Run your Race

Most of us don’t pay our bills by running. It’s important to us but my kids still get to eat if I don’t race well. Unless you’re running with the likes of Mo Farah or Molly Huddle or Shalayne Flanagan, you’re running against yourself, the person that you look in the mirror every day. That’s your biggest competition. No one else knows what you’ve been through. Your training, your mindset, your preparation, your unique physical abilities and attributes. Don’t listen to the person at the running store with the cute outfit. Or that stud you chatted with at the expo. Or that running buddy who always has the answers for everything. At the end of the day the person you will have to face is that person in the mirror. Only you know if you have done your best, if you left everything out there. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.


Run. Your. Race.

Running Injuries

Much has been written about running injuries. Most of the information out there tells you to simply take everything slow in terms of increasing mileage, intensity, and frequency of running. In my experience this advice is woefully inadequate. When I first started running seriously in high school I got a stress fracture almost immediately. Was I doing too much too soon? Probably. The real question needs to go deeper than simply a conservative training schedule. What may be conservative for one athlete is an aggressive schedule for another athlete. A better injury minimization strategy is to incorporate strength work into your training. In fact I recommend doing a six week strength program before even starting running. Now I’m not talking about going to the gym and hoisting weights for a couple of hours. A running focused strength program is composed of exercises designed to increase hip strength and stability during running. What happens is that your aerobic fitness increases at a much faster rate than your neuromuscular system. So the solution is to increase the stimulation to your neuromuscular system to foster greater adaptations, better prepare you for running, and allow the development of your neuromuscular system to stay in sync with your aerobic system.


Let’s take a common injury and do some root cause corrective action based on what we know about what is happening during running. Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS). Why does my knee hurt? Because the IT band is rubbing excessively against the knee. Why is it rubbing excessively? Because when your foot strikes the ground the knee is not stable and buckles out ward. Why is the knee not stable? The glute medius muscles on that side are weak. Why are they weak? Too much sitting and a sedentary life style.  Solution: strengthen the glute medius with exercises like clam shells, fire hydrants, donkey whips, and side leg lifts.


Your IT band does not hurt because you ran too much. It hurts because the muscles in your hips are not strong enough to stabilize the knee when your foot hits the ground.  So many running injuries are not really caused by too much running but by weakness in the hips. ITBS, runner’s knee, and posterior tibial tendonopathy, are all related to the strength (or lack of strength) in the hips. If you are not currently doing any strength work in conjunction with your running you are increasing your risk of injury. The folks at Runner’s Connect, StrengthRunning (Jason Fitzgerald), and Jay Johnson, all have great resources to get you started. If you don’t want to click the links here’s five exercises you can do to get started: Glute bridges, donkey kicks, fire hydrants, donkey whips, and clam shells. Do a set of five on each leg to start with. You can do this during the commercial breaks while watching your favorite show. Better yet, take five or ten minutes after your hard runs and knock them out. Once you get comfortable you can increase the reps and/or add a resistance band for a harder workout.


Your body will thank you.


Enjoy the Run.

The Basics: Running by Feel

One of the most difficult aspects of running to master and one that pays arguably the largest dividends is running by feel. I freely admit that I love my Garmin. I upload my data to about 4 different sites. Mainly because each one gives me some data analysis tool that I cannot get anywhere else. I spend a significant amount of time analyzing my data for insights and adjustments.  With all that said, the best thing that I ever did for my running was to stop looking at my Garmin while I’m running. This takes a lot of getting used to. At the beginning I would wear a long sleeved shirt and cover up my watch after I started it to deter me from looking at it. Now I am pretty good at ignoring it while I’m running and paying closer attention to my body and how I am feeling. This has resulted in more consistent pacing on my long runs and being able to hit my paces on my tempo runs and on workouts.


There are many reasons to run by feel and not be a slave to the watch. The “real time” pace on your watch is not all that accurate. Trees, buildings, dead spots, and gremlins can all wreak havoc on your GPS watch.  It can be off by quite a bit.There are times when I’ve glanced down and literally thought, “That can’t be right.” Looking at your watch breaks your rhythm. You slow down when you look at your watch whether you want to or not. It breaks your focus for a fraction of a second and that is sometimes enough to break your rhythm entirely.


The biggest reason to run by feel and not be a slave to the watch is that life happens to all of us and it’s happening all the time. There are days when your easy pace will be faster because you are feeling great, things are going well at work, and your relationships are filled with bliss. Other days your tempo pace may seem impossible to you because your kid’s sick, you missed a deadline at work, and you’ve not gotten good sleep in 4 or 5 days. Running by feel accounts for all of this. Why is this important? Because your body doesn’t really care where the stress is coming from. Whether it’s from the physical stress of your training pace or the emotional stress of your home life, it’s all the same to your body. In a very real way, stress is stress. This means that you are less likely to go out too fast because you’re trying to hit a pace that you shouldn’t be running just because it’s on the training schedule. You will also train harder when you have the opportunity to do so when things are going well. This optimizes your training. You will be less likely to overdo it on days when you are only 80% and more likely to really challenge yourself on those days when you are firing on all cylinders. With my busy life every day that I can train is extremely valuable.  I cannot afford to waste a training day by going out too hard or running a workout too easy. By running by feel I can make each and every day add maximum value to my training.


A great resource for me has been Matt Fitzgerald’s book Run: The Mind Body Method of Running by Feel. In it he describes in great detail how to structure your running to really learn how to run by feel. Like many things it is a journey and not a full fledged destination.  Besides covering the watch up you can have it just show elapsed time or the clock during your run. So on your next easy run, hide your watch – it will help you to run by feel.

Murphy’s Marathon

Cool 3D medal from the Santa Rosa Marathon

This past weekend I ran the Santa Rosa Marathon. This was Murphy’s Marathon for me. Just about everything that could go wrong went wrong on the this race day. It started out with me waking up late because I did not hear my alarm. I’m in the habit of setting my alarm on silent so that I don’t wake my wife when I get up for work. In my haste to get to bed in the hotel it didn’t click in my brain that I actually needed to wake up my wife so she could drive me to the start of my race! Getting up late meant that I ate about 45 minutes later than I wanted to. Instead of having two whole hours to digest my breakfast, I only had an hour and fifteen minutes. I got to the start line in time, took my gel, and found my pace group. I was looking to qualify for Boston that day and I felt really good. Right after the first mile my pace group took a wrong turn. It only added about 200 yards to our race so it was not a big deal. What was a big deal was the throng of people from the pace groups that were ahead of us, screaming past on the narrow trail we were on, trying to get back on pace. They also went off course and added close to a mile to their race. It made for a pretty congested first few miles.


I was still on pace and feeling really good. This kept going until about mile 14 when I started to feel some twinges of muscle cramps. Around this time my gut was telling me it was not happy. By mile 18 it was screaming and I had to spend a good five minutes in a portajohn. After those five minutes my body was no longer ready to run (tip: don’t sit down for five minutes in the middle of a marathon) and the cramps came on in full force. After another 8 miles of walking and shuffling I came in almost an hour after I’d planned. I probably could have ran 20 minutes faster but by mile 20 I had mentally checked out. To top things off there was something wrong with the timing mats out on the course so my wife did not get any updates on my progress past mile 8. She was on the verge of freaking out when I did not finish when I told her I would.


Here’s the good things from this race:
  • I ran my best half marathon in the first half of the race
  • I beat my marathon time from my previous bout with cramps by about 10 minutes
  • The race was sponsored by DeLoach Vineyards and I got a bottle of wine for running (two actually because I signed up at the CIM expo last year).


The thing for me is to analyze my race, see where I need to adjust my training, and come back faster next time. Right now I am focused on figuring out how to beat these cramps. Two marathons. Two bouts of cramps at mile 18. I am reading a lot of research on this and am intrigued by HotShot, but not yet willing to plop down $6 a piece for 1.7 oz of spicy cramp relief. I will be experimenting with my own concoctions in the next training cycle.


What challenges do you face after a hard/disappointing race?

Develop a Running Habit

There is a lot written about online and such about being motivated to run. About being inspired.  Here’s my take: motivation is for beginners. Inspiration is for dabblers. If you wait until you feel like doing it you’re adding another hurdle to just getting out there and running. Now you not only have to run but you have to convince yourself that you feel like running. I don’t remember the last time that I felt like brushing my teeth. I have just developed a habit and keep doing it day after day. We need to learn to separate our feelings about an action from the action itself. One of my favorite books is Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art. In it Pressfield talks about fear as resistance. Pressfield says that inspiration is for amateurs.  If you only run when you feel like it, you’ll never run far enough or often enough to accomplish your goals. The key is to develop habits that will prompt you to run on a regular basis.


I do a lot of my running after work in the afternoons. What keeps me going (often in 90+ degree heat) is my habit. As Charles Duhigg states in The Power of Habit, you need a trigger, a routine, and a reward. For me my routine is getting my bag from car. As long as I get my bag, I kick off the routine of going back into work, changing in the mens’ room, and then commencing with my pre-run warm up. After my run i do my strength work. My trigger there is walking over to a grassy area to do my strength work. My reward is most often a cliff bar and my water bottle in the car. On the weekends I lay out my clothes next to the bed and put on my stuff right when I get up. The trigger is putting the clothes on. After that everything falls into place. When I return I clear a space on the family room rug (I got young kids) and commence my strength work. Most days my two year old attempts some donkey kicks and leg swings. For the reward (aside from my daughter’s attempts at leg swings and donkey kicks) there is a large cup of coffee and usually a mound of scrambled eggs and whatever veggies I can scrounge from the fridge. Get yourself a trigger, a routine, and a reward to increase the consistency of your running.


Habit is one of the reasons that I don’t do anything but run in my running shoes. I don’t wear them to the store. I don’t wear them working in the yard. I don’t put them on to hang around the house. My body knows that if I put them on my feet we are going running. Period. That’s why I often tell people to just get their shoes on and the rest will take care of itself. The more small triggers you can build into your training the easier it will be to run consistently -whether you feel like it or not.


Let me know in the comments what your trigger, routine, and rewards are to get you out the door to run.


 – Enjoy the run.

Women’s 10,000 meters in Rio

Like a lot of people I have recently devoted some serious attention to the olympics. I’m a self described track nerd and absolutely love track events. My wife and I scared the crap out of my then two year old son when Mo Farah came from behind to win the 10,000 meters in London. He now often say he’s going to “Mo Farah” me when we race up the stairs at bed time. Complete with mo bot. Even though I could not see the events live (no cable) I followed along closely on social media and catch the replays when I can. The first of these events was the women’s 10,000 meters. After watching Molly Huddle just miss medaling at last year’s world championships and then go on a amazing tear, racking up victory after victory, I was excited to see what she would do in Rio.


She did not disappoint. She set an American record running 30:13.17. That time would have gotten her the gold in London in 2012. In Rio she finished sixth. Of the top five women in the race, 2 are Kenyans and 3 are Ethiopians. The winner of the race, Alma Ayana, ran 29:17.45, eclipsing the world record from 1993 by 14 seconds. She beat Huddle by almost a full lap. This time is simply unbelievable. There is no concrete, smoking gun evidence of doping but here are the facts that we know of:
– This was Ayana’s second 10,000m in competition.
– Ayana runs for Ethiopia and is coached by her husband, 23 year old Soresa Fida, a former 1500m runner. Not Wetmore or Daniels or Vigil or Canova. A 23 year old 1500m runner is her coach.
– Jama Aden, who coaches Ethiopian 1500m world record holder, Genzebe Dibaba is not in Rio for the olympics because he was arrested in Spain for having EPO and other banned substances. EPO is a synthetic hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells, similar to high altitude training.
– Since 1993, no woman has come within 22 seconds of Wang Junxia’s world record. Wang also admitted that she was part of a state sponsored doping program so the record is dirty anyway.
– Just a few months ago Kenyan athletics was in danger of being banned from the olympics because of their failure to comply with WADA requirements. On top of that earlier this year,  Kenyan doctors were caught on camera by UK anti doping officials admitting to treating over “50 athletes” with EPO.
– Two Kenyans, one official and one coach, have been sent home from the olympics for doping related misconduct. 


I am not saying that all the athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia are doping but it damn sure looks like a lot of them are. Both countries have non-compliant testing programs and were still allowed to compete at the olympics. Both had coaches and officials caught red handed with banned substances or admitting to using them. Both have athletes that are running ridiculously good times at the olympics (also see the women’s marathon). There’s even more red flags on both countries (google it) but I wanted to keep this post a reasonable length.


With that said here are three things I think should be done to clean up the sport:
  1. Institute long term testing and monitoring of athletes with cut and dry penalties. No testing – no competing. Period. After you get your testing program compliant and have six months of data on your athletes you are welcome back into competition. No questions, no negotiations, no last minute deals before the olympics.
  2. Ban coaches and athletes if either one is caught. Your coach gets caught with some drugs, you cannot race. An athlete gets caught with drugs, coach is banned from coaching athletes in international competition. Athletes need to take more responsibility for what is going into their bodies. There needs to be real consequences for cheating coaches – going after their livelihood and professional reputation should be a solid deterrent.
  3. Athletes need to unionize. Without a strong body not directly in the pocket of shoe companies, we are going to get more of the same. With a  strong labor organization (a la major league baseball) sanctions (and reinstatements) would be supported by both athletes and the governing bodies.  Right now there is no incentive for anyone to change and clean athletes have no voice in the process.


I know this isn’t about training. I felt that I had to say something.

The Basics: Periodization – putting it all together

Periodization is how you put all the training elements together so you can peak on race day. Because the human body is so good at adapting, we need to vary the stimulus throughout the training cycle to keep getting better. If we don’t our fitness will stop improving.There are two basic theories of periodization: linear and non-linear. Linear periodization was championed by Arthur Lydiard. Essentially you divide the training schedule into distinct blocks and do a specific set of training that is focused on developing a single aspect of fitness. For example you may have heard of a “base phase” of training where you do a lot of aerobic, slow running to develop an endurance base. This type of training block is usually found in a linearly periodized training plan. The nonlinear periodization mixes in other types of training during each phase while still keeping the emphasis on a certain aspect of fitness. I am more a fan of the non-linear method because the different components of running fitness are very interrelated and training multiple components at once yields a greater benefit than simply focusing on one type of training. Also it makes training a lot more interesting and fun.
Here are the training phases that I usually prescribe:

Foundation Phase

During this phase the focus is on developing the neuromuscular fitness needed for running effectively and developing some aerobic fitness. If you are band new to running or coming back from a significant layoff, I recommend a pre-foundation phase (3 – 4 weeks) consisting solely of specific strength and mobility work to prepare your body for the rigors of running. This will help with injury prevention and lay the ground work for good running form. In the foundation phase you will do a lot of aerobic running at an easy pace, strides to work the neuromuscular system, strength and mobility work, and the occasional fartlek. This phase can last up to six weeks.  If you train continuously you will find that after a race and some time off you can do a 2 – 3 week foundation phase to get ready for the training cycle.

Build Phase

In the build phase we begin to increase mileage and start heading towards specific workouts. The emphasis here is on getting the volume up to a level that will get you to your goal. Every athlete and goal is different so this could be 30 miles/week or 120 miles/week. You will start to lengthen your long run, incorporate a more structured workout once a week (moving from a  fartlek to a tempo run or intervals), and continue with strength work and strides. This phase can last up top six weeks as well.

Sharpening Phase

This is where the rubber meets the road in the training plan. Here we are full on into race specific workouts and a long run. You may do 2 structured workouts and a long run in this phase. Something like a tempo run on Tuesday, intervals on Thursday, and a long run on Sunday. For those racing half marathons or marathons, we start using the long run to get some race specific work in. Doing a long run of 14 miles with 6 at HM pace, for example, would be a long run found in this phase. The workouts here will be good indicators of how fit you are for your goal race. This phase should be 5 or 6 weeks although it is the one to cut if you don’t have the time or an injury pops up.


The taper is usually a one to two week period right before the race. We reduce the frequency of runs but keep the intensity. This is resting up for your goal race. This is probably the hardest phase to master as each athlete responds to tapering differently. Here I would shorten the race pace workout and do race pace work on a shorter long run. The goal is to rest for the goal race while still maintaining a high level of fitness.
Keep in mind the there are not hard boundaries around each phase – they blend together.

How do you usually structure your training cycle?

The Basics: Get Specific

What is specificity in run training?

Simply put, specificity is the idea that you won’t become a better runner playing table tennis. Well, it’s more involved than that but that’s the general idea. I have written before about adaptation. Specificity is the key to getting the right adaptation that you want and need to accomplish your race goal. Your body makes specific adjustments based on specific stresses. If you are trying to run a 10k at 8 minute pace you need to spend a lot of time at 8 minute pace. You need to know what that feels like. You need to be able to do that for 10k. A 2 x 3 mile at 8:00 pace would be a great workout to use if that’s your goal. If you want to improve your endurance you need to do long, easy runs. To improve your speed you need to to track work or get out there and do intervals. If you need to improve your running economy, drills, strides, and strength work are your friends. Tailoring your training to what you are trying to accomplish is the key.

Why not run at race pace all the time?

Now the obvious question is why can’t I just train at race pace all the time? There are limits to the adaptations the body makes. If you were to train at that hard of an intensity all the time you would invite injury and burnout. You need time for the adaptation to occur, both on a micro level and  macro level. You not only need rest between mile repeats, but easy days between work outs, and even weeks of easier training to full get the benefits of specific training. The other issue is that you need all the components of running fitness to train and race well. You literally have to do the training to do the training. Before you can run 13.1 miles at 7:45 pace you first need the endurance to run that far as well as the speed to run 7:45. You need to teach your body what 7:45 feels like and then combine that with the endurance to be successful on race day. Your training plan should progress from more general training to more specific training as you get closer and closer to your goal race.

What does this look like in training?

What I have rarely seen in the free training plans online and in magazines is race specific training. A lot of them are focused solely on miles or minutes run. As you move closer to your goal race your workouts need to look more and more like your race. The way to plan this is to work backwards from the race, making the workout progressively easier the further it is from the race. Here’s an example. Let’s say that you are looking to do a 5k in 12 weeks. Your goal time is to run 8:30 pace (26:24). An ideal race specific workout could be 3 x 1 mile at 8:30 pace with 2 minutes rest. Do this about 2 weeks out from your race. Three weeks out you do 2 x 1 mile at 8:30 pace with 2 minutes rest. Week before that  4 x 1/2 mile at 8:30 pace with 1 minute rest might be good. This way you progress toward your goal with more and more specific workouts. You will feel your goal pace and your body will adapt to running at that speed for that distance. Another application of this principle that applies to marathon training, is doing a part of your long run at marathon pace. Your goal should be to do 10 miles at marathon pace. You gradually build up from 4 to 6 to 8 to 10 miles at marathon pace on the second half of your run. If you fall short of the race specific workout or it goes badly simply repeat it the next week. You just may need more time to adapt or more stress to get the adaptation. To race well on race day you have to train well during training.


On of my favorite distances is the half marathon. My favorite HM workout is 3 x 4 mile at HM pace with 90 seconds rest. What’s your favorite race specific workout?

The Basics: Hard and Easy

How we improve
The reason we improve as runners is because our bodies gets stressed through activity and then adapt to the stress during recovery, increasing our level of fitness. In order for adaptation to take place we need to remove the stress allowing the body to recover and move to the new level of fitness. Over time we need to increase the stimulus (harder workouts, more mileage, etc.) to keep improving as we increase our level of fitness.This cycle is continually repeated throughout training as your fitness improves and you approach your goal race.


Balancing Act
The hard/easy principle is a careful balancing act as you need to go hard enough to stress your system yet not too hard that you invite injury.  You may also open yourself to overtraining. On the flip side you also need to allow enough recovery for the adaptation to take place. Recovery can be either active (easy run or cross training) or passive (complete rest). Now what actually constitutes a hard day or an easy day is dependent on the individual, there are some general guidelines that will apply to just about everyone. Track workouts, intervals, and tempo runs are all hard days. Easy runs less than 10 miles at conversational pace are easy days. Runs over 10 miles, regardless of pace, are hard days. If your long run is shorter than 10 miles I would still call that a hard day. So if you have a tempo run scheduled for a Tuesday, Wednesday should be a full rest day or an easy run day. Your Sunday long run should be followed up by a shorter easy run or complete rest on Monday. If you have some other stress that is present in your life it can easily make an easy day a hard day or compel you to make a hard day an easy day. On a certain level your body doesn’t distinguish between the stress from that project deadline at work and the mile repeats you’re doing that morning. Both provide added stress to your body. Keeping all these factors in mind when training is the balancing act.


This principle applies not just to training days and weeks, but months, and even training periods. When it’s applied to training cycle this is often called periodization. Many coaches advocate reducing your training volume every fourth week during a training cycle. To be a successful runner, you need to recognize these additional stresses and adjust your training accordingly. This is often where a coach can be the most valuable. Having someone outside of your life circumstances to remind you when to take it easy is incredibly beneficial. Although periodization also enables specificity in training, I will talk about specificity in it’s own post – it’s that important.


Next week I will talk about specificity.

The Basics: Types of runs and how they impact your fitness

As promised in my last post, today I am going to go over some different types of runs and how they impact the three components of running fitness.


Long Run
The long run is a staple of training for the vast majority of runners. The reason is that running races from the 5k on up is heavily dependent on aerobic fitness. The amount of oxygen you get from the air for your muscles to create the energy to move you forward is key to successful racing (how well your body uses that oxygen is a measure of running economy). The long run is an ideal tool to work on your aerobic fitness. There seems to be two sides to the argument about how long a long run should be. There are many that say you absolutely must do a 20 mile long run when training for a marathon. Greg McMillan, Jay Johnson, and Steve Magness are some of the folks in this camp. There are others that say you should not run more than 150 minutes (about 2 1/2 hours). Jack Daniels and Jeff Gaudette (Runners Connect) are in that camp. It’s not a coincidence that McMillan, Johnson, and Magness routinely train elite runners and Daniels and Gaudette train a larger proportion of recreational runners.  What I tell folks training for a marathon is that it depends. If you are planning to run under 3:30 for your marathon and do your easy runs at less than 9 minute pace you can easily do a long run of 20 miles in 3 hours. The vast majority of runners are slower than that. Running that long (in terms of time) builds up a great deal of fatigue and when that happens your form is at risk. Any time your form is at risk you are more likely to get injured.  So if you are not that fast, run for a max of 2 to 2 1/2 hours to reduce the risk of injury. This is how having solid running economy can allow you to increase your aerobic endurance. For the shorter race distances, you definitely want to have your long run longer than your race distance. The fatigue and loss of form will not be present in those runs. For a 5k I’d go 6 – 8 miles, a 10k 10 -12 miles, and for a half marathon 14 – 16 miles for a long run.

Tempo Run 

Another popular run is the tempo run. This is generally a shorter, faster run, but not an all out effort. The tempo run is what is called “comfortably hard” or threshold pace. You are not sprinting but running at a pace that you could sustain for about an hour. For most people this will be between 10k and half marathon pace. With the long run and the tempo run you can build a entire training schedule.  The other runs are simply easy mileage, run at a conversational pace.  The tempo run builds your resistance to fatigue. It stimulates your body to delay the onset of fatigue. In terms of running fitness it builds running economy because you are now able to run faster for a longer period of time.


Intervals are a third type of run. There are infinite numbers of interval combinations that a runner can use. These can be run on a track or on a trail or on the road. It all depends on what you have available and what you are trying to accomplish. If your goal race is the mile you will often find yourself doing 400s at the track. When training for a half marathon you may do 3 x 4 mile with 5 minutes rest. For a 5k an ideal workout may be 3 x 1 mile with  a 2 minute rest. You can get creative with these and come up with infinite combinations to focus your training. With intervals you can do race specific training, getting your body to specifically adapt to what your goal race is going to be like. Intervals will work running economy and neuromuscular fitness.
Strides are my favorite type of run. Mainly because I love to run fast. Strides are 85% efforts for short distances of about 100 meters. Not an all out effort but a controlled sprint.  A soccer or football field is ideal for these. These days I do mine in an empty lot by where I work or at a park near my house. In high school we would do 10 of these after our warm up laps and then another 10, barefoot, after our workouts. I would start with 4 and build up to 8 or 10. The goal of strides it to build your neuromuscular fitness. As you run at a pretty fast pace, your body will naturally move more efficiently. What the strides do is help to activate the correct muscles need for running with good form. They also help with injury prevention because building your neuromuscular fitness is key in minimizing injuries.

When to do what run

The long run should be done once a week. Depending on how many days a week you run you can do a tempo/interval run once or twice a week. If you are brand new to running, have a history of injuries, or are over 40, I’d recommend once a week. Strides should be done after every easy run. They are also a great addition to a pre-race warm up routine.


Let me know what your favorite type of run is in the comments.