Friday, March 17, 2017

Recovery Weeks Don't Sell Books, But Training is Useless Without Them

A lot of training books and programs are sold by their "special workouts" and sometimes impressive mileage. When you read about the Olympic runners, an article will often cite how many miles per week they do or what kind of strength training they do. However, the least sexy part of the training programs are rarely ever mentioned... The recovery weeks.

Recovery weeks are equally important as a lot of the workouts or mileage you will read about, but they don't get much credit. These are the points in the training cycle that make those high mileage weeks have an effect. Testosterone and cortisol have a chance to return to normal and in return, you can actually benefit from those Instagram worthy workouts.

I've created some charts of 3 world renowned coach's training programs and zoomed out to get a full view of their training programs that everyone seems to only talk about the mileage and workouts. We can see how they cycled STRESS and RECOVERY weeks to make the training stick.

Everyone associates Arthur Lydiard with 100 mile weeks of training, but what very few people realize is that once a person is out of the base phase, mileage takes a huge dip and the runner will spend 14 weeks out of the year working on hills, sprints, and specializing for their event. This plan is mostly for a 10k and faster specialist. He refers to his base phase as "marathon training." Essentially, the mileage was high enough that the other phases ARE the recovery. Here is what his phases look like:

Conditioning Phase (Big Mileage):
Consists of 45 minutes to 2 hours of running, averaging roughly 1.5 hours per day of running. He highly advocates for jogging on top of this mileage, but most of the paces can be at a fairly quick clip.

4 Week Hill Phase, 4 Week Anaerobic Training, 4 Weeks Coordination Training, and 2 Weeks of Sharpening (Lower Mileage/Higher Quality): 
Mileage takes a significant drop in all these phases. He keeps a long run of 1 to 2 hours each week for all of the phases, but generally workouts will be at most 1 hour in length. Several of these are sprints or 1/2 hour jogs for recovery.

Read some more on Lydiard's method here.

Famous coach of several Olympians including Deena Kastor, apparently he was doing something right. If you read his training, it's incredibly basic, but what stands out is how volatile his weekly mileage looks. Essentially, the athlete quickly builds a base within a month, then starts do decrease and increase by as much as 20% every other week.

A presentation on his training can be viewed here

Another very famous coach of several Olympians and famed Exercise Scientist, I took this from one of his marathon plans in his book "Daniels Running Formula." For the most part, it follows an up 2 weeks, down 1 week kind of path. During the later stages of training when mileage is high and workouts are harder, he throws in a couple descending weeks to really allow the runner to recover from the tough sessions.

All three of these coaches are sure to implement mileage drops at some point to avoid stagnation and increase adaptability for the athlete. Lydiard seemed to have chosen a path of keeping the runner at high mileage for a fairly long period of time, then making a big drop when competition nears. Vigil does an up one, down one approach, and Daniels does an up two, down one method. Whatever your approach, don't just look at the mileage or workouts they prescribe, but be sure to keep some mileage variability within your training to keep those legs fresh and able to adapt.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Quick Guide to Break a Plateau and Absorb Your Training

Inevitably, there will be a time in everyone's running career in which they hit the dreaded plateau. Most everyone's first thought when their times are stagnant or getting slower is to make workouts harder. It's completely natural to think you must work harder to improve, but that's generally not the case...particularly for the more advanced runner that has been running a lot. More speed at a faster pace seems logical, but hopefully this will shed some light on the situation. This is a cheat sheet for getting back to an upward trend.

To completely understand the situation, you have to understand the concept of general adaptation. You have a baseline fitness, apply a stress, recover from the stress, then within a certain time frame, your baseline fitness increases assuming that cycle happens properly. Supercompensation is what the desired effect is. Keep following that progression and you're getting faster!

Here's what happens when you hit a plateau within steps:
Step 1:  Do some training
Step 2:  Recover a little bit
Step 3:  Do some more training, thinking it will help
Step 4:  Repeat steps 1-3 a few times with no results
Step 5:  Get frustrated and do too much too fast or workouts are too hard
Step 6:  Get slower or injured or both

Here's what it looks like on paper:

You are not quite getting past the recovery portion of the general adaptation cycle. You keep hitting the next hard workout at baseline fitness and never let the body fully recover from the damage done to it. Ideally, the next hard workout should happen at the point of supercompensation in which the body is at a new base of fitness and you don't keep taking dips. Anything harder will quickly drive your fitness lower and your frustration will go higher.

Steps to Bust Out of the Plateau
Now that you know where you sit on the spectrum of adaptation, you can feel better about working less to let the supercompensation happen. The difficult part is to recover enough, but not lose fitness in the process. Here are the steps to take when you feel as if your fitness hasn't been going anywhere for a while:

Step 1: Rest
Take a couple rest days. Two or 3 days off will not hurt your fitness. It will let the upswing happen if anything. You might feel a little rusty those first couple days, but generally you should feel pretty good.

Step 2: Rebuild a Mini Base
Start back with the Basics for 1 or 2 weeks. That means basic easy mileage, and basic speed. I'd suggest 50% of your previous mileage for the first week, 75% for the 2nd, and 100% for the 3rd week. It won't take long to start feeling like there's some pop in your step again and you didn't have to lose any fitness in the process. Just a temporary mileage reduction.

For a person that is mid-season, they can come back with some interval style workouts, but I would suggest doing half of what you were doing. For example, if you were doing 3 miles of interval work, just do 1.5 miles and call it a day! You'll maintain fitness while not overdoing yourself and pushing your body back into fatigue. You don't have to lose fitness at this point, and this can be used as a springboard into better fitness within just a week or two.

Step 3: Re-Build the Workouts
Progress your workouts every 2 weeks from baseline. Keep an eye on how you feel. If you feel sluggish for a workout, push it back another day until you feel good again. Feeling good is a sign that you've reached the supercompensation effect. Feeling poorly is often a sign that you need more recovery. Repeat steps 1 through 3 if you start feeling like you've hit another rough patch.

Step 4: Schedule Regular "Down Weeks"
Reduce mileage and workout intensity about every 3rd or 4th week to avoid stagnation. Cut your mileage by up to 20% and workout intensity should be kept to a minimum. It will help absorb the previous training and prep your legs for more intense stuff down the road. These can be seen as mini-tapers.

Do not make the mistake of doing more! Taking a step back doesn't mean you're losing fitness. Look at it as a springboard to better fitness.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Non-Linear Approach to Janell McKinney's Boston Marathon Training

This is a simple Non-Linear, periodized training plan I've had going for Janell McKinney who we've been coaching over the past couple months in preparation for the Boston Marathon. She just recently had her first "test effort" 5k on a rolling course and ran a solid time of 17:59 which was only 3 seconds off of her fastest 5k on a flatter, more predictable course. She maintains a really great blog that you can view here I would classify Janell as one of the top female runners in the Kansas City area and loves to put in the training. She will go quite far with her positive attitude and work ethic. This is how we are approaching her training:

A Non-Linear approach vs Linear

A linear approach to training is very useful and still works for many people. Generally, it consists of a Base phase, a phase of Threshold or Tempo work, and a phase of a few weeks of Interval style workouts. Sometimes it's in a different order than that, but there are definitive points of change in the training from easy mileage to faster training. It is a good method to follow, but it has its flaws. The main flaw is that the runner finds themselves trying to get their speed back after they've spent several weeks in a base phase. This leaves them injury prone at the beginning of the next phase and feeling a little flat at the end of just doing easy mileage for several weeks. Also, if the runner plans on doing a handful of races before a major race, they often under perform because they lack any "gears" for racing.

A non-linear approach is nice, because a runner doesn't have to spend several months trying to get certain types of fitness back. You start with the basics of everything (mileage, speed, and race specific training), then gradually build on it within micro-cycles. We've chosen to do a 3 week cycle for Janell.We focus on a little bit of everything within those 3 weeks and add to each cycle that goes by. I feel that it does a good job of keeping a well rounded individual and allows them to race well at all distances. The closer we get to race date, the workouts will get more race specific.

Here's what Janell's training cycle looks like:

1 week of the basics:
Basic Endurance / Threshold / Basic Speed

1 week of the specifics:
Marathon Specific / Speed Endurance

1 week of support paces:
Blend workouts of Marathon Specific+Speed Endurance / Endurance+Basic Speed

*After each 3 week cycle, we will either reduce recovery, lengthen time spent at a speed, increase mileage, do a test effort, or possibly a combination of all of it for the next 3 week cycle.

Basic Speed
Just short sprints of 10 to 30s in length to help with better mechanics, finishing speed, and "feeling bouncy." We don't progress on this stuff much other than try to maintain it throughout the entire training cycle.

Speed Endurance
This is the stuff that is 5k pace or a little faster. I don't typically like to add distance to these types of workouts, but they are mostly about 3 miles in length and we start with a chopped up workout such as 12 x 200m quick/200m jog and morph it into some longer stuff like 800's, 1000's, or maybe miles with very short recoveries. 
The blended workouts will often be a mix of marathon pace with hits of 5k or 10k pace. These usually end up feeling like a good tempo run at the end rather than hard intervals.

Threshold and Marathon Specific Runs
With these types of workouts, we are mostly just working on building the amount of time you're on your feet at goal pace or a little faster than goal pace. Nothing fancy about it.

I generally think more mileage is better for marathon type runners, but the most important thing to do is progress someone from what they were doing and add a little bit every 2nd or 3rd week and ask the important question, "How do you feel?" I like the runner to dictate their own mileage within 5 or 10 miles per week of what I give them. For example, if I give someone 60 miles per week and they are feeling tired or sluggish and feel they need an easy day of just 4 miles or a day off, and they only hit 50 for the week, that's perfectly fine! They probably needed it. Doing this lets them determine where they feel the most comfortable and fit. Most of the time, I find that the workouts are what makes people tired...not necessarily their weekly mileage. For Janell, we will raise her mileage, but it should be comfortable for her to hit. We are not necessarily looking for a set number.

If the runner is still beat up from a workout or race and they want to push it back a day, that usually gets the better result and they should do it. If I dictate exactly what days they are to do workouts, it creates dependency and can sometimes lead to just feeling overdone if they are not properly recovered. I prefer the athlete have a desire to do the workout and able to feel themselves getting stronger every cycle. We adapt to the athlete, not the other way around.

Janell's Schedule Prior to her Test Effort 5k

Janell had already been doing a moderate amount of mileage before we started, so I felt pretty comfortable boosting her miles fairly quickly after she caught a bug and had to take a few days off. 

This was her first cycle before testing her fitness at the 5k. Ideally, I'd like to get a test effort every 4 to 6 weeks to keep the runner race sharp. Racing is also a form of fitness and needs to be done from time to time in order to keep the athlete from feeling flat.

So far, so good on her first cycle! For our readers, feel free to incorporate some of this into your own training. Be sure to start with the basics and work your way up!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Doing a Self Assessment on Your Training. My Takeaway: Don't Start Your Hard Workouts Too Soon.

This is not the most highly scientific research, but just observations on my own training over the past several years. I've done a pretty good job at logging most of my mileage since I was a freshman in high school, which at the time I just did out of being a little obsessive but not learning a damn thing from my training habits. Now things make a lot more sense that I've got experience developing a lot of other people's training schedules. The biggest thing I've learned from it all; DON'T DO TOO MANY HARD WORKOUTS TOO SOON! Here are my findings:

Self Classification:
I am a person that runs at least 5 to 7 days per week year round and have kept pretty good general fitness (not necessarily peak fitness) for several years. I tend to be a pretty ambitious person that will stick to a schedule if I get one... which I have found to be a flaw to some degree. I realize not all people run year round and may take a little longer to get into good racing fitness, but I would imagine my information could be helpful to someone with a similar lifestyle.

I don't get too many injuries surprisingly, but it's typically a form of tendinitis on the medial part of my right knee. There were a couple bad muscle strains in there, some lower back pain after a couple races, and a neuroma in my foot but nothing so serious that it puts me out for a super long amount of time. Sometimes I will work my way into some over-training about 3 or 4 weeks into a training cycle because I get too ambitious.

Races, Results, and General Training Observations Over 10 Years

I highlighted some of the races that I thought stood out in terms of what I did right in training, what I did wrong, or just generally thought was a surprising result. Here it is:

Half/Full Marathons Trained for                  Result                                 Avg MPW

Lewis and Clark Half Marathon '06                  1:17:18 (3rd)                         80
2 wo's/week/20wks

St. Louis Marathon  '07                                     2:42:16 (8th Place)                90
2 wo's/week/20 wks

P.F. Chang's Half '08                                          1:19:31                                  95 to 100
Felt tired with most workouts

Twin Cities '08                                                   DNF calf strain                     95 to 110
Dead after 25wks of tough workouts

St. Louis Marathon '09                                       2:49:37 (11th)                       50
Longest run 13mi, no long workouts

Gobbler Grind '09                                              1:17:44 (3rd)                         80
not many workouts

Boston Marathon '10                                          2:39:27 PR (199th)               80
8 weeks training

Montreal Marathon '10                                      DNF hamstring strain           70
not many long runs

Gobbler Grind '10                                              1:18:21                                  60
6 weeks training

Twin Cities '11                                                    2:40:49                                 80 to 85
not many wo's

P.F. Chang's '12                                                   2:40:00                                 90
2 wo's/week

KC Half '12                                                         1:19:51                                 80
no workouts

P.F. Chang's Half  '13                                          1:15:56 PR                           80
Easier workouts but longer tempo runs

San Diego Mara '13                                             2:46:21                                 85 to 90
Lots of good wo's and a 4mi PR

NYC Marathon '13                                              3:38:02                                 60
Very few long runs, harder workouts but not prepared for a full marathon

Boston Marathon '14                                           2:46:00                                  50
Only 5 wks training

CIM '14                                                                ?:?? strained back                 80
Good training, bad race, walked the last 8 miles

Rock the Pkwy '15                                               1:17:29                                  75
2 wo's/week, had bronchitis or possible pneumonia?

RnR STL '15                                                        1:23:05                                  85 to 90
3 wo's/wk, Felt really tired

CIM '15                                                                2:54:49                                  50
Very tired, Fatigue lasted several weeks even with rest

Omaha '16                                                            1:23:40                                  70
No workouts, base running only with longest run of only 11 miles

Takeaways From the Highlighted Races

Looking at 5 of these races, I realize that I ran pretty well off of just a few races or very low key workouts throughout some training cycles. Here are the takeaways:

  • My marathon best was done off of only 8 weeks of hard workouts because I had a neuroma in my foot. 
  • Had a decent Boston marathon in 2014 with only 5 weeks of training and a couple long runs.
  • Typically do well with roughly 80 miles per week.
  • More than 2 workouts per week makes me tired.
  • Don't skip the long runs (seems like a no brainer).
  • 25 weeks is a really long time to do hard workouts.
  • Medium workouts and only a few tougher workouts tend to suit me well.

How Can This Help You?

Take a look at some of your better races and determine what they had in common during your training stint. Obviously it will take several races over a long period of time, but logging mileage, taking notes on general week to week feelings, and recording the end result can show quite a bit over time and it will save you a ton of time, injuries, and exhaustion in training for your next event.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Base Fitness is Different Than Race Fitness: Don't Be Afraid of Running a Slow Time!

Nobody likes to have a slow race. People tend to get in at least a couple hard workouts before a race, mainly because they want to be at their best when it comes to a race and feel good in the process of it. Also, having a fast race gives the ego a nice boost and people tend to attach their identity to their PR's. If a person improves their time from 4 hours to a 3:50, that person is no longer a "4 hour marathoner", but now referred to as a "3:50 marathoner." The problem with this is people don't get to learn themselves in the various phases of training (Base, Competition, or Peaking). A slow time ends up being looked upon as a failed race, or there's something wrong. I believe competitive runners will learn more about their fitness and what works best for them in terms of training if they test themselves every few week regardless of the condition they are in. Here are some things to look for while doing races in the Base and Competitive Phases of training.

BASE FITNESS (Pre Competition)

This is generally a phase of some very low intensity running. It's used to build mileage before any serious training begins. Mileage may get pretty high in this phase, but the quality will not often get you to a peak result. For me, this is the most interesting point to test yourself, because it is a true starting point of sorts which can be compared from season to season or year to year.

While racing, the runner will often feel kind of sluggish, no power up hills, and probably lack a strong finish. I think it's hard for people to swallow the fact that they will be trying hard, but will most likely not even be close to their personal best even though they may be putting in 100 miles a week. It seems like you're doing a bunch of work for nothing. If an athlete is already hitting PR's in this phase, they are probably going to have a fantastic season once some faster training gets thrown into the mix.

I prefer athletes do a race at the end of their base phase to get a nice starting point of their fitness. If 50 miles per week gets you to 'X' time for a half marathon, then some slightly more intense workouts should improve on that by a significant amount.


This is where the more intense workouts begin. They should start with non-specific and work their way to specific for the goal event. I would recommend an individual test themselves every three or 4 weeks to make sure they are not overdoing things and hopefully start getting used to that uncomfortable feeling toward the end of a race.

The first race or two should feel stronger than your race in the Base phase, but will most likely not have a great finish. It may take 3 or 4 races to feel like you can push the end of the race as opposed to feeling like you want to stop. Racing takes practice. A more advanced runner may take more races to hit a peak than a beginner or novice.

It's very important to pay attention to how you feel in various stages of a race while in this phase. Not every consecutive race will be faster, but they should be pretty close in time on similar courses and in similar weather. There will be a noticeable difference in how you feel toward the end of the race at the end of the Competition Phase.


From season to season, it's important to look back on the time you ran at the end of your Base period. It will usually be pretty close every time. Not usually a super fast time, but it is always a good way to figure out the proper intensity to begin workouts and it's fun to watch yourself progress every few weeks. Here's a summary of what to look for in your training phases:


  • Test yourself at the end of 4 to 12 weeks of building mileage. 
  • Get mileage as high as possible.
  • Expect a slow time. There's nothing wrong with you, it's supposed to look a little rusty.
  • Race Every 3rd of 4th week after the Base Phase
  • Monitor the point (mile marker) in the race in which you start fatiguing
  • Expect some decent improvement toward the end. 
  • Realize that race fitness is different than base fitness.
  • Expect to do only 3 races or less
  • Race finishes should feel strong
  • Your goal race should be your peak race

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Statistics of KC Endurance Coached Athletes

I thought it would be interesting to see the types of people we are currently coaching this Fall season. I could probably break this stuff down even further, but this is all I had energy for at the moment.

Women - 68.5%
Men - 31.5%

  • Ages 15-30 - 16.2%
  • Ages 31-40 - 29.7%
  • Ages 41-50 - 48.6%
  • Ages 51-60 - 5.5%
  • Ages 15-30 - 17.6%
  • Ages 31-40 - 41.2%
  • Ages 41-50 - 23.5%
  • Ages 51-60 - 17.7%

5k PR's
  • 16:00 to 19:00 - 5%
  • 19:01 to 22:00 - 8%
  • 22:01 to 25:00 - 40.5%
  • 25:01 to 28:00 - 13.5%
  • 28:01 to 31:00 - 18.9%
  • 31:01 to 40:00 - 14.1%
  • 15:01 to 18:00 - 23.5%
  • 18:01 to 21:00 - 11.8%
  • 21:01 to 24:00 - 29.4%
  • 24:01 to 27:00 - 5.8%
  • 27:01 to 30:00 - 0%
  • 30:01 to 40:00 - 29.5%

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Measuring Devices for Fitness Testing are Expensive and Relatively Useless For the Competitive Runner

I ran across some equipment for VO2 Max testing and blood lactate testing kits the other day, which I thought would be interesting to use for my athletes. What coach wouldn't want some really neat testing gear for their runners? I could regularly know exactly where their fitness is with this stuff. Well, lucky for me I happened to look at the price tag of it: VO2 Max testing equipment is right around $6,000 and a device used for blood lactate monitoring is around $230 or more. The obvious thought that came to mind was, is it worth it?

There are a lot of places that do fitness testing on people using this equipment. Hospitals use it for cardiac and pulmonary patients, universities use it for learning purposes mostly, and maybe some athlete testing and research. Sometimes a health club will offer it at an additional cost to their members. A lot of top endurance athletes get it tested on a regular basis, and it has even become a bragging point for Tour de France cyclists that can get theirs around 90 mL/kg. Knowing your VO2 max seems like an important number, but other than patient testing at a hospital, why does being able to know your numbers matter at all when it comes to sports?

Plug in Performances to Find Training Paces, Don't Pay For It!

The VO2 testing equipment basically just measures expired gases during incremental exercise. Once you know your maximal oxygen intake (expressed mL/kg.m), what good does it do for an athlete that can test themselves during a 5k pretty much every weekend? Some may argue that it will help a person train right at their maximal oxygen uptake during intervals or their lactate threshold on a tempo run and get the most effective workouts. I thought about it, and luckily I can plug in race performances in the McMillan or Daniel's Running Calculators and get extremely close to the paces a person should be training at. They already did the math for us competitive people that are looking to improve! That's reason enough to not spend $6,000.

Specific Training Produces Specific Results

Another thought that crossed my mind was the Law of Specificity. To be better at activity, one must perform that activity. If you are training to run a 5k in 20 minutes, piece together workouts that are at 20 minute 5k pace until you can string them together in one race. Training at 5k pace is slower than VO2 Max pace, but it is specific and has been proven to improve performance in well trained runners (link), so again it is basically worthless to know that you have a VO2 max of 60.

Furthermore, if a runner is training for a cross country race, paces often don't matter and the runner will have to train by feel. Hills, mud, grass, and weather will slow the athlete to the point that training specifically at your VO2 max pace will be too taxing. Taking lactate readings every few intervals is somewhat silly too, because who wants their finger pricked every 5 to 10 minutes? The same thing can be accomplished with a heart rate monitor. The heart rate should hover around 85% of max and no finger pricks needed.

Exercise Testing is a $$$ Maker

Thirdly, I see the exercise testing a lot of places as a business opportunity for them. I've seen a lot of places charge clients $75 to $200 per test just to know some numbers. I think if someone is that interested in knowing they have raised their lactate threshold over 12 weeks of training, that's fine, but I'm confident their weekend race performances wouldn't be any worse if they didn't know at all. I think people should further realize that charging that much for a fitness test is often to make up for the cost of the equipment and hopefully be a profit generator. Time over a distance seems to be a perfectly good measurement to me and I don't have to pay for it unless it's just a race fee.


After looking at this stuff, I still think it's neat equipment to have, but have come to the conclusion that if your race performances are improving, workouts are getting easier, and you generally feel good about your fitness, there's no need to get any kind of VO2 Max testing or lactate testing done. Performance improves with progressively specific workouts and you don't have to pay for it.