What I Learned at the US OPEN

This past Sunday, thanks to good friends of mine at TrainingPeaks (gratuitous sponsor plug!), I was able to get a ticket to the US Open Tennis tournament in New York City. I’ve been a huge tennis fan my whole life (Andre Agassi is my favorite athlete of all-time) so going to the Open was a total bucket list item for me. I’ll spare you the play-by-play of the entire day but I’ll just say this; it totally lived up to the hype!

What I thought I’d do here instead is jot down some of the things that entered my mind as I compared the Open, and the US Tennis Association [USTA] in general, to track and field and USATF. By no means is this me ripping USATF or telling them what to do. These are simply observations and things that I do believe could help our sport, based on what I saw this weekend. Here goes:

1) The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is amazing! – This was definitely my number one takeaway. The grounds contain not only three stadiums but also plenty of smaller courts, practice courts, indoor courts etc. They also contain all the USTA offices (where they host all of their meetings) and the complex is used year-round for adult, junior and under-10 tennis programs. It’s even open to the public from 6am to midnight just about every day and for fairly reasonable rates.

All of this got me to thinking; could USATF have a national headquarters like this with an outdoor stadium built specifically for track and field, an indoor stadium, a practice track, etc.? And could that be the venue for the U.S. Championships each and every year and the Olympic Trials every four years? Those questions are meant to be rhetorical, but I would say it’s at least possible. It would take a lot of money of course, but you have to spend money to make money. Consider that 70% of the USTA’s yearly revenue comes from the US Open alone. I’m just throwing this out there, and I’m sure there would be challenges, but Eugene sure seems like the obvious place. Can you imagine summer-long youth academies at Hayward Field? Or annual meetings at the house that PRE built instead of random cities across the country? Close your eyes and picture it. It’s pretty darn appealing…

2) The best minds in Tennis are involved with the USTA - Now I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of the USTA and I’m sure they have their issues, but I did hear one very interesting tidbit that caught my attention. The head coach at a Division I University is also the president of one of the USTA regions. I’ve long been frustrated that many of our sport’s brightest and most passionate ambassadors are either coaching in the NCAA or owning and operating specialty running stores, and yet, rarely do any of these folks have anything to do with USATF in any significant way. In fact, within about a week-and-a-half every December there are three separate conventions; the USATF Annual Meeting, the USTFCCCA Coaches Convention and The Running Event. So here we have all of our best minds getting together at the same time, but in separate places with little to no thought of working with the other groups. Tell me that’s not silly.

3) Tennis creates and promotes its stars – I have now been to the US Open and the USA Track and Field Trials. Eugene did an absolutely awesome job with the Trials, and maybe I’m biased, but I thought it had a fairly similar feel to the Open. I believe an outside observer with no ties to either sport would have felt the electricity at both venues. However, one glaring difference was the apparel being sold at each event. I wish I would’ve counted the exact number but there must have been at least 20 different pieces of Roger Federer apparel available for sale on the grounds. Rafael Nadal, who wasn’t even playing, had just about as many. At the Trials there was tons of cool stuff, much of it related to Hayward Field and Eugene itself but very little in the way of athlete-centered paraphernalia. Not only that but you could tell the organizers understood the value of the athletes. Quick example; Caroline Wozniacki upset Maria Sharapova and what immediately comes over the loudspeakers but Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. The whole place was singing it, myself included (and I hadn’t even had a beer yet).

Meb & Skechers- a great example of how to market pro runners!

Meb & Skechers- a great example of how to market pro runners!

Not all of this falls on USATF of course. Athlete sponsors have to use the athletes they pay to their advantage. Don’t complain about ROI if you didn’t make posters, make shirts, create marketing campaigns, set up public appearances, etc. You’ve got to admire how Skechers has maximized their Meb sponsorship. You can’t walk into a Skechers store in this country without a Meb poster right in your face. Much like you can’t walk into a tennis store without seeing Roger Federer gear. And that’s as it should be.

4) The Players are real PROS – Tennis is a tough sport to make a living in, as is running. The very top players make a lot of money and the lower ranked players struggle. However, tennis is run in such a more professional manner than running. It’s almost embarrassing really. If this topic interests you I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you read this article from Forbes.com called How the 92nd ranked tennis player in the world makes a comfortable living.

This whole thing may be for another blog post, but I’ll just quickly say that I think, in running, we need to cut the cord that ties us to our amateur roots. This is just my opinion, but I strongly believe that running needs to take on a more professional look and feel and get as far away as we can from constantly playing the “Olympic” card. If we continue to do that we’re going to be a lot closer to Ping Pong and Badminton than we are to Tennis.

- COACH BEN

P.S. – I sort of ended that on a bit of a downer and it wasn’t meant to be that kind of post. It was more that I saw a lot of similarities between running and tennis and that, with a few tweaks, we could get better. So I’ll instead end with a video of one of my favorite tennis matches ever; Agassi v Sampras at the 1995 US Open. Enjoy!

What the heck’s a hill circuit?

A big thanks to Intern Bree for shooting, editing and producing our latest Northern Arizona Elite workout video which you can watch HERE. It was a great workout to show you guys because I think it’s one that a lot of people are missing in their training “diet.” I think most of us know about hill repeats right? You run hard up a hill, jog back down for recovery and go again. Simple enough. And that’s a good workout for sure. However, you can spice it up a bit by turning it into a true hill circuit as was first introduced by the legendary New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard back in the 1960s.

My own introduction to hill circuits came in the mid 90s when my high school coach, Jim Linhares (huge Lydiard disciple), had us doing all sorts of crazy stuff up and down the grounds around the beautiful Spanish Pavilion in St. Louis’ Forest Park:

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That crazy stuff included bounding up short hills, running race pace up long hills, doing sprints on the flats and striding the downhills. He even threw some push-ups and crunches in there! Fast forward nearly twenty years later and I got to watch another great coach, Greg McMillan, putting his professional athletes through a wicked set of hill circuits at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff, AZ. I even jumped in with 27:41 10k man Aaron Braun and 1:03 half marathoner Scott Smith once while they were doing them (I didn’t make it very far). Then, this past spring, I had the privilege of learning even more about the method behind all this madness at a Lydiard Foundation Coaching Clinic.

So here’s the deal; as you may have read before there is a ton to be gained from doing some fast uphill running. It forces you to have good form as you can’t “shuffle” up a hill, it works the calf and quad muscles and it’s great practice at running hard while being tired as you’ll definitely be tired at the top of a hill. But you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t take full advantage of a hilly area in your neck of the woods with a full hill circuit workout, which includes much more than traditional uphill repeats. Here’s the how and why of what to include as you set up your own Lydiard style hill circuit:

1) Short “Pop-Up” Hill – A pop-up hill (another term from my HS coach) is a short, steep hill that takes about 10 to 20 seconds to climb in it’s entirety. I like to have athletes sprint these hills nearly all out. It’s great for working the speed muscles, thus making hill circuits a perfect workout in the phase of training that precedes fast work on the track. This primes the muscle groups for that sort of work. Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Shorter called hills “speedwork in disguise” and he was right.

2) Downhill Stride – You can see Matt and Eric doing these in the video above. I have them do these at 3k (or two mile) race pace. We use about a 100 meter slight downhill for this which I would recommend for any of you. You don’t want it to be too steep because then it becomes dangerous. These are awesome for two main reasons in my opinion. Number one is you’ll encounter these types of hills in races and you want your body to know how to run fast on them. So many people take it easy on every downhill they ever come across in training and then when they encounter them in a race they feel awkward. That’s crazy. Downhills should be a place where you gain time! The second thing for me is that they force the body to turn the legs over faster than normal. One of the major keys to being as fast as you can be is to spend as little time on the ground as possible. For that reason, running downhill strides is especially awesome for those of you who weren’t blessed with a lot of natural speed and/or those of you who are stuck in the “marathon rut” and have neglected speed work over the years.

3) Long, Gradual Uphill – Not all of us live in an area where we can find a 600 meter long gradual uphill like the one you see the guys doing in the video. It would be great to find something as close as you can though. You want the hill to be steep enough to be a challenge for sure, but not so steep that one time up it leaves you completely spent. Remember, this is just one piece of the workout! And Matt and Eric run 100 miles a week. For most of us, I think having our long, gradual hill be 300 to 400 meters in length would be totally fine. I have them do this at half marathon race effort. That’s not really all that fast as compared to a traditional uphill repeat where you’re grabbing your knees and looking for the nearest trashcan when you’re done. As I learned from the Lydiard clinic there is a ton to be gained just from running uphill, period. It doesn’t have to always be fast. Think about it. If you did come across a hill like that in a race (which you probably will) you wouldn’t sprint up it as fast as you can. You’d want to maintain your race “effort” up the entire thing and then feel good enough to quickly get right back to your race “pace” as soon as you crest the top. Practice makes perfect.

4) Long, Gradual Downhill – This is probably the one you need to be the most careful with as it’s the hardest on the body. You’ve heard of how sore people are after the Boston Marathon right? It’s because of the downhills. So if you do incorporate these you may want to only do a couple of them total per circuit at first. I have the guys do them at marathon effort, so pretty slow comparative to the rest of the workout. A good way to think of it is that you’re going faster than you would on a normal run but you should still be comfortable. You should still be able to talk to your training partner. Done right though, I think these are a very valuable part of the workout, especially if you’re training for a race with some wicked downhills like Boston or like the Bix 7 which Matt and Eric are running at the end of the month.

5) Flat, Fast Stride – I love throwing these in as a part of a hill circuit. Take a flat stretch, 150 to 200 meters long or so and run it as smooth and fast as possible. About one mile race pace is perfect. I find that because you’ve been doing everything else uphill or downhill, these can feel really good since it’s the one chance in the workout to feel more “normal.” It’s a great chance to work on form and speed.

6) Uphill Bounds up a Gentle Slope – Here’s a little treat for you. It’s a link to a video with Arthur Lydiard himself explaining hill bounding while two runners show you the proper technique. VIDEO HERE. Basically, bounding is exaggerated, almost slow-motion running that is great for strengthening the muscles and tendons all the way from the ankle to the butt. We did a lot of these in high school and I do believe they helped us cut down on injuries.

Two Quick Caveats:

1) You don’t have to include all aspects in every hill circuit you do. Feel free to mix it up. For example, we don’t really have a true pop-up hill on our circuit so we replace that with a medium long hill that we run up at 5k race pace.

2) At the top of every hill, no matter the type, I recommend extending the hard part at least 10-20 meters at the top to practice the proper way to crest a hill in a race which is to put in a little surge at the top to get back on pace as quickly as possible.

Okay guys, that’s all I’ve got for today. Happy Hill Running,

COACH BEN

A Coach’s View to a 2:12 Marathon

I am making somewhat of a habit of these blog posts trying to give you guys an inside look into some of our team’s big performances. I did it after Amy won USA XC and after Kellyn won the USA 25k Champs. There’s no rule that says I can only do it after a National Title though. I think a 2:12 marathon deserves just as much ink!

On Saturday, Jordan ran 2:12:22 at the Grandma’s Marathon, good for fourth place in what was a very deep field. Before I dig into what led to this latest PB, I feel like I have to mention that in just over a year from now Jordan will most likely be getting his U.S. citizenship. Imagine a 25-year-old American running 2:12. People would be flipping out. Well get ready folks- Jordan is going to be a major factor on the U.S. scene very soon. But I digress.

This performance was certainly a good one but not unexpected amongst our team. In fact, many of us (Jordan included) thought he was in 2:10 shape. The marathon, though, has a nasty way of eventually exposing any weaknesses we may have and at mile 19 Jordan’s hip (which he’s been dealing with for a month or so) seemed to lead to a hamstring issue that caused him to slow down and sort of manage his way in from there. But again, I digress.

The heart of what I want to do in these posts is get to what our athlete did in his or her lead-up to a big performance and talk about how you can apply the same principles in your own training. In this case I think there are three really important, and really universally applicable lessons, we can learn:

1) CONSISTENCY OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. You may have heard people say this before, but the marathon is not only about what you’ve done over the last 10-16 weeks. It’s what you’ve done over a long period of time, your whole life as a runner really. For sure, in Jordan’s case, we can go back all the way to May of 2013 when he and I started working together and point to the fact that from that month on he has had an incredible year of training with very little interruption outside of planned down weeks or short breaks. Stringing big chunks of healthy training together, segment after segment, for months/years on end callouses the body for the rigors of the marathon. When considering your next marathon I encourage you to look back at your last year and analyze how much work you’ve put in. If it hasn’t been a really solid and consistent year then I’d recommend waiting maybe a touch longer than you’d like to schedule that next marathon.

2) STRIKE WHILE THE IRON’S HOT. At first this may sound counterintuitive to what I said above but bear with me. On May 10th Jordan ran 1:14:32 for 25k, which in laymen’s terms means he ran 4:48 per mile for 15.5 miles! Going into that race our plan was to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Half Marathon three weeks later to end his spring season with a fast half. However, with his fitness level being so high (his 25k equated to a 2:10 marathon on the McMillan Running Calculator), and with the prize money at Grandma’s being very good, we decided to shift our focus to the marathon instead. With reference to the previous paragraph, we felt confident in the decision because we knew he had the strength behind him from the past year to really race the marathon. I’ve seen this strategy work for runners of all ages and abilities. If you find yourself starting to catch fire in a training segment, and you have a good cumulative base underneath you, there is no reason you can’t find a marathon coming up fairly soon and give it a go. I’d say as long as you have 4-6 weeks to get in some really key marathon-specific workouts you can be 100% ready to roll.

3) WHEN YOU’RE READY YOU’RE READY. Toward the end of Jordan’s Grandma’s preparations we had to make a few tweaks to the schedule because of some life stress that had led to overall fatigue. I had a 10 x Mile workout that I wanted him to get in, but I decided that a couple of extra day’s rest would be better. So that workout never happened. We also changed what was going to be 16 miles at Marathon Pace with surges to 15 miles at pace and scrapped the surges. The bottom line for me is that I knew he was ready. For pete’s sake he had just run 4:48 pace for 25k on May 10th. I wasn’t going to screw it up by forcing one extra workout in there or one extra mile. Point being, don’t be a slave to the schedule in those last few weeks. When you’re putting on the finishing touches they should be just that…icing on the cake if you will. You have to trust everything you’ve done leading up to that point.

Hope that helped you guys. My bet is some light bulbs definitely went off. And don’t think it’s because I’m some sort of coaching genius. It’s more that I coach based on the mistakes I made in my own training back in the day. Sometimes we’re our own best guinea pigs!!

- COACH BEN

The Great Mileage Dilemma

Last week I wrote a blog post about Kellyn’s training before her National Title in the 25k. One of the comments asked about how our group handles racing so much. I promised to answer it this week, but I forgot I had actually covered that topic in a previous post. You can read it HERE. So instead I’m going to tackle a topic that came via Twitter asking about our team’s mileage. I couldn’t find the tweet, but it essentially asked about our mileage seeming a little low for the results we were producing. I’ll try to answer that as well as how you can settle on the mileage that’s right for you! Here goes:

When it comes to the mileage totals for the athletes in our group you’ll probably notice when reading our training logs that they differ quite a bit. That’s by design. Everyone is different in terms of what they can handle, and they are at different stages of their development as world class distance runners. A guy like Matt Llano, who ran a 1:01:47 half marathon in January, spent most of the build-up to that race around 100 to 110 miles. After a down week he then ran successive weeks of 93, 108, 115, 102 and 110 before cutting it down in the three weeks leading up to the World Half Marathon Championships where he ran 1:02:24. Matt is only 25, but he was a high mileage guy in college so averaging over 100 miles a week is not a problem for him. In fact, you’ll probably see him averaging about 120 per week this fall as he prepares for his debut marathon.

On the other hand, there’s Amy Van Alstine and Kellyn Johnson who were not high mileage runners in college. We can’t just take them up to 100 miles or more per week before their bodies are ready for it. As Greg McMillan always says, “It’s not that their lungs and heart can’t handle it…that system is very robust. It’s the musculoskeletal system that’s the problem.” My personal philosophy is that while every day and every mile is important if you put a gun to my head I’d have to tell you that I believe the hard days and the long runs are the most important. That’s why, when you look at their logs, they’ve been putting in 70-80 miles a week but their hard sessions and their long runs have been higher than in the past. I believe that’s what’s enabled them to move up and set PRs at the longer distances this year without necessarily a huge jump in overall mileage. Once they show that they can handle 70-80 comfortably and that they are recovering properly from the hard efforts then we’ll move them up as well. Kellyn, in particular, will definitely be increasing her mileage this fall as, like Matt, she will be running her debut marathon soon.

Finally, there’s the case of Jordan Chipangama. I believe that Jordan, perhaps more than anyone else on the team, could handle a big mileage load in an ideal world. However, his world is not ideal right now. His shifts at the hospital have been all over the map, thus cutting into his sleep and reducing the days he’s able to double (run twice in one day). So as he prepares to run the Grandmas Marathon this June I just have him running once per day and getting right around 100 miles per week. This may seem very low compared to other marathoners you read about that are in his ability range. However, remember what I said about the hard days and the long runs being the most important? Those days are not being cut at all. He still has workouts like 10 x 1mile, 5 x 2 miles, 3 x 3 miles, etc. on the schedule as well as long runs of up to 24 miles. It’s my belief that the long, grinding nature of those efforts will have him very well prepared for race day. I’ve had a lot of success with similar schedules for friends of mine back home in Saint Louis who trained while having full-time jobs including Adam MacDowell who ran 2:17:27 and finished 37th at the 2012 Olympic Trials on single runs and 90-100 miles per week.

Here are some quick bullet points that you can take away from these guys and apply to your own training as it relates to mileage:

1) Increase your mileage gradually over time. Look back at what you averaged (not just your one highest total) per week during your last training segment. Then assess how you handled that mileage. Did you stay healthy? Did you feel recovered between hard sessions? If you can answer yes then it might be time to try and average a little bit more the next time around.

2) Prioritize your mileage. Especially if you are getting ready for a marathon/half marathon, it’s important not only to increase the mileage on your easy runs, but to increase it on the hard days and long runs as well. Turning 3 x 2 miles into 4 x 2 miles, eight 800s to ten 800s and a 10 miler at Marathon pace to 16 at Marathon pace puts 9 more miles onto the books but they are all quality miles. If you are crunched for time, as many of you are, I’d rather see you get more out of the hard days and long days than anything else. Caveat- this assumes you handled the volume of the hard days and long runs really well in your previous segment. You have to be ready for these jumps!

3) Speed is relative. I know I talked in miles and not time in this post, but remember that 100 miles for Matt is very different than 100 miles for most of us mortals! Think about it in terms of time. Matt is probably getting those 100 miles in in about 11 hours or so here at 7,000ft. That would be equivalent to a 2 hour half marathoner doing most of his/her runs at about 10 minutes per mile for a weekly total of 66 miles. Still more than most are doing but it makes it sound more reasonable and it’s a more appropriate way to look at it.

That also addresses the original tweet about our mileage being a little lower than other pros they read about. 100 miles at altitude takes a good bit longer than 100 miles at sea level. Just something to keep in mind when reading our logs.

Hope you guys can take something from this post. As always, leave any questions you may have below and I’ll try my best to answer them.

- COACH BEN

A Coach’s View to National Title #2

I wrote a blog post after Amy won our team’s first National Title in February at the USA Cross Country Championships sort of taking you guys through the training she had done beforehand. Well, I’m happy to now be writing a similar post after Kellyn won our second Championship this past Saturday! Her win came at the USA 25k Championships at the Fifth Third Bank River Run in Grand Rapids, Mich. As always, I’ll try to relate it to runners of any level so everyone can learn from Kellyn’s success. Here goes:

Whether you’re a coach, or whether you’re an athlete who writes his or her own training, I think it’s important to think about what sort of work you’ll need to have in the bank before a race to be properly prepared for the particular distance, terrain and competition you’ll face on the big day. For Kellyn, this past training block was really challenging because she needed to be ready, on successive weekends, for a fast 5k on the track at the Payton Jordan Invitational (where she ended up running a PR of 15:21) and a 25k road race. I know many of you face similar challenges. A high school track coach getting an athlete ready for a 4 x 800 relay and a 3200 is a good example.

First of all you can read Kellyn’s training log HERE. I am a big believer that if you want to run fast on the track you have to have some “pop” in your legs. To that end I believe that you lose that “pop” if your mileage is too high (high being relative of course). Of course, to race a 25k you have to be really strong, and to achieve that sort of strength requires a good bit of mileage. My compromise was to keep the mileage in the 70-80 range which has been pretty typical for Kellyn over the last year, but to make sure we had some long efforts in there that would callous the legs for the 25k. She ran the GO! St. Louis Half Marathon at the beginning of April, she had a couple of 18-20 mile long runs and she had a 12 mile Steady State run in the six weeks leading up to the 25k. We felt like those would be enough to have her ready to race for 15.5 miles, but not much farther (which turned out to be the case as she was totally spent at the end). She had also had some really good long, grinding workouts earlier in the year leading into the US 15k Champs in March and the GO! St. Louis Half.

To have her ready for the 5k we needed a few race-specific sessions that would prepare the body, and the mind, for the rigors of 3.1 miles of racing on the track at the absolute highest level. A track 5k is different than a road 5k in that there is nowhere to hide. No sharp turns, no ups and no downs. You’re pretty much riding the red line from lap one with no break. The two workouts that accomplished this were “The Michigan” and a session of 1600/400 x 3. The Michigan is a workout made famous by the great Ron Warhurst at the University of Michigan. All of the U of M greats have done it. It’s 1600/1200/800/400 on the track with a one mile steady state run in between as recovery. Everyone sort of has their own take on it. We started at 5k race effort (alt converted) and got faster with each repeat. Our Steady State run was right at 6:00 pace which converts to about 5:40 pace at sea level. Call it marathon effort for Amy and Kellyn. The 1600/400 x 3 workout was run progressively faster each set with 400 jog between everything. The 1600s went from right at 5k race effort to slightly faster and the 400s went from right at mile race effort to slightly faster. Video HERE. In addition to those two monsters she also raced a road 5k in Boston and you can’t get much more race-specific than an actual race!

I believe coaching is much more of an art than it is a science and Kellyn’s training for these past couple of races was a great example. It’s sort of like a puzzle except you have to first figure out what the pieces are before you try and put them together. I know all of you have your own puzzles you’re trying to figure out. My advice, take it or leave it, is to make sure that whatever you do you remember that you and/or your athletes are not machines. Writing a schedule on paper is fairly easy, but you have to really think about how the body is going to react to each and every workout and you have to space things out accordingly. That’s my final point on why Kellyn was able to win this National Title…she was healthy! I don’t know much, but I’m pretty sure she couldn’t have won it if she hadn’t been on the starting line. When you read her log notice that we never tried to cram too much into any one week. She always had ample recovery time between everything. I always say races are hard so the workouts should be hard. But if you share that philosophy you have to remember that it only works if you respect recovery.

So there you have it. Hope that was a good inside view into our training. Best of luck with your puzzles!!

- COACH BEN

11 Seconds- What we can ALL learn from Meb

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Wow! I hope all of you reading this have had a chance to watch the one and only Meb Keflezighi win the 2014 Boston Marathon on Monday. If you haven’t then click play above! Epic doesn’t even begin to describe it. I was watching the race live with some our Northern Arizona Elite athletes and tons of members of the Flagstaff running community at the local run specialty store- Run Flagstaff. Vince Sherry, the owner, had the race on a projector which made for sort of a sports bar atmosphere complete with lots of yelling at the screen; “C’mon Meb” “Quit looking back” “He’s gonna do it, he’s gonna do it!!” and then of course just bedlam when he crossed the line.

After the race I saw so many tweets and Facebook posts from folks talking about how inspired they were by Meb and I think that’s the perfect word. I know I was certainly inspired. But what the heck do we do with all this inspiration? I know we have a wide range of runners who visit our site every day, but no matter what your age, ability level or even commitment level I know you have goals as a runner. Below I’ll take a crack at what I think all of us can learn from Meb and how we can use it toward reaching those goals.

11 SECONDS- Meb won Boston by 11 seconds. Let that sink in for a minute. Over the course of 26.2 miles, he held off a charge from Wilson Chebet, one of the World’s best marathoners, by 11 seconds. Had Meb averaged a mere half a second slower per mile he would’ve lost and this wonderful story would never have happened. No tears of joy. No front page of the NY Times. No throwing out the first pitch at Fenway. You get the picture.

Now I want you to think about all that Meb has done since he started running in high school back in 1990. Think about how many times he must have had to decide whether to run or to hang out with his friends. Think about all the hard workouts, all the times he’s had to decide whether to push through at the end of a tough repeat or at the end of a race. And that’s the fun stuff really. Now think about all the ice baths, all the stretching, all the form drills, all the painful deep tissue massages and all the physical therapy sessions while he dealt with injuries. Think about all the nights going to bed at 9pm, all the early morning wake-up calls for long runs and all the healthy food choices he’s made for the last 24 years. What if he had skipped a run here and there? What if he had let his diet go? What if he had stayed up late to watch his favorite TV shows? How much would we have had to let slide to lose those 11 seconds, to make him the guy who almost won the Boston Marathon? I’ll bet you not very much. At Meb’s level you have to be a professional runner every single moment of every single day. Think about what that life really looks like.

So I think you get it. Of course, very few of you who are reading this are trying to win the Boston Marathon, but I know you have your own goals and they mean something. They really do. Meb said winning Boston made his career 110% complete. I suspect you all have that time, that place, that accomplishment that would make you completely satisfied with your running resume’ (qualifying for Boston for example!). But where are your 11 seconds? What do you have to do to make sure your Wilson Chebet doesn’t catch you from behind?

Take a pen and paper and make a list. Call it your 11 Seconds List. And use Meb as your inspiration not just this past Monday, but everyday!!

- COACH BEN

Some Tips for Serial Racers

Hey guys- If you’ve been following our team you know we’ve been pretty darn busy so far this year. Our athletes have been everywhere from Scotland to Trinidad to Houston to Jacksonville and more. Next weekend Matt Llano will be all the way in Denmark for the World Half Marathon Championships! So how the heck do we race so much, recover and still find the time to get in the workouts we need to do to be at our best? That question was posed to me this week and I thought it would be a perfect topic for a blog post as I know many of you like to race a lot as well. So here are three simple tips for all you serial racers out there:

1) Fresh going in, fresh coming out – I know a lot of coaches and athletes like to “train through” a race by keeping their mileage the same as it would be otherwise and not backing off at all beforehand. I’m not saying there is never a place for that, but in general if we’re going to race I like us to be ready and I’d recommend the same for you. For a race that’s not our peak race of the season we’ve found a lot of success with keeping the mileage the same as it would normally be all the way until two days before the race. Then we “freshen” up with two lower-than-normal mileage days so we’re ready to roll on race day. Those two easy days accomplish two things. First of all our bodies feel eager to race, but more importantly I believe it helps us recover faster after the race which means we can resume normal training sooner. Hence the “fresh going in, fresh coming out” mantra.

2) A race is a workout - When writing your training schedule or when you’re writing a schedule for your athletes I think it’s important to recognize that a race is, in fact, another hard workout. In fact, it’s the hardest of all hard workouts! What I like to do is look at our non-peak races during a training cycle and see how they fit into the overall training pie. For example, last week several of our athletes ran the US 15k Championships in Jacksonville. 15k is a really long, grinding effort. So the week leading into that race we did a short, but hard, hill session. We didn’t need a super long workout because we were going to get that from the race. Next weekend Amy and Ben have a 5k race in Carlsbad. That can serve the same purpose physiologically as a really hard tempo run, so we’ll do a longer, strength-type workout during the week. Make sense?

3) Keep your eye on the prize…prioritize! - Ultimately, even for those of you who race a lot, there will be one key race/meet that you’re preparing for more than all the others. You have to keep that in mind when setting up your schedule. For our athletes, they have to be thinking of how races fit in financially as well, since this is how they make a living. So in that sense it’s easier for all us mortals to set up our schedules than it is for the pros! But here’s the deal– if you want to be at your very best for, let’s say, the Chicago Marathon next fall then you probably don’t want to schedule a half marathon the week before. Matt’s big race this segment is the World Half Marathon Championships. If the 15k were the week before instead of two weeks then we wouldn’t have done the 15k. Races, even small ones, take more out of you physically and emotionally than workouts (more often than not). And the longer the race, the harder the recovery.

So there’s nothing wrong with racing a lot. Heck, racing is the fun part, so I definitely recommend doing it a lot if you can. Just be sure to follow the three rules above so you can race well, recover well, train properly and always be ready for the big race at the end of your training cycle.

- COACH BEN

The Method Behind The Madness

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO OR VIEW BELOW

Our latest team workout video is getting a lot of views so I wanted to make sure we stuck to our mission of reaching out to our fans and explaining how they can incorporate some of the things we do into their own training. We call this particular workout a Steady State Run. Different coaches use different terminology of course, but this is typically a long effort (anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes) at a pace you would race at for about two to two-and-a-half hours. I get this verbiage and knowledge from Greg McMillan. Greg was the one who taught me much of the “sciency” stuff behind the physiology of running, which has really helped me understand exactly what’s happening inside the body, adaptation-wise, when we do certain types of work.

Anyway, what you see on this video is Matt and Jordan going 15 miles at their Steady State Effort. I say effort instead of pace because this workout is at altitude so we have to adjust the actual pace. At this rhythm it’s about a 15-17 second difference per mile. The goal today was 5:15 pace so 4:58 to 5:00 at sea level. For Matt and Jordan that’s a pace I believe they could hold if they were racing two to two-and-a-half hours. So for them it just happens to be their marathon pace. For many of you it might be more like your 30k or even your half marathon pace. Make sense?

So why are we doing this since neither athlete has a marathon coming up? This kind of work is fantastic for increasing your aerobic endurance and you need to be strong aerobically, no matter what distance you’re training for. I’d recommend Steady State Runs for each and every runner reading this post. Now, not all of you need to go 15 miles. Matt and Jordan have worked up to that over time and they also run more than 100 miles per week. 15 miles also only takes them an hour and 17 minutes. If most of us ran at our Steady State pace for that long we sure as heck wouldn’t make it 15 miles! I’d recommend starting these at as low as 4 miles and slowly building up from there.

As for when to do them, and how often, it depends. Ultimately, both of these guys are marathoners so they need to be doing this type of work all year long, whether they have a marathon on the horizon or not. The marathon is such a different beast and it requires very specific physiological work that can only be gained from these sorts of long, grinding workouts. The more of these we do the better they’re going to be over 26.2 miles. If you’re a marathoner you should never go more than a few weeks in a row without a workout like this…even if you’re taking a break and training for a 5k. If you’re more of a 5k/10k type or even a miler then you don’t need to do these quite as often, but I still recommend them. For you guys they’re especially good in your base phase when you’re really trying to work on your strength so that you can handle the shorter, faster, more race-specific work required during your competitive season.

Finally, I realize many of you guys may have tuned in to this video to see the one and only Ryan Hall! Ryan is a great example, in my opinion, of someone who understands what it means to be a marathoner. He’s gotten a lot of criticism from “monday morning coaches” who think he didn’t focus enough on his speed over the years. Well, I’d argue that because he focused so much on marathon type work he was able to get better and better at the distance he liked the most (and was the most suited for). Every time he was out doing a 15-18 mile Steady State out on the roads of Mammoth or Flagstaff or Redding instead of some hard session of repeat 400s, like the critics would have had him doing, he was increasing his ability to handle a fast pace for a very long time. That’s what the marathon’s all about. I’m not saying marathoners don’t need to incorporate speed work. They do and Ryan certainly does. It’s just that percentage-wise it doesn’t need to be a very big part of the overall training pie.

We’ll continue to touch on the other pieces of that overall pie in more videos coming down the pike so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy this workout. It was a good one!

Fast and Relaxed

*watch how smooth Jordan looks running 5:10 pace at 7,000 ft!

Like any coach I have a few fundamental principles that I believe are keys to success in distance running. Over the course of time I’d love to share all of those principles with all of you guys who read our site. For today, I am going to start with what I think might be the most important of them all; the need to master the art of running fast and relaxed.

Have you ever watched professional running on TV or the Internet? The athletes make it look so easy! Believe me though; it’s not. What they’ve done over years and years of miles and hard workouts is taught their bodies how to stay relaxed even while running very, very hard. And there’s a good reason for that. We run faster when we’re relaxed! The problem of course is that our first instinct when we’re tired is to grit our teeth, squeeze our hands and tense up all the muscles in our neck until our veins are popping out. Watch a freshman high school cross country race and look at all the runners as they pass by. It’s not pretty!

So how can you master this art and apply it to your own training and racing? It’s pretty simple actually; you have to practice! And you have to practice it across the board at all speeds. The beauty of the whole thing is that in order to run relaxed you really have to run at the proper paces for your ability level. We get in trouble when we do workouts that are really too fast for where we’re at in our training. I always suggest going to the mcmillanrunning.com website and plugging in your current race fitness to find out what your workout paces should be.

So let’s assume you’re doing the right paces for a workout. The next step is to play with just how smooth you can be at those paces. Coaches- I encourage you to video your athletes during a workout so you can sit down and watch for any deviations in form when the going gets tough. Athletes- I encourage you to have someone video you so you can go back and analyze yourself as well. This goes for all levels. After you start putting a focus on staying smooth and relaxed, even when you’re really tired in a workout, you’ll start realizing that you can indeed run faster than maybe you once thought. You’ll have better workouts and ultimately…better races.

Staying relaxed in the race is absolutely essential to being the best runner you can be. However, I do have one huge caveat here and that’s to remember that being relaxed DOES NOT mean it will feel easy. I’ve seen runners who’ve mastered running fast and relaxed in practice, but when they hit that point in the race where it gets really hard, they don’t know how to push past it. What I mean when I say “relaxed” is that your muscles are relaxed, your form is smooth, your mind is focused in a positive way and you’re able to overcome your body screaming at you to slow down. The mind is a very powerful tool. Use it! One of my favorite coaches, Colorado’s Mark Wetmore, once said something to the effect that we can’t run any faster than we’re physically capable of and that his goal for CU is simply that they manage to do that on race day. The reason they win so often though, and this is the ugly truth, is that few runners end up running what they truly could.

So here are three quick tips to use in what should be an ongoing effort to master running fast and relaxed:

1) Run with others – For whatever reason it seems much easier to practice running fast and relaxed when you’re running alongside, or behind, a training partner(s). I see this with our team all the time. The athletes almost always look best when working out together. Just make sure your running buddies are similar in ability level. Coaches- Divide your training groups appropriately. Athletes will never learn how to run fast and relaxed if they’re constantly trying to hang on for dear life with teammates that are at a different fitness level.

2) Don’t always swing for the fences – This is a good rule in general, but it especially applies here. What I’m saying is not every workout has to be a home run. Sometimes you just want to make contact. And it’s going to be way easier to learn how to run fast and relaxed in workouts that are more of the single and double variety. Quick example; do repeat 400s at your 10k pace one week with a 200 jog recovery. That really shouldn’t be terribly hard. Call it a single. You should definitely be able to stay relaxed during that workout, though it may get a little tough toward the end. Then, 2-3 weeks later, try 400s at your 5k pace with a 200 jog. It will be much harder to stay perfectly relaxed on this one but you can do it. Then, 2-3 weeks later still, try doing 400s at your 3k race pace with that same 200 jog. This is a tough one…a home run. But hopefully, if you’ve been focusing on staying fast and relaxed, you’ll be able to do so again here.

3) The 9/10 rule. In #2 I said don’t ALWAYS swing for the fences. I didn’t say NEVER. I believe nine times out of ten (or so) we should leave a hard workout feeling like we could have done one more repeat, one more mile, etc. If that’s the case then we probably finished feeling fast and relaxed. However, every once in a while I think we have to test ourselves beyond that point. After all, we’re going to get beyond that point in a race and racing is why we put ourselves through all this torture! So if it’s time for a real gut-busting workout then make sure you’re prepared mentally. You are going to have to bring all the powers you’ve created from weeks (and eventually years) of running fast and relaxed to these particular days. Then you can push yourself to the limit and really find out where your fitness is. If you give in to the pain too early you won’t know, and you won’t have made yourself better. And we all want to get better!

So hope all that helps. For more cool videos of folks who have mastered running fast and relaxed check out our WORKOUT VIDEOS PAGE. You’ll see some killer workouts but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the athletes’ faces. They’re super smooth!

- COACH BEN

Tempo Run PLUS

One of our big goals with Northern Arizona Elite is not only to showcase our athletes and their training, but also to reach out to those fans who are runners themselves and want to know how to apply what they see in our workout videos to their own training. The video above features a few variations on one of the most common workouts out there; the Tempo Run. What I want to talk about today, in particular, is what Jordan and David did; a Tempo Run with 4 x 400 tacked on to the end.

First of all let’s define a Tempo Run. The semantics of training can vary from coach to coach, but when I say Tempo Run I am referring to a 15 to 40 minute hard effort at about your one hour race pace. For these guys and gals, that’s a touch faster than their half marathon race pace. For many of us mortals it’s more like our 10k to 10 mile race pace. For more detailed info on defining the different training zones I highly recommend THIS ARTICLE from Greg McMillan.

The reason I wanted to talk about what Jordan and David did in the above video is because I think it’s a great way to get more bang for your buck out of a workout day and I think it’s very easily applied to just about anybody out there. Think about it; if you’re going to go to all the trouble of preparing for a workout by eating well the night before, getting a good night’s sleep, hydrating properly, etc. you might as well make the most of it! Jordan, for example, is getting ready for a half marathon next weekend, but he’s also got a road mile two days before. A weird combo…I know. Because of that though, we wanted to hit both the Lactate Threshold zone (in the Tempo) and the Anaerobic Zone (jn the 400s). His Four Mile Tempo Run only took him 19 minutes and 30 seconds. For him, that left him with enough in the tank for another mile or so work. The 4 400s was the perfect way to get that mile in.

Here are a two quick examples of where, and for whom, I think these combo workouts could come in handy:

1) High School and College Athletes - Almost all high school and college runners race at a variety of distances throughout the year. In my opinion the Tempo Run is one of, if not the, best workout for these athletes, as raising an athlete’s lactate threshold is a big key to improvement at just about any distance. However, if you focus solely only on this component you can miss out on hitting the other training zones enough. At this age, athletes tend to have a good bit of natural speed left in their legs. Don’t let it lay dormant! Athletes need to feel confident that they can “kick” at the end of a race. Tacking on a few fast 200s or 400s after a Tempo Run accomplishes a number of important things; it gives them some anaerobic training, it allows them to work on their form as fast running typically forces us into our best form and it is great for their mental game as it proves to them that they can fun fast even when they’re tired.

Perhaps the biggest thing, especially for longer distance runners, is that it allows you to work on what might be a weakness of yours without having to spend/waste a whole day on it. Not that fast 200s, 300s, 400s, etc. are a waste by any means, but percentage-wise that particular zone is the least used during your race. You want to focus much more on endurance and stamina training (mileage, long runs, steady state runs, tempo runs, etc.) as well as VO2 Max training (Mile Repeats, 800s, etc.). That’s your bread and butter. The speedy stuff is just the icing on the cake.

2) Adult Marathoners/Half Marathoners - This kind of workout can be a game changer for you guys! So many marathon/half marathon training plans I see include nothing but strength work. It’s all about getting that long run up to X distance so you’re sure you can complete the race. But wouldn’t you rather complete it as fast as you can? A Tempo Plus workout is a great way to wake up the speed muscles and work on your form that likely lacks a little bit of the “pep” that the high school and college runners have. After spending so much of our lives sitting at desks in front of computers our hip flexors get very tight and we lose a lot of range of motion on our stride. I say go out there and get it back! Never be afraid, after a Tempo Run, to tack on a little bit of speed work. Just like with David and Jordan, about a mile’s worth is plenty. That could be 8 200s, 3 500s or 4 400s. You get the picture. If you’re thinking about trying this for the first time I’d recommend starting out by doing them at your 5k race pace. Once you get used to that you can begin trying to pump them out a little faster…closer to your one mile race pace.

Hope that all made sense. Shoot me an email HERE if you have any questions. Happy to help.

- COACH BEN