Here’s one cool way to build hip and leg strength.

This past week on Instagram I posted a short video of an athlete I coach doing an Oscillating Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat.

In that post (my handle is pursuitathlete), I mentioned I'd be writing about why I came up with this variation as part of a progressive 3-block approach I use with the athletes I work with, for building leg and hip strength.

Check the video out by clicking on the image up to the left. The athlete's name is Arne - he's one of the top 50+ triathletes in his home area of Oslo, Norway.

So what's the deal with this somewhat gimmicky looking variation on the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat?

I'll start by saying that I believe this variation (one of a few different variations I am employing with my athletes right now) can be highly effective training if done correctly and progressed smartly. I also believe it's potentially very helpful in building the kind of strength that will help you run and ride much faster and more powerfully.

So today, if you're willing to dig into this a little bit with me, let's get into this variation in a bit more detail.

Because, after all, the secret (as always), isn't the exercise itself...but rather, it's how the exercise is done.

The Oscillating RFESS: Let's take a closer look

The first thing to recognize is that the "oscillating" movement at the bottom of the squat position is in what is a very challenging (and disadvantaged) position. Why does that matter? Keep reading!

Here's the deal: The intensity of any exercise (including this) is drastically increased if an athlete is required to spend a longer duration of time in a range of motion that is commonly considered to be weaker. I believe this disadvantaged, e.g. lower to the floor position, is weaker in all of us comparatively.

As such, and as has probably become apparent, an "advantageous" position (stronger) would be one much nearer to the top of the squatting movement. Make sense?

One of my most influential teachers, thinkers and researchers is Dr. Stu McGill. This man has done more research on the spine than anyone else on the planet and has also had the unique opportunity to work for years on elite athletes and weekend warriors alike. He’s forgotten more about the human body than most of us will ever know.

One of the things he’s often stated (based on his research predominantly) is that the BIGGEST DIFFERENCE between elite athletes and everyone else, ISN’T their individual strength or flexibility – rather, it’s actually how they RELAX.

Say again? How they relax?

Yes. To put it more succinctly, it is the speed at which their muscles relax in between muscle contractions.

Elite athletes have the ability to relax much faster between contractions. This is one of the reasons why they look smoother, silkier, and generally more relaxed, whereas some of us look stiff and rigid comparatively.

The Paradox of Muscle Force and Speed: 

Dr. McGill, in an interview, had this to say about this paradox: “When muscle contracts it creates force, but also stiffness. Force creates faster movement but the corresponding stiffness slows the change of muscle shape and joint velocity. For many, the instruction to relax to obtain top speed seems counterintuitive. But this becomes instantly apparent hitting a golf ball. Try and hit hard using muscle and the ball never goes far. This is because muscle stiffness slows the motion down. The great long ball hitters relax through the swing gaining top speed but rapidly contract at ball contact to create a stiffness that is transferred to the club and ball. This is the “pulse”. Then the musculature instantly relaxes to maintain speed of follow-through.”

It makes total sense that the same “rules” apply to both running and cycling. Which is to say, it isn’t just about the amount of force you can create when your foot hits the ground or when you are pushing on the pedal…

…it’s as much or more about how FAST you can apply that force (call it Rate of Force Production) and how quickly your muscles relax in-between contractions.

It’s worth noting that while we could argue as to the existence of Sherington’s Law in this day and age (a topic you may be familiar with – and one I’ve written about quite a bit – if you need to, google it), this simple idea that when a muscle is contracting (shortening), the muscle opposite it must lengthen to some degree to allow for movement around a joint.

We KNOW that both muscles are contracting – one is doing it concentrically (shortening) and the other is doing it eccentrically (lengthening). And there are likely some elements of isometric action as well (no change in actual length of the muscle).

Let’s use a very simple example to look at what I’m hoping to convey: a basic bicep curl.

During a bicep curl (elbow flexion) it is clear that the bicep is shortening. However, the tricep must also allow lengthening for the elbow to complete flexion. If the tricep does not relax in a rapid enough fashion, whether that be due to a lack of strength or motor pattern, the bicep is not capable of producing the maximal level of force possible.  If we’re talking about a relatively high-velocity setting such as fast running or pedaling very fast, the slower relaxation of the opposing muscle (in this example, the tricep) will cause even greater difficulties as the speed of elbow flexion will be greatly reduced.

Although this is an over-simplified, single-joint example, the same contraction and relaxation rules apply within all movements. It is the ability to control this task of rapid contraction/relaxation in the “push-pull” mentality that separates the elite from everyone else. 

 Accelerating=Concentric / Decelerating=Eccentric

When you push down on the pedal on the bike, or when you’re pushing off to propel yourself forward in running, there’s a definite concentric (acceleration) series of muscle actions going on. At the same time, the muscles opposite those producing that force are acting as decelerators. They’re resisting forces acting on your body and also working to control the rate of acceleration or force production.

Here's the bottom line Al: these oscillations as part of this Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat, are simply about teaching the muscles of your hips and legs, as well as the proprioceptors such as the golgi tendon organs, to function more quickly and efficiently. (If you're thinking of this as training a skill, I think you'd be right!).  Strength (and power) production is a skill. 😊

Getting a bit deeper:

Large Nerve Proprioceptors called Golgi Tendon Organs

Also known as "GTOs," these are the large nerve proprioceptors located in tendons. If you've been on my email list for a while, you've heard me discuss the "small nerve proprioceptors" in our feet when discussing barefoot training. Today we're talking about the large nerve “dudes.” Large simply means “slower,” compared to small nerve (those in our feet – much faster!).

Anyway, GTO’s act as neuromuscular inhibitors and are sensitive to the forces developed within the muscle. If muscle tension increases sharply, which can obviously happen and does happen in cycling and running, the GTO reflex responds. The key here is that this response can and often does lead to an inhibition of muscle action, ultimately decreasing tension to prevent the muscle and/or tendon from incurring damage due to the rapid, high levels of force.

Every GTO is set to a specific, trainable, activation threshold. Think of this activation threshold as a governor on a truck. It is in place to ensure the safety of the structure and reduce the likelihood of injury.

(I know this is getting a bit technical, but this is important stuff to chew on if you're considering adding these to your training mix, so keep reading!)

It's all about the relationship between inhibition, muscle action, and relaxation!

Generally speaking, most GTO’s are set to inhibit a muscle up to 40% below what that structure can actually handle. For example, if a muscle structure is capable of handling 100 lbs of exerted force, the GTO system would reach its activation threshold at 60 lbs of force. This leaves 40 lbs of untapped performance potential.

Through appropriate training of the weaker points within range of motion the activation level of GTO’s can be elevated, as the body adapts and is taught to handle higher loads in specific ranges of motion.

Ultimately, the ability to reduce the activation of GTO’s at high force levels will lead to increased force output from the muscle and improve strength.

Bottom line – these are about teaching our tissues to function more quickly and effectively and efficiently to hopefully allow for greater force production and speed of that force production.

Ok, let's wrap this!

With ALL that being said, let's wrap this with a few practical tips for how to approach these RFESS oscillatory reps…should you attempt to dive in.

  • I always use these on top of (or after) a base of strength. It's really "frosting" on the cake. The cake is building strength with this exercise using good form, first. (I'll share more about this in an upcoming email, so stay tuned).
  • With these, the goal is to move as quickly as possible when oscillating. With a relatively short range of motion. Think of flicking a light switch on and off rapidly.
  • Should you want to attempt these, don't use any load. Master the fast oscillations first, then consider adding load as your skill improves.
  • Stay as low as you can. You are weaker, the lower you go. It’ll be harder.

For what it's worth, it is also smart to train in an advantaged position every so often. Just sayin!

Phew. That was a LOT of technical stuff to digest, right?  After typing all of that, I think I'll go take a nap! 😊

Seriously, I hope this gives you some idea of the really cool (and valuable) ways in which we can vary some fundamental strength moves like this one, to "teach" our body to relax more quickly and thus generate more force when it matters the most. 

To your success,
Al

PS: If you're not following me on Instagram, pursuitathlete is my IG handle. I plan on continuing to share more cool training ideas and concepts in the future.

PSS: If you believe this post has been helpful and you'd be interested in hearing from me on a more regular basis via email, you can CLICK HERE to subscribe. I hope you've considered the time it took you to read this as time well spent. 🙂

Does Your LowBack Ever Get a Little Cranky or Stiff?

Low back stiffness and pain is epedemic in this day and age. And the truth is, there are SO many potential causes for stiffness or pain in the low back. So, let's get this out of the way - it's not in my job description to diagnose, and even if it was, I'm sure as hell not going to try and diagnose in a blog post  - that'd be kind of ridiculous.

However, what I CAN do...is share a video that I shot this past week for my coached athletes. In it, I get right to the heart of ONE of many reasons why our back can get a little cranky.

I've seen this over and over again in a variety of people, from all walks of life and activity levels, especially, runners....OR (gasp!)...pain-addicted sickos who, for whatever reason, like to do side planking!

We ALL love to hate that one - it sucks so good, right?

THREE Common Causes of Low Back Stiffness and Pain

Before I get to the video I mentioned above, know this: In my experience working with athletes from different backgrounds and age groups who occasionally struggle with low back pain or soreness...

...in the majority of cases (that aren't the result of a traumatic injury like a crash) the issues are usually related to these...

  1. The hips aren't as mobile as they need to be:  We need the hips to move or the back will have to. As I have often said, the body will absolutely get movement from somewhere - the question is, is it the right somewhere. (This is the biggest culprit if you're typically "tight" or "stiff" or consider yourself inflexible).
  2. The hips aren't as stable or strong as they need to be: This is another way of saying the low back ends up having to compensate - and "pretends" to be the butt! Not a good thing.
  3. The core/trunk isn't as stable as it needs to be: Without a stable core, the low back WILL take a beating. In other words, if those smaller muscles throughout the trunk (whose job it is to make sure the spine and entire trunk functions as it should) aren't in synchrony with each other and integrated holistically with the other parts of the body, it's not if you'll have back pain, it's simply when.

To be sure, these aren't the ONLY reasons, but they're the top three.

Or are they?

As I think of it, there's also a FOURTH common cause.

And that is????

To get the answer to that question, you'll need to CLICK on the image to the left...

...and check out a 12-minute long video that I referred to above.

In it, I get right to this FOURTH reason for low back stiffness.

And, I give you four specific movements you can do to alleviate that stiffness right now.

You and I know any kind of low back pain and stiffness sucks. And if you can relate, then maybe I can help.

What are you waiting for? Click the above image and get right to it.

To your success,
Al

PS: If you're not following me on Instagram, pursuitathlete is my IG handle. I plan on continuing to share more cool training ideas and concepts in the future.

PSS: If you believe this post has been helpful and you'd be interested in hearing from me on a more regular basis via email, you can CLICK HERE to subscribe. I hope you've considered the time it took you to read this as time well spent. 🙂

Three Mistakes Many Beginning Runners Make (and How To Avoid Them!)

So today's post is straight forward: I'm going to talk about some of the "mistakes" I typically see beginning runners make.  If you're interested in learning what those are (and what to do to avoid them), keep reading.

One of the things I really enjoy as a coach is helping someone not only begin a running program, but most importantly be able to continue it so that they successfully reach the point in time I refer to as the "satisfying" stage of running. If you've been running for any length of time, you know first hand what I mean. It's that point when you finally start to feel better as you run and can really feel some of the fitness benefits. Those early days and weeks AREN'T easy. With time, determination and consistency however, there's very few things we can do for our health that are more rewarding and satisfying than running!

The secret to getting to the "satisfying" stage of run development is doing it the "right way."   One major step toward doing it the “right way” is to make sure you avoid injury.

If you can manage to avoid injury, you'll build your fitness steadily and consistently and be able to enjoy the benefits of an incredibly satisfying fitness activity. And you'l smile a LOT! 🙂  On the other hand, if you end up injured, you'll soon learn what it's like to be SO frustrated and angry, wondering where to turn for answers as to why you have that pain, and most importantly, what you can or should do about it.

If you STOP running, you start to lose that fitness and the momentum you worked so damn hard for. On the other hand, if you try to KEEP running right through the pain, it will inevitably only get worse, setting you up for even more frustration, anger, and fear about your future as a runner.

Before I go on, I want you to ask yourself an important question: Do you know why you want to do this? Whether it’s to gain more energy, feel younger, be healthier, look better, lower your blood pressure, lose weight, or finish a marathon, recognizing WHAT your primary motivation is may be the MOST important element for success, because it is THAT reason that will inspire you, drive you, motivate you, and create the burning desire that YOU WILL NEED to achieve the rewards you desire!

So, now that I’ve got that out of the way, let's get to some of those mistakes. Avoid these and you'll be well on your way to an enjoyable life of running.


Mistake #1: 

Doing too much mileage - progressing too fast, too soon.  “Patience and fortitude conquer all things.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The most common mistake many beginning runners make is to let their initial enthusiasm "run" rampant by running too many miles too soon, going farther and more frequently then their bodies are truly ready for. The risk of this happening is much higher, earlier, when motivation is high and there are no aches and pains in your legs!

However, as the days turn into a week, and then two weeks, the knees, hips, shins, and low back begin to feel some tweaks. If those runners don’t heed these warning signs that the body is beginning to rebel, before too long they will most surely have an injury, and then BAM!, just like that, the new passion for running is stopped DEAD in its tracks. Game over!

How do you prevent this mistake from happening?Be more conservative than you think you need to be with how often, how long, and how much you run, especially early on in your development.

If you are completely new to running or just getting back into it, start with walking first, and then slowly and progressively add small amounts of running into the mix.  For example, I typically recommend a runner take a minimum of 10 weeks to progress to 30 minutes straight running. Start with 30 seconds of walking and 30 seconds of running for 10 or 15 minutes and progress conservatively from there.

Be aware of the warning signs of injury.  If you feel ANY pain that you don’t think is normal for what you are doing, STOP immediately and walk home, or call for a ride home. Doing this could literally SAVE you weeks or months of down time away from the sport.

Be aware that very often injuries sneak up on you; they don’t always happen when you might expect them to. Be aware, listen to your body!
Take AT LEAST one complete day off from exercise each and every week.  Take REST days seriously! It’s when you rest that your body adapts and gets stronger!


Mistake #2:

Not developing core stability or doing any strength training. 

“A terrace nine stories high begins with a pile of earth.” – Lao-tzu

Many beginning runners think that running will make them stronger, so they start a running program without realizing this fact: running in and of itself will not make you stronger!  Rather, running actually breaks you down making you weaker in many ways!

As you may know, with each stride you are landing with about three-times your body-weight in impact forces.  Not only that, the less optimal your running form is, the higher the impact forces are. What is helping to absorb this pounding and keep your body from taking a tortuous beating? The answer is, your CORE should be!

The real true secret to avoiding injury and improving as a runner is to develop a stronger, more durable and stable FOUNDATION.  When your foundation is weak, your form deteriorates as you get more tired. You are forced to slow down or even stop, while your risk of injury goes up because your legs are forced to absorb the pounding your core should be absorbing.

If you don’t improve the stability and strength of your core in a running specific way, and treat your legs to some running-specific functional strength training, you will eventually find yourself injured. How can you develop your entire trunk and core for more powerful and injury free running?   Make the choice TODAY to incorporate as little as 10-minutes of core training, 2 to 3 times per week, into your weekly running routine.
Not sure what to do? Keep it simple, not complex!  Get in touch if I can help.


Mistake #3:

Not making the effort to learn what your inherent risk of injury might be, or where you might be weak, unstable, or out of balance.  

“To thine own self be true." – Shakespeare

The simple truth is that unless you take the time and make the effort to learn about your own body, where you might be imbalanced, weak, or unstable, and then take the steps to correct whatever those things are, you're going to get injured. It's just a matter of time.

No one in their right mind would invest in or buy a house without first checking to ensure the foundation is strong and the mechanicals in the house such as the plumbing and electric are sound and working well. Why don't we do the same thing when it's our own bodies, especially when it's our long term health and happiness that's at stake?

So how do you avoid making this mistake? If you REALLY want to know what the answer is and what your options are, get in touch with me directly via email and I'll tell you what I've learned the hard way.

Have a great week!
To Your Success,
~Coach Al

Are You Doing THIS, and Self Sabotaging Your Success?

Today’s I'm sharing something that at times frustrates the coach in me, I won't lie. Perhaps more than almost anything. And I know it shouldn’t, because…well, it’s the humanity in all of us. But if only…

So what is it?

Our constant need to self-judge at every turn or moment, during training and racing.

Trust me, I’ve been there. We all have. It’s our universal human nature to do this thing, self-judging right in the midst of when we're out there training and racing, that can be so destructive if we let it.

Many years ago, a smart friend reminded me that expectations are often the worst thing we can have. In any situation, of the three possible outcomes, two aren’t very attractive and can lead to frustration and sadness. After all, if an expectation is met, you naturally nod and go, “well, I expected it (so no big deal). If its not met, you’re inevitably and disappointed. Frustrated. Even angry.

Every workout or training session you do ISN’T a pass or fail TEST, that determines whether your training is moving in the right direction, or if you’re fit, or even if you’re any good.

Every race you do ISN’T a reflection of your fitness or preparation. Or even your value as a human being! It's just a single race. One event. On one day. That's all. 

When you go into any experience or training session or race with an expectation for it to be a certain way... or for you to feel a certain way, you’re setting up the chance of being disappointed. And the negative self-talk that comes out of that disappointment is sure to rob you of the joy of just being out there!

My friend, that sucks!

Because getting out there to train and race and participate on whatever level you are able, should above all else, be joyous. And affirming.

My advice?

Just do.

Just be.

Don’t let what happens in any moment in time detract from you just DOING what you set out to do, the very best you can, in that moment.  Take it all as it comes. Go with the flow. It’s neither “good” nor “bad,” it just is.

Take satisfaction from knowing you did the best you could in that moment. Pat yourself on the back.

**Select the words you use when you talk to yourself, with care. They will inevitably trigger thoughts, images and feelings, both positive and negative.

**Accept occasional setbacks and difficulties as normal and natural parts of life and training - decide to rise above them and carry on. Just do!

While it might not seem realistic at times, the simple truth is that we all need to talk to ourselves positively, not just some of the time, but ALL the time. Talk about things the way you want them to be rather than the way they might be in a moment in time.

Don’t let the inevitable ebb and flow of life (and training) suck the joy out of doing what you most love to do.

Al, we all have our negative inner critic, but never forget how awesome you are and how hard you’re working and fighting to do your best every day. Trust me, I’m right there with you!

To your success,
Al

PS: A while back I recorded a short audio on "Self Talk" for my coached athletes. Many of them told me it helped tremendously to keep them focused on the kinds of self talk that leads to better outcomes. If you'd like to listen, CLICK HERE to right click and download it for listening now or later on. I hope it helps!

This exercise has SO many benefits. Check it out!

Happy Friday my friend! I hope your day has started off great.

If you have any interest in getting stronger, perhaps progressing your pull up/chin up (or getting your first!) or... doing any overhead pressing and doing it safely, keep reading. I've got some important tips for you.

There are two very important questions I ask first, before I program any training for an athlete. Both of these questions deal directly with their safety (minimizing their risk of injury) and maximizing their potential to progress the activity, e.g. do more of it and get better at it.

What are those questions?

  1. Do they possess the movement prerequisites to perform the exercise, sport or activity?
  2. Do they possess the basic and fundamental skills and ability necessary to perform them safely and progressively?

Checking with my online dictionary :), I can quickly confirm that a prerequisite is defined as "a thing that is required as a prior condition for something else to happen or exist."

For example, let's say you want to start doing pull ups...but when you try, you struggle getting your shoulder to move through any range of motion, or maybe you can't quite get your arms overhead. In this instance, you honestly have no business trying to pick up a weight and put it overhead, right? The prerequisite in this case is shoulder range of motion.

Following me so far? (You'd be surprised how many fitness programs and trainers never actually check to see whether an athlete has that prerequisite ability before loading folks up with weight! That's a bad deal).

Fundamental skills and ability sorta speak for themselves, yes?  If you're not sure what I mean, here's an analogy: don't you think your kid needs to have a good handle on basic arithmetic, before their teacher will have them move on to algebra or calculus?  Smart training that pays positive dividends is no different. Move to more advanced skills without mastering the basics first, and your risk of injury is going to skyrocket while your ability to progress the training nosedives.


Train smart: make THIS part of your daily routine!

Since I've been talking about pull ups and chin ups, (or overhead pressing), I'm going to share with you one of the greatest exercises I (or any other coach or trainer for that matter) has ever programmed for another. It's that awesome and that beneficial.

Click on the image to the left to check out an informal video of this exercise. I did this video for my friends over at Vibesworkshop.com. In it, I'll teach you this exercise.  It's called a Wall-slide.

As I said earlier, this exercise has so many benefits, they're almost too numerous to mention. Here are the three most important:

  1. It's a great exercise to establish and practice fundamental core stability while your arms are overhead and you're squatting.
  2. It will help you simultaneously open up the front of your chest/trunk (which, admit it, has gotten tighter since you started staring at your smartphone for hours on end!), while also stabilizing and strengthening your back and shoulders.
  3. It'll help you get your thoracic spine moving (that portion of your spine between your neck and low back), which is a very good thing.

If you find doing this is challenging (assuming you're doing it correctly of course), you'll likely be compensating when doing any overhead work. That means a big risk of injury. It may mean your t-spine isn't moving as it should. It may also mean you're super tight around the chest area and in need of some shoulder stability work! Regardless, you'll get so much benefit from making the Wall-slide part of your daily routine.

So, get on it! 🙂

Got questions or something I can help with? Get in touch!

To your success,
~Al

Are you helping or hurting your chance for a great race with your pre-race meal?

I've seen it happen so often over the years - you've trained hard for weeks and months, doing everything you can to be ready to have a great race. And then your stomach goes south - at the worst possible time during the race.  It sucks when that happens. There's nothing more frustrating.

Gastrointestinal intestinal (GI) distress has ruined more than a few race days for some otherwise very fit, very prepared athletes. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter how fit you are...if you are having GI issues, you know? You can't race to the max if you're sick, nauseous, or vomiting.

The first step in fixing problems is to accept that most races are, first and foremost, "eating and drinking contests."


It matters what you eat before a race...

I shot a 10-minute video (with a somewhat gross demo - sorry!) to discuss what I see is perhaps the most common mistake a triathlete or runner can make with their pre-race meal. Click on my picture to the left to check it out.

What are some of the important take home messages?

* Eat your pre-race meal at least 3 hours before race start.
* Make sure you eat simple, easily digestible foods which you've practiced eating prior to training sessions.
* Avoid taking in any calories between the meal and the start of the race. (Do continue to hydrate).
* Less is more - be kind to your stomach.

If you're racing this weekend, good luck and have fun! (And eat early and light!) 🙂

    Train (and eat) smart!

    To your success,
    ~Al

    Triathletes: Have We Needlessly Overcomplicated Training Intensity?

    "K.I.S.S."  - Just about every experienced smart person ever 

    Back in the late 90s, in my very early days as a triathlete, I worked with Coach Troy Jacobson. Troy taught me a lot about how to train. One of my earliest “lessons” came when I went to one of his (well-known at the time) weekend triathlon workshops in Baltimore. The weekend began with a Friday evening gathering. It started out friendly enough - you know, the usual (slightly forced) smiles, hand shakes, and nervous chatter.

    Not long into our evening however, things started to get serious. “Up on the wall,” he said - for a winner take all, wall-sit. His intent was clear: to find out who was REALLY serious about improving - who was willing to suffer and hang on until no one else was left.  (I managed to be the last one "sitting" that night on the wall. Somehow. I mean, you know….he didn't know me. And since I’d recently hired him as a coach, I wasn’t about to give in or give up. He needed to see I was ready to get to work to do whatever it was going to take).

    The fun got even more serious the next day when Troy led our group out to a rather “famous” hill (to his previous campers and the local riders) for some all-out, no holds barred, bike hill repeats. It was a massively steep hill that was about 200-300 yards long. It’s all a little bit of a blur as I look back, but I have vivid memories of three things (beyond that I suffered immeasurably):

    The first was Troy speaking to the group beforehand with a very serious tone – everyone was nervously staring as he said “your goal today is to go as hard as you can up the hill, in the biggest gear you can turn, and then turn around and get down as fast as possible so you can do it again. Keep going until you can’t go anymore.” Naturally there were a lot of nervous laughs in the group – everyone knew ahead of time what was in store. There was no hiding.

    The second thing I remember was him riding alongside of me up the hill literally screaming at the top of his lungs for me to go harder. And I mean screaming. No mercy. He spent his time during the repeats, circling up and down the hill encouraging all of the riders. (It’s worth noting that at the time, Troy was the top amateur at Ironman Hawaii and one of the best long course triathletes in the country; he'd soon become the half-iron national champ. And his strength as a triathlete was cycling. Bottom line, the guy was fit and could ride!).

    Not that it matters to this blog post, but I was the last one left that day.

    So what was the third thing I remember? He gathered the group together afterward and congratulated everyone, then looked at me with a grin and said, “well, Al, I guess there are some hills up in Connecticut, huh?”


    Learning How To Train

    That weekend taught me a lot about what it meant to go HARD. But that’s not all I learned. It also taught me about what it meant to go very easy, too.

    You see, Troy had 28+ mph half-iron bike speed in his legs, but despite that bike strength, he’d also be very comfortable in an easy ride situation averaging 15 mph or so. On a flat road no less. We had the occasion every so often to do these kinds of rides together in those early years, during which we discussed how important it was to keep it easy in those kinds of situations. In other words, he knew when it was time to keep it EASY and was very willing to do it.  He didn't let ego lure him into a too hard effort. And similarly he also knew when it was time to go HARD. He taught me the difference between the two, in real time.

    The same lessons were emphasized in running. And in the pool.

    Differentiating intensity. Making sure easy was easy. And making sure hard was….well…VERY hard.  Not just giving the concept lip service, but actually putting it into action on a daily basis.

    Of course, I’d learned the value of differentiating intensity and effort from my competitive running years much earlier. The difference with triathlon is important though – with a higher overall workload with more training hours and more skills to develop, the risk of training at the wrong intensity carries with it greater consequences: Over-training, staleness, injury, and sub-par race day performances, to name a few. All of which leads me to the title of this post:

    Have we made training intensity too complicated? 

    Troy had a very simple system for setting up heart rate and RPE based training zones. He used the simplest possible approach, using basic colors we're all familiar with to represent THREE different intensities.

    • Blue was aerobic (which is easier than most endurance athletes think!).
    • Red was HARD (which I’d guess many have never really experienced in the way I did on that hill).
    • Gray was the dreaded "no-go" zone in between the two.

    You're Getting Tired, But Are You Improving?

    He and I discussed this gray zone quite a bit. This is the intensity you generally want to avoid like the plague. It’s the intensity that will tire you out and that feeds your ego, giving a short-term ego boost, but in the long run (no pun intended), isn't likely to help you reach a new, higher level of fitness and performance.

    Here's a couple of examples:  (You'll have to adjust pace based on your own fitness level right now - regardless, I hope you get the point).

    • How about going out and running a 5k race and averaging a 7-minute per mile pace. Then going out in training and doing the majority of your “aerobic” running at around 8:30 pace.  Assuming that 7-min average was on a fair course and your best effort, your true z2 pace is much closer to 9:00 (or slower), than to 8:30.
    • What about going out for a group ride on a course you know you could honestly ride at ~16 to 17mph average speed and have it be truly, comfortably “aerobic,” yet the group you join has some stronger riders with egos (doesn’t every group?) so you work hard to hang on the back of the group and end up averaging 18 or 19mph for the ride. Sounds like you’d improve from that, right? I mean, you worked very hard, right?

    I think it's fair to say you deserve some kudos for hanging on. You certainly went hard enough to tire yourself out. But the really important question to ask in my opinion is, did you go hard enough to truly lift your fitness to a new level after some recovery? I'd bet my wallet that Troy would say no. And I’d agree with him.

    So what are a few of the most common training errors I see that are related?

    • You could guess this one: turning “aerobic” z2, into semi “tempo” or moderately hard.  (Ego, ego, blah, blah)
    • Not making easy z1, easy enough.
    • Not taking time to warm up into sessions from the start. Your first mile should be your slowest, most of the time. (The exception might be a “race specific” session where you’re working on a specific skill or ability that dictates you go harder from the beginning).
    • Letting ego or your training group dictate how you train.
    • Not running or pedaling or stroking easily enough during "recovery" intervals that separate "work" intervals.

    Most folks will read this and nod their heads. “Yup, I guess that makes sense.” But very honestly, most will only give it lip service in the heat of the moment, because egos are powerful! 😊


    Troy was one of the best triathletes in the country at the time I worked with him and he ended up giving me my start as a coach when he created the Triathlon Academy. He's one of so many that have taught me so much along the way.

    Above all else though, he reinforced in me a concept that I’ve repeated a thousand times to others as a coach:

    The hard days should be easy, and the easy days should be hard.

    In other words, when you train easily on the days you should, you’re actively resting and preparing for the next hard effort, when you’ll be ready to go, precisely BECAUSE you didn’t go semi-hard the day before.

    Similarly, after a truly hard day (like it was for me on that hill), you’ll be forced to go easily the day after. And because of the effort you expended, that “easy” session will actually feel hard. You’ll run “slow,” pedal “slow” and feel like you’re moving through molasses.

    All you need is some smart recovery and you’re ready to get back after it, bringing everything you’ve got and getting every ounce of benefit out of the session in the process.


    Sometimes Simpler IS Better

    Despite all the cutting-edge graphics and charts on platforms like Training Peaks and others, all of the discussion among coaches and athletes about TSS (Training Stress Score) and the detailed zones courtesy of Andy Coggan et all, the reality is...some things don't change as much as we might thing, as time goes on. And sometimes, simpler is better.

    Blue is blue. Red is red. Gray is gray.

    The take home? Spend most of your time being blue. When you are red, you should be ready to rock, so don't hold back. And, avoid the gray as much as you can.

    Train smart!

    To your success,
    ~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 


    Spring is in the air in New England. And it's April. That means it's Boston Marathon time. One of the most important races in my own journey as a runner - I always miss it when I'm not there lining up in Hopkinton!

    Today's post isn't about this year's race, or the bombing from a few years ago. It is about training for the marathon, or any other long distance race. Because 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 

    Want To Be More Injury Resistant? Don’t Waste Your Time With This Dumb Exercise.

    So here we are, it's almost April 1st! Did it seem to you that the first three months of the year have just flown by?

    Let me ask you two straight forward, honest questions:

    1. Would you be interested if I said I could show you one simple (but not necessarily easy) exercise that could (nearly) instantly, give you a STABLE core? No BS here - I'm very serious. Done well, this particular exercise works almost like "magic."

    2. And what if I could also save you valuable time and energy by showing you one popular exercise you're probably doing that is a serious waste of your training time and effort?

    I'm going to assume if you've read this far, the answer is YES to both of those. So let me start with question #2, the exercise that is A WASTE. What is it you ask?

    planksIt is the basic 4-point, front (aka prone) plank.  

    Now listen, I know a lot of athletes love this one because you get that "burn" in your abs (yes, I do occasionally use this plank to transition between right and left SIDE planks), and it does make you feel mentally "tough" to gut out long planks, BUT... if your mission is to avoid injury and run faster, this version of a plank just won't do it for you. 

    To learn more about the "WHY," take time to listen to this podcast where Doc Strecker and I go into great detail (and hopefully set the record straight) about this exercise.

    Now to question #1, if you REALLY want a more stable and strong core, that'll help you get faster and go farther, the Half Front Plank with a reach, IS IT.

    Now you might be thinking, this is much "easier" than a full front plank and certainly, something that "simple" can't possibly make a difference. But you would be wrong on both counts.

    A Simple (But Seriously NOT Easy) Plank To Get Stable

    Don't believe me?

    I challenge you to TRY IT exactly as Dr. Strecker describes it (and demonstrates it) in the 3.5 minute video (click on the image to the left) and then let me know how it goes for you.

    In fact, I challenge you to videotape yourself doing it and send it to me. I guarantee I will get back to you with a critique, and offer some tips on how you can improve.

    Listen, I know your time is valuable and mine is too. I've been at this way too long to waste time. I'm giving you the straight scoop here, it's up to you to see if I'm right.

    Try it. Video yourself and then email me to let me know you're sending video. (Dropbox is best to send video. Note that I will NOT open it unless I hear from you first via email).

    Trust me, it may look easy but to do it well, is NOT easy.

    It's up to you. You can get REAL results, or you can choose to waste your time doing dumb, pointless exercises like the basic 4-point front plank.

    But if you ask me, life is too short to waste time on useless exercises.  As I said before, this year is flying by!

    Happy trails!
    ~Coach Al

    PS: If you're interested in digging into this Half Front Plank with a Reach a bit more, I shot a video for my coached athletes where I get into more detail with a ton of tips on how to make it better. You can check that video out HERE.

    PSS: Let's face it, one of the ONLY real paths for anyone who wants to be proactive and make sure they are doing all they can to age gracefully and get rid of chronic injury once and for all, is to get to the heart of how they're "moving" and determine definitively where they're unstable, weak, or imbalanced. 

    So, because I want to help YOU, for a very limited time only (5 days-this opportunity is gone at the end of the day next Tuesday) and for a limited number of athletes (only 5), I am offering YOU a solution!

    That solution is our unique Pursuit Athletic Performance Virtual Gait Analysis at 20% off the normal price of $299.00. That's right, 20% off!

    4 days only; 5 athletes only. Will one of them be you?

    The Virtual Gait Analysis Is For You IF:

    • You're tired of nagging pain and you're frustrated that you can't run as you'd like to.
    • You want answers NOW on what to do to finally resolve the issue forever.
    • You aren't lazy, and are willing to do the work that is required, once you know WHAT to do and HOW to do it.
    • You love life and want to keep running for as long as you're alive!
    • You're a nice person.

    The Virtual Gait Analysis Is NOT For You IF:

    • You don't think you need any help determining the cause of the injury. You know it all and might even have the certification to prove it! 🙂
    • You a) got advice from a running friend, or b) now have a foam roller you can use, or c) believe running with pain is the price you have to pay to be "good."
    • You believe with a little rest, you'll be good to go.
    • You believe the answer is to run more miles!
    • You're not a nice person.

    How Does Our Virtual Gait Analysis Work?

    1. Go HERE and hit the "Get A Virtual Gait Analysis" Button. During check out, USE THIS COUPON: VGASAVE20 to get 20% off of the normal $299.00 price, but ONLY if you act immediately because it goes away after 5 have been purchased! Coupon code: VGASAVE20
    2. After you complete the purchase, you'll receive an instant downloadable PDF with detailed instructions on every single step you need to take, which includes submitting pictures and video to us. It is an easy-to-follow process that works!
    3. I'll be in contact with you to help you through every step of the process of submitting what we need to conduct the analysis, should you need us.
    4. I'll take all of the information provided and conduct the analysis.
    5. When I'm done (normally about 4-5 days from the time you have submitted ALL of the information to us), we set up a SKYPE video call with you at a mutually convenient time, where we review everything we learned with you. At that time we will answer any questions you may have. Also included is a complete VGA report that includes a detailed, individualized exercise prescription for addressing YOUR specific issues, as well as all supporting pictures and documentation.
    6. And then, because you NEED TO KNOW what to do to fix your issue (and how to do it!), we will give you instant access to our website and all of the instructional videos and documents.

    You'll know WHAT to do, HOW to do it, and will be able to contact me directly should you have any questions along the way!

    It's time to stop the insanity.

    I want to help YOU! However, I can only help if you take action NOW!

    You ARE worth the time, expense and effort. Let me help you return to the healthy, vibrant, happy runner you want to be!

    A Long Arduous Journey Back To Running

     

    Elise VonHousen will go for her first run this weekend. It's been a long time since the last one. She’s worked incredibly hard over the past few months to get to this point in time, where she’s ready to take these first steps.

    Why is it such a big deal, and what led her to this point in time? Grab a cup'a joe (or whatever your preference is) and follow along. I hope what I share today inspires!

    So, whenever I talk to someone who inquires about the coaching work I do in my company, Pursuit Athletic Performance, I inevitably catch myself saying, "Hey, what I do…. it isn't curing cancer, that’s for sure. But, at the same time, helping people overcome what are often long-term chronic injuries, to come back to being able to do the things they so love to do - that can be incredibly powerful and life changing.”

    Such is one more incredible story of resilience and hard work that defines Elise VonHousen's journey back to running.

    Where did our story together begin?

    Elise emailed me in April of 2017. She’d gotten my contact information from a close friend of hers – a triathlete who herself had been saddled with years of chronic injuries, and who had successfully overcome them to return to training and racing.

    Elise’s email to me started off like so many others I have received over the years, saying “I am probably going to tell you too much right now, but I know information is important.  At the same time, I don’t want to waste your time, so I apologize if I ramble on.”

     

    Reaching out - looking for answers. Hoping. Praying.

    She was reaching out hoping beyond hope, that I might be able to help. She didn’t want to waste my time though. Hope, in her mind, had all but faded into the past.

    She continued: “…I started running back in middle school.  Back then I was a band geek with very little self-confidence.  I went running with my sister one day and realized running was something I could do other than school.  It turned out I was pretty good at it (at least at the local level).  On a personal level, running got me through a lot of tough times growing up.  It was the one thing that was mine and no one could take away from me.  Unfortunately, my body has never liked running quite as much as the rest of me.  Starting in my freshman year of high school I have had multiple stress fractures anywhere from my feet to my femur.  I have had bouts with plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis.”

    She went on to describe a life-long history of injury: “Stress fractures began my freshman year in high school and I have lost count of how many I have had.  Some were self-diagnosed as I had enough experience to know what was going on.  Most of them have been in my right side with a couple on the left.  I have cracked just about everything from my foot to my femur.  In high school I ran a state championship on a stress fracture and ended up pulling my calf muscle at the same time.”

    On she went, fighting through the injuries and continuing to dream of training for the races she loved to do. Training and racing with her friends was a big part of the joy she felt and took from the training process.

     

    Forging ahead - setting goals. And hoping. 

    Fast forward to 2017. She had a dream of qualifying for the 70.3 world championships in Chattanooga. Two weeks out from a qualifying race, she said she was out on a run and “felt a pop and sharp pain in my right foot.  I tried to jog it off like a twisted ankle but it wasn’t working so I walked until I could find a ride back to my car.  I didn’t know what I had done but I knew it wasn’t good.  I was hoping it was more of a bruise or soft tissue and pretty much stayed off of it until race day.  By then I was walking almost normally and told myself I could gut it out and run well enough to qualify.  Had solid swim on a rough day and the best bike of my life only to have it all fall apart on the run.  My foot wouldn’t have anything to do with running 13.1 miles so it turned into a walk/jog/limp fest just to get to the finish line.  In hindsight, I never should have started.  But I’m stubborn and had to try.”

    She went on to describe what followed: “The fun began, doctor’s visits, x-rays, MRI’s, etc to find out what I had actually done.  After way too long, I find out that it was a stress fracture in the navicular bone.  (something I had also done back in college).  So, in the boot I stayed until Thanksgiving.  The one amazing thing after all of this time off was I could get out of bed in the morning and walk normally and climb stairs like a normal person for the first time in years.”

    She finished her email to me with these words: “When I saw the Dr. for my stress fracture I was told that I may never run again and that If I did, I should be happy to run slowly and for shorter distances as I would be lucky to do that.  I didn’t like that answer and I still don’t.  I have thought a lot about getting a second opinion, but haven’t known where to turn.”

    What ensued was a series of conversations that resulted in Elise doing a Virtual Gait Analysis with me. That approach (vs. us meeting face to face) was necessary because she lived in the northeast and I live in Florida.

    Like so many before Elise, I knew in my heart that having a realistic chance of returning back to the sport she loved would be difficult.

    • Was she coachable?
    • Was she willing to work with someone who would hold her accountable?
    • Would she be willing to do the sometimes-tedious work that was required to restore balance in her body?
    • Was she patient and persistent enough?
    • Was being able to run without injuring herself important enough to her, for her to follow my guidance, no matter how long it took?

    These were the questions I asked myself – questions I always ask whenever someone reaches out in this situation.

    In my email reply back to her, I said “You've had a long and VERY challenging road as it relates to your running and past injuries. I can very much relate to how much you enjoy it and feel it’s a part of who you are. It sucks when you can't do it, and the thought, as you said, of never being able to do it, is just unacceptable - not a pleasant thought at all!

    Whatever the issues are which are leading you to re-injure yourself - until they're uncovered, addressed, and changed for the better, nothing else really matters. The root causes must be learned.  And then changed, if possible, for the better.  That's the only path that might work.

    The best case scenario? We spend a day or two together to work on these issues. The next best scenario? You do our Virtual Gait Analysis and we start on that path together.

    There's no magic fixes, no easy quick answers. There's a process of learning what needs to be addressed and then going about doing the work to address that, be it stability, flexibility, mobility, or strength (and most likely some combination of those).

    Those are my thoughts. If you're willing to try, then the chance and choice is up to you."

     

    Moving forward with the "VGA." 

    Elise moved forward with the virtual analysis in June. And afterward, got started on the training I had prescribed for her in my analysis report.

    While I was hopeful she was ready to embark on the path I felt she needed to, I was also realistic. I knew it was going to be very difficult for her.  Sometimes, soldiering through the host of things which need to be addressed, “solo,” without someone there to guide you and work alongside you who knows what they are doing and how to help, can be just too much to overcome.

    Yes, she had the tools such as the plethora of instructional videos on our website, that she needed to begin to make some changes and get started. But like so many before her, I knew that the best chance for her to be successful would come when she was willing to go all in and work with me 1 on 1. In that scenario, we’d work together as a team. She’d have me to be accountable to - to send regular video to - for form assessment - to program her training daily. Me to guide her every step of the way.

    Nevertheless, she embarked on the process and the training.

    Months went by.

    Every so often I’d think of her and wonder how she was doing. Every so often I’d email and check in on her. In my mind, I truly wondered whether she would ever successfully overcome the injuries and get back to doing what she loved. Maybe it was just too much to overcome. I’d seen so many others like her, some successful and others who just disappeared from my radar.

    Could she do it? Was she willing to do what was required? Only time would tell.

    Fast forward to October of 2017 – on her friend Kristin’s encouragement, Elise signed up for my “Get Strong – Move Right” online group coaching program. Honestly, I was super excited to hear from her again and was hopeful this might be the program that could finally kick-start her progress.

    Now, I don’t think I ever told Elise this, but in my heart, while I was hopeful…I also had some doubts. Why?

    I felt that while she’d certainly benefit from the group coaching, I knew that the focus of that group training wasn’t what she ultimately most needed to be successful.  In other words, many of the movement issues Elise faced were mobility / flexibility related, and the primary focus of that group coaching was (and is) stability and strength.  In some respects, they are the same thing – very much inter-related. Yet, for some people (and Elise is one), imbalances needed to be addressed head-on to really get to the heart of why these injuries kept coming back.

     

    The "journey", like so many things, is a process. Growth and change are hard.  

    At this point in Elise's story, I should mention…she is a very shy person. Smart, goal-oriented, talented also. But shy. And very proud. While the group training might not have ultimately been THE thing she most needed to be successful, I knew it was also a big step forward for her. It was another step forward in accountability. She worked hard. I applauded her efforts and knew all of the time and effort would help her improve. What I wasn’t so sure of, was just how much, and if it’d be the thing that might help her get to where she wanted to be.

    After the group coaching program ended, I didn’t hear from Elise. Months again went by.

    That is, until Monday, March 26th, when I received an email reply from Elise, to an email I had sent to my subscribed list – an email that was titled, “The Journey Is The Destination.” (If you’d like to read that email, you can do so by going HERE).

    In her email reply to me, Elise said:

    “It has been a wild and crazy year since Kristin put me in touch with you and none of it has been what I expected. Last year I did a gait analysis with you and despite all of my desires to run, I heeded your advice and did not run for the summer and focused on the functional exercises you gave me (along with some swimming and biking) with a goal of starting to run again in the fall.  My daughter ran her first season of middle school cross country last year and it was so much fun to go to meets and cheer her on at a sport that I love dearly.  Unfortunately, just running from point to point on the race courses hurt my foot and I was quickly reminded that despite all of the work I did over the summer and almost a full year of rest, something still wasn’t right and my return to running wasn’t going to go as I had planned.  After some inquiries I got in touch with a doctor at Brigham and Williams hospital in Boston and went to see him to try to figure things out.  I had a second MRI and a CAT scan and he was able to determine that the bone did fully heal from the stress fracture but it has some abnormalities which may be the source of my continuing pain.”

     

    Two things are important to acknowledge at this point – two things that are critical for her (or anyone else in this same situation) potential for a successful return back to running:

    1.       Elise did go through the program I had laid out for her after her analysis, and had also done the group coaching program – but in neither instance had she become fully accountable for HOW she was performing the movements that were prescribed. In other words, my experience has taught me that the “devil is in the details.” Without the feedback she needed, she was probably not doing the things she needed to do in the way that she needed to do them.

    2.       She determined on her own when to try running again, based almost entirely on her emotions and desire TO run. Without having a specific set of objective guidelines or training (movement) objectives that would tell her (or anyone else) that she was truly READY to start a return back to running.

    In my reply to her, I said simply:

    “Thank you for taking the time to write. Why don’t we set up a time to talk for a few minutes. I would love nothing more than to help you return back to running in a way that you can manage and sustain for the rest of your life, but I will need your help to do it. It’s really up to you. I believe I have the tools and the expertise to guide you and give you the best chance for success.

    Please know that it’s my passion to help, but I won’t continue to reach out to you and I certainly won’t pester you. Life is too busy, too hectic and there are many things pulling me in different directions. So consider this my one sincere and heart felt message expressing my desire to help and my hope for you, for the future. If you’d like to talk about it, let me know and we’ll set up a time to chat. Either way, all the best to you!!”

    We set up a time to talk.

    And we decided to work together and give it our collective best efforts to help get her back to the thing she loves – running!

    Elise and I started working together 1 on 1 in late April – around the 20th.

    Today it’s July 13th.  Almost 3 months.  Twelve long, hard, fun, arduous....weeks of daily communication, video uploads, workouts, emails, and on and on.

    This Sunday she’ll do her first “return to running” session – a very modest combination of walking and running for a total of about 12 minutes.

    To say it’s been an incredible journey over these past 3 months would be an understatement. Along the way, she’s learned not only to shoot video of herself performing the movements I’ve prescribed (not easy for her, trust me!)…she’s ALSO learned how to talk with me during the videos! (After I begged her to share with me what she was feeling and thinking as she did the movements). 😊

    She’s worked so hard.

    Along the way, she’s involved her kids in the process – her daughter who is also an athlete, has been doing many of the movements together with her.

    She’s ready to get back to it and to get started on the path of reintroducing her body to the loads inherent in running. It’s been so much fun and so rewarding for me to guide her to this point.

    No, she’s not done with the supplemental work she needs to do. She understands this. Finally, she gets it. She also knows there are absolutely no guarantees. We’ll see how things progress and we'll take it one day at a time.

    It's funny in a way: Elise and I have never met in person. Personally, I can’t wait to meet her. I will tell you one thing -when we meet we’ll share a big hug and perhaps a little cry, too.

    I love the work I do.

    No, it’s not curing cancer.

    But helping people to grow and learn and thrive and see the greatness and the potential that resides inside is incredibly rewarding. 😊

    To your success!

    ~Coach Al