Breaking out of a rut

If you are anything like me, once you find something that works or gets good results, you keep doing it. One of my favorite sayings is, “Don’t reinvent the wheel, just roll it.” This philosophy can get me into trouble with my running. Our bodies adapt to training stress during recovery and rest. If you do the same workout or series of workouts over and over, at some point your body is no longer stressed enough and stops adapting (i.e. you stop getting faster). If you want to keep improving you need to keep changing your training. Changing paces, routes, rest intervals, surfaces, distances, etc., are all things we need to vary to keep the training fresh and improvements flowing. So if you are looking for a quick, easy way to break out of a rut or bust through a plateau, head to the trail instead of the track. Run your favorite route in reverse. Skip and easy run and head to the pool instead. New stimuli will produce new gains and add some variety to your training.


Enjoy the run.

Training errors and injuries

There is a school of thought in the running world that trainings errors are the primary cause of injuries. I for one don’t buy it and I will tell you why. The idea behind training errors is that you have some magical progression or volume level that if you adhere to you will never get injured. There is some truth to this. If you never run you will never get a running injury. The fact is if you are not able to increase your mileage or intensity beyond a certain level, you can not get anywhere near your potential as a runner. Improvement as a runner comes from being able to increase mileage. If you are constantly stuck at 40 miles a week you are going to have a hard time making significant gains. That somehow your body knows what volume, surfaces, intensities, and workouts that will amazingly give you an injury free running body does not pass the common sense test. As a runner who struggled with injuries for many years after college, this is complete bullshit. I remember in high school that no mater what the coach threw at me, I did not get injured. My body was resilient enough to comfortably deal wth anything. As I got older this changed. Now in my forties I take longer to recover and hardly ever take a nap after a hard workout or long run.

So why is it that so many coaches and runners think that there is a magical formula for injury free running? It is a simplistic solution to a much more complex problem. Running is an incredibly complex biomechanical activity. Simply saying that you need to reduce the amount you do it to stay injury free is a cop out. If this were true elite runners going at 100 to 120 miles per week would be injured all the time. The fact is that they aren’t. Advocates of the training error myth will say that their bodies have adapted to the load and you just aren’t there yet. So how do I get there? The answer is in running specific strength training. I am a huge fan of Jenny Simpson. Olympic medalist and certified badass. In this great video that came out before the 2015 world championships, you hear her coach talk about the aerobic metabolism. Meaning Jenny does a lot of long running. What you also see in the video is Jenny doing is a ton of running specific strength work and drills. Same thing with this video of Meb.

If your feet, ankles, and hips are not conditioned to deal with the stress of running, your body transfers that stress to other tissues, which eventually cause a breakdown and leads to injury. If we spent more time focused on the biomechanics of the stride and what the body needs to be able to do to run successfully, we’d all be much better off and injury rates would drop though the floor. This focus on slowly increasing mileage and intensities has only gotten us so far, and more importantly, has not actually reduced injury rates. What has worked for me over the past few years is running specific strength work. I have not been able to avoid all injuries, but I have vanquished many (ITBS, plantar fasciitis, posterior tibialis tendonopathy) from my recurring injury cycle. If you have struggled with injuries and have not yet given strength work a try give it a go.

If you need help coming up with a strength program or how to get started, drop me a line and I’ll help you out.

Enjoy the Run.

I’m not a bucket list coach

Recently a friend of mine signed up for a marathon and asked me for some training advice. He said that he was “not becoming a runner” and that the marathon was a bucket list item for him. There are lots of reasons why people run. I get it. The problem is that the marathon doesn’t give a shit that you want to check it off your list. It’s still 26.2 miles.

The marathon requires you to be committed on a level that your local 5k or 10k or half marathon does not. To properly train for a marathon you have to significantly change your life. You cannot just add on a sprinkle of running like some salad dressing and expect to run a successful marathon. There’s a reason why many elite runners take 4 or 5 marathons to just figure the race out. It’s hard. It’s really hard. There are no shortcuts. No quick fixes. No secret hacks. Running a marathon is a lot of work and a lot of it is running.

So when my friend said that he wanted to run under 9 minute miles and only run 4 times a week and keep doing crossfit and still do a multi day cycling event in the middle of the training cycle I told him he needed to adjust his expectations. You can bullshit your way through a 5k. You can half ass your 10k preparation and still be okay. If you ignore the long runs, recovery, sleep, strength work, nutrition, race day logistics, any one of those things can easily ruin your marathon. Any. Single. One. (That’s not to mention things like weather and the course that you have absolutely no control over). I love running and I love runners. Do yourself a favor and show the marathon the proper respect. That’s the only way to even give yourself a chance to be successful come race day.

The Marathon Difference

It’s been a while. I have to say that the experience I had on my last marathon has affected me more than I realized. As I reflect on this and prepare to do CIM this December I have some thoughts that may be useful to some of you. Essentially the marathon is a different creature than your typical 5k or 10k. I’ve been running for a while and if I’m in shape (or even not) I feel comfortable just jumping in a 5k with little or no preparation. Worst case is that I am sore for a few days. If I am seriously training for a shorter race, the margin for error is much larger and easier to recover from. With the marathon you not only have to be physically fit you need mental toughness and a solid fueling strategy to be successful (not to mention a healthy dose of luck). With 26.2 miles there is a much larger set of things that can go wrong and cause you to underperform on race day. The marathon requires a greater degree of respect than any other distance (save maybe an ultra, but that is a different beast as well).

 

In putting this into context, what will I change about my training this time around? Three major things: strength, mileage, and race day logistics. If you have spent any time around me or this blog you know that I am a huge advocate of strength work, both for injury prevention and improving running economy. I did some body weight strength work the last two marathon cycles and this time I am doing that and adding in some dumbbell work. There is a lot of scientific evidence that using weights and plyometrics can play big dividends in running.

 

Mileage. I got up to about 55 -60 miles a week in training. I pushed right up against my injury threshold as I took some time off but not enough to to really lose any fitness. My plan is that the increased volume and type of strength work will allow me to get up to 70 miles per week without injury. Increasing mileage is a sure fire way to continue building the aerobic metabolism and mentally train for running 26.2 miles.

 

Finally my race day logistics. CIM is my home town marathon so I will not need to travel to the race. It’s a point to point course so I can have my wife drop me off at a parking lot and ride the bus in to the start line. This greatly simplifies the race day logistics. No hotel. No strange bed. No packing of my race day breakfast. Also makes things very easy to simulate during some long runs.  All of these things have to come together to have a successful marathon. The kicker is that even though you can execute well on all the elements of your training that you can control, there are still things that can cause a less than stellar performance on race day. In my last marathon the pacers took a group off course adding an extra mile and a half for some folks. Unexpected weather conditions can also wreak havoc on your plan. The key is not to spend a bunch of emotional energy on these things. If (and when) something pops up on race day you need to be smart enough to adjust your expectations. You still need to run your race just change what that is. This is where running by feel can be so valuable. Your perceived effort will be same even though you will need to adjust your time goal.

 

Enjoy the run.

Are your metrics holding you back?

Today I want to talk a little bit about the numbers and data that we pay attention to as runners. I’ve said before that I love my Garmin and upload my data to a number of sites. Most sites have a lot of the same base data and then some specific charts and graphs. Your best strategy is to look at the data after your run, not during. Today let’s spend some time talking about what specifically we should be looking at, what it means, and what we should do about it.

Heat Map

Let’s start with the heat map. This is popular on Nike plus and some other sites. It shows your run on a map and your route is color coded based on the speed of your run. Red is for when you were running the slowest and green for the fastest. An issue that I have with this is that fast is not always good (green) and slow is not always bad (red). Sometimes the purpose of the run is best served by going slow. Another issue I have with this is that you don’t want or need to be running fast all the time. A lot of training in the aerobic zone will be very easy and also very slow. What this does for you is next to nothing. This information tends to make you want to either run steady all the time or make every run into a progression run, increasing the speed as you go along. Doing the same run every day is not a recipe for success. Do yourself a favor and simply ignore the heat map.

Average Speed

Another metric that we see all the time is average speed or average pace. This is great for when you’re going on a steady distance run, but  if you are doing any kind of fartlek, interval, or progression run it’s useless. What it promotes is this desire to go faster than last time based on your average speed. There is no viable training strategy that says,”always run faster today than you did last time.” In fact this is a good way to get injured and/or not improve. Each and every run should have a specific purpose behind it and that purpose will vary depending on the training phase you are in. The specifics of that workout (paces, distances, recovery, etc.) should be tailored to you and your fitness level.  If you have your purpose clearly identified (i.e. 8 miles easy for building an aerobic base) you need to evaluate your run against the goal for that run. This is based more by how you felt during the run rather than average pace. If a run felt hard even though your pace was “easy” you may be dealing with an injury or some other stress in your life. Your best bet is to ignore the average pace and instead evaluate your run based on the purpose and how well you felt.

Cadence

Let me say a few words about cadence. My watch records it and it gets uploaded with the rest of my data but I rarely pay attention to it. Contrary to what you may have read, there is no ideal cadence for all people on all runs. There are just too many factors that are unique to each individual for there to be one cadence that is optimal for every person on every run. I view cadence as an outcome of other things happening rather than something I explicitly try to increase or control. If I’ve got good hip extension, I’m landing under or close to under my center of gravity, and I’m going hard, my cadence will be high. Maximizing cadence in isolation is a waste of time. Focus on engaging your hips and running tall; let the cadence take care of itself.

 

Comments

An item that you may be neglecting but is vital is the comments or notes you add to the run. Here you can add any information about how hard or easy it felt, the specific purpose of the workout, and if you think you actually accomplished that. Make sure that you at least put down a perceived effort level and the purpose of the workout or run. When you do a weekly or monthly review with your coach, this information will be what he or she keys on to best adjust your training. Even though you won’t be able to graph it and see the information over time at a glance, this is the most important item in your training log.

 

Hope this was helpful.

Surfacing: Not deep enough

Book Review: Surfacing by Siri Lindley and Julia Julia Beeson Polloreno

I really wanted to love this book (I pre-ordered it back in August). I’m a huge fan of Siri Lindley, both her accomplishments as an athlete and as a coach are crazy impressive. She came back from not making the Olympic triathlon team to dominate ITU racing for two years. She then retired from competition and was the first female coach to coach an Ironman world champion. She’s had two different athletes at the top of the podium on Kona. She’s the real deal. The book however is woefully short and lacks the depth of introspection that I read memoirs and autobiographies for. Siri had her struggles with the mental aspect of her training and racing. She is also a lesbian and was not always at peace with that. The book touches on the inner conflict she had with this when she was racing but just scratches the surface of what was going on. She speaks about hiding her being gay from a sponsor but does not delve into things like what she was risking or gaining to do so. Would she not be able to eat or was the sponsorship a nice to have? Did other sponsors approach her and she just didn’t talk to them because she did not want to address her sexuality with the them? Did she feel it was none of their business? What emotions were driving her decisions?  When did it longer matter or is it still an issue with athletes and sponsors?  I would have loved to have been let deeper inside her head as she navigated this issue.

 

Her training is treated similarly in the book. In another section she speaks about tearing her plantar fascia on a treadmill workout right in front of her coach. It’s stated matter of factly but we get no significant insights into how she felt about it or what was going on insider her head as it happened. Was she mad at her coach for letting her continue? Was she more angry at herself for not sticking up for herself to prevent the injury? How did this incident affect the coaching dynamic she has with her own athletes? There was a lot of presenting of facts about her racing and training, but a lack of critical analysis and reflection regarding the salient events in her life and triathlon career.

 

When speaking about some tension between herself and the governing bodies of the sport the treatment is again superficial. There was animosity between Siri and both the USAT and ITU. She hints that it was because she trained on her own rather than with the rest of the national team. This animosity is never really delved into. How did it affect her day to day or was the impact just around big races? Did her sexuality (or her hiding of it) impact this relationship? Did this relationship ever improve or change over time? If so what were the catalysts to the change? Does she have a better rapport with the governing bodies as a coach? How did that experience influence the advice she gives her athletes with regards to governing bodies? None of this is addressed in sufficient detail in the book.

 

Surfacing had the potential to be an extremely powerful book. There just seems to be so much material that could have made this book so much more impactful.  Overall I enjoyed learning a little bit more about one of my favorite people in the world of triathlon. I cannot however honestly recommend this book. I really think Siri’s life and career deserves a more in depth look and believe that she has a lot more to say on so many topics.
Siri has a great story. This book simply does not tell it very well.

The Rules

There aren’t a lot of rules to running. For the most part you just get out there and do it. All you need is a desire and maybe a good pair of shoes an you’re all set. With that, there’s a few things that I have learned (and re-learned) over the years that I thought I would share with you:
  1. Poop before you run. This is vitally important. You need to void your bowels before getting out on the trail or the road or the track. A few miles in you will notice some changes. You may be able to get by with not doing this for a short run but for the long runs it is a must.  This is why the portajohn lines are so long in the minutes before the start of the race. This is also a good reason to have some coffee in the morning. In addition too being a great energy booster for your run, coffee helps to keep everything moving. If you forget, just remember that you can finish a run without socks… Just in case.
  2. Incorporate a dynamic warm up and cool down. This is one that I learned fairly recently. I had been warming up and cooling down with the same static stretches I did in high school. Once I realized that static stretching is a huge waste of time, I went to something different. I tried to stretch my way out of an ITBS injury to no avail. Once I started incorporating dynamic warm ups and cool downs, my injuries are at worst under control and nonexistent at best. If you need a routine, Jay Johnson, Jason Fitzgerald , and RunnersConnect all have great warm up and cool down routines for you to try.
  3. If you’re injured, a physical therapist will probably be a better resource than a physician. This one is also recently learned. Whenever I have gone to the doctor for a running injury, they have advocated for me to stop running. Almost every time I’ve been smack dab in the middle of a training cycle. The physician has also never been able to tell my why the injury actually happened or what to do to prevent that injury in the future. A physical therapist takes a different approach . As experts in the biomechanics they often understand injury mechanisms very, very well and can give you specific exercises to heal and to prevent the injury in the future. Sometimes self diagnosis and googling a physical therapy protocol are all you need to do in order to get better and back on the road.
  4. Double knot your shoes and tuck the laces in. I have always double knotted my shoes since I started running. Every once in a while they would come undone. After I started tucking them in they never come untied. I picked up tucking in the laces from Carrie Tollefson. She’s an olympian, mom, and an absolutely fantastic race commentator. She’s also got a great YouTube channel. Her video on lacing your shoes is here.
  5. Racing well is going to hurt. There is no way around it. If you want to get the most out of yourself on race day you will have to endure a degree of pain for a significant period of time. All growth is uncomfortable, and you do a lot of growing in the second half of a marathon. Learn to deal with the suffering in your training runs and race day will still hurt, but you will be better able to deal with the pain. As you get better as a runner, it does not get easier you just become better at managing the suffering.

Inertia

Inertia is the most powerful force in the world. If something is moving, it likes to keep moving. Really. I say this as it has been about six weeks since my marathon and I have only run once. When I’m in the thick of a training schedule it’s easy for me to run. Once I get in a rhythm I just keep at it. It’s like breathing. Unfortunately it also works the other way. I truly intended to only take 4 weeks of active recovery after the marathon and then get back to training. I planned it out. Put down my next goal race. Counted out the weeks in each phase. Put down times for my key workouts and worked out what my taper would be. Only problem is, I never got started. I have great excuses. I did some traveling. I got sick like you read about. I had a big project at work I was working on… Don’t get me wrong I’m not beating myself up, I am just very conscious that there’s some fitness that I am leaving on the table by not getting back to running. If I meet my goals for next year I’ll probably forget all about this; tell myself it was a good break. If I don’t I’ll most likely spend some precious time and energy wondering “what if?”

 

All that to say if you are going strong keep at it. Work those habits into a groove and keep the momentum going. If you happen to be in my situation, find a teeny, tiny fitness related goal and crush it. Once you get a small thing going you can start adding to it.  My college roommate used to say that if you wanted to get in shape start by doing some push ups before you get in the shower. Keep that up for a few days and then add some planks. After that add some glue bridges. Then some clamshells. Pretty soon you’ll be working up a sweat and relishing in how good it feels. As for me, Im still struggling with a cold so I am going to get my running gear on tomorrow morning and aim for 10 minutes of strength work.

 

I might even throw in some push ups.

 

Enjoy the run.

The Power of Coaching

It’s not technical

Despite the conventional wisdom, the knowledge a coach has is secondary to his or her effectiveness. That’s right. Knowing the ins and outs of periodization, tempo runs, and intervals on the track are not the primary factors for success as a coach. Information, especially in the age of the internet, is a commodity. You can do a quick google search and come up with a quiver full of training plans for any race distance. Got a nagging injury? You can find a great PT protocol in seconds. Wondering how to reconcile all the races you want to do with your training? There are few articles/blog posts about that. So if I can get all that information at the click of a button, what’s the value of a coach?

 

A Coach’s True Value

The true value of the coach is to be a front stabber; someone who will speak truth to your face that you may not necessarily like but desperately need to hear. A good coach will know when to tell you to ease up and not go as hard as you think you should. At the same time a good coach will be able to tell you when to push the envelope safely to get you to the next level. A good coach knows what to say to pick you up off the floor when you fopped in your goal race. They will also be your biggest cheerleader when you crush your PR. There aren’t any articles out there to do those things for you. None of these things are contained in a coach’s technical expertise but are driven by the dynamics of the coach/athlete relationship. The technical acumen is necessary, but that should not be the determining factor in selecting the person to help guide your running journey. A good coach will be 80% therapist and 20% technical consultant.

 

What to think about

When choosing a coach, this relationship needs to be your primary focus. Does this person get me? Am I comfortable letting this person speak into my life? Will I listen to this person when I’m at my lowest point? Can I be vulnerable with this person? Will this person blow sunshine up my butt?  All these questions and more should be going through your mind when you consider working with a coach. Fit and compatibility are vital in choosing a coach.

 

My coaching profile

I’ll be the fisrt to tell you that I am not the best coach for every runner. I’m all about the facts and am a fairly efficient communicator. My ideal client is fairly serious about running and craves scientifically based training methods. My ideal client has broad shoulders and thick skin. They are ready to put in the workand understand that all growth is uncomfortable. I’m better with more experienced runners and have little patience for things stemming from a lack of focus or commitment.

 

With all that said if you think you fit the profile and  are looking for some help with your running, contact me. We’ll do an initial fit session and go from there.

 

Enjoy the run.

Review: How Bad Do You Want It

How Bad Do You Want It

In How Bad do You Want It, Matt Fitzgerald does a remarkable job at telling the stories of several endurance athletes and communicating the mental coping skills that can potentially take you to the next level. If this book was all stories it would still be worth the read. Fitzgerald really does that good of a job telling the stories of the athletes. In addition to the well spun stories, Fitzgerald connects the narratives to the latest research in sports psychology and gives us the opportunity to be our own sports psychologist.  He does a masterful job at putting us in the minds of top competitors during some of their greatest failures and their subsequent successes. The reader will be in Kona and the Pyrenees, struggling and oftentimes triumphing with some of the best endurance athletes in the world. Paula Newby Fraser, Siri Lindley, Jenny Simpson, Greg Lemond, Steve Prefontaine and others are our our guides through the best psychological coping strategies and mental tactics for successful endurance performance.  Although this technique is not as straightforward and direct as a top ten list we often see in the popular press or online, it is incredibly effective. As human beings we are hard wired to resonate with stories and Fitzgerald takes full advantage of this. We are more likely to remember that Thomas Voeckler smashed through his limits because he donned the yellow jersey than that the “audience effect” is something that we should strive to replicate.

 

Fitzgerald frames mental toughness as a collection of specific coping skills, each one dramatically presented through the eyes and experiences of a high performing athlete. As he went back and forth the between the narrative and the research I was anxiously awaiting a return to the narrative, on the edge of my proverbial seat, to see how the race we were following turned out. That  said this is one book that is worth further study to determine which issues are mentally holding me back and which skill I need to work on to improve my performance. There is a solid bibliography so you can dive even deeper into the research. Fitzgerald has penned an impressive set of stories and at the same time given us all access to some of the best psychological research for endurance athletes. If you are at all serious about your performance as an endurance athlete, I cannot recommend this book enough.