ATC 306: How Not To Be A Stressed Out Athlete, Long Run Duration For Masters Marathoners, A Healthy Blend of MAF & Sprints, and More

February 28, 2020
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Natalie asks:

How to not be a stressed out athlete?

As coaches and athletes, you guys are no strangers to “what it takes” and also no stranger to pushing yourself beyond what is healthy, like Dr. Phil Maffetone said- fit but unhealthy athletes. Most if not all of us endurance athletes go through it at some point: a lot of added stress trying to “do it all.” It’s not signing up for the race/challenges that’s stressful, it’s finding the time and pushing our bodies to get the work done- from the moment we wake up to the moment we hit the pillow. Waking up at 4am to train, fitting in more training after work or when kids are at school, or anywhere between. Plus all of life’s non-sport demands that keep us on the go all day. Kid time. Jobs. Tension with our partner over training & time spent away. Our intentions are genuine, but sometimes figuring this all out can push us into a big stress state (or burnout) even when we’re trying to avoid that.
This show helps us be healthier athletes, so how can we pursue our goals in sport and not be so stressed out about how to get it all done- mentally stressed and physically overstressed? How do we keep our body in check when we’re asking a lot of it? How do we keep a positive mindset about how our fitness is progressing when we know “it could always be better if we had more time”? Or missing workouts? Or the sacrifices? Even healthy eating can be another stress to find the time for cooking and food prep!

What the Coaches say:

  • Imbalance and sacrifice has to happen. It’s important to be aware of what you’re sacrificing and be ok with it.
  • Eliminate doubt to keep a positive mindset. Look back at your training logs and see when you missed workouts. Can you see how they helped you recover better so you could actually progress?
  • Have a coach who is sympathetic.
  • Shift expectations for your race goals until life settles down.
  • Don’t fall into the “no pain, no gain” or FOMO traps.
  • Practice fighting the urge to become irritable and moody when you’re forced to skip a workout. Reframe the negativity: ask yourself, “What can I take away from this day?” Develop the mindfulness skills to be ok with whatever happens.
  • It’s better to show up for a race undertrained than wrecked and overtrained.
  • Learn how to set boundaries so you don’t push yourself over the edge.
  • Be mindful of your spouse’s communication methods to express his/her discontent with your workouts. Pick up on that and work through those issues directly. You can’t just ask your partner to accept all the time you spend away doing workouts… they have to receive something too. Perhaps compromise or negotiate.
  • DON’T TRY TO BE PERFECT!
  • At the end of the day, you chose this life for yourself. Remember why. Get back to the root of why you are where you are.
  • You can always bail on a race if you feel like it’s having a truly negative effect on your family and life. Prioritize what’s really important.
  • In terms of food, prep ahead!

Rose asks:

Long Run Duration For Masters Marathoner

Hello Tawnee and Lucho and other coaches:
I am running the Big Five marathon in South Africa on the Entanbi Game Preserve on June 20th, 2020.  I am a 52 year old female and I have run 9 marathons. My last marathon was in 2017 in Bar Harbor, Maine.  I am prone to injury. I tend to have issues with my piriformis and also some tendinitis and planter fasciitis in the feet.  My only goal is really to finish and since I’ve done quite a few marathons, I know the basics of training. However, I do want a little bit of structure and help so I have signed up with Coach Mosley, who offers training plans and minimal coaching through email. (https://www.myprocoach.net/)  I signed up for the masters intermediate training plan.  The longest run on this plan is 2 hours 45 minutes. I was concerned about this and sent an email to the coaches.  My last couple of marathons have been over 5 hours and so it makes me a bit nervous to have the longest run before the marathon be less than 3 hours.  Here is their response:

Length of Long Run

“It is a good question and I am happy to explain the reasoning. You’re right, the longest Aerobic Endurance Run in your plan is 2 hours 45 minutes in Week 14.

There is no doubt that a 3-hour run (or longer) can be a great confidence booster. However from a training and physiological standpoint, there are more downsides than upsides.

One of the most common reasons that marathoners don’t make it to the start line is injury. Our training plans will gradually and safely progress your endurance to a point that you will be able to complete your marathon strongly.” 

I agree with them 100% that injury is a big concern, particularly for master runners like myself who are prone to injury when I increase my distance.  However, the South African race on a game preserve is on a difficult course. They have a 7 hour cutoff time and I’m pretty confident I can make it. Also, there will be wild animals out there and so I’m not joking when I say I don’t want to be the slowest runner. I’m thinking about increasing my long runs a little just so I have the confidence to finish the race.  I’m not sure if I should try to do 5 hours. I know that time on my feet is really important. Another idea I had is to split my running with this elliptical machine at my gym called the Octane Fitness Elliptical.  It really seems to mimic running. I know it’s not a substitute, but I thought it could help by keeping me on my feet for longer, but not increasing my chance of injury like running would. Any advice you can give would be great.  I’m 18 weeks out so I’m hoping you might get to my question while I’m still in my early training days. As I mentioned to Tawnee in an email, I love your show and all the advice you give.  It’s also cool that Lucho lives in Colorado; I’m a Colorado native who lives in Lakewood. Thanks!

What the Coaches say:

  • Confidence is important to consider (though it doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind).
  • 2:45 is an arbitrary number. Since you have done 5-hour runs before, Lucho thinks you can likely do 3-4 hours in training. The key is to only run so long as you feel good and healthy. Don’t push it just to hit a number.
    • You can use your watch to help determine this. If you’re noticing a drop-off (1-min per mile slower) in your mile splits, then it’s time to stop.
  • A hilly course might be able to extend your volume.
  • On your long runs leading up to the longest run, be mindful of how you’re feeling. You know yourself better than anyone else. Go shorter or longer depending on how you feel. Blend your experience with the schedule.
  • The elliptical could be a helpful tool if you feel inclined to do it.

Ahmed asks:

Does MAF HR change for each sport?

Avid listener, especially about MAF training and keto/HFLC. I came from a running background of track and cross country in high school and college, but transitioned to road cycling about 5 years ago. At this point, running is just an adjunct to my cycling when it’s raining, snowing, or the days are too short to ride when I get home from work. On the bike, I primarily keep my HR at MAF or below. I’m 37, so 143 is my MAF HR, but I’ve been steadily improving my FTP each year over the past 5 years, so I use Phil’s adjustment criteria to add 5 bpm, to raise my MAF ceiling to 148. I try to keep it at 143 or well below, but on hills, or after a few hours in the saddle, it may drift up to 147-148, then I’ll let it come back down. Also, I’ve been injury free, no illness or sickness, and no medications, so I pass all of Phil’s other criteria to subtract bpm.
Anyway, my question is, should I use the same MAF HR for running as I do for cycling? Again, I rarely run anymore, maybe 2-3x/month on avg. So my running muscles are never really in tip top shape compared to my cycling muscles. At 143bpm I can comfortably run 7:15-7:30 pace for a 4-5 mile run, but for longer runs of 8-10 miles, I get a little cardiac drift (due to muscular fatigue I guess?), and my avg pace at 143 bpm is more like 7:30-8min.
So due to my inconsistency in running at this point in my life, would Tawnee and Lucho advise running below MAF? Or doing a running MAF test? The last thing I want to do is create a stress hormone spike from running a bit too hard.
Also, I’ve been trying to implement Brad Kearns primal sprint strategy of doing a few short sprints (6-10 sec x 6) every 7-10 days, after warming up of course. Would you guys support the sprinting approach as a HIIT type muscular stimulus?
Sorry that these questions are a bit vague, but I’ve been puzzled about at what HR I should be running now a days, since it’s something I’m not doing regularly.
Thanks in advance, and hope to hear back on an upcoming podcast!
Ahmed from Team Velocipede in Fairfax, Va.

What the Coaches say:

  • Yes, your run MAF should be the same as your bike. Don’t increase it. You could lower it, though.
  • Check out our previous episode on HIIT
  • Cardiac drift won’t be a guide to a hormone spike, per se. Any run that’s long enough to cause cardiac drift may put you in dangerous territory hormonally. But the cardiac drift isn’t the cause of a hormone spike.
  • Decide what your priority is: are you trying to get faster or are you trying to be healthy? You really don’t need to be running 10 miles if 4 miles is a sufficient stimulus.
  • Consider doing some other kind of activity that complements your cycling (something more power related).
  • MAF can be an overall benchmark of health and fitness, but it’s not the end all be all.