training

getting ready. all the time.

Running Breakthroughs

Breakthrough

Over the past six years, I’ve experimented with and tweaked my running techniques. Most of the time, change has come incrementally. Sometimes, though, there have been significant breakthroughs.

Here are the three most important:

Barefoot

Running barefoot is the most significant thing I’ve done to change/improve my running, bar none.

My first barefoot run was in June of 2009. I’d been reading about barefoot running for a while, so decided that I’d give it a try. It felt better – much better – than I’d expected. So I just kept on going. My running changed completely because of that. I’m lighter, stronger, and quicker. Running barefoot means running with fewer injuries, so I’m able to train consistently. I feel whole and strong.

When footwear is a necessity (rough terrain, very long distances, or a combination of the two), I wear minimalist sandals. But I always get back to skin-to-ground as soon as I can.

LCHF

This comes a very close second to being barefoot.

Long story short… If you adopt a LCHF (low carb, high fat) lifestyle, and become keto-adapted, you’ve got the fuel you need (i.e., fat) in your body, and you don’t need anything else. In fact, it’s better to run this way, as it results in steady energy levels, with no insulin spikes, no bonking, and no hitting the wall.

The human body doesn’t need carbs at all. I’m much better off without them.

Cadence

Getting my cadence to the optimal turnover of 90 steps/minute (180 steps/minute if you count both feet) has made a huge difference in improving my running economy and enhancing my form. Barefoot running tends to have a higher cadence than when shod, so that’s been a help.

Once in a while, I use a metronome beat of 180 bpm on my iPod Shuffle to check my cadence and ensure that it’s where it should be.

My goal is to be able to hold a 180 bpm cadence over very long distances.

More?

There’ll doubtless be more breakthroughs. I think they’ll come in the course of doing distances over 100K and times over 12 hours.

Good Things

Bedrock Sandals Synclines

My Bedrock Syncline sandals arrived soon after I got home from the Elk/Beaver 50K ultra. I’ve been wearing them ever since. As I said in the review I posted previously, “The Synclines represent the evolutionary peak of minimalist sandals technology for me right now.”

They’re just plain good. They’re great on the roads, and they’re great on the trails. They’ve made my post-EB healing journey a pleasure rather than a chore, and they promise to deliver even more quality in the weeks and months to come.

Ditch those running shoes and get yourself some Synclines. You’ll thank me!

Kinetic Revolution 30 Day Challenge

James Dunne’s 30 day challenge has been a revelation. Each day of the free program offers a specific 10 to 15 minute set of targeted techniques, drills and exercises, with the promise that, if followed consistently, they will “transform your running” in the course of a month.

It’s working.

Today is day 10 of the challenge. It’s getting harder as the days go by, but in a good way. I know my muscles are being worked, and I can see results. My daily runs – whether long or short, fast or slow – are significantly improved in terms of form, pace, and feel. I’ve been lazy about my training for quite a while, content just to muddle along, so I’m pleased that I’ve finally hunkered down to do something worthwhile.

In fact, I’m so impressed with James’ training that I’m about to sign up for his six-week online course. I’m a Kinetic Revolution believer!

Music

As I noted in a previous post, I recently started listening to music again after an absence of many years. I don’t carry my iPod all the time, but I enjoy having music for many of my long runs. The playlist I listen to most often is a mix of blues and psychedelia. Think mid to late 1960s. Think Chicago and San Francisco. Think tracks like Crystal Blues, by the always wonderful Country Joe and the Fish. Have a listen:

Good things happen. Life is good!

Priorities

I’m running more than writing these days, as I prepare for the Niagara 100K, which takes place on June 14.

Not surprisingly, I’m beginning to develop major jitters for this one. For one thing, it’ll be my first attempt at the 100K distance. For another, my feet are still recovering from being completely shredded at the Elk/Beaver 50K on May 10 – and that’s meant I haven’t been able to put in the training distances I need to do for a 100K event.

Never mind. I’m still aiming for Niagara… and hoping that it’ll turn out well.

EB Update

It’s been two weeks since the Elk/Beaver 50K trail ultra, and my feet are finally beginning to heal.

They’re not long run-ready yet, by any means, but I’m making steady progress towards being able to do the Niagara 100K, which takes place only three weeks from today.

Right now, “healing” looks like this:

Healing

As you can see, my left foot is still a bit swollen, and I’m still wearing a band-aid to protect some tender skin. My right foot, though, is pretty much back to normal. And both are a whole better than they were two weeks ago:

Wounded

Since Elk/Beaver, I’ve managed a few road runs, a couple of treadmill runs, and a whole lot of walking. All of that’s been done in my new Bedrock Syncline sandals, which will be my footwear of choice for the Niagara ultra. This week, I’ll try to transition from the treadmill, which offers a somewhat cushioned runnng surface, to the roads, in anticipation of running Niagara.

Here’s hoping…

Vision Quest?

A vision quest? Or just an enjoyable long run?

I’m being facetious, of course. I’m not into vision quests, and I won’t be attempting one anytime soon. I am, though, very much into good runs – and I’m pretty sure the Elk/Beaver 50K Ultra on May 10 will be one of those. That said, I plan to follow two strategies at the Elk/Beaver which will push the limits a bit. The first is about fueling, and the second is about gear (or lack of it).

LCHF

First, I plan to follow the low carb/high fat nutrition regime I’ve been on for the past ten months, and run the Elk/Beaver 50 fueling only with water and a bit of biltong. Second, I plan to run the full 50K trail race barefoot.

The fueling strategy isn’t as outrageous as it sounds. The LCHF thing has worked well for me, with nothing but good to show for it. I now weigh less than I did in high school forty-odd years ago, my energy levels are strong and consistent, and my health is excellent (except for the ongoing prostate cancer thing, but that’s for another post). And there’s a significant amount of evidence, both clinical and anecdotal, suggesting that LCHF can work well for endurance athletes.

Keep Calm

The running barefoot thing is a little more complex. It’s not the distance that I’m worried about. After all, I ran the Toronto Scotiabank Marathon barefoot a couple of years ago. And last summer, I ran a short trail race barefoot. It’s the Elk/Beaver’s trail surfaces, combined with the race distance, that are going to be the challenge. According to Carlos Castillo, the Elk/Beaver’s race director, each of the 10K loops of the race consists mostly of packed dirt and leaf litter, with about 200 meters of asphalt, and 2K of packed gravel. It’s the latter that worries me. I’m not looking for a PB at this one, so will be happy to roll along at a comfortable pace. There’s a cutoff time of 14 hours for all runners, so no worries, I’ll do it. But a total of 10K of gravel? Hmm…

However, based on the following short video, which Carlos Castillo very kindly shared with me, it certainly looks doable.

 

OK, so a real, honest-to-goodness vision quest it’s probably not going to be. But it will certainly be an exploration of new territory, both physically and psychologically. And it’s only fair to note that, during my very first marathon (the 1980 Labatt’s Toronto Marathon), I did see Elvis a couple of times. So who knows? At Elk/Beaver, I might just go places I’ve not been to before…

Vision quest

Patterns

Running Horse

Towards the end of every winter-into-spring training program, I always run out of steam. I think it’s mostly because I get tired of the pattern. Yes, I know it’s all very scientific and outcome-oriented, but the rhythm of a 16 or 18 week program eventually just gets tiresome. The result is turmoil, kerfufle, and frustration.

I’ve discovered that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Once I break through the slump/readjustment part of it – and discover a pattern that actually works – I’m better off. Over the years, I’ve become better able to let go of what doesn’t work, and allow something new (and more appropriate) to emerge.

And so it’s been this month.

At the beginnng of the month, I felt fine, but I couldn’t/wouldn’t run. It was a combination of four months training on the treadmill, really dreadful late-winter weather, and just plain grumpiness. At first, I thought that letting a day or two go by would break the slump, but there was no joy there. So I let another day or two go by. And then did that again. After ten days or so, I was getting desperate. So, I just plugged away. I ran the 1.5K lap around my suburban block. I ran short barefoot runs when it was far too cold to do so sensibly. I ran multiple laps of that 1.5 circuit. I went out the door, ran about 200 meters, and turned back. I ran my favourite 6K lap around my neighbourhood ring road, and hated it. I grumped, and moaned, and became less than pleasant company.

And then… breakthough. The weather changed (slightly) for the better. The 6K laps became fun again. My body came back to looseness and strength and fitness. I’d come back. And I found a new pattern.

  • Now, I run on alternate days. Well, not quite. I run on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. That means back-to-back long runs on Sundays and Mondays, which is perfectly OK when you’re training for ultras.
  • I do two runs a day, except for Sunday, when I do one longish run. That’s partly to accomodate my daily non-running life (I do have one, you know), partly about not working so hard at running that I get fatigued, and partly because it feels right.
  • On days when I don’t run, I usually go to the YMCA and have a whirlpool and a sauna. Sometimes I run to the Y on those days (it’s only a 6K round trip), and sometimes I don’t. When I do, I run very slowly.
  • I build up my distances each week. Not by any prescribed amount, just by what feels right.

It’s working very well. I’m getting my distances, I’m getting the recovery times I need, and I’m back to being a happy runner again.

And you know what? I’ve become very fond of running laps.