Welcome to Stride Strong Coaching’s Sort-of Weekly Newsletter, The Quarter. 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 first few editions will go over the very basics of running that we often forget!
It has been a long Summer in Texas. If you’re anything like me, there haven’t been many days where the pace you were hitting was the effort you were feeling. However, with the break in the weather this weekend you should have felt a marked increase in pace or a decrease in effort.
To illustrate this performance jump, two of my Texas athletes ran Chicago today (in wonderful weather). Jeff Brace ran 3:07:52 for a 6 minute PR from Houston earlier this year. Brian Evans ran a 3:43:45 for a 35+ minute PR. Looking at their training, they didn’t get to hit very much volume at goal Marathon pace. The majority of their pace work was around 15 seconds slower than goal pace (GP). To run slower than goal for GP work took a lot of trust from the athletes but it paid off.
The marathon is a head game and training in the hot Summer only complicates matters. Trusting the program and your path is important at the best of times, but especially in the heat. We’re coming into the fun part of the year where your heat speed is going to come out to play; enjoy it but also remember this for next year. The trust and patience pays off!
Pictured Left: Jeff Brace and Brian Evans after both setting big PRs in the Chicago Marathon
October 13th, 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!
Pictured Left: My cat, Pepe, looking to increase her #happinesswatts
September 8th, 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
Pictured Left: The Trinity Trails in the hot sun!
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
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
Pictured Left: Enjoying a run in San Francisco on vacation!
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
Pictured Left: Luckily the end result of my increased RHR
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
Pictured Left, mile splits from Dave's debut marathon
“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
Pictured Left: One of my athletes who took 20 seconds / mile off our race plan through about 12 miles and said this with the photo: "This is what happens when you go out too fast" (good news, they still BQ'd!)
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
Pictured Left: Me questioning how much I want to tempo last weekend
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
Pictured Left: Matt Lambert atop yet another podium - Matt knows when Z's are W's and it shows in his results!
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
Pictured Left: Glum while wearing my LifeVest post-surgery
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
Pictured Left: Squats after work!
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