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

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Basic Fitness and Weak Links

Like a lot of people, I assume everything's okay until I hear differently. Then I go out of my way to make sure I don't have my assumptions messed up by actual facts. For example, many years ago, I had some very basic tests done: blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, etc. and expected all the numbers would be excellent; after all, I'm a healthy guy, right? My blood pressure was 119/79 (just barely under "borderline high"), and my total cholesterol was 212.

That was a shock. And again, like most people, I rationalized it as a one-time thing, that a second test in a couple of weeks would be completely normal. Again, I was wrong. So, I had to take a hard look at what I was doing that wasn't right and could be fixed. A couple of dietary changes (here's the first thing I've ever endorsed on this blog! The DASH diet) and my blood pressure was 106/64 and cholesterol 171 (HDL=57).

So, what does this have to do with anything?

I'm training to run a particularly difficult race (Superior Sawtooth 100) and I'm assuming that I have the basic fitness I need to do it, having finished a couple of 100's and having run most of the course. That assumption might just be faulty, however. For one thing, my two 100 mile finishes involved some severe back pain along the way.

The 100 is a strange beast. It hunts out your weaknesses. Most runners have very strong hamstrings and assume they have equally strong quadriceps; then downhill trail running for several hours proves them wrong. Runners frequently find out that it's the smaller, little-known muscles that are problematic: piriformis, popliteus, etc. (I personally have had problems with the attachments of semi-membranosus and semi-tendinosus muscles.) The small muscles fatigue faster than the big ones and, if one has fatigued the larger ones, the smaller ones get called on to a greater extent and then they fail.

For me, there's been problems with "core" muscles. I find it harder to stand and watch a marathon than to run one, as my back starts to ache; that makes 30 plus hours of running an even bigger challenge. Thus, I started doing some basic exercises to strengthen the weak links.

I felt I was doing enough. Many ultrarunners do a lot of strength training, but they tend to be in "I want to be able to do anything" super-fitness mode, whereas I just want to be able to run a little bit further and a little bit faster. I remember telling Adam Harmer, after he started in "primal training" and boasted about how many squats he was doing, "If I have to do 50 squats during a trail race, I'll just cut down my fiber."

But do I have the just-barely-there strength I need? Erika's blog had a post that got me wondering how I'd stack up against some basic measures: the army standards and the Presidential Challenge. I ran indoors at the Metrodome Tuesday and, in my 10 miles in 76 minutes, did 5 in 35, with each lap faster than the one before, getting me 2 miles under 13 and the last 1 at 6 min./mile (it's hard to get an accurate measure there); that would be at the top of the charts for anyone. I also passed the sit-up tests. The push-up test was a definite failure. The pull-up test was a huge, embarassing failure. The shuttle run I passed more easily than finding a place to do it. The V-sit flexibility test was a failure (I've always had very tight hamstrings), but just barely; a little warm-up and I'd probably have passed.

I have my excuses. I have my rationalizations. I also have the hard facts. While I've always known my weaknesses, now I know exactly how far I have to go and how to get there. I still think that running hills for hours will give me the specific strength I need for my race, but perhaps I should be doing other things as well.

I'm a confessed dinosaur: "you train to run by running." Has the last dinosaur gone extinct?


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Wow. Your HDL is only 57? I'd've thought it would be closer to 100, with all the miles you put in.

I got into running because of my highish cholesterol. The only thing I truly ask of running is that it bring my overall cholesterol down while raising my good cholesterol. Which it does, as long as I keep at it.

Good luck with the strength training. I've never done any scientific analysis of it, but personally I've found that there are certain "strength" exercises that are only good at making you better at doing that very exercise. I put push-ups in that category. I have, in the past, gotten myself to the point where I could do almost 100 per set, and then three sets almost right in a row ... but when asked to flip a mattress? I was no better than when I was a 98 pound weakling.

That was my experience, anyway. Yours may vary.

For you are ... Steve ... Cue ...

Chris Scotch said...

Interesting conversation topic. As I started running ultras this past July I gave some thought to the areas of fitness that I needed to improve upon to be able to complete the events I was undertaking. I can't say with any confidence that I did specific exercises other than a regular dose of yoga. I was concerned that I needed to be more focused in "running training" but with my problem being that I am always short on time and always doing too many things I never found the time for specific training.
For me, however, I have found the variety of activities I do to be working. At least for my goal, which is just to finish the races.
I think there could be some truth to the idea of cross-training being effective, especially when it comes to trail running. It keeps things fresh, and provided those other activities bring some form of enjoyment, it makes training fun.


ShutUpandRun said...

I can't train to run by running. My body doesn't like it much. If I could tolerate it, I would run and only run, but no go with these bones.

Off to check out the dash diet.

Jim ... 50after40 said...

This was a great read. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, got an email that I was famous and should check out your blog. Still squatting and lifting a lot, still running very little with almost all my miles being interval training on a treadmill. Very happy with my fitness but couldn't run an ultra for shit. I think you'd benefit greatly from some strength training. I'd recommend deadlifts. They work the quads as well as the entire posterior chain. Make sure to research proper technique first if you do them or you'll end up doing yourself more harm than good.

Occasionally I'm tempted to try Superior again with little to no run training just to see what a train wreck it would be. In my running peak I only made it 33 miles. With low miles and a long run of 11 miles under my belt I made it 62. Go figure. It's a strange beast. Good luck with your training.


shannon said...

Cross-training doesn't appeal to me at all. In fact, tempo runs and recovery runs are all the same to me too. When I run, I "find my stride" and stick with it, be it 5 miles or 26. Doubtfully could I do a single push-up, and the chances of more than 10 sit-ups are just as unlikely.

I like to run, so my training for races is just that, ... running.

joyRuN said...

I haven't gotten my cholesterol checked in quite a while, but my systolic bp has been creeping above 120. I clearly have to watch something.

Our PCP tried to put my hub on DASH a while ago - we might need to listen to the man. Especially after 15 days of blatant gluttony on a cruise ship.

Glad that Angie is a composite of 4 women instead of one truly ignorant chick. I think.

joyRuN said...

I finally looked through what I missed with the Golden Globes fashion -
none of them really wow'd me - what's with the blah colors? Critics didn't like Jennifer Lopez's ensemble (& I don't really like her), but I liked her outfit quite a bit.

Gretchen said...

You're completely right about the 100 being a strange beast. It's sort of a chess game that way, as is the training done for it. I've been thinking lately that if I want to improve my 100 mile performance, I really have to take a serious look at my diet. Why does that seem to require more discipline than running 80 miles a week?