Sometimes its tempting to just keep banging out the extra miles. But what you’ve always done to prepare for an event, may not be the right thing, or even the best way to make use of limited training time. A number of recent physiological studies have found that greater endurance returns can be made from high intensity and supra maximal training as opposed to continuous running. High intensity training (HIT) involves running intervals at 80-90% of V02 max (i.e. maximum volume of oxygen that the lungs and heart can deliver to, and be used by, the muscles) – in other words 9 out 10 for maximum, all out running. Supramaximal intensity interval (SMIT) training involves running at 100% or above of V02 max. Cicioni-Kolsky and others in 2011 found that SMIT gave the most benefit when compared to either HIT or continuous running, after 6 weeks training, when assessed on 3000m time trials. Gibala and others in 2006, found that sprint interval training (which could include both HIT and SMIT training) was both time-efficient and produced adaptations, both muscular and in terms of performance, comparable to more typical endurance training. So if you are time limited, or just becoming stale in your training, more miles may not be the answer, pushing times and speed in interval training could provide the required returns.
This is a great time of the year to consider our training in light of the goals we have set for the year ahead. To do this it is sometimes necessary to take a step back. Other sports can often provide some useful insights into training, and triathletes are especially good at training in a focussed, deliberate and time-constrained manner. In ‘The Time Crunched Triathlete’ Chris Carmichael attempts to maximised training benefits within a restricted time. He reviews plans based on the following headings, listed below, with my own personal interpretation:
Overload – training must push your body beyond where it currently is. To progress in terms of speed or endurance, activity must be difficult and long enough to stress the cardiovascular, muscular and glycolytic system. If you run 4 times a week, at a 9 mile pace, for 5 miles, you will get very good at that speed and distance, but you will not progress. Add tempo and fartlek runs, and/or increase distance, and times will come down and/or endurance will improve.
Recovery : training increases require rest, and the bigger the intensity or volume the more required. The body will recover in these times and repair the microscopic damage that has been done. Sleep, hydration and good nutrition are all prerequisites to getting the best out of the work performed.
Progression: follows on closely from overload. If you looking at a 50 mile race in 6 months time, distances in training will need to increase in line with goal. This will give not only the body, but as importantly the mind, the opportunities to prepare for the challenge. Note that progression can take more than one form: time and intensity are the two most important variables and training can be adjusted through both the interval duration and the time of recovery between.
Individuality: Training has to be appropriate to the individual. This can be in terms of the time, and timings, available to the runner. For example, a long run may need to be split into two shorter runs, one at the beginning and one at the end of the day, to allow for other commitments to be met. It can also take into account the goals being aimed for, endurance and speed balanced with each other.
Specificity: Consider the event(s). If you are planning a mountain marathon, try and run in similar conditions in training i.e. temperature, terrain, incline. This can be a challenge, for example, if you live far from similar landscape, however, though not as ideal as the real thing, it may be necessary to train on individual elements that will be faced e.g. running on rough muddy ground that may be flat, but including road training that may be on steep inclines.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ to training. It has to meet with your lifestyle, work and family commitments, and be in line with your body and mind to progress towards the goals currently in sight.
Since coming back from vacation, and with incessant rain in Ireland, I can admit, with only some embarrassment, that I have been enjoying cycling in the garage almost as much as the few opportunities I’ve had around the local lanes of County Down. I did however have a great blast outdoors on Sunday morning, down to Sketrick castle and back, enjoying the road along Strangford. However, I’ve also been enjoying the rollers, having precariously set up the laptop on a box infront of the bike, and thanks to ITV4 I’ve been joining the Sky Team on many an epic stage of the Tour de France. The coverage has been excellent, and an otherwise monotonous 40 minute spin on the rollers, as been transformed into a motivated speed, or tempo session. I’ve been using the, all too numerous, advert breaks to launch a fast spin, or higher geared attack, or upped the pace as a break away takes place on a climb or sprint. You still can’t beat getting out on the road, but when short on time, and disappointed with the weather, it does give another training option.
Personally I prefer being outside, rather than being stuck indoors, especially when cycling. However, our weather in Northern Ireland, even in the summer can be unpredictable. When the rain is coming down by the bucket load, it is still often easier, and safer to get a good workout indoors rather than outside. Many people are fans of turbo trainers, and whilst they offer a great, and safe means to train at all levels I prefer riding rollers. Without a doubt rollers take some getting used to, and there are some excellent videos of the falls people suffer whilst trying to balance on them, but there are benefits. Firstly and most importantly they require concentration, and for me this helps pass the time. Then once you are in the groove, with music or a DVD to watch, you can settle in and spin at high speed or just simply tick over. For me they are a worthwhile investment, and 30 minutes of interval sessions can be slotted in to a busy day very easily, and give some real training benefits. I use TACX rollers on the attached advert and find them very stable, with curved rollers to help resist drifting off the roller edges. Initially you will find yourself bouncing on the bike as you hit the higher speeds but you soon learn a more fluid style, as you can feel and hear the tyre/roller contact – these improvements will be noticeable on the road. I love using my fixed wheel bike, with the hope of achieving the smoothness of riding style that the French call ‘souplesse’ – clearly I have a long way to go – by alternating between a fast spin, and an insane spin for one minute intervals. I also believe the fast turnover on a fixed wheel offers some real benefits and cross over for running. Geared bikes work well too, again using shorter intervals at different gears, or aiming for a longer time at a gear that can just be held. Whichever way you train on rollers take care, certainly initially.
The last week before the event is often the most difficult. You have been through long runs, tempo runs, fartleks, hill training, and then you stop, with the clock ticking as you near your chosen event. Its at this time when doubt kicks in, aches start to surface, and you realise you need to buy kit that you will use untried on the day. Your brain is telling you, that you aren’t ready, and how could you even think about taking part. But you are ready, the work is done, like money in the bank, and the race is your pay out. On Saturday myself and two others are attempting the 52 mile run through the Mourne Mountains, known as the Mourne Way Ultra – check out the 26 Extreme site as they are hosting loads of events in Northern Ireland. I’m eating better than I have through all the training, avoiding people with colds, or who happen to sneeze, I am drinking lots of fluid and I am taking in carbohydrates by the bucket load. I’m reading everything that I have on running for some last minute tips, and checking and re-checking the weather, and laying out appropriate kits. But more than that, I’m getting my head ready. When you start any event you need to believe; you need to have an inner confidence that, come what may, you will give it your best shot. You need to have some images, hopes and dreams that you can call to mind when your legs hurt, you feel dizzy, and all energy has drained out of you. What will drive you forward, and keep you going through the pain? It will hurt, but that’s all part of it. If it was going to be easy, we as runners, cyclists and triathlete’s wouldn’t be interested. We are all constantly pushing ourselves out of the comfort zone of modern man: the slumber that most people live in, is not for us. We want something more, something that isn’t easy. So I’ll be ready for Saturday, and though the nerves will be there, the excitement will be there too.
Probably the most difficult part of any training cycle is the taper. You’ve found an event, planned your training, and set your goals, and then after months of hard training the event looms near. At 2-3 weeks before a marathon run, cycle or triathlon, you need to decrease the mileage and rest more. In your head you hear a voice shouting, ‘I’m not ready yet’, ‘Just another few long runs’, ‘I will lose my fitness’. All evidence suggests otherwise, you will not lose your fitness in that time, rather, your body, after months of hard training repairs, with muscle damage, hormone, glycogen and enzyme levels returning to normal. At this time resting, more than training will make you strong for the event ahead. Even the immune system will return to its normal function, and reduce the likelihood of a cold in the last couple of weeks. It is hard to significantly reduce the workload; usually at this point training hasn’t gone according to plan, and the mileage is always less than you had hoped. But start the taper gradually, after the last long training session, reduce the distance and the intensity, and reduce further until the last week, with a few relaxed runs to keep you ticking over. Eat well, and prepare your kit, mentally get your head together and run through the problems you may face on the day. Make sure in your last few days you are staying well hydrated, and increase your carbohydrate intake. The advice I was once given still stands true today, it is better to go into an event under trained than over trained.
And finally, enjoy the race, you deserve to
Good references for further reading include: