Tapering for the Ragnar Relay


The Ragnar Trail Relay is next weekend, June 9-10. My workouts are now getting a little easier and a little shorter. Runs will continue to ease up with the expectation that I will peak for the race, feel good, and perform my best.

The past four weeks have been very challenging. My coach has been prescribing longer runs and runs with specific hard-effort drills. Hard runs have been on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Easier efforts have been on Mondays and Saturdays with rest days on Wednesdays and Fridays.


It has been interesting to watch my heart rate variability (HRV) as my training has progressed. Briefly, HRV is used to measure training status. With HRV, I can see if I’m fully recovered and ready to train hard (green), somewhat fatigued and in need of a light workout (orange), or very fatigued and in need of rest (red).

The art of overreaching

Typically, one should adhere to the green/orange/red training recommendations shown by the HRV app. Most days it’s a good idea to train hard if one is fully recovered, to back off if one is tired, and to rest if one is very fatigued.

There are exceptions to most rules and HRV training rules are no different. Hard training when the HRV is orange or red may be useful if applied correctly. (Overreaching is the term used for this training strategy. This article discusses overreaching on the bike but the same concepts apply to any athletic endeavor.) I have definitely been in the orange and red more often these past few weeks.

As a big, general rule, I love trail running. It’s a meditative experience, and my time out in nature is a very exciting yet calming experience for me. Some might call it spiritual.

But with a sustained increase in training, not only have my HRV scores dropped, my attitude toward running has changed. I’m not as enthusiastic about it. I often look at a workout and I think, “Ehhhh? God… What?! Hill intervals on top of other hill intervals for how long? Who thought this was a good idea?

This shift in attitude is no surprise.Too much training, and too much hard training done for too long can result in overtraining, which is nothing anyone wants. Overtraining symptoms may include mental decline, weakness, sickness, and injury. Overtraining may take months and potentially years to overcome, and overtraining is partway down the road to death! Apathy is part of my nervous system’s way of protecting me.

I’ve experienced this diminished mental state in the past during hard training but it’s interesting to analyze it alongside both the coach-prescribed workouts I’m doing and the HRV readings.

With no interest in either dying or being overtrained, why would I want or need to overreach?

It’s because overreaching + adequate rest = bigger & better performance. With training, we dig a hole. We beat up the organism to a certain degree. We stress muscles, bones, connective tissue, the endocrine system, circulatory system, the mind, and the nervous system in general. If we rest adequately (taper) then we should see the organism rebound, get stronger and thus be able to perform at a high level. The diagram illustrates the idea.

This is how training is supposed to work.

This is how training is supposed to work.

The value of coaching

I feel that working with a coach has been invaluable in that she is guiding me safely through these rocky training waters. She’s had me work hard enough to realize significant fitness gains and she’s kept me from working too hard and becoming overtrained. She’s said several times that she wants the hard workouts to be so hard that the race is a piece of cake. After last Sunday’s 2.5- hour, 12.4-mile gruel-fest through Golden, CO, I can say that I believe I’m firmly on the right track and that the Ragnar Relay may actually feel like a jog in the park. Next weekend will give us the truth.

Summary of the NSCA Endurance Clinic: Day 1


Part of what I love about the Denver area is that it’s home to numerous very good athletes and coaches–particularly of the endurance variety. We’re also not far from Colorado Springs which is home to both the Olympic Training Center and the headquarters for the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA), one of the top certification bodies in the world of health, fitness and sports conditioning.

I was at the NSCA from last Friday to Sunday attending an endurance clinic. It was SUPERB! It far exceeded my already high expectations. All the speakers had volumes of valuable information. Not only did they present valuable academic information, they also told us how they applied this information in the trenches with their athletes. These guys weren’t just born as successful coaches. They’ve gone through a lot of trial, error and very hard work to get where they are. It’s very helpful to hear that type of information.

We didn’t just sit and listen though. Saturday and Sunday had us getting out on the field and into the performance center to learn about strength exercises, mobility drills, and plyometric drills. I got to meet a lot of my very capable peers and I got to work out in what is likely one of the top lifting facilities on earth. It was a fantastic weekend.

I’m going to give a rundown of some of the pearls of wisdom I collected on Day 1. I can’t do each presentation thorough justice, but I’ll try to highlight some of the most important things that I heard.  I’ll follow up with days 2 and 3 as soon as I can.

Day 1:
Dr. Carwyn Sharp – Intro to Endurance Training

  • Exercise scientist, triathlete and ultra-runner who’s worked with NASA and has 14 years coaching experience.
  • Endurance athletes are often averse to resistance training thinking it will bulk them up.
  • He presented several studies which demonstrate that strength training enhances speed and endurance performance.
  • Sand, snow, wind, and hills can all contribute to the athlete’s resistance training.
  • On recovery from intervals: if you feel the effects of previous interval → you didn’t recover sufficiently.
  • The basis of speed is strength. Several studies demonstrate that heavy resistance training and explosive training improves performance.
  • 1-leg training is very important.
  • Progression
    • Move well on 2 legs (squat, deadlift) and get strong.
    • transition to split squat
    • then to 1 leg stability
    • 1 leg squat and deadlift
    • 2 leg plyos
    • 1 leg plyos

Bob Seebohar: – Nutrition for the Endurance Athlete

  • Registered Dietitian and USAT coach who has coached and advised Olympic triathletes
  • Metabolic efficiency – use more lipids/less carb/preserve glycogen
  • Nutrition periodization – “Eat to train. Don’t train to eat.”
  • Food First – Don’t use supplements to make up for poor eating.
  • moderate supplement use; only part of the season
  • prevent weight gain in off-season – no sport supplements during
  • He supports the lower-carb/higher-fat approach. I was very happy to see that.
  • Food log
    • Doesn’t as about amount of food eaten but rather…
    • What?
    • When?
    • Why? I love that he asks “why” someone ate something.

Dr. Randall Wilber – Overtraining: Causes, Recognition, Prevention & Illness

  • Physiologist to the US Olympic team.
  • Overtraining–or “underperformance” as he calls it–often isn’t due to too much training.
  • nutrition
  • blood work
    • Iron is often low in women.
    • Vitamin D deficiency is common
  • endocrine panel
  • urinalysis
  • Physiological and psychological metrics for tracking fatigue/recovery
    • overnight heart rate
    • blood chemistry
    • sleep quality
    • Salimetrics – He said look for the price to come down on this.
  • Take the athlete back to active recovery. Progress very gradually back to regular workouts.
  • If they perform well and feel good at their first LT workout then they’re on the right road back.
  • Coach Bobby McGee: “More performances are spoiled by slight overtraining than by slight lack of fitness. An athlete who is 90% conditioned for an event will do better than an athlete who is 0.5% overtrained.”