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!
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
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.
Pictured Left: Me reminding myself how much I want it before a track session
March 24th, 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!
Pictured Left: Sausage, the best sleeper I know!
March 17th, 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
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!
Pictured left, Staying fast while relaxed is key
February 24th, 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!
Pictured left, The Wife staring down a 5 AM run
February 17th, 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)!
Pictured left, Patrick Strong doing heavy deads in his gym (sorry neighbors)
February 11th, 2019