Sunday, July 15, 2012

Excited for change!

In my most recent blog post, I spoke about two different experts that I have consulted recently. First of which were the Peak Centre for Human Performance. About 10 days ago, I went in for my fitness assessment, and yesterday I spent an hour with a sports physiologist, Lewis, who explained everything to me very clearly. Essentially, I'm doing a lot of things right in my training, but I've been making the same mistakes that about 75% of runners make. If I keep it up, I'll plateau in my fitness for running, rather than improve. We went over my training plans for the upcoming marathon. At my current level of fitness, I'd be able to finish a marathon in 4:23. With some tweaks to my training plans, setting a goal of 4:15 is very realistic. I couldn't be more excited to try out these changes and reap the rewards. And thanks to the folks at the Peak Centre, I now understand the science behind it. What's great about the assessments is that it's not someone giving me generic training insight, but it's specific training advice based on my specific body, and how it functions.

I went for the whole package deal on the assessment which is a VO2 max and lactate usage analysis. Essentially this meant that I was running on a treadmill, starting slow, and working up to a sprint in regular 3 minute intervals. I was wearing a snorkel-like device and gave regular blood samples. It was less unpleasant than it sounds (although hard work!) The tests measured my body's specific response to exercise - creating a snapshot of my current fitness level.  After thorough analysis of the assessment information, the Peak Centre exercise physiologists can precisely determine an athletes individual aerobic training zones. These zones can then be used to prescribe training sessions geared towards improving a specific aspect of performance. 

So what does this all mean? It means that I have my training zones (i.e, heart rate, speed, pace etc.) determined for my training leading up to my next marathon. Like most runners who don't know the specifics of their own bodies, I was running my slow runs too fast, and my fast runs too slow! I've also been running fast too often. I have a better understanding of what an easy run should look like, what a long run should look like, and what a speed session should look like. If I do so appropriately, my training zones will change over time, rather than plateau. With all this in mind, here are the changes I'm going to make to my training:
  • Sunday long runs: continue to focus this on completion of distance, but slow my pace right down to stay within zone 1. I'll wear a heart rate monitor to ensure I'm staying somewhere under 161bpm (try to average out at 156bpm). I'll also resist the temptation to run with others....I know this kind of sucks. But my tendency is to keep up with whoever I'm running with because I can. And chances are likely that those I'm running with are also running faster than they should. It turns out that many of my long runs have been run too close to half marathon pace to actually reap the benefits. So while the runs are still comfortable to complete, I'm fatiguing more and therefore requiring more recovery than necessary. These are called "junk miles" because they don't positively impact my training in the way they could. I'm going to run as many of my long runs on my own so it's easier to slow down when needed and not feel the need to "keep up". When I do run with others, I'll try my darndest to keep my competitive side quiet.
  • Weekday easy/recovery runs: instead of focusing on distance, I'm going to focus on time. I should be doing 40min or more for these, but I've been doing just shy of this by doing 6km runs. So I'm going to do timed runs instead, and stay in zone 1 again (roughly 156bpm), using my heart rate monitor as my coach.
  • Speed work: I've not been pushing myself hard enough. While I love my Yasso 800s, they're likely not what I need. Lewis explained a great way to do speed training that I'm excited to try. The catch is that it's easier to do this on a treadmill rather than outdoors, because the treadmill forces you to maintain your speed consistently. When you run outdoors, you can easily waver in pace based on fatigue. On a treadmill, it's either keep up, or fall off! After a warm-up, I'm to do 3-5min intervals at two different speeds in my zone 3 (5-10K pace) and running for anywhere between 20-40min. The workouts might hurt a bit, but they'll actually really make a difference.

  • Nutritional needs: I also now know my carbohydrate burning rate, and therefore my exact fueling needs for my runs. I know how much food to take with me and how often to consume it to ensure I'm meeting my needs and my body isn't depleting its own muscles to find energy.
I'm planning on going in for follow-up assessment (just lactate analysis, no VO2 max) in September to see how my fitness has improved, ensure I'm on target with my training, and then determine a plan to make sure I'm running at the correct pace and heart rate zone on race day itself. Again, I'm excited!
Another change I need to make is incorporate more consistent strength training. Right now, I admit, I'm somewhat sporadic with it, and have focused on things like hill running, squats, lunges, core work, etc., but I've been doing it more when I feel like it, rather than ensuring it's happening at least once a week. This concept has nagged me for some time now and I know how important it is. This recent back injury, which hasn't been my first, is reminding me I need to get stronger. And the work with my physiotherapist at North Shore Sports Medicine, has me focused on core stability work as it will help my back from getting angry at me. I would like to do a more consistent regime and include weights. I want to evenly work out my body; running focuses so much on the legs, I need to even it out so I'm balanced and less prone to injury. 

Best way to do this is to join a gym where there are trainers on hand to assist me. And since I want to have access to a treadmill for speed work (or an option for when the weather just sucks enough to not want to be outside), again, joining a gym is the way to go. I've said many times that gyms bore me or that I hate the gym....but it's because I didn't have a purpose to go before. And it's also because I didn't see myself as an athlete before, but as someone who would be seen as unfit for the place. And I admit that for general fitness I'd rather do something fun, something that resembles play, like running outside. But to improve my performance in my sport, this a great way to do it. My friend, Melissa has spoken very highly of the Steve Nash Fitness Club in North Vancouver, so I'm going there this afternoon to check out the facility. I think I'm likely going to end up joining. A basic gym could do the trick sure, but I deserve a state of the art fitness club since I'm serious about my sport and want my outings to the gym to be something to look forward to. Not only will I be able to do weights and treadmill work there, but there is a pool, classes, massage, juice bars, and all kinds of things that an athlete needs. I'm so excited!


  1. Thank-you for sharing all of this wonderful information! How exciting and what an awesome way to assess your training needs and future goals! very cool. I took a look at the PEAK Center's website and it looks like a great place. At the moment though, an assessment is a little too far outside of my budget. I do have a heart rate monitor that I could hook up that connects to my Garmin... is there an easier (ie free) way to figure out what your heart rate should be at for LSD runs?

  2. Yes, definitely an investment. I decided it was worth it for me because I wanted to get a better sense of what I'm capable of as a marathoner, how fit I really am, and how to tweak my training to ensure better success. The first race, while I did it, it didn't go according to plan - not that races do, but this one went a good 45min over the plan! What went wrong could have been my training itself (physically), or it could have been just that I started the race too fast (mentally, in other words, being silly). I have several other reasons for having done it...I want to do 2 marathons a year, while I can, so I wanted to better understand some of the science behind training. In terms of heartrate zones and sorting those out, I'm not sure. I'm new to heartrate training. The main thing with this assessment was that heartrate was paired with speed/pace and lactate analysis - so at what heartrates are levels of lactate high that cause the body to fatigue, etc. Making it simpler, I'm not sure. I would assume it means figuring out your maximum heartrate (which would mean doing a very HARD workout and pushing yourself hard - maybe while supervised!), and then following a guide to sort out formulas for zones of effort. Sorry I don't have specific suggestions.

  3. That's okay! Thanks for sharing what you do know. I agree that this heart rate stuff is really confusing and difficult to navigate but I am sure there will be some great rewards to following the science. Right up to my first 1/2 I was un-trusting and unsure of the LSD runs... I could not accept that running slowly would actually help me run faster on race day... and somehow, it worked! I guess experts are experts for a reason and there is some well-founded truth is the science of it all!