by Steve Crowder
Over the course of a year, training is bound to have its ups and downs, with some weeks and months better than others. You can generally count on a month or two each year where something happens and you wind up totaling fewer miles than desired. It could be an injury, whether minor or major, life getting in the way, or any number of other things, but rarely does everything go precisely according to plan for any extended period of time. In golf terms, every now and then you just have to take a mulligan.
For me, January was definitely a mulligan. After a fairly lackluster end to 2013, I was excited to buckle down and really get after it to start the New Year. I was motivated and had my sights set on running a couple indoor track meets, hopefully culminating with a good performance in the 3k at the USATF Southeast Masters Indoor Championships in Winston Salem, NC, in early March. I was ready to go!
Things went basically according to plan for the first few days of the year, then the first mishap of the month occurred just five days in when I was forced to shorten my long run to only three miles thanks to an ice storm. Little did I know this would be a sign of things to come. The next week was solid, 68 miles with some good workouts, and I felt like I was on the right track. That’s when the wheels came off, however. After a few days of feeling “off,” I got sick and missed a full week of running. Already behind where I wanted and needed to be, that was pretty much that, not only for getting the year off to a great start, but also for having any sort of an indoor track season.
While I finally seem to be mostly recovered from being sick (it’s taken a while!), it looks like I’ll total less than 200 miles for the month of January with only a handful of workouts in the mix. Definitely not what I was looking for, but now I can do one of two things. I can sit back and feel sorry for myself, or I can refocus and do my best to make up for lost time. For me, the former is not really an option, so I’ll look to do the latter. I’ll have to be smart about it though, because trying to play catch-up is something athletes try to do all too often and is usually not a good idea. That said, I don’t really plan to have a surge in my training, per se, more just a return to what I should be doing and a focus on making sure I do all the little things so as to maximize the effects of the work I’m putting in.
Hopefully your 2014 is off to a better start than mine. However, if it’s not, there’s still 11 months remaining in the year to do something about it, and even the start of the spring racing season is still quite a ways off, so whatever goals were set at the beginning of the year should definitely still be attainable. Here’s to getting to work and making things happen!
by Ed Shepherd
So the Arctic blast is dropping temperatures in the U.S. to lows not seen in years but you still have to train. When the temperature drops, there is no reason for your training to drop as well. There is always a way to get your base training in no matter what the weather is like outside... you just have to be mentally prepared and push on in spite of Mother Nature mocking you. Yes, it is hard, painful, and downright unpleasant at times but that's what makes you a winner! Winners do what others are not willing to do... not because they want to do it, but because they want to win!
I have had quite a few conversations over the last two weeks about training and preparing and progress. Even though all of these conversations are in regards to only one aspect of the whole picture, the common thread within them all has to do with a certain mentality. A winner looks at the day’s workouts and knows they must be done with no regard to what the weather is. If you can learn to cope with the weather and train outside no matter what, then you are already one step ahead of your competition. If you can't get outside, but you are willing to do those miles on the treadmill, or bike trainer anyway, no matter how mind-numbing it may be, then you are one step ahead of your competition.
If YOU are willing to do what it takes to be a winner no matter how hard it is today, then tomorrow you will be better for it. It is up to you to fight the voices in your head telling you not to get up early for that 4:30AM workout. It is up to you to do the hard part of the workouts when no one else is around to push you. It is up to you to dance with Mother Nature no matter what. It is up to you to hold yourself accountable and be honest with yourself no matter what you tell your coach or training partner or whoever else it is that you talk about training with. Because at the end of the day... Today is what will make you better tomorrow!
by Ed Shepherd
Welcome to the 2014 race season. You may not have a race for several more months, but what you do now will determine how well you do later. Yes... like everyone else you are working out. You are swimming, running, biking, weight lifting, cross-training or whatever it is you are doing right now in order to prepare. But my question to you is Prepare for What?
I talk with a lot of athletes that do a lot of working out and work really hard, but come race day all of their hard work seems to not pay off. The reason in most cases is due to a lack of planning that leads to more purposeful training. All athletes know how to workout, but not a lot of athletes know how to train. There is a difference. Workouts are something that can be done by anyone... Training is a workout that has a purpose not just for that day but is part of a bigger plan set in motion in order to reach a goal. By setting concrete goals for your race season you can then start making real plans on how to achieve that goal. After you make plans now comes the hard part of doing the right work to achieve the goal no matter how hard it may seem. Remember your goal is bigger than just one workout and the payoff will be worth doing the right work no matter how much you dislike it. By sticking to your plan to reach your goal you will be more satisfied with your outcome. I am not saying that you will necessarily even achieve your whole goal, but what I am saying is you will be a much better athlete no matter what the outcome is.
Now is the time for you to get your goal on paper, make your plan, and start believing in your ability. The reason why most people never reach their goal is because they don't take the time early on to define it. Even worse, those that do take the time don't take their goals seriously or don't view them as absolutely achievable. Winners can tell you about their goals because it is all they think about... actually obsess about. They love to talk about it- where they are going, how they are going to get there, and what they plan on doing each day along the way. The constant talking about their goals is not so much a cockiness, but a repeated mindset that is done to remind themselves why they are doing all of this hard work in the first place. The same should go for you as well. Set a goal and keep it stuck in your head as more than just a dream, but rather more like a future reality to get excited about. You don't have to have a goal of winning a national championship. It just has to be something that is meaningful to you, such as placing in your age group in a race you enjoyed doing last year.
If you are looking for help on putting all of this into play there are tons of books, internet sites, and articles available to help you. Through the power of Google and some key word searches you can find just about anything. There are tons of resources available if you are willing to seek them out. I personally use "The Triathlete's Training Bible" by Joe Friel as well as have coaches to help me with my running and swimming. Setting goals is so important you should use any available resources you can in order to try your best to get it right. By getting a goal and sticking with your plan to achieve it you will have a great 2014 season!
by Steve Crowder
There are a couple of “Mo’s” when it comes to sports. Specifically I’m referring to Motivation and Momentum, and for me, the two are very much tied together. When my motivation is high, I tend to build momentum, or the other can be true as well, and when I start to build momentum, my motivation increases. Regardless, in order to train and race well, I need both going in the right direction, and if they aren’t, then my performance suffers.
Recently I felt like I had some momentum building with my training, but for various reasons, I lost my motivation. I had a lot going on at work along with the added distraction of the Holiday season, and the next thing I knew I found myself not looking forward to runs and more or less just going through the motions. As a result, that momentum I was building with my training went by the wayside and instead of feeling a little fitter each day I felt like I was losing ground. That snowballed further into me questioning whether or not I still had what it takes to compete at a high level and whether or not I even wanted to, and the more I thought about that, the worse I felt in my daily runs.
I definitely think I had some burnout issues going, some of which were physical, but I think a lot of my problem was as much mental as anything. I lost motivation, which led to a loss of momentum, which led to a further loss of motivation. It’s basically a downward spiral that’s pretty easy to get into, especially for someone who tends to be somewhat pessimistic like myself. Negative thoughts lead to negative self-talk which leads to negative performance.
I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I am one to set goals, and one goal I have for myself for this coming year is to be a lot more positive with my thoughts in training and racing. Far too often I tend to think more along the lines of “I really don’t feel good today so this workout probably isn’t going to go well” or “I’m hurting way too much and way too early to be able to hold this pace” and that leads to a negative self-fulfilling prophesy. Too often I think “I’m too old for this” rather than “I’m doing pretty darn good for an ‘old’ man!” As a result, I lose those all-important “Mo’s” and don’t get the best my body has to offer.
So, if you’re like me, and tend to be very positive and encouraging to others but sometimes do the exact opposite with your own self, set a goal to make a change this coming year. Instead of coming up with reasons why you can’t, come up with reasons why you WILL. When negative thoughts crop up, refuse to listen and instead give yourself a pep talk. It might seem silly at first, but I think you’ll find your motivation will increase, and as that motivation increases, so will momentum. The next thing you know, you’ll be on track for a breakthrough season. Here’s to lots of “Mo” in 2014!
by Steve Crowder
Looking back at this past year, I have mixed feelings. As a whole, it wasn’t a bad year. I wound up totaling 3,428 miles, which is my highest total since 2005 when I exceeded 3,700, and that’s coming off 3,319 miles last year, which was my previous high since 2007. In other words, I’ve been pretty consistent the past two years, and that’s a good thing. Additionally, I managed to run 16:29 for 5k, 22:06 for 4 miles, and 35:04 for 10k this past year, which is the fastest I’ve run since 2010 when I experienced the double Jones fractures that nearly ended my running career altogether. While I don’t necessarily like to get into this, when you enter those times into an age-grading calculator they translate out to 15:35, 20:53, and 33:08 respectively, which are all well off my lifetime bests but still not too shabby. Finally, I won quite a few races this past year, pushing my lifetime total to 155 first overall finishes and surpassing my goal of hitting 150.
So that’s the good; now for the bad. Having run an average of almost 3,400 miles per year the past two years with some decent workouts throughout, I would have thought I would have run faster. I was frustrated to not race better than I did in 2012, but I was able to chalk it up to still coming back from injury and needing to build more consistency. I can’t necessarily say that for 2013. Furthermore, there were more times than not in 2013 that I felt like I was struggling. Workouts and everyday runs alike just felt like they took more effort than they should have and I often felt run down and fatigued. My training and race results suffered accordingly.
With that said, the question becomes where to go from here. I could simply write it all off to old age, but I’m not ready to do that. Just this week I was reading an article in Running Times about Tracy Lokken, a lifetime runner who set two PRs in the marathon this year at age 47 with a best of 2:21:34. I also see guys like Kevin Castille, another lifetime runner who ran 28:49 for 10k as a 28 year old then ran 28:53 in 2013 as a 41 year old. While those guys are obviously exceptional, there are countless other 40+ year olds, some of whom I raced and stayed pretty darn close to or even beat in my younger years, who are tearing up the roads and track as Masters. In other words, it CAN be done.
Having been self-coached the past few years and feeling like I was out of ideas, I asked Roanoke College Assistant and RVE Coach Carl Blickle to take me on as a major project this past October. From that point forward, there have been some significant changes to my training. I’ve spent more time on the track the past few months than I had in probably the last couple years combined. I’ve also done workouts that I hadn’t done in years or even ever for that matter, things involving the recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibers and the development of running economy. Finally, I’ve started doing drills, a general strength routine, and core work, which are all things I’d basically neglected in the past. One thing I’ve learned is the older you get the more you have to cover all your bases and stay on top of everything. If you neglect even one aspect of training, whether it be speed, endurance, stretching, or whatever, you pay a much bigger price for it than when you were younger. Also, consistency becomes even more important as well. If you mess up and miss some time, it takes a lot longer to recover and get back in shape than in your younger years.
All this leaves me excited for 2014. I’ve still been battling a feeling of cumulative fatigue, so that’s something I need to continue to work on finding the root cause of and overcoming, but aside from that, I think I’ve positioned myself for a very successful year to come. I could look at the past couple years as frustrating, but instead I’m going to look at them as having laid the base for the next few years. I’ll put up a post about some of my specific goals in the near future, but in the meantime, here’s to a great 2014!
by Ed Shepherd
Ok... it's time to lift. If you haven't started then now you are behind and it is only the first week of the year. This is the final part of my off-season blog posts on weight training and now it’s time to talk about how much. During one of my fall runs with some of the guys at Roanoke College and with some of my Roanoke Valley Elite team mates, the topic of lifting came up. There is only one thing that I wanted to stress then and that I cannot stress enough now- lift weights like a weight lifter, not an endurance athlete! Give me a chance to explain.
Remember in my first post I stated that weight training is all about muscle fiber recruitment. In order for your body to be signaled to recruit more muscle to do work, it must be stimulated by something heavy. Not so heavy that it is impossible to move, but heavy enough that there is a need to bring on more muscle for the job. So what is enough without being too much? When I set multi-sport athletes up to begin lifting, I start them out with five basic movements- bench press, lat pull down, seated row, squat, and leg press. These are all multi-joint movements designed to hit big muscle groups that also do the majority of the work in competition.
Always begin by doing a warm up set of 15 with very little weight in order to get blood into the muscles you are getting ready to stress. For the first three or four workouts do NO MORE than two sets of no more than ten reps of a weight that is a struggle to get to ten. I begin this way in order to allow your body to adapt to the workload that you are putting your body through without causing soreness. After that, you should move it up to three sets of 6-8 reps on each movement. Remember, your goal is to recruit muscle for the job and this is done at the neuro-muscular level. Weight lifting is not an endurance activity... it is totally done to get a higher level of power output from your muscles to transfer into your endurance activities when you need it. As you work harder in the gym the more of your training efforts will be transferred over and allow you to do more work with less effort in the sports where you need it. I promise, if you stick with it for at least two to three months leading into your season it will pay big gains during your 2014 race season!
by Coach Carl Blickle
Scenario… It is race day; conditions are ideal, competition is perfect, and most importantly you are coming off of a great phase of training and you are more than physically ready to put down a solid performance. As I like to put it, the moons are aligned and it is time to run fast! So you step up to the starting line thinking you are ready to roll, the gun goes off… BANG! Fast forward to the finish, you cross the line in disgust and confusion as you perform WAY under what you were shooting for. We have all been there… What the hell happened?!?!?
Just because you were physically ready to race, doesn’t mean you were mentally ready.
Before addressing this mental issue, let’s look at the mechanism behind muscle fatigue. In relatively simple terms; it is a decline in the ability of the working muscles to generate force at the rate they are currently contracting. As a result our working muscles cross into an anaerobic state (exercise state no longer using oxygen as a fuel source) and consequently have an onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) which results in fatigue. This is commonly referred to as “Heavy Legs”, “Monkey on the Back”, or my personal favorite, “BOOTY LOCK.”
Obviously something we do through training is to try and delay this onset of fatigue. Regardless of your fitness level if you want to reach your potential in a race you are going to experience this “booty lock” phenomenon in the latter part of the race.
So you know the fatigue is coming, how do you prepare for it…
Simply put you need to get mentally tougher! Instead of negative thoughts like “this hurts”, “my legs are gone”, “I feel horrible way too early in this race” you need to EMBRACE THE FATIGUE!
Think… “I can push harder”, “I want it more than him/her”, “Make it hurt!”, or whatever phrase works for you. Recite this phrase during training leading up to the race and visualize yourself pushing through that notorious wall of fatigue.
So next time the “moons align” on race day, instead of being that jittery nervous runner wondering who else is going to show up for the race… You be the one who turns heads as you strut through your warm-up in your cool shades displaying the slightest of grins that says I am ready to MAKE IT HURT today.
Then when that monkey hops of your back during that the ladder phase of the race, you are ready to push through that wall and continue on to that performance you dream of...
by Ed Shepherd
In part one of Lift Heavy Things, I did my best to share with you why you should begin a weight training program during your off-season. Hopefully this helped you make the commitment to head to the gym and get started. But now you realize you have no idea what to do or how long it should take. Remember, as an endurance athlete your goal in the gym is to develop strength to be able to apply more force to the pedals, pavement, or water... that's it. Your training program should focus on the function of the muscle and as such here are a few things for you to consider as you get started:
1) Use Multi-Joint Movements- in order to save time and hit as many muscle groups as possible use big movement exercises. These are three joint movements such as a squat and leg press for lower body or lat pulldown and bench press for upper body. When pressed for time or just starting out, do these four exercises first!
2) Focus on the Muscles that do the Work- Don't go into the gym and start using machines or doing certain free-weight exercises that are not sport specific. You are wasting your time and all of your hard work will not carry over to improve your overall ability in your sport. Think about the biggest muscle that is used to do most of the work. If you are unsure ask a trainer.
3) Copy your Movements- As you are working pay special attention to where you place your feet and hands. Try your best to put them in similar positions to the sports you are training for.
4) Work on Correcting Imbalances- Throughout your season you work hard and push your body to its limits. As such, you train and race through soreness and even minor injury in order to meet your goals. But in doing so your muscles get out of whack just like the tires on your car do over time.
5) Connect your Muscles- It is great to develop the strength of your upper and lower body, but if you do not also develop your core those forces will not get utilized. Your back and abs are your lever point when applying force and if your mid-section resembles a slinky then the forces get absorbed and not transferred into work.
6) Pay Attention to your Time- Your time is valuable so don't spend all day in the gym... maybe an hour to an hour and half at most. Focus on big multi-joint movements to get the best bang for your buck and add in core work. Also, your weight training workouts are a supplement to your winter training endurance workouts... not in addition to. Don't get burned out before the season even begins.
I hope this helps. Don't forget... if you are in the Roanoke Valley, you can start coming to my classes at the Gainsboro or Kirk YMCA in January. If you have any questions for me or are interested in joining me at the YMCA, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Ed Shepherd
It is now getting crazy cold outside and you should be ready to start moving some of your workouts indoors. In my last post I shared with you some ideas for what you could get in to during the off-season. One of those very necessary workouts should be lifting weights. A lot of you don't care much for it, but it is a very important part of building a strong foundation to your 2014 race season.
You may be reluctant to head to the gym in the off season because you are unsure of what machines to use. This may be true, but it is not a good enough excuse to leave weightlifting out of your winter training plan. All good gyms have instructors that can help get you started or if you are in the Roanoke Valley you can start coming to my classes at the Gainsboro or Kirk YMCA in January. The point is, make it happen! Weight lifting is not going to replace your fitness or sport-specific training, but supplement it to (1) improve integrity of joints, (2) correct imbalances, and (3) improve muscular strength to help you sustain a larger workload over time.
A lot of people say they don't want to lift too much weight because they don't want to "bulk up." Well here is a news flash- that will never happen to most of us! As an endurance athlete, you will never be able to lift enough to counter the amount of endurance training you do to cause that to happen.
So why lift at all then? As an athlete, you want to recruit multiple motor units, which means more fibers are firing, causing an increase in force production and strength. As an endurance athlete, you can have a relatively small number of motor units, but with weight training you gain the ability to recruit more of those motor units in order to help with the workload. What this means is you don’t gain more muscle, just recruit all of the units in the muscle you already have! By starting small and working up over the next few months you will be surprised at the gains you will see. All of the hard work in the gym will pay huge benefits when you are standing on the podium!
This is part 1 of a series I will be blogging about for the rest of December on the need to weight train. If you have any questions for me or are interested in joining me at the YMCA in January, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
by Steve Crowder
A week ago last Thursday, I literally hit a bump in the road with my training. As is generally the case this time of year, I was running in the dark when I came upon a stretch of road that had very little lighting whatsoever, preventing me from seeing something that was obviously directly within my path. I’m still not totally sure what I stepped on, but when I hit it, I stumbled for several steps and was barely able to stay upright. I immediately felt some pain in my hip, but I continued on and thought I’d escaped without incident. Around a mile later, however, my left knee started hurting and it got progressively worse throughout the rest of the run. By the time I was able to make my way back, I was in a significant amount of pain, and as I suspected would be the case, it tightened up even more on my ride home, to the point where I was having trouble walking that evening as well as the next day. Not good!
I immediately began treating with ice and anti-inflammatories and also attempted to schedule a chiro visit at Balance Chiropractic the next day. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get in to see anyone on such short notice, but I was able to get an appointment three days later on Monday. By the time my appointment rolled around, I was feeling much better and was basically pain free. I got treatment anyway and was glad I did. In the process of getting some adjustments, Active Release Technique (ART), and deep tissue massage, I found out I had several trouble spots that needed work, including one in my upper calf that likely contributed to the knee issue.
Going back prior to my near fall that Thursday night, my legs weren’t feeling very good anyway. In fact, my upper calf had been tight for a couple of days as had my hamstring, with both those issues being on the left leg, the same one where I injured my knee. I still think the near fall was what caused the knee problem, but I now believe that it was coming on anyway and all I did was push it over the top.
So, the good news is I appear to have dodged a bullet, a scary one too as knee problems can be very difficult to overcome. I wound up with just three days completely off, which I’m looking at as a blessing in disguise at this point in time. I was still recovering from overtraining anyway, and the extra rest probably didn’t hurt anything. Additionally, having something start hurting showed me I need to do a better job with the little things, specifically stretching and core work in addition to getting periodic treatment. Those things are important for everyone, but even more so as you get older. I wasn’t happy about the interruption to my training schedule, especially when the previous couple weeks hadn’t gone that well to begin with, but thankfully this was a gentle reminder before something worse happened. Now I can not only get back to work on the 2014 track season, but I can do it the right way!