Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Fast Is Fast Enough In Training?

Alana Hadley doing sprint work

How fast is fast enough in training?  In other words, what is the fastest pace we need to train at in our preparations for our goal race?  I've done a lot of thinking on this question and have talked with many other coaches and athletes as well and so wanted to share with my thoughts and findings.   

One of the problems we face in training is that we have many systems to work and race demands to cover and only so many stress workout in which to do them.  We need to work primary systems and demands on a regular basis so we must prioritize what we do and how often we do them in order to regularly work on the areas most critical to our race success.  

Though my experience with athletes, talking with other coaches, and an analysis of the physiology, I have decided that the cut-off point is at ~12% faster than goal race pace.  I simply can't justify dedicating a full workout to working at any faster than 12% quicker than goal race pace.  While working at faster than that does have its benefits, the benefits reaped don't merit the full use of a precious resource, a whole dedicated workout.  Now that doesn't mean that I never have an athlete run faster than that, I just don't dedicate a whole workout to it.  I may have them do some strides or pick-ups during an easy run or acceleration sprints during a drill circuit that easily exceeds this pace, but the whole workout isn't dedicated to this type of pace.  

Examples:
- If goal race pace is 7:00 per mile I wouldn't dedicate a full workout to any pace quicker than 6:10 pace
- If goal race pace is 6:00 per mile I wouldn't dedicate a full workout to any pace quicker than 5:17 pace
- If goal race pace is 5:00 per mile I wouldn't dedicate a full workout to any pace quicker than 4:24 pace

For marathon runners one of the faster dedicated workouts I have them do is:
12-16 x 600 @ 12% quicker than goal marathon pace with 1:30 jog recovery
(for a marathoner targeting 6:00 per mile goal pace these 600's would be targeting 1:59)

This workout is a supportive workout that not only covers our speed needs but also stresses our VO2 Max significantly and is long enough (4.5 to 6 miles worth of work + 1.5 to 2 mile in recovery jog + warm-up and cool-down) to provide some work to both stamina and endurance as well .  So while technically a speed workout it also supports other areas important to a marathoner, so I can justify dedicating a whole workout to this periodically.  If I have them work any quicker I would have to reduce the repeat distance and/or the number of repeats and thus I would loose some of those stamina and endurance benefits which make that justification harder to make.

Note:  this analysis and post was done with the 10k to marathon race distances in mind.

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley



Monday, June 16, 2014

Workout Effort Level



One thing that many people struggle with in training is what is the proper effort level for a workout.  How hard is it OK to push, or should we push in a workout.  In this blog entry I want to try and answer this question for you.  In order to do this we need to start with some basic principles of what we are trying to do in training:

In training for distance running our work is centered on the stress and recover principle that states that if we stress the body in a certain way (running), and then let it recover, it will be better adapted to that stress than it was before.  I call 1 stress and recover cycle a "base unit".  So in training we increase our fitness by stacking base units, one on top of the other, for uninterrupted periods of time (a training block).  The mix of stresses (workouts) we do will depend on the event we are training for as well as many individual factors. 

Because we have multiple different systems to work (cardiovascular, muscular-skeletal, energy, neurological, etc.) we need to be able to work on each on a regular basis, so adaptations made in that system don't regress before we work on it again.  For this reason we need to arrange our base units and training blocks in such a way as to accomplish this.  One key to doing this is to properly managing the length of our base units. We want to find that balance where our stresses are hard enough to produce the adaptations we are after but manageable enough that we can recover from them in 1-3 days in order to be able to handle another stress workout (often focusing on a different system).  If our base unit is too long we won't be able to get to all the systems often enough and if they are too short we are either not stressing our system hard enough or get good adaptations or we are cutting our recoveries too short and this leaving some of the adaption (super-compensation) on the table.

Complicating this whole balancing act is the fact that distance running is an impact sport (causing more strain on the muscular skeletal system, which is the slowest to recover) and because of this it requires more recovery time than its other non-impact endurance sports such as biking and swimming.    

Given everything I just typed, then our main focus on our stress workouts is to work hard enough to gain a good amount of specific adaptation, but not so hard as to required extended recovery time.  This effort level is usually pretty hard but not an all out (race level) effort.   I call it a good hard 95% effort, in which we finish the workout know we worked pretty darn hard but that there was a little more left if we absolutely needed it.  If we do this we will get good adaptations and benefits from the workout but still be able to recover from it within a couple of days and do another stress workout of a similar difficulty.  

Side Note:  This concept (95% effort workouts) is especially important for longer distance runners (such as marathoners) where all out efforts require more recovery time.   Middle distance runners can get away with going all out in a workout more frequently than a marathoner can as they recovery from doing so for them is not as long.  I think this concept is one of the main things many coaches and athletes struggle with when they are trying to transition from the collegiate system, focused more on middle distances (800-5k), to the half marathon and marathon distances, they are use to pushing to the limit in most every workout and that rarely works well training for the marathon.

We can definitely have training paces we target to help us find this right level of work on these stress workouts, but the paces should just be a tool and the proper effort level be our primary goal.  Hitting a pace doesn't ensure the desired adaptation, but the right effort level does. I have done extensive work on what kind of paces we can expect to hit in workouts given this effort level at certain race fitness levels, but it is only a guide and not the ultimate driver.  This is why some elite runners, guys like Steve Jones back in the late 1980's, could train effectively without a watch, they were in tune with the desired effort levels for their work, which ensured they got the benefits they sought.  

On the flip side of the stress workouts is the recovery runs we do between them. They are just as important to our success as the stress workouts.  These recovery runs need to be done at an easy enough pace to recover from the stress workouts and so the adaptations (super-compensation) can occur, but at the same time not so slow as to teach our body bad bio-mechanical habits.  Similarly to the stress workouts, I have done extensive work finding what I think is the type of paces that accomplishes this for each race fitness level, but the key is always going to be recovering on these runs, so pushing the pace on these runs does no good.  

Note:  given this approach (95% effort on stress workouts) it becomes important to schedule periodic races (once every 4-8 weeks) or time trials into your training cycle, where it is the goal to give 100% efforts. These 100% efforts are needed periodically in order to stay mentally calloused to those all out efforts.  It can be hard for some people to give 100% in a race if they have not done so 6 months because of lack of racing.  

I hope that this answers some of your questions on efforts in training and how it relates to what we are trying to accomplish.

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Pain Cave



Pain Cave:  the physical feeling of discomfort, pain or fatigue we get when running hard and pushing our limits, it can often feel enclosing like a cave with only 1 way to escape - to slow down.   

In workouts we can often go to the "pain cave", sometime we just stay in the mouth of the cave and sometimes we go deep inside. But over the course of a training cycle, we visit this "pain cave" so many times that we start to get a sense of familiarity to it, we understand its characteristics, its depths, its shallows, we get a strange sense of comfort with it, and even over time start to feel at home there in the cave.  It is then, when we have gotten to this point, we know we are ready to go racing.

Some call it "getting comfortable with being uncomfortable" or "mental callousing" but regardless of what you call it, it gives a sense of purpose to the discomforts we experience in training.  So much of our success will be determined by how we learn to deal with our time in this "pain cave". Do we stay positive, accept it, appreciate its place in expanding our limits, and make the most of it, or do we let it defeat us, rob our motivation and look to escape as soon as possible and never go back.   It is in this way that running can often mirror our lives. Very rarely do truly good things come without its share of sacrifice and perseverance.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Racing In The State Of Flow


The "State of Flow" or "The Zone" is an altered state of consciousness in which athletes usually have their best performances.

List of things for runners to do to promote racing in The State of Flow:

  1. Balance challenge with skill - find and implement the correct race pace (or HR) range for your current fitness level.  This is one of the most helpful things I can do as a coach, is help my runners determine the goal pace (or HR) range that will put and keep them in The State of Flow.  
  2. Concentrate on small specific targets - break the race up into 4-10 segments and have a plan for each segment: 3-4 things you want to execute in the segment to help you have the best race possible.
  3. Stay in the moment - in the race focus only on executing the segment you are currently in, don't think about past or future segments or possible outcomes, but rather focus on what you are doing at the moment.  Practice doing this in training.  Example:  in the 10 to 13 miles segment in a marathon my focus should be things like: "staying as relaxed as possible, keeping my pace between 6:00 and 6:05 per mile, and taking in 4-6 oz of fluids at the aid station", and not on things such as: "oh no that big hill is coming up at mile 16" or "I really blew that last segment, what was I thinking" or "I can't wait to hammer my rival Ivan in the last 10k of the race".  
  4. Stay positive - eliminate negative self talk. Use a positive key word or mantra for each race segment. You need to stay in a positive state of mind in order to stay in the state of flow.  
  5. Keep your race plans simple - think through everything in advance of the race so that in the race the decision making is simplified.  You cant think as clearly in a fatigued state so don't rely on making complex decisions late in the race.  
  6. Stay focused on what you can control (namely: you) - and don't waste energy on the things you can't control (course, weather, etc).
  7. Embrace the challenge - pushing the envelope of our limits is an big but exciting challenge, embrace that challenge and learn new things about you and how tough you can be.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Running With Illness or Injury

I was going back through some blog entries I had written years ago and found this one from early 2010 that I thought was worth sharing again.  

Running with Illness or Injuries 


I'd like to share with you my guidelines for running with injury or illness.

Illness
We are all susceptible to the occasional common cold or virus.  When these occasions hit, runners and their coaches must then decide when to back off training and when to run through it.  Here are the basic guidelines I use to decide when to push on and when to back off.

1)  If there is a fever present then no running is allowed
2)  If there is stomach distress (nausea, vomiting or diarrhea) then no running is allowed
3)  If congestion is present and lingers more than a couple of days, then runs are cut back to 50% of the normally scheduled amount and stress days are replaced with 50% of a normal easy day.  This is done for 1-3 days or until feeling back to normal again.
4)  If you are in the first few days of congestion, or what might be the onset of a cold, and you start a stress workout and feel drained (sub-par), cut the workout short and take a couple of days of half runs (see #3).  
5)  If light congestion is present but you are feeling and breathing normal, continue training and closely monitor the symptoms.

While we can't take off every time we have a sniffle, if we continue to push ourselves when our bodies are sick, we can end up having to take a week or more off when our cold/virus becomes more severe (infection or pneumonia).  By cutting back to 50% of normal for a few days we often give the body the extra help it needs to fight off the illness in a timely manner so we can get back to training with minimal disruption. Additionally, the 50% work that we do helps us maintain our fitness and running adaptations while sparking the immune system.  Often just a few days of this makes a world of difference.  As a coach I can work a training program around an occasional 2-3 half workout load days much easier than I can a 2 week break to recover from pneumonia.

Example:  If I start to feel run down from the on-set of a common cold and I normally have an 8 mile easy run schedules, I'd cut that run to just 4 miles easy.  Or if I had a 30 minute tempo planned, I would change that to an easy run of 4 miles instead.  

Injury
The majority of injuries distance runners face are over use related.  So prevention is a key aspect.  Here is a few of the things to keep in mind to prevent injuries.

1)  Make sure you don't increase the quantity or quality in your program too quickly, slow and gradually changes are the key.
2)  Make sure your quality workouts and long runs are in the proper proportion to your weekly mileage.
3)  Follow a sound core and strength routine to maintain proper balance between muscle groups.
4)  Follow a warm-up/cool-down/flexibility routine that keeps a full range of motion in all muscle groups and joints.
5)  Make sure you are using the proper equipment - check your shoes regularly for wear and take the time to get properly fitted for the shoe type best for your form.  
6)  Watch the cantor (sideways slope) of your running route.  If you run on the roads often, regularly change the direction of your run loops so that you don't develop knee, hip or ankle problems from running always on one side (slope) of the road.  
7)  Diligence in the little things (like following #1-6 above) can make a ton of difference in trying to keep injuries at bay.

But even with the best prevention, occasionally aches, pains, nicks or even full injuries can happen.  So how do we decide what we can run through and when we need some time off or to see a doctor?  Here are some of the basic guidelines I use (but remember I am not a doctor).

1)  If the injury, or pain from it, alters your stride or form then do not run.
2)  If pain/discomfort decreases as you run (sore at first but better as time goes by) then you can do some light running (being careful of duration and intensity).
3)  If pain/discomfort increases as you run, then do not run or discontinue the run you are on and start treatment for the injury.

Treat minor aches and pains before they become injuries
Most runners in serious training are familiar with the minor aches and pains that come along with pushing the envelope in training.  A sore tendon, a sore muscle, or aching joint, etc.  The best advice I can offer is to treat these promptly before they become full on injuries.  Some of the tools for treating aches and pains can include:

- Icing the area after exercise/activity
- Ice baths / warm Epsom salt baths
- Specific stretching routines to address a problem area or cause area
- Specific exercises to strengthen weak muscles or correct imbalances before they get worse
- Contrast therapy 
- Rolling / massage or manipulation of the affected or cause areas

Cause - Look up the chain
Try and look for the root cause of a problem area or injury.  Often times you will not find the problem where it hurts but rather somewhere up the chain (or leg in this case).  Tight hips or lower back are often the culprit for IT band problems.  Foot problems are often tight calf related/caused.  Whenever possible make sure you are treating / dealing with the cause of the problem as well as the injury site itself.  This will help prevent relapses later on.


Hopefully you find a point or two in here that helps you out at some point. 

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley




Monday, February 24, 2014

Spotlight: The 14 Day Micro-Cycle

Today I want to open up my playbook a little and talk about a 14 day micro-cycle I utilize with many of the runners I coach, and why I find it very effective.

The 14 Day Micro-Cycle is a training structured that is a 2 week repeatable sequence that contains 5 stress workout opportunities in that 2 week period.  

The structure look like the following: 
 

The speed workout on Day 1 is usually some form of interval workout over shorter distance (i.e. 200's or 400's or 800's, etc.).

The stamina workout on Day 4 is usually a some form of tempo run or tempo repeats focused on improving either lactate threshold or aerobic threshold.

The endurance workout on Day 7 is usually a long run with some type of quality element to it such as a tempo section, fast finish or steady state long run.

The stress workout on Day 10 can be either a speed workout or a stamina workout depending on the training phase the runner is in and the race distance they are training for.  

The endurance workout on Day 13 is usually an easy or moderate pace long run.

There are 2 easy recovery days after each of the first 4 stress workouts in the cycle allowing the runner to attack workouts hard knowing they have 2 days to recover afterwards.  

After the 5th stress workout there is only 1 recovery day, so we make that our shortest and easiest day of the micro-cycle to ensure recover before the speed session on Day 1 of the new cycle.  

If the micro-cycle is started on a Monday than both long runs (day 7 and day 13) fall on weekend days, Sunday and Saturday respectively.  This is an advantageous set-up for many runners who work a full time Mon-Fri job, as well as for students who go to schedule full-time during the week.   

I find this 14 day structure also sets up for strength training.  I like to have my runners do 2 drill circuits and 4 core circuits per week.  So I will have them do drill circuits on days 2, 5, 8 & 11 and core circuits on days: 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 12, 14.   This allows them to be doing some form of strength training every day except their long run days and also makes sure they are not doing the harder drill strength circuit on the day before a stress workout (to promote fresher legs for the stress workout).  

Who might benefit from this micro-cycle structure?  I think it fits many marathoners well as their workouts tend to be longer and more energy system fatiguing, so the 2 recovery days after 4 of the 5 workouts give them ample time to recover while still keeping mileage levels up.  As mentioned earlier, it also fits students and full-time workers well.   It also is very effective for shorter distance runners (3k-10k specialists) who want to maintain a higher mileage level during their base or fundamental phase, before switching over to a 7 day 3 stress workout schedule to get more quality density closer to or in-season.  

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Taking The Worry Out Of Weather

Many runners spend a lot of time worrying about the weather.  Deciding what clothes to wear and whether or not to run outside or on a treadmill inside can preoccupy their minds, sometimes for hours before their runs.  I have come to realize that this worry and preoccupation causes far more stress than any actual effects of the weather may have during the run.

So I am suggesting taking away some of the guess work out of the equation, so that you know in advance how you'll handle each situation.  This will give your mind less to worry about, so you can focus more on the planned workout that day.

I propose coming up with your own personal weather chart, that lists the "real feel" temperature and how you will handle that in terms of what you wear, where you run, and any anticipated effects on paces/performance.  Then just put a copy of this chart in on your dresser, or in your locker, or where ever you prepare for your runs.  No worries, just check the weather quickly before your run and prepare according to your personalized chart. :-)

There is no right or wrong answers in this chart, it is personal to you based on your experience and what you are comfortable with.  And of course you can adjust this chart as your experience grows with certain temperature rages.

Things you may want to include on your chart:

  • "Real Feel" temperature range
  • Clothing to wear in easy or long run
  • Clothing to wear in race or quality workout
  • Adjustments for precipitation
  • Performance/pace adjustments for the weather 
  • When to run indoor vs outdoor
Your chart may look something like this:


Often just having a chart like this made up, can give us a little peace of mind in knowing how we plan to deal with any type of weather situation we may run into.  It can also be handy to have as we approach a new weather season so that we can make sure we have enough of the apparel we may need on hand.  

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley