Tips for assessing last season and planning next season, Part one

Whatcha’ gonna do with all that data? Use it to plan next season, of course.

We log workout data, and some of it never sees the light of day again. Whether you like the old school pencil and paper method or the website technology of Strava, Garmin Connect, Mapmyrun, or others, it’s worth reviewing from time to time. I favor the digital side. Mostly because it makes the math easier and I can make some pretty sweet maps and graphs afterward. There are few things I appreciate more than maps and graphs.

My 2016 running heat map

My 2016 running heat map

So why are you really tracking all of this information? Most would say to allow the ability to see when they are improving. Bingo. But there are a few more reasons to keep track of and analyze the information regularly.

  • Increase the chances of short term and long term success
  • Compare real objective measures to what you *think* is going on
  • Improve your time management
  • Determine where injury or overtraining may have occurred (a breaking point)
  • Determine whether you met your full true physiological potential (or if you were just slacking off)
  • Make it easier for a coach to analyze (currently or on down the road)
  • Remind yourself of events and workouts you never want to do again
  • Remind yourself of events and workouts you would love to do again
  • Determine overall strengths and weaknesses
  • Prevent burnout
  • Define reasonable future goals
  • Recognize any past goals met
  • Discover what aspects of training and competing are really important to you

I started keeping a training log when I was around 15 years old.. Too bad they didn’t have these new-fangled wrist-worn GPS devices back then. There was more guesswork at distances and paces, especially because I was just making courses up. And sometime in college I tried logging everything into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, but that felt too cumbersome. Somehow, there are people still doing this! I salute your ability to tolerate the pain delivered from the software equivalent of a Ford Model T.

A spreadsheet isn’t specialized in its design, but it has the potential to be more informative than a paper logbook. Now the GPS watch companies produce some pretty decent metrics and there is additional software like Golden Cheetah and websites like Training Peaks that gobble up and produce more information than anyone can ever want or use. I love it.

At the least, take a look back at these basic measures:

  • Total yearly time
  • Total yearly distance
  • Average daily, weekly, monthly, yearly mileage
  • Average daily, weekly, monthly, yearly pace/speed
  • Competitive performance times, distances, paces

If there is one thing I can emphasize, it is that you should pay attention to trends, not single workouts, weeks, or even single months. Success is not built upon these brief intervals of time, nor is failure. Most injuries are not the result of what happens in a short period of time either.

Monitor the trends of speed, mileage, and duration for each week, month, and year. Following these trends, you can determine if there is consistent improvement or recognize unexpected losses before it is obvious in your performance.

Average speed across 2016. Trend line peak coincides with June event where I wanted a best performance. 

Average speed across 2016. Trend line peak coincides with June event where I wanted a best performance. 

Solely considering mileage, sure, you can progress each week greater than the generally recommended 10%, but should you do it for several weeks in a row? Most people are not going to withstand those increases. If you don’t look at the long-term trends, then you may just very well forget that you progressed 30% in volume for two weeks in a row just a month ago.

The same would apply to the quantity of high intensity work. Progressing too rapidly in the volume of intense exercise can be a problem, even if total amount of time or distance stayed the same from one week to another. Progressing too rapidly will eventually cause a problem one way or another.

Were you injured this year? Compare the time frame where you were injured to the time frame just prior to injury. Was there a fluctuation in intensity or in mileage volume? Maybe it’s something you can’t quite put your finger on.

That’s when you realize that miles, pace, and distance do not tell a full story. This is where more advanced measures become helpful. These advanced measures are likely to be most beneficial to an athlete that is trying to make a large amount of progress or achieve their peak fitness:

Fatigue points

  • In terms of time, where did you begin to bonk or have a drop of pacing? Where did you think “this stinks” or begin to mentally struggle with the work being done?
  • These points are commonly where technique breaks down. It’s good to have a specific goal for when these moments arrive. For instance, if you know your cadence starts to slow, let’s say to 165, then focus entirely on keeping it higher, like 175.
  • Mimic these moments in training in order to determine the resolution that allows you to avoid injury and performance decline. You will probably never fully avoid these points but with training you can keep shifting them further away to prolong the time before trouble strikes. Of course, this is dependent on other factors that would need to be duplicated, like speed and distance. With that in mind, this clearly isn’t something you would try to work on everyday.

Acute:Chronic Workload Ratio

  • Calculated as the most recent weekly mileage or duration divided by weekly mileage or duration total during the last 4-8 weeks. This is a newer consideration, yet so simple. It was introduced in the 2015 research with a study on rugby players. They found that having a high ratio of 1.5 or greater was a associated with onset of injury. Interestingly enough, a ratio of 0.85 to 1.35 was found to be protective to injury acquisition. Even though the research was done on rugby players, it’s easy to calculate, so I would suggest applying it to your training if you can measure volume. The result is similar to a 10% weekly progression.
Pressing my luck with an acute:chronic workload ratio of 1.7 for a little while there. 

Pressing my luck with an acute:chronic workload ratio of 1.7 for a little while there. 

Average daily, weekly, monthly, yearly heart rate

  • Yes, I know heart rate isn’t the most fabulous measure. But if you are using only the basic metrics, this is a good place to start because devices are now measuring heart rate at the wrist and the chest straps are way more comfortable now than 5 years ago. Trends in heart rate can demonstrate overtraining habits or improvements in performance. For instance, if I am ramping up my base miles I can compare performance on a certain loop at the same pace/time and might see a lower average heart rate for the same speed.
Average heart rate was at its lowest while heading into June as well. 

Average heart rate was at its lowest while heading into June as well. 

Elevation gain/loss

  • Someone unfamiliar with the impact of elevation might mistakenly call an average pace of 10 minutes/mile “slow.” They aren’t accounting for the fact that the average mile climbed was 200 feet. This is the main reason I do not believe in online running pace calculators for training or competing on hilly terrain. This is why power will be a much better measure of effort and stress. So...

Power

  • A newcomer to the running world. Just give it a couple years and many of you will have power data on your fancy GPS watches.
  • Although the current power meters for running don’t directly measure the force produced by your body, it’s still more accurate than guessing based upon how you feel.

With software like Golden Cheetah or Training Peaks, you could dive even deeper with these calculated measures:

Critical velocity

  • Critical velocity is the pace that you could theoretically sustain for an indefinite amount of time. Training at or above critical velocity is one way to focus on becoming faster.

Training stress scores

  • Training stress is a measure calculated by considering heart rate (as a measure of intensity) and time.
  • Acute or short-term training stress (stress over the last 7 days) vs.
  • Chronic or long-term training stress (stress over the past 42 days)
  • Training stress balance is about managing the balance between the two in order to provoke higher competitive performances
Training stress graph for 2016

Training stress graph for 2016

Next post I'll go over more planning tips. Please let me know if you have any questions at derek@mountainridgept.com. 

Strength Training for Runners, Part 2: Why?

Why strength and plyometric train?

Why not strength and plyometric train? That’s a better question. My personal excuse is that it’s not as fun as running, partly because it’s not done outside and nowhere near the woods. I’d rather move me, not a dumbbell. Although I’m sure some would say by moving myself I am indeed moving a dumbbell. *Sigh*

For myself and many other runners, strengthening is a necessity if you want to run long, hard, or into old age. I will gladly give up 3-6 junk miles every week to take the time for this type of cross training. Strength training gets me to a point that makes the other runs more enjoyable. How does it improve my running enjoyment? Largely because I stay less injured overall, my back doesn’t hurt during long runs anymore, I recover quicker, and my legs never get that completely destroyed feeling in long races that they once did.

I would argue that running itself is a series of plyometrics. (The Merriam-Webster definition of a plyometric activity is “exercise involving repeated rapid stretching and contracting of muscles”). Plyometrics are just high speed strengthening.

Here are a few reasons runners should consider strength training:

1. Strength training improves performance. Every runner can benefit from strength training. Competitive trail runners, marathoners, and speed demons who compete at any distance could reap very significant gains. At the same time, the less competitive folks running just for fun could benefit too.

The mechanisms of improved performance can be attributed to any one or a combination of the following factors:

  • Increased hip and core stability
  • Increased force production of the muscle fibers (aka strength)
  • Increased fatigue resistance of the larger leg muscle groups (aka endurance)
  • Increased endurance of the core, hip, and leg muscle groups while producing greater force (aka strength endurance)

Increased hip and core stability

Having a strong core and hips takes unnecessary trunk motions out of the equation. You can then move the arms and legs more quickly and with greater force without disrupting the stable base. I noticed this in the 2016 women’s 10,000 meter U.S. Olympic trials. Molly Huddle maintains a very stable trunk posture. As a result, there is less energy wasted during the early and middle part of the run and that energy can be put to use in the closing laps. And at that point many of the competitors are flailing anyway.

 

Increased force production

As far as the prime movers of the legs go, if you want to move faster while running, your options are to:

  • increase turnover while maintaining the same muscle force output,
  • increase force from the muscles while maintaining the same turnover, or
  • increase both muscle force and rate of turnover.

Strength (and plyometric) training is a great way to teach your larger leg muscles to generate that force in an efficient manner. Many of the changes that we would refer to as increased strength are actually the result of the nervous system’s ability to refine how the muscle fibers fire. It’s definitely not all about making the muscles bigger. By increasing the ease and efficiency of force production, you can become faster.

Increased fatigue resistance of the larger leg muscle groups and increased endurance of the core, hip, and leg muscle groups while producing greater force

Greater total muscle strength can lead to greater strength endurance capacity. Strength endurance is concerned with the ability to generate a certain force for a prolonged period. In other words, after strength training for a few weeks I can make a muscle produce the same or greater force for a longer period of time before it begins to fail. This is a huge benefit if you have reached the limits of what your fast-twitch muscle fibers are willing to perform with standard running interval training techniques.

Racing and hard efforts can rely heavily on the fast-twitch muscle fibers, and slow endurance training does very little to train these muscle fibers because slow training is primarily using slow-twitch muscle fibers. You can only perform so much high intensity interval work while running so strength training is another way to stimulate these muscle fibers. By regularly training the fast-twitch muscle fibers, you can improve movement economy and improve fatigue tolerance. Better fast-twitch muscle fiber use will help you when bridging a gap in a race, moving at faster speeds, and climbing hills.

2. Strength training can help you prevent injury. There is research citing decreased injury incidence in athletes with consistent strength training routines (http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2013/10/07/bjsports-2013-092538.abstract). Stretching, on the other hand, has no consistent research support in injury prevention. For one, as mentioned, proper strength training helps to increase hip and core stability so that the legs and arms are moving on a stable base. My theory would be that it’s mostly the strength, stability, and muscular endurance of the hips and core that help to keep a runner away from injury though it's certainly important to train the rest of the leg as well. This is where many runners have the wrong idea of what strengthening should really be about. The primary objective is to take the unnecessary motion out of the system in order to reduce the injury causing “slop.”

3. Strength training can help you recover from injury. Often, strengthening of specific muscles is a vital component of any patient’s injury recovery in my clinic. In the case of both injured and uninjured tissues, the intention is to rely on these primary concepts:

  • Improved structural integrity of muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone, and
  • Improved strength and neurological activity in weak muscles

4. Strength training changes your perspective on higher training intensities. If you can perform enough repetitions with a high resistance that you reach a point of true muscle failure, you begin to understand what it’s like to really push that extra bit of effort from yourself. That can make a finish line sprint or track workout feel a little easier, for the muscles at least.

5. Strength training helps decrease age-related strength loss. Aging causes a loss of the fast-twitch types of muscles fibers and their associated nerves. Frequently demanding work from those muscle fibers slows the rate of loss. Nobody wants to lose the strength necessary to do daily tasks but I assure you that it will happen if you let it. I didn’t think about this until I started approaching 40 years of age (and the girls stopped whistling at me.)

6. Increasing strength makes you a generally healthier individual and a well-rounded athlete. There’s nothing better than being able to confidently lift a 50-pound bag of potting soil from the ground without fear of hurting your back. And being able to randomly and confidently play a pickup game of {insert any sport here} is pretty awesome too.

7. Variety and changes in your training program prevent burnout and staleness. The same old, same old becomes dull and demotivating for most people. There is so much variety possible with strength and plyometric training that it can really freshen up your outlook.

8. Strength training can boost you through a performance plateau. The repetition associated with some endurance training programs will inevitably lead to a plateau in many athletes. In order to bust through the plateau you need a new type of training stimulus. Resistance training can be that stimulus if delivered correctly over a 4-8 week period of time, especially if you add the plyometrics and change up your running interval program.

Please let me know if you have any questions by emailing me at derek@mountainridgept.com.

 

Footwork Friday - Basic Lateral Agility Drills

Welcome to Footwork Friday where we introduce agility drills, strengthening, and muscle care techniques for the athlete who understands how important their feet and legs are in carrying them through to the next step in their active lifestyle. 

Runners and many other athletes don't get enough lateral movement in their training. This is why we tend to weaken in side-to-side movements and we also tend to become injured because of instabilities side-to-side. Even in an uninjured state, learning to stabilize the body to prevent lateral movement can be very useful to move quickly and safely across unstable surfaces like rocks, roots, grass and mud. As far as pure performance is concerned, increased lateral movement is an energy waste when you are trying to move quickly forward.

The agility efforts do not need to be long. The technique just needs to be as accurate as possible. Like I've shown in the videos, a 10-15 yard section is plenty long enough. Go through each drill 2-4 times. For any agility drill I recommend fully recovering between efforts because you are ultimately trying to train your nervous system, not your heart or lungs.

Initially, for the first drill, focus on keeping the contact light and not crossing one leg over the other. Strive for keeping the body tall. As you learn what it feels like to "stick" the outer leg, try to make sure your knee is staying straight over top of your foot. In other words, the knee doesn't bow inward or outward. It does need to be bent for a soft landing though. This is commonly done with an agility ladder but I prefer to do them in the middle of a short and easy run or a moderate distance run to keep the right muscles awake. As you get faster you can focus on lowering your body closer to the ground. 

For the second drill focus again on light and quick contact with the ground. Emphasize keeping your stance wide and pumping the arms directly forward and backward. I like to do this in the middle of my runs as well. Just be careful because it will skyrocket your heart rate and effort levels very quickly.

Have fun and let me know if you have any questions at mountainridgept@gmail.com