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Hill training for a faster half marathon

The half marathon is run at a pace just below the lactate threshold. It requires more restraint than a 10K but more aggressiveness than a trail ultramarathon. It’s a delicate balance that needs to be practised in training to prepare both mind and body.

Hill training is so important when training for any race distance.  If your race route is fairly flat then using hills in your training will make your race day experience so much easier and enjoyable.

Here are three types of hill workout to incorporate into your half marathon training plan.

Why does hill training work?

Hills increase the difficulty or the intensity of a workout. Climbing a hill increases heart rate, which improves both your aerobic and your anaerobic capacity. So, can be used to vary the workout intensity kind of like speed-work, but without the actual speed.

Hill Sprints

This hill sprinting workout is a training run that doesn’t change much as your goal race distance changes. The purpose of this high intensity workout is to build your running strength, power and speed. Your pace for this workout should be at nearly all out pace and will be anaerobic. The goal is to maximise your strength and power gains rather than improve endurance so the workout can be used for all distances from the mile to the marathon.

Workout: Run 10 repeats of about 150 meters up a steep hill of 10% to 15% elevation. Run at the fastest pace you can maintain for the repeat.

Pace: As fast as you can maintain on each repeat.

Recover: Recover by walking or running at a very easy pace down the hill after each repeat. As soon as you reach your starting point, turn around and begin your next repeat.

Hill Power Runs

For this half marathon hill training you will need to find a hill that is around 400 meters in length and with a moderate to steep elevation of around 10% incline.

Workout: Run 4 to 10 repeats of 400 meters up a moderate to steep hill. Concentrate on maintaining a strong steady pace throughout this hill climb.

Pace: Maintain a pace that is a bit faster than your current half marathon race pace.

Recover: Recover by walking or jogging down the hill at an easy pace. Begin your next repeat as soon as you reach your starting point.

Hill Lactate Builders

This hill workout is not only a great half marathon specific workout but it is also an excellent training run to build and improve your lactate threshold.

Workout: Run four to eight 800 metre hill repeats up a moderate to steep hill of between 8% and 12% elevation.

Pace: Maintain a pace that is a bit faster than your current half marathon race pace.

Recover: Recover by jogging down the hill at an easy pace. Turn around when you reach the bottom of the hill and begin your next repeat.

Good luck

I hope this helps your achieve your half marathon training goals.  Please leave your thoughts or questions in the comments section.  If you use these workouts, please let me know.  Or of you have a favourite hill workout,  please comment below.

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How to make more time for running

When training for a long distance running event (anything over half marathon distance), you’ll quickly discover that it can be a very time consuming hobby. Especially if you get into trail ultramarathons, you’ll find that a good portion of most weekends can be consumed by running about your nearby hills. Here I’ll share my tips for maximising your training time and making sure you have a little left over for resting.

Commute

If it’s practical, run to work. If it’s too far, run part of the way. There are plenty of resources on the internet with advice for commuting. I’m lucky enough to live 17km from work, which is a manageable distance to make commuting practical.

Do more, shorter runs

Maybe you can only manage smaller windows of time. It’s probably easier to squeeze in two 30 minute runs than it is to do a 1 hour run. You could do an early morning run and an after work run, or maybe a run in your lunch break and a run after work. If you can do two 5K runs per day, that’s 70K per week. That’s a great baseline for most ultra distance events.

Treadmill (or run at night)

I can hear you groaning, but if you run out of daylight, consider adding in a treadmill run, or run at night. I like to do a 30 minute lunch run and a 30 minute treadmill in the evening.

Work less

Whoa. That sounds pretty crazy, but negotiating this type of thing with your employer is probably not as hard as you might think. You could cut back your hours to 4 days per week, on a temporary basis. The pay difference probably won’t break the bank.

Let me know if these tips were helpful. How do you squeeze ultramarathon training into your daily schedule? If you have any questions or anything to add, fell free to leave a comment below.

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The benefits of running at night and how to do it safely

Running at night is sometimes necessitated by life filling up the daylight hours.  It can also be a lot of fun, either with others or by yourself (if the silence and darkness don’t freak you out).  Here are some of the benefits and challenges of running at night.

Benefits

Here are some of the benefits of running at night.

The heat

Especially in the Australian summer, running during the heat of the day can be foolhardy.  Unless you’re training for the Badwater 135, of course.  Running after sunset, the atmosphere is cooler and more relaxed.  If you’re running on roads, there’s generally less traffic, and if you’re running on trails, the wildlife emerge from their hidey holes and begin their nocturnal activities.

Your health

It’s often assumed that working out or running at night causes the release of endorphins and other stimulants which prevent the body from feeling sleepy. However, research suggests that people who engage in physical activity before bedtime, achieve better sleep[1][2].

Sunrise or sunset

For mo, seeing a sunrise or sunset never gets old.  Why not time your run to take in one of nature’s gorgeous displays?  Sunsets are awesome, but there’s something even more magical about getting out while it’s still dark and witnessing the beginning of a new day while most people are still asleep.

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Nocturnal animals

Particularly in Australia, a lot of our larger animals are nocturnal and they’re particularly active around dawn and dusk.  Encountering kangaroos and koalas is quite common, even near urban areas.  If you’re lucky, you can also see echidnas, emus, possums, owls, and many more.  In fact, the list could be an article by itself.

Safety

We’ve covered the fun stuff.  Now a few tips for staying safe while running at night.

Run toward traffic

If you’re running near roads, run toward oncoming traffic so you can see what the cars closest to you are doing.  Keep in mind that they might no be able to see you even though you can see them.

Lights and reflective clothing

If you’re running on trails, you’ll need some sort of light source.  The brighter, the better for avoiding obstacles.

If you’re running on roads, the streetlights are probably bright enough that you can see where you’re going but you need to ensure that you can be seen by other road users.  Reflective clothing should do the trick, but there’s no harm in taking a headlamp too.

Pull out the earbuds

People listen to music while trail running? Are you sure?

If you normally listen to music while running, give it a miss at night.  That’s just an accident waiting to happen.

Eye protection

You may not be able to see branches at head height.  A cap and clear glasses should avoid any foreign objects stabbing you in the eyeballs.

ID

In the event of something unfortunate happening, having some form of ID on you is going to be helpful.  Consider something like a Road ID.  If you wear it all the time, you won’t forget to bring it on your run.

References

[1] Sherrill DL, Kotchou K, Quan SF. Association of Physical Activity and Human Sleep Disorders. Arch Intern Med. 1998;158(17):1894–1898. doi:10.1001/archinte.158.17.1894

[2] Kredlow, M.A., Capozzoli, M.C., Hearon, B.A. et al. J Behav Med (2015) 38: 427. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-015-9617-6

Do you run at night?  Do you have any tips to add? Let me know in the comments.

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Tips for downhill running

One of the most exhilarating parts of trail running is the rush of the downhill sections, especially the technical single-track. Being able to tackle them with confidence is a trick that takes a bit of practice and some testing of your boundaries. Use these simple tips and you’ll be smashing the downhills in no-time.

Go faster than you think you should

You can actually go faster than your brain wants to let you. Start by increasing your speed and then stopping after 10 seconds or so. Getting comfortable with pulling up quickly will allow you to go faster with more confidence.

Lean forward

Lean forward from the hips, rather than the shoulders. Gravity will pull you downhill. Avoid leaning back and try to focus on keeping your body perpendicular to the ground. As you increase your speed, move your centre of gravity forward. Find your balance. Too far back and you’ll feel like each step is like putting the brakes on. Too far forward and you’ll feel like you’re about to land on your face.

Use your arms for balance

Since gravity is taking care of your general motion (roughly downward), it’s the sideways control you need to worry about. Professional trail runners fail their arms all over the place in order to maintain precise control on fast descents. You can start by lifting your arms out to the side. Once your arms are up, the balancing will come naturally. As you run faster, you’ll flail with greater confidence.

Reduce your stride length

You don’t need as much power on the downhills, but you need control. Reducing your stride length gives you the ability to react faster to changing conditions. Start by cutting your normal stride length in half, and see how it feels.

Look ahead

Despite what your brain keeps telling you, don’t look at your feet. It will take a bit of practice getting comfortable with this. Depending on the terrain, aim to focus about 5m (about 15 feet) in front of you. You’ll see all the same obstacles but you’ll have more time to plan your line.

Reduce ground contact time

Keep ground contact time as short as possible and make the contact as light as possible. As one foot comes down you should already be thinking about the next step. I find this particularly useful on technical descents when you may need to recalculate things at a moment’s notice.

Putting it all together

You can layer all of these steps together to incrementally improve your downhill running technique. Start by going faster, then add the forward lean, for example. Get confident with each layer before moving on to the next. Once you’ve layered all the steps together you’ll find yourself belting down those technical sections like a pro.

Let my know in the comments if you find these tips useful.  If you run at night, do you have any advice that I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know in the comments.

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Trail running videos for your treadmill workout

Running on a treadmill can be a tedious affair.  The tedium can be even more acute for trail runners who are accustomed to enjoying the sensory stimulation of running in nature.  I usually listen to audiobooks if I have to do any treadmill running, but I recently found another alternative.

There are a number of channels on YouTube with videos of people running trails, so you can do your run on a treadmill and watch a first-person view of a beautiful trail run.

I’ve included a few below, but just search for “virtual trail run” and you’ll find plenty more.

Do you have any favourite videos for treadmill running? Post them in the comments.  If you don’t use videos, how do you keep your treadmill workouts interesting?

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Why trail running is the best

Trail running has so many benefits. They’ll be different for everyone, but these are the reasons I think trail running beats all other sports hands down.

Solitude

I’m a pretty introverted guy, so I love nothing more than spending time with my thoughts. Trail running gives me an opportunity to do that and challenge myself at the same time.

Time with nature

Being able to throw off the shackles of urban life from time to time is one of the main selling points of trail running for me. I’m lucky to live about 5 minutes from a beautiful little section of hilly bushland with plenty of trails.

Exploring new places

One of the greatest joys of trail running is exploring new places in intimate detail.

It’s not flat

This is probably the main reason why some people hate trail running, but hills are just misunderstood and want to be loved. They can be an opportunity to take a bit of a breather. They can also be an opportunity to really test yourself. And that’s just going up. Once you’ve put in the effort to get to the top, you can enjoy the freedom of flying down.

Why do you love trail running? Let me know in the comments.

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The science of a plant based diet

The “plant based” diet is all the rage at the moment, but it’s certainly not a new idea. It’s basically the nutrition advice we’ve been ignoring for decades: “Eat more plants and put down those chicken nuggets.”

It’s also basically how humans have eaten for the past 2 million years.  Animals are hard to catch and they get upset if you do catch them. In contrast, plants don’t move around all that much and don’t put up much of a fight.

Here are some reasons to try a plant based diet…

To cut out the junk

A plant based diet is high in “greens, grains and beans” and low in processed or refined foods.  You’ll start to think about what you’re eating and where it comes from.

To improve your fitness

Eating plant-based may help you run faster and longer[1]. You might become stronger and lighter. A surprising number of top ultra runners eat plant-based or vegan.

To lose weight

A plant based diet may help with weight loss[2]. When most of your meals are based on vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes, it’s actually quite hard to eat too many calories. It’s possible to eat too much on a plant-based diet, but it’s harder.

To improve your food knowledge

You’ll start to learn about the origin of your food, what it’s made of, and how to tweak your favourite dishes to make them more healthy. Almost any dish can be made plant-based.

To improve your health

A plant-based diet has been found to reduce total and LDL cholesterol, with further evidence that shifting plant protein consumption to more than 50% of total protein intake may lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, although further clinical research was recommended.[3][4] A diet high in fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and colorectal cancer.[5][6]

References

[1] Venderley, A.M. & Campbell, W.W. Sports Med (2006) 36: 293. doi:10.2165/00007256-200636040-00002

[2] Barnard, ND; Levin, SM; Yokoyama, Y (June 2015). “A systematic review and meta-analysis of changes in body weight in clinical trials of vegetarian diets”. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics115 (6): 954–69.

[3] Li, S. S; Blanco Mejia, S; Lytvyn, L; Stewart, S. E; Viguiliouk, E; Ha, V; De Souza, R. J; Leiter, L. A; Kendall, C. W; Jenkins, D. J; Sievenpiper, J. L (2017). “Effect of Plant Protein on Blood Lipids: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials”Journal of the American Heart Association6 (12): e006659. doi:10.1161/JAHA.117.006659PMC 5779002PMID 29263032.

[4] Yokoyama, Yoko; Levin, Susan M; Barnard, Neal D (2017). “Association between plant-based diets and plasma lipids: A systematic review and meta-analysis”. Nutrition Reviews75(9): 683. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nux030PMID 28938794.

[5] Boeing, H; Bechthold, A; Bub, A; Ellinger, S; Haller, D; Kroke, A; Leschik-Bonnet, E; Müller, MJ; Oberritter, H; Schulze, M; Stehle, P; Watzl, B (September 2012). “Critical review: vegetables and fruit in the prevention of chronic diseases”European Journal of Nutrition51 (6): 637–63. doi:10.1007/s00394-012-0380-yPMC 3419346PMID 22684631.

[6] Steck, S. E.; Guinter, M; Zheng, J; Thomson, C. A. (2015). “Index-based dietary patterns and colorectal cancer risk: A systematic review”Advances in Nutrition6 (6): 763–73. doi:10.3945/an.115.009746PMC 4642428PMID 26567200.

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The science of barefoot running

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about barefoot running. Maybe you’ve read some articles about it, or maybe you’ve seen someone running around in a pair of weird looking shoes with toes.

So, what’s the big deal about? Why is it so popular to run barefoot or in minimalist footwear? Is there any science behind this trend?

History

Obviously, before shoes were invented, barefoot running was the only type of running, so it’s not a new idea.  In fact, running shoes are quite a recent invention.  The first running shoes showed up about 200 years ago but things only really started to pick up in the 1970s.  Here’s a nice history of running shoes.

The problem

Apparently all this running about has been causing us injuries, and some people suggested that maybe these highly cushioned shoes are actually causing us problems rather than protecting us.  It all got a little bit out of hand when Christopher McDougall wrote his book, Born To Run and the barefoot craze took off based on a health claim without a whole lot of science to back it up.

The conclusion

There hasn’t been a huge amount of compelling research, and nothing particularly conclusive.  The latest findings seem to suggest that footwear has very little impact on performance or injury prevention.