Indoor Training

"It's sad to see anyone inside on the trainer." That was the comment attached to an article about riding outside all winter lo...

Wednesday, February 25

Treadmill or Dreadmill - snow solutions

Winter time - the bane of most athletes because of the adverse conditions. Snow, ice, sub-freezing temperatures all make getting outside for workouts and training difficult. Cyclists don't seem to mind moving inside onto the trainer when things get sketchy and some triathletes always ride inside. But runners? Treadmills are to be reserved those days when there is no other option and given the photos circulating the internet, that rarely happens. I'll admit to having an adverse reaction to a treadmill as well, trying to avoid playing hamster at all costs. But is that always the correct response? Well, it depends. (There never is an easy answer...) What are the goals of the workout? If there's a specific time pace or interval set that needs to be hit, then perhaps the treadmill is the smartest answer. Another thing to consider is modifying the workout - hills on the trail instead of a speed workout on slick roads. There are still benefits from hills that will carry over into added strength and speed. If the road conditions are such that it's more dangerous to be outside then in, find a safer place to get the miles done. However, it the mental stress of the treadmill would lead to a less then effective workout, then find a way to get outside. 

In 2006, when I was training for the Myrtle Beach Marathon (a Feburary race) Denver got hit hard with big snow storms on back to back weekends. One of those storms dumped three feet of snow in a day. My long run was replaced by a snowshoe outing that weekend and shoveling as my strength training. And the rest of my workouts that month were moved inside at the local YMCA. With an hour limit on the treadmils during peak times, it was just enough to get in and get nine miles of quaility running - although I did try to avoid peak hours. I designed workouts that were treadmill friendly - based on time instead of miles for the repeats and hills. I even did my long runs on the treadmill - up to 24 miles one time. Once the snow started melting, I moved some of my runs back outside, but kept returning to the safety of the treadmill for the speed work. Was I worried that I wouldn't be able to handle the pounding in the road for 26.2 miles after spending most of my time on the softer treadmill deck? Yes. I had heard horror stories about people crashing and burning because they weren't ready for the pavement. Turned out that the few runs I was still able to get done outside were enought. I ran one of my fastest times (2:55) and felt great the entire time. So if a treadmill is easily accessible and there is a specific goal race in mind, I will advocate for the safety and effectiveness the machine provides. 

But if running is a mental relase and staring at walls makes the thought of the miles work instead of fun, then head outside and run. Understand that times will be slower and the phsycial effort harder.   Before you do, some things to think about for safety. Getting those fresh tracks on a few inches of snow is an amazing experience - even more so if there's more coming down. But snow can cover dangers like ice and make being aware even more important. If there is a chance of ice, I always bring my Kahtoola microspikes. There are plenty of options out there for additional traction - that's just what I prefer. The extra weight of having effective traction is far better then slipping and breaking something. And if I need traction, then it means I need to be more alert for cars. Stopping 3000 lbs on ice isn't a given - it's better for me to wait and make sure they see me and can stop. Obviously, on trails that isn't an issue, but for road runners personal awareness is vital. Another thing to consider is visibility. The standard practice is to try to wear light and bright colored clothes in the dark to make yourself more visible to other people. Well, light and bright doesn't work as well in falling snow. The light colors blend into the landscape, making you harder to see. This is one of the few times I would actually suggest running in darker colors! They stand out against the white on white world of snow and ice. As always, reflective gear and a headlight should be considered mandatory - be seen and see what you are running over. I personally like sticking to side streets during my early morning snowy runs - quieter roads mean less traffic and fewer cars. I'll still do some workouts in the snow and ice, but I'll adjust my goal pace or routes to account for conditions. If it means hills instead of sub-max intervals, that's what happens. It also means using heart rate for the intervals instead of pace - the effort level will be there even if the speed is not because of the cold or ice.

Regardless of what you choose - inside on the treadmill or outside, getting the work done is what matters. Running is running and the personal reasons and goals of each run should be what determines the location, not peer pressure from the frozen eyelash and bead selfies.

Thursday, February 12

Data vs feeling

It might seem contradictory - I've tweeted that every workout should have a purpose and athletes should be aware of the purpose prior to starting. The parameters of the workout should be clearly stated, along with the goals to be accomplished during the workout. That means the athlete needs to keep an eye or distance, pace or heart rate and power output to ensure that the workout achives the desired effect. It also means the athletes need to be aware of falling outside the ranges and when physical status might preclude an effective workout. The gadgets, toys and technology employed by both runners and cyclists now make that real time monitoring easier - and can assist the coach with providing feed back to improve performance. But I've also said that we need to unplug and leave the gadgets behind to reconnect with the world. Without numbers staring you in the face, you learn how you feel during the workout. There are no numerically imposed limitations to performance - just the feeling of working hard and pushing the limits. That sometimes dictates slowing down or allows you to reach undreamed of summits. Simply doing can also be the rejuvenation needed to inspire new goals.

So which is right? Tethered to our gadgets or flying free? As an athlete, I like having the data at my fingertips during hard workouts - but more as a guideline for performance. I also like tossing the garmin in my pocket and just riding. I get the input on how I feel during the ride, but am also to look at the data afterwards. Then I get the best of both worlds - the freedom of just doing and the information on how my body responds to the workouts. As a coach, I want my athletes to enjoy what they are doing - even doing working hard. Simply focusing on the numbers might get the desired improvement, but decrease the motivation to actually get out and do. Each person is an individual - the numbers can drive and damn at the same time. But I also need the numbers - be it pace, heart rate, RPE, distance or watts to provide the feedback each athlete requires. That's the beauty of coaching - helping athletes progress and achieve their goals no matter what the motivating factor is - numbers, experience or a combination of both. 

Wednesday, February 4

Super Half - Post Race Analysis

After a race, regardless of the outcome, it is time to sit down a look at the training - what went right, what didn't work and what needs adjusting moving forward. It's not the race report from the athlete - it's looking at the performance and how the training affected the ability to execute the plan. I've posted my race report for the Super Half on my blog like any athlete would. This is the coaching analysis - a good hard look, removed from the emotion of the race performance. For running, there are a few key things that I like looking at when reviewing a training plan - volume, intensity and frequency. Overall, the training was spot on for my goals as an athlete, but there are a few issues that will be addressed for the next running event.

Volume - volume or weekly mileage is often considered key when it comes to endurance running. As a coach, building the volume is also one of the trickier aspects. Too fast and the risk of injury greatly increases. Too slow and you might not have the base upon which to develop speed when needed. For the Super Half, I did focus mostly on getting the volume back up to about 40 miles a week. Not much but running standards, but it was also balanced out with focused cycling workouts. Instead of a run to just get the miles, I would have a bike ride scheduled. It was harder this year to get the running volume back to where I wanted it as I was starting with a much lower base. Every year removed from my marathons, I've had to work more and be more careful with building that base back up. Upon reviewing my training leading into the half marathon, I did a good job of increasing the weekly mileage slowly but steadily. I also kept the weekly mileage balance between endurance runs, speed work and long runs. The percentage of weekly mileage devoted to the long run was a little high in the peak weeks, with 35% of my mileage in the long run. Part of that is because I didn't do any recovery runs - substituting in the bike rides instead. The biggest issue with increasing the volume was the low base I was starting with and making sure that I didn't flare up the Achilles issues I'd been dealing with earlier in the year. As a coach, I will be addressing that by keeping the weekly volume higher over the course of the next season, even as I transition back to a cycling focused summer.
Intensity - Speed work. I've always said that in order to race fast, you have to be able to run fast. But in order to run fast, you must have the base of running to prepare the legs for the efforts at speed and the mechanics for running fast. There is a fine line between the two and I chose to err on the side of endurance over speed for this race. Starting with a lower base then I'd wanted meant it was harder to balance the speed workouts with the endurance work. The cycling helps with the endurance, but not with the specificity of running speed. Looking back at the training leading into the Super Half, there are definitely some things that I can address and improve upon when it comes to speed. I was only doing two speed workouts a week - one focused on threshold work and the other on top end speed. It would have been better to have two top end focused workouts and then incorporate the threshold work into one of the other runs during the week. That way the mechanics of running fast would have become smoother and I would have been prepared to run faster than goal time. With the limited running and increased cycling volume, I wasn't doing any recovery runs. Every run needed to have a specific purpose and sometimes I wasn't following that guideline. For next year, assuming that I maintain a stronger base, keeping in some top end speed workouts will help address the difficulty I had finding that extra gear.
Frequency - not only is the weekly volume important, but the number of times you are running during that week. If the miles are all contained in three or four runs, then the risk of injury is much higher. That is why most training plans specific for running events have five to six days of running built in. But with someone like me, who wants to be able to run well over the winter, but also has an early season mountain bike race, it can be harder to balance. The risk of overtraining trying to maintain the frequency in both sports is high and so the coach needs to be very aware of how the athlete is feeling and recovering from both volume and intensity. I still needed to keep quality cycling specific workouts on the training plan, even as the attention focused on the half marathon. The recovery runs that help build the weekly volume and strengthen the base were supplemented by cycling workouts instead. My running frequency going into the Super Half was generally five runs per week - one long run, two speed days and two other runs. With the cycling, there was no need for a sixth run - I was getting cardiovascular benefits from the cycling in addition to the low impact training. Overall, that frequency worked well for me and allowed me to continue with higher level cycling.
Moving forward? The focus shifts to the next race - the True Grit 50 MTB race in St George, UT. Time to start addressing the cycling aspects of my training - both physical and technical.