It’s the end of July; your summer run training doesn’t have to hit peak volume yet, and that applies to everyone, regardless of what fall race(s) you’re training for. Yes, most of you are running more miles, or at least longer long runs, than you did in the spring, but summer training can still place a bit of priority on ST and XT while the run mileage settles into a nice steady level (this is not a bad thing). Some of you are getting over some minor injuries, some of you are dealing with hectic summer travel schedules (or kids’ schedules), and others are trying new types of training (including running form), any of which won’t necessarily be the case for the fall. With that in mind, remain patient and be mellow.
I address this topic in more detail in another Blog titled “Time”. So, when considering whether you still have enough time to train for your peak fall race, the answer for most of you is “yes." I am contractually forbidden from telling a lie.
On the topic of mileage, a simple Amazon search on run books will show the increasing popularity of the training method dedicated to running faster on less mileage. This isn’t a new strategy; it’s just that it’s taken a while to be embraced by the run community against the grain of the “more mileage means more fitness” mentality that has dominated for so many years. U.S. pro runners learned that more isn’t always better, as our top times plateaued for a loooong time while we tried the more-mileage approach. Meanwhile, the rest of the world kept getting faster. "More mileage means more fitness” is true, but only to a degree, or else we’d all be running 100-mile weeks in order to improve. To tie this back to the first paragraph, put that extra time into ST, XT, PT, massage, and more ST, especially in the summer (it mirrors the winter in that sense).
There’s plenty of time for us to hit key long runs in the fall and increase the total run volume/mileage too at that point. Yes, my goal is to get athletes to do more running (up to a point), but I’m not hell-bent on it as a coach. If you can’t stand on 1 leg for 30 seconds without wobbling, then trust me, more mileage isn’t your #1 priority (insert plug for ST here ____).
“More mileage” is old school, just like “weight lifting”, as the latter has been replaced by “strength training.” "Weight lifting" dominated for years because it was new and took up lots of space in local gyms, so why wouldn’t you do “weight lifting,” right? Now with the popularity of Pilates, TRX and functional training, we have better ST. In sum, don’t be old school, and don’t stress about mileage. I’d rather a runner be more obsessive and neurotic about even pacing during track workouts and/or perfect ST form.
Keep enjoying your summer, the fall isn’t close enough yet, so keep your fall races out of your head and live in the moment.
To use a Caps metaphor, this means it’s still not quite time to Unleash The Fury!
P.S. Next year is the Caps’ year.
Plyometrics (“plyos”) are typically a series of jumping and bounding movements of which the aim is to increase the strength of the joints, tendons and ligaments in the legs, as well as to increase muscular power, as differentiated from strength. The difference between strength and power is the speed of the movement, with powerful movements being performed more quickly. A plyometric exercise is a quick, powerful movement using the spring-like action of the tendons. Jumping rope and sprinting can be considered plyometric exercises, with jumping rope being a great option for an extended warmup prior to a strength training (ST) workout.
Power has been associated with improvements in running economy (RE). Studies have appeared in the scientific literature demonstrating that eliminating portions of endurance training in favor of explosive activities or adding plyos to an existing running program for six to nine weeks can improve RE and performances in short-distance racing without needing to see an accompanying change in VO2max. These benefits are evident regardless of ability, gender or age.
These results are best understood in that any time a muscle group becomes stronger and more powerful, fewer muscle fibers are recruited to perform the given task, thus allowing the muscle group to have more fibers in reserve for continued work. Basically, this means that less energy is used to cover the same distance. Since the discovery of this concept, it has been shown that power training, not just ST, will lead to enhancements in running economy. Of course there is no substitute for running if one wants to run faster and farther; however, during peak racing season, as the run volume gradually decreases, plyos are another option for maintaining high-intensity workouts (in addition to speed workouts).
A plyos program is typically done one or two times a week and is based on the total number of foot contacts, or “touches.” For beginners, the recommended range is between 60 - 100 touches for a few weeks, before progressing toward 100 touches for a few more weeks and then beyond (capping the total touches at 140). Reps can be performed as double-leg exercises (both feet jump, or contact the ground, at the same time) or as single-leg exercises, although single-leg plyos should be reserved for experienced athletes. Sometimes additional equipment can be used to add variety and difficulty into these workouts, like small hurdles and boxes.
Plyos are a great compliment to ST and can even be done as a warm-up on lower body ST days, but don’t underestimate how strenuous these exercises can be. For many of the exercises, it’s not necessarily the muscles that are the target for strengthening; rather, it’s the joints, tendons and ligaments. With that said, these aren’t always muscle-burning exercises or workouts, so don’t mistakenly take that mentality into a plyos workout. With that said, before starting any plyos training, I recommend completing at least six weeks of general ST in order to strengthen these body parts that incur more stress when performing various jumping and hopping exercises. I recommend plyos as long as an athlete is familiar/comfortable with jumping exercises in general. Do not do plyos unless there is 100% certainly on the landing mechanics for each exercise. Similar to how I frame a discussion on proper ST technique, if you couldn’t teach jumping and landing mechanics to a small group, then your plyos form probably isn’t ideal.
Consider a "day of fasting" where you significantly cut back your caloric intake one day each week. It makes the most sense to do this on the day you don't workout or the day with the lightest workout. One strategy to use on that day is a liquid diet, where you can do a 1-day juice cleanse (as they call it), or use some meal replacement shakes. If you don't own any such products then make a mental note for the next time you visit the grocery store (tons of options these days). You can also ask yourself in general about which food items you can eliminate from your list. As a quick aside, and you've heard this from multiple sources before: go to the grocery store on a full stomach, not an empty stomach.
Another side note: Don't mistake the feeling of hunger as a sign you need to eat, as hunger is often a symptom of dehydration. Drink more water in order to curb your appetite. Drink water exclusively as your way to hydrate (zero calories). Unless you're using another beverage as a meal replacement, try to limit yourself to just water, even if it's zero/low-calorie vitamin-mineral water of some type (just keep an eye on the sugar content).
Everything in moderation, right? I slug down a cherry Coke when I go to the movies because it tastes great with popcorn. I don't lose any sleep over drinking a soda at the movies once per month, nor should you be guilt tripping yourself each time you stray from your diet plan. If you find that you're unable to stick with your diet plan and feelings of guilt are too frequent and/or intense, then maybe it's your diet plan that needs to change. This is no different from the Goal Setting 101 lessons that are applied to your training program, your career goals, your daily to-do list, and you name it. Make your goals realistic. Will power certainly helps you stick with your goals, but make sure you have a specific, actionable component to your goals/diet because that'll make it easier to monitor and adhere to a plan.
I encourage you to reflect upon your diet plan, your grocery list, ways you can reduce your caloric intake, ways you can lead by example around co-workers in this regard, and whether your diet is even being monitored at all. As humans, we have highly adaptive mental skills to rationalize everything we do, including what we put into you bodies. If you have ambitious running goals, then what you put into your body (how you fuel the machine) should receive attention. Zooming out into a broader viewpoint, think about how much your diet is contributing to your injuries, your sleep, your energy levels and your mood. "There ain't no wealth but your health."
I've written on the topic of Breakthrough Performances in an older Blog. As it pertains to this blog in particular, ask yourself: Where do I have my best workouts? Which trail, route, course, or track always treats you well? Or, which place do you only visit sporadically that also seems to allow you to have your best workouts? I refer to such places as "havens".
The other question to ask is: Whose voice do I hear in my head when I need to keep pushing myself?
I went to my own haven last week and had my best track workout of the past 2 years while running at my alma mater; the haven is the track at Widener University. It also helped that I ran into my old track coach as I was jogging down to the track. We only had a single minute to chat, but as I turned to keep jogging he said in a purposeful voice, "Hey...workout hard today!" I had his voice in my head during a few moments of the the workout and it kept me focused. I turned in my fastest times in recent history without an increase in perceived exertion. This is the power of positive self-talk and imagery done correctly. Who is the voice inside your head? I expect it to be your own voice 90% of the time, but what about the other 10% of the time?
A few months ago, I finished Stephen King's book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (what a genius mind), and he said that he always had the voice of his wife (also a writer) in his head when he was contemplating decisions about his storyline (or similar). He welcomed an extra (conjured) voice to help him break through decisions about his writing. In sum, not only should you have a place where you can go for A-game workouts (King created his own haven, his own special writing room in his house), but you should also have a good default setting for your internal dialogue voice while training. You don't need one all of the time (shutting the brain off is a hallmark of elite athletics and a central theme in the book I've written on run training), but when you do have a voice, choose a wise one. Keep it in reserve, like a "Break in Case of Emergency" glass case.
In case the sun god melts away our final amount of snow until next year, here is a blurb to help you through this final week. Personally, I enjoy the snow runs because they are a unique run you only get a few chances to do each year. It’s also enjoyable to me because you can also feel like a kid again. On my last run in the snow I took a few minutes to simply run up the steepest sections of hills to see if I could make it to the top before gravity and the slickness made me slide back down (thank goodness for long tree branches). If you're hell-bent on monitoring your pace for every run then you might miss out on the opportunity to "practice random acts of childness." Our brains (dopamine receptors) need new stimuli. Fact.
Coincidentally, I just received this recap from a runner I coach, and it's good to hear these tales from others, so it’s not all just coming from one place: "Ran in the snow! It was like being 5 again. Saw a couple other runners out there. This one old man in striped spandex was pretty cool. I felt gratitude to live so close to a park where I can just pop right into the park for an easy, scenic long run route. Didn't trudge, didn't get too cold, nice peaceful, flat and quiet run."
I have sections on running in cold weather and the snow in the recent book I published on training and coaching. Run form is very much related to determining who might slip on the ice and who won't. It's not related to pace (at least not as much as you might think). Give it a read. Hopefully that section motivates you to stay outside and not resort to the treadmill. I understand there may be a time and a place for the latter, but I view that decision mostly as a way of life. I do give credit to those who opt for the treadmill rather than scrapping the workout altogether, but hopefully you can rearrange your schedule to still do the runs outside.
I had a flashback today to the only (single) time I ever ran on a treadmill...spawned by the fact that I saw that very treadmill in the same local gym. That session was ~7 years ago (in late Feb) and only lasted 8.5 minutes before I decided there's got to be more to life. I then bundled up and did ~15 laps around my small neighborhood block since the roads were too treacherous. It feels good to feel alive and that's what being outdoors in any/all conditions does for me, and that is how/why I consider it a way of life.
During a recent hill workout with my group, we arrived at the bottom of the hill midway through the workout and were greeted by a woman walking her uber-fit looking dog, who had a ton of energy. We all know dogs are better than cats, so I used the extra 10-second recovery before the next rep to say hello to the dog (and the owner). She said, "Oh, I bet he could keep up with you going up that hill." My initial thought was, "I bet you dollars to gel packs that this dog would not only keep up, but this dog would smoke us up that hill and never be seen again." I had that thought because I noticed this dog looked like a running machine! The legs, the muscles, and even its eye of the tiger. Body type has an effect on ability and performance.
An athlete should dedicate his/her off-season (wintertime for the Mid-Atlantic area) to reshaping the body (composition). This doesn't mean we have to be vain. Although I recognize that "looking good" is motivating for some people to a degree, the research shows this is one of the least motivating reasons for exercise/training. So, to repeat, transform your body so that you perform well. Running faster and/or farther will then be easier. You'll feel like an athlete and that's a wonderful feeling. There is certainly no harm to your self-esteem and confidence if you are confident in your abilities...and happy with how you look, which you all should be.
In the breeding of animals, we do breed some types of dogs and horses to be faster and stronger. We have the capacity to be very direct and selective with animals, yet not so much with humans. Sports Illustrated continues to run its "body type" issue each year, where athletes representing the full spectrum of different sports are posing in their skimmies in black-and-white images. With a bit of photo shopping, you get to see what the body types look like across various sports. Some body types are more advantageous for basketball, some are better for discus throwing, and others are better suited to sprint up a hill like a wild dog. My observation comes on the heels of finishing a marvelously written book The Sports Gene by David Epstein, who was a pretty good collegiate runner himself. It's now in my top-5 books of all time, which is a damn tough honor to achieve.
The book highlights how our loooong genetic evolution has made certain populations of humans (based on ethnicity and/or region) primed for certain athletic pursuits. Nature vs. Nurture? It's always both, but this book delves more in detail about the who, what, when, where, why and how of elite performance from the point of view of genetics, muscle fiber types, height, leg length, ankle mass, and you name it. Epstein is an outstanding writer. He presents clarity in his points, he's very clever and witty, and extremely on-point with a scientific mind that helps dispel many myths we once held about elite performance. He even covers the game of chess in chapter 1 when he explains the vision/eyesight of elite athletes and why/how it's different than the general population. Even if you have no interest in reading about "sports," you can believe that this book often merely uses sports as a backdrop. If you're like me and you get excited reading about evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, anthropology and history, then add it to your wish list.
To come back to the main point, without becoming obsessed with your body, continue to brainstorm and be brutally honest with yourself about how you can change your body, or if you even want to, or need to. Consider how it can help you reach your goals. Are your nagging injuries due to weak muscles, not enough muscles/strength, or extra weight you're carrying around? The Sports Illustrated issue I mentioned above reminds us that mom and dad gave us our body types, we can only change them by so much (or so little). However, even though your upper and lower limits are set, that middle portion in between is large! Maximize it!
"Most people start running in order to get fit, whereas more people should first be getting fit in order to run." This quote reminds us to take your strength training and cross-training to heart if you have ambitious running goals. You don't have to look like "a runner" to perform your best, but you should revisit your checklist of what it is that you can do to love yourself (your body...that thing that hosts your consciousness, which makes you human).
In January of last year, I wrote a blog about Time and being patient with your winter training and not pulling the trigger too quickly on your emotional involvement with your spring race calendar. It is still only January and we don't need to be thinking too much about spring races right now. With 5 more weeks left in the true off-season period, make it count. Pack it in now before the spring race season arrives. Generally speaking, we shift gears both mentally and physically once March 1st hits, with strength training (ST) getting slightly less priority as your race schedule gets broken in and your weekend runs become more intense.
In order for an off-season to be effective and to accomplish its goals, we need it to be relatively long. 8 weeks would be the absolute minimum, but as non-professional athletes, we tend to have much more catching up to do in terms of general strength, specific strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and athleticism, all of which are related to your race performances and your ability to make your ST sessions dynamic and functional. So, we want to make the off-season 16-20 weeks in order to better prepare the body for the harder training that will come in the summer and fall. "Most people run to get fit, whereas more people should be getting fit so that they can run."
Month to month we should begin to make subtle shifts mentally in terms of prioritizing certain types of workouts and how much emotional energy we're giving to spring racing. As I remind my athletes each fall, a training program in Dec should look much different that it does in Sept. Similarly, February and March training should look different than Dec, and so on. The physical aspects of training and the mental components will hand in hand. Keep the focus on ST right now, it's still only January and you’re not racing. Carry that gym rat approach through the end of Feb and transform your body as much as possible via ST, XT and PT. Knowing that all of these off-the-field aspects of training are taken care of lends itself to lots of confidence at the start line of spring races. But as I stated above, you have to be really dedicated to these aspects of the off-season or else the changes won't happen.
It takes many, many weeks of training and repetitions (ST, XT and PT) to attain benefits. No PT or chiro has ever said, "Just do those exercises here and there once or twice per week and you'll be fine." That would be rubbish. You can't fake fitness and you can't fake functional corrections in the body. It either is, or it isn't. Injuries are not mysterious; nobody is "unlucky" in that regard. Stronger, leaner, more resilient athletes don't get injured, and now you know why. They become stronger, leaner and more resilient because they beat the hell out of their bodies (in a good way, without overdoing it) for a long, dedicated off-season. Read any of their post-race championship interviews and you'll see what I mean. Therein is lots of motivation for ST in February.
The reason I encourage everyone to delay this shift toward racing and race mode is mostly due to the principle of specificity of training and also due to the weather. Remember, the physical aspects of training and the mental components go hand in hand. Meaning, if the specificity of training is still relatively low in January, then I doubt that you're feeling (mentally) your spring races during your workouts. Rather than dabble in a grey area of "mental training," I say nay...just wait until late Feb or March 1st to get fired up for spring racing. There will be more connections between mind and body at that time because, a) your legs will feel fresher/faster due to less intense and less frequent lower-body ST, b) your run workouts, like track work and select long runs, will begin to resemble races, and c) we can't forget about the large role that weather has.
Each summer I encourage all of my athletes who are running a peak fall marathon or Half not to be in "race mode" yet. Why? Because if you honestly think that a 2 hour run in 90-degree weather with 85% humidity gives you any resemblance of the "feel" or your fall marathon, then you are unnecessarily dooming yourself. I would take it a step further and say that you're dabbling in a grey area of mental training and detracting from your confidence. So, the same rationale about the summer also applies to the winter. Regardless of how well you train in the winter (god bless you all), the winter is not the spring. You cannot deny the effects that the weather has on our bodies during key workouts. Don't compare apples to oranges. Don't compare summer slugfests vs. perfect fall weather. Don't compare how your body feels in 35-degree weather with slightly fatigued legs vs. perfect spring weather on fresher legs. In sum, if you are struggling to "feel" the races during your winter workouts, then stop trying, there's no reason to put dents in your confidence. Put that mental energy back into ST, XT, PT. Patience is a virtue, but in this respect, the real virtue is in understanding the body-mind connection because specificity of training applies to the mental training too. As you may guess, you can insert here what you think I would say about exact pacing (and garmins) during Jan/Feb.