Building Endurance with Interval Training

We’ve already covered why strength training is essential to improving your overall fitness and performance on the pavement. But if you want to work on increasing speed, you should also incorporate some form of interval training into your workouts. A recent piece for the New York Times actually suggests replacing one of your training day runs with something called 10-20-30 interval training. The idea here is to replicate the benefits of high intensity interval training into a shortened period of time, while still putting your body through the appropriate amount of stress it needs to really grow and get stronger.

To start, begin with a simple warm-up jog. The article suggest three minutes, but if you can go up to a mile if it’s comfortable. Then begin the first circuit: 30 seconds of jogging, 20 seconds of running, and 10 seconds of an all-out sprint. Go as fast as you can, as hard as you can; pick a spot in the distance and get there. Then repeat the circuit five times (5 minutes). Take a two minute rest (slow walk, jog, whatever— but keep moving!), and then complete the circuit again. If you’re an advanced runner, try for it a third time. The goal here is to nail those sprints, so make sure the workout revolves around that particular aspect. In total, the workout should only last about 20 minutes.

You can also incorporate fartlek training into your regimen. Sure, it has a funny name… but it can work wonders on your body and your performance. It’s Swedish for “speed play”, and there are several variations and methods of the technique. But at it’s most basic it remains true to its name. During your run, you experiment with varying speeds and tempos— slower paces followed by large bursts of speed of various degrees. There’s so much written on the fartlek, but I’d suggest starting with the Runner’s World introduction and articles.

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The Importance of Strength Training

“Practice makes perfect” may be an oft-repeated phrase, but it is sometimes far from wise. You see, if cross-country or any other type of running-centric activity is your sport of choice, conventional wisdom suggests that running often— tempo runs, sprints, and even relaxing jogs—contribute to better run time and endurance. Even though this isn’t entirely untrue, there are still many runners out there who are underestimating the importance that strength training plays in their overall fitness and running performance.

emmanuel-garcia-uvm-kettle-bell-592905_960_720At the core of your performance on the track is your cardiovascular system. In order to get it to peak performance, there’s no question that you need to take it to— and eventually exceed— its set limits. It’s well-established that the best way to see results is to vary your workout schedule and not fall into a routine, lest your body becomes too used to the program at hand. Of course, this explains why we may vary our run durations and tempos, but it also applies to activity outside of running, too. Weightlifting can put healthy stress on our cardiovascular system as well, and by hitting the weights we are increasing our endurance in a relatively fresh way!

When resistance training, decrease the amount of time you rest between sets. Resting is unavoidable, but by cutting back on that time, you are pushing your muscles to new heights and calling on your body to do more work in a shorter period of time. It’s also helpful to lift hard and fast. By resistance training with such high intensity, you are working on increasing your metabolism as well as your stamina.

But all strength training exercises are not created equal. To really get the most out of your session, step away from the complicated machines and embrace the simplicity of the free weights. Doing so forces you to rely purely on your own strength and to watch your form— machines actually assist you in your lifts, and as a result your form can get sloppy in the process. Also, opt for compound lifts like squats and deadlifts, because it engages multiple joints and muscle groups, which really gets your heart rate up.

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Kamasi Washington

Last Summer, an album seemed to spring out of the musical ether and arrest our ears with its gripping presence and magnificent sound. It was huge, and some would even call it sprawling. At almost three hours long, it demanded the listener’s full attention. It was the kind of album that you made an event out of; either you could kick off your shoes after work and drown in the musical cosmos or invite your friends over and muse together.

In a word, the album was just… epic. No wonder saxophonist Kamasi Washington chose it as the title for his album.

What made The Epic so notable was its ability to bridge listeners from all over the musical spectrum. Kamasi Washington’s major label debut came hot on the heels of 2015’s consensus darling, Kendrick Lamar’s  To Pimp A Butterfly. Many hip-hop listeners were taken by the album’s unobscured jazz influences and arrangements, and blogs started publishing lists that guided hardcore hip-hop fans through Lamar’s gateway into the intricate world of jazz both past and present.

For someone who really enjoyed Butterfly, giving The Epic a chance was next to a no-brainer. Washington lent his tenor skills to the rapper’s album, and took responsibility for the sound that some listeners felt was so infectious. Keeping with the bridges analogy, it’s also fitting that The Epic was released on Brainfeeder Records. The label is headed by electronic musician Flying Lotus, another Lamar collaborator and the grandnephew of John and Alice Coltrane.

To other critics, Kamasi Washington’s presence isn’t something that should be lauded with praise and palm branches. He’s a fine saxophonist, sure, but his latest release isn’t something that’s utterly and completely new sounding. And that’s fine in a way, because you can argue that it only needs to be “new sounding” for enough new listeners. It gets them to explore and appreciate an area of music previously unknown to them.

And who wouldn’t want that?

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Tomeka Reid

NPR’s Kevin Whitehead expresses brow-furrowing confusion when he hears someone peg jazz cello as a novel idea. It’s not— there have been cellists experimenting on the jazz scene since the better part of the 1950’s. But just because the concept of a cellist ripping through some  standards isn’t new, doesn’t mean that you need to dismiss it as same old, same old. Ever heard of Tomeka Reid?

The D.C.-born musician has been active since her high school days, and after she graduated from the University of Maryland she taught middle- and high-school orchestra. As a cellist, many would assume she had a readymade career in classical music— she herself did, too! But she was so attracted to jazz and the freedoms of improvisation that she couldn’t help but throw herself  headlong into the collaborative spirit that highlights the twentieth century’s greatest musical innovation.

Since 2012 she has been involved with three main projects: Hear in Now (2012), Tomeka Reid Quartet (2015), and Artifacts (2015). Her second album really put her on the map, and was profiled in the NPR program Fresh Air. Quartet provided something that was fresh without coming off as novelty music. Remember that Reid is a seriously talented cellist and that cellos aren’t new to jazz. This combination means that as she crafts her soundscape with her harmonic interplay with her bandmates, she’s paying an homage to a forgotten cellic past— and doing it well.

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Her work takes on a very exploratory quality. The bandmates are all feverishly searching for their next rhythmic groove. But they sail into these uncharted waters with such bravery and technical skill that the listener never needs to worry about being completely lost. They’ll always come back to find you and bring your that much closer to paradise.

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Takuya Kuroda

From Kobe, Japan comes Takuya Kuroda, a trumpeter who arrived with a splash a few years ago with Jose James’s band. He’s quickly shaping up as a creator of some of the most accessible yet complex jazz music of the time.

In his native Japan, Kuroda played with his older brother and in several big bands. He then moved to the United States in order to study at Berklee College of Music, where he met Jose James. The vocalist was taken by the trumpeter’s sound and asked him to record with him on his upcoming album, Blackmagic. They maintained a steady partnership, and James eventually  had Kuroda write the horn arrangements for his 2013 album No Beginning No End. The album was a critical success, and during the tour James agreed to produce Kuroda’s first album with Blue Note Records. The result, Rising Son (2014), is an interesting listen because Kuroda is actually leading James’s band; the latter steps down— he only appears on one track— and lets his trumpeting protegé shine.

The album itself is a worthy first outing on the legendary label. At James’s urging, Kuroda moves away from the straight ahead sound that dominated his earlier playing, and embraces a fuller, funky vibe. The strains of soul are also evident— the rhythm section’s introduction on “Piri Piri” sounds like it could have been taken from an extended solo break during a lost Erykah Badu session.

Listening to his album, you’d be comfortable calling it an Afrobeat-Jazz fusion record; the musical influences from Nigeria pervade the album’s groove, and Kuroda and his band don’t fumble the opportunity to deliver their take on the West African sound.

Jose James does manage to step away from the soundboard and grace the mic on their arrangement of the Roy Ayers classic “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”. The Ayers original remains iconic, but James and Kuroda slow it down just enough to give it an almost mystical quality. Kuroda’s solo is effortlessly cool but deceivingly calming. At points he’ll riff on a series of notes with a rising tension, only to bring it back home every time, ultimately easing us back into James unmistakable baritone.

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Biopics! “Miles Ahead” and “Born to Be Blue”

Musicians today, and jazz performers especially, have something to look forward to this coming spring— at least if you consider sharing great music and stories worth anticipating. In theaters, moviegoers may be exposed for the first time to two of jazz music’s most legendary trumpet players: Chet Baker and Miles Davis.

Born to Be Blue, which stars Training Day and Before Sunrise actor Ethan Hawke, traces the story of Chet Baker during his journey back to the spotlight. Baker, who in his late twenties became infamously addicted to heroin, was grievously injured in a drug-transaction that went horribly awry. He was beaten, and lost several of his teeth, leaving him unable to produce an effective sound on his instrument. After dental reconstruction and surgery, Baker regained control of his embouchure and began his comeback.

Obviously, Ethan Hawke is an actor first and foremost. But while most musical biopics involve the actor doing just that— acting out the musical technique without actually committing to a sound— Hawke forgoes the lip syncing and instead sings in Baker’s wispy gossamer of a voice. You can actually listen to his interpretation of “My Funny Valentine” in one of the official trailers for the film.

After you watch the subdued introspection of Blue, indulge in the effortless cool of Miles Davis by checking out Miles Ahead, the long awaited biopic by Don Cheadle. He conceived the project several years ago, and it is practically the product of a prank by fellow actor and friend George Clooney.

Cheadle, like Hawke, took his acting to the next level when he spent four years learning the trumpet. But his film isn’t for those who are looking for conventions of traditional cinema. The movie itself is nonlinear, and at first pass may not seem to follow any coherent path. He also takes several liberties with Davis’s life, liberally blending factual anecdotes with episodes of pure fiction. But if you are familiar with Davis’s life and music, there should be no reason you won’t enjoy this new film.

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Terence Blanchard

One can argue there are two camps of jazz musicians— those who are enjoying success by engaging with popular music, specifically hip-hop; and those who are cast in the conservative mold à la Wynton Marsalis. The latter may come off as dry and uninteresting to younger listeners, but a welcome return to the bygone days of predictable structure that older jazz musicians may miss. So, what happens when you get that traditional background and put it in front of a wide audience?

You get Terence Blanchard.

emmanuel-garcia-uvm-Terence_BlanchardHe’s perhaps the most fitting of this example because he actually grew up alongside the Marsalis family, playing with Wynton in youth camps and taking classes under his father, Ellis. Before he was 20, Blanchard was touring with Lionel Hampton, and in 1982 Wynton recommended his childhood friend replace him in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. With Blakey’s legendary group, Blanchard performed as lead soloist and worked as the musical director. Before long, Blanchard was leading his own groups.

His major entrance into the popular conscious came through his work with film. Spike Lee Joints are as known for their music as they are for their stories, and the acclaimed director featured Blanchard in the music of almost every one of his films, including his critical-darling of a debut, Do the Right Thing. Mr. Blanchard not only performed on Lee’s early work, but he actually composed the scores for each of his films since 1991’s Jungle Fever. His work in film has persisted well into the 21st century, too; in 2012 he wrote the soundtrack for the movie Red Tails.

He has also been nominated for four Grammys, notching four wins off of 11 nominations.

Throughout his career, Blanchard has performed and recorded with a number of influential legends, including Abbey Lincoln and J.J. Johnson. Most recently, he has injected his music with a distinctly electric vibe. This is evident on his most recent release, Breathless (Blue Note, 2015), which features a new outfit called the E-Collective.

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