Tag Archives: Running

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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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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The Endurance Diet, and using it to plan a sustainable training diet

Matt Fitzgerald’s book The Endurance Diet is probably the best book on basic nutrition for endurance athletes.

Though Matt has written other books on fueling races and workouts, and maintaining an ideal weight for running, his field research of elite athletes around the world finally put together all the pieces of his knowledge into a system to help you assemble a sustainable, repeatable training diet that will effectively fuel your workout while maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle.

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KINeSYS: The best running sunscreen I’ve ever used

Before last year’s ill-fated Vancouver Marathon, I visited the race’s Expo and did some opportune shopping for in-race items I would need, such as Clif Shot Bloks.

I also needed sunblock, but was wary of being suckered in when I encountered the people selling KINeSYS, a Vancouver-based brand of sunscreen. However, it had several qualities that quickly drew me in.

  • It didn’t contain the highly reactive and dangerous carcinogens oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate.
  • It sprays on, like other athletic sunscreens.
  • But! It doesn’t leave the tell-tale disgusting film that other sunscreens do. Since it’s oil free, it absorbs into your skin leaving it feeling far more normal, and doesn’t smear all over your clothes or getting into your sweat and your eyes.
  • Because of that liquid consistency, it sprays directly toward your skin, more like a liquid than an aerosol. You won’t lose valuable sunscreen to the air, or end up breathing any of it in.
  • It’s also fragrance free, so you don’t end up with an overt weird sunscreen smell.
  • It comes in a portable 1oz spray bottle that can easily be carried on your person at the race, allowing re-application in mid-marathon to be easily done. It’s also a travel-acceptable size, allowing you to fly with it.
  • It didn’t cost too much more than typical sunscreens. The $8.99 listed on the company’s Amazon page is pretty much what I paid in Vancouver BC (in Canadian currency). They have other types they sell at different prices, but the base $8.99 variety worked just fine.

Since I don’t need to use sunscreen terribly much, I still have the original 1oz bottle I bought back in May 2018. But if I needed more sunscreen I absolutely would order this again.

Those of you who run a lot in sunny, hot climates, and want to improve the quality (and lower the health risk) of the sunscreen you use, I’d absolutely recommend trying KINeSYS.

Funny how the Canadians do sunscreen better than we do.

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Feast or Famine Winter Training: A blessing in disguise?

Chicago’s freezing weather has forced me to hibernate for days at a time. Last week’s brutal -50°F windchills knocked out a couple days, and this week a combination of sub-10°F temperatures with stiff 20-30 mph winds have compelled me to flex in a couple of days off.

This has led me into a feast/famine schedule, where I’ll run 4-5 days in a row, then run very little for a few days, then repeat. If Chicago’s weather can stabilize into something consistently tolerable, I’ll resume a more normal training schedule.

But I realized this schedule is very similar to one that emergency workers (hospital medical staff, firefighters, law enforcement) follow, along with to some extent expo workers.

They work long hours for several days in a row, then they get several days off in a row. In the case of emergency staff, working a regular 8 hour shift is often impractical when attending to real-time emergencies. In the case of expo staff, they work when convention services are needed, and those periods often come in peak-season blocks rather than everyday on a 40 hour schedule.

Obviously, there are drawbacks to life with such a schedule. No one ever argued this was an optimal schedule. However, not only do workers put in entire careers on such a schedule, but (taking a bit of a logical leap here) it’s entirely possible that runners could to some extent do fine on the same schedule.

In fact, runners kind of do. We train hard for goal races in 8-24 week cycles… then we take longer breaks before resuming training for the next goal. Even the famous elite Kenyan runners take weeks or months off following their marathons.

We couldn’t train as hard as we do unless we took breaks at some point. Sometimes, injuries or life force those breaks. But many end up taking them by choice or other willing circumstance. It’s during these breaks that the body and mind rebuild, allowing us to train hard the next time around. You don’t grow stronger during training, but during the recovery between bouts of training.

So back to this strange-to-many feast or famine schedule: Imagine 4-5 days straight of moderate running, with a long run at some point, perhaps a speedwork session early on… then 3-4 days of no training, or perhaps a short run or two during that period… before another 4-5 days straight of moderate/long running.

That moderate period might really beat you up, but then you get that long subsequent period to heal up from all that work. You’re possibly almost chomping at the bit to get back at it two days before you resume training. By the time you get back to longer runs, you’re physically and psychologically fresh.

The latter situation is actually the idea behind a marathon taper. You spend months grinding yourself to get ready for the race. Then you scale back your training to too-little-running, so that your body and mind can heal up and running can become fresh again once it’s time to run the actual race.

I won’t go as far as to say everyone should do this. If I had it my way, I’d have trained normally over this past month, instead of having to stall training for 2-3 days due to severe weather.

But in a way the severe weather was an opportunity to rest up and recover. So long as I maximize the time to train while the weather is good, the time off could maximize the recovery and growth from that training.

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Finish strong at races by training with fast finish runs

You should never do in races what you don’t work on in training. Runners want to negative split and finish strong. But then they do all their runs at an even pace. Or the only time they run fast is when they do speedwork.

In so many other ways, runners do most of their running in an entirely different pattern of behavior, routine and other fashion than they intend to do so in their races.

This is not to say your workouts should all be dress rehearsals for your races. In many cases (like a marathon) this is impossible. However, in sports a typical practice usually works on specific elements and routines that athletes will utilize in the actual competition. A workout should whenever reasonable provide opportunities to work on things you will need to do specifically in a race.

Obviously a regular run works on running. But races are run at a harder pace than a regular run. Of course, you can’t just race all your workouts without risking injury or burnout. And of course you do want most of your running to be easy intensity for the same reasons.

Still, you can work on one key pattern of behavior that you will utilize in a race: You can work on finishing a typical run faster and stronger than you did the rest of the run.

The value: As you tire in a race, you have to work harder to maintain your pace later in the race than you do at the start. Thus it helps to practice giving more of an effort at the end of a run to simulate this demand and help you practice working within that state. It doesn’t unduly tax you to do it in the final few minutes of the run, the way it would for you to run hard the entire length of the run (as you would in a race).

An easy example: You go on a 45 minute run. You start easy and do most of the run easy. But in the final mile or the final 10 minutes, you pick up the pace to something “comfortably hard”, fast and a little challenging, but something you can steadily maintain for a mile or so. You stay at that pace or better until your run is done.

This fast finish run isn’t unheard of. In fact, a lot of coaches recommend it. Hal Higdon’s advanced 3/1 runs are basically this. Matt Fitzgerald’s training plans feature lots of fast finish long runs.

I actually used to do this when I first started seriously training. When I used to listen to music while running I’d go for a run set to LCD Soundsystem’s 45:33, with the goal to return to my starting point by the end of the 46 minute track. Sometimes, with the song approaching it’s end I’d be a little too far from the finish and I’d feel compelled to speed up to get there in time.

Turns out, without my realizing it, I was basically doing the fast finish run. It’s probably one of many key factors that led to my substantial improvement.

So, whether or not you want to time it to music, a great way to practice race-day running is to finish some (not all, but some) of your regular runs a little faster. Practicing that end-of-race “kick” in workouts will better prepare you to kick for real at the end of your actual races. Plus, it’s a sneaky way to work on “speedwork” without having to devote an entire tough workout to it.

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Why I don’t perform anymore. Why I like running.

Prior to becoming a more serious runner some time back, I spent years as a practicing theatre, improv and dance performer, and wrote about those subjects here.

I stopped performing in 2017 because I frankly didn’t enjoy doing it anymore. Showing up to the theater became a chore with no personal benefit, and that’s not why people practice and perform.

Now and then I get views on my old improv posts. Here’s one that got viewed last night. I wrote a lot about ideas and principles that demonstrated the ability to produce better improv, better theatre, better shows. Much of what I wrote still stands up today, even though I haven’t stepped on a stage in two years and don’t feel much like doing so today.

I’m glad my writing on improv and theatre is still of use to people performing today. It’s part of why I didn’t take that writing down once I switched my focus to running.

Part of the reason I stopped performing: Fundamentally, on and off stage, your success in performing arts entirely depends on the approval and active support of other people. After all, you are performing for an audience, and even if performing solo you need other people to get a stage to do it.

Because of this, you can do everything essentially “right” (whatever that means in your case), but if people don’t want to fully engage it won’t matter. The problem really hit home when I began teaching and coaching. If people don’t want to engage, don’t want to work hard, don’t want to take you seriously… no effort you put forth will succeed on a suitable level, whether you perform or seek to help performers. In the performing arts, everyone else decides if you succeed or fail.

Despite everyone’s best intentions, it’s little wonder so many performers are mentally unhealthy. Objectively, a lifestyle that depends entirely on the approval and support of others is not a healthy way to live.


It’s also a key reason I got seriously into running, which like most forms of exercise is essentially the opposite. While useful, you don’t need anyone’s approval or support to succeed or grow with running. If you know what you’re doing and you regularly do the work, you can grow. Even if for whatever reason someone doesn’t want you to succeed, they (short of criminal or other ethically bankrupt activity) cannot stop you.

I put a lot of time and growth into becoming a theatre performer, but every time I think about going back… I think about all the costs and obstacles to doing it, and it frankly doesn’t seem worth the effort. I may be talented, may be funny, may be whatever else… but so are a lot of other people. And competing with those people for a finite, dwindling amount of attention in an increasingly ADHD, media-heavy world doesn’t seem like the best use of my time and energy.

Meanwhile, running has always been a great use of my time and energy. I’ve gotten in much better shape and health. It’s always engaging to me. The knowledge I’ve built from doing it, what I share writing about it, helps a large number of people I haven’t even met.

So that’s a big reason why I run and write about running and the lifestyle. If there’s a takeaway for you from this, it’s to focus on doing what rewards you and helps you reward others… and to not invest yourself in things that don’t.

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Recap of an ice cold F3 Half Marathon

f3halfThough 10 degrees Fahrenheit was far warmer than it had been in Chicago throughout this week, the cold at Saturday’s F3 Half Marathon was stiff enough to compel organizers to do most of the pre-race festivities (including the National Anthem) inside the Soldier Field concourse.

Your intrepid running writer struggled Friday night to find an effective race-day-gear middle ground between minimal racing weight, and functionally layering for the cold.

Because this was basically a goal race on my schedule, how I did today was important enough to not just dismiss this as a throwaway result in icy conditions. I didn’t train for the Half distance just to phone the race in.

I knew a PR was probably unlikely: I knew I’d end up a bit heavy (and thus slower) due to layers, and that despite the cold I might end up a bit overheated due to what layers I wore. This was just about seeing how close I could get in these conditions.

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The FIRST Marathon Training Approach: Who’s it good for?

first

I want to talk a bit about the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training‘s unique training program, known mostly as FIRST.

This is not a review of Run Less, Run Faster… the book that Runners’ World eventually put out about the method, though if this approach works for you then I recommend you check out the book. This is more of a review of the method itself.

The Basics of FIRST, in a Nutshell

  • Over 16 weeks you only run 3 days a week, with 1 day between the workouts plus 2 days off from running after the longest one.
  • All of the workouts are quality workouts. There is a speedwork session, a tempo run, and a long run. None of the workouts are a simple distance run. Every running workout has a specific challenge, and is intended to be difficult.
  • You are expected to cross train aggressively two additional days each week, most typically the day after the first two workouts.
  • Speedwork sessions are track style reps ranging from 400m to 1600m. These sessions are fairly light for speedwork: You’re never asked to do more than 12 reps, and that’s for the 400m repeats. These workouts shouldn’t last more than 45 minutes.
  • Midweek tempo runs range from 3-8 miles, and are done around 10K-15K pace.
    The paces for the long run are rather fast compared to other methods, run about 30-45 seconds faster than your 10K pace. This is approximately close to most methods’ marathon pace, so you are effectively doing your long runs as marathon-pace workouts.
  • The long run starts at 10 miles, peaks at 20 miles, and the average long run is around 16 miles, which incidentally is around the max long run of some methods. Because of the hard pace demanded, they’re designed not to last more than 2.5 hours.

Who Does the FIRST Approach NOT work for?

People who don’t do speedwork. FIRST is not for a speedwork beginner. All of the workouts demand some degree of tempo running, so you need to be comfortable with hard, pace-centered running.

Winter runners. Icy conditions do not lend themselves to hitting goal tempos, and FIRST demands you do every run at a tempo. You need traction with the ground to run fast, and slippery winter conditions don’t allow it. FIRST is best done during a conventional warmer season.

People who do best with lots of easy running. Every single workout is a higher intensity workout. If you prefer to run easy in workouts, do another plan. Don’t come near this one.

People who don’t want to cross train. One of the hidden keys to FIRST’s success is the low intensity cross training sessions you’re supposed to do between run workouts. This is where aerobic fitness is low-key developed. If you just do the run workouts, that aerobic fitness likely doesn’t develop fully (though, if you handle the entire plan, your anaerobic fitness should be vastly improved). And FIRST is adamant that you’re not to do any running on the non-run days. You’re basically doing another plan if you do.

People who want to log heavy miles. Because you only run three days a week in FIRST, and two of those workouts are somewhat shorter than typical marathon training runs, your total mileage is capped fairly low. If you feel you train best with a high mileage volume, you’ve got to do another plan.

Runners whose race pace is fairly close to their everyday running pace. If you’re more of a casual runner, FIRST is already a pretty tough fit for you. But if your race pace is fairly close to your regular running pace, you’re not going to get much more value from this plan than any other random running plan… most of which will do more for you than FIRST. You probably need more frequent, everyday running than anything else.

Injury or burnout prone runners. Because every FIRST workout demands a high level of intensity, and you’re assured of three challenging workouts every week, it’s very likely someone not equipped to handle the training load will get hurt or burn out.

Runners who lack cross training options. You need to be able to cross train to do FIRST effectively, and this requires you have access to a bike, a pool, a gym, etc. If you don’t, you may as well pick a plan that only asks you to run.

Who Does FIRST work for?

Experienced runners who do best with intense sessions. Similar to people who swear by Pfitzinger, highly trained runners who thrive in hardcore run workouts will probably get more out of FIRST. They may not be fond of the lack of running on off days, but perhaps the hard cross training makes up for it. Speaking of which….

Triathletes. Because FIRST demands cross training, triathletes who like to train in other aerobic disciplines (cycling, swimming) will enjoy the ample opportunity to work on their other sports… or at the least use those other sports as a recovery/development break from marathon training.

Hardcore runners who don’t have a ton of time. Someone who has a busy life but likes to train hard will like having a schedule of only three workouts per week. FIRST is more easily fit into a busy schedule.

Older experienced race runners. Athletes who like training hard but find age catching up with them could find FIRST ideal. Older athletes tend to do best by cutting back on volume and getting the most bang for their buck on less frequent workouts while perhaps cross training on the side. FIRST does not mess around with junk runs, and older athletes may get growth from the less frequent but more focused run schedule plus the cross training sessions.

Experienced runners who struggle with hitting goal times. To be honest, many experienced runners who struggle to nail a goal time could find substantial growth from FIRST’s focused, tempo oriented workouts. If your every workout demands a particular tempo, then you have no choice but to learn to hit tempo. You will find out early if a goal time is unrealistic, and can build subsequent workouts around a more feasible goal time. But the most important part is that a runner will get better at running at a goal pace.


No verdict. FIRST can be a quality training method for some runners, while it’s a bad idea for others.

Personally, I’m intrigued by the method, but the necessity of quality cross training makes it a no-go for me. I’m currently not part of a gym, and don’t own a bike. My cross training is limited to walking, mild strength training, and other physical errands. Also, it’s currently winter in Chicago, so if I was going to do it at all it would need to be during the peak summer season.

Also, for older and injury prone runners, Don Fink’s IronFit marathon method may be a better fit for this sort of training. While it similarly asks for three quality workouts per week, the pace demands aren’t as strict, and IronFit provides the flexibility for you to run on non-quality days if you prefer over cross training.

Still, Furman tested this method on various randos years back and those runners found immense marathon success with it… even without the cross training.

If you think FIRST can work for you, check out their book on the method, Run Less, Run Faster.

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Vital foods for serious vegan athletes

vegetables and tomatoes on cutting board

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For a variety of lifestyle and educated reasons I won’t get into, I personally consume meat and other animal products and don’t foreseeably intend to stop. And conversely I have no problem with people choosing to eat vegan, or otherwise vegetarian.

Running is probably one of the easiest forms of fitness to maintain on a vegan diet. Weightlifters and other power-based athletes face substantially greater challenges going vegan. But runners don’t have their strength and power needs. Plus, vegan diets are very carbohydrate rich, which plays right into the needs of endurance athletes.

Still, you need to be wary of your muscles’ and organs’ protein and other nutrient needs. A lot of vegan-common health problems manifest multifold in runners once those runners kick up the volume and intensity. Just because you don’t lift heavy weights doesn’t mean your muscle density isn’t important to your life, let alone your running.

The RDA and other listed mainstream protein requirements are frankly far too low. There’s a variety of political and economic reasons for that, none of which are particularly good for your health. You need more protein than that to live and age well, and most vegans need far more protein than they’re eating.

I set the minimum bar at 0.75 grams per pound of body weight. And if you look at most plant and grain based food, you’ll find reaching that bar is rather difficult.

There are certain foods that are very important to the health of serious vegan athletes.

Beans and legumes. These plant based foods provide the most protein, and a variety of other nutrients. Whether or not you’re a believer in combining proteins (e.g. eating beans with rice), beans in themselves contain a ton of potassium and protein. Just make sure to soak them properly to minimize digestive gas.

Some people swear by lentils, but not everyone digests them well. I’ve always had trouble digesting lentils. Barring that, they too are a great protein source.

Avocados, potatoes and bananas, aka the potassium monsters. Most people vegan or not don’t get enough potassium. The benchmark is 3000-4500 mg per day, depending on who you talk to, and the typical processed food rich Western diet won’t get you close.

Meat it turns out has a good share of potassium, but surprisingly many plant-based foods don’t provide much more than a similar serving of meat.

Avocados and bananas are convenient, useful potassium bombs. One avocado provides 800-1000 mg. Each banana gives you about 400 mg. But potatoes are the motherlode. A small potato can give you 600-700 mg. Cut up and eat three of them, and that’s around 2000 mg right there.

It’s little wonder so many people swear by potatoes. Famous magician Penn Jillette lost over 100 lbs subsisting largely on potatoes, which provided virtually all the nutrients his shrinking body needed. They are a calorie-dense wonder starch.

People love sweet potatoes and they’re totally fine, but they’re a bit harder to find. Conventional potatoes do the trick just fine.

If you can eat gluten, bagels. Most breads are not worth anyone’s time. But bagels are as dense and protein-rich a form of bread as you will find.

Yes, obviously for vegans there is concern that some bagels are made with egg or honey products, which are of course not vegan. If you want to try bagels and aren’t acutely aware of the source, read your labels and make sure no animal products are involved. To my knowledge, most bagels should be clear on that front. But definitely double check.

Provided they work for you… compact and calorie rich, one or two bagels on their own will provide enough energy for your longest workouts… let alone if you tack on any toppings (I’m guessing as vegans that cream cheese or butter isn’t among them). I’m a sucker for crunchy peanut butter and fruit preserves (… if there’s no corn syrup or other additives! Whole Foods has varieties of both that are free of most typical additives, that are worth the extra cost).

Bonus: Ugali. The great Kenyan runners live on two food staples. One is not vegan: Milk infused tea. They drink it after every run. The other, however, is very vegan. Ugali is nothing more than finely ground flour (often cornmeal) and water mixed over boiling heat to create a thick mashed-potato-like porridge. The Kenyans eat a ton of ugali. And their runners crush almost every other elite distance runner in the world at major long distance events.

Ugali is cooked like the love child of rice and oatmeal. You add 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of flour. You boil it, mash out any lumps as it cooks, and then thicken or thin it using more water or flour as desired before serving. Cooking it takes about 10-15 minutes. The nutritional profile is similar to rice, except with a little bit more potassium.

If you train a lot, this is one of the quickest deliveries of large quantities of glycogen-producing carbohydrate you can ingest. This is a great dish to eat before or after tough training days. The Kenyans are not kidding.

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Yeah, I’m not vegan, and I’m in no hurry to adopt the lifestyle.

Still, it can be done without sentencing to death your muscle tone and (for men) your testosterone levels. There are foods that will allow you to take full advantage of your training. Eat them.

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So you want to run the Dopey Challenge?

As part of Walt Disney World’s Marathon Weekend (yes, for those who didn’t know, Disney World hosts an annual marathon!), they hold a series of preliminary races: A 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday, and the full marathon on Sunday.

Imagine someone trying to run all four races on the exact same weekend. Well, not only do people do it, but Disney’s race organizers actually award people medals for doing it. They call it the Dopey Challenge (I presume the eponymous dwarf’s name is used to reflect how smart of an idea they think it is), and they award large medals to anyone who successfully completes the Challenge.

You may ask: Who in their right mind has any business doing this? Presuming you think you could do it… how could someone train for this as something more than a masochistic exercise? Is there a best way to train for it? Is it possible to race the Challenge, rather than just trying to survive it?

Hal Higdon is the only person of any kind to actually put forth a training plan for the Dopey Challenge. And his traditional-style plan is fairly basic, asking for a series of progressively longer runs every fortnight to prepare for the races. Pretty much all the prescribed running is easy, the focus being on developing the aerobic endurance for the Challenge through sheer volume, at the expense of any sort of performance.

As he would attest, there’s a lot more to the Dopey Challenge than meets the eye:

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The Debate on Tempo Runs and the Lactate Threshold

There are two schools of thought concerning tempo runs, aka extended runs done at or above your lactate threshold, the point at which your muscles produce too much lactic acid for your muscles to absorb + clear, causing your muscles to feel weary (among other tired effects).

As your fitness improves, the pace at which you hit your lactate threshold should get faster. This can allow you to run farther at faster paces. For any race distance beyond a sprint this is of course very important.

The traditional school of thought is that tempo running at or above the threshold strengthens your muscles’ ability to clear excess lactic acid, and therefore your threshold will increase over time.

Another school of thought is that a lot of aerobic running at a sub-threshold pace over time will increase that threshold, plus higher intensity running at shorter bursts will improve your running economy and in turn that threshold.

Who’s right? To some extent both camps are right. The question is which camp’s approach is most beneficial.

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The Best Beginner’s 5K Training Plan: Building a winning habit with easy every day runs.

The best 5K training plan for beginners is simple, and addresses the hardest part about doing it: Yourself.

If you’re not a runner but you want to run a 5K, there’s a multitude of training plans you can follow over 8-12 weeks to get ready. The most popular is Couch to 5K, where you follow a run/walk approach 3 days a week and build up to running 3 uninterrupted miles by week 8.

Almost every beginner plan has you run 3-4 days a week, every other day. As I mentioned in a recent post, what derails you on these plans is (somewhat ironically) the scheduled days off.

Intended to help you recover, the days off instead tempt novices back into their old habit of not-running, and prevent running from becoming a repeatable, sustainable habit.

It ironically takes more discipline to maintain a half-time running schedule over time than it does to maintain an every-day running habit. Though starting an everyday running habit is more of a grind in the short run, you more quickly ingrain running as a repeatable habit. It becomes easier to continue training.

Meanwhile, if you’re taking a day off every other day, not to mention a full weekend off each week… it’s very easy to forget or give in to temptation, and skip the next workout.

And the next. And eventually quit running.

This is because you’re not building a repeatable habit. You do a workout one day, but then do no workout the next day.

Imagine if instead of brushing your teeth every day, you brushed them three times a week. Chances are pretty good you’d forget to brush your teeth a lot more often doing it three times a week. However, brushing them everyday quickly ingrained the action as a habit, and you do it without a second thought.

This is the power of habit. And it’s the key to conquering your inertia towards exercise, let alone towards training to run a 5K. The key isn’t just to train yourself to run 3+ miles without stopping. The key is to build the habit of running so that it’s easier to get you to do the workouts you need.

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IronFit’s Marathons After 40: Who’s it good for?

IronFit40I want to talk a bit about IronFit’s Marathons After 40, more so about Don and Mel Fink’s application of Don’s trademark triathlon-focused IronFit training approach to older runners.

This is not necessarily a review of the book, which to be honest is well written, organized and easy to follow. If this approach works for you the book is absolutely worth a read.

I want to talk about the IronFit method of training, which doesn’t get the attention of other more popular methodologies (for example, Jonathan Savage’s exhaustive review of marathon training plans does not mention it)> Plus, it’s one of the only training approaches geared towards older runners.

I will also focus mostly on the marathon plans, though the book provides similarly comprehensive training plans for shorter races.

Standard disclaimer: IronFit’s a registered trademark of Don and Mel Fink. This is only a general, fair-use overview of the plan, which itself is described in greater detail in the book.

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