Over the past 3 weeks I ran four 5K races as part of the Cisco 5K lunch series. Not knowing what to expect, I decided I would run them hard, but not quite at a maximum effort. Anyways, I managed to win each of the 4 races and will stay undefeated and maintain my title until the fall when the next 5K series begins.
This weekend Amy, Jen, Keith, and I are heading up to Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, ME for a trail running festival. Saturday Keith and I will go head to head in a barefoot 5K (Grassy Trails) and Sunday, Jen will join us for the 25K. It has been a while since I have ran a good trail race and Amy and I are both looking forward getting out of town for the long weekend (Plus Smutty Nose is sponsoring the race and providing free beer to the racers at the finish line).
This week we are skipping ahead to Part 2 of the book and Chapter 8. Part 2 is the technical section of the book and largely represents my philosophy of training for and taking on endurance events.
"This sport, because of its essence, exposes weaknesses, tests will, and expels demons as well as sweat. It teaches patience, perseverance, and pain tolerance. It reveals courage in the most honorable of methods: By testing the faith in yourself. Because without faith under fire, true courage is confined." -- Emil Zatopek
Training for endurance events involves building an aerobic base to allow you to complete the event and then focusing on speed and skills to allow you to complete the event faster and more efficiently. The concept of breaking your training up into multiple cycles with different focuses is called periodization. In general, in the early stages of training for any event, the focus is on increasing the training volume to the point that you can complete the event, and as the event gets closer a shift towards race specific work occurs (sets at race level intensity, practicing transitions from one sport to another in triathlon, etc.).
Emil Zatopek was an endurance athlete that is best known for winning the 5k, 10k, and the Marathon at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland (a feat that has not been repeated since). He was also the first person to break the 29 minute barrier in the 10k (1954) and is well known for his brutal training methods, incredible mental capacity to endure pain, and a passion to push on. He is remembered for crazy quotes like “Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast” and “A runner must run with dreams in his heart, not money in his pocket.”
Emil’s ability to push through tough times was mirrored by how hard he trained. One of his favorite workouts was 400 meters (1 lap on a standard track) by 100 times. He was big believer that part of any training was learning to suffer and that training the mind was as important as training the body.
Whenever you begin training for any endurance event, it is important to access the event, determine what you think it will take out of you, both mentally and physically.
Before diving into the phases of training, it is important to understand how to estimate training intensity. Intensity you apply during a workout will have the biggest effect on both the benefits you receive from the workout and how long it takes to recover.
Heart Rate (HR) Training
The rate at which the heart beats is one metric that represents the level of intensity of the athlete’s physical exertion. While the use of heart rate measurements is not an exact science and differs from person to person, it is useful to know your body’s resting and maximum rates along with each of the zones (see reference in chapter 1 during the aerobic vs. an-aerobic section) as a means to gauge your effort and time needed for recovery.
Resting and Maxim Heart Rate
Resting heart rate is the amount of beats per minute when the body is at rest (laying or sitting down and not moving). Resting heart rate is a good indicator of both ones physical fitness and current level of fatigue (Physically fit = lower HR, fatigued = higher HR). Resting heart rate can be calculated by taking your pulse over 15 seconds and multiplying by 4 or more accurately with a heart rate monitor and taking the minimum value found over a 10 minute period. The best time to calculate your resting heart rate is when you get up in the morning (as your body is both rested and still in a state of rest). As your fitness improves, your resting heart rate will go down. Maximum heart rate is the number of beats per minute under maximum stress and is largely dependent upon your age / genetics. This can be roughly estimated by taking 220 minus your age (note this is a bell curve and a very rough estimate) or more accurately by completing a stress test. This value is largely genetic based and does not change based on physical fitness.
HR Training Zones
There are multiple sets of theory behind the HR training zones. I use the five zone system, where the fifth zone can be further sub divided into three more categories (the preferred method by Joe Friel, triathlon coach, and physiological guru). The zones are: recovery, extensive endurance, intensive endurance, sub threshold, super threshold, anaerobic endurance, and power. Training in each of these zones has a specific purpose and has implications based on rest and recovery time between workouts as well as which phase of training you are in. The beginning of zone 5a is typically known as your lactate threshold, the point where the body starts to build up lactic acid faster then it can process it. There are numerous ways to calculate these zones, but I recommend using the tables defined in common triathlon books such as Joe Friel’s “Training Bible” or Tom Rodgers “The Perfect Distance.”
Applications to Running and Cycling
Maximum heart rate and zones differ slightly between running and cycling (cycling tends to be a little lower). Long distance runners will also find that their perceived effort level will be higher cycling then running for each zone. This is in part that the stress from cycling comes from a more focused area, your quads and hamstrings, and runners have stronger cardio systems with weaker leg muscles. By measuring your heart rate during workouts, one can gauge their effort level in order to get the desired effect of the workout without undue fatigue. For the purpose of generalized endurance training, it is recommend athletes focus on zone 1-2 work while running in cycling during the base phases (described below) and do short intervals in zone 4-5a when in the build phase (zone 3 is generally reserved for racing long distance events such has marathons and can great additional fatigue with no added benefit by training in it).
Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE)
With or without a heart rate monitor, the ability to determine your effort level is essential to taking on any endurance sport. Unlike a short event, an endurance event requires a degree of planning and execution of the plan, and the accuracy of the execution is dependent upon estimating your effort level. Various scales exist, but I use a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being an all out max effort level. A mapping of heart rate to perceived effort can be calculated simply by taking the percentage of max heart rate (i.e. Max HR of 200, and RPE level 8 based on HR would be 160). Similar to HR training zones, training at a RPE 6.5 – 8 when building an aerobic base, and 9-9.5 when building an-aerobic endurance are recommended (thus avoiding the zone 3 gray area as described above).
Training is generally broken up into five phases: preparation, base, build, taper / peak, and transition. Based on the athlete’s level of fitness and goal event, only a subset of these phases is used. Athlete’s new to a sport or attempting a distance for the first time may never leave the base phase of their training cycle.
The 1st phase, preparation, is what is followed in the very early season (or any period following extended time off). The goals are to workout routinely and begin to build / maintain an aerobic base. All workouts are done at a low to mid heart rate and exertion level (HR Zones 1 and 2 / RPE 6.5 - 8). Low intensity resulting in low fatigue is essential.
The 2nd phase, or base, is the most important phase of the training cycle. In this phase, workouts increase in volume from week to week over a 3 week period of time, and then decrease for a recovery week (This is the general cycle for endurance training. Some pro level or intense amateur athletes sometimes change this a 5 or 10 day week). During the base phase the primary goal is to build an aerobic base, which means the majority of the workouts are to be done in HR Zone 1 & 2 (or RPE of 6.5-8), and to consistently workout. Strength training and lots of short workouts are the primary components. When the base phase is complete, an athlete should be able to sustain medium to high volume of exercise (actual values specific to desired races) without much of an increase in fatigue (Beginners training for their first long race generally do not exit the base phase before the race as they don’t fully reach the desired fitness level).
During the build phase, the number of workouts decreases and the intensity increases. Interval training in HR Zones 4-5a / RPE 9-9.5 is used to build speed and an-aerobic endurance. The primary goal is to focus on the specifics of your upcoming race. This includes training your GI (Gastro Intestinal) track, brick workouts, and workouts at race distance, with bouts at race level effort. Similar to the base phase, volume is increased or sustained over a 3 week period and followed up with a recovery week.
Taper / Peak
The taper and peak phases are generally grouped together and represent 1-2 weeks before a peak or goal event. The goal of the taper and peak phase is to ensure fatigue level is at a low and utilize short high intensity workouts to prepare the body for the upcoming race. There are a number of ramifications of ones diet during the taper and peak phase: an increase in protein early on is necessary to ensure muscle repair and an increase carbohydrate rich food before the race to ensure top energy levels.
The final training phase is called transition and represents the time off from the sport following a goal event, set events, or an entire season of training. The goal of transition is to ensure the body has healed from the repetitive stress that was applied as well as give the athlete a mental break from the sport. Transition phases can last from anywhere from 1 week to 4 months depending on the goals of the athlete and include cross training through other sports and spending more time with ones friends and family.
One aspect of endurance sport training that is often overlooked is mental training. Since endurance events often push you to both your physical and mental limits, is important train your mind as well as your body when preparing for any event.
The first step of mentally training for an event is visualization. This can be as simple as a pre-ride or pre-run on the course (if feasible) or reading through a website to find as much of the event as possible. If you can’t find the desired information, never hesitate to contact a race director, as he / she takes pride in the event and is always happy to help out.
Next is an attempt to replicate the events conditions. Will it be hot out during the event? Humid? Is it possible that it will rain during the event? This can often be an arduous task if your climate does not match the climate of an event.
Recently I ran into this problem while training for a race Florida as the North East is not overly warm during the early spring. I emulated the conditions by overdressing: with multiple pairs of compression pants and long sleeve shirts. While this didn’t emulate the conditions exactly, I do feel it helped considerably as my body had become accustomed to sweating again and I had to take in a significant amount of liquid to keep up.
The last step to mentally training is to develop a plan, or plainly to determine your speed or pace for each part of the event. How fast can I bike the flats? The Hills? How fast can I go on the second half the race versus the first half? Emulating your speed to match these sections of your event and visualizing how you will feel help during each one of them strengthens the mind and provides that needed boost get through the tough sections as your will starts to waver.
While training for any endurance sport it is important to recognize that imbalances will form as a result of the repetitive motions and the fact many sports don’t cover all of your muscles. In order to maintain a strong and healthy body, cross training and strength training are required. Strength training is one tool that allows for focused workouts on problem areas and is a key to injury prevention and proper form during the later stages of workouts and races. I break up strength training into two forms: core work and overall strength.
Core exercises focus on lifting ones body weight as a means to increase strength and flexibility. The primary muscles in this group consist of the lower back, abdominals, oblique’s, and gluts and can provide significant benefits to maintaining good form in the later parts of any endurance event. Unlike traditional lifting, these muscles respond better to higher frequency and repetitions at a lower weight. Below is a list of exercises one can draw to increase core strength and flexibility during their off season or base periods.
For best results, perform these exercises earlier during the day and not on the same day as long distance workouts. Three to four times a week with 20-25 reps for 2 sets is the recommended place to start with an increase to 4 sets as you get stronger.
Sit-ups: Best done on a flat surface or using a slightly inclined bench. Keep your arms on your chest and add in some twists to work the oblique muscles.
Crunches: Alternative to sit-ups with less stress on the lower back. For additional effectiveness push your chest and head towards the ceiling and your lower back flat on the floor. Hold at the top for a second before moving back towards the floor.
Bicycle Kicks: Another alternative to sit-ups or crunches where you lay on your back and rotate your elbow to opposite knee and then repeat for the opposite side. The rotation allows for a uniform workout across the left, center, and right abdominal muscles.
Leg Raises: Lie flat on the ground with knees slightly bent raising legs to 35 degrees above the ground before returning (don’t go lower then 6 inches). After a few weeks, increase this to 90 degrees and add in the rolling of your heals in towards your butt when at the lower portion of the lift and then straighten them back before returning to 90.
Standing Twists: Hold a wooden stick or pole behind your neck and shoulders and smoothly rotate 90 degrees in each direction keeping your back straight. For best results rotate smoothly and slowly and do not over rotate.
Plank: Start with your forearms and elbows on the ground and using your toes to hold your body in a straight line. Start by holding the position for 15 second as a set and try increasing up to 1 minute. As you become stronger attempt to switch to your hands instead of your forearms. Always maintain a focus on keeping your back and shoulders straight.
Side Plank: Similar to plank, but on your side. Start by holding yourself up on one forearm and elbow and straightening your opposite arm into the air. Start at 10 second sets on each side and as your get stronger try switching to holding yourself up with your hand.
Stability Pushups: Similar to regular pushups but done a stability or medicine ball. The goal is work on balance, stability, and strength on each pushup to work the abs, shoulders, and chest.
Overall Strength Workouts
In addition to core workouts, full body strength workouts also keep the body healthy, strong, and uninjured while training for endurance sports. Below is a list of some exercises that I have found to be very helpful. This list is by no means comprehensive, but gives you an idea of the types of exercises you can do to help fix muscle imbalances and reduce the chance of injury. It is recommended to start at 2 sets of 12 reps for upper body lifting and 2 sets of 25 reps for lower body lifting. After a few weeks, try increasing the number of sets to 3 and then 4.
Flat Bench: Chest
Military Press: Shoulders
Pull Ups: Biceps and Abs
Arm Curls: Biceps
Chair Dips: Triceps
Concentration Curls: Biceps
Weighted Squats: Hamstrings / Lower Quads – Be very careful doing these as not to over stress your knees. Start with no weight, and then try five pound dumbbells in each hand before using a squat bar.
Weighted Lunges: Hamstrings / Lower Quads – Similar to squats, you need to be very careful starting out to not stress your knees.
Alterative Forms of Strength Training
Yoga and Pilates are two alternate forms of strength and balance training that focus on using the athlete's body weight through a set of poses / exercises. Both provide a great core workout and can be swapped in for many types of strength training workouts. In addition to be the strength benefits, Yoga and Pilates also provide an increase in flexibility and stability, both which play major roles in the later stages of endurance events.
Sleep and Nutrition
In addition to normal workouts and strength training, amount of sleep and types of food consumed also play a major role in performance. Training for most endurance sports increases the amount of fatigue on the athlete and in order to process this fatigue the athlete needs a sufficient amount of sleep and correct nutrients to enable rebuilding.
I am not going to pretend to be an expert in this domain, so I will describe what has worked for me. I generally I get about eight hours of sleep a night, fluctuating from seven to nine, depending on the day of the week.
I try and maintain a high vegetable and fruit diet and generally take in seven to eight helpings per day. I shoot for a macro nutrient break down of 25% protein, 25% fats, and 50% carbohydrates with a focus on eating complex carbohydrates. I also make sure that I take in some type of protein (bar, shake, or a full meal) within thirty minutes of any workout that lasts over forty five minutes.
A couple of my favorite meals are listed below:
1. Asparagus Omelets: Our favorite breakfast meal is asparagus omelets with Monterey jack cheese (sautéing the asparagus first).
2. Multigrain Pancakes: Multigrain pancake mix with fresh fruit and yogurt on top.
- Chicken Pad-Thai: Amy and I make homemade Chicken Pad-Thai at least once a week and generally take the left over food for lunch the next day. We make sure to infuse the meal with as many vegetables as possible including summer squash, zucchini, shredded carrots, sprouts, red pepper, and green onion.
- Salmon Steaks, Couscous, and Asparagus: We add seasoning to the fish, shredded carrots to couscous, and a little extra virgin olive oil to the asparagus, grilling in the summer and cooking in a toaster oven during the colder months.
- Pasta Vegetable Medley: We slice up whatever is in the house for vegetables; mix it with whole grain pasta, sauce, and sautéed Italian sausage. Our vegetables of choice for this meal include: yellow onion, mushrooms, fresh spinach, asparagus, broccoli, and artichoke hearts.
This just touches the surface some healthier meals and some thoughts behind my nutrition. For a better look into nutrition and what meals to eat during which phases of training, check out “Nutrition Periodization for Endurance Athletes” by Bob Seebohar .
The last major topic that I believe should be part of anyone’s endurance training regimen is a training log. A training log primarily consists of the workouts and races that you have completed (time, distance, speed) and secondarily includes other factors that influence your workouts, races, and life in general. Logging amount of sleep, daily energy level, and a short description of how each workout went provides both qualitative and quantitative means to analyze your progress.
A training log can be as simple as notebook or can be much more sophisticated like a software application or online program. A couple of programs that I have played with that are worth checking out are listed below.
1. Garmin Connect: A free and simple online tool hosted by and fully integrated with the Garmin product suite. Supports directly logging from any Garmin product and allows for manually logging other events under a variety of types. The site also supports some simple analytical tools to sum up your distance and speeds over a period of time. Check out http://connect.garmin.com for more info.
2. Training Peaks: A more complex online tool that supports everything and anything to do with training for triathlons. A simple free version exists, but for a monthly fee you can get access to a more in depth version with direct access to training and nutrition plans and online coaching. See http://trainingpeaks.com for more info.
3. Sports Tracks: An offline software application that supports a large variety of logging and analytical capabilities. A free trial version exists, but a small one time fee is required for full version. For more info: http://www.zonefivesoftware.com/sporttracks/
These are just a few options that are out there. Many more exist, each with a number of advantages and disadvantages. Whatever you chose be true to yourself, keep a log, and be accountable for you training. If nothing else this will provide a way for you to look back after an event and see what worked and what didn’t.
 Emil Zatopek: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_Z%C3%A1topek
 Joe Friel: http://www.joefrielsblog.com/