Many of us that struggle to find enough time to dedicate to training wonder how best to develop our VO2 max, given busy lives and tight schedules ('VO2 max' is shorthand for maximal oxygen uptake, a standard measure of aerobic fitness). In actual fact about 50% of our VO2 maximum is innate i.e. it's based on our own genetics… so you're to some extent blessed with being born relatively fit, or rather less so. That however does mean that the remaining 50% is in essence entirely up to you!
Recently the New York Times published an interesting piece on the 'single best exercise' - if you could do just one exercise to achieve the best level of personal fitness.. what should it be? Well, if only it were quite that easy! One sports science expert noted: "Ask a dozen physiologists which exercise is best, and you’ll get a dozen wildly divergent replies. “Trying to choose” a single best exercise is “like trying to condense the entire field” of exercise science, said Dr. Martin Gibala, of the kinesiology department at McMaster University in Canada.
Recently, in the debate as to the most time-effective way to improve VO2 max (given a limited amount of time to devote to training, what's the smartest, quickest way to get a boost to your fitness level) attention has turned to efficiency in training.
So, what is the best return on your investment time-wise? Traditionally the thinking was that you needed to go on lengthy runs to make the most improvement, but now the approach of certain experts is more toward high intensity bursts of more demanding exercise (interval training of a high intensity). High-intensity interval training (HIIT - sometimes also referred to as 'HIT') describes physical exercise that is characterized by brief, intermittent bursts of vigorous activity, interspersed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercise. The latest research appears to back up the idea that this exercise can prove especially effective.
Runner's World also published a good article on the concept - 'Train less for better results'. Too good to be true? Well, research does seem to indicate that HIIT has specific benefits. The Guardian also wrote on the discovery by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh that after just two weeks of HIIT previously sedentary men experienced considerable health gains. Bare in mind, though, that you should be careful when exercising at a high intensity level not to push yourself too far and, as always, be mindful of avoiding injury. Another key finding in sports medicine has been the need to stick with your fitness programme. You should focus then on regular workouts, even if you don’t spend a lot of time exercising. The good news is that the health benefits of participating in an activity, even when short, follow a breathtakingly steep curve, and you'll certainly notice the benefits from a regular commitment to exercise!
Most of us like achieving a challenge, be it big or small. As a runner much of the time the goal is centred around a time, pace or distance. However for a mountain marathon there is a lot more to consider. In 2009 I wanted to run the Everest Marathon, and the main goals for this event is to reach Everest Basecamp healthy and acclimitised.
Read my top tips on trail running at altitude some of which are featured in this months 'Trail Running Magazine' attached.
Everest Marathon Race Tips
- Leave home healthy & well rested. Being run down or overtrained before you leave home will mean you are more likely to pick up a bug in the plane or in country.
- Sleeping at altitude is not always easy especially with the change in diet, water, medication you might be taking and being under canvas. Another reason to stock up on the Zzz's before leaving home.
- Time on your feet, hill walking & running off road, especially downhill is more important for this race than fast road training or intervals.
- Know the route profile. Be aware that the course route may change slightly from year to year. The Everest Marathon normally starts at over 5000m dropping to 3440m for the finish line, again practice descending however don't go off too fast you still have 26 miles to cover. If you over cook it not only will you hit the wall but you you will feel the altitude all the way. Acclimitisation is key to enjoyment and performance.
- Gain some understanding on high altitude illnesses and respect the basic protocols. Regardless of how fit/fast you may be in races ascend slowly, take on plenty of fluid and don't get the urge to race your way to the start line.
- Know what food/drink is provided already during the race, where the refreshment points come (i.e. distances) and decide whether you need to carry anything extra. Stock up on your favourite race snacks and training foods from home. The morning of a race - aim to finish breakfast 2 hours before the race start to allow yourself to digest it. Eat what you know works well for you - eg, porridge, bread and honey etc. Aim to finish taking on fluids about 45mins prior to the start. Learning to run on what feels like ‚empty’ puts a spring into your step!
- Know whether the race has any obligatory equipment and be happy with what you will need to use - practice with it.
- Don't drop any litter along the way, respect the delicate surrounding of the Khumbu Valley.
MOST OF ALL - Have the confidence that you will go the distance and most importantly enjoy this fabulous event ..... after all isn’t that is why you are running?
This years 'between seasons road trip' has taken my husband and I into Spain. We left Chamonix a month ago making our way where the sunshines, through France, Andorra and then the Pyrenees in search of amazing rock climbing, hills to climb on the bike or on foot and catching up with friends along the way. A perfect holiday! We are travelling in style in our custom-made campervan – our well loved home on wheels (fitted out by the other half). I think it's the best way to travel. We have food, a bed, transport and all the 'toys' on board!
For the past week we have been in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees, in a remote village called Rodellar, situated at the head of a limestone gorge. Amazing towers of rock to challenge the body and mind, along with fabulous trails to run on - for the rest days!
This weekend Chamonix is absolutely buzzing. Two weeks ago the valley was really sleepy with just the locals, a few walkers and the early alpinists filling the cafes and restaurants. But this weekend is seen as the true 'start to the summer season' as this is when all the mountain huts & refuges open for business - not to mention the warm weather we are now having. 31 degrees yesterday!
The last weekend in June also hosts the 3 Chamonix trail races, the 10k, the Cross (half marathon) and then the marathon which set off this morning. So Chamonix is not only full of walkers & climbers but is bursting at the seams with runners! It's a great feeling to take part in these events where you all have a common interest and everyone's really friendly. I've taken part in the both the Marathon and then the Cross so this year I thought i'd give the 10k a go. After the winter season and the lack of snow free trails & roads it always seems hard work to get your 'running legs' back. You wonder if your ever were 'a runner'? But training for the 10k has been really good fun and refreshing to the body. Normally i'd be training for the longer distances and concentrating my time on the 'long runs' but for the 10k i've enjoyed adding the speed seasons into my training and steadily noticing a difference. But although you need speed for a 10k this one also requires hill strength too, with 350m of ascent it's definately not going to be a fast PB (personal best) that you are after! The winning time for the course was 40:41 for the men and 47:06 for the women, I was pleased to come in 2nd senior lady, 4th lady over all with 51:13. I am now looking forward to my gentle long run today to head out to cheer on the marathon runners!
Janet and I spent a further 2 weeks continuing our training in preparation for the big day. In the Gokyo Valley we ascended Gokyo Ri at sunset and visited the glacial lakes surrounded by views of the Everest range and Cho Oyu, 8201m. Runners were able to take things at their own pace depending on their acclimatisation. Some runners, more accustomed to road running, had more than just the altitude to test them. My test was whether i'd last another 2 weeks in a tent! Now on my 8th week camping I was dreaming of my warm comfy bed and wondering what it would be like to not have to sleep in two down jackets and in a down sleeping bag (not to mention all the layers underneath to combat the overnight cold of -20)! That along with walking uphill for weeks on end didn't register as my 'normal' marathon preparation! In the meantime we kept our minds busy testing the lovely bakeries along the way (carbo loading I believe it's called?) and by soaking up the culture of the region visiting monasteries and enjoying living in the mountains.
Each runner was required to have a medical the day before the race to be deemed 'fit to run' the 42km course. As expected, many runners were recovering from stomach bugs, chesty choughs (commonly known as the 'Khumbu cough' due to the dry air in the Solukhumbu), altitude headaches and loss of sleep - but thankfully by race day most of us were given the thumbs up to race. Finally we arrived at our destination, Gorak Shep, 5140m, the race start and the Basecamp setting for several 1950's Everest expeditions. Here we all slept in simple teahouses and were woken at 4.30am with breakfast tea and porridge in bed - a luxury! The time always flies on race mornings and by 6.15am we were all stood waiting for the signal to start. At 6.30am we crossed the line, anyone would have thought the local Nepali runners were only running a 100 metres, they shot off out of sight. One lady was also wearing her regional dress over her running tights! The first mile I would say was technically the hardest due to the altitude and crossing the glacial moraine but thankfully on fresh (ish) legs - then we began our descent. Our route was mainly on good trails but being that high means when you are going down you can still feel the lack of oxygen. The descent meant I ran a little too hard at the start so my legs definitely suffered when we began the 1100m of ascent! The local support especially from the bright cheery children and regular drinks stops was really appreciated. Not to mention negotiating fully loaded yak trains on route! As the temperatures rose and we neared Namche Bazaar (3440m) I got my final boost of energy to see my tired legs up the last hill to the finish line crossing it in 6h36, 3rd non- Nepali lady. Anna Frost a pro- runner from New Zealand swept up breaking the female record flying round the course in 4h35! Janet excelled and came in 7h42, 6th non-Nepali lady and the first male was local Deepak Raj Rai in 3h59. The hardest bit was the 6 hour hilly walk out the following day!
Welcome to Nepal, Solukhumbu Valley, Everest Region! I have just completed a fantastic 5 weeks leading treks to Everest Basecamp and up the famous Everest view point Kala Pattar (5550m). What with wonderful scenery, challenging climbs, beautiful people and culture I already know that I will soon be coming back!
But for now I am preparing for my own challenge – the Everest Marathon! Joined by fellow running friend, Janet Lefton, we are currently amongst 80 other runners from around the world, medics and support crew who will all walk in and acclimatise together to Basecamp (5200m) where we will begin our 42km race back to the Sherpa Village of Namche Bazaar (3450m). Ok so it’s mainly downhill but it still definitely has its’ challenges along the way. Apart from acclimatizing and staying healthy the race start point has temperatures as low as minus 20 and moving at 5200m can feel like you are literally crawling along the trail, not to mention the cold/dry & dusty air that’s pouring into you with every breath.
Today is an another acclimatisation walk to 4000m, to the Everest View Hotel which gives an amazing panorama of Everest, Nuptse, Lhotse and awe inspiring Ama Dablam. Tomorrow we set off for a training run and higher camp and begin our ascent to the start line….!
Our 2009 Alpine Trail Running camp took place in Chamonix last week. This annual event ties in with the Mont Blanc 10k, half and full marathon events – so if at the end of the week if you’d like a challenge it’s there with all the support you could ever imagine! Our runners all had different running backgrounds and ambitions which meant there was a lot of experience and stories to share.
Based in a luxury Yeti Lodge chalet our runners were able to enjoy a daily run along mountain trails, amongst pine trees and meadows, visit high villages with inspiring views around every corner – not to mention benefitting from fresh mountain air in their lungs! On our return we’d enjoy lunch, sunshine and hot tub all under the eyes of Mont Blanc!
One of the weeks highlights were the excellent tips and advice from World Champion runner, Lizzy Hawker who also gave a very inspiring talk of her worldwide running tales.
To round the week off several of our runners took part in the various races in Chamonix at the weekend with podium results! Sue Smith got 3rd in her category at her first ever mountain half marathon, Mara Larson scooped up two prizes with 3rd overall female and also 1st in her age category, and Janet Lefton completed the full marathon in an excellent time of 7h30 giving her the points required for the full Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in 2010.
So what will your 2010 challenge be? To find out more about our running week check out the feature by journalist and runner Antonia Kanczula who joined us last week in the September issue of Health & Fitness Magazine.