How to train for a 7k run in 3 weeks
How I used saunas and other lazy methods to run faster and further
Let’s cut to the chase, this post will outline the 5 principles I used for training (with a minimum effective dose) along with my exact training schedule and what I did the day of the race.
If you are too lazy to start reading through, here’s the punchline: this run was the longest distance I ran in my life. My result was an unimpressive 32:01 minutes for 7.38 kilometers (4.6 miles).
If there’s one thing I should remember from this post what would it be? The right running technique (the Pose method described below). If done properly, it can make it unbelievably easier to run long distances without getting tired and lowers the risk of injury.
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)_/¯
I am a relatively active person but when it comes to running, the most training I get is the daily sprint to catch the bus.
And here I am officially signed up for a 7k and the longest I had run before that was a 5k (two years ago). The run is in 3 weeks, it is called the “Course de l’Escalade”, taking place in Geneva, with a distance of about 7.38km.
Well, there is no running away from it I suppose. The good part is that I get to visit Geneva for the first time and see one of my favorite people on earth. Oh, and did I forget, we also get to eat a lot of chocolate after the run.
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).
You can think of it this way: if the minimum required to boil your eggs is 100mililiters, then boiling them in 1liter does not give you better eggs, and requires more water and more energy to boil the water.
I’m also keeping my training minimal because:
- I work full time. And, yes, this is mostly an excuse.
- 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.
I suppose the world of competitive sports would soon slide to ruin if everyone behaved like me. But I would assume that a moderate human life lies somewhere between my defiant indolence and the frenetic training schedules of most sports enthusiasts.
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:
Principle 1 — Develop the right technique
Developing the right technique can save you from wasting a lot of energy. This is an easy win if you want to improve your run with the least effort necessary.
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.
The pose method can help you run with much less effort than usual. This is because instead of trying to run, what you try to do instead is similar to catching yourself as you fall.
To summarize it, the pose method looks something like this:
- 1 — Start in a position called the pose
- 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.
If done properly, another benefit of this method is it can help us avoid landing on the heel which can be a cause to many injuries. This is because on the fall the foot lands flat in the pose method.
Believe me, if you’ve never tried this, it can incredibly alter your game. You can learn more about the pose method on their official website or watch some practice videos on youtube.
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.
So here’s a better strategy:
- When running uphill: one common mistake is to take big steps trying to force yourself up. If you do this, you will get exhausted very quickly. Instead, focus on taking smaller and quicker steps. Remember, if a race goes around in a lap, there will certainly be downhills as well. So you will gain momentum back on the downhill after everyone is tired.
- 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.
Note: be wary of your heels on the downhill. The uphill is less likely to hurt your heels. But, depending on how your feet land on the downhill, it can cause injury post-race or during the race. This is why I tried to keep my body perpendicular to the ground so that my foot lands flat (on the downhill).
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.
I wanted running with good technique to become second nature. This is simply to ensure that my mind gets used to using my legs for running as the most automatic thing. So, I focused on running very slowly during those days while having the proper technique.
Principle 2 — Recovery first
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!”
Is this true though? Recovery is the most underestimated part of any training. It should be common sense that if you are beating your body up without giving it time to re-adapt and recover, you’re probably not doing yourself a big favor. And yet, most motivational videos are telling you to wake up at 5am and head to the gym. For most people I know, this just means a lack of sleep accompanied by sloppy training and a high risk for injury.
So my take on this is very simple:
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.
So here are the main strategies I used for faster recovery:
- Sauna followed by a cold shower: For me, this constituted of 20-minute sauna sessions followed by a 5-minute cold shower, at least 3 times per week. If you do not have a sauna available an alternative would be to take hot/cold contrast showers: for example a 5-minute shower with 30 seconds hot, 10 seconds cold. If you have some minutes to spare you can watch this video where Ph.D. Rhonda Patrick explains how hyperthermic conditioning can result in increased athletic endurance (through an increase in plasma volume and blood flow to heart and muscles) and muscle mass (through a boost in the levels of growth hormone and heat shock proteins).
- 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
It turns out that if you look at a sample of elite endurance athletes, who train for about 15–30 hours each week, you can see a distinct pattern. The athletes that perform the best spend only about 20% of their training time above their lactate threshold (meaning the highest intensity at which lactate can be recycled as quickly as it is produced) and the remaining 80% is spent below their lactate threshold. This is known as polarized training.
However, I am not an athlete and do not want to dedicate a lot of time to training. So for me, this means the following:
- Once on the weekend: taking a very slow long run on the weekend at very low intensity (about 65% of my max heart rate)
- 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.
The mistake that most people make is that they train hard most of the time but never really reaching their lactate threshold. The main principle is this: train less, but make sure that when you do it you go as hard as you can. But how do you know that you are above your lactate threshold?
For example, when I do a 4x400m I would run as if my life depended on it for the 400m. Did I reach my lactate threshold? I did not quantify it but when you start having difficulty breathing, having difficulty walking, finding it harder to maintain good form or any form at all, chances are you are doing it right. The fact that lactic acid is accumulating at a faster rate than it can be removed means that your ability to maintain a steady effort decreases. It also means that those short intervals, as short as they were felt incredibly long. While this is more effective and takes less time, it is really hard.
Principle 4 — Developing strength
In a run similar to the Course de L’Escalade where there are a lot of uphills and downhills, it should be obvious that strength is important (at least to be able to propel yourself in the uphill and protect yourself from injury on the downhill).
But it turns out that strength training has a much larger impact on endurance. Current research seems to show that strength training improves endurance through time-trial performance, economy, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and maximal anaerobic running velocity. A meta-analysis study published in the sports medicine journal shows how the addition of strength training could support the training programs of endurance athletes.
The figure below describes by which pathways strength training is able to impact endurance. This also goes to show that while aerobic training alone exerts a strong influence on both aerobic power and capacity, it does not exert a great impact on the athlete’s anaerobic or neuromuscular abilities.
It shouldn’t be surprising that elite Olympic athletes in all domains have included strength training, twelve-time Olympic medalist Dara Torress described her day in an interview as follows:
“… I start swimming at 8. I’ll swim anywhere from an hour to an hour and 45 minutes. Then I’ll do some weights and sometimes resistance work for a while followed by lunch…”.
That said, for most of us peasants, who do not have much time to dedicate to training in the first place, a seemingly good strategy to prepare for a run would be something like this:
- 2 sets of deadlifts with 3 reps each (at maximum capacity)
- 2 sets of squats with 3 reps each (using the maximum weight I can bare for 3 reps)
That’s it, and this is exactly what I did as shown in my training schedule.
Principle 5— Fuel for performance (becoming metabolically flexible)
This section is about why training in a fasted state (without having food) can be beneficial and how having a diet relatively lower in carbohydrates can be better as well.
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.
Let me explain, have you ever wondered what happens when your muscles contract? Enter ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate). ATP, nicknamed the energy currency, is a molecule with 3 phosphates in it. When ATP gives up one of those phosphates, to become Adenosine Diphosphate, an amount of energy is released in the process. This process is involved in both ion transport and muscle contraction. And we simply wouldn’t be able to move or think without it.
ATP can be produced through multiple pathways, and it turns out that oxidizing fat is more efficient. However, there are situations where using glucose is necessary. In some situations, where the energy is needed very rapidly the body has to use glucose from muscle glycogen.
This means the following:
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:
One way to do that and become better at utilizing fat is to go on a ketogenic diet, but that would take too much mental energy from me so I decided to do the following instead:
- Do all workouts in a fasted state (with depleted glycogen ). Because carbohydrate intake inhibits fatty acid oxidation during exercise.
- 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:
- If you train in a fasted state, (for example, training before you have your first meal of the day) when you eat food before the run (on the race day) you will be more efficient at utilizing its content as energy during the run.
There are many benefits to exercising in a fasted state but let us focus on the endurance benefits. By training in a carbohydrate-depleted state, you can up-regulate some enzymes such as glycogen synthase, which is responsible for the uptake of glucose as stored glycogen. Your body becomes better at sparing glucose and using fatty acids during exercise.
For example, a study published in the journal of applied physiology, entitled “Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state”, showed how training in a fasted state can increase muscular oxidative capacity and at the same time enhance exercise-induced net IMCL degradation (in other words, the use of intramyocellular lipids).
In addition, fasting prevented drops of blood glucose concentration during exercise. There was a 22% increase in basal glycogen for the fasted exercise group (whereas no change occurred in the non-fasting group).
In other words, people who trained in a fasted state significantly enhanced their ability to store glycogen, to use fat (peripheral fatty acids as well as IMCL) for energy provision and to use the stored glycogen more efficiently.
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.
Since I had also just discovered free-diving. I used apnea tables training to enhance my oxygen utilization, the good part is it does not require running; the not so good part is: it is really hard. An example of apnea tables can be either:
- Doing about 5 breath-holds for an increasing amount of time (breathing about 1 minute30s or so in between)
- Doing about 5 breath-holds for a similar amount of time but with a decrease in the breaths taking in between.
Now when it comes to caffeine. Personally, I love drinking green tea in the morning and having some dark chocolate (100% dark chocolate) and only drink coffee occasionally. However, in order to get the full benefits of caffeine on the day of the run, I simply wanted to get back to my baseline by stopping any source of caffeine, be it from coffee, tea or chocolate 10 days before the run day.
While I was able to not drink any tea or coffee 10 days before the run, I only stopped eating chocolate for about 5 days before… sue me because I’m an addict!
My exact 3-week training protocol
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.
Result: total time of 32m28s for a distance of 6.99km that means about 34min for a race of 7.38km assuming the surface is flat. (hint: the escalade run is known for its extreme uphills and downhills so it’s ought to be different)
- Saturday: Took a baseline measurement by running a 7k (well almost, 6.99km to be exact)
- 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.
Things I did during the whole week: Using a standing desk at work and moving every now and then. Trying to get as much sleep as I can.
2 — Two weeks before the run
The run is in two weeks now
- Saturday: Took a long run at a very slow pace for about 1h30min.
- 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.
Things I did during the whole week: Using a standing desk at work and moving every now and then. Trying to get as much sleep as I can.
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.
This week I focused on recovery, practicing technique and running very slowly. I avoided cross-training.
- Saturday: Recovery day.
- 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.
Things I did during the whole week: Using a standing desk at work and moving every now and then. Trying to get as much sleep as I can (but I did not manage this very well as you can see in my sleep charts below).
The Day of the Run
Took a cold shower in the morning.
Breakfast: Avocados, pumpkins, spinach, coconut cream, white rice, olive oil. Green tea (Matcha-iri sencha in my case) and very dark chocolate.
Getting to the place by bike. Watching my friends and the other groups run before and light movement/stretching.
Practicing the pose technique up to minutes before the run.
Breathing to calm down and…
Boom! Time to run.
My result for the 7.38km (4.6 miles) was an unimpressive 32:01 that I was proud of given that if I had the same pace of my baseline run I would’ve taken about 34minutes (plus the uphill effort).
Do you want more details about some part? Let me know in the comments below!
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)_/¯