Archive for Musings from Coach Al

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!

    Rock Your Wall!

     

     

    I love the analogy of building a wall when it comes to how we should build our fitness, don't you?

    In some important ways, our body is a lot like a house...

    If you're going to age gracefully and remain durable as you prepare for your races this coming season, you'd be smart to remember that you need to build your own "athletic" foundation, similar to your home's foundation.

    Think about it...if you're driving down the road and you see a house that is leaning off to the side with a crumbling foundation, you sure wouldn't want to buy that house, would you?

    Even though you and I would desperately LIKE to be able to, we can't build true ironman, marathon, or ultra-running fitness by just saying it, OR by taking it ALL in one bite. Just as Will said, we need to start by laying that brick, one at a time, as perfectly as we can, day after day after day.

    If we do it right, soon we'll have that great foundation - one that is stable and straight and strong and that will support OUR "house" in any kind of wind, or more specifically, as the weeks, months, and miles add up!

    Which brings me to the main message in today's blog post:

    Any smart season-long training plan and progression BEGINS by:

    1. Restoring health and balance and fundamental movement quality, and then...
    2. Establishing a solid foundation that will support all the training that is to come. 

    At Pursuit Athletic Performance, we call this first training phase, Restoration and Foundation.

    So what's YOUR story?

    During this time period, it's about learning as much as you can about your body - it's about self-discovery, from a movement point of view - learning your "story" as an athlete. That might sound a little strange but as a coach, I can't express just how important it is.

    Try on some of these questions to get to the heart of who you are as an athlete:

    • Where do you feel tight? Why?
    • Where do you feel weak? Why?
    • Are you routinely fighting some kind of virus? If so, why?
    • Do you struggle frequently with constant nagging pain or injuries? If so, why?
    • Are you a strong, fatigue-resistant swimmer or a weak, slow swimmer? If you're a weaker swimmer, why?
    • Are you a strong cyclist who can climb with ease, or do you struggle to push a larger gear? If you struggle to push that larger gear, why?
    • Are you a strong, durable runner or would you consider yourself injury prone? If you're not durable, then why?
    • When you get tired out on the race course or during long training sessions, do you struggle to maintain efficient form?

    Now if your house is about to blow over in the wind, or if that foundation is crumbling and starting to show some cracks...well then, the color of your window shades doesn't matter very much, ya know?

    Your body and your fitness are the exact same thing

    Get started NOW. Answer the questions and take action, and you'll be on your way to building the biggest, baddest, greatest, fitness "wall" that has ever been built!  It won't happen any other way.

    As always, if you have questions, leave a comment of email me directly and let me know. I'm here to help.

    To your success!
    ~Coach Al

     

    The Coaching Advice I Give Most Often

     

    Endurance athletes pride themselves on pushing through the most challenging, gut-busting workouts. Anyone who is on Facebook sees those "inspirational" memes where the message is always to push-push-push! We like to think of ourselves as tough and willing to push hard and do that little bit extra, even if that "extra" results in some pain that just might be an impending injury.

    We love to share our toughness on social media too. Hell, thinking about it - isn't this really why Strava and Facebook exist? So we could prove to those athletes around us that we're a little tougher (and faster) than they are!?  Come on, admit it! 🙂

    Hey, listen...I get it. I've been there. 🙂 Improving and racing long aren't easy. Sometimes you gotta dig deep, push yourself harder, put in that extra effort if you want to get better, right?

    But let me ask you a question. Is there a point where that never-ever-quit mindset can be detrimental?

    The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES.

    You've got to put in some extra work and be willing to do some things that most wouldn't. But at the same time, the mindset of "never-quit-no-matter-what" can sometimes do a lot more harm than good.

    Let me just come right out and say it straight: You're never going to be as sorry for the workouts or sets you didn't do, as much as the ones you DID do that you shouldn't have.

    In other words, if in doubt, leave it out.

    A few weeks ago I sent an email to my mailing list, discussing what I believe might possibly be the world's dumbest exercise? (In case you missed that email and post and you'd like to read it, hit me up via email and I'll send it on to you).

    My friend Amy replied (as did a lot of folks with similar stories) sharing with me her story that speaks to this very same idea. I clipped a portion of her email and underlined some of it. Check it out:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Unfortunately, Amy's email says it all. If only she had stopped one set earlier or when she started to really feel her form falling apart.

     

    The Best Kept Secret To Avoiding Injury and Improving Consistently

    Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I'm passionate about helping athletes improve, get faster and stronger, and of course avoid injury along the way.  What many people don't know, is that the secret to improving and avoiding injury aren't those mobility or stability exercises I continually program.

    So what is?

    Most injuries occur, not because your core is unstable or you're tight. They happen most often, because of dumb training mistakes. You know, the mistakes you make that at the outset, look like you're being "tough." Going the extra mile. Doing that extra rep or set or workout.

    Just like Amy did. 

    Sometimes, the best thing you can do to ensure you'll keep improving is to leave something OUT or stop short, just when it might seem like you could go on forever.

    I wish I had a dollar for every time I've said, "it's at the moment in time when we feel the most bulletproof, that we're actually the most vulnerable."  Not popular to hear, I know. Because hey...we love our toughness and never-say-quit mentality.

    So, a couple of months ago I did a talk for some locals here on the sun-coast that was titled "Train Smart: What Is It? How To Do It!"  Goes right along with this theme, ya know?

    I've got 24 slides from the talk that I'd be happy to share with you.

    I guarantee there's some TIPS in there that just might help down the road to avoiding all of the mistakes I have personally made over the years! That's the thing, I think, that makes me a good coach. I've made ALL of the mistakes so you don't have to!  🙂

    To Your Success!
    ~Coach Al