Surviving Brewster

Surviving Brewster

By Paul Day

Upon sending me this month’s training plan, Shaun asked me if I could share some of my weekly numbers – and some info on how I fit it all in “and actually survive it” (his words, not mine!). What I do may or may not work for you. Some of it comes from other people’s anecdotal musings and some of it from evidence-based studies – but all of it “works for me”.

I’ve been trail running since early 2012 when I bumped into an old mountaineering buddy while out for a 20km “jog” on the local concrete bike paths soon after the birth of my first son. He said “Hey if you like running, there’s this new race up in the Dandenongs called Roller Coaster! You should give it a go!”. 6 months later I did my first ultra and said “never again”. 6 months after that I did my first 100km.

I’m not elite. I’m unlikely to even end up on the podium at a small local race any time soon – but I do definitely run races to “race” rather than smell the roses. I don’t race other people – instead I race the field. My goal is to always finish in the top 1/4 of the field but in the alpine races I’m realistic about how my asthma slows me down and aim for the top 1/3.

The load

Rather than dumping out monthly yearly averages, I’m going to run through my last week. It was a very typical week when I’m in-between races and Shaun’s loading me up with specific sessions to get me ready for my next race.

Here’s a summary of what I completed according to Movescount:

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And here’s how I “felt”:

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I’m currently training for the 100km at Alpine Challenge (not the miler!) in a couple of weeks. It’s got a few hills – about 4,000m of them – so not surprisingly Shaun has me focused on long hills and then running on legs fatigued by those hills.

Wed. was my biggest mid-week day with some tightness from stair sprints the day before, lots of hills for breakfast (up at 4am) and then a 13km run home from work. Sunday was my long run day with – you guessed it – lots of hills. I tend to run in the Dandenongs where I can find lots of big climbs and then technical descents (my weakest link). Mmm, hills:

 

Finding the time

I’ve got a job, a wife and two young kids (1 and 4). So far my employer hasn’t fired me, my wife hasn’t left me and the kids still remember who I am. So I assume I’m doing something right. I try not to take the piss – too much. I turn up to work earlier than most, I don’t do my Sunday long run in the middle of the day and I try to keep the travel time to races to a minimum by primarily doing Victorian-based races. Additionally, my wife and work colleagues all know that I’m able to do a better job as a husband, father and employee if I’ve got a run in!

Shaun only gives me what I tell him I can fit in – and obviously pays careful attention to my feedback (I often write it feeling as if I’m about to be examined by a psychologist…). Each month I list out all the available time slots I can fit something in – and he fits a suitable training plan into that availability. I try to be smart with the availability and tend to tweak it each month – generally running it past the wife to make sure it works for her too.

Before anyone else wakes up

My Tuesday weights session and Saturday 45min run were both done by simply getting up a little earlier than normal. I’m generally stirring at that time anyway so simply getting up to an alarm isn’t a stretch – it’s not like it’s a period of critical deep sleep. Both sessions were done before the kids were awake so I was around to do breakfasts and I felt good having already done some exercise. The early start on Sat. was a bit hard and my body a little slow after a late night before (Indiana Jones with the MSO playing the score – highly recommended!).

Before work

On Wednesday I got up at 4am to do 90min of “attack the hill” on trails at Lysterfield. I might’ve “accidentally” gone long.

captur5

“4am?! What the hell kind of time is that?!” Yeah, it sounds insane but trust me – it’s perfectly do-able. Check out this article I wrote for the BR web-page for a bunch of tips (http://brewstersrunning.com/ridiculous-oclock/).

I was a bit tired later in the day and I certainly wouldn’t do a second 4am start the next day. I made sure to have a quiet evening and got to bed at a reasonable time.

I used to do this session 8:30pm-10:30pm after putting the kids to bed (so the wife didn’t have to deal the kids alone in the morning while I ran) but found it impacted my sleep too much. I slept the same amount, but going to bed at 11:30pm hyped up after a 2hr run impacted the quality of the sleep too much.

Start the long run early

My Sunday long run was 5 hours so there’s no avoiding impact to the family. But to minimise it I was up 4am and parked the car at the closest point of the Dandenongs to save time. The wife obviously had to get the kids up, do breakfast etc but as soon I was home and showered I tried to take over. Taking the kids for a swim after a long run is great recovery for tired legs!

Concrete bike paths for lunch

I’ll do 3-4 of my sessions each week during “lunch”. I’m a white collar worker and I scheduled all my runs into Outlook as meetings at the quietest time of the day: most other people are away from their desks at the same time, I’m less likely to have someone book me for a meeting when I’m showing as “busy” and I’m a little more mentally committed to doing the session when a reminder pops up telling me to be somewhere.

I then grab a take-away lunch on my way back to my desk and smash it down while answering emails.

The commute run

My Wednesday afternoon was done as a run home from work rather than catching the train. A little slower than the train – so I left my desk earlier (justification: I didn’t have “lunch”!). Some people leave a change of clothes at work, where-as I simply hang mine up nicely, catch the train back in the next morning in my running gear and get straight back yesterday’s clothes! It helps that I have wrinkle-resistant shirts and as a bloke people don’t seem to notice (or are too polite to say) I’m wearing the same clothes.

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I occasionally run back into work to tick the next day’s run off, but it tends not to work too well with day-care and kinder drop-offs.

Handling the mental load

“11.5 hours and 110km of running?! 4am starts?! You’re either a damn idiot or a sadomasochist!”

Maybe I’m a little of both? It probably helps that I’ve slowly ramped up over two years since I signed up with Shaun as a coach.

Change your perspective on pain

Two weeks ago after having a surprisingly good run home after smashing my legs with 2hrs of long hills that morning I thought “hah – how messed up would it be to try and do this second run as a snowball…”. I emailed Shaun that thought when I got home.

And subsequently on Wed. afternoon I did a 1hr/13km Snowball run home after stair sprints and a short tempo the day before and 2hrs of long hills that morning. It’s designed to hurt.

I embrace that pain. I don’t enjoy it – I’m not into BDSM – but I know Shaun has given me that session to teach me to mentally and physically continue to move at a reasonable pace on flat ground after smashing my legs on big hills. If he’s going to challenge me, I’m too proud to let it beat me and will deliver it!

I’m not stupid about this – I’m not suggesting you drink some concrete and simply harden up. Sometimes I know the pain is just my brain being overly cautious in trying to protect me (Read up on the central governor theory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_governor)). But sometimes the body is trying to tell me something important and I will listen to it. More on that in the next section.

Get a coach

I used to think why on earth would an amateur weekend hack like myself want to pay a professional coach to tell me how to do my hobby. After a couple of decent race results, I changed my tune a little and thought “I wonder what I could do if I trained properly with a coach’s direction…”

This is likely a reflection of my personality type, but having someone tell me what to do makes me far more inclined to actually do it. It was too easy to simply say “ah, stuff it” to going for yet another “junk miles” run I vaguely had planned in my head. When the alarm went off at 4am on Wednesday morning I knew I had to get up and deliver that session “because Shaun told me to”. If I didn’t do it then, I’d have to re-arrange the rest of my week to fit it in another morning – so why not get up and go now. And once I was actually out on the trail, the reason that got me there was irrelevant because I enjoyed the run and know I’ll enjoy my race much more as a result of training well.

If I’d had a bad night’s sleep (Thursday night was a shocker – the 1yo had a cold and conjunctivitis) I would’ve juggled things around. Trying to deliver that early morning session when I’m already smashed from something else would’ve been a waste of time and compromised my next session too. Similarly, I’ll get maybe every 3rd cold the kids bring home and sometimes I’ll ask Shaun to re-do my plan to fit in some recovery time rather than me simply skipping a whole bunch of sessions and beating myself up for it.

Meditate

…both during the run and at home.

I’ve used the Headspace app for about 18 months now and try to meditate once a day. It’s not crazy western spiritualism with a dash pseudo-science thrown in – it’s just plain mindfulness meditation to try and remove the “noise” in your head and allow you to focus on “now”. I find this helps me stay calmer, sleep better and focus on my runs more.

And once I’m out on the run I try to just focus on the run. This often just happens naturally (we all find running calming, right?) – but if I’m in a bad mood or have a lot going through my head I try hard to simply let go and focus on my running. Some people find they run well when angry – I don’t.

I find it’s also good for checking in on my running form – focus simply on how my body is moving. Leaning forward at the ankles? Looking… looking… looking – check. Nice quiet mid-foot strike under my body? Looking… looking… looking – check. Shoulders back a little? You get the idea. I find this really useful later in races or long runs when my form turns to mud and I start the “death march shuffle”.

Visualise the goal

When I’m out on a run I’ll often try and visualise my next race – how is it going to feel, how am I going to handle that pain, how will I effortlessly drift past that person I see up ahead. I find this often gives me a boost during the training session, helps prepare me for the race and reminds me why I’m out training.

I do, however, worry that I’m too focused on that goal! I’m not sure I’m going to get much faster. What happens when I start slowing down? Will I still want to run or will I become a despondent couch potato… That thought for another day.

Handling the physical load

I often wonder if I’ve just been damn lucky – but I’m yet to get taken out of running due to running since I started with Shaun. The only serious injury I’ve had is when I got out of the car with my super-grippy trail shoes on, twisted my body as I got out while the foot stayed stationary, felt a “ping” in my knee, thought “hm, that was interesting” and then went and did 2hrs of long hills… It took 3 months for that knee to calm down. Which leads me to the two lessons I learnt from that day:

Listen to the body

As much as I may have said “harden up princess!” above, I do pay attention to my body. Last week I noticed my knees starting off stiff on Thursday but then after warming up 30min into the run they felt fine. That suggests a little tendonitis I should get on top of – so I iced them that night and they felt good as new on Friday morning.

Another common one for me is an ankle tendon beginning to flare up which suggests my calves are too tight. A few serious sessions with the foam roller and a tennis ball generally relieves that one.

It’s difficult to differentiate between fatigue and pain – and I think it’s only been time and personal experience that has taught me the difference for the common minor injuries I develop.

Rolling

The other item I learnt about the day I pinged that knee was there’s a little muscle behind my knee that simply wasn’t releasing. It took a session with Shaun making me want to cry like a baby to realise this. The muscle had got overly-tight as it tried and protect that knee as I continued to run on it and was then pulling things out of alignment, causing more knee issues. I didn’t even know that muscle existed – but boy did my knee feel better afterwards!

Since then, I’ve included that muscle in my rolling sessions. I try to roll out all the muscles in my legs nightly and I’m careful so I don’t bruise the muscles or start compressing tendons rather than muscle. I find this is a good part of my wind-down routine to help relax and get to sleep. I’ll add in a spikey ball if my feet feel out-of-place (but find it bruises my legs too easily) and use a tennis ball to really get into those hard-to-reach trigger/release points like that muscle behind my knee and my ITBs.

There are heaps of online resources on rolling. If you don’t already own a foam roller – go buy one!

I no longer bother doing static stretching at night but will stretch out the main tight muscles as soon as I’ve finished at run – especially if I hop into the car for a 30-45min drive home. Stretching cold I found it was just too easy to strain a muscle and wasn’t really getting any benefit over the massage with a foam roller.

If I haven’t had a hard session that day, I may choose to use a bunch of microwave wheat-bags to relax the muscles instead of rolling.

Good running form

The first step I took in this direction was to pay attention to my cadence – plenty of watches will give you this these days.

Moving from 80rpm (160spm for you Garmin users) to the magic 90rpm was very difficult – it just felt wrong. But once I got used to it I also began forcing myself to hold that fast cadence as I fatigued on long trail runs and it found it was easier to run and I felt far more efficient.

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It’s also improved my technical downhills as each step is shorter, lighter and I’m committing less to it. If I mis-place a foot and my ankle starts to go out, I find I very quickly correct before straining the ankle without even engaging my brain.

I also went and got a running form session with Shaun when I first started with him (“If I’m going to do this thing – do it properly”).  He taught me how to learn forward through the ankles rather than the waist, keep the arms relaxed, move them horizontally with my line of travel etc. I then went out and did a 4hr run with no food to try and re-enforce those lessons as I really began to fatigue.

All my non-running shoes are Vivobarefoots – even my black leather work shoes – which I’m sure has helped re-enforce better form. When I’m running, however, I do use a whole variety of different shoes to mix things up. All of them initially bought from FootPro in Malvern where I have the opportunity to try them out on a treadmill with a bunch of cameras and get feedback on how my legs are moving in the shoes. Bullet Proof Legs in Vivos is a must – I want to feel everything. On my road runs I wear a relatively normal road shoe – not too built up, not too much heel-toe drop, but I don’t think I’d fare well doing 1hr sessions on bike path concrete in the Vivos. On my trail runs I’ll mix it all up – Vivos for short fast sessions, a lightweight shoe with very little mid-sole for anything under 3hr through to something a little more padded for the long runs and races.

I’m afraid I can’t help but laugh when I see anyone wearing Hokas…

Active recovery

Yes, rest is good for recovering from hard sessions, but sometimes so is an easy run!

I never enjoy the start of my Monday recovery run – and last Monday was no different – but I always feel better for it at the end.

Wrap-up

Well, that’s it folks! I hope you gleamed some useful information from my musings. Please feel free to hit me up on Facebook or a run with questions.

Run long, run well!
Paul Day (AKA Mapper)

Leave A Reply (1 comment so far)


  1. Karl
    10 months ago

    Thanks Paul,
    A great read which I found very informative as someone who is perhaps in the earlier stages of a similar journey. Also reassuring to know that someone can be this ‘hard core’ whilst raising small children.
    Big fan of headspace too.

    Cheers
    Karl

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