Category Archives: Training

An extended recovery, and the flip side of antibiotics

I extended my recovery period after Vancouver a bit, in part due to the effects of the antibiotics I had to take for my elbow.

On the plus side, the clindamycin I was prescribed did work. The redness immediately ceased, the swelling and some of the pain went down, and three days into the 10 day RX the heat around my elbow began to fade. It still hurts to lean on the elbow sometimes because (infection or not) I still have bursitis in that elbow and from experience that hangs around a while. I can still push and pull and use my right arm fine for the most part. At least now I can actually put pressure on the elbow (probably will stick to straight-arm planks for now, though).

However. The minus side is that antibiotics mess with your entire body, and it certainly has messed with mine. Yes, I’ve taken probiotics to counter the mass murder of gut bacteria from the antibiotics, and eaten a mild diet to minimize any c.diff problems.

But the clindamycin still wreaked havoc on my overall organ function and my overall energy. Even with good sleep and diet I’ve felt tired every day (when the infection started, my energy levels and running were okay, so it wasn’t that). I have sizable bags under my eyes, indicating havoc on my kidneys. My sweat smelled like the medication this last few days. I took the last of the RX last night and I’m glad that’s done.

And of course, the pills affected the energy I have to run. Sure, it got fairly hot for Chicago this past week (87 degrees Fahrenheit, 30+ celsius), to the point where I had to cut my last run very short. But even prior easy runs took more effort than usual. The medication certainly dried me out some, and even with plenty of hydration it often felt like I was a bit dried out before and during runs.

Yes, having run a marathon almost certainly is a key factor to this as well. Again, the elbow problem developed a week after the marathon. My body being heavily compromised probably made it a lot easier for bacteria to take hold in my elbow, as well as easier for the subsequent medication to do a number on my still-recovering body. Add in returning to easy running a bit early, and it appears I just need a bit more rest.

Fortunately, I don’t need to begin training officially for the Chicago Marathon in October until mid-June. I will want to be running regularly by then, of course, but it’s not crucial that I be out there training every day right now. My last run Thursday in fact capped 5 straight days of running, so I’m certainly not starting from zero if I take the weekend off and resume on Monday.

I probably need the rest not just coming off the medication, and to acclimate to the incoming summer heat, but also still recovering from the marathon. Two weeks is a standard, and some do more (Kenyans famously take a couple months off after marathons!). Taking three easy weeks is totally fine.

I’m going to drown myself in fruit and fiber this weekend to get the medication out of me and get back to normal, so I can get back to normal running.

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Building hill workouts for your goal races

It’s nice when a goal race is on flat, normal terrain. A place like Chicago or New York City makes it easy, since all their races are on mostly flat ground.

Along with creating prime conditions for fast times (… well, weather permitting), training for the races is straightforward. Work on aerobic and neuromuscular fitness, work on tempo and speed, recover and feed yourself well, and you can crush it.

If a race has elevation shifts, things get a bit more complicated. We already see how weather and temperature impact races: If you train in clear and mild conditions, but then race in windy, hot/cold conditions, you’re not going to be trained to deal with the latter. Even when trained for warmer conditions, suitably hot races can negatively impact performance no matter what.

Likewise, if you train on flat ground, then try to run a race with hills (whether uphills or downhills or both), your performance and body will suffer as you likely have not trained at any length to handle hilly conditions. The longer the race, the greater the impact.

Runners who live in hilly locales face challenges with training speed, tempo or maximizing mileage because of the hills impacting speed. But this becomes an advantage when they run races featuring hills. Their bodies are well-trained to deal with the big elevation shifts. American runners in Seattle, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and mountainous regions like Colorado and Utah are better equipped to handle hills than runners in Chicago, Florida or New York City. (Plus, that never minds thinner air in higher altitude, also a key factor and a separate subject)

So, as a Chicago runner, I have to be mindful when I blow town for a race in a locale with hills. Vancouver is a clear example, with not only big elevation shifts early in the Vancouver Marathon course, but even the smaller elevation shifts later in the race are mountainous compared to the elevation changes in flatter Chicago.

One key reason these hills didn’t destroy me is that on multiple occasions I ran special workouts at nearby Cricket Hill. While Cricket Hill isn’t exactly a big hill (with only a 45 foot elevation climb), it does rise at a tough grade and when run on right, it can prepare you for running up and down hills.

So, how?

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Fitness Debriefing After Vancouver 2019

VancouverMedalSitting down and beaten up from the longest run is a great time to take stock of where I’m at with fitness and what I ought to do for next time, even if next time isn’t going to get here for a little while.

I worked hard to prepare for and run Vancouver, and while I improved my endurance and strength in a variety of ways, there’s a number of things that even before the race I knew I wanted and needed to improve.

There’s a lot of goals I have regarding how fast I want to run races, how fast I know I’m capable of running races, and there remains a substantial gap between what I can do and what I want to be able to do… a gap I believe I can substantially close starting even before the beginning of my next training cycle….

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Cool, and certainly not impossible

CoolImpossibleCaveat: I’ve talked before about books relevant to training plans I’ve reviewed, but I’m not big on book reviews. I’ll talk about my thoughts on reading this book, but this is not totally a review of the book. If interested, look up reviews of the book or browse a copy separately on your own. And of course, if you disagree with any of the following… cool.


A few weeks back at a local bookstore I stumbled upon and bought a book by Eric Orton called The Cool Impossible. Orton gained fame in Christopher MacDougal’s book Born To Run, about Christopher’s journey to run the Copper Canyon ultra with the uncanny endurance-running Tarahumara natives of northwest Mexico.

Eric Orton coached Chris through training for the ultra, and his personally developed methods (derived in no small part from what he learned with the Tarahumara) find their way into this book I found a few weeks ago.

I read this book and unlike other running books it doesn’t map out a training plan to prepare for a goal race. Instead, what training plan the book has intends to rebuild your running ability through balance and strength exercises using slant/wobble boards and a balance ball, and later through perfecting your running form and cadence through drills and then shorter bouts of running that grow gradually longer over 26 weeks (including the initial strength building phase) of general training.

Orton details how the Tarahumara run on custom-made minimalist shoes made from old tires on uneven, rocky trails that constantly require stepping on and pushing off from uneven terrain. Most runners in civlization run on cleaner, flatter surfaces, and don’t develop the nuanced lower body strength from running on rocky terrain that the Tarahumara do.

Reading through these anecdotes and Orton’s breakdown of the subsequent exercises, two ideas jumped out at me.

1) Virtually no one else who coaches or writes about running even talks about this, let alone works on or teaches how to do this.

In fact, most running coaches probably have no idea how to run on truly uneven terrain, even if they run trails or trail races. Such runners probably stick to paths and then just tiptoe through these sections that Orton and the Tarahumara have the nuanced strength to run straight through.

2) Hey wait, I already do this.

Growing up in dry hot Vegas, what grass we had in the schoolyard and parks was largely unmaintained. It was mowed and occasionally weedwacked, sure. But we played soccer and ran laps over lumpy, rugged grass whose random bumps and divots you perhaps got used to over time.

Add in running over dusty desert dirt, the random consistency of what pavement there was, and I got a lot of practice growing up in running over uneven terrain. I wasn’t even a distance runner.

Once I got seriously into distance running so many years later, I was among the few who had no problem taking my run onto the dirt fringes of the Lakefront Trail, or even onto the similarly rugged, inconsistent grass terrain.

Whenever I slip in icy terrain during winter, I have the proprioception to stay balanced and continue forward without falling or getting hurt. Even when I do trip or slip and begin to fall, I have the awareness, balance and strength to often stay on my feet, or at least land safely without injury.

Over my life I’ve been in a few messy homes, workplaces, classrooms, and got used to stepping through and over a variety of mess, stepping accidentally on all sorts of random things, and staying balanced when that happened.

That certainly helped when I got into theatre and dance, and that sort of dynamic balance came in handy. Add in the deep movement training of both disciplines, and having that now-natural perception helped a lot when I later got into distance running.

I realize I’m not a typical case, that most other people won’t have this ability or awareness if they don’t discover and work on it. Sure, they may have some, but a lot of them tiptoe through tough spots, or hurt something as soon as they step off-balance on something. A book like this might actually be really useful for a large number of such runners.

Meanwhile, while I might get some value out of some of the exercises or the renovative training plan (probably after the Chicago Marathon in October, though)… the idea of, say, balancing on one foot on a slanted surface isn’t new territory for me. In fact, I had to do stuff like that in George Lewis’ Meyerhold Biomechanics theatre class every week.

A few weeks ago, I had to run through large swaths of terrain during my last 17 miler. Weather, people and conditions forced me onto bumpy grass and dirt for a good portion of it. Not only have I not forgotten how, but I still need and utilize those abilities today.

I’m glad I got this book, and there’s useful material in here, even if it turns out I already have some of this knowledge. Sometimes it’s cool (and certainly not impossible) to learn that what you innately knew isn’t foreign to others.

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Headwinds are a training blessing in disguise

agriculture alternative energy clouds countryside

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve spent a busy April mostly off the grid. I am running the Vancouver Marathon in 8 days. Since muscle damage takes about 14 days to fully repair and quality training’s benefits take about 10 days to manifest in your running, I am done with high volume quality training or any tough workouts. Now it’s about maintaining conditioning and resting up for the marathon.

After getting sick a few weeks ago I had to abbreviate peak training, and I ran a final 17 mile peak run last weekend. The 20 miler I ran in mid-March would be my only one this training cycle, and the 40-45 mile weeks I had that month would be as high as my volume would get.

So, that final long run. Due to weather forecasts and other needs, I had to run it on a Friday right after work. Even though it was the best possible weather of any time I could run that weekend, I had to do most of the run into a stiff 25-30 mph headwind.

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2019 Lakefront 10 Miler recap, and the Vancouver 2019 training end-game

LF10-finishYesterday I ran my final 2019 Vancouver tune-up race, the CARA Lakefront 10 Miler. The 1:36:24 was my slowest finish in a 10 Miler to date, but I had fun (the LF10 is my favorite Chicago race) and the race turned out well in other ways.

As mentioned, I got sick with the flu at the end of last month. While I bounced back quickly for such an illness, I did lose over a week of normal training (plus, likely in part because it was starting to get me, I had reduced my volume a bit the previous week due to fatigue).

I ran a lot less than usual while recovering. Once recovered, I had to ease back into my prior volume over the following week. In fact, I only got back to normal volume right before this race. I hadn’t done any speed or tempo work in several weeks. I was definitely not trained to race the 10 Miler. I wasn’t even sure if I could hold anything beyond an easy pace for 10 uninterrupted miles.

Alas, I settled into a (slower than most of the people around me) pace, and managed to comfortably hold it for the entire distance without any real distress (even powering past people on inclines, including the LF10’s infamous Cricket Hill finish, by merely maintaining tempo). The pace slid between 9:00-10:00 but mostly hung in the 9:30-9:40 range… which incidentally was my originally hoped for marathon pace! I even sped up without trouble and took the LF10’s final lap around the Wilson Track at 1:59.

While sore and tired like I ran a race, I didn’t feel as sore or tired as usual. Following an afternoon meal and nap, I went back out and ran a couple more miles (with some speed reps) to finish the day at 17.8 miles (between runs to/from the race, the race itself, and the evening run).

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When Runners Get Sick

I just spent the last week sick with what might have been the H3N2 variant of the Swine Flu. The office had been fairly sick for a while, and it finally got me last weekend.

I hardly ever get sick anymore. I don’t even get the digestive ailments that used to get me from time to time over the previous years.

I want to call it a testament to my healthy eating and my improved commitment to recovery. But then again, I got sick like everyone else last week, so never mind that.


Coughing up my lungs on Tuesday, I had no idea how long it would take for me to get anywhere near back to normal. The good news on Saturday is my cough subsided substantially and, other than recurring sickness-related digestive issues, and being a little rusty on runs (of course, I broke off training for a few days while sick), I don’t feel bad at all. A couple of colleagues mentioned their flu passed rather quickly, even if the cough loosely hung around for a while. So perhaps it’s the nature of the current illness going around.

In any case, I’d like to think the following approaches helped me quickly unload an unwanted flu, and can help you as well:

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Thoughts on the Thompson New Intervals approach to speedwork

I have all sorts of thoughts on the New Intervals approach, which basically says to do your recovery intervals/jogs in speed workouts at a harder intensity. The link is Matt Fitzgerald’s write-up on the method.

I hated this 24 hours ago when I first read this. I saw a recipe for injury and burnout. Given more time to read it over and think about it… not only do I think it’s a good approach to speedwork, but I realize this is a speedwork version of what I’m doing with my 55-5 Long Runs. Given the parameters, it’s actually quite hard to overrun the workout, and in fact it prevents a lot of the overrunning of conventional speedwork.

This is basically sets of mixed-tempo cruise intervals. It’s written as sets of 4-6 reps of 400m intervals, but since each 100m “roll-off” cooldown is done fast, those roll-offs are basically part of the reps… making each set one long rep.

The key to this approach, as Fitzgerald mentions, is that your fast “reps” need to be dialed back so you can maintain the pace for each one in the set.

The volume of the speed reps you do in this workout needs to be less than a typical speed workout with such reps. Observing Daniels’ caps on rep/interval level speed workouts… you now need to observe the effect of the roll-off portion, which would previously be ignored since they were recovery intervals. Here, those “recovery” portions are more intense and basically part of the set, and thus should be considered part of the volume.

Conversely, most runners’ problems with speed workouts is that they slow to a stop or walk between reps in the first place… which happens mostly because they’re doing the reps too fast and too hard so they’re forced to stop. This sort of workout at least will prevent that. To stop or walk with New Intervals is to effectively cut the set short. It makes cheating the workout difficult.

90% of 90% of people’s problems with speed-rep workouts is that they’re going all out trying to beat a clock that no one’s keeping score of, instead of giving a controlled-fast effort where they work on running economy. This would pretty much eliminate that, though now you need to be careful of booking too hard of a workout since these are basically 1-2 mile reps broken into mixed tempo sections.

If interested in the New Intervals workout, it may be best to start with an easy workout with just 1-2 of them, to see how you handle it and to get used to the mechanics. Also, sampling the workout like this is an easy chance to see if you just hate it without completely tanking your workout plan.

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A Better Long Run: The 55-5 Long Run Method

road nature trees branches

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As with a lot of training approaches, runners have a very polarized approach to how they handle long runs.

Either they do a simple easy run over a long distance, or they add in some tempo with the long run (either trying to run the whole thing at a tougher moderate pace, or mixing in tempo segments with easy running), turning it into a grueling exercise.

Both polarized approaches have substantial drawbacks.

The long easy paced run may develop long aerobic endurance, but it also accustoms you to only handling your longest distances at an easy pace. Any attempt to race longer distances thus becomes a huge struggle, because you haven’t practiced running faster at max distance.

The mixed tempo run may address that issue, but creates another issue: It asks you to work especially hard at points on a run that is already fairly difficult due to its duration. This increases the burnout and injury risks, and at the least makes long runs such a miserable experience that many just forego any sort of intermediate tempo work on those runs. (It’s the biggest issue with the Daniels Marathon Plans. Those quality long runs are super-demanding. Few outside of elites and hardened distance running vets can consistently handle them.)


Regular readers can probably sense where I’m going with this point: There is a vast and mostly-unexplored middle ground to long runs that will allow you to work on and develop aerobic strength (aka the ability to maintain faster paces over longer distances), without demanding so much from you.

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On measuring cadence instead of pace in tempo runs (when pace isn’t possible)

Yesterday I had a scheduled M-pace training run, the first in a while and the first of many in the Vancouver training cycle.

I also had to do it after work, and nowadays for a variety of reasons taking transit home and trying to do the workout at 6-7pm is not ideal.

I haul-run home from work in part to not pay for an extra transit fare home from work (I already take the bus into work), and the later in the evening I run the later I may get to bed and/or the harder time I’ll have getting to sleep. Finishing my runs before 7pm has been very beneficial to my sleep.

Also, I carry stuff to and from work in a backpack, and everything together weighs about 15-16 pounds. This is not a huge deal on regular runs (in fact it adds a bit of a strength component), but for any tempo training it definitely slows down and compromises the workout.

Nearly all of my needed running the last few months has been easy, and now I need to do more speed and tempo running. So haul running home every weekday isn’t necessarily the best decision.

I partially get around this by sometimes driving in, parking on the free curb a bit away from work (which does not have freely available parking), stowing stuff and then running in a nearby park… which allows for gear-free faster running. I got a 3/1 mixed tempo run in last week this way.

Meanwhile, I did try a Fartlek workout as a haul run, and it has reasonably solid results. Measuring the pace was a fool’s errand. The key, it turned out, was focusing on cadence.

Most runners maintain roughly the same cadence in every tempo they run. They just push off and stretch out a little farther on faster strides. I typically slow things down on run-commutes due to fatigue and due to carrying weight. To step as quickly as I do when empty-handed can cause an everyday workout to be a lot more taxing than it needs to be. In my races and tempo runs, I simply step more quickly.

Fitbit tells me that on most easy runs, I take about 760-810 steps every 5 minutes (about 155-165 steps per minute). On faster runs, I’ll take more like 820-850 steps (165-170), and I’ve gotten the wheels to turn 870ish times per 5 on occasion. I’m not at a place where I can comfortably take the fabled 180 steps per minute (900 per 5). You want your legs to turn over light and quick without straining, or it defeats the purpose of a faster cadence.


So then… if I need to haul run home on a day I have a scheduled tempo run, and I can’t or shouldn’t start the workout later in the evening when empty-handed… what if I did the tempo run as a haul run, but focused on sticking a fast cadence instead of on how fast the actual run was?

The few resources that calculate weight’s effect on your run pace go all over the place on exactly how much extra weight affects your pace per pound. And all such calculations assume body weight gain, rather than whether or not you’re carrying external weight, as I am in haul runs.

There’s a difference between gaining 15 pounds of fat and what it does to your running… and picking up 15 pounds and putting in on your back. Both affect your pace in substantially different ways. That 15 pounds of fat is spread rather evenly around your entire body. Its effect on your pace is far less than a lump of 15 pounds strapped to your shoulders and back.

For the physically strongest of us, the difference of extra carried weight is probably minimal. But most human beings will notice more of a difference than the 2-4 seconds per mile per extra pound that most calculations predict.

Yesterday, I hauled 16 pounds away from work (I had to make a purchase at lunch during work), warmed up for about 25 minutes, and then immediately quickened my cadence before holding that faster cadence for 30 minutes.

I used the step counter on my Fitbit tracker, which was conveniently right at 1000 steps when I began my pace run. Knowing that 170 steps per minute was my higher end of fast cadence, I previously calculated that over the 30 minutes I scheduled for M-pace, which came out to 5100 steps.

I rounded that down to a goal of 5000 steps at that cadence. At the 1000-step starting point, I knew my goal was to go until the counter read 6000 steps or more. I didn’t pay much attention to the time reading, and knew at worst I’d have to M-pace a bit longer than 30 minutes.

This was much easier to track mentally and physically than to monitor a clock, or look at a faulty pace reading that was only going to tell me I wasn’t going fast enough.


After a bit over 3 miles, the counter topped 6000 steps and I slowed to an easy run. The haul run M-pace workout was a success. And I didn’t feel terrible during any of it. The workout was challenging but comfortably hard.

Ideally, I don’t have to do this for every M-pace workout. Maybe I can drive in and do them at the park some days. Maybe I can get home early and get the run in with enough time to spare that I can cook/eat dinner and get to bed before 10pm. The hope is, as summer approaches and the sun comes up earlier, I can get outside and get runs in by 6am, and I can knock the M-pace runs out then.

But, if I’ve got to haul run home, and I’ve got an M-pace run scheduled that day, I now have a solid approach that allows me to get them in without compromising my training.

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How I use the weather forecast to inform my training

For those of us who don’t live in a perpetually hot and sunny climate, the weather plays a sizable role in how we run outside.

Many up north during winter condemn themselves to the limits of the treadmill, with its varying benefits and drawbacks. But many either don’t have or refuse to use a treadmill, and need to work with what nature gives us.

I live in Chicago and do all my running outside. This winter in particular started out very mild and stayed that way until mid-January… when suddenly: Heavy snowstorms, -50°F windchills, perpetually icy conditions, brutal windstorms, unpleasant cold rain that the frigid temps made sure to ice over afterward, and so on. This obviously affected how much running, and what kind of running, this region’s people can do outdoors.

This is nothing new. Chicago weather’s just as important a factor during summer. When Chicago weather gets hot and muggy, or we get the occasional severe storm, that changes the scope of any outdoor training workout. In some cases, it limits how much time you can spend outside (some will run through it but there’s a variety of reasons I avoid running in substantial rain, plus unless you like being an electricity conductor you should never run when there’s lightning). In most cases, it affects your performance, how much hydration you need, etc.

It occasionally surprises me how taken-aback locals are by incoming severe weather, before I realize I pay closer attention to day-over-day forecasts than most people.

Whether you run or not, you honestly should review the weather forecasts every day and know in advance what weather and temperatures are coming. Weather should rarely take you by surprise.

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A new 10K strategy, and a 2019 Mardi Gras Chaser 10K race recap

Yesterday I ran the Mardi Gras Chaser 10K on the Chicago Lakefront Trail, experimenting with a different race strategy based on my training. It worked remarkably well and at 52:40 I PR’d by about 32 seconds.

In fact, given better training and circumstances, I could have possibly run this race another minute or more faster. To PR so well despite no specific endurance speed workouts during the past month, despite extreme cold setting back some workouts, was pretty remarkable. I came into this race a little more speed-rusty than I would have liked.

This strategy allowed me to run probably the most evenly paced race-level effort I’ve ever ran. I may have run one or two better races in my time, but this was the most sustainably strong and even effort I’ve given over any full race distance beyond 5K.

I hit the turnaround (the course was an even out and back) at 26:24, meaning I ran the last half of the race at 26:16, a slight negative split.

So how did I do it?

BACKGROUND

Throughout the (better parts of) winter I had done some 10K-specific training, most specifically The McMillan 10K Workout. That workout is simple: 3 long cruise reps of 2 miles each at 10K pace, with a few minutes of active recovery between. If you manage your desired pace during the reps, you can probably nail the pace in your 10K.

I did the workout every fortnight or so during the early winter, before the F3 Half, the start of my Vancouver Marathon training, and the brutality of Chiberia all intervened. Even then, conditions on the track were often icy enough to slow my desired pace, so I had to focus more on fast cadence and not worry as much about splits.

Other than that, I did no real tempo running outside of the races I ran (Tour De Trails, and the F3). Thanks to the Half and the weather, I went about a full month without doing the workout. Even if I felt confident about my ability to hit a 10K tempo, coming into this 10K I wasn’t convinced I could hold anything close to it for a full, uninterrupted 6+ miles.

THE PLAN

MardiGrasChaser10K

The 2019 Mardi Gras Chaser 10K course. (The organizers ended up nixing the shortcut on the way back at the sharp Montrose turn, so it was an equi-distant out and back course.)

The course was a simple setup, with two tables along the course serving as double aid-stations: The first table out was the 1st and 4th water station, and the second table was the 2nd and 3rd water station.

Some approximate measurements indicated the tables were about 1.3 miles apart, with the 1st table being about 1.28 miles from the start line… meaning it was also 1.28 miles from the finish.

By simple math and inductive reasoning, knowing the turnaround would be exactly 5K away (3.11 miles), the turnaround was 0.53 miles from the 2nd table, meaning about 1.06 miles of running from station 2 to station 3.

Despite knowing I could comfortably hold an 8:25ish pace over 2 miles, I didn’t know if I could sustain that pace over 6.21 miles without having trained at speed at all over the last month.

I decided to hedge my potential lack of ability to maintain pace over the distance by turning the race into a long version of the McMillan workout:

Run at race pace until reaching Aid Station 2. I planned to start at race pace, moving my feet light and quick and sticking with it for the 20 or so minutes it would take to reach the 2nd aid station, about 2.6 miles away. This was just a bit longer than a McMillan rep, but from my experience I always finished those workout reps strong, and maintaining the cadence/pace for an extra 3-4 minutes wasn’t that big a deal.

I would blow past the 1st water station and keep moving. The plan was to get to the 2nd aid station before I would…

… slow down, take fluid, and run easy for 1 minute. Previously in races, I would either try to keep pace while taking fluid at stations, or slow outright to a walk and take it easy until I drank what I needed before speeding back up.

I had never tried the middle ground, and I was going to. Slow down to a regular running pace, something like 10-11 minutes/mile, while taking and drinking water. Even after finishing, I would run at this pace until a minute had passed, and then resume running at pace.

This was very similar to the workout, as during my recovery intervals in the workout I didn’t stop. Instead I ran easy around the track and kept moving. This would basically be a slightly higher intensity of the same thing. Once the intervals were finished I was always ready to go again at full speed, and I felt I’d be able to do the same here.

Resume race pace, and keep it until Aid Station 4. This particular “rep” would not be as long as the first, at about 2.3 miles or so (after the recovery interval) instead of 2.6. And that was fine, because fatigue should begin to set in down the stretch, and it would help to finish the 2nd stretch a little more quickly than the 1st.

I’d circle the turnaround, skip past the 3rd aid station, and plan to slow for fluid at the 4th and final station.

Again, slow to a regular run for 1 minute at Aid Station 4 while taking fluid. I would repeat the process for fluid, finish and make sure I got in one minute of easy running, before…

… resume race pace, and finish the race strong. At this point, there should only be about 1.1 miles left, far less of a chunk to run at race cadence. And that never minds whatever kick I could give at the end.

THE PLAN WORKED!

I stuck to the plan, to the letter, up until the 4th aid station, where I felt strong enough that, after a moment to take fluid, I just resumed race pace without any more rest, and finished the race from there. That might have shaved a few seconds off of what was ultimately a sizable P.R., so no regrets about that decision.

The whole race felt surprisingly easy. This wasn’t entirely because of the plan itself: I did focus more on a light, quick cadence and not falling into the trap of straining or overstriding for extra pace. That kept me from unduly wearing myself out in the early and middle miles.

But the plan also gave my effort clear boundaries. I knew that, no matter how badly things were feeling, I only had to get to the 2nd or 4th aid station before I could relax a bit. I knew my training had prepared me for 20 minutes of solid race-pace effort at a time, and for multiple reps of that same 20 minute effort.

It may not be how most people run a race, but this approach gave me the ability to run a better race than I otherwise would have.

DO I RECOMMEND THIS RACE PLAN?

This is honestly a perfect approach for any race where you don’t feel comfortable with your ability to run the entire race strong, from the 5K to the marathon. By building in recovery intervals around your visits to key aid stations, you can ensure you maintain an even, strong race effort to the finish.

There are two key caveats:

1) Obviously, you need to have the aerobic endurance to run the desired distance.

I consistently run 4-7 miles in workouts, plus do longer runs beyond that distance, plus on speedwork days (between warmups, recovery runs and the actual workout) I may log over 10 miles. You don’t need to run that much to do well in any distance below the Half… but no plan will work for you if you don’t safely run several days a week, and you ideally should run a weekly mileage of at least 3 times the race distance.

2) You need to do workouts where you practice this approach.

This plan worked for me because I was experienced with the McMillan 10K workout, which basically follows the same pattern. The plan obviously is based on the workout.

If you’re not used to running at your desired pace for at least a couple miles, this plan is going to be very difficult.

The plan can be adapted to where you slow to a regular run for one minute at every aid station, which allows for about 1.2-1.4 miles at your pace. But you still need to be able to run at race pace for reps lasting that distance, several times a workout.

However, that’s still a lot easier than trying to hold such a pace for an entire race without stopping… especially if you’re not used to doing it.

IN CONCLUSION

While ideally I can run races without having to do this every time… this is a fine fallback option for any race where the confidence to run the full distance at pace isn’t totally there.

And it can be adjusted for any distance: For example, I could decide to run a 5K as two 2500ish meter reps, taking fluid at the one water station and going easy for one minute before picking it back up and finishing strong. Or I could run a marathon as a series of very long 3-4 mile M-pace reps, taking 2-4 minutes of easy running (and, as needed, hard fueling) at key aid stations.

Even if your race has no aid stations or they’re spaced very far apart, you could bring hydration and just decide to go a set time period, like 20 minutes… then slow to a regular run, drink from your stores and go easy for 1-2 minutes before resuming for another 20 minutes. In fact, if you carry hydration you could do this even if the race has aid stations. You decide on your own how far to go during each “rep”.

Who knows… maybe I’ll do this at Vancouver this May. Or Chicago Marathon this October. Or next month at the Lakefront 10 Miler. Or maybe I feel much stronger for those races and don’t do it at all.

But The Plan worked! And now I have a proven, workable fallback plan for every race where I don’t feel fully confident in my ability to race.

 

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Training volume is about more than mileage

One runner does a 12 mile run on the weekend. The only other run he does is a 6 mile run on Wednesday night.

One runner runs 3 miles every day, except for a rest day on Sunday.

One runner does a 5 mile run Tuesday and Thursday, then she does a longer 8 mile run on Saturday.

A sprinter practices 3200 meters of reps plus 2 miles of warmup and cooldown jogging on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday she does an easy 3 mile run. She takes the weekend off.

All of these runners run the exact same mileage every week (18 miles). Would you consider their training equal? Do you think they’ll all develop their running ability the same way?

More importantly, is it accurate to cast a firm judgment on the quality of their training largely based on the fact that they run 18 miles a week?

I would say not. And yet that’s the pedestal on which so many runners and coaches put weekly mileage.

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Endurance is best built through your regular runs, rather than your long run

Runners understandably focus on their long runs while training for races from the 5K to marathons and ultras. Your ability to run long determines how well you run your longest races, and long runs help build the aerobic capability that carries you through races of all distances.

However, the long run also receives too much focus. I’m not going to call the long run overrated, because long runs definitely are not overrated. They’re important. But long runs are one component of a successful training plan, and building your aerobic endurance and performance requires more than getting your long run in every week.

And no, I don’t mean doing your speedwork. In fact, improving your aerobic capability requires no speedwork at all (though speedwork can certainly help your running economy, and is valuable for maximizing your race day speed).

We fixate on the length of our long runs. We fixate on the speed at which we run our speedwork. But we don’t pay much attention to the length of our regular runs, and it turns out the latter is as important (if not more important) to developing our aerobic endurance.

To briefly summarize and blow over a ton of science:

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Winter long run struggles

I’ve faced an odyssey of problems with my long runs over the past month due to Chicago’s extreme turn of winter weather.

Getting long runs in hasn’t been the problem. In fact, I’ve been more consistent with my weekly long runs over the past several months than ever before. The issue is that weather and other concerns have made those long runs more difficult. Last weekend’s 2 hour run was a snow stomping slog through an obstacle course of unplowed snow, standing ice and other issues.

This past weekend’s 2 hour run battled a stiff 30 mph crosswind that not only made maintaining a straight path difficult but also sent broken tree branches and other debris flying across the lakefront.

I haven’t focused as much on stretching out or improving training pace/cadency because just managing to stay upright and run in itself was already a huge challenge in the conditions.

It was almost a blessing in disguise that I had to run the F3 Half during the early portion of my training cycle. Racing 13 miles right off the bat meant that stretching out wasn’t a concern. And forced downtime the following week (due to extreme cold and -50°F windchills) allowed for some needed recovery after the race took quite a bit out of me. And it assured that by my early base phase I was already able to run 2 hours at a harder pace.

So effectively the first half of Vancouver training has been largely a base phase built around mixing challenging volume with recovery. The hope is that this builds strength with my endurance, while also adding extra recovery between key workouts.

Sure, it’s a bummer that the key workouts have been more about fighting through tough conditions than about speed or showing out pace, or that the quality has to be a tradeoff for a lesser quantity of mileage.

But, even if winter and the harsh conditions stick around longer than we’d want, hopefully this allows for volume building and longer base workouts, and the payoff is a good long run in Vancouver this May.

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Long Walks as Recovery Day training hedges

To save money, I’ve been walking home from work on days where I don’t haul run or drive home (yes, even in cold Chicago winter weather; when it’s not -16 degrees outside the conditions aren’t that bad). I have the luxury of living about 5K from where I work, and this while time consuming isn’t all that bad.

One great feature of Ventra Chicago’s web platform is it shows you your historical usage of your transit card. Thus I saw about a month ago that even though I was paying $105 a month, I wasn’t using $105 worth of transit (based on a value of $2.50 per trip) each month.

So I stopped my pass autoload and set up a cash autoload. This now saves me about $30-40 a month.

Since every use now costs actual money, I take fewer incidental trips and now have incentive to find other ways to and from work… especially since (being 5K away) I have several commuting options.

While I could just haul-run home every weekday… I’m also undertaking a training plan with built in rest days, and at this stage I’d rather not beat myself up with carrying 10-15 extra pounds several miles while running (for various reasons I have to carry stuff to work) at the end of every workday, while dodging vehicles, other commuters and incidental harassment.

Thus I’ve been walking home from work, and while this can take over an hour it’s a relaxing low-intensity form of aerobic exercise. Incidental walking shorter than 30 uninterrupted minutes isn’t really exercise, but anything beyond that starts to require extra aerobic effort.

Without wearing and tearing your body you get a little extra aerobic benefit from a long walk. You also get the fat burning benefit from walking several miles, though this is a tangential benefit. Walking is such a beneficial low-key exercise that most brolifters swear by walking as a key cardio component, and Hal Higdon considers it a form of beneficial cross training.

So if I’m not planning to run on a given day, or if I’m not feeling well enough to run a few miles… I’ll opt to take a long walk instead. It’s not that stressful, it helps get your circulation going, and provides a bit of aerobic benefit.

Long walks are a fine hedge for physical activity on a recovery day. And even if I’m not running home from work, at least I’m walking home instead. Ditching my transit pass didn’t just save me money, but also helped me add some extra training.

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