I was in a physical therapy session (for therapy not related to endurance sports) and I overheard the conversations of multiple other patients with the same story: “I got injured training for the upcoming half-marathon. I was running 8 miles a day before the injury happened.” It’s a common story in the endurance community. Endurance athletes (EA’s) think that if X is good, X+Y must be better. They train themselves into injury, weight gain and sometimes, complete exhaustion. Even I pay for the sins of my former 6-day a week running habit, and I was running a modest 3 miles a day.
The popularity of marathon and triathlon is currently increasing annually and most, if not all, of the increase is due to participation of non-elite athletes. There is a way to train in a safer, less time-consuming manner for both marathon and triathlon. AND, you can do these events while sticking to your Paleo diet. This works well for challenging distances such as half-marathons and Olympic triathlons.
NOTE: If you are going to pursue a full marathon, Ironman, Half-IM, or any other endurance event that will last significantly beyond 2 hours, you might ask yourself why before committing. These types of events require a different level of commitment and a health sacrifice that I believe should be reserved for elite athletes.
In Part I of my endurance training series, I’ll discuss how to train.
- Plan ahead. Give yourself a minimum of 8 to 12 weeks to train. You might need a swim lesson, a bike set-up or time to break in new running shoes.
- If you happen to be the self-motivated type, train alone or break away from the group. Not only are most EA’s following a “traditional” style of training, you won’t make any progress if you are keeping pace with someone slower than you.
- Focus on your weaknesses. For most multi-sport EA’s, swimming is the biggest weakness. If you are limited on time, you should prioritize by training your weakness every week.
- Warm up and do mobility. Don’t forget to warm-up pre-workout and stretch / do mobility after workouts. A good tip is this: the shorter the workout, the longer the warm-up needed.
- There is NO NEED to double up on workouts in one day. Unless you are going to the Crossfit Games, there is no need to do Crossfit and endurance training in the same day. Plan your endurance workouts around your other activities and prioritize in order of importance when needed. If you are doing 2 workouts a day, you are missing the point of this type of training. Note for multi-sport EA’s: You can do the occasional brick during the training period only if time allows. A brick gets EA’s acclimated to combining at least 2 of the events in a triathlon. I would suggest keeping the brick short. There is no need to do a full race during training.
- Train in your race environment as much as possible. An open water swim is scary and far more challenging than a pool swim, especially if there’s a current. Biking or running hills is harder than biking or running flat road. Weather extremes (hot, cold, rain) can make for a miserable day.
- Don’t build or follow a training plan around junk miles. I’m a big fan of shorter distance, intense interval programs like Crossfit Endurance. Do a time trial at the beginning of your training period (e.g., 5k or 800m swim) and focus the rest of your training time on intervals of varying length and intensity (see below for examples of these). You’ll get to see the result of your “no-junk-miles” training when you get to the race.
- When doing intervals, the key is REST! This means rest between sets and rest between workouts. You should NOT be working at a max effort every day. Part of the reasons you are doing intervals is to avoid injury.
Here are a few examples of intervals to work into your training:
Short intervals – These are the most intense intervals, working anaerobically and will leave you wiped out after just a short distance or a little bit of time. Train these NO MORE than 1 – 2 times a week (not on consecutive days):
- Tabata run or swim (20 seconds effort, 10 seconds rest x 8 rounds)
- 50m run or swim, rest the time it took to complete x as many rounds as possible until form and/or pace can not be sustained
- ½ mile sprint on bike, 1 mile easy pedaling x 6 – 8
Long intervals – These are trained aerobically, generally at 80% intensity, which is faster than race pace. Train these 3 – 5 days a week:
- 200m run or swim, rest the time it took to complete x 5 – 10 rounds
- 400m run or swim, rest HALF the time it took to complete x 4 – 8
- Run 1 mile, rest 4 minutes, run 800m, rest 3 minutes, run 400m, rest 2 minutes, run 200m
- 5k run, 5 minutes of running, 2 minutes of walking until you have covered the total distance
- Bike up a decent grade hill, coast down hill x 8 (depending on hill size, this could fall under a short interval)
An EA with a solid endurance base can follow a schedule of 2 – 3 workouts per week. New EA’s needing to build a base should try to do 2 workouts per week in their weakness and at least 1 workout per week in the other disciplines.
Just about anything goes with intervals, so be creative in your design, or check out these resources for more interval workout ideas:
Kelly Lamb is a Crossfit Level 1 coach and American Council on Fitness certified personal trainer. Kelly also holds certifications in Crossfit Endurance, Crossfit Kettlebell and Spinning. You can find Kelly at www.fitnesskelly.com and her Paleo recipe website at www.cookingkelly.com.