Thanksgiving Week for Runners


Regardless of how much you actually celebrate this holiday (or the next big one coming up), it can also simply serve as a time to gather with family and friends.  With these two holidays comes extra time to yourself (I hope!) and time to relax your mind and decompress…and eat Mom’s world famous mashed potatoes.  Enjoy yourself this week.  Allow yourself time to do some soul searching over the next 5 weeks in total. 

As it relates to Turkey Trots, your goal there is probably an all or none mentality, right?  Meaning, you’re either still riding high on the coattails of peak fall season and you’ll therefore shoot for a 5k/10k PR, or you are in your recovery period with a mellow approach to fitness/training and you’ll jog the course with friends/family.  There’s probably not much grey area, nor would I encourage anything in between at this point.  Pick one: Go for the PR or jog it to enjoy the festivities.  For those pushing the pace that day, then yes, you should absolutely stick to your normal (healthy) routine on Wed so that you feel right on Thurs morning.  This message is not in conflict with the previous paragraph; both messages can coexist.  For the folks I’ve been coaching for at least a year, they also know that this mentality of embracing a recovery week is part of our normal training plan anyway.  You also know that this time of year (for most runners) is an extended, planned Recovery Phase.  I discuss this time of year in more detail in its own section in Chapter 2 of my book, The Art of Run Training. 

From microlevel to mesolevel to macrolevel, we have off/rest days (in a week) + recovery weeks (every 6 - 9 weeks) + a Recovery Phase (2 - 5 weeks at 1 – 2 times per year), respectively.  All 3 levels should be built into a yearly program.  If you believe that an rest day can benefit you, and if you also believe that recovery weeks are a good idea, then you must believe that a Recovery Phase is a fabulous idea.  The latter is typically 2 - 5 weeks following your peak race, and/or before your off-season, and/or during the holidays.  Fortunately for those of us in the Mid-Atlantic region, we have actual winter weather that is separated 2 - 5 weeks from peak race season.  The timing is perfect for a recovery week and a Recovery Phase. 

As we change seasons, we change the type of training we do and simultaneously change the “mental approach to training and racing” (the main service of DCRC).  Recovery weeks/phases don’t mean couch potato, nor does the off-season mean less training.  The former is an intentional recharge period; the latter is the intentional rebuild period.  The Art of Run Training outlines this whole process in more detail.

Train hard (and rest hard)!



Purpose and Pleasure

Purpose and Pleasure are the two points on the pendulum of happiness.  Remember that both exist and each has its own time and place on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  This reminder allows you to work your butt off, either professionally or with training, and not think "I'm working my life away," and it also allows you to unwind, do nothing, maybe even engage in some debauchery without thinking, "I need to get my act together."  Do both.  "Keeping the balance" doesn't mean trying to have purpose and pleasure at all times throughout a day, week or month (that's impossible).  You have to let that pendulum swing to both sides and stay there for extended periods of time.  However you choose to define "extended" is up to you...hourly, daily, weekly, etc.  Just be sure that pendulum swings back the other way at some point!  

The same is true for healthy interpersonal relationships.  Meaning, a relationship of any sort, whether it’s with siblings, coworkers, lovers or close friends, is rarely going to have a 50-50 split of responsibility, effort and energy.  Sometimes you’ll be carrying 80% of the load and other times the other people in your life will be carrying more than half the share.  What’s important is that at the end of the year there’s a mutually perceived balance in the aspects of the relationship that matter most.  As long as you know this in advance, then you’re better able to surf the ebb and flow of the different waves that enter the relationship.  Once again, we’re reminded that “knowledge is power” and “foresight is more powerful than hindsight”.  So, “keeping the balance” among any facets of your life should not involve constantly trying to ensure an equal share/split among those facets at all times, because to do so is what drives many people bonkers.  Let the ebb and flow happen.  

As it relates to training, this is why I love the periodization model of training theory (chapter 2 of my book) because it allows for this ebb and flow to occur over a period of many weeks, months or even the entire year.  We don’t need to, nor should we, try to focus on all elements of training in one week or one season.  Otherwise, overtraining and mental burnout are inevitable.  This is the main service I offer with DCRC: The mental approach to training and racing, as in knowing when to prioritize certain types of training and workouts and when to back off in favor of other activities.  All the while, periodization is geared to keeping you injury free, happy and reaching a peak level of fitness in the fall, which is racing season (running season).  You can’t be all things, all the time in relation to your training.  The body can’t handle it and/or you’ll mentally burn out.

I read a fascinating research article a few months ago about the experience of a midlife crisis.  Why it happens, who it happens to, how intense it becomes, and how long it lasts (if at all).  It was a very good empirical review of the topic.  Regret is often what rests at the base of a midlife crisis (if someone is to have one), and it’s found that those with less regret tend to fly right past any such crisis, and that makes logical sense to me.  So, to come full circle in talking about purpose and pleasure, make sure you’re not living with any regrets.  Avoid feeling regretful or guilty when highly engaged in either purpose or pleasure.

Additionally, don’t dwell on past mistakes or past negativity.  Learn from those experiences if/when you recall them, but don’t dwell…there’s a big difference between those two different ways of recalling the past.  Similarly, don’t get caught up on not having accomplished something that was once a goal.  If you still think you can achieve it, then sure, “never give up on your hopes and dreams.”  But if another reality quite simply states (objectively) that you can’t achieve it or get it back, then that’s a bit harder to move past, but you must move past it.  I always thought I’d compete in the Olympic Games, but so much for that.  At least I have 8 more lives to try again.  There’s lots of clichés and sappy songs about how to "move on,” and I can dig it.  

Allow yourself a pleasurable life and don’t feel guilty about it.  Being selfish is very highly correlated with happiness, but the key there is to change the definition of the word "selfish."  As long as you’re not harming others or detracting from their happiness to gain your own, then this display of selfishness may actually be needed for your own happiness.  Otherwise, how often are you needlessly depriving yourself of pleasure and happiness!?  Keep the pendulum on both ends of the spectrum at various points.  As a coach, I don’t want a healthy, active lifestyle to detract from your purpose or your pleasure; rather, my aim is for your training to contribute a little bit to your purpose and your pleasure.

Train hard!



Old School Training vs. New School Training

It’s the end of July; your summer run training doesn’t have to hit peak volume yet, and that applies to everyone, regardless of what fall race(s) you’re training for.  Yes, most of you are running more miles, or at least longer long runs, than you did in the spring, but summer training can still place a bit of priority on ST and XT while the run mileage settles into a nice steady level (this is not a bad thing).  Some of you are getting over some minor injuries, some of you are dealing with hectic summer travel schedules (or kids’ schedules), and others are trying new types of training (including running form), any of which won’t necessarily be the case for the fall.  With that in mind, remain patient and be mellow.  

I address this topic in more detail in another Blog titled “Time”.  So, when considering whether you still have enough time to train for your peak fall race, the answer for most of you is “yes."  I am contractually forbidden from telling a lie.

On the topic of mileage, a simple Amazon search on run books will show the increasing popularity of the training method dedicated to running faster on less mileage.  This isn’t a new strategy; it’s just that it’s taken a while to be embraced by the run community against the grain of the “more mileage means more fitness” mentality that has dominated for so many years.  U.S. pro runners learned that more isn’t always better, as our top times plateaued for a loooong time while we tried the more-mileage approach.  Meanwhile, the rest of the world kept getting faster.  "More mileage means more fitness” is true, but only to a degree, or else we’d all be running 100-mile weeks in order to improve.  To tie this back to the first paragraph, put that extra time into ST, XT, PT, massage, and more ST, especially in the summer (it mirrors the winter in that sense).  

There’s plenty of time for us to hit key long runs in the fall and increase the total run volume/mileage too at that point.  Yes, my goal is to get athletes to do more running (up to a point), but I’m not hell-bent on it as a coach.  If you can’t stand on 1 leg for 30 seconds without wobbling, then trust me, more mileage isn’t your #1 priority (insert plug for ST here ____).  

“More mileage” is old school, just like “weight lifting”, as the latter has been replaced by “strength training.”  "Weight lifting" dominated for years because it was new and took up lots of space in local gyms, so why wouldn’t you do “weight lifting,” right?  Now with the popularity of Pilates, TRX and functional training, we have better ST.  In sum, don’t be old school, and don’t stress about mileage.  I’d rather a runner be more obsessive and neurotic about even pacing during track workouts and/or perfect ST form.

Keep enjoying your summer, the fall isn’t close enough yet, so keep your fall races out of your head and live in the moment.  

To use a Caps metaphor, this means it’s still not quite time to Unleash The Fury! 

Train hard!


P.S.  Next year is the Caps’ year.


Plyometric Training ("plyos")

Plyometrics (“plyos”) are typically a series of jumping and bounding movements of which the aim is to increase the strength of the joints, tendons and ligaments in the legs, as well as to increase muscular power, as differentiated from strength.  The difference between strength and power is the speed of the movement, with powerful movements being performed more quickly.  A plyometric exercise is a quick, powerful movement using the spring-like action of the tendons.  Jumping rope and sprinting can be considered plyometric exercises, with jumping rope being a great option for an extended warmup prior to a strength training (ST) workout.

Power has been associated with improvements in running economy (RE).  Studies have appeared in the scientific literature demonstrating that eliminating portions of endurance training in favor of explosive activities or adding plyos to an existing running program for six to nine weeks can improve RE and performances in short-distance racing without needing to see an accompanying change in VO2max.  These benefits are evident regardless of ability, gender or age. 

These results are best understood in that any time a muscle group becomes stronger and more powerful, fewer muscle fibers are recruited to perform the given task, thus allowing the muscle group to have more fibers in reserve for continued work.  Basically, this means that less energy is used to cover the same distance.  Since the discovery of this concept, it has been shown that power training, not just ST, will lead to enhancements in running economy.  Of course there is no substitute for running if one wants to run faster and farther; however, during peak racing season, as the run volume gradually decreases, plyos are another option for maintaining high-intensity workouts (in addition to speed workouts).

A plyos program is typically done one or two times a week and is based on the total number of foot contacts, or “touches.”  For beginners, the recommended range is between 60 - 100 touches for a few weeks, before progressing toward 100 touches for a few more weeks and then beyond (capping the total touches at 140).  Reps can be performed as double-leg exercises (both feet jump, or contact the ground, at the same time) or as single-leg exercises, although single-leg plyos should be reserved for experienced athletes.  Sometimes additional equipment can be used to add variety and difficulty into these workouts, like small hurdles and boxes. 

Plyos are a great compliment to ST and can even be done as a warm-up on lower body ST days, but don’t underestimate how strenuous these exercises can be.  For many of the exercises, it’s not necessarily the muscles that are the target for strengthening; rather, it’s the joints, tendons and ligaments.  With that said, these aren’t always muscle-burning exercises or workouts, so don’t mistakenly take that mentality into a plyos workout.  With that said, before starting any plyos training, I recommend completing at least six weeks of general ST in order to strengthen these body parts that incur more stress when performing various jumping and hopping exercises.  I recommend plyos as long as an athlete is familiar/comfortable with jumping exercises in general.  Do not do plyos unless there is 100% certainly on the landing mechanics for each exercise.  Similar to how I frame a discussion on proper ST technique, if you couldn’t teach jumping and landing mechanics to a small group, then your plyos form probably isn’t ideal.

Train hard!



A Day of Fasting & Beverages


Consider a "day of fasting" where you significantly cut back your caloric intake one day each week.  It makes the most sense to do this on the day you don't workout or the day with the lightest workout.  One strategy to use on that day is a liquid diet, where you can do a 1-day juice cleanse (as they call it), or use some meal replacement shakes.  If you don't own any such products then make a mental note for the next time you visit the grocery store (tons of options these days).  You can also ask yourself in general about which food items you can eliminate from your list.  As a quick aside, and you've heard this from multiple sources before: go to the grocery store on a full stomach, not an empty stomach. 

Another side note: Don't mistake the feeling of hunger as a sign you need to eat, as hunger is often a symptom of dehydration.  Drink more water in order to curb your appetite.  Drink water exclusively as your way to hydrate (zero calories).  Unless you're using another beverage as a meal replacement, try to limit yourself to just water, even if it's zero/low-calorie vitamin-mineral water of some type (just keep an eye on the sugar content). 

Everything in moderation, right?  I slug down a cherry Coke when I go to the movies because it tastes great with popcorn.  I don't lose any sleep over drinking a soda at the movies once per month, nor should you be guilt tripping yourself each time you stray from your diet plan.  If you find that you're unable to stick with your diet plan and feelings of guilt are too frequent and/or intense, then maybe it's your diet plan that needs to change.  This is no different from the Goal Setting 101 lessons that are applied to your training program, your career goals, your daily to-do list, and you name it.  Make your goals realistic.  Will power certainly helps you stick with your goals, but make sure you have a specific, actionable component to your goals/diet because that'll make it easier to monitor and adhere to a plan. 

I encourage you to reflect upon your diet plan, your grocery list, ways you can reduce your caloric intake, ways you can lead by example around co-workers in this regard, and whether your diet is even being monitored at all.  As humans, we have highly adaptive mental skills to rationalize everything we do, including what we put into you bodies.  If you have ambitious running goals, then what you put into your body (how you fuel the machine) should receive attention.  Zooming out into a broader viewpoint, think about how much your diet is contributing to your injuries, your sleep, your energy levels and your mood.  "There ain't no wealth but your health."


Find Your Own Haven & Voice

I've previously written on the topic of Breakthrough Performances.  As it pertains to this blog in particular, ask yourself: "Where do I have my best workouts?Which trail, route, course, or track always treats you well?  Or, which place do you only visit sporadically that seems to allow you to have your best workouts?  I refer to such places as "havens." 

The other question to ask is: "Whose voice do I hear in my head when I need to keep pushing myself?"

I went to my own haven last week, the track at Widener University (my alma mater) and had my best track workout of the past 2 years.  It also helped that I ran into my old track coach as I was jogging down to the track.  We only had a single minute to chat, but as I turned to keep jogging he said in a purposeful voice, "Hey...workout hard today!"  I had his voice in my head during a few moments of the the workout and it kept me focused.  I turned in my fastest times in recent history without an increase in perceived exertion.  This is the power of positive self-talk and imagery done correctly.  Who is the voice inside your head?  I assume it's your own voice 90% of the time, but what about the other 10% of the time?   

A few months ago, I finished Stephen King's book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (what a genius mind!), and he said that he always had the voice of his wife (also a writer) in his head when he was contemplating decisions about his stories (or similar).  He welcomed an extra (conjured) voice to help him break through decisions about his writing.  In sum, not only should you have a place where you can go for A-game workouts (King created his own haven, his own special writing room in his house), but you should also have a good default setting for the voice of your internal dialogue while training.  You don't need a voice all of the time (shutting the brain off is a hallmark of elite athletics and a central theme in my book on run training), but when you do have a voice, choose one wisely.  Keep it in reserve, like a "Break in Case of Emergency" glass case.

Train hard!



Run in the Snow

In case the sun god melts away our final amount of snow until next year, here is a blurb to help you through this final week.  Personally, I enjoy the snow runs because they are a unique run you only get a few chances to do each year.  It’s also enjoyable to me because you can also feel like a kid again.  On my last run in the snow I took a few minutes to simply run up the steepest sections of hills to see if I could make it to the top before gravity and the slickness made me slide back down (thank goodness for long tree branches).  If you're hell-bent on monitoring your pace for every run then you might miss out on the opportunity to "practice random acts of childness."  Our brains (dopamine receptors) need new stimuli.  Fact.

Coincidentally, I just received this recap from a runner I coach, and it's good to hear these tales from others, so it’s not all just coming from one place: "Ran in the snow!  It was like being 5 again.  Saw a couple other runners out there.  This one old man in striped spandex was pretty cool.  I felt gratitude to live so close to a park where I can just pop right into the park for an easy, scenic long run route.  Didn't trudge, didn't get too cold, nice peaceful, flat and quiet run."

I have sections on running in cold weather and the snow in the recent book I published on training and coaching.  Run form is very much related to determining who might slip on the ice and who won't.  It's not related to pace (at least not as much as you might think).  Give it a read.  Hopefully that section motivates you to stay outside and not resort to the treadmill.  I understand there may be a time and a place for the latter, but I view that decision mostly as a way of life.  I do give credit to those who opt for the treadmill rather than scrapping the workout altogether, but hopefully you can rearrange your schedule to still do the runs outside. 

I had a flashback today to the only (single) time I ever ran on a treadmill...spawned by the fact that I saw that very treadmill in the same local gym.  That session was ~7 years ago (in late Feb) and only lasted 8.5 minutes before I decided there's got to be more to life.  I then bundled up and did ~15 laps around my small neighborhood block since the roads were too treacherous.  It feels good to feel alive and that's what being outdoors in any/all conditions does for me, and that is how/why I consider it a way of life.

Train hard!



Body Types

During a recent hill workout with my group, we arrived at the bottom of the hill midway through the workout and were greeted by a woman walking her uber-fit looking dog, who had a ton of energy.  We all know dogs are better than cats, so I used the extra 10-second recovery before the next rep to say hello to the dog (and the owner).  She said, "Oh, I bet he could keep up with you going up that hill."  My initial thought was, "I bet you dollars to gel packs that this dog would not only keep up, but this dog would smoke us up that hill and never be seen again."  I had that thought because I noticed this dog looked like a running machine!  The legs, the muscles, and even its eye of the tiger.  Body type has an effect on ability and performance.   

An athlete should dedicate his/her off-season (wintertime for the Mid-Atlantic area) to reshaping the body (composition).  This doesn't mean we have to be vain.  Although I recognize that "looking good" is motivating for some people to a degree, the research shows this is one of the least motivating reasons for exercise/training.  So, to repeat, transform your body so that you perform well.  Running faster and/or farther will then be easier.  You'll feel like an athlete and that's a wonderful feeling.  There is certainly no harm to your self-esteem and confidence if you are confident in your abilities...and happy with how you look, which you all should be.

In the breeding of animals, we do breed some types of dogs and horses to be faster and stronger.  We have the capacity to be very direct and selective with animals, yet not so much with humans.  Sports Illustrated continues to run its "body type" issue each year, where athletes representing the full spectrum of different sports are posing in their skimmies in black-and-white images.  With a bit of photo shopping, you get to see what the body types look like across various sports.  Some body types are more advantageous for basketball, some are better for discus throwing, and others are better suited to sprint up a hill like a wild dog.  My observation comes on the heels of finishing a marvelously written book The Sports Gene by David Epstein, who was a pretty good collegiate runner himself.  It's now in my top-5 books of all time, which is a damn tough honor to achieve.   

The book highlights how our loooong genetic evolution has made certain populations of humans (based on ethnicity and/or region) primed for certain athletic pursuits.  Nature vs. Nurture?  It's always both, but this book delves more in detail about the who, what, when, where, why and how of elite performance from the point of view of genetics, muscle fiber types, height, leg length, ankle mass, and you name it.  Epstein is an outstanding writer.  He presents clarity in his points, he's very clever and witty, and extremely on-point with a scientific mind that helps dispel many myths we once held about elite performance.  He even covers the game of chess in chapter 1 when he explains the vision/eyesight of elite athletes and why/how it's different than the general population.  Even if you have no interest in reading about "sports," you can believe that this book often merely uses sports as a backdrop.  If you're like me and you get excited reading about evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, anthropology and history, then add it to your wish list.

To come back to the main point, without becoming obsessed with your body, continue to brainstorm and be brutally honest with yourself about how you can change your body, or if you even want to, or need to.  Consider how it can help you reach your goals.  Are your nagging injuries due to weak muscles, not enough muscles/strength, or extra weight you're carrying around?  The Sports Illustrated issue I mentioned above reminds us that mom and dad gave us our body types, we can only change them by so much (or so little).  However, even though your upper and lower limits are set, that middle portion in between is large! Maximize it!  

"Most people start running in order to get fit, whereas more people should first be getting fit in order to run."  This quote reminds us to take your strength training and cross-training to heart if you have ambitious running goals.  You don't have to look like "a runner" to perform your best, but you should revisit your checklist of what it is that you can do to love yourself (your body...that thing that hosts your consciousness, which makes you human).

Train hard!



Now vs. Later (What to Focus on During Winter)

In January of last year, I wrote a blog about Time and being patient with your winter training and not pulling the trigger too quickly on your emotional involvement with your spring race calendar.  It is still only January and we don't need to be thinking too much about spring races right now.  With 5 more weeks left in the true off-season period, make it count.  Pack it in now before the spring race season arrives.  Generally speaking, we shift gears both mentally and physically once March 1st hits, with strength training (ST) getting slightly less priority as your race schedule gets broken in and your weekend runs become more intense.

In order for an off-season to be effective and to accomplish its goals, we need it to be relatively long.  8 weeks would be the absolute minimum, but as non-professional athletes, we tend to have much more catching up to do in terms of general strength, specific strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and athleticism, all of which are related to your race performances and your ability to make your ST sessions dynamic and functional.  So, we want to make the off-season 16-20 weeks in order to better prepare the body for the harder training that will come in the summer and fall.  "Most people run to get fit, whereas more people should be getting fit so that they can run."

Month to month we should begin to make subtle shifts mentally in terms of prioritizing certain types of workouts and how much emotional energy we're giving to spring racing.  As I remind my athletes each fall, a training program in Dec should look much different that it does in Sept.  Similarly, February and March training should look different than Dec, and so on.  The physical aspects of training and the mental components will hand in hand.  Keep the focus on ST right now, it's still only January and you’re not racing.  Carry that gym rat approach through the end of Feb and transform your body as much as possible via ST, XT and PT.  Knowing that all of these off-the-field aspects of training are taken care of lends itself to lots of confidence at the start line of spring races.  But as I stated above, you have to be really dedicated to these aspects of the off-season or else the changes won't happen.

It takes many, many weeks of training and repetitions (ST, XT and PT) to attain benefits.  No PT or chiro has ever said, "Just do those exercises here and there once or twice per week and you'll be fine."  That would be rubbish.  You can't fake fitness and you can't fake functional corrections in the body.  It either is, or it isn't.  Injuries are not mysterious; nobody is "unlucky" in that regard.  Stronger, leaner, more resilient athletes don't get injured, and now you know why.  They become stronger, leaner and more resilient because they beat the hell out of their bodies (in a good way, without overdoing it) for a long, dedicated off-season.  Read any of their post-race championship interviews and you'll see what I mean.  Therein is lots of motivation for ST in February.

The reason I encourage everyone to delay this shift toward racing and race mode is mostly due to the principle of specificity of training and also due to the weather.  Remember, the physical aspects of training and the mental components go hand in hand.  Meaning, if the specificity of training is still relatively low in January, then I doubt that you're feeling (mentally) your spring races during your workouts.  Rather than dabble in a grey area of "mental training," I say nay...just wait until late Feb or March 1st to get fired up for spring racing.  There will be more connections between mind and body at that time because, a) your legs will feel fresher/faster due to less intense and less frequent lower-body ST, b) your run workouts, like track work and select long runs, will begin to resemble races, and c) we can't forget about the large role that weather has.

Each summer I encourage all of my athletes who are running a peak fall marathon or Half not to be in "race mode" yet.  Why?  Because if you honestly think that a 2 hour run in 90-degree weather with 85% humidity gives you any resemblance of the "feel" or your fall marathon, then you are unnecessarily dooming yourself.  I would take it a step further and say that you're dabbling in a grey area of mental training and detracting from your confidence.  So, the same rationale about the summer also applies to the winter.  Regardless of how well you train in the winter (god bless you all), the winter is not the spring.  You cannot deny the effects that the weather has on our bodies during key workouts.  Don't compare apples to oranges.  Don't compare summer slugfests vs. perfect fall weather.  Don't compare how your body feels in 35-degree weather with slightly fatigued legs vs. perfect spring weather on fresher legs.  In sum, if you are struggling to "feel" the races during your winter workouts, then stop trying, there's no reason to put dents in your confidence.  Put that mental energy back into ST, XT, PT.  Patience is a virtue, but in this respect, the real virtue is in understanding the body-mind connection because specificity of training applies to the mental training too.  As you may guess, you can insert here what you think I would say about exact pacing (and garmins) during Jan/Feb. 

Train hard!