Category Archives: Running

Designing Your Own Training Week

With one sport, you can understand how which days to train hard.  The following is an excerpt printed with permission from Human Kinetics book, Run Strong, by Kevin Beck.  It covers running only but the concepts cross sport lines.  Understanding training rules of thumb will put you on the path to designing your own training patterns.

Based on my experience as an athlete and a coach, I believe that the most valuable tool for any self-coached runner is an outline to guide decisions regarding which workouts are appropriate. The various types of training, …

With one sport, you can understand how which days to train hard.  The following is an excerpt printed with permission from Human Kinetics book, Run Strong, by Kevin Beck.  It covers running only but the concepts cross sport lines.  Understanding training rules of thumb will put you on the path to designing your own training patterns.

Based on my experience as an athlete and a coach, I believe that the most valuable tool for any self-coached runner is an outline to guide decisions regarding which workouts are appropriate. The various types of training, such as long runs, interval work, tempo runs, and so on, are all important and necessary for helping you improve as a runner. The key is classifying the various workouts and then scheduling them into your training consistently. Following a map–one that successful runners have used time and again–can ease the uncertainty and doubts that creep into every athlete’s mind. Following an outline that has led to success allows runners to train with greater focus and purpose, knowing their work will achieve long-term results. A workable training schedule brings workouts together to form a routine that addresses every relevant energy system necessary for top racing performance and continued improvement over time.

I cannot name one individual heroic workout that will take someone to the next level, but there are a few workouts that, when done consistently and repetitively as part of a training schedule, can lead to substantial progress for the majority of runners. The surprising thing for many runners is realizing that the training principles are the same for any distance you want to race. It doesn’t matter if the event is the mile, 5K, 10K, marathon, steeplechase, or cross country; the same training elements and concepts apply. As a coach, if I base an athlete’s training on the key elements, the athlete invariably maintains his or her health throughout the season, improves his or her race performances throughout the year, and competes well at specific goal races. It’s basic, it’s fairly brainless to follow, and most important, it works.

The following suggestions will help you fit each of the six elements into your training consistently within your standard training cycles. Some advanced athletes who recover quickly can address all six within a single week. Athletes who require more time between hard efforts to recover fully should consider fitting these within a two- or three-week cycle. You can also try a 10-day cycle if one week doesn’t work for you, but given that most people have schedules that revolve around a standard 7-day week, we tend to stick with 7, 14, or 21 days as the standard options.

For my athletes, I generally schedule two harder workouts every week, cycling through anaerobic-conditioning, aerobic-capacity, and anaerobic-capacity training. Once we’ve addressed each of these individually, we start the sequence of workouts over again; this allows us to elevate the athlete’s fitness level by concurrently working all of the energy systems necessary for distance running success. For athletes who recover especially quickly, I schedule a separate anaerobic-conditioning, aerobic-capacity, or anaerobic-capacity session each week, thereby allowing the athlete to address all energy systems within a single training week. For those who require additional recovery, a single session each week of one of these types of training is sufficient, allowing the athlete to address all relevant energy systems within a three-week period. Here’s the most effective route to incorporating the six elements in your program:

Step 1. Designate Your Recovery Day

Because most of the athletes I work with have families and careers, a recovery day is usually one on which they’d like to complete additional chores around the house, spend time with their families, or socialize. It may be a day to do little or nothing except read a book and relax. Others travel frequently for business and have a floating schedule; these runners need a day on which they can miss a run without feeling guilty. View the recovery day as a day to let your body and mind unwind and allow modern life to take priority over training. As an added benefit, it’ll keep you healthy, allow you to improve, and help keep you motivated.

Step 2. Determine Your Long-Run Day

This is pretty simple because most athletes do their weekly long run on either Saturday or Sunday. Whatever works for you is fine, as long as you do it consistently. I don’t have a hard and fast rule regarding spacing recovery days around the long run. In most cases, my athletes run a harder effort on Saturday, run long on Sunday, and run an easier day on Monday. This allows Saturday to be fairly hard and Sunday moderate while providing a recovery day following these back-to-back harder run days.

Step 3. Determine Your Primary Workout Days

On primary workout days you run scheduled harder workouts. My athletes schedule primary workouts every Tuesday and Friday in the fall. In the spring, the longer-distance athletes maintain this schedule, while the middle-distance runners adopt a Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday schedule. Depending on the length of your workout cycle, combinations of hard days vary. A 7-day cycle might include primary workouts on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Runners on a 14-day cycle might designate Monday and Thursday as primary hard-workout days. On the other hand, some runners can only tolerate a single hard workout each week and are therefore on a 21-day cycle. Based on your particular goal event, rotate workouts in this order:

1. 200s, 300s, or 400s at faster than 5K race pace (anaerobic capacity)
2. 800- to 2,400-meter intervals at 5K to 10K race pace (aerobic capacity)
3. Tempo run of approximately 30 minutes at threshold pace (anaerobic conditioning)

On the fourth hard-effort day, start over again with the 200s, 300s, or 400s at faster than 5K pace and work your way through the lineup again. In this manner, you address all the relevant energy systems needed for top-level performance. The 800- to 2,400-meter intervals at 5K to 10K pace handle aerobic capacity, the tempo runs address anaerobic conditioning, and the 200s, 300s, or 400s at faster than 5K race pace develop anaerobic capacity (economy).

Most runners use a 14-day schedule of two primary, harder workouts each week during the two-week period. The question arises: There are four harder workout days and three primary workouts to do, so should I adjust the schedule? Rather than starting again with workout one on the fourth workout day, would there be a benefit to focusing on one area of fitness more than the other? I allow for the following slight variations based on the fact that most athletes see the greatest improvement in race times by giving increased focus to aerobic-capacity development.

Week 1: Aerobic-capacity workout, anaerobic-conditioning workout

Week 2: Aerobic-capacity workout, anaerobic-capacity workout

During the final four to eight weeks of the training year before the championship racing season, I make the following adjustments based on event focus:

1,500 meters. Each week perform an aerobic-capacity workout on one day and an anaerobic-capacity workout on another.

5K to 10K. During week one, perform an aerobic-capacity workout one day and an anaerobic conditioning workout the second harder day of that week. During week two perform an aerobic-capacity workout one day and an anaerobic-capacity workout the second harder day.

Marathon. Each week perform an aerobic-capacity workout on one day and an anaerobic-conditioning workout on another.

Step 4. Schedule Your Double Days

I generally schedule double days on the primary harder workout days of the week because I want the athlete’s hard days to be hard. Without exception, my top athletes do a minimum of two double days per week on Tuesdays and Fridays, the same days we schedule either the 200s, 300s, and 400s, the 800- to 2,400-meter intervals, or the tempo run. The more experienced athletes add double days on an additional two to four days per week as they see fit.

Step 5. Fill In Rest With Aerobic-Conditioning Runs

The remaining days should consist of runs varying in distance from 45 to 90 minutes. Whether you choose to do two-a-days and whether you keep to the shorter end of the 45- to 90-minute range or the longer end is as much a matter of preference and “recoverability” as it is a function of your chosen race distance.

To help illustrate the previous concepts in detail, tables 3.1 through 3.3 provide some sample training weeks using this program. These are not set in stone, but rather are intended to illustrate how to apply the training principles to the everyday training of fast competitive athletes who also happen to have careers and family obligations.

So that’s it. Designing a training plan is important yet simple. I’ve described the elements it should include and provided examples of runners across the race-distance spectrum who have used these elements to form training plans that have taken them to the top of their game. Now, it’s your turn. Reread this chapter along with the other information in this book, set clear goals, grab a pen and paper (or a mouse and computer), and go to it.

Five training phases for triathlon success

It’s not often I can do this but the following is an excerpt from an upcoming book (currently only available as a pre-order), Triathlon 101 (Human Kinetics, due out March, 2009). In this updated edition reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics, Triathlon 101, you’ll learn the five training phases for triathlon success.

“Training in phases, or cycles, has long been considered the best way to condition the body to the rigors of endurance exercise safely and effectively,” says Mora. “Each phase has a very specific High-Tech Cycling book coverobjective, and the workouts are thoughtfully designed to fulfill that objective.” Mora suggests beginners approach training in five phases:

Initiation phase.
Specifically for beginners, the initiation phase allows the body to learn a new activity never or rarely performed before. Depending on the level of experience, this phase could take up to three months. “This phase may try your patience because you’ll be learning at least one activity that you’ve never attempted before,” Mora notes. “It is a time for your body to adapt gradually to new activity and to overcome the inevitable discomforts that go with triathlon training.”

Base phase.
This phase creates a foundation of training with gradual, safe adaptation to a physical activity and consists mainly of long workouts done at a slow pace. According to Mora, the focus of this phase should be on gradual increases of the length of workouts of no more than 10 percent per week, a rule that is especially crucial for running and helps in avoiding common overtraining injuries. This phase can last from three to six months, depending on current conditioning, skills, and the distance being trained for.

Speed and technique phase.
This phase increases the pace you can maintain and the efficiency of your exercise. According to Mora, the speed and technique phase is for those who have already run a few races and would like to hone their skills. However, for those running a triathlon for the first time, Mora recommends dismissing any expectations of finishing in a certain time and instead focusing on simply finishing the race.

Race simulation phase.
This phase helps boost race-day confidence through completing workouts similar to those done on the day of the event. According to Mora, many first-time triathletes have questions about transitioning from one sport to the other and the transition’s effects on the body. Race training improves performance on race day and provides the confidence needed for race day. “Workouts known as bricks combine two sports in a single session and are instrumental to any racing success,” Mora explains. “If you complete workouts that simulate what you will be experiencing during a race, the shroud of mystery surrounding your upcoming first triathlon will soon begin to evaporate.”

Tapering phase.
Tapering involves a period of decreased activity in the days or weeks before an athletic event. According to Mora, tapering allows the body ample time to recover from the previous months of training and refresh the muscles in order to be primed for racing. “Although there is much debate about the ‘perfect’ tapering schedule, it really depends on how fast your body recovers from training, how long you’ve been training, and what you are training for,” Mora says. “And although there may be some disagreement about how to taper, experts do concur that you need to taper in order to perform your best.”

“Hailed as a must-read for triathlon rookies, Triathlon 101 covers all the steps necessary for triathlon training. The updated edition also offers new chapters on what to expect on race day, information on off-road triathlons, and information on recovering to compete again

Potential Physiological Benefits of Altitude Training

This is an excellent excerpt reprinted from Burke’s book with permission with permission from Human Kinetics, High-Tech Cycling-2nd Edition.

“Human physiology is affected in different ways at high altitude. In general, the various systems of the human body—pulmonary, cardiovascular, endocrine, skeletal muscles—respond and adjust in an effort to provide enough oxygen to survive in the hypoxic environment of high altitude. Some of these life-supporting physiological responses may also enhance athletic performance, particularly in endurance sports.

The scientific rationale for using altitude training for the enhancement of aerobic performance is based on the body’s response to changes in the partial pressure of inspired oxygen (PIO2) and the partial pressure of oxygen in the arterial blood (PaO2). PIO2 at sea level is equal to 149 mmHg. At Mexico City (2300 m, 7544 ft), PIO2 drops to approximately 123 mmHg. At the summit of Mt. Everest (8852 m, 29,035 ft), PIO2 is approximately 50 mmHg or only about 30% of sea level PIO2.

High-Tech Cycling book coverBecause of the altitude-induced decrease in PIO2, there is a decrease in PaO2, which leads to a drop in renal PaO2 and renal tissue oxygenation (Ou et al. 1998; Richalet et al. 1994). It is hypothesized that this reduction in renal tissue oxygenation stimulates the synthesis and release of erythropoietin (EPO) (Porter and Goldberg 1994; Richalet et al. 1994), the principal hormone that regulates erythrocyte (RBC) and hemoglobin production. In turn, an increase in serum EPO concentration stimulates the synthesis of new RBCs in the red bone marrow by promoting the cellular growth of immature erythrocytes, specifically the colony-forming unit-erythroid (CFU-E). Erythropoietin receptors are present on the surface of CFU-E. Binding of EPO to CFU-E receptors initiates the production of cellular transcription factors, synthesis of membrane and cytoskeletal proteins, synthesis of heme and hemoglobin, and the terminal differentiation of cells (Bell 1996). The RBC maturation process takes five to seven days from the initial altitude-induced increase in serum EPO (Bell 1996; Flaharty et al. 1990).

These hematological changes may significantly improve an athlete’s V·O2max by enhancing the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to exercising muscles. It has been shown that improvements in RBC mass, hemoglobin concentration, and V·O2max enhance aerobic performance (Berglund and Ekblom 1991; Birkeland et al. 2000; Ekblom and Berglund 1991). Essentially, many athletes and coaches view altitude training as a natural or legal method of blood doping.

Research by Chapman, Stray-Gundersen, and Levine (1998) suggests that some athletes experience a better hematological response at altitude than others do. Female and male collegiate runners who completed either LHTL or traditional “live high, train high” altitude training were classified as responders or nonresponders based on their performance in a postaltitude 5-km run. On average, responders demonstrated a significant 4% improvement (37 s) in the postaltitude 5-km run versus their prealtitude performance; nonresponders were approximately 1% slower (14 s). Hematological data showed that responders had a significantly larger increase in serum EPO (52%) compared with nonresponders, who demonstrated a 34% increase in serum EPO. Similarly, postaltitude RBC mass for responders was 8% higher (p < 0.05), but nonresponders’ RBC mass was only 1% higher (not statistically significant) compared with prealtitude values. A breakdown of responders indicated that 82% came from the LHTL group, and 18% came from the “live high, train high” group. The authors concluded that each athlete may need to follow an altitude training program that places the athlete at an individualized, optimal altitude for living and another altitude for training, thereby producing the best possible hematological response.

Skeletal Muscle
As described, the primary reason endurance athletes train at altitude is to increase RBC mass and hemoglobin concentration. In addition, they may gain secondary physiological benefits as a result of altitude exposure. For example, altitude training has been shown to increase skeletal muscle capillarity (Desplanches et al. 1993; Mizuno et al. 1990). In theory, this physiological adaptation enhances the exercising muscles’ ability to extract oxygen from the blood.

Other favorable skeletal muscle microstructure changes that occur as a result of training at altitude include increased concentrations of myoglobin (Terrados et al. 1990), increased mitochondrial oxidative enzyme activity (Terrados et al. 1990), and a greater number of mitochondria (Desplanches et al. 1993), all of which serve to enhance the rate of oxygen utilization and aerobic energy production.

Nevertheless, scientific data in support of altitude-induced skeletal muscle adaptations are minimal, particularly among well-trained athletes. Only Mizuno and colleagues (1990) examined elite athletes; Desplanches and colleagues (1993) and Terrados and colleagues (1990) examined the effect of altitude training on the skeletal muscle characteristics of untrained individuals. Additional studies conducted on elite athletes failed to demonstrate significant changes in skeletal muscle microstructure caused by altitude training (Saltin et al. 1995; Terrados et al. 1988). Furthermore, Desplanches and colleagues (1993) conducted their study at impractical simulated elevations (4100 to 5700 m, 13,450 to 18,700 ft), an altitude too high for athletes to train at. Thus, based on the current scientific literature, it is unclear whether altitude training, as practiced by most elite athletes at moderate elevations of 1800 to 3050 m (6000 to 10,000 ft) improves oxygen extraction and utilization via favorable changes in skeletal muscle capillarity, myoglobin, mitochondrial oxidative enzyme activity, and mitochondrial density. Additional research is warranted.

Another important physiological adaptation that may occur as a result of exposure to moderate altitude is an improvement in the capacity of the skeletal muscle and blood to buffer the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+). High concentrations of H+ are known to contribute to skeletal muscle fatigue by impairing actin-myosin crossbridge cycling, reducing the sensitivity of troponin for calcium (Ca2+) and inhibiting the enzyme phosphofructokinase (PFK) (McComas 1996). Thus, an enhanced H+ buffering capacity may have a beneficial effect on aerobic and anaerobic performance.

In support of this, Mizuno and colleagues (1990) reported a significant 6% increase in the buffering capacity of the gastrocnemius muscle of elite male cross-country skiers who lived at 2100 m (6890 ft) and trained at 2700 m (8860 ft) for 14 days. Significant improvements in maximal O2 deficit (29%) and treadmill run time to exhaustion (17%) were observed after the athletes returned to sea level. In addition, a positive correlation (r = 0.91, p < 0.05) was demonstrated between the relative increase in buffering capacity of the gastrocnemius muscle and treadmill run time to exhaustion.

Gore and colleagues (2001) reported that skeletal muscle buffer capacity increased 18% (p < 0.05) in male triathletes, cyclists, and cross-country skiers following 23 days of living at 3000 m (9840 ft) and training at 600 m (1970 ft). Furthermore, they found that mechanical efficiency significantly improved during a 4 3 4-min submaximal cycling test following the 23-day LHTL period.

The precise mechanisms responsible for enhanced skeletal muscle buffering capacity following high altitude training are unclear but may be related to changes in creatine phosphate and/or muscle protein concentrations (Mizuno et al. 1990). Improvements in blood buffering capacity may be due to increases in bicarbonate (Nummela and Rusko 2000) or hemoglobin concentration.

Runners Knee Injuries

I’ve rarely talked to a runner who has not had a knee problem at some point in their running background. The following excerpt from “Healthy Runner’s Handbook” does a terrific job of explaining some of the sources.

“The knee is the largest and most complex joint in the body. Given the enormous stresses to which it is subjected during running, it is natural that knee injuries are common among runners. The potentially debilitating consequences of a knee injury reinforce the need for a focus on prevention.

Knee overuse injuries include patellofemoral pain syndrome (kneecap pain), meniscus wear and tear, tendinitis conditions both above and below the kneecap, bursitis, and loose bodies in the knee.

Overuse knee injuries are usually caused by excessive running, but can be caused by intrinsic risk factors such as poor conditioning or muscle imbalances, and anatomical abnormalities such as a difference in leg length, abnormalities in hip rotation or the position of the kneecap, bow legs, knock knees, or flat feet.

Knee function depends on the highly complex interaction among a number of the surrounding muscles. The most important actions are performed by the quadriceps (straightening) and hamstrings (bending) in the front and back of the thigh, respectively.

Imbalances in strength or flexibility between the quadriceps or hamstrings can predispose the runner to a common overuse knee injury called patellofemoral pain syndrome, which is usually caused by the kneecap tracking improperly in its groove at the front of the bottom of the thighbone. Often, this problem is caused by the excessive tightness of the hamstring muscles in back of the thigh compared to the quadriceps muscles in front of the thigh. In such circumstances, the quadriceps cannot maintain the proper straight-ahead alignment of the lower and upper leg when the person runs; as a result, the lower leg “spins out” during the running cycle, which in turn causes excessive stress to the outer side of the kneecap.

Another common imbalance within the quadriceps muscle group in the front of the thigh, between the outer quadriceps muscle (vastus lateralis) and the inner quadriceps muscle (vastus medialis), can also cause kneecap problems. These two muscles run down either side of the front of the thigh and attach to the kneecap. Part of their role is to stabilize the kneecap. When one side is stronger than the other, the kneecap can be pulled to one side when the person runs. Since runners frequently have comparatively stronger, tighter outer quadriceps muscles than inner quadriceps muscles, the kneecap can be pulled to the outer side. This mechanism is a common cause of patellofemoral pain syndrome in runners.

Tightness in the iliotibial band – a thick, wide band of muscle-tendon tissue running down the outside of the thigh from the hip to just below the knee – is the underlying cause of one of the most prevalent overuse injuries of the knee in runners, a condition known as iliotibial band friction syndrome.

Anatomical abnormalities are the second most common intrinsic risk factor. Several are closely associated with overuse knee injuries in runners:

* Flat feet, or feet that excessively turn inward (pronate) when the person runs – Inward rotation of the lower leg causes the kneecap to track improperly (see page 11).
* Knock knees – Excessive inward angling at the point where the thigh and lower leg meet (Q angle) causes the runner’s weight to be borne on the inside of the knee; an angle of greater than 10 degrees in men and 15 degrees in women is said to predispose that person to knee problems if he or she participates in a rigorous running regimen (see page 13).
* Bow legs – Greater distance over which the iliotibial band must stretch over the outside of the leg may cause tightness at the point where the iliotibial band crosses over the outside of the knee joint (iliotibial band friction syndrome; see page 13).
* Unequal leg length – In the longer leg, the greater distance over which the iliotibial band must stretch may cause inflammation in this tissue over the outside of the knee, perhaps causing iliotibial band friction syndrome (see pages 14-15).
* Turned-in thighbones – Inward-facing kneecaps characteristic of people with this abnormality may cause tracking problems in the kneecap (see page 12).
* Loose kneecaps, high-riding kneecaps (more often seen in very tall people), shallow femoral groove (the groove at the bottom of the thighbone in which the kneecap lies is too shallow) – All three of these anatomical abnormalities can cause the kneecap to track improperly, sometimes so severely that the kneecap completely slips in and out of its proper position (subluxation).
* “Miserable malalignment syndrome” – The combination of thighs that turn inward from the hip, knock knees, and flat feet can cause many problems.

Extrinsic risk factors associated with overuse knee injuries usually involve training errors, inappropriate workout structure, and improper footwear. “

Periodization of Training for Triathletes

The competitive season for triathlons is typically May through September. Within that period you might have a race you really want to do well in, often called your “A” race, and those used more for tracking progress.

Periodization of training means planning your training cycles to maximize your performance for competition. You might know this intuitively but did not know there was a science behind it. There is a Tudor Bompa is regarded as the guru of periodization of training. I read his first edition “Periodization Training for Sports” when my son was on the high school track team. I was actually able to email correspond with an athlete who said he used that book as his training bible, and he went on to win a gold medal at the Olympics.

Training is broken down into yearly cycles, or phases:

  • Anatomical Adaptation (getting your body and soft tissues ready for training)
  • Hypertrophy (building muscle mass)
  • Maximum Strength (taking the gains is mass and making them stronger)
  • Conversion (taking strength gains and converting them to sport-specific power)
  • Competitive and Transition (your races and before you start the training year over again)

Periodization of Training

In the second edition of Periodization Training for Sports, Tudor Bompa and Michael Carrera add some things that might be more interest to triathletes than just the science. It offers a yearly plan including the phases above. If you don’t think triathletes need strength training, ask Joe Friel and Tudor Bompa. You can benefit from strength training. The book walks you through the science of what to do, how to plan it, and break it down to smaller cycles (monthly and weekly) to maximize your performance.

It tells you the dominant energy sources, energy suppliers, limiting factors and training objectives, plans to train each energy systems, and nutrition. By the time you reach the plans, you understand and can immediately apply them because you already understand the science and how to get the most out of your training.

Here’s a good excerpt on Principles of Strength Training.

If you’re like me, you will enjoy learning the science behind the training theory. Then you will adapt to your own training and maximize your performance.