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.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Running With Illness or Injury

I was going back through some blog entries I had written years ago and found this one from early 2010 that I thought was worth sharing again.  

Running with Illness or Injuries 

I'd like to share with you my guidelines for running with injury or illness.

We are all susceptible to the occasional common cold or virus.  When these occasions hit, runners and their coaches must then decide when to back off training and when to run through it.  Here are the basic guidelines I use to decide when to push on and when to back off.

1)  If there is a fever present then no running is allowed
2)  If there is stomach distress (nausea, vomiting or diarrhea) then no running is allowed
3)  If congestion is present and lingers more than a couple of days, then runs are cut back to 50% of the normally scheduled amount and stress days are replaced with 50% of a normal easy day.  This is done for 1-3 days or until feeling back to normal again.
4)  If you are in the first few days of congestion, or what might be the onset of a cold, and you start a stress workout and feel drained (sub-par), cut the workout short and take a couple of days of half runs (see #3).  
5)  If light congestion is present but you are feeling and breathing normal, continue training and closely monitor the symptoms.

While we can't take off every time we have a sniffle, if we continue to push ourselves when our bodies are sick, we can end up having to take a week or more off when our cold/virus becomes more severe (infection or pneumonia).  By cutting back to 50% of normal for a few days we often give the body the extra help it needs to fight off the illness in a timely manner so we can get back to training with minimal disruption. Additionally, the 50% work that we do helps us maintain our fitness and running adaptations while sparking the immune system.  Often just a few days of this makes a world of difference.  As a coach I can work a training program around an occasional 2-3 half workout load days much easier than I can a 2 week break to recover from pneumonia.

Example:  If I start to feel run down from the on-set of a common cold and I normally have an 8 mile easy run schedules, I'd cut that run to just 4 miles easy.  Or if I had a 30 minute tempo planned, I would change that to an easy run of 4 miles instead.  

The majority of injuries distance runners face are over use related.  So prevention is a key aspect.  Here is a few of the things to keep in mind to prevent injuries.

1)  Make sure you don't increase the quantity or quality in your program too quickly, slow and gradually changes are the key.
2)  Make sure your quality workouts and long runs are in the proper proportion to your weekly mileage.
3)  Follow a sound core and strength routine to maintain proper balance between muscle groups.
4)  Follow a warm-up/cool-down/flexibility routine that keeps a full range of motion in all muscle groups and joints.
5)  Make sure you are using the proper equipment - check your shoes regularly for wear and take the time to get properly fitted for the shoe type best for your form.  
6)  Watch the cantor (sideways slope) of your running route.  If you run on the roads often, regularly change the direction of your run loops so that you don't develop knee, hip or ankle problems from running always on one side (slope) of the road.  
7)  Diligence in the little things (like following #1-6 above) can make a ton of difference in trying to keep injuries at bay.

But even with the best prevention, occasionally aches, pains, nicks or even full injuries can happen.  So how do we decide what we can run through and when we need some time off or to see a doctor?  Here are some of the basic guidelines I use (but remember I am not a doctor).

1)  If the injury, or pain from it, alters your stride or form then do not run.
2)  If pain/discomfort decreases as you run (sore at first but better as time goes by) then you can do some light running (being careful of duration and intensity).
3)  If pain/discomfort increases as you run, then do not run or discontinue the run you are on and start treatment for the injury.

Treat minor aches and pains before they become injuries
Most runners in serious training are familiar with the minor aches and pains that come along with pushing the envelope in training.  A sore tendon, a sore muscle, or aching joint, etc.  The best advice I can offer is to treat these promptly before they become full on injuries.  Some of the tools for treating aches and pains can include:

- Icing the area after exercise/activity
- Ice baths / warm Epsom salt baths
- Specific stretching routines to address a problem area or cause area
- Specific exercises to strengthen weak muscles or correct imbalances before they get worse
- Contrast therapy 
- Rolling / massage or manipulation of the affected or cause areas

Cause - Look up the chain
Try and look for the root cause of a problem area or injury.  Often times you will not find the problem where it hurts but rather somewhere up the chain (or leg in this case).  Tight hips or lower back are often the culprit for IT band problems.  Foot problems are often tight calf related/caused.  Whenever possible make sure you are treating / dealing with the cause of the problem as well as the injury site itself.  This will help prevent relapses later on.

Hopefully you find a point or two in here that helps you out at some point. 

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley

Monday, February 24, 2014

Spotlight: The 14 Day Micro-Cycle

Today I want to open up my playbook a little and talk about a 14 day micro-cycle I utilize with many of the runners I coach, and why I find it very effective.

The 14 Day Micro-Cycle is a training structured that is a 2 week repeatable sequence that contains 5 stress workout opportunities in that 2 week period.  

The structure look like the following: 

The speed workout on Day 1 is usually some form of interval workout over shorter distance (i.e. 200's or 400's or 800's, etc.).

The stamina workout on Day 4 is usually a some form of tempo run or tempo repeats focused on improving either lactate threshold or aerobic threshold.

The endurance workout on Day 7 is usually a long run with some type of quality element to it such as a tempo section, fast finish or steady state long run.

The stress workout on Day 10 can be either a speed workout or a stamina workout depending on the training phase the runner is in and the race distance they are training for.  

The endurance workout on Day 13 is usually an easy or moderate pace long run.

There are 2 easy recovery days after each of the first 4 stress workouts in the cycle allowing the runner to attack workouts hard knowing they have 2 days to recover afterwards.  

After the 5th stress workout there is only 1 recovery day, so we make that our shortest and easiest day of the micro-cycle to ensure recover before the speed session on Day 1 of the new cycle.  

If the micro-cycle is started on a Monday than both long runs (day 7 and day 13) fall on weekend days, Sunday and Saturday respectively.  This is an advantageous set-up for many runners who work a full time Mon-Fri job, as well as for students who go to schedule full-time during the week.   

I find this 14 day structure also sets up for strength training.  I like to have my runners do 2 drill circuits and 4 core circuits per week.  So I will have them do drill circuits on days 2, 5, 8 & 11 and core circuits on days: 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 12, 14.   This allows them to be doing some form of strength training every day except their long run days and also makes sure they are not doing the harder drill strength circuit on the day before a stress workout (to promote fresher legs for the stress workout).  

Who might benefit from this micro-cycle structure?  I think it fits many marathoners well as their workouts tend to be longer and more energy system fatiguing, so the 2 recovery days after 4 of the 5 workouts give them ample time to recover while still keeping mileage levels up.  As mentioned earlier, it also fits students and full-time workers well.   It also is very effective for shorter distance runners (3k-10k specialists) who want to maintain a higher mileage level during their base or fundamental phase, before switching over to a 7 day 3 stress workout schedule to get more quality density closer to or in-season.  

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Taking The Worry Out Of Weather

Many runners spend a lot of time worrying about the weather.  Deciding what clothes to wear and whether or not to run outside or on a treadmill inside can preoccupy their minds, sometimes for hours before their runs.  I have come to realize that this worry and preoccupation causes far more stress than any actual effects of the weather may have during the run.

So I am suggesting taking away some of the guess work out of the equation, so that you know in advance how you'll handle each situation.  This will give your mind less to worry about, so you can focus more on the planned workout that day.

I propose coming up with your own personal weather chart, that lists the "real feel" temperature and how you will handle that in terms of what you wear, where you run, and any anticipated effects on paces/performance.  Then just put a copy of this chart in on your dresser, or in your locker, or where ever you prepare for your runs.  No worries, just check the weather quickly before your run and prepare according to your personalized chart. :-)

There is no right or wrong answers in this chart, it is personal to you based on your experience and what you are comfortable with.  And of course you can adjust this chart as your experience grows with certain temperature rages.

Things you may want to include on your chart:

  • "Real Feel" temperature range
  • Clothing to wear in easy or long run
  • Clothing to wear in race or quality workout
  • Adjustments for precipitation
  • Performance/pace adjustments for the weather 
  • When to run indoor vs outdoor
Your chart may look something like this:

Often just having a chart like this made up, can give us a little peace of mind in knowing how we plan to deal with any type of weather situation we may run into.  It can also be handy to have as we approach a new weather season so that we can make sure we have enough of the apparel we may need on hand.  

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Up and Down or Sustained Training

There has been a debate going on in running for some time now between planning down weeks into your training program versus following a sustained training plan.  There are plenty of coaches and runners lined up on each side of this debate and the discussion is often heated and thought provoking.  As most of you who are regular readers of my blog are aware, I am not afraid to share where I stand on hot button topics such as this, and explain to you why I believe that way. 

So in today's blog I will weigh in on this topic:  

Planned Down Weeks vs. Sustained Program

Now the planned down weeks I am talking about is when coaches or runners plan to train hard for 2-3 weeks (“up weeks”) and then plan an easier week of lower mileage and/or intensity (“down week”).  From what I have seen “2 up and 1 down” or “3 up and 1 down” seem to be the most common variation of this training philosophy.  Often the stated purpose of this is to give the body a chance to recover and “absorb” the hard training and to avoid over training.  All those things are noble goals. 

But I have a problem with this concept and let me explain why. 

The basic principle behind all physical training (including running) is based on is the principle of stress and recover.  This principle states that if we stress the body in a certain way (such as running) and then allow that body to recover from that stress, it will be better adapted to that particular stress.  This is illustrated in the figure below, where we stress the body (break it down) and then let it recover and during that recovery a super-compensation occurs which raises our level of adaptation (fitness). 

What is important for our discussion today, is to note that if we cut the recovery short we aren't getting the super-compensation or at least not the full benefit of it.  For this reason proper recovery after our stresses (workouts) is critically important to making progress in our training. 

I call 1 full stress and recover cycle a “base unit” and it usually involves a stress day followed by 1 or 2 easy recovery days.    Mastering this base unit is very important to our training.  We need to know how hard we can push on our stress days and then how much time do we need to recover (and what we can do during that recovery) before stressing again.   

Then once we have mastered this base unit, the most efficient way to progress our fitness is by simply stacking one base unit on top of another and properly balancing and sequencing our types of stress workouts in such a way as improve the areas of fitness we are targeting. 

But a planned down week philosophy works against that by “planning” to work too hard (i.e. not sustainable) for 2 or 3 weeks so that you will need a “down week”.  Basically they are admitting that they are not mastering the base unit and rather than focusing on mastering the base unit, they are compensating by adding in extra rest after a few weeks.  I don’t think this is an efficient or very effective way to train.   Over train for 2-3 weeks and then try and recover so you can do it again???

If you need to a break (down week) after 2 or 3 weeks of training, than you have not been sufficiently recovering from stress workouts during that 2 or 3 training.  This could be because you have either worked too hard on your stress days or because you didn't take enough recovery time (or ran your recovery too hard).  In this scenario, you are not getting the full super-compensation for each of those workouts and taking extra recover after multiple weeks is ineffective at getting you the full super-compensation you missed weeks ago.  The super-compensation is most effectively gained in the recovery immediately following the stress.  

What is even more puzzling to me about many of the coaches who follow this “down week” philosophy is that I have heard many of them preach how the “#1 problem runners have is not properly recovering from their workouts”.  Well if they believe that really is the case, why not work with them on mastering the base unit so they don’t need those down weeks, instead of implement a strategy to repeatedly deal with bad base unit execution. 

I believe that “down weeks” during the training portion of a cycle should be something you take only if and when you determine you have not been recovering from your workouts sufficiently and need to take one to avoid or remedy a state of over training.  It should not be a condition you plan to be in on such a regular basis that you have to plan it into your program.  If it is, then you need to spend time on restructuring your base unit to fix the cause, and not on planning in down weeks as a band-aid.

I believe the most effective way to progress in running fitness during a training cycle is to master your base unit first and foremost and then train in a sustainable manner so you can stack those base units one on top of each efficiently for a prolonged period of time during your training phase of your cycle.  In other words, take continual measured steps forward toward your goal, not embrace a strategy of taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back over and over again in training.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Incremental Thinking

Incremental thinking can be a big key to producing our best as runners.  And this incremental thinking can permeate all aspects of our running, from planning our training, to executing 1 run at a time, to segmenting our race plans.  

By incremental thinking I am talking about both breaking things down in to small manageable sections or segments, and also on then focusing only on executing them one at a time. 

In our training plans we want to move from where we are currently to where we want to go (example:  from a 3:15 marathon to 3:00 marathon).  To start this process I break our training down into the 4 measurable tenets if training: consistency, capacity, frequency and mixture (the 5th tenet - passion - is not easily measurable).  I score the runner on where they stand on each tenet on a scale of 1 to 10.  1 is where a beginner runner would start and 10 is what are the best practices of the top elite runners.  The runner gets a score on each tenet.  In order to improve (get faster) and progress as a runner we seek to incrementally improve in each tenet, that is to rate a higher score as much as is practical for that runner (i.e. within any hard constraints they have).  The real key to doing this is to set-up an incremental progression.  If we try and jump too quickly in any area we greatly increase the risk that our bodies or minds will reject the increase and we’ll be forced to reset. So our training plans then become about patiently and incrementally making progress over time (1 training cycle at a time) in each tenet - one small step at a time.

Executing Training
Once our training plans have been made, our focus now becomes on incrementally executing the plan.  This means taking it 1 run at a time and focusing only on executing that run.  In order to do this effectively we must know the purpose of every run we are doing and keep our focus on executing that purpose with excellence.  Whether the run is a stress workout or a recovery run, we realize each is important and seek to get the most from it.  This incremental approach keeps us in moment and focusing on what we can control – our current run.


In racing we also follow this incremental approach.  We establish our race plans by breaking the race down into segments and proceed through the race incrementally.  I have found it best to also make the segments smaller as the race goes along.  Then in the race we only allow ourselves to focus on executing the segment we are in.  We don’t worry about or celebrate what happened in a prior segment, or worry or think about a future segment, we stay in the moment and focus only on executing our plan for the segment we are in to the best of our abilities.   

This incremental thinking proves out the old saying that "the best way to control our future is to take care of our present".  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Exploring Why Elite U.S. Runners Are Less Competitive In The Marathon

I recently looked up some race statistics and I think they illustrate what many of us have known for a while now: the United States is not very competitive in terms of elite level marathon and half marathoner performances, in what has become an increasingly competitive running world. 

First I’d like to share with you with the statistics that demonstrate this point, and then some thoughts on why I think that is, and what I think we can do about it. 

The Statistics

An event by event listing (800-Mar) of the number of the top 40 performers in the world in 2013 (in terms of best time for the year) that are Americans.

800 meters  -  8  of 40 (20%)
1500 meters  -  9 out of 40 (23%)
5000 meters  -  10 out of 40  (25%)
10,000 meters  -  4 out of 40  (10%)
Half Marathon  -  0 out of 40  (0%)
Marathon  -  0 out of 40  (0%)

800 meters  -  9  of 40 (23%)
1500 meters  -  8 out of 40 (20%)
5000 meters  -  9 out of 40  (23%)
10,000 meters  -  3 out of 40  (8%)
Half Marathon  -  1 out of 40  (3%)
Marathon  -  0 out of 40  (0%)

Of the Top 100 Times in the world in 2013 in the half marathon and the marathon, how many were Americans?

Half Marathon – 1 out of 100  (1%)
Marathon – 0 out of 100  (0%)

Half Marathon – 1 out of 100  (1%)
Marathon – 1 out of 100  (1%)

(Interesting side note: the Japanese women have 8% of the top 100 marathon times and 12% of the top 100 half marathon times in 2013)

I also looked at 2011 and 2012 stats as well and U.S. marathoners and half marathoners didn't fare much better than either.

What Is The Problem?

World renown coach, the late Arthur Lydiard, and American coaching legend, Joe Vigil, both who have traveled the world extensively, have stated that from their travel of the world they have found that there as much distance running talent here in the United States as anywhere.  That while countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia may have a higher percentage of their population with strong physical characteristics needed for elite distance running, those characteristics are certainly present in large quantities on the U.S. as well.  

If we look at the above statistics along with this insight from these legendary coaches, then obviously there is a problem with how we are approaching elite marathon and half marathoning in the United States if we want to be competitive on a world level.

I think there are 3 main underlying reasons why we seem to be very competitive in the 800-5k and relatively not competitive in the marathon and half marathon distances:

Youth/Scholastic System:  In the United States the youth and scholastic running systems are very ingrained and are how 99% of elite runners (and most non-elites as well) begin in the sport.  These systems are very much focused on the middle distances (in terms of distance runners) with events from 800 to 5000 meters dominating the make-up of meets (in terms of distance races).  When a young athlete shows an interest in running, they are usually prompted by most people to join their school and/or youth track teams.  There they are trained and focused on the middle distance events (800-5k) unless hey are pure sprinters.  This is largely what they grow up knowing and doing.  Add to this that the seasonal system and frequent race environment of both systems are much better suited to training and developing middle distance runners than they are long distance runners, and we have most of our distance talent focusing on the middle distances the first half of their running careers. While this provides them with good speed and can develop their VO2 Max well, it does far less to further the aerobic development, endurance and thresholds they’ll need for elite success in the longer races (HM and Mar). 

Late Start:  There seems to be a general mindset, and has been for some time, among most elite American runners that the marathon is only something that you move to or try once you have reached your potential at the middle distance (800-3k) and shorter distance (5k-10k) races.  This means most elite American runners are not seriously focusing on marathons until later in their careers when they have reached or past their primes and often after they have experienced injuries along the way that often come with higher intensity training of the shorter races.  This is hardly the ideal situation in which to embark on higher mileage marathon training.  While we have begun to see this mindset be challenged more frequently in recent years, it is often done so only by the second and third tier talent rather than the top tier talent coming out of college.

Elite Teams:  There are far more elite teams and training groups in the United States focused on the middle and shorter distance races (800-10k) than on the half marathon and marathon.  Currently the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project is the only significant elite training group focused primary on the half marathon to marathon distance.  As compared with a dozen or more groups focused primarily on middle distance events.  This provides significantly less opportunities for talented American marathoners to work with elite coaching in a supported group environment. 

Further complicating this situation is that even the training groups with a broader focus, who do train some elite marathoners as well as shorter distance specialists, are almost always run by coaches who began and worked most of their coaching careers specializing in the middle and shorter long distances races, and who only dabble in the marathon or picked it up partially in later years.  There is far, far fewer elite coaches in the United States who specialize in the marathon and half marathon distances than there are their middle distance counter-parts.  So even the elites who want to focus on the marathon and half marathon often end up working with coaches for whom these events are not their main specialty. 

Looking at another sport, most head coaches in professional football came up the ranks and have an area of specialty (such as o-line, d-line, d-coordinator, QB’s, etc).  These head coaches understand a good deal about every area and position and can coach each at some level, but they have specialists in each area to do the main coaching if it is not the head coach’s main area of specialty.  Pro running hasn’t gotten their yet, we still ask 1500-5k specialist coaches to coach our professional marathoners on a regular basis.  Can it work to some degree of success - yes under some circumstances.  But is it ideal for the best development of marathoners, no, I think not.   

So What Do We Do?

After identifying what I think are the 3 main underlying problems, I think there are 4 primary things we can do that will help turn things around and make the U.S. far more competitive in the marathon and half marathon distances.

Parallel Youth Club System:  I believe the U.S. would benefit from the formation of youth club teams for kids who have special interests in or talent at the longer distances races, as a parallel system to the more middle distance focused current system.  While these kids will not be racing marathons (or even half marathons until ready) they would be setting the ground work for being able to do that successfully later on by beginning work on building aerobic development as well as learning about these distance races under the careful and watchful eye of a coach.  In most cases, these groups could use local road races (5k’s to half marathon) as their competitions.  The benefits of this is presenting an alternate path for those not well suited for the shorter distance focused clubs or school teams but who have longer distance talent, and by providing a system that begins laying the foundation for success in the longer races.  This 2 pronged approach to our young distance runners (instead of just 1) will be more inclusive of all distance runner talents and should help us produce more athletes who are better prepared for success in races across the full spectrum of championship events (800-Mar) rather than just the middle distances.

More Elite Groups/Coaches Focused On The Marathon:  We need to form more elite training groups/teams focused primarily on the marathon and half marathon distances and who are coached by elite coaches who have the marathon as their specialty.  Just as Brooks has sponsored and supports the Hanson-Brooks Distance Project, we need other companies/sponsors (such as Nike, Adidas, Mizuno, Saucony, New Balance, Under-Armour, etc.) to sponsor/support marathon focused groups & teams.   These would seem to be a good play for these sponsors as well, given the mass appeal and fast growing nature of marathons and half marathons in the U.S. and the explosion of distance running as a participation and competitive sport.

This increase in marathon focused training groups will provide an increase in opportunities for talented marathoners to work together in groups, and under the coaching of a coach dedicated to that distance specialty, and that in turn will increase the number of success stories we see.  This will also give more athletes the opportunity to transition to the marathon earlier in their careers, before their peak years, so they can learn and grow in the event, rather than just trying to salvage a last hurrah. 

I believe that having marathon specialist coaches is a key element of this.  We want coaches who think, research and understand the marathon first and foremost, not just ones who know it somewhat as a secondary event for them.  I believe we need more coaches who specialize in the same events as their athletes. 

Encourage More Sub-Elites to Training Seriously For the Marathon:  The more serious runners we have in the U.S. who seriously train for marathon goals, the deeper we are and the better chance we have of producing high level marathoners.  There are 2 reasons why I think this works.  One is you will get a small percentage of these sub-elites who find they have the talent to cross-over from sub-elite to the elite level.  Dick Beardsley is a great example of this as he went from 2:47 in the marathon to 2:08 in a matter of 5 years.  So the more sub-elites we have pursuing this, the more cross-overs that may occur.  But probably the more important reason is the example they set and people they inspire.  If we have more sub-elites seriously pursing the marathon, we have more young runners seeing them and getting excited about the event, we have more family members and friends following the sport, and we foster a more competitive spirit in the sport nationally as each sub-elite strives to climb their way up national marathon lists.    

American Only Money At Second Tier U.S. Races:  One thing that I think could make a big difference in allowing and encouraging more Americans to train for the marathon and half marathon distances is if there were American only prize money at second tier U.S. road races (especially half marathons and marathons).  This prize structure would allow the prize money these races give out to go to supporting the U.S. athletes working to bring the U.S. back to the top of international competition but who aren't quite there yet.  This support can help those athletes obtain the resources needed to dedicate themselves to this task.  As I talked about in an earlier blog, I also believe this is just as beneficial to these races as it is to the U.S. athletes.  While we obviously still need the top headline races to be open to open to all athletes and be the hallmarks of international competitions, the second tier U.S. races, which more regional and national in scale, could benefit U.S. athletes and benefit themselves from a more select prize structure.   

There you have my thoughts and analysis if this situation.  What do you think and what ideas do you have?

Happy Running!

Coach Mark Hadley