Archive for coach 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 

    A Long Arduous Journey Back To Running

     

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

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

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

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

    Where did our story together begin?

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

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

     

    Reaching out - looking for answers. Hoping. Praying.

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

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

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

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

     

    Forging ahead - setting goals. And hoping. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    Moving forward with the "VGA." 

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

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

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

    Nevertheless, she embarked on the process and the training.

    Months went by.

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

    In her email reply to me, Elise said:

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

     

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

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

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

    In my reply to her, I said simply:

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

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

    We set up a time to talk.

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

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

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

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

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

    She’s worked so hard.

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

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

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

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

    I love the work I do.

    No, it’s not curing cancer.

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

    To your success!

    ~Coach Al

    Would You Like To Improve Your Running Technique?

    "You ain't gonna learn what you don't wanna know." - Jerry Garcia

    "Should I 'sta' or should I 'mo'? - The Clash

    Effective training is usually about hammering away at the basics. And that usually isn’t sexy. - Moses Bernard

     


     

    In this age of social media, it's not uncommon to see a post on twitter or Facebook about the latest and greatest ways to improve running technique. The truth is, how you run (from a technique point of view) is inside-out, not outside-in.

    What do I mean?

    Well, let's start with two questions:

    1. Do your hip and ankle joints move freely and easily, without restriction?
    2. Are those joints stable and well supported by the muscles and soft tissue that surround them?

    If you're like most runners, the honest answer is probably, "I'm not sure."

    To run with a low risk of injury and develop as much speed as your talent will allow, you need certain pre-requisites from a movement quality perspective.  Among those are ankle and hip joints that move freely.

    Simply put, "form work" or running "technique" work, is really frosting on the cake.

    What's the cake?  How you move.

    From the inside-out.

    Be smart my friends. "Bake the cake" before putting on the "frosting." Doing that will enable you to enjoy lots of smiles and continual progress. Otherwise, you could end up going down a path that will ultimately lead to injury and frustration.

    Not sure what to do next? Start with these:

    1. Find out where you're restricted or unstable and as a result, more likely to injure yourself as you build running mileage. (If you're not sure how, ask).
    2. Based on what you learn, get started immediately on building a true foundation of mobility, stability and strength so that your body is able to handle the repetitive stress inherent in running.
    3. Restore balance where its lacking. Do you need MORE mobility / flexibility work, OR...more stability / strength work?  Who are you?
    4. Build your running mileage and speed smartly and progressively while you also build strength and resiliency.
    5. Once you're stable and balanced, you've then got the pre-requisites to move on and refine your running technique.

    Running technique work is FROSTING on the cake. The cake, is your mobility, stability and overall strength.

    So if the above is the optimal path, what is the wrong path?

    1. Starting a progressive running program without knowing how you move from the inside-out, e.g. anything about your weaknesses or strengths or movement quality.
    2. Building your running mileage believing (mistakenly) that the key to improving is simply about running more mileage.
    3. Ignoring the pain that starts to develop in your hips, low back, feet or legs.
    4. Not only ignoring, but running through that pain.
    5. Listening to clueless coaches or training partners who tell you that to fix the pain, you need to change your shoes or simply run more mileage.

    When you build a strong foundation, address weaknesses and fix them, and THEN progress in a smart way culminating with technique and form work, you CAN truly have your cake and eat it too!  Who's hungry? 🙂

    • No pain from injury.
    • No frustration as your program starts and then stops (due to injury).
    • More smiles, fun, fitness, and speed!

    What are you waiting for?

    Get in touch. I can help.

    To your success!

    ~Coach Al

    Stuck In Injury? Now Is The Time To Do Something About It!

    Woman and men running during sunset

    Believe it or not, we're approaching mid-January. The sub-freezing temperatures have settled on the northeast and Midwest, and the snow is piling up.

    Whether or not it feels like it (can you say 15+ inches of snow and counting yesterday, if you live in the northeast!), spring is right around the corner, and with it, the events you have planned that you are also HOPING will make you feel good about yourself AND about the year 2018, when looking back on it.

    The problem for many, especially those who have had success in the past, is allowing their EGO (along with some wishing and hoping) to get in the way of forward progress.

    Why do we allow our own "confirmation bias" or our need to always be "right" to drag us down and keep us stuck in a place of injury, plateau, or worse?

    If you can't get out of your own way long enough to leave behind the wishful thinking and see things (even for a brief moment) for how they REALLY are, then you know what? You will reap exactly what you sow. You will remain stuck in a place where injury or poor performance becomes your new normal.

    If I've learned anything over the years, it is how important it remains to embrace humility. I have also learned that I NEED to get out of my own way and reach out to others with a beginner's mindset, so that I may move fully forward and reach my greatest personal potential! Not always easy, I know, but incredibly important and powerful.

    Why not join me and a long list of others and finally put the injury and plateau bug behind you!

    Get in touch with me by email to see if there might be a way I can help you with a consult, or even a Virtual Gait Analysis. Take the first step now toward becoming the better, more durable athlete you know exists inside, so that 2018 turns out the way you hope it will!

    All my best,

    ~Coach Al

    Triathletes and Runners: Strength Doesn’t Equal Stability

     

    "Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free." - John 8:32


    Without a doubt, endurance athletes are finally coming around to understanding and believing in the importance of strength training. Even though it's taken a while, it's great to see.  The kinds of "functional" strength work I was experimenting with in the late 1980s to help increase my durability, endurance and speed (while logging a lot less miles than most of my training buddies and competitors), is almost becoming routine now among many competitive triathletes and runners.

    Along the same lines, it almost "normal" now to sit in the middle of a group of runners or triathletes and hear folks talk about "hitting the gym," or getting in their "leg (or arm) day." That was unheard of even just 10 years ago. Today, smart athletes KNOW that strength work has to be a part of their routine. As a "bonus," the strength trained runner or triathlete looks better. After all, who doesn't want a better physique to go along with our already highly developed cardiovascular fitness?

    Part of the reason for this gradual shift is likely because baby boomers (like me) are aging. Ack! In addition to their race results or the next ironman, more and more are thinking about their longevity and how well (and gracefully) they'll age. That's a smart thing.

    On the topic of strength and maintaining it, I've shared a few links recently that speak to the obvious and profound connections between muscle wasting (sarcopenia) and aging more gracefully.  THIS TedTalk called "Muscle Matters," and THIS article from OutsideOnline titled "To Delay Death, Lift Weights," are two examples of what I mean. Definitely take the time to read and listen!

    So what's the problem?

    Listen, there's absolutely no doubt that strength training is important for every athlete, regardless of your gender or age or experience level. As the above article and TedTalk discuss, there is NO substitute for being strong. In my opinion, every single person ought to put getting stronger at the TOP of their priority list.

    But at the same time, as someone who works with injured athletes every day, I have to point out the BIG MYTH that exists in so many athlete's minds -- that ALL you need to do is hit the gym and work your arms, abs, back and legs, and you're set.

    You may think you're doing all you need to do to avoid injury and perform your best, but unfortunately that's not the case.

    How "ripped" or muscular you are - how much weight you lifted in that gym session last night - none of it has anything at all to do with how durable or injury resistant you are or will be down the road.

    Not sure what I mean?

    Here's an example. And yes, in case you're wondering, I see this week in and week out - athletes who can't for the life of them understand why they are so often injured, despite religiously going to the gym to lift weights and get strong.


    The triathlete pictured here in these two photos contacted me recently to inquire about coaching. He's got talent and as you can see, he's a pretty strong guy. What's his goal? Qualifying for Kona - which is no easy task.

    So what's the issue?

    In one of his first attempts to qualify, he came really close to getting his slot, proving to himself that he had what it took!  However, ever since then his results have tumbled...and NOW, he's dealing with hip pain that has him in physical therapy and making multiple visits to his orthopedic surgeon to try and learn what is going on. To say he's frustrated is an understatement!

    How does an obviously talented, goal-oriented, hard working triathlete like this, who as you can see is strong, end up with hip pain and suffering from increasingly worse race results? (There are many examples of athletes like this guy - strong and yet frustrated! Are you one of them?)

    There are certainly a variety of things in both his movement quality and in his training and recovery that could explain his frustrations. One of the potential answers to that question became very obvious to me as soon as I saw some video of him on the treadmill as part of his Virtual Gait Analysis with me, something I do with EVERY SINGLE athlete I coach.
    These two images, which I clipped from his run video at mid-stance (or shortly thereafter) of the gait cycle, show an excessive amount of  instability of his core and hip girdle, specifically measured here from the back as "lateral pelvic drop." As you can see in the picture, I measured 9 degrees of "drop" on the left leg and 7 degrees of "drop" on the right.

    To say the amount of instability on a single leg here is significant is an understatement: 2 degrees or less would be considered "ideal" for this athlete. He's at 9 and 7 degrees respectively! Yikes.

    One thing most don't realize is that this instability has very little to do with the strength of an individual muscle. Or the strength of his body. Or how "ripped" he might be. It has a LOT to do with his nervous system - and the timing of muscle firing. The kind of training that will fix these issues begins in the brain, with basics and fundamentals.

    If you'd like to know MORE about this topic, you're in luck. I've written lots about it over the years.

    Start by going to THIS post, where I discuss why mechanics are so important for race-day performance and injury resistance. Or THIS post, discussing the truth about why runners become injured. Or THIS one, which discusses the often misunderstood relationship between strength and stability. In fact, use that search function there to dig into many similar kinds of posts. There's much to learn.

    Luckily, this athlete came to the right place. I'm confident that as he follows my guidance and the process unfolds, we'll see a gradual improvement in his stability.  And along with that, his durability and his performance.

    As soon as possible, he wants to be back out on the roads so he can take advantage of his strength and determination to succeed, and finally reach his goal of qualifying for Kona!

    So what are YOUR goals? Better yet, how can I help you get past YOUR movement related frustrations so you can go out and reach them?

    To your success,

    ~Coach Al

     

    Motivation and Stress: An Inverse Relationship?

     

    So I was chatting over the last few days with a couple of athletes I coach, helping them to be a little kinder to themselves during what is a challenging time in their lives.

    We all have our battles to fight - life is just like that sometimes. stress, anxietySo often we go through periods of time where stress and anxiety levels are higher than we want them to be.

    Maybe it's a personal or family difficulty, or dissatisfaction at work, health issues with someone close to us (I am living this right now unfortunately), economic challenges, or just flux and change, which in and of itself, can cause a ton of stress.

    What ALL of us need to remember is that when stress levels are HIGH, it is natural and normal that our energy and motivation may wane.

    In other words, stress and anxiety exist in inverse of boundless energy, internal drive, and motivation.

    The problem comes when we don't see this inverse relationship, and we begin to ADD to our stress levels by berating ourselves for not "wanting it" more, or working harder, or trying to have the same level of motivation we might have had in the past.

    The issue IS NOT that you don't care or that you don't "love it" anymore. More likely, it's your body in flight-or-fight mode causing stress hormones to course through the bloodstream. The BEST thing for you to do at any moment MIGHT be TO train, but sometimes that is the last thing you want to do!

    If you find yourself feeling stressed, or struggling to recover from your workouts, remember the old adage, "this too shall pass." 🙂

    Here's a few tips that I hope will help you thrive in a challenging world:

    1. In times of stress, stop beating yourself up for any lack of drive or motivation. See this for what it is, an inverse relationship. Treat each day as a NEW day, and strive to be better. Take one session, one task, at a time. Smile more, you'll feel better!

    2. Try to take a "bird's eye" view of everything, and remember that your body has only so much (limited) energy available to sustain life, repair damaged tissue, digest nutrients, handle emotional stress, handle cooling during hot, humid weather, AND complete those challenging training sessions, among many other things. During stressful times, something has to give, and sometimes that needs to be your training. If you need to take a step back or a few days "off," you won't lose your fitness. In fact, you might return to your routine feeling better than ever.

    3. Seek ways to alleviate the stress. Facing the issues causing the stress and taking action to change the situation as best you can is a smart strategy. Just don't bite off too much at any one time.

    4. If the circumstances are out of your control, do your best to JUST DO IT, knowing that you will nearly always feel better AFTER exercise or training, regardless of the situation. Exercising is a great stress reliever, first and foremost. The added bonus is that you will have done something positive for YOU, leaving you feeling better about yourself. Endorphins will also enhance your mood.

    5. The reality is, motivation is overrated. #inspirational memes are overrated. Sometimes you have to come back to the discipline and dedication to do what you know you need to, simply because you care. Danny Kavadlo (Progressive Calisthenics trainer at DragonDoor) wrote a great blog post yesterday on this same topic called "Take Hold Of The Flame." I recommend you take a moment to read it.

    The bottom line? Sometimes you need to just be kind to yourself. Seek balance as the best path toward optimal training. If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. Keep smiling, keep it fun, and don't be so damn hard on yourself.

    None of this gives you permission to slack. But, rather, be honest, compassionate and kind to the most important person in the world: Y O U!

    To your success,

    ~Coach Al

     

    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 

    059: “Slipped Away,” with Special Guests Jean Mellano and Ron Hurtado [Podcast]

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    SteveT

    I'm honored to have two special guests on the podcast today: Jean Mellano, author of the memoir Slipped Away, and veteran, founding member, and executive director of the Airborne TriTeam, Ron Hurtado.

    Some background: I first met Steve Tarpinian in 1996 after deciding to attend his "Swim Power" clinic at the Nassau County Aquatic Center in Long Island, NY.

    I was hoping to learn how to overcome my fear of the water and how to swim. If you're thinking that's not exactly an easy task for a 36-year-old having experienced a near drowning as a 10-year-old kid, you'd be right.

    I arrived as a anxious newbie, wondering what the day would bring. When I left at the end of the day, I had made a friend for life and also come to know one of the best teachers, coaches and men I'll ever know.

    Sadly, on March 15, 2015, that great teacher, coach, mentor...lost his war on depression, and took his own life.

    SlippedAwayFast forward a short time later, Steve's soulmate and partner of 35 years, Jean Mellano, after reading all of the heartfelt remembrences of Steve on the popular Slowtwitch.com forum, decided to write a memoir to honor Steve's legacy and bring more awareness to mental illness, specifically depression.  She titled it Slipped Away.

    In Jean's words,"there is still so much stigma and embarassment attached to depression, which further adds to the suffering of those afflicted. Mental illness is where Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDs, and cancer were many years ago in terms of no one wanting to talk about it."   

    In today's podcast, Ron, Jean and I discuss many things including Steve's legacy, such as:

    • Why and how the book, Slipped Away, came to be.
    • Project9line, a Long Island based non-profit organization that supports veterans suffering from PTSD and depression, and which receives the majority of the proceeds from the sale of the book.
    • The Airborne TriTeam, another Long Island based non-profit organization started by Ron, specifically created for mentally and physically challenged war veterans. The team has a unique and strong connection to Steve and his legacy.
    • What we can all do to help those suffering from PTSD and other forms of mental illness.
    Depression is like an iceberg...

    Depression is like an iceberg...

    In Jean's words: "To many people who knew him, Steve had it all and appeared to be on top of the world. Hindsight is 20/20; we now know things weren't always as they seemed. In many instances, people who suffer from depression and mental illness hide it very well.  If someone close to you has a pattern of "going dark" (not returning phone calls or emails, etc.), it could be more than just them being busy or forgetful.  When this happens too often, perhaps a little more compassion and understanding for that person may be in order."   

    Jean believes Steve's true legacy and how he should be remembered isn't as a great coach, race-director or athlete who took his own life, but rather, as a human being who did his very best to make people feel good about themselves and who inspired them to accomplish things they never thought they could do.  I couldn't agree more.

    Thank you Jean and Ron, and everyone who joined to listen in to this podcast.

    To learn even more about the memoir and about Steve, or to purchase a copy, visit the website HERE.  It's also available on Amazon.  You might also want to visit the Slipped Away Facebook page HERE.

    ~Coach Al 

    PS: Jean wrote a wonderful article for the online magazine, The Mighty. In it she shares some of what she has learned about grief since Steve's passing. I highly recommend it.