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!

 

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!

NYC Marathon Race Recap Part 2: The Significance of the Marathon for Me

TCS NYC Marathon

Me, Terri, and Billy from NP_NYC celebrating with our medals the day after the marathon! My hair looks particularly gingery in this pic.

The NYC Marathon happened. Social media exploded with excited posts, likes, and comments from runners, their friends and family, and spectators’ pictures of runners and funny race signs. Everyone who completed the Marathon has a story. For some, finishing allowed them to cross an item off their bucket list. For others, this represented yet another NYC Marathon, special in its own way but certainly not a new experience. And for others, it represented a celebration of their personal growth. My story falls into that final group.

Before I get to that story, though, let’s break my race down by the numbers. My previous marathon PR was 3:55:17 on a flat course, run 11 years ago. My only other marathon time was 4:10ish, also run 11 years ago. On Sunday, my 2:57:56 bested my previous marathon PR by almost an hour and qualified me for the 2017 Boston Marathon. So, this race solidified not only my return to endurance running, but a complete transformation.

However, considering my personal growth, this race demonstrated how far I’ve come since the fall of 2012, when I was in my final year of law school. I had done well academically but not received the job offer I wanted. My relationship of almost five years had ended. After starting law school weighing 162 pounds with a 10k PR of 45:03 (7:15/Mile), I found myself weighing 198 pounds and unable run for more than a mile.

I had completely isolated myself from family and friends. I came to school for class only, spending the rest of my time in my apartment watching Netflix and drinking whiskey alone, or hanging at the Upper West Side’s diviest bars. I did the bare minimum of schoolwork, which somehow resulted in straight A’s (including an A+ . . . seriously, I cannot explain this), and people left me alone. I either refused to talk to my family, or erupted in anger during conversations. I blamed everyone else for my misery. I ruined family holidays and convinced new “friends” that I was the unluckiest man alive. This fueled my cycle of resentment, fear, anger, and drinking.

By February of 2013, I hit a complete mental, physical, and emotional bottom. My family, despite years of me pushing them away, helped me straighten out. I could no longer blame them or any other external circumstances for how I felt: The negativity came from within me, and the only way to change that feeling was to accept responsibility for my actions, clean up my past, and work hard to live a healthier life based on personal accountability. Slowly but surely, through the help of family and friends I came to accept the world around me and, more importantly, I came to accept myself: shortcomings AND positive qualities.

Simultaneously, as I got healthier I began to revisit old personal interests, including running. I signed up for the Scotland Run 10k and the Brooklyn Half Marathon, and planned to run both races in early 2014. The last race I had run was a 10k in June of 2010. However, as my personal issues continued to plague me, I skipped both races because I failed to train for them.

I did, however, sign up for the 2014 Staten Island Half, completed the training for that race, and ran it in 1:44:42. I wore a six-year-old pair of sneakers, gym shorts that I owned since high school, and a long-sleeved running shirt about two sizes too big during the race.

After the Staten Island Half, I knew I could run faster, so I began training hard. I analyzed training plans online, read articles about running and nutrition, and ran the Fred Lebow Half in January in 1:36. I joined New York Sports Club and began training once a month with a trainer who specializes in collegiate endurance athletes. I did interval training, speed work, and hill sessions. I ran a 5k in under 20 minutes. My race bibs now placed me in the first corral of NYRR races. I decided the 2015 Brooklyn Half would be the race at which I would show the world just how fast I’d gotten. I trained for a sub-1:25 time.

All of that intense training, combined with some ill-advised attempts after reading Born to Run to change my running stride from a heel strike to a forefoot strike, caused me to develop a stress fracture in my right sacral ala, an injury generally found in elderly women with osteoporosis (seriously! Google it). I despaired, somewhat comically, and thought I might never run again.

Nevertheless, I did something that I might not have done in the past: I asked for help. When the doctor recommended that I use crutches for five weeks, I did it even though he said that I could heal without them (albeit over a longer period). I followed his advice and swam, worked on strengthening my core, and lifted weights only while in the upright sitting position. Once off crutches, I waited three weeks to hit the treadmill, worked with a physical therapist, and learned about what exercises to perform to reduce the risk of future running injuries. I also learned that I should run how I run, and not worry about the latest trends in running form. My coworker introduced me to The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Dr. Phil Maffetone, which provided a method to increase speed without high intensity intervals and speed work. I also learned how to properly incorporate speed work into a training plan, and realized that I had been doing way too much, way too early on in my fledgling adult running career.

Most importantly, I finally understood that running for anyone besides yourself is a dangerous game. I reconnected with the joy I feel every time I get to hit the Central Park loop at 5:30 a.m. If I got faster, awesome. If not, who really cares? The point was that I could run and have fun with it and let that be its own reward. This freed up a ton of mental space.

The rest of my story? Well, it’s mostly contained in my past blog posts. I found November Project NYC through my sister. I ran the Percy Sutton 5k in a PR time of 18:24, my first race at a sub-6 minute pace. I stayed focused and ran the Bronx 10-Mile in 1:00:20 (6:02/Mile) and the Staten Island Half in 1:20:52 (6:10/Mile), which time-qualified me for the 2016 NYC Marathon. Throughout all of this I continued to hit the gym at least once a week to strengthen my legs, and multiple times per week to strengthen my core and to stretch. I listened to other people’s advice about the NYC Marathon, ate well, and stayed focused on the race despite all the hype during the week before. I woke up on race day weighing 162 pounds (36 pounds less than at my heaviest!) and ran that marathon in under three hours.

As I ran up West Drive in Central Park for the final .2 miles of the Marathon, I thought about all these things: the useless resentments that have given way for acceptance, the isolation that has evaporated into connection, and the paralyzing fear that has melted away into love. And I cried. Not only on the course, but later at my apartment. But the best part? My tears streamed down my face and across a smile.

Happy running, everyone!