After struggling with some serious fatigue in early July, my energy levels finally returned to normal after several weeks of reduced mileage. The downtime was frustrating, but it allowed me to step back and analyze where my training had room for improvement. After looking at every possible angle, I realized there were three areas of my training and lifestyle that had been holding me back: Sleep, speed endurance, and lack of variety in my training.
The past few months were spent training for a pair of fall road races while taking serious steps to patch up the aforementioned holes. Thus far, the results have been incredible, and I can’t recommend some of the tricks I’ve been using enough for anyone wanting to take their fitness to a whole new level.
Training While Sleeping
As every mattress company likes to point out, sleeping takes up nearly a third of our lives. Their angle is pretty transparent — if you’re spending eight hours a day in one spot, why not invest extra money to make that spot as comfortable as possible?
After going vegan a few years ago (and feeling better in every possible way), I began questioning a lot of the norms that society tends to just go along with. But it wasn’t until this summer that I began questioning if mattresses, which I’ve slept on my entire life, are really necessary. People went hundreds of thousands of years without ever sleeping on comfy blocks of synthetic materials. What makes us different? I decided to try sleeping on the ground for a few nights to see for myself.
The first few nights were difficult. I vacuumed my rug meticulously, spread several blankets across it to create a barrier between the ground and me, and stretched out flat on my back. I would feel good and sleep well for the first few hours, but eventually I would get so sore that I had to return to my comfy sheets. Still, I was waking up feeling refreshed, so I decided to keep trying.
Within a week, I was able to get through an entire night on the ground as long as I stayed on my back. Without question, my back had already gotten stronger. Within two weeks, I could sleep on my sides, which is where my body tends to go naturally during sleep anyway.
As of today (September 15th), I’ve only spent half a night in bed since early August. Sleeping on the floor has become my new normal, and as long as I’m single, I won’t be going back to mattresses any time soon (and if I can find a girl who also likes to sleep on the ground, then I’ve pretty much won life’s jackpot anyway, so at that point I can just ride off into the sunset).
So what’s happening to your body during sleep on a hard surface? I’m speculating, but I believe that your bones and connective tissue naturally respond to the stimulus by becoming tougher and sturdier. What’s more, the level of space your body has to expand on the ground feels entirely different than being in a bed. You aren’t “sinking” into anything. Instead, your body works against — and eventually with — the ground to take natural poses while your central nervous system resets. I’ve also read that ground sleeping leads to more physical movement during sleep, which increases blood flow.
As runners, we need as much structural support as possible to maintain stride efficiency, especially in longer races. What’s more, we want our blood to be in constant motion throughout our bodies so we can deliver nutrients and growth factors to muscle and connective tissue. While sleeping on a mattress, I woke up stiff and sore nearly every morning during training. Now, I wake up feeling loose and fluid, even after some of my hardest workouts. My running posture has also improved a lot in a short period of time.
Intervals in the Heat
I’ve blogged about the value of speed work and heat training in the past, so there’s no need for me to go on about some of the most common knowledge in running. All I’ll say is that after a month of speed workouts in August, I’m still convinced that old-fashioned track and road intervals are the most effective way to teach your body to move quicker.
Strength Work and Yoga
To compound my efforts of improving speed and workout recovery, I began a regular strength circuit for the first time in over a year. In the past, I’ve had a tendency to do too much when lifting or doing body weight work, and that ultimately detracted from my time on the roads and trails. So this summer, I decided to take a “less-is-more” approach and focus on only a handful of targeted exercises and stretches.
⦁ 5-8 body-control pushups (slowly lower to the ground, maintaining form, then explode upwards at full speed)
⦁ One-minute plank
⦁ One-minute right-side plank
⦁ One-minute left-side plank
⦁ 45-second back plank
⦁ Shadow kickboxing (flow and anaerobic bursts)
Several hours of after working out, I’ve been doing 15-20-minute yoga flows, which has paid huge dividends in terms of recovery. Yoga is very limited in what it can give you in terms of fitness, but as an add-on recovery aid, it’s a fantastic free way to stay loose and nimble.
Whether or not this minimalist routine has been helping is hard to say. But between the strength work and physical nature of my job (constantly lugging around heavy boxes), I feel stronger than I have in years.
The lifestyle changes and training additions have been paying off. Last week, I checked off a huge bucket list item and won my hometown’s annual 10k with a big PR. I beat my time from 2016 by 44 seconds (although last year’s course may have been about 100 meters longer), and I didn’t break in the humidity, which has been my kryptonite in the past.
I’ve been training without a real break since May 1st, so my body is definitely ready for a reset. But I still have one more 10k I’m racing in October that means a lot to me, so I’m going to try and stretch my fitness to then. After that, the six-month countdown to the Boston Marathon begins.