Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Dreaded, Wonderful, Down Week

A down week was always something I saw the rationale in but either tried to avoid or put off when I was coaching myself or tried to stealthily add miles in when given training plans in the past. Each run I'd rationalize a little and run a little extra here and there...no harm done, right? Peak and hold it there, right? Forever and ever. Um, yeah.....no!

Last week was my first cutback week since working with Coach Doug after my highest volume week since I started training again. I decided to follow it as close to the letter as possible. Now that I'm back to a build week I am glad I did this, and it wasn't nearly as difficult as I once believed it was. Not to mention I was dealing with some mild but irritating DOMS in my quads and calves, so rest was sounding like a good idea when this came up on the training plan. Not that I didn't almost enjoy that heavy and tired feeling-especially since it was just symmetrical training pain indicating progress, they were whispering "rest us... c'mon, just a little bit". 

I think I have finally figured out why I used to do this and overlook what is critical for me in training: quite simply, I didn't know what to do with myself when not pressing towards something-at least in the short term. So I did a little reading and a lot of self talk and figured out how to feel productive while recharging for the next phase. As obvious as it sounds, I filled in the time not running with working on strength and stability: two necessary attributes for efficiency and injury prevention. Some runners like to rest more, but for me always being a 'workout person'. I find I feel better mentally and physically if I do some sort of activity most days, and I don't have to be pounding the pavement EVERY day (my withdrawl window I guess has gotten longer over time, LOL), so I add in something that doesn't get as much attention when doing long runs and workouts, and I'm less tired while doing them. 

So I went to an extra yoga class, got a massage, lifted lightly a third day, and felt fit the entire time, versus the old mind game of feeling flabby and lazy if I don't put 'x' miles in. I didn't even have time to think about that since there was structured active recovery in there. I think that is where most of us go wrong is not filling in the gaps in a way that suits them when either cutting back or tapering. 

So what does one of these weeks entail? Well, it varies. 

A down week looks different for every athlete and it is highly subjective depending on mileage, goals, experience, history, etc. Some need one every 3 weeks, some every 2 months. A couple years ago a Running Times article written by Kristin Berry and featuring Pete Rea of Zap Fitness and Jay Johnson of Boulder covered different ways of incorporating these weeks in athletes ranging from 5k runners to marathoners. The purpose is pretty simple, a reduction of 15-20% of peak mileage is a common rule and designed to systematically induce muscle and glycogen re-synthesis and have a general restorative effect. 

What does it feel like? A million dollars? For me, not even close. I was just as sore if not a little more the first couple days and I felt borderline stale on the easiest of runs. Instead of worrying about pacing, I put on the HRM for the week to keep it honest. As the week went on, I felt better and my average HR was lower after at first seeing the thing jump around or be a little higher relative to my perceived effort. Clearly, this week was timed appropriately.

Think of training like climbing flights of stairs: say you want to reach the top of this tall building and that is your goal, however, it may not be the best idea to just start going up and up without any reprive. Now imagine if the stairs have landings and shift directions. Now we're making progress and it's less daunting-both for the body and the mind, as there are scheduled points to take a break and refresh so you can make it to the top without burning out. Before you know it, you've made it to the top of the building, and you feel pretty dang good about it too. 

Today I am headed to the oval to do a few speed repeats, and am feeling confident in the relative rest I put in. All in the process. Anyone else like doing these weeks? They tend to be an acquired taste :) 

Stay the course.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Year in Running: 2014

Since my short season ended over Thanksgiving and I'm entering a 6-week base and threshold phase of training; plus a little prompt from online partner-in-crime MissZippy, I thought I'd post my year-in-review a little early instead of my typical after-Christmas special. Lucky for you all-this one is designed to not be anything like my usual lengthy word-salad of a post! I will say, however, 2014 was difficult yet fairly successful in terms of race outcomes. More importantly, I gained a TON of new support and knowledge as the year unfolded. For Specifics, see below: 

§  Best race experience? Hmmm...I had two. First was the Cypress Triathlon at Bridgeland for two reasons: 1. I ended up with the fastest non-pro female run split, and 2. That split time helped me qualify the USAT Age Group Nationals for the third time. Second race was the recent GE Run Thru The Woods. Why? For starters, I saw a 2-minute time improvement in my 3 mile time from July and I got to rock the Oiselle kit for the first time. Although more of a training exercise and social event, out on the course I gained a lot of confidence back in my potential to get faster and my body to allow me to do so. Boom.  

§  Best run? This would have to be my run back in late October in the Texas Hill Country. This was one of those I did not want to end! If you haven't been to this part of the world in the Fall, you are missing out.
Medina, TX: a little slice of  Heaven. 

§  Best new piece of gear? Since being added to Oiselle's team this summer, that is a tough one-as I like basically everything they come out with. I would have to say the pair of Adidas Boston Boost trainers have been a favorite. They are incredibly versatile, and absorb shock like champions. 

§  Best piece of running advice you received? "Practice deep training; focus on what you are doing in the moment, not how tired you are or the outcome, as this increases the rate of mylenation in your running muscles."-Dr. Joe Vigil when he visited he Woodlands in August. Pretty nerdy stuff, huh? But I love it!

§  Most inspirational runner? In the pro ranks, my #oiselleteam(mates) Kara Goucher and Lauren Fleshman. Both have battled back from multiple setbacks and are currently changing the landscape of women's running for the better. Just underneath the pros, my friend Rebecca B. She has progressed incredibly post-baby than anyone else I have heard of. That and she has helped make the Robertsdale High School XC team in Alabama develop into a state contender; all while juggling training and motherhood. Impressive. 

§  If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be? Patience, trust, persistence, and training "outside-the-box". 

Let's all enjoy our December running and hope 2015 brings some more big things! 

Stay the course.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Progress Report: Athletic Republic's Endurance Protocol

You can't build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you're going to have a strong superstructure.-Gordon B. Hinckley

Today I wanted to discuss on of the fine details of my outside-the-box training approach I have been doing for the past few months. Before I started running threshold work, before I ran a race, and just before I started actually "running" again, I started working with a partner organization here in The Woodlands, Athletic Republic, being a relative "guinea pig" helping test out a new supplementary training protocol for endurance athletes. After becoming familiar with the organization shortly after I started practicing sport psychology, I was intrigued with some of the methods and what it could do for a distance athlete. Lucky for me I was asked by their director if I wanted to try some of the Mark Allen (yes, triathletes, THAT Mark Allen) and Steve Swanson-designed program based on research and experience from some of the biggest names in endurance. Although I was a little unsure how my body would respond, I enthusiastically said 'yes'. Here I will describe a little about the program and some of the benefits I see so far after going through about 8 sessions.

As it is well documented on this blog, I have been really focusing on building up my body again and attacking weak areas that have impeded my progress in the past and 2014 has been the year of asking for and receiving help in the pursuit of getting the most out of my ability.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but went into it with an open mind upon my first training session. Let's say it was very different than how I was used to training-and that is a good thing.

"Typical" endurance proto. workout: 

Let's start with what one of my weekly hourish sessions are like. I start out with a thorough dynamic warmup with stretches, drills such as high knee skips, ankling, and hip cradles to name a few. Some days I do accelerations across an astroturf stretch at the facility before doing ladder work, focusing on landing quickly and lightly and enhancing core strength and proprioception.
You know you want to try this!

After the warmup it gets interesting quick: typically I head over to a spring-supported wood floor that is numbered and marked with targets. I proceed to work on balance, stability, and fast twitch speed jumping from square to square in designated patterns. All the intervals are short, ranging from about 8-20 seconds. Initially, I had to overcome the mental hurdle of "I don't know if I can do this" with my weakened right foot. Little did I know this is probably what I needed to re-build strength. After flopping around trying to jump around on one leg for a session or two, I feel like I've gotten the hang of it. Oh, and just to add some a little more challenge, later sessions have included being strapped to the floor with bungee cords to further add to the stabilization effect.

After doing plyos, typically it's off to the Super Treadmill. And let me tell you, this thing is crazy. While I am not sure how fast or high of speed it goes, it runs both forward and backwards and so far I have run up to a 25% incline on it. Yeah.... not easy.
Running at one of the lower incline levels on the Super T.

I do anywhere from 6 to a dozen or so sets of runs which are all filmed on a dartfish monitor and reviewed. While I have always had decent running form for my body type, this is designed to really maximize efficiency and fine tune form. I have even run backwards (in a harness and spotted) a few times. As freaky as it felt, I think it's a great way to strengthen little-used muscles. Who knows when I will need to call upon them in a race-but going forward, thanks!
Working on hip strength with trainer Josh Scott.

After doing runs, it's sport-specific strength and stability training. None of this remotely resembles what I do in the gym. I spend 20 or so minutes training the hip girdle working with cords, a multi-hip machine, and other related apparatus. None of it is necessary high weight, however, it is primarily single legged where I have to fire my glutes, hip flexors, hamstrings and feet as much as possible to complete the movement. Since running is spent mostly on one leg, I see this training as a big asset.

The workout is concluded with guided core work and stretching. I have learned a number of very challenging moves that I have started incorporating on my own. Hopefully I look like a boss doing them at VillaSport....or not!

Back to basics...

Typically  I walk out of there feeling strong and confident. Just as a well-tuned engine is only as good as the suspension system and frame, the same thing goes for running fitness. Perhaps one of the biggest things I've gotten out of this personally is a renewing confidence in my structural integrity that is vital and being able to get back to being an 'athlete' and not just a 'runner'. One of the cornerstones of AR's programming is injury prevention by filling in the gaps often left from continual motion in one particular pattern.

Before I ran competitively I was just an athletic gal built in the gym with a bunch of different sport experiences under my belt. I had a foundation built on rock, and right now I'm in the process of fixing the cracks in it. It's been kind of fun doing this again in my early 30s. So mentally, this has been beneficial to me-getting WAY out of my comfort zone in training. I think this is important for anybody who has experienced either injuries or just a season with less success than desired.

So how do I feel 2 months into this training protocol? Along with a new training program that is slightly different from the previous, I feel great. Like I put in my race report last week, I had that "are these really my legs" moment. I do seem to rebound faster from harder workouts and can feel a lot of power underneath my stride. Not only was I was finally able to see my pace per mile start to trend back downward, but I had one of my first race experiences in a long time where I was not trying to mask some niggle I probably came in with and aggravated out on the course. If I continue to feel this strong, I will start seeing the times I'm capable of.

 As I am advised to use "quick feet and light steps", this translates well to running. Where I can tell a big difference in the extra efficiency from the treadmill and plyos is either when changing paces in training runs or running hills. My stride across the board just feels smoother, while I still have a ways to go before really comes together, I am pleased with the changes I have seen. For example, we have a set of "hills" in the back of The Woods which sadly has presented a challenge to me in the past. Last month I ran them to change it up and noticed a nice power difference. The biggest thing is that I am able to run without fear of falling apart. That alone is huge for me.

To conclude this overview, so far I would highly recommend this program to others; importantly those who have struggled with previous injuries or with known biomechanical issues that may be impeding their progress. Those who want to have an extra strength advantage vs. traditional strength and conditioning programs also would get a lot out of this program. How do you get more durable, and subsequently faster? By building and maintaining sport-specific strength.  As I mentioned earlier, it does offer some psychological benefit to the athlete as well in gaining more confidence and body awareness through the technical training exercises and possibly enhanced focus from executing complex exercises.

So here we have it, at least so far. I am looking forward to further building upon my foundation next Monday afternoon. Questions can be directed to info@athleticrepublicthewoodlands.com. I will also note that multiple locations exist nationwide.

Stay the course.