Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hack Training: Does Your Training Need Hacked?

When I am not running, reading about running, or writing about running, I spend most of the rest of my time at my “day job,” which is college teaching. Recently I had a mandatory in-service (not always one of my favorite things), where I saw something that really blew me away.  It was a video by a 13 year old boy named Logan LaPlante about a concept called “hackschooling.”  A quote from his presentation captures the gist of the video very well:

 “The concept is that education, like everything else, is open to being hacked or improved, not just by working within the current system, but by going outside the educational establishment to find better ways to accomplish the same goals. The most innovative entrepreneurs are people who are able to hack the status quo and create something completely new.”

“What does this have to do with running?” you are probably wondering right now. Well, as the title of the blog suggests, everything I see gets processed “through a running lens.”  One of my first thoughts on new information is always “Does this or can this be applied to running?”  The answer on this one is an obvious “Yes!”

The truth is, I am a “hacker” when it comes to running, and I have been for a long time. No, not in the “person who engages in an activity without talent or skill” sense of the word (although I think I have been accused of that occasionally).  I mean I am a “hacker” in LaPlante’s way of using it:

“Hackers are innovators, hackers are people who challenge and change the systems to make them work differently, to make them work better; it’s just how they think; it’s a mindset."

I have the hacker mindset when it comes to running and running training. I am not and have never been happy with pulling a cookie-cutter training program off a web site or out of a book and following it. I have always, from the very beginning, wanted to know as much as I could about running, why I was doing what I was doing, what worked and what didn’t, and I have always wanted to know why and “what if?”

In the beginning I hired a coach because I did not yet have enough knowledge to be a hacker on my own. I drove him absolutely insane with questioning almost everything we did. I can’t tell you how many times he told me “stop asking ‘why’ and just do the workout.” 

Very quickly I outgrew that relationship because a true hacker wants to create the process for him or herself.  I began studying everything I could find about running, from training books to biographies. In time, I learned enough to be able to start putting things together for myself, designing training that gave me a chance to learn and experiment, to find what worked for me and what didn’t.  Pretty soon I had a pretty good recipe for my own success, but a key part of a hacker psyche is that nothing can remain static. The status quo is always to be questioned.  Thus, my approach to training must continually be evolving.

This can cause some people to misunderstand what I am doing. If you look back at my blog posts over the last few years, you will see that I have talked about a lot of different theories and training approaches. Some people want to respond with “Last month you were talking about X; now you are talking about Y! Can’t you stay focused on one approach?"  The answer is absolutely not. There is not one “right” way to train. Not only is the exercise physiology information constantly changing and being expanded upon, but there are also myriad ways to get the same or similar results. Just off the top of my head, I can think of several approaches to improving lactate threshold, some very similar and some quite divergent. In running, there is always “more than one way to skin a cat.” 

Therefore, to put together a training approach (for myself and for the athletes I coach), I am constantly “hacking.” It is not an “anything goes” type of process, though, and there is nothing haphazard about it. When a goal needs accomplished (rebuild my aerobic base), I am going to look at everything I can of the various theories and approaches, and I will put together a program from there. I will take what I think is the best of the resources, combine them, and make adjustments as I go.

An example of this is in the base training I am pursuing now.  In researching the concept of effectively building an aerobic base, I came across the work of Phil Maffetone that I have mentioned in a previous post.  I was very interested in his approach, especially as it related to heart rate training, which I have used effectively in the past.  I also revisited a previous approach to base building that I have used in the past quite successfully, the Lydiard method. (For a quick look at Arthur Lydiard’s training approach see this Running Times article). 

These two approaches are similar in that they are based on the same ideas in exercise physiology, but they do differ some. Both advise large amounts of aerobic running to build a strong base before doing any faster anaerobic work. Both advise athletes not to rush this and to spend a substantial portion of the training calendar in this mode. However, they do differ on where in the rather large aerobic range one needs to be training, with Maffetone at the extreme lower end of the range and Lydiard utilizing more of the range of aerobic paces throughout a training week.

After a month on the Maffetone method and reviewing the Lydiard approach by way of a really great new book called Healthy Intelligent Training, 2nd Ed, I am “hacking” my base building training.  I am keeping Maffetone’s ideas of the heart rate training and keeping an eye on the intensity level to encourage fat burning. I am also keeping the diet modifications and the monthly testing  at maximum aerobic training heart rate as he describes.

However, I have decided to work with slightly higher heart rates and to follow Lydiard’s suggestions related to how much training to do and how often. Why did I make these changes? Because I believe that both Maffetone’s and Lydiard’s methods will achieve the same goal (a strong base, better aerobic fitness, faster race times), but I believe that Lydiard’s method is the more efficient way to do it.

One other thing that Logan mentions in his talk is the idea of “healthy and happy.” I have no doubt that Maffetone’s method would make me healthy, but at heart, I am a competitive animal. Lydiard’s methods, I think, are going to make me happier in the end by bringing me into competitive shape more quickly and by allowing me to plan my race seasons more effectively.

How about you? Is your running making you both healthy and happy? If not, maybe you need to “hack it.”  And, in a completely shameless and self-serving plug, if you want help with that hacking, check out my Coaching Services page.  I would love to do some hacking on your behalf!

If you would like to check out Logan's amazing video that made this post possible:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Guest Race Report: Groundhog Marathon and Half Marathon

You all know how I love a good guest race report. This is especially true at times like this, when I am not racing. It is great to get to live vicariously through my friends who are braver, more adventurous, more talented, or just plain crazier than I am. This is especially great when my friends are doing things I would never want to do in a million years, like running a half marathon in 6 inches of fresh snow and subzero temperatures. Here, let me let Leslie tell you about it.

I’m back, with yet another crazy race report.  Believe me, if there is a race with nearly impossible conditions, I can find it!  I love to mix things up, and I love challenges.   Last year was my year of the half marathon, with a few bike tours, open water swims and triathlons thrown in for good measure.  Mission accomplished, with a race to spare!    Now I find myself in 2014 looking forward to turning 60 and some new challenges.  Back to the trail I go!

My spring goal race is Outrun 24 (    Outrun 24 is a timed ultra, perfect for someone as velocity challenged as me.  The goal is to see how many miles you can finish is 24 hours, or before you collapse!   It  also means miles and miles and miles of training.     Miles and miles trudging through snow, slipping on ice and dealing with negative windchills.    Michigan has really outdone herself this winter!    I don’t own a treadmill and I don’t belong to a gym.   I train solely outside.   Fortunately, I’m blessed to live near a multi-use trail that is somewhat plowed during the winter.  By somewhat, I mean plowed, but not down to bare pavement.    

Seriously cool bling!
That brings me to the Groundhog Marathon (    What better way to get in a long one.   We’re talking aid stations,  camaraderie of like-minded winter warriors, some pretty cool bling,  as well as cookies, chili and beer!    How could I resist?   It sure had to beat looping around my neighborhood for 26 miles......or so I thought!    

I’ve been training in the snow for months now, a lot of time on one of those nice mostly plowed trails.  I can handle a snow drift or two.  The race course for Groundhog is on a paved trail.   Perfect!   Just like home, or so I thought.   What I didn’t realize is that Grand Rapids is not Lansing.   Lansing frequently plows their trails.    Grand Rapids does not, ever.    Uh oh!   82” of snow on the ground and more coming down.   Thoughts of a dog sled entered my mind.  

The Groundhog Marathon also offers a  half marathon, and a 1/6 marathon the evening before main the races.    Not wanting to miss out on a moment of fun (and additional swag), I signed up for the whole hog!    The course is a 4.4 mile loop.    Once around for the 1/6th, 3 times for the half, and 6 times for the full.  
With 6” of new heavy snow, headlamps aglow, and over 100 crazy people at the start, we were told to follow the snowmobile tracks (clever winter idea of course marking).  Off we went,  only to wonder about our sanity within 50 feet of the start.   The conditions were horrible.     

The “race” ended up with  pretty much everyone walking single file, and trying to stay upright. Imagine a long line of “racers” with their arms out, looking like they were trying to balance on a tightrope!   82” of somewhat packed and uneven snow, topped with the new snow that was not only slippery but icy as well,  made for some crazy footing. The race was not without some turned ankles, falls and broken bones. (Poor Ckat!!)   Not for the faint at heart!   Consensus from the majority of the 1/6er’s was to forget the race the next day.   It just wasn’t worth an injury.   I’m not so smart!

I woke up on marathon morning fully intending to skip the race (and be one of the smart ones).  As disappointing as a DNS is, I didn’t want to risk injury with some important races coming up in the next few weeks.  Lori and I have Green Swamp in March, after all!    After texting some friends, and plenty of second guessing (after all, I’d paid for the race and hotel), I decided to drive to the start, but go home if the good parking spots were taken (I didn’t want to park off site and take the shuttle, or that was my logic).   Not off the hook yet, I ended up with a great parking spot!   Now, what to do?    Cheer for the runners, perhaps?   Anyone that knows me, knows that was not going to happen.    

The gun went off and so did I, telling myself I’d do one slow loop, because  a DNF was better than a DNS.   I ended up dropping to the half marathon.    The conditions were that slow.   

Does that look like fun or what?

To put things in perspective, the overall  winner for the men (marathon) finished in 4:09:59, and the women’s winner was 5:45:45.The half marathon overall finish times were 1:49:05 (smart guy on snowshoes) and 2:33:54. Of the 200 runners registered for the marathon, 39 finished.    Of the 300 registered for the half, 223 finished (many were marathoners that dropped down).   I guess I got my challenge and more!   
Seriously awesome awards!!

If you are game for a little fun next winter, and don’t mind a PW (personal worst), are able to laugh at yourself and what Michigan weather can throw at you, pack up those YakTrax and consider Groundhog next year.   The race is well run with some very cool perks.   Who knows, it could be dry and sunny next year.   This is Michigan, after all.  

If you like this guest race report, here are some links to other popular guest race reports. Maybe you will get inspired. If you run a race that you would like to report on, please contact me. I love a good story!:

Guest Race Report: Michigan Runners at Columbia River Power Marathon (and "marathon" wine tasting in Walla Walla, Washington)   

Guest Race Report: Tough Mudder Michigan 2013

Guest Race Report: Detroit Marathon

Guest Race Report: Warrior Dash 2012

Guest Race Report: Mango Madness