You might recognize this scenario of training hard for one or more races, then taking a break and having a tough time getting back into training because your fitness has gone 10 steps backwards. In this post I’ll describe how I lost most of my fitness in less than one year and what actions I’m taking to gain fitness back.
In April 2015 I ran a PR at the Boston marathon in 2:44. The months leading up to this race I consistently ran 6 days / 60 to 80 miles a week and I was in the best shape of my life. Fast forward 1 year and life has gotten in the way of my running, I became mostly a weekend runner with 15 – 20 miles a week, and my fitness level decreased quickly.
Positive running vibes in full effect!
How to lose most of your fitness in only 12 months!
After the Boston Marathon last April, my body was pretty beat and I took it very easy in May to avoid injuries. In June, Paul Sinclair and I ran pretty hard up and down Mt Whitney at 14,500 feet in 7 1/2 hours. Going into Mt Whitney, my body wasn’t fully recovered yet from Boston. The weeks following Mt Whitney my energy levels were low and I didn’t feel like running much.
The following months, over the summer of 2015, I ran about 3 to 4 times a week, in the 20 to 25 miles per week range. On the work front, several major changes happened in August; we sold our online stationery business and I went back to work in the corporate world as VP of Marketing and Innovation at Tillys. During the first 6 months, most of my office days were packed with meetings and nights were consumed by catching up on 200+ emails per day. I was often tired at night and only wanted to chill with my fam or go to sleep, not go for a run! From August 2015 until December I only ran on Saturday and Sunday, with a sporatic week day run at 6am or after 10pm.
One of the few weekend adventures, Mt Baldy, CA
In December 2015 we found out my wife was pregnant with our second child. She suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness), so I took care of my wife and daughter a lot more, which meant less runs! From August 2015 until April 2016 I’ve had to choose between my family / work and running, so I only ran an average of 60 to 80 miles a month, compared to 200 to 300+ miles per month prior to Boston.
That brings us to this month, May 2016. This has been the longest ‘break’ from training and racing that I’ve had in the past 3 years. My wife is feeling a bit better so I’m able to get some more runs in! Our baby is due early September, so 4 months left until the party starts again!
It’s so easy to compare yourself to your peak fitness level and beat yourself up about how slow you’ve become. During my peak in April 2015, a 20 mile runs at 6:45 min / mile pace felt like a piece of cake at 148HR. In the past few months I’ve been feeling tired even after just a few miles at 8 min / miles at 147HR. I’ve caught myself thinking several times: “This sucks, I want to be done, are we there yet?” This is the first time I’ve been experiencing this feeling. From early 2013 until April 2015 I’ve always improved my performance and this is the first time regressing. The hardest part after a break is accepting the new reality and training at your current fitness level!
4 miles into a mellow run and already out of energy, not happy (Dec 19, 2015)
Getting your mindset back in shape
One of the key take aways from my interview with 6 time Hawaii Ironman World Champion Mark Allen, was the importance of mental training, getting your mind in the right place during training and racing. Instead of being frustrated, I had to get my mind in a better place. One tool that has helped me a lot is the 5 minute journal and app. Every morning you take 5 minutes to write: ‘3 things I’m grateful for’ and ‘3 things that I will do to make today great.’ Every night you take 5 minutes to answer: ‘3 amazing things that happened today’ and ‘How could I have made today even better’. The 5 minute journal starts and ends your day to maintain positive thinking patterns.
Instead of thinking ‘I’m lazy and suck at running’, I’ve become much more grateful for the things around me, such as a healthy body that’s able to run, a second child on the way, a strong wife, a nice house, a great job at a solid company, etc. In the past few weeks my mindset has become much more positive. This past weekend after 5 miles at slow pace, I started having some difficulties; my legs were feeling heavy and my pace slowed down to about 8:30 min / miles at 147HR. Only 1 year ago I ran more than 2 minutes per mile faster at the same HR. Instead of comparing myself to peak times, I think about all the things I am grateful for. Also I think about the excitement of the journey to get back in shape again.
Setting a running goal
Setting a running goal gives you clear focus to train. In X amount of days you have a race coming up, so you better put in the training, or you’ll miss your goal and it’s going to be a miserable and painful experience!
In the past few years I’ve always set a running goal about 3 – 6 months out, a few of my goals were:
Our second daughter will be born early September 2016, so I have about 4 months to get back in shape, before focusing much more time on my family again. For me, there is something magical about running a sub 3 hour marathon, you have to be in good shape in order to run this. By the end of August 2016 I want to run a 2:57 marathon
on low training mileage.
Creating a training plan
A training plan increases your chances to succeed in your race goal, however listening to your body and being flexible with your plan is key!
In the next 4 months I plan to run 40 to 45 miles max, spread out over 5 days, mostly early mornings and late nights:
- Tuesday: 3 to 5 miles
- Wednesday: 10 miles
- Thursday: 3 to 5 miles
- Saturday: MAF test on track = 8 miles
- Sunday: Long run = 10 to 20 miles
For most weeks, all of my runs will be aerobic in the HR zone of 137 – 147 bpm, sometimes lower. Occasionally I will add some speedwork or hills. This is also how I trained
for my Boston Marathon: 94% of my total running time was aerobic, only 6% of my total running time was anaerobic with intervals and speedwork.
Enjoying the late night runs with Pretzel headlamp
Documenting training progress
One way to keep track of your training progress is by taking a MAF test on a running track: You warm up for 15 minutes, then run 5 miles at your Max Aerobic HR (to calculate this HR, visit Phil Maffetone’s site
), then 1 mile cool down. For each of the 5 miles you note your mile times:
- On April 30, 2016 I ran the 5 miles at 147 HR in 38:11 = 7:38 min / mile average.
- One week later, on May 7th, 2016, I improved 25 seconds over 5 miles in 37:46 = 7:33 min / mile average. This progress is very motivating because at the same heart rate, your running pace improves.
Note that not every week your aerobic pace will improve. There are a lot of variables involved that can make a difference in your MAF test times, such as your stress levels, hours of sleep the night before, your weight, outside temperature, etc. For the next 15 weeks, every Saturday at 6am I’ll run a MAF test and take note of all possible influential factors. All details will be posted on my Strava
On 8/19/16, I want my last MAF test pace to be at or below 7 min / mile again. This should put me in a good position to run a 2:57 marathon on 08/24/16.
In the coming months I’ll be posting here on this blog, my Strava
about my findings while regaining fitness. I’ll also be diving further into nutrition, sauna training and my experience with Wim Hof breathing exercises and cold showers.
Few closing thoughts
It takes time and dedication to build up and maintain a high level of fitness. Sometimes you decide there are other priorities in life that require your time and energy. If you’ve lost some or most of your fitness, accepting your current fitness is an important step to minimize frustrations. Instead of thinking ‘I’m such a slow runner’ and ‘this takes so much more effort than before’, write down the things you’re grateful for, such as a healthy body that allows you to run, friends, family, etc.
Setting a (race) goal 3 to 6 months out and creating a realistic training plan should help get you back in shape. Document your progress by taking weekly or monthly MAF tests. Improvements don’t happen overnight so be patient. Last but not least, have fun!
what are some of the challenges that you’ve run into with your fitness, limited training time and motivation? What are you doing to overcome these challenges? Please let me know in the comments