In my previous post, I discussed the philosophical framework around how I plan to run an ultramarathon (and finish well) on around an hour a week of training. I also noted that I’m no the first person to do this and do it well. What I’m attempting to do is use even less running to accomplish this goal, by leveraging the technology I have available to me that very few folks have access, and also working really, really hard.
An Eccentric Argument
Part of the argument for higher volume training to run these longer races comes down to the actual eccentric load your muscles, connective tissues, and joints will experience. When you’re running super-long events, you’ll rarely approach your threshold pace, but the sheer length of the event, the thousands of steps you’ll take, will wear you out and break you down. It’s the real problem of long distance events & staying injury-free (or at least, serious injury-free).
Resistance training has a track record of reducing injury rates in endurance athletes, competitive and recreational alike. This is in part due to the ability to maintain all of the alignment that comes with an efficient gait for longer, but also due to the increased eccentric strength that resistance training readily develops.
That said, ARX lets me take it a step further. Eccentric-only training has shown that you can increase the eccentric:concentric strength ratio with eccentric-only training. For my purposes, this is the killer feature as I can make up for my lack of volume with controlled eccentric loading. I think this separation of skill & strength is actually the BEST way to go about increasing the water level that raises the whole ship.
Leave it to the Elites
The fact of the matter is that I’m not elite, and perhaps the thing that most surprises me about endurance sports, coming from the background of strength training, is how many people look to the elites and then emulate that. Maybe I’ve just been around HIT for so long, but there seems to be an understanding that whatever X athlete or bodybuilder is doing is not what you should be doing. They’ve earned it by way of hard work and a favorable genetic hand. They built up to that and have coaches holding them back from blowing themselves up (which is what a good coach does). We’re not that person…why train that way?
In his interview with Brian MacKenzie, Rich Roll talked about his training at Stanford for swimming. He said that basically no matter the distance, the vast majority of the work was skill-based followed by intervals. This got me thinking about Graduate school and how field tests for athletes went in basically this order:
So I’m structuring my training in a way that addresses this. I’m 1000% certain I’m not the first person on planet earth to do this, but I’m very surprised that, when you look at general nervous system input vs. energy demands, everything flows downhill from hi/lo (skill’s need for high neural input versus the gross energy demand of the skeletal tissue executing the motor pattern) to lo/hi (endurance athletics).
The General Structure
Currently I’m training 3 days per week with a total “work” period of just over an hour, coupled with lots of moving around, unstructured. Let’s take a look at my last week.
After some high hip and deep glute mobility work that Kelly Starrett explained in “The 4 Hour Body,” I did the following:
- Power + Skill work
- Weighted seated squat jumps supersetted with Handstands, 3 x 4 reps
- Depth jumps supersetted with L-sits, 2 x 4 reps
- Strength Work
- ARX Omni Romanian Deadlift, inroad mode to 40% fatigue
- ARX (vertical, vintage) Incline Press, inroad mode to 40% fatigue
- ARX Alpha leg press, inroad mode to 40% fatigue
- Blast Strap Plank at ~30* angle, 1:00
The strength component took <10 minutes, while the power component takes 15 minutes, on average. Total work time: ~25 minutes
This is the HIIT-specific day. The goal is the drive the physiological adaptations while marrying the skill. Remember: the higher the neural input the faster the skill is adapted, which is why I marry running technique work to interval work. The workout:
- Skill work
- Eric Orton slantboard work, both everted & neutral, supersetted with Powerbreathe lung work, 1:00 and 20 breaths respectively.
- Form drills from Evolution Running, including a 100 up of both heel pulls and high knees, plus the heel flick + hip extension drill.
- Endurance Work
- The endless hill. Started the treadmill at 8mph and 0* grade. Every 2 minutes I upped the grade 2*, with the goal of reaching 10 minutes total time and 8* grade. This workout I made it to 9:30, which is 30 seconds longer than 2 weeks ago. When I reach 10 minutes, I’ll increase the speed and repeat.
Again, the split between skill work and specific work was 15 minutes and 10 minutes, so ~25 minutes total time.
Normally, Sarah and I run with the kids on Saturday, usually doing a 3.5 mile run (that’s as long as we get before my oldest wants to get out and run himself). Today we ran the Sunshine Run 5k, which I ran barefoot and pushing the stroller the entire time. Like all of my training, I was also fasted. The great thing about the race environment is that you can get really focused and aroused, leading to better times. Of course it’s also training.
Overall it was a great run. In spite being quite humid (Texas in May!), we managed 25 minutes on this run, which is about as fast as Sarah could go 8 months-post the birth of our youngest son. The exciting part for me is that, while pushing 75+ pounds of stroller, I was only 1 minute slower than my 5k PR last fall. I estimate that I could have clipped off a 21ish minute run without the stroller. Things moving in the right direction.
Training time: 25 minutes; total time for the week: 1 hour and 15 minutes.
I have 6 months between now and the 50k in November, which is tons of time to get even faster. My next “big training run” will be in June, a 21k trail run. Mind you I’ve never run farther than 10k, so I’m excited to see how this all plays out. Prior to that I get a DEXA scan to see how my 12+ weeks of ARX-only strength work has changed my body composition. Onward.
6 thoughts on “The ARXFit Endurance Experiment Pt. 3”
I’m definitely interested, and I will admit, skeptical. I buy the part about leaving it the elites, but we are talking about racing 32 miles. A whole different beast than a 21 minute (in theory) 5k or 10 minute hard treadmill hill efforts, endless or not. I hope my comment isn’t taken as a dig, as I am genuinely curious as to how you do, and really enjoy your stuff. But I have done my share of long runs, and I know there is a point where all the theories go out the window, and hard reality hits. Will you be doing *any* long runs in preparation? >
Al, go back and read my Part 2. I’m not the first person to do this, so that gives me confidence. He also trained a guy for a 62km mountain run using low volume work; you can read that here: http://ultramentalapprenticeship.blogspot.co.nz/2015/12/wrecked.html
The longest run I plan to do prior to the event is the 21k. I’ll also do 1 or 2 10 mile time trials before the race. And if it doesn’t work, it will have been a great experience. I’m confident I’ll achieve my goals, however. 🙂
Nice explanation of what you’re doing and why. Excited to see the DEXA results and how that corresponds to the improvements in running times and subjective responses to “how did you feel during and after?” questions.
Yes me too. Dexa in 12 days time; the mirror is showing some changes which, given having 2 kids under 3, would be great.
Somewhere in this string of posts, you mentioned adaptation to the stresses of extended running, and the risk of injury. I understand the idea of eccentrics for conditioning muscle for this. And intense exercise of short duration clearly benefits bone. That leaves ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. Is there any evidence to suggest that intense, short duration stress triggers favorable adaptations in these tissues?
Also, you made the comment about doing races that challenge you just to finish. So is this more about surviving the Battan death march than being competitive in the race?
To your second point, certainly not a death march. I’ve stated the goal to finish in the top 3rd of the field and/or within 50% of the course record. They’re fairly close to each other as far as actual time is concerned. Again check out some of the finishes from Andrew that I’ve referenced throughout the series.
To your first point, connective tissue remodels from strain (Davis’ Law), and there is evidence that controlled eccentrics do this rather effectively, as they are used in treating tendonitis in a clinical capacity. The physiological changes are still being fully elucidated, but there is good evidence to demonstrate that mechanical loading increases tendon blood flow & fibroblast proliferation in the hours & days post training. The net result would be stronger, more robust tendons.
That said, these tissues don’t have a dynamic capacity like skeletal muscle; they’re less plastic and take longer to remodel. The -itis conditions that develop seem to foster from chronically reaching near max capacity for extended periods of time. This is why I feel that while I’d come away swollen and tired, I’d be much less likely to become injured than I would if I was chronically trying to pile on milage, especially given my life demands currently.