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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mel's running

On Sunday I ran the Buffalo Stampede 10 mile race for the 4th or 5th time and a friend on facebook asked me to describe my training program.

The first thing to establish here. I’m not a good runner who is looking to be elite. I’ve always been slow, but steady distance runner.  Using interval training I moved myself from the bottom 30% to the top 50%. My goals are to stay un-injuried and run for as long as I can and break some personal records (PRs) on the way. 

I think the best way to explain how different my training has been in the last 2 years, is to briefly tell you what I used to do.

I’ve been running for over 10 years, focusing on distances greater than 10 miles. Starting out I followed Jeff Galloway’s training and did run/walk intervals for most of my runs - always for “long runs”, variable for the shorter “easy” runs during the week..  That program was based on 2-3 runs M-F that were 20-30 min at steady pace (“easy” runs). The weekends had a long run, eventually a long run every other weekend as the runs exceeded 12 miles, working my way up to marathon distance (26.2 miles). 

After a couple of years of doing Galloway, I started following the programs that can be found on Go to their site, type in the distance you are training for (26.2 miles) and your “level” (I usually used beginner or intermediate).  The increase of mileage on the weekends as long runs is very similar to the Galloway program.  The runs during the week are increased to 3-4, with one run done a little faster than the other runs (tempo or speedwork) with the rest of the M-F runs being the same easy runs.

Both of these programs relied on mileage and slow steady runs to build base. There was usually a 3-2 week taper of reduced mileage before a race.

I dealt with a lot of injuries, even when increasing my mileage by the recommended 10% a week. A couple of them are chronic and constantly flare up.  I always got sick the first week of training, and the week after a race. I always arrived at the race start trying to mitigate a new or chronic injury, even though I dutifully changed out my shoes, took time off. After each marathon it took me 6 months before I was ready to run again.  I took a lot of ibrophen before, during, after runs, sat in a lot of ice baths post-run.

2 years ago I read the 20 minute book and it completely changed how I thought of exercise and running.

So here’s my program now.  It’s given me 2 10 mile PR’s, multiple 1 mile PR’s, ZERO injuries, resolution of the three most chronic running injuries I’ve been dealing with over the years, made running FUN again, and I haven’t been sick from training reasons.

On a practical level it also takes a lot less time and I’ve never been more fit.

So here it is.

2-3x a week I go out for an interval run.  After a 5 min warm up, I alternate between running 1 minute as hard as I possibly can, and 1 min 15 seconds of recovery - either walking or slow jogging.  Repeat 8-12 times.  It should take 20 minutes or less. The first time I did this work out, I managed 5 reps.

When I mean “hard as I possibly can” - I mean this: for 1 minute run as close to maximum capacity as you can possibly stand, without regard to the fact you have to do it again in another 75 seconds.

Usually I do interval runs 2x a week and then I do something else for that 3rd workout - a hike, a trail run, a long run, a race, a 1 mile test etc. 

Long runs - I try to get in a run that lasts over 1 hour once a month. I still do my walk run intervals. 

1 mile test - once a month I run a mile to see how fast I can go - According to the 20 mintue book the 1 mile run is an excellent test of how fit someone is.

The only “rules” beyond my goal of 2 interval runs a week are:
1. Do not run through soreness. It doesn’t work to reduce DOMS, and if you are sore more than a day or 2 post work out it means you need to take extra time off anyways.  Soreness is the body healing itself and getting stronger.

2. When in doubt, rest more - didn’t get enough sleep? Really stressed, just not feeling the bounce? Don’t do an interval run that day.  Do something else - racket ball, a walk, a ride, or a bowl of ice cream. Get half way through the interval run and feel a twinge?  Stop the run, walk back home. You just saved yourself a long injury rehab. And run that wasn’t going to be any fun anyways. Go out again day after tomorrow.

3. Walk every day - whether that's parking on the far side of the lot or taking the stairs in front of the elevator, or taking a walk on my lunch hour.  Only training 2-3 days a week doesn't mean I'm sedentary the rest of the week - I think walking is a cornerstone of any active life

4. Stand as much as I can, minimize sitting

5. Try to "lift something heavy" 1-2x a week - whether that's moving heavy boxes, a pylometric workout, traditional weights etc.

It’s amazing how much time/days I have to do other important stuff - like weight training.  - that just weren’t possible when I was trying to run 4-6 days a week. And instead of trudging through runs, I’m having FUN!!!!!  Do you know how exhilerating it is to run at top speed without regard for pace or timing or anything but the sheer joy of being a kid and running just because? *BTW - you can do the interval training described here on a stationary bike too.

And there I go again, trying to convince you.  It’s something you just have to try. 

And by try, I don’t mean “I’ll add 2 interval runs a week to my already jam packed run schedule”. Intervals only work if you are resting sufficiently between them.  If you do 3 interval runs as described here, you are DONE FOR THE WEEK.

You may have seen the most current buzz coming from places like the New York Times - properly done, less is more.

If you are a running coming back from a break, do a week or two of slow 20 minute runs 2-3x a week and then start doing intervals .  Work up to 10 or 12, but start with 4 or 5.

If you are already running regularly and looking for a change, take a week off, and then try doing intervals. 

Give it 2 or 3 weeks.

We can debate whether intervals got Farley through some of the best endurance rides we’ve had this season- without significant training beyond those intervals. HOWEVER, I can point to my 10 mile race PR’s and how easy those PRs were, even though I did no significant training beyond the interval training. And of course the lack of injuries. 

I’m not even sore 1 or 2 days after my 10 mile race this year. The evening after the race my hip flexors were sore - but by the next morning it was gone.  Tight hip flexors are more a function of how much I sit, not the amount of training I have.

The bottoms of my feet were the sorest part of my body - I ran the entire thing in my mocs, and unfortunately I’ve not quite been utilizing my walking desk and standing desk as much as I should and my feet aren’t conditioned for the time on them. 

If any of you do decide to experiment with intervals, please let me know how it goes.  You might just start looking at your horse and endurance training differently too :).

I’ve put far too many words in this post - Really wish I had the self control to trim all these words, present the program, and let the results speak for themselves....but that ain’t my style :).

BTW - this whole "less is more" concept I've been applying to my eating/diet as well with very good results.  By being really strict and controlling of my diet 2 days a week, and following more relaxed "general guidelines" the other 5 days, it naturally prevents "brain fatigue", and I'm getting a "flow over effect" from fasting on my non fasting days which is helping stabilize my blood sugar and minimize destructive routines, and removing the "guilt" factor. 


  1. I did the run interval thing for a few months last year. It really truly worked wonders for my fitness. However, the swim injury of my ankles flared up and I had to come to the conclusion that running just isn't something I can do if I want to have a sound body in later years. So after a winter of skiing in a manner that - in retrospect - was HIIT-esque and provided me the strongest legs I've ever had, I resumed HIIT on my bike! 4 steep hills in my neighborhood. I'd go out a couple times a week and book it up each hill. HOLY CRAP. My entire fitness level was so much better. Hikes that would have had me puffing before didn't phase me. It was awesome.

    And then I moved and lost my hills and haven't fallen back into it in 3 months. *sigh*

    BUT I have taken HIIT and applied it to Q's endurance training. In two sessions I noticed a drop in how quick she could pulse down. I'm striving to do HIIT workouts with her 1x a week, jumping or dressage 1x, and a trail ride or distance ride on the old RR trail 1x. I continue to be surprised on the RR trail or trail-trail workouts how fit she is despite the relatively minimal work we do. Its really freaking awesome. I love that she's getting sufficient rest, too. I feel like our training is right on track for her first 50 in October. HIIT is pretty sweet.

    Oh and I dunno specifics per you diet...but I've altered mine as much as I can from The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and I've become trimmer than I ever have through a period of minimal workouts. I feel great, too. Have to recommend it!

  2. The HIIT workout that I saw described was actually for stationary bikes and I adapted it to running - so makes total sense that it works for different sports too. The only sport I haven't been able to apply it to is swimming - I just don't like getting very close to my max in the water.

    HIIT is how I trained for Tevis this year, and the 3 50s leading up to it. How else do you explain how d*mn good she looked with minimal riding, no hills, and very very very few long rides after 2+ years off??????? HIIT is magical for both man and beast as far as I'm concerned.

    I looked at the China diet after you mentioned it, but didn't get a chance to write down my thoughts. I'm uncomfortable with the amount of carbs and the lack of animal protein so isn't something I want to do for myself. I keep coming back to the fact that there IS a protein dietary REQUIREMENT, and a fat dietary REQUIREMENT....but there isn't one for carbs. I subscribe more to the "primal" diet (which is a subset of paleo) integrating intermittent fasting, HOWEVER, one thing I do appreciate about the china study (which is also an emphasis of the primal diet) is that you should eat REAL food.

    I'd love to see an end to the strict "calories are the only thing that matters", or the practice of changing food (sugar or fat content - or even taking gluten out of things that traditional have gluten) to make it "allowable" under any one food philosophy. Instead, I don't think you can wrong following any food philosophy that emphasizes consumption of real food and avoiding processed, fake food (like gluten free bread, carb free cookies, sugar free chocolate etc.).

  3. I think what you've posted about the conditioning effects of HIIT is really interesting. I am curious about how the differences between human and equine physiology would impact the effectiveness of using HIIT with horses, especially over the long-term. I know you said that you thought it worked for Farley, but I also remember reading your review of a book on cavalry training that claimed doing 25 miles a day/6 days a week also seemed to be effective. In particular, I would be concerned about the impact of doing several sprints per workout on a horse over a period of weeks, months, or even years. Based on what I've read, it seems horses are really biologically designed more for long, slow distance work than for anaerobic work (given estimates that wild horses typically travel between 20-30 miles per day). If that's true, would using HIIT over the long-term (say 5-10 years) really be effective for gaining fitness, or would it best be utilized for horses that are already fit and in shorter bursts maybe as part of a pre-race conditioning program?

  4. Gail! Your comment inspired a whole 'nother blog post! :). Which I wrote on my computer tonight but I'm am NOT letting myself do a quick edit and post until I'm done with my neuro assignment tonight, which means it will go up tomorrow :). thanks for the great thoughts!

  5. HIIT is da bomb. Interval training is pretty much my go-to method of training for myself. Even when strength training, I break it up into modified intervals. I have high-intensity interval training days (1 or 2 days a week), and days where I'll alternate jogging and walking so I can go for a longer period of time over a longer distance. The only time I injured myself was when I started trying to do more long slow distance at the same pace (jogging). My body just can't handle it, specifically my left Achilles tendon.

    I love the effect of HIIT in horses. For jumpers, which is what I used to do; for more intense trail riding; for dressage. My mare was more powerful for her dressage movements when we did a HIIT session every other week.

    On the diet, I did best when cooking everything fresh at home. We included a protein at every meal, with whole grains and lots of fruits and veggies. Drawback: it is expensive to eat like that! We finally have farmer's markets in the vicinity; we just have to get in the habit of buying produce from them. My husband and I still cook often at home, but in the long term, we've had the best luck with everything in moderation. 90% of the time, we still will go for the healthier option. Reverse psychology: it's easier to forego dessert today when you know you can always have it tomorrow.

  6. " Reverse psychology: it's easier to forego dessert today when you know you can always have it tomorrow. " so true!!!! I think it's one reason the 2 day/week fasting/being super strict has worked so well for me. It's relatively easy to forego the bowl of ice cream today knowing I can have it tomorrow if I want. the rest of the time I do like you - 80-90% of the time I make the healthy choice.


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