Archive for Racing

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....

YOU.  

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...

...it'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

 

058: Mindsets for Optimal Performance with Stanford Researcher, Omid Fotuhi [Podcast]

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Dr. Omid Fotuhi

Dr. Omid Fotuhi

Today I am really psyched to welcome onto the podcast, Dr. Omid Fotuhi, triathlete and project manager for the Stanford University Interventions Lab. I truly believe the topics we discuss on the podcast today will have a profound impact on anyone listening in. The group of researchers led by Dr. Fotuhi are doing absolutely state-of-the-art research on mindset and performance!

Dr. Fotuhi and his colleagues at the Interventions Lab describe their research as "focused on identifying psychological barriers that impede performance and well-being, and leveraging those insights to create theory-driven interventions that target those barriers." Here's a link to a short video that provides a brief look at the work they do.

In this podcast, Dr. Fotuhi shares his experience and research on topics such as:

  • What are some of the most common patterns of beliefs and thoughts that we all have, and how do those correlate with our performance?
  • Do seemingly inconsequential events have an impact on how we see ourselves and therefore how we perform in races?
  • How is our own motivation to train and race to our ultimate potential impacted by how we see ourselves and the world?
  • Having a fixed or growth mindset: Which is more likely to lead to reaching one's potential?
  • What can we do to improve our ability to persist in the face of adversity, to experience less negativity and perform better at our races?
  • And much more!

I personally found our discussion incredibly valuable, especially from a coaching perspective. I learned a lot and encourage everyone to listen in. This is powerful stuff!

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al 

057: All Things Trail Running with Ethan Veneklasen and Deborah Livingston [Podcast]

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UltraRunnerPodcast co-host, Ethan Veneklasen

UltraRunnerPodcast co-host, Ethan Veneklasen

Deb and Coach Al, at their Cedar Lake Trail Camp and Retreat this past weekend!

Deb and Coach Al, at their Cedar Lake Trail Camp and Retreat this past weekend!

Today I am excited to welcome Ethan Veneklasen and Debbie Livingston to the podcast. Without a doubt, this was one of my favorite podcasts to date!

I had the opportunity to connect with Ethan after this year's Miwok 100k. All three of us were there to race. Miwok is one of those old classic races in the ultra-running world. Held on May 2nd in the Marin Headlands outside of San Francisco, Debbie and Ethan ran a little bit of the course together that day.

Ethan is one of those great guys who seems to know everyone in the ultra-running world! Besides being a co-host of the ever popular ultra runner podcast (over 150k downloads per month!), he's also a Hoka One One and VFuel ambassador.

As for "Deb," anyone who listens to this podcast knows who she is.  Mom and wife, elite ultra-runner, coach, yoga teacher and steward of all things mother-nature and the environment, she was last on the podcast with me when we visited with James Varner and the Trail Running Film Festival back in February.

In June of last year, I did an interview with Debbie for the podcast. It's a fantastic chat where she shares some of her secrets to success, as well as discussing those things (like trail running, ultra-running, caring for the environment, her family) that are most important to her! She's one of the best!

In this podcast, we have a really informative and fun discussion on topics such as:

  • How far the unique sport of ultra-running has come in such a short period of time.
  • Why they feel trail running is special, unique, and so very different from road running.
  • Their "story" and some of the important things that have changed their lives and brought them to this point in time. Ethan has a unique one - you can read more about it here.
  • Miwok 100k: This was Ethan's 2nd try, after a DNF last year. Debbie ended up as 4th woman! What makes this race so amazing and special?!
  • Tips for those who want to get started in the sport. You CAN do it! :)
  • And much more!

I'd like both of them for joining me today. I sincerely hope you enjoy the chat and are inspired to get out there and hit the trails! All the best!

~Coach Al 

Are You Doing The Right Race Specific Training?

 

Now that spring has arrived here in the northeast (snow flurries yesterday not withstanding!), it is time for you to start looking closely at the specific demands of your upcoming races.

A smart training progression does build from more general fitness elements, to very specific race demands. Preparing in the right way can make the difference between a disappointing finish or a new PR!

 

 

Have a great weekend everyone!
~Coach Al


ps: do you have questions on how YOU could better prepare for your upcoming events? Ping me on our Facebook page.

pss: don't forget our upcoming Trail Camp and Retreat with Debbie Livingston! There are still a few spots left.

cedarlakecamp

 

056: Visiting with Podiatrist Rebecca Rushton [Podcast]

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Rebecca Rushton BSC, author of the Advanced Guide to Blister Prevention

Rebecca Rushton, BSc, author of the Advanced Guide to Blister Prevention

Today I am pleased to welcome podiatrist Rebecca Rushton of Esperance Podiatry in Esperance, Australia, to the podcast. Without a doubt, Rebecca is one of the world's foremost experts on blisters!

Now if you've never struggled with a blister, then the information she has to share might not seem all that important. I believe however, that at some point in the future, each and every runner or endurance athlete will experience a blister, and probably at the worst possible time. What we can all learn from Rebecca could make the difference between a painful struggle to the finish line, or busting a new PR with a smile.

Some of the things we discuss in this podcast:

  • What are the most pervasive myths surrounding blisters? There are plenty!
  • What's the difference between rubbing and shearing and why does it matter?
  • Are certain folks more prone to blisters?
  • What about shoe fit and lacing options?
  • Do lubricants like vaseline or powders work to reduce blister risk, or are you actually making things worse by using them? (Hint: I unfortunately discovered this during my last race, a 50 mile trail race in Florida a little over two weeks ago! Not good). :)
  • And much more!

Rebecca has created a terrific FREE online resource called The Advanced Guide to Blister Prevention. If you want one single resource that will be your go-to for all things blisters, this is definitely it.

For more resources from Rebecca on how to take the mystery out of blisters, go to her website.

I'd like to thank Rebecca for joining me today. I sincerely hope this short 25 minute podcast makes a difference for someone out there who, at some point in the future will be able to avoid a blister, rather than struggle with one. Happy Trails everyone!

~Coach Al