My streamlined, sustainable approach to weekly training

After weeks of tinkering with my training routines, my diet, adjustments to supplement intake… I have finally settled on a sustainable routine that has me feeling good.

I ramped up strength training this summer, wanting to seriously build strength while still endurance training regularly. Vancouver basically marked the start of my race-training offseason. With no plans to race before the fall, I can focus on base fitness as well as building strength. Plus I have space to take rest days where needed.

At the same time, I gained some weight, and hit a high water mark of 187 pounds. I’m not one to fuss much about my weight, but that probably needed to come down. I’m also about 10-15 pounds heavier for Vancouver 2022 than I was for past marathons, and that might have had some impact on my training not to mention the ill-fated race itself.

So I quickly ramped up to 3-5 progressive strength workouts per week, along with some running and cross training. But I also quickly grew tired, and needed to take a lot of rest days. It wasn’t that I was sore so much as I was all-around tired, meaning I was adrenally and hormonally tapped. How much I slept or didn’t sleep didn’t seem to matter much either, though it’s worth noting my sleep was just okay during all this.

So I tinkered with spacing blocks of workouts apart while remaining consistently active. I started with a block of 4 days of strength training in a row with no running, the 4th of which overlapped with a run, then three days of running with no strength training, before repeating the cycle.

But that too wore me out quickly. Just 2-3 strength workouts left me tapped out and sore, and once it was time to start the running portion I found myself very tired, plus it took several days off from strength training to feel suitably good to train again. This clearly wasn’t going to work long term.

Around the start of July, I started using the elliptical a bunch, figuring if I’m not going to run much, at least I can work on my aerobic fitness with a close-approximate activity. I quickly got comfortable again with 45 minute sessions, plus to mix in some running I would warm up with my old Life Time Fitness warmup, 10 minutes of slow then progressively faster running. Runalyze indicated these warmups were good for my VO2max fitness, and they felt fairly comfortable.

On strength training days I just did a work break run, then started swolework with no warmup. All of this together worked well.

It was around this time that I decided on several training changes in light of all this.

First, along with Garmin, Stryd and Runalyze, I’ve always kept a current Google Docs workbook tracking all of my training, dating back to my first serious run training in 2016. I’ve never deleted any of these records, and I’ve avoided any major changes to how I track data.

I tracked miles running and walking. I tracked any cross training by hours trained or fractions of hours trained. Then I calculated from this data an approximate fitness effect in combination with the mileage that I called “chops” (based on musician nomenclature to describe relative skill). Aside from minor adjustments to the calculations based on experience, I didn’t really mess with how this was calculated.

But over time I considered a major adjustment that I finally made last weekend. Instead of counting cross training by hours trained, I switched to counting the calories burned per Garmin. I divided these by 130 (average calories I burn per mile) for an equivalent “mileage” I add to my actual running mileage. The Weekly Mileage Equivalent (WME) is a function calculating this from each day as well as a rolling average of WME from the last 7 days. This I found best illustrates the compounding fitness effect of prior training). The EM is Equivalent Mileage, totaling the mileage plus all other recorded cross training to spit out a mileage number.

I went back to September 2019, when I first switched my old Fitbit out for my first Garmin watch. This data was all imported easily to Runalyze. I pulled that data from Runalyze and entered the calorie burn data for all the non-run workouts, including my walks. Much like how I calculated walk data the old way, I had the EM function divide walking calories by 10. Walking, while having a non-zero impact on aerobic fitness, is a mostly passive activity and does far less for fitness.

You’ll notice I even count the strength training, which in my experience does have a non-zero benefit on my running. Building strength prevents form breakdowns that slow you down later in a race or run. There’s also a slight aerobic and anaerobic benefit with many exercises. I don’t take long rest breaks while strength training. I rarely burn more than 150-180 calories in a 20 minute workout, more like 100-120. So calculating in a 130 cal/mile training benefit from these sessions isn’t unreasonable.

This basically changed my approach to workout programming. Visually I could now see a more objectively clear effect of any activity on my training volume and approximate fitness. I can also calculate Runalyze Marathon Shape based on the EM rather than my raw mileage as Runalyze does. This gives me a better idea of overall endurance fitness when I decide to cross train instead of running.

In turn, I decided to focus on cross training to build aerobic fitness and burn calories. The warm up runs not only allowed for more calorie burn on cross training (in line with a more zone 2 heart rate on these workouts, strengthening the aerobic training benefit), but were an easy and sustainable way to ensure I maintaining running fitness at varying paces before re-building aerobic fitness with the longer cross training sessions.

I don’t do the warmup runs every day, and I still do some full runs on the treadmill and outside. But most of my aerobic training is on a spin bike or elliptical. Currnetly I’m leaning on the spin bike now because I decided to go badge-chasing on Garmin again for biking badges.

I also realize that my strength workouts became very demanding. Instead of doing one full tiring workout every day or few days, I decided for now to do one single 4-set exercise every single day, rotating weekly through seven critical exercises:

Monday: Overhead Squat, 4x 8-12 reps
Tuesday: Decline DB Bench Press, 4x 8-12 reps
Wednesday: Lat Pulldown, 4x 8-12 reps
Thursday: Seated Cable Row, 4x 8-12 reps
Friday: Hanging Leg Raises, 4x 8-12 reps
Saturday: Incline DB Bench Press, 4x 8-12 reps
Sunday: DB Hammer Curls, 4x 8-12 reps

I would start the workout with today’s exercise, and it usually takes about 4-6 minutes to do the whole block. Then (perhaps after a 10 minute treadmill warmup) I do the cross training, about 45-50 minutes most days. That’s the workout. With post-run stretching, it takes a little over an hour.

I started this approach on Monday after work and have comfortably stuck to it through today, where I switched up today and did it this morning instead of after work. I’m not exhausted at work as I’d been after past morning workouts.

This plus a streamlined diet plan (2400-2600 calories, high protein) has me feeling more comfortable with training and better energized during the day than I’ve been in a while. I’ve slept fairly well, and even if my energy’s low on a given evening I can still get on a spin bike and give 45 minutes, no problem. I’ve finally landed on a sustainable training approach, and can finally (2 months after Vancouver) feel like I can get back to training like I want to.

I’ll stick with this through summer and see where it gets me by the fall.

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