Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Your Running Is Yours

There are any number of reasons to run and running can mean so many different things to different people. Some people run to set personal best times; some run for competition, to challenge themselves against others; some run for health or to lose weight; some run as a personal challenge to see how fit then can get; some run for peace of mind or as a therapy to deal with stress or hyperactivity; some run for quiet time to pray or think; some run to explore or enjoy nature; some run for the social and community aspects of the sport; some prefer to pursue long distance such as marathons or ultras and some prefer shorter distances like mile, 5k or 10k.  There are almost an infinite number of possibilities on how someone might choose to partake in running. But none of these reason is right for, or motivates everyone. We are each on our own journey in running and must decide how it fits into our life.

Unfortunately one problem I regularly see as a running coach is runners letting others' expectation dictate how they choose to pursue the sport.  Some people run marathons because they think they are suppose to or because others expect them to, but they really would rather focus on 5k's.  Some run races even though they really have no interest in them simply because it is expected of them by others.  Some are peer pressured into group runs when they really prefer the solitude of solo runs.  None of this happens maliciously, it is just that many people assume others have the same motivations or interest as they do, when often it is not the case.  When you stop pursuing running in the way that is most important to you, and instead follow the path of others' expectations, you will often run into burn-out and disinterest and soon lose your motivation to get out there.

The purpose of this blog then is to point this out.  That running doesn't mean the same thing to everyone and that is OK. In fact that is a beauty of the sport, that it can mean so many different things to different people.  It is fine to take your own path in the sport as long as it is what you want and is true to your interests and passions.  So stand up for yourself, be honest with yourself, and choose to pursue running how it will mean the most to, and be the best for you.  Afterall that is why you started it in the first place. 

And be conscious of the fact that others may have different motivations and goals or uses for the sport than you do.  Be courteous and encouraging to them rather than trying to convert them to your motivations or uses.  There is room in this great sport for everyone, enjoy, embrace and marvel at our diversity.

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sacrifices or Choices

"One of the biggest determining factor in how our training goes, is the attitude we bring to it."

How we frame situations in our own mind plays a big role in the attitude we bring to them.  If we want to be a positive person then we need to frame things in a positive way.  

A great example of this is when people talk about all the sacrifices they make for their running: "I give up sleep, I give up family time, I give up sweets".   This can be a negative way to approach training and leave one feeling bitter, burned out, or even resent it, especially if things do not go well in a particular race or training cycle.  Instead I suggest we would be much better off by viewing it (framing it in our mind) as making a choice.  We choose to go for our runs because the sense of accomplishment (or whatever it means to you) is more important to us than whatever we give up (such as an extra 30 minutes of TV).  We are simply choosing to value our running goal more than some other uses of our time.  Those other uses may be great and valuable, but whatever running goal we have is more important to us. 

This is a decision to focus on the positive, to focus on the positive things we are choosing rather than the negative of what we are giving up.  The end result is a greater feeling of empowerment and control and affirmation that we are taking positive steps towards our goals, which leads to a positive attitude.  But if we dwell on sacrifices, we are focusing on the negative and what we are giving up, which leads to a more negative frame of mind.  

As you go about your day and your training, focus on your choices rather than your sacrifices, and you'll stay happier, more positive and be more effective.  

Monday, August 8, 2016

Summer Training

Summer training, in the higher temperatures and humidity, can provide some great opportunities to receive big fitness gains. The tough weather conditions have been shown to have similar physical benefits to training at altitude and the mental challenge of it can make us stronger runners. But like training at altitude there also comes with the opportunity a risk of over doing it and pushing too hard. To get the maximum benefits from your summer training focus on 4 areas:
- Adjust your training paces. Just like when training at altitude you have to adjust your training paces because your body has to work harder than at cooler temperatures. Adjust more at first and less as your body becomes acclimatized to the conditions. Insisting on trying to run the same paces as you can in cooler weather will just cause you to work too hard and over-train.
- Focus on good hydration. While important all year long, the risk of dehydration or sub-optimal hydration is greatest in the summer weather. Be sure to adopt good hydration practices (100+ oz per day and drinking spread-out through-out the day) and stay diligent to them every day.
- Recovery, recovery, recovery. The summer conditions are extra hard on us mentally and physically, so we must be sure we recover adequately from our stress workouts. Be diligent on all your recovery protocols, keeping easy runs slow, stretching, rolling & massage, ice baths, and sleep. The harder you train, the better you must recover.
- Keep a positive attitude. It is easy to get frustrated and start complaining about high summer temperatures and humidity levels. But keeping a positive attitude is key to making training sustainable. Adjust training paces accordingly for the conditions but don't dwell on weather, instead stay positive and focus on the purpose and benefits of the training. The body tends to follow the mind so staying positive will help you feel better and get the most from training.
Happy Running,
Coach Mark Hadley

Friday, July 29, 2016

Training Is A Collective Not A Singularity

Training for running is a collective, not a singularity.  No one workout is overly important but each has their own place.

FootLocker South Region 2011

It is important to remember in training that no one workout is paramount, but rather it is the collective of all the workouts in the cycle that comes together to improve fitness and produce results. 

In each of our stress workouts we do we are targeting 1 or more physiological systems for adaptations to increase different aspects of your fitness. These adaptations do not come in big chunks but rather gradually and over time.  So a BIG key in training is consistency (one of my 5 tenets of training) because it is not so much 1 workout but stringing together whole series of workouts over weeks and months that produce the adaptations we are seeking.  So if we do a good tempo workout this week, and then another solid one next week ,and another solid one the week after, then we'll start seeing some adaptations taking place and improvements in our stamina.  But if that cycle is interrupted then what you get is a stagnation in adaptations at best, or at worst a regression (loss of adaptation) if the interruption is too long or repeated frequently enough.  This is the sinister physical side of a missed workout or workouts you give up on.  You are interrupting the adaptation process and if you don't end up getting in enough work, you'll experience stagnation or regression in fitness.  

One example where this is easiest to see is long runs.  Most of us know from experience that if we haven't done a long run in a few weeks our first one back is harder than it was previously as our endurance has regressed.  But if we are consistent for a while and string some together on consecutive weekends then they become easier and we can handle doing more or faster on them (adaptations having taken place).

So yes, each time we do a stress workout we want to have a great workout, but we need to make sure that at the very least we get in some good solid work, so we can keep the consistency alive and the progressions coming.  Because how we continue to get fitter is by being consistent and letting these adaptations happen and pile up over time.   We are much better off with a string of solid but unspectacular workouts, than we are a few home runs each followed by a series of workout DNF's. 

Judging Workouts
With this in mind (string together workouts), it is a good remember that the time on the watch does not determine if a workout is a success or failure. If you give the effort and execute the purpose of the workout fairly well, you will get the benefits of it regardless of what the watch might say. Your body doesn't know what the clock says, it only knows how hard you work and what systems you stressed with that effort and that is what brings the benefits. So remember to use your watch as a tool and not as the judge or mental task master, focus instead on proper effort and execution and string together training over the course of a cycle and you'll get the most from your training.

Happy Running

Coach Mark Hadley

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Race Strategy Guide

Great race execution has its rewards

When determining the best race strategy to advise distance runners to utilize, I came up with the following criteria to help guide me, I wanted a strategy that:
-        Offered the highest probability of producing the best performance
-        Was physiologically sound
-        Was psychology sound
-        Could be practiced in training to help the runner master it

After studying all the different components involved, and looking at the best results from runners of all ages and ability levels over multiple decades, I have the come up with what I feel is the best race strategy and use and one that meet all of the criteria listed.

Interestingly enough, this general strategy (slight negative split) has been what has been used in the vast majority of world records in distance races over the last 50 years, giving me good confidence in its soundness.

I am also defining the race strategy I recommend in such a way that it can be utilized by runners regardless of how they prefer to monitor their races, whether by pace, effort, or heart rate, so that it may be used by all runners.  

Race Strategy
The race is broken up into 3 segments as follows:

Segment #1:  First 10% of the race - easing into it
In the first segment of the race the runner eases into their goal pace/effort/heart rate. The runner does this by starting conservatively, just slightly slower than goal pace/effort/heart rate and gradually ramping up into the goal ranges by 5-10% into the race.

Physiologically this allows the body to ramp into goal range more efficiently and with a lower energy burn rate and blood lactate level than a more abrupt start allows.  

Psychologically this takes some pressure and stress off on the starting line and in early part of the race, as the runner knows they have time to ramp into their performance.  

Segment #2:  10% to 80% of race distance - strong, smooth and steady
The second segment of the race is by far the longest and encompasses the majority of the race.  It lasts from the 10% mark of the race to the 80% mark of the race or 70% of the total race distance.  Our strategy in this second segment is to run as smooth and even as possible in our goal range (either pace, heart rate or effort).  We want to focus on a good strong sustainable rhythm and staying as relaxed as possible while running in our goal range. 

Physiologically this allows the body to run as expend as little energy as possible while at goal pace range or to run as fast as possible at goal heart rate or effort range. 

Psychologically it allows us to go on auto-pilot and just execute what we have trained to do without over thinking things or getting too caught up in racing.

Segment #3:  Last 20% of race distance - racing home
At the 80% point in the race we do a quick assessment on how much gas we have left in the tank, and then race home the best we can based on that.  At best we may be able to pick-up the pace some in this final segment as we race home, and at worst we should be able to maintain our goal pace if we have executed our first 80% as planned.  Any up-side on our goal comes in this last 20% of the race.  We have raced the first 80% of the race with our heads, following a strategy we should be able to maintain the whole way, and now we race the last 20% of the race with our hearts to finish off the performance and maybe realize some upside.  We use competition to help motivate us and embrace the challenge of pushing and expanding our limits. This last 20% is a huge investment both physically and mentally as we are pushing our limits and dealing with steadily growing fatigue, but that is why we executed the first 80% as we did, to conserve as much physical and mental energy as we could for this last segment.

Physiologically we have set ourselves up well, we have covered the first 80% at a manageable level so now we are free to race home and use up what energies we have left knowing we are close to home and most of the way to great performance

Psychologically we conserved our mental energies the first 80%, not worrying about competition, just executing a solid plan and staying smooth and relaxed and not over thinking.  Now as we hit the final 20% we start pulling out the mental tricks and triggers to help us combat the fatigue.  We let our competition motivate us, we try and catch or pass people (most people positive split races so by executing a slight negative split, we will be passing many more people in this segment than we get passed by), we think of how close we are to a completing a great performance and use it to excite and motivate us.  We break the final miles of the race up in smaller segments and stay in the moment, executing 1 segment at a time.

This Race Strategy:
- helps us run relaxed and efficient and feel good for as much of the race as possible while still maximizing our performance
- helps us stay positive late in the race by structuring it so that we are passing people instead of getting passed late in the race, we race the second half of the race as the hunters not the hunted.
- conserves our mental and physical energies for when we will need it most - the end of the race
- is practicable in most of our training

Establishing Our Goal Ranges
An important part of this race strategy is having a good handle on what your reasonable goal range(s) should be, as we will use it as the basis for the first 80% of the race.  This goal range can be a certain pace per mile or kilometer, or it can be a target heart rate range, or a certain feel/effort we want to give.

Many people find they are most comfortable with using one of these methods as their primary gauge with maybe another one (or two) as a secondary gauge.  For example, you may decide to run based on feel with pace as a back-up guide that is a little more concrete.

You have 2 big tools to use in deciding our goal range.  The results of your training leading up to the race and past experience in races.  The more you have trained and raced the easier this becomes to figure out.  You will have experienced workouts and races and have a good idea what that means for you in this race.  A coach can be a HUGE help on this front, as not only do they know your training and racing background very well, but they have examples and knowledge of dozens (and even hundreds) other runners having done similar workouts and races.

A big key here is to not overextend your goal ranges.  Stick with what is reasonable and that you have a very high likelihood of being able to sustain.  Leave stretch goals and up-side potential to that last 20% of the race and pace the first 80% of the race with solid, realistic expectation.  A great way to do this by using a simulation run or race in your training to practice the pacing you plan to use the first 80% of the race.  As a key stress workout in your cycle, simply run 50-60% of the goal race distance exactly as you plan to run the first 80% of the race.  It can give you good feedback, help your tweak your plan, and boost your confidence on race day.

Goal Range Adjustments
Make sure that after establishing your goals ranges you note any adjustments that need to be made due to course or weather conditions.  This includes things like any big hills on the course or warmer or colder weather conditions than you are use to in your training.  Again data from your training and past races and your coach can help you hone these adjustments.

Example Strategy
Sub 3 Hour Marathon (goal range by pace)
Segment 1:  ease into the race the first 2 miles: 7:00-7:10 for first mile and 6:50-7:00 for second mile
Segment 2:  smooth and steady 6:45-6:50 per mile from 2 to 21 miles, except 6:55-7:00 pace on the hilly section from 10-13 miles
Segment 3:  race it home last 5.2 miles at 6:50 or better pace
Result:  2:59 or better

Approx Race Breakout By Segment
Race DistanceSegment 1Segment 2Segment 3
5kfirst quarter mile.25 to 2.5 mileslast .6 miles
8kfirst half mile.5 to 4 mileslast mile
10kfirst half mile.5 to 5 mileslast 1.2 miles
15kfirst mile1 to 7.5 mileslast 1.8 miles
10 milefirst mile1 to 8 mileslast 2 miles
20kfirst mile1 to 10 mileslast 2.4 miles
Half Marathonfirst mile1 to 10 mileslast 3.1 miles
25kfirst 1.5 miles1.5 to 12.5 mileslast 3 miles
30kfirst 1.5 miles2 to 15 mileslast 3.6 miles
Marathonfirst 2 miles2 to 21 mileslast 5.2 miles

Practice In Training
During your stress workouts in training, practice the general outline we plan to use in racing.  That is: start a bit conservative and ease into it; run strong, smooth and steady during the majority of the workout and then finish a touch faster in the final section (i.e. slight negative split).  In particular practice this approach in your tempo runs and long runs as these are continuous runs most similar to our races.  After awhile of doing this, it will become ingrained and just part of how you normally run, making it second nature to you on race day.

The is is an area of race strategy that has gotten a lot more complicated for runners in recent years as there is more options now than ever before.  There are tons of waters, sports drink, electrolyte drinks, energy replacement drinks, gels, gu's, sports beans, chews and lots of "normal" foods available to runners in training and races and all sorts of methods of carrying them with you if desired.  So lets first cut through some of the haze and confusion and establish a base strategy.

Lets start by breaking this up into race durations:
1) races under 1 hour
2) races between 1 and 2 hours
3) races over 2 hours

Next lets break-up the fueling needs into 2 categories
1) fluids/electrolytes
2) energy/calories

Per serving:  3-6 oz (2-3 good swallows) of water or drink with electrolytes
Races under 1 hour:   1 serving every 20-30 minutes (optional)
Races between 1 - 2 hours:  1 serving every 20-30 minutes  (15-20 minutes in warm weather)
Races over 2 hours:  1 serving every 15-20 minutes
Recommendation: start by alternating servings between waters and electrolyte drink the first half of race then adjust second half by craving.

Per serving:  75-100 calories (easy to digest)
Races under 1 hour:  not recommended
Races between 1 - 2 hours:  1 serving every 40-60 minutes
Races over 2 hours:  1 serving every 30-45 minutes
Options: sports/energy drinks, gels, GU's, sports beans, chews, real food (fruit, cookie, etc.)

Experiment In Training
Play with the options listed above in training to figure out what mix and combination works best for you. Do you prefer to get your calories from drinks or gels, or chews.  Does your stomach handle sports drinks OK, and if not which ones does it like or not like.  Your training runs, especially long runs are you chance to figure this out and train your stomach for race day.

Common Marathon Strategy:  alternating between a servings of water and sports drink once every 15-20 minutes plus 1 gel per hour.

Happy Racing,

Coach Mark Hadley

Friday, May 20, 2016

Spotlight Workout: Hill Repeats

"Hills are speed work in disguise"
- Frank Shorter, Olympic Marathon Champion

There are many ways to use hills effectively in your training; from long uphill mountain runs, to rolling hills on your long runs, to hilly tempos, to hill repeats.  Today I want to spotlight one hill workout that I find to be very effective for a wide variety of runners: 12 x 400 Meter Hill Repeats

The Hill
I have found this workout works best if we find a moderate hill to do it on, one of roughly a 4% to 6% incline. Steep enough to get the strength work we want from the workout, but moderate enough to allow us to still run at a fairly quick pace.  There are many on-line mapping tools you can use to help you identify the incline of a prospective hill, but the exact incline isn't paramount.  Just make it a solid hill but nothing overly difficult, and if you want to change it up between a few different hills, that can be a great way to keep the workout fresh.  We want the hill to be roughly 400 meters long (or longer if you note where the 400 meter point is) and be of as even an incline as possible (some moderate variation is fine).  It may take some scouting around to find the best hill to use, but than can be fun and I have stumbled on to many new running loops in my hill searches over the years.

The Workout
After a warm-up jog, run 12 repeats, at a moderately quick pace, up the hill with a slow jog back down for recovery.  Then follow the workout with a easy cool-down jog to start the recovery process.  The exact pace of the repeats will depend on the incline of the hill, but if you are able to stay in the 4% to 6% incline range your pace will likely be in the range of your short tempo run pace (lactate threshold pace) or slightly better. But don't worry too much about paces, instead focus on running the hill strong and maintaining good form and knee drive. The effort is the key determining factor of this workout not the paces. 

You can easily do this workout on a treadmill as well, setting the incline at 5% for the 400 meters repeats and at 0% for the 400 meter jog recovery.  Doing this on a treadmill has the added advantages of a consistent incline and not having the pounding of jogging down the hill on the recovery, making it somewhat easier on the joints.

As noted in the quote at the top of this blog, hill work has many of the same benefits of speed work.  It builds leg strength, stride power and running economy, it can significantly stress your heart and circulatory system, and has a great mental callousing effect to hard difficult efforts.  

2 time World Cross Country Champion Craig Virgin has told me that this hill workout (12 x 400 Hill repeats) was an instrumental part of his training for both his world cross country titles (1980 & 1981) as well as his 2nd place finish in the 1981 Boston Marathon, as it helped him develop the leg strength and toughness he needed.  

How/When To Use It
Many coaches over the last century have used hill work as a regular part of their athlete's training programs.  Some just in certain phases and some through-out the schedule.  How you can best utilize this workout depends on many factors, but most everyone can benefit from having it in the program at some point.  

It can also be a great option when you don't have access to a track or flat area for more traditional speed workouts.  Simply find a moderate hill and boom, you are ready for a great workout.  

Enjoy the change of pace and benefits this workout can provide.

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Goals and Life

Happy, healthy and positive running occurs when running goals and life routines and habits are in alignment. 

Setting goals is a important part of life and an important part of running, but we have to be careful when setting our running goals to make sure that they are in alignment with where running fits in our life.  In this blog post I want to talk a little bit more about setting goals and finding this balance.

Running Goals
Running goals can be as wide ranging and different as the individuals who make them.  No measurement is off limits in your running goals, they can range from weight loss, to healthy living, to competitive aspirations, to time goals, to Olympic dreams.  Your running goals can be as individual as you are.  As a coach I have seen runners come to me with all sorts of goals.  One wanted to safely get to the point where they could run for 60 minutes per day 6 days per week, no pace or distance goals and no competitive aspirations, just to be able to run for an hour per day safely as part of the lifestyle they wanted - awesome goal.  Another wanted to be competitive in their age group at local races; another wanted to improve a personal best time; another wanted to win a marathon; another wanted to qualify for the Olympic Trials.  Still another loved to race and wanted to race 50 weekends per year and run as well and injury free as they could while doing that.  All awesome goals and so wide ranging.  This is one of the things I love as a coach, to see and work with so many different people with so many different personal goals in their running, and the opportunity to map out for them how they can best get there.  I encourage everyone, as they set their goals, to think outside the box, find what they want and what they are passionate about, don't get confined by races, distances and times if that doesn't fit them, the best goals are as individual as the people who set them.

Life & Daily Habits
An important step in the goal setting process is to make sure that your running goals fit with where running fits into your life.  As a coach, one of the biggest reasons why I see many runners fail to meet goals is that they set goals that required more from them than their current work/life/family habits and routines allowed.  It may be surprising to some, that rarely do I see people set goals that are beyond their capability from a talent, or physical perspective.  I think most people have a reasonable assessment of what they may be capable of, they know that if they are 5'2" large boned and 210 lbs they probably aren't going to make the Olympic team as a marathoner.  More often, if a problem is to be experienced, it is because the training required to reach their running goals is more than they are willing or able to include in their work/life/family schedule and habits.  It is beyond where running fits into their life.  In this case then either the work/life/family routines need to change, or the goals need to be adjusted.   

Unfortunately instead of making changes to either to their running goals or life routines, what I see many do is try and force these things together and invariably this leads to over-training, injury or burn-out.  It is a state of denial that often leads to a poor ending.  And in some cases this results in the runner making a change in coach to try and get the answer they want, rather than making the change needed fix the imbalance between their goals or life.  Usually this does not work and the same things happen again and again until the root cause (goals and life out of balance) is addressed.  

Some runners feel guilty and like they failed if they need to adjust their goals.  But really doesn't need to be the case, their goals are their goals and not anyone else's and the main goal should be to find running goals that fits their own personal balance.  But add in the prevalency of social media and sharing goals, and this pressure some feel can be very real.  And if they are not in a position to, or unwilling to, change their work/life/family routines (which is understandable) then goal changes have to occur. 

What I hope more runners do, and I guess that is the point of this blog, is to take a realistic look at where running fits into their life and what time and energy they can reasonably and sustainably dedicate to it during a training cycle, and then work with their coach to set goals accordingly.  If that comes with a change of previous goals, better that then to try and force things to work and end up frustrated, injured or over-trained.  

Happy, healthy and positive running occurs when running goals and life routines and habits are in alignment.