Category Archives: Training

On the Perils of Padded Shoes

I’m a believer in Phil Maffetone‘s approach to aerobic training, which is basically that you should do most training at no more than 75% of your max heart rate.

This doesn’t mean I don’t ever do anaerobic work, or speedwork, or anything else that elevates your heart rate past that. I just default my aerobic training to that lowered maximum. It’s also similar to the 80/20 approach that Matt Fitzgerald vouches for.

Maffetone is also in that esoteric ‘do everything barefoot’ camp, and it’s a key reason the Primal Blueprint’s Mark Sisson aligned with his beliefs in writing Primal Endurance. I don’t subscribe to that mostly because I live in cities where soft ground is often littered with hidden sharp objects, many of which can be very dangerous. I’ll trade the benefits of barefoot running for the needed safety of wearing shoes during exercise, thanks.

But I bring up Maffetone to talk about this piece on shoes that I’ve long since had loaded on a browser tab for discussion. Much like how Sisson wrote his “I hate endurance training BUT if I were to train for a marathon…” piece, Maffetone is anti-shoes but here he writes a piece on what kind of shoes you should get if you need them.

I’m always a supporter of the “not my thing but here’s a good way to do it if you must” perspective. I like being open minded to different approaches, even when I have convincing reasons not to follow them. I know others will follow them, and long as no one’s getting hurt or killed in doing so we’re typically better off helping each other maximize those efforts.

But, as I do, I digress. Maffetone raises a good point about what I call “The Hoka One One Problem”: We like padded shoes, but they’re not good for us.

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A training schedule I built around my current work schedule

Right now I’m basically exercising three times a day. No, these are not all hard workouts. I would have dropped dead by now if so. Or be incredibly ripped. Who knows.

For example, on weekends:

Morning – Take a 2-3 mile run, or a long walk of probably a couple miles. Either option gives sun exposure in reasonable temperatures, and some light to decent calorie burning exercise. If I have any step goals, this gets me a good way there. Any extended walking would last about 45 minutes, and is a thin substitute for the everyday walking in Chicago. Since I’m not seriously training for races right now, I play this by feel. I run that day if running feels good, and walk that day if it probably doesn’t.

Afternoon – In the blazing hot Vegas sun, probably during a brief work-from-home break, go for a brief run around the neighborhood. This is only a few blocks, and less than a mile, all pretty close to my home just in case I absolutely have to stop for some reason. I run about 3/4 of a mile, and come back inside. it takes about 7-8 minutes. That’s pretty much all you can reasonably do in 100 degrees Fahrenheit without hurting yourself. This is more of an anti-cold-shower mid-day pick me up than serious training. But it augments your training volume.

Evening – Towards the end of the day, around 7pm, I go to the gym and get some swolework. Do my 20 minute workout. Head home.

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A Truth About Coaching and Personal Training

Where most people really need to work on themselves is in:

  • The Kitchen. The oft cited, never sourced adage is that 80% of your body comp depends on your diet, and abs are made in the kitchen. Debate the stats all you want but this is the truth. You can’t outwork a sub-optimal diet.
  • The Bedroom. (I don’t mean hanky panky either.) People need to get better sleep. Even well-trained athletes struggle to get consistent, high quality sleep. A lack of high quality sleep produces a snowball effect of stress, hormonal deprivation, and general fatigue that follows you wherever you go.
  • Their own minds. We all have our motivations, insecurities, anxieties, that drive us or hold us back. For many people, whatever they think they’re going to find in the gym or in therapy/medication is something they need to reconcile within themselves. It can be a general insecurity, something bad from the past, etc.

This is a fundamental issue I discovered with the use of personal training, even as I was studying to become a CPT. For the vast majority of people I could end up working with, I could only address the at-best ancillary concern of developing a workout program. I could not address let alone solve the underlying problems behind why they felt they needed it. And I cannot reconcile the salesman’s mindset to take their money because those underlying problems ultimately don’t matter as much as the need to train.

This is not totally the industry’s fault by any means. Trainers are just trying to earn a living. You paying for personal training pays their bills. Don’t take this as a fundamental indictment of personal trainers. Hell, all trainers are battling the exact same challenges I just listed. These needs and challenges are just as true for CPTs.

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How I Built A Training Schedule Around A Different Work Schedule

To preface all this, I have a weird work schedule now. Not that the schedule isn’t normal for me personally (I am working it every week, after all!), but it’s not a schedule most people work.

It’s an office job where I work from about 10-11am until about 8-9pm, an early swing or 2nd shift, and I work Thursday through Monday. That itself is no big deal.

What’s weird is that some days are worked in the office, and some days are worked remotely at home. Because most of the office works a traditional Monday through Friday schedule with office closed weekends and some holidays, there’s no practical reason for me to come to the office on weekends and holidays… though the stores I interface with are open weekends and holidays.

So I work remotely at home on Saturdays, Sundays, and business-open holidays, while going to the office (when open) on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. (Of course, with the current Coronavirus risk, this can always change and I could end up working remotely everyday if that situation gets suitably dangerous again.)

Getting back to more relevant material, this adds several wrinkles to training. I’ve mentioned before that my schedule now allows me to train comfortably every morning, without having to wake up early. I can also sleep in as needed, and the reduced sleep deprivation improves my long term recovery.

However, once I get off work around 8-9pm, it’s highly impractical to train at all being so close to bedtime. So on work days I need to train during the morning, unless lunch and work circumstances allow me to sneak out and get a quick workout in during a late afternoon lunch break.

On the flip side, having to work out early in the day means spending my work day sitting, which really helps with recovery. There’s no afternoon commute or stress to complicate recovery… especially if I’m working from home that day: There is no commute!

With all of these opportunities and advantages, I have slowly carved out a template for a weekly all-around training schedule.

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A Training Plan Need Not Be So Structured

man sitting on bench

Photo by Tomu00e9 Louro on Pexels.com

Ideally when deciding to run a goal race, you find or write a training plan (with or without a coach), and then you follow it.

But maybe no training plan out there is an ideal fit and you don’t have a coach. Maybe you had a plan and found out much too late that the plan is not working for you (and because none of us can rewind time, you can’t start over!).

Of course, it is entirely possible for a runner to train for a race without following a hard-set defined training plan. It might not adequately prepare you for the race, and therein lies the risk.

But then again there’s always a non-zero chance that following a given training plan doesn’t quite prepare you for a goal race either. Any approach to training comes with its set of risks. What would be the fun and accomplishment in training for a race if any recipe or approach made doing it foolproof or easy?

Still, if you want to run a race and you have at least a couple months to generally train, you could prepare for that race without a specified written training plan. It’s as simple as a consistent habit of multiple workouts per week, with as many of them as reasonably possible being specific endurance workouts: Workouts that specifically work on things you need to do in the actual race.

It helps if you’re already running regularly and in some degree of condition to race, but even if not you could adequately train with a general, consistent schedule provided you have enough time before the race.

Again, training for a race involves executing with these acute factors:

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Quick Anti-Illness Tips When Training

Along the lines of my avoiding illness post, I want to offer some additional tips for runners who are seriously training for a goal race during an illness epidemic (such as the current novel coronavirus situation):

Avoid doing endurance workouts in a gym or other crowded place

Going back to previous points about how crowded indoor spaces are full of airborne bacteria and viruses, the gym is full of other people, and the one thing you want to generally avoid is being around other people.

One key component of aerobic endurance workouts is the increased volume of your breathing, meaning you are taking in more of the air around you. Do so in an indoor environment during an epidemic, and you’re increasing your exposure to the illness of the day.

So, as uncomfortably cold or otherwise less than ideal it may be, you should do all of your workouts outdoors if possible. However, if you have a treadmill or other cross training equipment indoors at home or in a space that’s infrequently occupied, like a friend or family member’s house or at a fitness room that no one ever uses… you can also use that.

The key criterion here is the presence and proximity of other people. Avoid enclosed spaces where you have to share oxygen with other people during an epidemic.

Don’t go inside right after an outdoor workout

Following a workout, you’re in a compromised state where you’re taking in a larger volume of oxygen than normal. If you live with other people, this as above increases your potential exposure to airborne illnesses.

Instead of going right inside, go through an extended cool-down outdoors. Take an extended walk around the block or elsewhere. Perhaps bring your recovery fuel with you and ingest it outside. Spend some time getting to a state where you’re closer to normal before you go back inside.

It’s helpful if you drive to a separate outdoor location for workouts alone and can drive alone for some time before you return home or to your otherwise crowded destination. This gives you valuable cool-down time to normalize.

A sound outdoor cool-down typically takes at least 5-10 minutes, but take however long you need to in order to return to a more relaxed normal state.

If you don’t work out in daylight, try to get some sunlight

As Alexander J.A. Cortes has said time and again, bacteria and viruses are photo sensitive and heat sensitive. Sunlight basically (for lack of the scientifically accurate terminology) neutralizes and kills both.

The vast majority of people during a winter flu season spend all their time indoors, offering zero opportunity for the sun to kill the very bacteria and viruses they’re trying to get rid of.

However, if you are (as mentioned above) working out in the outdoors, and you’re not doing so at night or at the crack of dawn, you are exposing yourself to sunlight and helping yourself already.

Barring that, make a point to get outside before, during or after work/school and at least walk in the sunlight for a little while, at least 20-30 minutes if not more. Of course, you don’t want to stay out so much you risk sunburn. But even sun on your exterior winter clothes can contribute to eliminating the presence of an illness.

If you home has humidity, get a de-humidifier

Germs thrive in the presence of humidity. Bacteria and viruses incidentally struggle to spread in desert environments due to not just (the aforementioned) abundant sunlight but also the very dry air.

However, many environments have some degree of humidity. Those in midwestern America and near ocean environments probably have a lot of humidity in their indoor and outdoor air.

Such people should consider investing in a dehumidifier, commonly used in summer to make sleep conditions more bearable in hotter months. Used during a winter epidemic, the elimination of indoor humidity can interfere with airborne illnesses’ ability to stay airborne and spread.

Couple with the use of an indoor electric air filter, and you do yourself a lot of good during an epidemic.

Spend an hour outside before or after work

Those who live in a big city and do a lot of their commute on foot may already do this, if it requires enough commute-walking.

However, especially if most of your commute is on a bus or train, you still want to bank some extra time walking or sitting outside before or after work.

This goes back to the benefits of open air and sunlight during an epidemic. You help clear your lungs while also help reduce the presence of airborne illness on and around you.

If you need to do strength workouts at the gym, do your floor work elsewhere

Some workouts need to be done in a public gym. For many, these workouts include standard strength training.

Thankfully, these workouts don’t require as much oxygen as your endurance workouts. Just make sure to still do your endurance workouts outside or in a secluded indoor location. And of course as always (and this is especially important during epidemics), wipe down your equipment before and after use.

However, save your floor work like self myofascial release (SMR, foam rolling), stretching and other calisthenic exercises (push ups, etc) for elsewhere. The floor is full of germs, and there’s not really any way to wipe that area down. If at all possible try to do some of those exercises on a bench, but I know many of these exercises must be done prone or supine on the floor.

Do these in a separate session before/afterward at home or in a secluded indoor area. It sucks to have to break a workout into separate parts like that, but getting sick sucks a lot more.

Do home workouts in a room alone with the window open

When I say secluded indoor area, the vast majority of the time I think this should be in your own enclosed room with no other traffic, where the only germs on the floor are your own. Obviously, make sure you have the needed floor space to do a workout (and having been there, I know many rooms don’t offer a lot of space).

If you live with others, you will want to open the window no matter how cold it might be. This will help circulate some of that diluted (cleaner) outdoor air into your room, and help circulate any possible contaminated indoor air out of the building.

Living alone of course makes this a lot easier. Opening the window is probably more optional if you live alone, depending on whether anyone has visited or how often you get visitors. And you probably have more space, likely enough to do a workout.

After unavoidable situations around other people, do a flush and clean as soon as possible

Whenever you do have to spend time around other people, you should try to do any of the following once you leave that environment and are alone or home:

  • Wash your hands with soap. If the winter conditions are chapping your hands, apply whatever lotion or solution you have that helps with that afterward. But do wash your hands.
  • Take rubbing alcohol, antibacterial cleaner/wipes or any other sort of suitable cleaner and wipe down any surfaces and equipment that was exposed to other people, including any surfaces on which you sat anything exposed to other people.
  • If home, remove/change your external clothes before sitting or laying on anything. Pretend you just fell on poison oak or landed on someone with bad ringworm or something. Anything exposed, get it in the hamper ASAP and get some clean clothes on.
  • If you’re home for the day or evening, consider taking a shower or bath right then and there. No need to take 3-5 showers in a day, obviously, but a 2nd shower or bath might be a good idea.
  • If it’s with you, use your neti pot with distilled water and a nasal-acceptable saline solution. If you don’t have these things, get them, learn to use them and start using them.
  • Drink at least 8oz of some hot liquid, whether it’s herbal liquid, some soup, or just boiled hot water with lemon or something similar in it. Consider bringing an electric kettle to work, some filtered water and whatever tea etc to allow for doing this away from home.

This sounds like overkill, but consider that the average person gets sick one or more times every winter. Doing the average effort is probably just going to get you sick. You’re trying not to get sick because you’re training. You should put in an above-average effort to safeguard yourself.

This isn’t a totally extreme approach (like wearing a HAZMAT suit and fumigating in an airlock). But it’s the least that’s substantially effective.

If you don’t feel well on a key workout day, do the distance without the intensity

I think it’s important to continue training at your normal frequency and volume however much you can during an epidemic. The circulation from your training is a prime weapon in warding off and filtering out illness.

However, some intense workouts may not be helpful if your body’s defenses have been partially compromised and you feel yourself battling an oncoming illness. While you should not totally give into it and take a break from training, you also may be doing more damage than good if you push through hard reps with a compromised immune system.

Instead, as you would if your muscles were sore or you were battling a minor injury, you should keep the scheduled distance while omitting the high intensity. If you know, for example, that a 12x400m workout with 400m recovery would require 8 miles of running (1 mile warmup, the 3 miles of reps plus the 3 miles of cool-down intervals, and a 1 mile cool-down run)… you could just run 8 easy miles that day instead. It’s not nearly as hard on your body but you still get the aerobic benefit of running the 8 miles, most of the neuro-muscular benefit from running the 8 miles (just without the intensity of the reps), and all of the respiratory circulation from doing the workout.

I found from experience that when I felt an illness coming on and just skipped workouts, I got sick as expected and stayed sick for a bit. Whenever I felt an illness coming on and made sure to keep training regularly, it either went away without making me totally sick, or I got sick but minimally so and then quickly recovered.

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My best marathon training cycle

Right now, training and weight wise, I’m not where I want to be. I’m executing most of my scheduled weekly workouts, and made dietary improvements over even my best running days in Chicago. But I’m not creating the results I had during my better training cycle just a couple years ago.

Once again, I looked to the past for answers. Despite hiccups derailing my 2018 Chicago Marathon effort (which I finished with substantial difficulty), that summer had probably been my best marathon training cycle and (until the hiccups struck halfway through) I had run the race fairly well, feeling physically capable of finishing strong… if not for the whole being unable to breathe properly thing.

It was ultimately some stupid decision-making with nutrition that derailed me. I decided to use a thicker protein-based recovery drink for fuel, despite not having trained much with it. My stomach and epiglottis likely flipped me the bird because of its relative nutritional thickness.

Never mind the problems with using thicker nutrition as race fuel. I made the cardinal mistake of doing something in a race that I had not worked on in training. So, it was not the training that derailed the race. In fact, given my condition at mile 13, and even how good my bones and muscles felt in the later miles despite my plight… the training beforehand had been sound. So, what I did during the cycle is worth reviewing.


I took a look at that cycle and noticed several key factors. Sure, I built up to a pretty solid 40-50 weekly mile volume and was running without injury. I was able to hit goal paces in key workouts leading up to the race. But there were some other not as obvious factors that helped me enter that race prepared.

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