Monday, September 25, 2017

How To Approach Workouts

Wish I had this knowledge back when I had this body :-)

A big key to the success and sustainability of our training is how we approach each run and workout we do.  So I wanted to write a blog entry to discuss this topic a little to help us all to enjoy and get the most out of our training. As with our training, let's break this discussion up into stress workouts and recovery runs.

Stress Workouts

Purpose:  Stress workouts are running workouts in which we significantly stress a system or systems of the body in order to produce a targeted adaptation so as to improve certain aspects of our running fitness.  Our goal is to do sufficient and specific enough work in order to elicit the adaptation we are seeking.

Primary Goals:  In order to accomplish the purpose of the stress workout we should have 2 main goals for the workout:
  • Effort:  Put in the appropriate effort level for the workout.  Your body gets the benefits from the effort you put in.  If you give the effort you’ll get the benefits regardless of what the watch says.  This satisfies the “significantly stress” component of our stress workout purpose (see above).
  • Execute:  Execute the workout as it was designed.  By this I am not talking about paces, but rather executing the distance and feel of the workout as intended.  (see Stress Workout blog entry)  Stress workouts are designed to elicit certain adaptations, and so good execution is important to satisfy the “stress specifically” portion of our stress workout purpose.  

Time/Pace:  Notice that I did not list times or paces as our primary goals for the workout.  The purpose of our workout is not to hit certain times, it is to significantly and specifically stress the body in order to elicit desired adaptation (improved fitness).  So times/paces should not be a our primary goals in stress workouts.  But what times/paces are good for is to provide us with feedback and sanity checks.  I have extensive pace charts on the MPR website to help runners interrupt the pace elements of workout so that they can do 2 things: 1) have a frame of reference for what to expect in terms of pace in workouts and 2) to understand what certain workout paces indicate in terms of race time fitness.

Attitude:  Far too many runners have significant anxiety and even dread about some workouts primarily because they have things they can’t fully directly control, such as pace/time, as their main goal.   This is an unhealthy way to feel about stress workouts.  Our stress workouts are our chance to stress the body and elicit increased fitness.  We only get 1-2 of these workouts per week (usually) so we should be excited about them and the opportunities for improvement they hold.  And by focusing on appropriate effort and smart execution (or 2 primary goals) we are centered on items we can 100% control. Know going in that if put in the work and approach it smartly that you will get the benefits from it, regardless of what the watch says.  Enter the workout with confidence, excitement and determination because you can 100% control meeting its primary goals.

Mirror Race Strategy:   Physiologically and mentally the best way to approach workouts (and races) is to follow a 3 phase strategy (see Racing blog entry) as follows:
  • First 10%:  start conservative and ease into it
  • 10% - 80%:  strong, smooth and steady
  • Last 20%:  finish strong with whatever is left in the tank
So this is how we want to approach all our workouts and races.  Ingrain this in your mind and body and make it second nature to you.

Example: if you are doing a 10 x 800 workout then start conservative on the first repeat , easing into the workout, run the next 7 repeats (2-8) strong, smooth and steady, then seek finish strong/fast the last 2 repeats.

Write It Down:  I recommend starting a workout diary, where you can write down beforehand what you want to accomplish and then afterwards assess how it went.
Things to include in your workout diary:
  • The specifics of the workout planned (warm-ups and cool-downs, workout type, distances, number of repeats, recovery, etc)
  • Your primary goals (see above), write them out each time to help ingrain them (no cutting and pasting)
  • Any secondary goals you have (this may include time/paces or heart rate targets but doesn’t have to)
  • List at least 2 things you mentally want to work on (such as positive self talk) and 2 things you want to physically work on (such as staying relaxed in the upper body).
  • After the workout objectively state the specifics of how the workout went and how you did on relation to your primary and secondary goals, and how did you do on the physical and mental things you wanted to work on.  
  • Be sure to pick-out at least 1 thing you did very well and at least 1 thing you still need some work on.  Note: be sure to keep this balanced, give yourself full credit for the things you do well, it is important in building up your confidence.
A good training diary is great way to stay objective about your workouts, and to learn your own strengths and how to take advantage of them, and your weaknesses and how to work on them.  Look back on this diary periodically to see your progress and better understand and appreciate your journey.

Recovery Runs

Purpose:  Easy runs are runs we do in order to promote recovery from our stress workouts while maintaining or advancing our cardiovascular fitness and our body’s adaptations to running.  These runs should be kept short enough in duration and slow enough in pace that they do not significantly stress the body’s systems, while being enough to maintain bio-mechanical efficiency and provide cardiovascular benefit.  

Primary Goals:  In order to accomplish the purpose of the recovery run we should have 2 main goals for the run:
  • Recovery:  keep the effort and duration of the run in check so as to not stress the body and let it recover. Keep the effort comfortable and relaxed, a rhythm you can easily carry on a conversation at, never feeling like you are pushing the pace at all.
  • Maintain Adaptations:  get in enough work (duration, effort) to maintain the adaptations/fitness we have built, without compromising recovery.  

See the “Recovery” blog entry for more specifics on duration and paces and common pitfalls of recovery runs.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Chapter 13 - Warm-ups and Cool-Downs

Note: To me coaching is all about stewardship, using the knowledge and experience I have gained over 40 years as a runner, and 10 years as a coach, to help others pursue their running goals.  So rather than publishing a book you have to pay for, I am publishing it here on my blog, free for all (runners and coaches alike) to read and enjoy, maybe learn something from it, or potentially have it prompt you to look at something from a slightly different viewpoint.  If any of those happen, mission accomplished. 

"A proper warm-up and cool-down is our first line of defense against injury"

Next, I want to talk to you about the importance of a proper warm-up and cool-down and my recommendations on each.  

The primary mission of a warm-up is to get the body ready for the run or workout we are about to get started on by engaging the muscles and tendons we are about to work.  Secondarily it also helps us gain and retain a sufficient range of motion in our muscles, tendons and joints.  A proper warm-up goes a long way to keeping injuries at bay.

The specifics of what is needed from a warm-up can be as individual as the person engaging in it.  So my recommendation is that you follow the basic outline below as your base warm-up routines and then add to it as needed to cover any individual requirements you have (i.e. problems or weakness in an area).  

Before An Easy Or Long Run - Dynamic Warm-up Routine
1.  Standing High Knees Lifts - slowly march in place bring your knees up so that your thigh is parallel with the ground - 10-12 lifts for each leg
2.  Standing Butt Kicks - standing in place alternately bring your heel up and back (with thigh staying in place) towards your buttocks - 10-12 lifts for each leg
3.  Leg Swings - holding a wall, bench or partner for balance, gently swing your leg forward and backward while keeping it mostly straight. This should not be a violent or over exaggerated movement - 10-12 swings each leg
4.  Cross Over Leg Swings - holding a wall, bench or partner for balance, gently swing your leg back and forth, side to side, across the front of your body  while keeping it mostly straight. This should not be a violent or over exaggerated movement - 10-12 swings each leg
5.  Walking Karaoke - this is a sideways walk alternating with your lead leg crossing over in front of your body - 10-12 steps per leg (face the opposite direction but go the smae direction to work the other leg).
6.  Ankle Rolls -  while standing, place your toe on the ground behind you with your heel straight up in the air - make 10-12 circles with your heel (leaving your toe in place on the ground) on each leg.

Before A Quality Stress Workout Or Race
1.  The Dynamic Warm-Up Routine described above
2.  Easy warm-up run - length depends on individual factors - with the last 90 seconds done at a up-tempo pace (LT to AT pace) in order to stir up the aerobic enzymes and prime the aerobic engine for the workout/race.
3.  Any light drills or strides as needed or if needed to feel ready to roll for the workout/race

Keep all warm-up activities dynamic in nature (i.e moving) as static stretching can temporarily weaken the muscles - not what you want before exercising them.

The cool-down has 2 main purposes depending on what type of run or workout it follows.  Following an easy run it is an opportunity to stretch the muscles when they are warm and pliable and receptive to the stretching.  This helps the body attain and maintain a proper range of motion in all running related muscles, joints and tendons.  Following a stress workout or race (speed, stamina or endurance) our cool-down flushes the muscles with new blood flow, carrying away and "junk" accumulated in the workout and helps to jump start the recovery process.  The cool-down is your first step in the recovery process after stress workouts and races.  

Similar to warm-ups, what is needed from a cool-down routine can be an individual thing, so my recommendation is to use the routines described below as your base and then add to them as needed to address any individual issues/needs.  

After An Easy Run - Static Stretching Routine
1. Walking (2-5 mins) - great opportunity to start rehydrating/refueling
2. Calf Wall Stretch - using a wall, post or partner to stretch the calves by pushing gently against it while driving our rear heel towards the ground - 20-30 seconds on each leg
3. Sped Leg Stretch - with legs straight (slightly bent - never locked out) spread them a comfortable width apart (past you shoulder width but not straining) and bend upper body downward, stretching in middle, towards left leg and toward right leg 20-30 seconds each.
4. Together Hamstring Stretch - standing with legs together straightened (slightly bent - never completely locked out), bend at the waist and reach down towards the ground and hold for 20-30 seconds. 
5. Standing Quad Stretch - start straight, with feet should width, bend one knee and gently pull heel back towards buttocks (straight back) while keeping thigh perpendicular with the ground, and hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat with other leg. 
6. Cross Over Glute Stretch - seated on the ground with legs straight out in front of you, bend one leg and place foot on far side of opposite knee, twist upper body towards the side of the bent leg and hold for 20-30 seconds then repeat with opposite leg. 
7. Raised Lunge Stretch - start by standing a short stride away from a bench, chair or bumper of a car, place one foot on the bench, keeping the other leg straight foot on the ground, slowly lunge forward towards the raised foot and hold for 20-30 seconds and then repeat with opposite leg. 

After A Quality Stress Workout or Race
1.  Walking (2-5 mins) - great opportunity to start rehydrating/refueling
2.  Easy jogging - duration depend on length of workout/race and individual level of mileage.
3.  Light and limited range dynamic movements or gentle rolling as needed 

After An Endurance Stress Workout (Long Run)
1.  Walking (2-5 mins) - great opportunity to start rehydrating/refueling
2.  Light and limited range dynamic movements or gentle rolling as needed 

Note:  We do not want to do any hard or significant static stretching immediately after a stress workout or race as highly fatigued muscle are easier to strain as they are weakened and the sensory feedback they provide is compromised for a period of time. 

While the routines above are short and simple and only take a few minutes to do, the consistent use of them before and after your runs will make a big difference in how you feel on your runs and in reducing the likelihood of injury in just a short time. It is a great 5-10 minute investment of your training time.  Ingrain these into your running routine to the point it comes as second nature, so that without even thinking you automatically launch into your dynamic warm-up routine before runs and go through your cool-down protocol afterwards.   It will help you get the most out of the work your do in your runs. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Chapter 12 - Attitude

The attitude we bring to training and racing is one of the biggest determining factors in our success.  

That is a big statement.  

With the right attitude, success becomes possible, but without the right attitude success is highly unlikely.  No matter how great your training schedule is or how great your race strategy is, it is very unlikely to be successful if your attitude is not in the right place.  And even if your training schedule or race plan have flaws, you still have the possibility of success with the right attitude. But if you can marry the 2 together, a great training schedule and race plan, along with the right attitude, well …. then it will be hard not to be successful.  

4 Elements To A Successful Attitude
I believe there are 4 elements to a successful attitude for training and racing and pursuing your goals: Positivity, Belief, Confidence and Determination

1) Positivity:  
The body tends to follow the mind, so while negativity makes you feel worse, positivity can help you feel better. The runner must stay positive and optimistic in mind-frame and outlook in training and in racing. They must focus on the positive and opportunities of their situation. They must recognize and dismiss negative thoughts as quickly and effectively as possible.  Negative thoughts happen to everyone, it is human nature and part of fatigue.  The most successful runners though are those who learn to recognize and deal with those negative thoughts quickly and turn them back into positives.  They take the thought “Its just not my day, I can’t do this” and recognized it's subjective negativity and turn it so then it becomes “this is going to be so epic when I overcome this”.

2) Belief:
The runner must believe in themselves.  The runner must believe that what they are trying to accomplish is possible, and they must believe in that their training will help get them there.  Without belief, success will not happen, period.  A key to belief is being open to the possibilities and potential of themselves. The runner must allow themselves to believe.

3) Confidence:
A runner must allow training to build up their confidence.  They must give themselves credit for the hard work they do in training (even when it’s not perfect) and allow it to build them up mentally as well as physically. The most successful runners go the start line with a calm confidence that they are well prepared for the task before them. The runner must have confidence in themselves and give themselves permission in the race to be the bad-ass they have worked so hard in training to become. Confidence and belief are closely related, we must believe it is possible and that we can do it, and then we must have the confidence in ourselves and our training to go out there and get it done.

4) Determination:
A runner must build up and maintain a strong determination and steely resolve to accomplish their goals.  Often in athletics, determination springs for a passion for the sport and the goals we are pursuing.  Ultimately in training we must be able to be determined and passionate enough about pursuing our goals that it motivates us to get out there every day and do the work necessary to reach our goals.  In racing in order to accomplish our goals we must remain more determined and resolute that we are tired.  The stronger our determination, the longer we can outpace fatigue.  Determination keeps it focus intently on the destination (the goal) rather than on the sacrifices it takes to get there.   

The Attitude Muscle
We can not just decide one day that we will have a great attitude and then magically “poof” everything will be perfect.  Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.  Instead, our attitude is like a muscle, it is something we have to work on, and train, and develop.  It is not something that will be perfect to start with, but the more diligent we are in working on it, the better and stronger it will become.  Slowly over time we will learn to master the 4 elements that make up the attitude we desire, the one that will help lead us to success and accomplished goals.  And in the times we fail in our attitude, and there will be plenty of those, we must recognize it, and learn from it, and fix it, and rededicate ourselves to the process of developing a successful attitude.  We will never be completely perfect, but with time and diligence we can build up a strong attitude muscle, one we can call on when when we need it most.

One of the most powerful tools that you have as you work on your attitude and pursue your goals, is a vision of what you want to achieve.  You need to be able to clearly see and define what you are trying to accomplish.  What will it look like, what will it taste like, what will it smell like, and what will it feel like.  Include all the senses you can in your vision, the more senses the more real and tangible it will become to you.  Think of this vision often, multiple times per day, burn it into your mind.  This vision will help you with all the elements of attitude we just talked about.  With a strong vision of success in your head, with all your senses engaged, it becomes more real and concrete to you, not so much a dream or fairy tale anymore, but a real place and destination you are moving towards.  As such, it will be easier to remain positive and dismiss negativity.  It will be easier to believe in it and that you can you achieve it.  It will be easier to see your hard work getting you closer and thus building your confidence.  And this vision will make it that much easier to stay motivated, determined and passionate about it.

Do yourself, your training, and your racing the biggest favor you can, arm yourself with a major key to your success, the right attitude.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Chapter 11 - Racing

Note: To me coaching is all about stewardship, using the knowledge and experience I have gained over 40 years as a runner, and 10 years as a coach, to help others pursue their running goals.  So rather than publishing a book you have to pay for, I am publishing it here on my blog, free for all (runners and coaches alike) to read and enjoy, maybe learn something from it, or potentially have it prompt you to look at something from a slightly different viewpoint.  If any of those happen, mission accomplished. 

"Smile as you head to the start line, races are a celebration of the hard work we have done in training."

When determining the best race strategy to advise distance runners to utilize, I came up with the following criteria to help guide me, I wanted a strategy that:
-        Offered the highest probability of producing the best performance
-        Was physiologically sound
-        Was psychology sound
-        Could be practiced in training to help the runner master it

After studying all the different components involved, and looking at the best results from runners of all ages and ability levels over multiple decades, I have the come up with what I feel is the best race strategy and use and one that meets all of the criteria listed above.

Interestingly enough, this general strategy (slight negative split) has been what has been used in the vast majority of world records in distance races over the last 50 years, giving me good confidence in its soundness.

I am also defining the race strategy I recommend in such a way that it can be utilized by runners regardless of how they prefer to monitor their races, whether by pace, effort, or heart rate, so that it may be used by all runners.  

Race Strategy
I recommend that the race be broken up into 3 segments, as follows:

Segment #1:  First 10% of the race - Easing into it
In the first segment of the race the runner eases into their goal pace/effort/heart rate. The runner does this by starting conservatively, just slightly slower than goal pace/effort/heart rate and gradually ramping up into the goal ranges by 5-10% into the race.

Physiologically this allows the body to ease into its goal range more efficiently and with a lower energy burn rate and blood lactate level than a more abrupt start allows.  

Psychologically this takes some pressure and stress off on the starting line and in early part of the race, as the runner knows they have time (by design) to ramp into their performance.  

Segment #2:  10% to 80% of race distance - Strong, Smooth and Steady
The second segment of the race is by far the longest and encompasses the majority of the race.  It lasts from the 10% mark of the race to the 80% mark of the race or 70% of the total race distance.  Our strategy in this second segment is to run as smooth and even as possible in our goal range (either pace, heart rate or effort).  We want to focus on a good strong sustainable rhythm and staying as relaxed as possible while running in our goal range.

Physiologically this allows the body to run as expend as little energy as possible while at goal range. Just letting the miles tick by as we focus on staying as smooth and relaxed as possible.

Psychologically it allows us to go on auto-pilot and just execute what we have trained to do without over thinking things or getting too caught up in racing just yet.

Segment #3:  Last 20% of race distance - Racing home
At the 80% point in the race we do a quick assessment on how much gas we have left in the tank, and then race home the best we can based on that.  At best we may be able to pick-up the pace some in this final segment as we race home, and at worst we should be able to maintain our goal pace if we have executed our first 80% as planned.  Any up-side on our goal time comes in this last 20% of the race.  We have raced the first 80% of the race with our heads, following a strategy we should be able to maintain the whole way, and now we race the last 20% of the race with our hearts to finish off the performance and maybe realize some upside.  We use competition to help motivate us and embrace the challenge of pushing and expanding our limits. This last 20% is a huge investment both physically and mentally as we are pushing our limits and dealing with steadily growing fatigue, but that is why we executed the first 80% as we did, to conserve as much physical and mental energy as we could for this last segment.

Physiologically we have set ourselves up well, we have covered the first 80% at a manageable level so now we are free to race home and use up what energies we have left knowing we are close to home and most of the way to a great performance.

Psychologically we conserved our mental energies the first 80%, not worrying about competition, just executing a solid plan and staying smooth and relaxed and not over thinking.  Now as we hit the final 20% we start pulling out the mental tricks and triggers to help us combat the fatigue.  We let our competition motivate us, we try and catch or pass people, most people positive split races so by executing a slight negative split, we will be passing many more people in this segment than we get passed by. We think of how close we are to a completing a great performance and use it to excite and motivate us.  We break the final miles of the race up in smaller segments and stay in the moment, executing 1 segment at a time.

This Race Strategy:
  • helps us run relaxed and efficient and feel good for as much of the race as possible while still maximizing our performance
  • helps us stay positive late in the race by structuring it so that we are passing people instead of getting passed late in the race, we race the second half of the race as the hunters not the hunted.
  • conserves our mental and physical energies for when we will need it most - the final stages of the race
  • is practicable in most of our training

Establishing Our Goal Ranges
An important part of this race strategy is having a good handle on what your reasonable goal range(s) should be, as we will use it as the basis for the first 80% of the race.  This goal range can be a certain pace per mile or kilometer, or it can be a target heart rate range, or a certain feel/effort we want to give.

Many people find they are most comfortable with using one of these methods as their primary gauge with maybe another one (or two) as a secondary gauge.  For example, you may decide to run based on feel with pace as a back-up guide that is a little more concrete.

You have 2 big tools to use in deciding our goal range.  The results of your training leading up to the race, and past experience in races.  The more you have trained and raced the easier this becomes to figure out.  You will have experienced workouts and races and have a good idea what that means for you in this race.  A coach can be a HUGE help on this front, as not only do they know your training and racing background very well, but they have examples and knowledge of dozens (and even hundreds) other runners having done similar workouts and races.

A big key here is to not overextend your goal ranges.  Stick with what is reasonable and that you have a very high likelihood of being able to sustain.  Leave stretch goals and up-side potential to that last 20% of the race and pace the first 80% of the race with solid, realistic expectation.  A great tool help in setting this up is doing a simulation run or race in your training to practice the pacing you plan to use the first 80% of the race.  As a key stress workout in your cycle, simply run 50-65% of the goal race distance exactly as you plan to run the first 80% of the race.  It can give you great feedback, help you tweak your plan, and boost your confidence on race day.

Goal Range Adjustments
Make sure that after establishing your goals ranges you note any adjustments that need to be made due to course or weather conditions.  This includes things like any big hills on the course or warmer or colder weather conditions than you are use to in your training.  Again, data from your training, past races and your coach can help you hone these adjustments.

Example Strategy
Sub 3 Hour Marathon (goal range by pace)
Segment 1:  ease into the race the first 2 miles: 7:00-7:10 for first mile and 6:50-7:00 for second mile
Segment 2:  smooth and steady 6:45-6:50 per mile from 2 to 21 miles, except 6:55-7:00 pace on the hilly section from 10-13 miles
Segment 3:  race it home last 5.2 miles at 6:50 or better pace
Result:  2:59 or better

Approx Race Breakout By Segment
Race Distance
Segment 1
Segment 2
Segment 3
first quarter mile
.25 to 2.5 miles
last .6 miles
first half mile
.5 to 4 miles
last mile
first half mile
.5 to 5 miles
last 1.2 miles
first mile
1 to 7.5 miles
last 1.8 miles
10 mile
first mile
1 to 8 miles
last 2 miles
first mile
1 to 10 miles
last 2.4 miles
Half Marathon
first mile
1 to 10 miles
last 3.1 miles
first 1.5 miles
1.5 to 12 miles
last 3.5 miles
first 1.5 miles
2 to 15 miles
last 3.6 miles
first 2 miles
2 to 21 miles
last 5.2 miles

Practice In Training
During your stress workouts in training, practice the general outline we plan to use in racing.  That is: start a bit conservative and ease into it, run strong, smooth and steady during the majority of the workout, and then finish a touch faster in the final section (i.e. slight negative split).  In particular practice this approach in your tempo runs and long runs as these are continuous runs most similar to our races.  After awhile of doing this, it will become ingrained and just part of how you normally run, making it second nature to you on race day.

The is is an area of race strategy that has gotten a lot more complicated for runners in recent years as there is more options now than ever before.  There are tons of waters, sports drink, electrolyte drinks, energy replacement drinks, gels, gu's, sports beans, chews and lots of "normal" foods available to runners in training and races and all sorts of methods of carrying them with you if desired.  So lets first cut through some of the haze and confusion and establish a base strategy.

Lets start by breaking this up into race durations:
1) races under 1 hour
2) races between 1 and 2 hours
3) races over 2 hours

Next lets break-up the fueling needs into 2 categories
1) fluids/electrolytes
2) energy/calories

Serving Size:  3-6 oz (2-3 good swallows) of water or drink with electrolytes
Races under 1 hour:   1 serving every 20-30 minutes (optional)
Races between 1 - 2 hours:  1 serving every 20-30 minutes  (15-20 minutes in warm weather)
Races over 2 hours:  1 serving every 15-20 minutes
Recommendation: start by alternating servings between waters and electrolyte drink the first half of race then adjust second half by craving.

Serving Size:  75-100 calories (easy to digest)
Races under 1 hour:  not recommended
Races between 1 - 2 hours:  1 serving every 40-60 minutes
Races over 2 hours:  1 serving every 30-45 minutes
Options: sports/energy drinks, gels, GU's, sports beans, chews, real food (fruit, cookie, etc.)

Experiment In Training
Play with the options listed above in training to figure out what mix and combination works best for you. Do you prefer to get your calories from drinks or gels, or chews.  Does your stomach handle sports drinks OK, and if not which ones does it like or not like.  Your training runs, especially long runs, are you chance to figure this out and train your stomach for race day.

Common Marathon Strategy:  alternating between a servings of water and sports drink once every 15-20 minutes plus take most of a gel pack every hour (with water).

Our attitude is key to our success in racing, and the race strategy outlined in this chapter is designed to help us best use our mental energies and produce a positive attitude. The next chapter (Chapter 12) will focus in more depth on our attitude and mental approach to training and racing.