Email Newsletter #15: 05/09/2020
I've had a great week so far. I did some sharpening sessions to prepare for my race tomorrow (Ovronnaz-Rambert), I ran on the Trail des Cabanes route which was spectacular, and I also spent some time on the Swiss Peaks Trail route to support David during his race there (see his race result below). We have had wonderful weather in Switzerland this week and it has been a treat to enjoy the mountain trails and to feel the excitement of racing again by watching a race and preparing for my own race this weekend.
Craig Pickering's article on The mundanity of excellence is one of the best articles I've read this year. This article reminded me of Mark Allen talking about the breakthrough he made when he realised that "there was very little that was glamorous about the training it took to be a champion". There is so much good advice in this article that I've saved it to re-read it and remind myself of these lessons. I highly recommend reading the article to see the details and explanations of these key points:
- Excellence requires qualitative differentiation
- Discipline is a key factor
- Excellence is mundane
- Motivation is also mundane
- Focus on small wins
- Maintaining mundanity is the key psychological challenge
David Roche's most recent article is about Why Some Athletes May Get Slower With High-Volume Training. This is a good reminder about specificity of training. I believe that we often think about the specific demands of a race, but don't think about adjusting the specificity of training to match the athlete. Different athletes respond well to different types of training (even if they are training for the same race demands) and often the same athlete will respond differently to the same training at different times in the training cycle or in different phases of their career.
This week I listed to two fantastic podcasts on nutrition. In particular, these two podcasts covered the topic of training low and how to go about it. I think that this is a valid concept and the research that I've seen on this topic is compelling and has me convinced to include these types of sessions in my training. I would recommend both of these podcasts if you're interested in training low and want to learn more about it.
The Uphill Athlete Podcasts covered this topic in the episode Talking Fasted Training With Staff Performance Dietitian Rebecca Dent. The discussion is detailed and nuanced and explains who should do fasted sessions, how to go about it, and also considers whether these types of sessions are appropriate for women. I appreciate the views provided in this podcast because the hosts are coming at it from a mountaineering perspective which characterised by long, lower-intensity pushes in the mountains. In many ways this is closer to mountain ultramarathons consider the topic from the perspective of shorter, more intense events.
Mikael of Scientific Triathlon covered the topic on the episode Musculoskeletal adaptations, “train low” strategies, and muscle fiber types with prof. John Hawley | EP#248. I think this is one of Mikael's best podcasts and really helped me to consider training low within the full range of training stimuli. When and how to include this type of training should be a decision based on understanding the goals of the athlete and all the potential training stimuli available. Remember that the:
Metabolic load could be training in hot conditions, at altitude with lesser availability of oxygen or to deliberately train with a low availability of glycogen (i.e. ”train low”), which seems to emphasize certain adaption signals and therefore lead to greater adaptation.
David raced in the Swiss Peaks Trail 170km this week. He had a great race and pushed really hard to do finish in 2nd place in 26h38. This performance is very impressive for me because David managed to come back from a bad ankle sprain that ended his race when he was leading in the Montreux Trail Festival a month ago. He has been disciplined and diligent in recovering and cross-training showing that it's possible to manage an injury well and to return to racing if you're smart and patient. Well done!
Email Newsletter #14: 29/08/2020
This week has been a quiet week of training and preparing for my next races. I went to Ovronnaz to explore the Ovronnaz-Rambert route and I also ran the first climb in the Trail des Cabanes race as these two routes are both close to me and close to each other. I enjoyed the trails and the reminder of how many unexplored (for me) trails there are close to home. The trails and climbs near Ovronnaz are spectacular and somewhere I will be returning to in the future.
I enjoyed this article in Podium Runner about choosing a different schedule to a standard week. I have tried 9-, 10-, and 12-day schedules in the past and they do allow for more flexibility to fit in a range of different workouts that might be too much for a standard 7-day training cycle. Like this article, the best approach that I found was to follow a 14-day cycle which allows more time to fit in all the different training components and at the same time there can be some "normality" in following a standard week (which is more aligned with most people's working lives). Another benefit of this approach that was not mentioned in the article is that a two-week cycle allows us to take a full rest day each training cycle, but doesn't require a rest day every week which can be too much for some athletes.
Alan Couzens has a website that is full of useful articles and resources on training and coaching. I regularly refer back to some of his older articles that can be used to guide training and provide insight into planning and periodisation. His recent article about the lessons he learned from Gennadi Touretski is brilliant. There is fantastic insight into how professional, deliberate and thorough Touretski was in his coaching and the success this led to. I especially liked the this lesson:
The concept of aerobic base training as 'footprints in the snow'. If you leave them unattended, they'll snow over and you have to start from scratch. If you keep coming back to them, you'll have a much faster route to the peak when needed.
The Science of Sport Podcast is a podcast I always listen to and they delivered some great content again with this espisode on The Simple Truth about Exercise and Hydration. They explain safe hydration and the fact that we only need to drink to thirst. I would only add one small refinement to this discussion and that is for ultramarathon athletes. While I believe ultramarathon athletes should also drink to thirst, it takes some planning to have enough fluids available during long races. This is different to the marathon where there are far more regular aid stations. I would suggest that for an ultramarathon an athlete needs to plan for their expected hydration needs and make sure that is available during the race, and then drink what they have with them according to thirst.
I listened to a new podcast this week: The Well with Dylan Bowman. The first episode I listened to was The Champion's Mindset with Pau Capell. There are some fascinating insights into how Pau chooses to race and about his training. In particular I found his ideas about running hard at the beginning of the race to create a lead and then controlling how that gap to competitors changes to be a shift from what I would normally think. In many ways this is similar to gaining the lead on the first stage of a multi-stage race and then only needing to stay with competitors in subsequent stages to stay in the lead overall. This places other runners in the position of having to make a move or attack. A great insight.
On the weekend Moisés Jimenez raced L’Echappée Belle in France. It was a tough and technical course over 149km with 11,700m of climbing. He had a solid performance finishing strongly to pass five people in the last few hours of the race. Well done on your 9th place, Moi!
Email Newsletter #13: 19/08/2020
Last week I shared that I have a race calendar and this week I can share that I did my first trail race of the season! I ran the Pierre a Voir: Trail de Bisse and I had a fantastic time. It was so much fun to race again and to test myself in race conditions. I think everyone knows that racing is different to training no matter how carefully we structure and prescribe the training. This race was a good reminder of how much easier it is to find that extra gear in a race and a good way to kick off the season. You can read my race report on my website.
After a strange year, it felt amazing to be running in a race and I had a smile the whole way. I love running and racing and despite all the challenges of 2020 that passion is still strong. I was grateful to race and I will continue to give my best at every chance I have to stand on a startline.
Are you getting psychological rest? is an excellent article on the Fast Running website. I appreciate how they have separated physical/training and psychological rest and explained how to achieve some of the latter. I would add a few extra suggestions. The first is that having a coach can help athletes who fixate too much on creating their own perfect training plans to have some peace of mind. The second is that making a firm decision to take a rest day on a day when you're too tired or sore, rather than waiting and procrastinating on making a decision, can remove some stress and facilitate having a true psychological rest day.
In edition #10 of my newsletter I shared some fantastic work by Aitor Viribay Morales on ingesting up to 120g/hr of carbohydrate. He has recently shared another article this time about fat oxidation and metabolic flexibility: Fat Oxidation in Athletes: High Carbohydrate versus High Fat Diet. I think the way that he presents these two alternate diet options is informative and provides a useful framework for deciding what is best for you. He concludes that:
Considering this, athletes, nutritionists, coaches, physiologists, etc. should know the effects of each diet on metabolism regulation and exercise capacity, in order to be able to discuss and decide what could be better for each situation's objectives and priorities.
Science of Ultra is one of my favorite podcasts and this week I listened to two great episodes about nutrition. I would recommend listening to both of these as they provide plenty more detail than I can fit in here.
The first episode was Episode 129 with Dan Moore where he talked about protein requirements. The usual suggested daily protein guidance is 1.2g/kg/day, but this is seldom sufficient for athletes. Dan recommends taking 1.8g/kg/day and this is consistent with some of the previous research I've shared from Stuart Phillips where he recommended taking up to 2.4g/kg/day in certain circumstances. The good news is that eating enough to meet your energy requirements almost certain means that you'll get enough protein.
The second episode was Episode 130 with Trent Stellingwerff where he mostly talked about energy requirements for athletes. I thought the most interesting point was the similarity of symptoms seen in athletes who are over-training and those with REDS. This suggests that over-training may just be under-fueling as these two conditions are currently indistinguishable. I loved the quote he shared from Jack Lalanne: "Exercise is king, nutrition is queen, put them together and you've got a kingdom."
Email Newsletter #12: 12/08/2020
I have a race calendar for 2020! Despite a disrupted season with all of my goal races for this year cancelled, it looks like there may still be a chance to race at the end of this summer. I've selected a couple of new races, a few old favorites, and all of the races are close to home and don't require any travel. I'm excited to have a plan and some goals to focus on for the next few months.
The big news this month is that I have started an athlete sponsorship with HRV4Training. I'm proud to be HRV4Training's first sponsored athlete and to extend our relationship further. I have used the app every day for years, I was an ambassador in 2019, and I have been working in customer support to help users of the app and the web platform. I trust the app completely and use it to guide my training and to help me to advise the athletes I coach. I can't imagine a better company or team to be part of and I'm thrilled about what we have in store for the next year.
This article from EndureIQ about carbohydrate hydrogels is useful for any runners wondering if Maurten or other hydrogels are better than normal gels or carbohydrate drinks. It appears that there isn't much evidence to support the use of hydrogels over other traditional carbohydrate sources, but there also doesn't appear to be a downside to using them. I would suggest testing different products and see what works best for you. On the resources page on my website there are a number of studies on nutrition that you can use to help create your own nutrition strategy.
My friend Russell from Crossfit Shumba started training again after a 10-week break. He wrote some thoughts and advice about getting started again which most people can relate to and have experienced before. I would suggest that the most important thing is to be kind to yourself and be gentle in the progression. Here are Russell's thoughts for coaches working with new athletes or for starting training again:
Attendance is more valuable than intensity:
Just walking through the doors is the real victory. Never forget that intensity is relative. So, respect the attendance and encourage it. Coz if people don’t start, they can’t improve.
Your health is priceless:
When facing any kind of adversity (work stress, depression, COVID-19, change), your health and fitness will be what your body falls back on in order to handle the rigours of those challenges. Therefore the fitter you are, the healthier you are, and as a result, the more capacity for overcoming challenges you have. Never underestimate that. So never let it slide.
Start where you are, not where you want to be:
Knowing exactly where I am and how unfit I am is the key to achieving the goals I have. I only have today. And I can only make the best of today with what I have, not what I want to have or what I think I deserve to have. The more aware I am of my ACTUAL status, the more likely I am to adhere to the plan and not fall off of it due to getting upset with myself or becoming despondent.
Following Russell's notes about beginning training again, I thought that this article from Podium Runner about what new runners need to know provides a useful list of principles and guidance. While a couch-to-5km plan may be a typical starting point for many new runners, I believe it is more important to learn the right principles to adjust training yourself. We all adapt to training at different rates and learning the principles allows a runner to adjust their training to personalise it.
In this episode of the Science of Sport Podcast titled Watt the FTP? Ross and Mike discuss the details of various thresholds and how to use these as anchors for training intensity. Ross is careful to describe the principles rather than being pedantic about terminology (although he did help clear up a few terms I wasn't sure about) and this helps to make the discussion more practical and applicable. The day after listening to this I did my own lactate threshold field test to confirm my zones and I'm looking forward to training with a better understanding of how to use these reference points more precisely.
I listened to the Performance Talk with Marco Altini and enjoyed the discussion and some of the analogies and practical cases that Ewell raised. An example is when Ewell called HRV the "first responder" with the implication that monitoring your HRV may give you an early warning sign of illness or some other physiological issue. I appreciate Marco's approach and his way of incorporating HRV into a holistic system to help inform training comes through clearly in this podcast.
It's fantastic to have a result to talk about in this newsletter, as races are starting to take place again!
Roberto finished 2nd in his age group at the Swiss Alpine Davos. He ran consistently all day and was always near the podium for his age group and a strong finish propelled him to second place. Well done!
Email Newsletter #11: 25/07/2020
The final goal race from my original 2020 calendar was cancelled in the period since I sent out the last newsletter. Like all the other races that have been cancelled this year, I think the organisers made a good decision. It's hard for any of us to know what to do and even if there are races that go ahead I think athletes need to be cautious and consider their own health and circumstances in making a decision of whether or not to race. I'm still not sure what other races will go ahead and if I will feel comfortable in a mass start situation so this year's calendar is still up in the air.
Fortunately the summer weather has been fantastic which means that I still get to run on some amazing routes in the mountains. I've been on new routes, I've climbed to new summits, and I've enjoyed some old-faithful routes in Vaud and Valais. I like to run with the perspective of "training for life" which means both training for my entire life and training to handle the demands of life. Even without races I can achieve those goals and do what I love. Luckily the trails and mountains are still there no matter what else is going on.
David Roche writes about the benefit of including some intensity at the beginning of or within long runs. The article that starts with an explanation of the rationale for this approach and David's research on training plans where he found many breakthroughs came after "consistently high-quality long runs that involve race specific or greater intensity". While many plans aimed at beginners often include low-intensity long runs with the intention of building endurance and the goal is for the athlete to complete a planned distance, I believe that most advanced training plans include more race pace training and long runs that simulate race efforts and conditions. If you're looking for ways to incorporate this type of session into your plan to help move towards more advanced training, David provides a few different examples of sessions that can fit into different phases of the season.
I always enjoy reading the articles from the Home of Triathlon blog as the writers take a simple, no-nonsense approach to training. In the past they have written about doing strength training within you sport - in running that's hills - and not needing to go to the gym to lift weights. After some pressure, Brett has provided more thoughts on his approach and has prescribed a clear set of exercises to use under certain circumstances. If you're looking for a simple, four-exercise strength training session then these are the exercises for you.
In this Sweat Science post "The Difference Between Effort and Pain" Alex explores the nuance around the factors that slow you down. Is it effort or pain? I agree with his view that "your subjective perception of effort is more important than pain in dictating your limits", however, it is interesting to read the studies he shares that show researchers arriving at different answers to this question. I recently read Matt Fizgerald's book How Bad Do You Want It where he talks about the need to manage perception of effort rather than effort itself to achieve your best performance. Matt's view is similar to the effort side of this argument and it is well explained in the book (which I recommend).
The Scientific Triathlon Podcast Ep#236: High carbohydrate, low carbohydrate, or periodised carbohydrate intake with Louise Burke was excellent. Louise Burke is the researcher who lead the SUPERNOVA studies on carbohydrate use in endurance sport so it's fantastic to hear her perspective on the studies and their findings. I appreciate how personalized her approach is depending on the athlete and the demands of the event. Towards the end of the podcast she provided a useful summary on the whole range of considerations needed when we look at nutrition (from sporting performance to the social context) and this podcast is worth listening to for that alone.
The Scientific Triathlon Podcast Ep#236: Caffeine and Endurance Performance with Ajmol Ali provided some good insight into research on caffeine and a simple and clear guide on how much caffeine is needed for endurance performance. "If you take 3-6mg/kg of caffeine it will provide 2.5% improvement for men and women if you do anything over 5 minutes."
Science of Ultra Episode 126 with David Bishop is quite detailed in places and goes into a lot of science about mitochondrial adaptations. However, there are some useful and clear guidelines on how to use this advice and apply it in training. For me the most interesting aspect of the podcast was the detail about training twice a day and how to go about this: the second session should be in a low-energy state, it should be lower intensity, and it should be ~2hrs after the first.
Email newsletter #10: 12/06/2020
It has been an interesting first half to the year with most of our running and training goals being limited by the pandemic. Like everyone I had a number of different races cancelled, three of my four goal races for the year have been cancelled, and that left me unsure of what training to do. At first I lost a bit of motivation, but slowly I returned to a maintenance training plan and I made some good progress in my fitness. It was quite freeing to have no race goals on the horizon and therefore to train at a pace determined by my own progress and motivation rather than aiming to try and achieve a level of race fitness by a specific race date. I like that approach and it was great to learn something in a very disrupted period of training.
I'm now focusing on some shorter and smaller local races where the organisers can ensure the safety of the competitors (and meet the government requirements). It looks like there will be good opportunities to explore closer to home and run all the races that don't make it into my year plans when there were bigger goals that take priority. Hopefully in the next few newsletters the "Friends' race results" section can return when we're all racing again.
This is my tenth newsletter. I'm pleased to reach this early milestone and to have a small audience who are enjoying the content. If you have any suggestions for topics that you'd like to read about, if you have any race results you'd like me to share, or you have any other feedback, please feel free to reply to the newsletter. Also, if you would like to share the newsletter with anyone, the archives are available here and the sign-up form is here.
Over the last few months I have been sharing a handful of interesting research papers a week through my twitter account. If you'd like to receive those you can find me on twitter under the username @dwrowland. Alternatively, you can go straight to the resources page on my website where you'll find all the papers along with my practical take-aways.
I have found the work by Aitor Viribay Morales fascinating. He published an article (in Spanish) about his study which found that ingesting 120g/hr of CHO reduced the muscle damage after a mountain marathon race. He has done a lot of work with Pro Tour cyclists where he saw higher levels of carbohydrate consumption. However, in running events most runners don't even achieve close to the previous highest guidelines of 90g/hr. This makes Aitor's research particularly interesting as we see that this level of CHO ingestion is possible in trail races and it appears to be beneficial.
A good accompanying article to the previous work by Aitor is this interview of Aitor by Asker Jeukendrup. Asker is responsible for the research that found the previous 90g/hr limit for CHO and the means of achieving this through a glucose and fructose combination. It's is interesting to see his questions and learn that the upper limit can be stretched (even for runners) with the appropriate training.
Following up on the articles about pushing the carbohydrate rate into higher zones, I decided to learn a little more about the digestive system during endurance events. Patrick Wilson wrote a book called "The Athlete's Gut" and he appeared on a number of different podcasts in the last few months to talk about the book and his research. Here are three different podcasts he appeared on which provide an excellent overview of the topic:
- Nutrition, Health and Performance podcast: a good introduction to the topic and the range of potential factors that can lead to GI issues in endurance sports.
- Koopcast: in this podcast there is some good detail about training the stomach and also about the different factors that may lead to nausea during an ultra.
- Science of Ultra podcast: as always Shawn digs deep into the detail and practicalities of the topic. This was an excellent podcast with some great questions and points to think about and take away from the discussion.
Email newsletter #9: 06/02/2020
I have been working on my speed and economy over the winter and I had a chance to test my progress at the Lausanne cross country race on the weekend. I enjoyed the race a lot and had a fantastic experience in the mud and running the fast one kilometer laps. I was quite happy with my pace and consistency over the seven laps finishing in a time of 27:53. There were a few deep mud sections, a couple of sharp corners and four little obstacles per lap that forced changes of pace. This type of course was a useful run to test my ability to accelerate and hold a pace.
I have two more cross country races that I'm looking forward to in about four weeks time so I'll be working some more on my speed and also adding some lactate threshold intervals. My first ultra will at the beginning of April so I also have to keep that in mind and start to build up the weekly mileage, long runs, and steady state training. I feel like I'm improving and building in the Kenyan way: "slowly by slowly".
As running speed as been a focus for me I've been reading a lot about it. It was reassuring to read this article from Podium Runner about "getting fast first" by Alan Culpepper. While I have been thinking of speed as a focus for winter and as a block of work, this article included a good remind to keep an element of speed throughout the year. I will be following the advice and keeping a very fast session in my training every 10-14 days throughout the whole year.
One of the reasons for working on speed is to develop a "speed reserve" as described in this article from Strength Power Speed. "By training an athlete to be faster, you can increase his or her abilities not only in the maximal acceleration and maximum speed realm, but also for all of the sub-maximal speed activities that occur in the spectrum below maximal performance abilities". This is very appealing and makes intuitive sense to me. Not only that, but it's a lot of fun to run fast too!
Episode 114 of the Science of Ultra asked "are rest days necessary?". The key point that I took from this podcast was to think carefully about the stimulus of every single run (or training session). While it may be necessary to take a rest day occasionally, this need should be considered from the perspective of the various stimuli and the total load that has been accumulated over the last few days or weeks. For example, after a high intensity training session, it's possible to take time to recovery from that stimulus by doing an easy run which provides an endurance stimulus. The implications for programme design are to consider the goal stimulus and to maintain other parts of the programme without including unnecessary rest which reduces overall training load.
I started listening to a new podcast, the BE with Champions podcast hosted by Greg Bennett. Greg was one of the best triathletes in the world and his interviews with his competitors and other champions are insightful and interesting. In each of the podcasts I've listened to he asks about mental tools and in particular visualisation. Greg attributes a lot of success later in his career to active and passive visualisation and it's worth listening to his podcasts to learn more about this. I particularly enjoyed the conversations with Simon Whitfield (taking away the idea to make my average days better) and and Craig Alexander (who expressed a very strong opinion on accountability from elite athletes).
Email newsletter #8: 18/01/2020
In the first part of 2020 I'm focusing on running some shorter races and working on my speed. In the past few years I went to races in warm places in the middle of our winter (Transgrancanaria and Madeira Island Ultra Trail) and I struggled with acclimatising to the heat. I enjoyed travelling to those places and it was wonderful to be somewhere warm, but I now know I need more time to acclimatise and that is not easy to achieve without a dedicated training camp. This year I'm planning to run a few local cross country races and focusing on my first goal race of the year which will be at home and in conditions that I can more thoroughly prepare for.
My training has been going well and I'm enjoying the speed stimulus. I wrote previously about doing VO2 Max sessions and now I'm running slightly more focused cross country sessions and moving towards the the lactate threshold training zone. I can't wait to race and push myself on some short loops in the country!
This week I came across a study on ultramarathon stage runners and their nutrition. Nutrition is a very personal topic and there are lots of different diets and protocols that are popular. I believe in following a periodised approach which includes periods of low carbohydrate intake to improve the rate of fat oxidation. I think approach this can be particularly important for athletes running stage races because of the severely limited calorie intake during the race. This paper on Carbohydrate intake and ketosis in self-sufficient multi-stage ultramarathon runners found that "competing in a state of ketosis may be inevitable during multi-stage events where load reduction is prioritised over energy provisions". This is definitely something that should be taken into consideration when preparing for a stage race regardless of what your diet preference is.
During periods of high volume training, I like to supplement with additional protein before I go to bed. I use casein protein and make a shake before bed. While I know the protein is a benefit for me and is hopefully improving my recovery and providing nutrients for muscle growth, I've often wondered if it will affect my hunger and nutrition the following day. This study on Pre-Sleep Casein Protein Ingestion found that "pre-sleep protein intake does not affect next-morning appetite and energy intake and is therefore a viable strategy to increase daily protein intake". Although this was in an older study population, it's still a useful data point.
The hot topic in the podcasts I listened to in the last couple of weeks has been sleep. It's evident now that getting enough sleep is critical and that sleep is the best modality of recovery for athletes. I always take note of any resources on sleep to ensure that I have good sleep hygiene and that I'm aware of any new ideas or suggestions for optimising sleep.
The first episode on sleep is from Sigma Nutrition with Meeta Singh. She re-iterated some facts that I already knew and that I think are very important: if you don't get enough sleep your reaction time (and performance) decreases, however, as you accumulate a sleep deficit your awareness and perception of sleepiness plateaus and you lose awareness of the performance decline. The new points that I found particularly interesting were that caffeine may help reduce the decline in performance from sleep deficit, however, caffeine does not improve judgment declines from lack of sleep. Essentially, caffeine helps improve reaction time, but not decision-making, so it's a recipe for making poor decisions more quickly!
The next episode I listened too was a Finding Master conversation with Michael Breus. This was a long conversation and they talked a lot about Michael's background, however, they reiterated and reinforced some facts that I know and don't always apply. First, “the wake up time is the most key aspect to all of sleep. If people want to get one thing from our conversation, a consistent wake up time will serve you well. It’s the anchor.” Second, the five key steps to good sleep were listed as:
- wake up at the same time every day;
- stop caffeine by 2pm;
- stop alcohol 2-3 hours before bed;
- exercise, but a few hours before bed so core body temperature isn't high;
- when you wake up drink a bottle of water and get 15' of sunlight.
Email newsletter #7: 13/12/2019
In the last few weeks I have continued my focus on VO2 Max development. I've been on the track and also running loads of uphill intervals. This work is hard! However, it has been rewarding as I have seen progress from week to week. I have also been following a consistent strength training routine with weights and in the last few weeks I added walking with a weighted vest. I can feel that the weighted vest works my core throughout the entire hike and the load on my legs on the uphills is very noticeable. Together all of these elements are intended to build a solid foundation on which to layer specific race preparation closer to the race season.
I wrote about strength training in the introduction above as it is something that I have been working on recently. One of the issues I have had in the past is foot fatigue late in long races. Sometimes this can from the impact of thousands of steps during a race, sometimes it can be a strength issue, and sometimes a combination of the two. Building foot strength is important and can make a significant impact in a long trail race. This weeks articles focus on foot strength exercises:
- Build your foot foundation provides a list of five great exercises to incorporate into training routines. These look quite easy, but are actually quite tricky and quickly highlight how weak the foot can be.
- These exercises are for ankle strengthening, however, the exercises shown in figures 3 (ankle eversion) and 4 (ankle inversion) strengthen muscles that can prevent pain from tendinopathy that presents in the foot. Peroneal tendinopathy can appear as pain on the outside centre of the foot and posterior tibial tendinopathy often appears as pain under the arch of foot. These are both issues that are more common in trail runners as these lesser calf muscles are working more in uneven terrain.
- If you are stuggling to diagnose a foot pain, then I recommend referring to Dr Pribut's running injuries site, in this case to the page about more than plantar fasciitis in the zone of confusion.
I enjoyed the podcast from That Triathlon Show on altitude with Andrew Simmons. I have struggled with racing at altitude in the past so I have been refining my approach to how I prepare for races at altitude with training camps before the race. Typically I aim for a minimum of 12-14 days at around 2000m to adapt. This podcast goes into the details of how to adapt with the useful metric that it requires 11.4 days for every kilometer above sea level for full hematological adaptation.
I mentioned in the previous newsletter how much I enjoy the Finding Mastery podcast. This week I listened to the epidode with Angela Naeth. It is an interesting conversation and as always Michael teases out some fantastic insight. I found it fascinating how Angela chose to race with Lyme disease even though many people thought it was risky, yet she knew that for her it wasn't and actually it was the process of training and racing that helped her get through the treatment. I enjoyed learning how well she knows herself and how careful she is with her own career.
Friends' race results
Tom Evans raced for the GB team at the European Cross Country Championships in Portugal. He was 44th and helped Team GB to a team gold medal! An awesome run for a trail runner (for any runner!) in a very fast race.
Email newsletter #6: 28/11/2019
I have progressed from the first phase of my training towards 2020 into the second phase. The new phase started three weeks ago and is focused on developing my intermediate muscle fibres and increasing my VO2 Max. Practically this means I've increased my interval duration from 20-30" during the first phase where I was working on running economy to 90" uphill or 300m, 400, and 800m repeats on the track.
It was a tough transition as I paced the first few sessions very poorly. Fortunately the phase is a few weeks long and after a few times repeating the same session I've felt stronger, faster and I've paced each repeat much better.
I share my training on Strava and also some thoughts and updates on each session on twitter (@dwrowland). Last week I also posted a series of photos from autumn on the Swiss trails including the picture above on my website. We had a good autumn here and a relatively gentle transition into winter so my training has been uninterrupted by the weather.
I've been thinking about long runs and how to optimise training for ultra-marathons. One of the biggest issues that ultra-marathon runners face (and marathoners too) is that it's impossible to run a race-pace long run in training because the demands on the body are too great. We have to figure out ways to simulate the demands of the race without actually running a training session that risks injury or takes too long to recover from. Here are some useful ideas that can be used in training to prepare for a long race.
- David Roche provides a guide on how to stack back-to-back runs. I like that he provides guidelines for preparing for different distance races: "30 to 40 miles over two days for a 50K; 35 to 50 miles over two days for a 50-miler; and 40 to 55 miles over two days for a 100-miler". I find back-to-back runs on race routes to be a great way to prepare for a race as it's a chance to see a large part of a race route and achieve a large mileage at the same time.
- Podium Runner suggests that we Ditch The Long, Slow Marathon-Training Distance Run in favor of running more time at race pace rather than just running long, slow distance during our long runs. This is good advice although it does not necessarily apply as well to ultra-marathons where race pace is actually quite slow. I prefer to try and run certain sections of the race route, or a simulation of a specific climb or part of the route, at race pace and effort. This can be combined well with the back-to-back runs above especially if they are run on the race route.
- Renato Canova (the famous Italian coach) asks his marathoners to do "special blocks". This is a day with two hard sessions, one in the morning and one in the evening, with the total duration being equal to or greater than a marathon distance. I think this approach could apply well for shorter ultra-marathons where it is possible to run the race distance in one day. A couple of examples of marathoners trying special blocks are:
- Nate Jenkins tried a special block and found it extremely challenging, but afterwards reflected: " It would take a while but I would recover. I would however not be the same. A new athlete had been born".
- Dave Berdan also gave a special block a go and he believed it helped him to be prepared for the muscular fatigue he usually feels at the end of the marathon.
I found a podcast last week that is new to me, but already has 300 episodes! I love it when that happens because it gives me a chance to work through the archives and choose from a range of episodes I think I'll be interested in. The podcast is from Sigma Nutrition and the episode I listened to was 286 with James Morton who worked with Team Sky as their head of nutrition. I found the discussion about periodising carbohydrates very useful as it is aligned with what I learned during the LPC Nutrition conference and it is a good example of the periodised nutrition theory being used by one of the best teams in the world.
I listened to the Finding Mastery episode with Mick Fanning. Every episode of this podcast is so well done and there are amazing tools and models that can be pulled from the things that Dr Michael Gervais asks and the way he constructs the conversation. In this episode he talked about "finding 5" which is a balance on the two scales of energy and mindfulness which go from 1 to 10, but in opposite directions. The idea is that 5 is the perfect spot on the spectrum without feeling too lethargic from being too mindful and low on energy, or on the other end being too chaotic with high energy and low mindfulness. If you can "find 5" you are in the optimal state to perform.
Email newsletter #5: 13/11/2019
Last week I finished up my first phase of training towards 2020 which was focused on running economy. It was a fun phase of training and towards the end of the phase I could definitely feel the benefit of running strides and short uphill efforts. My form at all paces seemed to benefit, which makes sense as that was the point of the training, and I was feeling smoother and more fluid on each run. This week I started with the next phase which is a mix of working my intermediate muscle fibers (to prepare for the cross-country season) and some VO2 Max intervals. It has been hard work so far, but I'm really enjoying the different focus and different type of running to how I finished up last season.
This week I wrote an article about trail running poles on my website. This was a fun post to prepare as I went through all sorts of different techniques for stowing poles, I looked at different poles and their weights, and I gave an overview about the types of pole straps and their advantages and disadvantages. If you enjoy reading about gear and trail running skills this might interest you.
I've been thinking about fatigue and accumulated fatigue recently so it was interesting to see this article by David Roche on "tiredness and soreness in training". He brings a good perspective and some useful information about the impacts of fatigue and stress in training. I like his simple formula of deciding when to back off based on a limit of feeling tired for 36 to 48 hours. It's difficult to know how to feel so I think it's very useful to calribrate a personal baseline and decide from there how you feel in relation to that baseline.
I use HRV4Training to help measure by readiness to train each morning and I work in supporting customers for HRV4Training. One of the things that I've noticed in the queries we receive is how different people respond and how unique the baseline is for everyone. The signals from the body are not always easy to interpret and it can be difficult to distinguish good fatigue from bad fatigue and also to identify the source of fatigue - is it from training or life stress, etc. I think that having a set of objective measurements, in this case heart rate variability, can be a great addition to subjective data and can help us to calibrate and assign meaning to different body sensations. If you're interested in reading more about this topic then the article on the big picture and long-term trends in HRV may be of interest to you.
In addition to the articles I mentioned above, I listened to the Scientific Triathlon Podcast 207 with Walter Staiano. He discusses mental fatigue and the impact that can have on endurance exercise. I expected to hear that mental fatigue could impact performance, but I was surprised by the magnitude of the impact especially in time to exhaustion tests which in many ways are a great test protocol for ultra-marathon runners. He mentioned that the impact of mental fatigue could reduce performance by up to 16%! This podcast was a good introduction to the concept and now I'm reading more and trying to learn more about mental fatigue because it's clearly very important to performance.
Friends' race results
Marco and Alessandra ran the New York City marathon. It was a beautiful day and they were both happy with their performances. I haven't ever thought about running one of the big city marathons, but after hearing from Marco about how good their experience was I'm definitely thinking about it now.
Stuart ran in the Soweto marathon and had a tough day. He was hoping that a quick turnaround from the Cape Town city marathon and some very focused training would be helpful to run a PB, but it was just a little too much this time around. It was useful as we both learned a lot (for me as a coach) and can build on this experience in the future.
Email newsletter #4: 29/10/2019
In the last couple of weeks I've been back at training and I'm starting with some gentle strides and economy intervals. I enjoy working on my running economy and this phase is quite simple and relatively easy which makes it a pleasure to return to running. I'm already imagining races in 2020 and starting to put together a race calendar for next year.
I posted part 2 of the LPC Nutrition conference to complete my notes with the last three presentations. The presentations covered the latest reseach on nitrates, protein requirements for weight loss, and tried to answer the question of whether or not breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You can find both sets of notes along with other resources on my website.
I appreciated this post with lessons from Arthur Lydiard by Dave on his blog A way to train and think. Lydiad said that "the idea that you can't lose contact with the leaders has cut more throats than it has saved". As ultra-marathons become more competitive we see a lot more "racing" in lead packs and also people going out very hard. The sport is changing, but it's always important to remember that we have to race to our own strengths. Over time it may be necessary to adjust and develop skills that match the new level of competition, but in the race itself it's vital to run within the bounds of our preparations and ability.
I have incorporated multiple different exercises, routines and movement patterns from following Lawrence van Lingen's advice. He breaks down movement and flexibility in a way that is easy to understand and is specific to a runner's needs. I particularly like this Happy Hip Flow.
I use poles in long races and I've found them to be very useful. It's not always a straight-forward decision of whether or not poles will help in a specific race situation. That's why it's very useful to have this thorough four part series from Jason Koop on when to use poles (part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4). If you do want to use poles then my advice is to practice with them a lot, to make sure that stowing and retrieving them is fast and easy, and to make sure that they are secure and not bouncing like crazy on descents.
During a run in the forest I listened to a podcast from Jay Johnson with Alex Ostberg as the guest. Alex shared a list of things that he wished he knew while running in high school. The podcast was aimed at helping high school coaches, however, I found the tips to be a good reminder of the basics to put in place for building a solid running programme. In fact one of Alex's ten tips is to "nail the basics" and I feel this is applicable to all his tips as they include all the basic and well known principles in developing a running programme.
Friends' race results
Alex and Nico ran the Cappadocia Trail in Turkey. Although neither of them had the race they were hoping to, they managed to finish together and achieve their Western States qualifying runs for this year's lottery. Fingers crossed that they have a good lottery season!
Francois ran his 18th sub-3hr marathon at the Lausanne marathon. It's a fantastic performance and continues a streak of over a decade of running the Lausanne marathon.
V and I ran in the 10km race at the Lausanne marathon and V achieved her goal of running under 60 minutes. She hasn't run in a big race in a while and she loved every moment of it. For me it was awesome to see her pleasure at running a goal time and her joy of being in a race environment; it was a good reminder of why running races is so much fun.
Email newsletter #3: 15/10/2019
In the last newsletter I wrote about my race at LG Trail and since then I've posted my race report for anyone who wants to get some more details and see some more pictures from the race. After the LG Trail I decided to take some time off and recover from the summer. In the few weeks I had off I spent some time planning my base training leading into 2020, I decided on some races for next season, and I also did some research and development of my running knowledge.
The most interesting things that I learned were from the Leaders in Performance Conference on Sports Nutrition. I've shared the first set of notes from that conference which included presentations on fueling the brain, carbohydrates for performance, and "train high, sleep low". I've also been adding other interesting links and compiling a list of resources on my website.
Now I'm slowly easing back into training and enjoying the easier pace of training that's still far from the race season. I'm working on my running economy and gently building up the base miles.
A couple of weeks ago I started following Virginie Terrier on Instagram. She's a nutritionist from Geneva and her posts are all ideas for meals or general nutrition advice. She also works with trail runners and triathletes so her advice is applicable to athletes too. I've already learned some great ideas about timing of nutrition and there's quite a few healthy desert recipes that I want to try. (in French)
As I'm starting up a new phase of training, I like to spend some time working on my strength, running form, and mobility. I've always considered arm carriage as important for running form, but I haven't thought much more about it than keeping my arms in a comfortable position and occasionally when I need to using my arms to encourage a change in cadence and pace. This article about improving running efficiency through "getting you elbows back" has been useful and has given me some drills and cues to try.
I'm also planning to include more strides and sprints in my training to work on my speed. In the past I've used ABC drills, other drills from the Pose method, and short strides to work on my form. However, I haven't really understood sprint training and where the cross-over to endurance sports could be. This article on ten spring facts I wish everyone understood has been helpful in clarifying some concepts for me. I will definitely be doing some short (5-6") all out sprints to help develop my speed and form this winter.
Friends' race results
This weekend Joel ran in the Moab 240 race and came 4th! This race is just insane. It's 244 miles and as far as I can tell from the live tracker (the race is still going for some people!!) he finished in 2 days and 23 hours. A tremendous achievement.
Moises raced in the Endurance Challenge Chile 80km and came 2nd. He has been so dominant in that race over the years it was a surprise for me to see him not win. However, he finished 16th at UTMB not so long ago and had to travel back to Chile for this race so on further reflection it's actually very impressive that he managed to run so well.
Email newsletter #2: 01/10/2019
On Saturday 21 September I ran the LG Trail race and it went very well. I finished in 12h37 for 4th place overall. The weather was perfect which meant we had incredible views over the riviera and lake and could clearly see the alps on the other side of the lake. The race was well organised and the race atmosphere was light and fun. After the race I was thinking about running one last race at the end of the summer season (three weeks after LG Trail), however, I have since decided that I need more time to recover and that LG Trail will be my last race for summer 2019. I'm taking a couple of weeks for an off-season now and recovering from a season fulled with lots of ups and downs.
I really enjoyed reading this article about Kenenisa Bekele and his training in the Netherlands. It's a little ironic that someone from a very desirable training location (Ethiopia) would end up going on a training camp in the place where many of the athletes who go to Ethiopia come from. Of course choosing a location of a training camp often needs to be based on specific environmental factors such as altitude and climate, however, it's perhaps the lack of certain factors, homely distractions, that is most important of all. I also found it interesting that one of the greatest athletes of all time managed to make improvements by working on the basics: good nutrition, sleep, and consistent training.
I read an article about mental toughness and then clicked through to take the quiz. While the article was more an introduction, I found the quiz and its results to be useful and interesting. The quiz was about 5 minutes long and provided a multi-factor result with scores for different components of mental toughness. There isn't any specific guidance as to what to do with the results, but it's a great starting point to identify weakness in certain components of mental toughness.
HRV4Training released a new feature in the Pro platform. This feature is training monotony and it tries to identify how varied an athletes training is with the premise that more variation is better. It's an interesting concept and something worth reading further about. Even if you're not an HRV4Training user, it's a good article giving an overview of the idea and providing some additional links to dig deeper.
Mikael and the team at That Triathlon Show shared a podcast this week about base training. I enjoyed listening to it as it helped me to start thinking about how to structure my base training over the winter. There is lots of good information in this podcast; the important points I took away were to include strength and injury prevention training in the base and to work on technique while the training intensity is lower.
Friends' race results
Lucja Leonard finished the Trail des Aiguilles Rouges in 12h45. An impressive outing just four weeks after UTMB.
Email newsletter #1: 17/09/2019
It has been just over two weeks since I got a cold and had to drop out of CCC. Since then I've managed to recover and fire up the training again. I'm planning to run the LG Trail race this weekend so I spent some time running on the route and trying to sharpen up a little before the race. I'm feeling positive about the race, the weather conditions look good, and I'm all set to use the fitness and condition I built up over the summer. Hopefully in the next newsletter I'll have some good news to report!
Jim Vance from Running with power talks about Ben Kanute's training before the Half-Ironman World Championships. The interesting point I took from this discussion was the inclusion of walking in the run training of his athletes. For recovery runs he recommends 4' run and then 1' walk and for maintenance runs he recommends 9' run and then 1' walk. It's a good way to keep the easy days easy and to reduce injury.
Dan Plews from EndureIQ contributed to a study on using HRV to guide training. I already use HRV daily as a useful objective measure of my stress and I believe it is a useful metric, however, it's always good to see tools I use backed up by science. "These results suggest manipulating the session performed at a daily level in accordance with HRV has favourable effects on the adaptive response to training, even without altering total training load."
Here are some classic cross country sessions to include in training if you're thinking about running any cross country over the winter. I really like #1 and #2.
@SportSciPod is an awesome podcast by Ross Tucker and Mike Finch. This week I listened to the Running Shoe Technology podcast and really enjoyed it. They debate deciding how to find the right shoe for you and what science tells us about shoes. The answer is that "it depends", but their guidance of starting with trying a few neutral shoes in the store and then buying the one that feels best makes sense to me. From there it's an interative process adjusting based on how you feel in the initial shoe with the goal to be in the right shoe after one or two rounds.
Friends' race results
Natalia ran Tor des Geants and finished in 129:23 - that's 5 days and 9 hours! The TdG instagram account was great all week. Definitely worth following to see the mountains and terrain this amazing race traverses.
Stuart ran in the Cape Town Marathon and finished in 3:24.