Monday, October 20, 2014

Training for Training

Two weeks ago, I started an intensive training program with a former pro runner who now trains at my local Equinox. I went in for an EquiFit analysis, to measure my body fat, inches, etc. I'd lost a bit of weight simply from being busy and not eating that much through the whole sister's wedding, moving cross-country thing. But I also hadn't been in any semblance of a fitness regime and I really wanted to get back into concentrated training. I missed having purpose to my workouts rather than aimlessly lifting things now and then at the gym.

I wasn't very pleased with my EquiFit results. Sure, my weight was down, but my body fat was up from marathon training (shocker, right?), and every run has reminded me that I'm not in the same shape I was last year. Which is fine -- priorities change. But I want to train for a spring half marathon PR, not just run a race, and I want to take advantage of the incredible running weather California has.

My mom visited last week, and in the middle of October, she was walking in a sundress on the beach. Like I said, incredible weather.

Since I'd mentioned that my interest was in running, Equinox paired me up with Melanie, a former pro runner. She showed me the kind of plan she'd put me through (strength training three times a week -- twice with her and once on my own, cardio three times a week, nutritional guidance, and I had to promise to foam roll and stretch). I chatted with Sourabh and he agreed with my idea that training for six weeks was a good idea since it takes six weeks to form a habit (supposedly), meaning this would help me get back into the running/fitness groove. Essentially, I'm training to get ready for ... training.

Two weeks down and four to go! Here's some of what we've been focused on:

Hip Mobility

Several of the exercises we've been doing focus on my tight hips. Melanie wants to increase mobility and range of movement. She's had me doing lateral movements over hurdles and side lateral squats. I've also been instructed to foam roll my hips and stretch them as much as possible throughout the day while sitting at the desk.

I want to be as mobile as ... this dog? On the beach? Yeah, if you hadn't noticed, I'm just sticking California pictures in here.

Attention to Heart Rate

I've just started my third week and so far I've been surprised with the strides I've made. On Saturday, I needed to do steady state cardio with the aim being a 150ish heart rate (roughly 60% of my max heart rate). After warming up, I started around a 9:00 mile, thinking that was probably right. Nope. Not even close. I ended up running 30 minutes at around an 8:15 pace.

That's fast for me, especially at my current fitness level, or at least that's what my brain said. I didn't think I'd be able to hang on for the prescribed amount of time. But I'm nothing if not a teacher's pet, and Melanie tasked me with hitting that heart rate for a set amount of time, so I did it. And honestly I could have kept running for a while longer which I don't think I'd ever have realized if I hadn't been monitoring the heart rate and letting that set the speed.

Actually related: I had an awesome interval run along the Back Bay yesterday using the heart rate levels as a guide for effort.

I've never utilized heart rate training before and am really enjoying learning more about my cardiovascular performance. It's making me pay attention to the science of running and exercise much more than in the past. I'm really excited to put the knowledge I'm gaining about my cardiovascular potential to use when I start officially half marathon training (probably December, I'm thinking).

Protein, Protein, Protein

In order to lean out and build up the leg muscles that will fire me down the road toward a shiny PR, Melanie focused on my protein intake. Melanie has me at more than 150 grams of protein a day which I was in no way, shape or form getting previously, mainly because I wasn't focusing on it and I gravitate more toward carbs. But there are a lot of simple things I've done that have made it easier -- instead of morning-of oatmeal, doing overnight oatmeal with Greek yogurt. Eating cottage cheese with chopped up strawberries as a late afternoon snack. Finding protein-rich carbs like quinoa, farro and, of course, oats.

In no way did Melanie suggest giving up carbs, but as she noted, they come pretty naturally (to me, especially), and getting enough protein during these six weeks is going to be the focus.

Last night's sunset. California is really, really, ridiculously good looking.

I feel like I have to include a major caveat to this post. Equinox memberships are expensive. My first year was heavily subsidized by my previous firm, but going forward we're paying the normal one-location rate. Working with a trainer at Equinox is also expensive.

You might have noticed -- or at least, I hope it's come across -- that while I've mentioned long hours, I have never complained about my job as a corporate lawyer. Yes, obviously, part of that is simply the fact that it is poor form to complain about your job online (the Internets never forget!). Part of it is that I *generally* like my work. But another large part is that there are few jobs where I could, as a 26 year-old, make a very good salary. Sure, right now I'm using it to pay off my massive student debt, but it still allows me to indulge in good food and spend money on luxuries like an expensive six week training program.

I am never going to try to prescribe this kind of training to anyone else because it would be incredibly privileged and ostrich-like to assume that everyone can just hire a trainer for an intensive get-me-back-on-the-road-to-running-fitness plan. I feel very lucky that I have the ability to do this (and that Sourabh worked an extra month this summer which made up for the unexpected four weeks I was unemployed!). However, maybe by sharing what Melanie is having me work on, it can be a bit helpful or, at the very least, a bit interesting.

Anyone have any questions about this strength and heart rate-focused base building?


  1. Hi!!!!! I love hearing about any and all training, and good for you to be able to do this program. You've worked your butt off to afford yourself the privilege.
    I have dabbled with HR training - and actually strapped on the old HR monitor to do my long run this past weekend since I was 6 days post marathon and running 12 miles - I wanted to make sure it was EASY. and my 10:30 pace had me at 115 for my HR (elevated the longer I went but stayed under 130)! I think we get so caught up in pace and what should be hard that we lose track of how we actually FEEL. Or at least that is my problem. The second I see sub 9 I go into that mental place of "I won't be able to sustain this" stupid brain.

  2. Wow, this was a great post! First, it's awesome you're "training for training" now. That's kind of what I'm doing--just trying to be productive during this off-season (aka base building). I can't wait to follow along and see how the "official" training goes once December rolls around.

    Heart-rate training isn't something I use all that much either. A lot of long-course athletes will structure workouts based on zones, but it isn't totally necessary for me now since I'm focusing on short-course speed.