Growth happens when you rest, not when you are training. If you just train constantly with little rest you will slow down, weaken and eventually get injured. Rest is the key.
Many athletes (like me!) spend a ton of money on gadgets like heart rate monitors, power meters, GPS devices and fancy training programs, but in the end you will improve just as much by optimizing your rest and recovery as you will from optimizing your workouts. Good coaches focus on this – which is partly why I think the best money you can spend to improve your performance in a sport is on a coach.
How to optimize your rest?
Get quality sleep in a dark room with no noise
Take ice baths after exercising
Alternate warm and cool showers in the morning to flush stale fluid from your muscles
Use a foam roller and do self-massage
Take in high quality nutrition immediately after finishing workouts (200-400 calories with a blend of sugar and protein – I like a dozen raw almonds and 4-5 dates with some water, or a smoothie made with Vega and fruit)
Give your nervous system a rest by not watching too much TV or using the computer a ton
Stay off your feet when don’t need to be on them
Cut back on stimulants like caffeine and sugar, especially in the evening
Learn yoga, develop a home practice and do it regularly (focus on your known tight/bound muscles)
The second principle I mentioned in my first post is that aerobic fitness is rarely the limiter of speed. Again, I’m not a scientist but just stating what I learn through my own experience. If you happen to know of scientific evidence for anything I’m talking about (refuting or confirming) make note in the comments. Aerobic fitness does matter, it is just isn’t the be all end all.
In the past few months I’ve run the Portland Marathon (flat and on paved roads) and two 50K ultra-marathons (hilly and mostly off road). In these three outings, despite running them after just a few months of training after a long hiatus from running, I was never out of breath. There were a few times during the 50K’s when I was breathing super hard during steep climbs, but those were just a few isolated incidents. The majority of the time my lungs were not the limiter in any way. I was breathing fine, but still my perceived exertion was very high.
In the case of my Portland Marathon experience, after about 16 miles my legs just stopped working normally. I wasn’t aerobically fatigued in any way, but it felt like I just finished a billion reps of squats and my leg muscles just wouldn’t fire. During my 50K’s, I had a similar experience. My muscles were just exhausted, as if I finished a really demanding weight workout, but my cardiovascular system and lungs seemed fine. During The North Face 50K, there were plenty of long climbs on single-track trails. They took a lot of power to muscle up.
I wish I had worn a heart rate monitor during my races to prove this point. I bet my heart rate was right around 140 or so. Not super high. What also happened later in the races was that my form went to hell. I would slouch over and everything would just sag. My core and low back would tire. This would affect my stride and breathing.
My take away from these events is that muscular strength (across the whole body, not just legs) plays a massive part in endurance events. When I say strength I really mean power/weight ratio. Strength with a fairly lean overall mass. Strong core and strong back to support proper form over long distances. Strong posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, low-back) to support overall running form and power. Once a reasonable aerobic base is developed, it makes intuitive sense that working the other energetic and power-building pathways in the body is a smart thing to do.
I just got a brand new 53-pound kettlebell to join my 32-pounder. The 32 was getting light. Great for higher reps but now is a good time to upgrade. I ordered through a Dragon Door wholesaler, Kettlebility in Seattle, to spare myself crazy-high shipping costs.
This morning I did a trail run at Cougar Mountain, about 4.5 miles at a good clip and then 4 fast repeats up a hill (each repeat was 85 seconds). Nice workout given I haven’t been feeling so hot this week after my return from the insanity that is CES.
Also, I got a copy of Pavel’s book “Power to the People” along with my kettlebell. I almost finished it in one sitting! So much good stuff in there. Can’t wait to start dead-lifting again. I always thought squats were more effective and safer, but Pavel thinks differently.