Archive for running

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

 

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

Is It Possible You’re Dehydrated?

 

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

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

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

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

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

I would argue that no, they're not.

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

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

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

The Conservation Mindset

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

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

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

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

Your Fascial (Water) Net

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

What do I mean?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Drink To Thirst?

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

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

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

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

Happy trails!
~Coach Al

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

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

 

There is NO Tomorrow.

 

Hi Everyone...Happy 2016!

Ok, so in my humble opinion, today's post is important - I hope you can take a minute to read it. It's important for one simple reason - because as the subject line says, there is no tomorrow. 

Now that might sound extreme or fatalistic, but ya know (and as you'll learn as you read further), when it comes to setting goals, taking care of those "niggling" injuries (that seem to get worse as we get older), and being able to do the things that make us smile (like run!), I've learned that the only path that works long term, is to take action like there is NO tomorrow.

Now... before I tell you what kind of action I recommend you take, let me ask you a question:

Do you usually begin the new year with a "plunge" on New Year's Day? You know, the kind of ocean "plunge" where you strip down to your trunks and jump feet first into icy-cold water, with a bunch of other crazy fun-loving friends? 🙂

New Year's Day PlungeI think I did my first official New Year's Day "plunge" around 1985. I haven't done it every year since, because I'm not a big fan of streaks; it seems whenever I get any kind of streak going, I inevitably end up doing something my intuition tells me isn't smart. 🙂 But from that first time in 1985, I thought it was a great way to start the year anew.

...lots of laughing at myself and others, yelping and general carrying on like kids! I love the feeling of "drowning" those mistakes from the past year and looking forward optimistically! (The pic on the left is me getting rid of my socks before jumping in!)

So as is typical when I do plunge, I joined up with some friends for some mountain biking, and then with a run group that slow jogged from the John J. Kelley statue in downtown Mystic, Connecticut, all the way to the shoreline a few miles down the road.

So how does this all relate to what I want to share with you today?

As it happened, because so many folks from all over the area showed up to jog and then plunge, I bumped into a bunch of guys I had trained with, raced against, and become good friends with over the last 30+ years.

It was great to catch up, but honestly, what really blew me away was how few of them are actually running anymore. I mean, seriously, I met up with three different guys who were there to plunge, but told me that for all intents and purposes, their running days are over.

Not surprising to me, chronic knee and hip injuries that left a permanent mark on the joints seemed to be the prevailing theme.

I was saddened because in all three instances, we had a conversation about their injuries some time over the last few years. I told them what I thought they should do, and offered to help.

Listen, there's a truism in our business of helping athletes avoid injury and extend their athletic "lives" and it is this: See me now or see me later, but at some point, you are going to see me.

When it comes to protecting your body and making sure you can run for as long as you would like (how about for as long as you live), there is no tomorrow.

Check out Apollo in the video below - no one says it better. Believe it!

No Tomorrow

 

The ONLY path for anyone who wants to be proactive and make sure they are doing all they can to age gracefully, is to get to the heart of how they're "moving" and determine definitively where they're unstable, weak, imbalanced, or asymmetrical. Until that happens, it is only a matter of time.

So, because I want to help YOU, for a very limited time only (4 days-this opportunity is gone at the end of the day on Friday!) and for a limited number of runners (only 5), I am offering YOU a solution!

That solution is our unique Pursuit Athletic Performance Virtual Gait Analysis at $100 off the normal price of $299.00. That's right, $100.00 off!

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

 

The Virtual Gait Analysis Is For You IF:

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

The Virtual Gait Analysis Is NOT For You IF:

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

 

How Does Our Virtual Gait Analysis Work?

  1. Go HERE and hit the "Get A Virtual Gait Analysis" Button. During check out, USE THIS COUPON: VGA100 to get $100.00 off of the normal $299.00 price, but ONLY if you act immediately because it goes away after 5 have been purchased! Coupon code: VGA100
  2. After you complete the purchase, you'll receive an instant downloadable PDF with detailed instructions on every single step you need to take, which includes submitting pictures and video to us. It is an easy-to-follow process that works!
  3. We will be in contact with you to help you through every step of the process of submitting what we need to conduct the analysis, should you need us.
  4. We then take all of the information provided and conduct the analysis in our labs.
  5. When we are done (normally about 4-5 days from the time you have submitted ALL of the information to us), we set up a SKYPE video call with you at a mutually convenient time, where we review everything we learned with you. At that time we will answer any questions you may have. Also included is a complete VGA report that includes a detailed, individualized exercise prescription for addressing YOUR specific issues, as well as all supporting pictures and documentation.
  6. And then, because you NEED TO KNOW what to do to fix your issue (and how to do it!), we will give you instant access to our website and all of the instructional videos and documents. You'll know WHAT to do, HOW to do it, and will be able to contact us should you have any questions along the way!

It's time to stop the insanity.

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

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

Happy trails!
~Coach Al

PS: Still not sure, or doubt some of what I've said? Why not jump onto our Pursuit Facebook Group and ask any question you'd like of the athletes that are there. They'll give you the straight scoop! It is an open group, so just ask to come in. You can post any question on our company Facebook page HERE also.

PSS: Still doubt it works? Why not speak with any other athlete who has gone through it. Reply to this email and I'll give you contact information.

PSSS: Remember, for 4 days ONLY and for 5 runners ONLY! $100 off!! No exceptions! Act now! This is gone by the end of the week!

 

FIVE Years – 22 Minutes

 

Hi Everyone...Coach Al here. I've got an important message for you today, one that is hopeful and empowering and will help you be happier and better in 2017 and beyond!

Back on October 7th of last year, I was at an Entrepreneur Magazine conference in NYC and had the good fortune of hearing some great presentations including one by writer, James Clear. (His articles on behavioral psychology, habit formation, and performance improvement are awesome - check them out!)

Mr. Clear has developed quite a following online because of his often profound and always concise writing.

James Clear articleHe wrote an article recently entitled "You're Not Good Enough To Be Disappointed."

The article resonated with me and with many others, including some colleagues in the coaching community and some smart introspective athletes I coach. If you missed it, click on the image to the left and read it.

I get frustrated, but that's just me.

The article from Mr. Clear reminded me that one of the things that has always frustrated me, whether it was teaching percussion privately back in the day, or today as a coach, is how quickly people get impatient or discouraged whenever something is "hard" for them, or when they don't get instant results from a little bit of training or work.

I'm also frustrated whenever athletes want to brush over the learning process (essential to improvement and growth, and for me, FUN), so that that they can get to the "really" good stuff, whatever that is.

Now if that sounds harsh or hits home and makes you a bit uncomfortable to read, then you have a choice. You can close the page and check out for now, or you can keep reading and see if there's something here that's worth thinking about. I hope you keep reading.

Now listen, this ISN'T about me, it's about you. I'm here to help you get better.

But at the same time, I have to be honest...

Like every one of you, when I think about how a thing might help me, I go back and relate it to my own experiences. In this case, for me it's my development as a runner. So let's start there:

I ran my first Boston marathon in 1983 as an unofficial runner (aka "back of the packer"), finishing in around 4-hours. The picture you see is from that day, hanging out with some friends right before the start. What an amazing day it was!

I finished, absolutely IN LOVE with running AND with the Boston Marathon. I wanted to come back as a qualified runner, not one that jumped in the back and ran as a scab.

So, I made a huge decision that day, vowing NOT to run another marathon until I was ready to run fast enough to qualify. (No small feat since the men's open qualifying time then was 2:50!).

Four years went by.

Injuries, miles, a lot of reading and study and research, more injuries, and dozens of road races and track sessions later, the time arrived when I believed I was ready to give qualifying a shot. I signed up for the Marine Corp Marathon as my first "official" marathon. Luckily for me, the qualifying standard had been lowered from 2:50 to 3 hours! My 3:01:20 that day in 1987, starting behind 11,000 runners, got me in.

So let me ask, would you or any of your friends take four years, F-O-U-R years... to train and improve, between their first and second marathons?

(Many runners and triathletes are so anxious and impatient, they sign up for their second marathon (or ironman) before the ink is dry on the finisher certificate from the first, without considering what it really will take to improve!).

 

FIVE YEARS - 22 minutes.

My first "official" Boston (and 2nd official marathon) followed in April, 1988. The image to the left and below is from that race. (Gotta love the fancy painters hat, right?) 🙂

1988 Boston Marathon

I will admit that when it came to training, my entire focus as a runner was on one thing: How I could run the marathon faster, and the Boston Marathon in particular.

So it was more racing, more injuries, more humbling mistakes and "learning" opportunities. Hell, the things I write about and share today with the athletes I work with, I learned the hard way over those years and the ones that followed.

I trained for 5 years before running the 2:39 at Boston in 1992 that stands today as my PR for the distance.

5 years to improve by 22 minutes.

F-I-V-E years. Twenty-two minutes.

Have you or any of your friends worked relentlessly for 5 straight years, with a laser beam focus on one race, one distance?

Some of the athletes I've worked with look back and like to say I have more talent than they do. I don't believe that. (Do you remember this? "I Don't Care How Talented You Are,")

I have no more talent than you do, but as soon as I crossed the line in Boston in 1983, I knew what I wanted - I LOVED training with a very specific goal. And I LOVE the process. I always have, and I'm sure it comes in part from my life as a musician.

If you're going to reach your true potential, you have to be willing to listen, learn, and work really hard for as long as it takes. And you have to try to avoid being frustrated, mad, or disappointed. It's that simple.

As James Clear (and Dan John) pointed out, the fact is, you haven't worked long enough to be disappointed, frustrated, or discouraged.

It's time to embrace the process and enjoy the journey, my friends.

Just keep learning and working hard. Every day's a new day.

Happy trails!
~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.

Is STRAVA The Newest Coaching Tool?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn. Think. Train smart.

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

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

One Quarter of an Inch!

 

When asked what he thought was man’s greatest invention, Albert Einstein didn't reply the wheel, the lever, or for that matter, anything else you might expect, he replied, "compound interest.” Do you remember when you first learned about this seemingly magical way to earn money, faster and more easily?

What if I told you there was a way to "get rich" as a runner, by taking advantage of the same basic principles as those that make compound interest "man's greatest invention?" What I'm really talking about here is the ability to "compound" SPEED gains,  with no extra heart-beats required.

Well, there IS a way, and it's actually quite simple. Here's the deal:

If you add 1/4 inch to your stride length naturally, without forcing it artificially, you will be running about 10-seconds per mile faster at the same intensity.

Don't believe me?

Ever counted how many strides you take in a mile?

Depending upon your speed and intensity, it's about 1500.

If you were to get one-quarter inch more length out of each of those 1500 strides, you'd cover about 40 to 50 feet more at the same intensity.  That's another way of saying you're going to run about 10-seconds per mile faster.

How hard would you have to train to get 10-seconds per-mile improvement?

Imagine a 30-second improvement in your 5k finish time without having to do a single hard run workout! In a marathon, you could instantly improve by as much as 5-minutes or more depending upon your speed, just by adding 1/4" to your stride length! (Add more than 1/4" and you get even faster!)

The catch is, you can't just reach out further to grab more ground with your legs. Doing that would result in some overstriding and might get you injured. Not good.

So how do you get that extra 1/4" the right way?

By improving your stability, mobility and strength, that's how.

Even just a bit more hip mobility  = greater (and easier) range of motion, more elastic recoil and a longer, more powerful stride, naturally. (Did you know that 50% of the energy that propels you forward during the running stride comes from elastic and reactive “energy-return” of your muscles?).

Similarly, a more stable and stronger core and hips = LESS time spent in contact with the ground and LESS energy leaks, making each stride more efficient and powerful.

Sure, achieving either of these improvements will take some effort, but....the way I look at it, any improvement we can make that doesn't require more gut-busting track or tempo sessions, is worth exploring, don't you think?

Happy trails!

~Coach Al

PS:  And then there's the law of the Aggregation of Marginal Gains. I absolutely love the way James Clear writes about this amazingly similar strategy for improvement in his blog. Powerful stuff!

PSS: If you're a triathlete, imagine making similar kinds of gains as a swimmer. I'll be writing more about that in a future post.

It ISN’T About The Plan.

 

Recently, at a race where I was volunteering, I was chatting with a fellow runner. A week earlier he had finished his second 100-mile ultra.  He was feeling very good about having finished, and why not? Much like finishing an Ironman, getting to the FINISH line at a race of that magnitude is awesome and always worth celebrating! Despite his glow at having finished, I sensed there was something else bugging him...

As we talked, I began to understand why he was frowning. He acknowledged that yes, he really struggled during the race - his finish time was far slower than he was capable of. The primary reason, he felt, was an injury that had plagued him for most of the winter and spring, which prevented him from training as he had hoped or wanted.

His mood seemed to lift as he excitedly told me that in order to rectify things, he had already begun work on developing what he felt would be his perfect training week.  With a childlike grin, he described this "new" training routine as having the ideal blend of hill work, speed work, and long runs.

I chuckled to myself as I listened because I wasn't surprised. This was the same old blah-blah BS from a recently injured runner who, while well intentioned, was on the completely wrong path.

I said something to myself I often say in these situations: he simply doesn't know what he doesn't know.  

Now don't get me wrong. This is a smart guy who has been running for only a few years, and it is clear he has talent. Unfortunately, he's unknowingly missing THE most important elements which will help him truly reach his potential.  And he's not looking in the right places to get the answers he needs either. Training plans don't cause injury, nor do they lead directly to success. Both injury and success are essentially up to us.

What he doesn't know that I DO...and what I want to share with you today, is the secret to reaching your potential has very little to do with "the plan."  In fact, it has everything to do with the "little things" that most athletes don't pay much attention to.   

Honestly, of the dozens of things I speak about daily with the athletes I coach, depending upon their experience and where they are on their training journey, only a small percentage have to do with "the plan."

So, what are those "little things" that this runner might want to consider beyond obvious (to me) things like patience, recovery, daily nutrition, mindfulness, focus, and life balance/stress, to name a few?

Perhaps the most important is movement quality.

What do I mean?

Why not start by learning what the root-cause of the injury was. Only then can you get rid of it once and for all.   

Many athletes and sports medicine professionals alike mistakenly believe that rest cures all. That's just wrong. Just because you rest, the root-cause doesn't magically disappear.

Many struggle chronically with the same recurring injury, often from one year to the next, because they never learn the root-cause! That's just dumb.

It was clear this runner had no clue as to the root-cause of his injury. Here's some of what he should have considered:

  • Has he lacked muscle balance, appropriate mobility/flexibility, or core stability?
  • Had prior injuries set his body on a path of increasing compensation which ultimately led to this injury?
  • What about his foot mechanics - is he wearing the most appropriate running shoe for his unique needs?
  • Did he simply need to be functionally stronger in order to handle the training load?

My advice to him, had he asked me (he didn't), would have been to start by resisting the urge to only treat the symptoms. Instead, get smarter and learn what the cause actually is.

So here's the deal folks: Yes, a well-conceived, progressive, personalized training plan is an important part of an overall training program, but it is not the most important part.

When some of the important elements mentioned above, including arguably THE most important (movement quality) are in place and are monitored carefully and regularly, THEN and only then, is it time to worry about "the plan." But not before.

Live and learn.

Happy Trails!

~Coach Al

054: Presenting The Trail Running Film Festival [Podcast]

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Click on the image to see all of the upcoming dates for the Spring 2015 East Coast tour!

Click on the image to see all of the upcoming dates for the Spring 2015 East Coast tour!

In today's Episode 54, we are psyched to welcome race director and trail running junkie, James Varner of Rainshadow Running and The Trail Running Film Festival. Also joining us is our own ultra runner extraordinaire and coach, Debbie Livingston.

The Trail Running Film Festival is coming to the east coast this spring, highlighted by a local showing on Wednesday, March 4th, in Hartford, Conn.  (For tickets to this show and others, as well as more information, go here).

In our conversation with James, we talk about...

  • How the Trail Running Film Festival got started and how the events are structured. (Can you say lots of community, food, fun, and a little beer too? Woo!)
  • Rainshadow Races: Where and what they're all about. As their motto says, "why run anywhere else?"
  • A little bit of history of trail films, and why James and Rainshadow (as well as those of us at Pursuit) are so passionate about sharing these films and bringing them to the world for all to enjoy.
  • Which specific films are featured in the Trail Running Film Festival, as well as additional dates and locations.
  • Practical tips and tricks for those of you who might be new to trail running or would like to learn more and enjoy it more!
  • Our upcoming Pursuit Athletic Performance Cedar Lake Trail Running Camp and Retreat, from Friday, May 29 to Sunday, May 31, 2015.  (Come join us!)

**James ALSO did a podcast with the Ultrarunnerpodcast back in 2014 where he talks about the film festival and other cool topics. To listen to that interview, go here.

**To check out the Trail Running Film Festival on Facebook, go here.

TrailFilmFest2And finally, to learn more about all of the great events in the Pacific Northwest put on by Rainshadow Running, go here.

Safe and happy trails everyone!

~Coach Al