The word of the next few weeks? Neuromuscular. My inner nerd loves this word.
I slowly built back up my mileage after being injured from my sprained foot (and one week off because of that random hamstring ache), and I could tell that my speed was lacking and my legs fatiguing before my lungs. That, combined with my goal to improve my running form, compelled me to focus the next three weeks on neuromuscular fitness.
What exactly is neuromuscular fitness? By training the nervous system to activate motor units, the muscles learn to contract more quickly, resist fatigue, and generate more running-specific power. Essentially, your form improves, your stride is more powerful, and you fatigue less quickly during fast workouts or hills. For marathoners and half marathoners, neuromuscular fitness complements aerobic fitness in forming the foundation for specific endurance.
Neuromuscular fitness for runners is best improved through the means of hill workouts, strides, and running drills. Neuromuscular fitness is achieved through what coaches like Brad Hudson refer to as muscle training: high intensity, short, anaerobic efforts – not the types of workouts that distance runners like myself orient towards, especially during the off-season.
Monday: 7 mile steady run with last 10 minutes at tempo pace
Since I also need a bit of a aerobic development, I also added one progression run this week as well. My legs came off of a rest day fresh and eager for some speed, so I held a moderate, steady pace over a somewhat hilly route. Over the last 1.35 miles (~10 minutes) I increased my effort to tempo and averaged a 7:29/mile. Not quite true tempo pace, but close to my half marathon pace and a good indication of where my current fitness is at.
Tuesday: AM: 6 mile run + 4 x 100m strides; PM: Drills + 20 minutes core work
I took the same hilly route as the previous day, except I kept my pace much more comfortable and easy. For neuromuscular work, I re-introduced strides and then did drills – high knees, butt kicks, and bounding – later in the evening to warm up for this stability ball workout.
Wednesday: AM: 6 miles with 6 x 1 minute uphill hard; PM: 25 minutes weight lifting
My workout looked like this: 20 minutes warm up run plus drills (high knees and butt kicks), 6 x 1 minute hard uphill with recovery jog back down, and just short of 20 minutes cool down run for a total of six miles. The repeats were challenging but manageable, as I started with a 4 or 5% gradient as too not push too much too soon.
I love running hills. Maybe it’s the variety, maybe it’s the rewarding scenery at the top (tops of hills in East Seattle = mountain views), or maybe it’s the complete release from pace and focus on effort that causes me to enjoy them. I can’t wait to add more hill workouts to my marathon training, since the California International Marathon has a few rollers over the first 16 miles.
Thursday: AM: 3 mile easy run with Charlie; PM: 30 minute Pilates
Once marathon training begins, runs with Charlie will be added on after my normal run. However, since I’m currently enjoying the more relaxed routine of not training, I decided just to make this short run count as my miles for the day. Charlie set a slow pace and I never want to push him too much, so we ran our three miles in just under half an hour.
Friday: 10 mile hilly long run
I usually opt for a flat paved trail for my long runs, but I’ve enjoyed hillier runs so much lately that I choose a hilly trail for my long run.
Saturday: 3 miles backpacking + 2 hours hiking
Ryan eased up on his running this week to let his foot continue to heal and so we were able to not just hike this weekend, but backpack and camp. We filled up our overnight backpacks and hiked up to Snow Lake. A one-way hike to Snow Lake is only three miles and backpacking felt significantly easier this time than our last trip, so after setting up our tent and eating lunch we hiked on further (sans packs) around Snow Lake. We thought we had hiked up to the next alpine lake, Gem Lake, but it turns out that no, Snow Lake is just really, really large. Apparently, even though we hiked this trail 3 times previously, we never realized that Snow Lake sprawls 153 acres.
The weather was ideal for camping: overcast, cool, and calm winds. The temperatures were in the 50s in the mountains, and there was even still snow patches of snow around the lake!
Sunday: 3 miles backpacking
One of my favorite parts of backpacking is waking up early, enjoying a cup of coffee with Ryan, and watching the sun rise and fog lift over the mountains. Backpacking is so utterly relaxing, but the only downside is that the weekend seems to pass by even more quickly.
We hiked down the mountain early, since Snow Lake attracts huge crowds of hikers on the weekends, and we were home by noon.
Backpacking ramps up my appetite, with climbing up a mountain and carrying a heavy pack. I can’t ignore runger (hiking hunger? no, that just shortens still to hunger) so homemade chicken and vegetable packed tacos (I follow this recipe because it never fails to render flavorful and juicy chicken tacos) and Elysian Immortal IPA beers were the choice of recovery food.
Linking with Weekly Wrap!
Do you do your long runs on flat routes or hilly routes?
What workouts made you very hungry?
What was your hardest run this week?