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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 decision-making 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!
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
Consistency is rarely an issue I need to address with my athletes. The majority of my people are self-motivated and I actively seek to foster their independence to make them robust.
However, I think a lot about ways to explain things in my coaching as reiteration helps build understanding. Here is my new favourite way to explain consistency.
Training is like filling a bucket with water, every time we train we add a bit of water to the bucket. The trouble is, there’s a hole in the bottom. If we only put water in our bucket a couple times a week then it stays empty.
How consistently are you adding to your bucket?
December 9th, 2018
This week's Quarter is a bio from one of our athletes, Mani Subramanian. Mani has had an amazing year and an inspirational last couple of years! Read on below:
I started running 12 years ago as a way to lose weight. I hit the gym every day for 9 months and lost 40 lbs in the process. However, I had not run more than 5 miles until I signed up for my very first Half in 2016, the Dallas Rock n Roll. I met Patrick at Luke’s Southlake on the first day of half marathon training for a trial session. After a 5 mile trial run on a Cold Saturday in January, I felt that I could train and run on my own, I did and ran 1:58:47.
The running bug quickly caught me and I started training at Luke’s Highland Village for my first Full marathon but got injured with 6 weeks to go before the 2017 Dallas Marathon and had to shut down training for 2 months.
In 2017 I once again signed up for the Rock n Roll Dallas Half, this time training with Patrick at Luke’s for the duration of the buildup. During this time, I got to know him a little bit more in terms of his training approach, discussions with athletes and was super impressed.
I did my first marathon in Vancouver in May 2017 and completed it in 4:44:45, then my second marathon at Toronto in October 2017 in 3:48:48. I then ran the Dubai marathon in Jan 2018 but had to walk from mile 17 as I was nursing an injury for an entire month prior to the race.
I was so devastated and had to take a step back and understand that I was training for back to back marathons and never got to the starting line without being injured. I realized I needed help.
I run with some elite coaches but wanted to get a coach with whom I would have accountability - and someone who I did not have much familiarity with. I met with Patrick in February of this year and discussed my primary goal of running injury free and staying healthy. Patrick built a plan that matched my ability level and kept me healthy. His program gives clear instructions on how to make me listen to my body and train more effectively and truly embrace the easy days and recovery days. He always actively encouraged me to continue with Camp Gladiator 3 days a week to build Strength training.
My half marathon times went from 1:52:13 before I met Patrick to 1:43:12 in March, 1:39:07 in May to 1:31:44 in November.
I felt really strong during my marathon build up and was PR-ing in my 18, 20, 22 milers and was running a negative split with a couple of my elite running buddies who are track coaches. I ran CIM and completed it in 3:10:09 (38:39 PR) - I felt really strong and was able to bounce back from the marathon easier and I have no doubt that Patrick’s itinerary and training program clearly worked for me.
I would recommend Patrick to anyone looking to improve their running or get a start.
December 16th, 2018
Training is hard. The miles add up and the body gets tired - but that’s how you get faster. Often the body needs to be tired but the mind needs to stay fresh. Finding your happy place is key to sustaining a good progression in training without burning-out.
I have an athlete who loves running trails. We try get her on the trails a couple times a week, whether it is for a long run or recovery run, it keeps her happy and on an even keel. Trails are her happy place.
A fresh mind keeps you motivated for the hard days where training is a real challenge. Having a go-to pick-me-up is essential. Finish your run with tacos, take a post-workout selfie with your cat (guilty), run on trails; it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it makes you happy! Your training will benefit and you’ll be a lot happier overall.
Where is your happy place?
23rd of December, 2018
Tuesday will be the first day of 2019. With the new year comes new inspiration to hit bigger milestones and get faster. As we enter the New Year, take a moment to think about some short-, mid-, and long-term goals for this year.
First, set a long-term goal that gets you excited just thinking about it, then some stepping stone goals to keep you motivated all year long. Try setting both process oriented goals and outcome based goals. Maybe you want to run a 4 hour marathon but also want to run even or negative splits. These goals will work hand-in-hand. Achieving the even or negative splits makes the 4 hour goal more likely. And, even if you miss the 4 hour goal, you might have paced well and achieved one goal still.
Once you have your goals set, share them with someone to help keep you accountable. The cold, early morning runs are a lot easier with a goal to strive for and someone to help you achieve them!
What are your 2019 goals?
December 30th, 2018
The best teams and athletes are driven to constantly improve, they innovate and refine their process, always staying ahead of the competition. Applying this mindset to your running is actually really easy! Simply try achieve something each day to improve. It doesn’t have to be something big, little improvements add up quickly over time.
Having a concrete goal for each day focuses our attention and makes for more purposeful training. A few examples of achievable goals are stretching or rolling habitually tight muscles, improving form on drills or sprints, taking a second per mile off your threshold pace. Often my daily improvement is taking a rest day to allow my body to absorb the training I have been doing!
Training is all about gains, focus on one aspect of fitness each day and improve upon it. You’ll quickly see the gains stacking up!
January 13th, 2019
I’ve found knowing where you’re going is helpful (except when I write these and ramble about).
Jeff Brace started training with me in late 2017, he ran a 3:28 in Houston 2018 for a 20 minute PR, them took another 15 minutes off today at the 2019 Houston Marathon with a 3:13:22! This is an impressive progression and it took Jeff knowing that his sole goal was a fast marathon to achieve it. He trained with a clear focus towards this goal, never wavering or getting sidetracked. I am willing to bet his next race will qualify him for Boston.
The focus derived from clear goals allows you to expend energy on what actually matters. Without a clear goal, you are often pulled in contrary directions and end up a bit lost. I like to tell athletes with a clear performance goal that we only ever want to put in effort towards what will make them faster. If you have a singular performance goal, consider looking at the work you’re doing and making sure it is focused on achieving that goal!
January 21st, 2019
I met Max Randolph in 2014. After swimming D1 in College for Georgia Tech he had switched to running. Max realized two things fairly quickly. He wanted to get fast and that rest days didn’t work for him as he ran best when he ran every day. Last week Max reached an amazing four years of running at least 5 km each day! Max has had PR’s in the 5 km every season we have trained together since 2015, a record not many people can boast.
Consistency in training is the single best indicator of performance on race day I know of. It isn’t that you need to run every day but you do need to run the sessions on the plan to hit the results. Adjustments and unplanned rest days happen to everyone (the mortals at least - I'm looking at you, Max) but getting in the consistent quality is what gets the PRs.
If you are ever looking at your training and wondering why the results are not there, consider looking not just at quality but also consistency. If you consistently hit average sessions you’ll always run better than hitting amazing sessions sporadically.
January 28th, 2019
I love winning, like, love-love winning. It is a great feeling to know you were fastest on race day, that all your hard work paid off, that all those cold, early mornings and brutal sessions were worth it.
The thing is, not everyone crosses the line first on race day, hell, I haven’t even raced in years. I still make sure I get my share of victories though. A couple Quarters back (no. 30) I wrote about the importance of having some sort of goal each day. Following on from that, it is important to achieve and celebrate that goal!
I woke up at 4:30 AM on Thursday and instead of going back to sleep, I death-marched the recovery jog that meant my Friday session was perfect! I got back after struggling through a handful of 8:00’s, gave myself a high-five, and was happy about it all day. The slow roll of confidence and positivity from celebrating small daily achievements adds up over time and leads to better training and, eventually, maybe even winning races!
Set a small goal each day, achieve it, then celebrate it! Win every day and you’ll see increased motivation, more satisfaction in training, and better results.
February 3rd, 2019
Strength is essential to running well. A strong runner will be less likely to get injured and absorbs training better than a weak runner. There are a lot of different ways to get strong, the trick is finding the training modality which gets you excited and you consistently do. My athletes do everything from bodybuilding, traditional gym work, boot camps, P90X, hills repeats, to yoga.
The type of strength work you do is a lot less important than whether or not you do it consistently! If you have a strength program but don’t hit the sessions, consider trying some different types of workouts to find something you will consistently do!
A strong runner is a happy, healthy runner - so go get strong(er)!
February 11th, 2019
I have been fighting my 4:30 AM alarm lately and it seems like I’m not alone with the Winter Blues hitting a few athletes I know. I’ve always found that running is a lot easier than thinking about running when you're low on motivation. This week's advice is to resist dwelling on upcoming workouts - excitement or visualizing is great but dread is not.
In the same way that breaking a 10,000 m into 200’s makes a huge difference, don’t wake up and see ten miles in the cold. Instead, just think about putting on your shoes; then walk out the door; then start running. While each individual step is relatively easy, the cumulative weight of all the steps can be overbearing.
If you find yourself dwelling on an upcoming session, accept that it is going to happen then let your mind wander onto your next set of thoughts instead of staying on the topic. You’ll find you’ve got a lot more mental energy to spend when you actually get to your session and you will enjoy it much more!
February 17th, 2019
Tempo runs are often misunderstood and feared as a result. Classic tempo runs should be run as close as possible - but under - your anaerobic threshold. Your lactate threshold is the point at which your body begins producing lactic acid faster than it is clearing it. You begin to tire rapidly and eventually slow down once you exceed this threshold. In well-trained athletes lactate threshold corresponds to around hour race pace. For everyday athletes, anything from 8 minute repeats to 20 or 25 minutes of continuous effort at this effort is very effective for increasing lactate threshold.
A well-run tempo is challenging but doable. You should finish feeling as though another mile or two at that effort would have been doable but you had to work hard. A tempo was too fast if you finish with tightening legs which are starting to burn. Properly executed tempo work allows you to run faster for longer before accumulating lactic acid, which, given marathon pace is approximately 95% of tempo pace, is always a good thing!
Pay attention to effort on tempo days and avoid getting above your lactate threshold. If you pace your tempo runs properly, you should finish feeling accomplished and confident - which is the goal of all hard days!
February 24th, 2019
I missed last week’s Quarter as I was sick, for which I apologize. Happily, it spurred some good ideas for the next few weeks. I want to write about some easy signs to look for to monitor how your body is holding up.
I measure and track my resting heart rate (RHR) every day. Everyone should. It is very basic but provides a lot of feedback. Generally speaking, as aerobic fitness increases you should see a decrease in RHR. If your RHR is 5 beats or more above average then you should start considering an easy day. After you get a few months of data, you’ll see patterns emerge and will be able to make decisions based on daily readings.
The "reason" I got sick last week was because I bullishly trained through four mornings of elevated RHR. All the signs were there, low motivation, niggles, high RHR, reduced HR at usual workout intensities, and broken sleep. If it were one of my athletes, I would have hounded them to rest and recover. Unfortunately, I am not smart when it comes to my own body!
Knowing the signs to look for is the first step in smart training, recognizing them in practice is the second, but the third step is hardest: acting based on signs. Often our ego gets in the way and we think we need to be tough and just “push through.” That’s where having a coach comes in handy. Coaches are there to help recognize the signs and talk you down when you want to push. Regularly my job as a coach is to hold people back so they improve faster, not push them further.
Next time you’re stuck in a hole and want to keep digging, remember sometimes more work isn’t the answer. Instead, stop and listen to your body; it (and your coach!) will tell you what to do.
March 10th, 2019
Last week I wrote about Resting Heart Rate (RHR) and how it provides valuable, easy to measure feedback on stress and fitness. This week I want to talk about another sign: sleep quality. I am going to ignore sleep timing and duration for right now. What I am calling sleep quality today is super basic and easy to track. Essentially, unusually broken sleep or slow onset of sleep is one classic sign of overreaching.
If you notice you’re taking a long time to get to sleep or toss and turn, waking regularly, it may be an early sign that you are overreaching and need a couple of easier days to freshen up (and adapt to the load you’re under). Just remember, if you’re worried about backing off based on this, if you pick up on the signs quickly you’re probably still functionally overreaching. Freshening up in this state will allow for performance supercompensation (you get faster, whoo!). Pushing on will lead non-functional overreaching, which is another name for digging a hole which you don’t get out of quickly or happily.
So, pay attention to sleep quality. Sleep quality, when combined with other feedback like RHR and training performance, can inform where your program goes and, more importantly, how quickly you are improving!
March 17th, 2019
In the last two Quarters I covered signs to look for when training to help aid decision making. So far we have looked at Resting Heart Rate (RHR) and Sleep Quality. Today, I want to cover motivation. Generally speaking, motivation to achieve a goal doesn’t suddenly disappear overnight. The drive to achieve a goal is what gets us up early in the morning and pushes us to go past what we think our limits are. It is not a transient ripple of enthusiasm, but a deep current of purpose.
A sudden decrease in motivation is a sign of overreaching and an indication backing off may be wise. Monitor motivation and adjust training as needed based on it. I use a weekly survey with my athletes to help gauge motivation and freshness, in addition to training data.
It’s normal to not want to wake up at 4:30 am every day. However, you may need to adjust if you suddenly don’t give a f**k about your goal race.
March 24th, 2019
They say it takes a village to raise a child. While I can’t claim to know anything about children, I do know about athletes (and cats). To a large extent, the people you surround yourself with determine how well you do. It is vital to have a support structure to provide direction, therapy, and morale when things are good - and especially when things are bad.
I have athletes who thrive with a three person village; I have athletes who thrive in a 30 person village. The size of the village doesn’t matter as much as the level of support it provides. A partner, coach, and PT is a small but effective village if an athlete is highly intrinsically motivated. Other more gregarious athletes require energy and support from a wider network of friends, professionals, and fellow athletes. A village should, in some form, be able to provide coaching, physical therapy, emotional support, and a distraction from one’s own training.
As with any community, relationships are vital. Success is not about the athlete always taking; it is a give and take, with all parties benefiting from the relationship. I would contend that the more we give back to our village, the more fulfilled and successful we are as athletes and people. It is a synergistic relationship. Seeing someone grow and improve is just as rewarding as getting better yourself!
If you have a village, go you! If not, consider sharing your journey with some more people - you will all benefit from it.
Pictured Left: A Happy Village!
March 31st, 2019
I got home from work on Friday after having run in the morning. All I wanted to do was lie on the floor and sleep for an hour before making dinner - a feeling I’m sure many of you know! Despite being knackered, I knew I needed to lift. I was only exhausted because I’d had a long day, not because my training had been too much lately.
The solution was to focus on my big lifts and drop the auxiliary work. I knew where I was getting the most benefit, so I cut everything else. The result was a solid workout and the majority of the gains the full workout would have given me. Instead of lying on the floor eating chips and crying, I got in some good work! (I totally didn’t cry either)
It is important to be as compliant as possible with training. However, sometimes a small compromise will give better results than overloading yourself. If you know what really matters on your program, then you are able to make these adjustments and get the most out of yourself. I strive to grow my athletes to the point where they’re independent and able to makes these small adjustments based on their schedules and energy/motivation.
It is important to be able to look at your program and know what is important and what is negotiable if needed. Think about this when you look at your training for this coming week!
April 7th, 2019
Yesterday marked two years since I had my aortic valve and root replaced. At the time, the recovery process felt long and protracted, like I was hardly making any progress. Post-surgery I had to wear a defibrillator vest in case my heart went out of rhythm and needed shocking back. It was fairly grim for a while. On one particularly memorable day, the doctors said there was a 25% chance I would get worse, 50% chance I would stay the same, and 25% chance I would improve. Staying the same would have meant I would continue to live with congestive heart failure.
Happily, after following all the recovery and rehabilitation instructions down to the letter, I was quickly back running and lifting as much - and as hard - as I like. Looking back I progressed very quickly.
Injuries and setbacks happen to us all, they are demoralizing and really test our determination. In the moment, it is hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Patience and faith are vital in those tough times. Some days we need a hug, some days we need a slap, but we always need someone there to support us, help us be patient, and keep us moving forward. In my case I was lucky to have my wife, Sara, there to help me stay sane and positive.
If you ever find yourself in a tough place where you can’t see things improving, don’t be afraid to reach out and share where you’re at with others. Vulnerability is hard but a lot less hard than being stuck in a hole!
April 21st, 2019
I’m all about winning workouts on a daily basis. It is great for motivation and confidence, leading to a confident athlete who makes good decisions as they feel secure in their fitness. What this means, is that some days my athletes will miss workouts and sleep in instead. Whenever this happens for a legitimate reason, I am careful to praise their decision making. Then, the next day when they nail their session, I point out again how smart and mature they were!
In College (not to throw shade) I was lucky enough once to be given “punishment weights” for sleeping in when I was absolutely shattered from training. It was a race week and I’m sure you can all guess how the race went :| I never saw the logic in digging a hole any deeper than it needs to be.
Don’t be afraid of taking some extra Z’s when needed, they can be just as purposeful and beneficial as a hard workout. Z’s can be W’s.
May 5th, 2019
How do you think and perform during training? Are you positive, willing to push through tough spots, and end up finishing sessions feeling confident and accomplished? Or do you fold when it gets tough, telling yourself you’ll run harder next time?
If your mindset is the former, you’ll think that way come race day and likely meet or exceed your expectations. You’ve engrained good decision making and thought patterns into your daily training and this will manifest during racing!
If your mindset in the first paragraph was the latter, then likely you’ll think those same thoughts come race day and underperform. This is a tough situation as it is hard to gain confidence when this is happening. I suggest reducing sessions to where you know you can crush them. Once you’ve built up a few wins in sessions you can increase session load to where you’re challenged but still nailing them and feeling good about yourself.
If you struggle mentally I’m willing to bet it isn’t that you’re mentally weak. It is likely that you’ve not developed much confidence or a sense of being capable during training. Set yourself up to succeed and grow your confidence in training. You’ll race better and love training, rather than dreading it!
May 12th, 2019
“What can I expect on race day?” is a big question amongst all athletes. Generally speaking, racing should line up with your training performance plus a boost from tapering and adrenaline from the race setting.
Simply put, this means that miracles don’t happen. You’ll run well if you’ve been training to hit a 4 hour Full (9:09 minutes per mile) and go out around 9:10-9:15 for the first five, then drop the pace gradually. However, going out in 8:50 will feel doable through about 13.1 miles (8:50’s for the 1/2 is the equivalent race performance of a 4:00 Full). After that, you’ll be very, very unhappy.
I advise athletes to train with ambitious goals then race with realistic optimism. The results usually speak for themselves. Today’s message isn’t the most sexy but you’ll do great if you train for a result you’ll be stoked about, then race based on training performance. Expecting a miracle on race day is a bad policy.
May 19th, 2019
Late last year, my brother, Dave, mentioned that he wanted to run a marathon. Given that I had no previous recollection of him running, I was surprised! I offered to help as running coach. We Skyped a bit and developed a program that had him training three days a week. Although he has a demanding, physical job and two young, boisterous daughters, Dave hit everything asked of him and quickly gained fitness.
The marathon Dave chose was a point to point trail course with 1,150 ft elevation gain, so, not exactly an easy course! The hardest mile was essentially the first, with a big group start on single track and 125 ft of elevation gain. When we went over tactics I emphasized really sitting back in the first 2 - 3 miles and not going into the red. As you can see from the pace graphic, he did just this. At the end of the 1st mile he was in about 45th, before finishing in 11th in 3:56:25. This is an amazing achievement given his newness to running and his training availability.
It is absolutely possible to run well with low training availability, if you focus and train with intent. The same goes for racing. If you make a plan and stick to it you will do well, even on demanding courses. Consider reaching out if you ever find yourself struggling to design a plan in a similar situation, I’d love to help!
May 26th, 2019
An athlete of mine recently shared a study looking at long-term health and changes in resting heart rate (RHR). A few Quarters ago I wrote about the benefits of tracking RHR. It is a simple method of tracking recovery and the development of aerobic fitness. This study also indicates a long-term health benefit of tracking RHR.
Generally speaking, across a population, a lower RHR corresponds with a lower death rate. What the study also found though was that an increase in RHR over time was associated with increased incidences of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD), as well as all-cause mortality. They found that “every beat increase in heart rate... was associated with a 3% higher risk for all-cause death, 1% higher risk for CVD and 2% higher risk for CHD.”
This is an interesting finding and great additional motivation to track RHR. On a personal note, my RHR increased 12 beats over the 10 years from my freshman year in College to when I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and had to have my aortic heart valve replaced. RHR will change with aerobic fitness, but I was confused as to why mine had changed so drastically. If I had known about this study at the time I would have promptly seen a doctor!
So, try start your day tomorrow (and most days) by taking your RHR! It can help track aerobic fitness, recovery, and may also get you to a doctor early before anything untoward happens.
June 2nd, 2019
Running on vacation is typically a love it or hate it kind of thing. I have some athletes who run more miles away than at home, while I also have athletes who would prefer to not even take shoes. I’m going to outline a couple of good approaches below, in case you’re ever unsure how to approach training and vacation.
Enjoy yourself. If you’re going to hate training on vacation just plan around it. Train heavy the week before you leave, then let your body rest up and recover. You will not lose that much fitness. Don’t wreck a vacation because of a few runs.
Allot time for training, but don’t dwell on it. Lace up, get it done, then go back to enjoying yourself. You’ll find the training is refreshing and good “you” time! I see a lot of success in making simple, quality session.
Explore! I have some athletes who love exploring on vacation, for these athletes I program longer easy runs so they can go long and see as much as possible.
However you approach training on vacation, make sure it works for you and doesn’t impede your holiday. There’s always a way to write a program to make it work in terms of training and enjoyment!
June 23rd, 2019
Last weekend Zane Roberston (pictured left) broke the New Zealand National Record in the Marathon, running 2:08:19 at the Gold Coast Marathon. Zane is an incredible athlete and embodies the willingness to work hard and reject any distractions or excuses. 3 miles into the Marathon Zane’s shoelace came undone. Zane did not care or stop to re-tie his shoe, he carried on running 4:53 per mile for the rest of the 26.2 mile race.
Zane said he felt good and did not want to lose his rhythm, so kept on racing without stopping. This shows not just an iron power-of-concentration but also how highly the top professionals value rhythm. It is a lesson all runners can learn. Rhythm in the marathon is especially important. We’ve all been on long runs and stopped for a traffic light, only to feel rubbish when we start running again.
Staying smooth and holding a good rhythm makes a massive difference in races. This means training to run with a good rhythm and get through aid stations smoothly. I’ll go so far as to program rhythm breaks for some of my athletes; so, if something untoward does cause a break in their race, they’re used to that feeling and know how to get straight back into their race.
Keep this in mind next time you race and when training long runs: Rhythm is important!
July 14th, 2019
Training in the heat is a bear. Unless you head inside to a treadmill there’s no escaping it, especially if you live somewhere humid like Dallas. Even 4:30 AM is reliably hot, something I know from extensive experience.
Happily there are some silver linings to training in the heat. It is essentially the poor man's altitude camp, which is what I like to call a Texas summer! It is now common knowledge that many of the physiological adaptations to altitude and heat are similar.
I try to get my athletes focusing on quality of work rather than pace. Don’t stress paces in Summer too much, you’re going to run slower the hotter it gets, there is simply no escaping that. However, that is not to say you’re going to get less benefit! Focus on working hard and staying calm in Summer and you’ll hit Fall flying.
August 25th, 2019
Happiness Watts (#happinesswatts) is my second favourite instagram hashtag - after #bodegacats, obviously. As background, cycling data and training revolves around Watts, which is the measure of power a rider is producing. It provides a more objective insight than speed or heart rate. Power for Dummies simply reads: more power, more better. The idea of happiness watts evolved in reaction to the idea of marginal gains. Marginal gains describes all the small gains that may be made in training, which in theory, add up to meaningful performance gains.
Happiness Watts are the gains from things that aren’t necessarily “performance” actions. A few examples would be stopping mid-session to pet a dog, getting a doughnut because you want one, having a night out with mates once in a while. None of these will ever be on your program (although I do periodically program a beer or two for some athletes). They’re a reflection of performance being intrinsically related to how you as a person feel.
A happy athlete will always outperform an unhappy athlete doing the same work. I love happy athletes. Happy athletes are motivated, stay healthy, and are successful. Plus, happy athletes are happy people, which, ultimately, is my goal as a coach. So, don’t go wild with the doughnuts but if you want one every now and then, go for it! Just remember to ‘gram it and #happinesswatts so I get to see!
September 8th, 2019