This was a different sort of week for me, a self-imposed rest week. Or rest weekend. After two straight high volume weeks, I decided to take a long weekend off.
It started with my decision to take a day off from running. That felt good, so I decided to take two more off. Those decisions were partly based on recognizing commitments and obligations beyond fitness and partly based on the need to simply disconnect from fitness. I think that’s good every once in a while. My performance had been slipping, so I’m hoping the rest will give me the opportunity to come back stronger.
I felt sluggish all week. Not sure why, but one suspect is that I donated blood last Friday. I don’t know how that affects fitness. Perhaps it doesn’t affect fitness, but it temporarily affects performance. How temporarily, I don’t know.
One other consideration – I am in process of transitioning to a higher volume approach to fitness. More running, more riding. In the past, I would run or ride only 5 days a week, and it was common for me to take 2 days (the weekend) off. In that context, taking three days off really is not all that strange.
And I did actually manage to still get in a pretty good bit of volume, even in four days.
- Runs: 2 for 30 miles, 4 hours 18 minutes
- Rides: 2 for 80 miles, 5 hours
- No strength work this week. I will start to regret that if I don’t do it
- Sleep: Close to 7 hours average per night, almost 1 hour more than past weeks…so I did get some “rest”
9+ hours of workout time in a “down” week is nothing to sneeze at.
The other reason why I took the weekend off was a quick peek ahead in the calendar.
Looking ahead, I’ve got two fairly open weeks followed by a week of travel. So the plan is to go big volume for the two upcoming weeks, making for two big volume (the past two), one down (this week), two more big volume (next two).
Oh, and I don’t feel pain in my right foot. How about that.
Making my way through Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It’s been more difficult than I anticipated.
Details are below.
Monday (April 9)
I had planned a longer ride today, but things at work got a little tight. So I opted for a shorter ride, which ended up a good thing. Classic spring day in the form of a rough wind…to the tune of 25+ miles an hour. I would not have enjoyed a longer bike ride. Riding straight into the wind felt like I was on a trainer. No forward motion. It was interesting to see what happened as I came into open fields (there are lots of those around my house with all the farms)—my bike was almost knocked over. I felt sluggish on this ride, like I could not find my form. Not sure if it was the wind or why, but I felt off. 35 miles, 2 hrs, 11 minutes. Really off from a performance standpoint.
Tuesday (April 10)
Another step towards increasing the intensity. Just getting slowly back into it. On the flat crushed gravel of the Columbia Trail, I did 8 x half mile, with a quarter mile recovery. These felt awful. Like I couldn’t get going. Times reflected that, ranging from 3:30 per to 3:39 per. Including warm-up and cool-down, the total was 12 miles in 1 hr, 40 minutes.
After this run I spent a lot of time thinking about what I really needed to perform well at Pikes Peak. I’m going to elaborate on this in future posts, but I was happy (maybe delusional) to conclude that raw speed wasn’t super important. I don’t have much of that right now. In the future, it will be more important to develop strength and endurance than raw speed. So if I can only run an 8 minute mile now, it’s OK because when I run up the hill I will be running much slower than that. More on this in the future.
Wednesday (April 11)
Back into the rocky trail at Schooley’s Mountain Park. I almost feel like my training mantra should be “hills and trails never fails.” When in doubt, I should just run a hill or a trail. Hills for the strength, trails for the technical skills. I really need to just plan for hills and trails each week.
Four loops on the 3.5 mile trail, MAF intensity. Felt sluggish again, but at least this time I did not fall. I did roll my right foot/ankle though. Not sure if this was the pain I felt on Thursday. 18 miles, 2 hrs, 38 minutes (3 minutes slower than the same route last week). Average HR 144. The positive out of this run was that I did four loops, two in each direction. For each pair of loops, the second was as fast as the first. I hope that’s a positive…I need something positive.
Thursday (April 12)
Riding again today. Thankfully, less wind. 45 miles, 2 hours 50 minutes. Again, super slow compared to what I’ve been doing. Just not feeling strong like past weeks. It was a beautiful day and the ride was good for the soul.
Another positive about this ride—I have a real reason for wanting to get into the neighborhood of 3 hours for a bike ride. I’m anticipating that 3 hours is about how long it will take me to run up Pikes Peak. So any time I can get 3 hours of workout in, I feel like I’m approaching what I might do on Pikes Peak. I believe this will help me build enough aerobic fitness to feel like 3 hours is not such a big deal.
Friday (April 13)
No workout today, as I described in this post.
So what did we do? I took the two girls out Friday afternoon for an awesome day…we
- Watched softball
- Hiked through the woods to retrieve softballs
- Invented some sort of game in the bleachers of the football field
- Walked around a bit and watched some baseball
No question, the girls got more exercise than if Caitryn had been running track. And they had more fun too.
Saturday (April 14)
Another family commitment for mid-morning. I could have woken up early to get out for a couple hours riding, but I decided against it. Just wanting a rest.
Instead, we went fishing. Three or four fish (blue gills) in 3-4 hours of time, probably 2 hours of fishing. If they keep wanting to go, I’ll keep taking them.
After we got home from fishing, I tried to burn a bunch of wood in the outside fire pit but stopped. Too dangerous with dry conditions and a pretty stiff wind.
Dinner outside on the back porch tonight. Need to do more of that. It was nice.
Sunday (April 15)
Day off. Spent the day with the girls and just reading. Needing a mental break.
I experienced a breakthrough in my running performance, fitness and health when I started emphasizing recovery as much I emphasized workouts.
A well-designed recovery routine is a necessary component of a well-designed training program. If you don’t recover well, you can’t train well. Here’s why:
- Recovery locks in the gains from your training. If you don’t recover well, you leave fitness “on the table.”
- Recovery prepares you for your next workout, so you can train with more intensity.
- Recovery creates more capacity for harder training, so you can more frequently or for longer time.
Most people spend more energy on their workouts than on their recovery routine. That’s no surprise, since workouts are the most visible aspect of training.
Here’s a simple way to think about recovery. Perhaps it will help you develop a more effective recovery routine.
1.) Nutrition: Eat and drink properly
You must pay attention to what you eat and drink. Nutrition and breakthrough running performances could occupy a whole series of posts. For now, let’s just cover a few nutrition essentials.
Eat the right amount
Most runners eat more than they need.
I remember seeing someone return from a 3 mile run and drink an entire 32 ounce bottle of Gatorade. Just doing some simple math…a 3 mile run burns about 300 calories (assuming a burn rate of 100 calories per mile). A 32 ounce bottle of Gatorade contains over 300 calories calories. So this runner “replenished” with as many calories (if not more) than they burned.
If you want to achieve a running breakthrough, you must be aware of how much you consume. You don’t need to count calories; just apply common sense when you think about how much to put on your plate (or in your glass).
Eat the right things
I don’t want this post to ignite a debate about Paleo vs. vegan vs. Standard American Diet (SAD) vs. diet-of-the-month. That debate is interesting, and it already keeps a whole section of the blogosphere occupied. For now, just go with whatever diet works for you.
Most everyone seems to agree on these elements:
- Eat the right amount and the right kind of protein. Protein has to have branched chain amino acids for muscles to repair themselves.
- Excess carbohydrates are not healthy. You don’t need a lot of carbohydrates to function well. Focus your carbohydrate intake around your workout times, and you will be better off.
- You can’t get anywhere with fitness by skipping fruits and vegetables. They provide the vitamins and minerals you need to perform at a high level. Find some that you like and consume them frequently.
- pH balance is really important. All foods have either an acid-forming or an alkaline-forming effect on the body. Most people eat foods with an acid-forming effect. Since the body needs to stay in pH balance, the body compensates for an overly acid-forming diet by borrowing minerals such as potassium, sodium and calcium from bones and vital organs. Not a good thing! Eat foods that naturally create an alkaline state—fruits and vegetables (surprise!).
Eat at the right time
Eating at the right time starts with two primary guidelines:
- Eat something as soon as possible after your workout. Your body is especially prepared to absorb nutrients in the first 30 minutes after a workout. If it’s possible, eat during this time. Just remember to eat the right amount!
- Try not to eat junk food late at night. Junk food eaten late at night almost always turns into fat. Physically, it doesn’t help you at all. In fact, it often keeps you from the next big thing…getting enough rest. Put down the junk food and get into bed.
2.) Get enough rest / reduce stress as much as possible
Sleep is the most obvious form of rest. When you sleep, your body can focus on repairing damaged muscles. Chronically insufficient sleep results has similar effects on your body as over-eating. If your alarm jolts you out of bed in the morning or you need multiple hits of caffeine to wake up, chances are you need more sleep.
Stress can manifest itself in other ways beyond sleep. Your job, your commute, your personal relationships can all result in excessive stress. By reducing the effects of these sources of stress, you give your body a better opportunity to recover properly.
3.) Be active / don’t sit around all day
In an ideal world, a recovery routine would include stretching, yoga, or some other non-impact bearing activity. These activities help bring new blood (with fresh nutrients) to your muscles and remove the waste products that muscles produce when you work out. This constant circulation of blood fosters larger improvements in strength and energy. Any light activity will help with the blood circulation; stretching and yoga also help re-align muscle fibers to help them work more effectively.
Maximize the results from your workouts
Workouts are all about trading off pain now for improvement later. If you don’t recover properly, you don’t get the full benefit of your workout. Why would you endure the pain of the workout without doing everything you could to recover well?
Recovering well is not difficult. Following the simple guidelines above will be a solid start for a great recovery routine.
Your next breakthrough might not come from what you do during your workouts. It might come from what you do between workouts.
When I was young, stretching was simple. I’d perform about five exercises in about ten minutes. I’d bend over to touch my toes, lean against a wall to stretch my calves, pull my foot to my butt to stretch my quads, and then I was off running.
Things have changed since then – today there are as many types of stretching as I did exercises back then. Each type of stretching has a set of exercises and each type of stretching affects the body differently. Understanding these differences can help you decide which makes sense for you.
Why should you stretch?
Lots of runners don’t stretch at all, and they seem fine. Studies have demonstrated that some types of stretching, performed at some times, could harm running performance or cause injury. Given the body of evidence collected by these studies, why should you incorporate stretching into your training program?
A large body of evidence suggests that the right type of stretching, performed at the right time, can:
- Increase flexibility and range of motion, which improves performance and reduces injuries
- Increase blood flow to muscles, which improves the speed and degree of your recovery from workouts
What to do when research demonstrates both negative and positive outcomes from stretching?
The key is to match the type of stretching with the time when you perform it.
The basic types of stretching
Two major types of stretching are commonly available to runners – static and dynamic. Other types of stretching exist, but static and dynamic are the most common and relevant.
“Static” indicates lack of movement – stretching a muscle or group of muscles to its farthest point and holding the position for a period of time (usually 15-30 seconds). Common static stretches include the ones I described above – bending over to touch your toes, leaning against a wall to stretch your calves, or the butterfly to stretch your groin.
The term “passive” stretching is often used interchangeably with “static” stretching. There is a subtle difference – in passive stretching, you assume a position and hold it with some other part of your body or with an external apparatus. One passive stretch is putting your foot on the hood of a car and bending over to touch your knee (stretches your hamstring).
“Dynamic” stretches involve movement. They consist of controlled body movements that gently take a person to the limits of their range of motion. Each individual dynamic stretch is held for a brief period of time (up to 5 seconds). Common dynamic stretches include butt-kicks, walking lunges, and leg lifts.
“Active stretching” is closely related to dynamic stretching. Active stretching utilizes the physiological concept of “Reciprocal Inhibition.” In reciprocal inhibition, contracting one muscle causes the opposite (or “cooperating”) muscle to relax. One example is the biceps – triceps combination. If you contract your biceps, your triceps relaxes. Since a relaxed muscle is easier to stretch, active stretching exercises consist of contracting various muscles to help stretch their “cooperating” muscles. Active Isolated Stretching uses a rope and body positioning to isolate and actively stretch muscles.
When to use what type?
The table below summarizes when to use what type of stretching.
|Alternate time (not immediately before or after training)||
Yes (with warm-up)
To sum up my research and experience:
- Static or passive stretching before a workout is not recommended. It increases injury risk since muscles are not warm and reduces performance by sapping muscle strength and reducing muscle tendon stiffness.
- Consider dynamic or active stretching before a workout. Besides increasing range of motion and flexibility, dynamic or active stretching effectively warms up running-specific muscles.
- Post-workout stretching can dramatically improve recovery. Post-workout stretching improves the quality of your next workout, resulting in more breakthrough training sessions. It also relaxes muscles and makes you feel better!
- Consider fitting in a stretching routine whenever you have time. While stretching before and immediately after workouts might be most effective, stretching at any time can improve flexibility and range of motion, reduce injury risk, and make you feel better.
These days, I stretch more often than ever – both before and after a workout (or later in the day if I don’t have time immediately after a workout). Active Isolated Stretching comprises 95% of my stretching program. Stretching has made a major contribution to my breakthrough running performances. On the rare occasion when I can’t stretch after a workout, I feel it the next day – my legs are stiffer and weaker and my performance suffers.
While living in New York City in 2001, I attended an Active Isolated Stretching class offered by Jim and Phil Wharton. They asserted that lack of flexibility was the root cause of many different physical problems. They cited leg length discrepancy as an example, suggesting that lack of flexibility could cause what might appear as a leg length discrepancy. This hit home for me, since another doctor had prescribed orthotics for me due to (you guessed it) a leg length discrepancy. Stretching helped me eliminate the orthotics.
Stretching is a valuable, almost essential, element of a breakthrough training program. The right kind of stretching has a major impact on range of motion, flexibility, and injury risk. If it’s not part of your training program now, you should consider adding it.