I’ve re-written this post a few times and it keeps getting longer, so for this post, rather than discuss the running itself, I just want to mention my training method. I was hoping to have done a lot more research about running so that I could come up with, what is to me, the best possible training program I could think of. Of course, that program would be tailored to me and my strengths and weaknesses. I really wanted to understand the art of running at its core before I ventured out and wasted time with a half-baked idea. Life saw to it that I wouldn’t be afforded the time or energy to do that research. So, I’ve taken what I do know and come up with a simple plan.
My biggest obstacle to running is my knee. I have to be careful to not overdo it or run too often. I have learned over the past year or two that if I give it the requisite time to adapt it can hold up pretty well. Though, I am not always great at being patient when it comes to these things. For this plan, I’ve decided to start out with a very low training volume: each run won’t be over a mile. Training frequency will depend on how strong my knee feels. So far, I’ve had one to two runs per week.
Running form goes hand in hand with injury prevention. I’m 100% on board with the idea that if you really work on your form you’ll minimize your risk for injury. Of course, there are always overuse injuries or those times you step wrong and roll your ankle. But, if I want to put any serious mileage on my knee, I’ve got to have my form in check to reduce stress and wear.
To compliment my running form I know I need to up my cadence. You’ll get a lot of options on this topic, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time here. I do think it makes sense that a faster cadence reduces ground contact time. Reduced ground contact time puts less stress on the joints and connective tissue and therefore would reduce the potential for injury. There is some data that suggest the ideal stride frequency is 180 steps per minute. If you’ve never tried to turn your feet over that fast it doesn’t sound too bad. But once you’re out there trying it, it’s much harder than it sounds!
I am also very interested in doing heart rate training. This seems to be where it’s at in terms of developing aerobic capacity and to run longer distances. By training to your heart rate you’re able to decrease the amount of work you do to achieve the same result. I do have a heart rate monitor I can wear while running and have done some preliminary testing with it and so far the results have been positive.
Now, when you’re out of shape and a little overweight, as I am, training your cadence at the same time as heart rate is next to impossible. Spinning my legs around like that really jacks my heart rate up. I’ve been debating recently which I think is more important since I can’t do both in one run. This internal debate has lead me to my current training plan.
As I mentioned, I’m starting with low mileage, but as the soreness subsides and I can feel the strength returning I’ll increase it. Soon I’d like to be running every other day and eventually (almost) every day. Things might change along the way, but for now, I’m going to keep up the same routine until it becomes comfortable. Since I can’t run at a 180 strides per minute cadence yet, and when I try it feels like I’m sprinting, that will be my main focus. In my runs so far things have been pretty good here, better than I thought, but I’m nowhere close to where I’d like to be. I try to keep my cadence as close to 180 as I can, and when I feel like I’m dying and I can’t sustain it anymore I stop and walk. I walk long enough to allow my heart rate to come down and for me to catch my breath a little, then I start trying to run at that 180 pace again. Rinse and repeat until I reach a mile.
Running like this is doing a few things for me. First of all, it’s strengthening my nervous system, allowing me to recruit more muscles more quickly. Being agile and light on your feet can really help to improve your running. Secondly, it’s giving me some heart rate training, by getting my heart rate up and letting it come back down it’s conditioning my heart to work better under stress and it’s also giving it some more versatility. This will be especially useful in OCR where you are rarely running at the same speed the whole time and you often slow or stop for obstacles. And it’s also sort of like HIIT training, which is good for lots of things, but burning fat is one of them.
So, I think I’m going to keep at it like this until I can run a mile at 180 steps per minute without stopping. Once I get there, I will take my time, run several miles at that pace just to make sure I’m really used to it and I’m not just hitting it on my good days. Then I’m going to start moving the mileage up. Slowly, of course. I might be a month or even two before I’m running two miles at a time, but that’s ok. Then once I’ve started going for longer runs I’m going to start mixing up the training a bit. I’ll have a day that’s dedicated to heart rate training, and maybe a day that’s dedicated to running drills, not just running. Some might argue I need those things before I start or at least along the way, but I don’t want to put too much on my body at once. This might not be the fastest way to get better, but given my unique circumstances, I think it’s going to work for me. I think the infrequent short distances will give my body the time to adapt without injury. This will allow me to add in that other stuff without having to worry I’ll get hurt.
Anyway, that’s the plan! We will see how it goes. Look for another post soon that actually has some data from my runs. I might do one post for each run or I might combine them to more easily compare the results. I haven’t decided. Either way, something will be coming soon. I’m actually pretty excited and encouraged by this. It’s not going to get me running fast as quickly as I’d like but I think it’s going to make me better and more solid. Nothing worth doing ever comes easy so I need to keep that in mind and be patient and trust the process.