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