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Checking In 12/3/2021

With a “stepback” week in the M-3 plan, I stopped work-break runs after hitting my November mileage goals, and my right hamstring (which had been bothering me on and off the last month) feels a good deal better. I didn’t feel any difficulty on 3 mile runs in hilly terrain this week, and the only remaining run is a 5 miler on Saturday. Get through that 5-miler without any aggravation, and I should hopefully feel 100% or close to it going into next week after a couple of easy days.

I’m spending more time on the spin bike after work, not just for a Garmin badge but also because traffic coming home during rush hour has gotten pretty bad in recent weeks. So going to the nearby gym for an hour or so provides ample opportunity for rush hour traffic to clear up and make that commute easier (not to mention strength train on days I need to do so). Plus, I’m near a Whole Foods and other places to eat, which allows me to grab dinner a bit more easily afterward. When I was still commuting to the southwest end of town for the gym I’d get home around 8pm, but this allows me to finish up a bit sooner.

I also am experimenting this month with reintroducing some basic yoga, in lieu of the stretching routine I had been doing after workouts. The routine was fine, but another Garmin badge (one I usually ignore) gave me the idea to try yoga instead for a while. I’ve certainly done yoga before, usually in a classroom context (e.g. life in Seattle with dancers and other artists), so I have a fairly decent idea of bsaic poses and what to do. It’s just never fit what I needed in recent years.

But Garmin has a basic 10 minute yoga routine called the Shoulder Relaxer that I find do-able. So I made a point to do this each evening at the gym after the spin bike and my leg swings. I’m doing an old Steve Pavlina style 30 day trial, where I decide to do it everyday for 30 days and if at the end I don’t like it I can dump it. But I have to do it everyday for 30 days first.

The biggest challenge hasn’t been the poses, which for me are not hard at all, but remembering the routine and how to do them. The Garmin program will name the poses and count down time but won’t show you what to do, plus for some of the poses they use different names than I remember for those poses. I went in before yesterday and added basic descriptions to show up on my watch during the routine, and that certainly helped some.

I’m only into my 3rd day of doing this for the whole month, but so far so good. I’ll do the yoga routine after whatever else I’m doing at my last session at the gym that day, whether it’s spin bike work or my strength training.

This also means I have to go the gym every day this month, which I had already been doing for a while until recently (I’ve made a point to take some days off from the gym, especially if I ran that day). I won’t go to the gym just to do a 10 minute yoga routine, so I have to couple it with something else. It just means I get to do a little extra cross training, if nothing else. An extra spin bike session while reading isn’t exactly hard on me.

Though it’s cooled off and I can run after work once again, I may also run more in the mornings before work. I’ve been leaving home early and going to coffee a lot in the mornings, so getting up early isn’t a problem. Running in the dark while it’s cold might be, though, and since I’m training for a late spring marathon I don’t need the acclimation to cold for that.

Still, a drive across town and a 6-7 AM easy or moderate run on the outskirts in higher altitude before work might be less stressful than going to a park right after work and risking a later evening on an evening run in possibly-smoggier conditions.

We’ll see. I’ve avoided the need to make a decision so far because all my midweek runs are 3-4 miles, which were do-able during lunch. Now, the scheduled midweek runs are getting longer, and I can’t do those during a lunch break, so it’s time to find out how the morning runs feel.

Gaining fitness (and weight)

This week, for the first time in months, I’ve run frequently with no ill effects and feeling completely normal. My body finally got enough rest to heal all the way up.

I decided this week to train for Vancouver 2022 with Hal Higdon’s Marathon 3 plan, though this week I’ve mixed in extra work break jogs on the off days to try and hit a couple of Garmin badges for November. Thus I’ve actually run every day since Tuesday, and other than feeling a bit weary this morning I feel good.

I have also, despite a relatively modest diet and despite a lot of this and cross training, gained some weight. I’m back over 180 pounds again. However, I’m also feeling quite a bit stronger in general, especially on runs, so the strength training appears to be paying off. After my near-daily lifting prior to this week, I’ve scaled back to 2-3 days of lifting each week with days off from lifting after each of those workouts. I also chased each of those lifting workouts with 20-45 minutes of cross training on either the elliptical or the spin bike. And that doesn’t include any of the walking I do on breaks at work if I’m not running.

My main objective right now is to restore comfort with run training volume, so once I’m seriously training three days a week that feels easier to handle. I think the last few months, injury or not, it felt like a struggle to stay above water with some of my workouts. They didn’t used to feel that way, and now it’s no longer feeling that way. Sure, some of that was probably the extreme Vegas heat and that’s definitely gone now.

I think the difference maker this time is my strength training. It was fine earlier this year, but not as specific and challenging as it needed to be for what I’m trying to do. Refining it from the standard 4 set blocks I had done on machines and dumbbells to the progressions and 12-8 four setters I do now has pushed my limits forward. If the hamstring and groin problems had a silver lining, it was compelling me to focus on these and get strength training more specifically in line with my goals.

The overhead squat I adopted from Dan John’s writing has been a clear difference maker. In the weeks I’ve been doing it I’ve gone from struggling with just a couple small plates on a 25 lb Smith bar, to now being able to capably handle reps at 40-50 lbs with a 2 rep max at 80 lbs. The overhead’s had a positive impact on the maxes for all my other key exercises. Having previously maxed at about 120 lbs on the leg press machine, I suddenly was able to progress to bodyweight, and now I’m maxing 3 reps at 220 lbs. My lat pulldown had maxed at about 80 lbs and now I’m pulling reps at 110 lbs.

Most of all, I feel a clear improvement in overall strength when running. While aerobically I’m still struggling with the higher altitude and hills I’m usually running with, I’m not feeling like I need to regularly slow down or stop anymore (though granted some of that had to do with my ongoing injury issues).

Even today, after back to back to back running days, I don’t feel sore at all and am totally ready to run more miles. I’m only taking a couple of brief work break runs today, and tomorrow the plan is to run about 10K.

So, though I got away from this point, maybe the extra weight is not a problem right now. I’m not going out of my way to overeat or undereat, that weird thing we all should know how to do called auto-regulating. It may be contributing to the strength I’ve found I gained, as muscles rebuild and glycogen stores top off. This is where my body needs to be at right now, and as I progress if the weight needs to come down, it’ll come down. While I’ll continue tracking it daily, I’m not going to worry about my weight right now… especially with the food-rich holiday season approaching. I’m training through it anyway! So I’ll have a use for all the extra food.

More to come as training progresses through the coming weeks.


Accidentally figuring out Vancouver 2022 Training

Instead of the intervals I had previously planned to do, I spent this week weight training, walking through my work breaks, and waiting for my hamstrings to feel more normal.

A week off did the hamstrings good, and in the interim I researched through different training plans ahead of Vancouver 2022. This time around, I am looking to not improvise or handwrite any plans and am looking to follow more of a specific plan.

Though I had hoped to trickle in the easy interval approach, I can see the curve to get in condition for that probably isn’t going to work right now. But I also want to start running and training soon, and want to set myself up for being in good marathon condition.

Go figure I accidentally find what might be the right marathon plan for what I need right now, early this morning over coffee.

I’ve worked with Hal Higdon‘s traditional training plans in the past while developing my running abilities, and they’d done me good for what I needed. I dabbled after that in other different training approaches and kind of left Higdon’s specific plans behind, but I’ve always come back to his basic principles, and I had in fact considered one of his marathon plans for Vancouver before exploring other templates.

While looking over his intermediate marathon plan, which is okay but is a little light on tempo, speed and pace work… I didn’t see any mention about how he’d fit in strength training, and went googling to see where he discusses it.

The results ended up showing me a marathon training plan of his I hadn’t seen: Marathon 3.

Marathon 3 is a recently written training plan of his that more closely resembles the FIRST template, where you run 3 times a week and then cross train on other days. Higdon though does have you run easy for most of his run workouts, rather than FIRST’s approach of making you go hard each time. Also, back to my original point, Higdon mentions that you should strength train on the Monday and Wednesday off days in the plan.

M-3 also has you run longer and easy on most of the midweek runs, plus run a lot of tune up races, which I like. And the quality midweek workout cycles between different workouts (tempo runs, pace runs, easy runs). Also, the plan is 24 weeks long, longer than Higdon’s other plans and most others. You also cap off the week with a long cross training workout, instead of the medium distance run followed immediately by a long run.

Incidentally, for the plan’s 24 week timing to work, I would have to start the plan this week. So I considered it a sign and penciled the plan into my schedule. And it turns out the schedule fits mine particularly well. So, that’s what I’m going with going forward.

Since it’s a long plan, what’s great is that if M-3 isn’t working for some reason in the first few weeks, other plans are shorter and I can just switch to the start of one of those if I need to.

However, I went with it because the schedule leaves days between runs, which I may need at this point given my struggles with more frequent running and with random injury problems.

I made a couple of mild modifications, extending the length of the midweek cross training workout since I’m already comfortable with going 45+ minutes, and adding a strength training workout to the Friday rest day so that I strength train Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I would avoid strength training weekends.

Conveniently I had just finished a 5 day strength training cycle, which is the best time to recalibrate my swolework plan.

I have to consolidate to three strength workouts, so I have to axe some exercises that I don’t need right now. The bicep curls and tricep extensions are gone, as are the hamstring curls.

I was doing the Overhead Squats twice per 5 day cycle so I’m only doing them once per week now, on Mondays with the leg presses. I’m front loading leg-based exercises to the Monday workout since the next run after that is easy and that gives me at least a couple days before I have to run fast or long.

The 3rd workout in the 3 day cycle are exercises I don’t need as badly, since there will be some weeks where I probably can only strength train twice. While the lat pulldown can be important, my lats are a bit overactive which indicates I don’t need to strength train these as frequently. Face Pulls are valuable for posture but I don’t need a ton of heavy sets of these, plus the equipment needed is often taken at the gym. I’m already doing decline bench presses in the 2nd workout, so the incline bench presses are not as necessary. Thus I do these exercises as the 3rd day workout, and some weeks I won’t have a 3rd strength training day.

Starting tomorrow the plan is to run 3 miles easy, with 3 steady miles Thursday and then see how 6 miles feels Saturday. I would strength train today, Wednesday, and Friday. I’d ride the spin bike Wednesday and Sunday.

If all goes well, then we’re well on our way with a training plan.

Every meal you eat, all the food you buy, should be considered an investment on how you feel and live in the future.

Think of everything you eat affecting your life proportionally:

65% – How it makes you feel the rest of the day, how you sleep that night
30% – How it makes you feel the next day
5% – How it will affect your long term health down the road

All of a sudden…

Out of nowhere, my right hamstring started bothering me while out walking. I had planned on running easy intervals the next couple weeks to test out the approach, but I quickly dialed all my running plans back once it started bothering me.

It’s still bothering me a bit this morning, and this time around I’m not sure if anything in particular triggered it let alone what. I had run a brief easy interval session Monday with no problems. I had only rode the spin bike and strength trained otherwise during the last week, with no ill effects. I walked as much as usual with no problems.

At this point, the one set of training I’ve done full speed ahead is my strength training, and the only work below the waist I’ve done consistently in the last week has been the overhead squats. Even then, only four sets of 3 reps, with no soreness or distress afterward. Everything else works upper body or core, no ill effects from that aside from residual mild soreness here and there.

Now granted, yesterday I had other random pain come and go in my knee, my hip socket, while walking. So who knows… the weather isn’t really changing in Vegas, but maybe atmospheric pressure or the pull of the moon or something was screwing with my biology yesterday. I’ll be more concerned if I’m still hurting in a few days.

Still, I want to resume regular running, and none of this is stopping me from easy running. I had wanted to do the easy intervals to get away from slower easy running and try to do some faster runner at a lesser volume. If my body’s not reday for that, then I need to listen and just run easy until maybe it is. There’s going to be gaps and breaks throughout the rest of this year anyway, so it’s not like I can’t pivot or rest if I need to stop or outgrow running easy.

On the flip side, strength training is actually going quite well. I’ve substantially improved numbers on pretty much every exercise I do, and am making progress on the new overhead squat. Again, I only do 20 minutes every day, not a second more, and I’m not doing much lower body training beyond ab/oblique work and the overheads, so this probably isn’t cutting into my running capacity.

At the same time, I gained some weight back. Some of this is the combination of the added strength training emphasizing muscle mass, the water retention that comes with that and resulting inflammation, plus the diminished aerobic work over time since the spin bike simply doesn’t burn the calories running does, during or after training. I’ll be more worried if I resume running and the weight stays.

I’m going to run easy today, and if there’s no issue see if I can do some short repeats tomorrow.

I paid a couple visits to the newest Planet Fitness location very near to my work. Even with a crowd it was a good experience all the way around.

It’s far easier and quicker for me to get to this gym after work than my incumbent home location, so I can begin and finish my workout sooner. Plus, since it’s close to work, it’s now possible to work out during lunch if desired, and get back to work with time to spare.

Of course, because the location is new, all the equipment is brand new with all the current bells and whistles. I also noticed the spin bikes here ride faster and more easily than the other location.

So I made the switch today. Because I’m Black-Card, it’s no problem to visit a different gym near home during the weekend since I won’t hit the 10-visit/month limit on any of them.

I switched PF gyms again.

Base Training (For Van 2022) Begins Today

Training for Vancouver 2022 actually has to begin this week, not because I need to do tempo runs and long runs (the serious marathon-specific work will begin at the start of the new year), but because I need to build the fitness to handle THAT program.

And right now, I’m not anywhere close. While training for the aborted Indy trip got me in a good degree of endurance shape, I obviously wasn’t close to marathon fit at the end (which is why I called it off), and because I obviously took it easy for a couple weeks to allow my body to heal up, I’ve now lost some of the run-specific fitness I had and need to rebuild.

During the interim between calling off Indy and now, I have done the following:

One: I aggressively strength trained, quite a bit more often than I usually had.

Typically I’d strength train 2-3 times per week, if that during serious run training. But since mid-October I’ve trained almost every day, only 4 days off from strength training since 10/17.

I’ve experimented with a couple of different 5 day splits of all the exercises I need to do, including some new ones. I’ve actually made substantial strength and appearance progress since stepping up with this strength training.

Obviously, once I start running again this will probably scale way back. But I’ve used the time to build some strength, especially with lower body exercises.

Two: I got back on the spin bike and rode it regularly.

I quit using the spin bike for a while on the premise it was hindering my training.

Once I was no longer training for a race, it was no longer hindering my training. Plus I wanted to use it as it was less demanding than the elliptical, I didn’t need to go aerobically hard at this stage, and honestly I like riding the spin bike.

In fact, after deciding not to continue with Indy, that same day I got on the spin bike and logged over a couple of easy hours. That was despite pain in my right leg after a 10K run (part of the reason I called it off).

Since then I’ve ridden the spin bike several times each week for about 45-60 minutes each. I had used the elliptical a few more times following mid-October, but I’ve mostly phased out the elliptical for now.

Three: I’ve done more plyo drills and training.

I took a few pages from other track sports and adopted some of their training methods to help better round my fitness.

While throwing the discus is a hairy proposition, many of its technique and training principles are useful for not just posture but building full body strength. I’ve been working on the throwing technique (with and without a discus or other weighted object) because of the postural strength and coordinated body control it demands.

Also, Strength coach Dan John (a former thrower) swears by the results from the overhead squat in his Contrarian Guide To The Discus, and says it’s a lift that does not allow you to have weak links. So I decided to start practicing the overhead squat on the Smith rack at the gym.

Though it’s been (as advertised) a struggle, I’m now getting the hang of the overhead squat, am up to four sets of 3 reps each at 25 and 50 pounds, and can finish them all with proper form without immediately feeling sore in my legs. Those first couple of workouts with the overhead squat felt pretty brutal on my quads.

Once I begin Vancouver training I need to be careful about not doing the overheads the day before key run workouts, but I will want to keep doing the overhead squat regularly.

The actual discus technique? We’ll see. I’ve found it interesting enough that I don’t want to discard it. But throwing the discus isn’t easy, and I have to be careful when throwing it about putting anyone in danger. The discus throw technique itself without the disc is a workout on its own. But it’s also a tangential workout that takes some degree of energy to complete. I could just focus on running and regular strength training (… with the overhead squats, of course).

Four: I ran a race for the first time in a long while.

I previously went over this, but running a 5K on Halloween weekend allowed me to focus on running through a sustained strong effort, and it went well. I have another 5K on Thanksgiving and a 10K in mid-December. These will also be glorified tempo runs rather than all-to-the-wall race efforts.

Five: I otherwise took it easy on running to allow my hamstrings to heal.

I did some work break running in preparation for the 5K, but in the two weeks between my last Indy workout and the 5K I maybe ran 7 miles. After the 5K, I was very careful about any running for the following week while letting my hamstrings heal.

The left one feels fine and the right one still very slightly aches, though they do feel markedly better. I probably can begin running regularly again this week. The spin bike workouts and all my usual walking have helped keep them engaged in the interim.

Starting this week, I’m going to practice the Easy Interval Method I haven’t really been able to implement since discovering it this summer.

Basically, you run nothing but 200/400/1000 meter intervals with equidistant rest intervals, though none of the repeats are any harder than maybe 5K/10K pace. The 400’s are run more like half marathon pace and the 1000’s are run around marathon pace.

Plus, after each repeat, you come to a full walking stop before jogging out your rest interval. Easy intervals are much lower key and sustainable than your typical interval workouts, and according to Klaas Lok the approach works. Runners are much more easily able to stick with it.

At most I’d do about 5-6 days a week of these, and for now I’ll touch and go the workouts. I’ll pencil one in for each non-rest-day (I’m still scheduling regular rest days), and if I’m just too tired on a given day I’ll probably skip or reduce that workout.

The goal through mid-December, aside from building fitness for the next 5K and 10K, is to determine how many days of training I can comfortably handle, before settling into a training pattern for December and subsequent Vancouver training.

This pre-marathon training plan also includes a 10K test every two weeks. This can be a race, but given where I’m at right now I’d rather just run these on my own as time trials.

Along with all this, I’ll still be strength training, still walking during work breaks, and still riding the spin bike while reading for circulation on scheduled rest days. I’ll still be doing plyo (and perhaps discus) training around training days, and how aggressive these are will depend on how many easy interval workouts I have per week. Strength training will typically happen before rest days.

I built in a sizable tyraining gap around the December 10K, where I can not only re-double strength training efforts for a bit but also assess how much I can do once I begin training for Vancouver around New Year’s.

So today and beyond I’ll begin running easy intervals, and look forward to seeing what develops from there.

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