We provide discussions focusing around The Hanson's Marthon Method, as well as many other running topics. Luke Humphrey has been a member of the Hanson's-Brooks Distance Project since 2004, qualifying for 3 Olympic Trials, finishing in top 12 in the NYC marathon, Boston marathon, and Chicago marathon. He is the owner of Luke Humphrey Running and has helped runners of all abilities since 2006.
A few weeks ago, someone in our Facebook group brought up the idea of using an infrared sauna for recovery. I hadn’t thought much about it, and you really see more about things like cryo for recovery and tissue repair. These two things are definitely different ends of the spectrum. Then, as I saw that, I began to notice that a lot of recovery places and gyms were now offering up the sauna as a perk for being in their memberships. So, as curiosity got the better of me, I started looking into it more.
Today, I just want to look at an infrared sauna as a mode of performance booster and recovery module. As I looked, it was hard to find quality third-party data or research itself. If you go into search engines, I found I just got a lot of claims from sauna makers, personal trainers, etc. So, what do you do then? You start looking at the research that they cite. To be honest, it doesn’t seem like a lot is out there. Everyone seemed to be referencing the same couple articles. So, take this with a grain of salt and do your own due diligence, as well.
The general listed benefits
* Heat adaptation- easy one to buy into. If you subject yourself to a hot environment, you can adapt to those environments. * Lung function- couldn’t find much on this. Not sure what the mechanism would be? From what I was reading into it was more improved immune function, respiratory illness type stuff. * Direct performance improvements- Time to exhaustion improved 30% or 2% actual race performance. Personally, I think more due to the heat adaptation and what happens with any heat adaptations and endurance performance. “One of the primary factors in endurance muscle fatigue is this drop in blood volume,” says exercise physiologist, Dr. Stacy Sims of Stanford’s Prevention Research Centre. “Sauna training helps counter this by increasing EPO and, through this, both plasma volume and red blood cell count. It can be super beneficial for any endurance athlete… think of it as another natural, ergonomic aid in your arsenal, one that can provide a 2-to-3 percent boost in performance,” she says. * Muscle growth- goes with the above. If you can do all those things, at the very least, you maintain muscle mass and set yourself up to add muscle mass through strength training. * Free radical consumption- sweat toxins out of body?
As I am looking through all of this, I see that there might be potential. HOWEVER, I look at this and I also come to the conclusion that this should only be supplementary. What I mean by that, is that if you only rely on this, you probably won’t see much benefit. You still have to put most of the reliance on the basics like- proper refueling, getting enough daily calories in, making sure you are hydrated. In a sense, this adding another stress element to your training. If you can’t support that stress through what I just mentioned, then I think you potentially negate any potential benefit. Given that, I see two major situations where this would help.
Heat Adaptation- in particular during winter months. The main theory behind infrared vs a traditional sauna is that the light creating heat is directed right into your body instead of just warming the air around you. The argument is that you can elicit the same effects as moderate exercise. As I write this, it is December and many people are trying to figure out how to train for a spring marathon without getting blindsided by a warm spring day. How can that be accomplished on these cold, sunless, winter days? It could also be an avenue for early adaptation to summer training, making that July and August marathon training a little bit more bearable.
The second is dealing with an injury. This could be an opportunity to stimulate exercise adaptations ...
5 Keys to a quality taper
One of the biggest complaints I get from athletes following the book (link), is that there is no taper. They say that because they are used to going from six days per week down to 4 and their mileage decreasing from 50 miles a week down to 20 miles a week and they don’t do any workouts for two weeks. When they see a taper like that in the HMM books, they panic. Don’t panic! Let’s take a look at the variables involved and what’s going on in the body. While a taper can be highly individualized to the athlete’s current situation, there are some keys that can be universally applied.
* Volume or Intensity
The common thing to do here is to cut both. By that, I mean what I discussed above. The daily volume is scaled back, the number of days is reduced, and the amount of intensity is scaled back (or removed altogether). Does this sound like you? Do you end up feeling sluggish rather than ready to rock? This could be a big reason why. The thing with the taper is that we are trying to balance recovery and performance increases against detraining from doing too little. While you may be able to do this for a short amount of time (a week maybe), many people attempt to do this for 2-4 weeks. With that amount of time, you cross over from elevating performance to detraining. While this isn’t extreme, just think of it this way- if you are willing to spend a big chunk of change on a shoe that will improve your performance by 1-3%, you certainly don’t want to give those gains away by going too hard on the taper!
Now, don’t take that as don’t cut volume for workouts and easy days. The same is true for the intensity. Find the balance that works best for you. If you find you really do need to cut back to extremes, then I would assess the training that takes you up to that point- especially if you never seem to perform to what your training suggests.
* Don’t change your routine
As Kevin and Keith Hanson always told us, the body craves consistency. Kevin would always make the analogy of sleep. If you are used to getting 6 hours of sleep and then all of a sudden you get 12, you tend to feel groggy the next day. We aren’t used to it. It can make us sluggish, make us feel heavy, and not ready to rock and roll.
My advice is that if you run 5 days a week, continue to do so. If you do two workouts a week, continue to do so. Let’s keep the routine the same and just scale back the volume.
* Analyze where you are at
As you enter the final stretch, it’s key to take an honest assessment of where you are at from a fitness standpoint. Look over your training- how much were you able to get in? Does it line up with your goals?
The big concern here is usually, “have I done enough?” As I write this, we are about six weeks out from the start of the fall marathon season and it has been HOT! So, what I hear now is big concerns over “weather” they can hit their goal pace since their workouts have either been a struggle to hit goal pace or were slow for a lot of the big workouts. I discuss this specific scenario in other writings, so I won’t address it here.
The big questions I would ask myself
* Did I miss any significant amount of time in the last 8 weeks (1+ weeks of training) * Did I get the majority of the workouts in? (90%+ over last 8 weeks)* Was I able to hit my paces (or weather adjusted) and recover between workouts?
* Get to the line
At this point, if I am looking at my schedule and thinking there is no way I can run what’s on it, then do what’s best for you. Don’t confuse that with just reverting back to old ways that never seem to work out for you.
My easy days were too easy
I recently made a comment on my Strava log that I was making a conscious effort to make my easy days a little bit faster. This prompted a question from one of my followers who essentially asked what the benefits of running faster on their easy days would be. So… it depends, right? That’s the answer to a lot of these type of questions. Not every run should be your fastest, and as a coach, the problem is that if I give a range then the fast end of the is usually what is adhered too. So, to combat that a little bit, I want the focus to be on the easier side of things, knowing that the pace will creep up a bit. There are scenarios where we should go beyond the LSD style of running and that is what I want to explore today.
As we dive in I want to begin with adding more context to what I wrote in my log. If you have been reading my posts or listening to my podcasts, you know that I have been “treading water” as it comes to my training and fitness in 2020. As the year has wound down and I see some really great performances, not to mention the redefinition of age and performance, I have rekindled motivation for the next few years. I started looking back and reflecting on my training the last year, or so. It helps to really take an honest assessment of where you are coming from in order to determine the path forward. Prior to 2020, the vast majority of my easy runs were under 7:00 per mile. Most of this year, that number fell off substantially. I would say that the average pace of my easy runs was more like 7:15 pace. Now, to keep that in perspective, even if I ran 6:40 pace, that would still be a good 60-90 seconds slower per mile than my goal marathon pace. I am not making a set of rules for me and a set of rules for you! But, this was not a lack of ability, rather, a lack of just making the conscious effort.
So, looking at my goals, I realize that not everything can, or should, look the way it did when I was 25, or even 30 years old. There might be weeks where I need more recovery, but looking at this made me think about the cascading effects of “slacking” on my easy days. I don’t have any scientific backing on this, but to me, this was a cascading effect on the rest of my workouts. I was running significantly slower on my easy paces. When I went to do workouts, they just seemed so much faster than what they really should have been. Were they beyond my capability? Probably not, but mentally I couldn’t cross that bridge. Also, I have been using the word “averaged” a lot in this post and that’s important. Trust me, when there’s a run the day following a harder workout, I am going to go slower. At the very least, the first few miles I’ll let myself ease into it. I am talking about trends overall. If I have 4 easy days in a week, then the average might include 1-2 runs closer to 7 minute pace (+/-) while 1-3 will probably be a touch faster to 6:30 pace. So, don’t get it twisted that every single run is faster.
With a little bit of context now, when should you let it rip and when should you crank it up and when should you slow your roll?
Crank it up
* When you take more easy days between SOS days. For instance, if you use a 9 day cycle or the alternator set up.
* If you have gotten faster in races but your easy paces have stayed the same throughout.
* If you are forcing yourself to slow down to be in the range and it’s causing gait change. Focus on running with a natural stride and increasing general endurance.
Slow it down
* Don’t force the faster easy paces if you are trying to make a big jump in a race goal. Let effort dictate the pace.
* You’ve tried increasing the average paces, but now workouts are suffering.
How I would start introducing more moderate paced runs, based on classic HMM plan:
* Monday: Easy/Recovery- just coming off bigger weekend mileage that ...
It was 2008 and I was on the starting line of the New York City Marathon. I had just completed the best training segment of my entire life. Yet, here I was petrified, staring at the world’s best runners (Olympic medalists, world record holders, and past champions). Needless to say, I underperformed and left incredibly disappointed. Fast forward to 2011. I was on the starting line of the Rock n Roll Marathon in San Diego. Nothing in my training block had stood out. I was ready to accept whatever outcome happened, but I was calm, relaxed, and itching to run. That day I ran a new PR of 2:14:38. The difference? It certainly wasn’t the training. It was the same training I had done for years. No, the difference was my self confidence and that is a major bummer. Today, I want to explore the idea of self confidence a little more and how you can make sure yours isn’t going to be a factor in your next performance.
What is self confidence?
It is simply the belief in one’s self to successfully perform a desired behavior. From that, there are two types of self confidence- trait confidence and state confidence.
Trait confidence is the notion that self confidence can be seen as something that is more stable and part of one’s personality. An example of this might be that regardless of weather a runner is confident they will stick to the training plan. For the most part, I feel like this is me- when it comes to training, at least. It might not be true when it comes to races though!
State confidence is a feeling of confidence that is felt at a particular point in time, but relies on the current state of mind of an individual and may only be demonstrated momentarily. An example of this might be when a runner is normally very confident until it comes to a stressful situation. Then the person loses their confidence. This was me on the starting line of the NYC marathon!
The Four Sources of Confidence
By far the most dependable of the sources. If we continually see defeat, we tend to have lower self confidence. It’s not a lot of fun seeing a race fall apart over and over again, right? So we want to build in successful experiences to experience a sense of success. These are even more important for those with low self confidence in general- stemming from negative life experiences. Even small victories stacked on top of each other can gradually build your confidence.
In terms of running, say you are running your first marathon. You really aren’t great at long tempos and as you do longer and longer tempo’s, you continue to struggle and fall apart. Not good for the mastery idea and confidence, huh? So, as a coach, I might look at that and break those workouts up. I might find a way to build the person up in accumulating the volume at marathon pace, without throwing them into a weekly workout that they continually struggle at.
This is where a good coach and community can be a big help. Those with less experience are likely to have less confidence in themselves. Let’s use the first time Boston Marathon qualifier. They heard all the stories about the course and the crowds and are panicked a little bit. As a coach who’s run the course, you can help them by modeling their training after the course. You could provide your experience from running the race and how you handled situations. Another example is something very common in our community. People have my book, but it doesn’t look like a common training plan. So, they post their fears in our community looking for advice. Thankfully for me, dozens of runners chime in who went through the same experience and were successful. The runner can then model their training based on others’ experience of the same situation.
This is another area we see a lot of in our community. A person posts a workout in our group in hopes to get a bunch of likes and encouragement. This can help, for sure,
Big Picture Goals for Motivation Now
During this time of uncertainty, it can be tough to have a plan. Many of us have been training a little aimlessly, myself included. It’s been hard to have a plan when there isn’t a definite end point to that plan.
So, today, I want to give you the 30,000 foot view of training and work it down to a single day.
That way, even despite the uncertainty now, we can ensure that we are still making progress towards our long term goals.
Admittedly, my 2020 was as haphazard as many of you experienced. I ran the Houston Marathon in late January as a last ditch effort to qualify for the Olympic Trials. I was tired and had spent too much time chasing the standard over the last couple years. I was tired. It didn’t go well and so I just needed a long break. Besides, I had all of 2020 to race, right! Needless to say, that wasn’t the case. Like many of you, I started training for a race and in self denial just pushed forward because races said they were just postponing, right? So there was a lot of starting and stopping. Finally, I “committed” to racing two 5k’s. I did find a race around Halloween and then did a 5k time trial with my workout buddy Alex Wilson. However, when I say committed, I mean I ran every day, but there was no concrete plan. Did I make progress towards 2021? Well, I guess it was better than a complete lockdown on my training, but I would say it was more like treading water.
Ultimately, I did get a bit of a kick in the backside though.
My time trial on the track woke me up a little bit.
On the one hand, I didn’t reach a loose goal of breaking 15:00 in the 5k. On the other hand, I came pretty close at 15:20 with about 80% of the training that I really wanted to do (in the plan I had in my head). So, while it could have been a time to just say “oh well, it’s 2020” I became motivated again. If I was that close with the minimum, I can get there with an actual plan! And so, this post is a culmination of that realization. I’ll work through my big picture view and how that relates to cycles of training.
I turn 40 in April of 2021, so that is essentially an opening to a whole new career for the next few years as a competitive masters runner. Personally, I also have some feelings about how long we can be competitive and even improve into our 40’s, so I want to put those thoughts to the test on myself. The Big Picture goal for me is to qualify for the US Olympic Trials again while in my 40’s. It’s a fun goal for me and I am blessed with the time to train hard.
So, the question is, how do we get there?
Unfortunately, what many of us simply answer with “train harder.” Maybe, but sometimes it’s other things and we could talk about those things forever. For today though, I want to talk about mapping the timeline out.
Starting small, we have the microcycle.
Typically, this a 7 day cycle, or your weekly training. However, something we have been doing and has gained popularity, is extending this out to a 10-14 day cycle. I personally find the advantage of this as I feel like we try to cram a lot in over 7 days when it might not be as beneficial as making sure you can recover sufficiently between workouts. Regardless, with a microcycle, you are looking at a 7 to 14 day cycle. The key here is that no single workout in this cycle will provide significant increases in fitness, but a bunch of them done consistently, will promote the specific adaptations we trained for.
This leads us to the mesocycle.
This is a cycle of 4-8 weeks. While the microcycles individually don’t increase fitness, a bunch of them added up will. This is what we’ll often refer to as a training block- a block of specific work to elicit specific results/adaptations. If you follow the HMM, you’ll see these as the base, speed, strength blocks. How long you make these depends on several fact...
Probiotics and Post Marathon Health
How many of you have run a marathon only to find yourself with a head cold or sick within the few days following the race? Yeah, me too! The truth is, we know that hard training and racing makes us more vulnerable to sickness.
Right now, training hard with a suppressed immune system could spell disaster.
We are told that exercise is good medicine when it comes to immunity, but there is a window of time where our immune system is suppressed before bouncing back. There’s also a big difference between general exercise and training hard.
It’s a tough balance, but we have options. I came across a recent article in the Sports Performance Bulletin that discussed this, although it was post race specifically. It looked at supplementing marathoners with probiotics and measuring their blood markers and development of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI). What they found is definitely valuable for our situation.
First off, before I discuss the results, let’s recap what we know. We know that long term supplementation of probiotics helps reduce the development of URTI in endurance athletes. This is important because we know that hard training from volume, intensity, or both creates a depression in immunity post exercise.
This creates a particular susceptibility to viral infections.
So, the idea was to supplement these subjects for 30 days and see how their blood looked right before, right after, and then again in 5 days post race. They had 27 male marathoners and randomly split into two groups of supplement and placebo.
Both groups saw an increase in immunity (through different cell production) before the race. This would have been due to the taper decreasing their overall workload. They then all saw a decreased post race and then a return to normal levels. Now, the probiotic group showed a decrease in the pro-inflammatory cells after the race, while the control group did not. It was also shown that the immune cells CD8 and the T cell were not suppressed like they were in the control group (showing that the immunity was not as compromised with the supplement group versus the placebo. So while statistically, there was not a difference, the trends were definitely headed in the right direction. The authors admit that the 30 days was probably not long enough since it’s been clearly shown that any differences to take place in a significant fashion that it will require several weeks of supplementation.
If you decide that you want to give probiotics a shot, here are some general tips.
* Take on an empty stomach, at least 15 minutes before eating.
* This is not a quick fix. I’d recommend taking at the start of the segment. That will give you time to build the gut flora and help you through the peak of your training, too.
* Definitely take probiotics after coming off a round of antibiotics as medical treatment.
While this winter going into 2021 is particularly important to fight off viral infections, it does shed light on staying healthy during hard training. Keep your immune system high and you recover better, you stay more consistent, and your fitness continues to improve- even during this uncertainty.
If you are interested in giving probiotics a shot, here’s what we use. You can try for 30 days with no hassle and this link gets you 25% off. There is a vegetarian option, too.
Lots of excellent information about running and racing. One of my favorite running podcasts!
I really like the content, and have lovedFollowing the HMM for a few years now. I just wish Luke would use a better microphone, because it’s really hard to hear him.
Great information, looking forward to the next one.
Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge about training for the marathon Luke. I’ve learned so much from reading your book and listening to your podcasts. Idea for your next podcast: how to train between marathon training cycles with an emphasis on making speed gains