Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Hansons Method: Mile 20 Running without the 20 miles

Oh the irony.

I titled my blog "Mile 20 Running" for many reasons.  So, what did I do this go around for marathon training after talking about how much I think mile 20 is an iconic mile in training and racing?

I selected a marathon training plan that has me running zero 20-milers in preparation for Chicago.

Yep, not one.  

I'll say at the outset that there are lots of ways to run a good marathon and plenty of plans out there to help you do just that.  A lot just depends on your fitness level, injury history, and how much you're willing to run in terms of mileage and days per week.

Point being, I'm not advocating that the way I do things is right for everyone, just blogging some thoughts on the process so far.  What you're currently doing is probably right for you!

Anyway, my goals for this season are getting tougher, and even writing them down makes me nervous: A PR in the 3:05-3:10 range either in Chicago/Houston or both (a girl can dream right?), or at least notch my current 3:17 down enough to make the first wave cutoff for Boston 2015, which will likely need to be near a 3:10 anyway.

To do this, I felt like I needed to step up two things in particular: 1) overall weekly mileage, and 2) more marathon goal pace running.  Not every plan calls for marathon pace running, and that's ok, but here's my real life example of even pacing from lots of practice:

2013 Houston Marathon splits (first BQ): an example of what practicing marathon pace did for me (no other speed work) and maxing out around 40 miles/week:
Debating the merits of marathon pace work versus other speed work is a topic for another time except to say I felt strongly I needed to do more (and was capable of doing more) this training cycle.  Balancing injury risk is always a concern.

So, I was looking for higher mileage and more marathon pace running....enter Hansons:

The premise of Hansons, like many other plans, is the idea of cumulative fatigue, but they go about it a much different way.

One of those ways is to max out your longest run of the training cycle at 16 miles so that you can recover enough to do more higher quality workouts during the week.  They call them SOS or "something of substance" workouts.

I call them beastly workouts, especially if you are training in the summer months.  They are deceptively tough.

Anyway, why top out at 16 miles?

The general idea is that running 20 miles, except for the fastest and most conditioned of runners out there, breaks down your body fairly substantially and requires a lot of recovery time for most folks. The fitter you are, the less recovery you need, but most of us feel a 20 mile run the next day, no doubt about it.  That means there is less time for "quality" workouts during the week because you're waiting for your body to heal.

The book goes into a more detailed explanation behind the 16 mile cap:

1) Explosion in popularity of the marathon since the 1970s: It used to be a fringe activity that only seasoned (i.e. very fast) runners tackled.  Now, the masses go after that distance as well, but what amounts to a moderate workout for very conditioned runners (i.e. runs of 20 miles) is much tougher and requires more recovery for the rest of us slower runners.  In other words, the foundation 20 mile runs are a remnant from more elite training plans and may not be the best idea for the masses.

2) Renowned running coach Dr. Jack Daniel's belief that no more than 25-30% of your overall mileage should be done in the long run:

Weekly mileage versus the long run
 3) Research that shows you tend to max out the physical adaption benefits (glycogen depletion, increased mitochondria, etc.) in the 2-3 hour range (beyond which they say muscle breakdown occurs):

How long a 16 or 20 mile runs takes versus your pace

Taking all of that into consideration, in a nutshell, the Hansons' method says a 16-mile run fits the bill for the vast majority of folks doing marathon training.  It stimulates the metabolic changes you need without leaving you so beat down that you can't do other quality workouts during the week, which in turn lets you up the overall intensity of your training cycle.

For a girl who loves her long runs (especially conquering 20 miles), this was a very different and intriguing notion to me.

So, for the last 13 weeks now, I've been totally immersed in this plan.  It's been tough, but while I'm tired, I feel strangely strong, too.  Most importantly, I have never felt on the verge of injury.

Anyway, this post has already gotten long enough...more on the positives/negatives I've experienced so far in another post.

The real test will be Chicago in about 4 weeks.

For the past 12 weeks, I've been taking a less-conventional approach to marathon training developed by the Hansons Brothers out of Michigan

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The 11 Seconds List

"Meb won Boston by 11 seconds. Let that sink in for a minute. Over the course of 26.2 miles, he held off a charge from Wilson Chebet, one of the World's best marathoners, by 11 seconds. Had Meb averaged a mere half a second slower per mile he would've lost and this wonderful story would never have happened...Very few of you who are reading this are trying to win the Boston Marathon, but I know you have your own goals and they mean something. They really do. Meb said winning Boston made his career 110% complete. I suspect you all have that time, that place, that accomplishment that would make you completely satisfied with your running resume' (qualifying for Boston for example!). But where are your 11 seconds? What do you have to do to make sure your Wilson Chebet doesn't catch you from behind?"
-Ben Rosario, McMillan and Northern Arizona Elite coach
Coach Bill sent Ben's blog post out in our weekly email and I really enjoyed it.

It's a short read if you have the time, but the summary of it is this: Meb put in countless miles running, hours of stretching/rolling/massage, years of watching his diet, etc and drew upon all of those things to achieve his goal of winning at Boston. The little things he did daily, over a long period of time, mattered.  Greatly.

Meb winning Boston. Incredible.  (Photo credit:

But what if he hadn't done those things? What if he had blown off runs? Not watched his diet? Not prioritized sleep and recovery? Would he have won without the incredible discipline in all aspects of his running?

Now of course, Meb is a professional, and the rest of us mere mortals are not.  All of us are willing to sacrifice varying degrees of our lives to our athletic pursuits.  What I'm willing to do, someone else may not be, and vice versa.

And yet many of us still have our own goals as mentioned above.  Maybe it's completing a 50-miler, snagging a BQ, or finishing a 5k without walking. 

So, what little things could hold us back from hitting those goals? Diet? Snooze bar? Blowing off scheduled workouts because it's hot/you're tired/just don't feel like it (not injury)?

This gave me pause for a few minutes.

What is my "11 Seconds" list? What do I blow off instead of consistently working on to reach my running goals?

With Chicago as the next big race, my list is not long, but has given me trouble in the past:
  • Focus on one workout at a time 
  • Stay positive
  • Trust my training: believe I can execute what my training is preparing me to do.
Sounds easy.  I admit to rolling my eyes at what seem like trite phrases such as "believe in yourself" and "trust your training"....blah blah blah. 

Got it.  Can I go run now?

Except that I now believe they do matter, and that I need more practice at them.  Running is physical and mental.

I'm tired of getting to the starting line of the marathon riddled with the overwhelming feeling of "How am I supposed to do this?"  The training has shown me what I'm capable of achieving, but I struggle to believe it. Over and over again.

Now part of that is a healthy respect for the marathon distance itself, but I think another large part is because I don't practice staying positive in my training.  As cheesy as it sounds, every workout brings with it an opportunity to practice reframing your thoughts about the task at hand.

For example, instead of dwelling on how I'm about the suffer in the heat of a track workout, I've been reframing it as an opportunity to get stronger.  Break up the task, don't think too hard, relax, and go.

I asked my friend and running mentor Dave, who has himself run crazy fast marathon times, how he approached his races.  He was not just finishing, but had the talent to win.  That's some pressure!

Did he ever get anxious thinking about running near 5 min/miles (good grief!!) for such a long time?

"Not really", he said, "I knew from my training what I was capable of doing."

"So basically you trusted your training?" I said.

And without any hesitation on his part, "Yes."

Coach Bill told me the same thing when he said something to the effect of "It doesn't matter if I think you can run x:xx.  YOU have to believe it".

Guilty...(photo credit: Shelby Currie on Pinterest)

Where the mind goes, the body follows, assuming reasonable goals of course.

So, the list is short for now, but it's a little abstract.  I don't have metrics to track my mental toughness, and yet I know I need to practice it daily to avoid going to another start line lacking confidence.

My internal pep-talks before a run now go something like (depending on what kind of workout I'm doing): 
  • One day at a time.  One workout at a time.  
  • Today is not about pace, so enjoy an easy run, or
  • Today is about pace, I won't be 100% rested, but I can still do this workout.  
  • This training session moves me closer to my goal, it is not meant to prove I've already arrived (learned this the hard way following a bad workout!)
  • No negatives.  Break this up into manageable chunks.
I think you get the point: practice staying positive daily so that I know how to redirect those doubts that may come closer to race day. 

What about you, what's on your 11 Second list?

Friday, July 18, 2014

My running temptations

Why does this often happen on a long run?
Running temptations...we all have them!

This puzzle hangs in my guest bathroom and always makes me smile.  I have fond memories of running with the Woodlands Fit crew out of Luke's Locker on Saturday mornings for marathon training and inevitably, everytime we were heading out, I would smell the scent of warm donuts wafting out of the nearby HEB. Not cool to smell baked goods when you're going out for a 2+ hour run!!

Anyway, it brought to mind a few other things that I consistently find tempting out there in the running world:

5.  Destination races: Because hey, why spend less cash to thrash your legs over 26.2 miles locally when you can spend MORE on a plane ticket, hotel, food, and transportation to thrash your legs elsewhere (albeit hopefully a beautiful location)??? YES!!!
In all seriousness, our Lake Tahoe trip to run 26.2 was worth the $$$!

London Marathon...on the bucket list!!!

4.  Brightly colored running shoes:  Arguably more a necessity for early bird runners like me in a bid to stay visible and, more importantly, alive in the presence of crazy drivers.  Nonetheless, I confess to having many, many pairs of them (not all shown)!  It's the marathon distance, I swear.  Need. More. Shoes. 
Just a sample.  So pretty. Much love for the A5 and Kinvara.
3. Triathlon: I can hear my running buddy Brian reminding me, "Kate, you're a RUNNER" as I type this.  And I am deep down a runner at heart, but I sure do like the challenge of triathlon too!! Just not the cost of it.  I do, however, challenge anyone not to be totally inspired by the athletes in an Ironman. Someday...

Early season bike training

2. Shipley Donuts: Not Krispy Kreme. Not Duncan.  I'll take a Shipley's glazed cake donut, heated about 10 seconds in the microwave.  Yummmmm. Or donut holes. 
I have a nose for donuts on the long run...can smell them a mile away!

1. Speed: Probably something most runners are tempted by at some point, if not daily!  I just know the nice person minding his/her own business on the treadmill next to me wants to race.  Fast running is necessary to run fast, but I have to remember to use it sparingly and at the appropriate times (like not an easy recovery run at the Y....ahem.)

Going up....

What about you?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Learning from a craptastic workout

"Remember that workouts are designed to improve your fitness, not to prove how fit you are. Too often, runners use workouts as a constant barometer to measure improvement and compare themselves to how they will be able to perform on race day. Rarely will your performance in a workout translate to how you will feel on race day, so don’t get too stressed about a bad day or two.

-Jeff Gaudette, 2:22 marathoner and owner/coach at Runner's Connect 

Hello marathon fatigue, I remember thee well, but not fondly
 I'll just cut to the chase on this one...last week's track workout was awful.  Not just hot.  Not just fatiguing.  It was one of those make-you-second-guess yourself kind of workouts. I hate that feeling.

Thought I would write a bit about what happened, what caused it, and what I (reluctantly) learned from it.  

The workout:

2 mile warm-up, then 5 x 1000m at a comfortably hard pace (supposed to be between 3:50-3:54) with a 400 recovery, then 1.5 mile cool down. In and of itself, a good challenge, but nothing necessarily harder than what I've done before.

What actually happened: 
1st repeat: 3:54 (really had to work for it, that's not good on the first one)
2nd repeat: 4:00 (lost 6 seconds, not a good trend. Tried to regroup mentally).
3rd repeat: 4:06 (lost another 6  My running world imploding...).

If you don't run track workouts, 6 seconds may not seem like a lot, but over a short distance, it is a lot, and made even worse by the trend of losing speed on each repeat.  One repeat a little slower isn't a big deal, but I could feel the downward spiral coming on.

Bottom line, I just flat out had no gas in the tank from the start and could not get my legs to move faster. 

Frustrated, I asked Coach Bill what to I keep going and try to run the last 2 repeats as best I could? Or shut it down?

Coach Bill wisely told me to shut it down.  It was good advice and deep down I knew he was right, though it didn't diminish my irritation at myself that I couldn't run like I wanted to.

I've never stopped a track workout like that before.

How did I handle it?
Wish I could say I handled it positively.  I didn't right off the bat.

Instead of just chalking it up to an off day, which we all have, I focused on how badly I missed my targets and started questioning whether I had picked a marathon goal pace that was too aggressive. And then came the maybe-I'm-not-fit-enough doubts.

Seriously. I know better than that!

After several good races and many good track workouts, I let this one workout totally cloud everything.  Luckily, some fellow Voltes talked me through all of that mess and reminded me that we all have "those days".

What caused it?
This is where a training log is so, so helpful.  I could immediately go back and see what caused my struggles because I've tracked my workouts for a while now (again, thanks Coach Bill!):

  • Considerable jump in marathon mileage-Went from averaging 30ish to back up to 45-50 over a few weeks.  I know this was the biggest factor.  The accumulated fatigue of higher mileage caught up to me. I had not adjusted to it yet.
  • 5-mile race a few days before-Definitely a hard effort.  Added to the fatigue.
  • Long mile swim the day before-Didn't bother my legs, but I could feel my upper body was tired too.  Have I mentioned tri training and marathon training do not mix well?
  • Low in carbohydrates- Didn't track food the day before, but I've found this to be the case on days when I've been exhausted in the past. I'm not sure that I had increased my carb intake all that much since increasing mileage. Duh.
  • Heat-My running buddies know I loathe running hard in the heat, but, I had done a similar workout in the heat a week before and made it through ok. I think it was a factor, but surprisingly, not the biggest.
So, some combination of all of those things hit me like a ton a bricks.

What I learned:

I felt a little defeated to shut down the track workout, but I still did get in a good 7 miles that night, and mileage is good for marathon training.  The last couple of miles I ran easy instead of at the original workout pace.  All in all, everything was not lost.

My missed workout was on Tuesday. Wednesday morning I got up to run an easy recovery run and still felt like I was carrying a 50 lb backpack the first mile, and then things gradually got better.  Made it through the run feeling better and made sure to eat a lot of protein and carbohydrates the rest of the day.

I was grateful for Coach Bill's advice to shut things down and save some leg Tuesday because I felt much improved by Thursday morning in time for another hard workout, a "tempo" at marathon goal pace.  I was concerned about lingering fatigue, but felt noticeably better and was able to hit my paces with no problem that morning.

That was a relief!

So, bottom line, this was a good reminder that a missed workout:
  • is not the end of the world
  • does not indicate lack of fitness (I think you'd need to see a recurring pattern of missed workouts, and then have to rule out overtraining first)
  • is a good opportunity to check nutrition and adjust if the training load has increased
  • may mean giving up some hard running in the short term to let the body recover a bit
  • may also simply mean approaching a new, higher limit in training that will take some time to adjust to
I'm not advocating going hard all the time to deliberately find your red line, but on occasion, perhaps a missed workout is some evidence you're working pretty darn hard.  How do you know what your limit is unless you approach that red line from time to time?

I guess the trick is to be smart about it and back off if/when you hit that point, and then not dwell on the negative. Thanks Coach Bill!

Jeff Gaudette's full article here on what to do about a poor workout (really good!):

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A welcome break from the grind

Time to fire up the blog again.  Haven't had much time to write anything with my kids' swim team season in full force the last 8 weeks!

I've had such a blast switching my training up since Boston to focus on a short sprint triathlon that was held last Sunday.  Marathon training was turning into a grind, and after doing it for about 9 months straight, some time off has been a welcome change physically and mentally.

Adjusting to the new workouts in triathlon training was tough at first.  My run mileage was no where close to peak marathon mileage, and yet I felt just as tired the first couple weeks as my body adjusted to the fact I was no longer asking it to just run, but also swim and bike too.   A new stimulus is good though to challenge the mind and body out of the status quo of run workouts.  

My goals for the sprint triathlon were to average about 21mph on the bike, beat my run pace per mile over last year's sprint tri, and place in my age group.  Happy to report those goals were met, so all in all, it was a successful training block.  Got some work to do though in the swim and bike to ever compete with the top women triathetes, but I'm not willing to scale back on my running....yet.  I have much respect for what those ladies can do on the bike and swim. 
Starting the run leg of the sprint tri
My favorite thing in triathlon training has been getting to do some workouts with folks I don't normally workout with when I'm marathon training.  New training partners brought a lot of fun to the picture, and I hope to get to do more workouts with these guys in the future.

Good times training with Todd, Adrienne, and Justin! Coach Bill made an appearance in the lower corner too!

I am going to tackle an Olympic distance tri in July, but my focus is really shifting back to the marathon now for Chicago.  The Small Texan Tri will be for fun and to prove to myself I can survive a 1500m open water swim. It may not be pretty, and I won't be optimally trained for an Oly distance tri, but I'm looking forward to it!

So, back to marathon training, now refreshed and optimistic about the next 16 weeks of running. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

An athlete's dirty laundry

There's nothing particularly salacious about this post.  When I say dirty laundry, I literally mean it.

My. least. favorite. part. of. training. 


This time of year gets worse too with additional triathlon workouts and my kids' swim schedules. And if your spouse also works out multiple days a week, well, good luck keeping piles of clothes from appearing all over the place.

I feel like my house is one gigantic clothesline.

How do you approach your laundry?
  • Step #1 is the rinse-and-air-dry step. I do my best to at least rinse out my clothes and hang them on the tub to air dry instead of throwing them in a hamper. How much this helps, I don't really know.  I do know it just adds piles of clothes to my bathroom.

  • Step #2 is the wash step.  After enough clothes pile up on the tub, they get collected and put into the wash. 

  • Step #3 More air-drying.  This is called making the most of your laundry room.

  • Step #4 Put clothes away.I wish I could say I have a 4th step, that our workout clothes get put away, except that would be a lie.  I'm usually raiding my laundry room the night before a run to find what I need, not my closet. Laundry room = closet, yes?

Clothes IN the wash, clothes ON the wash, clothes NEXT TO the wash, clothes ABOVE the wash. What other prepositions did I miss?

In addition to piles of clothes, there are piles of shoes and piles of bags (swim bags and track bags and gym bags and backpacks). 
This is just my closet. More running shoes in our shoe bins in the living room.
Our semi-permanent pile of bags near the back door...I have no wall space for hooks here, so this is how we roll.
Just be glad I didn't show you the back of my van, which lately has been a semi-permanent spot for my bike and bike gear, and/or swim team pop up tent and chairs. 

You masters of organization, go ahead and judge, and then please offer some tips.  Well, on second thought, while I would appreciate the tips, at the end of the day, if it comes down to parking myself on the couch versus getting more organized, the couch is going to win.  

Suddenly, I'm quite content with our pile-it-up-method.

What's your least favorite part of training?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Switching gears

Bye-bye long least for a little while.

I love this time of year.  Time to switch gears with the heat building and go for some shorter race distances.

Oh, and throw in a sprint triathlon. Or maybe two? And watch the Ironman Texas athletes this weekend.  If you want to be inspired, go watch an Ironman event. Incredible...

My runner friends joke about "going to the dark side" in triathlon.  I don't see myself as a triathlete, just a runner looking for a break from marathon training.

And frankly, I'm pooped from adding in the swim and bike workouts over the last few weeks, even though the run mileage is much less.  Change is good.

First sprint tri last year...not a fan of the swim, loved the bike and run. Working on more swimming this season.

A few goals for the next 8 weeks:
  •  "Fast" 5k-Sub 20. I know fast is relative, and for you speedsters out there that habitually run well under that, my hat is off to you. I hate 5ks and have the utmost respect for people who excel at that distance. 3.1 miles of running doesn't sound hard until you do it as hard as you possibly can.
  • Attempt to place in my age group for this upcoming sprint tri.  If that doesn't happen, my goal will at least be to run my the 5k leg faster than what I did at last year's sprint tri, and hopefully reel in a bunch of folks in the process.
  • In general, get in some good aerobic conditioning with less pounding through additional swimming and biking. 
Fingers crossed all of the aerobic work will translate well to higher mileage running for Chicago. 

See, it all goes back to running.