How can my body endure such high mileage without injury?

This post is for Rachel, Rachel asked how can my body endure such high mileage without injury? High mileage is relative, I think my mileage lies somewhere in the middle compared to others ultra-runners.
Let me first outline my training that I have used the last couple years.
My principal race the last four years has been in June and consisted of a mildly hilly 50 Mile (80 km) or 100 km race (or both). I also try to run a fast marathon at the end of August.
I have a base building period, usually from January to March where I build from around 35 miles a week (4 runs/week) to 65-70 miles (5 runs/week). During this time I usually use sandwich training, whereas I run X miles on Saturday and X-minus-3 miles on Sunday – these runs are “sandwiched” between two rest days on Friday and Monday. This year I have also added two swim nights, usually Tuesday and Thursday.
From April to the end of May I run at least on hilly long run a week and start cycling.
In June I taper, race, and recover. This year I will be doing more swimming and cycling in preparation for my first sprint tri on July 11.
During July and August I run an average of about 45-50 miles a week (including one long hill run) and try to bike as often as I can, usually 3-4 times a week. This seems to work in preparing me for a fast marathon.
In September I start cutting back on the mileage. From October to mid-November I rest, reducing mileage to 15-30 miles a week. Mid-November to December I gradually build up for January’s training.
So back to your question, here is a list of thoughts I have on why I can endure such high mileage:

  • I follow the 10% rule, I try not to increase my total mileage or long run by more than 10% a week.
  • I run my long run distance for two weeks before increasing it, for example 16 miles for two weeks, then 18 miles. I think this allows the body to adapt more easily to the increased mileage.
  • I don’t do any speed training while training for my June ultra race(s).
  • I vary my pace based on how I feel on a given day. Since I am training for a 100K race where my average pace is 11:25/mile, even a 9:30/mile pace is speed training 😉
  • I warm-up with military style callisthenics (jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, etc.) before a run and stretch afterward. I also run the first mile at a warm-up pace.
  • For long runs beyond two hours I eat and drink like I would during a marathon.
  • I watch my diet, take a daily vitamin, use calcium/magnesium tablets (reduce cramps) and try to get adequate sleep (hard to do).
  • I vary my running surface as often as possible: trail, asphalt, hills, gravel/dirt.
  • I don’t race every race, last year I ran 7 marathons and 3 ultras last year, but only 3 at a competitive pace.
  • I make sure that I have one rest day a week where I really rest.

The most important consideration for me is the PACE. Speed training is really hard on my 50 year old legs, since I have replaced speed training with hill training I have no trouble maintaining high mileage, and my race times have improved significantly.
Will this work for you? If you speed train and have significant injuries you might want to try cutting the speed training back and start running hills. It has been my experience that running a long run at a reduced pace (1-2 min./mile) on a demanding hilly trail is at least as good as running a flat long run at marathon pace – and I recovery more quickly.

Managing the End-of-Season Blues

“Post Marathon depression is a common phenomenon for marathon runners of every experience level. The excitement of the marathon season is over and the intensity of preparation is behind them.” – Doug Kurtis at RunMichigan.com
For many in my running club the Baden Marathon (or half-marathon) was the highlight of the year and marks the end of race season. For some runners, there is a sense of relief and they welcome the opportunity to relax for a little while and basically to do less over the winter. For others, like me, if there isn’t something to replace all the hours on the road, the lull of TV boredom sits in. My sense of focus and purpose fades.
I run enough races a year (this year 14) to where I basically ride the endorphins from one race to another. I know from experience that when the endorphins are no longer released, there is a greater chance of depression setting in.
I was reading an article by Doug Kurtis at RunMichigan.com, where he likened this to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which affects moods especially in winter when darkness last longer. Many of the same depressive symptoms occur except increased sleep and daytime drowsiness are more likely. Also, increased appetite, especially for sweets and “comfort foods” such as carbohydrates, which may cause weight gain.
So with no marathon or longer race on the near horizon to train for I know that I have to find a solution so that this depression doesn’t get the best of me. Here are a few things that I have done or will do to help get me through post-race season.
– Start cross-training. I pretty much stayed away from swimming, bike riding and weight training (Crossfit) during race season. I have already started getting reacquainted with these old friends.
– Run for fun. I am looking forward to some quiet runs through the woods, but also more runs with my running club. I am also looking for some mountain and cross-country fun races to celebrate my love of running.
– Work on my training/race schedule for next year. I love planning, this is therapy for me.
– Catch up on other hobbies. I also enjoy woodworking, I already have some projects in mind. I also am interested in genealogy, which is a project that never ends.
– Take a vacation. In two weeks we are flying to the USA for a three week vacation!
Of course work, wife, church and other things in life will fill the gap. At this point I am a bit sad that marathon season is over, but on the other side I know my body needs time to rest before next season. I only need to watch my diet, run a bit to keep the joints loose, and try to be productive in other parts of my life until its time to fire up the race machine in 2009!

Weight Training for Runners

Last night I was surfing the web looking for some tips on specific weight training for runners. Several websites suggested the following exercises:
(I) The high-bench step-up: This exercise strongly develops the hamstrings, with complimentary development of the gluteals (the ‘buttock’ muscles) and the quadriceps. Stand on a bench about knee-high, with your body weight on your left foot and shifted towards the heel, right foot free and held slightly behind the body. Lower your body in a controlled way until the heel of the right foot touches the ground, but still supporting all your weight on your left foot. Return to the starting position by driving down with the left heel and straightening your left leg. Repeat 10-12 times before switching over to the right leg, maintaining upright body posture with your trunk at all times, with hands at your sides (with or without dumbbells).
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(2) One-leg squat (pistol): Lift one leg forward and try to keep it straight and tight as much as you can throughout the exercise. Don’t compromise quality for quantity. Start squatting on one leg, very slowly. Keep your foot on the ground, balancing more of your weight on your heel. Keep your back erect. Squat all the way down. Start going up, keeping your weight just like on the way down, on the heel. Keep your body erect and try not to loosen or bent the front leg. If you are not feeling strong enough to do the exercise, or you experience difficulty, you can assist yourself holding onto a desk, or another object. You may also try to start with squatting shallower.
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(3) One-leg hops in place: This exercise builds strength and coordination in the entire lower extremity, including the foot, ankle, shin, calf, thigh, and hip. The resilient, bouncy nature of the exercise makes it the most specific of the three – extremely close to the actual movements involved in running. Simply start from the same position you used for the one-leg squat, with the toes of the right foot supported by a six- to eight-inch block. Hop rapidly on the left foot at a cadence of 2.5 to 3 hops per second (25 to 30 foot contacts per 10 seconds) for the prescribed time period as shown in the training program. The left knee should rise about four to six inches, while the right leg and foot should remain stationary. The left foot should strike the ground in the area of the mid-foot and spring upwards rapidly – as though it were contacting a very hot plate on a cooker. The hips should remain level and virtually motionless throughout the exercise, with very little vertical displacement. After hopping for the indicated time on the left leg, switch to the right leg and repeat the exercise. Note: This can also be done without the block.
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How to Survive the Taper

I know for a lot of runners the 2-3 week tapering period before a longer event, such as a marathon, can be more stressful than the training itself. I know I tend to be the type that enjoys the training more than the event, at least with sub-ultra events. As my training peaks, so does my energy and enthusiasm, particularly on the days that I have my long run. Okay, I admit that physically I am usually ready for a break, and usually don’t have too much problem with cutting back during the first week. But somehow not doing a 20+ mile long run on the weekend seems to leave me feeling unfulfilled at the end of the week. And the sudden drop in mileage to half, then a third, of what I was running at my peak does not help.
I know this is just mental and that my body needs the rest before the big event. I also know that I won’t lose any fitness during the tapering period. But somehow it is still hard to convince myself of this as I suddenly find myself with so much more time on my hands.
What makes it especially hard for me is that I was a sedentary couch potato before I started running. It was a long drawn out fight to lose the 60+ pounds and I am still not done with the war. So when the first couple pounds start creeping back due to decreased activity I start freaking out. Again, this is mostly a mental thing, although I do end up having to adjust my diet accordingly – no more cake and cookies for awhile. I usually start noticing a little weight gain the second week of tapering, or somewhere around 5-6 days of reduced mileage. From there it takes a couple days to adjust the diet and at least stabilize the weight.
Usually the last week of tapering is the hardest – you know, those last 5-7 days before the race where you start questioning every facet of your training, lifestyle, sanity and reasons for getting up in the morning. The more I race the easier it gets, but I still have moments where I wonder if my training is adequate, question my strategy, and speculate how fast I should run the race. The latter intensifies as friends, blogger friends, and anyone else with an opinion offer their opinion on my goal for the race. Encouragement is great, I love it, I need it, I can’t get enough of it. But on the other side during the peak of tapering this can wreck havoc on an already high-strung tapering madman.
To help prevent this self-imposed tapering madness it is always a good idea to increase other activities. It is a great time to catch up things at work, around the house, and with friends. Cross-training is also a great way to keep the nerves in check, but moderation is the rule, especially the last week before the race. One should also try to avoid any form of emotional confrontation the week prior to a race. Bringing too much mental baggage with you to the start will almost always throw off your race. I think this is more of an issue with runners who are married or have a friend – you suddenly taper off, totally changing your schedule, which creates tremendous waves with your soul mate or spouse’s routine. During your training they could hardly get your attention, now they can’t figure out how to get rid of you so they can have a moment of peace. The solution is to warn them ahead of time and come up with some constructive suggestions for getting through this difficult time together 😉
The most important thing that I have learned is to have plan for the race and to stick with it, no matter what goes through your mind during the tapering period. If you plan to run a marathon in a certain amount of time, e.g. 4 hours, don’t decide the week before the race to run it in 3:30 unless you have the training to back it up. If you have several fantastic long runs at this race pace, then knock yourself out, otherwise stick to the plan.

Book Review: Harriers by Joseph and Paul Shivers

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from Lora White who is working with a couple high school seniors who wrote a book about their quest for an Ohio state cross country championship. She stated that since this was a high school project with limited funds, the authors are hoping to generate some buzz in the blogosphere about the book. She asked if I could find time to read the book and then offer a review on my blog.
Now, I was never involved with cross country, but my own curiosity as a runner got the best of me and I decided to check it out. Although she offered to send me a free review copy, I figured she didn’t realize that I lived in Germany, so I decided to just order the $5.95 book from Amazon myself.
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When the book arrived from Amazon Germany a couple days later I honestly was not expecting much more than a Hardy Boys tale of a cross country team. The description of the book written on the back cover left me unimpressed, I’ll repeat it here to introduce the books central theme:
“The young cross country team of Salem High School places in the State Meet, only to have the state athletic association eliminate them from the competition after a scoring error. Told from the perspective of two members of the team, Harriers details how Coach Mike Almond brought his team back to pursue the state title the following year. This book tells the boys’ story of teamwork, dedication and overcoming the odds.”
As I began to read through HARRIERS I felt the prose was a bit pompous, but when I considered the age of the authors, this is not surprisingly. As I read on I found myself totally drawn into their true story and had trouble putting the book down.
HARRIERS is a story about high school runners told by high school runners. The book captures the hardships, pain and eventual jubilation of a cross country team that had the rug pulled out from under them due to a scoring error at the state championships, but fought their way back to the top the following year. I found myself experiencing the ups and downs of the team, as I lived their journey through the authors.
I highly recommend buying the book because it is simply a good read and a great way to support young writers. The authors Joseph and Paul Shivers were mentored by the Fresh Writers Writing Program of which the Shivers’ were 2005 Award winners.
Buy the book, I bet you will feel the heat of enthusiasm through this well told story.
HARRIERS
By Joseph and Paul Shivers
Paperback,181 pages
Fresh Writers Books
PO Box 82
Uniontown OH,44685
Fax:707-220-4510

My New Asics GT2110

I forgot to mention how my new Asics GT2110 fared on their first run. I only ran around 8K/5M, about 2/3 of my normal run, but they felt comfortable from the start, just as new running shoes should feel. Of course the true test will be when I take them out on a longer run – but this will happen first after my 50K race.
I also tried out a shorter pair of running short like those I see so many runners wearing at races. I usually stick to longer running shorts, typically spandex-type material because I’ve never had chaffing problems with these. But I recently bought a couple new pairs of sythetic material short shorts to see if chaffing would be an issue. Despite the shorter run my legs were already starting to chaff – not good. I’ll try them again on another run together with Body Glide, if the chaffing problem continues they go in summer clothes closet – which will be too bad as they are really comfortable otherwise.