Archive for Running

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

You’re Surviving But Are You Thriving?


Some days I find myself having to defend my philosophy that we ought to move well and have a handle on some basic skills, first, before we load up on more miles or intensity, or sign-up for that first Ironman or ultra-run.  In those discussions I often say something like this: "Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't make the rules, but I'm forced to follow them just like everyone else."

Now truthfully, movement quality doesn't have to be perfect. The human body IS amazing and the variability and capacity inherent in its ability to compensate in a good way, keeps many in the game.  The younger among us or those with a lot fewer miles on the chassis, have an even larger margin of error.

There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all template for how to develop as an athlete, but there are rules that can't be broken without consequences...

To start with, in ANY sport, we must have a balance of mobility and stability, and depending upon the activity we're engaged in, the price we have to pay if we don't possess that balance could be severe...

Have you ever stopped to think about how comfortable your life is today? As noted movement expert, Gray Cook says, "We've gotten way past our needs (as a society) and have been in our wants for (a long time)!"

We've got back problems because we can slouch any time we want to, especially when we sit and stare at our phones. We're only a few steps from anything we need at any time (including the remote), we never pick anything up unless it has a handle, and at the gym we've been taught to sit down on our butts to push and pull to get stronger.  Even some of the most "fit" among us would rather use that cho-pat strap or brace on our knee vs. actually owning our core stability.  And those are just for starters.

Why, in this day and age, have we become comfortable with the fact that the exercise and training we do to "get fit" or "finish that race" must come with negative side effects, just like the prescription drugs we take?

My inspiration for coaching and taking the time to write is that I want you to not just survive your training and racing, but actually thrive from it.

I want you to not only be able to go as fast or as far as you possibly can, but also age gracefully, maintaining or even improving your ability to have fun playing, until the day you leave this earth due to natural causes. (If you're too young to understand what I mean by that, trust me, it will become painfully more obvious as the miles and gray hairs, pile up).

The way I look at it is, if  I'm going to do something that is very important to me, I'm going to do it as well as I can - with integrity, beginning with the basics and fundamentals. It's that simple.

Perhaps the only difference between you and I is that I've exposed myself to a lot of opportunities to make mistakes, learning (often the hard way) the real difference between surviving and thriving.

So how about you - are you just surviving, or are you thriving?

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

You Need To Strengthen Your Glute Medius!


...Or DO you?

So listen, has a sports medicine professional, personal trainer or coach ever told you that your glute medius (or minimus) is weak, or that you need to strengthen it? Or, that this muscle "weakness" is the real reason you're injured?

If you've heard either of the above, my sincerest advice to you is stop what you're doing and get away from that person as fast as you can.

You might think that's a fairly harsh recommendation, but in my opinion, they are dead wrong.

Amazingly, when various "experts" should know better, I continue to see frequent references to this myth of glute medius "weakness" in a host of different places, online and off. I continue to hear supposed "experts" discuss the importance of that muscle.

In the video below, my partner Dr. Kurt Strecker tells it even straighter, calling the advice to strengthen the glute medius, "complete crap."  

My hope is that today's straight talk has spiked your curiosity to learn more. If it has, take a few minutes to watch, look, and listen.

Yes, it is 3 1/2 minutes long which I know might be too long according to today's typically short attention spans...but trust me, you won't be sorry you took the time to WATCH IT.  It is time to set the record straight.

Happy trails!

~Coach Al


One Quarter of an Inch!


When asked what he thought was man’s greatest invention, Albert Einstein didn't reply the wheel, the lever, or for that matter, anything else you might expect, he replied, "compound interest.” Do you remember when you first learned about this seemingly magical way to earn money, faster and more easily?

What if I told you there was a way to "get rich" as a runner, by taking advantage of the same basic principles as those that make compound interest "man's greatest invention?" What I'm really talking about here is the ability to "compound" SPEED gains,  with no extra heart-beats required.

Well, there IS a way, and it's actually quite simple. Here's the deal:

If you add 1/4 inch to your stride length naturally, without forcing it artificially, you will be running about 10-seconds per mile faster at the same intensity.

Don't believe me?

Ever counted how many strides you take in a mile?

Depending upon your speed and intensity, it's about 1500.

If you were to get one-quarter inch more length out of each of those 1500 strides, you'd cover about 40 to 50 feet more at the same intensity.  That's another way of saying you're going to run about 10-seconds per mile faster.

How hard would you have to train to get 10-seconds per-mile improvement?

Imagine a 30-second improvement in your 5k finish time without having to do a single hard run workout! In a marathon, you could instantly improve by as much as 5-minutes or more depending upon your speed, just by adding 1/4" to your stride length! (Add more than 1/4" and you get even faster!)

The catch is, you can't just reach out further to grab more ground with your legs. Doing that would result in some overstriding and might get you injured. Not good.

So how do you get that extra 1/4" the right way?

By improving your stability, mobility and strength, that's how.

Even just a bit more hip mobility  = greater (and easier) range of motion, more elastic recoil and a longer, more powerful stride, naturally. (Did you know that 50% of the energy that propels you forward during the running stride comes from elastic and reactive “energy-return” of your muscles?).

Similarly, a more stable and stronger core and hips = LESS time spent in contact with the ground and LESS energy leaks, making each stride more efficient and powerful.

Sure, achieving either of these improvements will take some effort, but....the way I look at it, any improvement we can make that doesn't require more gut-busting track or tempo sessions, is worth exploring, don't you think?

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

PS:  And then there's the law of the Aggregation of Marginal Gains. I absolutely love the way James Clear writes about this amazingly similar strategy for improvement in his blog. Powerful stuff!

PSS: If you're a triathlete, imagine making similar kinds of gains as a swimmer. I'll be writing more about that in a future post.

Are You A Porsche Or A Cadillac?


Anyone who knows me well, knows I'm a car nut. I've always loved classics and muscle cars, and I love to go fast. So when I have the chance to draw an analogy between cars and running, how could I not speed ahead with it?

So here's the deal for today: To run faster than ever OR to finally get rid of that injury you've been nursing, you must think of your body as a spring on a car's suspension.

The optimal amount of springiness is NOT a Porsche. They're tight - firm - stiff, where you feel every bump in the road.

But, it is NOT a Cadillac either. They're soft and loose, bottoming out on every pothole.

Either scenario leaves you battling injury, recovering poorly, and running slower than you'd like!

Similarly, the answer to ANY question about flexibility, mobility, and stiffness for a runner is simply this: you want enough, but NOT TOO much.  

Don't be a Caddy OR a Porsche. To be a better runner, you'll need to find the appropriate amount of springiness and balance between the two.

Happy trails and have a great weekend!

~Coach Al

PS: do you love Yoga? The answer to that question might tell you which kind of car you are, and also where to focus your energy in order to improve.

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