Archive for Run Form

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.

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!

From Coach Susan Ford: What DON’T You Want To Do?

Coach Susan Ford

Coach Susan Ford

I've noticed a trend in some people who SAY they want to run or bike faster, and say they are willing to do "anything necessary" to get there.

In their minds, "anything necessary" means doing training sessions that are harder than they've done before, making bigger sacrifices for their training than they had done before, or become "hard core" in some way. They are absolutely ready to do those things.

Yet despite their proclamations, there is a glaring obstacle in their path, which they don't see, and/or aren't willing to address.

For example, I've been approached by another athlete about "speedwork," who is carrying a significant excess of bodyfat. And another with a significant running form issue who wanted to do higher mileage. Neither are willing or able to see what was obvious, and neither are willing to do the one "anything" that IS necessary for them to improve. In their cases, the "hard core" work they needed to do was address diet and get on a true path of improving body composition, and in the other, take time off running to address imbalances and other movement related issues first.

Both continue their paths, doing "anything necessary" for their goals, except the one thing that they could not accept as an essential part of that process.

It makes me wonder if I have similar issues, and what I'm not willing to do.

What am I blind to? What is holding me back from my goals that requires work other than just "hard" training? What am I aware of, but not willing to do?

Food for thought....


Coach Susan Ford lives in Tennesee and coaches runners and triathletes as a Pursuit Athletic Performance coach, in addition to her work as a veterinarian. Her own inspiring journey from an always-injured and frustrated triathlete to one that is strong, durable (and always finishing at the top of her age-group in every race from 5k to ironman) is a remarkable one. To learn more about Susan and her coaching services, go here.


Minimum Standards: Can You Hit “X” Of Something To Ensure “Y” Result?

Team Pursuit triathletes reviewing some basic skills at our fall 2014 "Re-Set Camp."

Team Pursuit triathletes reviewing some basic skills at our fall 2014 "Re-Set Camp."

Hi Everyone! Coach Al here.

On the heels of our "Team Pursuit" Re-Set Camp this past weekend, a team member emailed me and asked about some proclamations I had apparently made with regard to minimum standards, that you, as an athlete, ought to be shooting for prior to embarking on hard(er), more challenging training.

When answering the email, I didn't recall exactly what those minimum standards he was referring to might be, so I responded in the email to him the way that Kurt and I typically do, by saying that the "gold standard" for assessing when any athlete is ready to train hard with little to no obvious risk of injury, is to have 2 degrees or less of lateral pelvic drop at 5k race effort. I wasn't entirely sure that this response would satisfy or answer this athlete's question, but as I said, it IS a pretty good minimum standard to aim at.

The athlete responded to me with this: "You had a lot more proclamations than that. It is hard as athletes to know we are hitting that, where knowing a list of accomplishments that support that will be far more productive (plank for X min, 10 pushups, etc)."

I completely understand that knowing on your own how much pelvic drop is occuring at any time is difficult. (To know for certainty, come on in to our gait analysis lab in the Pursuit Training Center, and see what IS actually happening when you run.)

However, from my point of view, while it might be neat and tidy to have a LIST of "x" minimum standards to meet, the truth is that training progression and "readiness" for more progressive, harder, more challenging training, isn't QUITE as black or white as we might like it to be.

And perhaps more to the point, in my mind, one of the fundamental questions that comes out of this discussion is, how strong or stable is "strong or stable ENOUGH?"

Taken at face value, that is a very iffy question with no real rock solid answer that applies to every person. And its complicated by the fact that it isn't really pure strength we're after, its work capacity (and perhaps resilience or resistance to fatigue), as Gray Cook alludes to in this article called: Strength?

I love this quote from the article, where Gray speaks about the phrase he prefers to use when describing strength: work capacity.

He says, and I quote: "Let me simplify work capacity. If we are talking about repetitions: Any repetition with integrity should get you an A or a B on the qualitative strength-grading scale. Any repetition without integrity should get you a D or an F on the strength scale. If you can't decide on integrity, you are stuck at a C.

How many imperfect reps do you have time to do today? If you don't have an integrity gauge or a quantity-against-quality gauge, you will never be able to truly value work capacity."

This is a very powerful concept because it points out that as we move forward on the progression continuum (making things harder, or to do more challenging exercises, or to add more load to our existing exercises), we're also fighting that constant battle to maintain that movement integrity - to keep the ratio ofquality vs. quantity as it should be. For anyone who has pushed themselves to do more, lift more, run faster, or pedal harder, you KNOW that form starts to deteriorate as fatigue rises. Simply put, the more tired you get, the harder it is to do it well.

So if I were to offer you a simple and straight forward minimum standard of "do X reps and you'll get Y result," and you didn't get that result you were seeking even though you hit that minimum, you'd be looking back at me and wondering why. And likely holding me accountable to it.

This athlete said it's "hard to know as athletes" where you are and whether you're hitting what you need to.

I get it.

But what if, in your quest to hit some theoretical "minimum standard," you gave up quality in favor of quantity to hit the standard?

What if the standard itself ended up having very little to do with YOUR specific issue, or the limiters that are most holding you back from reaching the next level of performance?

The truth is, there are VERY few, engraved-in-stone, "if you do this, then you get that" scenarios within the progressive training process.

And along with that, there are certainly NO guarantees that any athlete is "enough" of anything, especially when that anything has to do with stability, work capacity, or mobility/flexibility.

My suggestions?

  1. Keep trying to be better. Not perfect, just better. 
  2. Embrace the process - immerse yourself in it. It might be cliche' to say enjoy the journey, but it really IS paramount for long-term success and exploding your true potential. 
  3. Seek solutions within AND outside yourself for your weak links, weak patterns, your imbalances.
  4. Go enthusiastically after those patterns, exercises, or skills that you don't do quite as easily or quite as well as others. Clean them up!
  5. Always come back to the movement quality basics and fundamentals as your baseline. 

The objective real-time video assessment that we do as a part of our gait analysis really IS THE ONLY way to know for sure, exactly where you are at. Other than that, the process that includes increasing training stress or load, doesn't always have hard margins and may not even have a finish point. To believe that there are those minimum standards, in order to make it easy to know where you're at, is really fools gold.

That is NOT to say that you shouldn't keep trying to be BETTER. That's really the ultimate goal. Wake every day with a commitment to be better.

WillSmithQuoteKeep laying bricks perfectly, as Will Smith said, and soon you'll have a wall.

Seek the paths that lead you ultimately toward improved body balance, improved mobility and stability, and work capacity, and then reinforce ALL OF THOSE elements (capabilities) with smart, progressive, patient, persistent training.

And, keep it fun along the way of course!

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

Be Careful WHO You Get Your Running Advice From…

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." - Albert Einstein

"Caveat Emptor" - Latin for let the buyer beware

Hi Everyone! Coach Al here.

Today I'm jumping up onto my soapbox.  I guess I'm a little tired of looking around me (and online as well) at coaches and trainers who call themselves "experts" or who dish out a pile of crappy advice (and who don't walk the talk) when marketing to unsuspecting potential athletes/clients, and so I just figured it was time to vent a little bit.

And perhaps offer a little advice, too. :)

So if you're a runner or multi-sport athlete who truly wants to be better, faster and improve consistently, OR a fitness enthusiast who simply wants to be able to work out and stay healthy, read on. If you're offended by hearing the truth, then stop reading now.

My advice today starts with this: Be very careful about who you're taking your running (and training) advice from. 

In this day and age, anyone can post a video on youtube and become an "expert."

Anyone can open a gym or fitness studio and talk about "doing it right," without really knowing what "right" is or actually doing what they say you should do.

As you move forward and work toward achieving YOUR goals in 2015 and beyond, ask yourself some simple questions:

  • Has the person you're taking advice from EVER demonstrated the ability to remain injury free while doing progressively more challenging training?

Many coaches and trainers right around you, are injured themselves while they lecture to YOU about what you need to do to stay injury free! Beware of frauds and internet "experts".

  • Have they demonstrated the ability to train progressively and improve their performance consistently, moving from a novice to a higher level of performance?

Many coaches and trainers out there preach like they've "been there and done that," yet have never ever trained from a novice level to a higher level of performance!  I'm not talking about finishing a half-marathon or marathon, I'm talking about raising performance to a higher level.

If you are going to take advice about how to get faster or stronger, shouldn't you take it from someone who has actually demonstrated an ability to do it? Beware of a trainer who always has an excuse for their sub-par performance or some reason why they are always satisfied with mediocrity.

  • Have they worked with others who have been injured or in a long-term cycle of injury and helped them get OUT of that injury cycle to rise to a higher level of performance?

If a trainer or coach IS injured themselves, can they honestly speak to what it takes to remain injury free? (Other than traumatic injury, in nearly every instance the answer is no!)

No, I AM NOT saying a coach has to have gone "fast" to be a good coach, or done the ironman to be considered a triathlete.

What I am saying is that there are way too many frauds out there pretending to be "expert" trainers and coaches, using the internet and unsuspecting consumers to profit.

  • Take a good look at who you're training with:
    • Are they injured?
    • Are they dismissing things like movement quality and are they recommending you do the same?
    • Are they practicing what they preach?
    • Are they, or have they, demonstrated the ability to do what they say you should do?

Be smart. Caveat emptor.

You're worth it.

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

Would You Benefit From More Hip Mobility?

"If your mobility is compromised enough to make you compensate, the sensory input that you have to your reflexive behavior is askew—you have an overload of information or an underload of information. Either way, you’re not receiving the information you need. If sensory information is not converted to perception and perception is not converted to action, you’re not going to get better without embracing the idea of changing mobility."
          - Gray Cook, from his presentation entitled Continuums

Hi Everyone!  Coach Al here. As a coach who works with runners and triathletes of every ability level, all who want to be stronger, better, and faster, I KNOW for them to be their best, mobility must come first. It must come before strength work, before speed work or interval work, and before very long runs. 

Without appropriate mobility in the right places in the body, an athlete will be at much higher risk of injury AND won't perform to their true potential.

Restricted mobility in the hips and ankles means that athlete can't attentuate gravity or ground reaction forces. As a result, their calves or legs or low-back must step in and compensate, often resulting in pain, injury, and frustration. There's also the issue of poor economy or efficiency resulting from that restricted freedom of movement. To put it another way, that athlete simply has to work harder (higher heart rate, more effort, and thus more fatigue and less endurance) at any effort level to produce the same relative speed or power.

IF YOU are short on mobility in the right places, you're very likely much closer to injury than you realize, AND you're slower and less efficient than you could be also.

Here's a short 2-minute video that I hope helps you get a bit more freedom of movement from your hips and ankles. Enjoy!

~Coach Al





Would You Like To Improve Your Running Technique?

"You ain't gonna learn what you don't wanna know." - Jerry Garcia

"Should I 'sta' or should I 'mo'? - The Clash

Here at Pursuit Athletic Performance, we believe there is a RIGHT or optimal path to improving your running technique, and there is also a less optimal way to improve.

The right path leads to lots of smiles and continual progress. The wrong path leads to injury and frustration.

What is it? Start with these:

  1. Find out where you're weak and likely to injure yourself as you build running mileage. What is your true movement quality? Are you imbalanced?
  2. Based on what you learn, get started immediately on building a true foundation of stability and strength so that your body is able to handle the repetitive stress inherent in running.
  3. Restore balance where its lacking. Do you need MORE mobility / flexibility work, OR...more stability / strength work?  Who are you?
  4. Build your running mileage and speed smartly and progressively while you also build strength and resiliency.
  5. Once you're stable and strong and balanced, refine your running technique and form with a treadmill.

Running technique work is FROSTING on the cake. The cake, is your core and hip stability and overall strength!

So if the above is the optimal path, what is the wrong path?

  1. Starting a progressive running program without knowing anything about your weaknesses or strengths or movement quality.
  2. Building your running mileage believing (mistakenly) that the key to improving is simply about running more mileage.
  3. Ignoring the pain that starts to develop in your hips, low back, feet or legs.
  4. Not only ignoring, but running through that pain.
  5. Listening to clueless coaches or training partners who tell you that to fix the pain, you need to change your shoes or simply run more mileage.

When you build a strong foundation, address weaknesses and fix them, and THEN progress in a smart way culminating with technique and form work, you CAN truly have your cake and eat it too!  Who's hungry? 

  • No pain from injury.
  • No frustration as your program starts and then stops (due to injury).
  • More smiles, fun, fitness, and speed!

What are you waiting for?




Runners: Are You Injured? Here’s the Secret Solution You Need!

Don't train through injury and don't think wishing it away will solve your problem!

Don't train through injury and don't think wishing it away will solve your problem!

And what IS that secret solution?

(Drum Roll Please.........)

The "secret solution" is THE TRUTH....

.....which is something you probably don't want to hear.  I get it.

Listen up: if you're injured, you've got a real problem.  No, it isn't life or death.....but because you love to run, it's a real problem.

And the solution to your problem ISN'T as easy as just "resting and letting it heal." 

Yes, the words, "I'll just rest it and let it heal" is, without a doubt, the most common strategic response I hear from injured runners, on how they will solve their injury woes.

Allowing time for your body to rest and heal is hardly ever a bad idea, but it is foolish to believe (or hope, or pray) that simply resting and taking time away from running is all you need to overcome your injury.  Hardly ever works that way, I'm sorry to say.

There is only one way that works, based on my over 30 years of experience as a runner, triathlete, coach, and running biomechanics expert who's performed hundreds of gait analysis on injured athletes:

Until you determine the reasons WHY the injury occured, and then address that cause at its root level, your injury will likely return once you resume running. 

The choice is always yours. You can keep beating your head against a wall and living with some level of pain on a daily basis. You can keep throwing money away on race entry fees for races you never end up actually doing. The choice is always yours.

Doc and I are here to help, when you're finally ready to SOLVE your problem and enjoy running for the rest of your life.

Make it a great day!

~Coach Al 

ps:  The 2nd most common response I hear from injured runners is that they'll go to see their orthopedic doctor. Really?  Remember my friends, while there are many good orthopedists out there, their primary gig is using sharp toys to cut you.  For many, it isn't on helping you to address the movement oriented issues that are very likely the cause of the injury.  Think about it!

Breaking News: Pursuit Athletic Performance to Open New Training Facility!

Breaking News:

Pursuit Athletic Performance to open a NEW State-Of-The-Art Training Facility! 


Here it is, the exciting news we have been anxiously waiting to share with all of you: Pursuit Athletic Performance is moving into a NEW larger, state-of-the-art training facility! We are growing and expanding!  We are super-psyched and we hope you are too!!

Centrally located in Chester, Connecticut at the top of Inspiration Lane (no, we are not making that up!), this facility (much larger than our present space at nearly 8000 sq ft) will provide more than enough space for:

  • group and individual adult and youth classes and personal training
  • triathlon, running, cycling, AND field sport (soccer, lacrosse) camps and workshops
  • a computrainer bike studio (aka the Pain Cave)
  • an expanded state-of-the-art gait analysis lab
  • treatment areas for chiropractic, massage, and more
  • a kitchen (which will evolve into a cool, fun and relaxing hang out space)
  • and much more!

Plans are in place to offer a wide array classes for both adults AND kids (think yoga, adult bootcamp/strength and fitness, youth bootcamps, and more), and even winter long weekly INDOOR triathlons! With computrainers for cycling, treadmills for running, and Vasa Ergometers for swimming, it'll be easy!

The pictures below are just a tiny SNEAK PEAK of what is to come.  Construction is ongoing: the lights are still being worked on (which is why you see the glass from the lights hanging), inspirational and motivational "fathead" wall art and photos are being added daily, and much more. Each of the training spaces including mirrors and floors are still to be added. As for the computrainer studio (aka Pain Cave), it is just about ready to go!  We are just a few weeks away from being ready to rock!

We HOPE you're as excited as we are!  PLEASE tell your friends and EVERYONE you know!

More information and news, including the OFFICIAL GRAND OPENING, will be coming soon!

Make it a great day everyone!  We can't wait to see you in Chester!

~Coach Al and Dr. Strecker