Book Review- Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever

I recently read Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr and would like to share some of my thoughts here. I’ve been a follower of the authors’ training program for several years and this is basically an update with some more details. Pierce and Murr established the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) many years ago and that has grown and evolved over the years.

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FIRST began as four free lectures a month to help local runners with their training and running that has expanded to include laboratory assessments, gait assessment, nutritional advice, and much more. It’s not uncommon for there to be a waitlist for FIRST retreats. Laboratory fees range from $45 for body composition measurement to $425 for a combination consisting of VO2 MAX / Lactate Threshold  / Gait measurements. A 3-day nutritional assessment seems like a bargain for $50. The May 18-21 2017 retreat (which was sold out months in advance) was $1500 and included all activities, assessments, etc. except lodging. All of the information can be found on this website. There are also many different coaching options from individual coaching to group clinics and team coaching.

Now to the book. As I said, I was already familiar with the FIRST running philosophy, which is geared more toward runners in their forties and older. The basic idea is to run less but work harder and add cross-training, resistance training, and stretching. If you follow their plan, you will be working out for a cumulative of 7 hours a week. This includes 3 days of running, 3 days of cross-training, and 3 days of strength training (some days include both cross-training and strength training). You stretch for 10 minutes every day except one where you stretch for 15 minutes following the long run. Every day you are doing some form of exercise, with a minimum of 25 minutes on a day you strength train 15 minutes and stretch 10 minutes. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an easy workout plan just because you’re only running 3 days a week.

You may be saying, well this wouldn’t be enough for marathon training, and you would be right. The authors state this is a good base for beginning a marathon training plan. It also could be altered by adding longer runs. However, for my purposes, it works great for training for half marathons. It would also work well for shorter distances but I feel it’s perfect for half marathons and the only alteration I need to do is lengthen the long runs.

One notable thing about this training plan you notice right away is there are no distances listed. You run for time, not distance. There is also the FIRST Exertion Scale (FES), which goes from 1, “very easy and relaxed” to 10, “very, very hard; maximal effort.” Your run workouts are based on the FES for a certain amount of time. For example, one of the long run workouts is to begin running comfortably, progressing from a 1 to 3 on the FES scale for 10 minutes then continue the run at FES of 4 for 80 minutes. If I was a really fast runner, I could run for 11 miles pretty easily with this workout, but I’m not that fast so I alter the run workouts to make sure I’m getting in the miles to prepare me for an upcoming half marathon. I think a big part of preparing for a half marathon is mentally preparing yourself to run for 13.1 miles, so I like to go up to 12 or 13 miles for my longest run before a race. If I’m only running for 90 minutes, there’s no way I’m going to run 12 or 13 miles in that time.

I’m skipping ahead, though. The book begins with a lot of background and introductory information. Things start to even get a bit bleak when they go into all of the statistics on “aging runners.” Believe me when I say they don’t sugar-coat anything in this book. They lay it all out there and have many numbers to back it all up. Like it or not, every single one of us will experience the following: reduced lean muscle mass, reduced bone mineral density, increased body fat, reduced cardiac output, reduced metabolic rate, and hormonal changes. Yay! All of this of course impacts your running and other physical activity performance.

But there is hope as long as you are realistic and don’t expect your race times to always keep improving forever. There are also many things you can do such as stretching more, doing weight training, and cross-training. You can also look at your age-graded performance over time. There are many websites to calculate age-graded race times for all distances.

There is a chapter devoted entirely to the marathon and another chapter titled, “Is long-distance running healthy?” that addresses the numerous benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness and of running specifically. Spoiler alert- runners have lower “all-cause and cardiovascular death rates.” Moving on, there is a chapter full of Q & A that they have been asked over the years. There’s a section that discusses the pros and cons of running alone versus with others.

In the chapter on nutrition, I found an interesting idea that I’m still testing. The author states drinking an 8-ounce can of a meal supplement such as Ensure or Boost with 220 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates before a race. The morning of a half marathon I usually have a nervous stomach so the idea of just drinking my breakfast before a race is appealing to me. I don’t want to have to mix powders or anything else. I already do that with my Nuun tablets, which I always run with. I’ve been experimenting with Boost before my last couple of long runs and so far I think it will work for me.

I also enjoyed and appreciated the chapter called “Don’t forget why you are doing this,” where the authors talk about the joy of running.  I think it’s important to not take running and racing too seriously and just have fun; otherwise, what’s the point?

Now to the real meat of the book:

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This is where they really get into the details of the 7-hour workout week. There are detailed workouts for every day of the week, with numerous options to choose from, so you’re not just doing the same exact workouts week after week. There are images and descriptions for all of the stretches, both dynamic stretches before you run, and stretches for after you run. There are also descriptions and images for all of the strength (resistance) exercises. In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted just to strength training and another chapter just on stretching. To finish the book, there is an Afterword and several Appendices.

What did I think of the book? I thought it was extremely in-depth, descriptive, and helpful. As I said earlier, I was already familiar with the authors and their FIRST training plans. I’ve been a believer in running less but running harder and incorporating strength, resistance, and cross-training for several years now. I know everyone is different but for me, if I run more than 3-4 days a week and/or longer distances, my body starts to break down in the form of injuries or illness. I’m no longer in my 30’s and I was not blessed with a body built for running 30+ miles a week. If I want to continue running well into old-age, I know I need to follow the philosophy proposed in this book. The authors state in the Afterword, “The 7-Hour Workout Week works for us.” Quite simply, the 7-Hour Workout Week also works for me.

You can buy the book on Amazon here.

Call for Suggestions for a Half Marathon

For those of you that don’t already know, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 US states. My last one was in Utah, state number 39, which of course means I have 11 more to go. Yay!

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I have the following states to go:  New Jersey and West Virginia, both of which I’ve already got races picked out, so disregard them. That leaves Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, Delaware, Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho (I’m thinking one in Coeur d’Alene just because it looks amazing there), Nebraska, and New Mexico. So I ask all of you reading this, do you have any suggestions for half marathons in these states?  I’m not repeating a state, so if it’s one I’ve already done, thanks anyway.

I’ll take suggestions either way, too. If you loved or hated a race, let me know which one it was and why you loved or hated it.

Even if you haven’t personally ran a half marathon in any of these states but you have a good friend or relative who did and they raved or ranted about it, please pass those my way! I’ll take any and all suggestions I can get.

People often ask me how I choose which races I’m going to run. For many of my races, I’ve had a particular race in mind then something happens and for some reason I can’t run the race I had picked out months or even years in advance, and I’d end up running another race entirely. Usually it’s ended up well, but in the case of Tybee Island, Georgia and Run the Reagan Half Marathon, that wasn’t the best decision. Honestly, since my daughter started school, most of the races I’ve chosen have fit around her school breaks (which haven’t always been during a traditional school year).

Since I’m down to these final states it’s going to take some planning on my part to make sure I reach my goal. I don’t think I’ll be able to just randomly choose a race without thoroughly thinking the logistics through. For example, while there are some half marathons during the winter in Minnesota, you can be sure I won’t be running in any of them. That’s one state I think I have to run in the summer or early (very early) fall.

Now that I have a blog and have connected with many other runners online, I thought I’d send out a call for suggestions here. I know many of you run primarily marathons or other distances than half marathons, but I also know if you’re a part of a running community, you often hear other runners talk about races and I was hoping to gain some of that insight.

However, I realize some of these states aren’t exactly in “hot spots” where people are dying to run a race, like Disney, New York, Chicago, etc. so if I don’t get any suggestions I’ll understand. Personally, I can’t wait to go to most of these states but I don’t think they’re high on most runners’ lists of places where they want to run, with possibly the exception of Alaska.

You never know unless you ask, right? Anyone? Anything?

 

 

Back in the Saddle Again!

Now that winter is over and spring is most definitely where I live in North Carolina, I decided to take my bicycle out again.  I hadn’t ridden since the fall since I don’t like riding when it’s cold out.  It took a little doing to get out there too.

First, I had to get my bike out of the garage, which usually isn’t a big deal but right now we’re having work done on the house and the man doing the work has been leaving his materials in our garage so I had to maneuver around all of that.  Of course my tires needed air so I had to get out the pump. We have a pump that you have to hook up to a vehicle with the engine running for it to work (yes, I know; I need a new pump), so I had to go in the house and get my car keys then start the car, hook up the pump to my tires, and pump them up, then turn off the car and put away the keys, and put away the pump.

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When I went to put on my helmet, it needed tightened and adjusted, but finally after all that, I was off! I decided to keep it fairly short since I hadn’t ridden in months so I went for 30 minutes. It was glorious too! We’ve had some pretty hot days here lately (it was 87 when I went out today) so the breeze felt so refreshing. And then suddenly my chain fell off when I changed gears. Fortunately that was a quick fix and the only problem was what to do with my greasy fingers. I guess I should carry a pack of wet wipes or something in the future.

Last fall I wrote a post about cycling and how it complements running and can make you a better runner.  If you’d like to read about it, check it out here. I also have a link to a Runner’s World article about running and cycling in my post. Anyway, I really feel that cycling has made my legs stronger and has helped me be a stronger runner, especially as I’m getting older. I’m training for my next half marathon next month and want to get back into the routine of including a day of cycling in my training plan.

I won’t lie, either. When I got home and got off my bike after that first ride in months, my legs felt a little wobbly. They’re definitely going to take some getting used to being back on my bike again!

How many of you all incorporate cycling into your schedule when you’re training for a race or just cycle for the fun of it? I know some of you all have trainers so you can cycle indoors during the winter. Do you like that? I don’t have one but have thought about getting one. Any suggestions?

Why My Race Finish Times Don’t Mean Much to Me

I won’t go so far as to say my race times don’t mean anything, but over the years I’ve learned they don’t really mean a whole lot. I’m primarily talking about half marathons here, because that’s primarily what I run. I also don’t mean to disparage anyone and their time goals. Let me explain.

I ran my first half marathon when I was 28 years old. I finished in 2:20:04. I recently completed my 41st half marathon in my 39th state, Utah (2:06:24) and over the years my finish times have been all over the place. Well, sort of. Let’s take a closer look at that.

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Start of the Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon

My fastest finish was 1:55:28 at Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state. Prior to that, my fastest finish was 1:56:16 at Evansville Half Marathon, Indiana-13th state. So many years had passed since the race in Indiana that I thought there was no way I would ever beat that time, but sure enough I did thanks to the downhill course in South Dakota. Of note, I didn’t win any age-group awards at either of these races.

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This was a long, slow lap for me at the Arbuckles to Ardmore Race for Mercy Half Marathon

On the flip side, my slowest finish was 2:35:42 at Arbuckles to Ardmore Race for Mercy Half Marathon, Oklahoma-21st state which was right around when I was diagnosed with anemia. I really struggled to get my times back down after my diagnosis and it took years until I felt like I was back to my pre-anemia running self. I hovered around the 2:05 mark until I finally broke sub-2 hours again at the Frederick Half Marathon, Maryland- 33rd state with a finish of  1:59:48. This was a well-organized, fun race and I think that all contributed to my finish time.

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The finish of the Frederick Half Marathon

I managed to finish first in my age group at the Roller Coaster Half Marathon, Missouri- 32nd state, but the funny thing about that is it wasn’t even one of my fastest times (2:04). When I finished second in my age group at the Dixville Half Marathon, New Hampshire- 35th state (1:57) that was my third fastest finish time ever but my time at the McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state (2:02:32) was one of several race times around 2:02 and I finished third in my age group. The difference in these races was the conditions and the courses. As I said in my post about the race in Oregon, it was one of the toughest courses I’ve ever ran, so I was really happy with my finish time, regardless of what the clock said.

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Over the years, I’ve learned how weather, hills, and wind are all huge contributing factors in race times. For whatever reason, I seem to have chosen a lot of hilly courses, so my times have been slower than if I would have chosen flatter or downhill courses. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment because I’m really not a big fan of uphill courses. I’ll admit I’ve often been mislead by the posted courses on race websites and have been surprised to see the course in person. One thing I have learned is that when a race is described as “scenic,” that means there will be hills and often really big hills.

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Finishing the Dixville Half Marathon in New Hampshire

Another factor in all of these finish times is my age. My racing career has spanned almost 20 years and other than when I was anemic or otherwise injured or sick, I’ve somehow managed to keep my times fairly consistently around 2 hours. I’m waiting for the shoe to drop, so to speak, and for my times to increase as I get older. I’ve learned to not stress out during a race if I get tired or am in pain and let goal times slip by. It’s OK if I don’t run a sub-2 hour anymore. I’ve done it and if I do it again, great, but if not, that’s OK with me. Really.

Just like the saying, “Age is only a number,” I feel like my race times are only a number. I think that’s the biggest take-away here. I’m OK with my finish times, no matter what they are. For every single race I’ve ever ran, I’ve put my all into it and done my best, and that’s all that really matters to me. Not a “fast” finish time. But I’ll take one when I can get it!

Also, here’s a discount code for everyone that buys Nuun.  It’s good through the end of March. Sorry for the late notice!

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#MyFirstPostRevisited

Paula from Never a Dull Bling nominated me for “My First Blog Post Challenge.” Sarah from Lemon Shark created the challenge. Thanks, Paula! I’m up for the challenge.

Here goes, my first blog post from 10 months ago:

Why I run

I’ve been running pretty much since I can remember.  I remember running on the track team in grade school and how my lungs would ache on those chilly mornings in West Virginia.  I remember the sheer thrill I would feel as a kid when running with our dog through our neighborhood and how happy our dog looked.  I remember running to stave off the freshmen 15 in college.  Then I remember getting shin splints during one run in college and almost crawling back to my apartment, followed by the agonizing pain I felt when all of my leg muscles seized up in the shower.  I decided to take some time off running at that point and I did not run again for about four or five years.  Then I realized how much I missed running and I decided to train for my very first 5k.  The race I chose was on the 4th of July in North Carolina.  Being young and naive, I didn’t even think twice about running through the heat and humidity that envelopes the North Carolina summers.  Fortunately, the race was in the evening, but I remember it was still extremely hot and humid even after the sun had gone down.  It was during that summer that I remembered why I run.  It’s not to stay in shape or lose weight. It’s not so I can eat whatever I want and not gain weight.   When I run, I feel free.  I feel alive.  Sure, there are times when it’s painful and not much fun, but I know when I’ve finished a run, I will feel satisfied that I’ve put my all into that run and I have done my best.  I run because I love it, quite simply.

 

Now for my nominees (who do not have to participate so please don’t feel obligated):

Run Away With Me (What a journey you’ve had!)

Slacker Runner (Holy cow- you’ve been blogging for a long time! What an accomplishment!)

If I Just Breathe (Mission accomplished for your goals on this post, I’d say!)

Dream Trip 2016 site (I was intrigued by your first post)

Running the States (We have similar interests and goals in mind)

Remember, this is not an award, but a challenge.

But first, here are the rules:

Obvious rules:

  • No cheating. (It must be your first post. Not your second post, not one you love…first post only.)
  • Link back to the person who tagged you (thank them if you feel like it or, if not, curse them with a plague of ladybugs).

Other rules:

  • Cut and paste your old post into a new post or reblog your own bad self. (Either way is fine but NO editing.)
  • Put the hashtag #MyFirstPostRevisited in your title.
  • Tag five (5) other bloggers to take up this challenge.
  • Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog (don’t just hope they notice a pingback somewhere in their spam).
  • Feel free to cut and paste the badge to use in your post. Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog (don’t just hope they notice a pingback somewhere in their spam).
  • Include “the rules” in your post.

Have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

Just Checking In- One Week to Go

It’s just a little over a week until my next half marathon which will be my 41st half marathon in state number 39. The race is in Utah and I’ve never been there but am hugely excited about all of the hiking my family and I have planned to do after the race, so yes, it will be another racecation for us. With only one week to go before the race, how am I doing?  Well, for some reason it feels like forever since I’ve ran a race, even though I ran a half marathon in San Diego in November- Silver Strand Half Marathon, California-38th state so it really hasn’t been that long.

My training plan, which I’ve just cobbled together myself based on other training plans I’ve read about or otherwise came across consists of running just three days a week.  I know some of you may be gasping and saying to yourself, “Only three days a week?  That’s crazy!” When I was younger I would run four or five days a week depending on what I was training for, but for the past several years I’ve just been running three days a week.  However, I also ride my bike outside (or indoors if it’s too cold outside) one day a week, go to yoga class one day a week, go to core class one day a week, and lift weights one day a week. That leaves me with doing some form of exercise every day of the week. I feel like yoga, cycling, and maintaining muscle are all extremely important for runners and I just don’t have enough time in the day to do all of that plus run massive amounts, work full-time, take care of my daughter, and do all of the other million things I need to do. I can get by with it by running half marathons but I know I would need to add another day or two if I was training for marathons.

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Zion National Park awaits! Photo credit NPS

So how do I get enough miles in by only running three days a week? Obviously there is zero room for any “fun runs” or any other kind of easy or recovery run days. I run either hills or do a tempo run one day, speed work another day, and a long run, a.k.a. a “leg strengthening run” on the third day. Why do I call my long run my “leg strengthening run?”  I just started calling it that recently because although my legs surely get stronger on my speed work days, I feel like putting in the miles is what really strengthens them and gets them ready for a half marathon. I’ve seen training plans where they’re called “long slow distance” runs, but I prefer “leg strengthening run.”

But back to the original question- how am I doing with only one week to go? I’m not sure, to be honest. I had a rough start in my training because of a cold that turned into bronchitis and once my cough finally went away after weeks, just when I was finally feeling better, I got another cold. The second one wasn’t nearly as bad as the first cold but it did put a damper on my running.  I remember having to stop running multiple times on one of my long runs to blow my nose in the tissues I had thankfully brought. I’m over all of that but I’ve also had this strange pain in my right leg that I’ve had a hard time figuring out what the cause is. The best I can determine, it’s a knot that firmly wedged itself in the soleus muscle of my calf. Anyway, it hurts, sometimes a lot, sometimes not as much but the pain does seem to come and go.  I’ve been foam rolling, rolling on a lacrosse ball, and getting massage therapy. Last night when I did speed work, my leg started to hurt and after I was done, my leg hurt a lot.  If this happens during the race, I’m not sure I’ll be able to run through the pain for that long. We’ll see, I guess.

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Bryce Canyon; photo credit Warren Russell

I will be in a new age group for this half marathon, as my birthday is two days before the race. I’ve checked last year’s results, though, and there’s no way I’ll be anywhere near the top three for my new age group. This is a downhill course and either that’s why the previous times are all so fast, or else women from this part of Utah are just super-speedy!  I’m definitely looking forward to the downhill course. The last downhill course I ran was Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state and I loved that race, and it was my fastest finish time to date, so who knows what might happen at this one.

Finish times aside, I’m just looking forward to running a race in a new state and having tons of fun with my family in Utah and Arizona and seeing the sights including Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Grand Canyon National Park (our National Parks Pass will come in handy!).  My daughter is also running a 5k, while I run my half marathon.  I wish I could watch her but the start times are the same so I’ll miss it but my husband will be with her, photographing and videoing it for me.

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Grand Canyon; photo credit Rob Parsons

Does anyone else have any races coming up?  I know a bunch of you have been racing a lot this month and I’ve enjoyed reading about your experiences.