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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!
In coaching there is no such thing as an intractable problem. At times one might lack knowledge or imagination but there is invariably a solution to all problems. I was reminded of this when I was walking with my wife last weekend. I was looking in a creek and saw the concrete embankment was perfect for steep hill bounds, hence the photo and this Quarter.
The trouble with being stuck with a problem is that it can feel like being stuck in the bottom of a hole. Don’t be afraid to take a minute, step back, and think it through. Often there is a simple solution. Google and others in the sport are always good resources to find solutions to issues. Other sports are also a good source of new knowledge and ideas. I am currently learning more about lifting and it is surprising how much crosses over to running beyond “stronger is better”.
Do not be afraid to look off the beaten path for an answer!
May 10th, 2020
Pictured Left: Bounds in a creek!
Motivation can be a fickle beast at the best of times but it is especially tricky now, with the malaise of shelter in place orders and canceled races into the foreseeable future. A race is always great motivation as there is a definite time-frame and the ability to set a measurable goal. With the cancellation of races it does not mean there is nothing to train for though!
One of the most valuable ways to maintain motivation is to have a specific goal. The first question I ask athletes when we plan new training phases is: “What goals excite you?” An exciting goal is an achievable goal. Below are a few ideas which would benefit the majority of runners.
- Focus on strength: now is a great time to compromise on running volume and work on building strength.
- Get faster: incorporate sprint work, it will transfer to longer distances with efficiency and power gains.
- Take a break: reduce training load and allow your body to recover more. Many people are not very good at taking a break from racing but this is a good time when there is no FOMO!
- In general, work on known weaknesses: we all know we have weaknesses, often we ignore them. Take time to strengthen your weaknesses.
Find a goal or area to work on that excites you; figure out a way to measure your improvement; set a goal; then go have fun getting better! A change of focus will feel refreshing and help give a bump in motivation. And, as an added bonus, you’ll probably come out of it more prepared than ever.
April 26th, 2020
Life is full of lessons, which is really convenient, as life and growth are all about learning. To make the most of life’s lessons it is important to have a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is when an individual treats every event as an opportunity to learn and grow. Each experience presents an opportunity to learn and become better. This is a valuable trait in all people - but especially athletes, as there are a lot of lessons to learn!
If we are lucky, we learn lessons the first time (ideally just by being told). However, some lessons need to be repeated before we learn. I know I have learnt more than a few training lessons through painful repetition of experience, rather than listening to my coaches. If you miss a lesson the first time, don’t worry; the important thing is that you are open to new ideas and looking to improve.
Seek to learn and grow each day, whether it is in life or training. If you view obstacles as opportunities to improve and grow, life can suddenly become a vibrant place of growth, as opposed to the hostile beatdown it can sometimes feel like. A bad session or race is only a negative experience a) if you tell yourself it was, and b) you don’t learn from it. Remember, learn, grow, and get better!
March 8th, 2020
Pictured Left, Mark Hall on the way to a 10 km PR
It is rare that a motivated athlete will blow off a session and miss it for no reason. Invariably they miss due to feeling ill, off, or a work or family matter. In other words, they miss sessions if they have other stress in their lives which makes it unrealistic to add in further stress on that particular day. However, motivated athletes commonly will try to make up the session they missed the next day. In general, this is a bad idea.
A well balanced program has a specific cycle of stress followed by recovery and adaptation. Making up a missed session will usually remove a recovery/adaptation day from this cycle, in effect increasing total stress while reducing recovery. This makes little sense, as the very reason they missed the session in the first place was because they were overloaded with stress!
The trap people tend to fall into is under accounting for life stress. Your mind and body does not differentiate training stress from work or family stress. Therefore, when we think about training, we need to think about total stress, not just training stress. Remember this the next time you miss a session. Give yourself some grace and take the extra time to destress and get back to normal before going hard again.
February 16th, 2020
Pictured Left: Sausage, my cat, definitely knows how to recover
The attitude with which you approach your training significantly influences the outcomes. Going into a session with a positive attitude and a growth mindset sets you up for success. You will see great results if you aim to challenge yourself and use the work as an opportunity to progress. Contrast this with those who shy away from fully pushing themselves and pseudo-resent hard work. Often people will work hard, but without full buy in they see suboptimal results. This attitude becomes a negative feedback loop, with those people seeing ever poorer gains.
If you’re motivated to train but do not want to embrace a session there can be a few things at play: the session may be inappropriately hard; you may be slightly overreached; or you may just need to harden up and get it done. Filtering out these reasons is important - and is where coaching becomes important.
The next time you’re looking at your program and are dreading a session, try reflecting on your motivations and why you are training. Then remind yourself that the pain will be temporary and that you are blessed to be able to push yourself to achieve your potential - many people are not so lucky. Embrace the hard work and treat it as an opportunity to grow as an athlete and person. After all, we choose to do what we do and may as well get the most out of it!
Pictured Left: About to smash a track session
February 2nd, 2020
Recently an athlete of mine missed a session due to a stomach bug. The athlete asked if they should make up the session the next day. I said no, to which they seemed unconvinced. I explained the larger view of the situation: that it is better to let the body recover fully and nail the next planned session, rather than play catch up and add extra load to an already stressed body. They replied to this with, “logic wins, passion kills.”
I thought this was a great line and one that we could all do well to remember in training. Our training decisions should be made using logic, utilizing sound training methodology. People tend to get a bit crazy and end up overtraining if passion is allowed too much say in training decisions. However, passion - whatever it is grounded in - is essential in setting ambitious goals and for motivation when training gets really hard.
The next time you’re making an adjustment to your training plan, remember to keep the decision making logical and don’t let your passion carry you away. But.... the next time you’re deep into a painful session and wonder what the heck you’re doing with your life, draw on your passion and get the session done!
January 26th, 2020
Pictured left: Matthew Lambert back in another life rolling some track work!
It is a new year. A time when many people resolve to start exercising with various goals in mind. It is also a time when many people quickly fall off their plans and do not begin again. While many factors are involved, a significant issue is managing one’s expectations. I would contend that the first couple of months should largely be aimed at enjoying training and fostering consistency.
Performance will always follow good habits and consistent training. However, chasing performance from day one can often lead you to lose perspective and be too hard on yourself. If you are happy and treat each workout as an opportunity to grow instead, you will do well! It is not a big deal if once a week you miss a session or do not fully follow the plan. What matters is enjoying what you are doing and feeling good about yourself.
For example, yesterday I was planning 8 with my Wife, including a solo 3 mile tempo. Two miles in it unexpectedly started snowing! Instead of hitting a hard session, we just ran easy together and enjoyed the rare event that is Texas snow! I still ran 8 miles and did work, just not exactly the work I had planned. Most importantly though, I had a lot of fun and will remember the run for a long time!
Celebrate each day you do work towards your goals. But, just as importantly, give yourself some grace on the days you miss a workout, and *please* do not beat yourself up over it. Reset, then look to the next day as another opportunity to have fun, while improving and growing. With a little patience, you will see success if you enjoy what you are doing.
January 12th, 2020
Pictured Left: The Wife and I enjoying the snow on our run yesterday.
A good training program should be well structured. To be effective though, it is important for the athlete to understand that structure and train with purpose. A recovery run works best if you run easy enough to allow your body to recover and adapt. A tempo is most effective when run at the specified intensity. It is easy to look at what is programmed without thinking about the goal or purpose of the session. However, if you know the purpose of each session you can get the most out of it, anything else is selling yourself short.
I love athletes who ask questions. The real goal of my coaching is to educate my athletes to the point where they are able to read their program - even without the session descriptions - and understand the purpose of each day. Once they are in this position they are able to make changes on the fly as needed, in order to achieve the goal of each day.
I challenge you to look at the training you did this week and really think about what you did and if you achieved the goal each day. Then, look at next week’s training and think about the purpose of each session and what you will do to ensure you nail the entire week. I would be interested to know what you find. Happy training!
December 29th, 2019
Pictured left: Strides
I don’t worry about whether I am repetitive. I know I am. Today’s Quarter is, again, about keeping recovery days nice and easy. I have found I fall into the trap of getting happy feet on recovery days more now that I don’t have a goal or focus in my own training. I just train by mojo. It has really brought home to me that a lack of focus is often the reason our hard days are a bit easier than they should be and vice versa.
A solid goal helps steel us for the hard efforts and to really push. A challenging performance goal - whether it is a 2:45 or a 4:45 Marathon - helps motivate us when the going gets tough. Equally as important though, we can use that same motivation to help us resist the temptation to push on recovery days, thus ensuring the hard training is being absorbed.
So, next time you are out on a recovery run and you feel the pace getting a bit hot, sit back and relax. Remember that going easy and letting your body recover - and more importantly, adapt - is what is going to allow you to achieve your goals.
December 22nd, 2019
Pictured Left, Max keeping his recovery days chill
One of my athletes just ran under 3:00 for their first time at CIM, going 2:56:51 for a H U G E 13 minute PR - Go Mani!!! Mani trains very consistently and is an engaged athlete, always questioning what we do and why. I love athletes like Mani, I know they are purposeful in their training and will do their utmost to execute. Whilst Mani is never afraid to ask questions, we make sure to communicate often to ensure we are on the same page. As a result, he trusts the training we do.
Trusting your training is essential to success. If you don’t have faith in the process you’re going to struggle to commit and go deep on hard days when you need to push your boundaries.
Doubting one’s ability is natural and something to overcome; all athletes deal with this at some point in time and are stronger for it. However, doubting the training process itself undermines all the hard work. In contrast, trust in the process leads to increased confidence and is additive over time. The more you trust your training the better you respond to it.
Having a clear path towards achieving your goals grows trust in a program. If you know what you need to do to get better - and trust it will work - then you’re set. Talk with your coach or sit down yourself and outline your goals and a pathway towards them. The trust you have in the work you’re doing will be helpful next time you’re going deep in a session.
December 8th, 2019
I’ve been feeling sluggish lately; so, this week is about differentiating between being sleepy or tired and being fatigued. Ask yourself the next time you’re knackered before a session: am I fatigued or am I just feeling a bit tired? For the purposes of this Quarter tiredness is something that lasts one or two days. Fatigue is a lack of energy and motivation that spans multiple days and sessions without going away.
If you train before work, it is normal to wake up feeling sleepy and reluctant to get out of bed at 5:00 AM. Usually though, working out will get your body moving and you’ll feel much better after a session - you were just a bit tired. However, if you feel flat for multiple days in a row and are losing motivation, you may need to take a few easy days or rest entirely. If my athletes mention being tired before hard consecutive sessions, I will alter their program.
On easy days between harder efforts it is normal to feel a bit rough - you should feel this way. Generally speaking though, by the next hard day you should feel ready to go again. If you’re buggered before two or three sessions in a row, you probably need to adjust training load. I always tell my athletes, you will never look back and regret taking two or three extra easy days a month; however, you might regret not taking them.
Pictured: Based on Pepe's training and life stress, she is definitely just tired, not fatigued.
November 10th, 2019
A key goal of mine with athletes is to foster independence and good decision-making. An athlete who can listen to their body and interpret conditions - then make sound decisions in a race - is an athlete who will do well more often than not. The process of developing this ability in an athlete involves the coach relinquishing a degree of control, allowing the athlete to make decisions and learn from them. It is a long process and it takes real patience. However, the end result is always worth it!
Try and improve your decision-making, using day to day training decisions as practice. When a tempo gets really tough, sit tight and hold the pace. Don’t let the pace drop in the middle of a block of 400’s. If you make hard decisions in training, then a habit will follow naturally on race day. Keep in mind though, sometimes the hardest decisions are cutting a rep or two from a session or delaying a workout an extra day to ensure you hit it.
Also, shoutout to my athlete Mani for a huge 8 minute PB yesterday at The Colony Half, running 1:24:19 for his first time under 1:30 and 1:25!
October 27th, 2019
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