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Mental Toughness: Putting our attention on where we focus

It’s no doubt that being “mentally tough” is something that can improve your performance, but the way I hear runners discuss, it feels like it is something that you either have or you don’t. Personally, I found it a fluid ingredient to my personal performance. I was mentally tough in my outstanding performances, but was mentally weak in most of my bad performances. What does being mentally tough really entail? Is it a trait or is it learned? Those two things are what I want to explore today.

What I have learned is that being mentally tough may not necessarily be about the amount of discomfort you can force yourself to endure, but maybe more about where you direct your focus. I have talked about this in race strategy discussions before- that early on, I don’t want to focus on too much because the more dialed in I had to be early on, the longer I had to maintain that high level of focus. For me, that wasn’t sustainable and I would often fade. Now, while I think my idea was solid in theory, my wording might have been off. I’ll explain more, later. The point is, that I was never any more, or less, mentally tough in good races than bad, but my focus was probably not set on the right cues. The idea is Limited Channel Capacity, or the ability to hold a limited amount of information at one time. Try to hold on to too much, or the wrong things, then there’s no room for what is relevant to the task and we lose performance.

When we look at those we consider mentally tough, they tend to show the following qualities. One, they have the ability to focus on their own performance, despite any outside personal issues. Look at some of the all time greats in sports and how messed up their personal lives were. They possessed the ability to flip that switch and not think about those things while in their sporting activity. Now, in your own case, that might simply mean leaving what happened at the office, well, at the office instead of bringing it to the track workout. If it’s taking up space in your head during the workout, we tend to miss the physical and internal cues of how the workout is going and it can often be a sup par event.

Maintain Focus

Secondly, they have the ability to maintain focus on their own performance after both success and failure. I have seen so many times that people overestimate their potential after one good race. I have also seen as many people completely disregard their ability after one performance.

At the end of the day, it’s a step, or a learning opportunity towards the ultimate goal.

Moving Forward

Third, the ability to recover from the unexpected, uncontrollable, and unusual events. This is good for right now. As we read of new race cancellations every day, I see both sides of the spectrum. I see people pull back and assess and then I see people who seem to be in complete despair while going right to the worst case scenario. How we decide to handle adverse situations says a lot about our mental toughness.

Ignore the noise

Fourth, they have the ability to ignore typical distractions in the performance environment. So, this might mean blocking out the dude who’s breathing like a locomotive engine instead of getting annoyed by it and letting it take up real estate in your head.

Focus on YOU

Fifth, they have the ability to focus on their own performance instead of being concerned with opponents performance.  This is a big one, and I see so often with people who train in groups. I also figuratively lived and died by this with my own teammates.

The common theme here is making sure you are focusing or concentrating on the relevant things to your performance. With that, there are four practical aspects  of concentration. The first is selective attention. During a run a relevant cue to focus on would be your stride, effort, and breathing. Something irrelevant is thinking about where you are going to eat afterwards or the houses along the course. Second, being able to focus during the event or workout. Here it might be having a rough workout and instead of just moving on, allowing it to set the trend of progressively bad workouts and then missing the goal. Third, what is called situational awareness, or taking the cues in your environment and making decisions based on that. In a race, this might be turning the corner and right into a headwind.

How do you handle this?

Fourth, the ability to shift your focus on the demands. You have different types of attentional focus like broad/narrow, external/internal, and even a combination of broad external or narrow internal. If you are running a marathon, then what you focus on at the start of the race should be shifting as the race goes on. Now, the list of things may not change but the priority of these things may change.

For runners, the last area of attentional focus may be better described as associative and dissociative properties. Association is monitoring bodily functions and feelings. Dissociation is dissociating from pain and boredom, usually via music, that is usually prevalent during long distance racing or even beginners running their first 5k (it’s all relevant). The interesting thing is that dissociation is pretty common for those who are more beginners and recreational because it can make the event more pleasant and can actually decrease fatigue and monotony. On the other hand, faster runners tend to associate with themselves so that they can monitor where they are at. The association to the discomfort allows them to push harder despite the discomfort because they already know it’s coming and they’ve already dealt with it in the past.

The above paragraph is what I was referring to when I discussed ‘zoning out’ until it was time to buckle down. Like I said, my wording was probably off, but I believe in my idea. Over my competitive career, I have found that you can’t be in that associative mindset all the time. It’s just not sustainable without burnout. For example, if I approached the easy day the day following a tough workout, then it would only be a matter of time before I was hurt. When I say intensity, I am not talking about running intensity, but mental intensity. I can’t be like “YES! A 10 mile run! GET SOME!” However, we have to get in that mindset for a 10 mile tempo. The same is true for the marathon itself. Early on, we may be in more of a dissociative mindset, just generally taking information. However, as the race goes on, we narrow our focus to more associative measures and disregard more outside information. To be that narrow focused for 2-5 hours can be mentally draining, especially when you take dropping blood sugar into account!

Don’t get distracted!

The last area I wanted to talk about was some of the issues we have with attention because we get distracted easily, especially when tired. There’s really two area of distractions- internal distractions. In this case we tend to think about past events or future events. I think we all relate to these. Past events would maybe go back to a time where you were in the same position (say the 20 mile mark of a marathon) and things went rough in a hurry. Even though you might be a different runner than you were then, by going back to that place we take away from focusing on the right now. The second is thinking about future events. These are “what if” type statements. For example, “what if I get 25 miles and I completely run out of gas?” “What if my side starts hurting?” “What if I cramp?” These all project the future and take away from the right now and the focus that is currently required for the task at hand.

The flipside is external distractions, in the form of visual and audio. A great example of both the visual and audio is Wellesley College at about the 12 mile mark of Boston. It’s in a spot where you grow from being pretty quiet to just a solid roar of screaming women with all kinds of crazy signs that are not fit for family discussion. The first time I ran Boston, I was blown away. I wasn’t expecting it and it just completely got my adrenaline going.

You instantly go from focusing on yourself in relative quiet to a roughly half mile noise tunnel and kaleidoscope.

It makes you do things you may normally not do- like high five and fist pump. While a great pick me up, it shifts your focus away from things that may not really benefit you a few miles up, when you hit the Newton Hills.

What can you do to improve your concentration?

The biggest way is self talk. I don’t recall where I saw it, but I recall seeing a stat that was to the effect of ⅔ of our internal talk was negative self talk. Yikes! We all have done it. We’ve all been critical of a decision made on the fly. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do anything to improve our performance. On the other hand, Instructional self talk and motivational self talk can improve our performance. The basis of these are self explanatory as motivational focuses on motivation for increasing effort and energy. Instruction focuses on technical aspects of the skill (running). Now, instructional self talk seemed to be better at increasing performance while motivational self talk seemed to work better for exercise adherence. So, while the data wasn’t really looking at experience, I immediately wonder if more novice runners go to motivational places where more experienced go with instructional? Considering the trends in association and dissociation, it wouldn’t be a far leap.

The 6 rules for self talk:

  1. Keep it short and sweet (mantra)
  2. Use the first person and present tense
  3. Construct positive phrases
  4. Say your phrases with meaning and attention
  5. Speak kindly to yourself
  6. Repeat phrases often

The second is routine.

We all have morning routines, right? We try to get our kids into a routine. Why? Because it becomes a habit. It becomes automatic. My theory is this- that if we create something habit, we don’t have to overthink it. It’s on our list of cues, but it’s not overemphasized. In other words, what’s in our routine is not overwhelming our Limited Capacity. I feel like one good example is our nutrition and hydration routine for your race. To those who practice their routine regularly during long runs and workouts, they don’t stress about it as much during the race itself. They know how their stomach is going to react. They aren’t concerned with how they are going to store the gels. It’s already been worked out and isn’t requiring extra attention.  On the other hand, I had athletes who talked about what they wanted to do, but never practiced regularly. On race day they were so laser focused on this, that they let that take up too much real estate in their head and didn’t take in any other cues (or they did and got overwhelmed). Even worse, since they didn’t have a routine, as soon as it got difficult, they abandoned the plan and ended up paying the price by bonking. What other routines can you think of that would carry over nicely to performance?

The last one is self monitoring.

It has been shown to improve concentration and performance. Two major areas come to mind for me and that’s food tracking and training logs. The biggest reasons to track are to see patterns, consistency, and to compare to similar days. This is true for either food tracking and training log. The key though is the detail that you are putting into it. For instance, Final Surge syncs to Garmin Connect (and others) to pull data from your watch and populates the appropriate fields. Oftentimes that’s it. The runner offers nothing else, even though there’s only raw data. Why? Well, to them that’s all that’s important.

They are only concerned with the mileage,, pace and that the day was done. If I am a coach, all I see is raw data and that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.

When I ask an athlete they have to go back and try to sort through that one run 10 days ago with the time between being filled with other runs, work, life, and Netflix Tiger shows. The details get fuzzy. Not only does that hurt a coach’s ability to help, but it also hurts you because we don’t really have anything to compare to later on. If we did the same workout a month later, how do we know if it really went better or worse? The raw data only gives us part of the story. A perfect example would be doing a workout on February 1st here in Michigan and then turning around and doing the same workout on March 1st. On February 1st, you may be in full snowmobile suit with snowshoes on. On March first you could be in shorts and a long sleeve. See where having those details written down may help?

Details help.

They put the story to the headline. I also think that just making it a priority to log in detail cements its importance to you. It’s like wanting to become more organized so you start with simply making your bed every day. One small habit of priority leads to another and another and over time you have completely transformed your mindset, attitude, and physical surroundings.

That final piece really sums it up.

None of these things are massive undertakings. They are small items that often get overlooked, but lay a foundation to changing how we live and how we see ourselves. The fact that they may help us run better is a pretty attractive fringe benefit. The key to all of this is starting small, recognize that it’s going to take time, and you are going to probably catch yourself lapsing. Don’t give up on it. Just right the ship when you see it drifting and stay the course. Over time, I think you’ll notice big changes in a lot of aspects.

 

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Virtual Race Updates

LHR Virtual Spring Races

Just wanted to thank everyone has registered for our virtual race. Since my original post, we have had some updates to post!

  • We have added 5k and 10k options
  • You can register for multiple events. So you can do the 5k and 10k, 10k and half marathon, or whatever combo you want. There is a discount for multiple events. The more you run the bigger the discount and is applied automatically.
  • Wrapping up medal design
  • Our friends below have all chipped in and ensured that we will have some nice swag opportunities!
    • Athletic Brewing
    • Velopress
    • Hansons Running Shops
    • Ann Arbor Running Company

The window for any race is already open and you have until May 4th, 2020 to upload your results. We hope we can help you have a good finish to your spring racing season.  Visit our race site for info and registration!

Was your race cancelled? We might be able to help.

What’s interesting is they I coach people in China and in Italy, so they are really feeling the pressure. Luckily they are ok and my athlete in China is actually seeing life start to return to normal. For us in the United States, things got REAL this week. Races, high school sports, professional sports, concerts, and pretty much any public gathering became a no-no. Personally, my daughter is now out of school until April 12th. It’s a crazy time. It’s a tough time. For a lot of us, running is our source of mind-clearing, work shedding, and endorphin gaining well being. To not run a race is certainly not the end of the world, but it can certainly leave a void. It was to be the finality of a training segment that lasted through the nastiness of cold dark winters, only to have mother nature show you who is really in charge.

So, what are our options? One is to finish out your training so that while these plans may be altered, you can still be on track for your summer and fall racing plans. That’s what a lot of my athletes wanted and so we thought of how we can do that. We all understand that running itself is a reward and a gift. However, so are finisher medals. A small token of a job well done. A stamp of approval on a completed journey. That’s why I created a virtual race. That’s funny because as I write this, the only thing virtual is the signup! The work is physical. The medal will be physical. The effort is human and not AI-powered. So, in reality, all this ends up being is a way for all of us to get some closure to a race segment and maintain a sense of normalcy in our routine.

What I have done is created a half marathon and marathon option for you. The window was opened from 3/1/20 and will close on 5/3/20 to allow the vast majority of you to complete your training as scheduled and run your “race” on the scheduled date. A great opportunity to get your friends grouped together and make it a team effort. If you have a run club training for the same event, even better! Throw a big party afterward! We will be sending medals after the window closes and are working on finding something cool for you to have. We are also working on securing some swag through our friends in the wonderful running community. At the very least, you know LHR will hook you up with something!

 

If you are interested in joining this virtual party, please check out the registration party here.

 

Increasing Training Mileage: How to and when to stop!

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Check out our Video / Podcast we made from this post!

Mileage is always a big topic of discussion with runners, almost a badge of honor for some runners. For newer runners, the questions usually revolve around increasing mileage safely but quickly (sometimes just quickly) while with more advanced runners, the questions might be centered more around how much mileage is enough. What I’d like to do is offer up some thoughts on common “rules” and give you some ideas to think about when you start looking at your own training volume.

The most popular method of increasing mileage, by far, is the 10% rule

General Theory

The most popular method of increasing mileage, by far, is the 10% rule. A quick Google search on “increasing running mileage” will show you numerous articles. This has come under some criticism- just read those above mentioned articles. It certainly is a pretty conservative approach, especially with newbies and general low mileage runners. For instance, if you run 10 miles your first week of running, then this rule says that the most you can add is 1 mile. The practicality of that isn’t necessarily high. You might have a variance of 2-3 miles without even trying.

Another theory comes from the ever famous Daniels Running Formula which Dr Daniels writes about adding no more than one mile per run per week. For instance, if you run 4 times per week, then add no more than 4 miles the next week. This proposal is seemingly scalable, as many competitive runners will run 10 plus runs in a week and that would probably be about a 10% increase in mileage. So, for lower mirage runners, the amount you can increase may be more like 15-20%. This makes sense because adding even a small amount of total weekly mileage in low volume runners will tend to be higher than the very conservative 10% rule.

What’s best way to approach? Well, for lower mileage runners the 10% rule is probably to conservative. To be honest, at that rate of increase, you’ll spend all summer just trying to get to a decent weekly volume. For higher mileage runners, there’s probably not going to be much difference between the two philosophies. And, for these folks, your concerns probably lie in other areas- which we will discuss later. The following are things that I would consider when deciding on your approach.  

Things to consider when discussing volume/mileage

  1. Maximize your current level before making a jump. It takes 4-6 weeks for the body to adjust to a new training stress, so don’t jump to another training stress until you’ve gained what you can out of the current training stress. If you can still adapt at a lower training level, then why not? Otherwise, you have the risk of jumping up too much too quickly and getting injured.

One of the most common issues I see with beginning runners or runners trying to make a big jump in training is that they were feeling great and then, BOOM! They got a tendonitis or a stress fracture. What we tend to neglect is that our cardiorespiratory fitness can increase quite rapidly, within a couple weeks. However, things like bone and tendon take much longer to catch up. So, if we jump up too much, despite the increase in fitness, we end up sidelined. That is why I say to not really jump up a little bit every week, rather increase a moderate amount every 4ish weeks and then stay there. It won’t be as slow of a buildup as the 10% rule, but not so fast that the body can’t adjust. Running more mileage is only good if you can do it consistently!

Increasing Training Mileage: How to and when to stop!

Increasing Training Mileage: How to and when to stop!

2.  Focus on endurance before intensity: In general fitness we look at the acronym FITT which represents frequency of exercise, intensity of exercise, amount of time exercising, and type of exercise.  When we begin increasing mileage, we are potentially adjusting all four of these variables. If we add a day to our routine, we automatically are adding more time that we are engaging in a certain type of exercise. As you can see, the odd man out here is intensity. If you try to increase or change all the variables at once, something is going to have to give.

There are times where you will be increasing mileage and doing workouts at the same time. The key here is that you aren’t making major jumps in training when trying to do both. Ultimately this comes back to thoughts on our philosophy where you train at a moderate level of mileage most of the time, which minimizes big swings in training stress for extended periods of time. I believe it also goes back appropriate paces. If we start cheating paces down because we feel good, we ultimately run ourselves down and become, at the least, overtrained, but at the most, sick and injured. Lastly, it makes it crucial to not get caught up in cycle after cycle of training for the same distance. While the traditional base period may be falling out of favor, it’s a perfect time to give yourself a block of 6-8 weeks to focus solely on building to new mileage. By making some type of compromise I believe the road to your eventual goal will ultimately shorten.

  1. Use cross training as a transition, not a replacement. Many people look at the training plans in Hansons Marathon Method and Hansons Half Marathon Method and view us as anti cross training. This is simply not the case, rather I truly feel that in the case of increasing mileage, cross training should be supplementary and not a replacement for running.

For example, let’s say you are following a program that has you running three days per week, what are you doing the other four days? Your first step should be to make sure you are cross training at least a few of the other days. From there, you start replacing a cross training day with a running day (we’ll talk about days over adding to current runs later).

Personally, if you are using our training philosophy, I’d like to see you build to at least five running days per week. If you are more of a 5k to 10k runner, you can probably do alright with 3-5 days, but once you start getting to that half marathon distance and up, you really should try to build up to more than 5 days of running per week. I have gotten plenty of backlash over that, which is fine, but this isn’t the place for an argument. I would just encourage you to look at our posts on philosophy and training components to see where our theory comes from. I will just say, that if you are low mileage, allow yourself even more time to prepare for a race so that you can still get all the work you’ll need to in order to be ready.

  1. Do I add to my current runs or add days to my week? This is a question we will get a lot. My basic thought is that a run should be at least 30 minutes in length. So for most people we work with, that’s a 3-5 mile run. Adding about 5 miles per week is pretty common under the systems we have talked about, but the duration of that 5 miles is what will be the differential. So, if you are running about 10 minute pace, you might be better off adding a 3 mile run and then 1-2 miles onto another run or across two runs. Or, maybe you aren’t currently at 30 minute runs? Spread the mileage across the week to get those runs up to that 30 minute mark. Also, when I am adding mileage, I am talking about adding easy mileage before adding mileage to workouts and long runs. Using this, I’d follow the process until getting to the desired days per week you want to run. After that, you can start adjusting other variables within your harder efforts.
  1. Give yourself enough time at a training level. We touched on this a little bit, but allowing yourself adequate time to fully adjust to a new training level. Now, if you are following the 10% rule, then you can go a few weeks in a row of increasing your mileage, but on that third week, you may want to consider staying put for a couple weeks before making another jump.

With really small jumps it’s probably OK to make continual jumps- to a point. What I personally don’t like is that you now have to guess when a you’ve made a big enough jump. That’s why I like to keep it clean and clear cut- make a moderate jump, then stay put. This allows your body to completely adjust to the mileage. As we mentioned, your cardiovascular system will adapt pretty quick and you’ll have the urge to make another jump, but I urge you to fight that urge if you are venturing into new mileage territory. Give your bones, tendons, and musculature plenty of time to adapt to the increased stress.

Non-beginner situations: so far, we  have really just discussed ideas for runners who are trying to get their mileage up to a point where the need to be, in order to compete at the level they want. There are other scenarios where we discuss building back to a previous level and most of that is when we are coming back from being sick or injured. We have discussed that in pretty decent detail in our Dealing with Injury and Illness video, so I won’t go back into it now. For me there are two scenarios where we can discuss mileage in a setting where the goal isn’t to establsh a higher training baseline.

Coming back from planned downtime. This is pretty common- especially if you use our training. For the marathon, we prescribe pretty lengthy downtimes, usually 10 days to 2 weeks. For shorter races, generally, you can expect less down time depending on the runners situation. Here’s how I would handle building back:

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For 5-7 days of planned downtime (still healthy)

  • First week: 50-60% of peak mileage, spread over several days, but giving yourself 1-2 off days during the week. All easy mileage.
  • Second week: 70-80% of peak mileage, but keeping it easy, with 1 (maybe 2) off days and a longer run.
  • 3rd week: 80-90% of peak goal mileage with a long run and one light workout- usually a progression run (or cutdown run, depending on your terminology)
  • 4th week: 90% of peak goal mileage and a light track workout (8-12×400’s for example) and a long run.
  • 5th week: resume normal training.

For 10-14 days of planned downtime (still healthy)

  • First week: Every other day of 30-45 minutes easy running
  • 2nd week: Five days of 45-60 minutes easy running
  • 3rd week: 5-7 days of running, making sure at 60-70% of average mileage, including a longer run
  • 4th week: 5-7 days of easy running, totaling 80% of usual volume including a longer run and either light 400’s on the track or a cutdown, followed by a weekend longer run
  • 5th week: Same as the 4th week, just alternating what workout I did the previous week. Volume may be 80-90% of goal volume
  • 6th week: Begin training for next event.

How much is enough mileage? This isn’t something I see discussed a ton, but it is an important topic. A couple of recent examples on our Facebook group and local runners that got me thinking more about this.

First, let’s preface this with a case studies of a runner who has followed a common path that started with simply following the Advanced Marathon Plan in the book. Our first athlete, Dave, came to me when he was in his early 40’s. He ran in high school but hadn’t run in decades. He followed the basic plan and ran his first marathon. If I recall correctly, he was right around 3 hours, a little north of three. From there, we’ve been gradually increasing his mileage and tweaking his training. Now, a few years later, David averages about 75 miles per week when training for a marathon and run 2:45 in the marathon. In a perfect world, David would run more, but he’s a crazy busy business man, husband, and father of teenagers. Every time we try to do more, David breaks down or gets sick. His schedule just doesn’t allow it. Instead, we try to focus more on details like strides, stretching, some strength, and diet. We’ve maxed out the mileage and turned towards the other facets of training.

Now, there’s another runner who is a local guy. I don’t coach him, but have watched him train for a number of years through our local group runs and workouts. He’s a couple years older and trains a lot more than David. I know this runner will hit 100 mile weeks on a regular basis during the marathon training blocks. I watch this runner and it almost hurts me. He is hunched over with a very weak core and his stride is very short and quick with no hip extension. I’m not trying to pick on this runner, but this is what got me thinking. In his particular case, the 100 mile weeks aren’t improving his ability anymore. Personally, what I would do is back off the mileage, take a block of time and focus on strengthening his core and improve his form through fixing muscle imbalances.

What’s the point of this comparison?

It’s really to show you that early on, we will improve just by running more mileage. However, eventually we will get to a point where more mileage isn’t going to yield results (the idea of diminishing returns). Now, don’t take this as contraindication to running moderate to high mileage, rather your body, your work and your family schedule will reach a breaking point. You probably can’t do much about the last two, but you can work on body weaknesses.

With that said, there is no perfect answer for mileage. In the books we lay out some guidelines for runners to gauge their ability to what their level of expertise is.

Beginner Competitive Elite
5k 20-30 40-50 90+
Marathon 40-50 60-70 110+

There’s a couple ways to  look at this. The first being that if you want to run to compete in age groups, win local races, etc, then you’ll probably have to run more than 30 miles per week. You can use it as a guide to build to. On the other hand if you are cranking out a ton of mileage and aren’t performing at the level you’d like to, then maybe it’s time to reevaluate your approach. Obviously this is an extremely simplified way to look at things, but at least can be a starting point for you. It also goes back to what we discussed earlier- maximize where you are at first before making a big jump. This can include those supplemental components, as well.

So there you have it, some general thoughts on increasing your mileage safely, but not taking forever to get to a desired weekly volume. Hopefully, this will guide you as you think about where you are and where you want to take your running.

Check out our Video of this post below!

HCS and Periodization: How we structure training

I’ve read a lot of books about training and everyone talks about “periodization.” For those that don’t know the term, it’s essentially a roadmap to your goal race. It is usually blocked off in chunks of training labeled base, precompetitive, and then competitive. The basic premise is that you build mileage and then insert intensity. As you begin to approach the race, or racing season, the volume decreases and the intensity decreases.

The general problem I’ve always thought about was that when I read about periodization, it’s typically centered around high school or college athlete…

The general problem I’ve always thought about was that when I read about periodization, it’s typically centered around high school or college athlete who typically has 2 or 3 set seasons. Summer is cross country prep, with fall being cross country season. Then winter serves as a base building segment and track prep, with spring and early summer being track seasons. These are typically great and for a long time would even work for athletes training for marathons. However, now there are races all the time, so does a traditional periodization method work? And does it work those running races like the marathon and half marathon?

The Linear Periodization model is typically what we see in athletes. This ok for those racing shorter distances because their races are intense, so the work that they are doing is race specific. For those racing longer distances, we don’t necessarily want more intense work when our race may not even be approaching our lactate threshold. What do we do then?

Above is the idea of a funnel periodization and I like the idea of this much better for all race distances because we are removing the idea of simply doing more intense work and replacing it with race specific speed and endurance. In this chart, the dashed line is the volume and that’s what the High and Low is referring to on the right, not high General Speed and low General Endurance. It took me a second, too! Essentially, the top line for speed starts out as general and works towards specific, while endurance starts at general endurance and works towards specific. When you look at our training plans, you’ll see that this is the general model that we follow.

Traditionally, training segments were designed for 2 or 3 major races (or racing blocks for shorter races). For instance it might be regionals and state final in cross country, and then state finals for indoor and/or outdoor track. Where many adults run into problems is they want to race at a high level several times per year. I think for many of us we should address several issues with periodization and racing in a practical sense

  1. How long do racing segments really need to be?
  2. What do I need each training block to consist of?
  3. What happens when I race the same distance continuously?
  4. Is it realistic to expect high levels of performance all the time?
  5. Racing during times of non-peak fitness- should I?

Length of race segments

There’s a lot to deciding on a race segment, regardless of race distance. If you have read any of our work on philosophy then you know that we talk a lot about moderate mileage and balance in training. This is for more than just punishing my athletes! Rather, if we are in relatively good shape the majority of the time, the we drastically reduce the time we need to prepare specifically for any race distance. Now, on the other hand, when we are habitually low mileage and/or focus on one aspect of training for too long, then you’ll need a much longer time to shift gears to sufficiently prepare for a race. Now, there’s nothing wrong if that’s your style, but it simply affects how you can prepare for a different race. I will say this, though, that if you train for marathons then your time needed to come down for a 5k will be much shorter than if it’s the other way around.

5k/10k Training low mileage/single focused moderate/balanced
beginner 12-14 weeks 12 weeks
recreational 10-12 weeks 10-12 weeks
competitive 10-12 weeks 8-10 weeks

 

Half Marathon Training Low mileage/single focused Moderate/balanced
Beginner 18+ Weeks 14-18 weeks
Recreational 16-18 Weeks 12-14 weeks
Competitive 12-14 Weeks 10-12 Weeks

 

Marathon Training Low Mileage/Single Focused Moderate/Balanced
Beginner 18-24 weeks 18 Weeks
Recreational 16-18 Weeks 14-18 Weeks
Competitive 14-16 Weeks 12-14 Weeks

 

What should my training block consist of?

With our marathoners, we’ve discussed in depth the pillars of our training: balance, consistency, moderate to high mileage, appropriate paces, and active recovery. Without one of these the whole philosophy begins to crumble. These pillars are not just for the marathoners but are applicable to all racing events.

The point is that no matter the race distance, balance is key- meaning that speed, strength, tempo, long runs and easy days are all important. Now, these may be tweaked in terms of placement and race specific intensities, but no single component should be neglected during training. I feel this is especially true for anyone not in a specialization setting (high school or college track team for example).

What happens when I race the same distance continuously?

For starters, refer above to what we just discussed. What happens when a person races the same distance over and over is that they will often become stagnant and plateau. The reasoning is because many times they simply lose balance in training and certain components become ignored for months on end. For example, if all you do is 5k races, chances are you’ll avoid doing any work at marathon pace or anything really between an easy pace and lactate threshold. The problem is that you really aren’t providing any stress at a “high aerobic” level and limit the growth of your aerobic foundation. Instead, you may be trying to pull your fitness up by only trying to improve your VO2max and top end speed. As you will hear me preach, both of those (the peak of your fitness house) will ultimately be limited by the aerobic foundation of your fitness house. The opposite can be said for folks who only run marathons. If you find yourself doing this it may be time to consider what you are lacking and break your typical training with a segment that works on those weaknesses. Then, in the future, make sure you incorporate that balance and avoid having to fall into that situation again.

Is it realistic to expect high levels of performance all the time?

In short, no. I mean that in the nicest way, too. What I will see is athletes put way too much pressure on themselves to be at peak form at all times. That’s just a tough spot to put yourself in when trying to commit to being the best runner possible. If you are segmenting your training right you just won’t be in a position to run Personal bests all the time.

So then you’ll need to ask yourself the question, “why am I running this race?” Then you’ll need to follow that with “Am I ok if the results aren’t what I’m accustomed to?” If your big picture goal is, let’s say, qualify for Boston, then is running this race going to help or hinder that? If the answer is hinder, then I’d probably pass on it. As for the question about results, I am all for doing a test run, but if I am training for a marathon then I shouldn’t expect to run a great 5k when I’m knee deep in marathon pace training. Just like our training, our races should have purpose- at least when a bigger goal is in mind.

Should I race during my non-peak fitness?

There are sometimes when racing is just not a good idea and others when it can be beneficial. When coming back from a big goal race you want to make sure you are recovered (time off) and have given yourself several weeks to return to not only running, but also workouts.

When looking at the funnel style of periodization, that leaves the middle to the later portions of the training to race. Your weekly volume and the race that you are training for will determine what races should be appropriate.

For instance, let’s say you are brand new to running and want to run a marathon. I wouldn’t recommend just training for the marathon without any race experience. So, while building your general fitness it wouldn’t be a bad idea to run progressively longer races spread out over several months of your goal marathon buildup. In this situation our goal isn’t to necessarily run fast but rather have checkpoints along the way. This way your first race experience won’t be a 26.2 mile crash course in racing.

As for shorter races, there’s a number of things to consider. For those racing the 5k and 10k distances, a race can fit in nicely as a tune up or even a workout. During general fitness building, let’s say 6-8 weeks out from your peak race, a 10k might be good race because it will allow for a tempo (Lactate Threshold) workout and will also give you a chance to see where your fitness is currently at.

From there, if you are planning on going after a 10k peak race, I would consider a 5k race 2-3 weeks before your first big attempt. When you go after that peak 10k effort, you will probably really have about two good chances in the 3-4 weeks of tapering. Some people might be able to sneak that out to six weeks, but after that you really run the risk of getting burnt out, stale, and seeing decreases in performances. As for the 5k, it’s a little tougher but a 1 mile or 2 mile effort would be great about 2-3 weeks before your peak effort. Then you can follow similar guidelines as we just discussed for the 10k, just replace 10k races with 5k races.

For races like the half marathon, a 10k effort 3-4 weeks out will serve as a good test. Running at faster than goal half marathon pace should make your goal half marathon pace feel a little more comfortable. Leading up to the half marathon, you’ll probably be doing plenty of threshold runs, so races that will take you 15-30 minutes of hard running can be inserted into training during the buildup to replace the redundancy of workouts.

There’s a couple points to consider when planning all this out:

The first is that only do the races if you are ok with not being in peak form. Understand what the goal is for each race you are doing. These should aid in building confidence, not deflating it. The second is that you really have to be careful with racing too much during the segment. For me, the main reason is that if you start replacing all your workouts with 5k races on the weekend then you start the practice of surviving the week to get the race. At that point you stop building fitness and end up just holding on until the end of the segment- if you make it that long without getting injured.

Hopefully, this has shed a little light on our training systems throughout the racing distances and what makes the wheels upstairs turn a little bit!

Warm Ups: A little science and a little art

This post originated from my athletes asking questions and then realizing that I didn't really know some of the answers. At first, this might not seem like a good situation to be in, but I disagree. I love being able to help, love becoming a more knowledgable coach, and love having new things to look into. It Kees you on your toes! So, I sat down and thought about what we should know. Here's the questions I want answered:

  • What is the purpose of a warm up?
  • What does a warmup actually do?
  • When should I warm up? Does it need to be the same routine for every type of run?
  • What do I need to do for a proper warm up?

 The purpose of the warmup?

Luckily, this one is pretty straight forward. The purpose of the warmup is to prepare the body for harder running. If we are talking about easy running, then the purpose is simply to get the body ready to run. The warmup is really bridging the gap from doing nothing to being expected to perform at some intensity harder than sitting. This is all fairly vague, I know, so what it's telling us is that that level of expected intensity is going to dictate what our warmup needs to consist of.

What does a warmup actually do?

  1. It elevates our muscle temperature. This allows faster neural impulses and increases muscular force-velocity relationships.
  2. It raises our baseline VO2. There appears to be a sweet spot of 65-70% VO2max where following performances are best. This is a light to moderate run for most people. The key is to warm up but not get fatigued before the race.
  3. It improves our active range of motion. Dynamic stretching can improve your active range of motion which can improve stride mechanics. This could make you more economical, earlier in the race.
  4. Increased motor neuron firing. The more fibers you have firing at the start means less time you have to wait once the race has started.

 When should I warm up?
Truth be told, I think there's room for some sort of warmup for most days. I'm not saying you need 45 minutes to get ready for your morning easy run, but give me a few minutes. You might thank me later!
Easy days:
As I mentioned, I just need a few minutes. We don't really need to worry about really finding that sweet spot with the VO2 since our easy runs are going to be in that range anyway. Also, we aren't really looking to have all neurons firing. Really, if you are over the age of 30, you just don't want to feel like complete garbage for the first 10 minutes of the run. My suggestion is to take 3-5 minutes and do a quick and dirty dynamic stretching routine. Here’s ours If you want some other variations, I encourage you to visit www.coachjayjohnson.com He’s got some great stuff too. The fringe benefits of doing this will include being able to settle into your desired pace sooner and feeling smoother earlier. Also, if you do this on a regular basis, then you can help preserve hip mobility and strength. If you are really tight in your hips, then you will probably actually improve it. Why does this matter? Hip mobility and strength is crucial in allowing those big levers that we call legs, to do their job- making you faster, more economical, and fight the breakdown of form that occurs in endurance running.

SOS Days/Race Days
(5k, 10k, maybe ½ marathon)
Here is where you’ll need the most time, since we are making the most drastic transition from being at rest to high intensity efforts. The nice thing here though, is that we can get some double benefit here. One, it’s going to help our weekly mileage. Two, it’s going to be an easy way to get strides in during the week (I’ll have to write another post on strides). Since we are running fast we need to make sure that we are incorporating all the aspects of the warm up- muscle temp, VO2, range of motion, and neuron firing.
A sample warm up:
Start with dynamic stretching to loosen hips up

  1. 15-20 minutes of easy running. I typically want 20 minutes, but I know many of you are time crunched.
  2. *Optional* Form Drills. If you are really crunched for time, I understand, but these will take really about 5 minutes to do. Form Drills
  3. Strides: Do 4x10 seconds, or so. This should be fast about 95-98% of your max effort. The key is to keep them short. Recover fully before doing the next one.

~Note: Last stride should be done about 10 minutes before the start of the race. Do whatever you plan on doing for a race before your workouts. Be consistent. For half marathoners, if you are looking to run over 2:00:00 for the race, I recommend doing the marathon warm up below.

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Tapering?

There are a few different theories on taper and it’s something we screw up pretty easily. Many people complain that the Hanson Methods don’t allow a taper, which I don’t agree with. We do taper, We just don’t follow a plan that takes drastic measures. Tangent: I feel that those who have to make severe cuts to their training will often have to, in order to compensate for a training segment that was too long, too intense, or both.

Back on topic:

The point is that we often mess the taper up and we over-think it. Here’s a good blog post from Steve Magness that supports our ideals and can maybe explain it better than I can alone:

Hansons Half Marathon Method: Ebook style!

Hey All! As soon as HHMM was released, people were asking about ebook versions. Well, guess what? I have a few links for you who were holding out for the digital copies:

 

Available EBOOKS

 

KINDLE: http://www.amazon.com/Hansons-Half-Marathon-Method-Your-Best-ebook/dp/B00JV2H5I8/

 

NOOK: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hansons-half-marathon-method-luke-humphrey/1117074151?ean=9781937715199

 

KOBO: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/books/hansons-half-marathon-method/

 

Apple: Still waiting

 

 

Early 2014 Clinics and Group Training Options

We now have our early 2014 clinic and group training options up on the site! Look under “clinics” to see all the options. We have everything from “couch to 5k” for beginners all the way up to Boston Marathon training groups. There’s something for everyone and all are welcome! Hope to see many of you out here at the lab!

Hot Topic 9/20/2013- diet trends

Ok, so I was going to do a Hot Topic on tapering, but I have been working on the nutrition chapter of my forthcoming half marathon book. I was looking over the chapter I wrote for Hansons Marathon Method as well as, doing some casual research in current trends. One thing that struck me was the growing popularity of high fat, low(er) carb diets and endurance athletes. I shook my head at a lot of it, but some of it makes sense.

Forgive me if my details aren’t exact but here’s basically what I know about high fat/low carbs and general eating habits.

1) The idea is that we eat too much carbs (true, but misleading) and that the excess carbs we eat are turned into fat. That part is also true. However, Americans eat way too much crappy carbs- pop, candy, starch, processed junk. That we know. What we don’t eat enough of is fruits, veggies, high fiber carbs. So, while we do eat too much of the crappy carbs, we don’t eat enough of the good carbs. So all that junk is not used and absolutely does turn into fat.

2)  If you eat too much fat, it doesn’t have to convert to anything, it just has to get stored!

3) High fat/low carb has been shown people to lose weight in the SHORT TERM. There isn’t a lot of evidence of long term maintenance.

4) You have to replace what you burn. Unless you train at a fast walk, you are burning both fat and carbs. You have theoretically unlimited stores of fat, while your carb stores can vanish within an interval workout. If you don’t replace what you burnt just to get back to baseline, things will not go well after even a few days.

5) If you focus on high quality food and nutritiously dense food, these things balance themselves out. That means eat lean sources of protein,  eat your fruits and veggies, and stay away from fatty/greasy crap as much as you can. If you can do that, you can take a lot of the guesswork out of your diet.

Feel free to discuss your thoughts below. Better yet, if you have had experiences to share, please do!

 

Luke

Fall half and full training clinics

It’s that time of year again! Time to start thinking about those fall half and full marathons. Hanson’s Running Shops and Hanson’s Coaching Services are again providing their annual training programs for those looking to complete a fall marathon.

The kick off date is June 13 where we will be discussing the program itself, the group runs, and the training. We will be offering regular training clinics along the way and their will be group runs for all the major running days including weekly speed nights, tempo runs, and 16 mile long runs.

Check out the clinics section for all the details and to register: http://www.lukehumphreyrunning.com/half-full-training-clinics/ The cost for the entire program is only $75!!

Remember, if you are a Hanson’s Yellow Team member, you enjoy a 15% discount if you use the code in your members section!

 

One project down…

For over a year, I have been attempting to finish a major project. For those of you who know me, I know what you are thinking- “Which one?” I know, it seems like I have a long To-Do list for the coaching site. Well, I can now say that I have one thing checked off! The semi-custom schedules are done! I know have available for use- 5k-marathon schedules that are based on different skill level. We have from a Just Finish program in the 5k to an elite level marathon schedule. We also have the classic Hanson’s Marathon schedules- yes the one’s with a 16 mile long run. These include the day to day details, workout details, and pace charts. Any schedule is $14.95, immediately available for download after purchase, AND include a 12 month subscription to the members only content on the site. A pretty good deal! Hopefully, anyone who wants a good schedule or coaching can now find an option that fits their needs. To access these programs, follow this link.