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.

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