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.