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.

 

Training Races

Now is the time to begin planning your race calendar for 2018. Many races fill up early, especially, trail races which have more restrictions on enrollment numbers. Plus, it’s fun. Once you have a list of races you’d like to do for next year, pick one as your goal race. This will be the race all of your training will be focused on. It does’t mean you can’t do other races; it just means the other races are training races.

What’s a training race? It’s a organized event that you run in which is not your goal race. Training races are very useful because they keep you engaged and motivated, but they do a lot more than that too. Let’s start with the motivation piece. Motivation waxes and wans through training, especially, if your goal race is months away or if you have a lot of rebuilding and thus a longer training plan. Having shorter races(compared to the goal race) along the way gives you small goals and accomplishments along the way.

The most important function of a training race is it tells you where you’re at in your training and where you need to go. But, for it to be able to do this, your training races have to have at least some of the same race conditions as your goal race. The distance of your training races will depend on the length of your training plan and the distance of your goal race. So, if your goal race is a marathon you’ll want to pick a 10k and half marathon. The half marathon should be about 4-5 weeks from your goal race. The 10k would be earlier. For a 50k you’d choose a marathon about 4 weeks before and maybe a half a month before that. For a 50 miler, you’ll choose a marathon and a 50k. The 50k being about 4 weeks from your goal race and the marathon 3-4 weeks before that. For a 100, You’ll want a 50 miler about 4-5 weeks before your goal race and a marathon 4-5 weeks before that. We’ll talk about adding more in a second, for now lets focus on these two training races.

For these two training races, you’ll want to decide how much effort you want to put into it. I’ll tell you right now, you shouldn’t be putting full race effort into them. About 75-80% is all you’ll want to do because you don’t want to risk injury, but you want to get a good idea of where you are and how your training is working for you. The other reason you don’t want to put in full effort is because it take a while for your body to recover from full race effort and you’ll need to get back to training after the race. This also makes timing of the training race important which is why the longer one should be about 4-5 week before your goal race.

For a training race to fulfill it’s purpose, the conditions need to be as close to your goal race as you can make them. This includes course and difficulty if you can. If it’s off a little don’t worry about it. The timing of the race is more important than matching your terrain exactly. The other part of “conditions” you’ll want to mimic are your prep. You need to prep like it’s your goal race. Practice your nutrition plan just like you’ll do in your goal race, pack drop bags (even if you won’t use them), use the gear you’ll be using in the goal race (even if you don’t need it all), eat your pre-race meal, do breakfast the same, and go to bed at the same time.

Can you do all this as just a regular training run and not do a training race? you can, but the race atmosphere changes things. It changes your mindset, your adrenaline levels, your competitive nature, and race day anxiety. those are hard to produce in a training run. It goes back to creating the same conditions as you’ll face at your goal race.

Tapering before a training race is different because you don’t want to kill your training four weeks before your goal race. However, you do want to do a mini taper and a mini recovery. Cut back your training the three days before the training race and take the day before as a rest day. After the race, take a two days rest and then do an easy run.

What about adding more races into your schedule? you certainly can, but they should be treated like a training run not a training race and certainly not a race. You can practice a lot of the things you’ll be doing at your goal race, but you shouldn’t run it any harder than you’d run a training run. This goes back to risking an injury and depleting your body to the point of it needing recovery days.

Happy planning!

Eager Beaver

Not everyone is an eager beaver. Pulling yourself out of the winter hibernation can be quiet the process. “But it’s running!” the beavers say. I know I totally get it beav. I’m right there with you rearing to go, chomping at the bit, barely containing the animal within.

But for some, it takes time for the snow to melt, the limbs to thaw, and the warm blood to reach the toes. It can be especially challenging if you have dropped your miles very low over the winter months or if you had a disappointing race season before the cold hit your neck of the woods.

When your miles drop to the point that you are having to work up to the fitness level where you were at the close of the race season, overcoming that mental hurdle of knowing how hard it can be to come back is your most formidable enemy, but you’ve slain this foe before. Write yourself a good gradual training program, set some goals along the way, sign up for races with increasing distances, and help your running partners thaw themselves out as well. Remember how great it feels when you’re at peak fitness. And at the end of next season, rethink the idea of maintaining a higher milage base.

A disappointing race season can leave you depressed and questioning why you work so hard only to miss the goal you set for yourself. If you find yourself in this space, you really need to get out into the sunshine, even if it is just to sit on a park bench. Soak in some of the suns rays. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Wiggle your toes in the grass and earth. Brush your fingers gently on the blossoms covering the trees. Breathe the mountain air. There is nothing like getting outside away from the business of the city to reignite the fire that fuels your engine.

Once your brain is in a better place, it’s time to rethink your race season. Failures are only failures if you learn nothing from them and continue to repeat them. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Failure is not falling down; it’s not getting up.” Find the places where you think you were less than your best and pull them apart until you know why. That “Why” is your starting place.

Turn your why around and look at it from every angle. Get intimate with it. Pull it apart and turn it inside out. Now, come up with a plan to kill the why. This will likely be trial and error during your training.

Trial and error can be fun. It makes you think outside the box. It makes you dig deep and find something new about yourself. You may make new friends through collaboration as you work through this little issue of yours.

We’re runners, we stare into the face of challenge and smile.

 

 

Making the Leap to the Ultra-World: Training

making the leap 6

The same two golden rules of training for marathons and shorter races apply to training for an ultra. First, never increase your miles by more than ten percent. Second, reduce your miles by 20-25% (or however much you need to make an active recovery) every fourth week.

The training programs you find on the internet for ultras usually have you running five days a week. I haven’t found this to be necessary. And I believe the extra day is “junk miles.” What I mean by junk miles is, they don’t help you improve. It’s typically on Wednesday and fairly short compared to the other distances.

Your energy is better spent doing functional strength training than throwing in miles you don’t need. Functional strength training uses body weight and light weights, such as kettle bells and dumbbells. It’s focus is on balance and your core (knees to nipple line).

Balance and core strength are critical when running trails. Rocks, roots, and the shape/angle of the trail can put you off balance. You need to train your body to adjust on the go—quickly. Core strength also helps with balancing. However, the more important reason for core strength is maintaining your form for the entire event.

Form failure causes injuries due to compensation. Injuries cause more damage/strain due to compensation. The longer you can maintain your proper running form, upright, slight lean forward, shoulders back, head up, 90 degree angle-loose hand arm swing, and landing on a bent knee, the less likely you are to cause an injury during the event. The other piece of this equation is, poor forms decreases energy efficiency. Your body has to work harder to put one foot in front of another if you are hunched over, heel striking, landing on a straight leg, or have tense shoulders/arms you’re burning through energy you should be using to run.

Speed work is controversial among ultrarunners. I have mixed feelings about it as well. I know it can be helpful, but you have to balance the increased risk of injury when doing speed work, such as pulled hamstrings or shin splints. The benefit is increased leg turn over, which translates into more speed and less impact per step. These are good things, but I wouldn’t have a beginning ultrarunner do speed work. I would have more experienced ultrarunners include some speed in their Tuesday or Thursday runs, either as fartleks or 800 meter intervals.

The back to back long runs are the keystone to ultrarunning. Your back to backs should be long enough to keep you running on tired legs on the second day, but short enough to allow you to recover for the training week to come. This comes with time. When you first start back to backs, you’re going to be tired. Your legs will feel heavy until your body adjusts. Remember the two golden rules and you’ll be fine.

My athletes train six days a week. They run Tuesdays (10-12 miles), Thursdays (10-12 miles), Saturdays (long run), and Sundays (long run). On Monday and Friday they do functional strength training. Wednesday is a total rest day.

Environmental condition training includes the terrain, weather, and time of day. To be prepared for a mountain race, you have to run mountains. To be prepared for a flat race, you have to run flats. It’s that simple. Try, as best you can, to mimic the terrain of your hundred. During an ultra you can get snow and heat in the same race. There may be torrential rains and hurricane force winds. Because of this, don’t save your training for a sunny day. Get out there and deal with the crappy weather.

One hundred mile races take most people 24 hours or more to complete. This means you will be running during the night. You need to be comfortable with a headlight and negotiating trails with the limited light. If you’re not, they will significantly slow your pace throughout the night. That’s a long time to be slow. The night time hours can be the perfect time to increase your pace and make up some time because of the lower temperatures at night (most of the time). Don’t lose this chance. Train in the dark.

Mental exhaustion is another thing you can mimic in your training. You’re going to have it during a 100 and maybe even a 50. How are you going to deal with it? Caffeine is a possibility or energy drinks of some sort. Just be careful because these increase your heart rate and your core temperature. You obviously don’t want your heart rate or temperature up any higher than running 100 miles causes.

Finally, be consistent. You’re going to be tired. Don’t let it be an excuse to not get your training done.

Shoe Swap

running shoes

Do you ever see the new shoe reviews? Of course you do. I’m here to say, “Beware.” The reviews can suck you into thinking your shoes are not right for you or that you can get better ones which will prevent or be the fix all for any nagging injuries you have.

It’s not just the shoe reviews which can prompt a change in shoe. Sometimes you just walk into the running store and there they all are beautifully displayed along the wall.

Our running friends get new shoes and talk about how great they are. You look down at their feet and see the clean and vibrant colors and think, “It’s about time for new shoes, right?”

Every year there are runners who are forced into changing shoes as new models are released and no longer work for us or  have bothersome aspects,  which,  stir up the desire to find something else.

There are a million reasons we decide to change shoe brands or models.  Despite the reason for us changing shoes, there are some precautions runners should take or possible issues they should think about as they make the change.

Make sure you find out about the construction of the shoe and how it is different or similar to what you are currently running in. Running store employees have quite a bit of information in this area. They talk to a lot of runners who give them personal reviews. You can also search for reviews online. Even if you don’t order shoes from online sources, many have review or comments. Also look at the website for the manufacturer. They usually detail the updates and changes from one model to another.

Toe box width, heel to toe drop, arch support, and stability are all important aspects of a shoe you should be asking about. Once you know this info, turn the shoe over in your hand and check out the tread. Is it aggressive enough for where you run? How stiff is the sole of the shoe?

Take the shoe for a test drive. Many running stores will let you run on a treadmill to feel the shoe. This is never enough time for you to really assess the comfort level of the shoe.  And it’s not the ideal conditions unless you run on treadmills for the majority of your running.

Pay attention to how the foot feels in the shoe, is there anything rubbing, does the heel fit well in the heel cup, do your toes have enough space to wiggle, and is the shoe supportive/tight enough in your arch. Make sure there is not a place on your foot where there is more pressure than other places.

There are two good times to go try on shoes: first, after a long run, and second, after you have worked all day. The reason is, your feet swell throughout the day making them bigger at the end of the day. Your feet also swell during running. The point is make sure you have enough room in the toe box.

Many stores also have a 30 day return policy. However, this may be a bit tricky if you’ve run a bunch of miles and the shoes are dirty in any way. Check into the return policy when you are switching brands or models.

My final advice is, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

Feeling Lucky

lucky

Every once in awhile, it occurs to me how lucky I am and how I take many things for granted. I had this very thing happen during my run last Thursday.  I was out on a trial I had only been on one other time. It’s very beautiful with aspens trees standing right up against the trail edge, and as you climb higher this changes to a pine forest. The temperatures dropped with each step up toward the saddle of Lambs Canyon Pass. I watched the sun rise from behind the mountains surrounding me. I heard the rustle of birds, squirrels, and all manner of other small creatures waking up.

Whenever I realize how lucky I am to have the opportunity to be out on the trial, I stop and just breathe it all in and try to appreciate it. I think about everything that has to happen and come together to allow me to be out there such as time, where you live, financial ability, freedom, work schedule, family support, and obviously health.

Injuries make us stop and think about how much we do have as runners. It’s unfortunate that, in many aspects of life, we forget what we have until it is gone. As a western society, I think we tend to focus on the negative things in our lives. With our focus on the things which are going wrong or badly in our lives, we lose sight of what is going well and how much we have.

In the United States, there are still many people who live way below the poverty line and lack the ability to meet their own basic needs. But there are also many who are able to do so and those who are able to have enough financial means to provide for their wants and desires as well.

It’s important to remember and be grateful for how much we have compared to those who have so little in our own community and worldwide. This change in perspective will make you more content in your daily life. We all have struggles and obstacles we face at various stages in our lives and because of our choices. Dealing with stressors is easier when you see the things that are positive in your life.

Life gets busy for all of us and we lose sight of the positive things in our lives, but once things slow down stop and remember the beauty in your life. Surround yourself  with small reminders of the positive things in or to slow down and see them.

Next time you are out there with your feet floating over the trail or pavement, take thirty seconds, breathe in the beauty that surrounds you, and call to mind all that is positive in your life.

I Run for Me

I run for me

For all long time runners there are multiple reasons behind why they run, health, time to think, play/enjoyment, process emotions, love of the outdoors, to eat junk food, or social aspects just to name a few. It’s good to revisit this from time to time to remind yourself what running means to you and how it has changed your life.

What started you running, may be completely different from the reasons you have continued to run. Your reasons have shifted from external to internal and if they haven’t, running may lose its appeal. At least, until you find another external reason to toss you back into running.

In this post, what I want to consider are internal reasons to run rather than the external ones.

The question here is, why should you run for you? I’m sure some think this is a silly question, but I see a lot of people in many different settings who do things because of the benefit they think it gives to others or to change how others perceive them. Let me give you some examples to clarify.

I run for my children. I want to show them how to be healthy, and I want to be healthy to be able to run and play with them. I run to socialize and hang out with my friends. I run to show the world I’m strong, capable, and can achieve goals. I run to look good to others and find a significant other. I run to deal with a stress caused by others. I run to compete with others.

I think these are fine reasons to get you started, but you need to dig deeper if you intend to keep running. These are not sustainable sources of motivation because, eventually, they lose their ability to propel you forward. Life changes and priorities change. In other words they are situational.

Don’t get me wrong, doing things for others is a good thing. I’m not advocating selfishness here. Running for yourself benefits everyone in your life. Some of the above reasons can be turned inside out, becoming reasons to run for you, but I think they are still surface reasons. Running for yourself means competing with who you were yesterday. It means growth. It means valuing yourself just because you are you and nothing more. It means running because YOU deserve the benefits of running.

I run to discover myself and to be as alive as I can possibly be. I run to be free to be myself without judgement. I run because I deserve to be happy, stress free, healthy, strong, beautiful, grounded, creative, and fearless.