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Checking in (finally), one week from Vancouver 2023

Hello from the coal chamber!

I decided not to post in March and April while training for this year’s Vancouver Marathon. I was experimenting substantially with my training approach, and wanted to stay focused on that training without writing quickly-dated posts about what I was doing. I wanted the freedom to shift gears without having to possibly explain away something I was doing just a day or a week or a month ago.

I feel pretty good. I have trained more this past couple months than I’ve been able to in any month since I began seriously endurance training so many years ago. I’ve avoided soreness, even though I’ve certainly have carried substantial fatigue for days or weeks at a time.

Until this weekend, for which I planned two total days off, I had aerobically trained on 56 consecutive days. I had no problem getting to the gym or the park and working on any of these days. Worst case scenario, I was somewhat tired, and just took it easy with the session.

A couple weekends ago I logged my longest uninterrupted workout ever by time, at 4 hours 26 minutes. On several of these long workouts I was comfortably able to (at least briefly) run at threshold pace and effort over 3 hours into the workout. In prior long workouts I’d have slowed badly by this point with fatigue and sometimes pain, and doing such a thing wouldn’t have been possible.

Still, I am going to wait and see how it feels to run Vancouver this next weekend before doing a full writeup on what exactly I’ve done in training. For all I know, this still ends up being a brutal fall-flat performance and there will remain a lot more work to do. So I don’t want to parade this as an ultimate solution for anyone in advance, when the experiment has yet to conclude.

I don’t intend to run the marathon hard or all out. Much like 2019 after coming off a prior DNF, the goal for this one will be to finish strong, as well as see how well I hold up through the longest run.

I have done far less specific running, but far more low-zone aerobic cross training, yet have spent much more time on my feet than I did while training last year. The average volume has been a lot higher. The average intensity has been a lot lower. All the running I’ve done in the last month has felt much better than the average of how it’s ever felt before. Usually, before, high volume of running would gradually wear me down. I haven’t had a bad run in over a month.

The basics of what I’ve been consistently doing:

  • Every work day morning, I get to the gym by 6:30am and train until just before 8am, when I head to work. This is mostly easy aerobic cross training, some running where applicable.
  • There are some days where I’ll head to the park instead, weather permitting (though for the most part this winter and spring in Vegas, it has not), for a run. Usually though I go to the gym.
  • Most afternoons, following work, I go back to the gym and lightly train for 20-30 minutes before heading home. Occasionally I go to the park and run, but again weather and circumstances haven’t allowed much of this.
  • After all of these training sessions, I briefly stretch before leaving.
  • On Saturday, I train long, 3+ hours, cross training and some running.
  • On Sunday, I run a couple easy miles outside, whatever intensity I feel like but usually pretty easy effort.
  • I strength train in the morning once or twice a week, before cross training or running.
  • I have intermittent fasted almost every day, not eating a meal until noon or so. At work I will have coffee with coconut oil and marine collagen, but other than this no nutrition until noon.
  • I have a large meal around 6-7pm and get to bed by 8-9pm. I pretty much eat the same dozen or so clean, whole foods now and stopped getting any kind of takeout (the only exception being use of Xact nutrition in long workouts for training, as the Marathon will be supplying it on course).
  • I nap a lot on the weekends.

I used to go out for coffee on work day mornings and stopped doing that, having coffee when I get to work instead. The local coffee industry took a hit, as I even stopped going out for coffee on the weekends! I got back to french pressing coffee on weekends (plain, though; no oil or peptides). When I go for coffee in Vancouver it’ll be the first time I’ve gone out for coffee in weeks.

The impetus for changing all this actually wasn’t for my running or to save money. It just felt better! I noticed a clear difference in my energy levels during the day, workweek or weekends, and decided it was important to me to adopt these routines. So sticking with them was much easier than before.

I just wanted to check in and let everyone know I haven’t disappeared, that I have been training a lot and just decided this time to keep quiet about it. I’ll have more to say on the nuts and bolts when I debrief Vancouver and know how it all did (or didn’t) benefit me.

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Trying new things on a February Vancouver trip

Last weekend I traveled to Vancouver to run the First Half(-marathon) 21K. I had a good time, though everything was a bit rushed and compressed on a 3 day trip instead of the usual week or so I take for the marathon in May (which I’m still doing this year).

Still, as messy as last May’s trip was with corona restrictions and testing, plus my sleep problems and DNF mishap at mile 19… this trip flipped the script. It went as smoothly as I could have hoped.

I knew I wasn’t in racing shape for the half, so I just ran it out as a long supported workout. I felt good about the run, though I haven’t been that sore after a race since the Chicago Marathon. I was waddling for the rest of the day, and fortunately felt better enough to haul my bags to the airport just fine the next morning.

I tried a few things during my recent trip. This might have had a bit to do with why I was so sore afterward for reasons I’ll get into. But I took this trip in large part as a test run for May’s marathon trip, right down to staying at the same hotel and flying in on the same day/time of the week.

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The Hadfield Advanced Marathon Training Plan: Who’s It Good For?

I’ve previously brought up Jenny Hadfield’s Advanced Marathon Training Plan. Hadfield is a coach and a writer for Runner’s World. I found the structure of Hadfield’s plans to be very accessible and up to speed with the base training centered approach I currently want to follow.

If you provide an email address, Hadfield’s website allows you to download this and other training plans. Each plan includes a detailed Page 2 explanation of any terminology on the Page 1 schedule.

Obviously, Hadfield is available for personal coaching, and this would lead to a more personalized training plan. The described plan is a template, but can be followed to the letter as-is.

The various plans Hadfield offers vary which midweek workout goes where by day. So to simplify, and because it’s probably the best fit for many experienced runners, I’ll cite the Advanced Plan’s schedule. The easier plans do have more cross training days and do switch some workouts around, though the schedule layout is mostly similar.

The Basics of the Hadfield Advanced Marathon Plan, in a nutshell:

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How much faster running do you need in base training?

A primary concern with Osler/Hadd style base training is that the lack of hard/fast running will cause you to slow down.

With Hadd training, this is a partially valid concern. One effect of the training is that, while you can improve and maintain threshold-level speed, your ability to kick or surge is limited. Your cruising speed in the short run will improve, but it’s hard to speed up from there.

Osler style base training avoids this by having you do a time trial or race once a week every week. This one hard short-medium run serves as your speedwork. Eventually, once you switch to sharpening training, you work on repeats and other speed frequently ahead of a goal race. But the weekly time trial helps work on and maintain your fast running during the lengthy base training cycle. (It also allows you to quickly take up speedwork, as you’ve been practicing it some each week)

One of the drawbacks of common marathon training plans that include speedwork is that the speedwork not only limits your base aerobic development, but your body can actually burn out on the repeated hard stimulus after about 3 months, very counterproductive if you’re planning to run a marathon in 3-5 months. (And no, a solid taper alone is not enough of a break to refresh those reserves)

Both Osler and Hadd agree that an ideal base training focused phase should last around a year or more before you begin any serious speedwork, and that most runners simply don’t do this because of their own lack of patience, not to mention short term ambitions of goal races. Most simply cannot fathom thinking, planning or executing that far ahead.

I realize one of the reasons my performance improved so dramatically in 2017-2018 was that I made a point to run easy almost all of the time. Most times it was out of necessity, running home from work and needing to guarantee completion of the run and arrival. I ran as easy as I needed to. Often, admittedly, fatigue from the workweek and rest of my life compelled me not to push it on most runs. I covered mileage and got home. It not only allowed me to pile a lot of weekly mileage, but the sub-aerobic-threshold running gradually pushed my aerobic threshold upward, as Hadd’s explained at length.

Most runners don’t do this. Most coaches wouldn’t recommend this. But my obsessive unrelenting focus on easy aerobic base running led to my lactate/aerobic thresholds consistently improving, which showed in my race results. I occasionally did some fast running, but I didn’t need to do much at all to see improvement during this period, even when the Racing Team was out of season and I was only running easy on my own.

A few training plans do lean exclusively on easy running, at least for the first couple months. IronFit doesn’t program any fast running until 7-8 weeks in. Hal Higdon’s easy plans are all easy running, and even his intermediate plans only include a slightly-harder-than-easy marathon pace run once a week. (I’ve mentioned before that while Hansons programs only easy runs for the first 3 weeks or so, I don’t really count that in such examples as that pre-speed base period is relatively short.)

But most plans ask for speed or tempo work right off the bat, holding that pattern through the entire 16-20 weeks. Perhaps that’s too much? Not because a runner can’t handle it: Obviously, most can. But it may be too much because, as Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns or Tom Osler have pointed out, such running is best employed in brief 1-2 month periods right before key races, when its benefits are needed. (In that respect, IronFit somewhat gets it right, only programming speed/tempo in the last 9 weeks of training… though even that’s a little long.)

One of the reasons I’ve found Osler training a good fit is because I think he found the right combination back in 1967 when he wrote The Conditioning of Distance Runners. Run easy, except for one hard run/race a week. Build that easy mileage for 3 months. Then pile on speed workouts in the 7 weeks before your big race or racing block.

In my experience, more speed/tempo each week than that can be too much after a few weeks. This may be why so many serious runners get injured or flat-line their performances so much.

In my experience, less speed/tempo each week than that can indeed stagnate your faster running and make it hard to kick. My long stretches of easy training did improve my cruising speed. But the best racing results only came when I was also doing speed and tempo work in training.

I realize Hadd avoids speed training entirely. However, Hadd’s Phase One base training places top priority on troubleshooting and building your aerobic base fitness only months, only gradually adding harder running once you’ve reached a suitable run volume and shown aerobic threshold base improvement. His training aims to troubleshoot your aerobic shortcomings first and foremost. You only worry about running faster once that’s been suitably addressed.

And it goes back to what both have pointed out about most coaches’ and runners’ general lack of patience, of wanting to see results now. We go to the speedwork right away because we want to see ourselves running fast. And we often default to the (somewhat faulty) common sense that you can only get faster if you practice running faster.

Chicago Marathon Once Again, and The Summer Challenge

I entered the drawing for the 2023 Chicago Marathon not expecting much, having heard (that allegedly) spots would be (more) limited to out of towners and that the drawing might be a bit tighter across the board.

Well, they drew me once again!

So I’ll be heading out there next October, just a few months after Vancouver 2023.

Obviously, I’m running Vancouver in May, so this means not only a 2nd 2023 marathon but a relatively quick turnaround, as marathons go. After a couple weeks off from Vancouver, I’ll have only 20 weeks before Chicago.

So, sorry Frank Shorter, but I won’t be in any position to forget about my last marathon by the time I need to resume base training for the next one.

Of course, in the weeks leading up to this, I had still been planning long-term just in case, presuming I was going to run Chicago. I drew up different schedules, measuring their build, the estimated marathon shape in October, to see what would work. I had also formed plans for what to work this summer on if I didn’t draw in and the summer was free, but that’s a moot point now.

Much like the injury-failed Indy Marathon campaign last year, my big challenge is to endurance train effectively during the Vegas summer. The difference now is I learned and now know a lot about training in these circumstances that I didn’t know last year. (And also, knock on wood, that I have a 100% hamstring and hip flexor complex that’s better built to handle training)

I’m now training at 3000′ altitude along significant hills on weekdays, with similar hills at lower altitude (2300-2500′) on weekends. I’ve focused a lot in the cooler weather on nose breathing on the run as much as I can reasonably handle, only mouth-exhaling or even mouth breathing if the going (usually an extended hill climb) gets tough enough to justify it. My Osler-style base training and the resulting gradual mileage build has been reasonably comfortable. I’ve also scaled back my cross training and walking, sticking mostly to brief walks and some backward walking.

Already, Runalyze has showed my measured VO2max has jumped a great deal, and I’m not even into the real (midweek 8 milers and 3+ hour long runs) meat of training yet. I’ve barely done any fast running, other than a Turkey Trot 10K that went well on no race-specific training and despite not having run farther than 6 miles on any run.

Osler training and the progression has gone quite well, and I’m probably going to stick with it going ahead. Ultimately, after months of easy base training with one tempo or time trial a week, I’ll follow his advice and add in sharpening work towards the final couple months. I may not add as much as he recommends, as March and April tend to add their own stimulus: Increasing temperatures. People tend to forget that’s an added training stimulus in spring! So, if my base runs in hotter weather are suitably tough, I may just keep them the same.

Going back to Chicago could be weird, as a tourist this time. I’ve found (and paid a pretty penny for) a good centralized hotel with a kitchen. The city’s a lot harder to deal with when you don’t have a home base away from the main drag you can retreat to. Unlike Vancouver, I probably won’t stay terribly long following the marathon, though I’ll at least stay the following day.

Meanwhile, it’s rather premature to put a ton of thought into Chicago 2023. I still have to train for and run Vancouver! More to come as it becomes relevant.

The Fitness Run and the Real Meaning of an Easy Run

“Easy Run” is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied terms in running, and not for the reasons you’d think.

Yes, people often do go too hard on their “easy” runs. But to me the issue is the broad over-application of the term “easy run” to most training runs.

Most runs beyond 30 minutes aren’t necessarily easy. The effort and intensity desired may be “easy”, but beyond the 30-40 minute mark the body is now being stressed beyond the comfort zone. Your body isn’t going to come down from that effort as easily as, say, hurrying across a street, or doing a simple 20 minute workout that leaves you refreshed. The oxidative stress is higher over a longer period, and markers like your heart rate variability will remain abnormal for some time afterward.

Related: This is a reason the Pete Magills of the world strongly recommend you never go on a recovery run lasting more than 40 minutes. You’re defeating the “shakeout” purpose of such a run.

Some wisely avoid the term for base training runs (referring to them by training zones, e.g. a Zone 1-2 run, for example), or use a different term entirely (as Matt Fitzgerald does when he calls them Foundation Runs).

I consider recovery runs the true Easy Runs. They’re short. They’re not done to stimulate an endurance training effect. Usually, they’re done for circulation or to activate hormone production that will further drive recovery. Or, like a “shakeout run” the day before a marathon, it’s done to expend some energy as it feels better than just resting entirely.

I posit that what coaches call Easy Runs should instead be dubbed Fitness Runs. The difference is that the terminology makes the intention of the workout clear. Any run done at an easy effort, but for longer than 30 minutes, or at more than a 75%-max average heart rate, is by my definition a Fitness Run.

By my definition the recovery runs are the only ones that should be labeled Easy Runs.

And since it will come up, any run longer than 90 minutes, or longer than the longest run I can do during the workweek, is by my definition a Long Run. It’s fairly hard for me to do more than two of these a week, since I work full-time and on those days I can’t by this definition do a long run.

(In my case, the longest workweek training run I can manage to do is basically 90 minutes. If my workweek limit was 60 minutes, then any weekend run lasting 61 minutes or longer would be in my case a Long Run.)

I decided to label my training runs this way, and it’s way more useful and less confusing for workout tracking than the old Easy/Recovery/Long labels.

Some examples (all of these examples are what most would call an “easy run”):

  • I go on a training run after work that lasts 45 minutes, and my HR averages 71% of max. This is a Fitness Run.
  • I go on a work break run lasting 12 minutes at 74% HR. This is an Easy Run. It lasts less than 30 minutes, and the average heart rate is below 75%. I should bounce back pretty quickly from this.
  • I go on another work break run that lasts 10 minutes at a 79% HR. This is actually a Fitness Run, because my heart rate went beyond the 75% threshold, meaning this run was a bit harder. Though it was very short, the effort will impact my fitness.
  • I go on a training run after work that I have to cut short at 28 minutes, and average a 73% HR. This is an Easy Run, even though I intended it to be a Fitness workout, because the run did not hit the 30 minute threshold.
  • On a Monday holiday, two days after a Saturday 2 hour Long Run, I go out for a lengthy easy run that lasts an hour and 35 minutes (95 minutes). This is also a Long Run, even though I just ran one on Saturday. Many will only label their longest run of the week the long run, but again I have a clear threshold of 90 minutes for long runs, and this one qualified.
  • And of course, if on a subsequent weekend I go for a long run, but I have to to cut it short at 80 minutes, this run is only a Fitness Run, as it did not reach my 90 minute threshold. (Side note: If I run farther than 8.1 miles on this or any other non-long run, Runalyze will classify this as a long run for Marathon Shape calculations, whether or not I label it as such, since that’s their default threshold for long run calculations.)

A couple of added finer points:

  • If I have to drop out of a race, I don’t label this as a race. I’ll give it the appropriate label, whether a Long Run or a Pace Run (I lump all my under-90 minute tempo and marathon-pace runs, or Zone 3+ runs, anything steady and harder than “easy”, in as Pace Runs). For example, when I DNF’d the Vancouver Marathon this year at mile 19, I labeled that a Long Run. Only races I complete are labeled as a Race.
  • If I decide randomly on a Fitness or Easy Run to run hard, whether intervals or a time trial or a fartlek, it gets labeled accordingly to what I ended up doing. Regardless of intent, the run is labeled based on what I ended up doing.

So now I label my regular runs as Fitness Runs and my recovery-type runs as Easy Runs. I like this definition of Easy Run far better than what everyone else uses.

Enough of keto for now

After 30 days of keto, and initial dabbling with restored starchy carb intake, I decided to revert back to my prior lower/slow-carb diet going forward.

Keto worked well for what I needed at the time. It pushed my body to better utilize stored body fat. It helped kickstart fat burning that had stalled in recent months. It helped me hormonally readjust, which helped get my sleep patterns back on track (though the cooling Vegas weather combined with increasing daytime darkness may have also helped with that).

Now that I’ve adjusted to nose breathing and thus improved the quality and efficiency of my aerobic endurance workouts, which was also part of why I went keto, I think the whole project have served its purpose. The Vegas weather has cooled and I can once again easily train outdoors. I ran a 10K easy this weekend and was fairly pleased with the results.

My weight loss did slow after starting keto, though it did stabilize a few pounds below where I had started. Now that I’m ramping up run training again, my overall calorie requirements are going to increase dramatically, and I’m already maxed on how much protein and fat I can reasonably take in per day. Even if I had good reason to stay keto, it wouldn’t make much sense to pound more steak and more coconut oil.

Going forward I’m going to eat carbs without restriction, though again my normal intake was lower than most, in the 100-200g daily range. I still have done a good job of keeping my aerobic heart rate lower than before, even as I’ve reintroduced carbs and even as I’ve began picking up the intensity on some of these base runs.

The growing volume of run and cross training, combined with a greater need for daily overall calories and the predominantly slow-carb diet I generally eat already, will help spur subsequent weight loss.

I’ll probably still have some keto days where I eat low carb, high fat/protein. But now instead of being a mandated habit it can be employed incidentally.