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

Friday, December 26, 2008

Festivus: Feats of Strength

This is the second in a short series about what I learned this year while falling down.

There's a group of pure 100 Mile racers (as opposed to those who dabble at the distance and run shorter races) from whom I've tried to learn this year. Those who have success their first time out don't have much to tell those who struggle and those who've gone through the struggle just tell you to keep plugging away until you find what works. That's why I'm writing this; someone needs to chronicle the subtleties that slip by in the failures.

100 Milers invariably do weight training, but if you ask them why, the answers are pretty disappointing (I'd accept some reasons, like core exercises to help with balance when you snag a tree root). Most commonly, they say it helps with hills. So, I ask: why not just run hills instead? They do - lots of them - so the weights have a purpose, but different from what they say. None of them do speed workouts (I'm referring to those who run to finish, not those who run to win) and their rationale is: I won't be running fast in a 100 Miler, why run fast in training?

The weight training is a substitute for speed training. Whether planned or not, they are following a rather clever carboloading program, based on the Western Austrailia University method (run a half mile almost all-out, then do a sprint or two, then gobble down every carb you can as fast as you can). They deplete their muscles by a long run, followed by weight lifting (which is 100% anaerobic), then have a high carb meal. This is in line with the Paleo Diet for Athletes and partly explains the popularity (and successes) of this diet plan.

I'm a dinosaur. I believe in just running to improve running, so I prefer speedwork (at which I excel) to weights (which hurt when they fall on me). I can run unusually long at near maximal heart rates, so my speedwork, to avoid being an all-out half-marathon every week, are done on hills, which cause heart rates to rise quickly.

I ran with some local legends on hills to see what they were doing. They would run repeats of a hill for 5-8 hours [a side note: you're 8 times as likely to see someone running 8 hours as someone running 1, so I assume there were a lot of people running less, but I didn't see them]. Except the fastest two, they'd walk uphill and run down. I wanted to separate my hill run from my long run, so these workouts didn't appeal to me (I did do a 50 mile hill run in midwinter) and I'd bomb up and down until my quads were quivering, knowing I'd done the equivalent of tough weight training.

Yet, I had dead quads at the Ice Age 50. It was my third ultra and fourth race in four weeks (and there was yet another the next week), so I was sure it was just carry-over. Now I'm not so sure.

Those who were walking their hill runs were training themselves to not use glycogen for fuel on hills, whereas I was training to use glycogen and store as much of it as possible. I went into the race with less than I was using and I crashed. It happened again to a lesser extent at Voyageur and at Surf the Murph, but those races were complicated by recovering from injuries (and being after FANS and Sawtooth, respectively).

Weights, hills and speedwork can all develop strength and untying the knot that holds them to each other is hard. They can all be done incorrectly and give no benefit. What I was doing worked well for me at the marathon and 50K, but wasn't right for longer races.

If there's a third part of this series, it'll be about what I learned about running l-o-n-g.


Londell said...

Weights for me is to assure a balanced muscle system. I have learned excessive strength in one part of the body (doing nothing but running) created pain elsewhere...

johnmaas said...

Interesting observations there, Steve.
I don't do much as far as weights, hills, or speedwork. At least not anything to the level of which you speak.
Like George, I try to avoid the "feats of strength" when celebrating Festivus.
I would fare even worse during the "Airing of Grievances".

Carl Gammon said...

I haven't done speed work in a long time, but have a friend out west who swears it's helped his ultra times.

I do weights, but not high intensity. I started when I was having knee soreness, and working out the hip adductors and abductors helped make the kness stronger and more stable. I also work on my core, as I believe it helps strengthen the lower back for the hills and hours of wearing a pack.