HIIT

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is something every runner should be adding to their training routine, but especially runners who find themselves short on time for those extra long runs. Interval training is not new to runners. Most think of it as speed training such as 800 or 400 repeats. But HIIT can and should be more than just speed interval training. HIIT that incorporates strength moves helps build total body fitness in a way that just speed interval training doesn’t do.

HIIT is hard. You should be close to maximal effort. If you ever feel nauseous, light headed, or dizzy take a break before getting back to it. Some experts say that fifteen minutes of HIIT provides about the same physiological benefits as three hours of long slow distance. That does not mean you can train using only HIIT.

Adding in HIIT once or twice a week will actually allow you to reduce your total weekly miles by 10-20% without losing any fitness gains you’ve made. Many running coaches recommend that 20% of your training should be HIIT because of the many benefits you will reap. HIIT focuses on the fast twitch muscle fibers and as endurance runners we don’t tap into these all the time, but we do when our slow twitch muscles are fatigued because we begin to recruit anything we think will help. Training those fast twitch muscles will give a boost to your slow twitch as they become fatigued.

Another benefit of HIIT is the psychological training. HIIT makes you push through barrier after barrier when your body is screaming stop. You can tap into those experiences when things get hard out on the trail. Other benefits of HIIT: it’s very effective at burning fat, it boost your metabolism, and builds muscles

How long your HIIT workouts should be will depend on your current fitness level and your fitness goals. You can start with 20-30 minute and build up to 45-60 minute workouts. Here is an example of a HIIT session you can start with.

If you are recovering from an injury do not start HIIT training until you’re fully recovered. The intensity will increase the likelihood of re-injury. Warming up before a HIIT session is essential to reduce the risk of injury.

Workout ONE 30 minutes

3 minute dynamic warmup: Jumping jacks, high knees, lunges, inch worms, and leg swings.

1 minute rest

First set: 1 minute pushups: 20 second rest; 1 minute squat jumps: 20 second rest: 1 minute front plank: 20 second rest: repeat.

Second set: 1 minute burpee: 20 second rest: 1 minute dumbbell row: 20 second rest: 1 minute bicycles: 20 second rest: repeat two times

Third set: 1 minute mountain climbers:  20 second rest: 1 minute dumbbell/kettlebell swing: 20 second rest: 1 minute split squats with a jump: 20 second rest: repeat two times.

Tired Body or Tired Mind

Have you heard the expression, “An ultra is 50% physical and 90% mental,”? No, well then, you’re probably not an ultrarunner or haven’t been one very long. A critical aspect of training that doesn’t get the attention it deserves is the psychological side of getting your body to keep putting one foot in front of the other for 100 miles as quickly as possible.

We all know it’s important, but we don’t spend much of our training time on it. I’m guilty of this myself. Sure, I have strategies I use when I get into that dark place, but I have never taken the time to actually make psychological strategies a part of my training to the point where I actively think about and practice them during my training runs. There are two types of psychological strategies you must have for an ultra. First, is dealing with the negative moods and thoughts. Second, is dealing with being so freaking tired.

The problem with not actively including psychological strategies as a core aspect of your training plans is that it’s mental fatigue that will stop you before physical fatigue in a race. Might want to read that again. Mental fatigue is more likely to put a stop to your race than physical fatigue.

That’s right, it’s your brain being tired that is going to slow you down and stop you before your muscles and nerves will. It actually takes an enormous amount of energy to fight off the persistent urge to sleep. I’ve fallen asleep while running and my pacers have had to persuade me not to crawl into small caves to take a nap while out on the course. I’ve seen runners curled up on the side of the trial sleeping while their pacer waits. When 100-mile events can take up to 36 hours it’s no wonder that those who run at the mid or back of the pack are exhausted, in every way, by the time they cross the finish line.

There are a few things we can do to be prepared for this level of extreme mental fatigue. Use caffeine strategically. Most ultrarunners are using caffeine in some form for a race, and caffeine is very effective at keeping you awake. However, if you drink a lot all the time, it’s not going to be as effective. You should taper off caffeine about 30 days before a race for it to be most effective during a race. Caffeine comes in all forms. You can get gels with caffeine, tablets, or drink it.

Another option is to take a nap. What!? I know, I know. I will admit I’m one of the last people who would suggest this. I’ve never napped during a 100-mile race, but if you’re out of options and falling asleep on your feet, sleeping for 30 minutes might be your best bet for picking up your pace. It goes back to the amount of energy it takes to force yourself to stay awake. I’ve run many relay events where my team runs through a day, a night, and a day. I know that if I sleep for two hours, I’ll be as good as new for the last leg of my race on day two. My muscles haven’t had time to recover, but I’m able to sustain the same pace as my first leg if I get those two hours. If I don’t, I’m going to be slower.

Another strategy is to train your mind to deal with being tired and running anyway. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, do something mentally challenging throughout the day (this is easy if you have a job that is mentally challenging) and then go for a long night run without sleeping between the two activities. Another way is to perform challenging mental tasks while you run. A research study used cyclists and the Stroop Test. The Stroop test is like the picture above. You have to read off colors when the word is written in a color other than what the word says.

The cyclists who did this training had a significant increase in their ability to stay mentally focused beyond the point where they previously became mentally fatigued to the point where it impaired their performance. The Stroop test is a little difficult to do while running, unless you’re on a treadmill (yuck!), but it maybe worth your suffering. You can use anything that is going to cause your brain to really work while you run (complex math anyone?).

Ultras challenge us in more than one way and we have to prepare for each. Psychological training is not an area you want to let slip by.

Winter Racing

From your first winter run, it becomes obvious that the cold weather impacts your performance. Depending on where you live, you’re likely to find holiday themed 5k and 10k races throughout the winter, but there are longer races out there too including a 50k and 100 miler. You can check out the Susitna 100 in Alaska here. 

Not up for an ultra in the winter, that’s alright. Even the 5k and 10k will provide some steep competition, so you’ll need to be training and that means running under the same conditions as what you’ll be racing in.

When you run in the winter, your body relies more heavily on carbohydrates and less on your fat stores. This means you’re going to need to increase your carbs-on-the-go intake while you’re running longer distances. Your muscles don’t contract as powerfully in the cold as they do when it’s warm. This means you have to recruit more muscles to get the job done. You need more oxygen in colder temperatures to produce the needed energy to sustain you through your runs because you need more muscles to help out. This extra oxygen produces more lactate, which means you’re likely to feel like you’re working harder.

Also in the winter, your body has the extra load of making sure you stay warm. Staying warm takes a lot of energy. To help with this, make sure you’re wearing clothing that’s appropriate for the temperatures. Maintaining a constant pace rather than speeding up and slowing down, as you would in intervals, is much easier on your body because it can be really difficult to warm up after you’ve cooled down. Make sure your body is warmed up before you start your run. You don’t want to be sweating, but you want to be warm including your fingers and toes.

Hydration can be especially problematic in the winter because your body doesn’t have as much of a thirst response in the colder temperatures. The problem is you lose a lot of water from not only sweating but breathing. Carrying water during the winter is difficult on long runs. I always recommend a hydration pack because carrying a frozen handheld is just not going to work. To keep your water from freezing add an electrolyte to it and make sure the tube is insulated.

Once you’ve finished your winter race, don’t stand around; get out of your wet clothes and into a warm shower or blanket as soon as you can. Enjoy some hot chocolate by the fire, you’ve earned it.

The Treadmill Struggle is Real

 

I hate treadmills. I know they are useful and in some situations better for your body than running outside in extreme weather or pollution. Treadmills are troublesome for a few reasons. First, they’re inside. Second, the scenery is limited and the same day after day. Third, you are not going anywhere. Fourth, there are numbers right in front of you telling you how much longer your torture session is. Sixth, it’s not the same workout.

A treadmill can be helpful if you are working on cadence, stride length, and form. It’s easier to pay attention to these things when you’re not going anywhere and the surface doesn’t change.

Treadmill and outdoor running are different. You expend less energy running on a treadmill than you do outdoors (running at the same pace). The reasons for this is the lack of wind resistance, terrain changes, and because the treadmill belt helps propel you along. To compensate for this, raise the incline to at least one percent.

Another difference is your smaller stabilizing muscles in the lower legs don’t work as hard on a treadmill as they do outdoors. This is because the surface is level, and you don’t have to propel your body forward as much. Your calf muscles, on the other hand, work much harder. Because of the extra work, runners can have calf muscle pain, shin splints, Achilles tendonitis and other issues if they run long distance on treadmills.

The biggest challenge of treadmill running, for me, is the monotony. How do you keep yourself entertained while on the treadmill? (really, I want to hear from all of you on this one).

Here is what I’ve come up with: music, audio books, podcasts, Netflix or other video streaming, and books (yes, I can read on a e-reader and run. Actual books are more complicated). For longer runs, I have to take all of these.

Other ways to entertain oneself while running the hamster wheel are to do various types of workouts. Here are a few suggestions:

Hamster Wheel Speed work

Workout: Six/Sevens
Warm Up

1 Set: 90 seconds @ 6 percent grade and marathon pace
1-minute recovery @ flat jog
1 minute @ 7 percent grade and marathon pace
2-minute recovery @ flat jog
Do 6-10 sets.
CoolDown

 Workout: Faster, Faster
Warm up
1 Set: 400m @ easy run pace
400m @ 15K (tempo) pace
400m @ 3-5K race pace
Do 4 sets.
Cool Down

Workout: The Pyramid
Warm Up

Set 1: steady pace 1 minute each @ 4, 5 and 6 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 2: steady pace 1 minute each @ 5, 6 and 7 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 3: steady pace 1 minute each @ 6, 7 and 8 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 4: steady pace 1 minute each @ 7, 6 and 5 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog

Set 5: steady pace 1 minute each @ 6, 5 and 4 percent incline
2-3 minutes recovery @ flat jog
Cool down

Workout: The Lab Rat
Warm up

Stage 1: 4 minutes @ easy run pace
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 2: 4 minutes @ stage 1 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 3: 4 minutes @ stage 2 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 4: 4 minutes @ stage 3 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery

Stage 5: 4 minutes @ stage 4 pace + 1 mph
lower speed 2 mph for 2-minute recovery
Cool down

Tiggers Bounce, Should You?

I know Tigger is very adorable bouncing on his spring like tail down the trail of Hundred Acre Wood, but running is not supposed to be adorable and runners don’t bounce, right?

Common sense says that pushing off the ground with a higher stride angle, the angle of your ankle joint, (so you travel up more than forward), would equal less running economy, but there’s at least one study from 2013 that says more bounce is better. Don’t get excited my bouncy friends, there are lots of studies that show bounce is bad.

It’s a long-held belief that running with a bounce, or vertical oscillation, wastes energy because runners want to move forward not upward. Runners with more bounce tend to be heel strikers as well. If you think about it, it just makes sense. Pushing off so you move up rather than forward, when forward is the goal, is going to use more energy over time than moving forward without so much upward motion.

Of course, it’s not that easy. There are runners who bounce and land toward their forefoot. There are two types of bouncing runners: those who run with a forefoot strike and have an elastic bounce and those who run with a heel strike and have a muscular bounce.

An elastic bounce uses the stored energy of the Achilles tendon to power the runner and can reduce energy costs. A muscular bounce on the other hand, is caused by a long stride length, the breaking action of a heel strike followed by a hard toe-off from the forefoot. The problem with the muscular bounce is it places more stress on the musculature of the lower legs and feet.

Not only does this waste your energy, but the impact of hitting the ground flows through the body in the wrong way and can cause injuries such as shin splints, runners knee, lower back pain, and soft tissue vibration and injury.

Alright so you’re a bouncer, what now? If you are a beginning runner, the bounce may fade away as you build muscle and get into your running groove. If you’ve been at this running thing for a while and you still bounce, make sure your stride is short and your leg turnover is about 180 steps per minute. Pay attention to your arms as you run too. They should be at a 90-degree angle and swing mostly straight forward and back. Your elbow comes up to your hip and your wrist goes back to your hip. Keep your hands lose.

If you’re a heavy heel striker, try to adjust to landing on your feet when they are beneath you, so you’re landing on your mid-foot or forefoot. This will happen automatically if you have a slight forward lean, your shoulders are pulled back, and your head is up.

Tigger is very happy bouncing on the trails, but you’ll be happier and faster if you reduce the bounce.

 

is R.I.C.E. right?

Whenever we strain or sprain a muscle, we immediately start applying R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression, and elevation), but is that the right thing to do?

The RICE and PRICE (protection, ice, compression, and elevation) practice came from good old medical guess work and reasoning more than actual research studies. The new studies are showing that these regimens are not the best way to speed your way back to doing what you love to do.

Let’s start with the protection and rest portion. There was a study completed in 1994 by Oregon Health and Science University. The study took 82 people with sprained ankles and divided them into two groups one group had their ankle immobilized for 10 days and then began exercises to increase mobility. The other group wrapped their ankle for two days and then began the same program. The second group was back to doing their thing much faster: 57% back to it, where the immobilization group was only at 13%.

Complete rest is not the best option for many sprains, but be smart. If you can walk on it, take it easy, but don’t completely stop. Let pain be your guide. If the pain gets worse stop. If the pain is higher than a 2.5 on a one to five scale tone it down so it’s only a two. You may have to give it 48-72 hours before you can begin, but doing some activity is better than doing nothing. It’s called active rest.

Okay so the total rest or complete protection of the joint isn’t a good thing. What about the ICE? There’s no research that shows it actually reduces swelling. It only delays it. It is a good pain reliever and the theory was that if there is less pain you’re going to be able to move it sooner. The problem is it is delaying recovery by delaying the inevitable swelling. It also delays a hormone called IGF-1, which is key in repairing damaged tissues.

And compression? Well, there’s not research, but the doctors know it reduces swelling and if swelling is down, you are able to move your joint better and sooner. Elevation to reduce swelling? Um no. It may reduce it while it’s elevated, but as soon as you put it down the swelling returns.

So what do we do? A.R.I.T.A.: active rest is the answer. Implement active rest. Start with some basic mobility exercises while keeping your pain level down. It doesn’t have to be pain free. Do things that keep the joint mobile but don’t hurt to do. Sometimes it’s the side to side strain that causes pain but forward and back is fine.

You can’t let the muscles sit idle because they tighten up and atrophy. Scar tissue builds up which will then impact the movement of tendons and muscles for a long time if not forever. Continuing motion of the joint/muscle ensures the healing process will begin and be effective.

Inhale-Exhale

Breathing is something we all do without really thinking about it, unless it’s not going well. We become very aware of our breathing when it is a struggle regardless of the thing that is making it a struggle. The athletes who, I believe, are the most aware of their breath is swimmers.

A swimmer has to have a rhythm for their breathing. All other athletes we can just go and not think about it too much until we’re huffing and puffing and even then, we merely recognize it and adjust a bit or push through. Not swimmers. A swimmer has to coordinate every movement to make sure they are able to breath when needed.

Being aware of your breathing has benefits to many aspects of your life not just running (which is what we really care about, if we’re being honest). It can reduce stress, improve physical health, and increase self-confidence.

Deep breathing releases endorphins and those make us feel good and are a natural pain killer. It promotes better blood flow and increased energy through the extra oxygen. The increase in oxygen gives your body the tools to rebuild injured muscles and build muscle.

Breathing properly can reduce anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious about something take a few deep breaths and see what happens to how you feel. Deep breathing has a relaxing effect on our body and our mind, which helps relieve you of anger, sadness, and other uneasy emotions. It reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and helps with better sleep.

Deep breathing helps with posture. An upright posture has positive effects on many aspects of your physical health. Your internal organs function better when they are not all squished as you hunch over at a desk or table. Your spine stays healthy preventing lower and upper back pain. It massages your organs such as the heart, stomach, small intestine, liver and pancreas.

Deep breathing strengthens your immune system. Oxygen attaches to hemoglobin in your red blood cells allowing your body to metabolize nutrients and vitamins. It also removes toxins from your blood like carbon dioxide.

Deep breathing makes sure oxygen gets to all the important parts of your brain. You’re able to think more clearly and more creatively. Nerves run throughout your body sending messages from your brain to every body system and muscle. Oxygen is one of the nutrients the brain, spinal cord and nerves need to make communication quick and effective.

How do you do this deep breathing?

Ideally you would spend a few minutes each day and complete the following for two sets of ten. Sit with your back straight and tall or lay on your back. Exhale all the air from your lungs. When you think you can’t get anymore out, try a bit more. Pause for one second and then begin to fill your lungs slowly until you can’t take any more in.

Another option is to send a few minutes throughout the day being aware of your breath and make sure you’re sitting straight and breathing into your belly and not your chest. Make the breaths deep.