We are all individuals

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

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Where are the training plans on HillRunner.com?

I get asked this frequently. My answer? I hate pre-canned training plans and will never place one on HillRunner.com.

Ok, hate is a strong word. Maybe I don’t "hate" them. I just strongly dislike them. Never is a long time. I guess I can’t completely rule out the possibility. But don’t count on it.

Why do I so strongly dislike pre-canned plans? Because those plans assume everyone will benefit from the same things. In short, they assume we’re cookie cutter people. We’re not.

So what do I like better? I like building around a core set of principles, then adjusting to the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of the individual runner.

What does this mean in practice?

Start with core principles. If you’re going to run a marathon, you need some good long runs. For any distance race, you need a base of aerobic conditioning. You need some running at or very near race pace. You need to run faster than race pace at times. You need to run slower than race pace at times.

Don’t tie yourself to any one philosophy. Lydiard had very good ideas. Igloi had very good ideas. Coe had very good ideas. Daniels has very good ideas. The Hanson brothers have very good ideas. I could go on and on. All of these people and many others did things a little differently but they all had very good ideas and applied them in very thoughtful ways. Also, if you get to know how they worked with runners, they adjusted their core ideas to fit the needs of the runners.

Adjust according to your individual needs. Personally, I respond very well to long runs and tempo runs. I need some shorter interval work to run my best but too much burns me out. So I do a lot of long and tempo runs and use intervals sparingly. Others are just the opposite and may need a more steady dose of intervals with fewer long and tempo runs. Some people need a big base of weekly mileage to run well, others are at their best with lower volume. The key is to figure out what the best balance of variables is for you. That does mean some trial and error is necessary. Some mistakes will be made. Learn from them, improve, and move on.

In the end, there are no plans on HillRunner.com because there is no plan I can write that will be the best possible for everyone reading it. Instead, my goal is to give you the tools you need to come up with your own plan.

Photo credit: pappie by Cor Mol, on Flickr

Take chances

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

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Recently, I wrote about running practice races. This is incredibly important for many reasons. One of the reasons: taking chances.

Wait, what? Aren’t we supposed to be practicing how to do things the right way? Aren’t we supposed to be practicing what we want to do at our goal race? I don’t want to take chances and risk all my hard work!

You’re right. We do want to do those things with practice races. Sometimes, though, we want to try something new. Is there a better way? Am I really capable of more than I’m giving myself credit for? Sometimes, the only way to know is to roll the dice and find out in a race and it’s better to do so in a practice race than a goal race, just in case things don’t work out.

Of course, this is easier to do in a 5K than in a marathon. If you, for example, start a little faster than you are capable of in a 5K, you’ll crash in the last mile and have a rough 1/2 mile or so. If you start a little faster than you are capable of in a marathon, you might have a rough 10K. So you do have to pick and choose your times to take chances but you should give yourself the opportunity at times at least to challenge yourself, take chances, and see what happens.

You might just learn that there is a better way you can then take advantage of in your goal race.

Photo credit: _D102406-elite women runners by Jim Plumb, on Flickr

Max recovery days

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

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We all have hard and easy days in our training plans, right? We all have workout days, long run days, and those other days we just call easy days. Some call them junk miles but they are anything but junk miles. We know they aid our recovery from those hard days while helping to build the aerobic fitness that we all know is so important for racing any distance from the mile up.

But do you include at least an occasional max recovery day? You should, especially if you’re an every day runner.

What is a max recovery day? It’s something I like to do at least once a week as an every day runner myself. It’s essentially a day when you take it even more easy than a normal easy day. You can plan these days but I think they work even better when you just start running, feel low on energy or find yourself with heavy legs, and decide to keep the pace extra easy because you need the recovery.

So how do you do a max recovery day? First, I like to cut the distance of the run a bit. Not because I’m looking to spend less time running but because I want to go slower without spending more time on my feet. Personally, I usually aim for about an hour running on most days. For me right now, that’s usually about 8 miles. On a max recovery day, I’ll say I’m going 7 miles and still expect to be around an hour. Then you just run slow.

By running even slower than usual, you get a little extra recovery while sacrificing very little in regards to aerobic development. Most important, that little extra recovery will leave you feeling fresh and recharged for your next hard day.

So next time you’re dragging more than usual, consider trying a max recovery day. You’ll be surprised how much of a difference slowing one run down can make in leaving you feeling fresh, recharged, and ready to go the next day.

Racing is a skill – practice it

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

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Saturday, I ran a race. I wasn’t really race ready. I feel like my general fitness is pretty good right now but I haven’t done enough race specific workouts for my race fitness to be ready.

So why did I do this race? Because I needed some practice before my important races.

Racing is different than even the hardest workouts. While workouts are good opportunities to practice the skills we will bring to racing, no workout takes you to the place a race will. As a result, there are simply some things that can’t be practiced any time other than on a race day.

From how to handle lining up pre-race to how you respond when someone near you does something unexpected to knowing when you can kick with all you have without fear of running out of gas before the finish line and so many things in between, the only real way to develop the skills needed for race day is to get real world practice.

So sign up for a few races. If you have a goal race planned for this fall, sign up for a few summer races. Even if you’re not in peak shape for those summer races, you will gain experience that will allow you to perform even better when the goal race comes around in the fall.

Showing up

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

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“It’s hard showing up day after day. It’s worth it but it’s hard.” – Jon Marcus

I was recently listening to the Magness and Marcus podcast and I heard that quote from Jon Marcus. I was already thinking of writing about this topic and that quote just clicked with me because it’s so true and so important to running.

I often find myself saying the biggest key to success in distance running is consistency. How do you be consistent? Well, obviously you have to stay healthy so your training isn’t sidelined by injury. However, in my opinion, the biggest factor is just showing up.

On those days your motivation is lagging but you know you have work to do, you get it done.

On those days when the weather sucks and you just want to stay inside, you get out the door.

On those days when the treadmill is the only good option and you hate treadmills, you get on it anyway.

It’s not easy to show up day after day, week after week, month after month. But being hard is part of what makes it so worthwhile. When you reach your goal that others were telling you was impossible, you know how you got there.

Which brings me to another quote, which seems to be commonly attributed to Jerry Rice. “Today I will do what other won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”

Photo credit: Loneliest by Andrew Murray, on Flickr

Your Acute-to-Chronic (A:C) training ratio

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

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By now, I’m sure most of you know my thoughts on the “10% rule”. It’s far too simplistic. That said, there is such a thing as building up too quickly, right?

Of course there is. It’s just not as simple as this week should always be no more than 10% more distance than last week.

Ideally, we listen to our bodies to know if problems are creeping up but what if we had cues to tell us when we may need to pay closer attention or take concerns more seriously?

Enter the Acute-to-Chronic training ratio (what I will abbreviate as the A:C ratio).

What is the A:C ratio?

It’s simply your past week’s running mileage divided by the average of your past 4 weeks. An example might be helpful.

Let’s say your past 4 weeks have looked like the following:

45 miles

50 miles

55 miles

60 miles

Your A:C ratio is then 60 / 52.5 (52.5 is the average of 45, 50, 55, 60). Rounded off, this is 1.14.

Research has found that, on average, injury risk climbs when you hit a ratio of 1.2 and significantly increases around 1.5.

However, that’s for the “average” person. How many of us are perfectly average? If you look at your history, you’ll probably find that there is some fuzzy area where you cross from being relatively solid with no real injury concerns to where you feel like you’re walking a tightrope.

With this knowledge, you could actually adjust to where you know that, for example, at 1.3 you begin feeling not so great and bad things happen when you get over 1.6. So you can watch for those numbers instead of 1.2 and 1.5.

Also, some suggestions are that you take intensity into account. Not all miles are equal. A 5 mile tempo run is more strenuous than 5 miles very easy. This is a little more complicated to keep track of but might make this kind of ratio even more useful as you can track increases in both volume and intensity.

Why is this better than the 10%rule?

To be honest, this is a similar concept to the 10% rule but, depending on how deep you go, it offers more flexibility.

First, in even its most simple sense, you are given two levels to watch: graduated risk and high risk. It’s not as simple as 9.5% = good, 10.5% = bad.

Second, I like the idea that it doesn’t just take a look at the past two weeks. By looking at the past 4 weeks, it gets a more complete picture of your recent training, not just a very limited snapshot. It would be great to look at 2-3 months, of course, but I get how that would complicate things. 4 weeks seems like a decent compromise.

Third, the idea and, in some circles, encouragement to adjust those numbers to your unique needs is outstanding. Track your history, find the numbers that work for you, then adjust.

Finally, if you go the most complex route and add in intensity, you’re measuring not just volume but total training stress. This is an outstanding, though admittedly much more complex, addition to the equation.

In the end, obviously, we aren’t robots. No numerical formula is going to perfectly predict injury risk. You might get injured when your A:C ratio is below 1 (meaning you’re reducing training load) or you might be able to stay healthy when it’s above 2. At 1.3, you might get injured one time but not another. However, if we can track when our risk is increasing, we can be more aware of that and take more precautions.

Addition to the training log

So what does all of this do for us if we’re not easily able to track it? That’s what I started asking myself and I realized I had the ability to offer a solution.

Starting this morning on the HillRunner.com Training Log, you can track your A:C training ratio. It’s right there on your sidebar, easy to see and updated in real time as you update your training log.

Currently, it’s the most simplistic solution. If your ratio is below 1.2, it will show up as green:

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From 1.2 to 1.5, it will be orange:

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1.5 and above, red:

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In the future, I plan to build out this functionality as follows:

First, I want this to be an optional sidebar widget, as are some of the others such as the weather widget, controllable through your log settings.

Second, I plan to make those thresholds customizable. They will default to 1.2 and 1.5 but you will be able to change them to the numbers that work best for you.

Finally, my most ambitious thought is to include intensity. This will take more work as the log doesn’t currently track intensity but I’d like to see it included in the long term future.

As far as I know, the HillRunner.com Training Log is the first log to include this A:C training ratio. As always, I am aiming to provide an easy to use, convenient, but useful training log. I hope this is an addition that, while not affecting ease of use, will conveniently add a useful tracking measure.

Photo credit: PSY_1987 by Inland Empire Running Club, on Flickr

Restraint

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

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Spring is on the way! While many of us already had some summer like weather this year, we’ve also faced some challenging winter weather. Things will be taking a turn soon if they haven’t already begun taking a turn where you are.

It’s so easy when the weather gets better in the spring to get a little too excited about training in good weather and try to do too much. Be careful not to fall into this trap.

After working your way through all the bad winter weather, the last thing you want to do is get yourself hurt when the weather is turning nice, especially since your racing season is likely also just around the corner.

Photo credit: DSCI0012 by Tory Klementsen, on Flickr

“Bad” workouts happen

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

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This week, we had serious wind on Tuesday, my workout day. It was brutal, I was being blown all over the place and my splits during the first half of the workout, when running into the wind, were horrible.

Earlier this year, I had a workout where I could just feel things weren’t going well. It wasn’t the conditions that time. My body just wasn’t responding. It wouldn’t go no matter how much I wanted it to.

Whether due to the conditions or due to it just not being our day, we all have workouts that just don’t go so well. Bad workouts happen. What should you do about it?

Don’t get down

First, don’t get down on yourself if you’re having a bad workout. If you’re having a bad day, just chalk it up to that. We all have bad days. I expect, in any given training cycle, that we will all have a few workouts that just don’t go our way. It’s built into the expectations. When you have that day, just accept it and move on. Analyze why it happened and, if changes can be made to reduce your risk of a repeat occurrence, make those changes.

Most important, don’t dwell on it. What’s done is done. Learn from it if there was a lesson to be learned and move on.

Adjust if needed

During the workout, ask yourself if you’re still accomplishing the goal of the workout. Sometimes, even if you’re not hitting the splits you were aiming for, you’re still accomplishing the goal. In the case of my workout this week, my splits look pretty ridiculous but I know I accomplished what I wanted. In the case of my earlier workout, I wasn’t running the paces I wanted but I was still getting the training stimulus I was aiming for. So, in both cases, I didn’t worry about the watch and just ran.

If something doesn’t feel right, especially if you feel like an injury might be on the way, stop the workout immediately. If the conditions you’re facing are dangerous, stop the workout and find shelter immediately. If you’re just feeling so off that you can’t hit the kind of intensity you’re looking for in the workout, cut it short and move on.

Build mental toughness

This is mostly for workouts in bad conditions but also applies to workouts when you’re just not quite feeling right. Toughing it out in these workouts will make you a mentally stronger runner. If you face similar conditions on race day, chances are they aren’t going to cancel or postpone the race. You’re going to be running in them. If the conditions are good on race day, think how easy it will seem after running through more challenging conditions.

Likewise, if you’re feeling a little off on race day, they aren’t going to postpone it until you’re feeling better. You better be prepared to do your best regardless of how you’re feeling.

In the end, I would consider both of the challenging workouts I had this year productive. Not only did I still get them in and accomplish the stimulus I was looking for. I also toughened myself up. I’m not down on myself for running slow in the first half of my workout on Tuesday, just as I’m not getting carried away by the pace I had with a tailwind in the second half. I am very happy, though, that I battled through and got the workout I wanted even if the conditions weren’t ideal.

Photo credit: Track Workout Jan 4_0046 by Nathan Atkinson, on Flickr

Be your own best advocate

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

This past weekend, someone sent me this article. It’s an important reminder and I’d like to make a few points that I see often referenced but just as often ignored:

– If something doesn’t seem right, something is likely not right. We all have to struggle through fatigue and aches at times but most of us have a sense of what is “normal” and what just doesn’t feel right. Trust your gut. In this individual’s case, he knew something wasn’t right when his paces dropped off rapidly. That’s a telltale sign that something is wrong. At the very least, you’re not going to get more out of your workout when you’re fading like that for no clear reason so don’t push your luck.

– If you feel unexplainable chest, back, or shoulder pain, take it seriously. See a doctor.

– Even more, make sure you are your best advocate. It sounds like this individual had a good medical team looking out for him. Too often, a runner with normally stellar numbers comes in with “normal” numbers and is told you’re fine. If your numbers look out of line to your normal, point this out. Be annoying if you have to. It could save your life.

Racing: a skill that requires practice

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

This time of the year, we likely have our goal races in sight. We may already even be registered for them. However, do you have some other races on your schedule? This is a good time of the year to pick some secondary races to fill out your schedule and make sure you’re race sharp when your goal races come around.

Many runners seem to not worry about this part of goal race preparation. They figure they will train themselves into the best shape possible and take advantage of that fitness. So why do these other races matter?

Because racing is a skill and, like all skills, you need to practice it in order to be good at it.

Whether you’re running a mile or a marathon, whether you’re going for the win or in the middle of the pack, there are aspects of the race that need to be practiced. Here are a few ways you can benefit from practice races (I like to call them tune up races).

Pre-race routine

How early do you need to get up before a race to be awake and ready to race? How much do you need to eat or drink and how long before the start do you need to eat? Do you need a warmup? If so, what is the routine that works best for you?

These are all questions that we can try to answer in training and I would recommend doing so. However, the best solution can’t be found in any way other than race day practice. Due to nerves, some people have stomachs that are more sensitive on race day. You need to be more awake, alert, and ready to go even for a marathon than you do for a weekly long run or an easy run.

Race strategy

If you’re in the middle of the pack, competitive strategies may not matter to you. If you’re going for a win, top 10 finish, or age group placement, competitive strategies matter much more. However, even if you’re in the middle of the pack and focusing on a time goal, there are race day strategies that matter.

For the competitive runner: You need to have some race day strategies and practice them. What happens if your competition plans to sit and kick on you? Do you grind out a pace you hope will run the kick out of them? Do you surge and try to break them? Do you begin your kick early and try to get the jump on them? If you do some tune up races, you can practice these different strategies and be prepared on the course to decide which gives you the best chance. Then you can be ready to execute with confidence.

Likewise, you can develop, practice, and test your ability with other strategies. Maybe you’re a good kicker and you want to be the person sitting and kicking. You can work on maintaining contact while your competitor tries to grind you out or work on how to cover surges

Just as important, these tune up races give you the opportunity to assess your weaknesses and work on them so they can’t be exploited by your competitors. Do you tend to fade in the second mile of a 5K or third quarter of a mile? Then run some races where your aim is to push hard through those spots. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter how you finish, what matters is that you push through the area where you usually let up.

For the middle of the pack runner: You might think it’s simple. Just lock into a pace and carry it through. However, how do you handle the crowds, especially if you’re doing a big race? If you’re doing a long race, how do you handle fueling? If you’re going to use the aid stations, how are you going to go into them? As with the competitive runners, do you need to practice pushing through a part of the race where you often lose focus and let your pace lag? This could be the key to a PR.

Just as with the competitive runner, you can plan these things but there are logistical issues that you likely won’t anticipate until you’ve encountered them in a race. Even more, some of these issues are skills that need to be practiced. You can practice drinking out of a paper cup while on the run in training but race day is different. You’re not in crowds, you don’t have a complete stranger handing the cup to you, you’re not potentially running across discarded and potentially wet and slippery cups while trying to drink from your own cup.

Pushing yourself

I know others look at races differently but, when I’m racing, I’m looking to test my limits. I want to push myself to the very edge of my ability.

Almost every year, when I run my first race of the year, this just doesn’t happen. I don’t push myself that way in training so I haven’t pushed myself that hard in months. I’m simply rusty. I need to remember what it’s like to take myself to the limit.

If you’re not pushing yourself to the limit in workouts (and I hope you’re not) you’re going to need one or two race efforts to get the feel for doing that. If you don’t, you’re going to be out of practice and not going to be ready to push yourself like that on race day.

It doesn’t matter if you’re going for the win or running in the middle of the pack. It doesn’t matter if you’re racing the competitors around you or shooting for a time. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a large or small race. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a mile or a marathon. It doesn’t even matter if the tune up races are the same distance as your goal race. Getting some tune up races will help you when your goal race comes around. There are simply some skills that can’t be practiced any way other than by running in a race. So, now that you likely have picked out your goal races, go out and find a few tune up races to prepare for them.