Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why you should throw away your GPS (at least some of the time)

I am a data nerd. Because of that, I love my GPS and all the wonderful information it provides me. On every single run, I can know my distance, pace, elevation, mile splits, fastest pace, slowest pace, and more. It is a wealth of information and I love having that readily available for me to dissect and devour. But a few weeks ago, disaster struck. I lost my charging cord for my GPS, and so had to go several days without it.

The first day, I was so anxious that I almost didn't even run. After all, if I don't post my run on Strava, did it really happen? I thought about just bringing my old-school Timex Ironman watch, but the battery on that was dead too. What was I to do? I sucked it up, put on my big boy shorts, and ran a loop that I know is 6.3 miles long. And you know what? It was one of the most enjoyable runs I've had in a very long time!

It made me realize that having a GPS, or even a regular watch, is inviting yourself to be distracted almost constantly. For me, I have a tendency to check my GPS every few minutes to verify I'm not running too slow or too fast, or see how far I've gone, or just for the heck of it. This interrupts my train of thought and makes me enslaved to this device.

As a runner, I like the runs where I just zone out and let my mind wander. Running is very therapeutic for me because it lets me take some time to think about whatever is on my mind. It's my "me" time where I can just be alone with my thoughts. Having my GPS alert me every mile takes me out of my revelry and disrupts my train of thought, making the runs seem longer and less enjoyable. Running without a watch removes the temptation to see how far I've gone, and so the run goes by quicker.

Running without a watch or GPS also allows me to run entirely on feel, and not care about the pace. As a runner and a coach, I really don't care how fast or how slow an easy run is. In fact, I believe it is nearly impossible to run too slow on an easy day. Yes, if you typically run 8:00 pace on your easy runs, and go 12:00 pace one day, that is too slow, but for me, I'd rather see someone run a bit slower and recover better than go too quick and not be as recovered. Leaving your GPS at home allows you to not even worry about your pace, and just go at whatever speed feels good that day. Maybe you're feeling good and doing 7:30 pace, or perhaps you are fatigued and can only do 9:00 miles that day. Who cares? What's important is that you run whatever pace feels comfortable and listen to your body.

Now, this only applies to easy runs. I still live and die by my GPS for long runs, tempo runs, marathon pace runs, and any run where I don't have a predetermined loop in mind. After all, I can't just go out and run for time! That would be insanity! GPS watches are invaluable training tools that let you monitor your pace in real time, which is crucial for doing workouts off the track. But for your day to day easy runs, where pace doesn't matter and the times are made up, try leaving the watch at home and see how it goes. You just may find out that it makes your running more enjoyable!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why You Should Train Like an Elite

In my last post, I described why mere mortals such as you and I should not strive to train like an elite runner. This time, I want to explain why there are some cases and ways that you should train like elite!

We are lucky enough to live in a time when almost the entire world is connected via the internet, and ideas can be shared with a huge audience in real-time. Tools such as YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram allow coaches and professional athletes to give fans a glimpse into the training. As such, I follow many elite runners and their coaches on these websites. One thing stands out to me above anything else: most professional runners do more than just run. They do core work, they lift weights, they do form drills or take yoga. But they don't do these things just because they want a change of scenery. They do these specifically to enable them to run better.

Many people, including very good runners, believe that doing any supplemental training is counter-productive, since you could be using that time to run. It is true that running more is almost always a good idea. However, running more is also a great way to get injured. How do you prevent injuries? By making sure your body is A) working efficiently and correctly, and B) able to withstand the rigors of training.

Suppose your current training ceiling is 50 miles per week. Any more than that and you tend to get injured. Why is this? It's because there are issues that are negligible under 50mpw that surface as you run more on more fatigued legs. Maybe it's an overpronation, or a weak core, or a leg length discrepancy. By strengthening, stretching, and doing form drills, you can alleviate or even correct this issue, and increase your ceiling to 70mpw. Now you can run more and get more fit without getting injured. That is the benefit of supplemental training.

This how you should aspire to train like elites. Don't get caught in the belief that all you should do is run. Take a cue from the professionals and spend some time working on your strength or your flexibility. Running mile after mile overworks the same muscles and tends to deactivate others, so by targeting those muscles, you can alleviate the tightness in your overused and the weakness in your underused muscles. You will set yourself up to be more resistant to injury, and therefore faster!

Here a few example that I have found recently that illustrate how professional runners do more than "just run, baby!"

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why you shouldn't train like an elite

We're all guilty of it. We read an article about an elite athlete, find some new workouts, and think "well if it worked for them, surely it will work for me." Unfortunately this frequently does more harm than good.

The reason comes down to physiology. Your body doesn't understand distance and pace. When you exercise, your body knows two things: your perceived effort, and the duration of the workout. In other words, an easy run might be 45 minutes at a comfortable pace, and an interval session could consist of several 4-minute repeats at race pace. Even though you might see these as an easy 5 miles and 800m repeats, to your body they are just times and effort.

Consider, then, if an elite marathoner does a 16-mile marathon pace run four weeks before his goal race. You might be inclined to follow suit and try one yourself before your next marathon. If you do, I almost guarantee that your race will suffer because of it. Think about it: a 2:10 marathoner runs 5:00 per mile for the 26.2 mile distance. A 16-mile run at 5:00 pace would only take one hour and twenty minutes. For someone shooting for a 3:30 marathon, or approximately 8:00 per mile, 16 miles at that pace would take over two hours! That is certainly not the same workout as the elite's! A closer approximation would be a 10-mile marathon pace run, which would take 80 minutes.

Another way of looking at it is to compare weekly mileage. An elite running 100 miles per week at an average pace of 6:00 per mile trains for a total of ten hours. The same 3:30 marathoner might average 10:00 per mile. If she attempted to run 100 miles in a week, it would take her 16 hours! She would be doing 60% more volume than the elite, and would doubtless experience symptoms of overtraining. It would only be a matter of time before she got injured. Again, to scale it down it is beneficial to compare time. Ten hours of training at 10:00 is 60 miles per week, a much more manageable and intelligent amount for a 3:30 runner.

But that doesn't even take into consideration the other factors that separate an elite from an average runner. Most elites run twice a day, take a nap between their runs, and have a host of professionals to help them recover: massage therapists, nutritionists, and sports medicine doctors. Most of us work full-time jobs, have children, and might get a massage once a year.

What does all this mean? For one, don't try to emulate something you heard about an elite athlete doing. There is a better chance of you injuring yourself than seeing an improvement. Also, there is more to training than just running miles and workouts ; recovery is important too. But you can still incorporate ideas from elites; just be sure to scale them appropriately and remember that you have other stressors in your life. Adapt your training to fit your life, not the other way around. Then you will see improvements.