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:

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