Training by Time

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Interesting thoughts over at the RT/RW site.

I like the general point of this article. I’ve long believed in training by time, though I accept that most people will think in terms of miles so I think of a target time, the expected pace of the run, then assign a corresponding distance. Want at least 1 hour and expect to run around 7:00 pace? Go for 9 miles. Want at least 1 hour and expect to run around 9:00 pace? 7 miles will get you there.

One place I think the author makes a mistake is in describing the workout. The 15:30 5K runner and the 18:00 5K runner running a 5K pace workout are not running at the same intensity. The 15:30 runner is running at a higher intensity than the 18:00 runner. What’s more similar to 15:35 (shouldn’t it be 15:30?) at 15:30 race pace, 14:28 at 18:00 race pace or 18:00 at 18:00 race pace? The problem is the author discusses focusing on time and intensity, then ignores the difference in intensity between the 15:30 5K and 18:00 5K. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal but think of the difference between a 15:30 5K and a 20:00 or 25:00 5K. Same concept. As he mentions, the body doesn’t know distance, it knows time and effort. This doesn’t mean the workout shouldn’t be adjusted but the reason given is, in my opinion, questionable. Maybe you need to increase recovery duration so your ratio between work and recovery remains similar. Maybe you need to shorten the workout for other reasons, such as the possibility that the 18:00 runner may not have the same base and work capacity as the 15:30 runner (though the inverse could potentially be true of course).

In the end, I’m not trying to be critical of the author or what he wrote in general. I fully agree that the body knows effort and duration. It doesn’t really know whether you’re running 9 miles or 10. It knows you’re running 70 minutes at some given intensity. That said, we should carry this premise through to workouts and realize that a 15:30 5K runner and an 18:00 5K runner are not running the same intensity at race pace so targeting the same time means the 18:00 5K runner has an easier workout than the 15:30 runner. Maybe that’s called for given other factors. Maybe, though, it isn’t.

One more

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

If you’ve read my two most recent race reports, you might have noticed a pattern. About a week before the races, my training crashed. Fortunately, I bounced back in time for race day both times but I can’t keep counting on this happening.

So why did I crash both times, less than a month apart? The answer to that question appears to actually be more simple than one might think. I didn’t follow my own advice and I ran my workouts too hard. Essentially, I ran myself into the ground. I was fortunate that I recognized this both times and corrected in time but why did I fall into this trap not only once but twice in such a short time and what can we all learn about this?

The first time, it was simply a matter of getting too aggressive. I had one very challenging workout on my schedule. It felt so good to nail that workout, even though I had to dig deep to get it done, that I couldn’t resist the draw to feel that again so I ran later workouts harder than I should have. Meanwhile, easy days were not sufficiently easy to recover from such demanding workouts. I recognized this when I crashed but I then entered a shorter than usual training cycle between races and figured, with not as much time to train, I could put a little more into the workouts. Different reasoning, same trap.

I’m not sharing these examples of how I fell into the trap to make myself look like an idiot or to get your sympathy. I’m sharing these examples because they are examples of how easy it is to fall into the trap. I doubt I’m the only one here who has fallen into these traps.

So what should I have done and what will I do going forward? I’ll follow my own advice: finish every workout feeling like you could have done at least one more. If I do fall into the trap during a workout and run it too hard, I’ll take extra precautions in the following day or two to ensure I am adequately recovered before moving on.

Whether you’re running 30 second repeats or mile repeats, it’s good to aim to finish feeling like you could have done at least one more repeat. Even on long runs, finish like you could have run at least one more mile (I actually prefer feeling like I could have run at least 2-3 more miles on long runs). This will keep you from racing your hard days. Remember, save the racing for race day. On workout days, you’re generally not looking to challenge yourself. You’re looking to build yourself up. You need some stress to stimulate improvement but too much stress repeated too frequently will just break you down.

More on the 10% myth

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

After posting about the 10% myth earlier this week, I thought it would be good to discuss the primary argument I’ve received over the years against my view on this "rule".

To paraphrase, the argument goes something like this: Sure, you could increase by 15% or 20% for a week or two but that isn’t sustainable. 10% per week is the maximum sustainable rate at which one could increase their volume.

I usually respond with the question of how long one thinks you can sustain a 10% per week increase. I’ve yet to hear a response.

If you increase by 10% per week for 8 weeks, you’ve increased your volume by 114%. If you’ve been running 50 miles per week, you’re now at 107 miles per week in about 2 months. If you increase for 12 weeks, you’ve increased your volume by 213% and your 50 miles per week base has in 3 months turned into over 150 miles per week. By 15 weeks, you’ve topped 200 miles per week. Is this sustainable? Of course not. Depending on your circumstances, you’re doing very well if you are safely running 73 miles a week in a month’s time.

The argument I’m making is that we shouldn’t focus on numbers. Focus instead on how you’re feeling. At times, you might find yourself increasing by 15-20% or even more. At other times, you might find yourself increasing by less than 5% or even holding steady for a while. Forget about the numbers and focus on how your body is responding to your increases. Your body will lead you to far better results than some arbitrary formula.

Any other questions, concerns or comments about the 10% rule or why I feel the way I do about it? Don’t hesitate to ask.

The 10% myth

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Everywhere you go, you hear about it. Even those of us who try to avoid hearing about it can’t get away from it. The "10% rule". That supposed rule that a person shouldn’t increase their weekly mileage by more than 10% from week to week or they will risk injury, fatigue, burnout, and a multitude of other bad repercussions. Of course, a corollary to this rule that some strongly promote is that, as long as you are within this guideline, you’re perfectly safe. Is this really true? Well, let’s look at a few facts as well as some observations I’ve made.

First, let’s look at the numbers. We’re told that this "10% rule" applies to everyone at all levels. OK, so how does a person start running? You can’t increase from zero miles by 10% and end up with anything but zero. Maybe that’s why so many people are afraid to start running. They would be breaking the "10% rule". OK, that’s a little extreme so let’s take a situation I was once introduced to. Someone ran 8 miles in a recent week and was asking what would be reasonable for the following week. This person mentioned that, by Wednesday, she was already on the verge of breaking the "10% rule" but still felt good, so did she really have to stick with 10% or could she go higher? I gave my usual advice, listen to your body and let it guide you. After all, is it really reasonable to expect a person to go from 8 miles to 8.8 to 9.6 to 10.5? If she was to do 9 or 10 miles that first week after the 8 mile week, would that mean sure injury or burnout? What if she tried to stick to 8.8 miles but measured a course wrong and ended up running 8.9 or 9 miles? She broke the 10% rule, now she’s going to get injured? Let’s be realistic here. There was no doubt in my mind that she was ready for 10, 12, maybe even more miles. Maybe she would have to maintain for a short time once she hit 12 miles but everything she said suggested that she was ready. Of course, that didn’t stop a "10% rule" proponent from saying I’m full of it and that she should in fact run 8.8 miles the following week, 9.6 the week after, and 10.5 on the third week. This person informed me that it was a proven and time tested principle. Really? I’d love to see the evidence of that but I’ll get to that later.

What about the opposite end of the spectrum? Some of those who promote this "rule" say that, as long as one stays within the guidelines, they will be fine. What does this mean for someone who just ran a 100 mile week? Well, that person runs 110 miles the following week, 121 the week after, 133 the next week, 146 on the fourth week, and 160 on week five. That’s a 60 mile per week increase in barely over a month. Staying well within these boundaries, a person could increase by 6 miles per day in a month’s period. What are the chances that someone could actually increase the training load this quickly without problems? Again, let’s be realistic here.

Next, let’s look at some facts. A number of sources will tell you that, as long as you increase by 10% or less, you are at a low risk of injury and burnout. As soon as you cross over to more than 10%, though, you are at a high risk of injury and burnout. This is a very interesting theory. All I can do is ask what makes 10% so special? I know of many people who, on a very regular basis, increase their mileage at a much higher rate with no repercussions. I have actually done that myself from the beginning of my running years. I also know of many people who have increased by much less than 10% and ended up with very serious injuries. From my observations, I have seen no sign that 10% is some magical turning point where injury risk suddenly increases. Also, I have seen no studies that have found this to be the case.

In the end, I just have to ask why 10%? Simple, it’s a nice round number that sounds good. It’s a middle ground. Many people get injured increasing at 5% or less per week, many others don’t get injured when increasing by 20% or more per week for a short period of time. Most runners will be safe at 10%, although many would also be safe at 15% and those who wouldn’t be safe may or may not be safe at 5%.

Well, if most runners are safe at 10%, why do I have a problem with this number? Simple, there is a better, less limiting and even safer way to increase. It’s called listening to your body. At points, if you listen to your body, you will probably increase your mileage by more than 10% per week. This is the point where 10% is too conservative and is actually limiting your training. At other points, if you listen to your body, you will probably increase your mileage by less than 10% per week and maybe even stop increasing for a few weeks before starting the buildup again. This is the point where 10% is too aggressive and runners who follow it to the letter end up developing problems.

The 20 mile long run

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

Can you run a marathon PR without running a single 20 mile long run? Ask Allan. This spring, he twice ran under 4 hours after entering this year with a PR over 5 hours.

I’ve been asked a few times recently about long runs in marathon training. It seems people are beginning to question the need for the 20 mile long run. As anyone who knows me well, I’m celebrating these questions!

First, more about Allan and the story of his astonishing 66 minute PR, followed 62 days later by another 6 minute PR. Allan began running in 2011, completed a half marathon on a typical 12 week plan, then stopped running and fell into some bad health habits. In the spring of 2012, he began running again. After building up for a while, he again followed a standard marathon plan that included two 20 mile long runs. In October, he had some knee problems starting shortly after halfway and ended up walking a lot on his way to a 5:05 marathon.

In early December, we began working together. One of the first questions he asked me was about the long run. Having read up on the Hansons training philosophy, he was interested in how I felt about the need for the 20 mile long run. What a match! I don’t think he knew when he asked the question that I’ve long argued that 20 miles is not necessary. At that point, we planned to cap his long runs at 18 miles.

With his long runs capped, Allan was able to do more workouts and was able to get more intra-week consistency in his training. Previously, the long run was such a big part of his week that the rest of the week was largely about recovering from the prior long run and preparing for the next. By reducing his maximum long run distance by as little as 10%, we were able to put more focus into getting some real training done between the long runs.

I’m not going to claim the lack of the 20 mile long run was the only factor in these great improvements he achieved. There were many factors that led to a 72 minute improvement in 6 months. However, it should be obvious that he didn’t suffer by dropping the 20 mile long run.

That’s just the point. The 20 mile long run, while considered necessary by many, is too long for some runners. When the long run throws your whole week out of balance, it’s not doing you any good. By reducing the distance of the long run, even just a little, you can get more out of the rest of your week. Balance in training matters. If you can drop your long run by 2 miles but get an extra 10 miles a week and add a speed workout into the mix, you’re going to come out ahead, even in a long race like the marathon.

Now, the shorter long run isn’t for everyone. When I was running my best, my long runs were up to 30 miles but my weekly mileage was up to 150-160 miles at times and regularly topping 140. Another runner I’m coaching needs her long runs. If we don’t get enough 20 milers in, her marathon performances suffer. We found that through experience and adjusted accordingly.

So how do you know if you need 20 miles? First, consider your training balance. Is the long run about the only thing you can focus on or is it just another day in your overall training week? If it’s just another day, you’re probably fine where you are. If it’s the only thing you can focus on, you might be doing too much and a decrease in your long run distance may be warranted. Once you make this decision, try it and see how it works. Be sure to take advantage of the benefits of the shorter long run, though. Cutting the long run distance isn’t going to help without other changes. Get in some meaningful workouts with the extra energy you have, log a few more miles over the rest of the week, make the long runs mean more by adding some faster miles late in the runs. Figure out what your training is most lacking and make sure you are adding some of that in.

In the end, we are all different. Some people do in fact need long runs of 20 miles or even longer. The key I want you to take away from this is that not everyone does. Consider the possibility that you might only need 18 or even 16 miles. Weigh whether this shorter long run would allow you more balanced training that would not leave holes in your fitness on race day. Then don’t be afraid to go against convention. You might find out that a shorter long run allows you more well rounded training and will be one step toward a PR.

Minimalist shoes and the boom/bust cycle

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Earlier this week, it was reported sales of minimalist shoes "plummetted" by more than 10% in the first quarter of 2013. It’s being reported that the "fad" is over. People are realizing that minimalist shoes are getting them injured and going back to stability and support shoes. So is this really what’s happening?

I’d argue that, in a way, this is what’s happening but it’s more complex than just that. As with many things (low fat diets followed by low carb diets, for example) the pendulum swung. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the attitude toward shoes was the bigger the better. Those of us who didn’t want a whole lot of foam and rubber between our feet and the ground were forced to choose from an ever-decreasing list of choices. Eventually, we were down to a handful of "lightweight trainers" or racing flats.

Then came Born to Run. I have some issues with the book (I have been thinking of tackling one big issue I have yet to find an answer to in a blog post but I always feel like I’d just be tilting at windmills when I think of typing something up). However, one benefit is that it swung the pendulum. People began thinking maybe bigger isn’t always better. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the pendulum swung too far, too fast. People went from wearing Brooks Beasts and other similar shoes to Vibram FiveFingers without a proper transition down the line. As I’ve often stated, you can’t go from having your shoe do all the work for you to having it do no work for you overnight without problems. It can take years to go from a fairly moderate traditional trainer to a fairly moderate "minimalist" shoe or racing flat. To go from one extreme to the other in days, weeks or even months is just asking for problems. Even if you don’t need all that shoe, you can’t just ditch it overnight after you’ve become used to it and, to some extent, dependent on it. Worse yet, the message for a while was that minimalism or even barefooting is right for everyone. It will cure every injury, it will make you more efficient and faster. There are no down sides, only benefits.

Not surprisingly, the correction came along. People got hurt, either because they tried to change too fast or because they simply aren’t cut out to run in minimal shoes. People gave up on minimalism. Some people stuck to it because it worked for them but some left. This is what we’re seeing now. Of course, in the marketplace, the manufacturers are usually behind on trends like this. Just like you couldn’t get enough shoes labeled "minimal" a few years ago and they sold at outrageous prices, you’re now seeing a wide selection and prices are dropping rapidly.

What do these market changes mean? Well, there are now more people wearing "minimal" shoes than there were several years ago. I think manufacturers will to some extent keep making shoes for this market. It may be a niche market but it’s large enough that I don’t think Nike, Saucony, Brooks and others want to ignore it. In the meantime, hopefully that pendulum swing will settle to a more reasonable middle ground. People who need more shoe shouldn’t be shamed into getting less shoe than they need to stay healthy. At the same time, people who don’t need so much shoe shouldn’t be ridiculed for wearing racing flats or "minimal" shoes if that’s what works for them.

I’d love to see people settle into a state of saying "I want to wear as much shoe as I need but no more, whatever that means". If you don’t need the 17 ounce shoe, try the 15 ounce shoe. If that still seems like more than you need, try the 13 ounce shoe. Eventually, you’ll find your sweet spot. That’s where you want to be. More isn’t always better but less also isn’t always better. Some people will still be wearing the 17 ounce shoe because that is what they need. Others will keep wearing FiveFingers because that is the shoe that works for them.

In the meantime, I’ll keep sticking with my roughly 7 ounce moderately cushioned shoes. In April, I even bought my first pair of "minimal" shoes (see the picture at the top of the post to see what I will be wearing as I head out to run today). They cost me less than the racing flats I usually get and, structurally, are extremely similar. I like the current market. The price points are very nice.

Effects of sports drinks in mid-distance road racing

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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For terms of this post, I’m considering anything 90 minutes and under to be a "mid-distance" race. For most of us, that would be somewhere between 15K and half marathon at the upper limit.

This is something I’ve often wondered about. We know our bodies can store enough glycogen for about 90 minutes of running so how useful are sports drinks in a race of less than 90 minutes? Your body already has enough fuel on board, does it really help to top off the tank?

This study suggests the answer might be no.

What does this tell us? Well, we might be just as well off with water as with a sports drink during a race that is less than 90 minutes long. Topping off the tank doesn’t appear to do anything for us. This is good news for runners who have sensitive stomachs and may not be able to handle sports drinks in shorter, more intense races.

Of course, as with all studies, this finds that on average sports drinks don’t help. Your results may vary. However, if you have trouble taking a sports drink during a shorter, more intense race, don’t get too worried about it. Especially if it gives you problems, you might be better off without it and the person next to you taking one may not be gaining a performance benefit anyway.

Running by effort

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

I think I sometimes drive the runners I coach crazy talking about efforts. Easy, 10K effort, 5K effort, half marathon effort. These are common phrases in discussions.

Just this past week, I’ve had discussions with three runners I coach on what exactly these efforts mean and/or why I prefer training by effort over other methods, such as pace. I may explore this topic further in a future post but I’d like to share some high level thoughts on a few key points that I believe make training by effort the best way to train.

1) Training by effort helps you learn the correct effort to run a race at. You’re going to make a few mistakes when learning a new skill like running by effort. Would you rather make those mistakes and learn from them in a workout or in a race? Why is this skill important in racing? Read on…

2) Training and racing by effort allows you to adjust for variables on the fly. Once you’ve honed your skill to run by effort, you will naturally adjust for things like adverse (or more ideal than expected) weather conditions, course related factors such as hills or even factors such as the lack of sleep you got last night or the stress of a bad day at work. Running simply by pace won’t account for these factors and will leave you running a less than optimal pace/effort level. Running by heart rate may help you with some of these factors but it won’t do much when your legs are fatigued because you helped your friend move yesterday. Also, your heart rate doesn’t always respond to all stresses in an expected way and doesn’t always respond to your effort level instantly. If you fine tune your ability to feel your effort, you can know instantly when your effort level changes. Relying on heart rate may leave a delayed response. You’ll find out before disaster strikes but will you find out in time to adjust for an optimal performance?

3) Running by effort ensures you’re doing the workout you intend to do. When trying to stimulate a physiological response from our training, we need to hit a certain effort level. Depending on some of the factors mentioned above (weather, course factors, life factors leading to more or less stress than usual) a given pace may be too fast or too slow to best target the training stimulus we want to focus on. If you’re doing a workout that should target 5K pace/effort but you take the workout to the hills, you have to back off your pace. How much? Every hill is different. It’s hard to tell without going by effort.

4) Running by effort removes your succeptibility to technological glitches. Just last week, I had a run where my Garmin flaked out. It had me starting far from where I actually did start and reported a first mile of 3:31. No problem. I wasn’t relying on it so I just ignored it and figured it was just a stopwatch for that run. What if I was relying on it to set my pace? Would I have been lost until it locked into my location? What if this happened on race day and I was relying on it to set my race pace?

Effect of weight loss (dehydration) and muscle break down on performance

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Writing about another study (I promise this blog won’t become all about reviewing studies but this will be a part of it). This time, a study of how weight loss as a proxy for dehydration and myoglobinuria as a proxy for muscle breakdown are related to reduction in muscle power. Essentially, the idea of this study is to determine what the correlation is between late race muscle fatigue and two commonly held explanations for that muscle fatigue.

In a break from commonly held assumptions, body mass loss (the proxy for dehydration) did not seem to affect muscle power output. Participants in the study ranged from gaining body mass to losing more than 4% of body mass (that would be 6 pounds for a 150 pound person) during a marathon but loss of power output was not correlated with body mass loss.

On the other hand, there is a quite strong correlation between myoglobinuria production (the proxy for muscle breakdown) and muscle fatigue.

What does this tell us? Well, I would still strongly suggest not ignoring fluids during a marathon, especially a warm weather marathon. However, don’t go to extremes. I recall a few individuals telling me that I should follow their hydration plans because they actually gained weight during marathons. Why should we believe that this is ideal? It’s been shown that the best marathoners tend to lose weight during marathons, typically in the range of 5% of body weight but some even more. Now, we have more evidence that this singular focus on hydration may not help.

Instead, we should be focused on not breaking down our muscles. So how do we do that? We train our muscles. Nothing all that new here. Lots of long runs, lots of volume at faster paces. In addition, though, I think this suggests again the importance of not going out too fast. If you go out too fast, your muscles are going to break down earlier. This will reduce their ability to keep performing at an optimal level earlier than if you go out on pace or even negative split a bit.

With Boston coming, here’s another thought. The early miles are downhill. Getting too carried away on early downhills will damage your muscles, especially the quads, even more. We all know (I hope) it’s important to not get too carried away early at Boston. This likely explains one reason for that. Your muscles will break down earlier and you’ll again lose your ability to perform at an optimal level earlier than if you play it safe on the early downhills.

Breaking news: Hill repeats are good for your 5K

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Hill repeats will of course help if you’re racing here

Well, maybe not exactly breaking but a recent study backs up what we’ve known for some time. It also adds to the picture a bit.

This study found that hill repeats of any kind improved a runner’s 5K performance by about 2%. That’s a pretty significant number. For a 20 minute 5K runner, 2% would be a 24 second improvement.

What I found interesting here is that they looked at repeats at different intensities and how that affected running economy and 5K performance. The result was that the highest intensity hill repeats improved running economy the most but, to quote the author, "there was no clear optimum for time-trial performance". In other words, while running economy improved most with the highest intensity hill repeats, other factors played into making 5K performance gains similar across all intensities.

What to take from this? First, hill repeats are good. No news here. Second, high intensity repeats are great for running economy. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise. We’ve known that short bursts of high intensity work are good for running economy already. That’s why we all do strides, even marathoners. Many runners would already at times take those strides to a hill to get a little more intensity. Third, there are other benefits to longer repeats. Again, we already knew this. That’s why hill repeats have been popular for decades.

So why am I writing about something that just tells us what we already know? First, it’s always good to make sure the science confirms what you already believe. Second, it never hurts to remind ourselves of what we’ve already known. We all know strides are good for us but I know I’ve forgotten this lesson at times and gotten away from doing strides. Have you gotten away from hill repeats? Maybe this is an opportunity to consider whether it would be a good idea to add them back.