Every few weeks, Rob is going to update us on his training, his progress, his successes and his challenges.
Rob will be taking on Superhero Scramble’s elite team race as part of the 4 person male team in two weeks!
As I mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to provide an update at the back end of my experiment with about 10 weeks of mixing a half-marathon training chart with 3 days of HIIT training (in this case crossfit at a Boston crossfit box). As planned I’ve completed it and am now evaluating the results and tweaking for the next phase, which is going to be from now until the end of June. I will then be switching again to get me from the beginning of July to the Spartan Beast on 9/21. I’ve got different goals for each phase, and am also trying to integrate what I’m learning as I go.
As I posted previously, I took a pretty traditional half-marathon training chart (in this case Hal Higdon’s “intermediate chart”: http://www.halhigdon.com/training/51132/Half-Marathon-Intermediate-Training-Program) with 3 days of crossfit and one power-yoga style class, making sure I had one full day of rest. I particularly liked the Hal Higdon chart as it integrates a fair amount of speed work while moderately and progressively increasing mileage, and also seemed relatively reasonable. I knew this would result in 3 days a week of double workouts where I would be doing a running workout and a crossfit workout and didn’t know at all how that would play out.
I decided to take the Hal Higdon chart basically as written in regards to the running miles and day-of-the-week miles. I overlay on top of that the yoga class as my Monday “Stretch & Strengthen”, did my crossfit classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and used Friday as my off day. I did the miles Saturdays and Sundays as the Higdon chart had listed, with the long run on Sundays. I figured this would fit pretty well with weekend events that were starting over the last few weeks (MuckFest, some 5k’s, etc), where I would have a rest day before race days. I scheduled it so that I’d basically finish the full half-marathon program the weekend of May 17-18 so I’d peak for the Reach the Beach relay (200 mile 24 hour relay with a team of twelve over a 24 hour period; our team did it in 28 hours, which was respectable). Since that event was a road running event I decided to focus on road running for doing this round.
So I’m now on the other side of Reach the Beach and am planning my next phase and trying to integrate what I learned and adjust accordingly. I’m also planning on switching to focusing on trail running, since nearly all of the upcoming OCR’s are 80-90% trail running with intermittent obstacles, so speed and technical skills on the trails are of primary concern. So here’s what I’ve learned, some questions that still remain open, and what I’ve got planned for the next phase.
What I’ve Learned
- I can get faster.
At 42 years old, 5’8” and starting this at 200 pounds (I’m now around 192), no one is going to say I have a “runner’s body.” I would guess my body fat percentage is in the high teens, so it ain’t all muscle either. Through the combination of speed work in the running program, HIIT conditioning and strength strengthening through crossfit (presumably developing both slow and fast twitch muscle fiber through the combination) I have definitely increased how fast I can run for sustained periods. I don’t have a good pre-program baseline, but I ran a moderately hilly 5k in early May in a time of 20:21 (that’s a 6:33 pace), which is most definitely faster than when I started, and on the second day of Reach the Beach I ran 3.44 extremely hilly miles in 24 minutes (that’s a 6:58 pace) after having run 10 miles a few hours previously at a sub-8 minute pace, and not having slept. To me that says speed and an improving ability to recover. All things I’m pleased about and suggest to me that I’m heading in a positive direction.
- Working out twice a day wears can wear on me.
Over the first few weeks I kept to this program without any changes, and for the first 3-4 weeks I felt pretty good. Several times I would finish a bone-crushing crossfit class where I got my ass absolutely handed to me and then would head off for a run or a speed interval workout, and did just fine. I felt like a total badass and felt pretty impressed with myself and felt like I could tolerate this schedule no problem. About week 4 or 5 that started to change. I began to feel incredibly fatigued much of the time, felt oddly feverish especially in the evenings, had significant trouble getting to and staying asleep, I became generally logy and felt myself losing motivation, had to stop a couple of workouts in the middle because I completely bonked and couldn’t continue, and definitely felt an observable, if not intense, impact on my mood heading in a depressed direction.
My impulse was to just stick with it and see if my body adjusted, which I did for a couple of weeks, and then it became clear that I couldn’t sustain things and that “overtraining syndrome” is real (I mentioned what I was doing and some of my symptoms above to a couple of trainers/coaches and they looked at me like I was dumb as a post when I then asked, “Do you think I could be over-training?”) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overtraining
I talked to one crossfit coach in detail about this and she recommended, big surprise, that I cut out all running except my long weekend run and that I can get all my conditioning and speedwork more effectively and efficiently by simply upping my crossfit (this encounter, though completely sincere on her part represents my main problem with crossfit, which I LOVE by the way: the Kool Aid that it is the only exercise you need, everything else is a bit of a waste, that it can cure cancer and basically solve the problems of war, pestilence, and poverty if people just smartened up and gave it a chance). I spoke also in detail to an extremely experience and seasoned trail runner who offered the opposite advice (again, shockingly), that I keep the running schedule and decrease my crossfit to two, but preferably one, day.
I chose to ignore both and try to experiment with a few different changes and try to monitor how I felt. I started to work in an extra rest day, sacrificing the yoga day (always the first thing to go, I know…), and doing speed work every other week and then doing only crossfit on those off weeks. I hated to do this as I loved the speed work, but the combo of those two together seemed to me to be a likely culprit that was overwhelming my system in the middle of the weeks. I also offered myself a bit more leeway in dropping a workout, either speed or running here and there if I just felt like my body might be leaning that way (all told I probably missed 3 scheduled runs over the following 5-6 weeks and 2 scheduled crossfit classes, so nothing major). Things seemed to even out, and although I was dissatisfied with the catch-as-catch-can element of the solution, it seemed good enough as a stop-gap.
A question that remains for me is for double workout days how to space the workouts and how to fuel for them. This is one of the main questions I’ll be checking out moving forward and an area I’ll be adjusting for my second go round.
- A deliberate plan, concretized in a formal schedule, suits me.
I’m a pretty lasseiz faire guy in a lot of ways, and continue to believe that flexibility and a lack of hammer-headness and testosteroneosity in training are all key. But having a set schedule to rely on proved incredibly useful, especially on the days I was tired or didn’t feel like it. On those days I didn’t need to choose what to do based on what I felt like or didn’t feel like…I just shrugged, looked on my sheet and did what I was told, whether I felt like it or felt lousy or not.
Also, since it had some particular goals, one being speed, I knew why I was doing what I was doing, and was able to gauge whether I was accomplishing it, which was motivating over the long term and served as good motivation to work through the entire experiment so I could see how it panned out.
- Joints: Ouch.
Although I really love to pretend that being a bit older than I was the last time I was behaving like a serious athlete (oh, about 23 years ago or so…), one thing that is significant, and seems directly correlated with increased running miles, is increased, regular, and persistent join pain. I’ve found that I pretty much hurt all the time, sometimes more, sometimes less. I’ve found a few ways to mitigate it, for example before crossfit classes I do a 30 minute active warm up and foam rolling session, and before a run (if I’m really good) do something close to that. Again, this is something I’m going to try to stop being delusional about and find ways to work more effectively with.
- If I REALLY want to get both faster and stronger I have to lose weight and actually make and follow a nutrition plan to then effectively fuel my performance.
This is the one I feared, and the delusional part of me was hoping that if I worked out this way I STILL wouldn’t have to actually tackle and learn something about nutrition. Sigh. No such luck.
I’ve always carried a lot of weight for my neanderthalic frame. As I stated above I’m 5’8” and generally weigh in between 190 and 200 pounds with a not insignificant body fat percentage. My strength-to-weight ratio is frankly lousy. I eat healthy food (if you want to get technical I’m a lacto-ovo-pescatarian, meaning I eat eggs, dairy, fish, and vegetables) and very little crap, including very few simple carbs outside of fruits, unless I’m carb back-loading after a workout. I’m not overly concerned with looking buff and really, really, really appreciate delicious food cooked with love.
But the simple facts are that as I continue to move into my 40’s and beyond, my joints are not going to be loving the extra weight (actually they don’t already, but my ignoring that is another story, related to the delusional attitude referred to in the previous bullet point) and if I actually want to significantly improve my speed and overall OCR performance I simply have to lose weight along with my focus on building strength, speed, and power. I don’t like this, but I’ve decided I’m going to take it on. Ironically enough what’s incentivized me to actually look at this is my initial success at developing some speed. If at 42 and “husky” I can run a 20:21 5k, I began to think, “Wow, I actually could be fast for a few more years if I continued to really train and…(unable to avoid the obvious) was significantly lighter.” I’m going to be working with my friend and fantastic middle-aged athlete Jay Heinrichs, of the “Breaking the Time Barrier” project and blog (http://breakingthetimebarrier.com/), who has graciously agreed to take me under his wing as I plan this out and to listen patiently to me as I regularly tantrum and whine.
I still have some open questions about the best way to space workouts, and how to get the maximum effectiveness and efficiency. I think one blind spot of some OCR training is simply to do more, pile on more hours, do crazier things, carry weirder and heavier stuff, etc. I not only think there is inherently nothing wrong with this, but I actually love the underlying anarchic spirit and playfulness that seems to be its root. But I’ve watched a lot of athletic training and have a core belief that if you want to be successful at a given event or sport, you need to develop and follow training specifically to succeed at that activity. Most OCR’s are mostly trail running and require ENOUGH physical strength and power to complete the obstacles while having to slow down as little as possible. Beyond that, additional strength and power is a bit wasted, and can also actually slow a racer down because of the additional weight, especially as the race lengths increase (look at Hobie Call, Jenny Tobin, Junyong Pak, Rose-Marie Jarry and the other top racers, male and female; they basically all have something closer to a muscular runner’s body than a buffed out crossfitter or body builder’s body. There’s a reason for that.).
So my next chapter is cut into 2 phases. The first phase is to get me from mid May to the end of June, culminating at the Civilian Military Combine. The second is to get me from the beginning of July through to the end of September, culminating at the Spartan Beast at Killington. I will be focusing on:
- Continuing my focus on full-body general fitness and athleticism, since OCR’s require and reward it (again, with a premium on the underlying skills and capacity for trail running).
- Increasing my focus on increasing speed, with a goal of being able to run a 19 minute 5k (6:07 pace).
- Focus on learning and improving several technical skills. This has not been addressed in the above, but it includes some focused, if moderate, specific skill development, mostly in some of the climbing elements (ropes, Tyrolean traverse, etc).
- Shift to a focus for trail running for my running work, including a major focus on conditioning for hills and the technical skills and experience of running downhill, an area where most of us non-technical runners lose a boatload of time on the courses.
- Lose weight. I’m stating my goal for this here: to get down to a leaned down prime racing speed of 170 pounds, still heavy by lots of standards, but it’s a pretty big goal of over 20 pounds from my present weight.
The overview of the specific plan includes one more month of crossfit three times per week mixed with a more challenging running plan which I’m going to adjust a bit and customize for trail running (http://www.halhigdon.com/training/51133/Half-Marathon-Advanced-Training-Program). I have a lot of races this summer, but I’m going to be setting up the schedule with the point of peaking for the Killington Spartan Beast on September 21. I will also be developing a nutrition plan with Jay Heinrichs first designed for weight loss while also still performing, and then, once my goal is reached, shifting to build and maintain strength, endurance, performance, etc. I will outline the specifics of these in coming posts.
There are plenty of outstanding questions. How much can I push a stiffening, much injured and surgically sliced-into 42 year old body until it not-so-politely requests that I back the hell off? Can I actually train the above mentioned body to run faster than it’s ever been able to run in its life? Is it possible to effectively eat to lose weight while also still pushing performance and not fall over or simply becoming an intolerable person to be around? Can I learn to cannonball myself down a technical trail without breaking multiple bones? One way or another, I suppose I’m going to find out…