Garrett Heath, 8-time NCAA All-American middle distance runner at Stanford and “the guy who beat Mo Farah,” has been training for the 10,000m at the USATF Outdoor Championships in Des Moines on July 25. Heath detailed his training from July 1–7 for us—three weeks out from the race—during which time he was at altitude and managing the lingering effects of plantar fasciitis.
I’m currently up in Albuquerque with our team, the Brooks Beasts, for a little over three weeks of altitude training heading into the US Track and Field Championships in Des Moines. This is the third time I’ve been here this year—adding up to close to three months total…hard to remember if I live here or Seattle at this point.
Generally, three weeks is on the shorter side of altitude stints that I’ve done, with the first two training sessions both being around four weeks long. Typically, we prefer to come up for some somewhere in the 3–5 week range to get the maximum aerobic benefits without really overcooking the body with the increased training load that can come from being at altitude. Plus, more than a month holed away up in the mountains can start to drive just about anyone mad.
The research on altitude is still fairly limited, but overall tends to indicate that altitude training is beneficial for long distance athletes. Basically, we’re looking for increased natural red blood cell production, leading to higher hemoglobin and hematocrit levels, and thus improving our bodies’ ability to carry oxygen to the muscles—and thus run faster!
Personally, I’ve always felt good coming down and really enjoy the time up there. It’s more relaxing and allows you to really focus on training. There’s something to be said for that even though the benefits themselves are hard to quantify. On the more scientific side, I’ve also had my blood tested before and after, and found to generally have some positive results, although there has been some variance here with different altitudes and times that I’ve overtrained.
Generally though, if you look at 5k and 10k results both in the US and internationally, almost all of the top athletes tend to either live at altitude or use it as a training tool. There are certainly outliers and many confounding variables, but it’s been enough to convince me that it’s important to keep it as a part of my training and build up to big races each year.
Quite frankly, my training this outdoor season has been a little more up and down that I would’ve liked as I’ve worked through some plantar fasciitis and subsequent heel stress reaction type issues. With that, I spent a significant amount of time only biking for training and since coming back have decided with my coach (Danny Mackey) that it would be most productive to keep some biking in there for the aerobic benefits while trying to focus on increasing the intensity running in order to minimize the possibility of re-injuring the plantar. Anyone who has ever dealt with this sort of injury knows how frustrating and completely unpredictable this can be at times.
Anyway, on with the training…
Monday, July 1
AM: Bike hill workout: 29 miles. 1:41.
Woke up at 6:30 a.m. and got straight out the door for a bike workout. I like to get out early with the biking here because there’s not much shade on the roads and things heat up here rather quickly in the desert once the sun’s out. Plus, biking is generally better early in the morning before there’s a ton of traffic on the roads.
My bike hill workout today was:
- 10 x 30 seconds hard / 1 minute moderate (done continuous on a 15 minute climb)
- Recovery spin,
- 5-minute hard hill climb,
- Recovery spin
- 8 x 30-second hill sprints
Hills are generally the best way to get the heart rate up on the bike and tend to replicate the running motion slightly more when you’re standing on the bike. Thus, I have tended to use them as a way to get in about 80% of my hard efforts on the bike while cross training.
Smashed a stack of chocolate chip pancakes and some coffee immediately upon finishing. The hardest part about morning rides for me has been delaying my coffee intake but it makes that first cup taste that much sweeter. And luckily was back early enough to catch my two housemates sharing the mountains with me for this altitude stint—Izaic Yorks and Dillon Maggard—for some breakfast before they hit the road for their morning runs.
PM: Easy Run: 6 miles. 47 minutes.
I was feeling pretty tired coming off the morning bike workout but wanted to get some easy miles in on the ground to continue to adjust the muscles back to running, so I drove down the mountain with Dillon to find some flat, soft running for the secondary. This run was very easy, and very slow. No one who witnessed it would’ve taken us for pro runners.
Tuesday, July 2
AM: Run: 11 miles. 77 minutes.
Drove down to the Rio Grande with Dillon and Izaic to meet the team for practice. Our house is situated around 6100 feet, but we try to train closer to 5000 feet along the Rio Grande for many of our runs.
Our team is about as close to a college team as you’ll find on the pro circuit and we tend to meet about 5–6 times per week for practice. It’s a bit less efficient training with a large group all the time, but the perks of having teammates to workout with and the camaraderie that comes with running together every day more than makes up for it. I’ve been lucky to have a great crew of people to train with the last 5+ years that I’ve been with the team. It’s absolutely extended my running career.
My heel and plantar areas were fairly sore for the last few miles of the run and right after. This hasn’t been super uncommon but still always slightly concerning for me. I know now (or at least believe) that running through some of the pain is okay but figuring out ways to manage it so it doesn’t escalate, and ensuring it returns to normal before the next running workout is important. With that, I spent some time rolling with my Tiger Tail stick post run and seeing our massage therapist, Sarah Bair. Much of the rest of the day was spent eating or recovering.
Wednesday, July 3
AM: Bike: 37 miles. 1:55.
Got up at 630 a.m. Was a little less motivated than usual so took a little while to get out the door. Had a quick piece of toast, pb and banana and then hit the road by 730 a.m.
Still no coffee though I’ve turned into a complete Seattle coffee snob when it comes to this process, and thus my morning pour over routine takes about 10–15 minutes all told to hand grind the beans and produce an actual cup of coffee. I consider the grinding my upper body strength work most days. Anyway, making time for this would require waking up earlier so had to wait until post ride.
Biked up the canyon to Tijeras and then up Tunnel canyon from there. Mainly just a cruise meant to simulate a normal training run. With that, I tried to keep the HR below 150 and mainly in the 110–130 range as much as possible (for reference my max is around 180bpm).
Danny and I had originally talked about working out today but decided to push the run workout back another day with the foot being a bit more sore yesterday than usual. Plus, the rest of the crew is working out tomorrow so syncing up for company on the hard days is always helpful. One thing that I’ve learned with getting older is the importance of really listening to your body. Just hoping that pays off here.
Midday Treatment: Hour massage (not the feel-good type). I’m pretty minimalist when it comes to treatment, but I do like to get a massage every week from Sarah, our team’s full time therapist and trainer. We’re insanely fortunate to have her traveling with us year round wherever we go, be it practice in Seattle, races, or altitude camp. She’s amazing. It always takes a while to get familiar with someone but at this point I completely trust her to help me work through injuries or just flush the legs after a workout. And with the heel being sore, I’ve tended to even add a few other shorter sessions with her after practice each week to make sure the rest of the leg muscles are staying loose.
PM: Run: 4 miles. 30 minutes.
Did an easy shakeout along tramway before meeting a few of the boys for some thai food and ice cream. Showered and went straight to bed when I got home.
Thursday, July 4
AM: Run Workout: 6 x 800 with 1 min rest off the track (2:34, 2:33, 2:27, 2:32, 2:27, 2:33), then 3 x 800 on the track with 2 min rest (2:15, 2:20, 2:17), and then one 400 (65). Total: 12.5 miles. 1:30. All in the Glycerins—to give me more cushion and reduce the stress on the plantar. I have not worked out in anything but Glycerins the whole time at altitude.
Rough night of sleep last. Sometimes just happens in the mountains with the altitude though for whatever reason. So hit an extra large cup of coffee and my usual pre-workout breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes with yogurt and berries on top. Our nutritionist recommends gluten free pancakes as our pre-race and pre-workout meals as they provide you with a good source of carbs without overloading you on fiber that’s going to sit in your stomach. Not that I needed another reason to eat pancakes, but I’ve really latched on this advice.
Warmed up with the team and then saw Sarah for some quick work on the quads before starting the workout. The plan for the workout was to do 10 total 800s, but I was rigging up a bit by the ninth one so dropped the last rep to a 400. The paces today were nothing impressive by any stretch compared to what I would typically be shooting for in a workout like this, but given that I’ve only been back to running for a handful of weeks and this was my third workout back, I was pretty happy with how it went.
Not to mention, I love the Glycerins but they would usually not be my shoe of choice for this sort of work. Generally, I felt a lot smoother running some faster paces than I had so far. My heel was a little sore afterwards but better than I might have expected coming off the first work on the track in a long time.
Hit a nutritionist Kyle recovery shake (whey protein and Gatorade powder) and a picky bar post workout and then headed to the gym for some rolling and core.
The 4th of July doesn’t tend to get too wild at altitude camp but we did find a pool, a beer, and a great place for viewing the fireworks at night!
Friday, July 5
AM: Easy Run: 6 miles. 45 minutes.
Easy recovery day. Met up with the team at the river to run in morning and took the rest of the day off. Recovery is important.
Saturday, July 6
AM: Run: 10 miles. 70 minutes.
Met up with the team for a run along the river in the morning. They did a moderate workout with most of them heading off to race in LA on Tuesday, but we got about 6 miles in together before we separated. Generally still feeling a bit tired from the hard effort on Thursday and the foot was still recovering a bit from the workout so decided to skip going on a secondary bike ride that I had planned for the evening. Instead, took the time to recover and went on a short walk to shakeout the legs.
Sunday, July 7
AM: Bike workout. 68 miles. 4:02.
Today was a long day in the saddle. Woke up at 6 a.m. and hit the road on the bike to meet Drew Windle about 10 miles up the road. He’s just recently been doing a little cross training as well but didn’t want to go quite as long. From there we made our way for the summit of Sandia Crest at 10,678 feet. It was meant to just be a longer easy day for Drew so we split up on the climb, as I needed to get in a workout.
The climb itself is 13 miles long, so my workout was: 30 min tempo, recovery spin to regroup with Drew, and then 3 x (2 minutes, 1 minute, 30 seconds) with 1 minute recovery between reps and 2.5 minutes between sets.
To say I was cooked at the top would be an understatement. Luckily, the way down goes by a whole lot faster and enjoyed having the rest of the day to recover after getting home before noon. Overall, my heel was feeling generally better at night after taking the day off pounding from running and hopefully ready to really be tested again this next week with a couple more harder running sessions.
Update from Des Moines on the Eve of the Championships
I flew back down from Albuquerque the following Wednesday, July 10th. Since coming down, I’ve moved to trying to get in two running workouts each week, but stuck with doing my long run as a bike still and keeping the volume up through that. Overall, the intensity of my workouts has increased and my running mileage has continued to tick up slightly.
For workouts, nothing has still been very impressive as far as times go, but each workout has steadily gotten faster to the point of hitting some 5k pace for some slightly longer reps (finished one workout with a 2:40). The speed stuff has still been slow to come back but getting the last couple workout in flats has helped, and being able to do 6 x 200 under 30 last week with the last 3 at 27, 27, 26 was a huge confidence boost. Even though it was only 6 short strides and not really a workout, it was great to feel that turnover again and the fastest I had run for a 200 by over 3 seconds in the past few months!
I’ve also been keeping up with some biking but slowly tapering that down. And this past week I really started to back off that in order to drop the volume and try to freshen up heading into USAs.
Total training volume has looked something like this:
July 1–7 — Running: 49.5 miles, Biking: 133 miles, Total time: 13:46
July 8–14 — Running: 57.5, Biking: 110 miles, Total time: 13:16
July 15–21 — Running: 56 miles, Biking: 75 miles, Total time: 11:58
Heath will run the 10,000m in Des Moines at 9:29 p.m. on Thursday, July 25. He comes into the race with the fourth fastest PR in the field.