May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Fitness '97, February 1997


Finishing a race may be victory unto itself--but it's still more fun to finish with a kick

Are We
There Yet?

Two decades of fitness grail-seeking, including a misstep or two from the master himself
We jog, therefore...we die? Jim Fixx, 52, succumbs to a heart attack while running in Vermont.

OK, it doesn't work: Allen stops drinking wheat-grass juice.

But this does: Allen slows down most of his training to stay within his aerobic range.

To Load or Not to Load, Chapter Two: Go-go Hollywood executives popularize the "power breakfast"-typically fruit, bran muffins, and dry toast.

Americans spend $2.5 billion on athletic shoes.

We jog, therefore...we don't die? Several studies indicate that exercise can slow and even reverse the effects of aging. New York Marathon exceeds 20,000 entrants for first time.

We jog less, therefore...we're fit? A new approach to training gains legitimacy when, in a study at Indiana's Ball State University, runners who cut their mileage by 70 percent three weeks earlier run just as fast in a 10k as they did before.

New catch-phrase: "cross-training."

See, it works: Oprah Winfrey's declaration that she has lost 67 pounds in four months prompts more than 200,000 calls to Sandoz Nutrition, manufacturer of the Optifast protein drink.

We don't jog, therefore... we're fit? The Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, widely regarded as the nation's leading center for cutting-edge fitness studies, concludes that people do not have to be aerobically active to stay healthy.

To Load or Not to Load, Chapter Three: After seven vegetarian years, Mark Allen begins eating red meat, wins every triathlon he enters for next two years, including first Ironman victory.

Well, it kinda worked: Oprah Winfrey regains 17 of her lost pounds.

We know this one works: Suzanne Somers begins hawking Thighmaster mail-order exercise device on TV commercials. Somers tells People: "All the baby boomers' inner thighs are starting to go."

A red-meat-eating, non-strength-training Mark Allen wins Hawaii Ironman for third straight year.

It works, and it's high concept: New York Times film critic Janet Maslin reviews Cindy Crawford's Shape Your Body workout video: "Although all Cindy seemingly does...is to work out and drink water, she manages to infuse the action with powerful emotions.... When she remarks that 'it's really satisfying for me to learn, like, which exercises work which muscles,' the viewer can be sure she means something more."

Mark Allen wins fourth consecutive Ironman in record 8:09:09.

It's a sunny fall day, and up in the bleachers ringing the track at the University of California at San Diego, a buffed personal trainer in black tights is drilling two grossly undermotivated men through stair work. Up they go. Then down. Now back up. "Pathetic," she hollers, as they reach the top in jiggly exhaustion. She looks off to the track, where a woman is gracefully reeling off 400-yard sprints. "Hey guys, that's Julie Moss, you know, the woman who made the Ironman famous when she collapsed and then dragged herself across the finish line. Wow, she looks great." The students watch the sprinter. "She collapsed?" says one. "I can't even bike that fast."

When Julie Moss unwittingly popularized the Hawaii Ironman back in 1982, one of the thousands she inspired to take up triathlon was her future husband. "When I got into the sport I was no different than anyone else," says Allen, who signed up for his first Ironman the following year. "I read the magazines to see what the top guys were doing, and then did what they did." Of course, in those tri-paleo days, training routines were laughably unevolved. "Everybody trained too hard, and at the wrong times," Moss adds wistfully.

Now they know better. This week Moss is deep in the speed-training portion of an intense program designed, with Allen's help, to return her to competitive form for the 1996 New York Marathon. Coming on the heels of the endurance phase (see "The Master's Plan"), which raises your body's aerobic capacity to handle endless hours of slogging, this segment enhances your anaerobic conditioning, giving you the wherewithal for sudden, high-intensity bursts. It consists of four weeks of interval training in which you run a series of extended sprints at heart-rate levels above your aerobic maximum--prepping you to be able to turn on the jets even when you're starved for oxygen. But, Allen stresses, this doesn't mean pushing yourself to utter exhaustion: He insists that you keep your heart rate below 90 percent of its maximum. If you go higher, he explains, you won't substantially increase the anaerobic benefit, but you will become more prone to injury.

Caveat emptor, however: Even with this modicum of moderation, Allen warns that these will be the most unpleasant (read: painful) workouts in the routine. Most athletes need only a handful of these torturous sessions to gain the maximum benefit--no more than seven or eight trips to the track over the course of the entire program. So tough it out.

During the first two weeks, you'll do only one speed workout, hovering just above your maximum aerobic heart rate. Allen recommends starting off with a warm-up, say a ten-minute jog and then a few easy sprints. After that ... well, let the hurting begin. "All told, you should do two to three miles of intervals, with an easy recovery jog between sprints," he says. "I like to do 400s, but that's personal preference. Whatever distance you choose, the benefits are going to be pretty much the same." How do you know how hard to start? "Trial and error," says Allen. "But in the beginning, think in terms of effort--easy, medium, and hard--not time." Then, using a heart-rate monitor, measure your range for a perceived level of effort, and use those figures to guide you the rest of the way.

Increasing the Intensity
For the next two weeks, your interval workouts simply build on the baseline you've established. Just as each session should be harder than the last, each interval should be faster than the previous one. Here you'll add longer-distance intervals (800s and 1,000s) and allow yourself less recovery between sprints--an approach that contradicts popular wisdom, but one that Allen says has paid off in competition. "In a race, you don't get opportunities to fully recover," he explains. "You need to train yourself for race pace, which means building to a point where you're letting your heart rate dip a little between hard efforts, but not a lot."

Pre-Race Conditioning
Your final trips to the track, during the last two weeks of the program, will be a little different from the others and are in essence a tapering routine for your speed workouts. The goal here, says Allen, is to prepare for your event rather than to further build anaerobic capacity, so you'll work above your aerobic maximum only briefly, cutting back on both the number and distance of your intervals and increasing the rest in between.

Certainly, Moss's showing in New York would seem to bear out the theory. To the delight of 38-year-old mothers everywhere, her return to serious competition resulted in a sub-three-hour finish, in the top ten among American women. "Julie's speed workouts did exactly what we'd hoped," Allen says proudly. "She told me beforehand that her main goal was just to feel fast again. I guess she got her wish."

A B O V E   A L L   E L S E . . .
Never leave the track feeling like you couldn't do one more sprint just like the last. "If you overdo it," says Allen, "you're much less likely to come back."

Use hard group workouts--like riding at the front of a pace line--as a substitute for solo sprint sessions to mix things up a bit. But remember, the advantage to the track is the comparative feedback it provides. Don't forgo intervals, just replace them when you need a change of pace.

Mind the big picture. If time runs out before you've finished your schedule of intervals, move on. Your muscles need at least two full weeks of tapering before the big event. "Save the give-it-all efforts for the race," says Allen. "You can't afford to leave your best efforts on the track."

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