Running with Purpose

“If your target is top running performance, then to overtrain means to apply more force than is required to hit that target. In fact, overtraining may literally obliterate your target, or at least leave you without the will to pursue it.”  -Jack Daniels

Well alright! We’re into the swing o’ things here in mid-January. We’ve probably got at least the spring events lined up and we’re now doing the specific work to prepare for that first big race, which is comin’ up fast! >>>

Running coach, Jack Daniels, suggests that every run we do serve a purpose. In 2015, I’m making this idea the centerpiece of all plans I create for athletes, as well as for myself. Since all the athletes I’m currently working must have superior muscular endurance to be successful in their events, then the long run is the most important session of the week. Therefore, we must take great care to arrive to our long runs mentally and physically fresh to accomplish this steady-state effort with a high degree of mindfulness.

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In general, the long run should remain a Zone 1-2 (RPE easy to moderate) effort throughout. The habits internalized in this endurance session are the ones we bring into racing, thus we want to be thinking about our pacing, nutrition, hydration, use of gear that encourages comfort and efficiency, etc. In addition, the long run is the place to create the conditions for “flow,” a state of mind where your running may be described as fluid and effortless. Be smooth, be efficient, and as Matt Fitzgerald writes, “Practice running beautifully.” Beautiful running, as corny as it may sound, is efficient running. Relax, and let it happen on those long efforts…

The next most important session would then be the Tempo run, or perhaps alternated with Tempo Intervals, where we work in Zone 3 to low Zone 4 (RPE mod-hard). Tempo serves a variety of purposes to include the development of leg-speed, which is a critical component, all the way out to Ironman, the 100mi trail run, and beyond (Victor Ballesteros!). Awareness during the Tempo run should be placed on progress from a lower RPE/HR to a nice plateau where you seek to find that place where you are uncomfortable, yet the effort is sustainable. We derive so much quality from training approx once/week at tempo, especially when the long run is conducted appropriately. Lastly, the tempo run gradually develops our ability to suffer (or deal with discomfort—vs. dealing with pain).

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Hills. Generally, the hill session, in my mind, is third in line, behind the long and tempo runs. When we arrive at the doorstep of this session, it’s good to get a nice, long warm-up, get that “Green Light” from the body, before asking our bodies to work in Zone 4-5 (RPE hard). On a side note, hills conquered during our long sessions develop the capacity to climb efficiently. Hills repeats, on the other hand, build power, thus the reason for the relatively short interval (1 or 2min up a steep climb with plenty of recovery between each permits effective recovery.

Begin with the end in mind. When I prescribe a hill session for an athlete, I do so by asking the athlete to run a range # of intervals. It’s their job to be honest with themselves, in the moment, to determine what # of intervals is optimal for them on the day. So, if I write 5-8 x 1min Hard, then they would hit the first interval thinking of the last interval. They should progressively increase in intensity, SEEKING to make the last one their strongest. This doesn’t always happen and some sessions might simply be terrible. Accept it and move on with your day. The next quality session might just be the best you’ve ever done! Our energy ebbs-n-flows. Go with it >>>

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You should always complete any quality session with more to give. Again, be honest with yourself and never judge yourself. Be objective. And that means knowing yourself. Remember the rule: “Never do a workout from which you cannot recover in approximately 24 hours. Doing so will encourage your capacity to string together weeks—and months!—of quality training, where you enjoy the gradual increase in fitness while optimizing health. Recall that presence of mind encourages optimal performance.

Finally, is the active recovery run. We can do a lot with these, including doing a single, easy 30min session, or even two short, easy sessions in a day, to best facilitate optimal active recovery. The purpose of active recovery, is to keep the effort parked in Zone 1 (RPE easy). when your active recovery session are truly easy, then this allows your body to flush the “junk” out of your legs, promoting awesome circulation, and encourages your ability to bring more quality to your long, tempo, and hill sessions. You can’t hear it enough: Keep the easy days EASY so that the hard/quality days actually CAN BE of the highest quality. If your easy days are not easy then your hard days cannot be as hard as they should be, and mediocrity ensues, blending everything toward the middle. No bueno! This phenomenon is an affliction from which a lot of endurance athletes suffer. I have. We all have! Bottom line, give yourself permission to simply enjoy running easy on these days, knowing that doing so could very well be a game-changer for your quality efforts.

Deriving great satisfaction from your quality sessions builds on what Fitzgerald refers to “psychological momentum.” This state of being is the training/racing “sweet spot” in which we’re empowered, excited, and may—from time to time—feel almost like we’re being “pulled” out-of-doors to train, relishing in our movement. Strive for nothing less in your training. Not quite there? Sleep more.

The rest day is an opportunity for the mind and body to absorb the quality training you’ve done. It’s during the rest days—and recovery weeks—where we actually grow stronger. Never underestimate the power of rest! Trust this principle of training. It’s oft misunderstood!

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Cross-training should be based on the individual’s preference for other aerobic-based sports, like cycling or swimming. Triathletes have it easy since they really don’t have time to injure themselves running since the bike demands so much of their time. The bike being a highly effective means of continuing to develop the aerobic fitness they’ll need for the season. Triathlon’s been called a “haven for the running wounded.” That’s how I got into it (and stayed!) for a decade! Cycling, for example can always be done in place of an active recovery run; athletes never have to ask me to supplant an active recovery run with a bike—the answer’s always “Sure thing!”

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Strength. Since running’s the priority (and swimming/cycling for the triathletes) then committing to strength sessions is challenging, since a regular, longer strength session can negatively impact training for our primary sport(s). Thus, I’ve become a big fan of “peppering” in strength as I have energy and opportunity, which, if I’m creative, I have in abundance. For example, I’m now doing short, morning strength/stretching session every week-day morning where I do some combination of yoga, TRX, kettle-bell, and a wide variety of body-weight exercises, including the classics: sets of push-ups, sit-ups, planks, pull-ups, squats, etc. I listen to my body and work on stuff that’s not sore! Some days become all yoga while others are more pure strength. I printed out a calendar from a spreadsheet I made, leading up to my next race and have it up in the garage, so I can hold myself accountable and fill in something on Mon-Fri. Sessions range from 10min to 30min, approx. Experiment and see what works for you. A strong body is more inclined to hold on to good form late in quality sessions and races, leaving us less likely to suffer an injury brought on by some variety of over-compensation caused by muscular fatigue. Again, don’t judge yourself. Strive to be objective and realize, when it comes to strength, less can very well be more. Even 15 ten-minute sessions a month adds up to something considerable. That 2.5 hours goes a long way. Pepper it in. See what happens.

What we do outside of training is more important than the training itself, especially once the overall weekly volume is over 10-12hrs. Sleep, nutrient-dense foods, and plenty of water will truly allow you to consistently perform at your best. As Einstein so famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing things the same way and expecting different results.” So, make sure you have explicit plans in place to evolve both your training process and your race-day execution.

Keep the purpose of each session in mind whenever you head out the door. Keep yourself in balance, and above all else, place your health above fitness. I’ll strive to do the same.

Thanks to my beautiful, loving, and highly supportive wife Amanda for her thankless job [even from afar] as “First Responder.”

Thank you to Hoka One One for the their continued support and producing the best shoes out there—DEMAND MORE! 

Thanks to Inside Trail Racing for your offering so many fantastic races in great places.  |   Thanks to Clif Bar for fueling my training and racing.  |   Nuya is perfectly natural hydration that combines electrolytes and carbohydrates to properly hydrate and fuel your body. I love it as a recovery drink!

Thank you Healdsburg Running Company for opening up in my ‘hood. Love the new store and the weekly group runs. It’s great to be building community with you!

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