I don’t like going to the gym. Yeah, I know. That makes me so special.
It’s not the idea of exercise that’s the problem. I run dozens of miles a week and get twitchy when I can’t but give me the option of spending three hours doing a hard run in a storm or an hour in the comfort of a gym and I’ll go for the run.
It’s party the terrible music that gyms are legally required to play (or it’s the endless TV turned up too loud if it’s the gym in our apartment building). Yes, it’s partly the people – or at least the fact that there’s invariably someone on the machine I’m supposed to be using next. Having to (gasp) switch the order of my workout is far more annoying than it should be. And don’t get me started on “those people” – you know the ones.
Most of all though, it’s boring. Yes. running for three or four hours also sounds boring but a) it’s probably outside (and I live in Vancouver) and b) it’s a very mechanical process that doesn’t require much thought. I can listen to podcasts or audiobooks while I’m training and the actual running bit will take care of itself. In the gym, I need to count repetitions, adjust machines, ask people if they’ve finished, look busy if they haven’t, time stretches and so on. It makes multi-tasking all but impossible so I’m stuck listening to the awful music (see above).
But, despite all that, there have been times that I got into the habit of going to the gym. Usually when I was injured. And I go there when I need to do a “Zone 3” workout – a deeply traumatic experience that only the hellishly relentless treadmill can provide. But I don’t go to the gym to lift weights or battle the machines.
Which has become a bit of a problem.
I have one race left this year, the Fall Classic half marathon that I’m hoping will net me a new personal best. Then I’ll be heading into the off season (which basically just means I’ll be training in the cold). My running goal for next year is to break the four hour barrier. On paper, that shouldn’t actually be too difficult. The numbers tell me I just need to train at a higher pace. We’ll see how that works out soon, but it’s cutting 14 minutes off my current best which (if my maths is correct) works out at about 20 seconds per kilometre (32 seconds per mile) across the whole marathon. Not an inconsiderable amount.
Achieving that goal is going to mean stepping up my training and pushing harder on all my runs. Unfortunately, I’ve been neglecting my strength training for too long and that leaves me open to injury.
I’m still nursing the injury that I got at the tail end of last year and that took me out of the Bahamas marathon. Training harder is likely to make it worse. I can tell my running form is pretty bad and I’m going to work on that (particularly when I’m on that demonic treadmill) but I also need to strengthen my non-running muscles in an effort to stop my body falling apart under the strain of training. Or the race.
I generally shy away from exercise books, particularly ones offering dramatic results in “less than 1 hour a week” but a review and a couple of extracts of Quick Strength for Runners got me tempted and I picked up a copy a few months ago.
I finally read it this week (see what I mean about neglecting strength training) and did the first workout on Wednesday.
It’s an eight week plan, aimed at runners. Which basically means it shies away from isolated strength training (bicep curls, bench presses etc.) and tries to provide a more rounded workout targetting balance, core strength and run specific strength. The program is designed for two workouts a week, three if you’re keen. Allegedly, they take about half an hour but the later ones look like they’ll require more time than that. Some of the workouts have over 20 exercises with 20-30 reps of each.
You do need some equipment (stability ball, dumbbells of some description, a BOSU board, a mat) which unfortunately means I’ll be forced to get all gussied up and head down the gym for some sessions. We just don’t have the space for more fitness gear. Our running shoes are already beginning to colonise the apartment.
The first workout was aimed at the core and was pretty straightforward. I could already see the balance element though. A couple of the exercises had me rolling around like a beached dolphin as I tried to get my form right and keep my balance at the same time.
At the time, it didn’t seem a particularly tough workout but it’s now been a couple of days and I can really feel the impact, particularly in some of the non-running muscles that are used to just veg’ing out all day. That may be partly because I haven’t recovered from the race completely but the workout has definitely had an effect as well. Which is good. I’m a firm believer in the “no pain, no pain” approach to exercising but I do like to feel like I’ve actually pushed myself a bit. So, I’m starting with two workouts this week but in future, I’ll be aiming for three. We’ll see how long that lasts.
So far, the book looks promising. It’s pretty focussed. There’s a brief discussion of why these particular exercises have been chosen, a very light breakdown of the various muscle groups and a few pages on exercising while travelling, injuries etc. but the majority of its 200 pages are dedicated to the exercises and the week by week workouts. The instructions seem pretty clear, for the most part, and the photos make it easy to imagine what I should be doing. Actually doing it is a bit harder, of course, but hopefully with practice, there’ll be less dolphining and more Lundgrening.
Time will tell whether a) I stick to the programme and b) whether it helps.
I’m only planning on running two marathons next year. Hopefully one of them will see me breaking that magical four hour mark.[Quick Strength for Runners by Jeff Horowitz by Philip Harris first appeared on Solitary Mindset on 3rd October 2014]