Brain Training

There are two large components to training, the physical aspect & the mental. They are obviously connected to each other, but at times they should be trained independently. At some point during most workouts, you’d rather just be done. There is a voice that most of us hear that helps us list all the reasons why it’s OK to stop early or do less. Sometimes, the voice is right; you’re injured, your gassed, or you overdid it. Often however, the voice is wrong. You’re not injured; your just in pain. You’re not gassed; you just need to relax. You’re not overdoing it; you’re just in the wrong gear. There is a fine line when it comes to your inner voice. It’s very easy to talk yourself out of a workout when you’re not in the mood, or go the other way and push forward when you really should stop. The key to decoding this voice is to understand how your body it responding as you move through your training plan, and then to make adjustments.

Here are some ways you can train your brain to stay focused on your goal and not just the workout.

1. Blocks & Rocks. Think about the entire week as a workout instead of each individual day (blocks). This will help you pace yourself and build up for the major workouts (rocks). Your ‘rock’ workouts are the things you have to do in a particular week. They are the workouts that will help move you forward in the next week. Thinking of your training in bigger blocks also gives you flexibility for ups and downs, similar to interval training. It gives your brain a lot of time to tell your body what it’s going to need to do in a particular time frame. Having the bigger picture in mind forces your brain to send that message over and over and prepares your body to do it. Consider a spur of the moment 20 miler versus having 3 days to think about it.

2. Spam Filter. Know that your brain will quit way before your body. Neurons are firing and red alert signals are going back and forth. Messages are flying in, telling you that your in pain, you’re tired, you have a cramp. You need a spam filter. When you are in tune with your body, you learn which signals are real, and which are junk. You can even go one step further and learn the causes of the real signals. Maybe you heard this voice the last time you didn’t recover or eat correctly, or maybe you really do need a rest day. Over time you will get less junk mail and the voice will quiet down or only speak when it’s important.

3. Headphones. I was anti-iPod for a long time, and still don’t always like to listen to music when I’m running. Since I never expect to use it during a race, I didn’t want to train with it and earn myself a crutch. The reality is, training is a long process, and sometimes you just want to zone out. I almost always use headphones on road runs now, and have even started bringing them on longer trail runs. The benefits have far outweighed the negatives. My favorite 1st song for a run is Sweet Emotion.

Do you Brain Train?

Who Are You Listening To?

The web has nearly as much training advice as it does kittens.  The problem is, whatever you’re into, you can find both a loyal supporter and a staunch critic.  Whether it’s Crossfit, nutrition, training plans, or gear, the debate goes on and on.  At the top of the running field, you’ll find vegans, paleos, barefoot runners, high miles, low miles, and everything in between.  So who do you listen to?  How do you know who’s saying the right thing?  The answer is clear. All of them and none of them.  For the average runner, comparing yourself to the elites doesn’t make sense.  If you have a life and a regular job, you’re likely not able to train like an elite athlete.  You’re not eating 5,000 calories a day, taking ice baths, naps, and getting massages (if you are, please explain).  This wide range of philosophies tells us that average runners need a little bit of everything in our training plan.

Here are a couple of things to consider when putting together your plan

Diet. The average runner/athlete needs a good diet that they can sustain and be happy with.  It should be one that delivers the right mix of calories, carbs, and protein for your goals.  I’m moving in a vegetarian direction, but I still eat meat about once a week along with eggs. I’ve tried to limit prepackaged foods as much as possible, and I’ll never give up donuts.

Shoes. The average runner/athlete needs to understand how they run and what shoe(s) will work best for them.  It really doesn’t matter what kind of shoe your favorite hero wears.  I use 4 different shoes depending on terrain, mood, and planned activity (also a good excuse to buy more shoes).

Cross Training. The average runner/athlete needs cross-training to get stronger, avoid injury, and burnout.  Going to the gym saved my running “career”.  I joined because I was bored.  after a few months and low miles, I noticed I was getting much stronger and felt better than ever when I did run.  Ultimately, this led to running my 1st ultra on just 20 miles a week.

Mileage. The average runner needs to know what their body is craving.  It might be different that what your predefined training plan is calling for.  I wrote out a 40 week training plan for the LT run, and I adjusted it almost daily to satisfy different cravings. You might not have 50 mile/week knees, and the good news is you might not need them.  There is more than one way to train your running muscles.

So who do you listen to, and what are they saying?

Average to Ultra on 20 Miles a Week

What would you say if I told you you could finish in the top 20 percent of your first ultramarathon with 6 months of training on an average of 20 miles a week?  Sounds crazy right.  I proved this to be true yesterday finishing the Traprock 50K in 5:55:57, 23rd out of 88 finshers (130 starters).  Obviously I did more than run 20 miles a week, but the point is, you don’t need to destroy your legs and pound out the miles to build up the ability to run far.

My typical training week looked like this:

Monday : Off
Tuesday: 5 Miles – road run
Wednesday: Crossfit
Thursday: 5 Miles – road run
Friday: Crossfit + 50 minute soccer game
Saturday: Longer Run – Trail
Sunday: Longer Run – Trail

There was flexibility in the schedule. Sometimes I’d do an extra day at the gym or run hills instead of a Saturday long run, sometimes I took an extra day off.  Over 6 months, 8 weeks were considered heavy mileage with totals of 35, 27, 28, 44, 30, 32, 29, 46 (includes race). The other 18 weeks had totals of 25 or less, and 14 of those with mileage under 20.

Now, if you’re reading this and you’re thinking you can skip today’s run, you probably can’t.  The work I put in at the gym is the only reason I was able to do this.  Without it, I would have been bored by now.  I wouldn’t have the mental toughness, and I wouldn’t have the overall physical strength for a trail race.  Thanks again to the guys at Crossfit Relentless for your help.

Next Goal: VT Long Trail – 272 miles in 10 days.