Road to the Philly Marathon 5 – LDISOs, Biohacking, and DDR

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A photo from the top of Blue Hills that I took last fall. I’ve been putting in a lot of hill work this month to improve my stride efficiency.

I took almost an entire week off after the Narragansett Half Marathon, which really zapped my legs. I used the down time to get ahead at work and map out my training from now until the Philadelphia Marathon in late November.

Competition — in running or any other sport — has always been a fun part of my life, and a big part of that fun is exploring and creating new training techniques. Having just put in three months of hard training from April to July, I felt early August would be a good chance to try some new things before returning to my bread-and-butter workouts.

Central Nervous System Training

The relationship between our central nervous system and running performance is arguably the most under-appreciated area in the sport. Last summer, I read a book about body mapping called The Body Has a Mind of Its Own. The book detailed just how influential our brain is in determining every physical movement we make. And while a strong CNS alone won’t turn you into a good distance runner, it can mean the difference between a smooth, efficient stride, and an awkward, flail-y wobble. And unlike the physical body, our neurons have endless potential for improvement.

LDISOs and Hills

To tap into my own CNS’s potential, I’ve been doing what may be the most masochistic exercise ever created – long duration isometric holds (LDISOs). Without getting too technical, LDISOs are arguably the most effective way for your CNS to recruit muscle fibers. By “pulling” with your hamstrings during a runner’s lunge or wall sit (which creates a tension unlike anything you’ve ever felt), your brain sends emergency signals to the appropriate muscles to cope with the insane amount of pressure. Staying in that position for more than a minute helps you develop stamina and a tolerance for all the little things that cause your muscles to “burn” on hills and in hard races.

To make the most of these workouts, I’ve been doing strides immediately upon finishing my holds. This literally means going from a wall sit or lunge into a 100-meter stride without any time in between. Again, the goal here has been to develop my CNS in a way that maximizes my running potential. By striding with an unnatural amount of “burn” in my legs, my CNS can more effectively deal with lesser burn on the roads. The first few steps after each hold are usually a limp, but I’ve been able to complete every stride so far without an issue.

These workouts are incredibly taxing, which is why I’ve waited for an off period of training to try them. I did my first LDISO workout on August 1st after a series of 150-meter sprints, and my general level of alertness didn’t feel back to 100% again until a week later. During my second LDISO workout on Tuesday the 9th, I felt a sharp pain in my head that lead to a headache all day Wednesday. My legs have also been incredibly sore, making even 80% of my normal mileage difficult.

But so far, the pain has been worth it. I’ve been combining these workouts with hard hill efforts of between 1-6 minutes, and my legs are feeling more powerful than ever. I’ve been able to rack up three FKTs on Massachusetts hills this month, including one on the Blue Hills Access Road — a 416 foot climb to the Great Blue Hill summit that has always served as my personal fitness indicator since early 2015. Until this month, my best time up the hill was 6:12. On August 18th, I ran 5:59, which leads me to believe this phase of my training has been a success.

Dance Dance Revolution

I’ve been on the hunt for an effective cross-training method that I can do from home for a while now. A lot of days work has me so busy that I can’t leave my office for more than five minutes. Indoor cycling is non weight-bearing, so that’s out, and even though I still shadow box every day, there’s just no crossover to running. So I thought outside the box a bit and remembered my high school days of playing Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), the popular video game franchise where players tap a dance pad with their feet to match rhythmic arrows on the screen.

DDR is essentially a mix of plyometrics, stamina, and foot-eye coordination, all of which can also be said for running. The short hops, the changes in pace and energy, and the sheer level of intensity the game requires makes the game an awesome anytime indoor cardio workout for any runners who aren’t afraid to look stupid and listen to MC Hammer all day.

Biohacking My New Apartment

I just moved into my new apartment, which is an in-law unit on the house where I grew up in Walpole, Massachusetts. My long-term plan has always been to stay in the suburban Boston area, so when this apartment opened up, it made the most sense to fill in the space, especially since I’m on the road so much these days.

It’s been a long few months of cleaning and moving furniture, but I finally have the apartment ready. My goal was to optimize the space for general workout recovery and sleep, and I’m happy with how things turned out. I invested in a Magnolia Organics Barrier Cloth Mattress Cover, which doesn’t contain the synthetic materials known to cause breathing and thyroid issues in other mattress covers. The cover so far has felt fantastic, and I’m waking up every morning feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

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I also bought the powerful Honeywell 17000-S QuietCare True HEPA Air Purifier to ensure I’m not inhaling any harmful particles that may accumulate over time. It’s a liberating feeling knowing that I always have a spot where I can always breathe easy.

Moving Forward

The past few weeks have been fun, but I’m ready to get in gear for marathon training mode. The next two months are going to be all about mileage and overall time on my feet. With the power I’ve built in my legs through hills and LDISOs, I’m confident I’ll be able to bump up my numbers to new highs.

I’ll be racing at least three times this fall – the New England 10k Road Championships in late September, the Boston Firefighters Memorial 10k Race, and a 5k or two to break the monotony of training – but my main focus remains Philadelphia in late November. I’ll write an update here in a few weeks to document the start of my new base phase – this has been fun so far!

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