Monday, October 20, 2014

Never Let A Tool Become A Driver

The stress and recover principle is at the heart of our training as distance runners.  The purpose of a stress workout is to stress certain systems of the body in such a way as to cause desired adaptations to take place.  In other words to become fitter in a desired way.  The purpose of a recovery run is to allow the body to recover from a stress workout while maintaining or advancing cardiovascular fitness. 

Note that I never say the word pace or time in either definition.  

I love math more than most, and am an analyst by nature, and so I have fun working through all the formulas and determining the optimal paces for workouts and runs based on the science behind the sport.  But sometimes knowing the theoretical optimal pace does not necessarily help us, and in fact can hurt us by putting extra pressure on us that can detract from our performance in the workout or race.

I suggest the best way to do any run is to start off and find the rhythm and effort level that feels right for that type of run/workout.  Then after a little while, once you have settled in, check your watch as a feedback tool to verify you are somewhere in the general desired range or where you thought you were.

There are many factors that can effect the optimal pace range on any given day, so by having a good feel for and knowing the rhythm of a desired workout, you can often be better assured of meeting the goal of the day, whether it be to stress the body or allow it to recover.  Given this I am in the process of making a change as a coach and including more talk about the desired feel of a workout in my notes to my runners and only including pace ranges as a secondary note that they can use as a feedback tool, not as a driver of the workout.  

What you want to stay away from is being obsessed with your watch.  Checking your time/pace multiple times per mile is not healthy mentally or physically. Hitting a certain time/pace does not assure the optimal outcome for the run, and it can be a dangerous crutch that can be disastrous if ever it is not available or if it malfunctions (which happens often).  

Keep your eye on the goal of run, and no that does not usually mean a specific time/pace, but rather honoring the stress and recover principle.  If your workout for the day is a 5 mile tempo run, and you go out and run it at a good hard, smooth effort, working hard but keeping it controlled and manageable, you will have gotten the desired benefits from that workout regardless of what your watch says.  Similarly, if you have an easy 5 mile recovery run planned in order to recover from the stress workout you did the day or 2 before, and you go out and keep it comfortable and relaxed and never feel like you are pushing it then you will have accomplished the purpose of that run, regardless of what your watch says.  

What you use the watch for on these runs is feedback tools to help you fine tune and better understand those efforts and feel over time, and to monitor and track progress and to adapt the training plan.  It needs to be a tool to enhance training, not a driver that dictates it.   

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

5 Great Marathon Workouts

Here are 5 great marathon workouts to have in your marathon training program:

1) Speed: 16 x 600 meters @ GMP - 12% w 200 meter jog recovery

2) Speed-Strength:  8 x mile @ GMP - 8% w 400 meter jog recovery

3) Short Stamina:  6 miles Tempo @ GMP - 4%

4) Long Stamina:  20 miles - first 4 easy, middle 12 @ GMP, last 4 easy

5) Endurance:  24 miles @ GMP + 10%

Math Guide:

If Goal Marathon Pace (GMP) = 6:00 per mile  (360 seconds)

GMP - 12% =  5:17 per mile  (360 x .12 = 43,  360 - 43 = 317 = 5:17)

GMP - 8% = 5:32 per mile  (360 x .08 = 28,  360 - 28 = 332 = 5:32)

GMP - 4% = 5:46 per mile  (360 x .04 = 14,  360 - 14 = 346 = 5:46)

GMP + 10% = 6:36 per mile  (360 x .10 = 36,  360 + 36 = 396 = 6:36)

For an explanation of these workouts, why these particular workouts, and how and when to use these workouts, see the book:  "Aerobic Titans" - coming out later this fall.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Transforming Goals Into Reality

"The future starts today, not tomorrow." - Pope John Paul II
Do you want to transform your goals into reality?  A major key to doing that will be to turn talk and intentions into steps and actions.  Many people talk the talk, but very few actually walk the walk and that is why so few reach their goals.  You must not only dream big and set goals, but you also must align your life, including daily routines and habits, in such a way as to achieve them.  That takes passion and commitment and THAT is what will make your dreams come true more than anything else. 

I can't give you that passion, that has to come from inside you, but I can show you the way if you have that passion. 

If you have that passion and commitment, and a big running goal to achieve, and need help getting there, please contact me at  I can and would LOVE to help you achieve your goals.  Lets talk about your running goals and let me help you identify what it will take to get there.  So then you can align your life accordingly and get to work making your goals a reality. I am available for consultations, on-line coaching and custom program design at 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How Fast Is Fast Enough In Training?

Alana Hadley doing sprint work

How fast is fast enough in training?  In other words, what is the fastest pace we need to train at in our preparations for our goal race?  I've done a lot of thinking on this question and have talked with many other coaches and athletes as well and so wanted to share with my thoughts and findings.   

One of the problems we face in training is that we have many systems to work and race demands to cover and only so many stress workout in which to do them.  We need to work primary systems and demands on a regular basis so we must prioritize what we do and how often we do them in order to regularly work on the areas most critical to our race success.  

Though my experience with athletes, talking with other coaches, and an analysis of the physiology, I have decided that the cut-off point is at ~12% faster than goal race pace.  I simply can't justify dedicating a full workout to working at any faster than 12% quicker than goal race pace.  While working at faster than that does have its benefits, the benefits reaped don't merit the full use of a precious resource, a whole dedicated workout.  Now that doesn't mean that I never have an athlete run faster than that, I just don't dedicate a whole workout to it.  I may have them do some strides or pick-ups during an easy run or acceleration sprints during a drill circuit that easily exceeds this pace, but the whole workout isn't dedicated to this type of pace.  

- If goal race pace is 7:00 per mile I wouldn't dedicate a full workout to any pace quicker than 6:10 pace
- If goal race pace is 6:00 per mile I wouldn't dedicate a full workout to any pace quicker than 5:17 pace
- If goal race pace is 5:00 per mile I wouldn't dedicate a full workout to any pace quicker than 4:24 pace

For marathon runners one of the faster dedicated workouts I have them do is:
12-16 x 600 @ 12% quicker than goal marathon pace with 1:30 jog recovery
(for a marathoner targeting 6:00 per mile goal pace these 600's would be targeting 1:59)

This workout is a supportive workout that not only covers our speed needs but also stresses our VO2 Max significantly and is long enough (4.5 to 6 miles worth of work + 1.5 to 2 mile in recovery jog + warm-up and cool-down) to provide some work to both stamina and endurance as well .  So while technically a speed workout it also supports other areas important to a marathoner, so I can justify dedicating a whole workout to this periodically.  If I have them work any quicker I would have to reduce the repeat distance and/or the number of repeats and thus I would loose some of those stamina and endurance benefits which make that justification harder to make.

Note:  this analysis and post was done with the 10k to marathon race distances in mind.

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley

Monday, June 16, 2014

Workout Effort Level

One thing that many people struggle with in training is what is the proper effort level for a workout.  How hard is it OK to push, or should we push in a workout.  In this blog entry I want to try and answer this question for you.  In order to do this we need to start with some basic principles of what we are trying to do in training:

In training for distance running our work is centered on the stress and recover principle that states that if we stress the body in a certain way (running), and then let it recover, it will be better adapted to that stress than it was before.  I call 1 stress and recover cycle a "base unit".  So in training we increase our fitness by stacking base units, one on top of the other, for uninterrupted periods of time (a training block).  The mix of stresses (workouts) we do will depend on the event we are training for as well as many individual factors. 

Because we have multiple different systems to work (cardiovascular, muscular-skeletal, energy, neurological, etc.) we need to be able to work on each on a regular basis, so adaptations made in that system don't regress before we work on it again.  For this reason we need to arrange our base units and training blocks in such a way as to accomplish this.  One key to doing this is to properly managing the length of our base units. We want to find that balance where our stresses are hard enough to produce the adaptations we are after but manageable enough that we can recover from them in 1-3 days in order to be able to handle another stress workout (often focusing on a different system).  If our base unit is too long we won't be able to get to all the systems often enough and if they are too short we are either not stressing our system hard enough or get good adaptations or we are cutting our recoveries too short and this leaving some of the adaption (super-compensation) on the table.

Complicating this whole balancing act is the fact that distance running is an impact sport (causing more strain on the muscular skeletal system, which is the slowest to recover) and because of this it requires more recovery time than its other non-impact endurance sports such as biking and swimming.    

Given everything I just typed, then our main focus on our stress workouts is to work hard enough to gain a good amount of specific adaptation, but not so hard as to required extended recovery time.  This effort level is usually pretty hard but not an all out (race level) effort.   I call it a good hard 95% effort, in which we finish the workout know we worked pretty darn hard but that there was a little more left if we absolutely needed it.  If we do this we will get good adaptations and benefits from the workout but still be able to recover from it within a couple of days and do another stress workout of a similar difficulty.  

Side Note:  This concept (95% effort workouts) is especially important for longer distance runners (such as marathoners) where all out efforts require more recovery time.   Middle distance runners can get away with going all out in a workout more frequently than a marathoner can as they recovery from doing so for them is not as long.  I think this concept is one of the main things many coaches and athletes struggle with when they are trying to transition from the collegiate system, focused more on middle distances (800-5k), to the half marathon and marathon distances, they are use to pushing to the limit in most every workout and that rarely works well training for the marathon.

We can definitely have training paces we target to help us find this right level of work on these stress workouts, but the paces should just be a tool and the proper effort level be our primary goal.  Hitting a pace doesn't ensure the desired adaptation, but the right effort level does. I have done extensive work on what kind of paces we can expect to hit in workouts given this effort level at certain race fitness levels, but it is only a guide and not the ultimate driver.  This is why some elite runners, guys like Steve Jones back in the late 1980's, could train effectively without a watch, they were in tune with the desired effort levels for their work, which ensured they got the benefits they sought.  

On the flip side of the stress workouts is the recovery runs we do between them. They are just as important to our success as the stress workouts.  These recovery runs need to be done at an easy enough pace to recover from the stress workouts and so the adaptations (super-compensation) can occur, but at the same time not so slow as to teach our body bad bio-mechanical habits.  Similarly to the stress workouts, I have done extensive work finding what I think is the type of paces that accomplishes this for each race fitness level, but the key is always going to be recovering on these runs, so pushing the pace on these runs does no good.  

Note:  given this approach (95% effort on stress workouts) it becomes important to schedule periodic races (once every 4-8 weeks) or time trials into your training cycle, where it is the goal to give 100% efforts. These 100% efforts are needed periodically in order to stay mentally calloused to those all out efforts.  It can be hard for some people to give 100% in a race if they have not done so 6 months because of lack of racing.  

I hope that this answers some of your questions on efforts in training and how it relates to what we are trying to accomplish.

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Pain Cave

Pain Cave:  the physical feeling of discomfort, pain or fatigue we get when running hard and pushing our limits, it can often feel enclosing like a cave with only 1 way to escape - to slow down.   

In workouts we can often go to the "pain cave", sometime we just stay in the mouth of the cave and sometimes we go deep inside. But over the course of a training cycle, we visit this "pain cave" so many times that we start to get a sense of familiarity to it, we understand its characteristics, its depths, its shallows, we get a strange sense of comfort with it, and even over time start to feel at home there in the cave.  It is then, when we have gotten to this point, we know we are ready to go racing.

Some call it "getting comfortable with being uncomfortable" or "mental callousing" but regardless of what you call it, it gives a sense of purpose to the discomforts we experience in training.  So much of our success will be determined by how we learn to deal with our time in this "pain cave". Do we stay positive, accept it, appreciate its place in expanding our limits, and make the most of it, or do we let it defeat us, rob our motivation and look to escape as soon as possible and never go back.   It is in this way that running can often mirror our lives. Very rarely do truly good things come without its share of sacrifice and perseverance.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Racing In The State Of Flow

The "State of Flow" or "The Zone" is an altered state of consciousness in which athletes usually have their best performances.

List of things for runners to do to promote racing in The State of Flow:

  1. Balance challenge with skill - find and implement the correct race pace (or HR) range for your current fitness level.  This is one of the most helpful things I can do as a coach, is help my runners determine the goal pace (or HR) range that will put and keep them in The State of Flow.  
  2. Concentrate on small specific targets - break the race up into 4-10 segments and have a plan for each segment: 3-4 things you want to execute in the segment to help you have the best race possible.
  3. Stay in the moment - in the race focus only on executing the segment you are currently in, don't think about past or future segments or possible outcomes, but rather focus on what you are doing at the moment.  Practice doing this in training.  Example:  in the 10 to 13 miles segment in a marathon my focus should be things like: "staying as relaxed as possible, keeping my pace between 6:00 and 6:05 per mile, and taking in 4-6 oz of fluids at the aid station", and not on things such as: "oh no that big hill is coming up at mile 16" or "I really blew that last segment, what was I thinking" or "I can't wait to hammer my rival Ivan in the last 10k of the race".  
  4. Stay positive - eliminate negative self talk. Use a positive key word or mantra for each race segment. You need to stay in a positive state of mind in order to stay in the state of flow.  
  5. Keep your race plans simple - think through everything in advance of the race so that in the race the decision making is simplified.  You cant think as clearly in a fatigued state so don't rely on making complex decisions late in the race.  
  6. Stay focused on what you can control (namely: you) - and don't waste energy on the things you can't control (course, weather, etc).
  7. Embrace the challenge - pushing the envelope of our limits is an big but exciting challenge, embrace that challenge and learn new things about you and how tough you can be.