Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Finding The Mental Strategy That Is Right For You

The ultimate goal of a runner in training is to improve their running fitness so they can meet their goals.

The ultimate goal of a runner in a race is to be able to produce their best possible performance in the race.

There are both physical and mental components of training and racing that go into accomplishing these goals.  There are thousands of books and articles that talk about the physical aspects of training and racing.  These books and articles explore the workouts to use to best improve fitness in training and what physical strategies yield the best race performances. I talk extensively about those physical aspects here in this blog and on my website EliteMarathoning.com. But what I want to focus on here today is the mental aspects that are often overlooked and under discussed.  

Mental Components
The mental side of producing your best possible training or racing performance is the area where the greatest variability is.  Runners are a diverse group and have all sorts of different personalities, have all sorts of different and varied life experiences and as a results often have extremely varied tendencies, strengths and weaknesses and stress and comfort triggers.  Because of this no matter how carefully crafted, no one mental strategy will work well for everyone.  So rather than spending our time trying to force square pegs into round holes, our time is best spent developing a hole that fits our own personal mental pegs the best.

So how do we go about doing this?  I think this requires personal honesty, introspection, and experimentation. 

Personal honesty:  I think the first thing we must realize is there is no right or wrong answers here.  We need to free ourselves from embarrassment in our weaknesses or pride in strengths, at least enough in order to be honest about them and recognize them for the role they play in our running.  We must do away with our defensive shields and illusions and be open and honest about what is happening in our own minds.  This will allow us to move forward.

Introspection:  once we have allowed ourselves to be honest about what is happening in our minds, we need to take note of the things that are stress triggers for us, what our comfort triggers are, and what are the underlying sources of our own personal motivation.  Warning: this can be hard to do so take your time and be honest and think of multiple examples of each to confirm the tendencies.  These each will be unique to us personally.  It is very easy to fall in to answering what we think we are supposed feel.  We need to make sure that we come up with what is true for us personally and not how we wish we where or how we think some great athlete is supposed to be.  Note:  a stress trigger for you may be someone else’s comfort trigger so there is not much use in comparing yourself with others. 

Experimentation:  Once we have been honest with ourselves and sought to understand better what is happening in our minds, then it’s time to use that and figure out a mental strategy to use our strengths, motivations and comfort triggers while staying away from our weaknesses and stress triggers.   Then try these strategies out in training (tempo runs can be a great place for working on this) and in races and fine tune them as you go to find which produce the best results both in terms of our performances and also our enjoyment of the performances.  The possibilities can be almost unlimited, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box.  Personalize it and make it uniquely you.  Once we have done this and determined what works best for us, our running will be better aligned to us personally and as a result our training will and racing will be more enjoyable, and fruitful, and consistent. 

I almost hate to give examples because I don’t want to bias or limit the scope of our thinking, but at the same time I do think it can be good to help us realize the type of things I am talking about and how much individuals can vary in mental approach and still be very successful.  So let me talk briefly about 2 of the bigger example areas:

Motivation:  some people are externally competitive people, they enjoy racing others and beating rivals and going after records, and that competition is very motivating to them.  For other that external motivation is not as present and instead they are more motivated by a quest for personal betterment or some other aspect that running provides (such as helping others through running).  Each runner is best off examining and understanding their own personal motivations and then using those in formulating their mental approach.  For many people motivation will be a combination of things but it is helpful to explore those and understand which are dominate and which are more passive and in what situations.  Ultimately in order to perform our best we must find what way keeps us more motivated than we are tired and focusing on something that is not as motivating for you just won’t get the job done.   I have worked with very successful runners on all ends of the spectrum here and there is no hard and fast rule as to what is the “best” motivation, it is only a matter of which is the one that personally motivates you the most. 

Measurement:  every runner has their preferred way to judge or manage progress in training or in a race.  For a great many it is time or pace, but for some it is heart rate, and for others perceived effort or something else. Many runners like to use one method primarily and then have another method as a safety check or back-up. Experiment and know yourself, which way works best for you and produces your best performances.  There is no right or wrong way, so don’t limit yourself on the possibilities.  I have had runners win major races and have no idea what their time would be until they see the clock at the finish line (they used HR and feel/rhythm as their measuring sticks), and others who target, know, record and nail every split along the way.  The most successful runners are the ones who figure out what works best for them personally in terms of measuring and judging their performance. 


As you can see now, because of our mental, personality and life experience differences, there never will be 1 right mental strategy for everyone.  The key will be come up with your own personal strategy, tailored just for you.  The more fully you embrace that journey of finding and crafting that, the better the results you will have.  Be honest, and be true to yourself and you will be successful in your running, and in life.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Clearly Defining Stress Workouts and Easy/Recovery Runs

All physical training always comes down to the stress and recover principle so be sure you clearly define each component and remind yourself of what you are trying to accomplish.  Here is what the stress and recover principle tells us:

Stress & Recover Principle:  stress the the body in a certain physical discipline and then allow it to recover, and when it has recovered it will comeback better adapted to that original stress.

Running training then, is not about hitting a certain time, it is about getting the desired adaptation.  Here is what I think is a good definition to work from, and way to look at, both our stress workouts and easy/recovery runs:

Stress Workout: These are running workouts in which we significantly stress a system or systems of the body in order to produce a targeted adaptation so as to improve certain aspects of our running fitness. Our goal is to do sufficient and specific enough work in order to elicit the adaptation we are seeking, while still being able to recover from that work relatively quickly so we can soon after target another adaptation (as we have multiple systems to work regularly). To accomplish this we want to finish our stress workouts feeling like we have worked very hard, but not as far as having all-out raced our efforts. In order to keep the training process moving forward and to be able to target all necessary systems with adaptation on a regular basis, a stress workout should be able to be recovered from with 1-3 easy/recovery days.

Easy / Recovery Runs: These are runs we do in order to promote recovery and to maintain or advance our body’s adaptations to running and aerobic fitness while we recover from our stress workouts. These runs should be kept relatively short and slow enough that they do not significantly stress the body. 

Important Notes/Observations

- As a coach I can tell you approximately the pace ranges in which to do certain workouts at in order to target certain desired body systems for adaptation. But these are just educated assumptions based on many, many variables - it is not an exact pace and can vary based on changes to any number of variables.  The primary focus then of the stress workout is to get in significant and specific enough stress to gain the desired adaptation and not necessarily to hit a certain time or pace.  You should never judge the success or failure of a workout by if you hit a certain pace or covered a certain distance, but rather by if you put in the correct effort and executed the workout in such a way as to significantly stress the system(s) you wanted to target. 

- Be careful to keep in mind the need to sufficiently target a system(s) with significant enough of a stress to elicit the desired adaptation.  One common mistake I think many runners and coaches make is to utilize mixed workouts too much in which they target many different systems in the same stress workout.  The end result of this often there is not enough focus or specificity to the work on any 1 system to gain a new adaptation.  Instead I think mixed workouts are better for maintaining the fitness of (adaptations of) many systems rather than improving any of them. 

- As a general rule, we do not gain fitness by pushing and improving the pace of our easy/recover runs, but rather the pace of our easy runs improves as we gain fitness. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lessons on Motivations

One of the best lessons coaching has taught me is that each person has their own personal motivations and stress and comfort triggers.  What burns some people out, can actually be comforting and motivating to others.  What some find stressful, others find reassuring.  What motivates some doesn't necessarily work for others and vice-versa.  As a coach I have learned to not assume other's motivations are the same as what mine were as an athlete, and instead to help them find and understand, embrace and use their own motivations in the best and most useful ways possible.

A few great examples of this:  I have worked with some very successful athletes who get totally stressed out by paces and times and race their best when going watchless and running strictly by feel, and other equally as successful ones who take comfort in and work best with very well defined and regular pace/time targets.  Some need/desire a well defined race plan and some a more general race plan.  Some runners are planners and draw a great comfort in having training and racing laid out in advance to give them a sense of focus and knowing they have a set path to follow, while others are more free spirits and spontaneous and need greater flexibility and don't like having a schedule hanging over their heads. Some thrive on competition and beating their rivals, while others thrive on the personal betterment of their own PR's or performances.   I can name plenty of successful runners that fall on all sides of these issues and more.

The point of this I guess, is that as a runner or coach we need to recognize that we are all different mentally and that is OK. And it pains me to see runners or coaches criticize or assume another runner or coach is doing it wrong because they are doing something that doesn't mentally work for them. We need to stop judging other's motivations and instead realize that what is most important is what works best for that individual runner, and assuming that what works for you in terms of motivation and burn-out applies to them as well just might not be true.  Sure we will likely find many who have similar motivations and stress and comfort triggers to ourselves, but we will also find many who are different.  In those cases be encouraging and understanding, not judgmental, and appreciate all the amazing variations we have in our great sport.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Elite Development Coaching Service

EliteMarathoning.com’s “2016 U.S. Marathon Trials Project” has changed its name and broadened its scope.  Its new name is EliteMarathoning.com’s “Elite Development Coaching Services”. 


There are a several reasons for the change:
  • There are many elite and emerging elite athletes who have big goals but who do not have the Olympic Trials as their main goal, and the program does not want to force feed them goals in order to receive our coaching services.
  • The change eliminates artificial deadlines (i.e. Trials qualifying windows & cut-off dates).  The athlete can set what they feel is the appropriate time frame for their goals. 
  • Foreign athletes, who obviously wouldn’t be eligible for or interested in the U.S. Olympic Trials, can now be included on the program. 
  • Allows for the expansion of the event focuses served to include the 10k and half marathon as well as the marathon. 
  • Clarifies that this program is a coaching service and not a sponsored group as the word “Project” can sometimes be interrupted.  By not being a sponsored group we are able to work with athletes regardless of their sponsorship and the athletes have the full freedom to pursue whatever individual sponsors they want, without worrying about program ties. 

The Elite Development Coaching Services (“Elite Development program”) has the following mission and event focus:

Mission:  To help emerging elite and elite distance runners to continue to improve and pursue their goals in the sport by providing them with expert coaching.

Event Focus:   10k, Half Marathon, Marathon  (and all event distances in that range)

U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials
We are still, and always will be, a big advocate and fan of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and believe it is an awesome goal and experience for so many in our sport.  We would expect, and have as a personal goal of mine, that many of the members of the Elite Development Coach Services will be trials qualifiers and we should be well represented on the start line in LA in 2016 and in future trials as well.   But that doesn’t have to be your goal to be part of the Elite Development program.  If you meet the qualifying standards for the program and want to improve than this may be the program for you. 

With the name change, the Elite Development program is in the process of enhancing its offering to the athletes it serves.  Includes in these enhancements include expanded use of technology, the addition of more/better videos, ever expanding resource listings, and a monthly newsletter.

More Info
To learn more about the Elite Development program visit the website: http://elitemarathoning.com/EliteDevelopment.html

And follow us on social media at:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/EliteMarathoningcom

Twitter:  @FastMarathoning   #RunEliteDev

Monday, March 2, 2015

Positivity & Driven Personalities

Many runners are driven individuals who want to improve and have lofty goals and expectations for themselves.  If harnessed and used well this can be a great thing and lead them to exciting accomplishments, but if not held in check and used properly it can also be a source of endless frustration.

I think the key to using this driven personality to carry you to success is through Positivity.

To help you see if you are using positivity to help achieve success, here are some examples of how a positive approach and conversely a negative approach would look at training and racing.


Positive Way:  Looks at each workout as an opportunity to improve and gets better.  Reflects first on and appreciates the progress made in an area.  Notes failures or short-comings in a workout and thinks of them as opportunities for future improvement and growth.  Remembers the whole, and each activities place in the process.  Focus is on executing the now and then going forward and what is next.

Negative Way:  Looks as each workout as something that it is critical to nail in order to stay on track.  Reflects first on any short comings or failures in the workout.  Notes failures or short-comings in a workout and thinks of them as having undermined at least some of what they wanted to accomplish.  Seeks to make-up missed work.  Focus is on rehashing or correcting the past.  


Positive Way:  Reviews their training progress and successes and uses them to set their race goals and build up their confidence in their ability to achieve them.  Goes to the start line with a calm confidence knowing they are well prepared for the task at hand.  Stays positive in the race, focuses on the things they can control.  Adapts to any unforeseen challenges, focused on moving forward and staying optimistic on how they can make the best of the moment and what is left in the race. Only allows positive self talk and encouragement to take place.  Views success with graciousness and humility, allowing it to build internal confidence.  Views failure as an opportunity to learn and improve for the future.

Negative Way:  Establishes their race goals based on what they think they should do in order to meet other bigger goals. Seeks to convince or justify to themselves why they can achieve those goals. Goes to the start line determined to MAKE their goal happen. Gets mad or frustrated when any unforseen challenges happen that put their goal into jeopardy. Seeks to make up for mistakes or challenges. Allows negative self talk to creep in with adversity.  Views success as validation and as being deserved.  Views failure as crushing and devastating, and thinks they should feel this way or they some how aren't driven enough.

It can be very helpful for runners to do an honest assessment periodically of how they view training and racing and which pathway, positive or negative, are they going down.  No one is perfect but the more on the positive side we can stay the greater our chances for success will be.

Happy Running!

Coach Mark Hadley