I was excited recently to see that Coach Jay Johnson, in his new podcast series, had interviewed Scott Douglas, a senior editor at Running Times (a must read publication for anyone committed to being a better runner) and the co-author of Advanced Marathoning, with Pete Pfitzinger. To have the opportunity to hear two gentlemen who have really become pivotal in my training approach (Jay Johnson for the mobility drills picked up via Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running, and Scott Douglas for the marathon training plans) seemed an unprecedented opportunity. And it turned out to be 77 minutes well-invested.
The topics ranged from Scott’s own background as a runner and editor, through advice for aspiring journalists (Jay Johnson contributes to Running Times as well), to the 2012 Olympic trials this weekend in Houston. However, the crux of the conversation revolved around “ancillary work” for runners, a topic in which Jay has significant expertise but, by Scott’s own admission, receives some short shrift in Advanced Marathoning. In fact, Scott stated early in the conversation that, were Advanced Marathoning to be updated to a 3rd edition, the area to receive the most new content would likely be ancillary work (as an interesting note, the most significant change in the 2nd edition was a greater emphasis on marathon pace work within long runs).
Late in the show, when the conversation shifts to ancillary work, Scott makes several interesting comments. Keep in mind that Scott is an accomplished runner in his own right with a 2:39 PR in the marathon – though he confesses to some of the worst bonks in the history of elite running (as evidenced by his 1:08 PR in the half-marathon). The first question involves Scott’s history of ancillary work, and it seems an area that he has committed quite some time to. He rotated, as many runners probably have, through all the trends – strength training with high reps and low weights, strength training with high weights, plyometrics, and now core work, mobility, and flexibility drills. His key point here is that while it may be difficult to define the most effective approach, doing something is far better than doing nothing.
The most interesting points when Jay asks about the dilemma runners face when trying to balance running with ancillary work. Scott contests the idea that such a dilemma exists – though admittedly with a career built around running and no children, he faces a different reality than most of this blog’s (and Jay’s blog’s) readers do. But his response is nonetheless interesting. He states that he wouldn’t trade off a single mile to do more ancillary work. The latter basically has to fit around the former. This is true, in his mind, even though he recently suffered aches and pains that limited his running, and was only resolved by a renewed focus on flexibility and mobility, including 45 minutes of specific static stretching five days a week – though he does state that he could probably get the same benefit from 10 minutes of stretching.
Scott’s other ancillary work focuses on joint strength as opposed to large muscle groups, and has rotated back to light weights and high repetitions. For example, he emphasizes exercises, using 5 lb. weights, to improve shoulder rotator strength (thus helping to maintain hip alignment when running). He states that he does many of the drills that Jay emphasizes, presumably along the lines of the myrtl, cannonball, or Grant Green routines, with weights. Such routines do, indeed, tend to target joints and such important but smaller muscles as the hip flexors.
So the key takeaways from the discussion are as follows:
- Any ancillary work is better than no ancillary work – while its ideal to focus such work on your areas of weakness, it is far better to start with something and seek to improve the routine over time than it is to suffer from “analysis paralysis”. Just like running in general, start moving, and the right solution tends to come.
- We don’t all have Scott’s luxury of the time to invest in deep routines – but 10 minutes several times a week is all it takes to start. You can find that time sandwiched in between other activities, or as a good break from a busy work schedule, for example.
- We all struggle with finding the right balance between running and strength and flexibility training. Priority one should continue to be running – and run to the maximum extent possible while avoiding injury. This is the concept of specificity of training espoused in Pfitzinger and Douglas’s book.
- Strength training for runners is different – it’s not about muscle mass, but target improvement in building endurance in those areas that most impact your form – critical joints and your deep abdominal core muscles.
- Trends involving ancillary work come and go – now it’s core strength and mobility, but perhaps in the future it will rotate back to weights and static stretching. This really means there is no one right answer so, again, just start from somewhere.
I’m looking forward to reading more of Scott’s thoughts on running in his most recent book, The Little Red Book of Running. In it, he shares 250 lessons he has learned in his career. Even if only 5% of those ideas apply and have value to you, that’s still a dozen new ways to become a better runner, and get more satisfaction out of the sport. Take the time to listen to this podcast – it’s well worth it – and I’d be interested in your thoughts on the discussion.