How strict is your plan?

If you aren’t aware, we have a very active Facebook group. There are lots of posts or sharing of workouts- usually of when they are crushed. On one the other day, I was mentioned in one of the comments, so I started thumbing through and was caught by one comment on particular. The gentleman wants to run a 3:20 and his comments centered around creating a buffer and not expecting to see a certain pace at any point (or that certain paces have no place in a 3:20 plan).

In another life, I would have been like, “whoah, hold on brotato chip!” Eh, who am I kidding, I still am a little bit. I was definitely taken aback a little bit, because I immediately thought, “what’s going to happen to this guy the first split he sees at that pace that shouldn’t be anywhere in his splits?”

There are two main points I want to discuss in this post. The first is in regards to what I interpret when a person is trying to create a “buffer.” The second is how the runner is going to react when they see splits during the race when they “had no room” for them in training.

What trying to create a “buffer” tells me

  1. You don’t believe in your plan or coach.

    I see this a lot in people when they post about their training in our group. The biggest example of this is the 16 mile long runs in most of our marathon plans. For a lot of people they can’t get past the 16 mile long run being enough because it has been instilled in them that everything in marathon training revolves around the 20 mile long run. Unfortunately, these folks will keep running in circles (literally) for years trying to do things the same unsuccessful ways they’ve been doing them.

  2. You don’t believe in yourself.

    The best example of this is a person who is trying to run a BQ or break a time barrier. Everything about what they are doing or have done in the past indicates that they should be able to run the time they are seeking. However, their own self doubt creeps in and they push the pace faster than necessary because they feel like it will mean they can fade back to their goal pace and even slower, but have enough time in the bank to stagger in under their goal. However, it usually just sets them up for failure during training or the race.

  3. You aren’t putting enough time on the other stuff.

    This is a position I have really changed my thinking on over the last few years. This is thanks to all the interaction with our online run club and the athletes in there. I have always been a high mileage guy and I still am. I truly think that if you want to reach your highest potential, you need to be able to handle mileage. However, now that is with a caveat. Now I would say, train at the highest amount of volume you can that still allows you to incorporate the other aspects of well rounded training- strength and flexibility/mobility. Too many times I see athletes who don’t reach a goal, but instead of reflecting back to what their true training needs are, they just assume that they need to up the mileage the next time. I sometimes seeing runners trying to break four hours in the marathon and putting in 70 miles a week! What I am saying is back that down to 50 miles a week and use the time they would have spent on that other 20 miles per week and address the issues I mentioned. Hint: all runners have something strength related that needs help!

If you aren’t sure where to begin, I suggest reading up on our self tests or getting a gait analysis from an expert.

What makes me worry when someone is preparing for no split to be faster or slower than a certain pace. The thing is, no race goes perfect. Even our best races have moments where we say “if I just woulda.” You really do have to ask yourself the question, “how am I going to handle x or y situation?” When a person is setting themselves up to run the perfect race by trying to force everything in training, I tend to assume that their race is going to end in disappointment. Why? Because most of the time these runners panic when the inevitable split that’s way too slow shows up. This may be due to an improperly placed mile marker, a hilly mile, a turn into a headwind, a drop in concentration, an off Garmin split, or whatever. Instead of assessing the situation mentally, or rolling with the punches, they panic. By panic, I mean they usually either throw in the towel prematurely or they try to push even harder and only fall further behind.

I’m not saying that you should have a “whatever it is is meant to be” type of attitude, but splits will be off. See what the next mile or two brings before getting drastic. The next mile might be fast and you’re right back on average pace. Go through your mental queues- is my jaw relaxed? How’s my arm carriage? Am I on track with my nutrition? Is there a group I can tuck in with to block some of this wind?

Don’t panic- assess, observe, and adjust if necessary.

The best way to do that is to experience these things in training. Be cognitive of how you handle adverse situations during training and apply a system that works for you for race day.

You hear me say often that your training has to resemble how you want to race. If you train in a matter where you push the envelope in training (on a daily or regular basis) that chances are that’s how you’ll race. Training is so much more than running a workout. It’s learning how to deal with a variety of situations. Learning how certain conditions affect you and how to adjust for those conditions. Give yourself a little bit of flexibility on splits with the goal of learning the pace and narrowing the standard of deviation.

Races rarely go perfect and it’s the person who can handle the deviations form those plans best that will be the most successful.

Winter Running: Performance

For my friends who don’t really train through a long stretch of snow, wind, cold, and poor footing for more than a few days, then you may not find much use of this blog. For the rest of you, you are probably like me and wonder if you are literally just spinning your wheels. The end result can be an unwarranted lack of confidence as you head into a winter or early spring marathon. Today, I want to discuss what common concerns I get and then provide you a case study as to why we don’t need to throw our original goals out the window.

Running in the Snow

There’s a few questions and concerns I get this time of year, but the biggest reflect around a sudden loss of fitness (or apparent) because of familiar loops being slower than they were in the fall. For instance, this morning we ran a loop that we run throughout the year. On a normal easy run, I will run 6:30-7:00 minute miles. Last night we got a little dusting of snow which made the sidewalks and side roads a mess. The pace of today’s run was about 7:30 per mile, but it felt like I worked harder than my 18 mile long run yesterday (that was 6:30/mile average). What gives? Over one day, I assume that most people chalk it up to the previous day’s long run and the fact that there is snow. However, it’s like this all winter and it gets in our heads. I am averaging 30 seconds per mile slower all the time. There’s no way I am going to be ready! I get it, especially in this age of social media where we all see our friends just crushing life.

The truth is, even though the paces may not line up, the effort is still there. I know what many of you are thinking- but you hate using heart rate, power meters, and all that, so aren’t you contradicting yourself? Well, maybe, but I say the same things about those tools as I do GPS. That is that they are tools and they all have a place. Here, I don’t mind any of those, as long as you look at those numbers afterwards to really analyse. In a perfect world, and some of my Boston runners got a little lecture about this with hills, is that I certainly want you to know your paces. However, along with that, I don’t want your workouts to be GPS only. Along with keeping track of that data, one should also internally note how they feel at those paces. How do they feel when not pushing hard enough? Too hard? If we note these things and ACT ON THEM, then we can be pretty close at our desired paces because we know what the effort feels like. Further, when we get in a situation where we aren’t in ideal weather, or doing a workout on a hilly route, we know what the effort feels like. Later on we can correlate what paces lineup so that we know that even though we were 15 seconds slow per mile for that tempo, the right effort was there due to a -10 degree windchill (or whatever factors involved). The key here is to recognize effort to paces in better conditions so we can utilize effort in far less than ideal conditions later.

Ok, so how is performance actually affected by the cold?

  1. Extra weight:

    For some of us it is that extra Holiday weight we found lying around the cookie plate. However, think about how many layers you are putting on! I would bet there are times I am wearing 5-8 pounds of extra clothing during the winter. We have all heard the adage of every 1 pound of non energy producing weight (usually referring to fat) costs us 2 seconds per mile at race pace! (Insert Ric Flair: WHOOOOO!) That’s a good 15 seconds plus per mile on an easy run! Just think about how that will affect you on that marathon tempo!

  2. Decreased range of motion:

    Along those lines, with all those extra layers, especially on the legs, we don’t get the same range of motion which means strides are probably a little shorter and we just aren’t as efficient as we are in shorts.

  3. Poor surfaces:

    This one is a given. Poor traction, dodging ice patches, and doing pirouettes along the sidewalk all take their toll on us.

  4. Reduced force of muscle contraction:

    Cold weather will reduce the force of our muscle contraction which means it takes a little more work to run at any given pace.

  5. Decrease in lactate threshold:

    Because we are physically working harder to run, our lactate threshold will be lower. So, say in normal weather your LT occurs at 75% of your VO2max (which would correlate at say half marathon pace) now occurs at say 65%, which might be slower than marathon pace.

  6. Increase in use of carbohydrate:

    Because your LT is lower, you’ll have a higher reliance on carbohydrate. Lactate is a by product carb breakdown, so workouts that normally don’t cause carbohydrate depletion can now put you in the danger zone.

  7. Increased intensity at same pace:

    Because of everything we mentioned, all paces become inherently harder. Then when we see we aren’t hitting paces, we tend to try harder. This tends to only set us back further over the coming days and weeks.

  8. Dehydration:

    I don’t have any scientific stats on this, but winter seems to be a primetime for chronic dehydration. Just look at our skin in the winter. Whether it’s because we don’t think we need fluids in the winter, harder to take in during winter, or what, but chronic dehydration and electrolyte loss seems like it would eventually take its toll on us, as well.

 

How much do these factors all add up to?

It is hard to put exact numbers. If you want ballpark numbers, you can certainly use our calculator that lets you factor in cold and windchill. This isn’t exact by any means, as you can’t put numbers on some of the factors listed, but it let’s you see how much time really can be affected. When we put it together, we also factored in what you were doing, so easy run paces will be affected less than speed work. You can check out the calculator HERE.

Now, some of you are reading this and thinking that ole coach is blowing smoke, so I wanted to use a case study from this past weekend. HCS Coach Mo Hrezi and I have been running together most of the winter here in Rochester. This winter has been brutal, especially the end of December and into January. December was Michigan’s fourth snowiest in history and we had a couple week stretch where we never got above 10 degrees F for the high. That’s air temperature, not including the wind chill. We have been doing a lot of workouts at Stony Creek Metropark where footing wasn’t the greatest and the temps were tough. The long of the short of it is this- say we were doing 3 miles- 2 Miles- 1 Mile at Stony. Under normal circumstances, we’d do these at about half marathon pace. Mo really wanted to break 1:03 at the Houston Half Marathon, so that would be about 4:48 per mile (ballpark). Mo came close to that for 1 mile, where he had good footing and a wind at his back. All the workouts we did in December and early January amounted to one lousy mile run at his actual goal pace.

Needless to say, Mo ran Houston this past Sunday (1/14/18) and ran… 1:02:11!!!

This was a personal best by nearly two minutes and is the fastest ever run by a Hanson’s ODP member.

The moral of the story is don’t focus only on what the watch is telling you during the winter months. If you keep the faith that you are working hard and putting in the training, that you don’t need to adjust goals (as long as you are racing where weather won’t really be the issue). Take the time throughout the year to know how paces feel and what effort you are putting in to hit those paces. That way, you can have confidence that your fitness is still there and you’ll be ready to fly on race day!

Recent Question: Can’t hit speed work at longer distances… HELP!

A couple days ago a reader dropped me note and had an interesting question.

Donald is doing his speed work based on his 5k time. We should point out that the he stated that it was based off a time he has run, not a “wishful thinking time” as Don said. The problem was though, that as the repeat distance increased from 400 meters to 600 meters and above, he could no longer hit the 5k pace. So the question is, what gives?

You know me, there’s never a simple answer, but I’ll try to break down my thoughts on this as short as I can.

First:

The very first point I’d like to make is that this is why I don’t usually prescribe 5k pace training during the marathon. Here’s why, Don stated he’s a pretty new runner. So my guess is that he ran that 5k PR even earlier and probably wasn’t training as much as he is now. I know it seems counterintuitive, but think of this way- when training for that 5k, let’s say he was running 20ish miles per week and probably running a few days per week. Within that week, he was probably doing a speed workout a week and a moderate length long run. Needless to say, he was fairly fresh when he ran that. Now, he’s probably running 40+ miles per week with two workouts and a long run in the week. You may have heard me say that speed is relative and this is exactly what I am talking about. Doing a bunch of work at 5k pace is important for 5k to 10k races, but 5k pace for a marathon isn’t as big of a deal. Doing the speedwork at 10k pace is plenty fast for 95% of the people we work with.

Second:

The second part to this has to do with some hard physiology. 5k paced training is designed to be pretty close to VO2max, just slightly under. The time we can run at our VO2max varies based on our ability. A world class 5k runner can run close to 2 miles at their VO2max. A newer runner, probably more like 3 minutes. So given this, it makes sense that Dons workouts would start falling apart as the repeat distance increases. 400’s for Don would be about 1:42. 600’s would be 2:33 and 800’s would be 3:24. Seeing this, it now makes sense that Don’s workouts start falling apart after the 600 distance repeats. He simply has reached the max amount of time that he can sustain that pace. The farther he runs, the worse the workout will be. In this case, he reaches pretty close to VO2max in the first couple repeats, and then he’s literally maxed out so that each following repeat will simply be slower and slower. The longer the repeat, the worst it will be.

Conclusion:

So, my recommendation is for marathon training, keep speed at 10k pace OR only do 5k workouts that will keep each repeats under that three minute range for beginners and around 5-6 minutes for more advanced runners. Other than that, please know that you will get what you need from doing the work at 10k pace. The marathon isn’t about working on overall speed, but rather the speed necessary to run your best marathon. To increase your overall speed, I recommend doing a separate training segment where you can work on all paces from 10k down to 5k and even mile race pace!

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Physiology and specific demand of the course

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Training components at and below anaerobic threshold

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Training components at and above anaerobic threshold

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