A 20-Mile Confidence Boost & a Race This Weekend

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I’m in the thick of training for several races, the big one being the 40-mile Grand Traverse on September 1. Yesterday, 7/8, I completed my first 20-mile run for this project. I started with two miles out and back along the Burning Bear Trail then ran out and back on the Abyss Lake Trail for about 16 miles. Both trails are located along Guanella Pass between Georgetown and Grant, CO.

It was a pristine morning, cool and quiet. Rain fell sometime in the night. There were no crowds, just a few people at the start and a few more when I finished.

At this point in my training, I’ve accumulated a lot of miles and fatigue. I’m often sore (not injured, sore). My mood and enthusiasm for running are low some days. This isn’t a surprise. I’ve gone through it before.

I was intimidated going into this run. Last week I ran 17 miles and it was a nasty slog. (Forest fire smoke was a significant factor last week, not this week.) Twenty miles is a genuinely long run, even if I’ve been hovering near that distance for a while.

I finished surprisingly strong on this run. I wasn’t beat up, beat down, or overly brutalized. Tired, yes but not dead. This was a breakthrough run for me. This was a huge confidence boost for me as I head into the Under Armor Copper Mt. 25k.

I believe one of the reasons I felt so good is that I took three acetaminophen tablets at Abyss Lake, a little further than halfway through the excursion. I’ve used acetaminophen on several long runs after I read about the performance-enhancing effects of the drug discussed in Endure by Alex Hutchinson and in this Runner’s World post by Amby Burfoot. (Yes, it’s a drug. Yes, I took it. Call the cops if you want.) I’ve taken two tablets in the past. I’m big, about 200 lbs., so I thought I’d take a little more and observe the effects. I don’t intend to take more. I will continue the acetaminophen consumption on my long runs.

Ft. Collins Half-Marathon Report

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What things in life are good? 13.1 miles, a full squat & a full beer.

This past Sunday I had the pleasure of running the Colorado Half-Marathon in Ft. Collins, CO.  My official results are as follows:

  • Final time: 01:47:26 at a 00:08:12 pace.
  • Overall place: 204 out of 1529 in the HALF MARATHON.
  • Division placing: 13 out of 68 in class M35-39.

I’m not too terribly disappointed in those results.  I came in in the top 20% of my age group and top 13% overall.  That sounds kinda cool… Makes me think I could actually be competitive.  Too bad they don’t do standings by weight class.  I wonder how I did among men in the 200 lbs. range?  I know I could’ve done better though if I’d been a little smarter.  More on that in a moment.

Early morning & a perfect day

I couldn’t have asked for better racing weather.  It was dry, clear and temps were somewhere in the low 40s at the start.  Cold but perfect for a vigorous run.  The pre-race meal consisted of some Bulletproof coffee and a bit of beet/celery/apple/cucumber/kiwi/kale juice.  About a half-hour before the race I had an old-fashioned Powerbar which always seems to agree with me.

Start time was 6:30 am.  Getting up at 4:30-ish was a little tough but being that I get up early most days, it wasn’t anything freakish.  Racers boarded buses for a ride up along the Poudre River to the start.  The scenery was typical of Colorado’s Front Range: mountainous, beautiful and powerful.

The race: I’ll be smarter next time.

My goal time was 1:47 and change. I did in fact hit my goal time so that’s fine, but the course was a fast course and I thought I could finish faster.  (Maybe 1:45? Sounds like a nice almost-round and realistic number.) The big issue is I started off too fast. Every runner who’s ever raced more than one race has done this.  The results always confirm that we are just as human as everyone else.  No matter how good you feel at the start of a race you’re not going to feel that good at the end.  Hold back.  Feel like you’re going slow at the start so you can maintain speed at the end.  Lesson learned (again.)

I planned on running with a pace group.  There was a 1:40 group and a 1:50 group.  I started with the 1:40 group with the idea that I’d stay with them just a little while, slow a bit and maintain my goal pace of 8:11/mile.  Bottom line, it didn’t work out exactly.  I slowed down near the end.  If I had it to do over–which I will–I would’ve maintained even splits the whole time. Fortunately, there was beer at the end which in all truth may not be the ideal post-workout/race recovery drink but it still takes a special prize.  To paraphrase Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now: “I love the taste of cold suds in the morning.  Tastes like…. I ran 13.1 miles.”

The final word

I have great affection this race. Ft. Collins is a delightful place and I love going there for any reason. If you get a chance to run this race, do it.  (There’s a marathon, half-marathon, 10k and 5k–a distance for everyone.) Register early though because the marathon and half- fill up fast.

It’s tempting to think about running the marathon, but training for a spring marathon during the Colorado winter sounds less-than-enjoyable.  I’ll have to think on it.

 

Ski Haus Continental Divide Trail Race Outcome

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I ran the big Continental Divide Trail Race on Saturday and I didn’t come in last. It was on the rough side of brutal (my feet feel like they spent the weekend in Guantanamo Bay) but I’m fairly content with my performance. That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The good

It’s been less than a year since I’ve returned to serious running. I finished in the top half of the participants and middle of the pack for men. (Results weren’t broken down by age group.) This is nothing spectacular but it makes me happy. I simply couldn’t have run this race at all a year ago.

I ran for almost three hours which is well into marathon-time territory. I’ve never done that. That’s good. I bet I can do it again.

Also, the race included a very long downhill stretch near the end (about 3000 ft.!) and my legs held up. Downhill running is typically very strenuous on the muscles. I’m not saying it was easy but I held up and I haven’t been unduly sore since the race. I think I hit it right with my strength program.

My only pain issues were in my metatarsal heads (the part of my toes that attach to my feet; more on that in a moment.) No Achilles pain. No heel pain. No back pain. No knee pain. No hip pain. Don’t call me “bulletproof,” but maybe… “bullet-resistant.” I’ve worked years to overcome chronic pain and I’m on the winning side.

The bad

By far the biggest negative to this race was some severe metatarsal pain, particularly on my left foot and to some degree on my right. (Specifically, we’re talking about metatarsal head pain. The met heads are the part of your toes that meet the feet. Think of the knuckles of your feet.) Holy s__t those things hurt!! And they hurt for quite a while. They’re still sore as I type this. By the end of the race I thought those bones must’ve popped through the soles of my feet. I’ve got to find a solution to this issue before the marathon.

Without going way too much into it, I’ve been reading Anatomy and Biomechanics of the First Ray to get a better feel for what’s supposed to happen and what can happen in the toe neighborhood. Further, I’ve been reading and learning more about Morton’s Toe, including the possible implications and what to do about them. This is a situation in which the 2nd toe is longer than the big toe. Wow… There’s potentially a lot to this issue. For now, I’m experimenting with a Morton’s Toe shim. I’ll probably write more about this issue in the near future. (If you’re experiencing foot pain and your 2nd toe is longer than your big toe, you may well want to look into this Morton’s Toe business. In addition to the links above, the Barefoot Runners Society has a whole discussion board devoted to the matter.)

I should’ve fueled better. I consumed two Honey Stinger gels and one package of Honey Stinger chews. Based on my weight, I should’ve had about two more gels or another package of chews. The race featured a lot of repeated ascents, some of them were quite steep. Then we had a long downhill run to the finish. I was more tired near the end than I expected, though I didn’t bonk. Not that I expected to feel fresh as a daisy, but I have no doubt that more fuel in the tank would have ameliorated some of my weariness. Lesson learned.

The near future

I’m taking it somewhat easy this week. I’m probably only running twice–easy runs with my dog–and possibly a little mountain biking this weekend. Then next week it’s back to work. I’m going to use the FIRST marathon plan. I really like the three-day per week plan. I’ve ordered Run Faster, Run Less which is written by the team that formulated the quality-over-quantity scheme. Assuming my tender toes are up for it, I’m looking forward to a track workout next Tuesday, a tempo run then a long run next weekend.

I’ve got the Park-to-Park 10 Miler on Labor Day.  This is a fun, scenic race and it’s local so the logistics are easy.  Then in a month is my Moby Dick.  I’m planning on running the Denver Rock’n’Roll Marathon.  I’ve wanted to run a marathon for years.  My injuries have gotten in the way.  Now I’m winning the battle and I’m ecstatic to be within striking distance of the event.

Finally, as part of the marathon preparation, I’m going to start doing group runs with the Boulder Running Co. located in the Denver Tech Center.  They do group runs on Saturday mornings. Group runs should do a couple of things for me.  First, I’ll be pushed to run harder.  That’s good. Also, suffering through long runs with other similarly suffering individuals should help the miles go by a little easier.

My Running & Strength Program

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I’ve got a trail race coming up this weekend in Steamboat Springs. It’s the Ski Haus Continental Divide Trail Race. It’s 15 miles with 4800 ft. of elevation. This is the longest race I’ve ever run and it’s by far the longest race I’ve run in over two years–and I’m hugely excited about the prospect. It’s going to be reasonably brutal but beautiful and fun.

I feel like I’m fairly well prepared. I’ve used a modified version of the FIRST half-marathon program. It’s a three-day per week program that uses speed work on the track, tempo or moderately fast runs, and long slow runs. I’ve also been strength training twice per week. The main feature of my workouts have been various types of jumping. A notable Finnish study has shown that explosive jumping-type movements improve running economy in a way that simply running will not.  (I’ve written previously about strength work for runners, here and here.)

(Jumping work like this is sometimes called plyometrics. The definition may vary depending who’s doing the defining. Some insist that plyos must be a rather high magnitude type of activity such as depth jumps off of a high box. Simply jumping or bounding from the ground doesn’t necessarily count as true plyometrics. In any event, the stuff I’m doing for this workout plan involves jumping. You can decide whether or not to call this jumping a plyometric workout.)

I based my plan loosely on this one from the Running Times. I added work each week for three weeks. Plans of this type vary in nature. The Finnish study involved a 9-week plan. The Running Times plan was a 6-week plan.

Plyo workouts are very intense and there’s a lot of loading on the muscles and connective tissue. For this reason it’s very easy to quickly overload things and become overtrained or injured. Further, my run plan involves both track workouts and hill workouts. Those type of workouts are in some ways similar to plyometric workouts and they can be quite taxing. For these reasons and because I know that more work doesn’t always equal better work, I opted for a 5-week plan. I didn’t want to grind myself up too much. Going forward, I may try a longer plyo plan.

Jumping exercises:

  • Week 1:
    • 2 leg jumps up from the ground 2 x 10 reps for both workouts.
    • I simply focused on jumping as high as I could into the air and then landed as softly as possible with as little noise as possible.
    • The soft-as-possible landing approach was used on all jumping exercises.
  • Week 2:
    • 2-leg box jumps x 6 reps
    • Workout 1 is 3 sets
    • Workout 2 is 2 sets
    • First week was onto and off of a 1-ft. high box.
    • Following weeks were onto and off of a 2-ft. high box.
  • Week 3:
    • 2-leg box jumps x 6 reps
    • 1-leg hops onto and off of a small box x 10 reps each leg
    • Workout 1 is 3 sets
    • Workout 2 is 2 sets
  • Week 4:
    • 2-leg box jumps x 6 reps
    • 1-leg hops across a basketball court
    • 2-leg long jump across a basketball court
    • Workout 1 is 4 sets
    • Workout 2 is 2 sets
  • Week 5: Taper week–this week!

I’m backing off my workload this week in order to allow all my previous hard work to take hold. I wasn’t sure at the start of this plan whether or not I’d do any plyos this week. Doing more work this week definitely won’t improve my race performance by much if any. Doing too much work this week can definitely have a negative impact on my race.

Barbell clean & press: Lifting weight overhead is known as a press. Before the bench press became popular in the 70s, the press was the original weight exercise that indicated your manhood.  To get the weight overhead, one must bring the weight from the ground to the shoulders or clean the weight.  The ability to do these things is tremendously useful, fun and generally wonderful. My goal is to clean and press my body weight (200 lbs.). This exercise may have no effect at all on my running. That’s fine with me.

  • Workout one is 3×5 reps. Most recently I used 100 lbs.
  • Workout two is heavier at 3×3 reps.
  • Taper week is only one workout.

Pistol squat: The pistol is an interesting exercise. It’s essentially a squat on one leg. They’re nearly impossible when you first try them, especially if you have long limbs like me. I’m doing them because running is a one-legged activity. Also, I’ve been doing a lot to get my glutes to work correctly. If your knee caves in on this exercise then the glute isn’t doing its job. I keep the knee aligned with the outside of my foot when I do these. This exercise works everything from the foot to the glutes and spine. I figure getting strong on one leg is a good idea.

  • Typically I did 3×3 reps. Other days I did double or singles.
  • I varied the exercise. I started by doing a short-range squat onto a high box, then working down to lower boxes then no box at all.
  • Right now I can do three good pistols on my right and two on my left. I’m fairly excited about my progress. I’ll add weight at some point.

Pull-ups/Chin-ups: What can you say? Pull-ups and chin-ups are very challenging. Done properly they are a tremendous upper body exercise. Hands, arms, shoulders, back and abs all get work here.

  • Workout one is about 4-5×5-6 reps
  • Workout two is 2-3×5-6 sets.
  • I superset most of these sets with the following exercise, the glute/ham raise.

Glute/ham raise (GHR): This one is a tough one to describe. This article describes it well. This is an essential assistance exercise used by Olympic lifters and powerlifters. Very strong people often do them, so why shouldn’t I? We don’t have a genuine GHR machine at my gym, so I’ve done a modified version. Similar to the article, I’ve hooked my feet under a pull-up machine. These are very very tough! So, I’ve used bands wrapped around the machine and myself to give me further assistance in doing the exercise.

You might wonder if a hamstring curl could provide the same benefits. Probably not. The GHR calls on the glutes, hamstrings and abs to contract together. This is similar to how we actually move when we run, jump or lift. In contrast, the hamstring curl isolates the hamstrings. This rarely if ever happens in typical human movement. Further, I’ve found hamstring curls promote overextension of the lumbar spine which is rarely a good thing.

  • Workout one is 3 x 8-12 reps
  • Workout two is 2 x 8-12 reps
  • I typically supersetted this with pull-ups.
  • I used different thicknesses of bands to provide either more or less assistance.

Kroc row: The “what?” The Kroc row is a slang term for a version of the one-arm dumbbell row. Read the linked article to get a full description. I’m doing this to 1) get a stronger upper back to help with my pressing and 2) build my grip for deadlifting which I will resume in the Fall.

  • Workout one is 3×12-15 reps depending on the weight
  • Workout two is 2×12-15 again depending on weight.
  • I superset this one with the ab rollout

Ab wheel rollout: You’ve seen the ab wheel on an infomercial. Doesn’t mean it’s not a very useful tool. This is a very good exercise to engage the external obliques and thus keep the pelvis in neutral. Keeping a neutral pelvis is very important in avoiding back pain. I know because I spent a lot of time not keeping my pelvis in neutral. Mike Boyle’s article dissects the ab wheel rollout very thoroughly.

  • Workout one is 3×5-6 reps
  • Workout two is 2×5-6 reps
  • I superset this with the Kroc row.

 


My Workouts These Days

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I’ve got strength goals and I’ve got endurance goals.  Right now I’m leaning toward the endurance goals.  I want to race the Run the Rocks 5k in October (my first race in two years).  I’ve also been mountain biking a lot and it’s been an enormous amount of fun.  Because of this I need to pull back on my lifting.

Overall, I’ll be doing less strength training and more endurance training.  I recognize that if I increase exercise stress in one direction, I’ll have to decrease it in another direction.  Otherwise I’ll very likely get injured and burnt out. What will this look like?

First, I’m going from lifting three days per week to only two per week. This will permit me to perform a higher volume of endurance work and I’ll be able to recover adequately. Next, I’ll change my goals. Previously I was working on strength and power.  Now, I’ll work on strength and strength-endurance.  My focus will be on the squat.  One workout I’ll do a 3×5 (possibly progressing to a 3×3) routine to increase my strength and the next workout I’ll do a 20-rep set for strength-endurance.  I still want to maintain my technique in the barbell clean, so that lift will remain in my workout, but at a reduced intensity and volume from before.  Sadly, I will eliminate my beloved deadlift for a while.  Finally, as an all over strengthener and a tremendous trunk exercise, the Turkish Get-Up will stay in my workouts every time.

News on Barefoot Running: Part I

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The cutting edge of running technology!

First of all, a disclaimer: I am NOT telling everyone to throw out their running shoes/inserts/orthotics and go barefoot to run all the time forever.  If you’re having success then keep doing what you’re doing.  I do however suggest reconsidering what you think you know about the human foot and the shoes we put on them.  If you’re in pain then you MIGHT consider changing from a highly structured foot environment to something less structured.  Alright, on to the important stuff.

The case against running shoes (or maybe FOR going barefoot from time to time) seems to be mounting. What we’ve got here is more evidence that for running, the human foot all by itself is likely the most highly advanced instrument for the job.

I’ve posted previously on the issue of running and human evolution, and the issue of running shoes vs. barefoot running.  Research continues on the issue.  An article in Science Daily titled Barefoot Running: How Humans Ran Comfortably and Safely Before the Invention of Shoes tells us of research on three groups of people: those who had always run barefoot, those who had always worn shoes, and those who had converted to barefoot running from shod running.  (This analysis of different types of runners is one strong point of the study.) Runners in Kenya and the U.S. were subjects.  The project was a joint effort between Harvard, University of Glasgow, and Moi University.  The full article can be accessed for a fee in the journal Nature.

The researchers observed very different patterns during barefoot running vs. shod running.  Barefoot runners land on the mid-foot or the forefoot whereas running in shoes tends to promote a heel strike.  Barefoot running results in a more spring-like step by utilizing the arch of the foot rather than driving the heel into the ground.

Our feet were made in part for running,” Daniel Lieberman (researcher) says. But as he and his co-authors write in Nature: “Humans have engaged in endurance running for millions of years, but the modern running shoe was not invented until the 1970s. For most of human evolutionary history, runners were either barefoot or wore minimal footwear such as sandals or moccasins with smaller heels and little cushioning.

The researchers suggest than in fact barefoot running may be less injurious than running in modern running shoes.  They caution that running barefoot or in minimal footwear must be a gradual process if one has been running in shoes for a long time.  Lieberman delves further into the biomechanics of barefoot running on his web page called (surprise!) Barefoot Running.  I haven’t read this site yet but I’m planning on digging into it ASAP.  Looks very interesting.

From what I’ve learned as a personal trainer I recognize the immense importance of properly functioning feet.  If you take a look at your feet and how much movement is available to those things you may be surprised.  There’s a lot of potential movement there!  Proper foot movement brings on proper knee movement which brings on proper hip movement which makes the trunk and the shoulders move properly.  Liberman observes that humans have been using their feet for far longer than the modern running shoe has been around.  In our modern age we’ve decided that much like our food, we’re going to out think nature and “improve” on something that’s worked well for a very long time.  But what happens when we put our feet in running shoes?  We start to take away movement.  We put a big piece of foam between us and the ground so that we desensitize our feet.  (Compare this to going to a movie in sunglasses or listening to music with earplugs in.)  In other words, we seriously alter something that’s been working pretty well for thousands of years.  This alteration in function is made even more dramatic if we use orthotics.  So it seems entirely likely to me that many cases of knee pain, hip pain, even shoulder and neck pain may well be rooted in what we’ve done to our feet.  At the very least, I think it’s worth examining the issue.  I’ll discuss more on the issues around barefoot vs. shod running in upcoming posts.

Ski Conditioning

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The ski season is very (VERY!  VERY!) close at hand and appropriate preparation is in order, so here’s a plan I put together.  Several capacities are key to good skiing performance: endurance, flexibility/mobility, strength/power, and power-endurance.

The periodized plan is composed of three four-week training blocks with each block separated by one week off.  The first two training blocks consist of three gym workouts per week.  The final block has two gym workouts per week.  The week off should allow for thorough rest and recuperation prior to beginning the next block.

Emphasis is placed on training a certain capacity in each block, but the other capacities are trained as well so that nothing is lost as the plan progresses.  For instance, though strength is emphasized in the first block, endurance and balance training also takes place.  The skiing performance capacities I’ve addressed and my thoughts on each are as follows:
1.    Endurance (already established over the summer through running and biking): I must have the endurance to stay on the mountain all day at altitude.  The endurance base will be maintained over the course of the plan.
2.    Strength: Skiing is very thigh-dominant thus I must have very strong legs to ski well.  A strong trunk and upper body is essential for powerful turns.
3.    Mobility/Stability (two sides of the same coin): Effective ski technique requires tremendous hip and leg mobility during turns, especially at high speeds.  While the legs and hips must be mobile, the trunk typically must be rock-solid and stable during turns.
4.    Power: Strength must be transfered to power.  It’s not enough to be strong and slow to ski well.  I must be able to express strength at high speeds.
5.    Power-endurance (Here’s where the training gets very specific to skiing.): Skiing requires one to be powerful over and over again for several minutes.  Then the skier typically gets a rest of several minutes while he or she rides back up to the top of the mountain.  So it’s not enough to be powerful once and then rest.

Here’s the plan:

  • Block 1: Strength & Mobility
    • Strength Day
      • front squat: 3-6 reps, 4-8 sets
      • bench press: 3-6 reps, 4-8 sets
      • face pull: 8-12 reps, 3-4 sets
    • Balance Day
      • single-leg squats from a box
        • heel reach forward
        • toe reach back
        • toe reach forward
        • rotational squat
      • single-leg bent over dumbbell row
      • single-arm overhead dumbbell press with frontal plane hip drive
    • Mobility Day
      • multi-directional lunges with varied arm drives
      • dips
      • rotating cable pulls from various angles
    • Endurance: running and biking throughout the week
    • One week off
  • Block 2: Power
    • Day 1
      • multi-planar jumps/hops: 6-10 reps, 3-4 sets
      • barbell clean to front squat: 3-5 reps, 4-6 sets
    • Day  2
      • Kettlebell swings: 8 reps, 3 sets
      • Kettlebell swipes or chops: 5-8 reps, 3 sets
    • Day 3
      • long jumps: 6 reps, 3 sets
      • dumbbell or barbell push press: 3-5 reps, 4-6 sets
    • Endurance: same as block one
    • One week off
  • Block 3: Power endurance
    Due to the high stress of these workouts, only two are performed per week.

    • Day 1:
      • barbell complex
      • clean
      • front squat
      • bent row
      • Romanian deadlift
      • floor press
      • followed by multi-planar jumps/hops
    • Day 2:
      • Kettlebell complex (may vary widely)
        • snatch
        • clean
        • chop
        • press
        • swing
      • running or rowing intervals