Ineffective training is hard. It leaves the athlete feeling tired and sore, as any tough training regimen will, but it also leaves the athlete feeling mentally drained, frustrated, and dispirited. It's difficult to keep following an ineffective plan because the athlete keeps giving more and more to his or her training, while the regimen continues to ask for more and gives nothing in return. It's awful.

Effective training is another matter entirely. Every workout seems to build on the one before it, even when the athlete doesn't have 100% to give that day. One still gets tired and sore, but the pain and fatigue feel manageable. Even as the athlete takes his or her first few strides in the workout, muscles and ligaments start to limber up, and within seconds, one feels like pushing harder. The more the athlete gives, the more the training regimen seems to give back. Everything seems light, fun, and easy. Arguably, there is no better feeling in life.

I have experienced both kinds of training this year. My heart rate zone half marathon training was a well-documented and colossal failure. Almost nothing about that training regimen felt right. I gave plenty of effort, and received little in return. I did manage, however, to re-acclimate myself to longer runs and twice-a-day running, both of which were important building blocks for what's been happening since.

What's been happening since has been wonderful. I took a little time off to gather my bearings; not a ton of off-time, really, but a few weeks of just getting miles in without bothering to train, per se. Then, I unwittingly stumbled upon a highly effective training strategy, and it's been reinvigorating my body to quite an unexpected degree.

What's different?

First of all, I've dedicated myself to one long bicycle workout per week. I've been doing this on Sunday mornings, first thing. These are three-hour rides or longer, so while the aerobic intensity is lower than I'd get with a long run, the duration is actually much longer. Cycling also works out different muscles than running does. This cross-training allows my running muscles to rest all day Sunday, despite more than three-hours of training. My legs and lungs feel fresh on Mondays even though I am still getting an amazing workout.

Second, I've decided to incorporate treadmill running into my weekly regimen. The hot and humid Texas summer prevents me from running much more than six miles at a time, without only about three or four of those miles available for speed work, before my body overheats and quits. Two weeks back, I started doing speed and tempo work indoors, on a treadmill, allowing me to crank up the intensity of my hard training days without having to fight the heat and inevitably lose. Since I still run outside on my easy days, I'm not compromising my outdoor running form. It's the best of both worlds.

I also don't feel too bad if I have to lose a running day to jumping rope, which is another activity I can do indoors or in the outdoor shade. It's not a running workout, but it's better than nothing, and it does my body a lot of good. Giving myself "permission" to do non-running workouts while still training as a runner has freed me of a lot of mental anguish and opened up a lot of training possibilities for me.

Finally, doing calisthenics at work has enabled me to actually ramp-up my strength training without having to dedicate an hour before or after work to a big second workout. I can drop and do 50 push-ups pretty much whenever I want, and as I've been working out, I've been writing down my repetitions and focusing on consistent forward progress. It's been working.

Sample Workout Week

  • Monday: 45 push-ups every hour from 6:30 to 1:30; 1-mile brisk walk at 10:00 AM; 6-mile easy run at noon.
  • Tuesday: 15 pull-ups every hour from 6:30 to 1:30; 1-mile brisk walk at 10:00 AM; 8-mile threshold run on the treadmill at noon.
  • Wednesday: 45 push-ups every hour from 6:30 to 1:30; 1-mile brisk walk at 10:00 AM; 6-mile easy run at noon.
  • Thursday: 15 pull-ups every hour from 6:30 to 1:30; 1-mile brisk walk at 10:00 AM; 10-mile tempo run on the treadmill at noon.
  • Friday: 45 push-ups every hour from 6:30 to 1:30; 1-mile brisk walk at 10:00 AM; 6-mile easy run at noon.
  • Saturday: 8-10 mile easy run early in the morning; walking or light swimming in the afternoon.
  • Sunday: 40-mile bicycle ride early in the morning in HRZ 1 or 2; rest and hydration in the afternoon.

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