Sunday, April 21, 2013

How I am Achieving New Levels of Speed in Running This Spring With Less Effort - And Race Report

So let's start with a quick recap of last weekends Credit Union Lung Run in Halifax. This is a 5K quite flat course that is great for setting PB's. Not quite as good as a track event due to the many corners, but for a road race that isn't out and back, very nice. Needless to say it gets quite packed at close to 700 runners/walkers.

My first "A" race goal this Spring had been to run a sub 19 minute 5K at this event, with the work I did here carrying on to the basis for my half marathon and that leading to a marathon. To get to this point I took part in a program called Running Economy 201 which I will explain in a bit. How did I do?

Well it was a snowy wet morning that luckily turned into a damp misty but clear afternoon for a race. I set a goal of running the first half of the race on a sub 3:40 km/min pace which would have put me just around the 18:30 mark. That should have allowed me a good buffer zone for getting a sub 19 min run. We set off, I found my pace around the 3:30 mark for the first km and basically held that as best I could. The hardest part of the race was nearing the end when it switched a very curvy wooden boardwalk. Not only was it curvy but it was very slippery. Still, my pace was good. As I approached the last 500 meters, I looked to see my time was getting close so I found every last little bit of speed I could and ran across the line at 18:26 for a 3:41 min/km pace. The best race so far this Spring for me and just what I wanted. But the most exciting part? Normally that effort level would have meant I was limping around for days afterward and done for the day at least. Instead I recovered within minutes of the run, did a 7.5 km easy recovery run the next day and 27 km run the day after. How you ask?

So back in January Luke at Aerobics First mentioned that he and some others were forming a group called Running Economy 201. This was going to be a program designed to take runners (new / old / novice / veteran) to the next level. The philosophy is that through proper equipment, training and exercises you can become the best runner that you were designed to be. And to this end they declared that if you followed the program, after  8 weeks you would run your best (recent) 5km race. All this would be achieved through a program designed around running to your heart rate zones.

First off, I spent 2 days getting assessed. My choice of shoes, my running gait, my running cadence, a full physio assessment to find muscle imbalances, and full health workup including body fat, resting bp/hr, etc.... It was full time and was capped off with a Blood Lactate test and Maximum Heart Rate test. From all this information I was given a binder full of useful stuff. Exercises to address muscles weakness, exercises for warming up prior to runs, and most important the Heart Rate Training Zones. These Zones would dictate how fast I was to run, not some arbitrary pace number.

A quick run down of the Zones is: Zone 1 - Active recovery / warmup / cooldown and fat burning. Zone 2 - Aerobic Threshold,  fat burning and the main zone used to build endurance. Zone 3 - the odd zone between fat and carb burning. Often used in races, but as a training tool minimum benefits. Zone 4 - Anaerobic Threshold, full carb burning, used to help you build endurance at speed. Zone 5 - speed / hill work zone. This zone promotes strength, speed and power. Basically this zone hurts and the work done here is hard and fast but also short. Which is the same as Zone 6, though zone 6 is all out maximum effort (you know Usain Bolt territory). Okay that is a really brief run down - want to know more? Contact Jeff @ Kinesic Sports Lab .  My personal zones were interesting. They showed, as Jeff had suspected, that most of my training had been done in Zone 3. And Zone 3 brings with it a host of potential issues, including higher risk of injury, which I certainly had seen my fair share of. My Zone 3 had a huge heart rate range, which meant as Jeff told me, that I would have to learn to run really slow and really fast to compensate for it and retrain my body.

My training program has consisted of 80-85% Zone 2 training with one day a week devoted to Zone 4 (or the Tempo run) and one day devoted to some form of Zone 5/6 training to develop top end speed and help push that Anaerobic barrier further up.

In the beginning, wow, I had to run so slow. Some 40 second a kilometer slower than my usual slow run. And even my "fast" runs were slow. But what I noticed was that I came home from my workouts feeling good, not burned out. And as the weeks progressed, the feeling of ease remained along with easy recovery, but the speeds started to grow. Eventually within 4-5 weeks I was running my usual paces again, just without being tired or worn out. And I also wasn't getting injured.

So by the end of that my training, I had one 5 km race win (see the last blog post) and a PB by over 40 seconds in another 5 km run. All without getting burned out or injured and all while growing my weekly running distance to (for me) the unimaginable amount of over 60 kms a week. And I still run and swim every week as well.

And just yesterday I went back to the great and mighty Jeff Zahavich and got retested to see how the training program has been treating me. Much to our mutual excitement, I made huge gains. My lactate threshold curve showed that my big ole Zone 3 had shrunk right down and overall my ability to run at much faster paces while staying in Zone 2 shot up. When I was first tested my Zone 2 was in the 5.4 - 6.2 mph range. After training my Zone speed tested at the 7.9 - 8.3 mph range. And it felt easy. And that is the general range you want to race marathons in, which will be coming up for me later this summer.

Next up for me is the Bluenose Half and I am really looking forward to it. I am also so excited about finally learning how this whole Zone training thing works and sticking to it. If you are at all serious about running and want a good long and healthy go of it, seriously check out either the Running Economy  program or the Kinesic Sports Lab with Jeff Zahavich. Chat with Luke at A1, he has also seen huge strides since jumping into the program including great weight loss, and my wife set her personal best 5 k run as well following it.

I wish I could explain things even better, but there is so much info online and so much more to be had chatting with the Running Economy guys (by the way Mike and Anita Connors are the 2 physical therapists who will find ways to make you strong and better runners from a biomechanical stand point). Chat with Jeff, follow my results and heck chat with me, I swear this is the best thing I have done since I got into running some 5 years ago and I certainly won't look back. I just need to run the speeds that are in me and check my ego at the door.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Other Races Were a Warm Up - Oh and a Race Report

Now it begins, the start of that period of time in the Spring where there seems to be a race or event every weekend. Well at least races that I sign up for. I guess this will be my fourth race of the year but this one I was taking quite seriously.  It is one week prior to my first A race and I wanted to really test to see how my training had been coming along.

Training you say? Well yes. I mean I train every year to some degree or other. And I often try to formulate some sort of training plan to tackle it all. And I almost, sort of, kind of, almost stick to that training scheme. But of course if you have been following me on my Facebook or Twitter feed, you will know that I have been very diligent about seeing what I can achieve this year, and therefore have been following my super special training program. I will get into all of that next week though, as the annual Atlantic Lung Run 5K race will be the culmination of this current training plan. Until then, Zone 2 rules! Okay enough of that.

Okay so this was the next in the series of Mountain Equipment Co-Op community races. They have a great series of races close to town that are inexpensive and minimal, though still timed and with water and bananas at the end! This race was held at the Halifax Citadel Fort, right in the center of town. And it was going to be a hilly crazy cross country adventure. Last year I did the 10K version of this race, but opted for the 5K version this year. 5K? Sure, I have found a love of 5K races. They are fast and they are fun and the speed work is really useful for the running portions of duathlons and triathlons.

For this race the 5K and 10K runners ran together, with the 10K doing 2 laps (well more like 4 laps but you had to be there to see this course). That of course makes things difficult for the 5K racers as you can't really tell who you are racing.  Anyway, it was a great start with a Highlander from the Citadel firing a rifle to send us off.  

Last year I was so bad at pacing (like many years before) and I took off like a bat out of hell (Meatloaf knows about that). This lead to me getting slower and slower as the race progressed and falling from 1st to third to eventually 4th overall. Boo. this year I took off a little easier and slowly built up my pace.

Of course the first big task was a big hill. At the bottom of said hill you turn around and pop right back to the top. I took this as an opportunity to bridge up a little to some of the other runners, passing a few people.

I then settled in to my pace for a bit, trying to make the corner s as straight as possible (and there were many). Then the next hill arrived and I managed to catch up to another runner. We determined that we were both 5 K runners and this sent him picking up his pace a bit. I stayed on his heels, but didn't push things.

Soon we entered the dry moat or ditch surrounding the Fort proper.

My competitor picked up the pace again. But as the ground was quite spongy and full of odd footings, I decided to hold station. Oh and I was really enjoying my choice of shoes at this point. Some nice Vivobare trail shoes. A big thanks to Luke @ Aerobics First for fixing them up to my liking. By the end of the ditch you had to pop up another rather steep hill to get to the main level. I used this as another opportunity to catch back up with my friend.

By the time we headed inside the Fort walls again, I was right on his heels.

So all that was left by this point was to run the ramparts. Strategically I had been watching my young running mate start to lose his form and start to breath rather heavy. But him being quite a bit younger, I was unsure if he still had some more in the tank. But I knew that the ramparts are fairly hard to pass in and begin with another steep climb, this time on gravel. So i went for it and sprinted up the incline.

I dared a look at one point and found out that I had in deed shaken my competitor. He was quite far behind. Then I finally dared to look at my Garmin to see my time. I ran this event in just under 43 minutes last year as the 10K, and I had ran 20:20ish at the first MEC cross country 5K of the year, so I had really hoped with all of my training to be able to squeeze under 20 minutes here. It was afterall a nice day, though it was a course with tons of corners and such steep inclines that I knew I would be setting a personal best). But I saw that at this point I was still sub 19 minutes.

So I picked it up a little more.

 Back down the incline, across the finish line and I ran a 19:25! My Garmin showed the course a tad short at 4.9km so call it a 19:30 5K and I was darn happy. And apparently I was also the winner.

Yes sir. My first running race win on a hard technical and crazy fun 5K course. I reveled in that for a bit, hugged and fist bumped the second place runner, who was rather happy with his finish as well. I was happy to beat a teenager, he was happy to beat a "seasoned" racer. Everyone was happy, you can't beat that.

Thanks to Kevin Besner for the photos.