Thursday, July 17, 2008

Crosstraining for Ultrarunners (pt 2)

Let me first say that in yesterday's post, I was not saying that we should all give up running long in exchange for sprints and pushups and still expect to be successful ultrarunners. In fact, I thought I was presenting some interesting opinions with a hint of skepticisim, and emphasizing my personal belief that too much long slow running in the absence of speed, hill, or strength training is not ideal.

I hear many runners, ultra or not, lament that they just keep getting slower and they don't understand why. The most obvious reason (beside the inevitable fact that we are getting older) is that their training is day after day after day of slow running. Specificity is a key principle. You have to train long to run long. You also have to train fast (sometimes) to run fast. There are, however, other principles.

Tabata (or sprinting in general), I believe, has a place in any athlete's toolbox. Sure sprinting down a football field at 100% effort 8 times might not be the best interval workout to improve ultradistance speed. But just try it once and tell me honestly that you don't think it would improve fitness. Studies show that it improves aerobic and anaerobic fitness quicker than steady-state exercise.

Ultrarunning is oxidative, and it does require "training in the oxidative pathway." But the argument that some ultra-endurance athletes who have adopted the "Crossfit principles" are making is that strength also plays a role in ultradistance performance and recovery.

The strength that I get from sprinting, squats, pushups and other bodyweight exercises might not directly help my endurance. But will I be better off 19 hours into a hundred miler than my fellow runner who has done nothing more than run LSD? I think so.

Another aspect of this type of crosstraining is that it keeps running interesting. Go out for your daily run or even your LSD, but halfway through it, drop down and do 30 pushups, or sprint HARD up that hill a couple times, or run up and down those steps 5 times. Then finish your run. You are still getting the oxidative training, but you are also having fun. One of my running buddies today told me that her running was feeling kind of stale. But she also said that today's workout was a lot of fun. Which brings me to today's workout.

  • Warmup Jog to the park (1.25 miles)
  • 5 x 200 yard sprints (95% effort up and down a groomed soccer field) rest 30 seconds between sprints
  • 50 pushups
  • 50 squats (bodyweight only)
  • 50 situps or crunches
  • 5 x 200 yard sprints (rest 30 seconds between sprints)
  • Cooldown Jog/walk back to starting point.

It was a little more than 4 miles of running -- about what we would normally do during a group lunch run. But it included over a mile of sprinting. And it was fun. And if it helps me run a better ultra, then that's icing on the cake.


ncultra said...

Hi Neal, I agree with your comments. I was disagreeing with the assertion that an ultrarunner can improve by substituting cross-training for endurance training AND reduce overall training. That sounds to me too much like those "bow-flex" adds where you get super cut and fit by "bow-flexing" 20 minutes 3x per week.

In fact I think that the best ultrarunners regularly train with hills and intervals, regularly engage in aerobic threshold training whereby they raise their aerobic threshold and are thereby able to run faster throughout an ultra. I think that the ability to run the hills in an ultra is one of the biggest determinative factors and that you need strength to run hills.

Also, I agree that core strength is critical to an ultrarunner. Running for 12 hours or more is not possible without core strength and you seen many runners completely lose efficient form because they don't have sufficient core strength.

But, there is no substitute for the aerobic base, and no substitute for sport-specific training.

The key to winning races in an ultra is consistency. That is, maintaining a pace throughout the event. A runner who slows down less than the others will win or come close to winning. (This is also true in sprints, by the way.) In an ultra, this type of endurance is the key.

Neal Jamison said...

Great points Mike. We definitely need that aerobic, sport-specific, time on the feet.

In the OD100, I was caught around 11pm by a young man named Tom. We knew that we really had to push it in order to "buckle." We were 19 hours into the run, where the race for many becomes a "death march."

But we were strong. According to the official splits, Tom and I ran the section before midnight faster than any other runner did that day. Including the winners. I could not have done that on a pure LSD program.

By training hills, I have learned to love running hills. By training with sprints, I have learned to love sprinting. And I know both have helped me tremendously.

Thanks again.