Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Some Myths That May Be Killing Your Running: Part 2

Myth Number 4: You can train for a marathon just as well running 30 miles a week as 60 miles a week.
"It is necessary to understand that, while the object of training is to develop your anaerobic capacity to exercise, this can only be done in relation to your oxygen uptake level and capacity to exercise aerobically. In other words, it is necessary to run as many miles or kilometers as you possibly can at economic or aerobic speeds to lift your oxygen uptake to your highest possible level as the foundation upon which to base your anaerobic or speed training." ~ Arthur Lydiard
I started this "Myths That May Be Killing Your Running" (Part I) thing back in November, and I'm only on part 2. Seems this might be a marathon in its own right!! But I'm skipping to #4. Don't worry. I'll go back.

So, I hear this from so many aspiring marathoners, time and again: I like to run 3 days a week and cross train or do cross fit, or PX90, or Insanity, or the butt-kicking workout du jour. Less is more...I have a friend and it worked for her...

Here's the classic beginners marathon program - This is approach is practiced by (uninformed) coaches the world over: Run 10 miles during the week and then a long run on the weekend - up to 20 miles. This is a pretty standard approach for programs like Team In Training - and their program serves as a model for many smaller local training groups. Now, I have great respect for Team In Training and their laudable aims, but their methods are flawed for long term gains and health as a runner. Their aim is to get a runner to the finish, and they succeed remarkably well in that regard. But, that does not mean that this approach works for those who want to run, and not merely finish, a marathon. And again, I'm not judging the "I just want to finish" goal. But I also don't want to be judged because I might want something beyond finishing - and by that, I mean perhaps a time goal or making running a long term part of my life rather then something to check off the bucket list, or whatever. 

So, I'm here to say that this is a bad approach - both the "less is more" and the "weekend warrior" approach will not give MOST of us the best result nor the most pleasant experience - whether you are a novice or not. Whether you see yourself as a "one and done" marathoner or have other goals down the road.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news (and please don't shoot the messenger), but the research does not support this approach.  Don't get me wrong: there are many many disagreements within the running/coaching community about what is "best" in training. If there was ONE agreed upon approach then we would ALL be doing it. But things are not that simple.

Aristotle notes that we can only seek the degree of precision that a subject allows  ("Now, what I have to say about this will be adequate if I clarify it as much as the subject matter allows.  For we must not seek the same precision in all discussions..." ~ Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics). Training is messy business. We change our minds. We discover new things.  And so we must rely on the information we have, the research and the experience - Not our personal experience alone (hasty generalization), though that may matter for us, but the whole of experience.

There's two issues to consider here: 1) Aerobic and metabolic development, and 2) the specificity of training.

The ONLY way to develop your aerobic and metabolic system for running long distances is to run long distances which serves to increase the number and size of mitochondria in your muscles - and mitochondria are THE energy producing centers for your muscles.

So the fact is that weekly mileage matters and the best way to get your necessary/desirable dose of mileage is with regular, easy running. Easy running allows you to run more without getting injured and/or exhausted. Of course, as I've written about before, most of us run our easy runs too hard.  If you only run 3 or 4 "quality", which means hard, runs a week, you are missing out on this essential part of your training. Basically, you're trying to build a house before you have a foundation on which to place your house. 

So, the first step for any sort of training plan is to develop a wide base of aerobic capacity, which you can then build your speed on.  Easy and moderate mileage should make up 80% of your weekly miles. What some may refer to in the pejorative as "junk" mileage serves to:

*Increase and maximize Fat Metabolism
*Increase the number of aerobic enzymes
*Increase the Size and Number of Mitochondria in the Muscles
*Increase Capillarization

But these runs are relatively slow and long - 30 minutes to 3 hours (max). In an aim to get more with less, these sorts of runs get left out of the schedule. These are often not viewed as "quality" runs that are a necessary part of a well developed system. 

And for those doing the low mileage, 'weekend warrior'  approach, they just aren't getting enough of these miles.

To illustrate this idea consider a triangle: Optimal training for a goal event looks like a triangle, and the broader the base the taller the peak can be. The more narrow the base, the lower the peak, or the higher the likelihood that it may topple over.
The left triangle can still go much higher before it becomes unstable, while the one on the right is pretty maxed out at it's current height. The deeper and broader your aerobic base, the higher your peak performance can be.

Quality, runs are essential - Lactate Threshold, VO2 Max intervals, Intense/Short Repetitions - are all necessary to build the peak toward your potential, but if there is no base, then the slightest ill wind will blow it over, and more importantly, during your race you will not have the physiological adaptations to tap in to.

Descartes, the French philosopher famously known for his claim: "I think, therefore, I am", said that the Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle and Plato, constructed beautiful palaces built upon foundations of mud and sand. Theories many sound beautiful, simple, appealing, but when the evidence points elsewhere, it's foolish to believe what one wants to believe in spite of evidence to the contrary. 

This is what we know now. This is an ongoing search for understanding and results.  And, we are ALL part of this ongoing experimentation and research.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Monday Minute: Everybody, Do The Flamingo!!

"Our strength grows out of our weaknesses." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson 
Want to be a stronger, happier runner??? Do the flamingo, everyday ;) For most of us our greatest weakness begins at our feet. it's further exacerbated by sitting for hours working, driving, watching TV...

I began a little experiment on myself about 2 weeks ago, after attending the USATF Distance Summit and listening to and talking with Jay Dicharry. He posted a picture of a flamingo (much like the one above) from his book Anatomy For Runners  and presented compelling evidence supporting the view that relying on shoes to solve our foot woos is a bad idea not just for your running but for your mobility for life. Studies indicate that in parts of the world where supportive shoes are the norm, medial knee osteoarthritis occurs at a much higher rates than in other areas of the world. In fact, in areas where supportive, raised heeled, shoes are not prevalent, knee osteoarthritis is rare. Instead, hip osteoarthritis occurs, but it shows up, on average, 20 years later.  Supportive shoes alter how impact is distributed across the the knee, so the impact is subtly moved more medially. Now, this is no argument for barefoot running, and Dicharry is very clear that that is probably not optimal, nor practical, but it does suggest that instead of relying on shoes and other gadgets, we should be working out our feet as much as the rest of our bodies. We ignore foot strength to our detriment.

What struck me and stuck with me was when Dicharry said: "Shoes do not stabilize people, people stabilize people." Of course I knew this, but seeing the results of not doing this just drove the point home.

So, my experiment: I teach about 4 hours a day - that's four hours on my feet (one of my classes is 2hs and 5 minutes long) - and I'm what you might call a peripatetic teacher - I walk. I never stand still. But over the past 2 weeks I've been doing the flamingo in class. Yes, my students find me to be a constant source of entertainment, but I'm okay with that. Balance has always been a big bugaboo for me, and I use to chuckle at my klutziness, but no more. Now I'm working on it.

Of course, all things in moderation, and as Dicharry points out in the video below, a little work goes a long way. I'll see how my experiment works out and hopefully I won't topple over while explaining Kant's epistemology. Though that would make for a lively class!

So everyone. Do the flamingo!! Everyday.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Fluke Factor

1. A stroke of good luck.
2. A chance occurrence; an accident.
3. Games An accidentally good or successful stroke in billiards or pool.
"I am always doing things I can't do, that's how I get to do them." ~ Pablo Picasso 
I have heard this word, 'Fluke', uttered so often from the mouths of runners who have just accomplished something big - something important - something, at one time, unimaginable: "Oh. Yes, I ran a marathon, but it was just a fluke." "Yes, I did just PR, but it was just a fluke." "I qualified for Boston, but I'm afraid it was just a fluke, so now I need to do it again."...or else... 

The Fluke Factor (as I call it), based on my experience, seems to plague women more than men. I have heard so many women (myself included) cross the finish-line, having just run a strong race, or a personal best, or a new distance, and immediately downplay what they've just done. Others reflect later on their accomplishments and wonder if what they did was just some strange stroke of good luck. 

This thought worms its way into one's confidence and self image - and suddenly the achievement is thrown into doubt. It was all just a fluke - luck - had nothing to do with ME. There is a reason why a fluke is also a parasite. Parasites live off of you, drain your energy, take what they need and leave you with nothing.

So we set out to see if it was just a fluke - can we do it again? - or can we not?  And this thought eats at us. And if we don't do it again, does that mean that WE never did what they actually, really, did?

The other interesting tendency I notice is that we rarely call a bad race a 'fluke'. Nooooo. The bad races are entirely MY fault. The bad races show what I'm really made of. But the good races? Nah. That's all just fickle luck. We berate ourselves for our failures and shrug off our successes.

But this is another problem with really committing to and going after your wildest dreams: When you achieve them, it's as if it can't possibly be true. You didn't really do that! How in the world could you have done that?

Well, I'm here to tell you that there are no FLUKES in running. The beauty and pain and challenge and appeal of running lies in the very fact that it is entirely up to YOU. You have no one to blame for your failures, nor for your successes. It's all about you.

Yes, it is important to have support, and that matters a lot, but no one can run the run for you. We are often more than willing to heap crap on ourselves for our "failures" (and I've written before about how essential failure is for our success and growth), but we dismiss our successes so easily. 

I know runners who think that their first marathons were flukes. That their first BQs were flukes. That all their PRs are flukes. I try to reassure them that this is just impossible - I don't care if you were running with someone - someone who encouraged you, was there for you - that all adds to the experience but doesn't alter the simple (ha, not so simple) accomplishment of having done it.

Now, with chip timing and notification, I get a little jolt of energy every time I cross a mat in a race knowing that the people I care about know where I am. It matters, but they aren't running the race for me, they're just helping to make it a bit sweeter.

It's scary to reach for our goals, but when we courageously go after it, we should at least savor what we achieve. Go do what you can't do, and then accept that you did what you thought you could not do, and relish that knowledge.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

You Are Braver Than You Believe

“Promise me you'll always remember: You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Christopher Robin to Pooh  ~ A.A. Milne
As the Boston Marathon quickly approaches there's the annual hullabaloo among runners surrounding all things Boston  - in real time and on the interwebs - Boston chatter will be reaching a fevered pitch. I remember watching, witnessing, running friends prepare for Boston 2011 and then vicariously joining them, longingly, on their journey to Beantown. And then a sudden feeling, an impulse, hit me square between the eyes - I want to do that - but I'm not good enough - am I???

That thought planted a seed, started something that was both good and bad, exciting and terrifying, and I secretly set out to do it. Or, I would secretly find out I couldn't do it - but that would remain my little secret and, perhaps, my little shame if I failed...

Reflecting on this, I've changed my feelings on all that...and at the same time I haven't.

Then the other day a friend was feeling down in the dumps. Watching the build up to Boston, watching friends train and plan, she said:  'It's in my face all day, every day...I'm not good enough. :( " I know this feeling. I've been there. 

And the fact is that there are always some goals we will reach and other we will fall short of. That's the risk of trying, of reaching, of dreaming. But it's the reaching that matters. It's the effort that matters. It's the life, the energy.  We LIVE in the pursuit of what is best in ourselves.

And the fact is that I am still in the exact place where my friend finds herself - I still have many many other goals. Those may never be reached, but they keep me excited about trying and sometimes they take me pretty dang far even if I don't get there - or they lead me down a new road I had not seen or been aware of before. 

But the real issue here is: What's the alternative? We can all set our sights nice and safe and low, and achieve them all, pat ourselves on the back for achieving things that really didn't demand much from ourselves and never know what we could really do (This does allow us to lie to ourselves - "Oh I could do that if I tried." or "I could do that if I wanted to." Baaaa). Or - or - we can go for the wildly outrageous, crazy, pie-in-the-sky goals that get our spines tingling. 

On the other side of the hullabaloo equation, there is the regrettable response, or backlash, to all that is Boston - a reaction (and reaction is always dictated by something outside of yourself - it's not creative - it offers nothing new) instead of an action. Instead of aiming high and perhaps failing, they dismiss the whole enterprise: Who cares about that stupid, over-hyped, elitist race? Who needs Boston? 

Well, who needs any of it?? - Who needs marathons, or 10ks, or 5k, or that jog around the block without stopping for the first time? Who needs any of it? Why waste your life reaching for things you may never get? 

Why? Because, as Socrates put it so well back in 399 BCE, "Not life, but good life, is to be chiefly valued."

I am reaching for new goals, and I may not achieve them, but it would really be a shame, for my life, if I did not try. If I don't succeed I will not be ashamed. In the trying I am doing. In not trying I am doing nothing. That is not the life for me. 

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...