Tuesday, April 22, 2008

THE LANCE PLAN


By Chris Carmichael

When legendary marathoner Alberto Salazar advises you to slow down during the first six miles of the New York City Marathon, you should probably listen to him. But in 2006, during his first marathon after retiring from professional cycling, Lance Armstrong charged forward anyway--and started paying for his bravado at mile 16. He still finished in 2:59, but the race gave him a heavy beating and served as a reminder that a cycling legacy and an off-the-charts VO2 max don't give you a free pass in all endurance events.

Two years and another marathon later (NYC 2007, 2:46), Lance has set ambitious goals: to run his first Boston Marathon this April in the mid-2:40s and New York again in November in the low 2:30s. He knows that while he may be a seven-time Tour de France champ, these days he has more in common with every other busy 36-year-old father of three. So in order to achieve his goals, Lance has gotten more focused and is following the principles outlined below.

Quality Matters

When Lance began running, his aerobic system was more powerful than his muscles and joints. At first he ran only three to five miles three times a week; his longest run before his first marathon was 13 miles. Now with two years and two marathons on his legs, his body is better prepared to handle the miles and speedwork necessary to improve his race times.

Be like Lance: If your goal is a fast race, do at least one, but ideally two, fast-paced runs a week. For half and full marathoners, the most effective workout is tempo intervals: two to four 10- to 12-minute repeats at 10-K to half-marathon race pace with five to six minutes of easy running in between. These prolonged periods at a hard but sustainable intensity train your aerobic and muscular systems to run faster or longer before fatiguing.

Long Runs Every Other Week

Running long on alternate weekends works for Lance for the same reason it makes sense for the rest of us: injury prevention and scheduling sanity. By doing long miles every other week, you can increase the recovery time between all of your hard efforts, which will improve the quality of both the long runs and the fast-paced workouts between them.

Be like Lance: On alternate weekends, do long workouts that are hard to fit in during the week, course-specific sessions such as hills, or race-pace miles. Before Boston, Lance usually opts for a long ride when he isn't running long, but for his buildup to NYC, he'll do five two-mile repeats at 5:42 pace (race pace for a 2:30 marathon) with a half-mile recovery jog.

Consistent Training

Training used to be Lance's job. Now, his kids and his work (the Lance Armstrong Foundation) are higher priorities, as they are for most of us. But Lance knows that training consistently is essential, even if it means adapting his workouts.

Be like Lance: When you're running low on time, a short run is better than no run, but up the intensity. For a fast, efficient workout, after a good warmup insert six to eight strides, run a few fartlek intervals, or do four to 10 two-minute repeats with one-minute recovery.

Stay Lean

After retiring from cycling, Lance strength- trained five days a week and packed on 15 pounds (remember those pics of him with Matthew McConaughey?). That weight made his first marathon even harder, so for his second race, he stripped off 10 pounds by cutting back on his strength work and his calorie intake. Lance plans to show up at the 2008 NYC Marathon at about 165, around eight pounds lighter than last year.

Be like Lance: Being lighter saves a runner tons of energy, but be careful not to cut calories too severely. You need a caloric deficit of 350 to 500 per day to lose a pound a week, but you also need to consume enough energy to support your workouts. To achieve both goals, focus on pre-, mid-, and postworkout nutrition to optimally support your training, but reduce portion sizes and eliminate snacks at other times of the day.

Maintain Fitness

During Lance's Tour de France years, he never let his cycling fitness drop by more than 10 to 12 percent because it would have been too difficult to regain any more than that. But after his first marathon, injuries and lack of motivation meant he lost the majority of his racing fitness. To avoid the same scenario this year, Lance was back to running three or four times a week after finishing the 2007 marathon, which gave him a solid base for his 2008 training.

Be like Lance: If you're targeting more than one race this season, focus on recovery after your first event so you can get back to training two weeks after a 5-K or 10-K and four weeks after a half or full marathon. Do light, low-impact exercise, such as swimming or cycling, in the days after the race; even 15 minutes will get the blood flowing, which speeds recovery.

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