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 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
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