Archive for runner

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

    Hardrock 100: Here She Comes!

     

    There are so many things that I love about coaching.  For starters, I love the opportunity to get to know and work with inspiring and motivated people every day who have a high standard of personal excellence, and who want to learn more and challenge themselves to achieve more. I love working with different athletes, from ultra-runners to triathletes - novices to world champions.

    I also love how so many of those athletes challenge me (often without knowing it) to be better and be truly worthy of their trust. Every day I embrace my responsibility to find more meaningful ways to be a positive influence on both their athletic development and their lives as human beings.

    Perhaps the most enjoyable of all though, is having the opportunity to work so closely with someone (and for a long enough period of time), that you can almost anticipate what they're thinking - how they're feeling, seeing deep inside of them to know what really makes them tick, knowing just what they may need to be their best.

    To be able to watch them grow, evolve and thrive.

    What hopefully develops with hard work, careful nurturing (and a little good fortune) is a mutual deep caring, trust and respect...a lifelong friendship that comes only from the true partnership that is a great coach/athlete relationship.

    That's exactly what has happened with the incomparable Debbie Livingston.

    Meeting Debbie with a big hug and smiles, just after she crossed the finish line of a 3-Day Stage Race, The Emerald Necklace.

    I've coached Debbie for 7 or 8 years, I think. 🙂 Honestly, I've lost count - the years have just flown by. And they've been amazing.

    Funny...I was thinking about it and wanting to write this piece, so I texted her this morning and asked her when we started working together. "2010," she said. She remembered because it was the year after her daughter, Dahlia, was born.

    So why write about this today?

    Debbie is in Silverton, Colorado, with her family (husband Scott, son Sheppard, and the aformentioned Dahlia), going through final preparations for her first Hardrock 100 Endurance Run.

    Hardrock Hundred starts Friday morning, July 14th, at 6 am MST.  It needs no introduction for anyone who even remotely follows trail or ultra-running. Simply put, it's one of the most difficult to run (and to get into!) ultramarathon trail runs on the planet and among the most prestigious just to finish.

    With 33,050 feet of climbing and 33,050 feet of descending for a total elevation change of 66,100 feet, AND with an average elevation of 11,186 feet (low point 7,680 feet and high point 14,048 feet), this ultra-running monster sure isn't for the weak or faint of heart.  

    Hardrock has been a #bucketlist race for Deb for as long as I can remember. She's had an incredibly challenging time just getting into the race!  Each year over the last few, we'd talk about her race schedule and always had to consider that this might be the year she'd get in.

    This year she's one of 145 runners who will start and one of only 22 women. Debbie's husband Scott wrote up a beautifully detailed blog post preview as a lead-in to this year's race. In that post, he outlines a brief history of Debbie's failed attempts to gain entry (the lesson: never stop trying!), along with all of the assorted fun they've had preparing for this unique race journey. To read that post (which I highly recommend), go HERE.

    The real purpose of me writing this today isn't just to throw a huge shout-out and congrats to Debbie for having achieved this incredible feat of just GETTING TO the start line of Hardrock 100.  (That's no easy feat. A great many ultra-runners end up toeing the line of their goal events nursing some kind of injury - having been unable to complete the training required and also survive to get to the startline 100% healthy). No, I want to do more than that. I'd like to share with you a few things about Debbie that I've learned coaching her.

    What is it that makes Debbie unique and allowed her to have such enduring success? 

    I was going back through some of my old coaching notes and emails with Debbie and reminded myself that in the fall of 2012, we were fearful that Debbie might have a labral tear in her hip. As it turned out that wasn't the case. 🙂 The point of that story is, while Debbie's had many more victories than defeats over the course of her career as an ultra-runner, there have been some challenging periods. Like so many athletes, she's had to overcome her fair share of difficulty just to get to this point.

    Every time we faced one of those difficulties, we did it together (as a team along with her family). We re-evaluated what we were doing and how we were doing it. We tried to find a better way, together. Debbie really has been at the cutting edge of so many of the things I've introduced to my coached athletes. She's always willing to try new things and has become a master of so many (yoga, kettlebell training, vegan nutrition, to name just a few) because of her boundless desire to grow both athletically and personally.

    Deb and Lis. Amazing athletes - beautiful people - beautiful smiles! (All of the photos here are courtesy of Scott Livingston, hubby and photographer extraordinaire!)

    As I think about it, Debbie often reminds me of one other elite athlete that I'm fortunate to coach, 5-time Age-Group Ironman World Champion, Lisbeth Kenyon. How so, you ask? Well, perhaps not surprisingly, they're alike in a lot of ways. Here's just a few:

    • Both of them are 100% willing to be accountable for every single thing they do in training. They keep great training diaries, are always timely in how they communicate with me, and they leave no stone (details) unturned when it comes to their daily training and preparation. They're detailed oriented in every way.
    • Both value their health ABOVE their fitness, meaning they would never exchange doing something that isn't smart for their health for a fitness "boost."  They deeply value what it means to "move well" and approach their training holistically. What results is that they both possess a near-perfect balance between mobility/flexibility and stability/strength; one reason why they've remained durable for so many years.
    • Both embrace a quality over quantity training approach which is based on a "movement-quality-first" mentality. Rare in ironman and ultra-running circles, it means they have more time and energy for family and work responsibilities. And less risk of burn-out over the course of many years of training and racing.
    • Both love to learn and actively participate in learning every day. They're always the first to 1. be accountable to something new that I introduce, or 2. attend a class or clinic that I host, or 3. show up in a room full of students with a "beginner's mindset." They are incredibly humble.
    • Both are mentally strong. In fact, they are the two most mentally tough athletes I have ever worked with. And I don't just mean on the race course. Yes, they are gritty and as tough as they come on the race course! More than that, by mentally strong I mean they willingly take days off and rest when they need it (do you think of the willingness to rest as a 'strength'?). They do the work without whining or bragging, they don't make excuses or miss training sessions needlessly, they own every result they get whether it's what they wanted or not, and they always put their family first and hold themselves to the highest standard, before anyone else.

    Debbie and I at last year's Vermont 50 ultra-run and mountain bike.

    A big group with my son AJ and his girlfriend Liz, and Terry, Deb, Dahlia and Shep...but we're missing Scott (per usual), he's always behind the camera!

    Debbie and I have gone on to host many camps and clinics together. Our families have grown close. We've built a lasting friendship that I know will far outlive our coach/athlete relationship.

    I'm honored to not only coach her, but to know her and call her a friend.  I'm privileged to play a small role in this amazing life (running) journey she is on!

    In a short message on Facebook yesterday, one of Debbie's friends named Barbara, I think best described her (and I quote) as a "combination trail beauty and beast from the East." Yup, that's her! You nailed it Barbara. 🙂

    I'd like to wish that wonderful "beauty and beast from the East" and her crew, the very best of luck as she toes the line this Friday and knocks one more trail "monster" off of her #bucketlist!  You are going to do great.

    All my love, Deb.

    ~Coach Al

    Are You Ready To Break The Cycle?

    Marathoner_Knee_Brace_med

    In response to a recent survey I sent out to some athletes on our mailing list, many told me how frustrated they are with an on again-off again running injury cycle. Quite a few also said they have learned the hard way that when they're injured, they can't train, and when they can't train, they can't improve.

    Listen, I hate talking about injuries as much as you and everyone else. Being injured is like that dirty little secret that no one, especially the injured, ever wants to discuss, ya know? Runners lie, wish, hope and hide them, and even try to silently talk themselves out of them. And it doesn't seem to be improving either. I read a prediction recently that 7 out of 10 runners will be injured in the 2016 calender year. Something is seriously wrong here!

    If you "google" any common running injury, you'll get page upon page of information on how to self diagnose your injury. As you start to read through the articles and pages you find, very often a calm will come over you; you're finally finding the information to the problem and hopefully a cure is around the next page, right?

    The truth is, when you're injured, the SITE of the pain is rarely the SOURCE of the pain. So self diagnosis rarely ever works.  In fact, you often end up just treating the symptoms, not CURING the root cause because you don't know what it is!  And the root cause of an injury is often quite simple and foundational in nature.

    If you've read this far, chances are this topic is resonating with you, so please keep reading!

    So let me ask you a question: How many courses of physical therapy have you gone through to fix an injury in a specific area only to have it crop up again? I hear that complaint from athletes in every sport, young and old, every day. Here's how it often plays out in a vexing triad of money, time, and frustration:

    Let's say an athlete has recurring bouts of Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS). What's the actual cost?

    3 bouts of ITBS x 12 weeks of physical therapy + 2 x-rays + 4 pairs of different running shoes + 2 knee braces + 1 MRI  = a whole lot of TIME, MONEY, AND FRUSTRATION! 

    "Why isn't this injury gone? Why does it keep coming back?"

    If this is you and you're ready to stop treating the symptoms and finally RESOLVE your injury issues, why not start TODAY with my partner, Dr. Kurt Strecker's FREE VIDEO INJURY PREVENTION SERIES.  Click HERE to learn more.

    Honestly, I watched him film these videos, and I think they're really good. There is absolutely no cost to you so you've got absolutely nothing to lose, right?  You will receive real and valuable information that actually works.

    Are YOU ready to break that cycle?

    If I can answer any questions or help in any way, contact me and let me know. I'm listening.

    Happy trails!
    ~Coach Al

    PS: In a future post, I'll discuss the biggest error that most runners make when they return from an injury. If YOU are making this mistake, you will very likely see the injury return much sooner than you would like, and that sucks. Stay tuned.

    Do Your Calves Ever Cramp When Swimming? Here’s Why!

    1794548_678702325506808_505115595_nThere's nothing like a painful calf cramp to ruin an otherwise enjoyable swim, ya know? 🙁  They seem to happen at the worst times and very often, they'll happen in our most important races. Frustrating!

    So what's going on? Why do so many triathletes struggle with this issue during swimming?

    Ridding yourself of the cramping calves will often lead to exactly what you want when you swim, which is a nice compact kicking motion which is both streamlined and also relaxed.

    Here's a question I received from one of our athletes, that might sound familiar?:

    "Sometimes I get a cramp in one of my calves while swimming. It can happen in the beginning, middle, or near the end of a workout, and only occasionally - not every time I swim. It may happen just after pushing off the wall, or it may start in the middle of a lap. I don't feel like I'm kicking very hard when I'm swimming. It has never happened in a race, just while training in a pool. I figure I swallow enough pool water during my swims that hydration shouldn't be the issue. Any suggestions on how to prevent them?"

    Calf cramps while swimming can be quite common actually, especially for triathletes in particular...and there's a very good reason why....and its got nothing to do with hydration or electrolytes....

    The reasons usually come from two things:

    1. Trying to point the toes during kicking, which is active "plantar flexion" and creates tension in the calves. DON'T do this!* DO NOT try to point the toes while you kick.

    2. The other thing which is somewhat related, is that there is OFTEN simply too much TENSION in the lower legs, period. [Remember what a cramp is: its simply a "hyper"chronic contraction of a muscle. That is, activity within the muscle (tension) is heightened and rises to the point where the contraction hits overdrive - and then, bingo, cramp!]

    Why all that tension? (this relates to why it happens to triathletes more than swimmers).

    You're running, and with all of that running is more tension in the calves, simply because they're so active during running (and walking), etc.

    What can add to the tension is the often colder temperatures you'll find in some competitive pools. With colder temps, tension rises. (which is why I love jacuzzis!) 

    So, what to do?** Two things:

    1. First, the most important thing: RELAX YOUR FEET AND LEGS.

    The term I use to describe how to kick correctly (while reducing the risk of cramping in the process) is FLOPPY ANKLES. *

    More: Really good "kickers" have very mobile,*floppy ankles. In fact, great backstrokers can lie on their backs on the floor and easily touch their toes to the floor as they point their ankle. Most triathletes can't come close to doing that. Limited ankle mobility means tension when kicking.

    So what we must do as we are swimming down the lane: think and visualize FLOPPY ANKLES. That's right, just let the feet just flop at the ankle. Relax and release them completely.

    As you relax your feet and JUST LET THEM FLOP, you'll reduce all of that tension in the calves that leads to cramping.

    Now, of course, relaxing the feet and letting them flop, DOES NOT give you permission to also flop your knees or relax them.

    In fact, what I've found works best is if you keep that knee straight and at the same time, flop the ankles, you'll get exactly what you're looking for, which is a nice compact kicking motion which is both streamlined and also relaxed.

    When I say "straight knee," I am really saying to keep it straight - locked out. What will most likely happen is that your knees won't actually "lock," but they will bend less....which is a good thing.

    From my experience videotaping dozens of triathletes: those with the worst kicks will bend their knees a LOT, and their ankles a little. That looks ugly on video.

    Great kicking comes primarily from floppy ankles. Just check any backstroker (where kicking makes up a great majority of their propulsion).

    2. Second, and really importantly: make sure you keep those calves stretched out and nice and long. They will tighten up from running and over time, shortness in that area raises risk of running injury, and also leads to increased risk of cramping.

    To avoid cramping in the calves while swimming, keep the calves LONG, and relax those feet and think: FLOPPY ANKLES.

    And lastly, do all of your swimming in the JACUZZI!

    Happy Swimming!

    ~Coach Al

    ps: got additional swimming questions or anything training related? Jump onto our FACEBOOK page and ask away!

    Triathletes: Swim Technique – The Two MOST Common Mistakes…

    "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

    - Albert Einstein


    Coach Al along with elite swim coach and Masters World Champion, Karlyn Pipes

    Coach Al along with elite swim coach and Masters World Champion, Karlyn Pipes

    Hi Everyone! Coach Al here. I've got a quickie for you today, talking swim technique and common mistakes I see in developing triathletes.

    As many of you know, for novices (and even for those who have experience) the swim portion of a triathlon is often THE segment of the race that creates the most amount of anxiety and nervousness. As a result, many triathletes spend countless hours doing drills up and down the pool to improve their technique, hoping that the changes they learn and practice WILL make the swim portion of the race easier come race day.

    The problem becomes, what if you're not working on the right skills or worse, grooving less-than-optimal form, in your attempts to improve?

    In my experience, there are two mistakes that I see over and over again, that are arguably the most common mistakes. Today I shot a quick video so you can see for yourself.

    Ironically, the 2nd mistake I point out is very likely one of the reasons why the 1st mistake is often happening and therefore difficult to correct.

    To summarize, if you roll excessively to the side, not much else matters! Why? Because there really is no way you can get into a good catch from an "all-of-the-way-onto-your-side" position, without first returning or rolling back to a more prone position.  And, rather than feeling fast or stable, you may actually feel the exact opposite.

    Want to learn more? Check out this great video from Vasa (and elite swim coach Karlyn Pipes) on Better Freestyle Body Rotation. 

    And here's another: In this video, Karlyn discusses fingertip orientation. Check it out.

    Go other questions? Hit me up on our Pursuit Athletic Performance Facebook page!

    Happy Swimming!

    ~Coach Al

    ps: if you'd like to learn more about Karlyn and the services she offers designed to help you improve, go to her website here!

    pss: we are HUGE fans of the Vasa Ergometer here at Pursuit Athletic Performance. Very few swim training tools offer a larger bang-for-your-buck than the Vasa. Check them out if you want to take your swim to the next level.

    Are You Ready To Break The Cycle?

    Marathoner_Knee_Brace_med

    In response to a recent survey I sent out to some athletes on our mailing list, many told me how frustrated they are with an on again-off again running injury cycle. Quite a few also said they have learned the hard way that when they're injured, they can't train, and when they can't train, they can't improve.

    Listen, I hate talking about injuries as much as you and everyone else. Being injured is like that dirty little secret that no one, especially the injured, ever wants to discuss, ya know? Runners lie, wish, hope and hide them, and even try to silently talk themselves out of them. And it doesn't seem to be improving either. I read a prediction recently that 7 out of 10 runners will be injured in the 2016 calender year. Something is seriously wrong here!

    If you "google" any common running injury, you'll get page upon page of information on how to self diagnose your injury. As you start to read through the articles and pages you find, very often a calm will come over you; you're finally finding the information to the problem and hopefully a cure is around the next page, right?

    The truth is, when you're injured, the SITE of the pain is rarely the SOURCE of the pain. So self diagnosis rarely ever works.  In fact, you often end up just treating the symptoms, not CURING the root cause because you don't know what it is!  And the root cause of an injury is often quite simple and foundational in nature.

    If you've read this far, chances are this topic is resonating with you, so please keep reading!

    So let me ask you a question: How many courses of physical therapy have you gone through to fix an injury in a specific area only to have it crop up again? I hear that complaint from athletes in every sport, young and old, every day. Here's how it often plays out in a vexing triad of money, time, and frustration:

    Let's say an athlete has recurring bouts of Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS). What's the actual cost?

    3 bouts of ITBS x 12 weeks of physical therapy + 2 x-rays + 4 pairs of different running shoes + 2 knee braces + 1 MRI  = a whole lot of TIME, MONEY, AND FRUSTRATION! 

    "Why isn't this injury gone? Why does it keep coming back?"

    If this is you and you're ready to stop treating the symptoms and finally RESOLVE your injury issues, why not start TODAY with my partner, Dr. Kurt Strecker's FREE VIDEO INJURY PREVENTION SERIES.  Click HERE to learn more.

    Honestly, I watched him film these videos, and I think they're really good. There is absolutely no cost to you so you've got absolutely nothing to lose, right?  You will receive real and valuable information that actually works.

    Are YOU ready to break that cycle?

    If I can answer any questions or help in any way, contact me and let me know. I'm listening.

    Happy trails!
    ~Coach Al

    PS: In a future post, I'll discuss the biggest error that most runners make when they return from an injury. If YOU are making this mistake, you will very likely see the injury return much sooner than you would like, and that sucks. Stay tuned.