Sunday, April 29, 2018

We are all the same, you and I

Unless there is a miracle, my competitive racing career is over as I have effectively been forced into early retirement due to health concerns. While I struggle with this notion from time to time, it has given me the opportunity to look back at what was an otherwise stellar stretch of running. These days I spend more quality time with my family and those long grueling pounding the pavement are replaced by hours of walking the dogs. It also has given me a lot of time to think back over my running career.

During my 30’s I was racing almost every weekend; sometimes twice, averaging 40+ races a year for the better part of a decade. I was running every distance from 5km to 50km and was winning or standing on the podium in just about every race. You can say that I had an obsession.  But like any athlete that rises to the top of their sport, it takes hard work and you have to be a little selfish and obsessed to rise and stay on top.  There was a time early in my career where I was jerk!  I never really knew how to deal with having success so it took me awhile to figure that out. 

I remember one incident in particular that helped to put some of this into perspective for me.  There was a race in which a mid-pack runner came up to me and said that it was an honor to talk with an "elite runner". I knew that I was having success, but it never dawned on me that I was viewed as an elite runner by some people. So in the weeks to follow, I remember thinking long and hard about what that really meant.  Why should it be any different to talk to someone just because they are good at something?

Then I realized that just like I looked up to faster runners at the time, and viewed them as elite, that person probably did the same to me. While none of us were going to the Olympics any time soon, I appreciated the kind words, but I also realized that it takes nothing more than going to a big time race to be humbled as to where we fit with our abilities. I also appreciated the fact that others looked up to me and I will admit that selfishly it did feel good to be recognized for something, but should it have been an honor to have me dispense some running advice because I was fast? No.

For tens of thousands of miles, I laced up my shoes just like any other runner. I paid the same race entry fees for races. Regardless of finishing time, we both put forth the same effort during the race. If you ran as hard as you could and you were proud of that effort, then I loved to hear about it. I was always looking to talk to people before and after races; I loved to hear the stories of where people were from, the adversity of their training and other stories that help bring us closer together as athletes. It should have been no more of a privilege to talk with a faster runner than it would be to talk with someone who had a higher rank at work; we are all people at heart and when you take running away, we are the same.

I was taught by some of the best (and fastest) guys in town and I loved nothing more than to be able to pass this on to the up and coming runners. If I had kept it all to myself then it would have been a waste for those who taught me. I really enjoyed teaching so that others could pay it forward. I loved it when people would ask me for help on training or something running related where I could leverage what I have learned to help them out.

Just because I ran fast doesn't mean that I am, or was, any different than you. I respected the fact that you are out there doing it and trying your best. I was never above running with, or talking to anyone. If anything; the opposite. People think that because you are fast, that all you do is run fast. I loved to run with friends of all paces and really I just enjoyed the company of running with other people. If I was training for a goal race I would always find a time for my quality workouts. Not many people enjoy running alone day after day and I was no different; sometimes I'd rather sacrifice a key workout just to not run alone. After all, we are just human first and runners much further down the list.

Now I will be honest to say that after I warmed up before a race, and lowered the sunglasses, that was my time. It was how I went to that mental state that I needed to be in order to race my best. Some athletes use heavy rock music on their phone to take them there; for me lowering the sunglasses put me into the zone. But, the second the race was over, I got more enjoyment from seeing people finish and talk about how exciting it was to race. If I was able to help you in your training, with coaching or to even just encourage you with my words or cheering during the race, then that was greater than any medal or reward I could receive for my own efforts.

So if you are a 5 minute miler or a 9 minute miler; a 40 mile a week person or an 80 mile a week person; a 10 mile runner or a 100 mile runner; we are all the same, you and I. We are runners. We are athletes. We all suffer the same during races, hurt after hard workouts, have occasional injuries and smile from ear to ear when we cross the finish line, knowing that we have given our best effort. We all look up to people who are faster than us, but maybe we should be looking in all directions for good quality people – not just those who are gifted athletes.

Now that my racing days are over, I hope that I was known for who I was, or how I impacted your running life in a positive way, not because I ran a fast race once upon a time.  I am just glad that I figured this out early on, and didn't continue my running career thinking that I was above anyone else.  I was not.  I was simply a man who had the will to test the limits of my body.  And now that I look back on it, it means more to me that I may have been a difference maker in peoples lives, than all the medals that I earned. 

After all, we are the same, you and I.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Running Injury Prevention

It is that time of year when most runners starting to think about the upcoming race season.  In Upper Michigan, it is also a time for just being proud to "get out there" and log some base miles as the temperatures and conditions make it tough to do any real training.  As you look back at last year, and look forward to this year, it is a great time to think about running injuries and what causes them.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Let me first say that I am not a medical doctor. What I am is a veteran runner who has been coached by the best; I have read dozens of books on running and training; have logged thousands of hours running and had just about every type of injury along the way. I understand how to apply the fundamental principles of training to achieve the desired result and maximize the ability of any runner. I have also successfully coached many runners of all levels.

Let’s first start with definitions.

An INJURY is a physical problem severe enough to force a reduction in training. Did you know that scientific studies show that about 60-80%* of all runners will experience an injury resulting in significant loss of training time (more than three days) during an average year? When compared to other endurance sports, the risks associated with running are higher. Injuries can have varying degrees of severity. The best source for grading these injuries is described by Bob Glover and discussed in "The Competitive Runner's Handbook." These grades are useful when describing the severity and knowing when to take corrective action.
  • Grade One: Minor aches that aren't noticed until after a run.
  • Grade Two: Some discomfort is felt, possibly during the later stages of a run but does not affect performance.
  • Grade Three: Severe discomfort and pain which may alter form and limits training performance
  • Grade Four: Pain is so intense that running is not possible and you are forced to rest until it pain subsides
Being SORE or experiencing SORENESS after a strenuous workout, a time trial or a race is normal. You have just stressed your muscles beyond the limit of your regular workout and your body is reacting. Scientifically, soreness is your body's defense mechanism responding to tiny tears in muscle fibers as a result of the workout. After your muscles recover, they actually should be stronger. Tearing and repairing is the process of raising your fitness level and allows you eventually to run further and faster. Swelling is a side effect of your body trying to repair these fibers and may contribute to stiffness in the muscles. This process usually peaks within 48 hours after exercise. For this reason, you are sorer on the second day after a hard workout but for the same reason you are able to work out hard two days in a row (DOMS). Being sore, stiff or fatigued does NOT mean that you are injured.As Hal Higdon suggests, "If you want to become a runner, you may need to accept some soreness as a natural part of the conditioning process." Running is a process of repeatedly stressing your muscles to become faster and stronger, so some pain or soreness is to be expected.

Running injuries are quite common among amateurs and professionals, beginners and veterans. Although a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Archives of Internal Medicine, vol. 149(11), pp. 2565-2568, 1989) has determined that injury risk can be linked with inexperience. The study pointed out that individuals who had been training for less than three years were more likely to sustain injuries when compared with runners who had been running for longer periods of time.

A similar study by Dr. Murray Weisenfeld concluded that most injuries occur when running mileage starts to climb over 40 miles per week. That means that if you are training for a half or a full marathon, you are putting yourself at additional risk, even if you are able to limit all other factors.

Most injuries are caused by training errors with very few injuries occurring as a result of a single factor. Injuries do not occur suddenly, but more gradually, elevating up the scale as mentioned above. Of the many things that you need to know in order to avoid time limiting injuries is the ability to recognize the difference between normal soreness and possibly progressive injuries. Knowing your body and understanding when you have stressed it too much and when to back off is very important.

Injury causes

Improper form and/or poor biomechanics
This is listed first because it is something that you can do very little to change. You may choose proper footwear to correct pronation or study video of your running form to help make minor corrections, but in the end, your natural form may limit your ability to run without risk of injury. Some people may have a great desire to run and be competitive but do not have the basic genetics to support anything more than running for basic fitness. You can tweak your form, slightly improve your vo2max and your running economy, but as my long time running partner Marty Clarke has been quoted in saying, "You had all of the ability to run the day that you were born."

General overuse
This is a blanket category for running too much. This is the most common factor leading to injuries and means not backing off in training when the initial signs of an injury are felt. It simply means that you have stressed something repeatedly without adequate rest to allow for the rebuilding process as discussed above.

Equipment related
This is mostly related to footwear, though can also be improper apparel for the conditions. If you are wearing shoes that are not designed for your foot then you are putting yourself at risk when you take your first step. Going through a formal fit process, having an expert analyze your form to properly recommend the right shoe for you is vital. Since your feet strike the ground 90 times per minute per foot, it all starts with your feet and works up from there. Typically shoes need replacement after 300 to 500 miles and it is smart to begin to rotate in a new pair of shoes after 200 miles on the first pair. Not allowing your footwear to properly dry out after wear is the number one cause for them to break down and reduce their life.

There are no ways to truly avoid injuries, but you can do your best to lower the probability that you experience one that will set back your training. This is in no way a complete list, but here are things that you can do to improve your chances of staying healthy.
  • Build mileage at an increasing rate of no more than 10% per week, reducing mileage every 4th week to permit recovery.
  • Follow the hard – easy rule, scheduling a day of rest or easy running following a hard workout and before the next hard workout.
  • Don't do too much, too soon, too often, too fast, too hard, with too little rest.
  • Listen to your body. When it says to back off, take an extra day of rest, knowing that you can’t skip all of your hard workouts or you might consider a less aggressive plan.
  • Be sure to be properly hydrated and taking adequate nutrition, before, during and after your run. Carbing up is important to provide proper fuel before the run, during the run to help sustain longer efforts and immediately after to help the recovery process.
  • Incorporate stretching into your routine, after muscles are warm and after activity subsides.
  • When needed, leverage recovery tools such as message, icing, compression, elevation and rest on aching muscles.
  • Try to vary the type of surface that you do your training on, knowing that a softer surface such as trails are easier on your joints and will prolong your running career than daily pounding on concrete and blacktop.
  • Add strength training to your program, especially in the building phase toward your goal race.
  • Keep your weight in an acceptable range for your height and gender, eating as healthy as possible. Being on the heavier end of the ranges may cause joint (especially knee) pain.
  • Obtain proper rest during your training and understand that as your volume of running increases, so must your hours of sleep.
  • Warm up before each workout and follow it up with a proper cool down. This will help to ease into the workout before introducing stressors to cold muscles.
So what does all of this mean? Soreness is inevitable and while injuries are likely for endurance running athletes (based on studies and the law of averages), you can take steps to reduce your risk factor. Training too hard too often may lead to injury, while not training hard enough will lead to underachieving and failure to achieve goals; there is a fine line between these two. Training is about finding your limits and learning how far you can push yourself without getting hurt.

While there is proven theology behind these methods and they are applied with the utmost attention, there is no guarantee that they work unilaterally across all runners. This is because no two runners are alike and each person responds differently to training. When I am coaching runners, I do my best to instruct runners on how to train properly, give them the best chance to succeed while teaching them to run and remain healthy for the long term. If they follow our properly designed training program which incorporates the principles discussed above, listen to the advice given and listen to their bodies, they have the greatest chance of success.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Knowing how to train

Training to be the best runner you can be, involves knowing how to train.

As we approach the holiday season (aka the off season for racing in Upper Michigan) I thought it would be a good time to blog about building your training plans for the 2018 season.  If you want to be able to realize all of your potential and race the best that YOU can, it involves so much more than just going out to beat the pavement at the same pace everyday.  You have to first understand the different types of workouts, then apply them to your goal race. 

These principles apply to all runners... regardless of pace.  If you follow the basic training principals, you can put yourself into the best position to succeed.

I have spent countless hours reading every book running I can get my hands on (I consider Daniels Running Formula and Advanced Marathoning by Pfitzinger and Douglas to be the best) and learning from from the best runners who have taken me under their wing over the years.  This blog reflects my research.

The Goals

This training plan is based on solid science, and its physiological facts from proven sources and years of experience.  It should produce maximum results and reduce the risk of injury and help you understand how to train at the right pace for the right distance on the right days.

Five types of workouts in a training plan
  1. Basic speed
    1. This is short fast speed work to improve leg turnover and running form
      1. It is how fast you can run all out, but not how far.
    2. Basic speed is the least important to distance runners
      1. But still needed for that finishing kick
    3. Speed is stride frequency times stride length.
    4. Strides
      1. Accelerate smoothly up to full speed then hold that for 50 meters then decelerate
      2. Maintain good form stay relaxed
  2. VO2Max
    1. Longer reputations of 2 - 6 minutes at 3 to 5k pace improve VO2Max
      1. It is difficult to hold VO2Max pace for much longer than 6 minutes
    2. VO2Max is your aerobic capacity
      1. A combination of your genetics and your training determine how high of a VO2Max you have
    3. Possible to improve your capacity by 20 to 30%
    4. Can estimate your VO2Max based on your recent race times as a rough estimate
      1. Typically it is between your 3k and 5k pace
    5. Best way to improve it rapidly is by running 2.5 to 5 minutes of intervals per workout
    6. One high volume workout at 95 to 100 percent VO2Max per week
    7. Improve most rapidly by running repetitions of 2 to 6 minutes of duration, which is about 600 to 1600 meters for most runners
    8. Speed of these workouts is important
      1. It is narrow band where you don't want to go too fast or too slow or you aren't getting the true benefit of the workout
    9. Recovery should be long enough to bring heart rate down to 65 percent
      1. As a guideline the rest between intervals should be from 50 to 90 percent of the interval time
      2. Active recovery is recommended with slow jog
  3. Lactate Threshold (LT)
    1. It is an intensity level of exercise above which the metabolic waste product lactic acid accumulates in the blood faster than the circulatory system can remove it
      1. Lactate is a byproduct of carbohydrate metabolism
      2. VO2Max plateaus but your lactate threshold continues to increase
    2. Your LT determines how fast you can race
      1. When racing you select a pace that prevents the accumulation of lactate
        1. Lactate threshold is more important when running beyond 10k
        2. For 10km VO2Max and lactate threshold are equally important.
        3. For 5km it is more VO2Max
          1. For shorter races you can exceed your lactate threshold
      2. Lactate threshold occurs at about 15k to half marathon pace
        1. Lactate threshold is at about 85 to 92 percent of maximal heart rate
    3. Best way to improve lactate threshold is to train at or slightly above your lactate threshold.
      1. LT training is a determinate of your endurance, the ability to maintain a certain pace for a prolonged distance
      2. Higher the lactate threshold (percentage of VO2Max) the better the distance runner you are
    4. Three Types of LT Workouts
      1. Tempo runs
        1. A continuous run of 20 to 40 minutes at lactate threshold
          1. Tempo runs of 20 to 40 minutes at ten mile race pace to delay lactic acid build up
          2. Two mile warm up, 4 miles at 15 k to half marathon race pace and a short cool down
      2. LT Intervals
        1. Can gain a similar benefit by breaking your tempo run into two to four segments.
          1. We call these cruise intervals.
          2. A short break in between sometimes can help mentally and phyiscally
        2. Three repetitions of 8 minutes at lactate threshold with 3 minutes of recovery.
        3. Its how much time you accumulate at LT that counts
        4. These can be 3x2 mile, 2x3 mile, etc
      3. LT Hills
        1. Hill repeats or mix in hills at lactate threshold during a long run
        2. Hills also make you stronger
  4. Long runs
    1. Used to build endurance
    2. You need to be able to cover the distance on race day
    3. With pure endurance runs you are testing the limits of how far you can run without having to slow to a jog
    4. By increasing the distance of your long run and secondarily your weekly mileage you gradually increase the capacity of your muscles to store glycogen.
      1. Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrate in your muscles.
    5. Some experts say that long runs are at 70 to 85 percent of max heart rate or at 1 to 2 minutes slower than your half marathon pace
      1. Start off long runs at 90 seconds slow and work toward 40 seconds slow
      2. Long runs will rarely be at the same pace for the entire run
      3. Most experts I consider experts say that ideally you work in up to 50% of the long run at marathon goal pace
        1. After all, when you are able to run 22 miles in training, if 15 of that can't be at marathon goal pace, then how can you expect to run 26.2 miles at that pace on race day?
  5. Rest
    1. Easy recovery runs to allow top effort on the other days
    2. Rest is very important and should not be ignored but placed strategically within your week
Again depending on your goal race / distance, which workouts you do will vary.  And within the full macro-cycle of your training, each week may vary pending the purpose of the micro-cycle.  So while a perfect week for marathon training with 4 weeks to go might look something like this below, the very next week may differ.

  • Monday: VO2Max 4x1200m
  • Tuesday: Easy 3-5 miles
  • Wednesday: Endurance 10-12 miles
  • Thursday: LT 30 minutes at LT or 3x2 mile at LT
  • Friday: Easy/Rest
  • Saturday: Long Run 18-22 miles or Race (half marathon) 
  • Sunday: Easy

Good luck with your training!