Spring Marathon Training Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed

NOTE: This post is part 3 in a series about my spring marathon training. Click here to see Post 1, and here for Post 2.

Lydiard Hill Springing

These guys look really cool “springing” up that hill, right?

This post will introduce Phase 2 of my Arthur-Lydiard-inspired spring marathon training plan, hill work and leg speed, and describe the first of three critical workouts to be performed during this phase: hill “springing.”

In my previous post, I discussed the first phase of my training plan: aerobic base training. That post condensed tons of information into approximately 2,200 words of dense and somewhat difficult reading. If I could rewrite that post, I would split the information into three separate posts. So, before proceeding, I am going to summarize Phase 1, and why it’s necessary before embarking on the other phases of the training plan.

A Quick Review of Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training

Aerobic base training is the most important part of any training plan because aerobic fitness (the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently to convert fat and glycogen into energy) is the number one factor in determining how well a runner will race on any given day. A runner develops aerobic fitness by training at an “aerobic pace,” loosely defined as running at a pace that leaves the runner “pleasantly tired,” or, in more mathematical terms, at a pace at or below approximately 75% of the runner’s maximum heart rate. During this phase, the runner should also perform strides (hard 100 meter efforts at the end of runs followed by extended recovery jogs), tempo runs below lactate threshold, and some easy fartleks. The runner should do at least three long runs per week (two runs about 1.5 hours, one run of 2+ hours) at an aerobic pace. A plan that incorporates only these types of runs—and leaves the anaerobic training for later—will allow a runner to develop a large aerobic base, which will facilitate anaerobic training later in the training cycle.

Importantly, the aerobic base training phase should last as long as possible. Why? Anaerobic development is limited: that is, a runner can only develop his anaerobic capacity so much. On the other hand, a runner’s capacity for aerobic development is virtually unlimited, and the more developed the aerobic system, the larger the capacity for anaerobic development. So, the longer the aerobic base training phase can last, the better.

Great! So, you’ve completed Phase 1 and built an aerobic base. What next?

Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed—Preparing the Body for Anaerobic Development

Lydiard suggests a four-week training period focused on developing leg strength and speed. We’ll call this Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed. The purpose of Phase 2 is twofold: 1) to develop muscle fibers in the legs and to improve leg speed; and 2) to prepare the body for the hard anaerobic workouts that will follow in Phases 3 and 4. Here’s how it shakes out.

This phase contains three critical workouts: 1) the 1-hour hill “springing” workout; 2) the leg speed workout; and 3) the 2+ hour long run performed at an aerobic pace. I’ll start by discussing the hill “springing” workout.

The Hill “Springing” Workout

You should perform the hill “springing” workout on a hill that is between 200-300 meters long and approximately 3-4% grade, with a flat area at the top and approximately 200-400 meters of flat area at the bottom. For you New Yorkers, Cat Hill in Central Park is perfect for this workout.

Here’s the workout in eight easy steps, and the reasoning behind each step:

  • Warm up for about 15 minutes with some easy running (I jog about a mile and a half from my apartment to Cat Hill)
    • Why? You warm up to prevent injury. The warmup loosens the muscles and prepares them for a hard effort.
  • Begin the workout by “springing” up the hill. If you don’t know what “springing” is (I didn’t before developing this training plan), check out the first minute and then 1:30 to the end of this video:

When “springing,” keep the hips forward. Because looking down tends to thrust the hips backward, keep your eyes focused straight ahead. Your upper body should remain relaxed. The slower your forward momentum, the more resistance you create for your legs.

Why “springing?” Because it helps to develop speed. “Springing” builds and stretches the leg’s muscles and tendons similar to how they stretch during racing, which adds flexibility and speed. It also develops strong and flexible ankles, allowing a runner to increase his stride length and leading to greater speed. In addition, by training oneself to run with the hips comfortably forward, a runner can bring his knees higher while running, allowing the feet to follow through higher and, therefore, creating a faster leg action.

It’s possible that you won’t be able to “spring” all the way up the hill. That’s fine. If you can’t get to the top, just jog the rest of the way.

  • Once at the top of the hill, jog easily for 3 minutes.
    • Why? Two main reasons. First, “springing” is an intense exercise, so a short rest between each repetition keeps the body from getting overloaded. Second, too much at once could potentially convert the workout into a hard anaerobic effort, which we distinctly do not want to do. And, as a bonus third reason, easy jogging within the repetitions aids in aerobic development, which, as we’ve discussed, is always a good idea.
  • After jogging at the top of the hill for three minutes, run down the hill with a fast, relaxed striding motion.
    • Why? Two main reasons. First, strides allow us to develop speed and strength. Second, downhill running allows us to practice running with a naturally elongated stride. As mentioned above, a longer stride leads to greater speed.
  • Repeat the hill reps described in steps 2-4 (springing up the hill, jogging at the top, and striding down) for about 15 minutes. For me, this equals about 3 circuits.
    • Why? Think of it like weightlifting with a cardio element: you’re pushing your body to get stronger while simultaneously strengthening your muscles and increasing your leg speed. In other words, you are accomplishing three critical tasks with one workout. Pretty neat!
  • After  about 15 minutes, perform a few wind sprints (running hard followed by jogging) at the base of hill. You choose how many, and for how long (for example, I have been doing 2 x 100m with short recovery jogs)
    • Why? The other point of this exercise is to prepare the body for the anaerobic workouts in phases 3 and 4. By performing wind sprints every 15 minutes, and by only performing a limited number of them, we train our bodies to respond to faster movements, but keep the volume low enough so as not to create a hard anaerobic workout.
  • After completing the wind sprints, repeat the whole circuit described in steps 2-6 (hill reps plus wind sprints) until you have been working out for approximately an hour.
    • NOTE: If you cannot complete an hour-long workout, do however much of the hour that you can.
  • Cool down for 15 minutes.

Ideally, you would perform this workout three days a week, every other day, during Phase 2. On the days in between you would perform a leg speed workout. On the seventh day you would run a 2+ hour run at an aerobic pace.

In my next post, I will discuss the other two workouts critical to Phase 2: the leg speed workout, and the 2+ hour long run at an aerobic pace.

Happy running, everyone!

 

Running Tips: Check Your Laces!

Taking a break from my spring marathon training posts, I wanted to share a quick insight I recently had about the importance of paying attention to how the lacing of your running shoes can hinder your ability to run well.

The background, part 1: Over a year ago I watched a video posted to social media that indicated the “correct” way to lace running shoes. The video indicated that a runner should lace his shoes by using the “heel lock” method: essentially, you use the top hole on the shoe (i.e., the hole that no one ever uses) to create an additional loop through which you then thread and tie the laces. Check out the video below or click here to see how this works:

According to the video, lacing one’s shoes in this manner would keep the shoelaces tighter, for longer, thus allowing the runner the freedom to run without worrying about his shoelaces coming untied.

Sounds great, right? I adopted the heel lock method immediately, without thinking much about it. My shoes often came untied when I simply double-knotted them, but no longer came untied when heel-locked.

The background, part 2: In April of 2015, I developed a stress fracture in my right sacral ala. After physical therapy and a slow return to running, I found that my right leg and hip would feel more sore both during and after a run, but never felt like an injury was developing or re-developing. My doctor and physical therapist both suggested that the tightness in my piriformis, quads, IT band, and hip flexors—which developed during the time off my feet—were to blame, and advised me to focus on mobility exercises and stretching. This generally alleviated the soreness throughout the fall, and I raced successfully.

sacral ala

I didn’t know I had a sacral ala until I got injured. Did you?

The issue: Upon returning to running in December after a two-week break following the NYRR NYC 60k, I found that the soreness in my right hip both during and after a run had increased two or three times what it was before the break. While that soreness subsided after a few weeks of running, it remained, in some form, until about two weeks ago. It affected my ability to recover after long runs, and generally made me uncomfortable about running hard.

The discovery: Every time I laced up my shoes using the heel lock method, the laces pinched on the top of the inside of my right ankle. I would loosen the laces, move the tongue of my shoe to cover the pinched area, and pull up my sock, but the pinching continued. A few miles into any run, I would feel the burn of the lace on that area of my ankle, and at the end of the run my right hip would feel as if I’d just run a marathon, while my left side would feel completely fine.

To treat this soreness, I would stretch almost every day. I would foam roll and roll out my piriformis with a lacrosse ball. Despite all of these mobility exercises, the soreness continued.

Then, about two weeks ago, I had a thought: Why not try a run without lacing my shoes using the heel lock method? Yeah, why not? So, I tied my left shoe with the heel lock method, but tied my right shoe with a simple double knot. I went out for a run and BOOM! While I experienced some additional soreness in my right hip, the feeling was much less pronounced than it had been. A few more runs with my shoes laced up in this new pattern, and the soreness in my left and right legs has essentially equalized. That is, the soreness had declined so as to feel like I usually feel after a run.

As I cannot remember whether I started tying my shoes with a heel lock before I got injured, I do not know whether wearing my shoes this way contributed to the injury. Ultimately, though, I’m glad I figured out what the problem is, and am happy to be running smoothly.

An additional note: While out running this morning, I caught up with my buddy, Mary Arnold, National Marketing Manager for Running Specialty Group, ultramarathoner, and all-around badass, and explained my issues and solution. She asked exactly where my soreness had been and, when I indicated my right hip, she nodded and explained that sometimes when a runner ties his shoes too tight, he inhibits the movement of the navicular bone—the bone located on the top inside of the ankle and, coincidentally, the area on which my laces were pinching—throwing off the leg’s running motion and resulting in extra pressure on the hip.

navicular bone

Figure of the foot showing the location of the navicular bone

She also provided this gem of running wisdom: “If you’re having soreness or pain that’s a 3-5 on the 10 scale, and it’s nagging and not going away, first check your equipment.” Thank you, Mary!

Thus, my tip for anyone else experiencing low-grade, nagging pain or uneven muscle soreness after a run: check your laces!

Happy running, everyone!

 

Spring Marathon Training Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training

This post is part 2 in a series concerning my spring marathon training plan. To read part 1, click here.

Previously, I wrote about why I decided to follow an Arthur Lydiard-style training plan influenced by the Maffetone Method while training for my spring marathon, the Inaugural Queens Marathon. Today, I will describe the first phase of that training plan—aerobic base training—and how it fits into the overall training scheme. As I’m not an exercise scientist or running coach, this post represents knowledge I’ve gained from reading various books, Internet articles, conversations with running coaches, and personal experience. I would strongly encourage you to read further on this subject if it interests you.

Aerobic Base Training

When coaches discuss a runner’s training for an endurance event, they often mention the runner’s “fitness.” For example, before heading out on a 10-mile group training run for the NYC Half Marathon a couple weeks ago, a well-known local running coach told the group, “Don’t worry if you can only run 5 miles today. You’ve got 12 weeks to get fit for the NYC Half.” Why would he emphasize the concept of “being fit?”

For runners, “being fit” means having a well-developed aerobic system (i.e., well-developed endurance capabilities). A runner’s aerobic fitness is the number one factor in determining how well that runner will race on any given day. So, what exactly is aerobic fitness, and how does a runner develop it?

Defining “Aerobic Fitness”

By way of background, the body produces energy through two different but linked systems: the aerobic system, and the anaerobic system. The aerobic system utilizes oxygen to break down fats and glycogen (stored sugars) in order to fuel our cells during exercise. It is the dominant energy system for efforts at or below about 85% of an athlete’s maximum heart rate (NOTE: Maximum heart rate can be roughly calculated by subtracting your age from 220). It utilizes a greater percentage of fat than glycogen and, generally, the less intense the effort, the larger percentage of fat the body will burn during a workout.

The anaerobic system gets activated when a person has become oxygen-deficient—that is, when the amount of oxygen he is consuming can no longer produce enough energy to sustain his effort. Oxygen deficiency typically arises when a person is training or racing at about 90% of his maximum heart rate. The anaerobic system operates without oxygen, and utilizes almost exclusively glycogen. As a result, the body cannot sustain anaerobic efforts for extended periods of time. Why? Because the body is capable of storing only 2,000-2,500 calories of glycogen at any given time, compared to over 40,000 calories of fat. As such, sustained hard efforts burn up glycogen quickly, and a runner will “hit the wall” or “bonk” once he has used up all of his glycogen stores. Further, because the ratio of sugar to fat utilized in energy production decreases as a runner’s heart rate increases (that is, the runner’s body utilizes more sugar), a runner will also deplete his glycogen stores after a hard, sustained aerobic effort. For example, first-time marathoners often “hit the wall” around miles 18-20 after around three hours of sustained aerobic effort.

Based upon the foregoing, we can conclude the following two things: First, “aerobic fitness” is the body’s ability to utilize oxygen to produce energy. And second, in any given endurance event (defined as any event 800 meters or longer), a runner’s aerobic fitness determines how long he can sustain a hard effort over a given distance. Therefore, training one’s body to utilize oxygen efficiently and to run faster at lower efforts (that is, lower heart rates) is critical to developing speed over long distances.

In other words, one’s aerobic fitness is the most important factor in determining one’s speed in any given event.

(NOTE: This does not mean that anaerobic development is unimportant or unnecessary: quite the contrary. In fact, anaerobic development is the second most important factor in determining how well a runner will perform in a given race. Further, a runner who fails to develop his anaerobic capacity will not perform his best (I will cover this in my post about Phase 3: Anaerobic Training). But for now, remember that aerobic fitness is the key to getting faster in any endurance sport, and learning how to properly train the aerobic system will help any runner improve his racing times.)

Why An Aerobic Base Period?

If you’ve ever researched marathon training plans, you’ve probably found plans spanning 12-20 weeks that look like this: for beginners, 3-4 runs per week at shorter distances, plus an ever-increasing long run on the weekend; for intermediate runners, 3-4 runs per week at slightly longer distances, some hills and speedwork, and a weekly long run; and for advanced runners, multiple days containing hills and speedwork, some easy workouts, some workouts at marathon or half marathon pace, plus a weekly long run with some miles at marathon pace. While these plans cater to runners of different abilities (and likely help people achieve their goals), they lack context: Why do runners of different abilities engage in different types of training?

The answer is simple: Advanced runners have built an aerobic base. By building an aerobic base—that is, developing the ability to utilize oxygen more efficiently to break down fat and glycogen to produce energy and, therefore, to sustain harder efforts at lower heart rates for a longer period of time—these advanced runners have greater access to anaerobic development. In other words, a runner’s anaerobic development is dependent on how well-developed his aerobic system is. Therefore, in order to maximize anaerobic development, one must have a well-developed aerobic system.

(NOTE: Another benefit of an aerobic base period is that a runner can increase speed while running at relatively slow paces with a low risk of injury. Harder running such as intervals and racing increases the runner’s risk of injury, so a long base period has the added benefit of developing speed and strength with a lower risk of injury. In other words, it prepares the musculature for harder efforts later in the training cycle).

How to Develop the Aerobic System

To train the aerobic system—that is (once again), to develop one’s ability to utilize oxygen more efficiently to break down fat and glycogen to produce energy and, therefore, to sustain harder efforts at lower heart rates for a longer period of time—a runner needs to train at an “aerobic pace,” which essentially means a pace below or well below “lactate threshold.” “Lactate threshold” is the pace at which the runner’s body begins to accumulate lactic acid—the byproduct of anaerobic energy production—at a rate faster than the body can break it down and expel it from its cells. The body can break down and use small amounts of lactic acid to produce additional energy. Unfortunately, once lactic acid builds up faster than the body can break it down, it disrupts the PH levels of the body’s cells, which causes destruction of the cells and, in turn, muscle fatigue and the feeling of hitting the wall.

What this means, then, is that hard efforts early on in the training cycle lead to the breakdown of the runner’s body, and can disrupt aerobic development. As such, an almost paradoxical relationship exists between fitness and racing: A runner must develop his aerobic fitness—the number one factor in determining how well he can race—only to destroy that fitness through anaerobic development (a necessary step in proper training) and racing.

An example from my own life: At my peak during my NYC Marathon training, I could run a mile at my Maffetone maximum aerobic heart rate (described below) of 1444 beats per minute in 6:55/Mile. After racing the Bronx 10-Mile, Staten Island Half, NYC Marathon, and NYRR NYC 60k in a seven-week period, my maximum aerobic pace dropped to 7:23/Mile as measured by the MAF test, a method for measuring one’s aerobic fitness. Only after two months of rest and near-exclusive aerobic training have I gotten my pace back to 7:00/Mile.

What this means, long-term, is that a runner who trains hard for a goal race will use up many of his aerobic gains in the lead-up to, and the actual, goal race. Thus, once the goal race is completed and the next goal is set, it will be necessary for the runner, if he wishes to continue his development, to start aerobic base training anew for the next race.

Aerobic Pace, as Defined by Lydiard and Maffetone

So, if a runner is supposed to train his aerobic system by running at an “aerobic pace,” how do we define that pace? Every coach seems to have his own definition.

Lydiard

Lydiard, for example, suggests that in order to develop a runner’s aerobic system, he should run at a pace that leaves him feeling “pleasantly tired” at the end of the run. While Lydiard never quantifies “pleasantly tired,” he indicates that a runner can determine that pace through trial and error by running on out-and-back courses and timing the run. If the second half takes longer than the first, then the runner’s initial pace was too fast. Ideally, then, an appropriate Lydiard-based aerobic pace is one at which a runner could run both halves of any particular run in the same amount of time, and end that run feeling “pleasantly tired.”

Based upon this, Lydiard recommends at least 3 long runs per week: 2 runs of about 1.5 hours each, and 1 run of 2+ hours, at the one’s “pleasantly tired” pace. He also recommends performing some tempo runs below lactate threshold, adding strides at the end of runs (for example, 4 x 100 meters of hard effort followed by extended recovery periods at the end of an otherwise steady state aerobic run), and adding as many additional miles at or below “pleasantly tired” pace.

So, an ideal Lydiard base-training week might look something like this:

  • Monday: 1.5 hour run at PT pace
  • Tuesday: Easy run with 4 x100 strides
  • Wednesday: 5-10k tempo run at harder-than-PT pace but below lactate threshold
  • Thursday: 1.5 hour run at PT pace
  • Friday: Easy run with 4 x 100 strides
  • Saturday: 2+ hour run at PT pace
  • Sunday: Easy run with 4 x 100 strides
  • Plus: As many other other runs as possible at or below the “pleasantly tired” aerobic pace

In his experience, Lydiard found that he and his athletes performed best when running approximately 100 miles per week at “pleasantly tired” pace plus as many miles at or below “pleasantly tired” pace as time would allow. He indicates that extra miles accumulated even with 15 minutes of jogging are beneficial. Of course, he instructs runners to run within their capacity, so a week of 20, 30, however many miles is acceptable as long as the runner does not push too hard.

Maffetone

According to Maffetone, one’s maximum aerobic pace is determined through his “180 Formula.” Take the number 180 and subtract your age from it. Then, adjust that number based upon a number of factors, including whether you’ve recently been injured, whether you get sick more than twice throughout the year, whether you’re new to running or a veteran, and whether you’ve seen improvement through using Maffetone’s formula. Then, when performing an aerobic run, keep your pace at or below your maximum heart rate, preferably in a range of your maximum aerobic heart and ten beats below (that is, your “maximum aerobic heart rate range”).

So, an ideal Maffetone week would look something like this: As many runs as possible within one’s maximum aerobic heart rate range.

Ultimately, both Lydiard and Maffetone indicate that running as close to one’s “pleasantly tired” pace or maximum aerobic heart rate most efficiently develops one’s aerobic system. While slower running will aid in development, such development will take more time. Further, both advocate for aerobic base periods that last as long as possible. Thus, if a runner has six months (26 weeks) to train for a particular race, the first 12 of those weeks should be dedicated to aerobic base training, and the following weeks dedicated to the additional phases of training (Hills/Leg Speed 4 weeks, Anaerobic Development 4 weeks, Sharpening 4 weeks, Freshening Up/Tapering 2 weeks).

Putting it All Together

Phew. That’s a lot, right? Here’s what I took from all this information, and how I applied it to my training.

First, while I trained for the NYC Marathon almost exclusively with the Maffetone Method, I felt that I might have outgrown it. I had built a solid aerobic base through the marathon training, and wanted to see if I could push harder. Second, almost every article I read and every coach I consulted indicated that incorporating more intense runs (below lactate threshold, of course) into a base-building phase would augment a runner’s aerobic development. As such, I decided to develop my base-building phase as described below:

First, I calculated my maximum aerobic heart rate and range as determined by Maffetone’s 180 Formula (144: 180 – 31 = 149, minus 5 because of my injury last year = 144 beats per minute, maximum aerobic heart rate range of 134-144 beats per minute). I also calculated my maximum heart rate using the popular 220 – age formula (220 – 31 = 189 beats per minute).

Second, I took the Lydiard skeleton and attempted to do at least three long runs a week, a tempo run, and as many other runs, bike sessions, and pool sessions as possible. When the schedule called for a run at an aerobic pace, I tried to keep my heart rate in my Maffetone range, in large part because Lydiard’s “pleasantly tired” metric mirrored how I felt after most Maffetone-style runs. When a run called for a harder effort below lactate threshold, I tried to keep my heart rate below 160 beats per minute, which equals about 85% of my roughly-calculated maximum heart rate. I also added strides at the end of many runs. You can see how I executed this plan from November 16, 2015 to January 24 here.

I did not follow the training advice perfectly. On two occasions I gave all-out efforts: first, in an unofficial 3.15-mile race (slightly longer than a 5k), and at November Project NYC PR day, a difficult 3.4-mile course. Outside of these 6.55 miles, the only hard efforts I did during this period were during strides at the end of runs, and the occasional tempo run. Thus, I feel good about this phase of my training. And, as I indicated above, I improved my maximum aerobic pace to 7:00/Mile from 7:23/Mile, which is a demonstrable gain in aerobic fitness.

In my next post, I will discuss Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed.

Happy running, everyone!

 

Spring Marathon Training: A Plan Based on the Lydiard System, Maffetone Method, and Reflections on My Fall Racing Season

As my first effort to post more general training advice, I am going to discuss the training plan I designed for my spring marathon training, which is based on: 1) Arthur Lydiard’s training system; 2) Dr. Phil Maffetone’s “180 Formula;” and 3) input based on the strengths and weaknesses of my fall racing season. This plan targets the Inaugural Queens Marathon. This is the first post in a series of posts about this training plan.

As an initial matter, in order to discuss the plan I need to provide some background about the Lydiard System, Maffetone’s training philosophy, and how I’ve adopted them to my own training. Further, because Lydiard’s overall training plan contains five phases, this post will address why I adopted this plan, and subsequent posts will address each phase of the plan.

Arthur Lydiard Background

Lydiard (July 6, 1917-December 11, 2004, born Auckland, New Zealand), trained Olympic medalists Murray Halberg (Gold, 5000 meters, 1960 Olympics), Peter Snell (Gold, 800 meters, 1960 Olympics, Gold, 800 and 1500 meters, 1964 Olympics), and Barry Magee (Gold, Marathon, 1960 Olympics). He revolutionized endurance training with his phased training plan. This “periodization” has become the basis of most modern training programs. To learn more about his life and his system, check out this link.

Lydiard’s Training System is broken into five phases, identified as follows:

  • Aerobic Base Training, which lasts as long as possible
  • Hill Training and Leg Speed, which last four-six weeks
  • Anaerobic Development, which last four weeks
  • Sharpening, which lasts four weeks
  • Freshening Up (a/k/a Tapering), which lasts approximately two weeks

The goal of the plan (and why I find it so intriguing) is to allow a runner to hit peak fitness and performance at his goal race.

Dr. Phil Maffetone Background

Maffetone, a doctor of chiropractic, was one of the first coaches to employ heart rate monitors in training endurance athletes. He trained, among others, Mark Allen, the six-time Ironman World Championship winner. He champions a training system in which endurance athletes perform most of their training at or below their “maximum aerobic heart rate,” a number determined by Maffetone’s “180 Formula,” by which a runner subtracts his age from 180 and then adjusts for other factors such as injury, illness, and experience. Such running is generally well below one’s fastest speeds. For example, at my maximum heart rate as determined by the 180 Formula (144 beats per minute), I can run at a top speed of 7:00/Mile, but can currently run a 5k at a 5:43/Mile pace.

Ultimately, Maffetone would have an athlete train at or below this maximum aerobic pace until his development plateaus, at which point he would incorporate anaerobic training for a period of no longer than 5 weeks. He would also have any athlete beginning to use his system to train at or below his maximum aerobic heart for at least three months (and preferably up to six months) before incorporating any strength training or anaerobic workouts. He also advocates other adaptations for athletes, including eating a diet high in healthy fats balanced with complex carbohydrates.

Reflections on My Fall Racing Season

As I’ve discussed, I ran well this fall, and PR’d at the half marathon and marathon distances. While I found that my aerobic fitness was solid throughout the season, I felt that my muscle endurance (how long the muscles can tolerate the pounding impact of road racing) was lacking. So, I wanted to incorporate more miles and longer long runs early in the training season to improve my muscle endurance.

Training Plan: Putting Together all the Attributes

Ultimately, because I spent the months between May and September training almost exclusively at my maximum aerobic heart rate (which incorporated swimming and cycling as well), I felt confident that not only could I increase my training volume, but also increase its intensity. As such, the idea of the Lydiard System, which requires a much higher training volume, appealed to me. So, I decided to develop my spring marathon training plan using Lydiard’s system as a skeleton. Here’s how I planned it out, in six easy steps:

  • I found my goal marathon, the Inaugural Queens Marathon, which is set for April 30, 2016.
  • I counted back two weeks to April 17, 2016, and designated this period “Freshening Up”
  • I then counted back four weeks to March 21, 2016 and designed the period between March 21 and April 16 as “Sharpening”
  • I then counted back four weeks to February 22, 2016 and designated the period between February 22 and March 20 as “Anaerobic Development”
  • I then counted back four weeks to January 25, 2016 and designed the period between January 25 and February 21 as “Hills and Leg Speed”
  • I then designated all time before January 25 as “Aerobic Base Training,” during which phase I would do most of my runs at or below my maximum aerobic heart rate as determined by Maffetone’s “180 Formula.”

To see the plan laid out, check out my Training Plan.

In my next post, I’ll discuss Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training, including why it’s important and how it fits into the overall plan.

Returning to Blogging!

Hard to believe I last posted on December 8! I don’t have a good reason for the delay between posts. Essentially, after the NYRR NYC 60k, I began to reflect on what I want to accomplish with this blog. When I started it in August, I knew that I wanted to write about my running, but had not developed the idea much beyond that. I started by posting about particular training runs I was doing, workouts I attended, and then branched out into race previews and recaps. After a few months, though, I hit a writing wall: What to do next?

Jim NP Cold Running

Getting in some stair running with November Project NYC in December!

That wall, unsurprisingly, coincided with the end of the fall racing season, a season during which I pushed myself and ran my first 10-miler (1:00:20), set PRs in the half marathon (1:20:51) and marathon (2:57:56), and ran my first ultra, the 60k, in under 5 hours (4:55:55), all within less than two months. I knew that my body needed a break; I did not realize my brain did, too. Hence, only a handful of posts since the 60k and now.

All this to say, I’m back! Expect updates concerning my training, but with a more global twist. Expect some posts about nutrition and other fun things I’m up to, such as the Road Runners Club of America coaching certification course that I’m taking in May. And get excited for race previews and recaps for the races I’m planning to run this winter and spring. I might also write more about some of the running books I’ve read lately (more on those below). My goal is to make this blog a spot for people to pick up tips and tricks to achieve their own running goals.

Jim NYRR Virtual Trainer Run

Crushing 10+ miles with NYRR’s virtual training crew!

Thankfully, the time away from hard running and the blog has reenergized me. Regarding training, I began the base building phase of spring marathon training in earnest at the beginning of December, and will likely run the Inaugural Queens Marathon on April 30, 2016. I spent approximately two months running long runs at an aerobic pace, throwing in some strides at the end of the runs, as well as tempo runs (for example, a 5k at 6:00/mile) and progression runs below lactate threshold. I pushed my weekly mileage up from 30 miles to 50-55, and am hoping to increase to 60-65. I’ve also been riding my bike indoors on my bike rollers at least once a week, and hitting the pool (though not as frequently as I would like). In the middle of all that, I ran an unofficial 5k in 17:45 (5:43/mile), and PR’d on the tricky November Project NYC 3.4 mile PR course with a time of 20:36 (6:03/mile). As of yesterday, I ended the aerobic base training phase of my marathon training and began the hill/leg speed phase as per Arthur Lydiard’s basic training scheme. Not bad for two months.

As for the blog and writing about running, I’ve read a bunch of running-related books these past two months. My friend Katherine loaned me “A Race Like No Other” by Liz Robbins (about the 2007 NYC Marathon) and The Oatmeal’s “The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.” I also read “2 Hours” by Ed Caesar, a book chronicling professional marathoners’ journey to break the elusive 120-minute marathon barrier (current world record is 2:02:57 run by Dennis Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon). I also read “Running Ransom Road” by Caleb Daniloff, a powerful story about a recovering alcoholic who sought closure on his past by running marathons and other road races in locations where he was active in his alcoholism.

Jim Liysa Laura Ann Raul

Getting in a solid 11.5 miles with Liysa, Laura Ann, and Raul during the blizzard this past weekend!

And finally, I’m almost done with “First You Run, Then You Walk” by Tom Hart, my friend Patrick’s father. “First You Run” is a collection of essays written by Hart, a former high school English teacher, who picked up running at age 31 after he quit smoking. He ran into his 60s, at which time he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had one of his lungs removed, rendering him unable to run continuously for more than a few minutes. His essays discuss a range of topics: running a sub-5 mile, running 37 miles on his 37th birthday, chasing age-group awards as a 60-year-old veteran, and eventually breaking 12 minutes for one mile while running with one lung. What makes the book so amazing, though, is Hart’s meditative writing style and honesty. Every other page I find myself thinking, “Yep, that’s exactly how I think about running.” He gets it.

And in other news, I had a nice Christmas with my family and my girlfriend’s family, was able to travel to Vermont for a few days over the holidays, and have been working and preparing for the spring racing season. Life is good.

Happy running, everyone!

12/8/15: Morning Run: 5:50 a.m., 7 Miles: Myles and Londoners

Good morning! I’m in week 2 of aerobic base-building for winter and spring races. I logged just over 33 miles during week 1, most done at a moderate, aerobic pace. My aerobic fitness, as determined by the MAF test I performed yesterday, seems strong, but I’m hoping to improve it a bit before I really pick up the pace this spring.

Of course, despite knowing the importance of keeping the pace easy during a base-building period, I sometimes get carried away. I’ve read warnings from some coaches that any anaerobic running during a base phase can jeopardize a runner’s aerobic fitness. I’ve also read plenty of guides that encourage fast running at all stages of training. Ultimately, however, the occasional hard run, performed whenever in my training, has not had a negative effect on my overall fitness and speed. So, while I will perform most of my runs at an aerobic pace for the next two months, I’m fine with occasionally picking up the pace, and can justify it by working on leg speed and negative splits.

This morning, I happened to find myself in some faster-paced circumstances. I hit the Central Park loop about 20 minutes behind schedule. While I was warming up, Myles, leader of the NP_NYC running team, flew past me. I actually recognized his footfalls before seeing him: He runs with an ideal high cadence and lands softly. I called out his name, and we ran about one and a half miles together, talking about our uber-competitive natures and the upcoming Ted Corbitt 15k. If you don’t know who Ted Corbitt is, you need to read this article. In addition to representing the United States at the 1952 Olympics in the marathon, he essentially introduced the ultramarathon to America. He ran well into his 80s, and at his peak he ran approximately 200 miles a week. He was also the first president of New York Road Runners. Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon, called Corbitt “the father of American Distance running.”

Anyway, after Myles peeled off at Engineer’s Gate, I kept on rolling at the same pace, slightly faster than my normal moderate run. Everything felt good as I cruised up Harlem Hill, easing up so as not to spike my heart rate. About halfway up the hill, a guy with grayish hair, blue shirt and black running pants blew past me. I checked my heart rate: 138. Way too slow! I picked up the pace, shortened my stride on the downhill, and kept a steady state over the next two mini hills. The other guy kept a solid pace, but I slowly crept closer to him. As we descended the second mini hill, I came even with him.

“This is quite an effort for six in the morning, ain’t it?” He joked in his British accent.

I agreed, and we ran together for a bit. He was in town for business, and had gotten up to run because, for him, it was basically 11:30 a.m. and he couldn’t sleep anymore. He was getting in a training run for a Boxing Day race, which, in my opinion, isn’t a real holiday (note: I know I know, it totally is . . . no offense, Rest of the World). We picked up the pace down the final mini hill, and cruised along past the Lake near 75th Street.

“How much farther is it to Columbus Circle?” He asked me.

“About three-quarters of a mile,” I replied.

“OK. I’m gonna give it a bit of a sprint the rest of the way, then,” he said, and he picked up his pace enough that I noticed my breathing change. I understood his implicit challenge, and kept stride with him.

I said I’d run with him until we got to my exit at 72nd Street, but quickly decided to push it all the way to Columbus Circle. He smiled and said, “Good!” We pounded the pavement and continuously ran faster. I breathed harder and turned my legs over faster than him (he had a slow cadence). We passed the finish line area of the NYC Marathon, and I pointed it out. He grunted in agreement. We were in the zone.

Just a quarter mile left to the Columbus Circle exit. I pushed the pace. He followed. I pushed a little harder. He pulled slightly in front of me. I got on my toes and dug in, pushing hard but not quite all out. He maintained. I dug in harder. He relented, and I finished up about four seconds before he did.

I never got his name, but we shook hands, and I wished him a good trip and good luck on Boxing Day. He smiled. We each took a moment to catch our breath, and then I jogged home.

Most runs aren’t that exciting, or that random, but I’m glad when they happen. And that impromptu race at the end? I truly believe it’s not about who finishes first, but rather about the spirit of competition, and accepting challenges as they come. I might be shaking my head if he beat me, but I know I would have had just as much fun.

Anyone else have stories of making random friends/competitors during a routine training run?

Happy running, everyone!

Ultramarathons: Lessons Learned from the NYRR NYC 60k

I ran the NYRR NYC 60k, my first ultramarathon, last weekend. At 37.2 miles, the 60k is a shorter ultra (many ultras total 50-100 miles). Regardless, as most people define “ultramarathon” as any distance longer than a marathon, I can now call myself an “ultramarathoner.”

60k Buckle Photo

The 60k belt buckle bling (repost from nyrr.org)

While I was happy with my preparation and how I ran, I learned a lot about how to survive an ultra. Below are my ultramarathon “lessons learned:”

1) Respect the distance. The most important lesson. After the NYC Marathon, I thought that running a race only 11 miles longer would be simple. I ran strong throughout the 60k, but slowed toward the end and got passed by two runners I had outrun for 34 miles. If I reran this race, I would reduce my early race pace by about 5-10 seconds/mile, and run hard the last two loops.

2) Fuel early and often. Many ultrarunners eat about 240-340 calories/hour. I followed this plan, eating two GU gels (100 calories each) and either a banana (~100 calories) or a bag of pretzels (~120 calories) every hour. Further, I began my GU gel intake after the fifth mile, about 2-3 miles earlier than I had my first gel during the NYC Marathon. This likely helped me maintain an early steady state. I did not hit the wall.

3) Muscle endurance. I felt very confident about my aerobic fitness before the NYC Marathon and the 60k. I have consistently espoused my love of the Maffetone Method and its emphasis on developing the aerobic system. That said, prior to the 60k my long runs included a 20-miler, 22-miler, and the marathon. These runs provided a solid, but not ideal, base for running an ultra. To see how experienced ultrarunners recommend a rookie ultrarunner to train, check out the Ultra Ladies 50k (31 miles) training plan. The main differences between 50k/60k and marathon training are the long runs followed by a second long-ish run. This training allows the body to develop the muscle endurance necessary to run harder, longer. Without that type of training, aerobic fitness only takes you so far.

4) Pain is inevitable. I felt physical pain during every race this fall (the Bronx 10-Mile, the Staten Island Half, and the NYC Marathon), but nothing compared to the pain I felt during the 60k. During both the Bronx 10-Mile and Staten Island Half, I was able to tolerate the pain and negative-split. The pain during the NYC Marathon, while more intense, slowed me down, but not significantly. The 60k pain, mostly after mile 30, forced me to bear down harder than ever before, and slowed my pace.

5) Mental toughness trumps pain. I almost despaired around miles 34-35. After cruising along for 30+ miles, two runners passed me, and I thought I would never return to Engineer’s Gate. I had to dig really deep to put one foot in front of the other, telling myself that I was stronger than I felt, that the pain would be over soon, and that I could trust myself. I talked out loud. I screamed a lot of “woos!” I told myself that each step felt good. I told every spectator I recognized how close I was to the finish because saying it out loud made it feel more real. I envisioned myself sprinting down the straightaway near Engineer’s Gate, and anticipated the cheers at the finish line. These positive thoughts propelled me forward.

6) On-course support is awesome. Seeing friends on the course kept my spirits high. Seeing the same volunteers at different points helped me “shorten the horizon” of the race. I thought, “In one more mile you’ll see Alison, and you can say hi get a high five.” It helped break the race into more digestible chunks. I can’t run 37.2 miles, or 50 miles, or even 10 miles, but I can run a mile and reassess. Mile by mile. Step by step. You can’t run 37.2 miles all at once. You have to do it a step at a time.

7) Camaraderie with fellow runners. Talking to other runners helped tremendously. With around 400 runners attempting the 60k, it was easy to say encouraging things to people as we ran around Central Park nine times. It’s nice to know that we’re all attempting something difficult together, and not at each other’s throats in competition.

8) Stopping for fuel/food breaks might not be necessary. If I had a “crew” helping me out during the race, I might have been able to run continuously the whole time. This might have cut 2-3 minutes off my time, enough to move up about two finishing places. That said, I appreciated the mini breaks from the running, but felt like I could have run straight had I easier access to my in-race nutrition.

9) Hard work pays off. I’ve written about this before, but I worked really hard at my running this past year, asking for help, taking advice, and staying consistent with my training. The 60k further demonstrates that commitment to improvement.

10) You must have fun. Despite the physical and mental pain, you need to enjoy the run. Multiple friends told me I looked like the happiest runner on the course. I don’t doubt it. I always try to smile at friends and spectators because I genuinely appreciate their willingness to cheers us on. On a deeper level, though, I feel so much gratitude even to be able to participate in these events. I have family and friends who support me in my efforts, and allow me to push hard every day. When I think about that, it puts my running in context and makes every step special. Plus, endorphins.

Anyone else run the 60k and have some lessons learned? Lessons from other ultramarathons?

Happy running, everyone!