Friday, January 27, 2012

How to run Sawtooth (well).

Steve Quick recently posted his take on training for Sawtooth. It’s a good read for anyone who is thinking about tackling what is likely the hardest race in the Midwest (Arrowhead notwithstanding). I’ll summarize:
  • Marathon times do not correlate well to Sawtooth finishing times, but you can try. Take your marathon time and multiply by 8.5(!). Using that standard, I should be able to finish in approximately 29:45 (3:26 marathon, ’08 TC Marathon). Conveniently, 30 hours is my best-case-scenario goal for 2012.
  • Once a week, do a timed long run (4-5 hours). Do it often, don’t go too hard, and measure improvement by distance covered.
  • Once a week, do a long hill run (2.5-3 hours), and run it at an even effort. It will boost your strength to handle the 24K +/- of Sawtooth.
  • Run every day. For the other non-long, non-hill run days, run one hour per day.
  • Don’t do speed work.
  • Mileage. With the easy runs, hill run, and long run, that’s about 12 hours per week. For me, that would be approx. 80-100 miles/week, depending on how fast the long and hills runs are.
 I can’t speak ill of the plan, and it is simple, clean and functional. It is lots of easy runs at the magical 60-minute length, a hill run to boost strength, and a long run to stress your body and teach it to handle moving for long periods of time.

I do have disagreements, and these show in my own training program. Namely, I like to have some speed work. It helps boost leg strength, condition your body to handle high-stress training, and increase leg speed and overall speed. I like the hill run idea, even if it is slow, but I disagree with its length. Two-and-a-half to three hours is a long run for me, and I can bang out 20 miles in that time while including hills into it. Finally, the long run is too long to be done weekly or even semi-weekly for me. Four to five hours is looking at 30 miles, and that’s not something I want to do in one shot every week. Maybe three hours at a time (remember, 20 miles at 8 min/mile pace is 2:40:00, plenty of distance for a long run).

My plan

First, let’s look at the basics:
  1. Run six or seven days per week.
  2. Divide your runs into easy and quality runs. Do up to two quality runs per week, the rest are easy runs.
  3. Easy runs are just that – easy. Maintain a conversational pace.
  4. Quality Run 1 (Q1): your long run. Distance is based on a percentage of your weekly mileage. In short, 25 percent early season and it bumps up to 33 percent by late season.
  5. Quality Run 2 (Q2): speed work, or a mini long run. Skip Q2 every fourth week.
  6. Try to do one trail run per week.
  7. Run hills – up and down – during your easy and long runs. Run hills in Q2 if the workout dictates it.
  8. Get a good base weekly mileage down, and increase it slowly.
  9. Run races other than your peak race throughout your season.
  10. Don't just run.
  11. Taper.
 Breaking that all down.

As with everything, the devil is in the details. These details mostly arise in choosing what speed work to do. As a primer, let me preface the following with this: I follow Dr. Jack Daniels’s philosophy of breaking a season down into four phases: Base, early quality, transitional quality, and final quality.

Each phase has its own goals throughout the season. The base is designed to build strength and prevent injuries down the road. Early quality is designed to introduce some faster running into the program by doing fast repetition-pace work and some cruise-type intervals. Transitional Quality, the third phase, is the hardest of the four, and the workouts are designed to be specific to the peak race of the season. The last phase, Final Quality, focuses on training in actual race conditions and includes a taper.  

Dr. Daniels puts these phases in four six-week blocks to make a 24-week, with the first phase lasting as long as possible and thus possibly extending the season beyond 24 weeks.

The following summarizes my training plan, with references to the numbered points above.

1.         Run six or seven days per week.

To adequately train for Sawtooth, you need to run a sufficient amount of miles to build your endurance. Miles equates to time on your feet, and at a certain point you must run more and more days per week to meet those mileage goals. So run six or seven days per week. Take a rest day here and there if you need it, or just get out for a 30 minute jaunt.

2.         Easy runs, quality runs, and how to split up your week.

Now that you’re running six or seven days per week, you need to determine what you’re going to do when.

Quality runs are those which are designed to develop that which is of most importance based on where you are in your season. These runs are generally more structured, with a defined warm-up, workout with specific paces and distances, and then a defined cooldown.

So how to break up the week? Start by filling in when you’re going to run Q1 and Q2. The rest of the days are easy or rest days. Because Q1 is your long run and will take up the most time of any of your workouts throughout the week, most runners do this on a weekend morning. Leave at least two days between Q1 and Q2 workouts. Voila – you have a week (and a season) schedule. 

Getting a set schedule is important to me and maybe for you. Last year, I didn’t have a set schedule and sluffed off 95 percent-plus of my planned Q2 workouts. Missing one led to missing another, lather, rinse, repeat until they are just skipped all together. Discipline is key – start early, and stick with it.

3.         Your easy runs

Your easy runs fill out the bulk of your week, and also the bulk of your mileage. Easy runs are used to build endurance, recover from harder runs, and otherwise build of  base from which all subsequent runs will flow. Their pace is conversational. Easy runs are the default – when in doubt, run at an easy pace.

There are two schools of thought on how to get in your weekly easy mileage, especially when the mileage gets up there: singles, or doubles. I don’t think it matters which one you do so long as you’re consistent about it. I have heard that if you’re going to run doubles, do it three or four times per week (although I can’t find the link telling that anecdote).

4.         The long run.

This is your Q1 workout, every week, week and week out. It is your most important run of the week and if you do nothing else, do your long run. Much has been written on the importance of the long run (e.g. here) that I won’t belabor it here. It is sufficient to say that you need it, and you will severely hamper your chances of finishing if you don’t do it.

Your mileage is determined by where you are in your phases. The benchmark for a long run is 25 to 33 percent of your weekly mileage. Weekly mileage and the long run’s percentage are generally inversely proportional i.e. the less weekly mileage, the more percent of that mileage will be comprised of your long run.

Because as you go through the season your priorities change, early season long runs – phase 2, or Early Quality – are 25 percent. The Transitional Quality phase – TQ – are more demanding, but the emphasis is elsewhere, so the mileage is bumped up to a semi-arbitrary 29 percent. Lastly, in the Final Quality phase, FQ, the emphasis is on long runs, so the percentage is raised to the highest bar, 33 percent or one third.

5.         The second quality run.

Each week, except recovery weeks, do a second quality workout. This is were the most variation comes in, and it is where you as a runner need to determine what you need. Because I follow Dr. Daniel’s season approach, I rotate my Q2 runs based on what areas need to be emphasized during a particular phase. Dr. Daniels conveniently has a chart – one of many – to illustrate this.

During the Early Quality phase, the focus is on repetition-pace running and short lactate-threshold runs. Cruise intervals – if any – are short, no more than 20 minutes at a time. These types of runs do exactly what the EQ phase is for: build mechanics and introduce some faster running to prep for the next phase.

During the Transitional Quality phase – again, the hardest phase – the focus shifts to long threshold runs and marathon-pace running. These are the most important workouts because they teach the body to handle being stressed for long periods of time while building endurance and power for the final phase.

Lastly, the Final Quality phase moves to racing specific conditions. The emphasis here is long, slow distance and hill running (even though hills are incorporated into the easy-pace runs) and trail runs.

Incorporated into each phase is a back-to-back or back-to-back-to-back long runs. I have explained these at length here. Working backward from Sawtooth, I am running one every six weeks.

6.         Try to get in a trail run.

Sawtooth is a trail run, al beit an extreme example of one. Trail running and road running require a different set of muscles and each stresses the body in different ways. The effort required to run an 8-minute mile is vastly less than the effort required to run the same pace on a trail with the same elevation gain/loss.

To that end, unless you live in a place like Boulder where Tony Krupicka and Co. can run up Green Mountain (almost) every single day, you’re going to need to make time to get out on a trail and develop the skills. Learn to handle a technical, rocky downhill. Dodge rocks, watch your foot placement, and take three steps when you have the option to take one or two. Walk the up hills, pound the descents, and understand the effort it takes to run on a trail.

Now, when you run on a trail, keep track of your effort by monitoring a couple variables. Time is likely most important because mileage and pace are more or less irrelevant for the reasons discussed above. Effort is important there, as is elevation gain and loss. The latter is less so if you’re not running mountains.

7.         Run up – and down – hills.

Hill running is so important in ultras that I have focused my training this year to include it on a daily basis . Again, much has been written about this subject: here, e.g. and the vast majority of runners who drop out of Western States do so because of blown quads.

I happen to live in the valley of the Minnesota River, and that means everywhere around me are easily-accessible hills that lead out of said valley. These hills provide everything from short, steep bursts to long and shallow descents. Some are long and steep, and I have made friends with their inclines.

8.         Develop a solid base from which to build.

A final point on this. For the most part, I didn’t run in high school over summer. When I hit cross country season, I can in on green legs and wasn’t ready for the 1,000 meter threshold repeats or other workouts that coach had planned for us. I did them, sure, but they weren’t nearly as fast as they should be and didn’t give me maximum benefit.

This year, my base building is going to be about four months long – November 2011 through the first full week of March 2012. Not a terribly long time, but long enough to get a good 500 or so miles in prior to beginning some reps come the second full week of March.

9.         Run other races.

Run races other than your peak race. The feel of racing, especially when you are being competitive with the clock, another runner, or your own time goal, changes how you run and what you do on that run. The pace is different, the feel is different, and these are all things that need to be trained.

A final note on hydration and food: non-peak races are where you can pin down what you need for hydration and food for your peak race. The earlier this gets sorted out the better – you don’t want to by trying something new on race day and have it (or your stomach or intestinal tract) blow up because you didn’t know how you’d react to it.

10.       Don't just run.

This year, I am re-dedicating myself to do some other strength-training-type items pre- and post-run. These are designed to strengthen essential muscle groups. A couple of examples:
11.       Taper, and don’t go crazy doing it.

Tapering is the act of peaking your training a period of time prior to your goal race and the running less and resting more so you will be fully prepared for that goal race. I have heard that it takes three weeks for a workout to realize its full benefit, so I like a three week taper.

In taper, I cut back my mileage and run less. That doesn’t mean run less days, just less duration and intensity. You’ll get jittery, especially if you’re accustomed to running twice each day. You’ll want to get out and run when you shouldn’t. Whatever you do, don’t. This is a planned rest, so enjoy it.

A closing note

If you’ve read all that, now read see the whole plan, gory details and all, complete with weekly workouts, monthly totals, and rolling averages. Let me know what you think.

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