Author Archives: Steven Gomez

The FIRST Marathon Training Approach: Who’s it good for?

first

I want to talk a bit about the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training‘s unique training program, known mostly as FIRST.

This is not a review of Run Less, Run Faster… the book that Runners’ World eventually put out about the method, though if this approach works for you then I recommend you check out the book. This is more of a review of the method itself.

The Basics of FIRST, in a Nutshell

  • Over 16 weeks you only run 3 days a week, with 1 day between the workouts plus 2 days off from running after the longest one.
  • All of the workouts are quality workouts. There is a speedwork session, a tempo run, and a long run. None of the workouts are a simple distance run. Every running workout has a specific challenge, and is intended to be difficult.
  • You are expected to cross train aggressively two additional days each week, most typically the day after the first two workouts.
  • Speedwork sessions are track style reps ranging from 400m to 1600m. These sessions are fairly light for speedwork: You’re never asked to do more than 12 reps, and that’s for the 400m repeats. These workouts shouldn’t last more than 45 minutes.
  • Midweek tempo runs range from 3-8 miles, and are done around 10K-15K pace.
    The paces for the long run are rather fast compared to other methods, run about 30-45 seconds faster than your 10K pace. This is approximately close to most methods’ marathon pace, so you are effectively doing your long runs as marathon-pace workouts.
  • The long run starts at 10 miles, peaks at 20 miles, and the average long run is around 16 miles, which incidentally is around the max long run of some methods. Because of the hard pace demanded, they’re designed not to last more than 2.5 hours.

Who Does the FIRST Approach NOT work for?

People who don’t do speedwork. FIRST is not for a speedwork beginner. All of the workouts demand some degree of tempo running, so you need to be comfortable with hard, pace-centered running.

Winter runners. Icy conditions do not lend themselves to hitting goal tempos, and FIRST demands you do every run at a tempo. You need traction with the ground to run fast, and slippery winter conditions don’t allow it. FIRST is best done during a conventional warmer season.

People who do best with lots of easy running. Every single workout is a higher intensity workout. If you prefer to run easy in workouts, do another plan. Don’t come near this one.

People who don’t want to cross train. One of the hidden keys to FIRST’s success is the low intensity cross training sessions you’re supposed to do between run workouts. This is where aerobic fitness is low-key developed. If you just do the run workouts, that aerobic fitness likely doesn’t develop fully (though, if you handle the entire plan, your anaerobic fitness should be vastly improved). And FIRST is adamant that you’re not to do any running on the non-run days. You’re basically doing another plan if you do.

People who want to log heavy miles. Because you only run three days a week in FIRST, and two of those workouts are somewhat shorter than typical marathon training runs, your total mileage is capped fairly low. If you feel you train best with a high mileage volume, you’ve got to do another plan.

Runners whose race pace is fairly close to their everyday running pace. If you’re more of a casual runner, FIRST is already a pretty tough fit for you. But if your race pace is fairly close to your regular running pace, you’re not going to get much more value from this plan than any other random running plan… most of which will do more for you than FIRST. You probably need more frequent, everyday running than anything else.

Injury or burnout prone runners. Because every FIRST workout demands a high level of intensity, and you’re assured of three challenging workouts every week, it’s very likely someone not equipped to handle the training load will get hurt or burn out.

Runners who lack cross training options. You need to be able to cross train to do FIRST effectively, and this requires you have access to a bike, a pool, a gym, etc. If you don’t, you may as well pick a plan that only asks you to run.

Who Does FIRST work for?

Experienced runners who do best with intense sessions. Similar to people who swear by Pfitzinger, highly trained runners who thrive in hardcore run workouts will probably get more out of FIRST. They may not be fond of the lack of running on off days, but perhaps the hard cross training makes up for it. Speaking of which….

Triathletes. Because FIRST demands cross training, triathletes who like to train in other aerobic disciplines (cycling, swimming) will enjoy the ample opportunity to work on their other sports… or at the least use those other sports as a recovery/development break from marathon training.

Hardcore runners who don’t have a ton of time. Someone who has a busy life but likes to train hard will like having a schedule of only three workouts per week. FIRST is more easily fit into a busy schedule.

Older experienced race runners. Athletes who like training hard but find age catching up with them could find FIRST ideal. Older athletes tend to do best by cutting back on volume and getting the most bang for their buck on less frequent workouts while perhaps cross training on the side. FIRST does not mess around with junk runs, and older athletes may get growth from the less frequent but more focused run schedule plus the cross training sessions.

Experienced runners who struggle with hitting goal times. To be honest, many experienced runners who struggle to nail a goal time could find substantial growth from FIRST’s focused, tempo oriented workouts. If your every workout demands a particular tempo, then you have no choice but to learn to hit tempo. You will find out early if a goal time is unrealistic, and can build subsequent workouts around a more feasible goal time. But the most important part is that a runner will get better at running at a goal pace.


No verdict. FIRST can be a quality training method for some runners, while it’s a bad idea for others.

Personally, I’m intrigued by the method, but the necessity of quality cross training makes it a no-go for me. I’m currently not part of a gym, and don’t own a bike. My cross training is limited to walking, mild strength training, and other physical errands. Also, it’s currently winter in Chicago, so if I was going to do it at all it would need to be during the peak summer season.

Also, for older and injury prone runners, Don Fink’s IronFit marathon method may be a better fit for this sort of training. While it similarly asks for three quality workouts per week, the pace demands aren’t as strict, and IronFit provides the flexibility for you to run on non-quality days if you prefer over cross training.

Still, Furman tested this method on various randos years back and those runners found immense marathon success with it… even without the cross training.

If you think FIRST can work for you, check out their book on the method, Run Less, Run Faster.

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Vital foods for serious vegan athletes

vegetables and tomatoes on cutting board

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For a variety of lifestyle and educated reasons I won’t get into, I personally consume meat and other animal products and don’t foreseeably intend to stop. And conversely I have no problem with people choosing to eat vegan, or otherwise vegetarian.

Running is probably one of the easiest forms of fitness to maintain on a vegan diet. Weightlifters and other power-based athletes face substantially greater challenges going vegan. But runners don’t have their strength and power needs. Plus, vegan diets are very carbohydrate rich, which plays right into the needs of endurance athletes.

Still, you need to be wary of your muscles’ and organs’ protein and other nutrient needs. A lot of vegan-common health problems manifest multifold in runners once those runners kick up the volume and intensity. Just because you don’t lift heavy weights doesn’t mean your muscle density isn’t important to your life, let alone your running.

The RDA and other listed mainstream protein requirements are frankly far too low. There’s a variety of political and economic reasons for that, none of which are particularly good for your health. You need more protein than that to live and age well, and most vegans need far more protein than they’re eating.

I set the minimum bar at 0.75 grams per pound of body weight. And if you look at most plant and grain based food, you’ll find reaching that bar is rather difficult.

There are certain foods that are very important to the health of serious vegan athletes.

Beans and legumes. These plant based foods provide the most protein, and a variety of other nutrients. Whether or not you’re a believer in combining proteins (e.g. eating beans with rice), beans in themselves contain a ton of potassium and protein. Just make sure to soak them properly to minimize digestive gas.

Some people swear by lentils, but not everyone digests them well. I’ve always had trouble digesting lentils. Barring that, they too are a great protein source.

Avocados, potatoes and bananas, aka the potassium monsters. Most people vegan or not don’t get enough potassium. The benchmark is 3000-4500 mg per day, depending on who you talk to, and the typical processed food rich Western diet won’t get you close.

Meat it turns out has a good share of potassium, but surprisingly many plant-based foods don’t provide much more than a similar serving of meat.

Avocados and bananas are convenient, useful potassium bombs. One avocado provides 800-1000 mg. Each banana gives you about 400 mg. But potatoes are the motherlode. A small potato can give you 600-700 mg. Cut up and eat three of them, and that’s around 2000 mg right there.

It’s little wonder so many people swear by potatoes. Famous magician Penn Jillette lost over 100 lbs subsisting largely on potatoes, which provided virtually all the nutrients his shrinking body needed. They are a calorie-dense wonder starch.

People love sweet potatoes and they’re totally fine, but they’re a bit harder to find. Conventional potatoes do the trick just fine.

If you can eat gluten, bagels. Most breads are not worth anyone’s time. But bagels are as dense and protein-rich a form of bread as you will find.

Yes, obviously for vegans there is concern that some bagels are made with egg or honey products, which are of course not vegan. If you want to try bagels and aren’t acutely aware of the source, read your labels and make sure no animal products are involved. To my knowledge, most bagels should be clear on that front. But definitely double check.

Provided they work for you… compact and calorie rich, one or two bagels on their own will provide enough energy for your longest workouts… let alone if you tack on any toppings (I’m guessing as vegans that cream cheese or butter isn’t among them).

Bonus: Ugali. The great Kenyan runners live on two food staples. One is not vegan: Milk infused tea. They drink it after every run. The other, however, is very vegan. Ugali is nothing more than finely ground flour (often cornmeal) and water mixed over boiling heat to create a thick mashed-potato-like porridge. The Kenyans eat a ton of ugali. And their runners crush almost every other elite distance runner in the world at major long distance events.

Ugali is cooked like the love child of rice and oatmeal. You add 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of flour. You boil it, mash out any lumps as it cooks, and then thicken or thin it using more water or flour as desired before serving. Cooking it takes about 10-15 minutes. The nutritional profile is similar to rice, except with a little bit more potassium.

If you train a lot, this is one of the quickest deliveries of large quantities of glycogen-producing carbohydrate you can ingest. This is a great dish to eat before or after tough training days. The Kenyans are not kidding.

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Yeah, I’m not vegan, and I’m in no hurry to adopt the lifestyle.

Still, it can be done without sentencing to death your muscle tone and (for men) your testosterone levels. There are foods that will allow you to take full advantage of your training. Eat them.

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Too much gas, too soon

I finally figured out what caused the hiccups at the Chicago Marathon.

It turns out that a full stomach can put pressure on the diaphragm, and the competing pressures on said diaphragm during a long moderately intense run like the marathon can finally cause the relevant muscles and organs to effectively cramp, spasm and whatever else organs do once they finally run out of gas.

It turns out I fueled *too* well during the early portion of the race. I had taken in over 16 oz of protein and carbohydrate within the first hour. Combined with with the natural slowing of digestion as you get into a longer run of any substantial intensity, I had suddenly maxed out the tank before reaching the halfway point. The pressure on my diaphragm finally caused it to give up around miles 12-14, and there wasn’t much I could do from there.

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Preventing that next time around is fairly easy: Just make sure not to take in so much fuel.

Of course, that presents another, more common marathon problem: If I don’t take in enough overall, I bonk during the final 10K. And of course your stomach’s digestion slows either way as you proceed. So rationing harder only means fuel taken in later doesn’t get digested in time to be used. It was a key reason I was working hard to fuel in the early stages of Chicago.

I don’t have a firm answer yet, beyond going unpleasantly slow and letting fat-burn catch up enough to fuel the entire race. Ultrarunners succesffully find a middle ground, and I imagine the answer lies somewhere within how they fuel for their much-longer races.

This is a research project that will fit into the rest of my training.

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No Tour De Trails 6 Miler

I have decided not to run the Tour De Trails 6 Miler due to not just the snow but the high winds (and the resulting potentially dangerous windchills) forecast for Northern Illinois this weekend, not to mention the complications of driving 90 miles each way in those conditions, plus the projected parking problems at Atwood Park. That’s just too much for what the conditions would basically turn into a glorified training run.

Plus, I’m scheduled to run the F3 Lake Half Marathon next weekend in Chicago, and that’s a goal race. It’s probably best to take it easy through the weekend and load up for that… even given the forecasted conditions for that race are also quite icy and windy.

So you want to run the Dopey Challenge?

As part of Walt Disney World’s Marathon Weekend (yes, for those who didn’t know, Disney World hosts an annual marathon!), they hold a series of preliminary races: A 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday, and the full marathon on Sunday.

Imagine someone trying to run all four races on the exact same weekend. Well, not only do people do it, but Disney’s race organizers actually award people medals for doing it. They call it the Dopey Challenge (I presume the eponymous dwarf’s name is used to reflect how smart of an idea they think it is), and they award large medals to anyone who successfully completes the Challenge.

You may ask: Who in their right mind has any business doing this? Presuming you think you could do it… how could someone train for this as something more than a masochistic exercise? Is there a best way to train for it? Is it possible to race the Challenge, rather than just trying to survive it?

Hal Higdon is the only person of any kind to actually put forth a training plan for the Dopey Challenge. And his traditional-style plan is fairly basic, asking for a series of progressively longer runs every fortnight to prepare for the races. Pretty much all the prescribed running is easy, the focus being on developing the aerobic endurance for the Challenge through sheer volume, at the expense of any sort of performance.

As he would attest, there’s a lot more to the Dopey Challenge than meets the eye:

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Quick thoughts on what causes weight gain when running

orange food truck

Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

If you struggle with weight gain while running, your problem may not necessarily be overeating.

In fact, you need all the nutrients you can get during high volume training. Cutting calories might be the worst thing you can do for your recovery.

Your culprit is not how much you’re eating, but the type of food you’re eating. For most of us, the easiest and most readily available form of satisfying food is processed. It comes out of a box or package. It’s either ready to eat or cooks quickly. It was chemically engineered in a lab and factory to taste good.

This food is high in sodium and a variety of additives. The organs’ struggle to process and coexist with these (non-)”nutrients” inflames your entire body and leads to your prime culprit: Water retention.

Water has weight. Drink a 16 oz glass of water and guess what? You just gained one pound. Ideally, your body urinates, sweats or evaporates this newfound pound out at some point soon.

But when your body is inflamed, it responds by retaining water to surround and protect your organs. The more processed food you eat, the more often you eat it, the more water your body continously retains to buffer your organs from all the chemical byproducts of the garbage you’re eating.

This is why when people try to diet, or clean up their diets, they lose a bunch of weight early on. A cleaner diet eliminates the inflammation and the need to water-protect organs. Your body begins to flush the excess retained water out. Whoosh!

(And yes, you may notice you’ve got to pee a lot more after you start. There goes all that retained water!)

This is also why people on diets see their weight loss slow after an early surge of lost weight. They weren’t losing fat early on. They were losing retained water.

Bakc to the point: If you’re gaining weight as a runner, you almost certainly are eating an excess of processed food. You may have your reasons for eating as you do. Your body is the ultimate scoreboard and won’t lie about what you’re eating and drinking.

Simply put, you can stop and reverse your weight gain by eating more unprocessed whole and natural foods. Eat for the whoosh, get yourself back on track, and stay back on track.

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Learning race pace with an accessible mixed-tempo long run

In light of my previous thoughts on tempo running… here’s an idea for a long run workout. Basically, it’s like a long, stretched out low key speed workout.

  • Warm up with easy running for about 1 mile.
  • Run 10 minutes at your desired marathon /half/15K/whatever tempo, or (if conditions won’t allow it) at a similar relative intensity
  • Then run easy for 5 minutes.
  • After that, again, run 10 minutes at tempo.
  • Then, again, run easy for 5 minutes.
  • Repeat until finished.

It’s pretty simple in structure, even if in practice it’s not so easy.

  • This is basically an interval workout built into a long run.
  • You can practice race pace or intensity within the challenge of a long run, without having to hold that pace for the entire run or build the entire workout around it.
  • Later tempo reps in the workout help simulate the fatigue of later miles in an injury-safer controlled setting.
  • You challenge yourself for a few minutes at a time, then catch your breath and recover with easier running.
  • And throughout all of this, you’re also getting the important aerobic development of a long run.
  • This workout is a fine middle ground for intermediate runners training for a 10K or longer race, who want to improve their race times or hit a goal time.
  • It may be more productive and efficient than doing a hard midweek speedwork session, and then a separate long slow run on the weekend.
  • Even if you fail in some way at running your desired pace… you still get all the benefits of a speedwork session AND a long run, without unduly taxing yourself.

In fact, if you don’t have a ton of training time during the week, doing this on the weekend as your only non-easy workout might work best for you. It can be your one key workout, while you can mix in whatever easy running you can do through the rest of the week. It takes a lot of pressure off of training, while ensuring you still do quality training that can prepare you for race day.

Another great aspect about this approach is, for most mid-pack marathoners, the tempo segments usually line up perfectly with the amount of time it takes to run between water/aid stations. You can carry hydration or other fuel, and practice fueling/drinking every time you hit a rest interval.

Sure, the easy run intervals are much longer than it would take you to get through an aid station. But this is not a full practice for a race, and you don’t want to subject your body to a full race during a workout anyway.

The easy running not only pads this into a true long run, but gives you ample time for your body to recover for the next bout of tempo.

If you want to seriously practice race fueling during this workout, you can take a swig of water/fuel right at the end of an easy segment, and make sure to hit a full dose once the tempo segment ends.

Or, if you plan to keep running hard while drinking/fueling at aid stations, it may be best to fuel in the middle of a tempo segment, to practice doing so at full speed.

 

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Injuries, your aerobic fitness, and your neuromuscular fitness

person seating on bench while holding knees

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Most common injuries happen because your aerobic fitness improves before your neuromuscular fitness does. You aerobically can run faster, but your bones/muscles/tendons/etc can’t handle running faster yet.

This is actually one (of many) reasons many running minds oppose tempo running. You’re often asking a lot from your body’s structure before it’s built up strength to handle it. While I don’t consider that a damning argument against tempo running, that’s a valid point.

This is also a key reason most recommend you do most of your running at an easy pace. You may be aerobically able to run faster, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your body is ready to run faster. The best way to help your body build the strength to run faster over time is to ask it to run a lot, rather than to ask it to run faster.

The high volume of lower stress running builds the strength and endurance that will facilitate faster running later. Obviously it’s still a good idea to do some faster running, but not too much.

If you struggle with shin splints, IT band issues, knee/ankle/hip problems or muscle injuries… you may want to keep running, but slow way down.

You also will want to work on your form and make sure you’re not slamming your feet into the ground, unnecessarily torqueing your body or bearing weight on your joints, etc. This is to some extent a contributing factor to recurring injuries.

But for the most part, your recurring injuries are from running too hard too much too soon as your aerobic fitness grows ahead of your neuromuscular fitness.

If you want more info on the relationship between aerobic and neuromuscular fitness, the book Build Your Running Body is a great all-around running resource for this and other subject. It’s definitely worth a look.

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The Debate on Tempo Runs and the Lactate Threshold

There are two schools of thought concerning tempo runs, aka extended runs done at or above your lactate threshold, the point at which your muscles produce too much lactic acid for your muscles to absorb + clear, causing your muscles to feel weary (among other tired effects).

As your fitness improves, the pace at which you hit your lactate threshold should get faster. This can allow you to run farther at faster paces. For any race distance beyond a sprint this is of course very important.

The traditional school of thought is that tempo running at or above the threshold strengthens your muscles’ ability to clear excess lactic acid, and therefore your threshold will increase over time.

Another school of thought is that a lot of aerobic running at a sub-threshold pace over time will increase that threshold, plus higher intensity running at shorter bursts will improve your running economy and in turn that threshold.

Who’s right? To some extent both camps are right. The question is which camp’s approach is most beneficial.

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The Best Beginner’s 5K Training Plan: Building a winning habit with easy every day runs.

The best 5K training plan for beginners is simple, and addresses the hardest part about doing it: Yourself.

If you’re not a runner but you want to run a 5K, there’s a multitude of training plans you can follow over 8-12 weeks to get ready. The most popular is Couch to 5K, where you follow a run/walk approach 3 days a week and build up to running 3 uninterrupted miles by week 8.

Almost every beginner plan has you run 3-4 days a week, every other day. As I mentioned in a recent post, what derails you on these plans is (somewhat ironically) the scheduled days off.

Intended to help you recover, the days off instead tempt novices back into their old habit of not-running, and prevent running from becoming a repeatable, sustainable habit.

It ironically takes more discipline to maintain a half-time running schedule over time than it does to maintain an every-day running habit. Though starting an everyday running habit is more of a grind in the short run, you more quickly ingrain running as a repeatable habit. It becomes easier to continue training.

Meanwhile, if you’re taking a day off every other day, not to mention a full weekend off each week… it’s very easy to forget or give in to temptation, and skip the next workout.

And the next. And eventually quit running.

This is because you’re not building a repeatable habit. You do a workout one day, but then do no workout the next day.

Imagine if instead of brushing your teeth every day, you brushed them three times a week. Chances are pretty good you’d forget to brush your teeth a lot more often doing it three times a week. However, brushing them everyday quickly ingrained the action as a habit, and you do it without a second thought.

This is the power of habit. And it’s the key to conquering your inertia towards exercise, let alone towards training to run a 5K. The key isn’t just to train yourself to run 3+ miles without stopping. The key is to build the habit of running so that it’s easier to get you to do the workouts you need.

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IronFit’s Marathons After 40: Who’s it good for?

IronFit40I want to talk a bit about IronFit’s Marathons After 40, more so about Don and Mel Fink’s application of Don’s trademark triathlon-focused IronFit training approach to older runners.

This is not necessarily a review of the book, which to be honest is well written, organized and easy to follow. If this approach works for you the book is absolutely worth a read.

I want to talk about the IronFit method of training, which doesn’t get the attention of other more popular methodologies (for example, Jonathan Savage’s exhaustive review of marathon training plans does not mention it)> Plus, it’s one of the only training approaches geared towards older runners.

I will also focus mostly on the marathon plans, though the book provides similarly comprehensive training plans for shorter races.

Standard disclaimer: IronFit’s a registered trademark of Don and Mel Fink. This is only a general, fair-use overview of the plan, which itself is described in greater detail in the book.

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New Year’s Resolution To Run: Sticking to a new running habit

people walking on shore

This stock photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com shows a lot of casual runners who were beginners once… probably while wearing shoes and not wearing those shirts, though

The vast majority of New Year’s resolutions fail within three weeks. People fall back to the old habits they’re trying to break, habits built over a lifetime.

I’m not the guru on habits that others are. To learn more about how habits form and can get formed, you may want to read up from others who specialize on the subject.

James Clear just released a great new book on the subject called Atomic Habits, full of actionable advice and tips on how to form and maintain positive habits. Clear’s also written some great articles on the subject that are worth a look.

One of the classics on human habits is Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, a fascinating narrative of personal cases that revealed how the brain is wired to form and follow habits. Even people who suffer permanent brain damage and lose memory still retain old habits. Definitely worth a look.


That said, a lot of people take up an exercise goal as a resolution. Gyms get their most signups during the New Year. The gyms are crowded for a few weeks, then people flake off.

Ditto the trails on the weekends, as people decide to start running. I won’t go as far as to call the Lakefront Trail “amateur hour” (that’s Wrigleyville during peak drinking hours, to be honest). But there’s a lot of newcomers during the first few weekends in January. Then the pull of old sedentary habits (not to mention intimidation from the cold!) keeps them from coming back once February rolls around.


So you want to start running as your resolution? Or come back to running? You want the habit to stick beyond Martin Luther King Day? Or you decided on a whim to register for a spring race like the Shamrock Shuffle and now you’ve got to train for it?

Here are some ideas that can at least give you a fighting chance of sticking to the habit:

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Quick thoughts on a slippery 10K track workout

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In the sunset darkness of the Wilson Track, with snow pellets coming down, there was one set of footprints coating the growing frost in Lane 3. That was me.

I ran 3 x 2 mile repeats last night at the Wilson Track. The 3x2mi is a 10K workout from Greg McMillan that while demanding will clearly show the pace you’re capable of running in a 10K. I’m not only training for the Tour De Trails 6 Miler but also the Mardi Gras Chaser 10K in early March… along, of course, with the Vancouver Marathon.

Thanks to snow flurries and general cold overcast throughout the last 24 hours, the track had some dubious patches of water and generally required some caution for use. I stuck to lane 3 as that was the inside-most lane enough to use in its entirety; even then, I had to ride the outside edge in some spots along the home stretch to avoid overlapping inside puddles.

However, snow pellets came down as I began my 2nd rep. Never mind hitting me in the face on the front stretch… pellets began coating the track surface, limiting traction and slowing me down while demanding more of my lower body to maintain form and movement. Nothing keeps your stride compact quite like trying to run tempo reps on a frosty track.

Most would have stopped a speed workout in this situation, unable to meet pace expectations and fearing falls and injury in the conditions… especially in footwear like mine: I was wearing my Topo Athletic ST2‘s, flats primarily intended for racing and speed running. I had the added bonus in wearing the least suitable running footwear for icy conditions!

However, along with knowing how to run in snow and ice, I also realize a tempo workout can still serve my desired purpose in less than ideal conditions. They’re about more than hitting a goal time.

Instead of disappointment in reps at a pace below my PR time, I see I can capably run a 10K at a pace 20 seconds slower than my PR in icy, increasingly slippery conditions.

Plus, with three trail races still to come, I also need to prep for running fast on uneven, probably slippery conditions… as I had to in the Tour De Trails 3 Miler a couple weeks before. Maintaining the best pace I could on a frosty track that didn’t provide great traction helps develop lower body muscles that will need to do serious work in next month’s 6 Miler plus the longer trail races beyond.


Now, not everyone should do this, and I wouldn’t keep a speed workout going every time ice started coating the surface. There are a lot of winter days where I’d bag a planned speed workout and do something else.

But this was one day where, as the conditions grew farther from ideal, the workout still provided growth opportunity and still served its purpose. Quality workouts intend to prepare you to race, not just hit a goal time.

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Hansons Marathon Method: Who’s it good for?

HansonBookI want to talk a bit about the Hanson Brothers’ training methods, which are outlined in their famous book Hansons Marathon Method.

I won’t go as far as to review the book in this write-up, but I do want to talk about the Hansons’ training approach relative to other training, my experience with marathon training and where I see this approach working well or not so well. I suppose it’s more of a review of the training method than a review of the book. But the book itself is a good read with some unique ideas, and if the approach may work for you I totally recommend checking the book out.

The basics of the Method, in a nutshell:

  • Over 18 weeks, you run six days a week… except for the 1st week, where you begin the plan in midweek instead of the 1st day of the week.
  • The plan strictly regiments each workout, with all quality workouts and days off happening on the same day each week.
  • Unless you do the novice “Just Finish” plan, you are expected to do a speedwork session and a marathon tempo run every week. These workouts are expected to be done during midweek, on Tuesday and Thursday.
  • The weekend long run ranges in distance from 8 to 16 miles, but is not supposed to go longer than 16 miles. As many running minds do, the Hansons emphasize maxing out the long run at about 2.5 hours.
  • The day off always falls between the speedwork and marathon tempo run. The speedwork precedes the day off, and the marathon pace tempo run follows the day off.
  • Long runs are always preceded by back to back medium-long regular runs.
  • The authors strongly recommend the long run be run at a more moderate pace (not quite race pace, but a bit faster than other easy runs), contrasting most advice to do long runs at a very easy pace.
  • The speedwork intervals in the early part of the plan are done at 5K or 10K pace. But later speedwork features longer intervals at a “strength” pace that’s about 10 seconds faster than marathon pace, akin to half marathon pace.
  • Unlike most plans, The Hansons’ plan does not include tune-up races, and the authors strongly discourage any racing during the 18 week training plan.

Cynicism Time! Who does the method not work for?

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Can Low-Carb Diets Be Good For Runners?

A lot of fitness enthusiasts support eating low-carb lifestyle diets adapted from the traditional Atkins diet… typically with labels like Keto and Paleo, as well as carb-limited variants like the Bulletproof, Carnivore or Primal diets.

The obvious problem for runners interested in these diets is that running is the one form of exercise that demands a LOT of quick-burning glycogen, which can only be properly supplied by a diet rich in carbohydrates. Running minds like Hal Higdon and Matt Fitzgerald outright recommend avoiding low-carb diets and to build your diet around 60+% carbohydrates. Fitzgerald in fact found in his research for his book The Endurance Diet that pretty much every elite coach and endurance athlete he consulted with subsisted on a diet rich in carbohydrates.

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Do (but don’t overdo) core strength training

There’s a crew I once ran with on Mondays who after finishing the run would as a group do 8 Minute Abs, eight different 1-minute floor exercises for core strength. There was no formal structure to what exercises the crew did, other than they always finished with a 60 second plank.

Strength training after easier runs is typically a good idea, a low key, short opportunity to engage the core muscles a little bit after a low key run.

Most top training programs ask you incorporate a modicum of strength training in whatever form. Hal Higdon’s intermediate plans ask for you to do a bit of strength work after easier early-week runs. Brad Hudson and others swear by hill sprints as a low-impact way to strength train your lower body running muscles. The Hanson Marathon Method has you do some faster-than-marathon tempo runs as a sort of “strength” workout.

Your legs and hips aren’t the only muscles important to healthy, quality running form. Your upper body requires engaged core muscles to maintain a solid alignment that supports and augments, rather than inhibits, your running efficiency.

Many people as they tire begin to fall back into bad posture, though many run with bad posture whether or not they’re tired. Bad posture pulls the core and hips in one direction and gives your glutes/flexors more work to do on top of continuing to take steps with a(n often) tired lower body.

There’s all sorts of resources on effective posture but I’ll hit the basics:

When standing, a healthy aligned torso is upright and relaxed yet strong atop the hips, not pulling or leaning hard in any direction. The head and neck don’t necessarily have to be straight atop the shoulders, but shouldn’t droop forward. The shoulders should be strong and relaxed, not hunched.

When running, there may be a slight lean forward of the upper body, like how a Segway is prompted to move when you ride it. But the head, neck and torso otherwise remain strong and aligned atop your hips as you run. Nothing should hunch forward.

I don’t mean to turn this into a posture post. I only point this out to highlight the importance of core strength in your running development. Without a strong core, most of the keys to posture I described will be difficult if not impossible for someone lacking any of the above to develop and maintain. You can’t force good posture that sticks. There must be strength behind better habit formation.

Some core training is certainly valuable for improving not just your running, but your overall posture and alignment, a key component to effective running. It obviously won’t guarantee improvement, but it can certainly help.

However, like any training, it’s important not to overdo core training. This is a key reason top training plans don’t ask you to strength train in any way more than twice a week.

Imagine an example of a guy who tries to train for a marathon, while still lifting weights six times a week. Unless he’s taking performance enhancing drugs and eating 4000+ calories a week, he’s probably going to break down, burn out, get injured, drop dead… take your pick of any of the above. Even if his powerlifting doesn’t involve his running muscles and his running never involves his swole upper body… it’s asking too much of his organs, hormones, nutrition and recovery to effectively rebuild and maintain ALL of that.

To a lesser extent, consider that if you’re not already planking hard every single day or hitting Orange Theory or the Pilates studio all week long… your core has a limited capacity for strenuous exercise. Your body has a limited capacity for facilitating the rebuild and recovery from moderate to hard exercise, and you’re already taxing it with regular running. The capacity to handle additional core training and the effective recovery and growth from all of the above has limits.

So yes, do some core training once or twice a week. But the more running volume you ask of yourself, the less cross training you should ask of yourself.

8 Minute Abs isn’t too much. A quick blast of core work after a shorter run is honestly a great idea.

But a full, challenging strength workout on top of a distance run might be. It’s like how asking you to do difficult reps after a long run might be too much.

What your effective middle ground is depends on a lot and is your call. I encourage you to take it easy and add strength training gradually in small bite-sized increments. And definitely cut back on strength training during more difficult training periods such as peak mileage weeks or race weeks.

Remember that your top goal is to be in your best running shape. Make sure your core training sets you up for success, rather than hindering it.

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