The Quarter is Stride Strong Coaching’s Weekly Newsletter. You should be able to read each edition in the time you run a quarter mile. Each week I will go over ways for any runner to get faster, race better, and enjoy exercise more.
The most basic principle in running is very simple: remember why you love to run!
Eventually everyone will get stuck in a rut and need some extra motivation to get out the door. There can be a couple of reasons for this. The main two are being in a repetitive routine with no new stimuli - which this Quarter addresses - and training too hard too often (tune in next week). Happily, both issues are very easy to solve.
Running is something that we all love but we are apt to forget that we need to keep it new and interesting! Don’t get stuck running the same course every day - drive to a new trail and leave your watch at home. You’ll quickly remember the freedom of running and why you fell in love with it to begin with. Running without a watch allows us to run by feel, something we tend not to do with GPS and heart rate monitors.
Another quick fix for feeling down about training is to run with friends, even if they can’t run with you they can ride next to you on a bike. An athlete of mine runs while her husband rides next to her on her long run; they both have a good time and it gives her a lot of benefit!
Last week we talked about mixing up your routine and ensuring you are enjoying training.
Overtraining is the second reason people fall out of love with running. It is often tempting to run quite hard each day; it is satisfying and gives a good runner's high after each run. This training pattern is one of the most common mistakes runners make. Unfortunately, this leads to overtraining and staleness.
A classic sign of overtraining is a lack of motivation. You might be due a few recovery days or a recovery week if you have low motivation and feel tired before every session. The long term solution is to take at least half of your days at an easy conversational pace. I call them birdwatching days. Enjoy being outside and really enjoy the exercise - but don’t push. Your training, mind, and body will all thank you for taking your easy days easy!
Bonus Tip: Playing with pets and relaxing socially both kickstart the recovery process!
It is easy to fall into a routine of aimless training. Set some challenging but achievable goals and make sure your training is oriented towards achieving them. A goal helps you focus and perform better, it’ll also help get you out the door on those cold, wet days (or hot and humid for those of us in Texas!)
Goals don’t have to only be performance based, in fact, I recommend my athletes have at least one non-performance goal for each performance oriented goal. For instance, maybe you want to run four days a week consistently, or want to do more strength work. Set yourself some goals and you’ll quickly improve performance and motivation.
Goals add an extra layer of accountability to help you push through those tough moments - and you’ll have the satisfaction of achieving something worthy!
The biggest trap runners fall into is running too fast, too often. It is counter-intuitive but you’re going to run worse if you run faster every day. It is often tempting to run quite hard each day; it is satisfying and gives a good runner's high after each run.
However, in order to get better your body needs hard days to stimulate adaptation, then easy days to actually adapt. If your Marathon pace is 10:00 minutes per mile (4:22), the majority of your running should be around 11:00 minutes per mile or slightly slower. This leaves you fresh and motivated for harder days - which should be challenging but doable, with work at Marathon pace or faster.
This variation in pace and stress allows your body to absorb the training, leaving you happier and racing faster!
Last week we talked about Easy days being Easy. Today we say Hard days are Hard!
All too often people run at little too hard on their easy days, leaving them flat for workout days. If you have a workout on your program, you should be focused and prepared to run hard. It is going to hurt, and you are going to want to quit, but this is where your body gets a stimulus to adapt and improve. If you consistently carry out your workouts as prescribed on your program you will quickly see improvements!
Hard, Easy, Hard, Easy: it is a simple, effective rhythm that will see you achieving your goals and loving running!
My mother used to tell me regularly, ‘patience is a virtue,’ an adage that is especially true with athletic development. Everyone has a tendency to rush their training. Unfortunately, this leads people to train too hard, establishing a boom bust cycle of overtraining. An outside voice helps keep perspective and is one of the most important roles of a coach.
Allow fitness to come naturally, don't force it. You'll see better results and gain more confidence, as opposed to falling short of goal in workouts. It may be trite but it is also true, be patient and take training one step at a time.
Do you ever look back at a run and see your pace has slowed throughout the run?
Do you often feel worse and worse as a run progresses?
These are classic signs of poor pacing. Pacing this way is less effective, hurts more, and wrecks confidence. The ideal easy distance run starts out a little slow, then naturally increases in pace. A measured approach to easy runs leaves you feeling confident and satisfied after each run - something which adds up significantly over time.
If you’re prone to getting slower and feeling worse throughout runs, I challenge you to do two identical runs this week. On the first run, do your usual pacing strategy; on the second, deliberately start out really easy and relaxed, then organically build pace as you go (roughly speaking you should see a trend similar to the photo to the left). You’ll be shocked at the difference. You'll feel stronger and more confident, and get a better workout.
The other upside to correctly pacing each run is that you’ll naturally increase pace as you go once you’ve built this habit. Come race day you’ll get stronger throughout your race, leading to a great result!
If there is one common theme between all training styles, it is consistency. No matter how you train, the most important aspect is being consistent. I tell my athletes that I want to see them run semi-decent workouts consistently across a training phase, rather than see them smash a few really great sessions early on then struggle.
If you experience cycles of really strong sessions, then really poor sessions, you need to re-adjust how hard your sessions are and look carefully at recovery. A sensational workout is great for confidence. However, if this comes at the expense of subsequent workouts, you are in trouble. The confidence you built up will crumble, leading you to always seek to build it up with more big sessions, leading to a vicious cycle of ups and downs.
A coach is great in this situation as they can take a big picture view and adjust your workload such that you’re consistently running well!
The majority of runners these days train with either GPS or heart rate, usually both. These metrics can be incredibly useful when used properly. However, it is easy to become reliant upon them and forget how to listen to your body. You need to know how to listen to your body in races and hard workouts, as your watch data is a lot less relevant in these situations.
To learn how to listen to your body you can run a day or two per week without your watch. At the least, try not looking at your watch until after most runs, at which point you can interpret the data - rather than letting it influence you during the run.
Here are a couple of tips to get the most out of your data when you do use it:
As runners, we spend a lot of time and effort working on one thing: running. There are other activities we can do to really help improve our running, such as sleeping, strength work, and cross-training. However, these all take extra time, time away from running. This is not necessarily bad but when time is short, they are the first activities to go.
One thing you can work on in addition to running - while running - is your mental strength. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Take time to figure out your mental strengths and weaknesses, then work to improve the weaknesses while utilizing the strengths when times get tough. How to improve your thought processes and decision making is far beyond the scope of this Quarter, but it can be done to great success.
A lot of the coaching I do is helping guide athletes through the maze of the mind, helping them hone their mental strength. Running is as much in your head as your legs - so train yo' brain!
If you have ever argued with a toddler (or myself) you are likely to have been asked “Why?” about the same question enough times to have induced an existential crisis. I suggest asking yourself why you run using this technique.
Ask someone why they run and they will usually answer immediately - but often it is a facile response with no real introspection.
It is a huge advantage knowing exactly why you run, as it it can help guide your goals and training. If you know your motivations, you can successfully motivate - and negotiate with - yourself when you’re really hurting and wanting to stop.
Why do you run? It is a simple question with simple answers. But if you truly know why, you will find a deeper level of satisfaction and see yourself focusing your energy on what really matters!
It is natural to idealize your athletic progression, expecting to improve in a straight line: always getting progressively faster. Unfortunately, in the real world this idealized line is composed of ups and downs. If you look at any athlete, at any level, what looks like consistent improvement is just improvement on average, with the ups outweighing the downs.
This wonky line of improvement is normal and not something to stress about. The key is stacking the odds in your favour with smart, focused training in order to maximize the ups and minimize the downs.
Since having open heart surgery five months ago, I have had some quite big downs. I have struggled with pericarditis for the last month. I haven’t run for a week. For five nights this week I was unable to lie on my left side because it felt like getting stabbed in the chest to the beat of my heart. It isn’t great - but it will get better.
It is natural to get down about setbacks in life and athletics, but keeping this long term improvement in mind helps. Life isn’t always perfect, yet each event is an opportunity for growth. Ride the lows and takes the losses, while using the lessons to help you soar ever higher.
As athletes, we tend to think in terms of training stress, completely ignoring life stresses. It makes sense to focus only on running when running, as it is requires a single minded focus to successfully get through a hard session. However, when it comes to your body, stress is stress; whether it is from work, family, running, or deciding on a Halloween costume, stress will always impact how your body responds to training.
The key to balancing life and training is to take a holistic approach. You must be willing to adjust what you would like to happen in training based on what is actually happening in your life. It is hard to reduce or adjust a session you have been looking forward to (or dreading), but if you are already knee deep in a hole, you should not keep on digging!
If you balance life and training, you will soon see that your performance improves and you have less off days, while enjoying life more in general. A coach can be vital in providing this balance. Often reassurance and an objective viewpoint are necessary to take away the second guessing and doubt in these situations. Feel free to reach out if you find yourself struggling with this!
October 1st, 2017
Last week The Quarter talked about balancing life and training stress to optimize performance. This week we’re going to discuss managing psychological stress. All too often we think of stress as bad, when in actuality stress is good. Physiological stress from training is literally the stimulus we need for adaptation; without stress we wouldn’t get better.
Psychological stress can be a negative - but only depending on our response to it. If stress is treated as a challenge and positive opportunity for growth, then we respond well to it.
Racing is where our psychological response to stress is most important. Have you ever had a bad race due to circumstances outside of your control? Often it isn’t what happened that caused the bad race, it was how we responded to it. Becoming more mindful of our response to stress allows us to gradually change our thought processes. This can mean that when a race is delayed for 30 minutes because of lightening we are automatically ahead of the competition, who have been stewing for 30 minutes talking themselves into a bad race.
How we respond to stressful situations is far more important than what the stressful situation is. Next time you get thrown off during a workout, treat it as a challenge and overcome it!
October 8th, 2017
I got halfway to training today and realized I’d forgotten my shoes. Instead of being annoyed, I was actually a little excited. Why? I got to run barefoot on the turf! I hadn’t run barefoot for months and it reminded me of the joy of running from childhood.
Aside from being great for strengthening the feet and tweaking form a little, running barefoot is fun! If you haven’t tried it lately then I strongly recommend you try get a couple miles barefoot in each week. Typically I will have athletes warm down after sessions barefoot if there is suitable soft grass or turf.
Get out there this week and try a couple easy miles at the end of the run with no shoes on, I know you won’t regret it! It is good for the body and even better for the soul.
October 15th, 2017
If you look at the best athletes, you’ll notice they never consider giving up or have any self doubt. This is a lie. No matter how good you are, self-doubt will always plague your inner thoughts. The best athletes simply know how to keep themselves positive and choose to push through when the going gets tough.
The good thing about this is that perseverance is trainable. The decisions you make on a daily basis in training transfer directly to your decisionmaking in races. Choose to push through in training and it will come (more) naturally in racing.
I was reminded of this today as I watched the Tri4Him Junior Elite Team racing. The Monster Tri course in Keller was slippery and wet, and a couple of athletes crashed on the bike. The Tri4Him athletes are single minded in training, never skipping a beat no matter what might happen. They are the exact same in races: they were back on the bikes within seconds and when I saw them on the run, you could not tell anything untoward had happened.
Think about this next time you are really hurting and want to quit: the decisions you make in training are the decisions you make in races. Don’t be distracted or waver in training and you will race the same way!
- Photo: Jonathan McAlister 300 m away from winning Monster Tri 2017!
October 22nd, 2017
A common thought amongst athletes is that training programs are static and have to be followed at all costs. I see this all the time, as well as the resulting injuries, bad races, and unhappy athletes. I’ve been injured and missed goal races because of this mindset myself.
In coaching, I try emphasize to my athletes that we can always change the program. I hate the saying, “a stitch in time saves nine” but it is very true. It is far easier to reduce load one day then pick it up the next, than miss five days being sick. A good way to think about it is that you will never regret missing one or two hard sessions during a build-up. I can definitely think of three or four sessions I wish I had stayed in bed for though!
A coach is great in these situations as they can take away any self-doubt and instill confidence in the decision. If you find yourself struggling with these daily decisions then consider finding a coach who can help with them! You’ll be surprised how well you will perform when you take away this self-doubt and do what is best for your body (and not your strava profile).
October 29th, 2017
How often do you lace up and go for a run without thinking about what specifically you are trying to achieve?
It is very common to go run without thinking about the purpose of the run. A lot of training time is taken up with these suboptimal runs. I like to delineate clearly what each run is trying to achieve. If it is a hard tempo day, then do a hard tempo. If it is a chill recovery day, then focus on chilling and enjoy recovering! Don’t get stuck in the middle wasting gains.
Knowing the goal of each day allows for efficient, effective training. It also allows you to get a sense of satisfaction from each day. Whether it was an easy jog or a big session, you know you did well and that you will reap the benefits!
Take a moment before each run this week to focus and think about what specifically you are trying to achieve - then go achieve it!
November 5th, 2017
The Quarter No. 3 talked about the importance of having goals. Today we are talking about the importance of goals, more specifically, the importance you assign to your goals. Let’s get this straight: your goals are important. Likewise, the effort put into achieving goals is significant and worthy of pride.
Imposter syndrome is all too common in athletes. We denigrate our achievements and deflect compliments, always thinking that what we’re doing isn’t important. In reality the work put in towards achieving a goal is significant and worth a pat on the back every now and then!
As a coach, I take time to remind my athletes that they are putting in good work and should be proud of themselves. It takes courage to explicitly state a challenging goal, it takes even more courage to own the task ahead and work towards it.
Whether you want to build up to running a 5 km, or want to run a sub-3 Marathon, you are working hard and doing yourself proud. So be proud of yourself!
November 12th, 2017
What is your most basic goal in training?
As a coach, I strive to have happy athletes who enjoy training and racing. Every other possible goal comes from this.
Training may not be something you love every day, but you should enjoy it and find satisfaction in your hard work. If you do not find joy in training, something is wrong. Athletes have to push through a lot of pain and fatigue and this requires motivation. A basic tenant of training is that a happy athlete is a motivated athlete.
Play around with your process if you've lost enthusiasm. Experiment until you find your happy place! You'll perform better and will be happier, which, at the end of the day, is what really matters.
November 19th, 2017
It is hard to balance training when life gets busy. There may always be time to get out early and run (4 am is not that early, right?) But what happens to everything else? Do you make time for strength work, foam rolling, stretching, and all the other little things?
Generally, these extras fall by the wayside.
It is natural to think, ‘I don't have time for the gym, I won't lift today.’ However, this is backwards thinking. A new mantra of mine is a little often goes a long way. A ten minute strength circuit may not be as good as an hour in the gym but it is far better than nothing. If time or energy is regularly an issue in your training, these mini sessions will add up quickly over time.
I try to be as pragmatic as possible with my athletes. While it is important to get good work in, it is more important to remember that something is better than nothing. The gains from small, consistent sessions will always far outweigh those from big, infrequent sessions. Keep this in mind this week and don’t be afraid of a strength workout as short and simple as three sets of: 30 lunges, 10 push ups, and 60 seconds front and side planks after an easy run.
November 26th, 2017
All you ever need to know to reach your potential is encompassed in these three words: stress, recover, repeat.
On paper it could not be simpler. In real life though, it often feels like it could not be more complicated. If it ever seems like training has lost direction or stagnated, look at these three elements in your program and see what is out of proportion. Generally the issue will be too little recovery to allow for adaptation.
A program should be fun and varied but beware of losing focus and getting bogged down in the minutiae. There are an infinite number of ways to stress and recover but keep the basics in mind! After all, the formula for success is only three words long: stress, recover, repeat.
December 3rd, 2017
Life is full of oxymorons. Running has at least one oxygenated moron in myself and at least one oxymoron: you must run slow to get fast.
The slow, easy days are when you adapt to the hard days. If you only run hard you will quickly plateau, then gradually break down. To get fast you must master the cycle of stress and adaptation. Unfortunately, it takes confidence to feel good about taking it easy and running “slow.”
Next time you’re struggling with the concept of an easy day, remember that it is on the easy days that you get faster. The hard days only make you tired: the easy days are when you adapt and improve!
So, if you want to get tired, run hard all the time. However, if you want to get fast, run your easy days easy!
December 17th, 2017
It is a bit late for a Thanksgiving post but I got thinking about what I am thankful for the other day. I am thankful for the athletes I have had the honor to train and get to know over the years.
The athletes I train teach me at least as much about myself and training as I teach them. Each new athlete only ever reinforces how unique we are as athletes and people. Without this uniqueness, life (and coaching) would be a boring thing!
Generic workout plans will never be my process, writing specifically for the individual helps challenge my skills and keeps the athlete in balance and continually improving. A part of this process requires that I learn as much as I can about each athlete, building strong relationships in the process.
Upon reflection, it is these relationships which are most valuable to me as a coach. I find there is nothing more rewarding than seeing one of your people progress and grow over time!
November 25th, 2018
The California International Marathon was today and two of my athletes were running. They both ran very strongly and got big PRs. Neringa Gafford ran under 3:00 for the first time, while Mani Subramanian completely destroyed his old PR by over 30 minutes!
They both worked extremely hard over the last months to run fast times. It takes a lot of focus and confidence to really push yourself over 26.2 miles. I am very proud of their work and very happy they ran well.
The marathon is a fickle beast and perfect build-ups can often derail mid-race for virtually no reason. So, make sure to celebrate yours and your friends successes when they happen!
December 2nd, 2018