Week in Review: April 9-15, 2012

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.

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August into September 2011: Fueling a breakthrough

August was a month of transition.

After descending through June and July, I finally stabilized in August.  I gained control of my eating habits, re-started consistent workouts and even got a bit inspired.

This is the first time I have calculated the total number of miles I’ve run in a month.  I frequently calculate the total number of miles per week, but I never extended the idea to the month.  I was actually shocked when I saw the totals for August:

  • Running:  252 miles on 17 runs
  • Cycling:  350 miles on 9 rides

The total mileage feels good, but the number of times I got out the door (26 of 31 days) feels better.  It confirms that I’m starting to get the consistency back.  It’s interesting to compare August with July…in July I mustered the strength / discipline / resolve to do a meager 11 workouts.

In August I experimented with adding an extra easy running day to my week.  My weeks have had the same profile for the last 10 years—running 3 days, cycling 2 days, strength / flexibility work 2 days.  I decided to add the extra running day because I’m convinced that:

  • More running (done right) leads to faster running
  • I can manage the potential for injury from increased mileage
  • Shorter, more frequent strength and flexibility work is better than allocating two whole days

And you don’t get breakthroughs without trying new things.

So far so good.  The extra day of running hasn’t negatively affecting anything yet.

In September I plan to increase the intensity of my workouts (most of them anyway).  I’ve got a strong enough base that I can add intensity without risking too much injury.  I don’t plan to increase the miles.

My Big September Challenge…Nutrition

In September I intend to crush a 30 Day Primal / Paleo Challenge that I issued myself.  The rules are as follows:

  • Eat Primal.  Eat vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, meat and healthy fats.  The good news (for me anyway) is that I already eat these items.  I’ll need to make some changes however, like eating more fish and evaluating the “quality” of what I eat in these categories.
  • Avoid eating junk.  This is where it gets interesting.  I’m completely avoiding my key vice, the 5 Cs (Cookies, Cake/brownies, ice Cream, Candy, sugar Cereal) and as many other processed foods as possible (including pretzels, popcorn, chips, soda, bread, pasta).  What will I eat as snacks?  I have no idea.
  • Focus on sleep.  I average five or six hours of sleep per night.  For the next 30 days, I’m aiming for seven hours of sleep per night.
  • Play.  I’m going to play more actively.  Hopefully my two kids and dog won’t wear me out within a few minutes.  If things go well I may even get stronger.

I know 30 day challenges are trendy and this might seem a little extreme, but I’m eager to see how my body responds.

And you don’t get breakthroughs without trying new things.

To accomplish my 2011 and 2012 running goals, I need to master the art and science of recovery.  My current nutrition strategy just isn’t effective enough.  It’s constraint that I must eliminate.  I’m hoping to go all in on a new nutrition strategy, and now is my chance to experiment.  I’ve been reading about Paleo / Primal for two months.  I recently picked up The Paleo Diet for Athletes and it looks promising.

After circling around for the past 3 months (really the past 12 months), now’s the time to take a real step forward.

Does anyone want to take up the Paleo / Primal Challenge with me?  Got any experience with Paleo / Primal that you’d like to share?


Non-running workouts for breakthrough performance, part four: Yoga

The most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga are your body and your mind.
Rodney Yee

I resisted yoga for a long time, mostly due to ignorance, intimidation, and fear.  I didn’t understand the benefits and was intimidated by the mystique associated with yoga, and I feared looking or feeling awkward as I struggled through the poses.

Learning the benefits of yoga helped me overcome the intimidation and fear, and I made yoga a regular part of my training program for the 2010 Pikes Peak marathon.  My two yoga sessions per week built core and overall body strength, which helped me perform well on Pikes Peak.

Motivated by my Pikes Peak performance, I increased the volume of yoga in my training program.  I hoped that yoga would help me recover between training sessions.  Soon after, my legs felt fatigue and my running suffered.  Additional research revealed a mismatch between my objective and my yoga program – I was seeking recovery benefits with a series of yoga poses that built leg strength.

Through this learning experience, I discovered some key points about yoga:

  1. The mind-body connection emphasized by yoga can contribute to a breakthrough running performance.
  2. Matching your training objectives with your yoga practice is essential for success

Yoga is a wide topic with rich tradition and mystique.  The aim of this post is to increase your understanding of how yoga can benefit runners and provide suggestions for fitting yoga into your training program.

General Overview

The word “yoga” is from Sanskrit, the language of ancient India.  It means to “yoke,” or forge a union, between the body and mind for the purposes of spiritual enlightenment.  The practice of yoga originated over 5,000 years ago.  Over the years, yoga has evolved into various styles.  Some styles represent modernization of the “ancient” practice to meet the demands of today’s marketplace.

The foundation of yoga is breathing and exercise.  Yoga principles assert that breath is the source of life in the body.  Increased control over breathing improves the health and function of both body and mind.  Yoga takes a holistic approach to the body, emphasizing poses that develop balance and flexibility as opposed to isolating specific muscles.

What Yoga Offers

Regular yoga practice can provide both physical and psychological benefits, including the following:

Strength, flexibility, and overall balance for muscles and connective tissue.
All styles of yoga offer strength, flexibility, and overall balance, but the specific style of yoga you practice may emphasize one of the following aspects.

  • Strength without bulk.  Yoga poses require you to lift or support your body weight.
  • Muscular endurance.  Yoga poses require you to hold poses (keeping muscles contracted) for extended periods of time.
  • Flexibility.  Yoga emphasizes coordination between deep breathing and stretching; deep breathing relaxes muscles (which increases their flexibility).  In addition, yoga requires you to hold stretches for extended periods of time.  This trains stretch reflexes within the muscles to allow for greater lengthening of muscles
  • Overall balance.  Yoga poses and movements between poses require you to use your whole body (as opposed to isolating specific muscles).  Engaging the whole body not only strengthens the major muscle groups, it also strengthens the stabilizing muscle groups and connective tissue.  These areas are typically neglected but are crucial for overall balance.

Psychological Benefits
Most people practice yoga for the physical benefits.  However, the psychological benefits can be even more dramatic.  Research studies (e.g., this one by the American College of Sports Medicine) have demonstrated that the psychological benefits can start shortly after individuals begin to practice.  The psychological benefits only accrue if you practice yoga with the mindfulness and meditation aspects.

  • Reduced stress.  Yoga promotes deep breathing and other relaxation techniques.  These techniques have the lasting effect of reducing stress.
  • Improved focus and concentration.  Because it emphasizes the mind-body connection, yoga includes specific techniques to develop focus and concentration.  These techniques enable you to more effectively tune out distractions and remain focused.
  • Self awareness.  Yoga encourages you to enter a mental state in which you tune out all external thoughts.  Tuning out external thoughts helps develop an increased sense of both your physical and your mental state.

Improved control over breathing
While yoga is not typically considered an aerobic exercise, it does offer some benefits for your energy systems.  If your primary goal is improved aerobic fitness, other activities (besides yoga) may be more appropriate.

  • Control over breathing.  Because it emphasizes deep breathing, yoga can assist with control over breathing at key times during a run or race.
  • Aerobic system training (some styles only).  Most styles of yoga focus on calm, smooth, slow movements, which limits their ability to develop the aerobic system.  However, some styles of yoga (e.g., Power Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga) increase heart rate to the point where aerobic fitness improves.  These styles tend to be more active, reducing the “spiritual” benefits of connecting body and mind.

Fitting it in
Fitting yoga practice in to an already packed calendar can be a challenge.  However, thinking creatively should help you fit yoga into your daily (or weekly) routines, and you may actually find yourself gaining back some time in your day.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Replace a workout.  Replace a current workout with a yoga session.  For example, if you currently stretch every day, consider practicing yoga once or twice a week instead.  Or if you run four or more times a week, consider replacing one or two runs with yoga sessions.  You may find that a yoga session helps more than one of your runs, and you may be able to add intensity to the running workouts that you keep.
  • Add multiple short yoga sessions.  Yoga can provide benefits even in short five minute sessions.  Therefore, consider taking a few five minute “work breaks” where you perform a series of yoga postures.  A quick online search will yield several 5-15 minute yoga breaks that you can do almost anywhere.  You may find that the yoga breaks actually improve your productivity, allowing you to get more done in less time.

Most runners are used to physical, active fast moving workouts.  Yoga’s “mind-body” connection is very different, and it offers a unique package of physical and psychological benefits.  So if you’re seeking a breakthrough performance, give it a try – you may find it’s exactly what you need.

What do you think?  Have you tried yoga?  What have the results been?  Are there any specific yoga styles or poses that you would recommend?  Post a comment and let me know.


Non-running workouts for breakthrough performance, Part Two: Stretching

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 Stretching

“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 Stretching

“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.

When

Static

Passive

Dynamic

Active

Before training

No

No

Yes

Yes

After training

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Alternate time (not immediately before or after training)

Yes (with warm-up)

Yes

Yes

Yes

 

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.