Week 9: T.J. hits the reset button, aiming to give his training and lifestyle more focus.
Written by: T.J. Murphy
I’m six weeks out from the Rock ‘n’ Roll las Vegas Half Marathon and 12 weeks out from the Zappos.com Rock n’ Roll Las Vegas event. The next six weeks will be continued base training as prescribed by coach Greg McMillan, targeting three primary training goals: building mileage, leg speed and aerobic threshold. In a newsletter he sent out last week, McMillan wrote about the physical and mental nature built into the 13.1-mile race:
“Physiologically, the half marathon for competitive runners is run at a pace just below the lactate threshold — the point where the buildup of lactic acid exceeds the ability to remove it. Psychologically, the half marathon requires more restraint than the fast-from-the-gun effort of a 10K but more aggressiveness than the run-easy-until-20-miles strategy of the marathon. It’s a delicate balance that needs to be practiced in training to prepare both mind and body.”
Yesterday, McMillan had assigned me a 90-minute progressive-pace workout. It looked like this:
1st Third – Slightly slower than Easy Run Pace
2nd Third – Slightly faster than Easy Run Pace
3rd Third – Around Steady State Pace
The purpose of the workout, McMillan says, “is bring yourself to a pre-fatigued state going into the final third. It is not meant to be all out, however. Teach your body to run fast and relaxed when fatigued.”
It went well. During the second third I could feel the slow build of fatigue in my legs, a sensation common to distance racing, and knew that the final third would be a mental–as well as a physical–test. It was a relief to hit the 90-minute mark. I recalled that about a year ago I was in such bad shape I could barely run at all. My weight was so high that my attempts to get into a running program inevitably sent me limping back to the door. I started working with McMillan in November of last year and the invaluable element involved in his program is that it started off in an extremely patient manner. It’s pleasant, and amazing, to look back to where I was. I’m very thankful.
I also owe gratitude to Matt Fitzgerald, senior writer, editor and author of multiple titles in the endurance world. After a few months back being a runner I started to feel the old injury tempests beginning to swirl within my knees and lower back. Matt tipped me off to some of the relatively recent thinking that a smart way to help prevent injury is by strengthening the hips. Performing a few basic exercises had an almost instant effect. I’m now religiously performing core exercises on an every-other-day basis. I’m an old-school runner who is now a complete convert. As I’ve said before, I highly recommend that anyone getting into running (or making a running comeback) seek out expert guidance on what sort of exercises to do and how to do them, as I did with Frank Alvarez, a marathoner and trainer at 24-hour Fitness.
In the next six weeks I intend to give my training and lifestyle more focus than ever. As of this morning I’ve embarked on a two-day juice fast. To answer the question ‘Why?’ I’d say that the goal is both physical and psychological in nature. The physical goal is to punch the reset button—a benefit often advertised when it comes to juice fasts is that the body has a chance to perform a deep cleaning. It also helps you detach from any prevailing junk food habits with a thorough re-introduction to super clean food: organic, fresh-squeezed juice.
On the mental side, the thing you come up against is the same brand of alarm bells that go off during a hard distance run or race. When your mind and body get the message that you’re not chewing food it has a bit of a freak out effect. The first day of a fast is described as typically being the toughest, but once you get past the initial shock, deep levels of calmness await. Hence, the goal here is similar to getting through a rough mental patch when in the final, hard portion of a long race.
In a typical juice fast, however, only light exercise is recommended (as in going for a walk), so I’ve scheduled this two-day fast so that it can coincide with a recovery day (today) and I’ll be moving my Friday off day to tomorrow.
Look for some Burning Runner extras later in the week as I report on the experience.
T.J. Murphy is a contributing editor to Competitor and the Editorial Director of Triathlete and Inside Triathlon magazines. Previous installments of his Burning Runner column can be read here. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.