This morning for the obligatory Sunday long run we were joined by another running group who tend to run North, while we always seem to run South. When asked why they did this we were told to avoid us ? I assumed they were joking but Will seemed quite sure and he is a high ranking Police Office so he’d never lie would he? Anyhow, all joking aside (he was joking surely) we all set off together and headed South with a 25k goal distance in mind. Doing a count in my head, as I type this post, there must have been 13 of us with Bart’s joining us later on the return trip . ( I can only assume he’d been celebrating his horses third podium finish in a row!) We all decided it was to be a relaxed long run but when you find yourself at the front of a pack of runners you tend to up the pace for fear of getting either trampolined on or verbally abused for running too slow. There isn’t the peloton mentality in running and running in a pack is a difficult thing to judge, pace wise. As it was we got to halfway which coincided with a drink stop and then there was the obligatory race for home as the group splintered into the ‘relaxed Sunday long run’ and the first to the waffles wins ! This is why the Sunday long run nearly always becomes a progressive. Throw in the T-train and it’s on for young and old at a very early point in the run normally. (Luckily Tone was over east doing secret Army stuff, but you didn’t hear that from me!)
Right the point of this post is because of the new additions to the group I reckon we got to halfway before we had even finished the first few rounds of conversations which ranged from goal races, upcoming races, injuries, Evan’s eating habits (that took the best part of the first 10k truth per told!), why we do what we do and even what would happen if the world suddenly ended and we only had this running group to repopulate the planet. (Note, this was a nod towards the diverse careers encompassed within the group and less about repopulating the planet) This was a difficult conversation but in the end we all agreed we’d probably make Jeff do most of the work and we’d all supervise, in a nice way of course.
As soon as we turned the pace increased and it wasn’t long before everybody dialled in their own finishing times and set about achieving their own personal goals. For me it was the end of a long week and I managed to stumble home with a respectable average pace and a 147km total for the week. (I’m assuming I won’t be allowed out to play again today.) Everybody followed , all happy with their long run ticked off and time for waffles, coffee and even more conversation.
Unfortunately today this was not to be as someone had selfishly organised a sand running carnival and Clancys’ , the local cafe of choice, was packed and getting busier the more we hung around. Hard as it is to even type this I had to return home without coffee or waffles. This is probably the first time this has happened in many years and will not be occurring again. Lesson learnt , if there is an event at your local beach/car park etc. make alternative arrangements for the post-run refreshments. Sunday long runs without waffles or pancakes, what is the world coming too?
Finally I have attached a post of happier times when we got pancakes at Clancy’s in the pre-waffle days (I think?). These were glory days of probably one of the best pancakes in Perth on offer at the end of the Sunday long run. Another highlight of todays run was some credible information regrading another venue that serves good pancakes and coffee and is only just over 12k from Clancy’s. Did I mention food is another topic high on the list that is discussed on long runs but only after the halfway point and really as late in the run as possible as a finish surge , fuelled by pancake talk, with 12k to go normally ends badly for all. !
Right all this talk of food has made me hungry, (funny that.) I’m off for a cup off tea and few ginger biscuits, to be dunked and then eaten whole, the joys of a long distance runner.
Want to run faster and further, go make some friends.
Sunday morning is the traditional long run for myself and my running brothers (and in todays case a sister, thanks for bringing some decorum to our group Jules.) It is after said run we get to do what I run for basically, eat sugar disguised as either pancakes, waffles or muffins all washed down with a good Cappacino, People ask me what I enjoy most about running and to me , and it must be said most of the running group, it’s the post-long run (or the Thursday Yolo progressive) ‘tukka’ and conversation. Admittedly living in Perth we are spoilt rotten when it comes to the scenery we play in and the weather as a whole. In Winter it may be dark and rain (once in a blue moon) but it’s rarely cold and I’ve never not ran because of the conditions. There’s been a few times when we’ve all sat in our cars as a ‘squall’ passed over but it’s normally pretty quick and I’ve never had a run I regretted. As we move into spring in Perth we really are blessed with near perfect running conditions and today was no exception. As a few of us (myself included) are racing Rottnest next week the run was to be a 20k , time on legs, easy run. More about the banter afterwards than a hard session, all the hard work has been done and we are in taper mode.
It is to be noted there were a few runners in our group who find it difficult to run slow, Zac and Ross being the main culprits, so we gave Damo’ (front row, far left) the task of grabbing pole position and slowing the pace down. This lasted about 1k before Damo’ failed in his task spectacularly and blew up big time. Unfortunately it was then on for young and old as the pace dropped from the planned 5min/k pace down to the low 4:30min/k very quickly. This continued to the half way point with much grumbling from the back runners including myself. At halfway though I suddenly felt a second wind and decided to put in 5k of MP (marathon pace) before slipping back to a more respectable pace as I stumbled towards City Beach and waffles. It’s been a long few weeks of quality training so my 5k of MP was never really going to happen. In the end I settled for 4k of ‘near MP’ and then a drink stop, while I waited for the group to catch up.
In the end Jeff and Ben came running past and I joined them briefly for the next hill before setting off alone again drawn to the waffles and coffee that awaited me at City Beach. In the end my overall average was 4:22min/k for 20k but more importantly I felt relaxed and enjoyed the hit out. Without doubt though the best part was the first 10k and the company. The kilometres really do pass so quickly when you run with friends as you have a week of ‘man stuff’ to catch up on. Being mostly a male dominated group we don’t tend to speak in the week unless we run together and we have found ‘What’s App’ now so all runs are organised online. Actually running together forces conversation, a lost art these days it seems, also if you know me you know I like to talk, so without company I struggle with distance.
Today was no different and we chatted like long lost friends , well it had been a week, about all the latest ‘stuff’, I would try and be more specific but it really can be anything and everything. The main topic is normally running related of course, about upcoming races, who just ran what and in what time is always high on the agenda, new shoes (a very topical topic at the moment with the Nike arrivals) and when will the 2 hour marathon be broken and will anybody from my group do it? Either way the time ticks along nicely and a long run can be over before you know it, well maybe not that quick but certainly a lot quicker than running solo. Back in the day I use to do my long runs alone and boy when you ain’t in the mood, and you start counting K’s early, you are in for along day at the office. I had a 34k run from my house to the end of the bike path at Burns beach and back as my ‘last long run of choice‘ before a marathon and most times it was a killer. I remember the last time I ran it I was counting kilometres very early and the run just seemed to drag on for ever as I slowed with every K. Mentally I was finished before I started and I have had so many bad runs on that route but still perceived , we’re a funny bunch runners?
Different story with the current day ‘BK posse’ , the long runs are more bearable and dare I say ‘enjoyable’, well as ‘enjoyable’ as a long run can be. The conversation and shared suffering helps, maybe it the shared suffering that really helps. Watching your fellow runner in as much pain as you makes your suffering seem a little easier, I say that in a nice way of course? That’s not to say every long run is painful but when you’re in the middle of a training block for a marathon, I’m sorry people, you need to spend some time in the pain box, with or without your running buddies. Maybe it is the ‘problem shared is a problem halved type ‘ scenario but with pain and suffering, I’m not sure but it just works. Nothing I enjoy more than seeing my running buddies in pain, again in a nice way?
Some competitive rivalry is also useful within the group as it spurs on good performances. In our group at the moment most of the runners had ran a sub3 marathon with the exception of Gareth, Jeff and Mark L. Mark C. was a member of this group but with the help of a one-on-one training plan from Matt Fitzgerald ( http://www.mattfitzgerald.com in Matt we trust! ) had gone from just over 3 hours to a 2:55 and then a 2:48 in the last few months. (fuelled on carbs!) Mark L. was desperate to enter the sub3 club and did so last weekend with a second place finish at the Bussleton Marathon and a 2:57 finish. Give Mark L. his due he had been taking a severe ‘ribbing’ since missing out on the sub3 target at the Perth City-to-Surf ,which was well short. (Even his Mum joined in.) This time there was no mistake. So instantly the mantra of ‘not ran a sub 3‘ falls to Gareth, Jeff has a get out of jail card as he is well over 100 years old and thus , age adjusted , has actually ran sub2; probably sub1 truth be told !!
I read a great article recently written by Matt Fitzgerald , In Men’s Journal, as he documented the top 5 things he learnt from training with the elites for the recent Chicago marathon, where we ran his target time of sub 2:40. One of the top 5 tips was train with people of similar abilities and goals. I wonder if Matt would have been so sure if he’d met my bunch of running reprobates, interesting , maybe we’ll get him over to sunny Perth one day for a Sunday long run, I just hope he can keep up with the banter as he’ll have no troubler keeping up with the pace , especially if we can get Damo’ to the front albeit briefly ?
Do the Little Things
Listen to Your Body
One aspect of pro training that really hit home with Fitzgerald was the willingness of the elites to cut a workout short or even take a day off if something was hurting. This is something most amateurs are loath to do, opting instead to stick it out and do the work on their training plans. Often, it sinks their ships. “This ‘live-to-fight-another-day’ mentality reduces the risk of injury and overtraining,” he says.
Train With People Who Have Similar Abilities and Goals
“You’ll benefit more from your training if you surround yourself with athletes who can pull you along on their good days and whom you can push on your bad days,” Fitzgerald says. If you don’t have ready training partners, seek them out via your local running club or shoe store.
Spend More Time at an Easy Pace:
Fitzgerald says that most amateurs run their easy runs too hard. “Most pros spend 80 percent of their runs at low intensity,” he explains, “but too many recreational runners fail to truly dial back.” Make easy pace your respected friend unless you’re out to do speed work, realizing it will establish a base to carry you through long term.
While there’s much that amateurs can adopt from the pros, Fitzgerald points out that unless they scale it to their own level, it will be too much to handle. “Few amateur runners can or should run 100 miles per week, for example,” he says. “but they can and should run a good deal relative to their personal limits if they want to get the most out of their God-given ability.” That said, Fitzgerald reminds every-day runners that some pros take risks that shouldn’t be emulated. “They might train or compete injured — risks you shouldn’t take if your livelihood doesn’t depend on your performance.”
Since the Australia Day Ultra at the end of January I’ve been putting in some serious kilometres as I get myself ready for the marathon season ahead. (see Strava extract below) This is the foundation part of the year where it is all about time on feet and building a good base from which to add pace as we near a ‘goal’ race. For me it will either be the Perth Marathon in June (my 13th Perth marathon) or if I feel good earlier there is the Bunbury Marathon in April. (my 5th Bunbury marathon) Of course after that there is my 10th City to Surf Marathon and being part of a small group of 26 runners who have run all 10 it will be the highlight of the year for me. After that there is the Rottnest Marathon (my 12th Rottnest) and finally the 6 Inch Ultra in December (my 10th 6 inch). Throw in 3-5 half marathons and at least another 10-12 races and my season is complete.
Some people run for the pure joy of running but for me I need a goal race to work towards and a time to compete against, this is why I get up early , go to be early and generally lead a nomadic existence. Frowned upon by most, including most of my running peers, but it works for me and even when I’m totally fatigued I can see light at the end of the tunnel and always assume it’s not an on coming train, so far I’ve always been right!
Today summed up my training this year. A 14k progressive with the lads this morning where my legs were ‘goosed’ at the start and even though I managed a good progressive it was a lot slower than my best (thanks for that Strava.) I’m not worried though as this is the required building period I need before giving away distance to pace later in the season. To this end I ran a 10k DanceETC loop in the evening and struggled around , albeit with a fast finish. Again the legs had very little and I’ll crawl into bed feeling very tired (see quote from Brendan Foster below). This is marathon training, it really is just a slog truth be told and the more you can put up with in the building phase the better the end result. Eventually though you do need to break the shackles and boredom of distance and change through the gears into pace and shorter , sharper training runs. This is when the magic happens and the legs should welcome the change, add in the cardio fitness of all those hours on your feet and you can suddenly see why you run. Put a bib on your chest, sit back and enjoy the ride, welcome to racing and beating your best.
I’ve added a post I wrote in 2017 on fatigue which stills holds true so worth a revisit, in the meantime the bed is calling and after todays runs it is certainly where I want to be. Can’t wait to wake up tired tomorrow morning and start the whole process again.
Fatigue needs to be embraced.
I’ve mentioned before a quote from Brendan Foster below…
As I said in an earlier post I actually turn that quote around as in my experience I got to bed tired and wake up really tired. Maybe that’s why I’m not an international athlete ? This morning was no exception, at 4:50am I was in no mood to run my go-to 10k ‘old faithful’ for the 170th time (thanks Strava https://www.strava.com/activities/776584306 ) My old friend fatigue had come to visit and I could feel the legs were none too impressed as I set off on my morning 10k. As with most morning runs I soon got into the groove and plodded along enjoying the morning ambience and reveling in the sunrise as I cruised through Star Swamp. When I finally finished I had sneaked under 5min/k average for the distance and even raised my VO2 score , so all-in-all a good result.
Walking to work, after a quick coffee stop at my favourite café, I climbed my indicator stairs to get a feel of how my legs were feeling. The stair test is a good test as if you are fatigued you will feel it as you ascend, especially if you go two at a time. This morning I could feel climbing the stairs was a challenge and again the legs were complaining from the start. Fatigue had come calling.
The second week after a marathon you are still in recovery mode so I am not surprised I am feeling fatigued, I would be more worried if I wasn’t as this would mean I could have run faster. (Trust me, I could not have run faster at the World Masters 10 days ago.) So fatigue in this case is a good thing, it just needs to be managed. By managed I mean as an indicator it is telling me to keep on doing what I’m doing, which is recovery pace only. I’ll feel better when I run lunch time (I can’t not run twice a day, that would be silly.) and I actually improve throughout the day. That’s why I turn Brendan Foster’s quote around.
This brings me to the main reason for this post. With fatigue being more prevalent for me at the start of the day I know to make this run the easiest. My lunch time run I know I’ll feel better so can use this one for any harder workouts. Other people feel differently (International athletes apparently?) and would go harder in the mornings. As with all things running it is a personal thing. I sometimes wonder why I wrote this blog as I am sharing things that work for me but you need to be aware these are my personal findings, as long as you realise that and adjust for your training all is good. I’ve said before most of the topics I discuss are all common sense, I don’t pertain to be a exercise guru, just a runner who loves running and has had some success (at my low level) who also enjoys typing.
As with all things I discuss I have added an article to help or support my ramblings and surprise surprise its my old mate coach Jeff from Runners Connect.
Why Fatigue is a Necessary Part of Training and How to Manage It
Training is like trying to walk a tight rope. You need to balance putting in grueling workouts and mileage with the ability to let your body recover. Favor one aspect too heavily and you’ll either have a poor performance from lack of training or get injured and overtrained from doing too much.
That’s why learning how to manage fatigue, and understanding the role it plays in endurance training, is critical to improving as a runner. In this article, we’re going to outline why a certain amount of fatigue is necessary to improve as a runner, how to strategically implement it, and how to find the right balance.
Why fatigue is necessary
The basis for all training theory is the what we call the workout and recovery process. Running first breaks down your muscle fibers. The harder you run, the more muscle fibers you damage. Your body then works to rebuild these damaged muscle fibers and if the recovery process goes well, these muscle fibers are repaired stronger than before. That’s how you become faster and stronger through training.
But, as you may realize, it’s nearly impossible to fully recover from a workout in 24 hours. It might be possible following a very easy day of running, but any type of speed, tempo or long run is going to require anywhere from 2 to 14 days to fully absorb and recover (here’s a breakdown of what research says about how long it takes to recover from different workout types).
That means, unless you want to only run two or three times per week, training while fatigued is a necessary part of training; especially since we know slow, easy mileage is the best way to build aerobic endurance and is the foundation for running performance. The trick is finding that balance between running enough miles to build you aerobic capacity without overdoing the fatigue.
Herein lies the “art” of training.
However, there is also a way that we can utilize this fatigue to make your training more effective.
How to utilize fatigue to run faster
In training vernacular, coaches use a term called “accumulated fatigue”. Basically, this theory posits that fatigue from one workout accumulates and transfers to the next run so that you’re always starting a workout or a long run a little tired from your previous training.
This is important for longer distance races like the marathon because it’s nearly impossible to run the full distance of the race in daily training. Furthermore, if you were to start every workout fully recovered and fresh, it would be difficult to simulate how your body feels late into a race.
As such, we can strategically implement the theory of accumulated fatigue to better target the specific demands of your race.
For example, during marathon training, one of my favorite methods for introducing accumulated fatigue is to buttress the long run against a shorter, but steady paced run the day before. As an illustration, you would run six miles at marathon pace on the Saturday before your Sunday long run. Because of the harder running on Saturday, you start Sunday’s long run not at zero miles, but rather at six or eight miles, since that is the level of fatigue and glycogen depletion your body is carrying over from the previous run.
You can even apply this theory to 5k training. Using what we know about muscle fibers and the recruitment and fatigue ladder, I often have athletes run a short, explosive hill workout (something like 9 x 60 second hills at 5k pace) two days before a 5k specific workout (12 x 400 at 5k pace with 60 second quick jog rest). The hill session fatigues and depletes the fast twitch muscle fibers so that during the 5k specific work, your intermediary Type IIa muscle fibers (the ones primarily responsible for running at 5k pace) have to handle more work and thus are more specifically targeted.
How to find the right balance
Training would be much easier – and runners much happier – if you could just train hard and fatigued all the time. But, you can’t simply continue to accumulate fatigue and run these types of workouts all the time (although some runners certainly do try). There needs to be a balance.
- First, try to keep the specific accumulated fatigue workouts to once every two weeks and only schedule them during the race-specific portion of your training schedule. This ensures that you don’t overdo it and that you don’t get burnt out long-term.
- Be sure to keep your easy runs slow. One of the most common mistakes runners make is running their easy day mileage too fast. This hinders your ability to recover and doesn’t provide any additional aerobic benefit. Research has shown that the most optimal aerobic pace for an easy run is about 65 percent of 5k pace. For a 20-minute 5k runner (6:25 pace for 5k – 7:20 pace marathoner), this would mean about 8:40 per mile on easy days.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to take a down or rest week every five to six weeks where you reduce mileage by 65 to 75 percent and reduce the intensity of your workouts. These down weeks help you fully recover from and absorb previous weeks and months of training so that fatigue doesn’t build-up too much.
Hopefully, this lesson on fatigue and how you manage it will help you train more intelligently for your upcoming races.
Footnote : Managed a 10k run in Kings Park over some hilly terrain and trails lunch time. Felt a lot better than this morning as expected so will look forward to the alarm tomorrow morning as I’m running with my friend Mark Lee who is a lot quicker than me and more of a short distance specialist. Only saving grace is we meet at Yelo so the obligatory coffee and muffin will be dangled as reward for the beating he’ll probably give me. On the downside I think it’s my turn to pay…
I have posted on this a few times over the last 18 months but it is always worth a revisit. Slow and steady really does make you , long term, faster. It’s benefits are three fold, I believe you will enjoy your training more (with all that ‘smell the roses’ pace), it’s an injury prevention method of training (less impact associated with adding pace) and finally the benefits will spur on more success. Let’s face it running is all about achieving goals and the more goals we achieve the more addicted we all become to the runners high.
I have attached two articles on the subject below. The first one of mine from Janaury 2017 which highlighted my experience with slowing down over a period of time and seeing the rewards when I raced. I was able to show , with the help of Strava (in Strava we trust… http://www.strava.com ; feel free to follow me on Strava, there is a link at the bottom of the home page) how over time I has slowed on my ‘old faithful’ run but my racing times had got better. This was over a long period of time and over 200 runs so a pretty good baseline, very ‘scientific’ if I say so myself.
The second article is from Runners Connect and is advocating a similar approach, moderate workouts being the ideal way to train long term.
In 2013 I ran quick all the time, by quick I mean sub 4min/k average every time I put on my trainers. Be it a 10k, 21k or 30k, my goal was to finish with a sub 4min/k average. To compound this issue I also stopped running long runs after reading an article in Runners World magazine about a training program where you would run at your marathon pace all the time. The logic was if your marathon pace became your normal pace when you were tired during the marathon you would revert to your normal ‘training pace’, which of course would be your marathon pace. The training program also recommend not running too many long runs but more runs around the 20-25k distance.
This training program yielded some good results but I sacrificed my top end speed as I wasn’t running any tempo or threshold runs, just lots of sub 4min/k’s. Raf from the Running Centre (http://therunningcentre.com.au ) picked me up on this on Strava ( http://www.strava.com ) and recommended I try a 10k threshold at least once a week, just to break the monotony of running the same pace for every run. I was surprised when I tried to add pace as I struggled and my 10k times weren’t that quicker than my ‘normal’ pace. Something was amiss and I was found out at the Bunbury Marathon in 2014 when I blew up after leading the race for the first 10k. I admit there was also some mental problems as I was defending my marathon title after winning (my only marathon victory) in 2013. I had gone out at my 10k pace truth be told and at 15k my race was finished. I met Raf afterwards, in the hotel spa of all places, and he could sense my disappointment of finishing 4th in a time of 2hrs54mins, when I aiming for a sub 2hr40min finish truth be told.
For the rest of 2014 I struggled on (Bunbury was in April) and although I managed 2hrs 46mins at the Perth Marathon I never managed to reach the heights I had reached in 2013. Something needed to change and in January 2015 I was taken under Raf’s wings and given a program for the Perth marathon, my first training program at the ripe old age of 48. The first 3-4 months were harder than I expected as I really struggled with the top end pace work. The steady and long runs were do able but my top end pace just wasn’t there. Over time I did improve of course thanks to Raf’s coaching skills but all the good work was undone by a slight stress fracture just before the Perth marathon. (Picked up on the last steady run , a week out ! Always the way ?) I ran a 2hrs49mins, 9th place finish, but Raf had me in better condition than that but the injury played on my mind.
After Perth Raf gave me another training plan for the City to Surf marathon in August and I stuck to this one and ran a good time for a 4th place but more importantly a strong race and strong finish. My first good marathon for over a year. Although I enjoyed working with Raf I was time constrained by my family, work, life etc, the runners quandary. I decided for 2016 to take what Raf had taught me and adapt my training accordingly.
I think the most important thing Raf taught me was there is no such thing as ‘junk miles‘, every kilometre you run is doing you some good, at whatever pace. This to me was a ‘lightning bolt’ moment as I was so use to running every run as a tempo and finishing with nothing left in the tank. I just didn’t run slow, ever ! The first few runs I ran at a slow pace I was questioned on Stava by my running friends as to whether I was injured, such was the disbelieve that I could run anything bar sub 4min/k’s. I must admit the first few times it felt alien and I had to really work hard to run slow. Raf introduced me to the Maffetone training method ( https://philmaffetone.com , I have mentioned this a few times on the blog.) and I was off building my foundation for the success which was to come in 2016.
Fast forward to the Perth marathon of 2016 and I just about ran a negative split and was 2 minutes quicker than the previous year. (You can read the post regarding Perth 2016 on my new website http://www.fitfastfifty.com ; http://fitfastfifty.com/index.php/2017/01/25/perth-marathon-2016/ ) After Perth I added the double days and the PB’s came tumbling down and my confidence returned in spades. I managed to drop my 5k, 10k, 16k,21k and 50k PB times and by quite a chunk each time. So how did I do it ? Basically I slowed down, ran more and raced more. It really was (is) that simple. Taking what Raf taught me, reading Matt Fitzgerald’s books and a sprinkling of Maffetone added to the mix and hey presto.
Thanks to Strava (in Strava we trust) you can see how this slowing down is trending on my 10k go-to run of choice. (see below) Over time you can clearly see my running average pace for the 10k is slowing but in the same period I have ran probably 10 PB’s, so there is a correlation of slowing down to speeding up when you put a bib on your chest. Of course I have added distance and more time on my feet into the equation, combined with racing more but the slowing down is a factor.
It really is a case of slowing down to speed up.
Why Running Harder Won’t Help You Get FasterIn the vocabulary of a runner, patience is a dirty word. Runners always want to run faster, run more miles, and crush their personal bests and they want it now. To be more accurate, they wanted it yesterday.
I know I felt this way before I donned my coaching cap. I wasn’t satisfied with a workout unless I needed to be carried off the track and was forced to spend the rest of the day passed out on the couch. That was dedication. Surely, this is what it took to be the best runner I could be.
Unfortunately, this mindset couldn’t be more wrong.
Not only did this way of thinking impact my short-term goals, thanks to all-to-frequent injuries and bouts of overtraining, but as you’ll learn in this article, it likely affected my long-term progress as well.
As I’ve matured as a runner and changed my perspective on training as a coach, I’ve come to fully appreciate and value the art of patience. This shift in mindset wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight. Hopefully, with the help of some hard, scientific data and a sprinkling of anecdotal evidence, this article can accelerate your maturation as a runner and help you achieve your goals.
Finish a workout feeling like you could have done more
This is a phrase you’ll hear from any running coach worth his or her salt. As elite coach Jay Johnson espouses to his athletes, “you should be able to say after every one of your workouts that you could have done one more repeat, one more segment or one more mile.”
Coach Jay doesn’t just pay this rule lip service. He’s known for cutting workouts short when an athlete looks like they’re over that edge. It’s one of the reasons his athletes continue to perform and improve consistently, year after year.
Now, thanks to recent research published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, we have the scientific data to prove what good coaches have known for so many years. Patience pays off. (side note – thank you to Alex Hutchinson for first alerting me to this study through his blog)
In this study, one group of athletes performed a series of workouts at near maximum intensity for twelve weeks. The researchers then had another group perform the same type of workouts (same repeat distance and same amount of rest) yet at a much more moderate intensity.
The results. The high intensity group improved rapidly, recording an increase in VO2 max 30 percent higher than the moderate group after three weeks.
Well, that doesn’t seem to support our theory that patience pays off, does it?
Luckily, the researchers went a step further and recorded changes to VO2 max for six, nine and twelve weeks under the same training methodology. This is where the results get truly interesting.
After nine weeks, the high intensity group’s improvements in VO2 max were only 10 percent greater than the moderate group. More importantly, after 9 weeks, the high intensity group stopped improving and after 12 weeks showed the same level of improvement to VO2 max as the moderate group.
Clearly, this research shows that while you’ll see rapid improvements from running workouts as hard as you can in the first few weeks, this improvement curve will level off and running at moderate intensity levels will produce equal, if not better, long-term results.
Of course, like all studies, this research has it’s flaws. Mainly, both groups performed the same workouts for twelve weeks, which means the same stimulus was being applied with each session. However, I’d also point out that when training for 5k or marathon for 12 weeks, the workouts won’t vary much. Sure, the workouts will look different, 12 x 400 meters at 3k pace versus 6 x 800 meters at 5k pace, but you’re still training the same energy system.
Regardless, the data supports what good coaches have known for years.
Consistent, moderate workouts will trump a few weeks of hard, gut-busting workouts every time.
But I want to improve faster
Of course, looking at that data, most runners would still choose the high intensity approach. If the end result after 12 weeks is the same, why not make the fitness gains faster the first three to six week?
Not covered in this particular research study was the impact of injuries and overtraining on potential improvement curve and long-term progress.
It’s not surprising, and it’s been supported by numerous research studies and anecdotal examples, that increased intensity is correlated with higher injury risk. Meaning, the harder (faster) you train, the more likely it is you’ll get injured.
The problem I encounter with many runners who try to workout too hard is the injury cycle, which inhibits long-term progress because for every two steps forward, you take one step back.
Using a similar graph to the one provided in the research study, let’s examine the long-term consequences of always pushing your workouts as hard as you can versus running moderate and always feeling like you could have done more.
While the actual improvement data in the image is fictional, it is based off the data from the actual study representing improvement curve. The difference is that I’ve extended the training period to ten months and factored in injuries and potential overtraining. This graph accurately represents my experience with trying to run every workout as hard as I could and the vast data I’ve collected working as a coach for the past eight years.
As you can see, the high intensity runner speeds out of the gait and is far ahead of the moderate intensity runner after a few weeks. However, it doesn’t take long before the high intensity runner suffers his or her first injury and is setback a week or two. No worries, with just a few weeks of high intensity training, they are back ahead of the slow plodding moderate intensity runner. However, this cycle continues to repeat itself until the high intensity runners is far behind the consentient, steady performer.
More importantly, after 42 weeks, the high intensity runner is at a point that they can no longer make up the difference in fitness simply by training hard for a few weeks.
They will continue to struggle to reach their potential until they finally learn to run their workouts at a moderate level and train to their current level of fitness.
Don’t be the high intensity runner. Learn from the mistakes of countless runners before you, the research and scientific data, and the wisdom of coaches who know their stuff.
I seem to be going through a ‘writers block’ stage in my blogging career at the moment and this has coincided with a period of ‘lost mojo’ running wise. Needless to say I’m not a very happy runner. Today I was beaten back by the heat on my lunchtime run and thought I’d pen a few words about the experience. Due to my writers block I have decided to recycle a post from 2016 so there is a good chance most of you didn’t read this the first time around. It’s worth a revisit even if you were lucky to read the original by the way. My posts, like a good wine, get better with age.
In Perth at the moment we are heading towards summer and believe me when I say in Perth we get a summer big time ! Living in what is essentially a desert does have it’s advantages. For nine months of the year I consider the climate to be just about perfect for running. A reasonable temperature with little humidity and even less rain. When it does rain it feels like a warm shower compared to the horizontal ‘take out your eyes’ sleet I use to experience in the Scottish summers I came from. (Apparently it’s worse in winter but I never found out as it was too dark , too cold and too damn dangerous to ever wonder outside.) When Summer does arrive you can still run in good conditions you just need to adjust your day. You need to awake at first light and race the sunrise before the Perth sauna is turned on and anyone found outside understands what it feels like to be cooked in a microwave. If you’re lucky you may get a reprieve in the late evening but when summer comes a calling you may only get that small pre-sunrise window of opportunity.
Runners though like to run and not be dictated to by temperature or season, thus sometimes they just put on the trainers regardless and brave the elements; after first bathing in suntan crème. When you are faced with anything over 30c it’s time to rethink your run. Pace needs to go out the window and in comes survival and damage limitation. Believe me I’ve been there when you’re halfway through a 10k loop and suddenly realise you’re dehydrated and the body has had enough. It’s not pleasant and it always happens when you are at your furthest from any help. (Funny that?) It’s at times like these you need to just knuckle down and plough on, albeit slowly with walk breaks if needed. The most important thing is getting back to the start in one piece without doing to much damage, both mentally and physically.
So what’s the answer ? Running in the heat can improve your running and even make you stronger but there are certain aspects of your run that need to be adapted. As well as running slower you must also be fully hydrated, common sense I know but still worth highlighting. This hydration process is also best started the day before the run and continued up to the run and while running, and of course afterwards. Basically drink, a lot ! I would also recommend electrolytes rather than just water , it all helps.
For me in Perth at the moment I’m out the door and running by 4:50am and although that may sound early the rewards so outweigh the early start. I get to see the sunrise every morning and also enjoy the solitude of the early morning. Everything is so much quieter and you really can bask in the new dawn. The downside of course is after I put my nine year old to bed I scuttle off to my bed myself to eagerly awake my alarm informing me I get to race the sunrise again . My Wife , who luckily is a night owl, gets her ‘Karen time’ so all is good in the Matthews household. (Spending too much time with my Wife always put a strain on the marriage. That was a joke by the way.!) So for summer move your waking day to the left and rise early, enjoy the morning before sneaking off to bed while most people are sitting down wasting their lives watching rubbish on TV and eating ‘crap’. You know it makes sense, I’ll see you out there.
Footnote. I took my own advice for a change and rather than put myself through the sauna that is lunch time running I waited until the evening and ran a pleasant 10k racing the sunset, after racing the sunrise this morning. Both glorious runs for different reasons and so much more pleasant than a lunch time run when I would have been battling the higher temperatures and returning to work looking I’d been swimming while wearing my work clothes. So, as pointed out in the articles below, you just need to choose your time wisely when it comes to running in heat, best to avoid it really but if it is unavoidable make the best of it.
I have found two great articles below that explain how running in the heat can help to improve ones running and with the right tweaks can also be as enjoyable as running in normal conditions.
One of the highest sweat rates ever recorded was that of marathon runner Alberto Salazar at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. In the months leading up to the games, which were expected to be oppressively hot, the marathoner was put through a regimen of temperature acclimation training with the goal of helping him adapt to running in the heat. While Salazar placed only 15th overall, the program was deemed a success, physiologically speaking—vitals taken after the race found that Salazar’s hormonal and thermoregulatory systems were completely normal. His body had compensated by causing him to sweat at an incredibly high rate—about three liters per hour, compared to the roughly one liter per hour for an average human.
Researchers have been looking at the effects of heat on athletic performance for decades, and their results have been consistently surprising. Studies have found that, in addition to an increased rate of perspiration, training in the heat can increase an athlete’s blood plasma volume (which leads to better cardiovascular fitness), reduce overall core temperature, reduce blood lactate, increase skeletal muscle force, and, counterintuitively, make a person train better in cold temperatures. In fact, heat acclimation may actually be more beneficial than altitude training in eliciting positive physiological adaptations, says Santiago Lorenzo, a professor of physiology at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and a former decathlete at the University of Oregon. “Heat acclimation provides more substantial environmental specific improvements in aerobic performance than altitude acclimation,” he says. And in contrast to the live low, train high philosophy, we more quickly adapt to heat stress than we do to hypoxia. In other words, heat training not only does a better job at increasing V02 max than altitude, but it also makes athletes better at withstanding a wider range of temperatures.
Athletes can adapt to heat in one of two ways. The first is through incremental improvements in tolerance over time—work out in the heat a little bit every day, and eventually your body will dissipate heat more effectively. The second way is through thermotolerance, which is a cellular adaptation to an extreme heat experience, like suffering such severe dehydration after a run that you need an IV. Essentially, if you shock your system, your body will be able to withstand greater temperature stresses later on. But successful heat adaptation is difficult—and clearly dangerous—to achieve outside of controlled settings. Lorenzo explains that performance gains are possible only when athletes elevate their core body temperature, and without careful monitoring, it’s possible to elevate your core temperature to lethal levels.
When performed safely, however, heat training can have extraordinary effects. This phenomena fascinates Chris Minson, a professor of human physiology at the University of Oregon, who studies heat acclimation responses in athletes. According to his research, heat training can expand blood plasma volume, but Minson says there also seem to be inexplicable changes to the heart’s left ventricle, which helps to increase oxygen delivery to the muscles. In addition, he says that athletes who train in warm temperatures generally get better at regulating heat by sweating earlier, as Salazar did, or developing a colder resting body temperature.
A 2011 study by a group of researchers in New Zealand also found that overall volume of blood plasma increased at a greater rate when athletes did not drink water during exercise. While some coaches are carefully experimenting with dehydration, Minson and Lorenzo are not because it adds too much additional stress. However, they do say that this type of training can be beneficial because it produces a higher number of “heat shock” protein cells.
Ahead of Western States this June, ultrarunning coach Jason Koop worked on heat training with Amanda Basham and eventual winner Kaci Leckteig. Koop believes this type of acclimating is a good example of blending an academic concept with real-world training. But, says Koop, “at a certain level, you have to compromise training quality for the heat acclimation. Acclimating to the heat is additional stress [on the body], just like more miles or intervals, so you can’t simply pile it on. Something on the training side has to give.”
One method of heat acclimation that Minson uses with his athletes is to do hard workouts on colder days or earlier in the morning, and then start training in hotter conditions with less intensity. He is also looking into adding heat in ways that wouldn’t require an athlete to train in high temperatures at all—using hot tubs, for instance.
All this being said, not everyone responds to heat at the same rate or with the same physiological gains, which makes it similar to altitude training in that it might make a high-performing age grouper, college athlete, or elite a little better, but it won’t compensate for intelligent, consistent training.
How to Incorporate Heat Acclimation into Your Training Schedule
When acclimating to heat, you’ll be forced to compromise training quality, says Koop. While he understands the benefits of heat acclimation, he still prioritizes smart, solid training. But if you want to incorporate heat into your workouts, here’s how he recommends doing it safely.
First, pick a protocol (sauna, hot bath, or exercising in the heat) that minimizes the impact on training, both physically and logistically.
Koop most commonly recommends that his athletes use a dry sauna immediately after running. “It doesn’t impact training nearly as much as running in the heat, and the effects are similarly positive,” he says. He often tells his athletes to not drink water during these sessions to enhance the effect. Koop recommends spending 20-to-30-minutes in the sauna, depending on tolerance.
Koop says that when he has his athletes exercise in the heat—either naturally or by wearing extra clothing to simulate the experience—it will be on a long, slow day for 60 to 90 minutes. The time completely depends on the athlete’s tolerance and previous experience. But he stresses to not do this on a recovery day, because heat training is an added stress on the body. Koop recommends drinking 30 to 40 ounces of an electrolyte drink per hour during these sessions And for safety, he advises using low-traffic sidewalks and bike paths—not trails.
Despite the benefits of heat training, Koop reminds his athletes that running in the heat is extremely difficult and usually replaces a hard day. “You are substituting one potential gain for another one,” he says. In other words, use it carefully
One more article , this time by Jason Fitzgerald from Strength Training. ( http://strengthrunning.com/about/ ) A great read.
Summer training ain’t easy. With skyrocketing temperatures, high humidity, and scorching sun it can feel like it’s impossible to get in a good run.
A long run or fast workout is hard enough. What about a RACE? Like a friend of mine always says: In the heat, I don’t compete!
Even if you just run easy and skip the hard workouts, how are you even supposed to just feel good when running in the heat and humidity of summer?
In the last few weeks, the runners I coach have said some funny things about running in the heat. My favorite:
“I just got back from my 8-miler, and it was BRUTAL. I couldn’t do the workout… my body just isn’t ready for 90 degrees “feels like 95” at 6pm. I just tried to repeat to myself “I LOVE SUMMER!” while also being glad I wasn’t jumping over piles of snow.”
Training well through the heat and humidity of summer takes a careful approach that combines timing, gear, and an understanding of why exactly it’s so damn hard to run in the heat in the first place.
But of course, it will still be tough. A few weeks ago at the Heartbreak Hill Festival put on by Runner’s World, I was talking to another runner about a race she ran in Miami. She was lucky to meet Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan (two pro distance runners), who told her: “I’ll take running at altitude over running in Miami any day!”
Even the pros hate summer running!
Instead of complaining about how difficult it is to run in the heat, let’s see how we can make the best of it. And maybe even make the fall our fastest season yet.
Why is it So Hard to Run in the Heat?
If you’ve read Christopher McDougall’s fantastic book Born to Run, you’ll remember that humans are amazing endurance animals for a host of reasons. We have:
A huge Achilles tendon that produces a significant energy return while running.
A (mostly) hairless body and highly evolved sweat system
Big butts. I cannot lie: according to Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman, our glutes are “running muscles”
A special ligament that attaches the spine to the skull and keeps our head from bobbing as we run
Can you guess which adaptation here is impacted by running in the summer? It’s our incredible sweat system.
Perspiration helps cool us off because as our sweat evaporates from your skin, it takes heat with it. But when humidity rises, it reduces your body’s evaporation rate because there’s already so much water in the air. Soon, you feel overheated and have to slow down.
If you live in an arid place like Colorado where the humidity is low, a hot summer day can still wreak havoc on your training for two important reasons.
First, the dry air evaporates sweat from your body almost as quickly as you’re producing it so you can become dehydrated much more quickly. If you start a run slightly dehydrated or run long without any fluids, your performance will significantly decrease (and you’ll feel like death).
As you become more and more dehydrated throughout a run, your heart needs to work harder to pump your blood because it’s becoming thicker (among a few other reasons too). This is called cardiac drift: your heart rate increases over the course of a run even when the intensity stays the same.
Let’s not also forget the heat and sun, both of which increase your core body temperature. As soon as you start getting too warm, running will feel much more difficult. Your “Rate of Perceived Exertion” (RPE) will increase even if you’re running a pace that’s usually comfortable.
Less evaporation because of higher humidity levels, increased chance of dehydration, and a higher core body temperature means that you’ll have to run slower to maintain the same effort. An unfortunate reality of summer training.
The Dangers of Running in the Heat
This article isn’t meant to scare you. After nearly 16 years of competitive racing and running in the heat and humidity of New England and the mid-Atlantic states, I’ve never been seriously affected by the heat in any meaningful way. Neither has any of my teammates in college and high school – and we raced and ran very tough workouts in brutal temperatures sometimes.
But that doesn’t mean the dangers aren’t real. If you run too hard at noon in July, you might experience some type of heat illness. Here’s what you need to know so you can avoid these setbacks.
Heat Cramps: muscle spasms that are caused by large fluid and electrolyte losses from sweating. They can occur while exercising but also hours after your run. No need to worry, they’re not serious – but make sure you stay hydrated and get enough electrolytes with sports drinks or fruit like bananas.
Severe dehydration: we’re all familiar with dehydration. Up to a 4% loss in fluid levels from exercise is still safe, but any more than that and you may experience dizziness, fatigue, and even mental disorientation.
Prevent this level of dehydration by starting your run already hydrated (your pee should be a straw color) and replacing your lost fluids as soon as you finish running. You can figure out exactly how much fluid you’ve lost by weighing yourself before and after a hot run.
Heat Exhaustion: if you work out too hard in the heat, you may come down with heat exhaustion – a case of dehydration, headache, nausea, and a core body temperature of up to 104 degrees. It’s much more common in runners who aren’t adapted to the heat.
If you think you have heat exhaustion, stop running, get out of the sun, and cool down with a cold drink and preferably air conditioning. And next time, run earlier in the day!
Heat Stroke: Danger! Heat stroke is very serious since your core body temperature is probably over 105 degrees. Symptoms include disorientation with clumsiness, confusion, poor balance, and a lack of sweating. Immediate medical attention is required where you’ll be cooled with a cold bath, air conditioning, and cold liquids.
At the 1978 Falmouth Road Race, Alberto Salazar (two-time winner of the NYC Marathon) suffered heat stroke and collapsed at the finish line after fading to the 10th place. He was rushed to the hospital with a temperature of 107 (!) degrees and read his last rites in a tub of ice water. He recovered and went on to become one of the greatest coaches our sport has ever seen.
7 Tips to Beat the Heat
The heat of summer isn’t the time to run your hardest workout and biggest mileage weeks – unless you’re super careful.
Run by effort, not pace. Running in the heat is the perfect opportunity to work on the skill of running by feel. Instead of strictly following pace targets that you might normally follow, run by time and effort rather than distance and pace.
Run early. There’s no perfect time to run in the heat of summer. But the early morning hours offer the lowest temperatures and a break from the strongest hours of sunlight (even though the humidity will be at its highest).
Get off the roads! Asphalt and concrete absorb heat and radiate it back onto your poor, wilting body. The summer months are a good time to try more trail running. Bonus: you have to run a little slower on trails which will keep you slightly cooler and trails are usually shaded. Win-win.
Adjust your expectations. If the National Weather Service issues a heat advisory (when the Heat Index, a score that reflects a combination of both heat and humidity, is over 105 degrees) running fast or long will be difficult and dangerous.
Even if there’s no heat advisory, remember why it’s so hard to run like you normally do in summer weather. Maintain the same effort and don’t sweat the slower paces (see what I did there?).
Don’t wear dark colors or cotton. Gear matters in extreme conditions so dress appropriately! Synthetic fabric like polyester is used in most running gear these days – use it.
Start your run hydrated (and keep hydrating). Even though hydration has been overemphasized in the last decade (see Waterlogged by Dr. Tim Noakes), it’s important to hydrate well before and after your run. Unless you’re running more than 75-90 minutes, you probably don’t need to take any water with you. But learn what works for you.
Plan your run around water. I never carry any fluid with me on a run – even a 20 miler in the summer. Instead, I run by fountains in public parks where I can swig some water and stay hydrated. If you live in a dry climate, running through sprinklers can help you stay cool, too. And who doesn’t love frolicking through a sprinkler?
Running in the Heat Has Its Advantages!
With all the whining we do about summer training, it actually makes you a better runner. Running in the heat causes our body to acclimatize to the conditions and adapt:
Your body gets better at sending blood from your core to your skin, helping to dissipate heat
With all that blood rushing to your skin, your muscles now get less oxygenated blood. So to compensate, your body produces more (who needs blood doping?!)
The body learns to control its core temperature and it won’t increase as much after you’ve acclimatized
You start sweating sooner at a lower body temperature to improve the cooling process
Sweat contains less salt so you maintain the right electrolyte balance
All these adaptations improve your efficiency and make you ready to run even faster as soon as the heat and humidity drop in the fall. So embrace the heat and run through it!
Then again, there’s some evidence that suggests that summer training is difficult because you think it will be difficult.
Yeah, tell me that after I shuffle home from a track workout in the sun and I might throw you out of my living room window.
But, it’s useful to know that at least some of the drudgery of running in the heat is because of our brain. It may present a good opportunity to “train your brain” to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
When you do, you’ll be in a good position to run a lot faster this fall. Take advantage of the physical AND mental adaptations you’ve gained from a summer of uncomfortable running.
You might just surprise yourself at what you’re able to run in a few months
This week I have been adding Elliptigo time to my training schedule for a number of reasons. One, the extra cardio time is surely better than sitting on a train commuting to work daily. Two , the Elliptigo is probably the nearest to running without the impact , thus avoiding injuries while still adding distance and finally it may look ‘unusual’ but I tell you what it is so much fun. I was lucky enough this week to be blessed with a strong easterly wind which was perfect for the morning commute as the head wind made the journey even harder, after an initial 10k run to warm me up. (on these muggy Perth summer mornings!). Of course with all things running if you add time and distance you eventually need to pay then piper for the privilege. Payment was called for Friday after a ‘quad‘ day on Thursday i.e. a 10k run in the morning followed by 15k ellipitgo ride into a strong headwind . Lunchtime was a 10k run with my work colleague and aspiring sub 3 marathon runner, Sascha, in a cauldron of heat and humidity and finally the commute home into another headwind. ( how does that happen?) Needless to say at 7pm I’m asleep on the couch before my 10 year old daughter weeks me to inform me the dogs need walking, joy ! After stumbling around the park in the dark I hit the bed totally and utterly knackered ! Time for one of my favourite Brendan Foster quotes…not sure if young Brendan had an Elliptigo in the seventies, probably a Grifter or a Chopper . (Note: you would need to be in you late forties or early fifties to appreciate that last statement !)
Right back to the point of the post, Friday and there was no way I was cycling to work for a fourth time. I scuttled off to the sanctity of the bus and train combination and into Panache Cafe on St. Georges Terrace for a Banana and Walnut bread , Cappuccino morning breakfast. The temperature didn’t look too bad with an overcast day for a change. (In Perth it is normally sunny, a lot and in Summer it is constant for months and months, I know this sounds incredible but with all things familiarity breeds contempt and I long for rain !) Unfortunately once I got outside I realised this was not going to be the comfortable recovery run in ideal conditions I was contemplating. It seemed the temperature had creept up to the low thirties and the humidity was going in the same direction. Add in tired legs and my appetite for the lunch time run was dissolving quicker than a chocolate cornetto in a heat wave. So finally I get to the point of the post. The first kilometre was a struggle as I stumbled (and that’s being nice.) down towards ‘stinky lake’ , a circuit of about 900m give or take. This was my run of choice as it gave me the option to bottle early and return to the air conditioned haven of work if needed, as I said before I was not enjoying the run. Anyhow after a first kilometre of just over 5min/k I decided to try and increase my pace slowly for a kilometre or two and try and work into the run rather than abandon at the 2k mark. After 3k I felt a second wind of sorts and made my mind up to increase the pace for another 2k to at least give me a good work out for 5k and maybe test some fast with muscles that hadn’t been used for a few weeks. Thus I ended up doubled up, destroyed, with a nice 5k progressive under my belt. Mission accomplished you would think but no thought I , that actually wasn’t that bad so after a couple of minutes rest the Garmin (and Strava , remember in Strava we trust.. http://www.strava.com ) was reset and I decided to repeat the 5k progressive but this time starting faster and hopefully finishing faster. This was achieved finishing with a sub 3:30min/k and the feeling you get when you have nothing more to give. As I crawled back to work I reflected on what had become a great session, 2 * 5k progressive runs, back-to-back, in some serious brutal conditions with some testing time in the VO2 /threshold zone. What a difference to 50 minutes earlier when I was contemplating pulling the pin at 600m scuttling back to work with ,my tail between my legs.
The moral of this post is you need to ignore the first few kilometres and work into any training run and then ,if you need to, on-run (excuse the pun) make adjustments due to conditions (for me a brutal Perth Summer’s day) and/or general fatigue. The Kenyans are past masters at this and although they have regimented training programs if they feel they cannot achieve a set run on a set day that don’t, the run is either discarded or attempted later in the day/week. They run by feel and sometimes they don’t feel like running. I have just finished reading a book by Toby Tanser describing in detail how the Kenyans train and it certainly opened my eyes to ‘running by feel‘. The Kenyans seems to spend their whole life either running, eating or sleeping; there are no other distractions. This is a subject for another post but one of the major takes from the book was if you don’t feel like running then don’t.
One final thought for the day, would an Elliptigo work in Kenya ? It would certainly stand out probably, who knows maybe one day I’ll find out , now that would be a post worth writing……. until then I’ll stick to the Perth bike paths and chase down the native animals that live in this habitat, cacooned in multi-coloured lycra…..