Practice Makes Perfect.

Growing up, you’ve always heard “Practice Makes Perfect” and, as cliché as that might sound, it is 100% true. No matter your endeavor or discipline, the more you practice doing something, the better off you’ll be when you have to perform that task at your best effort.

It’s rumored that Michael Jordan use to take 500 practice shots per day in practicing his jump shot. Tiger woods would do similar feats in practice to improve every angle of his golf game. Hell, Michael Phelps coach would sometimes mess with his goggles so that he would have to learn to perform blindly if the need ever arose in competition (you might remember how that turned out).

So, as it is said, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”.

Nowhere could this be more true than with long distance running/racing, especially the marathon. It is said that “If you want to run well, run a lot”. Though you do have to regularly run in order to improve at it, I don’t necessarily agree with the high mileage thinking as do many running traditionalists but, I’ll save that debate for another blog. What we are going to discuss today is, the importance of efficiency and economy at race pace.

Based on observation of countless marathon performances, by myself, the athletes I coach, as well as many of my close friends and training partners, it is almost a constant that: the outcome of your marathon race, is nearly always closely tied to your best long run training performance(s).

If you look at a runners marathon training cycle and, you show me the best 2-3 long training runs of 15+ miles within that cycle, I can almost guarantee a prediction that their average pace for their marathon will be, within +/- 10 seconds. Meaning, if a runners best long training run came in with an average of 8:00 pace for 18 miles, their marathon pace is likely going to be within the 7:50-8:10 range based on what they finish their marathon in.

Though there are rare exceptions, doing countless miles at 8:00 pace will do you little good when you intend to race 26.2 miles at 7:00 pace. If you aren’t regularly practicing your MRP (marathon race pace), it will be very difficult to maintain that pace into the later stages of the marathon.

As you would expect, your body operates and functions differently at various intensities. The purpose of training at your various race intensities, is to develop efficiency and comfortability at those paces.

Many marathoners focus on covering X distance in training for their long runs (typically 18-24 miles) throughout their training cycle. As stated before, I am not going to get into the mileage debate in this post but, more so on the efforts and intensities of these long runs.

On race day, there are many things that can effect your exertion levels, be it a headwind, lots of incline or, most importantly, pace. Just as an automobile’s fuel economy and efficiency is effected by such things, so is the human body.

If you spend majority of your long training runs at paces that are substantially slower than your intended race pace, then how are you to know how the body will handle such a pace on race day? To understand this, you could make a fairly accurate analogy by noting your car’s fuel economy when driving at 60mph vs. 100mph. At what speed do you suppose you’ll consume the most fuel, as well as cause the most stress?

Many marathoners, especially newbies, believe that the dreaded “wall” is something that cannot be prevented and is just something that has to be dealt with. As per my observations, the “wall” is most often experienced by those who rarely touch on MRP during training.

The human body responds best to familiarity and routine. Eat some bizarre food you’ve never had before and, you are likely to be rushing to the restroom. Change your sleeping habits for a few days and see how tired you are until your body adapts. The same reason we get blisters, is the same reason we hit the wall in a marathon. It’s our body’s way of trying to respond to the stress that is being applied. But, what happens to that blister if you keep gradually applying stress to the same spot over and over? It calluses, right? Well, the same thing can happen with pushing back and or avoiding that dreaded wall in the marathon.

Simply put, THE WALL, is brought on by the depletion of fuel (glycogen). As the body starts getting low on glycogen, it begins to preserve the last bit of it’s stores for the “key components” of the body. Without getting too scientific on metabolic expenditure, it’s important to know that the brain, as well as other key organs, operate almost exclusively on glycogen (by way of glycolysis). The glycogen stores are most abundant in the muscles and the liver. When the body has used up all of the glycogen stored in the muscles, it does not draw from other organs or body parts to replace it. Because at this point in time (say as in the marathon) the body is in distress, it begins to run a self diagnostic test to assess what components of the body need to be taken care of first. So, when the body kicks into survival mode, guess what? Your brain and other vital organs are going to take precedence over the muscles in your legs. Long story short, the body is trying to survive and it doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your slipping marathon PR. It’s priority is to get you to stop whatever stress it is you are applying, so as to live to fight another day.

However, despite all of that, you CAN teach your body to operate more efficiently and burn less glycogen at various intensities. The trick however is, to teach the body into learning how to do that. Again, this is a separate topic for another day but, the body can be conditioned to burn higher ratios of fat vs. glycogen. Because of this, over time, you can teach the body to burn less of it’s precious glycogen stores and to go one step further, you can also teach the body to burn glycogen more efficiently at certain paces, such as MRP.

To do this though, two things have to occur regularly in training. 1.) you must start teaching your body to burn a higher ratio of fat vs. glycogen, by way of depriving it additional glycogen supplements during training. 2.) you must condition the body to operate efficiently at the pace you intend to run for your marathon.

As you progress throughout your marathon training, you should be conditioning your body to operate while taking in no fuel supplements while on the long run (no gels, Gatorade, etc.). As your body begins to get more efficient at preserving your glycogen stores, the next step would be to go one step further and, start picking up the pace on these long runs so that you are running at or very near MRP. As all of this adaptation comes together over the course of several months, the result is, a body that can operate more efficiently at MRP, without depending on the consumption of supplemental fuel. Then, as you get closer to your A marathon, you would start incorporating your planned race day fuel, so as it now acts like “high octane” during you key race simulation runs, as well as for the race itself.

Though this process takes a while to master, it is essential to running your best marathon. So, to summarize, you DO NOT want to wait until the marathon itself to get familiar with MRP. The more you practice this effort in training, the higher the chances of a successful marathon, where you’re not death marching to the line. At least every 3-4 long runs, you should be getting in a good portion (50-75%) at your MRP. As Bill Squires said “it’s the long run that puts the tiger in the cat”. More importantly, it’s the TYPE of long run that puts the tiger in the cat.

If you need more information on the details of DWEP Marathon Training, then us an email and we can put you on the right track for you next marathon.

Great job to all you who ran your marathons this past weekend and, good vibes and fast feet to all those racing this next weekend 🙂

Is Running Really A Stress Reliever?

You often hear runners talking up that magical “runners high” or, talking about how they need a run to unwind and de-stress from their hectic daily life. What you don’t hear, is that running can be a stressful thing for some. Especially when they run for all the wrong reasons.

On the surface, running looks pretty calm and mild but, all too often, it’s a sea of calamity below. Not all, but many runners are of the narcissistic breed and, they use running as their “I’m so pretty” billboard. This is made even more evident  with the advent of social media.

Running, just like anything else, can become an obsession. A runners entire life and lifestyle can and, often does change, once they become a runner. 9 times out of 10, the results can be positive but, every now and then, the results take a turn toward Crazyville!

I can’t recall ever doing a race and worrying about who is or who isn’t going to be there. Maybe because I’ve been running for a long time but, I’ve just never really given much thought over who is toeing the line. I guess I’ve just never been scared of getting beat or worrying about whether or not I can place. For me, I like the adrenaline of racing and challenging myself and, once the gun goes off, it’s unpredictable and I enjoy that.

On the other hand, there are those who obsess over who is entering the race, what kind of times those others have run recently and, whether or not they measure up to their peers. These runners turn into stalkers and will go out of there way to cherry pick a race they know they can do well in. I know a runner who has run countless marathons and has qualified for Boston every single time, yet, has never ran Boston because they know they won’t make the headlines with all the elites and other fast runners who show up. To me, that’s so bizarre. I’d rather enter a race and get dead last, while getting dragged along to a great time by other top athletes. I mean, after all, these are just Lollipop 5k’s, not the Olympics.

Me personally, I’ve always tried to be as transparent as possible with my training, racing, goals, etc. You want to know how I train, I’ll tell you every detail and you can look at my training log if you want. Want to know what races I plan to do and what are my goal times? Ask me, I’ll tell you.

Though some are more private than others, I also try to get the athletes I coach to be in this mindset as well. Why hide? To me, setting a certain goal and putting it out there, holds you accountable. It gives you something to work hard for. It doesn’t have to provide pressure, unless you let it. If you have a goal and fall short, OH WELL!! Try to find out what went wrong and, move on. After all, it’s just a race and, believe it or not, life goes on. NO FEAR!!

Maybe because I come from a long time running background, I can say “it’s just running” but, for others, especially in the world where anyone and everyone can sign up for a race every single weekend, running becomes an identity. Whether they are on the podium holding up a trophy or, just getting tons of “bling”. For many, it’s not the aspect of the running itself that they enjoy but, the accolades and attention that can be garnered from it.

Some of my PR races are unknown because I ran the race as a “bandit” and or paced someone without actually having a bib. Unlike many, I couldn’t give a shit about my Athlinks account. Imagine this!! I have actually heard runners respond with this answer “Well, I don’t want that to reflect on my Athlinks account”, when asked why they don’t ever pace other runners who are “slower” than them. Are you kidding me??? You are worried about the possibility that a “bad race time” will show up on the internet for all the world to see?? Get real!!!

Growing up as a mid-distance runner, my goal was to always break the 4 minute mile. Clearly, I never got there. However, if the only sub 4 mile I ever ran, was on a dark track in the middle of nowhere, with nobody there to see it….I’d be no less happy than if I ran the same sub 4 in front of thousands of fans and spectators.

I’ve seen runners pull out of races, quit a race, and or make up countless other excuses when they are getting beat or are having a less than perfect race. You have those who consistently have “bad races” and, they blame it on everything under the sun. It was windy, there tummy ached, they had a bad nights sleep, yada, yada, yada!!

I make it a point with all my runners that, to always take responsibility for their races, good or bad. Sometimes, bad races just happen. With that said, if the individual is honest with themselves, they can often pinpoint the reasoning for a bad a race. Sure, a bad race sucks..especially if you don’t really know what happened. But, at the end of the day, it’s just a race.

So, with many of you all getting ready for an upcoming race, keep this in mind. Whether you’re running for a win, a PR, or just for fun, it’s just another day. A race, despite how worked up you get for it, is really just another run with a timer at one end. The results, good or bad, won’t make or break you and, it’s not likely that your future hangs on that ticking timing clock.

As my friend Tommy says all the time, “it’s just running”

Good luck to all those racing this weekend and next!!! Especially to all you #DWEP runners!

What Makes a Good Coach?

So what makes a good coach? Is it the framed pieces of paper hanging in an office or, is it the results produced by the athletes under the coach’s tutelage?

In no other sport but running, does it seem that a “certification” is so important (except maybe Crossfit). In the sport of running, anyone who is willing to pay $150 and go sit in class for two days, can become a “certified running coach”, via either the USATF or RRCA, etc.

Personally, I find this funny for two reasons. 1.) Any Sally Soccer Mom who happens to “like” running, can go out and get one of these certifications, yet, never produce a single result in either their own running and or their athletes. 2.) In no other sport, baseball, football, basketball, etc., does a coach need or have the need for a “coaching certification”. Take a look at any ball sport coach, from pee-wee league to professional and, see how many of them actually have any coaching credentials (as far as having something on paper that says they are now a COACH).

Hell, even in running, it seems that credentials, are only a topic when it comes to coaching “amateurs”. You look at renowned coaches like Lydiard, Canova, Squires, Bowerman, etc., none of them had any spectacular credentials. Hell, some of them had/have no credentials AT ALL!!

On the other hand, I know several (some personally) PhD holding coaches who, couldn’t coach themselves or an athlete to run across the street without getting hit by a car. These guys/gals have more paper credentials than you could imagine. They understand the theory but, when it comes to application, they haven’t a clue.

To me, a coach is one that is passionate about not only the sport but, also about the athletes. The coach that cares 100% about the well being and health of the athlete, not just about their performance. Also, a good coach is one who should, be producing results but, more importantly, getting the best out of the athlete, yet, making the journey fun and rewarding in many other ways off the field, track, court, etc.

Personally, the best coach I ever had, was a man who knew how to get the best out of his athletes, both physically and mentally. Over his time, he was a track coach, football coach, basketball coach and, a PE coach. He was successful in all endeavors, not because he knew everything about the sports that he coached but, because his athletes believed in him and because he believed in them, they were willing to kill themselves to perform up to that belief.

A good coach is willing to continue learning and broadening his/her knowledge and understanding of the sport in which they coach. They are willing to test any theory, idea or principle on themselves first, before ever applying it to their athlete. More importantly, the coach needs to be able to make an athlete believe in themselves.

If you’re in a position of wanting or needing a coach. You should talk one on one with them, as well as speak to some of their athletes. If the athlete is happy in life and their performances, then chances are, you’ve found a quality coach. Also, respect one’s credentials and certifications but, at the same time, understand that they are just paper. The knowledge and understanding often comes from experience and practical application.

Happy Hump Day and Happy Training/Racing 🙂

It’s All In The Hips….It’s All in The Hips

It today’s world of weekend Crossfit certifications and the seemingly endless amount of those who are ACE, NASM, KNICKKNACKPADDYWHACK certified….there is so much focus put on “core strengthening”. Now, why is that bad? Well, first off, it’s not….BUT, the problem is, most of these Globo Gym trainers/coaches, don’t really know what CORE actually is. The majority of them, if you were to ask for a good core workout, would provide you with tons of ab work like planks, situps and toes to bar…or some combination of.

Turn around and ask anyone with half a brain what core is and, the answer would be ALL the muscles from navel to knee, front and back. This includes the glutes (all of them) abductors, adductors, hip flexors,  IT band, obliques, erector spinae and, all those intricate little components that help support these bigger components. Basically, it’s all the muscles that keep you erect and from looking like a weeble wobble with any movement you do. The core is the trunk of the tree and is constantly working hard to keep you from falling over…this is especially true when running.

Running, in it’s simplest of explanations, is basically just a controlled series of falling forward, letting momentum and gravity do it’s job. Problem is, most runners, have extremely weak and sloppy core strength, thus, they tend to fight the momentum and gravity in order to stabilize themselves with each foot strike. If you were to look at the average runners form in slow motion, you’d see some serious pelvic tilt, sagging hips, buckling knees, collapsing ankles…..Plain and simple, most runners are ugly to watch and rather than actually running, most of them are doing a forced shuffle that is anything but graceful and controlled.

The referred pain of nearly any running injury, be it knee pain, Achilles issues, calf issues, plantar fasciitis, etc., stems from having weak hips or glutes. As either one of those muscle groups are overly worked or taxed and or if they aren’t properly working or working enough, due to imbalances or lack of strength, then you can see why these other smaller muscles/tendons end up taking the brunt of the trauma of running.

Watch most elite runners and note their form. The lead leg lifts from the hip, bringing the knee up, the trail leg provides the push off for forward momentum, then, they allow gravity to do the rest by slightly leaning forward and letting all that kinetic energy do the work to propel them down the road/track.

Now, take a look at the typical marathoners form. It’s more or less nothing but a shuffle, the leg is actually stiffly thrown out in front, with the knee barely lifting at all. This dreaded marathon shuffle comes from having weaknesses and imbalances in the core, as well as having very poor range of motion.

Though the latter video is a bit embellished, I do know at least one runner who has nearly identical running form to each of the runners in the video.

As we run and train for distance, assuming that the average runner has a cadence of around 160 foot falls per minute 80 per foot). Each runner is making contact with the ground about 1200 times per mile or 30000+ times per week. With that many foot strikes, amplified by impact forces in excess of 3 times individual body weight, it’s no doubt that running can be stressful to the body.

Subconsciously, our body wants to follow the path of least resistance. Our weaker muscles want to defer their stress loads to the stronger muscles and connective tissues. For a while, that works. Eventually though, the stronger muscles over compensate and become over worked until, something has to give. Imagine walking across your living room with a pebble in your shoe. Not too bad, right? Now go and run a marathon with that same pebble in your shoe. Drastically different, huh?

There are tons of videos and coaches that promote learning good running form and, I am one of them. With that said, you can’t improve knee lift or hip drive, if your glutes and hips are weak, your range of motion is horrible and/or your body is operating asymmetrically due to imbalances.

So, the question is…how do you fix all of these issues?

First off, you have to identify the problematic areas. You need to determine if you are asymmetrical in regards to strength and range of motion. By doing a series of balancing, strength, mobility and range of motion tests, you can diagnose whether you have dominant glute strength or lack there of in one side over the other.

Once you determine this, then you’d want to begin incorporating (gradually of course) movements and exercises that start to pull the body back into alignment by way of strengthening the weaker side.

As you begin adding these strengthening exercises, you’ll begin to notice the changes in your running form/gait. You’ll start to notice that the hip is driving forward more and that the knee is seeming to lift on it’s own, without you overly thinking about doing it. You’ll begin to notice that later into your runs, despite being fatigued and tired, your form has remained intact and that you are starting to experience less and less soreness after harder effort runs. Just observing soreness after every long run, is a simple enough sign that you have some imbalances and weaknesses somewhere. These soreness areas are your onboard diagnostics and they are trying to tell you to fix something. They are your CHECK ENGINE light.

To conclude, it doesn’t matter how fast or “good” of a runner you are, if you can’t stay injury free. If you’re constantly bouncing from one injury to another, then it’s time to stop being stubborn and fix the damn problem!! It’s as simple as devoting a total of 1 extra hour per week to your training. That 1 hour can be the difference between long term healthy running or, never ending nagging injuries. Why waste months of quality training, only to be sitting on the couch because you now can’t run due to some preventable injury.

Continue following for details of these various strength movements, drills and balance work.

To be your best, it’s all the little things that add up. Train smart, do your maintenance, recover, repeat!! That’s the formula to reaching your greatest potential.