The past six weeks of training have felt fantastic. The dirty work I put in on the grass and roads in April and May paid huge dividends in June, and with less a week to go until the half marathon, I’m feeling great about the short- and long-term future.
I raced again on May 28th, taking second in another frustrating 5k to end the “strength” block of my training. As I mentioned in my previous two blogs, the goal of my training this spring was to build powerful, injury-resistant legs so I could rip off a big June in preparation for July’s half marathon. A big part of that training was using 5ks as my “speed work”. Without any real speed training (400s, 1k repeats, etc.), 5ks are incredibly difficult to race, because your legs are forced to move at a pace they’re not used to and your heart and lungs have to respond accordingly. But after a few 5ks in your base block, you gain the strength to handle some pretty serious speed work in your sharpening phase. And that’s where the real magic happens.
The Value of Speed Training
I can’t tell you how much better of a runner I am with speed work vs. without it. I hear stories of runners all the time saying how fast they are just off of base training, and I just don’t get it. After only four speed sessions from early to late June, my aerobic miles dropped from around 6:55 to 6:30 pace, my lactate threshold miles dropped from around 6:00 to 5:45 pace, and my closing speed went from nonexistent to somewhat respectable. Maybe I benefit more from from speed training than other runners because I’m naturally such a slow-twitch guy. The huge improvements could also have to do with my central nervous system, which has always been pretty wacky (there was a point in my life where I was sleeping 12-17 hours per night). Who knows?
My speed training wasn’t anything out of the norm. I did three sessions on the track, alternating my focus between top-end speed (400s and 150-meter sprints) and speed endurance (1k repeats). I also did one speed-endurance session on the grass, putting in some half marathon-paced running to maintain my leg strength. I felt better with every session, feeling huge improvements in my stride efficiency and endurance.
The gains I made on the track have absolutely translated to the roads, where I’ve been putting in as many miles between 5:30-5:50 pace as possible. In late June, I hit the 5-mile split of a hilly road race in 27:58. On a flatter course and cooler day, I believe I could have run in the low 27s. (I may run the Bobby Doyle 5 miler in Providence in mid August — that will be a better race to PR over that distance).
Weekly Mileage vs. Monthly Mileage
After struggling to hit back-to-back 60-plus mile weeks in May, I began questioning why my body couldn’t handle what many runners consider to be moderate mileage. Thanks to Strava data, that answer became clear pretty quickly — although I had strung together some solid two-week blocks of training in the past, I had yet to run more than 190 miles in a month.
Looking at running from this big-picture perspective can shed a lot of light on your issues. So many runners are overly focused on weekly mileage, but what about the mileage you cover in a month? In three months? When it comes to running, consistency is king, so trying to do too much in a short window usually causes more harm than good.
I realized that bumping my monthly mileage from 190 to 200 was still a near 5% increase, which is enough for me to see improvement. So I ran just over 201 miles in June, which followed just over 205 miles in May. That two-month block is a 34-mile increase from my previous best over that time frame, and considering I’m running a faster overall pace these days (I ran an average of 6:50 per mile in June), my training is all the more effective.
Although I can’t yet run the type of mileage I’d like to be able to, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been able to cross train as much as possible. In the past, I’ve tried every type of cross training you can think of, but to this day, nothing compares to hiking or simply walking.
The benefits of staying moving on your feet are truly endless, especially in the woods. Our streets are so polluted with car exhaust, diesel fuel, and rotting litter. Getting out on the trails means breathing in better oxygen, which leads to enhanced recovery. Additional benefits of hiking and walking for runners include:
-Your core is still forced to support your body weight, making you stronger.
-You experience blood flow that directly reaches your running muscles.
-You build strong legs climbing hills.
-Your body’s fat metabolism improves, leading to more stable blood sugar.
-Your central nervous system can reset in a more natural environment.
In addition to hiking, I’ve been doing tons of yoga and experimenting with the Wim Hof breathing method. Breathing the Wim Hof way provides an instant energy boost, and I’m looking forward to experimenting with the method in training after the half marathon.
For a while, I was in denial about the amount of protein it takes for me to recover quickly and train effectively. A lot of plant-based advocates talk about how everyone, including athletes, consume way too much protein. And on paper, they’re right.
But everyone is different, and after finally incorporating some plant-based protein powder into my diet, I realize I had been shorting myself of protein for quite some time.
After every run, I’ve been making a shake consisting of water, two scoops of Jarrow Formula’s Optimal Plant-Based Proteins powder, pineapple, blueberries, and strawberries. Occasionally, I’ll throw some Cheerios in there as well for the fortified vitamins and minerals. Ever since starting this routine, I’ve been feeling better after runs and bouncing back a lot quicker in training.
With less than a week to go before the half marathon, I’ll now be making big reductions in my overall fat and sodium intake, ensuring I’m as lean and light as possible. On the menu for this week:
-100% whole grain pasta with tomato and basil sauce
-Black rice with spices including curry powder, sage, and parsley
-Mangoes, blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges, bananas, papaya, and kiwi
-Steamed broccoli, water chestnuts, red peppers, string beans, and kale
-Clif Bars (for convenience and amino acids — I wish they didn’t add so much sugar and oil).
What I’ll be removing for the week:
-Celtic sea salt
-Veggie pizza (olive oil is usually used for the crust, and oil is bad news for runners on race week)