fifth, as the fast-twitch "A" fibers are depleted.

Tuesday: 105 minutes of hill repeats. This is an extensive interval workout, done at an easy pace, where it is the sheer number of repetitions (15-30) that make it challenging. The hills require the muscles to be used in a different way than on flat ground, challenging them without running hard. Working against gravity causes an increase in heart rate on the uphill, making it an interval workout, even though it's run at a steady pace. This should be slow enough to separate the fast runs by a day.

Wednesday: 75 minutes with 6-10 x 400m at 1500m pace, with 5+ minutes (full) recovery. This is a lactate tolerance repetition workout. Each repetition should be hard to finish, but recovery should feel complete before the next one is attempted. The lack of glycogen in the muscles from previous runs will make this even more challenging. This workout is of less importance than the previous ones and the actual times run can be expected to be much slower than one would expect if running "fresh."

Thursday: 30 minutes with 8x100m strides or sprints. This works muscles much like weight lifting does and ideally does not use glycogen at all, but stores of another compound called creatine phosphate. This is a transitional run, moving one from glycogen depletion to glycogen storage.

Friday: off.

Saturday 2: 90 minutes easy cross-training (hiking, power-walking)
Sunday 2: 150 minutes x-train
Monday 2: 75 minutes x-train
Tuesday 2: 105 minutes x-train
Wednesday 2: 75 minutes x-train
Thursday 2: 30 minutes x-train
Friday 2: off

If one can do these workouts without getting injured in the process, it should cause muscle glycogen depletion for 5-6 days, causing some fat-adaptation and then there is 8-9 days of recovery, which should be enough to be able to start the cycle again, with far more glycogen stored than in the previous cycle and an ability to run faster while using less of that stored glycogen. Progress is measured by comparison of times, distances and paces of similar workouts from one cycle to the next.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Puzzle, part 3

In part one, I explained the problem I've had in falling apart in marathons. In part two, I discussed how part of the problem might be "not having enough fuel in the tank." The next thing to consider is how to run faster, using less glycogen... if possible.

Let's say that I fall apart at 17 miles at marathon pace. One way to deal with that is to run that in training and then do another mile or two at whatever pace I can manage. The next time out, I might be able to run a little further at that pace. The problem with this is that it is so close to racing for me that it takes weeks to recover and I can't do just one hard run every few weeks and hope to improve.

Two other ideas have become common. One is to run long and then add miles at marathon pace just at the end, to get a feel for being able to run that pace when tired. Another is to alternate miles at half-marathon pace with miles at marathon pace; the faster miles should produce fatigue and then marathon pace would feel like a recovery pace. Neither of these work well for me.

One way to increase the per centage of fat being burned is to do long runs first thing in the morning, without fueling. Not having any liver glycogen (which happens early in such runs) has been shown to force the body to adapt to running more on fat. I've always done this - it's a comfort thing for me - but it obviously hasn't been enough.

A completely different approach

There's been a number of runners having success running on extremely low carb diets and this can circumvent the whole running-out-of-glycogen problem. If you don't eat any carbs, for about three days your body converts proteins into glucose (and ketone bodies), to supply fuel to cells that absolutely require glucose, such as red blood cells. After that, to spare muscle losses, the body starts to convert fats into ketone bodies and the brain slowly switches from using solely glucose to using about 65% ketone bodies after six weeks. If you're training during this, there's no glucose to form glycogen in the muscles, so they have to run on fat.

It's easy enough to come up with a 1600-1700 calorie diet that's healthy and matches these requirements, but it gets progressively harder with the more one ingests. If you're eating 3000 calories, you end up having to eat bizarre things that I don't recognize as food (or you end up with way too much of some minerals, which can have serious consequences over time).

The loophole

I'd assumed that, because there were measurable adaptations to a low carb diet still happening at six weeks, that this diet had to be maintained indefinitely. However, a paper from Tim Noakes' lab (Goedeke, Christie, et. al. [rats, I lost the reference]) showed that runners increased the per centage of fat burned after only 5 days of a very low carb diet. Muscle adaptations happen at a different rate than others; I hadn't thought of that. Also, the improvement appears to be "robust" - it doesn't just go away.

So it should be possible to divide a standard healthy balanced diet into low carb and high carb foods and eat twice as much of the low carb foods for a week, then spend a week eating twice as much of the high carb foods. This might be enough to get enough of the effect to last for a marathon or 50K (though maybe not longer races).


But... it should be possible not to alter one's diet at all and get the same effect, as well. If one simply depletes muscles of glycogen, then run hard enough to continue depleting them for five days, it should be the same as not eating carbs; either way, the muscles can't store glycogen over that time. This is an approach called "crash training," which I covered on this blog before. After five hard days, one would need extensive recovery, which would allow the muscles to restock glycogen, just like in carbohydrate-loading.

One can't take that much time off, though, without losing some fitness, so it would be necessary to supplement training with low-intensity running or with cross-training.
This is an interesting possibility, one I may have to try.