Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Running and Rucking Training Philosophy

A friend asked me about how I approach running with a ruck and endurance training, and since my answer would be a bit lengthy anyways, I figured that I'd post it here.  I'm sure I'll continue to learn new things along the way, and my approach may evolve, so this will be a good snapshot for future reference, in any case, when I want to look back on such things many years from now.

The main question had been about running with a ruck, and I'll get more into the ruck-specific aspects later, but I'll focus on the running part first, because as the second part of the question highlighted, the biggest factor to me is general running or hiking endurance.  If your legs are strong and your aerobic engine is strong, it'll take you a long way.


1. Don't get injured / listen to your body / strong hips/quads are a girl's best friend

When I first got "more serious" about running while in college (far too slow to make any team, so it was just running on my own, 6 mi, 2x/week, on average), I thought "no pain, no gain".  I wanted to be able to show improvement on each run, so I tried to PR on every training run.  I was really enthusiastic, and would fall asleep listening to running podcasts like old-school Phedippidations.  However, I ended up developing knee pain that limited how much I could run.  I had the heart, but my body wasn't cooperating.

After college, a PT friend helped determine that I had really week hips, and once I started strengthening my quads with body weight lower leg extensions (placing a pillow or foam roller under my quads, and just raising my lower legs), and body weight hip abductions and adductions while lying on my side, and doing single-leg squats, my knee issues went away.  I later read that knee issues can be common, especially among women, and that the hip exercises could be magic.  I still do some of those exercises, and as little as one set of each exercise once or twice/week made a lot of difference.

Everyone may have different imbalances, but that was mine.  Once I addressed it, I've been able to stay pretty much injury-free for the past 8 years.  There are still small nagging issues every now and then, with my knees, or my plantar fascia, or the occasional mild ankle roll, but nothing that takes me out of training... I tend to rest 1-3 days between workouts anyways, so by the time I'm going to do another workout, it's usually better, or at least good enough to continue with, anyway.

That leads to the topic of rest.  I do less mileage, and take more "off days" than most, probably.  I feel like my body just needs more time to recover.  If my legs feel "used" or "swollen", I could push it, but usually don't.  Sometimes, it's merely a matter of getting blood flowing, and they're really ok to run on.  But other times, if I'm just not feeling it, I'll make it a rest day.  A couple times, I've tried pushing through and working out anyways, but it typically ends up in having one of those nagging issues pop up.

Mileage-wise, I do far less than most who do races in the times/distances that I do them, but it works, and it's what I feel like I can safely handle.  I'll get more into my typical workout week in the next section.  But the key is, I try to listen to my body, and am not afraid to take rest days.

I've had long periods of being inured in high school and in college, not only with the knee pain, but also with ankle rolls that would take me out for about 3 months each time.  Being injured is no fun.  The physical pain is nothing, compared to the mental struggle of not having exercise as an outlet and races to look forward to.  You find ways to cope.  When I'd be out for 3 months after an ankle roll, I'd replace my usual run workouts with body weight strength exercises... lots of core work.

In racing, being 10% under-trained is far better than being 1% over-trained.... that's the old adage.  In training, it's something similar... if you run yourself to injury, and you end up being out for X weeks, your fitness will drop.  If you temper your buildup and listen to your body, give it time to adapt to small incremental increases in training stress, you may not meet your full potential in the shorter run, but perhaps in the longer run, you'll have far more months and years of cumulative training.  Endurance built up over many years is for real.  There are others I've heard of, who can ramp down their mileage a bunch, but their performance doesn't drop much at all, because of cumulative endurance.  Also, as people get older, they should be getting slower, but I'm still getting faster, for the most part... very incrementally, but I do think I am getting faster still, because of the continued accumulation of endurance.  There are so many adaptations that take place, many of them undetectable (like capillaries growing, to better deliver blood to muscles)... it all adds up over time.

So, don't get injured, so that you can get more training in the long run, listen to your body.

2. My typical training week

Most of my runs are 5-6 miles, medium effort.  I'll have a longer run once every 1-2 weekends, ranging from 8-20 miles, depending on whether I'm training for a marathon, or in maintenance mode.  Every now and then, when I am training for a specific road race (anything from a 5K to a marathon), I'll do intervals.  My bread-and-butter inteval session is a 1 mi warmup, and then 3 x [0.75mi or 0.5mi fast, then jog 0.25mi]... where "fast" is about 5K race pace.

When I'm in maintenance mode, I may do only 10-15 miles/week (2 x 5 mi run, or 1 x 5 mi and 1 x 8 mi).  When I'm training for a marathon, I max out at 25-30 miles/week.  This is far less than most, but it's what I feel like I can handle, and I've gotten away with it.  Some people are able to handle more mileage better starting to risk injury, than others.

The #1 thing that people can do to improve their marathon times is supposedly more mileage.  I often tell myself "next training cycle, I'm going to try to up my mileage by adding in more slow runs to safely add volume".  But I haven't actually mustered the energy to really try it yet.  The more risk, the more reward.  So if I really want to get past my plateau (I've been running similar marathon and 5K times for the past like 6 years), I should try something different... but then you have to make sure you're doing it safely.  Work can make me tired, too... so I haven't tried it yet.  I don't know how people with families to take care of do it all.  What they're able to achieve while juggling it all is incredible.  I feel like I'm barely capable of taking care of myself sometimes, between cleaning the house, dishes, laundry, etc. 

During marathon training, the long run is the key, but I still periodize that, taking a big cut in mileage once every 3-4 weeks.  Becoming stronger doesn't come during the time you're exercising.  That's when you're actually damaging your body and therefore getting weaker.  It's during the resting time that your body makes its adaptations and gets stronger.

During the long run itself, and for building endurance, going longer is more important than going fast.  I'll intentionally go super slow at the beginning of my long runs, because it guarantees that I'll make it through the full distance that I'm planning.   Negative splits (gradually increasing your pace during the entire run, by starting slow and tempering your effort so that you don't burn out in the beginning or mid-way) are how I approach all of my medium- and long- runs.  Finish feeling good.  For short and fast runs like intervals, I keep the pedal to the metal the whole time, still not killing myself the first rep, but the reps naturally get harder as you go on, even for the same pace.

Once per week, on average, I also do a 1-hr body weight strength session.  Some push-ups (my upper body is far weaker than the rest of my body), lots of planks, lots of sit-ups, lots of hip-related exercises, squats, started adding lunges (it's supposed to simulate hiking up a steep mountain, and I agree... but my knees need to feel 100% strong to pull them off), and some 10-lb dumbell exercises.  It feels really good to do the body weight strength session.  It fixes imbalances that might've emerged from the repetitive and linear motions of running, and from sitting all day at work.  It gets blood flowing and helps with recovery.  Afterwards, it always feel like I've given my body a "reset" that will make it good to go and injury-free for another week.  I can feel it when I go more than 2 weeks without it.

I'll sometimes substitute a run with, or supplement running with a day of stationary biking per week.  It gets blood flowing through my body, helping with recovery.  It gets in a little training effort, with minimal impact.  I do go to the point where my hips get tired/sore, which may not be ideal for the run I do the next day or the day after, but I still through it in once every 1-2 weeks.


1. The Hip Belt 

There's debate in the community about the use of hip belts.  Those from a military background are pro-shoulder carrying without the hip belt.  Those from a hiking/backpacking background are pro hip belt.  I totally get the hip belt.  Your legs are going to carry the weight anyways, regardless of whether it sits on your waist or your shoulders.  By putting it on your waist, though, you get to bypass putting any stress on your shoulders/upper body.  Maybe it's just because I don't have a strong upper body, but having the weight go directly to my lower body, instead of sitting on both the upper body and transferring to the lower body, has felt more comfortable.

I was curious about why some prefer the shoulder carry.  I tried to google it, and this is the only answer I've found so far (see minute 4:45):

Disclaimer: I'm not a big backpacker, and have only done 1 week of backpacking, but the time I did to it, and the times I've worn rucks (GORUCK Tough, HH12HR, BEL), having a waist belt cinched tight around my body has made me feel much better.  It could be the design of my particular ruck / my particular body, but it's worked for me. 

I haven't been able to justify paying $45 for a GORUCK hip belt with my GORUCK GR1, so what I use instead is a $2 strap with clips that I bought at Walmart (it's not meant to be a waist/hip belt... it's just an all-purpose strap with a buckle, that I found in the camping section).  I attached it to the MOLLE on my ruck.  It's around my waist rather than my hips, technically, but it still allows the weight to go more directly to my lower body.  It's not equivalent, I'm sure.  It's a thin strap, and is not padded at all.  I don't chafe, though, and it feels much better than having nothing at all.  Worth a try, for $2, at least to see what having one would be like.  That $2 strap has survived 3 endurance events so far, plus the mini training, which I'll get into next.

When I say "mini training" with the ruck, it's mini, because it's mostly just me walking to and from the fitness room (0.5-0.9 mi 1-way, depending on whether I want to add extra distance to get a Pokestop).  I'll also wear it when I go hiking with my dad, which is about once every 2 months.  I tend to get pretty tired of having that weight on my back (in spite of the hip belt) after about 6 miles.  Maybe that says something about the limitations of my $2 hip belt... would a $45 padded hip belt be better?  Or is the shoulder carry the way to go?  Does a hip belt and shoulder carry need to be mutually exclusive?  No.  I think hikers also recommend having the heaviest objects high in the pack, and closest to the body, along with having the hip belt.  Or, it could be that I'm just not strong enough yet.  Or a mixture... point is, I get tired after about 6 miles of hiking with a ruck.

2. Running with a Ruck

The big secret is that I don't train running with a ruck.  I only walk / fast walk with the ruck, a couple times a week.  Running entails leaving the ground, bouncing up and down.  That's a lot of stress on your knees.  Using 20LB like I do, it's an extra 20LB slamming down on your knees with every step.  
I save running with a ruck for the actual event.  I have no issues with suddenly being capable of doing that on the day of the event, because of the running endurance and being at least moderately used to wearing the ruck during the short walks a couple of times per week.

When I do move, whether it's while walking or running, I try to minimize my vertical oscillation (minimize bounce).  I feel like that's another area where the hip belt helps.  It keeps the ruck tight against your body, so that it moves with your body, rather than bouncing all around.  Even without a hip belt, making your shoulder straps as tight as you can against your body also helps to reduce bounce.  Minimizing bounce means doing something more reminiscent of a shuffle.  Not only do you avoid the bounce... you also avoid the extra work of having to raise and re-raise the weight with each step / mini-jump that running entails. 

Disclaimer: I don't ruck that often, and not for that long of a distance, but what I mentioned above has been good enough strategies for helping me survive what I've set out to do so far.  If I were to take on longer events, multi-day events, heavier events then maybe I'd need another strategy or different gear... who knows.  But for the 12hr events, it's worked well enough for me. Also, I've only ever tried one brand... GORUCK.  Perhaps there are other brands that would completely change my view if I tried them... but I can only speak for what I have tried.  I had invested in a GORUCK (during a big sale), because of its durability and reliability, and haven't been disappointed.  Again, other brands may be just as good, and have their own features and merits that make it even better than GORUCK in some ways.  I might try a different brand one day... my GORUCK is bright red, which isn't the best, when you're trying to be stealthy ;)  It could be a good excuse to get another rucksack from a different brand and branch out.

Most girls have a large collection of purses... I have a large collection of backpacks.

Most girls have a large collections of heels... I have a large collection of running shoes. ;)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

RACE REPORT: Spartan Asheville Southeast Showdown Super, HH-117, Sprint, Vol

Another epic OCR weekend!  Last weekend was 12 hours of driving, a big race, a bit of touring, and volunteering.  This weekend was Spartaned up.


Tue, Jul 25: 5.0 in 39:49, 7:58 ave.  Getting in a bit of training between OCR weekends.  Right outer tibialis anterior still iffy in the early miles.


By itself, Asheville's Black Mountain is such a beautiful race venue.  It's surrounded by mountains covered in richly green trees, with smokey clouds blanketing some of it. On top of that, Spartan chose this race as one of the US Championship Series races, with NBCSN and live youtube coverage.  The big names come to this race.

My dad came to spectate for an OCR for the first time.  It was nice to finally show him what I've been doing the past few years, outside of normal running.  I think he liked it.  It's interesting to watch, to me.

The race started about 45 min late, because they had issues getting the wifi started up to support the live coverage.  That's cool, though... more time to enjoy the pre-race atmosphere.  They announced the top contenders one by one.  The men left.  Next, the women.  

We started off with double track, followed by the river run from last year.  I had banged my shin against an underwater rock last year, so I was more careful with my steps this year.  Lots of hidden rocks.  At least it was cooling in the water.  The wide river also eases congestion.

Next, over walls, single hurdle, cliff climb, sandbag not bad.

z-wall not bad, spear fail, herc hoist challenging but got through, barbed wire long and low but rollable, rolling mud and dunk wall.

Slip wall, atlas carry, cargo climb, 7' wall, 8' wall no issues, 3 hill bucket carry was the longest and hardest I can remember, bender not hard if you start with toes to bars and use your legs, log carry fine, vert cargo, Devil's staircase at the top of the quarry, inverted wall, rope doable with the feet technique, olympus fail 1/3 of the way, twister fail 1/3 of the way transitioning from the first truss, 200lb tire struggle but got it.

Bridge, rig fail 1/2 way through the pipe, fire jump.  

It was nice to have my dad there.  I was happy with how it went.  125 burpees total (failed the rig, olympus, spear, and twister), but I was glad to be able to do the rope, herc hoist, walls, bucket.

(8.2 miles)

We hung around the festival, watching the rolling mud obstacle and drinking Catawba Brewing (yay, no macro beer!!!).  Then, we went to check in at the hotel. 


I headed back out to the venue, for the Hurricane Heat.  The start time is 5pm, but apparently, if you're not there by 4pm, you're late and need to do burpees.  

We started off with some PT that included our homemade slosh pipes that were full and not really sloshy.

(photo credit Jack Goras)

 (photo credit Jack Goras)

As usual during team events, we start with some dysfunction.  Late people like me, people who can't count, struggling with the PT.  There were a few b-day people among our group of 125-ish, and they had a special task of carrying a cupcake with them the whole time.  Not much cupcake ended up surviving, in the end.

(photo credit Jack Goras)

The main task was 3 teams of 43-ish, carrying big logs along a main road, looking for flags that indicate where we should go into the forest to look for Spartan Endurance Flags.

(photo credit Jack Goras)

Once we found the flag, we'd have some PT task or other kind of task to do.  The activity took us to some really gorgeous hidden places in the rock quarry.  Simply beautiful.

After that, low crawls with our pipes, going through rolling mud and dunk wall, then slip wall.

We made it through!

Did laundry that night, and got like 6 hrs of sleep before getting up for the...


I was part of the 8:30 volunteer wave.  The previous night, I was afraid that at most, I'd be able to walk it, if my rolled ankle could handle the race at all.  I had limped through much of the Hurricane Heat, and used my pipe as a cane, almost.  Over the course of the morning, my ankle loosened up some, and I was able to manage a reasonable run, though, thankfully.

They make the Sprint a bit more approachable, so along with a shorter distance, the obstacles are slightly less difficult.  For example, no 8' wall, only a 7' wall.  Shorter bucket (just up and down the first hill... still tough, but not nearly as bad as yesterday).  Rig is all rings, no pipe.  No less fun, though!  Maybe even more enjoyable.

I still failed the spear, only got through 3 rungs of twister (vs. a full third of the obstacle), only got a couple feet into Olympus.  But I exceeded my expectations in that I was still able to handle herc hoist and rope climb and run at all.  Tire was a little easier, maybe because the ground was a bit drier, and maybe because I was more familiar with the technique after yesterday.

(5.1-ish miles?)

 After the race, volunteering!  Trash & some tear down.  Love Spartan days.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

RACE REPORT: Green Beret Challenge - Guardian Centers 2, Andersonville NHS, Spartan Volunteering

The most I've driven for a normal distance OCR event is like 3.5 hours.  I was willing to go 5 hours one way for a 5 mile race, though, for the Green Beret Challenge's potentially last race at the Perry, GA Guardian Centers.  It was such a cool venue for Behind Enemy Lines.  I had to do a race there while I had the chance, especially because I hadn't gotten to experience all parts of it during BEL. 

All I did was one 7-mi run on Monday, Jul 17.  Legs felt surprisingly good, given two days of workouts over the weekend.  My right knee was iffy for the first couple of miles, and it was a hard effort for the rest of my body.  The perceived exertion level was much more than it should've been.  I wanted to outlast the girl on the treadmill next to me, though.  7.0 in 57:02, 8:09 ave.  Could've pushed on, if I wanted, or I even could've done a strength session, but wanted to taper for the GBC.

Thursday, my college roommate visited from Texas! 
Tupelo Honey Cafe, Airport Overlook, and Catching Up over a couple of beers.


I normally just leave super early in the morning for events that are far away.  This especially long distance would've meant leaving at 2am, though, assuming no stops.  I figured that driving for 5 hours right before running wouldn't be the best for my run, so I decided to leave after work on Friday.  Made my way down, and slept for a few hours in the car, before going to the venue.

It's a more intimate atmosphere at GBC, but everyone there is a superfan.

There were 2 waves of elite racers, and I went out in the first wave.  This was a mandatory completion race, so completion was my main focus, as opposed to speed.  The running part is predictable, but obstacles are not.  The first one was jumping over cars.

We navigated through some building windows, like in BEL.  Then, an insane farmers carry.  I thought I was pretty good at farmers carries, but this was super long and heavy.  Lots of breaks.  It went all the way around the long lake that we had swum across during BEL.

We got to run through a fake subway, which was fun.  Climbing up and down buildings, a rope climb that was slippery, but I finally made it up.  Tire flip, climbing over stuff.  A sled drag that was also really long and grueling.  Barbed wire crawl.  Then a yoke carry.  I was very inefficient at first, then I figured out how to hold the bar on my shoulders, and then I was able to move better, with fewer breaks.  Always a learning element, with these OCRs.  Not just pure strength, but also technique.  I rode buses for the most part from K-12.

We got to climb into the bus fire exit, like little kids on buses have always dreamed of doing.  Next, swimming through the flooded city.  An inverted ladder climb.  I had seen pictures of their rig previously, and it looked tough... 4 ropes, followed by something more like monkey bars, but with ropes.  The 4 normal ropes were the most worrying part.  How much would I have left by that point?  Fresh, I can do rigs ok, but after going through everything else, it gets more iffy.  I was so excited when I got it on my first shot.  As a bonus, the volunteer at the rig was Agent Harden from BEL!

Then, a fire ladder climb and a rope climb that I fought hard through.


After that, the end.  I was so excited to have completed everything successfully.  I had possibly been third in the heat, based on the number of completions at the rig that far, but there would be more coming in the second heat.  I ended up with 2nd AG, which was cool.  I'll have to come back to collect more of these!


I'm a big fan of the National Park system, too, and Andersonville NHS exceeded expectations.  The POW museum was fantastic and really immersed you in the experiences of POWs from all kinds of conflicts through history.  They made you think about what it would be like to go through it yourself, going from capture, to life at the camps, to ways of coping, to possibly freedom.  It was powerful.  Regardless of the conflict or the era, there are many commonalities between experiences.  We're all humans, and struggle through the same kinds of things.

I watched a couple of videos there, and listened to a talk. It was all fascinating.

I then went outside to the old stockade.  It's crazy to imagine that so many people had been packed here, in real life, at one time.  It's so peaceful and quiet here now.  But this place had been like hell on earth at one time.


After Andersonville, a 5 hr drive up to Asheville, where I'd be volunteering the next morning.  Another beautiful place.  While I love the West, the Southeast is pretty amazing, too.

I helped to build blade banners, saran wrapped trucks, small tents, big tents, and fences.  Not a bad place to work outside!