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. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Basics

Below is a copy of "The Basics" page (written by Coach Mark Hadley) that used to be on EliteMarathning.com's website

Stress & Recover – The Base Unit
The base unit of my training philosophy is the one stress and recover cycle.  In the base unit (as illustrated below) we stress certain systems of the body and then allow it to recover, and when it has recovered it will become better adapted to the stress (fitter) than it was before.   

It is important to note that this principle has 2 important steps: 1) stress and 2) recover, and that one without the other does not accomplish the adaptation (increase in fitness) we are seeking.   
If you do not allow enough recovery between stress workouts you will not get the full super-compensation you are seeking. So to get the most from a stress and recover cycle, you must do the proper stress workout to work the fitness area you are seeking to improve, and then allow sufficient recovery afterwards so that the body can get the full fitness gain that the stress workout earned you. A very simple concept but one that many runners, from beginners to elites, struggle with consistently executing to its fullest. This base unit must be mastered in order for training to be as effective as it can be.
One complete stress and recover cycle is a base unit in our training. In general, I recommend the 2-4 day base unit for most elite marathoners and half marathoners.  A 3 day base unit being the most common of those; that is a stress workout followed by 2 days of easy/recovery runs. 

Day 1:  Stress Workout
Day 2:  Easy/Recovery Run(s)
Day 3:  Easy/Recovery Run(s)

Races or extra hard or long stress workouts may require additional recovery days. As a general rule we are always better off taking an extra recovery day to make sure we are recovered from the previous stress rather than cutting recovery too short that we don't get the supercompensation (adaptation) we earned in the stress workout. 
At its essence all good running training is just stacking one base unit on top of another in order to advance our adaptation and fitness in certain areas.  So it becomes imperative that we understand and master this base unit so we can successfully repeat it time after time in a manner that produces the greatest adaptations. 
The 5 Tenets of Training
Every good long term training philosophy needs some basic beliefs, or tenets, from which to anchor the training plan. These tenets will guide in general how we work towards our goals.   In my philosophy, the basic beliefs guiding our long term training are what I deem to be the 5 main tenets of training: consistency, capacity, frequency, mixture and passion.   
In order for us to realize our full potential as marathon runners, we must establish a balance between these five tenets, so that they work together in harmony as we will need each in order to reach our end goal. By balancing these tenets together in our training there is a synergy that can take us to a higher fitness level than any single tenet alone can.
Let’s talk about each of these 5 tenets in greater detail:
Tenet #1 - Consistency
Distance running (marathon running in particular) is primarily a conditioning sport. To a large extent the amount of success we will have in distance running depends on how good our conditioning is. 
Consistency – defined as  the uninterrupted stacking of base units - is the most effective way to improve on the runner’s level of conditioning, and it requires long term consistency to move their level of fitness to the point which they can fully maximize their potential as a distance runner.
The above chart shows the importance of consistency in building our maximum fitness level. The blue stair steps on the left represent 5 base units stacked on top of each other as would happen in a string of interrupted training. As an end result of the consistent training, our fitness level rose from the base up to Fitness Level 1.   The red broken stair steps on the right represent 5 base units executed with 2 small interruptions (one after base unit 2 and one after base unit 4). You will notice that with each break/interruption, our fitness begins to backslide as we loose some of the adaptations previously gained, and as a result a portion of the next base unit is wasted regaining lost fitness caused by the interruption. The end result of the red broken pattern of base units is a lower fitness yield – Fitness Level 2.   The cost of the interruptions in consistency in training was not only a lower fitness level, but also it required more time to accomplish as we had the time needed for the 5 base units plus the 2 interruptions.   Consistent, uninterrupted training yields higher fitness levels and does it quicker.
There are physiological systems in running, such as aerobic development, that take many years of consistent training to develop to their full potential. If these years of development are interrupted with inconsistency the process is stalled and full potential of those systems may never be reached, or at the very least will take far longer to achieve.   One major problem many distance runners experience is having to spend large blocks of training simply regaining past fitness due to extended time away from training, rather than advancing to new levels of fitness. 
Things that cause inconsistency, such as injury, illness, lack of motivation or goals, and an “off season” mentality, then need to be avoided as much as possible. This means balancing the demands of the other tenets so that consistency isn’t jeopardized.  
It is important to note that since consistency is a main tenet of my philosophy, that sustainability is also a key. We must approach our training in such a way that it is sustainable for long periods of time. In order to do this we must make sure we avoid any sustained deficiencies in recovery, in sleep, energy levels, nutrients, or any other area vital our ability to be consistent.
Tenet #2 - Capacity
Any talk on work capacity should probably begin with its foundation – the overload principle. This principle states that through a gradual increase in work load the body grows stronger as a result.

One major key to making the overload principle work in distance running is to build up our work capacity very gradually over time.   We are after a sustainable (remember our first tenet) increase in work capacity and if we build too quickly it will not be sustainable.
We should think of work capacity in terms of both quantity and quality of mileage and density of the quality. As we know 100 miles a week all done in easy moderate length runs is not the same as doing 100 miles a week that includes 2 quality workouts and a long run. So our work capacity is the mixture of quality and quantity. In my philosophy, we adopt a base unit and micro-cycle routine (discussed in the section on “training cycles”) which determines how frequently we do stress workouts and how frequently those stress workouts are quality focused workouts. So I will leave the discussion of quality for that section. But with quality being somewhat equal as established in our micro-cycles, that leaves the quantity component of our capacity.  
Given a fixed quality level, as a general rule the greater the quantity of work we can handle the better our potential performance level, up to a certain point. That certain point will be our own personal maximum effective mileage limit. What this maximum effective mileage limit will be for us will depend on many factors including, physiological make-up and lifestyle. For most athletes, especially elite marathoners, it will take many years to approach this maximum effective mileage limit.
We must balance the building up of our capacity with the other tenets and within the framework of our stress and recover principle.   What this build-up looks like then, is a slow build-up of the mileage we can handle during the recovery phase of stress and recover and still fully (or adequately) recover, and how much quantity we can handle in our stress workouts themselves. 
A major key to building up this quantity, in a sustainable way so that we do not break down and jeopardize our first tenet (consistency) is to build it up slowly and in a methodical manner.   I recommend doing this by adding a small amount to your quantity totals (maybe 4-8 miles in a week), once at the beginning of a new training cycle (16-26 weeks). This gives your body the whole training cycle to adapt to the increase and gain the majority of the benefits from it before increasing again. In this way you can gradually increase your mileage over time but do it in a sustainable way, thereby balancing it with our first tenet.
Once our maximum effective mileage is reached, our future capacity gains would be mainly in the area of quality – which we’ll discucss more in other sections.
Tenet #3 - Frequency
When talking about frequency in terms of training for distance running, I am referring to both the number of times you run in a given period of time and distribution of runs in that same time period. For example, if I am looking at frequency in terms of one 7 day week, which is a common measure, I may instruct an athlete to run a total of 6, 8, 10 or even 14 times in that 7 day period, depending on their background, current level of fitness and goals.

There are several reasons why frequency is a major tenet in my philosophy. Most importantly is the fact that our bodies adapt best to something that is done most frequently. There are certain adaptations that our bodies make to distance running that are short lived and if our frequency is low, then our bodies start to lose these adaptations between runs and we end up having to build them back up to where they were in our next run instead of advancing them.   Additionally during runs we get boosts of certain hormones and enzymes in our body that enhance fitness and/or recovery, the more often we run the more often we get these benefits.

It is also important to note that running is a very specific sport, in which we use certain muscles fibers at certain intensities and in certain ways.  Other exercises, while maybe good in general for increasing heart rate and general fitness or generally working muscle groups, will not specifically work the exact same muscle fibers in the exact same way as you do in running. This means they are somewhat poor substitutes for developing and training these muscles in the ways we need to use them in running. Running is still and always will be the best way to train for running.

While the scientists are still not 100% sure of the exact best timing of our runs to maximize the training stimulus, many runners and coaches have found, after decades of trial and error and circumstantial evidence, what seems to work best in various scenarios (i.e. mileage levels, stress workout frequency, etc.).

Most world class distance runners run 12-14 times per week. This appears to be consistently the gold standard and has remained so for decades. Some run less and some more, but the majority of elites eventually settle on this number as what works best for them. Typically this is done as 2 runs per day most days.

So I have generated some simple progression rules on frequency that guide how I train athletes with respect to this tenet to help them approach the gold standard as much as is appropriate for them. I have them step into the progression at whatever point is appropriate, given where they are at when I begin to coach or advise them. These rules and progression are as follows:

• Then add one day per week per training cycle until 7 days per week is achieved
• Once your are running 7 days per week and the duration of your average easy run reaches 60 minutes, then begin to add second runs into your schedule
• Add in 1 short (20-30 minute) secondary runs per training cycle until you reach 5-7 secondary runs per week.
• Increase the duration of the secondary and primary runs as is appropriate
Note: When adding a second run into a day, ideally the run should be 12 hours removed from the start of the last run and 12 hours before your next run.  This is not always possible, so I recommend shooting for that as a goal but at a minimum try and get at least 6-8 hours in-between the start of your 2 runs.

Pretty simple rules, just a gradual and incremental increase in frequency until you are running a maximum of 12-14 times per week, or stopping at whatever level is appropriate for the time and commitment you have.

Interestingly, if we take what we just discussed about frequency (specifically maintain short lived adaptations and increasing levels of hormones and enzymes) and apply it to our taper before goal races, we will see that we should not be decreasing the frequency of our runs during our tapers, but rather the duration.

At one point in the past I use to make what I now think is a mistake in pre-race taper, and have seen many others make the same potential error.  Often runners, who regularly run doubles, enact their taper in the week or two before their goal race by eliminating or reducing the number of their secondary runs. This reduces their mileage and in theory allows them to rest up for the big race.  But I suggest to you that this may be the wrong approach.  Because of the importance of frequency in hormone and enzyme production/activity, I believe the correct taper should be a reduction in the duration of runs rather than their frequency. That is to say we may be better off running 12-14 times (or whatever our number is in normal training) the week of a big race, but just for a decreased duration or intensity on each run to reduce our mileage. By doing this we allow our muscles to rest-up and top of glycogen levels but also keep our hormone and enzyme levels high, an ideal situation from which to go racing.
Tenet #4 – MixtureMixture is the various different workouts we do as runners, when we do them, how frequently do we do them, and how does this frequency change over time. This topic is the subject of countless books, articles and seminars. And true to form, I have my share of things to say on this subject as well, most of which I’ll save for the sections of this website on workouts and training cycles. 
Most coaches can talk and debate for hours or even days on theories and philosophies on workouts, what works and why and how to structure each.   I think this is the area of training that has progressed the furthest in the last 50 years. Although, I will say that I am constantly amazed to find certain principles and workouts that were done 40+ years ago are still spot on today, we just now better understand why and how to use them.
It takes a combination of physiological understanding, experience in application and the art or feel of knowing how to and when to apply each for that individual, in order to obtain the best results from your mixture of work. 
I’ll get into this subject in great detail when I talk about our training cycles and workout types in other sections, but here are a few basics I want to convey early on and often as they are keys in my philosophy.
Runners are very similar to chains in that they are only as strong as their weakest link, and if any area is ignored for significant periods of time it will rust and weaken and hold back the rest of the chain. Now that maybe an over simplification, but the concept holds true. In order to realize our potential and continue our forward progression as runners we need to include all facets of work in our training on a regular basis. So what we change is the frequency in which we work on each area, not if we work on it.  All runners will have strengths and weaknesses, and a weakness is not an excuse to not work in that area, but rather a cry for work. And our strengths are not prompts for exclusivity, but rather tools used to help areas of weakness and opportunities to promote growth.   As I said earlier, we’ll get into all this in more detail in other sections.

Tenet #5 - Passion!
Passion:  A deep desire and love of the sport to the point that you decide to do your very best and develop the talent you have for it.  This passion requires that you maintain a positive attitude about training and racing because running is seen as a great gift and as such it is a privilege to do no matter the outcome of the run, workout or race.

This passion, by its very definition, requires us to also approach training in a smart and disciplined manner, as well as an enthusiastic one, because it will take smart training coupled with hard training to reach our full potential.   This means while enthusiastic about workouts and working hard, we must balance that enthusiasm in order to make sure we adhere to the other tenets of training, because ultimately we must have all 5 tenets working together in unison in order to realize its full synergy.  

Thing we need to know about this passion we seek:
  • Passion is part feeling and part conscious decision – we have to want it (the easy part) AND have to make the conscious decision to embrace it and make it happen (the hard part).
  • If it is not fed and safe guarded, passion can be diminished or even be extinguished and if not kept in check it can burn too high and burn out.  So the passion we seek avoids the extreme highs and lows and instead steadily and resolutely marches forward towards its goal.
  • The passion we seek is a strong burning but resolute flame, the kind that can weather the storms that will surely come from time to time, the one that will slowly forge our bodies and minds in to rock hard manifestations of distance running prowess over months and years of work.
  • When tough conditions present themselves, such as inhospitable weather or challenging courses, this passion embraces the challenge before it and see it as an opportunity to grow, harden itself and improve.  Its thoughts are never “how do I survive this” but rather “how do I conquer it”. 
  • Passion is an attitude that permeates all aspects of our training on a daily basis, not just when we get ourselves psyched up.  It is positive, it is resolute, and it is unwavering. Ups and downs in training do not affect its strength or mission. 
  • If we train with passion we have no need to brag or be obnoxious on race day to try and psych ourselves up, instead we arrive on the start line with a calm confidence, knowing we are ready for the task at hand.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Paula Radcliffe's Marathon World Record

photo credit: PA

Today (April 13th) is the 13th Anniversary of Paula Radcliffe's marathon world record of 2:15:25 set at the 2003 London Marathon. It was one of the greatest marathon performances of all-time. It is a record that no one has come close to since and no one appears close to being able to break in the near future.  In this blog I want to share some of the reasons why I think that is and what it will likely take for someone to break this record (without PED's) in the future.

All distance runners have what I term a "predisposition" in their running.  This is simply our physiological and psychological make-up that makes us better suited for certain race distances.  If you have a long distance predisposition for example, you'll likely be better at the longer races (HM and marathon) than you will be the shorter races (5k-10k), and vice versa, if you have a shorter distance predisposition then you'll be better at the shorter races than the longer ones.  This predisposition is determined by our physiology, things like bone structure, muscle fiber make-up and musculature, and psychological make-up and personality, which includes the type of discomfort we tolerate best and they types of challenges we can most easily embrace.

It is helpful to look at the predisposition of runners in terms of a bell shape curve with the majority of runners being at or near a neutral predisposition, and lesser numbers as we go further away from the mean. To put this in terms we can use in running, my studies have shown that most distance runners (i.e the mean) slow down in pace an average of 4.5% each time the distance doubles between 5k and the marathon. This means their 10k pace is 4.5% slower than their best 5k pace, and their 20k pace is 4.5% slower than their 10k pace.  This assumes they are equally as well prepared and trained for each race distance and on similar course and conditions.

Statistics rules say that 68% of people will fall within 1 standard deviation of a mean.  In our example I think 1 standard deviation is roughly 0.3% meaning that 68% percent of all runners will likely have a slowing rate of between 4.2% and 4.8% when equally as well prepared for each race distance.  And 95% of all people would fall within 2 standard deviations of a mean so that means 95% of all distance runners would fall between a 3.9% and 5.1% rate of slowing when equally as well prepared for a each race distance. Often the remaining 5% of the population are considered an outlayer, but even then all but a few (i.e 99.7%) will be within 3 standard deviation of the mean.

If you look at Paula Radcliffe's personal records for all distances between 5k and the marathon what you see if is that she slows pretty uniformly at a rate of 3.5 - 3.6% each time the distance doubles. This makes Paula's predisposition a very strong long distance predisposition or about 3 standard deviations from the mean.  This is exactly the type of athlete you would expect to hold the world record in an endurance race, someone who is an outlayer and has uncommon (i.e 3 standard deviations out) suitability for the event.

Edited Note (4/14):  there has been questions as to my math on this, so her it is in a nut shell: 
5k PR:  14:29
10k PR:  30:01 - a 3.6% slowing in pace as the distance doubled
Half Marathon:  1:05:40  - a 3.5% slowing in pace as the distance doubles (adjusting and calculating out for the extra 1.0975 kilometers) 
Using the 3.5% rate of slowing that would predict a marathon time of 2:15:55 - Paula ran slightly (30 seconds) quicker with a 2:15:25.  The 30 second differential is certain within the tight realm of performance fluctuations or could be attributed to her having male pacers in the marathon and not having them in her other races.  Using 4.5% as the mean and 0.3% as the standard deviation then 3 standard deviations from the mean would be 3.6% which is roughly where Paula's demonstrated predisposition over the course of her career is.  This makes her predisposition likely to be only had by ~1% of the running population. 

I believe there are 2 main reasons why we have not seen any runners come close to breaking Paula's record (even runners who later proved to be PED users).  There are very few runners (probably less than 1%) who have a 3 standard deviation predisposition towards the longer races, and I think it will take a runner with that type of predisposition (similar to what Paula has) in order to approach her record.  And even if a runner has this type of predisposition they have to still be willing to develop their shorter distance skills in order to fully get the benefits in the longer races.  Given that Paula was so predisposed to the longer races, what is more astounding to me is not that she could run the marathon that fast but rather that she was dedicated to and developed her skills at the shorter races (5k/10k) that she was not as well suited for.  But subsequently when she did turn to the longer races she was astonishing and broke records by large margins. We will not likely see her marathon record eclipsed until we find a runner with a similar predisposition, talent and dedication and that will be a very rare find indeed.

Also it is fair to point out that the longer the race is, the greater the chances for things to go wrong and the less opportunity the athlete has to race that distance.  Even if the predisposition is there, to get a marathon on par with your what your 10k or half marathon time suggests for your predisposition is harder to come by and less likely given the fewer number of chances and longer period of time for things to go wrong.

Side Note:  Incidentally, I think that Paula's clear and consistent predisposition across all distance (consistent slowing rate from 5k to marathon) over the course of her career is one of the greatest unbiased arguments for her being a clean athlete (i.e her performances were not likely aided by Performance Enhancing Drugs - "PEDs").  PED usage would tend to help certain events more than others because of different limiting factors. It would statistically be expected that a PED user would have an inconsistent rate of slowing between events slanted towards the events that the PED help them most at.  I know of no PEDs that would help a runner uniformly across all race distance 5k to the marathon