Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A New Approach to Training – Part 3: The Run

This is the final installment in my series on the new approach I’ve taken to training under the direction of a USAT certified coach. In past posts, I discussed the swim and bike so naturally, today is the run.

Running is the area where I’ve done the most interval work, though not very much last year.  I think I talked myself into thinking that intensity work would not do me much good for long-course events like the two 70.3 races I did last year. I’ve come to believe that, in fact, intervals are good for all kinds of distances.

Fundamental Changes

A lot of my own philosophy about running had to go out the door when I hired a coach. Some fundamental rules I had just were not going to work with what he had in mind me.

My first rule, never to run on back-to-back days had to go. That’s not to say that I do long, exhausting runs on consecutive days. However, I may be on both feet at different distances.

The second rule was that anything less than 3 miles (and that was a bare minimum) was not worth it. Many of my bike rides are followed by a 15 to 40 minute run that is intended to get me used to running off the bike. These are not really what I would call brick workouts (since the run is often at very moderate paces) but they’re close.

The third rule (more of an assumption on my part) was that long runs are always beneficial. My coach suggested that some of those long miles are “junk” miles meaning they don’t do much to prepare your for race-level performance. Instead, long runs are better when they include a variety of drills.

On a typical long-run under his program, I’m doing a warm-up followed by some time-based interval at a specific heart rate. In general, the longer the interval, the lower the heart rate zone. Twelve minute intervals usually happen in mid Z3 while four minute intervals would be more upper Z4. Each interval is followed by a rest where I just run slowly and recover back down to lower Z2 before the next one start up.

Running this way has multiple advantages. Of course, intervals are designed to make you run faster for longer periods of time (i.e.: increase your stamina) but they also have a psychological effect. Given the way my Garmin is set up, I typically only see two fields: the time remaining in that interval and where my heart rate or pace is. No data on speed or overall distance is included. I can get that easily enough by changing the screen, but I choose not to. As a result, I find myself having gone longer distances than I might have imagined without really noticing. Last Saturday, my 2:15 run turned out to be 14.6 miles. I really had no idea how far I’d gone.

The other benefit from this approach is it is teaching me to take my workout in smaller chunks. I tried to apply this strategy last year at Austin so that I would not feel so overwhelmed by the run. It helped but now I think I’ll be even more practiced. In fact, I may approach the run stage of my long-course races as just another interval workout (with faster recovery times).


A nice thing about running is that changes in training don’t really call for any new equipment. I’m still running on the latest iteration of Brooks Addiction and still timing myself with a Garmin 910XT combined with the same foot pod and HR strap I’ve been using for the last few years.

The on change I am considering is changing to an optical-based HR monitor when new models from 4iiii’s and Mio come out this spring. In the cool dry climate of Colorado, static electricity too often skews the data on my monitor and I’m growing weary of having bad information. That’s probably still a month or two off, however.

Net Improvement

Much like the bike, this is a difficult year-over-year comparison due to being injured at this time in 2013. Looking back to 2012, I’m at similar pace per mile speeds which are typically in the low nine-minute zone. However, my mileage is considerably higher now.  Since the first of the year, I’m putting in about 19.5 miles a week and during the last four weeks (since I cam back from vacation in Jamaica), that average is actually 24.11 miles. That’s nearly three times what I was doing at this time in 2012 and I’m doing it without any real problems.

All of this has me anxious to find out how I might do in the run portion of a race like SOST. I felt pretty good about the 8:08 pace per mile I did there two years ago and I have to believe I’m better trained and prepared for this year’s event. Assuming I stay healthy and weather or other external factors don’t prove to be a problem, it could be a good year to hit a PR. I also get to race in an age group with guys that are closer to 50 than 40. Most of them are still really good, just not quite as fast as the next group down. No complaints from me in that regard.

Other Changes

My coach also put me on a daily stretching routine in the interest of preventing injury. I go through a series of upper and lower body exercises right before bed and I generally have been waking up feeling more refreshed and ready for the next day’s activity. That’s not always the case, but it is more often than not.

I’ve lacked some strength training which I do miss a little bit. It’s hard to say that I really need to be doing free-weights, but I could probably stand to be doing some core work. Given how hard my workouts are, I just usually don’t want to follow them up with sit-ups or side planks, but I expect I’ll have to find a way over that motivational hump and get it done. A strong core really does make for better performance in all three disciplines.

With nearly three months training done, I’m getting anxious to put all of it to the test by racing and while that is still a little ways off, it’s actually less time than I’ve been doing all of this.

While these updates were here to provide an overview of the approach, I’ll plan on doing some future posts with the results.

Thanks for reading!

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