Training metrics What gets measured gets improved – Robin Sharma

Whether your motivation is Boston, Hawaii, your age group, or the clock, improvement is the goal for most endurance athletes.While we exercise for mental clarity, health, and to spend time with friends, I’ve yet to meet an athlete who doesn’t pay attention to the clock at the finish line. Often, race results are the only feedback mechanism an athlete uses. Unless you race regularly, that’s not the best way to determine what worked, or did not work, while preparing for an event. Training metrics can be as general or detailed as you want, but to stay on track, you must measure and analyze something!

Your background, personal preferences, and/or a coach will determine what training metrics you should use. They range from RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion, or how you feel while exercising) to more technical concepts, such as power output. Each metric has its pros and cons, and if you are unable to interpret the information you obtain, it won’t be of much use. Running out to buy a power meter without instruction or an understanding of power values, for instance, will do little more than give you a new gadget to play with. With that in mind, let’s look at some common training metrics.

RPE, or rate of perceived exertion, is based on one of two numerical scales and represents how hard you feel you’reworking. The Borg Scale is 6-20, with 6 representing no exertion and 20 maximum exertion. A 0-10 scale, with 0 representing no exertion and 10 maximum exertion, might be a little easier to use, since each number represents a 10% change in perceived effort. If you feel like you are exercising at 70%,then you are at a 7 on the 0-10 scale. For example, if you ran 3 miles at a 7 last week and the same run feels like a 6 this week, you can see that you’ve improved. The downside with RPE is its openness to interpretation. If you are new to endurance sports, RPE will provide sufficient feedback for your first year or two while developing your aerobic base. Beyond that, you’ll want a more accurate way to measure your progress. At the same time,there’s no reason to use RPE exclusively if you are new to endurance training. 

Pace, determined by distance and time, is a commonly-used metric. Let’s stick with our 3-mile run example. If your run took 27 minutes last week, you were running at a 9-minute per mile average pace. This week, the same 3-mile run took only 26:30 so your average pace was 8:50 per mile, a 10-second improvement in your average pacing. The downside of pace is the number of variables that must be controlled for accuracy. A 3-mile run on a track with no wind at a comfortable 65 degrees is not the same as a 3-mile beach run on a windy day with the temperature at 95 degrees. Weather and surface conditions need to be similar when using pace; either that or you must make an adjustment for varying conditions.

Heart rate monitors are another feedback mechanism that measures your progress in beats per minute (BPM). This reflects the intensity of your workout. If we take our 3-mile run example and compare average heart rates from one week to the next, we can see if the run was easier or harder based on heart rate. If you averaged 150 BPM last week and did the same run at 145 BPM this week, we would deem this an improvement in cardiovascular efficiency. The drawback to heart rate is similar to pace. Several variables can impact the data. Caffeine, lack of sleep, terrain, and environmental conditions can skew heart rate data and should be considered when analyzing heart rate information. 

Power is the new kid on the block when it comes to running metrics, but it has been used widely in cycling. Power is considered the most direct measure of output without the variable considerations needed in the metrics discussed previously. In cycling, power meters measure how much force a cyclist applies to the pedal and is not impacted by perception, conditions, terrain, or nutrition. Power meters for running are new to the market and base their power numbers on algorithms. It’s the same idea as cycling, measuring how much force your foot applies to the ground. Power in cycling is well established,and as technology in running improves, it will become the most accurate metric to determine output. The downside to power is the learning curve. It takes some time to get acquainted with the values and what they mean.

Each training metric has its pros and cons, but the take-home message is the importance of tracking and analyzing something to determine the efficacy of your training. For someone new to endurance training, it is easy enough to start with RPE and then heart rate followed by pace and power. There’s nothing wrong with moving straight to advanced metrics as long as you understand how to interpret them and don’t fall into the “paralysis by analysis” trap. Just make sure you measure something, watch how that value changes over the course of your training program, and then make adjustments, as necessary.

Hydration

As the season moves through spring to summer, our hydration requirements change as well. It’s not uncommon for people to flirt with dehydration as the heat and humidity start to rise in spring and early summer. Most of us are creatures of habit and our habits through the winter don’t require as much attention to fluid and electrolytes. Step one is being aware of your training and racing conditions and step two is determining your fluid and electrolyte needs.

In the Lowcountry we have to factor humidity in with the heat. The higher the humidity, the more difficult it is for our bodies to control temperature. With a high concentration of moisture in the air there isn’t much room for sweat to evaporate, so make sure you are thinking about the humidity levels as much as the actual temperature. Until summer is in full swing, I would look at heat and humidity for a given day as well as the trend over the last 7 to 10 days. The cumulative effect of not hydrating properly is much sneakier than acute dehydration during a given workout.

As with most training and performance concepts, there isn’t a formula that perfectly fits everyone. Early studies from the mid-70s form the foundation of our current hydration guidelines even though their validity has recently been called into question. Tim Noakes, M.D., DSc authored a 2012 book titled Waterlogged in which he examines the hydration equation and what drives it. Dr. Noakes examines the physiology and the early studies in great detail but I’ll stick to a simplified explanation.

The hydration equation is about balancing water and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium). There are two terms frequently used to describe this equation when it is out of balance, hypernatremia (dehydration) and hyponatremia (over hydration). With hypernatremia there is a higher concentration of sodium compared to water in the body and with hyponatremia there’s a higher concentration of water relative to sodium. While people are aware of the dangers of dehydration, over hydration is just as problematic. The consequences range from impaired performance to possible death.

Now that I’ve regained your attention, let’s look at some basic steps to keep your equation balanced. Weigh yourself prior to and immediately after a workout session. If your bodyweight is the same as when you stared, you probably hydrated properly during the workout. If you weigh less than before, you may be moving toward dehydration and if you weigh more than you over hydrated yourself. When it comes to weighing more there really isn’t much debate, you simply took on more water than you needed and could be headed toward hyponatremia. When it comes to losing weight during a workout we’re talking about the basis for Dr. Noakes book Waterlogged. Current recommendations tell us as little as a 2% loss of body weight equates to a 10% reduction in performance. Dr. Noakes refutes this and presents a compelling argument. Top marathoners regularly lose 3% of their body weight without impacting their performance.

I will leave you with two recommendations. First, try to stay around the 2% rule for body weight loss and avoid finishing a workout heavier than you started. Dr. Noakes makes complete sense but if you’re going to train and race on the lower end of the hydration spectrum you better have a good grasp of exactly what’s going on and how you manipulate it. Second, make sure you’re taking in electrolytes along with your fluids. Most sports drinks have too much sugar, relative to their electrolytes, to consider them a perfect option for electrolyte replacement. Several brands have “salt” capsules that can be taken hourly along with the correct amount of fluid for you. As your training, and the weather, start to heat up make sure you’re adjusting your hydration requirements accordingly.

A Runner’s Hierarchy Of Need

     Step Progression: Strength for Runners               

                                                                            4 Max Strength/Power

                                                   3 General Strength

                       2 Core Stability

1 Movement

From Maslow to performance pyramids there are hierarchies within structures and systems. The pyramid is a good visual representation emphasizing the importance of each level.  Within running there are subsets of this model focusing on certain areas such as training and nutrition. As a runner you must balance run training, proper nutrition, recovery, as well as strength and flexibility. Each has its own unique hierarchy and I’m going to look at the strength and flexibility and their hierarchal order.

The secret is out, proper strength and flexibility training are an integral part of a successful running lifestyle. Now the question is how do we apply the concepts? We know flexibility, mobility, stability, core function, and strength training should be included but what’s most important?  Let’s change our pyramid in to a stair case and consider each step a prerequisite for the next. People frequently skip steps yet when an injury occurs we all go back to step 1!

Step 1 you must be able to move. If you have tight muscles and poor range of motion the rest of your fitness will balance on a poor foundation. By able to move I simply mean enough functional range of motion to participate in life and in your sport. There is a huge distinction between functional range of motion and contortionism but we’ll save that for next month. Once you can move freely go to step 2 and learn to stabilize that movement. Stability training involves core exercises exerting forces across the body using your arms, legs, and gravity while maintaining stability about the core. There are a wide variety of exercises for this but a simple approach is front, side, back, inner thigh, and shoulder stability included in each workout. Step 3 includes traditional strength training using the 3 x 10 – 12 repetition scheme. Step 4 takes your general strength gains and focuses on higher loads in the 4 – 6 repetition range. You may also integrate explosive or plyometric training at this point.

It’s important to follow a hierarchy of needs when it comes to implementing strength elements with your run program. All too often people skip steps 1 and 2 which greatly increases their risk of injury. Short-term improvements are made but the ability to generate more force will eventually override the ability of soft-tissue to handle that force. As Grey Cook puts it “don’t put strength on top of dysfunction” otherwise you are an injury waiting to happen. To bring it back to a runner’s mentality would it make sense to skip weeks 1 – 5 and start with week 6 in a half marathon program?

 

 

New Year's Resolutions, Go Big or Go Bust!

As February begins we confront that critical time when New Year’s resolutions have the potential to go big or go bust! The enthusiasm, energy, and novelty of a new you begins to wear off and you’re left with the struggle between your wants and willpower. Not to worry we all experienced it in some form or fashion. For some it’s sticking to a new budget and for others sticking to an exercise program like running. When your goals and drive to accomplish them no longer parallel each other it’s important to avoid common pitfalls and incorporate strategies to bring you back between the navigational beacons.

The all or none fallacy. There is never a rational argument for scrapping your program because you can’t follow it to the T. Some is always better than none and often times the pared down program helps bridge periods of low motivation and time constraints. Living with an all or none philosophy creates a cycle of being on the right road, falling off the wagon, and starting all over again. Keep some portion of your program active so you’ll maintain a much better base and avoid starting back at zero.  When I begin to lose motivation I repeat a simple mantra, lace up and head out. If you make that single commitment you’ll be surprised at what you produce once you cross the threshold of getting out the door. It might be 10 minutes, or 10 miles, but it won’t be nothing.

Now that we’ve moved past the all or none problem there are strategies to keep you on track or help you get back on track. I use my training log as a daily visual representation of where I am in the process. If you aren’t logging your workouts you should start. If you have been, make sure you look at it. I record both digitally and on an old school calendar. Digital covers the specifics and my calendar is a monthly visual of my workouts. A large X goes on any day without a workout and I don’t want to see too many Xs during a given period. Even the previously mentioned 10 minute run keeps an X off of the calendar.

Joining a run club is the best way to maintain motivation and enjoy the running process. Spending time with like-minded people, who share similar goals, continuously recharges your motivational batteries. Along with people, places can be another carrot to move you. Change up your run route to avoid boredom. The Palmetto Running Club covers both people and places. It’s easier to lace up for a run when you’re meeting 40+ similarly motivated people and running a diverse lineup of the Lowcountry’s best scenic routes.

Some is better than none, track and hold yourself accountable, and join a group of people who share your passion. Happy running and keep chasing that New Year’s resolution!