Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Veritable Buffet of Meandering Thoughts...

Well, it's Sunday afternoon, I'm back from Madison early to avoid some foolish ice storm, it's a rest day, so a good time to catch up on the blog.

It's been a good week - something like 30 miles or so total. 5 miles yesterday in Wisconsin, which is a whole different thing with all the hills. The heart rate really climbs as I climb hills, and then try and loosely control momentum when I come down. Makes for some weird training analysis - it's hard to actually get a pace since it seems all I'm doing is climbing or falling. But that's okay - it's a great workout in itself. The IMWI running course itself isn't that hilly, so these are just opportunities to do something new and useful on terrain that I'm not normally around. Good.

I'm starting to wind down my base training, and specifically my limiter training that I've been doing the last few months with nothing but run-specific training. In the next few weeks my mileage will peak at 12 for the long run, and then finally the half-marathon on April 15th. Starting March 27th I start IM specific training (check the training log to that date and you'll see what's in store). I'm excited and impatient to get underway, but know that it's in my best interests to wait, and remain disciplined to the grand plan. Once the IM training starts it'll be all about time, rather than distance - my workouts will be gauged in terms of how long I go, rather than how far, or how fast. I've been extremely satisfied with the results from the work put in on the run during these last 3 months of training, and hopefully all the pushing to achieve faster and faster pace times will have established an endurance base that will help me - say it with me - slow down least. I'm looking forward to race season - the half marathon on the 15th to some extent, but more to the first tiny little tri in May, and really the half IM in June, which will be the first real test of where I am and what I've put in the bank so far.

Presently it's raining. On top of the snow. Must be approaching springtime in Minnesota.

The last few weeks I've been particularly attentive to my run form and my nutrition strategies. There are ten thousand theories and opinions on running form, and what's most efficient and least efficient, and what's best and isn't, etc. etc. In some ways it's a new conversation - until recently people have mostly thought that each of us develops, naturally, the most efficient running-form for ourselves, and that trying to alter that natural form isn't very productive. While there is great truth in that each of us develops our own running form, I don't agree that it's inherently most productive - or at least, that my "natural" running form is most productive for me. Generally, the most essential thing one can do to improve his running and run-time is improve his economy - attend to the physiological aspects of running, and be mindful of how the body is working through it. Consider: the image most of us have of a runner's form involves launching a foot out in front of the body and connecting it with the ground, while the opposite foot pushes away from the ground behind the body, and thus is thrust forward in front of the body. In fact, this is pretty inefficient. You might also, if you go running or watch people run, see them bounce along, their arms kind of windmilling as they almost hop off of their back foot. Again, inefficient. Two years ago my running form was some kind of hybrid of these. Where did that form come from? Who knows? When one just goes out and runs, totally unconscious of their body and form, I suppose that's the "natural" form - though after these last few years of being very intentional about my form, it's totally awkward now to resume that old, "natural" form. I of course speak in terms of distance running, and specifically triathlon (where you're adjusting from getting off the bike, though the principles are hardly changed between the two if considered separate discliplines), but in fact, a very economical example of running is a toddler just learning to run. You know how one can look like she's about to fall right over, and if her cadence of her legs can't keep up with her momentum she can literally topple over on her face? That's actually sort of what I'm trying to accomplish with my run form. You want your lead foot to plant more directly underneath the body, and not throw it out in front of you - this absorbs most impact on the whole of the foot rather than just the heel-strike if the absorbing foot is too far forward. A shorter cadence, rather than long strides, actually utilizes the muscles better - which in appearance is interesting, because you actually look more like you're shuffling, or that your legs must be tired, or something. Finally, almost everyone uses their calf muscles to push off with their rear foot, rather than the larger, stronger thigh muscles, hamstrings, and hip flexors. If you use these larger muscles you'll be pushing off stronger, and won't fatigue as quickly. Put all this together and then - lean just a bit forward. Feel yourself at vertical, and adjust only a bit forward - you'll feel it. The result is, essentially, a controlled fall. And in that you allow momentum and gravity to work for you, rather than against you. You naturally avoid bouncing and hopping, which just wastes energy. And the best part is, if you get it all right, you go faster without working any harder. Just working differently. Smarter, as it is. There are lots of variations of this general principle - the Pose Method and Evolution Running are two ways of running that take the principles further (go ahead and Google each if you're aching for some fun reading). So lately I've been researching all of this and trying to fine tune my form - specifically concentrating on using those larger leg muscles more than my calves. It is not, at first, natural. But with muscle-memory it becomes more and more natural. I continue working on it, but I do attribute much of my improvement on the run so far to being attentive to form. It remains to be seen if I can sustain that kind of form for 26 miles off a bike.

The other focus area has been nutrition. I'm convinced that my three meltdowns last year on the run - Lifetime, Square Lake Half IM and the Twin Cities Marathon - were significantly influenced by unsound nutritional strategies. In addition, 2 of the 3 races were REALLY hot days, and while I felt (especially during the Half IM) that all I did was drink (at least 8 oz. Gatorade each mile), I was dehydrated after the race. Heat and dehydration act to speed up fatigue, and I need to be better prepared for both this season. This is such a mad science that can only be tested to limited extents in training - the real lab is on the race course, and that is, unfortunately, not an ideal environment for trial and error. So my research on this lately has been elaborate, and hopefully fruitful. First, I've addressed what appears to NOT be working: A reliance solely on GU gels and Gatorade. I can point to some tangibles, and there are some unknowns why this isn't working for me when it does work for many. One is a caloric deficit - the human body can efficiently take in about 30% of what it expends in an hour (give or take, but if you try and take in more than that it's stored as fat - if you're sedentary - or utterly and colorfully outright rejected, if you're, say, 123 miles into a 146.1 mile race). Depending on my race day weight and pace, I'll burn anywhere from 800-1000 calories/hour. I should then be taking in a third of those calories hourly - so, say, between 250 and 330. I've established (I think) that I require on the high side of that, so between 300 and 330. On paper, 32 oz of Gatorade and hour and 1 GU gel an hour should yield me 300 calories and 85g of carbs, which should be about perfect. And if all I were doing was running, maybe it would be. But it's not, and I have a few theories why. One is, GU works most efficiently with 8 oz or so of water just after taking it, and it's hard for me to work in both Gatorade, water, and GU during a fuel station. I need to do a better job of that, or look for alternatives. Another is, I need somewhere in the neighborhood of 600g of sodium/hour - basically, electrolytes. With 32 oz of Gatorade/hour and a GU, I'm only getting about 480g or so. So I need to find some electrolytes somewhere, especially on hot days. Third is the screwball in the group, and that is that I have some kind of blood sugar thing happening. It's why I need a Snickers halfway through a pickup basketball game. It's not hypoglycemia or diabetes, but somewhere in there is a real sensitivity to blood sugar levels. I'm not sure where or how this impacts me, but I suspect I need higher glycemic carbohydrates or something.

However, I think most of my problems are coming from the bike. It makes sense to me that I could function off of Gatorade and GU on the run - although the longer I go, the more distasteful Gatorade will become, and I need to prepare for that. The Marathon Meltdown is a limited example because I wasn't prepared for that race to any extent to being with, so I don't know where nutritional issues came to play versus physical or physiological issues. But thinking of the bike: it's a really complicated formula, but I need closer to 350 calories/hour on the bike - just to maintain the bike calorie expenditure. All last season I basically took in 300 calories/hour. This A - taxed my system on the bike, since I wasn't getting enough calories - say 75 calories short at Lifetime or closer to 225 or so at the Half IM, and B - because I wasn't surplussing calories on the bike, I started the run deficit and was always playing catch up. Since the physiological demands on the bike are much less intense than on the run, the bike is where I should be storing up calories to expend on the run. So if instead of 300 calories/hour, which isn't even getting me satisfied just on the bike, I should instead aim for a surplus of calories for the run - the amount of surplus proportional to the distance of the race. In the case of a Half IM or longer race, where I'm on the bike for, say, 3.5 hours - 7 hours, I should probably have at least a 300 calorie surplus going into the run. Even in shorter races, if I can adequately overstock on the bike I'll require less of my system on the run, which if left unchecked will inevitably reveal itself in the latter half of the run.

Honestly, who out there is still reading this babble?!?!

So anyway, that's where I am in that, and I am trying now to build strategies for it. I can't really apply anything yet with all this run-specific training, but I'm making my plans. I will, as I know you're hanging off the edge of your seat, keep you apprised.

1 comment:

Todd said...

I made it through to the end!

Once again, I'm speechless. The knowledge one has to have in order to complete an IM is insane. I never conscienciously realized how many calories, carbs and electrolytes would need to be replentished during an IM and how much of a science it is. Good luck with all that. You will have to let me know when the carbo loading happends before race day. MMM...pasta.