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“Defying the Popular Opinion: Running Smarter, Not Harder”

We've all heard the old adages "Go hard or go home", "If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch", "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional", "Some running is good, more is better, and too much is just enough".
If you were thinking of getting off of your couch to start training, the above may just keep you glued there, out of fear alone! Take a look at the treadmills in your local gym, or the roads in your town and, at the same time each and every morning, you'll see runners using the no-pain, no-gain school of thought. Each run begins at the same blistering pace, with no room for conversation, heart rates to the max, as running partners pulverize each other until someone yells "UNKLE"!! These athletes are the first to the party, if there is a chance of tempo, track, or interval training. Oftentimes, these same athletes partake in these high-intensity sessions more than once each week, and then afterward slowly hobble home, looking as though their legs have been beaten with a baseball bat. If asked how their training is going, about the off-season, or even their next day off, you will typically get the same old "no pain, no gain" response. Yet, strangely enough, these same athletes never really seem to get much faster. I wonder why that is? Don't you??
Bernard Lagat, four-time Olympian, who continues to defy the odds of age, could tell you exactly why. He doesn't do things like the other athletes, and never has. Instead, he simply does what works! In the article "The Secret to Running: Not Running" , he describes his training, and sometimes lack thereof, to the Wall Street Journal's Scott Cacciola.
This article resonates to the core of all athletes, under the guidance of QT2 Coaching Systems and the Your 26.2 programs. The "pillars", described by Lagat, have been developed and refined over years of successful training and racing, to produce the most consistent results possible. These results have allowed Lagat to stay competitive with athletes who are as much as 10 to 15 years his minor, and maintain a longevity that most can only dream of. The following pillars are the same that athletes of QT2 Systems subscribe to, on a daily basis.
Take a Sufficient Off-Season
"Rest is a good thing", states Lagat. While others plow through, day after day, Lagat doesn't miss an opportunity to take a day off, each week, and an entire five weeks completely off after a long season of racing comes to a close. While it may be difficult to leave your routine behind, and fall out of shape, the consequences of pushing through are often burnout and/or injury. It is imperative to counter the thoughts of fear that creep into your head about not being able to regain fitness, while feeling guilty about throwing your running shoes to the back of the closet, and catching up on the latest movies and TV shows, with the belief and knowledge that the time off is truly best for your overall training and racing.
So, go about asking your running friends whether or not they are planning to take any time off at the end of the year, and their response will likely be a quick "Nope, I take too much of a step backwards, and have trouble getting started again." The most concerning thing is that these are the athletes who likely need it the most. A year of training takes a tremendous toll, both physically and mentally. QT2 Systems typically recommends that their athletes take between two and six weeks off, including a light period of training with a few workouts of 30 minutes each. A good rule of thumb is to take one week off for every 200 hours of training. For an athlete training 1000 hours, this would mean an off/light training period of five weeks total.
Even though starting up again can be a daunting task, each athlete should view the first eight to 12 weeks as a chance at a fresh start to rebuild at a faster rate than they would, had they not taken any time off. At the start of a rebuilding period, after a good off-period, the athlete will have, undoubtedly, fallen out of shape. They can expect that the first few blocks of training will be spent getting themselves back to where they had been the season before. But, after this initial revamp in fitness, all else is progress. This is most certainly a "two steps forward, one step back" approach, which can be very difficult for many athletes to grasp. But, if willing to trust in the process, they will soon realize that it is a far more effective approach, than constantly being at the same level of fitness. How many runners do you know who haven't made any progress in years; their training and racing paces just always the same?
Even Lagat, one of the world's most elite runners, believes this time to be critical to allow "his body to recover and recharge" and that "it takes time to work the body back into shape, but that is part of the process". His results don't lie, that is for sure!
What about the dreaded off-season weight gain that comes with all that sitting around? That can't be good can it? The answer may surprise you a bit.
Go Ahead and Gain a Few (lbs that is!)
Lagat's approach allows him to gain a few pounds, which will actually 'provide fuel for him to burn once he resumes training.' It may sound crazy, but a bit of weight gain, during the off-season, will actually help your body to resist injury, later in the season as you resume a more normal race weight. These additional pounds add force to your early-season running, which help to produce important musculoskeletal adaptations of your soft-tissue, muscles, and joints. As these adaptations adjust to the load, you become stronger, and more able to handle the force later in the season, once the volume and intensity increase.
This whole topic begs the question, how much weight gain is appropriate? The answer: Typically, no less than four pounds, and not more than ten pounds. This will ensure that you are able to take advantage of the additional benefits mentioned above, but do not gain the type of weight which could can place an amount of extreme stress on the body, upon returning to training. It also ensures that body fat doesn't increase too drastically, such that it will be harder to achieve body composition goals as the season progresses.
Don't Race Your Workouts
We all know athletes who show up to group training sessions with the sole intent of showing off their fitness, and making sure they that win every interval. Each and every training session is treated like a race, itself, with no regard for training parameters, such as heart rate or perceived effort. There is only one speed, and it's as hard as they can go, all the time.
Even an athlete, such as Lagat, knows that this type of training doesn't produce results. When asked about his training, he states in week three of his return to training, he goes on "a 10 mile jog in 55 minutes" which, believe it or not, is an aerobic pace that Lagat can sustain without really pushing very hard. He comes back to training building his aerobic base slowly, over time. He states "I never push myself feeling like I should be in shape right away". While he does not deny the benefits of hard efforts, he mixes them into his aerobic runs. Race efforts are left for race days. The majority of training is spent developing his aerobic base, which comprises the major energy system utilized in any race distance over a 5k.
During heavy training periods, his average week's workouts contain at least three days of aerobic runs, an "easy" eight miles on Monday and Thursday, a hill repeat workout and one day completely off. Only two days are spent doing intensity work, one being a tempo run, and the other a track workouts at very controlled and specific efforts to match his race distance. QT2 Systems' athletes utilize a very similar approach, as it allows the hard efforts to be hard, and the other controlled efforts to be based on heart rate, allowing oxygen to be used as the primary source of fuel, to further mobilize fat as fuel. Our stores of fat are nearly limitless. The more aerobically efficient that we become, the faster we are able to run at these lower heart rates, over extended periods of time. In the same light, Lagat becomes an efficient aerobic machine, without ever pulverizing his body with high intensities that require extended time off for recovery, less training consistency, and additional stress on the body's immune system.
It's a system that is simple, easy to use, and best of all, works.
Allow for Weekly Rest and/or Easy Training Sessions
Lagat well understands that "The body gets tired. We are not machines". The great majority of us are also not professional athletes, able to schedule regular massages, and spend 10+ hours of sleep and time off our feet, each day. We push our bodies beyond its normal limits with work, life, and training, oftentimes to the detriment of our own recovery and immune system. The only way to become stronger, over time, is to stress the body and then allow it to recover and rebuild to a stronger version of itself. However, without the "recovery" piece (i.e. enough sleep, less training, vital nutrient and antioxidant intake, stretching, icing, and massage) we are destined to wear down to the point where no gains in training, and racing, can be made. QT2 Systems' athletes utilize built-in recovery, via recovery workouts, and complete rest days, during scheduled weeks of lower training volume.
This allows the body to finally take a breather and repair muscle tears, persistent inflammation, and other nagging areas that may plague the athlete. As a result, the body is able to adapt to the training, and come back stronger and more capable of handling the next block of training.
In summary, the amazing secret that keeps Lagat, and others like him, training at such high levels year after year, isn't really such a secret after all. It ends up being all about the nature of the training that keeps us in the game longer, stronger, and faster; a simple system of aerobic work, interspersed with anaerobic short duration work and ample recovery. Each workout within the system has purpose and a plan aimed at making the athlete the most consistent and healthy version of themselves. The pillars, utilized by Lagat, have been proven over time, for athletes at every level of competition. Whether you are vying for Olympic gold, or just trying to complete your first marathon, the answer isn't flashy, but simply works. Getting faster, feeling stronger, and still seeing consistent gains, over time, well, that's plenty flashy enough!
Kim Schwabenbaur is a professional triathlete who is coached by QT2 Systems, LLC; a leading provider of personal triathlon coaching; a leading provider of sports nutrition; and Your 26.2 a leading provider or marathon training programs. Kim is also a certified USA triathlon coach and Registered Dietitian.

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