Cut It Short?

There is a time and place when we have to cut our runs short. This can be a very difficult choice for many runners, especially, those who have a busy scheduled with little flexibility. So what do you do when, you reach a point in your run and begin to think it might be best to cut it short?

I’ve had this thought a bunch of times out on the trail. The struggle is deciding whether or not this is a real reason to cut a run or if this is a day where you need to push through a tough spot in a run. We all have tough spots in runs and as ultrarunners, it’s very important to learn how to push through those.

There are a few things to take into consideration when making the choice to either push through a training run or to cut is short. Start by asking yourself just how weak and tired you actually feel? If you are exhausted and have nothing to give-cut it short. If it feels more like a time when your energy has just bottomed out but will come back with a snack-get a snack and push on through.

What about the middle? If you’re some where in the middle you have to ask more questions: First, what do you have planned the rest of the day? If you have a jam packed schedule requiring concentration and focus, cut the run short. If you have a day of other physical activities, cut the run short. If you have a day free from mental and physical strain and think you can spend that time recovering on the couch with a good book or movie, go ahead and finish the run.

Second, what has your sleep and rest looked like over the last week? what does your future schedule hold for sleep and rest? If you’ve had little rest and no high quality sleep for the past few days and you’re looking at more of the same, cut the run short. If you’ve had horrible sleep, but this will improve beginning with the next day, go ahead and finish the run.

Third, are you nursing any injuries? if you have that telltale twinge from your ankle, hamstring or hip flexor that says you’re pushing the limit, cut the run short. Running when you feel weak and tired coupled with a problematic area feeling twingy is not a good combination. You could end up taking a week or more off if you make a poor choice in your foot plant or just push the muscle/tendon beyond what it can do that day.

Fourth,  what does your running schedule look like the rest of the week? if you have another hard run in 48 hours, cut your run short. If you have a few easy days or are willing to adjust them to easy days, go ahead and finish the run. BUT you have to be able to stick to the easy days.

Cutting a run short is a difficult decision. You have to learn to listen to your body and know when it’s a head game and when it’s time to rest.


Block It

We all get stuck in a rut, but it can be really easy to do with your workout routine. I know I’m guilty of this on multiple occasions, with both my running and with my strength workouts.  There are a few problems with the rut: first, you don’t make any progress; second, you lose motivation; third, it’s boring!

The first is the most important for runners who want to improve. Not all runners want to improve. They are content running their six miles four days a week at a comfortable pace. That’s not me. I want to get better and I like to see progress. Even if improvement isn’t your think, staying motivated to get out there and not being bored the entire time should be enough for you to want to change things up every few weeks.

Many runners work through their training in blocks. Blocks can be four, six or eight weeks long and during each block you focus on a different aspect of your running. That doesn’t mean you drop other aspects of training, they just aren’t the focus point. Other runners switch things around by every other week. And still others, do a rotation over a ten-day period.

Strength Blocks: Starting a block rotation with strength is great because the number one goal of strength training for runners is to reduce risk of injuries. There are three types of strength training typically used by runners. First is body weight. This uses light weights or no weights with high repetitions. The idea is it builds strength and stability without the mass. Second is plyometrics. Plyometrics are explosive movements, such as jumping and springing. These are great but need to be implemented in small dosages especially at the beginning. Third is heavy lifting. Heavy lifting is low repetitions and max weight which strengths your connective tissue. Lifts should be done very slow and controlled. You’re runs during a strength rotation should be lower in intensity because you’re kicking up the intensity with strength training.

Speed Blocks: during your speed block you’re going to have an intense speed workout once a week and then throw in some fartleks during your long run. For your weekly intense session, choose different types of work outs. Don’t just do 800s. There’s nothing wrong with doing a week of 800s, just don’t make it an every week thing. Use pyramids, tempo runs, ladders, or 400s.

Hill Blocks: during your hill block you will have one run a week dedicated to running hills and then you’ll throw in extra hills for your long run. You can run hill repeats or find a long steady climb to conquer. If you’re doing short repeats, walking the downhill is fine, but you’ll have to find some longer downhills to practice downhill running. Downhills will tear up your legs if you don’t build them into your training.

Build Blocks: As endurance runners, especially at ultra-distances, your long run is going to stay in the weekly rotation. However, if you’re not doing a build phase, you’ll only do one long run a week rather than the back to backs. You can also choose to run one long run and then the next day a ten-mile run. But if you’re not in a build block, you’re not increasing the miles on that second day.

The important part is that you are changing things and challenging your body in new ways. Using the same workouts doesn’t get you more of the same results. It gets you a flatline.


Time or Miles?

Whenever I sit down to write up a new training program for myself or one of my friends, the first major decision I have to make on  training strategy is time or miles. This means do you run for a specific time each session or a specific number of miles. As with most running questions, the answer is, it depends. It depends on your goals, experience, and personality.  

Time can be less stressful than miles. If you run for a predetermined amount of time, route selection is less complicated. Timed running is also beneficial when you are a beginning runner or coming back from an injury. Beginners often find it disheartening when their pace is not what they think it should be, or they start comparing themselves to other runners they know. When you go out for a specific time, pace isn’t the primary focus. You run at a comfortable pace.

When I am coming back from an injury, I run for time. I begin with a run walk pattern determined by how long I have had to take off or running. If it’s only been a couple of weeks, I start with a ten-minute run and two-minute walk for thirty minutes. If it’s been four weeks, I start with an eight-minute run and two-minute walk for thirty minutes. If it’s been more than four weeks, I start with five-minute run and two-minute walk for twenty minutes. I slowly increase my run time and decrease the walk time until I am running the entire thirty minutes. At that point, I increase my time.

When running trails, running for time can make things considerably easier. You don’t have to figure out how many miles the trail is, where your turn around point is, or how long it is going to take you to finish that many miles. Running for a specific amount of time is also useful if you have the habit of running easy runs too hard just to finish earlier.

Running for miles makes sense because a race is a specific number of miles, and you need to be able to do that amount to be ready for the race. Speed training is easier when training on miles because it is generally set up in intervals over a specific distance, such as 800 meters. Some people like numbers, miles are more appealing to this group of individuals. Training with miles does not account for bad days, however. If you are having a bad day and are one minute per mile slower, you are going to be out there for a longer time, which may be harmful to your running because you are likely overtraining.  If you run for time, so what if you are slow one day, you are still only running for sixty minutes or ninety minutes.

Running for time is appealing to me because of its simplicity. Running for miles is also appealing because of its certainty. I run for miles. I have considered making the switch to time just for a little while, to try it out, if you will, but it hasn’t happened yet. It makes me nervous that I won’t be ready or as prepared for a run. This nervousness is probably irrational because I know how long it takes to run a certain distance and my brain would just calculate the time, and I would end up with the same or near the same miles.

Perhaps the solution is to run for miles for specific types of runs and run for a predetermined amount of time for others. Easy runs could be run for a specific amount of time. This would remove the desire to run faster to be finished sooner. You could just run at the pace your body needs to recover. Easy run means conversational pace. No huffing and puffing. For your speed work and long run, you could run for miles. Speed work is generally set up based upon distance. Running for miles for long runs would ensure that you are ready for the distance of your goal race. It would also satisfy the numbers junkie.