Archive for Racing

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 

    Is It Possible You’re Dehydrated?

     

    I'm coming at you today with a short piece on all things hydration. (I know what you're thinking, not another article about water and how much I should drink!) 🙂

    In all seriousness, I decided to write this up today for one primary reason: despite the plethora of information and research on this topic, I still find that more than a few athletes end up coming up short with their water intake during training and racing, and it often dramatically (and negatively) impacts how they feel and perform.

    So with the introduction of Timothy Noake's book "Waterlogged," a few years ago, or this article published last August in the New York Times, the message that is being sent out to endurance athletes is clear:

    They'd have us believe (I'm paraphrasing) it's a myth to think the average person needs to drink eight, 8 oz glasses of water daily. As for the endurance athlete out there training in a variety of conditions, your risk of drinking TOO much water is actually much greater than is being dehydrated.

    But are these statements 100% true, for every one of us?

    I would argue that no, they're not.

    Your hydration needs are largely determined by the temperature and humidity where you live and train, and your acclimation to those conditions. When it is very hot and humid, your hydration needs rise, often dramatically.

    As a coach, I find that many of the athletes I work with fail to meet their minimum hydration needs during their regular day in, day out training sessions, especially when it comes to the hottest training days of the year. (Like right now!)

    For what it's worth, I also find that sometimes the biggest mistake an endurance athlete makes is not adjusting their hydration "plan" based upon the conditions on the day. For example, let's say race day turns out much colder and windier than you were expecting or that you trained in. Don't make the mistake of taking in the same amount of water as you did during your very hot training days.

    The Conservation Mindset

    • Do you typically head out on "only" a 45 minute or 1 hour run without water, thinking you don't need it or can catch up later?
    • What about a 3 or 5 hour bike ride with only 3 or 4 bottles of water?

    One of the problems that often arises, is when we venture out into a run or bike ride carrying a limited number of water bottles (and therefore, fluid). Because many abhore stopping at a store and can often get caught failing to plan ahead, the result is what I call a "conservation" mindset during that training session that says, "you'd better meter out that water because it's all you have."

    I've experienced this myself a few times, and with others that I work with. This kind of thinking can set you up for dehydration. Bottom line, during hot weather training, you must drink enough water to meet your needs, without fear of running "out."

    Avoid trying to "catch up" by simply taking enough water along or planning ahead and taking the time to place bottles out at distant locations where you may be passing by to have enough to cover your basic needs.

    Your Fascial (Water) Net

    We are all familiar with how water is truly essential for basic functioning - for life itself. But what most athletes aren't as familiar with is how much your hydration levels impact how easily, efficiently, and fast you are able to run (or perform any other activity).

    What do I mean?

    A bouncing water balloon mirrors how our fascial net, combined with adequate hydration, helps us move forward!

    A bouncing water balloon mirrors how our fascial net, combined with adequate hydration levels, helps us move forward!

    Think of a water balloon. (Check out the slow motion video by clicking on the image to the left!). When you run, your body is a lot like this balloon filled with water.

    The skin of the balloon is just like the fascial net that surrounds and supports your internal organs, soft tissue, muscles, and bones. What is important to know is, most of the elasticity that moves you forward comes largely from that fascial net, NOT other tissues.

     

    Fascia is a water filled membrane. To use an analogy, when you dehydrate even slightly, your fascia and fascial system begin to act more like dried out (dehydrated!) beef jerky, and less like juicy, succulent prime rib. When you're dehydrated (even the tiniest bit) that fascial net can no longer help you bounce along (again, think of that water balloon).

    9d6401e2-69ae-4fec-b05a-b7d841d180e8With increasing water losses, you're required to muscle every step. Similarly, that fascial net provides much of your overall stability. Your balance, coordination, and ultimately your speed, suffer.

    Drink To Thirst?

    In this podcast I did with Dr. Tamera Hew, one of the world's leading researchers and experts on hyponetremia (low blood sodium), she recommended drinking according to your thirst. (**If you haven't listened to this great interview loaded with golden nuggets related to hydration and hyponetremia, and you have a "thirst" for knowledge, go listen HERE!)

    There's no doubt that this basic recommendation is a good one. The problem can be, based upon my experience as a coach, that quite a few of us are NOT as in tune with our thirst as we might hope, especially as the hours add up, and fatigue and energy challenges increase.

    This is one reason why it's imperative to have a basic plan of attack in place that is based upon the conditions and your own practice and experience.

    • Start with a basic plan for 25-35 oz of water per hour and adjust accordingly depending upon conditions!
    • When it is very hot or you're not fully acclimated to the environment you're in, you'll need more. When it's cooler, you'll need less. Be flexible with your plan and adjust as you go.
    • Consider performing a sweat test on yourself to find out your own individual needs depending upon environmental conditions.
    • Go listen to that podcast I did with Dr. Hew, she rocks!
    • Learn about YOUR body and your needs as you train, and then listen to it! 🙂

    Happy trails!
    ~Coach Al

    PS: If you'd like to receive more information and tips right in your inbox, click HERE to sign up and I'll be in touch!

    PSS: One last thing: if you end up in a situation in a hot race where you know you're dehydrated, you have to have the confidence in your training and STOP long enough to fix the problem! That might mean a few extra minutes at an aid station, or sitting down to drink a liter of water to fix the issue. Don't assume that you'll be able to still soldier on to the finish. Stop, fix it, then resume, feeling much better and able to maintain your goal race pace as a result!

     

    060: MORE on Mindsets for Optimal Performance with Stanford Researcher, Omid Fotuhi [Podcast]

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    Dr. Omid Fotuhi

    Dr. Omid Fotuhi

    Hey everyone! Coach Al here.

    Today I am once again honored and pleased to welcome back onto the podcast, Dr. Omid Fotuhi, runner, triathlete, and project manager for the Stanford University Interventions Lab. It has been almost a year since we last had Omid on the podcast; I've personally been anxious to get him back on so we all could continue to learn from him and his research team.

    Without a doubt, that first podcast we did together (Episode 58, which you can listen to by going HERE) was one of our most popular ever.

    In Part 1 of our chat (Part 2 coming soon), we discussed what he's learned about how we all can better use the power of our mind to explode our potential!  Such as...

    • The important interplay between our own belief systems and effective goal setting.
    • The three types of goals / goal setting, and how they work individually and collectively to empower us to greater achievement and self actualization.
    • Fixed and growth mindsets: Which is more likely to lead to reaching one's potential?
    • The most effective strategies for reaching beyond our fears and achieving more than we ever thought we could!
    • And much more!

    Thanks everyone for joining us and tuning in, we appreciate it. I am already looking forward to sharing Part 2 of our discussion soon!

    Happy Trails!

    ~Coach Al 

    Is STRAVA The Newest Coaching Tool?

     

    I was chatting recently with an athlete I just started working with about an upcoming marathon she had planned to run. I am excited about the opportuity to be working with her; regardless of how talented she might be, she is eager to learn and understands that contrary to popular belief, it doesn't take gobs of talent OR huge sacrifice to pursue our dreams and goals and approach our ultimate potential.  All it really takes are four things:

    1. a willingness to be honest with ourselves
    2. a never ending desire to learn
    3. a commitment to relentless, smart work 
    4. the patience to do things the right way and stay the course

    As she and I discussed whether she should follow through with her plans to run the marathon, which incidently was only a few weeks away, I decided that reviewing the plan she had been following would give me a sense of her preparation, so I asked her to forward it to me.

    As I looked the plan over, I instantly recognized what I believe is the most serious and common flaw of many marathon training plans.  

    I have to admit I wasn't that surprised to see it - I've seen it over and over again in many different plans written by many different coaches.

    What is that flaw? Simply put, it is completing that last long run too close to race day. 

    When I brought up the topic of this all-too-common mistake, she replied: "...all I have to say is, it's really incredible how hard it is to undo mass perception like that!  To be honest, while it makes complete sense, I had never heard that before!  The proliferation of social media and Strava in particular, gave me some insight into how some of my friends train who also race, and they certainly haven't applied this approach." 

    I thought to myself, WOW...have we reached a point where Strava, is now not only a place to race for an "FKT" or fastest known time, but is now also a coaching tool?

    • Are you an athlete who decides how you should train by watching what others do (often total strangers) and apply what you see them do, to your training?  
    • Do you assume that because someone might be faster, you should train like them?
    • Do you believe that there is a "one size fits all" when it comes to training?

    It seems to me that with the popularity of Strava (and other social media), the inclination for some to follow others or see what they do and use that as coaching guidance, without really understanding how that might be helping OR hurting, is an ever increasing problem.

    Who knows why others are doing what they're doing, or whether THEY might go even FASTER if they employed a different approach?

    If you've shown up on race day with tired legs and performed below your potential as a result, give this topic some serious consideration. Resist the temptation to blindly trust the plan or the "expert" giving you advice.

    Learn. Think. Train smart.

    For a much more in-depth review of what I believe is the best overall approach for tapering into your marathon or iron distance triathlon, check out this blog post I wrote prior to last year's Boston Marathon entitled "Old Habits Die Hard." 

    Happy trails!

    ~Coach Al

    What Is The ONE THING You Need MOST To Be Successful?

     

    Recently I had a conference call with a group of triathletes who were seeking advice. I asked them point blank: as athletes, what was the one thing they needed to do, or pay more attention to, that would help them realize their ultimate potential? Of course this highly competitive group of high achieving type-A athletes, all with big future aspirations for racing, enthusiastically dug right in and started bantering back and forth.

    They tossed around lots of ideas including reflecting  on their experiences and what they've learned. We talked about hard work, their desire to learn and the need to be increasingly honest about things like movement quality and maintaining life balance.  They agreed that the stakes have been raised and along with it, the external and internal pressure to go faster or farther and make it look easier, is increasing like never before.  (Are you feeling it?)

    One thing they collectively agreed on was that training and racing (while maintaining life balance) are different now and in some ways, more challenging than ever.  The "game" as we might have known it once, has clearly changed.

    Athletes and coaches now have access to more information than in the past. There are more "experts" than you can count, and because of the growth (and pervasiveness) of social media, we know more about what each other is doing than ever before. (Is it me, or do you also feel like your Facebook "friends" are running, swimming, or riding faster, easier, and farther than you are?)

    Technology (equipment, power meters for bike and run, GPS devices, etc.) continues to advance at an incredible rate of speed, and along with it, the software to analyze what the technology is telling us about how "good" we are.

    Still, they all struggled to identify that one thing which would make the biggest difference?

    When I sensed that they were getting frustrated, I shared with them what I thought the key was.

    From my perspective, more athletes than ever before want IT, NOW, whatever "it" might be at that moment in time. Think of it as instant gratification.

    I explained how frustrating it sometimes is when I talk with an athlete and realize that while it is clear they can see what it is they need to do, they rarely perceive or understand. 

    What do I mean by that? Because you look at something or think about it, doesn't mean you truly perceive or understand it. Because something is instantly available to your vision doesn't mean that it is instantly available to your consciousness.

    Seeing is direct, immediate, uncomplicated. To perceive the details, the order of things, the connectivity and integration, takes time.

    And time... is the one thing we just don't afford ourselves of, anymore.

    Listen...I know what you're thinking, and I get it.

    Life is short, there's little time to waste.  You'd better jump now or your chance might slip away....right?

    The problem is, very often in a well intentioned effort to achieve or do more, we end up with a lot less.

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    • We rush through, refusing to take the time to work on basic and fundamental skills. We're more inclined to just hammer away and attempt more volume, and then wonder why we get injured or never go as fast we would like.  
    • We don't take the time or have the patience to hold our effort in check early on in training sessions, races, or entire seasons, and then wonder why we fatigue more quickly or finish slower than we had hoped, sometimes crashing and burning all together.
    • We "want" things like a kettlebell swing, barbell deadlift, pull up, or good health and movement quality, NOW, so we skip the process that's required to learn and develop these difficult-to-obtain abilities and attributes.
    • When injury happens, we don't have the patience to get to the root cause of it, preferring instead to just treat symptoms so we can rush back as soon as the pain subsides, only to discover that the injury inevitably returns, causing even more frustration. genius-is-eternal-patience-quote-1(In an even worse case scenario, we do something stupid which ends up permanently shortening our athletic lifespan).
    • When it comes to racing, as endurance athletes we think it's normal to go from racing shorter sprint distance to longer distance events almost overnight, disrespecting the longer distance and the time it takes to build the requisite skill and stamina to do well. What often results are much slower performances than we are capable of, and injury (again), accepting either as "the norm. " 
    • Some are now so short of patience, that after a race goes bad or they end up injured (again), they try to justify the poor choices that led to the predicament they're in with self-deprecating and/or self-defeating talk (most often to themselves). a712ca9973609f97a6e93bd92e51697e
    • We never seem to take enough time to work on ourselves or have patience with ourselves, OR take the time to develop a foundational philosophy that reflects our core values and will guide us when things get hard. We just leap from one thing to the next, or look to the next fad, secret sauce, or quick fix, hoping that it will be THE thing that finally leads us to success.

    a-man-who-masters-patience-masters-everything-else-quote-1Ironically, in a world that now seems to be speeding by at 1-million miles an hour, the thing that we need most to be successful and reach our ultimate potential, is patience...

    ...patience to do things the right way and stay the course...patience to perceive, not just see...

    ...patience to truly enjoy the journey and not just focus on the destination...and patience to embrace the process of learning and growing into the person & athlete that we were truly meant to be...

    Happy trails!

    ~Coach Al

    I Don’t Care How “Talented” You Are…

     

    We know that each of us is born with our own natural talent and physiological gifts. When it comes to the sports we love like swimming, biking, and running, some are more naturally gifted, having either that huge aerobic "engine" or that powerful and graceful athleticism, or both.

    If you're one of those with that big "motor," winning races or your age-group relatively easily, or you're an "adapter," (someone who seems to get faster and faster despite doing relatively little training), I say...good for you.

    But honestly, what really excites me as a coach is seeing the athlete who might not necessarily possess those natural gifts, but who combines a long term view and a willingness to work hard, with a relentless pursuit of the smartest training path, often achieving far more than they ever believed was possible.

    While winning is great, "achieving" can mean something different and even more profound. Want two examples?

    • How about an athlete who through hard fought experience and humility, finally learns to embrace the process of evolving into the enlightened person and athlete they never knew existed within?
    • Or the person who is able to train gracefully into their 60s, 70s and beyond in their sports of choice (not just the sports they were forced into because of chronic injury)?

    I believe that these smart and fortunate few are happier people, experiencing a deeper fullfillment and satisfaction, exploding whatever self-limiting beliefs exist into smithereens!

    You know, none of us really ever knows just how good we can become...yet so many of us jump at the first opportunity to place limits upon ourselves. I think it's a sort of "safety net," designed to "make sure" we never disappoint ourselves.

    These self-limiting beliefs are not exclusive to the average among us, either. The "adapters" suffer from them too.

    For example, earlier this year I had the opportunity to meet an elite ultra-runner. After carefully examining his training routine, despite the fact that he's won some big races, I am convinced he hasn't come anywhere close to his ultimate potential. (Time will tell whether he sees it the same way).

    The point is, whatever your level of participation in your chosen sport (novice, elite or somewhere in between), regardless of how much natural talent you might have, it's possible you're achieving far LESS than you are truly capable of.  From my point of view as a coach, that really sucks.

    So let me ask you point blank: could it be that your self-limiting beliefs (or a confirmation bias), and not the level of talent you might have, is what's really holding you back?

    Happy trails!

    ~Coach Al

    Do You Ever Ask Yourself These Questions?

     

    As a coach, people sometimes think I have all the answers...

    I don't.

    No one does.

    The truth is, in order to be successful, sometimes the athlete needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves some questions...

    ...so let me ask YOU....have you asked yourself any of these questions?


    * What can I do better?

    * What "tools" do I need to have in my "toolbox" that I DON'T have right now, in order to have my best chance for success on race day?

    * What specific challenges does my "A" priority race-course(s) present to me, that I am not yet ready to meet and conquer?

    * Am I being honest with myself about my weaknesses and my strengths, and am I addressing them as honestly as I can?

    * Am I taking time each day and each succeeding week, to learn and to master skills, accepting and understanding that until I become more skilled and smarter in my training, my opportunities for improvement will be limited?

    * Am I remembering to think long term (vs short term) about my overall growth as an athlete and person, with respect to race planning and day to day training?

    * Am I relaxing when I need to, tensing when I need to, and prioritizing training as I need to?

    * Am I staying in the moment, doing my best in each rep, set, and training session, knowing that this might be the single biggest factor to improving over the long term?

    * And....most importantly...am I enjoying this journey as fully as I should be and need to be, in order to truly feel great about myself and the sacrifices I have made, when this season is behind me?


    I've given you a lot to think about here. I believe these questions can have a powerful impact on your potential for future success.

    As I said, I don't have all the answers. However, I am committed to doing my best to help YOU on your quest toward greatness. Onward!

    Happy trails!

    ~Coach Al