Category Archives: Training

How I Hydrate (Especially Around Hot Desert Runs)

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Since I now live in the desert, the higher altitude fringe of the Las Vegas Valley, I’ve gained a lot of experience in running in these hot and dry conditions. To do well running in these conditions, i obviously had to learn how to hydrate effectively.

Workout hydration is a delicate balance. You need to hydrate to avoid the performance (and possibly health) damaging effects of dehydration. But if you consume more fluid than you need, you’re simply going to end up needing the restroom/toilet too often too soon to be worth the trouble.

Over my years of running I have through trial and error developed a useful approach to hydration that running in the hot Vegas desert has helped me fine tune into a reliable methodology.

It is worth noting that training with some degree of very mild dehydration can be useful for developing aerobic fitness. The line between useful and detrimental is very fine, not to mention the line between proper hydration and needlessly overloading your kidneys and bladder. You also must bear in mind that carrying hydration adds weight to your body and will to some subtle degree slow you down on your run.

Thus I don’t mind being a little “dry” during a training run, whether it’s an easy run, a harder speed workout, or a long run. However, I want to avoid tipping over the edge into performance loss from dehydration.

So, my objective is to go into a training session with a rudimentary amount of pre-run hydration, then hydrate as needed during or after the workout.

My Keys to Hydrating Workouts:

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The 80/20 Running marathon plan: What’s It Good For?

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Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running (2014)

Matt Fitzgerald’s written a lot of books, and a lot of them are good books. He’s one of this generation’s great minds when it comes to endurance training.

He is also one of the champions of 80/20 Endurance Training, the approach found by Dr. Stephen Seiler to be the most efficient mix of easy and hard training. In a nutshell, 80% of your training is done at easy intensity and 20% is done at harder intensity.

Fitzgerald’s aptly titled 2014 book 80/20 Running is an extended research guide on how he and everyone determined that 80/20 training was the optimal blend of easy and tough workouts.

And as you’d expect, the book includes a set of training plans broken out by difficulty for every major racing distance, from the 5K and 10K, to the Half Marathon and the full Marathon. I want take a look at the Marathon training plans.

As usual, I’m not writing this as a review of the book… though I will freely admit that I love the book and, however dated it might be, I highly recommend you read it if you’re a serious distance runner. Triathletes will get just as much from his more recent 80/20 Triathlon, which adapts the principles to training for the three-discipline endurance sport.

And I will offer this important caveat: Fitzgerald makes it clear that he believes you should take the listed workouts in his book combined with 80/20 principles and create your own training plans based on your needs. So to review this training plan is fundamentally undercut by the fact that they are merely written as templates or samples, something to follow if you just for some reason cannot or won’t make a training plan of your own.

However, given the plans do mirror many of Fitzgerald’s general principles regarding scheduling workout and training progression, I’ll go ahead and review the marathon training plan anyway.

Do note that the training plan, not to my knowledge available in the public domain, would either way require that you have the book 80/20 Running. The workouts are listed only by title, and the finer points are outlined elsewhere in the book. So, you need the book to follow the plan.

The Nuts and Bolts:

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10+ Thoughts on Building Training Breaks Into Strength And Endurance Training

Runners typically train for a race through 8-24 weeks of focused, progressive training, then take a break of either reduced or no running for some time afterward.

It just occurred to me that:

  1. People who primarily strength train as their exercise never train like this.
  2. Many who strength training typically see their development and progress hyperbolically slow after training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
  3. Serious runners also see their progress hyperbolically slow after years of mostly continuous hard training for some time, and take for granted that this is normal.
  4. Except for a weeks/months long “offseason” where they basically don’t train at all, most serious runners train continuously for their entire season with few, often brief planned breaks
  5. Runners could benefit from peak-and-valleying their training season in the style of a 12 month grade school. Basically, you ramp training around recurring goal races, with the plan to downscale training in the week(s) following those periodic goal races.
  6. Strength trainees may see more progress if they were to build regular periodic training breaks or “de-loads” into their training. Basically, progress training as usual for 8-24 weeks, then take a week or more where training stops and/or volume (whether reps, weight, frequency, or all of the above) are substantially, pointedly reduced. You rebuild, re-load energy and drive, then resume training a few days/weeks later really to attack the weights/road/water/bike/etc.

6a. Unplanned breaks like injuries and other life emergencies don’t count. Your body and mind are taxed and have to heal in other ways during breaks like these, and aren’t as fully available to rebuild and heal the way they do during a conscious, planned break in training. Sure, some recovery can happen, but imagine how you feel after a very stressful vacation. Are you “refreshed” and 100% when you go back to work or school?

  1. I imagine a lot of the stalled progress in muscle growth and other “GAINZ” most strength trainees experience would cease to stall if they consciously built to a scheduled peak over weeks/months, then made a point to take a 1-2 week break afterward before resuming.

7a. Fitness loss is minimal during a 1-2 week extended break. As distance running’s Hanson Brothers have attested, the body tends to reap direct benefits from a key workout (and conversely, experiences a loss of fitness from a lack thereof) after 8-12 days. You can probably take a week off before resuming training and experience little to no loss in strength/fitness from where you left off. Two weeks off, and the loss would be very slight, to the point where after a couple weeks of gradually resumed training you’d be back to where you had left off.

  1. So now, I’m looking at you, runners. Many of you have the right idea, where you start training mainly to run a goal race, train hard for that 8-24 weeks, then run your goal race and take it easy for a few days/weeks. There are certainly many things you could do better, but you have the right idea.

8a. And then there are some of you who continiously train, and train hard every week. You don’t take many planned breaks, maybe after a marathon or a longer race, but otherwise you’re doing high intensity workouts and/or high volume almost every week. And then you’re wondering why you get injured or you constantly have nagging injuries.

8b. Some of you call them “niggles”. I call them red alarm signals that you need to take a few days off.

  1. This doesn’t mean don’t run unless you’re training for a goal race. This means your training should more consciously ebb and flow, at the very least follow a 3-5 week continuous cycle of gradually increasing volume to a peak before a week of lighter training. But what could benefit you most is longer 8-16 week cycles of gradually progressing volume, then or preceding gradually increasing intensity, before tapering and/or a goal race, followed by a 1-2 week period of reduced or eliminated training at a substantially lower intensity.
  2. Plan breaks into your training before life makes you take unplanned breaks from training.
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Listening to your body: Not just about how you feel

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The catchphrase “listen to your body” is a general reminder to pay attention to the signals your body is giving you regarding your health, energy levels, mood, pain, etc. Paying attention to this information will show you when to rest, when to push hard in workouts, etc.

But we tend to only pay attention to energy, pain signals, and our general mood. Other things we measure and observe are also information our body is giving us.

Presuming you don’t have one: Some of this info can and should be tracked using a fitness watch such as a Fitbit or a Garmin. A suitable watch tracks calories burned and sleep on an ongoing basis. They’re not cheap (typically $100-400) but they are definitely worth their cost if you’re serious about fitness and personal development.

The information this watch can give you when worn everyday provides you with not just a wealth of stats, but those stats can communicate signals that your body hasn’t otherwise been able to get through to you.

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Food and Thermogenesis: How what you eat affects your body temperature

Energy produces heat. If you didn’t sleep through science class, they probably taught you this.

There are all sorts of circumstances behind what we now call climate change, the steadily rising temperature of the planet. But one key element is the fundamental existence of more human beings than have ever been on the planet in recorded history.

All humans produce heat. Every mechanical, electrical, chemical anything we have ever done produces heat. Vehicles and other machines produce heat when they operate. Anything we built that moves produces heat. Even the coldest fridges, freezers and air conditioners produce heat to cool what’s inside: The heat is just emitted out of the back or top of the device into the surrounding atmosphere.

And our bodies produce heat. The bigger we are, the more active we are, the more heat we produce. This is a key reason why your perceived temperature is hotter when you’re running than it is when you’re walking or still. You produce a lot more heat when you exercise.

Even the energy required to digest food produces heat. The act of digestion producing this energy is a little something scientists call thermogenesis.

Some foods require more energy from thermogenesis than others. This is one of the keys behind why it’s generally healthier to eat unprocessed meat and vegetables than processed sugar.

Insoluble fiber and most proteins require a lot of digestive energy for the body to digest its nutrients. These foods are highly thermogenic.

Meanwhile, chemically refined sugar is by design quickly digested, as these foods are chemically engineered to not satisfy you hunger and make you crave more of them. These foods are lightly thermogenic.

You can eat 500 calories of sugar cookies, and still be very hungry immediately after eating them. Meanwhile, you can eat 500 calories of steak, and be so full you won’t want another bite of anything for several hours. And woe is the poor soul who tries to eat 500 calories of broccoli… if he even manages to get it all down (1 cup of cooked broccoli is about 60 calories). He will end up spending a regretful amount of time on a toilet at some future point.

Broccoli and other vegetables are among the most thermogenic of foods. Many require more caloric energy to burn them than the calories the vegetables themselves contain!

Now, why bring up global warming when bringing up the thermic effect of food? Is Steven saying that broccoli causes climate change?

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Energy Availability and making sure you don’t undereat when training

Currently I’m tinkering with my diet, not necessarily the foods but the meal timing and the calorie macros.

It’s not so much that my weight loss has currently stalled. In fact, it did drop to a month-low 168.9 lbs over the weekend… though it has been tough, slow going to move the average down.

I’m trying to naturally maximize my energy levels, which when I’ve fasted had tended to stay low. This means I need more nutrients around these times, which indicates I should stop fasting.

However, I went back through my RRCA training course materials… mostly because I was walking on a treadmill for an hour and the spiral-bound book was one of the only books I had that I could suitably read while on the treadmill. In any case, I went through the information-laden appendicies and it includes a robust booklet on nutrition by the IAAF.

In the IAAF’s Nutrition materials, they mention an interesting stat: Energy availability. The idea of Energy Availability is that aside from calories burned in exercise, the body has a certain number of calories it needs to rebuild and recover from that exercise.

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My biggest Chicago training mistake

Hindsight is typically 20/20 when it comes to training mistakes. Often you couldn’t have known at the time you were making a mistake, as experience afterwards is what ultimately taught you that what you thought was right turned out not to be right.

I trained a lot in Chicago as a runner, and I got into pretty good condition for where I was at. I learned how to prevent and safely work through injuries, and I logged a substantial volume of miles while running in dozens of races during the few years I seriously trained.

Looking back, I realize that something I did at every speed or tempo workout was actually counterproductive to my recovery and growth. It was hard to miss in large part because most of the people I trained with made a habit of the same thing, and even coaches didn’t realize this was counterproductive.

But the mistake inadvertently slowed my growth from these workouts, and had I know not to do it then I likely would have recovered more quickly and grown stronger workout-over-workout than I ended up doing. It may have made a substantial difference in how I performed in marathons and other key races.

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