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 https://www.facebook.com/DennisWelchCoaching?ref=hl 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.

How Cross Training can help your Marathon, While traditional CrossFit can Ruin It!

Crossfit, as much as I hate to say it, is here to stay (at least for awhile). If you read my blog, my posts or just know me in general, you’ll know that I don’t have many positive things to say about the typical Crossfit training and the gyms that brainwash their members into drinking the Koolaid.

Do I despise Crossfit? No, I do not! Let’s make that clear right now. Do I think that many of it’s movements can be beneficial, YES!! I do believe that some of it can be very beneficial. In fact, it’s not CrossFit per se that bothers me, it’s the majority of the application that I don’t care for.

First off, CrossFit actually hasn’t invented anything new. All they’ve done is taken traditional strength movements and workouts and, coupled them with already existing cardio workouts, to try and create a hybrid style workout that is guaranteed to get you sweating and working hard, which, is precisely the problem.

Sweating and working hard, does not necessarily translate over to other modalities of training, especially if you are really trying to improve in that other event. In this case, the marathon.

Will CrossFit kick your butt and improve your general GPP (General Physical Preparedness)? Without a doubt it will, provided you recover properly and do not get injured in the process.

Crossfit designs most of it’s workouts around HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), which generally falls into the anaerobic threshold area of training. Most of their workouts rarely go beyond 30 minutes in duration but, in those 30 minutes, you will certainly get your ass handed to you if you put forth the effort.

So why is that a bad thing? On the surface, it isn’t. Problem is, Crossfit rarely touches on the true aerobic conditioning that is needed to improve endurance performance. Take the following workout for instance, the Filthy Fifty.

This workout has you doing 10 different exercises, as quickly as possible, with average times being in the 20:00-25:00 range.

For time:
50 Box jump, 24 inch box
50 Jumping pull-ups
50 Kettlebell swings, 1 pood
Walking Lunge, 50 steps
50 Knees to elbows
50 Push press, 45 pounds
50 Back extension
50 Wall ball shots, 20 pound ball
50 Burpees
50 Double unders

No doubt that this workout is intense and if you go all out, it will leave you spent but, how will it improve your marathon performance? Sure, it will boost anaerobic and work capacities, all the while working a bit on aerobic development but, it sure won’t prepare you for the rigors of an event that will last well over 2 hours for most. Not to mention, many of these movements are rather complex and, form and technique is paramount. What happens to form and technique as you fatigue, yet are still trying to go as fast as possible? It falls apart, which opens up your vulnerability for injury.

So, where can “CrossFit” help with marathon training? Crossfit, in a controlled manner (which is nothing more than cross training), can provide many benefits in improving the complimentary areas of your marathon training. No true Crossfit workout is going to better prepare you for a fast marathon than doing something like a fast long run or a quality tempo run but, incorporating dynamic movements that strengthening the posterior chain and core, are certainly going to serve you well.

Getting stronger, increasing range of motion, improving general overall conditioning. These are all great things. Problem is, the majority of Crossfit “boxes”, do not stress the importance of form and technique, nearly enough. Nor do hardly any of the coaches understand how to design appropriate workouts, based on the athletes within their audience.

So, lets take a very common scenario of an average Crossfit gym. In some 6pm class on a Tuesday afternoon, we have Mary, who is training to run a PR at her upcoming marathon. We have Steve, who recently decided to get his life turned around and is wanting to lose weight and get in shape. We have Derrick who, is a high school baseball player, hoping to get a scholarship and finally, we have Alex, who wants to crush the upcoming Crossfit Open 15.1.

Despite the various skill levels, there is also the element of WHAT are these individuals are training for. Because of their extreme differences, their daily WOD, in reality, SHOULD be tailored to their individual goals and what it is they are training for, the problem is, it’s not. They will all be given the same WOD, with the same movements and, the same amount of time to complete it in. The weight used, will typically all be the same and, though there might be scaled versions of the actual RX, most of these athletes will go beyond their capabilities, in hopes of keeping up with everyone else. This is quite possibly, the most foolish way to train a group of athletes that are not on the same page in regards to 1.) level of fitness, 2.) skill level, 3.) dissimilar training goals.

Do you see a football coach telling his star lineman to go train with the distance runners today because “boy, you need some conditioning”. Does a top marathoner go jump in the ring with Floyd Mayweather a couple times a week, to improve his stamina and his ability to take a beating? How about an MLB pitcher…you think he goes and hurls 100 fast balls a day to condition himself for an upcoming game?  Of course you don’t see this, it’s not really practical or beneficial to the success of these athletes in their respective sport.

Take the upcoming Crossfit Open 15.1 for example. Workout is an AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of 15 toes to bar + 10 deadlifts + 5 snatches, in 9 minutes. Now granted, many of those who compete in these opens, aren’t necessarily training for a marathon but, some are. Besides that, whether or not someone who is focused on an upcoming marathon will or will not be competing in the opens, they will still be doing similar workouts if they regularly attend a Crossfit gym.

Programming this way, would be similar to me as a running coach, telling a marathoner to go out and run 40 miles a week but, make it all broken up into 100m sprints. So, just go and do 640x100m for the week and, you’ll be good!!! I mean, hell, it’s only around 5.7 miles a day. No big deal!

Ok, so back to the main topic! Should you Cross Train? Should you do strength work? Should you focus on mobility, flexibility and range of motion? Without question, the answer to all of these questions are YES!!

Should you be doing deadlifts and squats to increase strength, power, mobility and range of motion? ABSOLUTELY!! Should you be doing 100 deadlifts + 100 burpees + 100 toes to bar, as quickly as possible? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!

I am a huge proponent of implementing strength training and conditioning into my marathon training programs. With that said, it’s added gradually, progressively, and, in a controlled manner. In fact, for some of my advanced athletes, they will do 100 deadlifts in a workout but, there is no emphasis on time. It’s all about form and, the rep where form slips, the workout is done.

As with anything, specificity is key to improving in your particular discipline. Though there are slight overlaps in regards to conditioning, your main focus needs to remain on the area you want to reap the greatest benefits. A hard 5 minutes of burpees will no doubt be a good workout in making you fit and it can help boost Vo2max, aerobic conditioning and anaerobic capacity, however, to run a good 5k, at some point, you are going to have to start doing a decent amount of time training at the paces you want to run, as well as develop a more superior aerobic system, by way of conditioning your body for the running itself. Take Rich Fronning for instance. The king of Crossfit and deemed “The Fittest Man”. No doubt that he can absolutely crush some workouts but, his 5k PR is 21:00…that would barely make the JV girls cross-country team. Now, if he were to train specifically for the 5k, no doubt he could get substantially faster (especially with his work capacity) but, he obviously don’t care much on how fast his 5k is. WHY?? Well, it comes back to that SPECIFICITY thing. Just as he doesn’t need to run a faster 5k to dominate his sport, YOU don’t need to get better and better at Fran, in order to excel at your marathon.

When adding cross training and strength/conditioning into your marathon training, find the elements that will enhance your marathon performance, rather than hinder it. Deadlifts, deep box squats, single leg step-ups, jump rope, lunges, incline running, sled pulling, core strengthening, etc., these will all help to improve your strength, your mobility, and, your range of motion. Doing as many as you can, as fast as you can, does not crossover the same and, will likely take away from your running performance and or leave you over trained or, injured.

If you are searching for a gym, find one that has a trainer/coach that understands the demands of blending together both the strength and endurance components of your programming. I’ve been to many Crossfit gyms and, despite what their members might say, they are 9 times out of 10, the same old thing. Cookie cutter WODs that are pulled from some website, then force fed to the members, daily.

When you show up to class and look at the whiteboard and see 100 kettle bell swings, you should ask your coach/trainer, “So how does this effect my 15 miler tomorrow”? This is important because, chances are, the rest of the members will not be doing a 15 miler tomorrow, nor are they training for a marathon. So, a good coach, that is knowledgeable, should have no problem in modifying your workout and or changing it all together, based on your goals. If they continue to try and push you to do all the same workouts as the other members, then that gym is not for you and, will ultimately sabotage the main focus of your training. A good coach will have experience across all the training modalities and should understand how to tie them all together. Even if they may not specialize in one specific discipline, they should at the very least, understand how it impacts the other components of training.

So, to summarize. You do NEED strength and conditioning and, it CAN and WILL help improve your run specific training, provided it is done correctly, at the right time, in the right doses.

If you have questions and or are looking for a specific type of coach, then please ask. If I can’t provide the best insight or advice, I know plenty of specialty coaches who can.

As always, train hard, train smart and, HAVE FUN!! 🙂

SPEED – The Redheaded Step child of Endurance Training

SPEED!!! We all want it, we all need it, but, most  of us are scared of it! So if it’s speed we seek, why are many so timid about incorporating it into their programs?

A good friend of mine, who is an elite marathoner, often texts me in regards to their daily and weekly workouts. We discuss the details of the workouts, how they went, how they will progress, based on what their coach is giving them week to week, month to month, etc.

This particular individual is an endurance machine in regards to training. Meaning, this person seems to handle, prefer and see the greatest results from high volumes of modest intensity. Based on past training, this individual seems to struggle the most with “speed work” and often finds their body rejecting it by way of tweaks here, nagging niggles or injury there. Often times, these little injuries, be them minor or major, seem to stem from post speed work sessions. So, naturally, it seems the culprit is SPEED!! But, is it?

For some time now, I have been tinkering with the “perfect blend” of components to comprise my endurance specific programming. It’s like a heirloom recipe in that, Grandma always seemed to make it the best. But why? Too often, the endurance game comes down to plain and simple, black and white. It’s either you sleep in “high mileage” camp or you sleep in the “low mileage, high intensity” camp. Very few people cross over and go behind enemy lines.

But what if you could have both? What if you could use one to better the other and vice versa? Maybe your “pinch” of oregano is substantially more or substantially less than Grandma’s “pinch”.

In my opinion, I think speed work gets a bad rap in that, most are doing it wrong (or, doing it in the wrong doses at the wrong time). As most people in the endurance world know, ones respiratory and cardio system(s) seems to progress and adapt at a much quicker rate than that of their musculoskeletal system. Because of this, our muscles, joints, bones and tendons, all respond and adapt at a much slower rate and take some significant time to catch up with the other systems at work. Because most endurance athletes have been doing the long, slow aerobic conditioning for some time (building a base), their bodies can handle these intensities for long periods of time and everything has adapted at a somewhat even rate. NOW, start throwing in speed work and, BOOM!! They get injured and, of course they blame speed work for this. This is where I believe it comes down to HOW one does speed work.

Let’s take a marathon training plan, particularly for those individuals who come from no prior running background (those who were not former track runners or 5k-10k specialists). So, traditionally, it’s not uncommon to see a “speed” workout that consists of 3×1 mile at 5k pace or, 12x400m at 5k or faster. Now, if you notice, each of those examples have 3 miles worth of “speed” with some corresponding rest interval between each. Even with many “beginner” or “intermediate” programs that you can find all over the internet, you’ll see regular bouts of 400 meters or more at 5k pace.

Now, what’s the problem with this? Well, lets get back to that recipe! So, what happens if I go to sprinkle a bit of salt in my sauce and the top comes off? Essentially, I am screwed! You can’t un-mix the damage and you can’t just take a bit of the salt out. Same goes with your training.

You’ve gotta sprinkle that speed in, starting in much smaller doses. A pinch here and a pinch there, rather than a cup here and a cup there. If my 3×1 mile at 5k pace = 6:00 per mile pace, then perhaps, repeats up to a mile in length are far to great to start with, especially if you haven’t been doing much of those paces regularly. Even the shorter distances  of 12x400m could be too much. Not in the sense of total volume (3 miles) but, in the individual repeats of 400m.

Envision these typical speed sessions. How often have you started a 12×400 workout, to get comfortably through the first 4-6, only to start fading (be it pace, form or, both) over the last 4-6? Or, in the same workout, how comfortable has it been to hit your paces for the first 200m of the 400, only to struggle and strain over the last 100-200 meters?

In both scenarios, the same thing is happening. You are starting to push the envelope in regards to your current aerobic threshold. Your turnover and efficiency at those speeds cannot quite match the duration in which you wish to run them. Put another way, the musculoskeletal system cannot keep up with the respiratory and cardio systems for that length of time/distance.

So, how do you get this volume at intensity, without sacrificing form and quickly deteriorating the current efficiency of your musculoskeletal system? You shorten the duration/distance!

Instead of say 12×400 at 6:00 pace with 1:00 rest, how about 36×30 seconds with 30 seconds rest? If your math skills aren’t so great, both workouts allow for 3 miles total at 6:00 pace.

So, what’s the difference between these two workouts? Well, clearly the duration/distance but, there is more than that. In the 36×30 second workout, you are able to get up to speed and hold it over a much shorter duration, which means that the heart rate will not climb nearly as high as if you were to extend that duration by 2 fold so that it’s 1:30 as in the 12×400 workout. Over the longer distances/durations, your body starts to struggle in clearing the acidic buildup that your body is creating. Though your cardio and lungs might have no problem handling this pace for what amounts to a “mere” 90 seconds, your muscles, tendons and joints might not be able to efficiently keep up. As you continue to compile the effects of a deteriorating form and progressive fatigue, your muscles are now forced to continue this process in an inefficient manner, ultimately resulting in a strained and broken gait, which over time, will no doubt lead to a strain or other injury.

Now, with the example of 36×30 seconds, the body can keep up with the gradual and minimal increase in acidic buildup, as well as maintain efficient form with a smooth and relaxed gait. This can be best observed using a heart rate monitor and can be a two fold benefit in regards to what you are trying to accomplish with these workouts.

If you are a traditionalist in regards to the long slow distance and or low end aerobic conditioning, then you are likely familiar with Dr. Phil Maffetone. If you aren’t familiar with Maffetone, check out this link to get an idea of his methods. http://philmaffetone.com/180-formula

Now, I personally think the Maffetone method is 100% effective and used it myself to take my MAF (max aerobic function) pace from 8:50 per mile, down to 6:20 per mile in less than 6 months.

The problem with the Maffetone method is that, it’s nearly impossible to get a runner to subscribe to it. Most athletes cannot be convinced of it’s effectiveness and therefore, will NEVER follow the plan 100% as it is intended. So, how do you get a stubborn runner to stay within the confines of Maffetone’s method, all the while allowing them to get in their intensity and “speed”? Easy, you manipulate the duration.

For me, my current MAF heart rate is 150-155. Meaning, to get the best benefit for aerobic development, I need to, according to Maffetone, stay AT or BELOW this range for all of my training (over a certain phase/block/cycle). So, what happens if I go out and run a mile at 5:00 pace? Well, by about 600 meters, I am well above 160bpm. Meaning, I have far exceeded my MAF number of 150-155. So, how do I get in my speed work, while maintaining my MAF or below? Simple, I throw on my heart rate monitor and manipulate the duration of the WORK vs. RECOVERY to allow my heart rate to stay within the set parameters.

I am going to share with you a recent workout that allowed me to stay within my MAF parameters, while getting good volume of “time at pace” during the workout. Keep in mind, I have built up to this workout and started with shorter durations of WORK and longer durations of RECOVERY. Over several months time, this is where I am currently for this workout.

15×30 seconds at pace with 30 second recovery, 15×1:00 at pace, with 1:00 recovery, 15×30 seconds at pace with 30 second recovery. Total time at pace = 30:00 (5-6 miles depending on what race pace I am targeting). The last time I did this workout, my average heart rate for the total workout (60:00 with warmup and cooldown) was 147bpm with a max peak spike of 157bpm.

So, based on the stats of this workout, I was able to get 1 hour of “aerobic conditioning” at or below my MAF, while still being able to get in plenty of volume at both aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. As my fitness improves, I will either increase speed and maintain the same recovery, tweak the volume/duration, and or maintain the same speed and decrease recovery, until I can effectively and efficiently maintain the desired pace for the chosen race distance.

CONCLUSION: Your training is a recipe and can take years to perfect. Just as aerobic conditioning is paramount for endurance training, so is speed and threshold work. To reap the greatest benefits and to reach your max potential, it takes balance and periodization. Rather than denounce speed, find the most effective way to include it in your training, while minimizing the risk of injury or overtraining. The link below touches in greater detail/explanation of how to incorporate speed into “short bursts” throughout your training.

http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/short-burst-training

So, stay focused, train smart and, as always, have fun in what you are doing 🙂 #DWEP

MILES – How many does it take?

With the latest debate on my Facebook account, stemmed from this post

You know what’s magical about a 20 miler or a 21, 22, 23 miler?? Give up? The answer is, Not a thing!!!
Too many people training for the marathon, focus too intently on this magical 20+ miler, when they should be focusing on quality and getting plenty of distance at marathon race pace.
Instead, focus on a time goal for your long run. As you get more fit, you’ll gradually cover greater distances with each run.
When planning your long runs, aim to build to 3/4 of the total duration you plan to run for the marathon.
Example: if your goal is a 4 hour marathon, aim to build to 3 hours of running, with at least half of that being at marathon goal pace.
Your body needs to get comfortable functioning at the pace you intend to run for the marathon. If your goal race pace is 8:00 miles, then running a whole bunch of 9:30 miles will not condition your body to run 8:00 pace on race day.
Play like you practice!

I felt the need to explain my views and thoughts on the matter, a bit more in detail.

First off, I want to say that: I AM NOT ANTI-MILEAGE..I REPEAT, I AM NOT ANT-MILEAGE!! Most people think that because I regularly ridicule the high mileage training of many marathoners, that I am just one of these “know it all” types, spouting off at the mouth, with no hardened evidence or data to support my bashing.

Secondly, I am an analytical guy and base much of my coaching and self application on science, statistics and all the various components that make up a marathon training plan.

Of all the marathoners I know (dare I say that, most are just runners who happen to run an occasional marathon, they are not necessarily “marathoners”) who run high mileage, “high mileage” being defined by me as 60+ miles per week, when asked WHY they run the high mileage, their typical answer is “because all the elites do”! or “no top runner runs low mileage”

So that’s it? Your choice for weekly mileage is based exclusively on the evidence that because successful elites do it, then it must be what you should do? Here are my thoughts on that;

1.) Of these marathoners who I have a personal relationship with, only 1 would I consider “elite”. That individual has an elite level coach, as well as is attempting to qualify for the upcoming Olympic trials. Nobody else in this discussion is even close to elite, with most of them being just under the 3 hour marathon mark at best.

My point? Well, I guess I am one that would like to see a good return on my investment. If I am going to commit the time, make the sacrifices and go through the efforts that it takes to run 80-100 miles per week, I’d sure hope that it gives me something better than a 2:58 or 3:14. Oh and before you cut my throat for acting as if those times are unimpressive, I am not saying they aren’t!! Honestly, anyone finishing a marathon, no matter the time, has my utmost respect. However, for those who are really focused on improvement and continued PR’s, time becomes more important. I’d just like anyone to please step up and answer this question. IF I could guarantee you that, after you finish a marathon on your high mileage plan of 60, 80, 100 miles, I could then come along and cut at least 1/3rd of that mileage out and still improve upon the time you just ran in your previous marathon…WHY would that not be enticing? If the only thing you lost was risk of injury and being overly fatigued, then why would that be so bad?

Ok, so back to my points I was making 🙂

2.) So many amateur marathoners gravitate toward the high mileage of the elite marathoners but, WHY do they only pay attention to the black and white numbers of the miles? Since you are so quick to follow their mileage plan, do you also follow their;

  • Nutrition/Weight management – does your diet look anything like an elite runners? Are you weighing in around 100-130 pounds? Oh, you’re 6’2″ and 185?
  • Maintenance – do you dedicate the same time to massage, ice baths, yoga, therapy, etc.?
  • Does your mechanics and stride look anything like an elites? If you aren’t as efficient as they are, then how do you expect to put up their weekly mileage, without injury?
  • Sleep patterns – are you taking two naps a day? Are you getting 8-12 hours of sleep at night?
  • Did you give up your job to pursue running, so that all your time can be focused on it? Oh, you mean you have a job and need to work to pay for those running shoes you have to change out every 2 months?
  • Are you a lifelong runner who moved up through the ranks of high school miler, collegiate 5k runner, post collegiate professional road racer? No? What, this is only your 3rd marathon and you just started running 18 months ago?

I could continue on with these differences but, I think you get the point.

So, in spite of all the overwhelming evidence that many (most) elite marathoners prosper on high mileage, why do I regularly knock it?

First off, I actually never really have knocked that high mileage works for elites. I think, that based on their goals and the times they are running, high mileage might very well be warranted and or mandatory.

With that said, these runners (or at least most) are coming from a long background of running. They were former state champions, college All Americans, Peach Tree 10k winners, etc. They are NOT Bob The Butcher who decided to take up running at age 37.

Elite runners have conditioned their bodies over years and years, not over the course of just a few weeks of training half assed, here and there. Not to mention, they are designed to do it. Most of them are the size of most peoples Labradors and their form and mechanics are nearly flawless. They aren’t someone who has sat at a desk for 25 years, with a pot belly and bad knees.

Though one day I hope to work with elites and or guide some into becoming an elite, the truth is, I coach and work with stay at home moms, nursing students, software developers, hotel managers, etc. I work with those who want to get fit and join their peers in a marathon. My clients are those who have dreamed of qualifying for Boston but, don’t know how.

My ultimate goal for those individuals, is to have them enjoying their running, with as little risk of injury as possible. To progress at a rate they can handle, without overreaching for merely one good performance but, for many good performances.

If I had a runner who wanted to run 100 miles per week. I wouldn’t ridicule them. I would first ask them why? Then I would explain that it would take 5-6 years at least to build to that, safely.

The thing with high mileage is that, most runners and even coaches, can’t explain IT or what IT actually is. I’ve seen elite training logs that report running 130 miles per week, 200 miles per week and even some crazy reports as high as 300+ per week.

With all these numbers, very few, if any, can explain just how many miles one should be running in order to reap the most benefits. For an analytical guy like me, that’s a problem. I know that all runners are different and there are countless variables to consider but, if one runner is running 110mpw and another is running 200mpw and there are minimal differences in their race PR’s, then WHY would one runner put their self through so much more efforts, to virtually gain nothing more from it? I mean, wouldn’t you want the best results for your time and effort?

If you look at training plans of top elites, there is no considerable improvement from those who go from say 120mpw to 160mpw (as a whole). It’s also worth noting that, if you look at these elite miles, they are often doing doubles and even triples to accumulate mileage. For the recreational marathoner, they simply don’t have that time and will, to compensate, try to over extend their long runs or mid-week long run. Or, they will simply add an additional 3 miler each day of the week to get an extra 20 miles for the week. Yet, not one of them can explain how that 3 miler is of any benefit.

I even saw a runner goes as far as to say, “I was supposed to run X miles this week but, at the end of the week, when I tallied my total, I was 1 mile short…I was just about to go tack on the additional mile, when I remembered I had ran 1 mile earlier that day to pick up my car…so I counted it”. REALLY??? That one extra mile was so critical in getting you to your total, that you would go as far as to count a mile that served no physiological benefit?

It’s been my observation that, most recreational runners, only focus on the X factor. They get this weekly total of X stuck in their head and they get tunnel vision. They either came up with this number based on 1 of 3 things. 1.) They have a close running peer who runs this number X. 2.) They found some obscure training log of an elite runner that said he/she ran X miles per week and they incorporate that into their own weekly total. 3.) They ran a bunch of miles one week, the end result was X, so they felt they needed to stay with that number, JUST BECAUSE!

When this type of runner is focused on the X factor, they tune out and neglect everything else, in pursuit of this X. Here’s another example: I have an acquaintance who is running high mileage and is regularly injured and or gimpy. When I asked them, are you staying on top of your daily/weekly strength and balance work? Their reply was “not really…I have increased my mileage lately and haven’t had time”.

So, this runner has increased their mileage to the point that they no longer have the time or energy to devote to proper strength and balance work. See the problem here? This occurs regularly. Now, I don’t know, nor will I say that less mileage produces less injury than high mileage, however, no matter what your mileage is, if you can’t string together more than a few weeks of injury free running, then you are doing something wrong.

Over the last few years, I have polled and or collected data from all of those I coach, those I follow on social media, those I train with, those I am friends with, etc. During this time, I have compiled many stats but, there are two that are simple and quick in providing black and white feedback. Have a look.

Finishing time range of those running more than 70 but less than 100 mpw. These weekly mileages are based on the 12-16 week averages leading up to a marathon in which they set a PR. Of 32 runners, both male and female, the low and high was 2:26 and 3:34, respectively. Average finishing time of 3:00:19. *NOTE* for the 32 runners, only one finishing time per runner was taken (their PR). No runner had more than one time applied to this average.

Finishing time range of those running up to 70 but less than 60mpw for the average. These weekly mileages are based on the 12-16 week averages leading up to a marathon in which they set a PR. Though I have data from over a 100 runners in this category, I only took the top 32 runners finishing times, so that sample sizes used are the same. Of these 32, both male and female, the low and high was 2:38 and 3:29, respectively. Average finishing time of 3:02:37.  *NOTE* for the 32 runners, only one finishing time per runner was taken (their PR). No runner had more than one time applied to this average.

**NOTE** – This data is nothing but reference and is merely anecdotal in that, there are way too many variables that are unknown. This is just a comparison of known mileage of both groups. Little detail is known in regards to xtraining, diet, rest, etc.

What is easy to see is that, the high mileage group produced an overall faster time and with an average finishing time of nearly 2:20 faster. They also produced the slowest time. Of all runners, none are pro or elite.

CONCLUSION: It appears that quality marathons can be produced, using both a HIGH or LOW mileage approach and that there is no discernible effect on race performance for the recreational runner(s).

So, no matter the mileage path you choose, be smart, build gradually. Stay on top of maintenance, eat to perform, rest to perform and, have fun.

Oh and, if you’ve been running high or low mileage and are regularly injured, aren’t racing the way you’d like or, have platued…then come see The Naked Miler, he’ll get you back out there and prepared for a new PR 🙂

#DWEP

 

Defining Fitness

What is fitness? Though the dictionary defines fitness as; “The condition of being physically fit and healthy”, there has yet to be any significant measuring tool that can adequately access fitness across all the different physiological components, simultaneously.

Yes, there are various fitness tests/evaluations that can be done to determine a baseline model of one’s general fitness and possible capacity for fitness progression but, these tests/evaluations are rather limited and can only determine certain thresholds/capacities, with no regard to other thresholds/capacities.

Though a battery of tests can be conducted in order to obtain as much baseline data as possible, there will always be gaps and voids in the understanding of individual fitness and the limits of human workload capacity of each physiological system.

Typically, one’s level of fitness is a direct byproduct of the type of training they are regularly performing. A marathoner may be conditioned to run a great 26.2 miles but, very likely would struggle to bench press their own body weight. On the other hand, an olympic powerlifter very easily could struggle to run a 10 minute mile.

The human body is one amazing piece of machinery and is one that can be tweaked and tuned in a variety of ways in order to achieve amazing physical feats.

In my opinion and experience, most people, including “athletes” aren’t actually very fit at all.

Too often, people mistake fitness and health as one and the same, however, that is not necessarily true at all. HEALTH – “the state of being free from illness or injury” 

So, who cares if you can run 100 miles per week if you are regularly sick or, nursing an injury every other month? Oh, you can dead lift 600 pounds but, your cholesterol and blood pressure are thru the roof??? Congratulations, you’re going to die young just so you can fit in with the “BRO SQUAD”.

Although I respect the “specialists of sport”, I think specializing hinders the development of being truly fit and healthy. Yeah, it’s impressive that a man can run 2:30 for a marathon but, it’s also embarrassing that he’d need to call over his little sister, in order to move the sofa across the room. It’s also impressive that someone can back squat a Mini Cooper but, it’s not very impressive when that same individual can’t play with his children without getting winded.

Some of the most unhealthy individuals I know are, RUNNERS! That’s right, I said it! When it comes to running, I am one of the biggest advocates and most devoted supporter of all things running, however, I am also a realist. As a coach, I can’t tell you how many runners I’ve seen nursing an injury (one that was likely avoidable), battling chronic fatigue or, were nutrient, vitamin deficient. I have had at least half a dozen female runners who, upon getting blood work, were found to be deficient in iron, sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, etc. I even had one client (who I begged to lighten her “working out” load) who was told by her doctor that “you have the lowest sodium counts I have ever seen and it’s beginning to cause all sorts of internal problems”. Hmmm, so this woman worked out 3-4 times per day on average, looked fit from an aesthetic standpoint, yet was severely unhealthy?

So, where am I going with all this? Essentially, no matter your athletic discipline or “speciality”, there is no reason you need to get holed into it exclusively.

With the latest craze of Crossfit and the recent push of all around strength and conditioning, one can become better at their speciality, without actually becoming a specialist, per se. Just make sure you find a good gym with knowledgeable coaches that understand the principles of biomechanics, nutrition, A&P and workload programming.

A runner can, believe it or not, become a stronger, faster and more accomplished runner, by adding in non-running elements of training. A bodybuilder can get the physique they desire, without sacrificing their health.

As humans, we were never designed, nor have we evolved, to be specialists. Through years of experimentation and evolution, we have become the most complex and diverse organism on the planet. We may not have been born to be the fastest, strongest or have the ability to do certain things, however, we have been able to create external resources to become the fastest, strongest and most capable.

So, what can YOU do to become more fit? How can you make yourself better today than you were tomorrow? For most of you reading this, you are not an “elite” athlete and never will be, however, you can put in the work to reach your greatest potential, all the while being fit AND healthy in the process. You should always push yourself to get the most out of yourself but, you should always emphasize the importance of your overall well being. That BQ marathon time that you drove yourself into the ground for, won’t be nearly as enjoyable if, at 60, you’re struggling to walk to the mailbox.

You only have one body and, investing in it, will prove to be the greatest of any choice you have made. Don’t squander it!

For The Love Of The Mile!

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“Nothing is harder than the mile. NOTHING! Not the 100 meters or the 10k or even the marathon. The mile, or it’s metric equivalent, the 1,500 meters, demands the ultimate combination of speed and strength. In training, I run sprints till I drop and I also cover distance as far as 20 miles. I train in pain because I race in pain and if you can’t tolerate pain, you may as well quit. You won’t be a miler.” – From The Miler –

This is one of my favorite quotes, from one of my favorite books, The Miler, by Steve Scott. Not only is it a true statement but, it has always resonated to me personally. Any man, woman or child can run a mile but, to race one, that is an entirely different beast.

Being a distance runner, be it for recreation, weight loss or competition, you will encounter many and many miles throughout your journey, however, there is only ONE mile that will test every physical, emotional and mental fiber in your body.

The mile in it’s standard measurement is 1609 meters or, 4 laps and 9 meters of the traditional running track.

4 laps of cat and mouse strategy and trying to outsmart and hopefully, out kick, the others. When it’s done right, coming off that back turn, the chest is pounding, lungs burning beyond belief, legs beginning to overflow with lactic acid and growing more wobbly with each step that draws you closer to the finish line. Your vision begins to narrow and everything seems to be closing in around you….the sounds of the crowd are now deafened by the pounding of your heart and the panting of your breath. Just as you believe you have nothing left to give, you draw on your last reserves of energy and, the Miler Gods, beaming down with pure joy and excitement, grant you that last potent accelaration…the kick needed to propel you forward and the one that thrusts the dagger into the hearts of the runners next to you.

To say I love the mile, would be an understatement. For as long as I have been running, the mile has been my favorite event. I have dabbled in just about every other distance but, nothing gets me as amped up as the mile. It has been the marquee event of the track and field world for years and it will always rank number one in my heart and soul.

I began running the mile by way of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. At age ten, we were required to do a number of push-ups, sit-ups and then run the mile. I remember the first timed mile I ran. Our P.E. coach would have us run the perimeter of this old dike around our school. Being one who always wanted to prove myself, my coach told me to try and keep up with the two stud athletes in my grade, Nathan Sayers and Matt Edens. These guys were the undisputed jocks and excelled in every sport they played. To say I was intimidated, would be putting it mildly. Because Coach Strait was also a high school track officiant, he had the starter’s pistol and all. I still remember “toeing the line” in my cheap, non-running Walmart shoes. Nervous as hell, the worst thought going through my head was, not whether I could or couldn’t hang with Nathan and Matt but, that Matt’s twin sister Mandy, was also a stellar athlete. I could live with getting 3rd place to our top athletic studs but, would literally die if I ran out of gas chasing them and Mandy passed me as well!

As the gun sounds, the lump in my throat went away and we were off like lightening bolts. Of course at that age, no matter the distance that lies in front of you, the typical reaction is to just go out sprinting…i mean, after all, it was JUST a mile!

Within a few hundred feet, we settled into a more reasonable pace (basically, NOT A SPRINT). The way the dike was set up was so that it created a horseshoe around the school. Coach had marked it off so that we would run a half mile along the majority of it, loop around a cone and make the half mile run back to the start. Not that I knew anything about the various distances then but, there were key trees lined up along the way that Coach said were about X distance or Y distance into the mile. After a few minutes, I see the cone up ahead and I am currently sitting a few yards back behind Matt and Nathan, feeling relatively comfortable (even though I didn’t really know how I was supposed to feel). As we make the u-turn around the cone, Nathan takes the lead and I move with him….we are starting to pull away from Matt and thankfully, Mandy still was a good way from the turn around point. As Nathan speeds up, so do I. Here I am, thinking to myself, you’ve got 2nd in the bag, maybe just relax and secure your silver medal and go away happy, knowing that you nearly beat the best. Then, as we are nearing the old “pump house” that marked the final turn before the straight away, I hear Coach yelling, “Kick Dennis, Kick!!” KICK?? What the hell does that mean, Coach?

Coming out of the turn, firing on all cylinders, we sprint madly to the line…..in the narrowest of margins, Nathan beats me!

Yes, I was beaten that day but, The Miler in me was born and it has been in my blood ever since. Over the years, I have raced the mile many times but, since that very first one, I have never been out kicked. Yes, I have been outright beaten a few times but, if I am near the front with 200 meters to go, I’ve never lost. I’ll put my kick up against anyone in that final stretch.

I am not getting any younger and even though my PR mile of 4:17, ran 14 years ago, will likely remain my PR, I still can throw down a respective mile from time to time. Just last Saturday, I was able to go 4:35 and I know that my fitness is capable of a sub 4:30 right now with good pacing and a strong competitive field.

With that said, I wouldn’t mind racing a few more miles over the coming months, trying to chase down some old ghosts in the process.

But maybe, after all these years, it’s time to move on and let go of the mile….

“…Or we can blaze! Become legends in our own time, strike fear in the heart of mediocre talent everywhere! We can scald dogs, put records out of reach! Make the stands gasp as we blow into an unearthly kick from three hundred yards out! We can become God’s own messengers delivering the dreaded scrolls! We can race dark Satan himself till he wheezes fiery cinders down the back straightaway….They’ll speak our names in hushed tones, ‘those guys are animals’ they’ll say! We can lay it on the line, bust a gut, show them a clean pair of heels. We can sprint the turn on a spring breeze and feel the winter leave our feet! We can, by God, let our demons loose and just wail on!”

 

 

The Transformation Has Begun!!

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Running!! As far back as I recall, I have been a runner in some capacity or other. From the time I have been able to walk, I have been running. As a kid, I’d run all around the country side, just because I could. I’d run up and down our drive way to check the mail while my mother would time me. I run laps around our cow field, because it was exactly a mile in length and I enjoyed it.

Later on, I’d realize that, though I was good at other sports, running was my speciality and go to sport. With running, it was just me and my legs…if I wanted to excel at it, it was only up to me. I was too small for football, not tall enough for basketball and, too wound up for baseball. I was too puny to be strong and couldn’t bench press the 45 pound bar off my chest until I was a freshmen in high school. So, what else was there? Turns out, that something “else” became RUNNING!

Granted, being a 125 pound runner was no way to pick up girls or, a way to be popular or, to appear tough or cool or, anything else that one would desire as a high schooler. To all my friends (mostly football, baseball and basketball players), I was just the kid who could run forever. Though I did play the other ball sports, my notoriety usually came when we were punished by the coach for losing the game and had to run wind sprints. While the rest of the team was on the gym floor puking, I was just getting warmed up.

Around the time I really started finding myself as a runner, was about the time that Forrest Gump came out on the big screen. So, as you can guess, and thanks in part to my father, I was constantly mocked with the quote from the movie “Run Forrest, Run!!”

Over the next couple years, I would become one of the top ranked mid-distance runners in the state of Oklahoma and would eventually go and run a spell at MSSC.

So, as you can read, running has been in my blood for many years and at times, it has been the only thing I have lived and breathed for. No matter what, I will always be a runner and even more so, a running history nerd. I can spout off times, years and PR’s of all the great milers and distance runners. I am about as ate up with running as anyone can or should be. I coach multiple runners that compete from the mile all the way to 100 milers. I have read about every piece of literature on running and then some. Chances are, my future children will be runners, whether they know it or not 🙂

As much as I always have and always will love running, recently something has changed. Enter SPARTAN RACE

My first Spartan race was exactly a year ago and, I instantly fell in love! I am not sure what it was but, there was something about that death defying first mile, running on a single track trail at a blazing pace, knowing that one slip up or stumble and you could be toast. Maybe it was jumping into bone chilling water or, not being able to feel my fingers as I fell off of the rope climb at the end of the race, sending me from 5th place to 17th within a matter of seconds.

After that first one, I was hooked, I just didn’t know it yet. So, after my first Spartan in March of 2013, I went back to being a “runner”. I went right back into my normal routine of weekly runs and mileage, paying little to no attention to strength and conditioning (just like most runners). As the year rolled on, I did a few more Spartan races here and there, doing well and finishing in the top 10 but, never really getting serious about it.

It wasn’t until myself and many in the DWEP started going to HPI that I realized, I needed to make some changes in my training, if I wanted to be contender in the obstacle course world.

With Spartan races and other similar OCR events, particularly the “sprints”, the intensity is at the level of a hard mile or all out 5k but, spread out across your entire body. When racing a sprint type OCR, the body never really has any time to recover. You are running hard has hell, then you hit an obstacle and the heart rate escalates more, then you run hard as hell again. Oddly, and being something I wasn’t use to, running is actually the “recovery” (or at least for me).

Picture telling a 4:20 miler that he has to go out fast, around 67 second 400m pace, then jump over a wall, then go under a wall, then get up, run another 75 second 400m, then climb a rope, navigate a traverse wall…..repeating this type of process from 3-5 miles (more miles for the longer distance OCR’s). It just doesn’t make sense to the traditional runner type….this being precisely why I am loving it more and more with each one that I compete in.

Though I have always been a runner, I have also been one who loves seeing how far they can push their own limits. I have always enjoyed seeing the BEST in their respective sport/discipline. I like seeing a guy who can bench press 800 pounds, or some girl who can jump rope for 12 hours straight, or climb Mt. Everest, or swim the English channel, etc.

To me, the human body is capable of things that are beyond belief sometimes. I get a thrill out of seeing such pure athletic ability among the wide range of talent that makes up Spartan races.

Currently within the Spartan ranks, we have it all!! There is a 40 year old by the name of Matt Novakavich, who was a D1 runner at BYU, who went on to be a top ranked cyclist, who then went on to be a world ranked mountain runner, who is now a SPARTAN! There is a pretty boy from Malibu by the name of Hunter McIntyre who looks like a linebacker, who is a day time spin instructor, who is flat out crushing the Spartan world and leaving athletes of all kinds in his wake. There is the Bear Jew, David Magida, who is a “pretty boy” corporate man from D.C, who is currently in the process of opening his own gym. There is the Army officer, Elliot Megquier, who lives pretty much off of pizza and shit talking. You have Hobie Call, who was at one time a 2:16 marathoner, Isiah Vidal, who rode his bike from Austin, Texas to Vermont, just so that he could race in the Spartan World Championships.There is Alec Blenis, a young kid who is studying physics at Georgia Tech, who is competitive in anything from the mile to 100 miler and anything in between. You have Amelia Boone, who by day is a corporate lawyer. You have Ella Kociuba a young girl who has rebounded from a broken back and numerous spinal surgeries, to become a force in both Spartan and bodybuilding. There is Jeff Bent, the Yogi master, who at 40+ years of age, regularly finishes in the top 20, primarily based off of his yoga training (he rarely runs or does other typical aerobic training…outside of racing every weekend)

In Spartan, there are all walks of life. You have pure, blue blooded athletes, doctors, lawyers, military personnel, firefighters, etc.

Though there are so many varying backgrounds and personalities amongst the Spartan ranks, we are all one big family. Unlike the running world, you don’t have to be local to your area code to know many other athletes who are competing that day. In the Spartan world, it’s not uncommon to travel all over the country to race, week in and week out. When doing so, you will without question, know several other athletes that are there. So far, I have raced in SC, NC, VA, NY, PA and VT. At every single one of those races, I have known at a minimum, 20 other athletes.

What I love most about the OCR world is that, each course favors a certain type of athlete more than others. For instance, in a shorter distance sprint, a pure runner type might have the edge. Then, you can go to a stadium style race where, a strength/crossfit guy might have the edge. You have your speciality type courses where a mountain runner will dominate vs. a long drawn out race, where your ultra runner type is likely to prevail.

As a runner, you always know where you stack up in a typical road or track race. If you are a 2:50 marathoner, it doesn’t matter what kind of fitness you have, you won’t be able to touch a 2:14 marathoner on ANY day or any race! Same goes with a 5:30 miler vs. a 4:30 miler. But, in OCR, a 2:15 marathoner can be beaten by a 3:14 marathoner. A guy who can bench press 300 pounds, can be beaten by a guy who can only bench press 120.

In Spartan, it comes down to all around strength and conditioning. It takes a hybrid athlete who can hold and maintain in any type of environment and over any type of terrain and obstacle.

Having raced last weekend, 1 year out from my very first Spartan race, I finally made a podium spot, by getting 3rd place in the Sunday Elite heat (got 6th on Saturday but, had fell off the traverse wall….so goes OCR). Leading up to that race, my training had really taken a turn, from primarily running, to finally focusing on all around strength and conditioning. These days, rather than trying to focus on getting faster and faster for a 5k, 10k, marathon, etc., I now focus on getting stronger and stronger in not only running but, in also getting stronger in other areas of strength and all around conditioning.

Though my love for running will always be my anchor and strength, I will continue to build upon that, in hopes to work my way up the Spartan ranks. I will continue to work on all around strength and conditioning, to become a better all around athlete….the type it takes to become one of the best in the OCR world.

If there is room for a mountain man from Alaska, a pretty boy from Malibu, an Army officer, physics major or, a silver spoon kid from D.C….then surely, there is a place for a tattooed, bearded, country boy from Oklahoma 😉

The Hay Is In The Barn!!!

“The hay is in the barn!”

Not sure where this saying comes from but, I had heard it a few times as a child and it is a quote spoken by Bill Bowerman in the movie “Without Limits”

Well what the hell does it mean? Simply put,  it is a phrase to remind us that we have done all the training we can do before the big race. We have made all the necessary preparations to ensure our success.  We have trained hard and no matter what training was or wasn’t done, it is all behind us now and we must get ready to toe the line and get down to business.

This is particularly true now that we are less than one week away from our respective half/full marathon that will take place next week at Shamrock.

In following with the aforementioned saying, there is absolutely nothing more we can do in regards to training, other than be smart, continue our tapering and let the body rest and recover, prior to our big race. One more track workout, or one more good tempo is not going to get your more fit over the next 7 days. At this point, any hard workout will do nothing but take away from race day.

From a scientific and physiology standpoint, a hard workout takes 10-14 days to be absorbed and adapted to by the body…so, doing anything hard at this point, will be of no use for race day.

Now is the time to consider getting all the other intangibles correct. Over the next 6-7 days, we must get our bodies best prepared to be in our best physical shape before out big race. This includes getting lots of rest, minimizing our physical output and anything that wastes or burns our precious glycogen stores. Now is the time to go a little heavy on the sugars/carbs to ensure that our glycogen tanks are topped off. If you put on a pound or two over these next couple days, no worries…those extra stores of glycogen will come in mighty handy late in the race.

This week, hydrate as much as possible. Do your utmost to get in a gallon of good fluids per day over the next several days. So that you don’t have to chug an entire gallon of water throughout the day, look to get fluids via your foods. Meaning, go heavy on the melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, citrus fruits from Monday-Friday (cut down the fiber the day before the race). Aside from hydration, eat foods high in electrolytes (calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium). Good choices here are lots of green foods, orange and yellow colored fruits/veggies. Try to stay away from processed foods, diuretics and excessive alcohol. If you are a big coffee drinker, try to ensure that you follow your cup of coffee with a cup of infused water (throw lemon/orange in all your water this week to jack up the potassium stores).

Try to ensure you are getting an additional hour or two of sleep per night and take naps throughout the day if you are able to. In regards to “training”, keep the frequency (days of the week) the same as your normal routine…just back off the intensity and duration.

If you are feeling tired and sluggish this week, remember, that’s a good thing!! After weeks and months of an an intense training plan, your body is essentially “detoxing”. You body is wondering what the hell is going on now that you have cut back substantially on your normal routine. This is normal, so relax and enjoy the down time!! This is not the time to panic…I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO PANIC!! You will be just fine!!

In regards to “carb loading” the night before the race….DON’T DO IT!!! Try to stick to the normal foods you would have been eating the night before a hard long run. Trying to cram your body full of carbs a few hours before the race is foolish. It takes your body a good amount of time to absorb and store the glycogen into your muscles. So, eating 6 plates of pasta 8-12 hours before the race will do nothing but leave you lethargic and likely looking for the porta-johns on race morning. Try to make your last BIG meal the Friday before the Sunday race. Then, on Saturday, try to eat generous amounts of smaller portions of slower burning carbs throughout the day.

On race morning, try to get up 3-4 hours before the projected race start time. So if race starts at 8:00am, try to get up by 4-5am. From the moment you wake up, starting trying to consume 150-250 calories of slower burning carbs within the first hour (whatever your typical long run routine was). By the second hour, try to repeat the same 150-250 calorie intake but now with some faster absorbing carbs. Finally, the hour before race start, look to get in 100-200 calories but, try to do this with liquid calories only (your sports drink, Tailwind Nutrition, a juice that you have tested prior to race morning, a shake, etc.).

During the race, try to consume 200-300 calories per hour of, something you have experimented and tested in training. Don’t grab gels and sports drinks from the aid stations, if you haven’t been using them in training. Go with what you know works for you!

Okay, so now with all the nutrition talk out of the way, the next couple things you should pay attention to because, even though they might seem small, they can add up to become serious issues over the course of 13.1/26.2 miles.

TANGENTS – If you have ever taken geometry, you know what tangents are but, how do they apply to running a race? Simply put, you need to take the shortest possible (legally) route during your race. When you are running against the clock, there is no need to add any more distance than necessary. The pics below will capture what “running the tangents” mean.

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PACING – This is VERY important!! Throughout all of your previous weeks/months of training, you have been practicing your MRP (Marathon Race Pace)…so, why would you abandoned that pace on race day? When the gun goes off, try to not get caught in all the excitement and hoop-la. If anything, run your first 1-2 miles at a pace of 10-20 seconds slower than goal pace. Use this time to get settled in and relax for the long haul.

Now that you have relaxed and settled into your pace, just try and get comfortable and run by feel. If your race pace is 9:00 per mile and at mile 7 your Garmin says 8:56 or 9:04, don’t fret! You should expect to have a +/- 5-10 seconds per mile fluctuation throughout the race. Whether you are running the full or the half marathon, try to stay loose and relaxed the 1st half of the race. The first half of the race, should actually feel really easy but, in the event that it doesn’t, again, don’t fret!! Sometimes, it takes a few miles to get into a groove..Use the first few miles to find this groove and try to avoid looking at the Garmin every 2 seconds. Look ahead up the road and just try to get into a rythm and relax.

Over the second half of the race, this is where you should require a bit more focus. The first half should of been “fun and games”, the second half however, should be “business”. If you are running with friends/training partners, you will likely be doing less talking over the second half vs. the first half. During these later stage miles, it’s time to find your individual mojo. This is the time you start reciting your mantras, playing mental games with yourself, picking off runners up ahead, singing to yourself or, whatever else it is that works for you.

The second half of the race, particularly the last 1/4 of the race, you will need to exercise the demons! This is when you get to find what you are made of…this is when you get to see how much fight you have..how much guts, how much pain you can tolerate!! Whether you are running a 2:03 marathon or a 7:03 marathon or a 1 hour vs. 4 hour half marathon. If you are racing for your personal best, those last few miles are going to hurt!! Period! No need to sugar coat it! However, with all that said, when you cross that finish line, when you have met your goal, you’ll forget all about those previous shitty miles! You’ll be ecstatic and will somehow have a bit more energy left to celebrate your success, laugh and joke with your friends/training partners, drink beer and talk about how mile 11 or 24 punched you in the face and spit on you, yet you still triumphed!!

So, there you have it!! There are the final instructions (particularly for all you DWEP athletes). As said above, THE HAY IS IN THE BARN!! Nothing left to do but relax the next couple of days, get your mind in the right place, prepare all of your race day gear and then run your 13.1 or 26.2.

Ahead of the game, I just want to say that, it’s been a great training cycle and I have enjoyed working with you all so much! Everyone of you has put in some serious work and you have all come a LONGGGGGG way! I am already so proud of you and I know that you all will do great next Sunday! Just trust the training and believe in yourself!!!

In closing, remember this, YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE!!

Tapering and Fueling for the Marathon – Why both are crucial to your race day success!

With many upcoming spring marathons around the corner, many of us are starting to put the final touches on a long fall/winter training cycle. Here in the 757, everyone is gearing up for the annual Shamrock Sportsfest.

As coach of The Endurance Project http://www.meetup.com/The-Endurance-Project/ I have over 20 runners who will be participating in the marathon this year, several of which are first timers. With the recent bout of snow we have had here, many of them are freaking out more about missing a couple of training days, rather than to worry about some even bigger concerns, TAPERING, NUTRITION and RACE DAY FUELING!!! All 3 of these topics are something that can bring the best trained runner to a slow and painful death march, if ignored or improperly executed.

So, lets take a look at all 3 of the above mentioned topics, in greater detail. Within these topics, I will provide some links and insight into scientific research but, will also provide samples of my own experiences and those I coach.

TAPERING – The word “taper” is basically a 4-letter curse word in the eyes of most runners. Just the thought of tapering brings bad thoughts into the runners mind. The typical runner, rather than think about all the GOOD things that that tapering is doing, they think of all the BAD. “Oh my God, I am going to get fat”, “I am going to lose fitness and I’ll suck on race day”, “I am going to go insane without working out/running”. These are just a few things that you will hear being said by the typical runner, as they enter into those last couple of weeks leading up to their race.

So what is TAPERING, exactly? Well, in the simplest of definitions, it’s the time spent at the end of a hard training cycle, that allows the body to recover and return to homeostasis, just prior to the day of the big race.

There are many, many, many varying views on how to taper, how long to taper, what to do or what not to do, etc.

With my personal experiences, as well as those I coach, I have found that a 20 day gradual taper has been the most effective. So how does this 20 day taper work?

Essentially, starting immediately after the last tough long run (3 weeks prior to the race), the runner begins to cut back on volume and intensity, but not frequency. In layman’s terms, this means that the runner will continue running the same number of workouts per week but, will cut back on the duration of each workout, as well as cut back on the intensity of SOME of the workouts.

So why this approach? Well, the body becomes very good at adapting to stresses and repetitive actions. Because of this, running/training becomes somewhat of an addiction. The body has adapted and become accustomed to the daily, weekly routine that you have been administering over the past several months of your training phases.

So, if you spent the past 24 weeks running 5 days per week, then continue doing so right on up to the race. The frequency of your running is not so much what you need to recover and regenerate from. It’s the intensity and duration that the body needs to start tapering from.

From 3 weeks out, I like to cut weekly mileage/duration by 20%. Then cutting an additional 20% from the 2nd week out from race day. Finally, cutting back another 20% the week of the race itself. Broken down, it would look like this.

A runner who had been averaging 40 miles per week coming into the taper phase would go from 40 miles, down to 32 miles, down to 25 miles and finally, would be down to 20 miles the week of the race (totally 46.2 miles when accounting for the race itself).

Now, the taper phase has several purposes, rather than just to allow the body a bit of time to repair itself from all the pounding you have been doing over the past several months. During this time, the body also needs to begin re-supplying its glycogen stores, as well as to start getting it’s pH levels back in order. Both of these areas will be discussed further as we discuss NUTRITION.

NUTRITION – When we talk about nutrition and running, most runners only give thought to two things, the carb loading dinner the night before and the buffet of race day gels and sports drinks. Very few think much further ahead of that.

Glycogen is a competitive runners best friend (especially on race day). What is this glycogen you speak of?

“In humans, glycogen is made and stored primarily in the cells of the liver and the muscles, and functions as the secondary long-term energy storage (with the primary energy stores being fats held in adipose tissues). Muscle glycogen is converted into glucose by muscle cells and liver glycogen converts to glucose for use throughout the body including the central nervous system”

Simply speaking, glycogen is the preferred and quickest form of fuel when it comes to moving your body 26.2 miles at a relatively quick pace. Granted, the body can be taught and “tricked” into burning fat at higher ratios, however, when the body is riding the line of aerobic/anaerobic, it prefers the glycogen over fat.

The problem is, the body can only store so much glycogen at any given time. Majority of it is stored in the liver and muscles. The liver CAN process and make accessible it’s glycogen stores to other organs within the body. On the flip side, the muscles CAN’T. Meaning, that the limited amount of glycogen in the muscle is a one time deal. If you run out of glycogen in your hard working quad or hamstring, those muscles can’t pull glycogen from your less active deltoid muscle. When it is gone, it’s gone!

This is where the word “bonking” comes into play. We’ve all seen what happens when a runner “hits the wall”, many of us having experienced it ourselves. When we BONK, one of two (or both) things are happening. The body is designed to survive and, will do whatever it has to in order to do so. So, when the liver is running low on glycogen, it will send the remaining stores of it to the “important” parts of the body (brain, heart, lungs, etc….you know, the ESSENTIAL components of the machine). The body doesn’t really care about your hamstring and whether or not you get your PR in the race. During this bonk moment, the body only knows that something bad is happening and it’s up to the liver to start distributing that glycogen where it deems is most important. Your muscles not being on the “essential personnel” list.

To avoid this from happening in a race and in order to preserve your very precious glycogen stores, you must 1.) Have  those glycogen stores topped off and at their highest concentrations. 2.) You will need to ingest additional forms of glucose (or other sugar) throughout the race, so that it can preserve the expenditure of your stored glycogen.

So how do you get those glycogen stores topped off? You start several days out from the race! Part of the reason for tapering is so that your muscles can start refueling and replenishing the glycogen within your body. During your training cycle leading up to the race, your body is typically always in some form of glycogen deficiency. Because most runners train on a daily basis, their glycogen stores are never at a 100%. During the tapering phase, the body can gradually start fueling up the glycogen tanks, so that on race day, they are their max capacity.

Starting from about 10 days out, begin consuming high carbohydrate foods. Ideal foods would be wholesome/clean types, such as fresh fruit and juices, vegetables (sweet potatoes are great), quality grains and legumes (quinoa, kidney beans, oats, brown rice, etc.). Avoid the “carb loading” the night before. If you wait until the night before the race to try and top off your glycogen stores, it’s too late!! Not only will you NOT top off the glycogen, you will also likely have a stomach that is none too happy the following day. The night before, go with the same type of meal you have been consuming prior to your long training runs.

RACE DAY FUELING – This is the most important of all!! Most runners, SHOULD have their race day fueling strategy already figured out, prior to toeing the line for the race. With this being such an important subject, runners should have been experimenting and practicing this during their training buildup phases.

Because every body is different, so is every GI (GastroIntestinal tract). Fueling strategies that work for one, will not work for the other. This is why it is very important to play around with your face day fueling while in training. During your training, at least once per month, you should be experimenting with your race day strategy. The best place to do this, is during your long run.

Now, even though everyone is different, the body does process things similarly. During running, the average person can break down about 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute of activity. Thus, 60 grams per hour or roughly 240 calories per hour (approx 25 ounces of Gatorade or 2.5 GU’s).

So, lets say you come into the race with 2000 calories worth of stored muscle glycogen (granted, this number will vary among runners and their size). Keep in mind, you will be burning a ratio of fat calories to glycogen. Your level of fitness and your training, will dictate the ratio of fat:glycogen burn. Of that 2000 calories worth of glycogen, only around 45-50% of it is for leg muscle usage (the rest being stored in the liver for allocation to other body parts/organs). So, of the total 2000, only about 1000 can be used by the leg muscles. Keep in mind that these average calorie burn rates do not take into account intangibles such as wind, elevation, altitude, etc. Those factors will signifcantly change the burn rate, so be aware of that if you are running a course that has elevation, altitude or windy conditions.

So, if you are burning calories at a ratio of 65% glycogen (carbs) and 35% fat, and assuming you are burning 110 calories per mile, you’d be burning approx. 7o calories of glycogen and 40 calories of fat (PER MILE). Based on the assumed muscle glycogen storage from above (1000 calories), you’d be emptying the tanks somewhere around  mile 15. THIS is why consumption of carbohydrate is important during the race itself. This is also another reason why it is important to experiment in training, so that you have a good idea of your caloric and glycogen burn rate, based on your specific paces, size and ability to process the ingested carbs on the fly.

Here is a formula that will provide a decent approximation of calorie expenditure

Weight in pounds divided by a kilogram (2.2 pounds). Example: 150 pound runner/2.2kg = 68.18 kg. Now take the distance of the marathon in kilometers (42.195) and multiply by weight in kilos (68.18) = 2,877 calories that will be burned during your race. Then, one step further you can divide the total calories by miles (26.2), giving you an approximate burn of 110 calories per mile ran.

Taking this formula a step further, we can create a range of glycogen burn based on the various ratios of carb:fat being burned, dependent upon your V02 max output and how it equates to the increased burn of glycogen over fat.

60% Vo2 max = 55% glycogen and 45% fat

70% Vo2 max = 65% glycogen and 35% fat

80% Vo2 max = 75% glycogen and 25% fat

So, with those 3 assumed Vo2 outputs (consumption), the caloric burn range would be approx. 1500-2200 calories, 700 calories difference. That is the equivalent of 6-7 additional gels or an additional 100 ounces of Gatorade to make up for the difference.

How do we avoid this CRASH, BONK, HITTING OF THE WALL? Well, we do it via a combination of efforts. 1.) We ensure that our glycogen stores are at their highest, prior to the start of the race and 2.) We continue to consume roughly 200-300 calories (per hour) of quick absorbing sugars throughout the race.

So what do you consume during the race? Most of this is more a matter of preference, as well as what you have been practicing during your training. Many runners will scout out and determine what gels, sports drinks will be provide on the course, and will practice taking the same products during their training. Other runners will carry their own nutrition (my preferred method, as well as those I coach).

If you are the type of runner who takes from the course, understand a couple of things. First, aid stations are set up and manned by volunteers. They supply what is available to them, with no understanding of your individual requirements. Often, aid stations will provide some form of sport drink (Gatorade, Poweraid, etc.) and many times these drinks are a concentrate. Meaning, the drink is made on the fly and, ratios of the water to product will vary. Another thing to consider is that in many races, you will have a X Sport Drink table at X mile, and then a WATER ONLY table at X mile. So, if you are relying solely on the course to provide you with your calories, you best hope they get it right because 2 ounces in one cup is different than 4 ounces in another cup (this doesn’t account for how much you spill on your face and down your race singlet). It is also worth noting that these aid stations may provide some sort of gel, chew, etc. No matter how tempting, if you haven’t used it in training, it’s best to stay away from it. The last place you want to be the second half of the race is, the porta potty!!

Another thing to consider is, your individual “sweat rate” and how quickly you are getting rid of your electrolytes. This will vary with temperature changes but, even in ideal conditions, every runner has a different burn ratio of their stored electrolytes. This is another key reason that you should be experimenting with calorie and electrolyte supplementation during training.

Now, back to the race fueling! So, if you are the type of runner who carries his/her own fuel, what do you use? Me personally, I carry my own fuel/hydration and use a ratio to which I have been training with. In the past several races I have done, I was making my own sport drink and it worked great. That drink was a combination of fresh juices + powdered electrolytes and amino acids.

Most recently, I have started to use a product called Tailwind Nutrition. This product has one of the best calorie to electrolyte ratios I have seen thus far. It also tastes great and is very gentle on the stomach (a huge thing to consider if your GI can’t handle the typical sugars found in Gatorade or GU).

http://www.tailwindnutrition.com/endurance-fuels/

I also use Homeostasis Electrolytes to provide my body with the balanced ratio of electrolytes, especially on hot days. (NOTE – I do not mix the Homeostasis Electrolyte tabs with the TailWind Nutrition.) Whereas the HE will provide all of your electrolyte needs, it does not provide any form of calories/energy. So, in training, when I am teaching my body to burn higher ratios of fat to glycogen, I consume only water and the HE tabs. When racing for periods of 2 hours or more, I go with the TW Nutrition.

http://homeostasis.myshopify.com/

Hopefully, now that you have at least an idea of what/when/why you should be fueling during the race, lets touch on the last fueling strategy, PRE-RACE BREAKFAST! Though this should be a no-brainer, this one little area could be what makes or breaks you from having a great race. The morning of the race, you should eat the SAME thing that you were eating during your long training runs. Now is not the time to take advantage of the free continental breakfast at the hotel, “carbo load” or try some delicious looking pastry. This is the time to stick to your boring routine of whatever it was you had been eating on your training runs. Good choices (provided you have been eating them prior to) include, oatmeal with honey and a banana, bagel with peanut butter, fresh fruit (the less fibrous, the better).

Depending on your sleep scheduling and the amount of time alloted from the time you wake up to the time of your race start, you should consider calorie consumption based on grams consumed per hour.

1 hour prior to race = 50 grams of carbohydrates, 2 hours = 100, 3 hours = 150 and 4 hours = 200 grams of carbohydrates. Meaning, if you eat 4 hours before your race, you’d try to consume up to 200 grams of carbs (800 calories). If you wake up late and only have an hour before the start, it’s going to be around 50 grams (200 calories).

As mentioned throughout this post, you must experiment with all of this, based on your individual needs. Don’t do what everyone else does!! Find what works for you and continue tweaking and fine tuning it as necessary. No matter what strategy you decide on, stick to it and ensure that it suits your needs. Be smart and practice, practice, practice your race day nutrition. The last thing you want is to be well trained and then make a judgement error come race day. All that training will have done you no good if, you are running to every porta potty you pass because you had too much pasta the night before or, you tried something new on race day!

As always, Happy Training and Racing!! If you have any questions regarding any content within this post, feel free to contact me for further explanation/detail/correction.