Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Seventh Thing

I had listed 6 things I’m thinking about leading up to my next race, the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon. But there is a seventh thing.

7. Specificity, particularly regarding the topic of running surface. Specificity is the idea that you should train for your race by duplicating, as much as possible, the conditions you will face on race day. It’s a broad topic, and arguably includes much of training (pacing, distance, even time of day or temperature). And specificity should increase as training progresses. Your workouts should be becoming more specific to the task at hand. (The idea is beautifully articulated in Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald’s book, Run Faster, highly recommended.)

Since my race is mostly if not entirely on asphalt, and I tend to be religiously dedicated to avoiding running on asphalt and concrete (more on this, below), I feel that it only makes sense for me to run on some asphalt, at least toward the end of training. Indeed, with that in mind, most of my long runs have been on asphalt in the last month, and some of my tempos.

Another argument for doing some running on asphalt (among other things) is to obtain a muscle tension appropriate to your race. I’ve only heard about this idea from one source, a very interesting Steve Magness article, published here in Running Times. The idea is that proper muscle tension has as much an impact on racing as other important factors such as pacing, nutrition, tapering, etc. Moreover, muscle tension can be tuned up or down according to the needs of the race — shorter races, as you might guess, requiring higher muscle tension, and longer races, less so. According to Magness, muscle tension can be increased by sprinting, strength training, faster-paced intervals and ice baths, (to name 4 of 8 methods he lists in the article.) Magness includes a list of activities to increase and decrease muscle tension as well as a few workouts, it’s worth a look — check it out.

For a half marathon, I’m not going to need a lot of muscle tension, but I want to make sure not to get flat on too much long running, do a little speedwork, and do it on asphalt.

I think most runners will recognize, in the diligent avoidance of hard surfaces, a desire avoid wear and tear to the body. I had pretty much accepted as fact, nay, gospel, that hard surfaces, such as asphalt and especially concrete, take a toll on the runner’s body, especially over a period of years. (The Kenyans, supposedly avoid running on roads at all costs — clearly they have other, perfectly adequate, methods of adjusting their muscle tension.) And, naturally, wanting to preserve my ability to run as long into life as possible, I avoid these ghastly surfaces. And so I was very interested to read in Alex Hutchinson’s Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? some research that calls into question this idea.

Without going into too much detail, the studies suggest that the body is able to somehow compensate with the differing impacts of running on these surfaces, and when force detection plates were placed in the shoes of runners, the difference of the forces detected on the different surfaces were minimal or quite modest. This is one of those counter-intuitive results that one marvels in — but I’m left a little perplexed. I don’t doubt that the body isn’t able to reduce the difference in these forces, but at what cost? That is to say, aren’t the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments undergoing some extra effort to reduce the impact forces? So perhaps the cost is no longer a direct result of the impact forces involved, but the efforts deployed to lesson those forces?

Research will probably continue to tease out the complexities of this issue. In the end it may not matter too much one way in the other for practical purposes — it still makes perfect sense to train for your race by duplicating as many conditions as closely as possible, including the surface. And maybe I’ll be just a little less religious about running on dirt trails.

[Since writing this post, I was referred to a cool blog that just so happened to have a post, “Why You Should Run On Soft Surfaces.” Worth a read.]

Two Weeks Out

Fourteen days, 14 hours until my half marathon race. Of course, I’m assessing where I am in my training, starting to think about particulars. As I think about how my training’s gone, I’m also thinking about what I might build on for the next training cycle. Not sure I can manage a full blown narrative, but I can put a ragged list together.

A Few Pre-Race Considerations:

  1. Pace. I’ve been doing “wave tempos” between 6:45 and 7:15 min/mile. Somewhere in there is my race pace. Today’s tempo run went pretty well, though I still could have suffered a little more. Maybe a lot more. For my next training cycle, renewing my relationship with pain is going to be a priority. Because, as someone wrote, when the pain hits that means you’re on track to a PR. And that’s not any crazy 110%, no-pain-no-gain philosophy — it’s just the facts. Coach Jay Johnson has a nice post about it, “Feeling good, being uncomfortable and suffering.” (I leave my strength and speedwork pretty much up to the group of middle distance runners I run with in Griffith Park. They have me running much faster than I ever would have done before, and in completely different ways. They are not averse to a little suffering.)
  2. Step up the strength work. Really what I’m talking about is The Standard Core Routine I found at Strength Running, and the Lunge Matrix I found at Coach Jay Johnson’s site. I throw in some pushups. The reason for stepping up the strength work is not just because it feels good, and contributes to running form or preventing injury. There are a couple of other things in play. First, being diligent about doing some strength work right after the workout is another training stress, another layer of fighting fatigue and working with a little suffering, especially on one of your “hard” days. The same Jay Johnson post, link above, touches upon this idea. And second, (taking out) strength work can be an element in your taper. At least that’s something I read, and it makes sense to me so I’m going to try it out. Idea being, the week before your race, that in addition to cutting your running volume you could cut the volume of your strength work. Thus creating a zippy, energized body. Not sure where I got this idea, but quite likely it was from Strength Running, Jason Fitzgerald’s site. He has a good post on tapering, here. And speaking of tapering…
  3. Tapering. In the past, and it’s been a while now, I think I reduced both volume and intensity of workouts. I’m not doing that this time. Just volume. I’ll do short, intense workouts at race pace just to whet the appetite without introducing the element of fatigue. I’ll also be considering my diet. I’ve been reading Matt Fitzgerald’s new book, The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition. Just taking a cursory look over the book I realize I have no idea whether I get enough carbs or not, to be carb loaded up. Do I eat 300 grams of carbohydrate a day? Who knows.
  4. Fueling. I’ve greatly enjoyed experimenting with taking medjool “fancy” dates on my long runs, but am not sure they’re a great solution for a race (just one type of sugar, probably not too many electrolytes). I haven’t ruled it out. I tended to use those only after about an hour of running. Just recently tried some other fuels. My last long run I took Gatorade, which worked fine. Not sure if I want to take a fuel belt for the race, though, and I don’t think they’ll have Gatorade at the race. Today I took raspberry flavored shot bloks, with caffeine. They’re okay, but require a fair amount of water to get them to go down and I find I don’t tolerate them that well. The whole process is a little distracting. I may end up going with the dates and fill them with a pinch of salt or something crazy like that.
  5. Mileage. I’ve got my long run comfortably up to 15+ miles and weekly mileage up to 40. I’m ready to move up to 50. Maybe I’ll get one week of 50 before the race? Maybe not a good idea. Honestly, not sure I’ll have the time to get to 50 in the next training cycle. Not sure how people train for marathons. Where do they find the time?? Perhaps become a Predawn Runner?
  6. Shoe choice. I recently got the Saucony Kinvara 3 (see runblogger’s review), which I quite like, but it feels a bit minimal for a half. I know many would disagree. Right now the Brooks PureFlow (see runblogger’s review) is the frontrunner. It’s light, has a sort of cushiony feel, without being as gigantic as the Hokas. I really enjoy the Hoka One One Stinsons (runblogger won’t review it for some reason, though the Hoka One One B2s seems to be helping his wife deal with hip pain — here’s a little video about the Hokas) for eating up sidewalks on my long runs, but having gotten used to lighter shoes, it feels a bit much for a race. Undecided, though. I’m going to be weighing all the shoes, out of curiousity.

Beyond this it just gets into minutiae and worrying. Socks? Packet pick-up? I feel good about my training and just want to get some good, confidence building workouts in. I may have to get creative carving out time for my next training cycle, but I also have some ideas about what to work on.

A Motivational App to Incorporate Strength Work


Funny going from the phone to the desktop — never *quite* sure what things are going to look like. These massive images are from my Lift app, a social motivational app used for tracking habits, etc. I’ve found it to be quite helpful in tracking my non-running strength or core work. And now that I’m convinced strength work is essential to preventing injury and strengthening running overall, I’m pursuing it.

I’m happy to note that I’ve been doing a fair amount of strength work with some success, and I believe using the app has helped a great deal.

When I started I was doing 5 pushups, now I’m doing 30.

From the photo above, you can see that today I did (marching) bridges, lateral leg raises, clamshells, modified bicycles, planks (prone, supine and sides), and pushups.

(I haven’t been tracking the Lunge Matrix, but I’ve also been doing that before my last 5 or so solo runs. My meditation has been lagging a bit lately.)

Very handy (and motivating!) to see the data, for instance, that I’ve done planks 53 times since January 20, and that right around the time of my trip to Santa Fe my habit flagged. I also notice that my meditation habit was just devastated by my race in February. So on top of being motivated, you might even learn something about your habits. Pretty cool. This app is essential for me, now.

Most of my exercises I got from Jason Fitzgerald at Strength Running, specifically from this particular video. (I added on pushups and clamshells and lateral leg lifts.) If you don’t know his site, you should really check it out. He has tons of information, check out his free pdf “52 workouts”, for instance.

As I’m gradually embarking on a more steady work schedule, it will be interesting and challenging to see what other patterns emerge.



Running Books, Galore

Birthday haul. One more in the mail, Pete Larson’s (runblogger) Tread Lightly, on minimalism in running.

Notice that Jay Johnson is in Running with the Buffaloes. Could it be the same Jay Johnson, the coach? I suspect strongly it is. Of late, I’ve been doing Johnson’s lunge matrix before most of my runs.

The Fitzgerald book has me a tad concerned about my diet, not a bad thing. Getting enough carbs? Full of practical useful information, as usual. Both his Run and Brain Training or Runners are two of my favorites.

The Hutchinson book just came today, haven’t properly looked at it, but expect it’s up to his usual high standard. (See his fantastic article about pushing beyond the usual limits, “The Race Against Time“, here.)

Honestly, I think I have *most* of the running books I’m ever going to need, perhaps a few too many, even!

Currently preparing to get very creative about when I get my runs in, as time is gradually getting less easy to come by.

Champion Workouts and Other Miscellany

Just less than 4 weeks until my half marathon. Naturally thinking about where I am in my training. It would have been great to run a 10K today as a “tune up” race. That would have been an excellent indicator of fitness, allowed me to calibrate my goal pace. Instead, today ran a very challenging series of sprints, what Greg McMillan calls a “champion workout”.

Normally, I’m a strong proponent of control in training — the opposite of the Champion’s Workout concept. In nearly all workouts, you should work hard but not too hard. None of this “Give it the ol’ 110 percent” stuff. I say train at 90 percent of what you could do in workouts and you’ll find that your racing is better. It was with this in mind that Pete Magill used the same fictional workout from Once a Runner as a negative example in his January 2013 article, “The Dirty Dozen: 12 mistakes (even experienced) runners make.” But there’s a time and a place for going all-out in training, to remind yourself that when it gets tough in races, you can dig deeper.

Of course, I don’t really know if McMillan would have considered this a champion workout or not. But it was intense. Eight sets of 5 15-second sprints, with 30 seconds recovery between sprints and 90 seconds recovery between sets. The whole course took us all the way along a service road, Vista del Valle, to the water tank where we usually end such workouts, but then, somewhat mind bogglingly, uphill toward the “pass” that leads to the other side of the park, the Hollywood side. After a brief break, the instruction was to go full steam down the winding hills back to the parking lot.

I liked the way one of the runners, new to the group and who has served in the armed forces, described the workout: “It was insane.”

The sprinting part, with the rests taken out, amounted to 2.23 miles run in 11:13 — an average pace of 5:02 — well above what I could ever expect to run for any longer distance. Coach wants us to run 800 meters (a half mile) in 2:30. Which is, of course, this pace. That we were sprinting at this pace, he would say, means we are running too slowly. And he would shake his head.

Though not entirely a self-satisfied character, I was happy with my workout today. I was the first one back to the parking lot. I worked hard. I didn’t let myself crap out like last week. When it became painful, I focussed on what was good, concentrated on pumping the arms or thought “I’m good uphill!” I, err, went to the well. So I seem to be on a fairly good schedule with my training, if I don’t let up. I managed to get 29 miles in during this past vacation week (I even got some running in at elevation 7000 feet. Finding: You breathe harder.) It was a well timed rest week as I’ve been working on an increased dose of 40 miles a week for the last few weeks (43.8, 41.2, 41.8, 40). The body seems to be handling the increase without any obvious signs of explosion. (I might add that I napped twice today, took a bath with epsom salts, ate an obscenely large breakfast, and spent quality time with the foam roller.)

And I am fascinated by this edge of where the optimum training is, and when prudence might be cast aside. After a plateau of increased mileage, a spate of body weight exercises to keep the body strong, perhaps a champion workout? Perhaps an all-out race? Alex Hutchinson has touched on the issue in a great article in The Walrus — when it’s proper to cast aside the time you know you can responsibly run based on your training and just go for broke… In this story, he looks at Reid Coolsaet’s attempt against a field of Kenyans, and how it affected his standing. It’s a great read. Really top notch journalism, in my opinion, had me running over to his website to find other articles of his. Even the non-running ones.