Center of the Running Universe

"Happiness mainly comes from our attitude, rather than external factors." –Dalai Lama

Does the title Center of the Running Universe refer to the actual sun, as in that's how freakin' hot it can get in the summer in DC and it feels like we're running on the sun?  No.  The title has more to do with the fact that many runners always keep chuggin' along, seemingly unaffected by adverse weather.  Hence, the quote above applies to your training.  Here is how it works:

The track workouts for DC Running Coach runners go very well in the summer.  Remember there are a few ways to alter your workout in the hot summer weeks.  So, let's get the mundane advice out of the way.  Adapt, adapt, adapt.  Keep checking the weather in advance and swap your workouts to take advantage of days where it isn't as hot or humid.  Push your long run back as many days as you need to, or cut down the duration of the run.  You can also spend half the run on a treadmill in instances like this.  If the treadmill is at your gym with a shower, then you can cool off there as soon as you're done.  "We always make time and adapt for the things we really want to do." –Common Knowledge

Living in DC, I see many, many runners out running well after 10pm every night of the week, including the weekends.  Based on your schedule this may not be feasible, but I can only give them respect for staying dedicated.  Not everyone can run early in the morning due to their schedules, so when I encourage folks to try running in the evening, I'm usually talking about after 8pm.

Stay motivated.  The weather isn't always ideal, but stay motivated.  The runners working toward a goal that they value are finding ways to get around the winter/summer weather (see above).  Adjusting goals is also important, so remember that intensity is more important than pace (ahem, Garmin runners).

The last section of the Training Notes document I send to all my athletes is entitled Run Happy.  This is my attempt to give the secret to running-happiness and find the center of your running-universe.  The Dalai Lama was just in town, so the timing is appropriate.  Even with the hot conditions, you should never have a "bad" run.  Impossible.  What was your mental approach to the run that made it so horrible by the time you finished?  If world champions, whose competitive goals are loftier than ours, never have a bad workout, then why should we? 

Someone once asked me if I ever have days when I don't feel like running.  Yes.  As a matter of fact, the week I was asked contained one of those days.  It may have been one of my slower runs on paper, but a great run during its entirety.  How so?  I was outside, I like being outside.  I finished the run for the allotted time I wanted to hit; that was important.  I found a new street in DC I'd never been down before, that's always cool.  And it meant I could take the following day as a rest day.  So there were lots of reasons it was a good run despite the fact I really did not want to start the run and being that it was slow as molasses. 

And as they say, there are always greater tragedies in the world.  Stay positive.  Don't let your training program dictate your mood during the week, don't let running ever get you down.  There can be many turns in life that call for lots of mental energy and stress management, don't make physical activity one of those events.  Balancing your work, play, social life, and personal relationships is what it means to be human and I never lose sight of that.  That's why it's important we stay in touch and that's how a coach differs from online training programs.  There needs to be the capacity to sympathize or empathize (difference) with the circumstances surrounding your run training and/or the goals you want to hit.  Train, run, work out, exercise, etc because you want to, because you enjoy the activity for its own sake, and because you value being fit and healthy.  If you can do that and maintain whatever competitive edge you have and still strive toward goals, then more power to you.  I'm here to help no matter where you fall along that continuum.




Marathon Pace Calculators

What method will you use to predict your marathon time this fall?  Most runners have heard of the Yasso 800's workout.  Other runners use pace calculators that can be found online and these allow you to plug in a recent result of any race distance and get a correlated time for all other race distances.  Other runners (and I would argue most runners) just go out and run each week and use the pace of  their most recent weekend long runs as the benchmark for how they predict they'll do on the day of the big event.  Each have their merits, but I wanted to focus specifically on the pace calculators (charts).

When it comes to giving my athletes predicted- or goal-times for any given race, there are a myriad of factors to consider.  Above all, I use the detailed chart found in the book Daniel's Running Formula and it remains the foundation of how I give predicted times, paired with a dash of the art of coaching.  The Daniel's Formula is perhaps the most trusted source, so why try to reinvent the wheel?  The man certainly did more than his share of homework in putting it all together for the rest of the running world.  However, the art of coaching that I sometimes (not always) insert is based on other factors the chart does not consider, most importantly the specificity of the training.  This principle leads to the marathon distance.  With any other race distance, we can usually assume the chart to be accurate because the general distance of your training runs will bring you to the start line in good shape from 5k through half marathon.  However, because marathons require the greatest specificity of training (along with racing 1-mile or shorter), they usually have the greatest fluctuation in predicted times (as you might predict).

There are many more variables to consider at the marathon distance that don't show up on the radar at shorter distances, such as a breakdown in running form, whether it be a shorter stride and/or poor posture at the end of the race.  When considering muscular endurance, how much strength training have you done?  Fueling and/or stomach distress also become variables at the marathon distance and not at the shorter distances.  Additionally, weather becomes more of a factor as distance increases.  In sum, be careful when extrapolating data from short-distance races into the marathon.  Even a Half-Marathon can mislead a runner.  For instance, if you ran 1:40:00 in a half marathon, then your predicted marathon time would be ~3:28:00; however, this assumes you are marathon-ready.  If your longest training run has only been 10 miles and you don't do any strength training for your glutes, hips, and hamstrings, then I wouldn't predict you to finish near 3:28:00 at your upcoming marathon, regardless of your recent half marathon performance.

There are several factors I consider in giving any goal time, which are often intangible factors, including the personality of the runner.  In any case, pace calculators can be slippery.  As mentioned above, consider the weather.  It is difficult for the experienced/ advanced runners to hit a PR in the summer months due to the adverse effects of heat and the window for improvement being relatively small for these runners.  Most world records (or even local course records) are typically set in conditions of overcast, no wind, and mid-50's/ low 60's temperatures.  This is the weather most conducive to limiting sweat, yet not so cold that it restricts blood flow to the muscles.  So, if you have been racing and training consistently for almost 10 years, I would expect your PRs to occur in the spring or fall (fall is known as "running season" for this reason).  On the other hand, the average runner, by definition, has limited race experience, has not tapped his/her full potential, and is still learning the tricks of the trade.  So yes, I could expect some runners to set a PR in non-ideal race conditions. 

Having the correct goal laid out in front of you is all part of our positive mental approach to running in which we need to recognize what is challenging, yet realistic.  We become mature and wise athletes in knowing how to account for variables such as course terrain, weather, fueling, and running form (and many more).  To overlook these variables in calculating your predicted marathon time would cause a coach to pull you back onto the learning curve.  Make sure you don't get caught up thinking every race should be a PR, or that you should be getting faster and faster every week, it's not always possible given conditions that are outside of your control.  If the conditions are under your control then do everything you can to maximize that potential! 

Each of the methods mentioned in the first paragraph has its merits when attempting to predict a marathon finish time, but they also have their limitations.  Specificity of training must be very high for these predictions to actually work, which means doing long runs at the goal pace and high volume training at specific points in the year.  Lo and behold, the beauty of having a coach to help guide you in these directions.  

Good luck at your next race, whatever the distance may be.

Train hard!



Core Training, Pilates & Yoga

The Six-Pack
As a coach and personal trainer, I am asked too often about “how to get a ripped 6-pack.”  I’m more inclined to help an athlete achieve a stronger core than get “ripped abs.”  Having a strong core has nothing to do the appearance of your mid-section.  Your core refers to the your abdominals, back, glutes, hips, and every muscle surrounding your thigh.  These are the muscles that help control posture and stride length.  Posture and stride length are strongly associated with running performance among sprinters and distance runners alike, but a strong core is also important for power athletes, as a body in poor alignment would not generate as much force for a given movement.  Many of the world class athletes in track and field’s throwing events could be considered overweight, but their core strength and power are ten-fold compared to athletes in other sports.  Therefore, in order to generate higher forces, the biomechanics of the movement must be ideal.  Biomechanics is aided by proper body positioning via a stronger mid-section.  If a ST routine is kept dynamic and functional, then virtually every exercise performed could be considered core training, namely for the same reason that running is a great core workout.  When performed with proper form, both dynamic ST and running generate high forces, which leads to a great core workout.

Yoga & Pilates

Pilates and yoga are both great for core strength and posture.  They both emphasize body awareness as it relates to the principles of proper running posture and rhythmic breathing.  Another benefit of these two modes of training is that they teach one how to focus on pain and discomfort, which is vital in learning positive self-talk, a skill I discuss in other chapters of this book.  I am a strong proponent of Pilates and yoga, but if push came to shove in terms of building strength, then I would choose Pilates over yoga.  Both are challenging, both require coordination, but Pilates is more specific to running, as it incorporates more true strength work for the leg muscles, even though this exists to a degree in yoga.  Furthermore, doing more yoga “to gain flexibility” isn’t necessary unless a physical therapist or trainer has diagnosed you with a range of motion limitation.  If a person is already flexible enough to establish proper running mechanics, then improving flexibility does not further enhance run performance.  To reiterate, I prefer Pilates because there’s more emphasis on strength work rather than on isometric contractions and range of motion.

Cross-training and Peak Fitness
There is a potential drawback of runners doing too much yoga during the week.  I can easily equate this to doing too much of any form of cross-training (XT).  The answer lies in Specificity of Training.  When do we place the priority on yoga, ST and other forms of XT?  Answer: the off-season, when specificity of training is at its lowest.  During this time you can go crazy with ST, I encourage it, and we should plan a period of reduced run training anyway.  However, for those that hit a peak race in the Spring, you are entitled to another off-season period following that race, as in a Boston marathoner taking the entire month of May to recover and do more XT (for example).  

The point is that there may come a time when doing too much stretching and ST conflicts with your run training and leaves you even more fatigued during the week.  Imagine that: A relaxing yoga class contributing to stress on the body (and therefore the mind via the feedback loop).  When XT conflicts with your run training, either in terms of scheduling or energy levels, remember the principle of specificity of training and keep running the priority.  So yes, it is possible to overtrain with XT.  This is also the reason XT eventually doesn't make it through the funnel we call "tapering".  If you cut down your run volume to taper for your big fall race, but then make up for it all with poor XT choices then you've defeated the purpose of the taper.  

Train hard (and choose your cross-training wisely)!



Breakthrough Performances

This blog is a good follow-up to the last entry about the hilly, rolling terrain in the DC area.

What is a Breakthrough Performance, and why the capital letters?  In a nutshell, a breakthrough performance is a workout or race that exceeds an athlete’s own expectations and is usually an invigorating experience that changes the mental approach to training/racing.  These only happen every once in a while, hence the term.  However, it’s possible to increase the likelihood of a breakthrough performance depending on how the program is planned.  Every now and then I encourage a runner to find a flat course so that he/she can really put the pedal to the metal without hills becoming a factor.  For instance, when was the last time you did an entire long run on totally flat terrain?  Long, flat paths allow a runner to feel fitter after several weeks on rolling courses.  In turn, that may be the breakthrough performance being sought.  Similarly, after racing a flat 5k, a runner might think, “Wow, I had no idea I could run that fast!”   

After returning from a trip to Boulder, CO (high altitude) one year, I would have been a fool not to race that next weekend.  I had a great race, a huge 8k PR on a flat course and I rode that Rocky Mountain high the entire race season.  There’s no substitute for that kind of confidence boost.  To repeat, if you haven’t done so in a while, then go long on a flat course and maybe you’ll exceed your own expectations.  In the end, you know you've had one of these performances when you can reach your arms to the sky above and think, "YES!" like Rod Dixon in the image above after winning the 1983 NYC Marathon in dramatic fashion.  This is my favorite picture associated with running because I think it embodies the idea of the Breakthrough Performance.

On a related note, when was the last time you trained somewhere new?  Have you memorized every crack in the road on your routes?  Have you ever run your favorite route in reverse?  Are you using different options for hill repeats?  Tried running on a different track or driving to a new course/trail?  Changing paths or taking a new side street is something I encourage in order to help break out of a mental training rut and/or a physical plateau.  If we are not overly concerned with the exact pace or exact miles for most of our distance runs, then we can break up the monotony and explore new grounds.  Sometimes it will lead to a hillier route, which we shouldn’t fear.  This could also mean running at a different time of day, which might stimulate a breakthrough or sorts.

Having a route or track that consistently produces good results is a good idea when seeking a breakthrough performance.  Everyone should have a go-to place for when they want to have a stellar workout.  Call it a haven.  Some people have a race they do every year for this reason because they always seem to race well there.  Others only visit such grounds every now and then as to not abuse the privilege.  I try to schedule my hardest track workout of the year for a weekend I know I can swing by my alma mater, and once per year I have my best workout on a track where I love to run.  Some of you may now be thinking, “Shouldn’t the goal be to replicate that feeling all the time…at every workout?”  Correct!  You’re on to something.  However, I will only point out that by definition, not every workout can achieve the status of “breakthrough.”  It’s similar to the old adage, “If everything is special, then nothing is special.”   

Although it can be a subjective experience, the take home message is that even as we have great workouts on a frequent basis, only a few can, by definition, be considered breakthrough performances.

Train hard!