Archive for coach al

036: Listener Questions! Last Minute Marathon Tips! [Podcast]

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Coach Al at mile 13 of the 1988 Boston Marathon

Coach Al at mile 13 of the 1988 Boston Marathon

 

In today’s podcast, Coach Al goes solo to tackle a couple of listener questions, as well as sharing some “last minute” tips for marathoners everywhere, including those toeing the line this coming Monday for the 118th running of the Boston Marathon.

Among the topics discussed…

* What causes the burning sensation you get in your legs when you train?

* What causes cramping?

* Should you run the day before the marathon or take it completely off?

* What’s the biggest mistake most marathoners make?

* When should I return to running after the marathon?

* And tips on including speed work if you’re training for an ultra.

* And much more!

Best of luck to all of the Boston Marathon runners and especially to those TEAM HOLE IN THE WALL runners! Have a great race!

                                                                                  All the best,

                                                                                  ~Coach Al

 

Boston Marathon Race Week: Old Habits Die Hard!

“Mistakes are the portals for discovery.”  - James Joyce
“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order to things.” – Niccolo Machiavelli
“The obstacle is the path.”  - Zen aphorism 


This year’s Boston Marathon, which will be held next Monday April 21, will be among the most significant and historic in that race’s storied history, in part because of the bombing events from last year’s race. Today’s post isn’t about the bombing or about THE Boston Marathon per se.  It is about the fact that when it comes to LONG RUNS prior to a marathon, Ironman, or some other long distance race or run, old habits sure die hard.  

What’s the old habit I’m referring to? Running your last long run 3 or even 2 weeks out from race day.   

Its amazing to me that in this day and age, with all we’ve learned about how our body functions best, the idea of doing a “longer” run within 3 and even 2 weeks prior to a marathon is still very prevalent out there in the running community. As the title of this post states, old habits (like being afraid of doing any strength training, or counting mileage as the primary predictor of performance!) die HARD!    

So When Should You Do Your Last Long Run? 

I was first exposed to research about the amount of time it actually takes for deep cellular tissue (muscle) damage to heal (from training) around 1990.  That’s 24 years ago. One study, conducted at Harvard at that time, showed that tissue remained significantly damaged even after 4 or 5 weeks of “recovery” after that “long” run.

After learning about that study and then discussing these concepts with our former podcast guest and running expert Owen Anderson, PhD (who at that time was the editor of Running Research News) I decided to adjust my own training to reflect that longer taper period prior to race day. I immediately felt the benefits of it with my first 2:40 marathon in 1991.  To that point, I’d been able to run a 2:50, but with this new approach to tapering, I ran a full 10 minutes faster and felt better on race day.  I don’t necessarily credit that taper and distance between the last long run and race day as the sole reason for the 10 minute drop, but I do believe it was a huge factor.

Without a doubt, I am convinced that a huge percentage of the runners who are running marathons in this day and age, and in fact many of those lining up in Boston next Monday, toe the line with “still damaged” muscle cells from a longer run, too close to race day.  Maybe its me, but it always made sense that if I wanted to have an opportunity to run my best on race day, that my legs needed to be healed from what I had done to them in training. That might sound like a simple concept, but again, old habits die hard.

Keep in mind as you think about this, that a “long” run can mean different things to different runners. Someone running 90 miles per week can run longer, relatively speaking, than can someone who can only handle 30 miles per week. But in my opinion, even on an elite level, a lot of the country’s best marathoners are still running too long, too close to race day, even with their lofty weekly mileage totals. I’ve employed this taper strategy or some variation there of, with every person I’ve coached since I began coaching, and as I mentioned, used it myself since the early 1990s.

Obviously, doing this requires that you do GET IN those longer runs early enough in your preparation. But even if you fall short in either the number or length of those longer runs, trying to “squeeze in” one last long run too close to race day, ensures that you will toe the line with less than 100% of your capability that day, and that’s a shame. The best chance any of us have to run our best “on the day,” is to show up 100% healthy and healed and motivated to do well, with a solid strategy in place.  The key words are “100% healthy.” If you’re not, even with the best training and highest levels of motivation, you will very likely do less well than you might otherwise be capable.

Why Do Runners Continue To Run Long Too Close To Race Day?

Big Confidence Boost?: At first glance that close-to-race-day long run seems like a smart idea. Many runners believe they need to prove to themselves that they can go the distance on race day, and what better way to show you’re ready than to knock off a 20-miler just a couple of weeks before you go to the starting line! What a great shot in the arm to your confidence, right? Wrong.

It might sound logical to lay one last long run down to boost confidence, but that would be a mistake, and the reason is simple: You need recovery after your long runs.

Many runners dismiss the amount of pounding we put our bodies through running those miles. As I often say here in our Lab, a mile of running is the equvalent of 1500 one-leg squat jumps! That’s a lot of repetitive trauma.

In an article Owen wrote in RRN some years ago, he referenced research conducted by Dutch exercise scientists with a group of marathon runners. “About two thirds had significant signs of muscle injury on the morning of the race, before they had run just one mile of the marathon!” According to the study, “the reason for this muscular mayhem, for the most part, was the long running the Dutch had carried out during the month before the race. The Dutch-athletes’ muscles were totally non-recovered on race day.” The Dutch researchers found that training runs with durations longer than 15 kilometers (~ 9.3 miles) were the ones which seemed to produce the greatest amount of muscle damage. Below 15K, little muscle damage accrued.  (The reason why I started back then, making 9-10mile runs my longest within four weeks of the race).

The BIG Myth.

The biggest myth that exists out there among runners getting ready for the marathon is that a long gap between the last long run and the actual marathon will make our body “forget” how to run long.  Going a full four weeks without a true “long” run, will cause our body to lose its ability to efficiently cover the distance, right?  Not so much! The truth is that provided you’ve done the necessary periodic long runs prior to that 4 week period and built to a distance of 20-22 miles on average, your body will not “forget” how to complete the distance on race day.   

In fact, if you approach your training in the right way, you can use this long-run-free four-week period to truly boost fitness and be more prepared than ever for a great race day! As your muscles heal and recovery progresses, you can…

  • step up the intensity of your training, allowing you to do more of the kinds of training sessions which will have a direct impact on marathon readiness. Those are sessions focusing on lifting vV02max, running economy, and threshold.
  • focus more time and energy on your overall fitness, specific mobility and flexibility needs, and topping off your running specific strength.

Most runners are so used to running on battered and bruised legs and being exhausted, that they never actually FEEL what it feels like to run on legs that are recovered and 100% healthy. What a shame!

The Bottom Line?

A smart marathon or long distance run training plan is one that builds fitness progressively and THEN ALLOWS for adequate recovery prior to race day. Many typical race training plans I see on the internet or written by other “experts” often leave out this critical recovery aspect, having runners run long 2 or 3 weeks out from race day. As a result, the runners following those plans or trusting that guidance end up toeing the line with damaged muscles, even though they “believe” they are 100% ready to have the best race possible.  If you’re reading this thinking “that guy is an expert running coach,” or “my fast friend does it this way,” stop and think for a moment.

Simply put, 3 weeks isn’t enough time for healing for the majority of runners, and 2 weeks is flat out absurd under normal circumstances. The exception might be if your weekly mileage totals are over 80 to 100 per week.  If your weekly mileage is below those numbers, you’ll be very smart to leave at least 4 weeks from the last long run you do until race day. Train smart in this way, and you’ll feel better and run faster as a result!

~Coach Al 

035: Open Water Swimming with Alcatraz Legend Gary Emich [Podcast]

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Elite open water swimmer and coach, Gary Emich

Elite open water swimmer and coach, Gary Emich

Today we’re stoked to have Alcatraz swimming legend and triathlon coach, Gary Emich, on our podcast. Gary is most well known for having completed over 1000 Alcatraz swims (without a wetsuit!) and for a host of other impressive open water swimming accomplishments. 

Gary is a Certified Level 1 USA Triathlon Coach specializing in open water swimming and a Certified Level 2 ASCA Coach.  He is co-host and co-producer of the DVD “Lane Lines to Shore Lines:  Your Complete Guide to Open Water Swimming” and co-author of “Open Water Swimming:  Lessons from Alcatraz.”  And, from 1998 through 2009 he was the race director for the “Alcatraz Challenge Aquathlon & Swim.” His open water swimming CV includes the Amazon River replete with piranhas; Peru’s Lake Titicaca; Scotland’s legendary Loch Ness; the Hellespont (a swim from Europe to Asia); and the 20km Rottnest swim at the age of 58.  Relay crossings include the English Channel (2000 and 2011), Catalina, Santa Barbara, Monterey Bay, the Bay of Naples (Italy) and the Strait of Gibraltar as well as relay circumnavigations of Manhattan, Key West and Pennock Island in Ketchikan Alaska.

 

On today’s podcast, Gary and I chat about all things open water swimming related including…

  • Navigation and sighting: What’s the impact of poor sighting? Tips and drills on how to improve this critical skill
  • Wind, waves and current and how to deal most effectively with these challenges
  • How training in the pool can cheat you
  • Safety considerations for swimming in the open water
  • Race starts and finishes
  • Goggles: what are the most important considerations for open water swimming?
  • Triangulation: what is it, and how can it help you in the open water?
  • Are you a bilateral breather?  Is it a worthwhile skill to develop?
  • And much more!

Thanks for joining us! Make your next open water swim a great one!

~Coach Al

ps: Here’s a neat funny which I know you’ll enjoy!

Fraz

Get Out! (Of Your Comfort Zone That Is)

 A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown. ~ Denis Waitley

One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again~Abraham Maslow


Life Begins Outside Of Your Comfort Zone!

Life Begins Outside Of Your Comfort Zone!

Throughout everyday life, each of us has certain physical and psychological  “comfort zones” that influence who we are and how we act.  Perhaps you follow the same routine when you wake up in the morning, or drive the same route to your job each day.  Similarly, from a training standpoint, do you tend to migrate toward the same pace, intensity, or routine, day in and day out, because it is “comfortable”?  I thought so!  :)

Physical comfort zones are usually easy to identify.  For example, if you have recently trained at or around 8 minutes per mile during your long aerobic runs and suddenly increase that pace to 6 minutes per mile, you will quickly step outside of your comfort zone.  Running at 6 minute pace quickly elevates your heart rate and perceived effort, immediately putting you outside your comfort zone! 

Psychological comfort zones can be a bit harder to quantify, but here’s an example. I think we can all agree that for most of us, talking one on one to a friend or two is usually not that tough.  But, stand up in a room in front of a live audience and try to give a speech while everyone is staring at you is a lot more difficult, and perhaps way outside of the comfort zone for many of us!

A KEY TO PERSONAL GROWTH AND SUCCESS

 In my opinion, one key that can unlock the potential for greater personal growth and success in many of life’s endeavors is the willingness to step outside of comfort zones.   If you’re going to reach your potential as an athlete, as you execute your training program you must resist the temptation to always do the same thing, in effect resorting back to that which is “comfortable” for you.  After all, it feels absolutely fantastic when we do finally step outside and as a result, experience some success!  Remember what it was like when you were nervous about asking someone out for a date? For most of us, this was well outside our comfort zones, yet how great did it feel when they said, “Yes!”  From a training standpoint, do you remember ever focusing your time and energy on developing a certain skill or technique?  Do you remember how good it felt when you realized you were getting BETTER at that activity because you did things a bit differently?  Far too often we train and perform activities the way we always have, staying with what is comfortable for us.  Routinely doing things the same old way (training pace, intensity, route, focus, etc.) prevents us from growing and improving.  We like to be comfortable!  Resist it, reach out, expand your horizons, and take some risks!  Improve!

 WHY ARE COMFORT ZONES “COMFORTABLE”?

There are two major factors that stop most of us from stepping outside our comfort zones more often.  The first is habit.  Simply put, out of habit, we tend to migrate to that which we are familiar with or that gives us a sense of security and safety.  The second and perhaps most significant factor is fear.  Fear of failure. Let’s face it, at one time or another we are all afraid to fail.  But we all know but rarely admit to ourselves, that the real consequences of “failure” are truly inconsequential and never last long.

As athletes, most of the fear we have when we step outside our comfort zone and try something new is all in our head. The fear is a figment of our imagination.  It just never seems that way at the moment of truth!  As an example, all of you triathletes out there, take open water swim starts (which tend to give many first time triathletes a fit).  Be honest, you know you’re not going to drown!  You know that nothing “down there” is going to swim up and get you!  You know everyone in attendance wants you to succeed!  All the other athletes have the same goal as you, to get to the finish line!  Whatever fear you may experience is only in your thoughts, and you control your thoughts, no one else.  Fear limits what we do and who we are, and ultimately, what we can achieve.

COMFORT” ZONE AND “GRAY” ZONE:

IS THERE A CORRELATION?

 Applying these concepts to your training on a consistent basis can be a key to unlocking untapped potential.  However, and this is important, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to always go harder and/or faster!  As an example, getting outside of your comfort zone may mean running, riding, or swimming more slowly on certain training days, when your mind might be telling you that you “should” be going faster.  Or, it may mean doing more drill or skill work in a training session when it might be more “comfortable” if you didn’t include skill/technique work.  In fact, failure to get outside of your training comfort zones relates very much to smartly differentiating pace and intensity in training, something I routinely remind athletes about.

Gray zone training is addictive and easy to succumb to because going “sort of” hard can and often is “comfortable” for many of us.  Think about that. When you’re training “sort of” hard but not REALLY hard (e.g. gray zone), you are in no man’s land. You are much better off either going easier than is “comfortable” for you (aerobic or even easier for recovery), or if your training program calls for it, going much HARDER than is comfortable. In fact, getting the maximum benefit from your training program means being way outside of your comfort zone during hard (quality) training sessions. It means going VERY hard and being VERY uncomfortable!

 THE BOTTOM LINE?

Though it may not always be obvious on a daily basis, consistently getting outside of comfort zones even just a little bit can lead to unbelievable results in your training and racing.  Starting today, have the courage and mental strength to “step out” regularly both physically and psychologically, and I guarantee you’ll get better and faster than ever!  Make it a great day!

~Coach Al 

034: Is “Minimalist” The Best Way To Train? [Podcast]

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PAP Podcasts Videos Triathlon TrainingOn just about a daily basis, Kurt and I get questions about what we feel are the optimal ways to train if you’re an endurance athlete. Do we believe higher volume training is a necessary component for success over long distances, or do we believe “minimalist” training is the way to go. What we preach and believe is born from a variety of factors: first and foremost, our personal experience gleaned from many years of trial and error, scientific study and research, and our daily work with athletes of every ability level and from every walk of life. What results is a company philosophy and belief system grounded in three things.

1. We believe in training for the betterment of the body (and mind), not to their detriment.

2. We should learn how to establish, develop, and own quality movement first

3. Each of us is unique. We all have individual natural attributes, goals and dreams, and likes and dislikes.  

My own background is a testament to what I personally believe and what I have lived: I ran my marathon PR of 2:39:37 at Boston on a low weekly average of 45miles of running, with a great deal of supplemental stability and strength training added to the mix.  That being said, there ARE a great many factors that go into what might be the best approach for you.   In today’s podcast, we discuss a variety of factors that might help you determine the best path.

  • Intensity and volume represent an inverse relationship: when one goes up, the other should go down, right?
  • What kind of experience do you have as an athlete? Do you have the requisite aerobic “plumbing” necessary for success as an endurance athlete?
  • If you are imbalanced or moving poorly, will a higher intensity minimalist type training program increase your risk of injury?
  • The scientific evidence is irrefutable: Intensity is the prime driver for improving fitness! But its a risk – reward equation. Is higher intensity worth the increased risk of injury?
  • Does your age matter?
  • Amateur athletes training and racing for fun and to enhance the quality of their lives are generally very busy people with many responsibilities that go beyond “just” training. What impact should this have on how you decide to train?
  • What about YOUR unique tendencies? Do you love to run or ride for hours on end, or is a 1 hour session about your limit?
  • And much more…

We hope you enjoy our podcast on this fun and interesting topic.

~Coach Al

In Training, Be Purposeful!

“For purposes of action nothing is more useful than narrowness of thought combined with energy of will.”

–Henri Frederic Amiel, 1821-1881, Swiss Philosopher, Poet, Critic

 

“It is a psychological fact that you can influence your environment and thoughts. If you do so consciously and with high purpose, you can change your habits and attitudes for the better.”

 –source unknown

 “Singleness of purpose is one of the chief essentials for success in life, no matter what may be one’s aim.” 

–John D. Rockefeller, 1839-1937, American Industrialist, Philanthropist, Founder Exxon And last but not least!:

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”

 –Sir Cecil Beaton, 1904-1980, British-born American Photographer

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Monday Excuse Busters!

 

10153250_10203154876609771_265784320_nHello everyone. Coach Al here! In a relentless effort to inspire and motivate you to reach your true potential, I’ve put down some common thoughts that many of us naturally have from time to time, and I follow with my reaction. Do any of the below ‘themes’ or excuses sound familiar?  Read on…

 

“I not sure I have what it takes to finish an Ironman or”….”You see, I could never”…
————-

Why not? What do you mean, “I could never”? Of course you could. You could indeed. If it can be done, you can do it. Finishing an IM or even an Olympic distance race has been done the “first” time by many before you, who are just LIKE you.  You’ve got to want it, of course. And if you want it enough, you’ll do it. “I could never” is usually said wistfully, meaning “I wish I could, but I can’t.” That’s preposterous. You can if you really want to. Free yourself from your own limitations. What do you want to do? What will fulfill the enormous potential of your life? Certainly not hiding behind “I could never.” You are capable of truly extraordinary accomplishments. You can do whatever you decide you’re going to do. You can find a way. Have the courage to live your possibilities.

 

“I’m overwhelmed with too many responsibilties and I”…

————–
Sometimes you’re just so overwhelmed, you feel like throwing up your hands or crawling into a hole and curling up in the fetal position. WRONG!  That’s exactly what you must not do. When you’re overwhelmed, that’s all the more reason to start taking the actions that will rectify your situation. When you’re overwhelmed is when you’re the most frustrated and the most motivated. Now is your chance to really take action with dedication and commitment. Don’t blow the opportunity. The frustration you feel is good, solid positive energy waiting to be released. If it is not released in a positive direction, there is a very big danger that it will become destructive energy. Use that frustration to your advantage. You’re overwhelmed?  GREAT! Do something about it right now. Quit complaining and start taking positive action. If you’re overwhelmed it means that there are plenty of things which can be done, things which will most likely make a difference very quickly. Pick something and start doing it right now. As soon as you get busy your frustration will start pushing you forward.

 

“I’m just an average athlete and not very experienced, and I don’t know if I really deserve to succeed”…

——————————
You are just as good, just as worthy, just as valuable as anyone. No one can intimidate you, no matter what kind of car they drive, or what their business card says, or how big their house is, or what their “personal best” time for an Ironman is. No one is better than you. You are the best there is. Inside you is the potential to do, or be, or have anything you desire. No one has more than that. Some may have progressed farther down the path at this moment, but that doesn’t make them any better than you. If you start to take action right now, you will be working your way down that same path. No matter what anyone says, or does, no matter what your situation — personal, financial, social or otherwise — you can choose to live your life in your own way. And there is no greater success than that. But you must be the one to achieve your success. Though no one can hold you back if you’re determined enough, by the same token no one can do it for you. You’ve got to step up to the challenge, believe in yourself, and do what it takes. Right now is a great time to start. You deserve the best that life has to offer. Do whatever needs to be done to make it happen.

 

“It’s just too hard”…

——————————
Anything worth having, or doing, or being, requires effort. What if you could have whatever you wanted, again and again, just by snapping your fingers? And what if everyone else could, as well? How much would you value and appreciate the things you had? What would you do with your life, if there was no need for effort? Where would you find meaning, what would give you satisfaction?  The value of effort is not only in what it produces, but also in what it demands of you. The greatest opportunity in life is not for a free ride. The greatest opportunity is to be fully challenged, and to meet challenge with effective effort. The things we value are the things to which, and for which, we give of ourselves. There is no way around that. Some of the hardest working people are those who are wealthy enough that they don’t need the money. Some of the most dedicated athletes who constantly strive to get better are also the most talented.  However, both of these types of people know they do need the effort, and the accomplishment, and the challenge. We all do. Without it, life is shallow and empty. Make the effort. Do it now. Start today to meet the challenge.  Remember, if it was easy to do what ‘we’ do, then everyone would do it.  But that’s what makes that finish line such a special place…………

 

“I’m just really too tired”…
———–
What are you tired of? Doing nothing can be just as tiring as taking action. If you’re physically tired, then go to bed and get a good night’s rest. Then get up in the morning and get started. Whatever you do today, you’ll be tired tonight. You can be tired after a day of effective effort and accomplishment, or you can be tired after a day of getting nowhere.  The choice is yours. If you’re going to be tired anyway, it makes sense to get something out of it. To put forth your best effort, to move in the direction of your goals, to make a difference, to make a life of excellence for yourself and the world around you. Take action toward an exciting goal, and instead of being tired you’ll be exhilarated.

 

“It won’t matter anyway”…
———–
What you do, matters. You can make a difference if you choose to do so. If there’s something that needs to be done, doing it will make a difference.  You know that. Thinking that is won’t matter is just a petty rationalization. Of course it matters. If it doesn’t then find something else that does. You are a creative, effective person who is full of possibilities. The job at hand or your most immediate racing goals may not be the most important thing in the history of the world, but if it gets you into action, then it matters very much. Because no matter how small the effort or consequence, it is a start. It revs up the momentum of the intelligent, creative, productive, and energetic person that you are. And once you get going, there’s no telling how much you can accomplish. It all starts with taking action. Don’t hide behind the thinking that it won’t matter. Jump in and get started. It does matter. Do it now.

 

“I’m afraid I might fail”…

———–
You can never fail — if you just show up you will always succeed in producing results. If you don’t like the results you are producing, then you can learn from your mistakes and change your strategy. By taking action, you will not fail. In fact, the only way to fail is to not take action. By taking action you always achieve a result. The result could very well be the achievement of your goal, or it could be a learning experience that will eventually bring you to the goal you desire. But you never fail. After Thomas Edison had tried 9,999 times to perfect the light bulb, and had not succeeded, someone asked him if he was going to have 10,000 failures. Edison replied that he had not failed — that he had just discovered another way not to invent the electric light. Failure is simply not an option. Everything you do has a result and eventually those results will lead you to the achievement of whatever you desire.

 

“I’m too busy”…

———-
What are you accomplishing with all that busy-ness? Simply being “busy” gets you nowhere. Stop being busy, evaluate your priorities, and start taking focused, directed action. Anyone can be busy, but so what? Accomplish requires more than just burning up time. Accomplishment demands action and results. Stop being busy and start doing something today.  Remember, thousands of athletes just like you have daily responsibilities, and all of them manage to get the job done.  Refine your priority list, throw out the garbage, and focus on that which will bring the results you desire…………………

 

“I can always try “it” later”…

———-
Yes, that’s right. You can always try it later. And when it’s later, you’ll probably say the same thing. Nothing gets done by putting it off until later. The fact is, you are alive and making decisions right now. Right now is the period of time over which you have control. Right now is the time that’s available for you to take action. Action that is not taken now, doesn’t get taken. As you’re reading this, try to do something next week. Really put out all the effort you can to get something done next
week. Were you able to do it? Of course not. Because next week isn’t here, and it never will be. It is always now, and now is the time to act. Do it now and it will get done.

 

“I’ve already tried that”…

———-
Trying is not enough. The only way to accomplish something is to do it, to do whatever it takes, to keep making the effort until the goal is reached. If at first you don’t succeed, you’ve still learned something valuable about how to proceed. If you’ve already tried, that’s fine. Keep going. Make use of that experience. You’ve got a valuable perspective on what works and what doesn’t. Stop trying and start taking whatever action is necessary to reach the goal. Learn from the mistakes and appointments. Keep going. Start right now to really make it happen.

 

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST!…..drum roll please!  :)

“But why not”…
———-
Whatever you wish to accomplish, there’s no reason why you cannot start right now. When you’re truly committed to reaching your goal, there will always be something that can be done right away, to get started. Action will get you where you want to go. Excuses will hold you back. The choice is yours. What are you waiting for?

Make it a great day!

~Coach Al

033: Food: Facts and Falacies [Podcast]

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Pollen quoteWith every passing day, it seems there is a new research study, article from an “expert,” or training partner, telling us we HAVE to eat more of this food or that food, or avoid some kind of food altogether.  The old saying about the pendulum swinging from one extreme to another sure applies when it comes to modern day eating and nutrition. (Many of those “experts” are trying to get you to buy something from them, which doesn’t help!)  

As an athlete, you are probably even more confused trying to figure out the best way to “fuel” for optimal training and racing.  Should you go high-carb low-fat, low-carb high-fat, paleo, vegan, or some mix of all of these? Is there a “secret” food or fuel that will propel you to faster racing and a PR? So many questions, and lots of confusion!  

Our view on eating here at Pursuit Athletic Performance is simple:

We believe a daily diet that leads to optimal health, longevity, and fast racing, is largely about BALANCE and MODERATION, and should be comprised mostly of a variety of whole foods, very few if any processed foods, foods balanced in macro-nutrients, plenty of rich sources of fat (especially good fat), and foods lower on the glycemic index. This quote says it all: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food!” There’s a lot of truth to that!


The best way for each of us to eat is largely personal. We all need to find what will work best for us individually. Some do better on higher carbohydrate diets and others feel better on lower carbohydrate diets. If there IS one recommendation we could stand firm on, it is that good daily eating starts with removing unwanted sugar, processed junk foods, and artificial stimulants from our diet, not by adding more stuff, particularly junk.

Eating Well: Our friends at Tri-Hard Sports Conditioning wrote a great article entitled “Eating Well.”  In that piece, they shared these thoughts:  “When was the last time you really enjoyed eating? Do you often rush through meals so you can get to the next thing? Are you preoccupied with whether a food is good for you or not? It’s time to bring the fun back into eating and we’re here to help. Picture this. You’re at the counter chopping up some fresh vegetables you picked up a few days before at your local farmers’ market. Your best friend is rubbing some spices on a few pieces of fish. You can smell the grill heating up as you listen to your favorite music. You share great conversation as you prepare and soon sit down to this delicious meal. You enjoy every bite and feel nourished by the experience. This is eating well! This is in contrast to grabbing something on your way out the door or obsessing over every detail of nutrition. Eating well is a concept that blends “good nutrition” with the simple act of eating great meals with your family and friends. Eating well empowers you to get past means-to-end thinking and returns eating to its rightful place as one of life’s simple pleasures. Rest assured, when you eat well you get all of the benefits of “good nutrition”, and even more, since you are free of the food neuroses that make eating stressful and spoil the fun.”  That’s great advice, don’t you think?  So, in summary, here are some general bullets to guide you.

  • Eat real food, not processed food.
  • Eat amounts appropriate given your training volume and intensity.
  • Avoid seeing food as stress relief or a way to cope emotionally.
  • Everything in moderation.
  • Experiment, keep an open mind, and learn.
  • When it comes to meal timing, experiment to find what works best for you.
  • Keep a diary to learn more about your habits.
  • Begin hydrating when you first wake up by drinking at least 1 full glass of water.
  • Drink as much water as you can reasonably stomach before going to bed.
  • Make good food choices as often as possible, vs. avoiding certain foods.
  • Be flexible each day, and don’t beat yourself up if you make an occasional poor choice.
  • Get the majority of your nutrition from fresh vegetables, whole fruits, and quality lean protein.
  • Limit starch and sugar intake to those time periods during and /or immediately after long rides and runs.
  • Consume a minimum of 3-4 grams a day of Omega-3 fats from fatty fish or a quality supplement.

We hope our chat today on the podcast about all things food and falacies, is helpful. Have a great day everyone and enjoy eating well!

~Coach Al and Dr. Kurt

032: The Two Most Common Mistakes Endurance Athletes Make! [Podcast]

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Get the intensity RIGHT to ensure you continue to improve!

Get the intensity RIGHT to ensure you continue to improve!

What’s that old saying about the definition of insanity? To keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? When it comes to THESE two “most common” mistakes, get in line if you’re among the folks who routinely make them, yet also expect to reach your potential or get better results while making them. I’m here to say, it is time to change and break some bad habits! Learn to train smart.

Mistake #1: Beyond the more obvious factors we talk about here at Pursuit Athletic Performance (that are important for any athlete to reach their goals), such as improving movement quality and developing true functional strength, one training element stands out as KEY for your success, more than almost any other. What is it? Differentiating intensity on a daily basis, and even within each and every training session.

What does it really mean?  (When you hear “train smart,” from a coach, this is partly what they mean!)

In my years as a coach and in training with other athletes, perhaps the single mistake I’ve seen most athletes make who do NOT progress as they hope to, or who have plateaued in their performances, is that they muddy workout intensity, making the easy stuff too hard, and the hard stuff too easy, and everything in between becomes “sort of” hard.  This basically is the equivalent of talking in a monotone voice. Boring, and not very good for improvement!

In order to IMPROVE and adapt to get better and ultimately be more efficient and faster, stay away from the “in between” intensity standpoint is a poor way to execute smart training. If the easy stuff is too fast or too hard, you won’t have the energy to sustain effort on the “quality” segments, and vice versa.

The MORE you can dial in and differentiate your intensity in every workout, the better you will feel, the better you will perform, the faster you will recover, and ultimately, the more you will improve.


Mistake #2: Preparing well, including doing a smart warm up, at the beginning of every training session is critically important to both prepare your body for that session and to minimize risk of injury. When I am observing others, I notice that many tend to blow-off their warm up periods and then end up starting their sessions too hard or fast. If you are rushed for time, that tendency to make this mistake is even greater.

One very common factor that many athletes forget to consider as their fitness improves, is that the more fit and strong you become, the more important a progressive warm up period is. And when it comes to racing, a proper warm up is crucial if you want to have a great race, regardless of the distance.   

Make It More Dynamic, Not Static!  

A high quality structured dynamic warm-up of at least 5 to 15 minutes at the beginning of training sessions and races will accomplish several important things:

It will raise body temperature. When you begin to sweat, it means that your muscles are getting warm, loose, and relaxed. There’s some evidence that higher body temperatures thin bodily fluid, which lessens strain on joints and on the heart.

It reduces initial levels of muscular stress. Anyone who has ever tried to keep up with an “overzealous” training partner who sprints out of the parking lot at the beginning of a ride, knows how your legs burn because you are not warmed up.

It conserves muscle glycogen. “Fast from the gun” workouts and races dip more deeply into your precious supplies of glycogen – the fuel your body needs and prefers to burn for endurance efforts. A slower start with adequate warm up allows you to burn a greater percentage of fat, conserving reserves of glycogen.

It opens capillaries. A warm up dilates the vessels that allow blood to bathe muscle cells with oxygen and nutrients. More blood flow means more fuel and a better performance.

It activates your nervous system. Your nervous system controls your movements and is integral in how efficient that movement is. Warming up effectively improves the activation and efficiency of your muscular contractions, which in turns improves coordination.  Dynamic activities that “wake up” and activate your nervous system make you more efficient and effective in any movement which follows the warm up.

It compensates for aging! Let’s face it, the older you get the more you need a warm up. When I was a kid, I could go full speed right off the couch and into the back yard. Not anymore!


What About Prior to a Race?: An effective warm up prior to a race involves both physical and mental components. The actual structure of your warm up can vary and is highly individual. Shorter is usually better than longer, as long as you accomplish what you need to, to prepare to race well. For a triathlon, I like to reverse the order of my warm up, starting with running, then going to the bike and then the swim.

THE RUN: Begin with some light functional warm up exercises that activate your nervous system, get the blood flowing, and loosen the hips and legs. After 3-5min of very easy running, throw in a few strides to open up a little bit and get the blood flowing, then shut it down and head over to grab your bike.

THE BIKE: Jump on and head out of transition, spinning the legs and confirming everything’s working as it should be.  Depending on race distance and intensity, the warm up might be very short and easy, or longer and more progressive. That is, the shorter and more intense the race from the gun, the more you need to warm up prior to it. After a few short JUMPS to get the blood flowing, spin on in and re-rack your rig. Be sure you put everything back where it was originally, and pull your stuff together for the swim.

THE SWIM: Assuming you’ve left yourself enough time, at this point I like to get into the water and swim for 3-8min, just to get used to the water and the environment and get a sense of visibility and siting. Ideally, you should have enough time to do this short warm up in the water now, and then get out and have a few min to sit down and relax and compose and reaffirm your POSITIVE thoughts about what will be a great day for you!

As a general rule, for all warm ups, the closer you make the warm up to the actual start, the better off you are. Long gaps between warm up and the start of a race make the warm up largely ineffective for what it is primarily intended for, which is to get you warm, activated, and ready to go!

Lastly, as I said earlier, the better and more fit you become, the longer it takes to warm up your body and be ready to go.  When we don’t take the amount of time we need to warm up and prepare our bodies for more intense training, the quality of our workout can be adversely affected, and we also place ourselves at much higher risk of injury. When the gun goes off, pace yourself, stay in the moment, and build in intensity so you can finish strong! Best of luck and have an awesome day!

~Coach Al

Getting Your Season Started Right!

 

Lis Kenon and Coach Al, Pursuit Athletic Performance

Coach Al with 4x Ironman AG World Champion, Lisbeth Kenyon

Hey Everyone! Coach Al here. :)  If you are like many endurance athletes in the northern hemisphere, the late March marks the time when you really start planning to “get serious” with training and race preparation in anticipation of the upcoming competitive season. Even more, for some athletes this time period marks the time when, after a casual glance at the calendar reveals only a few weeks remain until the first event, a state of shock and absolute panic ensues! ☺

Before you panic and start hammering those high intensity intervals, moving yourself precariously close to either injury or over-training, remember to keep a few important things in mind as you embark upon a fast-track toward improved race readiness.

First, avoid the trap of thinking there is a quick fix, short cut, or easy path toward a true higher level of fitness. Building the stamina and strength that leads to success in endurance sports takes time and patience. However, if you pay close attention to the fundamentals such as skill and technique enhancement and general/functional strength, you CAN make some great inroads over a relatively short period of time that WILL help get you closer to being able to achieve your goals.

Secondly, while there are many facets of your training that will be integral for your success, there are two topics requiring your attention all year long but often don’t get the attention they deserve this time of year.  They are: maximizing your daily NUTRITION and daily RECOVERY from training.  (If you’re at a point in time when you feel you need a “kick-start” to cleaning up your diet, check out our De-tox!)

It goes without saying that if you don’t eat well most of the time and at the right times and don’t recover adequately between individual training sessions and week to week, your training, fitness, and ultimately your race preparation will stagnate or even worsen.

Here are three TIPS to assist in transitioning optimally to the month of April and also help you get your season started right:

  1. Review your current Limiters and then establish some Training Objectives to improve and overcome those Limiters. Limiters are your weaknesses or “race specific” abilities that may hold you back from being successful in your most important events.   Likewise, Training Objectives are measurable training goals that you set for yourself and which may be based on your Limiters, with the goal of improving upon them.

To help in this process, start by asking yourself these questions: 

  • As you review your current Limiters, how well have you progressed in the Off-Season in addressing those?
  • Did you “miss anything” in your Off-Season preparation that you should focus on now?
  • Is there a chance that your Limiters will hold you back from being successful in certain events?
  • Are you aware of your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Are you doing anything right now to improve your Limiters and thus your chance for success in your upcoming KEY races?

Even though it IS late March, it is NOT too late to start developing some key workouts to help strengthen your weaknesses. Be patient and persistent, and set measurable goals (training objectives) so that when you line up for your most important event this season, you will have the confidence of knowing you did all you could to prepare for success!

  1. Focus on executing KEY WORKOUTS by differentiating intensity and being purposeful in all of your training: To ensure you continue to improve, one of your primary goals must be to execute key-workouts to the best of your ability, which are those workouts that when recovered from them, will have had a specific and material impact on your race specific fitness.  Avoid falling victim to the “rat race” mentality that has you chronically “running” from one workout to the next without any real focus, which only results in tiredness and higher levels of stress without resulting in improved health OR fitness.
  2. Eat as well as you can, most of the time: Eating the best foods to nurture your health and recovery, most of the time and at the right times, is the best path toward optimizing health and body composition. Too often endurance athletes fall victim to waiting until they are close to their goal races and then trying to get lean and “race ready.” Once you begin to do higher intensity race-specific training sessions, your body will be under greater duress – trying to limit calories at that time can be very stressful and may lead to injury, poor adaptation to training stresses, and basically undoing all of the work you are doing to improve!

To summarize, these three tips come back to one very important but often forgotten concept: listening to your body and trusting your intuition.  I believe your intuition may be the most important tool you have in your toolbox as an endurance athlete, and unfortunately many of us don’t listen to it when we need to the most.

If you are a novice, your intuition might not be as highly developed as your more experienced training partners or friends, but it IS there and is often talking to you! Your “inner voice” might be telling you that you are tired and just don’t feel up to that ride or run that you had planned, or, that what you are eating isn’t optimal to support your training or health.

Your body is smart! If you learn to really listen to it and stay patient and focused on the fundamentals, you will get your season started right and perhaps have your best season ever! Best of luck!

~Coach Al