Archive for Racing

Is STRAVA The Newest Coaching Tool?


I was chatting recently with an athlete I just started working with about an upcoming marathon she had planned to run. I am excited about the opportuity to be working with her; regardless of how talented she might be, she is eager to learn and understands that contrary to popular belief, it doesn't take gobs of talent OR huge sacrifice to pursue our dreams and goals and approach our ultimate potential.  All it really takes are four things:

  1. willingness to be honest with ourselves
  2. a never ending desire to learn
  3. a commitment to relentless, smart work 
  4. the patience to do things the right way and stay the course

As she and I discussed whether she should follow through with her plans to run the marathon, which incidently was only a few weeks away, I decided that reviewing the plan she had been following would give me a sense of her preparation, so I asked her to forward it to me.

As I looked the plan over, I instantly recognized what I believe is the most serious and common flaw of many marathon training plans.  

I have to admit I wasn't that surprised to see it - I've seen it over and over again in many different plans written by many different coaches.

What is that flaw? Simply put, it is completing that last long run too close to race day. 

When I brought up the topic of this all-too-common mistake, she replied: "...all I have to say is, it's really incredible how hard it is to undo mass perception like that!  To be honest, while it makes complete sense, I had never heard that before!  The proliferation of social media and Strava in particular, gave me some insight into how some of my friends train who also race, and they certainly haven't applied this approach." 

I thought to myself, WOW...have we reached a point where Strava, is now not only a place to race for an "FKT" or fastest known time, but is now also a coaching tool?

  • Are you an athlete who decides how you should train by watching what others do (often total strangers) and apply what you see them do, to your training?  
  • Do you assume that because someone might be faster, you should train like them?
  • Do you believe that there is a "one size fits all" when it comes to training?

It seems to me that with the popularity of Strava (and other social media), the inclination for some to follow others or see what they do and use that as coaching guidance, without really understanding how that might be helping OR hurting, is an ever increasing problem.

Who knows why others are doing what they're doing, or whether THEY might go even FASTER if they employed a different approach?

If you've shown up on race day with tired legs and performed below your potential as a result, give this topic some serious consideration. Resist the temptation to blindly trust the plan or the "expert" giving you advice.

Learn. Think. Train smart.

For a much more in-depth review of what I believe is the best overall approach for tapering into your marathon or iron distance triathlon, check out this blog post I wrote prior to last year's Boston Marathon entitled "Old Habits Die Hard." 

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

What Is The ONE THING You Need MOST To Be Successful?


Recently I had a conference call with a group of triathletes who were seeking advice. I asked them point blank: as athletes, what was the one thing they needed to do, or pay more attention to, that would help them realize their ultimate potential? Of course this highly competitive group of high achieving type-A athletes, all with big future aspirations for racing, enthusiastically dug right in and started bantering back and forth.

They tossed around lots of ideas including reflecting  on their experiences and what they've learned. We talked about hard work, their desire to learn and the need to be increasingly honest about things like movement quality and maintaining life balance.  They agreed that the stakes have been raised and along with it, the external and internal pressure to go faster or farther and make it look easier, is increasing like never before.  (Are you feeling it?)

One thing they collectively agreed on was that training and racing (while maintaining life balance) are different now and in some ways, more challenging than ever.  The "game" as we might have known it once, has clearly changed.

Athletes and coaches now have access to more information than in the past. There are more "experts" than you can count, and because of the growth (and pervasiveness) of social media, we know more about what each other is doing than ever before. (Is it me, or do you also feel like your Facebook "friends" are running, swimming, or riding faster, easier, and farther than you are?)

Technology (equipment, power meters for bike and run, GPS devices, etc.) continues to advance at an incredible rate of speed, and along with it, the software to analyze what the technology is telling us about how "good" we are.

Still, they all struggled to identify that one thing which would make the biggest difference?

When I sensed that they were getting frustrated, I shared with them what I thought the key was.

From my perspective, more athletes than ever before want IT, NOW, whatever "it" might be at that moment in time. Think of it as instant gratification.

I explained how frustrating it sometimes is when I talk with an athlete and realize that while it is clear they can see what it is they need to do, they rarely perceive or understand. 

What do I mean by that? Because you look at something or think about it, doesn't mean you truly perceive or understand it. Because something is instantly available to your vision doesn't mean that it is instantly available to your consciousness.

Seeing is direct, immediate, uncomplicated. To perceive the details, the order of things, the connectivity and integration, takes time.

And time... is the one thing we just don't afford ourselves of, anymore.

Listen...I know what you're thinking, and I get it.

Life is short, there's little time to waste.  You'd better jump now or your chance might slip away....right?

The problem is, very often in a well intentioned effort to achieve or do more, we end up with a lot less.

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  • We rush through, refusing to take the time to work on basic and fundamental skills. We're more inclined to just hammer away and attempt more volume, and then wonder why we get injured or never go as fast we would like.  
  • We don't take the time or have the patience to hold our effort in check early on in training sessions, races, or entire seasons, and then wonder why we fatigue more quickly or finish slower than we had hoped, sometimes crashing and burning all together.
  • We "want" things like a kettlebell swing, barbell deadlift, pull up, or good health and movement quality, NOW, so we skip the process that's required to learn and develop these difficult-to-obtain abilities and attributes.
  • When injury happens, we don't have the patience to get to the root cause of it, preferring instead to just treat symptoms so we can rush back as soon as the pain subsides, only to discover that the injury inevitably returns, causing even more frustration. genius-is-eternal-patience-quote-1(In an even worse case scenario, we do something stupid which ends up permanently shortening our athletic lifespan).
  • When it comes to racing, as endurance athletes we think it's normal to go from racing shorter sprint distance to longer distance events almost overnight, disrespecting the longer distance and the time it takes to build the requisite skill and stamina to do well. What often results are much slower performances than we are capable of, and injury (again), accepting either as "the norm. " 
  • Some are now so short of patience, that after a race goes bad or they end up injured (again), they try to justify the poor choices that led to the predicament they're in with self-deprecating and/or self-defeating talk (most often to themselves). a712ca9973609f97a6e93bd92e51697e
  • We never seem to take enough time to work on ourselves or have patience with ourselves, OR take the time to develop a foundational philosophy that reflects our core values and will guide us when things get hard. We just leap from one thing to the next, or look to the next fad, secret sauce, or quick fix, hoping that it will be THE thing that finally leads us to success.

a-man-who-masters-patience-masters-everything-else-quote-1Ironically, in a world that now seems to be speeding by at 1-million miles an hour, the thing that we need most to be successful and reach our ultimate potential, is patience...

...patience to do things the right way and stay the course...patience to perceive, not just see...

...patience to truly enjoy the journey and not just focus on the destination...and patience to embrace the process of learning and growing into the person & athlete that we were truly meant to be...

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

I Don’t Care How “Talented” You Are…


We know that each of us is born with our own natural talent and physiological gifts. When it comes to the sports we love like swimming, biking, and running, some are more naturally gifted, having either that huge aerobic "engine" or that powerful and graceful athleticism, or both.

If you're one of those with that big "motor," winning races or your age-group relatively easily, or you're an "adapter," (someone who seems to get faster and faster despite doing relatively little training), I say...good for you.

But honestly, what really excites me as a coach is seeing the athlete who might not necessarily possess those natural gifts, but who combines a long term view and a willingness to work hard, with a relentless pursuit of the smartest training path, often achieving far more than they ever believed was possible.

While winning is great, "achieving" can mean something different and even more profound. Want two examples?

  • How about an athlete who through hard fought experience and humility, finally learns to embrace the process of evolving into the enlightened person and athlete they never knew existed within?
  • Or the person who is able to train gracefully into their 60s, 70s and beyond in their sports of choice (not just the sports they were forced into because of chronic injury)?

I believe that these smart and fortunate few are happier people, experiencing a deeper fullfillment and satisfaction, exploding whatever self-limiting beliefs exist into smithereens!

You know, none of us really ever knows just how good we can become...yet so many of us jump at the first opportunity to place limits upon ourselves. I think it's a sort of "safety net," designed to "make sure" we never disappoint ourselves.

These self-limiting beliefs are not exclusive to the average among us, either. The "adapters" suffer from them too.

For example, earlier this year I had the opportunity to meet an elite ultra-runner. After carefully examining his training routine, despite the fact that he's won some big races, I am convinced he hasn't come anywhere close to his ultimate potential. (Time will tell whether he sees it the same way).

The point is, whatever your level of participation in your chosen sport (novice, elite or somewhere in between), regardless of how much natural talent you might have, it's possible you're achieving far LESS than you are truly capable of.  From my point of view as a coach, that really sucks.

So let me ask you point blank: could it be that your self-limiting beliefs (or a confirmation bias), and not the level of talent you might have, is what's really holding you back?

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

Do You Ever Ask Yourself These Questions?


As a coach, people sometimes think I have all the answers...

I don't.

No one does.

The truth is, in order to be successful, sometimes the athlete needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves some questions... let me ask YOU....have you asked yourself any of these questions?

* What can I do better?

* What "tools" do I need to have in my "toolbox" that I DON'T have right now, in order to have my best chance for success on race day?

* What specific challenges does my "A" priority race-course(s) present to me, that I am not yet ready to meet and conquer?

* Am I being honest with myself about my weaknesses and my strengths, and am I addressing them as honestly as I can?

* Am I taking time each day and each succeeding week, to learn and to master skills, accepting and understanding that until I become more skilled and smarter in my training, my opportunities for improvement will be limited?

* Am I remembering to think long term (vs short term) about my overall growth as an athlete and person, with respect to race planning and day to day training?

Am I relaxing when I need to, tensing when I need to, and prioritizing training as I need to?

* Am I staying in the moment, doing my best in each rep, set, and training session, knowing that this might be the single biggest factor to improving over the long term?

* And....most I enjoying this journey as fully as I should be and need to be, in order to truly feel great about myself and the sacrifices I have made, when this season is behind me?

I've given you a lot to think about here. I believe these questions can have a powerful impact on your potential for future success.

As I said, I don't have all the answers. However, I am committed to doing my best to help YOU on your quest toward greatness. Onward!

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

Are You Eating In Harmony With Your Goals?


Two triathletes recently contacted me to set up nutrition consultations. Both are staring down at upcoming Ironman distance races and neither is satisfied with their training progress to this point. Feeling frustrated and panicking a little, they reached out and asked for help. I'll refer to them as Tom and Sally. (It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I LOVE helping athletes like Tom and Sally who reach out for help - it is my passion!)

In instances like this, the first thing I ask for is a detailed diet log, to better see how an athlete is eating on a daily basis. (Do you ever wonder whether you could adjust or tweak your eating habits to better support your training?)

As it turned out, I quickly learned they are like you, very serious about their training and their goals.

I also learned that despite them training for what was essentially the same race, they were on complete opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to how they ate.

Sally's daily total caloric intake, despite training 12 or more hours per week (or trying to), was far below what her activity level and training volume demanded, by a wide margin.

What she proudly believed was a "disciplined" approach to eating in order to "get leaner," was actually excessive calorie restriction The end result was chronic exhaustion, constant hunger, and uninspired training. Unfortunately, as is all too common for many athletes like Sally, what she most accomplished was to feel very frustrated!

(I'll admit, I did whisper in her ear that in all likelihood, her body was reacting and performing as though it was being starved. Yep, she sure was shocked and dismayed to hear that!).

On the other hand, Tom was getting enough calories, BUT on an almost daily basis, his diet was littered with simple sugars and junk food. He mistakenly convinced himself that because he was training "like an animal," (his words) he could treat himself a little bit each day.

Tom learned the hard way that his frequent, less than optimal daily choices delivered chronically high insulin levels that led to cravings, energy and mood swings, and more body-fat than he desired. (The key take-away words here are frequent and daily. I don't believe there are any "bad" foods, only bad habits!)

Listen, in the 35 years I've been training, competing, and coaching, I've seen and heard it all, especially as it relates to nutrition.

I always chuckle, shaking my head in amazement (and at times, disgust) as those emails pour into my inbox, boasting of the latest "cutting edge" info on a new nutrition "breakthrough," or a "recently discovered" biohack to a leaner better body, all delivered courtesy of any one of a plethora of internet marketeers (masked as "coaches" and self-proclaimed "experts"). Do you get those kinds of emails, too? You might be smart to delete most of them, I think.

So back to Tom and Sally - with their well intentioned but somewhat "flawed" efforts to improve, what did they learn?

The answer to that question is rooted in a philosophy that can be summarized with these words: BALANCE and MODERATION.

I also told them the same thing I'll say to you now: commit to eating in a way that is in harmony with your goals.

If you're wondering where to start, begin today with the guidelines below.  Remember balance and moderation.

For optimal results and enjoyment, apply them most of the time and especially around key training periods. 

  • Eat a varied and well-balanced diet, containing copius amounts of fruit, veggies, fat (especially those known as "good" fats), and quality protein.
  • Eliminate or minimize processed foods, especially those containing simple junk sugars.
  • Eat an amount that reflects your activity level and training volume (e.g. more calories in the days leading up to big training days, and less on other days).

This simple philosophy will then "set the table" for you to refine and personalize your approach, learning through experimentation and small tweaks.

It isn't about extremes, "biohacking,"or strict adherance to any one particular approach.  It also isn't about a "secret," marketed in a way that hooks you into believing there's an easier way - a magic bullet. There isn't.

It's about sound principles applied daily, combined with smart experimentation and continually dialing it in.

Ok, one more thing, some "food for thought" before I sign off: there is this certain 4-time IRONMAN Age-Group World Champion who is as tough, competitive, and committed as they come, who also happens to love chocolate and red wine!

Reflecting today's message of balance and moderation, I know she would never give up those awesome foods entirely; for her, they add richness and enjoyment to her life and they taste good! However, to her credit she also carefully picks her days to indulge, especially during key training periods, choosing to eat in complete harmony with her goals as an athlete.

Happy Eating!

~Coach Al

ps: Because so many of you have asked, yes.....I'll have more posts in the future on a ton of other nutrition topics, so stay tuned and don't forget to get in touch if I can help.

It ISN’T About The Plan.


Recently, at a race where I was volunteering, I was chatting with a fellow runner. A week earlier he had finished his second 100-mile ultra.  He was feeling very good about having finished, and why not? Much like finishing an Ironman, getting to the FINISH line at a race of that magnitude is awesome and always worth celebrating! Despite his glow at having finished, I sensed there was something else bugging him...

As we talked, I began to understand why he was frowning. He acknowledged that yes, he really struggled during the race - his finish time was far slower than he was capable of. The primary reason, he felt, was an injury that had plagued him for most of the winter and spring, which prevented him from training as he had hoped or wanted.

His mood seemed to lift as he excitedly told me that in order to rectify things, he had already begun work on developing what he felt would be his perfect training week.  With a childlike grin, he described this "new" training routine as having the ideal blend of hill work, speed work, and long runs.

I chuckled to myself as I listened because I wasn't surprised. This was the same old blah-blah BS from a recently injured runner who, while well intentioned, was on the completely wrong path.

I said something to myself I often say in these situations: he simply doesn't know what he doesn't know.  

Now don't get me wrong. This is a smart guy who has been running for only a few years, and it is clear he has talent. Unfortunately, he's unknowingly missing THE most important elements which will help him truly reach his potential.  And he's not looking in the right places to get the answers he needs either. Training plans don't cause injury, nor do they lead directly to success. Both injury and success are essentially up to us.

What he doesn't know that I DO...and what I want to share with you today, is the secret to reaching your potential has very little to do with "the plan."  In fact, it has everything to do with the "little things" that most athletes don't pay much attention to.   

Honestly, of the dozens of things I speak about daily with the athletes I coach, depending upon their experience and where they are on their training journey, only a small percentage have to do with "the plan."

So, what are those "little things" that this runner might want to consider beyond obvious (to me) things like patience, recovery, daily nutrition, mindfulness, focus, and life balance/stress, to name a few?

Perhaps the most important is movement quality.

What do I mean?

Why not start by learning what the root-cause of the injury was. Only then can you get rid of it once and for all.   

Many athletes and sports medicine professionals alike mistakenly believe that rest cures all. That's just wrong. Just because you rest, the root-cause doesn't magically disappear.

Many struggle chronically with the same recurring injury, often from one year to the next, because they never learn the root-cause! That's just dumb.

It was clear this runner had no clue as to the root-cause of his injury. Here's some of what he should have considered:

  • Has he lacked muscle balance, appropriate mobility/flexibility, or core stability?
  • Had prior injuries set his body on a path of increasing compensation which ultimately led to this injury?
  • What about his foot mechanics - is he wearing the most appropriate running shoe for his unique needs?
  • Did he simply need to be functionally stronger in order to handle the training load?

My advice to him, had he asked me (he didn't), would have been to start by resisting the urge to only treat the symptoms. Instead, get smarter and learn what the cause actually is.

So here's the deal folks: Yes, a well-conceived, progressive, personalized training plan is an important part of an overall training program, but it is not the most important part.

When some of the important elements mentioned above, including arguably THE most important (movement quality) are in place and are monitored carefully and regularly, THEN and only then, is it time to worry about "the plan." But not before.

Live and learn.

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

Do Skills Really Matter?

Happy Monday!

So listen, I know you work hard every day, but I have to ask, is all that hard work you are doing, actually working?

For example, do you consider the training you do "practice" with the goal of improving your skills, or do you simply want to get in a "workout"?

Do you consistently and objectively assess your individual skill level in the training and racing you do, and consider how those skills or lack thereof, might be helping or hindering your ability to reach your ultimate potential?

Have you ever considered the idea that your skill-set might be one reason why you're frequently injured, or simply NOT improving as you had hoped?

The fact is, if you're just hammering away every day seeking to improve  your "fitness" with only a superficial regard for skills, the only thing you'll improve is your ability to struggle.

One of my early mentors in swimming was Haydn Wooley from Future Dreams Swimming. Haydn once said something to me that so resonated with me, I made it a central theme in all I do as a coach and athlete: "skill sets the upper limit for how far your fitness will take you."  

Looking back on my years working in a gait analysis lab and studying human movement, I feel confident going even further than Haydn did, and will say that poor skills not only limit fitness growth potential, poor skills also wear out joints, cause compensation and imbalance which inevitably leads to injury, and even sucks some of the joy out of training.

Think about it folks: Virtually every single thing you do as an athlete, physical and mental, is a skill.  Every. Single. Thing.

Most of the athletes who read this are way too impatient to take the time, use the brain power, or get the objective feedback that's needed to truly and consistently improve their skill set. Anxious to "get a workout in," they groove bad habits and reinforce less-efficient neural engrams with poor practice. In the process, they teach their body and mind how to struggle a little better, and sadly, limit their ultimate potential for growth.

Now you may say, "I'm not really that good anyway - I am not as talented as those at the front of the race."

To me, that is the worst kind of thinking.

The truth of the matter is, none of us really knows just how good we can become.

Sure, it is safer to tell yourself you "can't be that good," and settle into that more comfortable mediocrity.

For me and for the athletes I work with, I'd much rather choose the path where there are no limits to my potential.

I encourage you to do the same!

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

ps: in future posts, I'll have more specific tips on improving skills, especially in areas that you never thought were skills! Stay tuned.

pss: Yes, in case you were wondering, Haydn is a GREAT coach. Among the very best in the biz - highly recommended!

What Is Your MOST Important Tool For Recovery?

My short post yesterday on 1 day of scheduled rest each week really got many of you thinking, at least based upon the feedback I received.

(Yes, I love hearing from you, so keep your replies and emails coming!)

As time goes on, I'll share lots more about both recovery and rest. After all, assuming the training is done, isn't recovery the most important element to ensure you improve?

Today I want to get right to it and talk about the ONE most important tool in your arsenal to ensure you recover quickly and effectively.

I'm sure you all have your favorite tool, right?

So, is it your foam roller?

What about regular massage?

How about more sleep or better nutrition?

A secret supplement perhaps?


Nope, the MOST important tool isn't ANY of those.  

Sure, a foam roller can help on a peripheral level with superficial myofascial release. And yes, without a doubt sleep is important; we all get too little of it. And massage? I think it's incredibly valuable, especially as you age and the miles pile up (lots more on that in future posts).

As much as you might be in love with your foam roller or your massage therapist, none are your MOST IMPORTANT tool for recovery.

So, I know you're asking.....what is?

The answer is....


That is, it is your own body - how your own body "moves" - it is your individual movement quality.

If you don't think of your own movement quality as a tool for recovery, you're missing out on the most important element to helping you stay young and recover faster!

Simply put:

If you are imbalanced or unstable, you're likely shredding smaller muscles as they attempt to do the work designed for the larger prime movers. 

If you lack the mobility or flexibility you need, you're pushing the end range of muscles and tearing them up, causing excessive micro-trauma with each step or pedal stroke. And you're likely not attenuating ground-reaction-forces or gravity very effectively, increasing the "pounding" you experience with each step you run.

In my experience, the athletes with poor movement quality are in love with their foam roller because they beat themselves up so much in each and every workout! (Not good!)

They also never seem to fully recover or reach their potential, and also tend to end up injured.

Your most important recovery "tool" is you and your own individual movement quality. 

Think about that the next time you're dying to foam roll or wondering why it takes you days to return to quality training after a hard effort.

Or if you're struggling with chronic injury despite using that darn foam roller every day!

Have a great weekend everyone!

~Coach Al

Are You Getting Enough Rest?

So let me ask....

Are you training 7-days a week, thinking that you need to hit-it every day in order to improve?

Do you feel you get enough rest in between training sessions, or that a complete day of rest is only for novices?

Does training every day make you feel "tough"?

If any of the above describes you, beware. Worst case, you may be slowly drilling yourself into a hole that you'll have a difficult time getting out of. Best case, you're probably not recovering enough to be able to put the maximum amount of effort into your most important training sessions, which are ultimately what lifts your fitness to a higher level.

In my book, 1 full rest day each and every week is absolutely mandatory, regardless of your level of experience or what races you may be training for. The mental and physical break can help make your other training days more productive and ultimately help you lift fitness and boost recovery beyond a level it might have other wise been at.  And it might help you stay free from injury too!

Remember, your next training session is only as good as your last recovery.

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al


What Is Your Margin Of Error?

Whether we like it or not, when it comes to things like movement quality (mobility, flexibility, stability), running shoe choice, and training volume or intensity, to name a few, each of us has our own "margin of error."

That margin tends to lessen as we get older, as the miles pile up, or if we'd had a previous injury.

What does it mean for you?

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition I'm referring to is: If you have little or no margin for / of error, it means that you need to be very careful not to make mistakes. If you have a greater margin for/of error, you can be less careful.

The principles are the same for everyone. Violate one of those principles, and you'll end up injured, sick, or over-trained. And frustrated.

One lesson I learned the hard way and am often reminded of, is...'s when we feel most bulletproof and resilient that we are, in fact, most vulnerable.

Vulnerable to something as frustrating as an injury or tweak at the worst possible time (such as right before an important race), or worse, long lasting irreparable damage to our body...

Do YOU KNOW what your margin of error is?

~Coach Al