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Obstacle Course Training: Dichotomy

Now that I have finished my Highland Games training and successfully competed (by successfully, I mean that I finished the competition and suffered no major injuries) I have jumped right into my training plan for the Tough Mudder.  Here's a funny thing about trainers and coaches:  Its actually really hard to stand back and take an objective look at exactly how one should proceed with one's own training plan.  I've successfully trained a number of people for a variety of events with a broad range of goals, but when it comes to myself I have a big blind spot.  Although with my clients I am a big proponent of moderation in training, for myself I tend to want to do way too much, way too often.  So, I turned my training plan over to my friend Dave.

Brian Lopes, one of the top mountain bike racers ever.
Dave is a unique individual in that he was at one time a competitive bike racer on the road, track, and trail.  This requires a lot of dedication, ability to withstand pain, and some superhero genes.  When his career ended due to knee injuries, instead of occupying the couch he went in the opposite direction and began training for strength and now competes in Strongman and Highland Games.  So, if you need to know how to train for endurance or strength, he's a one stop shop.

The first thing he told me about my program was that it was way too much.  "Running is going to be your biggest challenge.  You have to drop back on the strength and just build your base.  Base is your focus right now."  I didn't like this.  Running is easy and I like lifting heavy stuff.  Well, maybe running isn't easy, but its simple.  How can it possibly be that taxing?  The simple fact that I was asking myself this question was evidence that when it comes to myself, all good sense goes out the window.  Running is not easy.  And when you haven't done it regularly in several months and are working up to more distance than you've ever attempted in your life, its incredibly taxing.  Heavy strength training at the same time is almost silly.

I usually just lift, throw, play
 with my kids, and go for long walks.
Here's the deal:  All training has a cost.  The training that has the largest cost is that which requires high volume, high intensity, or skill development.  I used to fuss at recreational runner trainees who wouldn't cut back their running volume when strength training with me.  They could do relatively light weight circuits forever, but they couldn't push the heavier weight.  They would invariably fail to progress over time and with their posterior chain muscles pre-fatigued from a morning run, they would not uncommonly pull a hamstring or back extensor.  They wanted to keep doing their old routine and just add the strength and power training on top of it.  The problem with this is that your body will only adapt to what it can handle and trying to do too much at one time will usually result in plateaus and injuries.  When I managed to convince these clients to cut back on the running, ie, not on the days we lifted, they got stronger.  Funny thing is, most of them were running to stave off the body fat.  Cutting back on running and focusing on heavy lifting got them far leaner than just running alone without having to rely on a starvation diet.  Additionally, their running got easier.

So, now I find myself in the similar, but opposite boat: Not wanting to give up the heavy lifting in order to develop a running base.  So, back to my training plan.  The revisions via Dave involve three relatively long, but low intensity running days.  One day focusing mostly on running form, the other two just gutting out the time.  The time, not the distance is key here.  Endurance, after all, is about work carried out over time.  So, I may not be running that entire time, but I'm moving and focusing on getting the work in.  My goal over the next two months is to work up to running 12-15 miles per week.

It looks like this:
Monday:  Running skill work, 45 minutes, this has taken the form of some agility work and/or hill runs, focusing more on moving correctly than intensity level
Tuesday:  Power cleans and overhead presses
Wednesday:  45 minute run/jog, 3-4 miles
Thursday:  Squats and Pullups
Friday:  45 minute run/jog, 3-4 miles
Saturday:  play, ie lift, throw, run with the kids

Trail running is a lot easier on your joints and for me,
a lot more fun period.  Obstacle course races are generally
through woods and fields so trail running is more specific.
Doesn't look like much does it?  Well, let me tell you that it is a LOT harder than it looks.  The strength work is something I could be much more aggressive with, but with running added in?  Forget about it.  I would preferably run on trails as they are much more forgiving to my joints, but often end up running through my neighborhood on asphalt.  I have had to frequently add in a rest day after my longer runs (3-4 miles) due to workout generated hip pain.  Not to mention, I'm just not used to running for 45 minutes at a time.  Its nothing like doing some sprints or short intervals here and there.  My hips hurt, my shins hurt, and I have a hard time regulating my breathing.

However, as pathetic as I may seem, I am making progress.  I managed to run eight miles this week and I'm going to try and get in nine next week.  I need to make a few changes to continue to progress and they will be as follows:

  • Run more trails, less road.  I have congenital hip dysplasia and the hip pain will keep me from exercising period.  Hard to make progress when you're not doing anything.  If I have to run on the road, I need to warm up on the grass, barefoot, to make sure I'm not changing my running form to accommodate the hard surface.  
  • Use a heart rate monitor.  I have a threshold of effort where I cannot sustain breathing in through my nose.  This is important for regulating my breathing and running up hills can overtax me.  At this early stage, it is more important that I keep my heart rate in the lower zones so I can sustain the longer efforts.  My lower zone is probably somewhere between 120-150 beats per minute, but without a lactate threshold test, I won't know exactly where this is.  Instead, I'm going to simply observe where my heart rate is when I can no longer sustain nose breathing.  This will tell me where my effective heart rate zone is for my base training.  
  • Lastly, I need to be more humble and less hard on myself.  Building a base is hard.  Working up to running 12 miles a week is not easy.  I need to focus on the running and think of it in the same way as I do my lifting.  I need to learn to like it, or at the very least not hate it so very much.  

So, in conclusion, I am not as good at endurance as I'd like to be and in order to get better I need to change a few things.  I need to change my training tools/environment, keep better track of my efforts, and be patient.  Precisely the advice I'd give anyone struggling to improve their efforts in the weight room.  Funny how the universal truths tend to apply at both ends of the spectrum.

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