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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 

007: The Stretch Every Runner Must Do (Podcast)


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Hey Everyone!

 Stretching is a topic that is often discussed among athletes, but there seems to be as many ideas about what to stretch and how to stretch it as there are stars in the sky.

The singular goal of stretching is to restore balance in muscle length around the joints in the body. In order to do this, we must first be able to identify what constitutes “normal” length and then understand how best make changes where necessary.

So what’s the stretch every runner must do?

The one that is appropriate.

In this podcast we help you identify which muscles YOU, personally, need to stretch, and why mobility and flexibility are moving targets and should be periodically assessed.

Also, see the video below where Dr. Strecker answers the question about muscle length he’s often asked, “So how long are they s’posed to be?”


We hope you enjoy our podcasts and find them useful for your training and racing. Any questions? Hit us up in the comments, or on Facebook. Let us know of any topics you would like us to cover too.

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Baby Steps: A Runners Guide to Feet, Shoes and Dating (FREE Ebook)

pursuit athletic performanceThis little piggy…hurts! We know how it is. Feet can often be a source of big trouble for runners. Here is a direct download link for Baby Steps: A Runners Guide to Feet, Shoes and Dating, our free (somewhat humorous) guide to your feet, how they work, and how to–finally–pick the running shoe that’s right for YOU.

Orthotics? We cover that. Dating? Well, really, not so much! 8-)

Here’s an excerpt:

Pick up any running or triathlon magazine and you won’t read too many pages before a bold advertisement displays the shoes you really need if you truly want to be your best. Some claim to make you faster or prevent injury, others tout the benefits of “running more naturally.” One thing’s for sure, all of them look cool. And they come in the flashiest colors. And there’s some (paid) uber-athlete sporting said (complimentary) foot gear. You know the one. She just posted a new course record at IM Antarctica. She is sweaty and sexy and appears to have been chiseled from a solid block of marble. Not some cheap, domestic marble, mind you, the expensive Italian kind.

You, too, could look like this, race like this and maybe even get a date on Friday night if you wore these shoes.

Then we get serious, and take you on a tour of your foot function, foot form, and mechanics, leading you to figure out how to pick the right running shoe. Hit us up with comments or questions here in the blog or on our Facebook page. Enjoy and let us know what you think!

Ask Coach Al: Make Every Race Count

Hello Everyone!

I’ve received a few questions recently from triathletes, runners, and cyclists about racing, and how to approach those efforts. It’s a good time to review some basics about prioritizing races, how to approach each event, and how to think about your goals, and determine your focus.

Get back to me with any questions, and I’ll be happy to go more in depth on any issues you may have.

Race season is ON!

Coach Al

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Runner, Once Frustrated, Learns How to Refine His Form

One of our great clients, Glen Elliot, does a terrific job explaining the frustration most runners face when trying to improve their form. He tried to work on every cue in the book while running–cadence, land on forefoot, good posture, etc.–and came to the conclusion, “this just isn’t working.” A few weeks after his gait analysis and subsequent training with us, Glen returns to the lab for a tune up. What you will hear is his “lightbulb moment.”

Great job, Glen! You are really fitting together all the pieces of the puzzle!

Training for an Ironman? Read This

Coach Al Lyman, Pursuit Athletic Performance, Discusses Brick Run in Triathlon Training

Coach Al Lyman, CSCS, FMS, HKC

I think you will find interesting a current situation I am working through with one of the triathletes I coach. He is having a crisis in confidence about his run preparedness for Ironman Coeur d’Alene coming up in June. This athlete has been at the triathlon game for a while, but–like so many of you–has experienced repetitive cycles of running injury. Before we started working together, he had not been able to run with any consistency–or at all–for a year.

His current injury cycle came on the heels of his last round of Ironman training two years ago. He trained for that race with a mass coaching program that strongly stresses the “train more” philosophy with punishing levels of intensity day in and day out, week in and week out. And while this program touts it is “the way” to train for faster race times, in the end it robbed this athlete (and many others) of ANY ability to train or race at all.

As a long-time and experienced coach, I know one thing for sure–the “just train more” message is very seductive to triathletes. In a very real way, the mindset of “just train more” or “no pain, no gain” pervades much of our sport, and is almost like a drug. Many of us joke about it, but the fact is it seems to tap into a primal need to test ourselves and prove we can handle pain and not wilt under pressure. Once we drink that Kool Aid, it’s hard to turn back. Many don’t know any other way once exposed to it, and are often led further down the path by coaches who flat out don’t know what they are doing. The bottom line is, my triathlete’s concerns about run preparedness come from old, worn out training tapes replaying in his head. He has been duped into believing that you need to do week upon grueling week of long, hard running in order to be “ready” to run a marathon off of the bike.

That’s simply not true. Not on any level.

Here’s what is true–and this is where athletes find the place of phenomenal power, authentic fulfillment, and, yes, truly outstanding race day results.

IF you are functionally strong, TRULY healthy, and are building run and overall fitness steadily throughout training, that creates the conditions for an outstanding race. Then you must SHOW UP on race day, be TRULY healthy and rested, race smart, and be mentally ready to go after it. Put the two pieces together and it is then that you have the best opportunity for a GREAT race, especially off the bike–which is where it matters the most. Sounds too simple, and not “hard enough”?

Any coach can react to an athlete’s nervousness and write an overly aggressive run “build” phase. I always tell my athletes the easiest thing I can do is write harder plans. After all, I only have to type! Many knucklehead coaches, however, take pride in making stuff “hard” because their own egos are their biggest concern, not the athlete’s health and well being. As a responsible and experienced coach, I know that when an athlete returns to running after injury, the first few weeks absolutely DRIVE what happens, good or bad, with all the run training to follow for this race, this season–and beyond!

For example, if my triathlete is running slightly beyond his true functional capability due to an aggressive build designed to “get him there,” odds are he will fall back into old dysfunctional and compensated movement patterns. Remember, it is those same patterns that created injury in the first place. Also, he will be building TIREDNESS, instead of true run FITNESS. That means as he gets closer to the race, he will be thinking and believing he’s ready to race, when, in truth, he has been moving backwards on a number of levels–not the least of which is inching closer to re-injury.

I can guarantee that if my triathlete is FULLY PRESENT on race day with strong mental fortitude and toughness, AND a completely healthy, rested and ready body, he will surprise the heck out of himself with a run to be proud of–and a run that reflects his true potential. And the beauty is, this Ironman will be the start–NOT the end–of a training period. By ensuring true run health, athletes find a deep well of resiliency they never thought they had. They are able to dig deeper and find a resolve they always thought had to come through “force,” and a “train-more-and-suck-it-up” philosophy. Truly healthy athletes RECOVER, and come back to train and race year after year. Instead of beating the body to a pulp, Ironman becomes the beginning of a long period of steady improvement in strength, durability, and speed.

Most importantly, finishing this Ironman healthily and well will allow my triathlete to MANIFEST the power of the accomplishment in his everyday life, not simply adopt a persona. His personal reasons for undertaking the challenge will be with him with every breath he takes after the race. It’s what Mark Allen referred to as a “raw reality.” My triathlete will be authentically healthy, authentically athletic, authentically positive. He will be an IRONMAN, in the truest sense of what finishing the distance is supposed to mean. He will live it, and in his own mind, he will know he did it right.

I wish this same sense of peace, accomplishment, and good health for every single triathlete I coach. It is the place where true fulfillment and satisfaction are born. Believe it, and make the decision to BE IT.


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Training Run Cadence

Coach Al Lyman, Pursuit Athletic Performance

Coach Al Lyman

A few days ago, a discussion began in the USA Triathlon coaches group about running stride rate and cadence. Below is the original question that started the thread. Based on my work as a movement expert, it was clear I have a very different perspective than the other responses offered, and I would like to share my point of view.

Fellow Coaches, I’m a new USAT Level 1 Coach. I am currently working on running with a 90+ cadence. I understand the lean at the ankles to increase speed. How does one stay in the RPE 3-4 (Zone 2) while keeping a 90 cadence? Before taking this to my clients, I’m trying it and it is a bit exhausting. Is there a period of getting used to it that one must go through? Any drills to help with this? Is this tied to run durability? Thanks.

Hi Coaches,

I’d like to offer a different viewpoint from the responses so far.

Stride rate is not simply a function of some kind of conscious decision or choice on the part of the runner to move their legs faster–especially if the runner actually WANTS to run faster AND be more efficient as a result of that faster stride.

Stride rate is a function of applied force to the ground. It is Newton’s third law of physics in action (Issac, not the shoes). That is, stability and strength are the determinants of ground contact time (GCT), and shortened ground contact time results in a faster stride rate (SR), all things being equal.

The same is largely true in cycling. As noted physiologist and coach Allen Lim said with respect to Lance Armstrong pedaling at very high cadence compared to his competitors, “a fast spin isn’t a technique for producing power. It is the result of having power.” Words to remember.

A runner who is more stable through the lumbar spine/pelvic girdle, and whose entire body is more functionally strong, will have less energy leakage when the foot comes into contact with the ground, thus shortening the GCT and facilitating a faster SR. The analogy I often use in our Gait Analysis Lab is what I call the “bouncy ball effect.” If I take a bouncy ball and throw it at the ground, it will bounce back up at a speed directly proportional to how hard I throw it. If I throw it “harder” and have it hit the ground with more force, it bounces up FASTER, and goes farther as a result. Our body is the same way. Note that I said our body–NOT our legs, or our core, or our feet, OR our shoes! We run with our entire body, not just the feet or the legs.

In my work, I help runners understand that if their stride rate is well below 90 cycles per minute (and especially if they present with a tendency to over stride), they will benefit from GRADUALLY and progressively increasing that rate to 90 cycles or faster. (Leg length is a factor in determining any “optimal” rate, obviously). I remind them that since they are not striding quickly, a progressive, gradual increase over the course of a few weeks will likely cause a spike in heart rate due to the change in a neuromuscular habit. They are not efficient yet at the higher SR. They are also moving larger muscles more quickly, which tends to increase HR as well. As they become more efficient at the higher SR, heart rate usually comes back down to the normal range.

So, the bottom line is this….

“Thinking” and “trying” to change to a higher SR won’t result in a FASTER or more powerful runner UNLESS that runner is ALSO working to get stronger and more stable at the same time. Stability and strength come first, right after appropriate mobility.

When I coach runners on increasing SR, I also teach them that their ability to stride faster–and to RUN FASTER and be more efficient–comes from building the proper combination of stability, mobility, and strength. When those appropriate levels are built, THEN I add the “frosting on the cake”–form changes and drills.

Very often, when a runner gets stronger and more stable one is surprised to find that very little stride rate “coaching” is actually required! The body is smart. Changes come authentically, from the INSIDE, not the outside.

My advice is to resist the urge to make conscious changes to any arbitrary run mechanic issue, including stride rate or GCT, without FIRST examining the ESSENTIAL issues of pelvic stability and true functional strength. TRUE stability and strength is required of EVERY athlete in any sport who wants to be faster and better. Real and meaningful changes that last–and result in faster running speeds and improved efficiency–always have, and always will, come from the inside.

Coach Al

To Each His Own. Why Do You Train?

Dr. Kurt Strecker, Pursuit Athletic Performance

Dr. Kurt Strecker

Several years ago, I noticed that my good friend Todd had become a little… er… soft around the middle, for lack of a better description. I was trying to encourage him to get in shape, but it wasn’t until my loving wife, Susan, very kindly told him there was no way he could run a 5-mile race that he decided to take up the challenge. He finished that race and we signed up to do a half marathon that fall. By the following summer, we had both registered for our first half Ironman. Each year since then, Todd and I make it our mission to “drag someone off the couch” and get them exercising.

Our plan is simple: we register our “mark” for the Hartford half marathon and shame them into training. All in good fun. One year it was our high school friend, Dan. Last year it was Todd’s two older brothers, David and Bob. We plodded around the 13.1 mile course in about 2 1/2 hours, I think, but we smiled and laughed and enjoyed every minute of it. The greatest part is that everyone we’ve talked into coming outside to play with us has continued to exercise.

This past St. Paddy’s Day weekend, Todd and I went to Virginia Beach to join David for the Shamrock 2012 Yuengling Marathon. I guess David figured we owed him one. We broke no speed records, and we only got medals because they give them to everyone who finishes. David’s son, Keegan, rode his bike alongside his father the whole way around, just as he had done for all of the longer training runs. At the finish, David hugged Keegan with a tear in his eye and thanked him for being part of his achievement. What better gift could a father and son give each other? A great time was had by all.

The point of my story is this: We all exercise for different reasons. For me, there are many. First, I come from a family with a long history of heart disease, so I want to say healthy for myself, my wife and my kids. Second, I want to set a good example for my kids and make exercise a part of their lives. Finally, I enjoy training with my friends. There’s no better way to stay fit than biking through the hills in Old Lyme, running the beach loop in Old Saybrook, or swimming in Lake N’ski at sunrise with close friends and family. It’s good for the heart, the head and the soul.

Not everyone yearns to be on the podium, but there is something important that the 5-minute-milers and the 15-minute-milers have in common. Whether you compete or participate, train or exercise, race or run, you must move well. 5-K or marathon, sprint tri or Ironman, gardening or Bocce, it makes no difference.

Put plainly, good movement minimizes wear-and-tear on joints, muscles and bones and enables us to do whatever it is we want to do physically without breaking. And don’t be too disappointed if you move a little quicker as well. ;-)

Good movement. It’s not just for elite athletes.


Dr. Kurt Strecker, Pursuit Athletic Performance

Dr. Kurt Strecker, DC, CCSP

Dr. Kurt Strecker here. My blog post today has a direct, lay-it-on-the-line tone. The urgency comes from a deep caring and concern for the athletes we see every day in the lab and in the clinic. Serious injuries are often created when small aches and pains are ignored. Athletes frequently exacerbate problems because they are obsessed with exercise. Creating serious trauma in the name of fitness just makes no sense, yet we see it every day. The real crime is, most of these injuries are actually preventable.

Over the last three weeks, three different runners have come into the lab with knee pain. Here’s the scenario:

  • All of them continued to run after the initial onset of pain
  • Not only did they finish the run they were doing when pain first presented, but they ran on subsequent days!

With all three runners, I had clinical suspicion of meniscus tear. Unfortunately, I was correct in all cases:

  • MRI revealed torn medial menisci in the first two runners
  • The MRI for the third runner revealed not only a torn medial meniscus, but also included a completely ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)

What did all three runners have in common?

  • An obsessive desire to run
  • Very poor stability in the frontal plane


Exercise is for the benefit of the body, not its detriment! There is no sense whatsoever in building great cardiovascular fitness if it means you may, eventually, lose your ability to simply WALK.

In the case of each of these three runners, their severe injuries were totally PREVENTABLE. What got in the way? Here’s what we heard:

  • “I have to keep going. I HAVE to run.”
  • “I signed up for a race. I HAVE to train.”

Really, people? Why are so many of you willing to risk serious and possible long-term damage to your body, AND possibly lose the ability to participate in the sports you profess to love? Actually, what each of these runners signed up for is surgery, rehabilitation, the possibility of no running ever again, and early-onset osteoarthritis.

70% of all runners are injured in a calendar year. 70%! If you are a runner reading this, it is likely you have been one of them. Is it hopeless? Absolutely NOT!

  • What it will take is a commitment from YOU to become educated about how to become a stronger, more stable, and durable athlete. And that does not mean “just train more.”
  • You need to be to be proactive and build a solid frame BEFORE you rev the motor.
  • You must take preventative measures to develop muscular balance in your chassis to avoid injury.
  • You must develop proper functional strength, stability, and mobility in order to protect your body to then be able to train effectively.
  • Finally, you need to continue these productive practices over the long term so that you can train, race, and recover with resiliency year in and year out. It CAN be done!

So how do you do what I’ve outlined above? You can begin your re-education about what true athleticism entails right here by reading our blog and our website. We also invite you to get in touch with us–we can help you put it all together.

My final takeaway is this:

STOP RUNNING THROUGH PAIN! Pain is a signal that something is wrong. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. You cannot accomplish any goal or fulfill any dream with a body that is unstable, unbalanced, weak, and broken.


THE Most Important ABILITY to Have as an Athlete? Ask Coach Al

Hello everyone!

I received a great question from a triathlete who watched my previous video post on movement quality vs. sport-specific skills. She clearly understood the points I made in the post, and wanted to know what I thought was THE most important ability to have as an athlete? Every athlete–novice to elite and whether you are a cyclist, triathlete, swimmer, runner, soccer player–CAN perform to their potential by setting the platform and laying the foundation of an singularly important element early in the training. What is that element? It’s outlined for you in the video below.

I really enjoy hearing from all of you. Don’t be shy about posting your comments and continuing the conversation! Thanks!