How to train for a 7k run in 3 weeks

How I used saunas and other lazy methods to run faster and further

Ismail Elouafiq
Jun 2 · 18 min read

Context and structure of this post

“Ok, so… I signed you up!” __ Talia

This was the message that made me realize: Yaaay! Oh, wait, so I will have to run in three weeks... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Enter the minimalist (or lazy) training approach

The run is in 3 weeks, so…Why would you train minimally?

This can be defined as doing the minimum training possible to achieve the desired outcome from the training. Anything beyond that is just creating waste (be it waste of time, energy or other resources).

  • As a lazy ambitious person, I’m trying to achieve 80% of the outcome by 20% of the effort needed.
  • Trying to fit several hours of training in 3 weeks could create more harm than good. If my body is beaten up on the run day, I would most likely perform worse than otherwise.

Structure of this post

Before we go any further, please remember that a training program that you follow is better than the perfect training program that you can’t follow. The techniques and training routines can change but the principles are usually constant. This is exactly why we will go through the basic principles before I describe my exact training schedule:

You can get more of my experiment emails here (if I’m not procrastinating)

Principle 1 — Develop the right technique

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Enter the Pose method

The Pose Method can enable you to run way more efficiently with almost no effort. It consists in using gravity to catch you from the ground.

About 7 years ago, I came across this method when I was reading The Four Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. I must also admit that I was reading through a PDF version of the book.

  • 2 — Let your body fall forward while staying straight.
  • 3 — Catch yourself with your front foot and pull the back foot up to be back on the pose. Notice that this is a Pull of the foot where you feel almost as if you were pulling your foot to hit your butt.
Description of the pose method from the official website

Uphill and downhill technique

In my case, this was crucial and gave me a huge advantage during the run. The Escalade race is known for its extreme uphills and downhills. During the run, and especially after watching the post-run video, I noticed how people were trying to force on the uphill and got extremely tired and could not use the downhill to take momentum. What you want to do is the exact opposite.

  • When running downhill: a common mistake is to take small steps while slowing down and resisting against the ground. Hence resisting your weight and working against gravity. Instead what if you can use gravity for some extra support? What you can do is relax and let gravity pull you down. This means that you would have to be quicker at pulling your foot once you touch the ground. So, for me running downhill felt like I’m basically barely touching the ground with a foot before I pull it back and fall on the other. This does not necessarily mean taking steps that are large but mainly going along with gravity while making sure you do not hurt yourself.
Here’s a more detailed article at Mudstacle that explains the downhill technique

bonus: getting the right neuromuscular connections

Cross-training (performing different types of physical activities) can be very beneficial for the long term and helps avoid injuries. But the days before the run I tried to avoid it. 10 days before the race I made sure to avoid activities that involve using the feet too much. In my case, these included acrobatics, gymnastics, and dancing.

Principle 2 — Recovery first

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what I did for recovery

Recovery enables you to have your cake and eat it too.

To a regular fitness geek, my training would most likely be considered as a form of blasphemy. “How dare you train only twice a week on such a short training schedule?!! No pain no gain bruh!”

No pain… No pain!

I know, it doesn’t sound catchy enough for a motivational video. But the point is: pain is not the goal, it’s a side effect.

  • Increasing the intake of Omega3s and anti-inflammatory foods during resting days: from sardines, wild caught salmon and salmon roe. (Note that for omega3 supplements, omega3s are more bioavailable in phospholipid form and be careful with the sourcing and the purity of the supplement, especially when it comes to mercury toxicity and how fast the fats can go rancid) I also used Turmeric and ginger (that I brought back with me from Morocco). This also implies avoiding highly inflammatory foods.
  • Constant movement during the day: the only way to move the lymphatic system for increased recovery is by moving. This meant not sitting for too long at work, jumping on a trampoline and foam rolling on recovery days.
  • Sunlight: I live in Sweden but it was still manageable during the winter to get a decent amount of sunlight, both in the morning and the afternoon.
  • PNF stretching and Deep tissue work: For stretching, I relied on PNF (Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation), more specifically on the hold-relax technique: So I’d start by putting a muscle in a passive stretch and holding for a few seconds. Then I would contract the muscle without moving. After that, I would relax into the stretch while exhaling and trying to stretch deeper without getting hurt. For deep tissue work, I used a foam roller and a pressure ball for my feet.
  • Sleeping quality & quantity: I have to admit that there were days where I made the mistake of not sleeping well, but I tried my best to make sure those days were the exception, not the rule. Sleep itself would require more than an entire article dedicated to it but the basics for me were: taking enough sunlight in the morning, avoiding refined carbohydrates, not eating ~4hours before bedtime, using blue-light blocking glasses at night and dimming lights, having a cool dark room to sleep in, drinking some chamomile/lavender tea and doing some form of meditation before going to bed. Oh, and the sauna also helps.

Principle 3— The 20/80 training principle

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  • Once or twice a week: strength training: doing deadlifts or squats.
  • Once a week: doing intervals of 4x400meters with 1minute30seconds of rest in between, or 10x100meters with 30seconds of rest (over 90% of my max heart rate and above my lactate threshold).
  • For the rest of the days: walking and taking stairs, using a standing desk at work and taking a movement break every 30minutes or so to walk, jump on a trampoline or do some very light mobility movement.

Principle 4 — Developing strength

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Hypothetical model of the determinants for elite endurance performance and the potential benefits from strength training. [Beattie, Kris & Kenny, Ian & Lyons, Mark & Carson, Brian. (2014). The Effect of Strength Training on Performance in Endurance Athletes. Sports Medicine. Fig. 1].
  • 2 sets of squats with 3 reps each (using the maximum weight I can bare for 3 reps)

Principle 5— Fuel for performance (becoming metabolically flexible)

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Ensuring continuous and efficient energy delivery during the run

What makes atheletes great is they can deliver energy faster and more efficiently

Oxidizing fat is more efficient for energy than using glycogen but there are circumstances when only glycogen will do.

An ideal energy strategy would be: reserve the glycogen for when you have to have energy quickly and save the fat for when either fat or energy would work

So we want to improve in a way similar to the figure below as described by Peter Attia in his talk at the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition:

  • Eat food that was relatively low in carbohydrates (this is a very wide simplification but detailing this would probably take another post so let me know down here if I should write more about this).
  • Eat a reasonable amount of carbohydrates (from squash, rice or sweet potatoes) the day of the actual race.

Training in a fasted state

The simplified hypothesis is this:

Bonus: managing oxygen better and caffeine re-adaptation

Important note: While I clearly am giving this for information advice only, I should be clear about the following: I performed this training on the ground and doing it underwater is extremely dangerous. Please do not perform any form of underwater training without professional supervision.

  • Doing about 5 breath-holds for a similar amount of time but with a decrease in the breaths taking in between.

My exact 3-week training protocol

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Week 1 — Three weeks before the run

I first started by getting a baseline measurement simply because I cannot measure my improvement if I do not know where I was at the start. However, I could not try on the race track because it is in Geneva and I’m living in Sweden, so I just did some form of measurement as inaccurate as it was.

  • Sunday: Recovery day (foam rolling, hot/cold showers etc.) with some dancing.
  • Monday: Apnea tables during the day. Partner Acrobatics in the evening.
  • Tuesday: Strenght training (deadlifts/squats)
  • Wednesday: Recovery day (sauna, cold shower, trampoline, etc.)
  • Thursday: Practicing uphill/downhill technique, then 4x400meters uphill.
  • Friday: Recovery day (sauna, cold shower, stretching, foam rolling etc.) bonus apnea tables.

2 — Two weeks before the run

The run is in two weeks now

  • Sunday: Recovery day (with some dancing and Acroyoga)
  • Monday: Partner Acrobatics training. Apnea tables during the day.
  • Tuesday: Recovery day (sauna, cold shower, stretching etc.)
  • Wednesday: 10x100meters run at a very high pace and uphill.
  • Thursday: Recovery day (fasting, sauna, cold shower etc.)
  • Friday: Strenght training (deadlifts/squats) apnea tables.

3 — One week before the run

The run day is getting close but I have a lot of todos at work. Good that I am not training for too much anyway.

  • Sunday: Long run, very slow pace, focus on technique.
  • Monday: Recovery day.
  • Tuesday: very slow run before lunch followed by a sauna/cold shower.
  • Wednesday: recovery day.
  • Thursday: focus on running technique and practicing the pose method more. Sauna/cold shower.
  • Friday: practicing the pose method and taking a flight to Geneva.
Total time spent in bed (the rightmost point is the day after the run and the leftmost is 5 days before the run)
average heart rate variability during sleep right before the run (the most right point is the Sunday after the run, on Friday and during the last week)

The Day of the Run

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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, training professional or an expert in any field. This is for informational purposes only so please be skeptical and do not take my advice too seriously ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Biohacker Blog

Feel good; perform well. Biohacker blog provides stories about self-experimentation, explained biology, and strategies to improve performance and wellbeing

Ismail Elouafiq

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I eat chocolate, drink tea and write about data... find me at http://www.ismail.land

Biohacker Blog

Feel good; perform well. Biohacker blog provides stories about self-experimentation, explained biology, and strategies to improve performance and wellbeing