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THE STUBBORN RUNNER (AND COACH) REVELATION
Two conversations. Two reminders that driven athletes can be their own worst enemies. (And sometimes us coaches aren’t helping that either.)
In both cases, the runners were driven to succeed but were, in fact, not succeeding. What they needed was a lesson we all can use from time to time and it’s all about empowering the runner to coach themselves.
In other words, the athlete is the one actually feeling the running so she’s in the best position to make on the fly adjustments to her training plan. From my experience, this openness to adjusting based on how you feel provides a big “aha” moment for many runners and that’s when I see big breakthroughs in training and racing results.
A quick note from two interactions I had with runners recently.
In the first case, Trisha was concerned about running too much on her longest long run because in previous marathon plans, she had become so fatigued from the longest run that by the time the race came around, she was spent. That is very valuable information that should inform future training.
I said, “No problem. My plans have a range for each long run, so you can just run the lower end of the range and you’ll be good to go. And, if you ever feel you need a bit less than the plan says, that’s okay too because the main thing is that you are healthy and excited for the race. You’ll do enough long runs across the plan that one or two that are shorter won’t be a big deal.”
Her response was that she couldn’t do that because it was her nature to “follow the plan to a T.”
Adjusting just wasn’t in her DNA. So, what I learned is that she would “muscle through” her longest long runs just to follow the plan even though she always ended up too tired for the race.
She just really had a hard time wrapping her head around the idea that she could (and should) adjust the training based on how she felt because to her that would mean she wasn’t following the plan. We were stuck in an endless loop.
Does this ring true for you sometimes? It’s a hard thing for most of us. We want to succeed and complete the plan “to a T” but we must be open to adjusting based on our results.
Become open and the quality of your training and racing will take a big leap forward.
I convinced Trisha to give it a try and once she actually did adjust the plan (one of her long runs), she was so excited (and I think a little bit relieved). She felt so much better because she didn’t dig herself into a hole by overtraining on the long run and now is more motivated for training.
In the second case, Charles was a member of my Run Team but then left to work with a personal on-site coach (not a McMillan coach). The new training system Charles used was a bit more data driven. Run X miles at Y pace and we’ll score you on a chart that shows whether you are being successful in the training or not. No range in distance based on how you feel that day. And no range in paces either. Just a firm “X miles at Y pace.”
The problem is that runners are not robots. So some days, you may be tired from work or your child was up sick all night so doing that X-mile run at Y pace would really be more of a stressful workout than when you were fresh for the run. Sound familiar?
But, the chart doesn’t know that. It just says, success or failure. And a “success” might actually be a failure. You might hit those splits but it took a Herculean effort to do so. This is completely different than hitting the splits with the correct effort.
Unfortunately for Charles, he often couldn’t hit the times because he was fatigued (mostly from a very busy life) so this left him feeling like he was constantly failing (per the charts). Not very motivating. So, then his natural response is to run harder to hit the times and thus have a “successful” run by his chart but he would really have a failed run because he was overtraining. The young coach wasn’t able to tease this out because he was fixated on the charts and not on how the athlete was feeling.
Charles is back on the Run Team and we had a great conversation about the need to have training flow with his demanding life schedule. Immediately, he had his “aha” moment where he knew one of workout was a success, even though the numbers suggested otherwise. He simply knew he was “dog tired” (his words) so just getting in a shorter run at a slower pace was a big win. And by adjusting the run (shorter and slower), he was able to recover faster and then had a great workout two days later.
Both of these athletes provided an impetus to put together this list of what runners must do to better coach themselves, so the training can be optimized on an ongoing basis.
The Runner Must:
✅ Be disciplined but use common sense when it comes to a training plan. The plan is the road map but every runner – from beginner to Olympian – ends up needing to adjust the plan.
✅ Be attentive and adaptive to how you are feeling. Too many times, runners compartmentalize training and don’t pay attention to how they are feeling before and after (immediately, a few hours and a day or two after). They simply check off the completed workout. But, it’s this attentiveness to how you constantly feel and how that relates to your running that provides the information you should use to adapt your plan for better results.
✅ Be a better evaluator. A run is NOT just about X miles at Y pace. It’s about the effort required to do that run and how that compares to the expected effort. The same pace but a higher effort is a red flag and may require adjustments going forward. Likewise, the same pace but a lower effort is also instructive. The point is that no chart or points system can tease out how the run felt or was executed. Only the runner knows this.
✅ Be ready to move and modify. A great training system provides a way for the runner to pre-plan for situations where training will be compromised. (For example, the McMillan training system allows you to simply drag and drop workouts so it’s easy to move them around.) This helps avoid situations where the run is set up for failure from the start. Next, the runner must be empowered to modify the planned training based on how she feels, the weather, terrain, etc. It’s an ongoing evaluation of what is ideal and what is reality.
✅ Be successful by learning to flow. Life is unpredictable, so your plan must be too. I have coached National Champions and Olympians, and, in every case, we had to skip workouts in order for the training to flow with how they were feeling. It’s just natural that a runner will not complete each and every workout across 3-4 months. Be open to this instead of being so rigid that you “muscle through” when you really need to back off to gather steam for a better result later.
✅ Be open to learning and enjoy a lifetime of success. One of the most satisfying parts of my work with athletes is when they begin to see that the training process is not an equation but a dance. It’s about matching the training to what’s happening in your life and how you are feeling. Once you get it. Once you are open to making smart adjustments based on how you feel and what life is throwing at you, then you’ll see the quality of your training increase and your motivation soar.
As a runner and coach, I feel like I’m always learning and then re-learning these ideas that make training and racing more successful. Trisha and Charles reminded me that this lesson is a key one and we should all (runners and coaches alike) take note of it from time to time so we stay on track for our goals.
The 5 Questions You Should Ask Yourself After a Bad Race
Sooner or later, it’s bound to happen: you’ll have a bad race or a DNF. You’ll get to the finish line area and feel overwhelmed—disappointed, frustrated, maybe even angry.
When a race plan is executed well, we rarely look back and ask, “How could it have gone even better?” Instead, we move forward with pride and ask ourselves, “What do I need to do to replicate this feeling at future races?”
But after a string of good results, a bad race can be crushing. So how do we move on from a poor performance? Working through these five questions will help you move forward with a clear understanding of why it happened and, more importantly, how you can move forward.
What went right?
In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to let yourself think, “Nothing went right; it was a total mess.” Most of the time, though, that’s untrue!
Once you’ve had some time to think it over, after an appropriate “cooling off period, so to speak, ask yourself: Did you follow your nutrition plan? Did you stick with the pacing plan you and your coach discussed? Did you feel strong longer in the race than you have before? Did you run the furthest you ever have?
In other words, start by identifying the positive outcomes of your race. This will help you distill out the bigger-picture good vs. bad. We need to remember that we learn from failure—experience is what helps us improve. If we don’t understand what happened during a bad race, we can’t fully enjoy our success.
What did you do to make it right?
This may sound similar to the first question, but it’s about what you did before the race: How did you prepare for success? As the old ultra- and long-distance running adage goes, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”
What did your crew do to help this go smoothly? What did your coach do that helped you feel good? How did your preparation (workouts, runs or rides) prepare you for the course? What are the controllable pieces that did you manage well? Maybe you followed your training plan to the letter, nailed your nutrition, and you had your most consistent pacing to date. Make notes of how you felt and why so you can replicate for future races. The past is the best teacher for our future. Don’t just look at a bad race as the sum of a whole; look at the pieces.
What was not quite right?
We’ve established what went well, so now let’s look at what could have been improved. Avoid blanket statements like, “Everything,” or even, “My entire nutrition/pacing/training plan was wrong.” If those things felt off, what specifically about them didn’t feel great?
This is a great place to fold in the emotional side of your training. How did you feel when things started to go poorly? What actions (or inactions) precipitated these feelings? Identifying these feelings—even the seemingly minor twinges or grumblings—can provide insight to improve your training plan for next time. For example, does that little twinge in your throat mean you’re thirsty? How about feeling a little grumpy—should you eat? Dissect your inner dialogue here so you can translate better in the future.
What’s the best-case scenario?
How did you imagine this playing out?. How and when did any problems/mistakes/mishaps direct you away from your ideal race plan?
Did you miss your bottle at aid station 3 in the marathon? Did you not feel confident on the climb where you’d planned to throw down the hammer? Did an opponent who you never thought would pass you catch you in the final miles of the race? Did you develop a blister after swapping into new shoes at mile 50 when you were hoping they’d feel comfortable and fresh? Define where you diverged from your ideal state so you can see it coming in the future.
What steps can you take to improve?
Here’s where you can move forward and set your future intentions. This part is great to discuss with your coach, friends, and fellow athletes.
Should you plan to take more salt to avoid the stomach cramps that slowed you enough to miss the cutoff? Do you need to drink more during hot races? Do you need to eat at the start of the climb? Use these questions to set your intentions—and make them known: “I will eat more before I start a big climb in a race, which will help me feel confident about my ascent. Then, actually incorporate those steps into your training.
There are times when a race goes poorly because of conditions beyond your control, like a thunderstorm rolling in during a race or a fall at mile 9 that prevents you from finishing. But barring unforeseen disasters, using these questions to analyze the situation can help you move forward.
They can also help you during a race. When you can be present and focused in a race, you will find yourself thinking about how all these pieces need to fall in place. The best race plans are adaptable, the best athletes know what needs to be done to execute even on the worst days. What we gain on our toughest days is experience – the ultimate teacher for future success.
Could running mechanics be the key to long-term success?
Posted: 26 Jul 2018 01:34 PM PDT
In order to run well, we need to train well, but we also need to move well. Endurance athletes need to be able to train at the optimal volume and intensity in order to stimulate the physiological adaptations required to perform. Developing this engine can allow athletes to run farther and faster than ever before. However, the limiting factor to long-term running success is not always the training that’s being set, but the training that’s being missed. Optimizing running mechanics may be the key to training consistency and longer-term success in competition, allowing our athletes to train longer and harder than before.
Running injuries are probably the single biggest cause of absence from training. According to some studies, approximately 50 percent of runners are injured annually with around 50 to 70 percent of these injuries classified as overuse injuries. Based on these results, you can probably expect one out of every two of your runners to become injured at some point during the training year. Not only that, but injury recurrence rates can range between 20 and 70 percent, with a previous injury being the biggest risk factor for future injury. This means that once an athlete gets back to training, the chance of a future injury and further absence from training is considerably increased. This leads to continued cycles of injury and deconditioning with the loss of training consistency and ultimately an inability to perform at their best.
Running mechanics may be one reason explaining the high injury rates and loss of training consistency. There is increasing evidence to suggest that aberrant running biomechanics — or poor running form — can lead to future injury development. Mechanics, such as increased inward motion of the hip (hip adduction), elevated impact forces and excessive braking as we land, have all been linked to injury development amongst runners.
Poor movement patterns contribute to injury by increasing the stress placed on the body during each stride. When this stress is repeated over a large number of strides, the total level of stress may be too much for the body to cope with. If we can identify abnormal mechanical patterns then this may provide us with an opportunity to intervene before the next injury occurs. By optimizing running mechanics we can reduce the tissue stress experienced during each foot contact. The end result is the ability to train harder and for longer.
Runners with poor mechanics are simply a ticking injury time bomb, just waiting to take that one stride too far before once again withdrawing from training. Being able to identify and correct poor running mechanics may be the long-term solution for athlete health, consistency and performance success.
Closely watching your athlete and using video feedback can be very effective for improving mechanics. Using video feedback and modeling good form can help the athlete become aware of their movement patterns and internalize their learning. This gives them an opportunity to self-develop and find ways to adjust their mechanics on their own. This works great when combined with coaching cues to help facilitate learning. Cues like “keep your hips high” and “pick up your feet” often encourage athletes to reduce pelvis drop and increase cadence. However, it’s important to remember that every athlete is an individual and all learn in different ways, especially when it comes to movement. So be prepared to adapt your teaching methods and try new things. Adjust your cues according to the changes you see and get feedback from the athlete as to what works best. Adapting as a coach is important if we are to optimize good running form and could be the difference between injury and performance.
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