Friday, January 13, 2017

A New Way: High Intensity and Strength

I have only been blogging intermittently lately because I am somewhat lost. This has been coming for a while now, maybe as much as two years in the making. Some combination of burn out, higher/changing priorities, "settling", and injury has led me to start to consistently wonder if I want to keep training this way. In short, I've optimized almost exclusively to nearly just one way of training (one way of "health") for five years now. It worked. In fact, I'd argue that I've seen results as good as anyone in my community of runners. My results have been good within my age group, a few with high placement, and most importantly, they have been consistent and improving.

So why change? First of all, I am injured. I've been dealing with a nagging groin injury since training for Colorado Marathon last Spring. It has reached a "chronic" state and needs a lot of therapy. It is also "chronic" in the sense that it continues to underscore the lack of balance in my body and my training. If you want to believe that I am just injured and bummed out and that's all that there is to this story, then go ahead and move on with your day and stop reading now, but there is way more to this.

As I eluded to in my intro, I have been fighting this mentality for a while now. In my self-reflecting moments, I have suspected for a while that change was needed. Being injured has allowed me to step away and gain some clarity. I started this journey as a way toward health and became pretty good at it -- addicted to chasing the next race, the next workout, the self-congratulations that came with success. I am finally seeing this as not healthy, but more of an obsession: too much repetitive motion without cross training, too much of a time commitment, too much juggling of regular life and racing.

A few years back a friend told me about Tim Ferris' book the 4 Hour Body. In the book, Ferris details CrossFit Endurance as a way to perform in running (yes, even ultra running!). The book promises to run minimal mileage and get maximal results. I was highly skeptical and still am. I do think that typical long, slow distance (LSD) "80/20" training is the way to go for maximum performance. However, I think I've detailed all the reasons why I don't think that is sustainable for a working/family person. That type of training maybe more suited long-term for someone younger and someone who trains like a full time athlete -- with time to cross train, with professional looking after them to stay healthy and recover properly. It may also be more appropriate for someone less obsessive and with the foresight to take time off during the year. Another fitness expert I trust very much, Ben Greenfield, has written some great content on the how to get fit and gain endurance and compared the two philosophies. The short story is that there is more to endurance than big volume and LSD and more than way to achieve many of the physiological adaptions.

Is this post an announcement that I am going to be doing CrossFit Endurance? Not quite. I thought about going to pure CrossFit Endurance and I was presented with several problems. As I mentioned early, I don't buy into the idea that you can run so little and be a good runner. Another problem, I don't have access to a CrossFit gym and don't want to pay to gain access. Finally, most importantly, the more I read about it, the more worried I became that I'd be trading one obsession for another and possibly induce new problems. Nonetheless, there is a sound philosophy behind the concept: prioritize strength training and intensity training to strengthen the body and "hack" fitness. Broadening the picture, there are other ways to "hack" fitness as well, like sauna training, fasting, slow/low carb dieting. Honestly, I think low-carb has had as much to do with my success the past 3 years as training. I believe that to my core.

What am I getting at? I have about 3 months to the Boston Marathon. I want to get healthy and run that race. And, I have other races that I'd like to run in 2017. I need a new way to go about things. This is honestly a new journey that I plan to take slow, literally a day at a time. Strength and mobility will be my biggest priorities. I am losing both and want to improve that before heading into the Summer. Strength will primarily be typical Olympic movements with high weight and low reps. (This is one area where I find CrossFit scary, using Olympic lifts to exhaustion.)  Next, I will be easing my way back into running as my things improve. But, my tolerance for pain/discomfort are going to be close to zero. No more compromising just to get another workout in. Finally, I will use CrossFit and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to help bridge the fitness gap. For now, my plan is to approach training like the following*:

Monday: Strength + 30-45 mins of easy running
Tuesday: Strength + 30 mins HIIT run workout
Wednesday: Strength + 45-60 mins HIIT run workout
Thursday: Strength + 30-45 mins of easy running
Friday: Injury prevention** or rest
Saturday: 60-120 mins running likely with structure/specificity
Sunday: 60-90 mins of running easy

* Mobility is something I will work on daily, so I didn't highlight it
**Injury prevention would be other types of cross training or other movements not covered on my strength days

The one thing I am learning on this is that I have a lot to learn. I've done strength training all my life and thought I knew what I was talking about. It turns out I was wrong! I need to work a lot on technique and mobility to get good at these things and not injure myself. Olympic style lifts require good technique and should not be taken lightly. It is going to be a long road, but I've got time. The goal is to be a stronger, more complete athlete and I don't plan to rush it.

I want to reiterate that I have no timeline on this. My primary goals are to get injury free, strong, and with improved range of motion. As things progress, I will adapt. Honestly, my current weekly workouts look more like CrossFit because I am doing so little running and using HIIT to keep active. I hope to adapt to the above in the next 3-4 weeks as my injury heals and then go almost week-to-week from there. If the results are good enough, I may stay with this all year. I don't know. Boston will not be an A-race, which isn't a problem because I never hoped it would be. It is more of a celebration of the long road to get here. Here is a peek at my last two weeks in Training Peaks.


  1. A lot of us are in this same boat, but I have not yet heard anyone articulate it quite this well up till now. Thank you for sharing. Please keep posting what you learn as it may help others of us find that balance that seems to be so elusive. Good lick!

  2. Great post AJ! Finally got to it. As we have been talking, I am in the same boat. Good perspective that I need to listen to as well. Pain tolerance close to zero is good. That has been my fight. I think the hardest part I am running into is the time allotted for such as you mentioned above. It isn't easy to do the hour workout and 45 minute run. :) I still love my running, but desperately need to figure this out too. Thanks!

  3. Don't you think that given your situation, Tuesday and Wednesday back to back HIIT might be too taxing? I'd alternate the HIIT days and easy run days. Also good thing that you highlighted mobility drills. That is something I find more and more crucial the further I get into my competitive fitness journey. You'd just be more prone to injury on a competitive level. Stay well AJ!