Running Workouts (1): 1K intervals - VO2max session

1K interval workout is "The King” workout for all long distance runners!

STRUCTURE OF THE WORKOUT

Warm-up | running at easy intensity for 10-20 minutes

Stretching | light 5 min stretch of the major muscle groups (hamstrings, calves) to restore neuromuscular balance

Running drills | the part of dynamic warm-up – high knees drill, butt-kickers drill, skippings, short 50 meter sprints. Check this video for more ideas for running drills: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvH5WZk0f90 Running drills are important because they warm-up your core and legs musculature and prepare for the following main-set intervals.

Main set | 6-8 times of 1000 meters (hard intensity, at 95% capacity) with 3 minute recovery of slow jogging after each interval. Look below for recommendations on exercise intensity.

Cool-down | easy jog for 10 minutes, to put the heart rate down

The exercise intensity (i.e. running pace), at which you should do this session is usually a speed associated with VO2max (i.e. maximal oxygen consumption). There are several ways to estimate your speed at VO2max. The most precise way is to measure it directly during laboratory treadmill test (but this has a price), however there are several Apps that could calculate your Interval training pace based on your previous race performances (a bit tricky for trail runners!). Check VdotO2 APP (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vdot-o2/id977666802?mt=8)

 

Disclaimer – for beginner runners, interval training at lower intensities (65-80% VO2max) might be as effective for increasing aerobic capacity as training at high intensity. Likewise, beginner runners should take into account possible negative effects of high-intensity training, like greater risk of musculoskeletal injuries.

Physiology behind? The most direct aim of interval training is to improve aerobic power (or VO2max – your body’s ability to uptake oxygen and use it for energy production). VO2max is considered important characteristics for long distance runners. If we look a bit deeper to what we actually improve by getting our oxygen consumption higher with interval training, we:

increase the size and volume of mitochondria (“power plants” of our cells)

improve heart’s ability "to pump" more blood

increase muscle capillary network (thus less stress on capillaries during running) etc.

It is generally accepted that trained runners have to reach intensities of 90-100% vVO2max for optimal adaptation. However, once we start running at vVO2max (Interval) pace, it takes approx. 90 seconds to achieve VO2max (see figure on the right). In other words, it takes time to warm-up your "engine" to reach its maximal capacity. For that reason, VO2max intervals are usually longer than 2 minutes (intervals lasting 3 to 5 minutes are ideal for this particular session). Keeping work-to-rest ratio about similar (e.g. 3 minutes of running and 3 minutes for recovery) will allow enough time to start the following interval fresh thus allowing to maintain necessary running pace during all session.

Have fun training and feel free to comment!

Fixing and improving running bodies

It is a great deal of running involved in daily life of every serious runner, and with constant improvements in performance and growing sporting ambitions running takes over pretty much every aspect of training. We all tend to narrow our focus into improving physiology and reduce the amount of time spent for the maintenance of our musculoskeletal (running) bodies. Training them to move forward efficiently in the multi-dimensional plane is as important as improving maximal oxygen consumption or lactate thresholds. Lets forget the myth, that higher mileage will solve all muscle strength, mobility issues and that we can run through injuries, pain and discomfort, assuming that these will disappear naturally. Even complete rest from running doesn’t solve them. I am confident to say that every single runner that spends long hours running, at some point will experience(d) knee, ankle or lower back issues, and it is not ok. Therefore, it is best to understand the nature of certain injuries that accompany running and change the way we run.

Lower back pain. Ignoring lower back pain could become a long-term issue. It is important to understand that lower back discomfort for runners is usually a result of incorrect pelvic position due to insufficient stabilisation by core musculature, not weak core muscles. Runners with incorrect (not neutral) pelvic position cannot optimally engage posterior chain muscles (glutes, hamstrings) and tend to overstride rathen than putting the leg behind the body for a good push-off. This affects running economy and, in general, is not efficient use of energy.

 In the left image, spine is in neutral position, and excessive back arch on the right

In the left image, spine is in neutral position, and excessive back arch on the right

What to do? Try to feel your pelvic position when you work, sit in front of the desk and especially – when you run. Sometimes it is worth dedicating all training session thinking about your pelvic area, and observing yourself if you have a tendency to arch your back, and knowing when this usually happens – at the beginning of your training session, or when you are tired, or running uphill or downhill. Having  a good awareness of separate body parts is a skill that could be practised and learned (we can call it – somatosensory awareness). After you will master this skill, try to use it everywhere – during strength and conditioning sessions and when you run. Keeping you lumbar/pelvic area in the neutral position will reduce the strain to lower back muscles, and is very likely that Lower back discomfort will gradually disappear. 

Calf and Achilles tendon injuries. Generalising, all calf and Achilles tendon problems are caused either by chronic overload or inadequate use of those structures. Achilles – is the biggest tendon in the human body and is perfectly developed to absorb free energy with each step and release it during the push-off phase. We see runners that instead of letting tendons to do their job, over-activate muscles (for the same task), and eventually overstrain all calf muscles, including Achilles tendon.

In many cases, problems in the Achilles area indicate that runner is overstriding and push off phase is poor. There could be an easy fix just by learning to increase the stride frequency. However, this habit to overstride could also indicate insufficient ankle mobility or restricted hip extension (due to tight hip flexors). Invest your time to achieve good ankle mobility and release hip flexors, using standard stretching exercises or lacrosse ball, or foam roller. 

 Classic stretch of hip flexors keeping spine in neutral

Classic stretch of hip flexors keeping spine in neutral

 Simple test to assess flexibility of the Achilles tendon. With feet flat on the ground, knees should pass your toes

Simple test to assess flexibility of the Achilles tendon. With feet flat on the ground, knees should pass your toes

Anterior knee pain. Very similar biomechanical reasons and running technique aspects, described along the calf problems, are causing anterior knee symptoms and pain. There is no way to run faster other than having a good push-off! If you are not capable to get your leg behind your body fully and without restrictions, anterior thigh muscles (quadriceps muscle, aka. quads) will try to compensate for this by working harder, which in a long-term will lead to the development of anterior knee pain due to patellar maltracking. Next time you will go for a run, try to feel which muscle groups are fatigued first: if you’ll feel waisted quads after your training session, it is likely that you fit the above-mentioned description. Heel-lift exercises, short (50-100 metre) sprints will help to develop a good sense of push-off. Try to incorporate this into your training program, whether you are a road or trail runner. 

 High speed running on the treadmill. Modest back arching with full hip extension

High speed running on the treadmill. Modest back arching with full hip extension

 Mo Farah during his training for Rio. Full hip extension without compromising position of the spine

Mo Farah during his training for Rio. Full hip extension without compromising position of the spine

 how often do you see  hip drop  like this (right) in runners? 

how often do you see hip drop like this (right) in runners? 

Hips – another area that needs some attention. Running could be compared to a many small single-leg squats. Try to do a few single leg squads at home and you will realise how tightly hip position is related to a knee position. As an example, excessive hip internal rotation during each step drives your knee in the same direction – to rotate inward, and usually it is only a matter of time before anterior knee pain or ITB (aka. iliotibial band) syndrome develops. Improving lateral hip stability and strength of hip extensors (glutes) is a solution to prevent this type of injury, and to improve overall running economy.

Various joint and muscles pains. Beginner runners (and a few experienced ones) sometimes reach the point when their training is heavily affected by never-ending cycle of injuries, occurring at different muscle and joint locations. In that case, reducing the overall impact of running to all musculoskeletal system could be a good approach. Practically that means – how to improve running technique. There are so many elements of efficient running, however I would pick a few very important ones: optimising stride frequency (think about approx. 180 steps per minute), achieving good push-off, balancing your body position to a point that foot contact occurs in the midfoot area. The former could be achieved by trying to run more softly and concentrating your attention to a foot position, and practising this until it becomes a skill. Neutral pelvis and spine position is essential for distributing running load between muscles and joints. Exercises that engage core muscles in the variety of scenarios not only strengthen them, but also improve somatosensory feedback, making it easier for you to sense and control pelvis/spine position when running.

That's all, a few ideas for you to digest and incorporate into your training. More to come!

 Heel-lift drill to strengthen calf muscles and develop the power for push-off

Heel-lift drill to strengthen calf muscles and develop the power for push-off

How to run the UTA100: a few ideas

 Photo: Lyndon Marceau

Photo: Lyndon Marceau

This interview was originally posted on Nicky Redl’s website: http://nickyredl.com/2016/05/17/how-to-run-the-uta-andrius-ramonas 

Lithuanian Andrius Ramonas, who has been living in New Zealand for the past year and a half, is a sports and exercise medicine physician doing his PhD in exercise physiology in Auckland. He’s won and set course records for The North Face 50k in Australia (now the Ultra-Trail Australia), and the The Hillary 80k and Tarawera 50k races in New Zealand. He has frequently placed in the top ten in many other ultras and came 5th this year at the Ultra-Trail Australia 100K. Here Ramonas shares how he prepares for running in the Blue Mountains where the UTA 100K distance features accumulated climbs of over 4,500 metres with many, many stairs.

How do you specifically train for this race compared to other events?

The UTA is not very technically difficult, it’s really runnable race, therefore running speed is important. And of course, the race has many stairs and training for that should be considered in the build up for the race. What I did to prepare was that last month, I changed from doing lots of off-road and slow trail running to doing more sessions on the road, and even introduced track running sessions just to increase my speed and improve my stride.

To tackle the stairs (and in general, be better in uphills) over the last few months I concentrated on doing more core stability and glute muscle strength sessions. That allows to have more power in running uphill and almost means that many of those stair sections could be run. Racing in the lead pack usually forces to be flexible on being able to change running pace quite often and quickly, and good foundation in musculoskeletal area helps to achieve this. As we saw today, two runners (during UTA22 race) were just 20 seconds apart, meaning they were fighting on those stairs. So if you can run them, you have a huge advantage.

Finally, my preparation covers a good look at the gear I will take with me, because the list of mandatory gear for the UTA100 is really extensive, so making good choices makes gear more lightweight and compact. Sometimes it’s easy to stick to the same items (if you are used to them), but there are a lot of new things coming out on the market and it is always worth trying new things. 

With a race that has to many stairs, do you have to train on stairs or are there another ways you can prepare?

That’s an individual choice I think. One way of training for stairs is to think about what elements in your body support running uphill and upstairs. To name a few – correct running form, core stability, well “firing” glute muscles. If you focus on those elements it’s possible to avoid excessive training on stairs, and still be good at running them. A few approaches could be used to strengthen those muscles – bodyweight exercises and exercises using additional weights, like barbell, kettlebells or other tools. Some exercises that I like which do not require additional equipment – single-leg squats, squat-jumps. Exercises with weights that improve running-specific strength are – deadlift, front and back squats, kettlebell swing, hip thrust. A few of my favorites. I do not avoid training with really heavy weights, because the aim is not only just build muscle endurance, but power and strength.

When I use actual stairs in my session, I mainly focus on running form rather than intensity of that session. By saying “focus on running form” I mean the essential elements of running uphill – maximally engaged core muscles (that should feel as tight abdominal muscles, but not lower back tightness or pain), relatively straight body (bending too much forwards will “switch off” glute muscles, which are the most powerful muscles to propel us forwards whether we run uphill or flat), relaxed arms and good rhythm or pace. The main criteria that I use to finish stair training session is when I start feeling that those above-mentioned elements start to fail. In that case, no matter how many steps there are on the staircase – it is not a number of repetitions that guide session but a quality.

How are you preparing in regards to nutrition?

The exercise intensity, even in 100 kilometer race is usually not light, therefore I base my race nutrition on carbohydrates. However, in a recent years I have reduced my race carbohydrate consumption due to gastrointestinal symptoms I was experiencing during races. Cutting carbs I had to become a better “fat burner”. For that reason, I regularly use “train low” sessions (when energy beverages are not consumed during the session) lasting up to 5-6 hours. That helps me to be more energetically flexible and maintain energy levels during races. During the base training season I also reduce carbohydrate consumption in the overall diet, which also helps to improve body’s ability to burn fat-based fuels.

However, in the race I usually stick to energy gels, mainly because with energy gels it is easy to count the amount of energy consumed. In very long races, I would probably mix in some savory foods as well, but in races up to 10 hours, I usually just stick with sugar. Simplified race nutrition leaves more space for other things and saves time in the checkpoints. 

Eating simple, uncomplicated foods, the ones that were tried before also helps to avoid any food related issues before the race. I am also careful not to overload too much in the days ahead of the race. It’s really easy to underestimate how much athletes eat, especially in the last week when the training load is much lower and eating habits remain the same. Additional body weight not necessarily will affect race performance (especially in ultra races), but can influence the body sensation.