Friday, September 6, 2013

A Call For American Support

2012 U.S. Olympic Women's Marathon Team

In the past week since CGI’s announcement about the discontinuation of their support for elite running (and competitive?) at their Rock n' Roll race series, there are have been multiple great articles and blogs on the subject from many people such as: Toni Reavis, Camille Herron, and Josh Cox analyzing the situation and giving their take on some of the problems in the sport of elite road racing and some ideas for solving them. 

I wanted to weigh in on the subject as well, and share some thoughts from what I have seen and experienced. 

As a coach of many emerging elite and a several elites Americans road racers, I have seen firsthand the struggles and sacrifices these athletes go through to pursue the sport in earnest.   They dedicate significant time and energy, and arrange their lives around their pursuit of the sport of running.  While they do this freely and openly without promise of reward or support, the lack of support in some cases can cause many of them (including ones with great potential) to have to give up this pursuit.  But it doesn't have to be this way.  As my part in helping these emerging American runners, I started the 2016 U.S. Marathon Trials Project to help many of these athletes get the coaching they need to develop in the sport, and to help market themselves in the hopes of securing sponsor support.   

My premise behind the Project is simple:  The more people the United States has seriously training to run a high level marathon, the stronger, deeper and more competitive we become as a marathoning nation and the more the sport will grow.  For many serious runners, the goal and dream of competing in and doing well at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials keeps them training and competing at a high level, and motivates them to continue to improve.  The 2016 U.S. Marathon Trials Project has been established to help deepen our country as a marathoning nation, and to help serious runners chase and accomplish their goals and dreams.

While I seek to help these emerging American athletes from a coaching perspective, I am calling for more race directors, organizers and sponsors to do so as well. 

While I love competition and support it at every level, but I believe it should be tiered to help develop emerging talent.  So while it is wonderful to have the World Marathon Majors and other major international level races and fields (and I hope these continue to get better organized and grow),  I think that domestically, more of the local, regional and “B level” national races need to support U.S. athletes to help them develop to that international level.  This means having American only prize money and support (comp. entry and travel assistance) and I believe it is in the best interest of these races to do so.  

Here is why I think this makes sense for these local/regional/national “b level” races and what I think should be required from the athletes. 

Races:  Having American athletes be the top athletes at your event enhances the interest of your sponsors and the media, because these athletes are most closely matched to their target demographics.   To the participants of the events (and their family and friends) the American athletes are the easiest to relate to and be inspired by, as are likely to have most in common with them.  The American athletes can also usually engage the fans and media and their fellow participants more easily in conversations and interviews and provide more closely related encouragement.  The American athletes also have social media followers and fans that are local and regionally based and that more closely overlap your event and sponsor demographics.  As such these athletes can be very helpful in promoting and drawing attention to your event.  An additional benefit would be the opportunity to have a patriotic association to your race as an event that supports and promotes the development of U.S. talent.  And at a more macro-level, the increased support to emerging American athletes will make it more likely that more of them will be able develop and eventually compete favorably at the highest level in international competitions. This will help the sport of competitive running grow in the U.S. in terms of interest and participation, which in turn helps your race's participation levels and the benefits to your sponsors. I also encourage races to require some things (such as meet & greats, autograph session, media interviews, attendance of the awards, school/group visits) from the U.S. athletes in exchange for, and at appropriate levels for, the support/opportunities you are providing.  

American athletes:  if you wish to receive this support and opportunities, and continue to receive it, you need to do more than just come, run and leave.  Your participation and what you receive has to be worth it to the races and their sponsors.  If it is not we will see more of what CGI has done and the support will go away.  You need to be engaging to the fans, participants and media.  You need to be thankful and show appreciation to the sponsors and race directors.  Be respectful of the events and not withdraw from the event on short notice unless absolutely necessary.  You are an ambassador for elite running in the U.S.  You have the opportunity to inspire the next generation and inspire people to improve their health and well-being.  Many of you have significant social media followings, use it help these races and sponsors promote their events.  Support is a two way street, make sure both lanes are open and free flowing.  

Like most American runners and sponsors, I want to see more U.S. athletes at the front of the lead packs and in the top finishing places of major road races and championships.  I believe a major step towards making that happen is providing them with more opportunities for support on their way up to that level, and believe it can be in the best interest of local, regional and national races to help them in this fashion as well. 

To the races who already have adopted this stance of supporting American athletes.  Thank you!  Please know that I and all the members of the 2016 U.S. Marathon Trials Project appreciate your support.  

Happy Running (and racing)

Coach Mark Hadley

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Running By Feel

Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers - 2 of the greatest 'feel runners"

Can you run effectively by feel?  If you were to show up at a race, your watch died on the start line and the mile markers didn't have clocks, so you were forced to run entirely by feel, how would you do? 

Like most coaches, I love getting pace data and assigning pace ranges to my runners.  It is hard data that can be analyzed and equated to various performance levels.  We can analyze, like I have often done here on this blog, and tell you the fastest races seem to be run on even to slight negative splits; that in most cases we need to adjust x% for certain weather conditions; and that a tempo run at x:xx pace indicates a race fitness of xx:xx for a 15k.  This is all good and useful information if used appropriately.

But we need to be careful (runners and coaches) that we are focused on effort and feel on the input side and save our pace analysis for afterwards for feedback so we can adjust that input. 

In an ideal world, I would assign a runner a 30 minute tempo run, they would go out and run a hard 30 minutes at whatever pace had the proper feel, without looking at their watch, and then they would come back and download the data from the run and we could see what the pace and spits where and learn from and give feedback based on that.  Feedback may be things like: “we need to start out a little more conservative” which is a feel that the runner can take into account the next time the workout is performed.  Or “you had too much left for the last repeat or late in the tempo, you can be a little more aggressive earlier in the workout”.    

By mastering the feel of workouts and races, we bullet proof ourselves to a certain extent.   We avoid over training, we avoid big mistakes in race pace adjustments, bad races are less likely to happen, and we take away some of the pressure and preoccupation of having to try and hit an absolute pace range regardless of feel.

But running by feel takes practice and experience, as you have to learn the proper feel of the workouts and races and how to judge how much you have left in the tank.  Staying in the moment becomes about pushing appropriately for the stage of the race or workout you are in, rather than nail a certain split.  This doesn't mean we can’t look at our watch at certain points for some intermediate feedback, but it should be used as a tool and sanity check, not a slave master. 

I try and talk to my runners about the feel I am looking for in workouts, and plan to move more in this direction for races as well; encouraging them more and more to learn and focus on the right effort and feel. 

In workouts, that appropriate effort level is one in which we are working hard but sustainable, pushing ourselves while staying in control.   In continuous run stress workouts (such as a tempo runs or steady state runs) we should seek to find a groove or rhythm that we can sustain for the whole run, finishing feeling like we worked very hard but could continue on a little bit if we had to.  Similarly in repeat workouts, we gauge our effort so that we work hard but finish without dying/fading, feeling like another repeat or at least part of another repeat at that pace would be possible.  Easy and recovery runs then, become focused on keeping the feel of the run easy and not pushing the pace.  Then by looking at our paces and splits afterwards, we can use this data in comparison to the charts, that I and other coaches have developed based on the physiology of the sport, to help us adjust our efforts accordingly and learn the right feel for executing the workouts in the most beneficial ways. 

In races, we gauge our efforts based on feel given the conditions and race distance, but in the case of races, we can push to the limits, so that at the finish line we have given it our all.  Through experience, in our workouts and other races, we learn how hard we can push at what point and still make it to the end without dying/fading/bonking.  Splits and paces that we can take and analyze afterwards, show any areas for improvements we may be able to make next time. 

A runner that can master running by feel is a very scary runner indeed, as they rarely have a bad race, they rarely over train, and they are adept at adjusting to any course, distance or conditions, and they are less stressed on the starting line.

Challenge yourself to start doing some or all of your workouts and races in this fashion and don’t be a slave to your watch, but rather use the splits and paces you take (or your Garmin records) along the way as feedback afterwards not edicts during the workout or race.