So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Marathon Training - Not Only The Long Run

One day out of the training week - specifically, the belief how long that day should be - is at the heart of the most contentious debates about marathon training.

Why do some training plans have runs on the schedule which nearly approximate the race distance; others have long runs which go beyond, and some have lower long run mileage? 

I originally wanted to look closer at which plan most closely aligned to which type of runner, but that effort would be duplicative.  There are questions which do need to be asked, either by a running coach or by runners themselves, before even considering a marathon training plan.

First, go out and run for sixty minutes.  Multiply the distance run by the number of hours each week you have available without taking away from your family, friends and employer. If the number exceeds 60 most plans will work with a few adaptations.  

Then again, it might also be attributable to the fact you overlooked sleeping...don't worry, you'll need sleep soon enough.  

Or you aren't mathematically-inclined.  Or you're delusional.

If the number is between 45-and-60 you're probably realistic and time-constrained like the rest of us.  Again, there are plans which will work to get you to the starting line more-or-less ready to tackle the event.  

A runner with a "magic number" of less than 45 should either consider shorter-distance racing or place a podiatrist, orthopedic surgeon, chiropractor, massage therapist - and perhaps psychotherapist - on personal retainer.

Once you figure out you have enough free time (after informing your family that all weekend plans for the next six months are hereby CANCELLED) it's time to choose a training plan.  When choosing, it's important to consider how much of the training volume - and your state of mind - you want to be tied into the outcome of the weekend's long run.

Once you're hip-deep into the plan, say, 13 weeks in...that is definitely NOT the time to find out that the first of six scheduled three-hour (-plus) long runs leave you unable to function for a day-and-a-half and place you miles behind the training volume for the week.  That's when all you can hope for is to increase the duration/distance of the training runs during the week, spread the pounding of that three-hour run across the other five or six days during the week and bring the longest run back down to a more-reasonable two-and-a-half hours.  

Why two and a half hours?  Most of the published training plans were developed for or by elite runners, or their coaches.  The majority of them have learned from trial and error, from hard experience, the basic training principles.  The problem comes when the plans, like "spandex jackets for everyone," as the old song goes, are put out on the market.  Most self-guided runners, especially those who take on the marathon, violate the first law of coaching, "first, do no harm."  Some, like Joe Henderson, place a caveat on their training plan and assume the individual has undertaken a modest start, gradually increased their training volume over time, and have a sufficient base.  In his case, he assumes the runner can complete without injury a long run of ten miles.

Do you have the good sense to know how fast to run each workout?  All of a plan's training runs need to have a reason beyond the conventional wisdom of once-weekly, low-level orthopedic trauma.  The body needs to learn to run efficiently when fatigued, yes, but the challenge is to be able to go out and go out and do some or all of what you just did today tomorrow.  Even the easiest-paced marathon prep long run (50%-70% of max) as short as the 150-minute ceiling recommended by Dr. Jack Daniels has a training impact from which the body will not completely recover for a full day.  That three-hour(-plus) run will probably take the body two days to recover...what are you going to do in the meantime, outside of risk injury?  Is it to teach the body to learn to burn fat in place of glycogen stores which Dr. Timothy Noakes states are nearly-depleted at 20 miles?

Daniels, Luke Humphrey, Keith Hanson, Kevin Hanson, Greg McMillan and many other coaches are prescriptive when it comes to not only the long run, but also the training sessions during the week.  From personal experience, I can say training paces which are too fast during the week can be as detrimental to marathon performance as running the long run too slowly.  That's where different energy systems and muscle fibers are brought into play.

When it comes to marathon training it's not ONLY about how long the long run needs to be.  The questions which need to be asked before and during the entire training cycle include whether the marathon distance may be too much for the training time available. Secondly, can the training plan elements can be adjusted to match athlete strengths and shortcomings?  And lastly, how will the athlete know the body is ready for an change in training volume?

Michael Bowen is a training specialist and running coach who lives and trains in the Pensacola, FL area.  He works with runners of all ability levels, remotely and in-person.  His wife, Suzanne, and he travel frequently to New Orleans to participate in and support running events and triathlons.  He also writes two 'blogs, "If I Were Your Coach..." and "Red Polo Diaries."

Monday, November 18, 2013

Increasing the "Degrees of Separation" from Bacon

"If the furnace is hot enough it will burn just about anything."

This pithy little statement, along with a list of others, has been a dictum of many a distance runner. And for the most part it seems correct. We, as running enthusiasts, love to hear tales about Bill Rodgers' love for pizza (with mayonnaise!), Steve Prefontaine's passion for beer, Don Kardong's belief that without ice cream there would be chaos and darkness.

All of these, and most importantly Dean Karnazes' infamous "pizza/burrito" mash-up, provides us a justification (and for every action, we know there is an equal and opposing justification...) for the dietary indiscretions to which we engage.

Perhaps you're less indiscreet with what you eat than I.

Frankly, I have my loving wife to thank for my diet. Without her I probably would dine on Chinese food, especially the unhealthy items, six days a week...and twice on Sunday. I'm an omnivore of the highest order; the less-expensive and more-quickly prepared, the better. But as of late I've started to think a lot more-critically about what goes into my body. Part of it has to do, not so much with any particular medical issue, but the painfully-obvious fact I'm aging.

As part of a pre-retirement financial planning session, I decided to purchase a supplemental life insurance policy for Suzanne's benefit. Unlike the group life insurance which I have through my employer, this insurer wants me to take a physical examination. Not a particularly harrowing one, but one which includes laboratory work and weight. It's not so much the couple of excess pounds that scare me as much as what might lurk within my bloodstream.

Ignorance, yes, is bliss.

Journalist and food writer Mark Bittman recently posted a 'blog in Outside magazine, titled "Real Men Love Kale." Six years earlier, he'd received the wake-up call from his physician; his "numbers" were all on the bad side. It came down to a choice between medication and modification. Bittman, at that point, was unwilling to give up "cheese, carnitas and chicken biryani" completely. He became what can best be described as "flexitarian." From the moment he awakened in the morning until 6 o'clock in the evening he would engage in a vegan diet. After six p.m. he could eat like any other omnivore, in moderation.

I have friends who run the entire spectrum of vegetarian...from nominal pescatarians (vegetarians willing to eat fish for protein needs) to full-blown vegan. Until I read the Bittner article, the overwhelming majority of vegans seemed to me to be the kind of person who not only wouldn't eat meat, but also demanded you make concessions to suit them. Thoroughly unhappy persons. Given the choice, if forced at gunpoint to change my diet so that I could never eat meat, I would have gladly told the offending person to pull the trigger.

In the past year I've trained a young man who has been a vegan for several years. He's got the "typical" long-distance runner's build. We've talked at length over a few beers (thankfully, beer is a universal foodstuff) about how choosing to not eat animal-based foods affects his training in specific and life in general. Here's what I have taken away, especially in light of the most-recent discussion:

First, it is thoroughly possible to be vegan and have a lousy diet.

My first thought was, "well, of course. Sugar is a plant, right?" But when we look closer at the "typical American" and the separation of up to six degrees between Kevin and his bacon (or his eggs, or his veggies, for that matter...) there appears to be a spectrum - might even look like a bell curve - which runs from "bad diet" to "bad diet."

How much processing are we willing to tolerate for the sake of that really 100-percent chicken in my chicken nugget? How much of that "pink slime" is there next to the processed cheese-like substance between the hamburger buns?

And why, in heavens' name, amy I paying for it?

And this willingness to settle for speed and convenience on the one hand is offset by an attitude...a willingness to spend the same amount I used to spend twenty years ago on beer, but get one-sixth the beer, which better be quality.

Second, it doesn't hurt to know how to cook, and well.

My loving bride is a good cook, hindered only by two things, time management and - for want of a better term - recipe compliance. When she follows the instructions to a "T," like baking sugar cookies with the grandchildren, the end result is a wonderful thing. If she's rushed, let's just say the meals are an adventure.

I'm not complaining, mind you. Anything that comes out of the kitchen by my wife's hand has been prepared with the intent to keep me healthy. And my response, like any wise and prudent man, is to sing her praises.

So I cannot bear to go completely over to the vegan side of "the street," like Scott Jurek I am more than willing to be more mindful of what I shove in my mouth, somewhere closer to Dean Karnazes...which means I don't get to try that "pizzarito" until my first ultramarathon...

Michael Bowen is a training specialist/running coach who lives and trains in the Pensacola, FL area. He works with runners of all ability levels, remotely and in-person. He and his wife, Suzanne, trael frequently to New Orleans to participate in and support running events and triathlons. He also writes two blogs, "If I Were Your Coach..." and "Red Polo Diaries."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Tale of Two...?

Last Sunday was marked as a "rest day" on the training calendar. Since the weather was so nice I decided to walk the eight-mile course; you can never tell when a day like that is going to come around. Besides, I needed to break in the pair of running shoes I purchased the day before.

I put on a well-padded pair of socks (I wasn't wearing the silicone heel lifts I wear for running) and snugly tied down the laces before stepping off with our little group of walkers and joggers.

Everything went well for about the first two miles, after which all hell broke loose in the right heel and ankle. It did not resemble the pain or discomfort of a hot spot/blister, but more like the intense pain which comes from an unhappy tendon...the continuing saga of my achilles tendon recovery.

At this time I run an average of 30-to-35 minutes a day for three days with a day of rest in between.  It's likely my body has learned to tolerate the pounding for that exact period of 35 minutes and not that much more.

It makes perfect sense, come to think of it. When I gave my wife the 15-minute head start and then ran my 30-minute workout a couple of Sundays ago, there was that little pop in my ankle not long after. So perhaps the mind has more to do with how well we handle physical stress than we like to think.

I explained this to someone the other day, "...back when I was running 'well,' finishing 10-kilometer races in the 37-to-40 minute range, I would feel beat-up after it was all said and done. The first time I decided to walk a 10-kilometer race, my body was good to go up to the 40-minute point, after which I felt like someone beat me with a nylon stocking filled with a half-dozen oranges."

"And I still had three and-a-half miles to walk."

The mind is only going to tolerate, or help the individual dissociate, what it is used to tolerating. Over time, a new stressor becomes second-nature; the body is ready, more or less, to add a little more stress. Or a new stress.

We used to think muscle cramps on the run had to do with the lack of electrolytes or the lack of hydration, but now researchers have determined there is a neurological factor which is one of the root causes. We get to a point beyond our farthest previous limit, and the brain starts looking at the "gauges" and asking the questions: 'How much farther or longer do you plan to go? Do we have enough resources to make it to that point?' If the brain thinks we're going to do some permanent damage to ourself by going any farther, it begins to shut down communication and transmission of energy to groups of muscle fibers; that's when we see runners 'tie up,' decrease their range of motion or stride length. Once muscle fiber groups get shut down the muscle decides it's not going to work. 

Or work as hard. 

But when you're already walking there's not much else you can do except keep slogging.

So, there are a couple of take-aways from this little tale:  First, there are times when a rest day should be exactly that, and not a regenerative run, or an easy run, or any sort of cross-training.  Second, if you're going to do something foolish, make certain it's on a course where you can take a shortcut as necessary to get back to the end...not an out-and-back.  Third, if you use arch supports, heel pads, or orthotics for walking or running, don't forget to take them with you.