So you’ve decided to train for a bigger race. You’ve signed up for a half marathon, full marathon, or maybe even tackling a multi-sport event like a duathlon or triathlon. Regardless of your chosen path, developing a proper training program becomes paramount with longer distances as both your propensity for injury and the demands on your body increase exponentially.
Whether you’re charting your own training plan or have a coach to help guide you, it’s important to know what kinds of workouts exist and how they are beneficial or detrimental to your overall training goals. You can think of types of runs as falling into one of three categories: endurance building, speed building, and recovery.
Think of a car – the long run is going to increase the size of your gastank; it’s how much fuel you can hold and how far you can go on a tank of gas. Speed runs are how efficient your use of the tank of gas is. Of course you want to be a new and clean-burning eco-efficient vehicle who can go miles and miles on a single tank rather than a big trucking gas guzzler that needs to stop twice on a road trip to top up!
Long runs are the bread and butter of endurance athletes. The most surefire way to be sure you can prepare properly for a long event is to always prioritize mileage in the “low and slow” fashion. If you have to miss workouts in a week, really try to not miss this one.
- The long run should make up 20-30% of your total weekly mileage and is usually over 60-90 minutes. They should be done at a pace much slower than your race pace – you should be conversational. The point of these runs is to grow your cardiovascular endurance, improve muscle fibre resistance and breakdown, and improve the efficiency in which your body breaks down fuel. You will need to fuel these runs and always remember to recover well afterwards. These are key to improving fitness.
Speed runs are typically done at tempo pace or as intervals. The primary purpose is to reduce energy expenditure at submaximal exercise through improved sodium and potassium pump activity. In English – fatigue at a given intensity is delayed so you can go faster for longer. There are two main types of speed runs that help develop these pathways:
- Tempo runs: Are done typically at a pace slightly slower than your 5k pace. They are fast, but sustainable. You should be able to hold this pace for 20 minutes, but it should be difficult.
- Interval runs: Are short, intense efforts followed by equal or slightly longer recovery time. The pace should be harder than race pace. The idea here is to maximize cardiovascular efficiency, develop power, good form, and work on mental grit and persistence.
You should NOT be doing more than 2 speed runs per week as they are challenging on the body and require some time to recover from.
Easy or Recovery Runs
- These are exactly what they sound like – shorter to mid-distance runs throughout the week that let you improve blood flow to tired muscles, let you mentally relax and unwind, and improve recovery.
Types of Plans
While there are many approaches to training, they tend to come back to two main philosophies. The first is a combination of speed runs and long runs, while the second focusses on less speed work and longer, slower mileage.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Each plan has its own set of pros and cons – it’s important to consider your goals, experience level, injury status, and time available for training when selecting the plan for you.
Speed-based programs tend to be slightly lower mileage than volume-based programs. This means you can spend less time training during the week getting mileage in. However, some of the workouts will include moderate to high-intensity workouts which are both physically and mentally taxing and – depending on your history – can increase your likelihood of injury as these workouts can require a significant amount of recovery. Doing another hard run too soon after a hard workout can end up being a setback rather than an advantage if the weeks haven’t been planned ideally. Furthermore, it’s been shown that more than two hard speed workouts per week (even for a seasoned veteran runner) is too heavy a training load and ends up decreasing race day performance. If you choose this style of training, it’s important that you have a good sense of your body and can quickly adjust if you sense that you’re getting more fatigued or beginning to risk injury. We usually recommend this style of training for athletes who have been training consistently for at least two years.
Volume-based programs are exactly what they sound like – more mileage, but at lower speeds the majority of the time. The downside with these plans is that you will have to be prepared to spend more time simply being on your feet; the upside is that you can avoid the torturous hard speed workouts if that’s less your jam. There is still risk of injury with these plans, but if mileage is properly progressed, the risk is generally a little bit less. Athletes with less experience looking to tackle big races are often better to stick to this type of plan.
Choosing a Plan
You can sometimes find generalized plans for free online or through different apps. Remember these are just that – generalized plans. If you have a very big goal upcoming though, we tend to suggest something that is catered to you as an individual. You can find these online, or, if you really want to be specific, hiring a coach is always your best bet. This is the best way to have a plan created to your specific needs and goals, and can be adjusted quickly and efficiently if aches or pains begin to go awry.
When choosing a plan or a coach though, be honest with yourself and with them! Don’t overestimate your current times or paces as these will serve as a baseline in which the program is based off of. Overshooting these numbers will immediately increase your chance of getting hurt – trust the process. It’s science, and it works! And above all – remember it’s supposed to be fun. So if you miss a day here or there, don’t fret! As long as you’re generally consistent, results will come. Happy training!
About the Author
Lauren Roberts is a Registered Physiotherapist and Founder of The Running Physio in Toronto. For more information on her team, the clinic, and for more running and endurance sport blogs, visit www.therunningphysio.ca.
Have any plans for December 13th, 2020? If not, you might consider signing up for The Antarctic Ice Marathon – the southernmost marathon in the world! If by any chance you’ve run a marathon on each of the other 6 continents, you might be one of few to join the ‘7 Continents Marathon Club’.
A formidable physical challenge and incredibly unique opportunity, the Antarctic marathon (42.2 km) occurs at the base of the Ellsworth mountains by Union Glacier, Antarctica. It is comprised of conditions including ice, snow, strong winds and an average temperature (with windchill) of -20ºC. The event occurs at an altitude of 700 metres. To get to the site, runners are flown into Union Glacier Camp from Punta Arenas, Chile. The camp is only accessible by air.
The scenery is no doubt indescribable – here’s a photo taken on a recent trip to the Antarctic Peninsula
So what kind of gear do you need for a challenge of this magnitude? Layered clothing, ski goggles, a facemask and trail runners are highly recommended along with feet/hand warmers. To prepare, some experience running on ice is recommended. This might be doable if you live in a country like Canada, but those who live in temperate climates have been known to train in giant industrial freezers! Other methods for preparation include running on a sandy beach (likely a welcome environment before heading to a place like Antarctica).
And of course, here at Altitude Athletic we can help you prepare for any challenge, on any continent. Our endurance classes are ideal for goals involving challenging environments and variable conditions. Read more about our classes here.
Gentoo penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Sadly, there are no penguins there to cheer you on as no penguins live that far south. This is a shame given their undeniable cuteness!
The event record for men was set at the 2019 marathon by William Hafferty of the United States, who ran the race in an impressive 3:34:12! Meanwhile, Lenka Frycova of the Czech Republic dominated the female race with a time of 4:40:38. Last year, competitors came from all over the world, including Canada, France Denmark, China and Japan.
To learn more visit their site at: https://www.icemarathon.com
About the Author:
Jessica Miller is an avid adventurer and scientist. Having been to all 7 continents, she’s no stranger to traveling and is always looking for new expeditions to embark on.
With the colder weather and snow starting to fall, our reaction is often to get on Google and begin the search for warmer winter getaways. While some of us are inclined to kick back on a beach for a couple of weeks and sip margaritas, others are a little more restless and like to take on an adventure trip where they can travel different terrain day-to-day and push boundaries mentally and physically.
Not sure what you’re feeling? We’ve compiled our top 5 list of adventurous destinations based on your preferences for you to dream about while sitting in icy snowstorm traffic.
- For Hikers: The Canadian Rockies. No matter the season, there are incredible hiking trails in Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay National Parks. While more challenging than what’s typical in Ontario, there are both shorter and longer routes that range in technical ability. If you’re a cold weather bear, pack up your snowshoes or cross-country skis and rev up your off-season cardio training by tackling some longer trails for a few hours. Don’t forget the bear spray!
- For Trail Runners: Montenegro. If trail running is your jam, you cannot miss the 1200-mile-long Via Dinarica Trail that runs through six countries from Slovania to Macedonia. The Montenegro portion is arguably the most scenic as it includes both interior and coastal sections. Quickly growing in popularity, this Mediterranean gem is not to miss.
- For History Buffs: Sri Lanka. Recently making its way onto the adventure tourism map, Sri Lanka has been working furiously to improve its infrastructure since the end of the civil war in 2009. This stunning country boasts both road and off-road cycling, whitewater rafting, trail running and hiking, safari trips and surfing. For history buffs, the many ancient ruins and Buddhist temples are perfect destinations for an easier day.
- For Ultra Marathoners: Chile. The Atacama Crossing Ultra Marathon is part of the 4 Deserts series and consists of an unsupported 250 km and 6 stages. If you’re just interested in testing out one segment of the 4 Deserts series (which also includes Gobi March in China, the Sahara Race in Egypt and The Last Desert in Antarctica), this is the part to do. With salt flats, sand dunes, river crossings, packed earth and hard grass, this experience is hard to beat.
- For Cyclists: Morocco. Take on the Sahara in Morocco by bike this winter – Morocco’s pleasant climate through the Canadian winter is a welcome change. One of the most common paths is through the Atlas Mountains to Jebel Sahro with a stop in Marrakech. With a fair amount of climbing, most guided trips are between 7 and 10 days and can accommodate intermediate to advanced riders.
How to Prep for Your Trip.
Remember, your body is great at doing whatever it’s been practicing. If you’re taking on a multi-day trek or tackling a location higher in the mountains, your body is going to need some preparation. We usually recommend giving yourself at least 12 weeks and ideally closer to 16 to allow your heart, lungs, and cardiovascular system to improve efficiency and endurance, and your physical body to improve its strength and resilience to different terrain and to withstand repeated days of activity. It’s important to choose activities at home that closely mimic what you’ll be doing. So for example, if you’re planning on a multi-day hike, you’ll want to be getting out for a few hours on back-to-back days preferably on natural terrain. Alternatively, if you’re going biking in a place that has actual mountains (as opposed to our Ontario “hills”), you’ll want to be doing hill repeats in a place with as big a hill as you can find, or even better hit up a cycling class with a climbing focus. Of course, if you’re travelling to somewhere at altitude, you’ll want to prep your system for performing in conditions with less oxygen as the same amount of work will feel substantially more difficult if you’ve never practiced it before.
Your trip will be much more enjoyable if you’ve properly prepared as you’ll be better equipped to avoid injury and more importantly spend time enjoying your surroundings rather than being so physically taxed that you can’t even lift your head off the handlebars. (Unless, of course, that’s the purpose of your trip!)
Lauren Roberts is a Registered Physiotherapist and Founder of The Running Physio in Toronto. For more information on her team, the clinic, and for more great blog articles, visit www.therunningphysio.ca.
For many of us, the traditional job of 40 hours per week, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm is a thing of the past. If you’re fortunate enough to work at a startup or more flexible spot that has work from home options, it can sometimes be a little easier to fit physical (and mental) breaks into your day. However, there are still plenty of positions and roles that can be much more demanding and require you to be present or at least on-call for well over 40 or 50 hours per week. Hopefully you love your job if this is you – but it can make time for exercise a definite challenge.
We’ve compiled our top hacks to staying healthy when you feel like you’ve got zero time to spare. We all know the benefits of exercise: Improved anxiety and/or depression, improved self-confidence and mood, and a decreased stress response, not to mention improved blood sugar regulation and weight control, but let’s be honest – life can be really, really busy. Here’s how you can make – and keep! – an exercise routine no matter what the weeks throw at you.
Hack #1: Choose your activity based on how you want to feel.
A common mistake that we often make is trying to convince yourself to get into an activity that you…don’t even like. Maybe you read an article about how something like swimming is fantastic for your health. So you head to the pool on a Sunday afternoon and buy a pass. Once you hit the changeroom, you realize that it’s kind of chilly and cold, you forgot your flipflops and the floor is a bit gross, the pool temperature is less than ideal, and the lanes are so crowded you spend your whole time stressing about how fast or how slow you should be going and in what lane you should be in. For a few weeks you force yourself out the door, but the pool still feels cold, and your still getting kicked in the face with people on a busy weekend. Soon enough, your fresh new habit has fallen by the wayside, along with your wet bathing suit and goggles. Because wait, did you ever consider if you even really liked swimming? Especially for those taxed for time, ask yourself, what do I like doing? More importantly – How do I want to feel?
If you’re mega stressed and craving something intense, an instructor-lead cardio workout not only takes your mind off your stresses, but gets you out of your brain and kickstarts your endorphins. Or if you feel exhausted and fatigued, maybe you want to feel more rested. Perhaps try an easy yoga class to ease stress and just get your body moving in positions that are away from the desk. If you’re somewhere in the middle and feeling ambivalent about really anything at all, nothing does the trick better than a brisk walk around the block, even for 15-20 minutes. We all know activity and exercise makes you feel better, but you’re much more likely to stick with it when you can look forward to the thing that you know will do just the trick for you on any given day.
Hack #2: Change it up.
While many of us are self-professed creatures of habit, studies in habit-building psychology and in “sticktoitiveness” have shown time and time again that we’re much more likely to stick with a goal for the long term when we can make small microchanges to it day-to-day and week-to-week. For example, have you ever bought a new pair of running shoes and been really excited to try them out? Your run that day probably felt much more exciting and fun because of your new kicks!
By ever so slightly changing up your routine, you can keep things fresh and exciting, and trick your mind into looking forward to things that are sometimes less desirable. If you’re starting to feel stuck in a fitness rut, think about trying something new, or maybe asking a friend what they’ve been doing lately and joining them someplace you haven’t been before. There are always new and exciting places to check out in the city – and here at Altitude, we can’t wait to open our doors as the first and only place to offer altitude training in a 1,100 sq ft. chamber. Now that’s something fresh and different to get excited for!
Hack #3: Small things equal big things.
Sometimes there are just those days where you are not going to get a workout in. A deadline, having to pick up your child from daycare because your partner is sick, or just a day where you can’t get on the ball – these things happen. One of the easiest and simplest ways to get even a little bit of health and fitness (and sanity) in on these days is to inject “movement snacks” into your day. For example, if you struggle with back pain, make an effort to do a few little back bends and 10 mini squats every time you refill your water or go to the bathroom. If you go to the bathroom 6 times, you’ve now done 60 squats in the day. If you have a wonky shoulder or neck, invest $8 into a stretchy band and keep it in a desk drawer. Every hour, make a deal with yourself to take a five-minute break, grab your band, and do a quick shoulder stretch. Not only will this help combat postural-related problems like headaches and neck pain, but also gets your blood flowing and gives your brain a second to reset. No one can work straight through for 10 hours a day without some breaks. You owe it to yourself to take these little breaks, and when you finally head home at the end of the day, your body will thank you.
Hack #4: Check your health insurance policy or corporate discounts.
You’re paying into it, don’t let it go to waste! People often wait until December and realize that they have unspent dollars of massage, physiotherapy, or acupuncture. Not only are these things great for stress management, but a good physio clinic will include a home exercise programs for you, or they can work with your particular lifestyle to help put together something specific for your needs and in line with what’s available to you. If you aren’t a gym person, you can absolutely still do equipment-free, home exercises that pack a ton of benefit. You don’t have to be hurt to utilize these services! Also be sure to check out if your company has any discounts to local gyms or other hot fitness spots – use those perks! You’ve earned it.
Always remember that your work reflects your own well-being. One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is a sound body and a sound mind.Fitness can come in all types of forms, whether it’s a few pushups at your desk while on a call, or kicking it on a treadmill in a high-energy class at 6 am. Remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and you have to make it work for you. Above all, enjoy it, and feel good about how amazing your body and mind truly is.
About the Author:
For many years, sport was considered to be only for men, as women’s physiology was viewed as being less efficient, weaker, and unable to push their bodies in the rigor of sport. Prior to the 1960’s, women were banned or restricted from longer running and endurance events as they were considered “too fragile” for distance sport or even shorter Olympic events like the 400 and 800m sprints. This began the era of mass participation of women in sports, and in the 1972 Olympics the first women’s 1500m was run. The same year, eight women “legally” ran the Boston marathon, and by 1984 (only 35 years ago!) the first women’s Olympic marathon was sanctioned.
This year in 2019, 45% of runners were women and in more local smaller city races, women tend to comprise over 50% of participants. Women’s participation in running and endurance sports has come leaps and bounds in just the last several decades, but only recently has science and psychology begun to identify some profound differences between the sexes. What exactly is it that differentiates women’s performance abilities from men?
It is generally accepted that women are smaller in stature, have more body fat, and less absolute muscle mass and fewer and smaller muscle fibers than men. As well, women have physiologically lower VO2 max numbers than men (the maximum amount of oxygen their bodies can utilize during high-intensity exercise), which is also sensible. In power-based activities, these differences are likely where the discrepancies primarily lie. Across the board, women’s distance running and cycling records among elite athletes are typically 10-12% slower than men, although with longer distances these patterns tend to change as we’ll discuss more later. It has also been seen that men have greater running velocity and can cover more distance in a set period of time. These differences are more profound in shorter, more powerful contexts like shuttle runs or sprints.
However, when it comes to longer, slower, or more submaximal effort events, women have some interesting advantages. Women have higher prevalence of slow-twitch muscle fibres which contract less quickly, but can contract consistently for very long periods of time. The hormone estrogen also seems to improve the oxidative capacity of muscles – meaning greater oxygen update and improved recovery. Men however, tend to be able to have enhanced muscle growth due to higher level of testosterone – again, benefitting sports that favour power but potentially less valuable to low-and-slow type training and racing.
What Does This Mean?
So, when women train at the same intensity as men, they are able to adapt to the same degree, and in some circumstances even more effectively. As we’ve discussed, especially in distance events, women who focus on endurance training are able to become more metabolically efficient and run just as far as men. The science tells us that they should be as quick, but not so fast!
Go a Little Longer
When it comes to ultra-endurance events, women seem to have the upper hand. Many ultra-endurance race winners in unisex races are women – and not by a small margin. This past year, German cyclist Fiona Kolbinger raced 4000km through Europe and finished the Transcontinental Race 10 hours ahead of her closest male opponent. This past May, Katie Wright beat 40 men and six other women to win the Riverhead Backyard ReLaps Ultra-marathon in New Zealand, running almost non-stop for 30 hours. It seems that when the distances get longer, the women are rising to the top.
Why is this? Well, for all of the physiological science out there, there is only just recently a rise in the “biopsychosocial model” – which essentially looks at the mind-body connection and how the mind can affect boundaries within our deeply-entrenched biological systems. In excruciatingly-long distance races, athletes are working far under their maximal power for very long periods of time. Absolute strength and power is of less importance, and mental patience and grit hold much more water. Women also tend to be better at pacing themselves and “seeing further into the future” when moderating their early-race paces. Females also tend to use more emotion-focused coping mechanisms during the pain, fatigue, and sleep deprivation points in long races. Whether its experiences like childbirth or mental toughness from, well, life, it seems that this has given women a leg up when the going gets beyond difficult.
On the Whole…
Women have traditionally been seen as the physiologically “weaker sex” for many years. Culture and society has finally started challenging these norms, as women are now participating in events similar to men, and in some cases out-performing them. While it’s unlikely that women will naturally be lifting heavier weights than men or sprinting 100m faster than men, in longer races the gap is significantly lessened. Moreover, both genders need to remember that the power of the mind is probably the greatest tool of all, and with consistent training for both mind and body, great things can be achieved.
About the Author:
Boston Athletic Association. (2019). 2019 Boston Marathon Statistics. Retrieved from https://registration.baa.org/2019/cf/Public/iframe_Statistics.htm
C. Baumgart, M. H. (2014). DIFFERENT ENDURANCE CHARACTERISTICS OF FEMALE AND MALE GERMAN SOCCER PLAYERS. Biology of Sport, 227-232.
Joyner, M. J. (2016). Physiological limits to endurance exercise performance: influence of sex. The Journal of Physiology.
K.M Haizlip, B. H. (2015). Sex-Based Differences in Skeletal Muscle Kinetics and Fiber-Type Composition. American Physiological Society, 30-39.
Williams, S. (2019, August 11). Are women better ultra-endurance athletes than men? Retrieved from BBC News: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-492843894389
As the leaves begin to turn and temperatures begin to drop, for many people this time of year becomes staying indoors with Netflix. For the endurance athlete however, the time between November and April can represent a big wide window of opportunity to reflect on what went well in your season, identify areas of focus for coming one, and develop a finely-tuned base-building plan to prep you to conquer the spring.
If your racing season took you into the fall, it’s always a good idea to take a few weeks, or even a couple of months, off of a structured training plan. Physically, this gives your body a true chance to recover, as prolonged racing and training causes a substantial degree of muscle breakdown and a systemic inflammatory response. It can take up to 19 days after an Ironman-distance triathlon for inflammation and cortisol to return to baseline levels, even in a well-trained athlete. Mentally, endurance events require long term commitment, self-discipline, and a high degree of day-to-day planning and time management. It’s healthy to give yourself a break from the rigidity of this type of schedule.
So once you’ve refreshed your mind and body and as the mornings continue to get darker, here are 5 reasons why you should get yourself back in gear over the colder indoor months.
Controlled environments let you hone in on specific weaknesses.
Did hills eat you up this year? Does your form start to fall apart at a certain speed? Now is the time to work on whatever’s holding you back from the next level. Not having a race schedule allows you to build training blocks and choose training workouts with these goals in mind. Running or cycling workouts using treadmills and indoor trainers are great ways to target exactly what you need to improve on.
Workouts give you more bang for your buck.
Take cycling for example. It is generally accepted that 60 minutes on an indoor trainer is equivalent to 90-100 minutes of outdoor cycling. This is because you are pedaling against a controlled, consistent resistance, and there aren’t any opportunities for coasting downhill or stopping at a red light. This is a good thing, since even the strongest mental game can go a little bananas when on a trainer for long periods of time. Which brings us to our next point…
Classes do the job, and they’re social.
Endurance sports can be a little lonely. Maybe you’ve got some friends in the summer that you can join for long runs or rides, but the winter can be much more isolating. Rather than hole up, try a class specifically designed to challenge runners or cyclists. Whether you’ve got a friend to go with you or not, the time always passes much more quickly in a group setting, not to mention it’s way more fun. Check out Altitude’s roster of upcoming classes this winter here!
Hit March with a spring in your step.
Most athletes look to start racing again for March-April. Nothing feels worse than sitting on your couch for several months, only to blow the dust off of your shoes in spring and have to dedicate the first 6-12 weeks of training to just base build. Even doing a few key workouts per week can keep you from detraining, or, even better, can help you beef up your base before the warm weather comes around again.
Keeps the winter blues at bay.
SADS, or seasonal affective disorder syndrome, is a proven disorder that manifests as an increase in sleep, sedentary behavior, depression and sometimes weight gain that occurs during the fall/winter months and remits in the spring. Research has shown that light therapy and getting outside is helpful to combat symptoms, as well as aerobic exercise. Bonus points if you can grab a buddy to join you.
So after your last race, take a breather, do some reflection, and plan for crush your goals for the following year.