4 Resolutions Every Runner Should Make

running-advice-bugReady to take on the new year with some running resolutions that will make you stronger and faster? By setting some simple goals for yourself, you can do just that. Here are four easy-to-monitor, year-long resolutions to get you started:

4 Resolutions for runners1. Race one a month.

Nothing sharpens your racing skills better than getting out and doing it. In fact, too many runners have a yearly goal race and then are wracked with terrible nerves on race day. You can solve this problem by simply adding one race to your schedule every month. That way, you’ll go through the process of registering, picking up your bib, getting dressed and racing once every four weeks. Not only will you get lots of practice, but you’ll also get used to running under the pressure of competition. Don’t worry: These can be local 5Ks or other low-key (even free) races. Something is better than nothing!

2. Reserve one day a week for stretching.

Runners should place a heavy emphasis on stretching and lengthening muscles to undo some of the tightening caused by running. A great way to do this is to set aside one day each week to stretch – and nothing else. The best thing to do is to take a yoga class on this day, but you can also just go to the gym and spend a good amount of your normal workout time (say, 45 to 60 minutes) stretching your body. Doing this will give you a nice, relaxing recovery day, too.
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Training — Making Choices to Support Our Athletic Lifestyle

running-advice-bugI was ordering a sparkling water the other day in a restaurant. Adam Ant was on the radio. “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” he was asking in the song. He was calling the person in the song a “goodie two shoes” and it got me thinking about the choices that we make to support our lifestyle as athletes.

Are your choicesSome of our choices are straight-forward. We choose to spend our time running or cycling, rather than saying watching TV. When we look at the average amount of television that Americans watch, which counts in several hours every day, I would imagine that many runners fall below that average somewhere. There’s only so much time in the day, so choosing to work out means choosing to do less of something else.

But there are much bigger choices that lurk out there. Some of them get made without a lot of thought. Most runners wouldn’t smoke cigarettes, for example, knowing that this is an impediment to good health. Although this is not always the case. I wrote a blog post many years ago about the impacts of smoking on runners and it continues to get comments from runners who say that they smoke and they are still “fine.”

For the most part, athletes are likely to eat foods that support their training. Although, again, this isn’t always the case. I recall a recent time following two runners out of the gym. They had just finished a longish run and one said to the other “I am so hungry. Let’s go get burgers!” (And no, they didn’t have the physique to suggest they were getting veggie burgers.)

The choices become much more complex when they involve giving up something that we either love or are afraid to give up. Drinking alcohol comes immediately to mind. Many runners drink. There is almost a culture of drinking around beer and running. I recently won a race and was presented with two large beers as a prize. All of the winners got beer. The organizer was a little shocked when I handed them to someone else in the crowd. He looked at me like an insane person when I said, “I don’t drink.” At a restaurant recently a fairly snotty waiter complimented me for winning a medal at a competition (I was still wearing it) and then he dismissively asked, “and something to for the man that does’t drink?” with an eye-roll. We all know as athletes that drinking alcohol is not a contributor towards our training, but making the choice to cut it out of our lives can be a difficult one for a lot of reasons.
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Training — Why do the Tough Get Going?

running-advice-bugWe’ve all heard the expression, “when the going get tough, the Tough get going.” I was wondering yesterday what it is that makes actually makes the tough “get going”? In other words, when the pressure and hurt is on, what makes certain people shrink away and others rise up to the challenge? I think that the answer is pretty simply put that they want something and have somewhere to go.

I’m reflecting on this because one of my athletes has really been struggling. She’s sent me messages that ask things like “why is this so hard” and “why isn’t this getting any easier?” In fact, this is one of the key themes of questions to us running coaches. And we understand that we’re dishing out hard work to people, so we aren’t surprised by the questions.

There are two things that I’d like you to think about today. The first is the value of the hard work itself and the second has to do with goals and desires. Let’s look at each in turn.

First, some portion of your running workouts are going to be hard, with hard here meaning that they push you to your limits and perhaps beyond them. One expression that you may have heard is that if your workouts aren’t hard then perhaps you aren’t getting much out of them. I think there is nugget of truth in that street wisdom. By pushing the body to our its limits and beyond, we force the body to activate our recovery and compensation pathways, leading us to greater heights and achievements for future performances. By pushing a little further, we are able to push even further the next time.
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Racing — Taking The Pressure Off

running-advice-bugOver the past couple of months I have supported lots of runners at their Spring marathons. I’ve been kind of fascinated by a common theme that I’ve heard from some of them. The most common scenario goes something like this. The runner is telling me that they originally planned to run their marathon in X time but that now that something has happened to them, they’re “just going to relax and see how it goes.” I bumped into a couple of such runners out on marathon courses and they looked great, happy, and relaxed. One such runner said to me, “Once I really realized that I couldn’t make my goal, I felt so much better about the race.”

The common theme here is the tremendous pressure that we place on ourselves as runners. What these runners are expressing is a form of relief that they are feeling after loosening the pressure valve and letting themselves off the hook. As I asked one of the runners above: “hey, we knew that you weren’t going to win this thing, so what’s really changed here?” Nothing’s really changed, except that they’ve allowed themselves to experience the race without the pressure that they were putting on themselves.

Pressure is not necessarily a bad thing. The sense of pressure that we place on ourselves is something that helps us perform. When it comes time to endure pain, push hard, or dig deep, it is that sense of pressure that allows us to respond and meet those challenges. But pressure can be a negative thing as well. If we become obsessed with meeting our goals, especially our stretch goals, then we can drive ourselves crazy with anxiety and worry. This just takes away from the experience and makes us feel bad.

What’s important is that we are in touch with the pressures that we are putting on ourselves and try to understand where they are are coming from. Are these real competitive pressures that we’re feeling (such as from a true adversary or in trying to set a new personal best) or are we simply putting pressure on ourselves to meet a particular goal? I commonly hear runners say things like, “I just really wanted to run 3:35:00 here at this race.” They are heartbroken when they run 3:37:00 or 3:40:00 or 3:45:00 — but have they actually failed to achieve something that anyone other then they would even recognize?
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Training — Get Psyched, But Not That Psyched (Preparing for Intense Workouts)

running-advice-bugOne of my readers wrote in with an interesting comment and question that other day. She said that her track workouts “freak her out” and that she “dreaded them.” She was looking for advice, so today I’ve got some and it goes like this: “Get psyched, but not that psyched.”

What I mean by this is really two-fold. One the one-hand, it is important for all runners to get mentally prepared for races or hard training sessions. On the other hand, we want that mental preparation to get us set, excited, even anxious, but not so much that it tears us down and takes away from our ability to concentrate. Let’s consider this a little further today.

Hard Running on the Track

First, track workouts in particular have the ability to really “freak people out.” If we think about it, this is because the intensity and the effort level on the track are going to be harder than a typical run. These workouts are not “relaxing” or “easy” outings so to speak. But we should all remember that the intensity is within our own control. If we’re pushing ourselves very hard, we always have the option of backing off. The fact that we don’t back off means that we can take the physical punishment — it’s the mental element that is challenging us. We should also remember that track workouts are typically shorter in duration than other workouts. They, in fact, pretty much have to be shorter in order to do them at the intensity that we are seeking to achieve. That means that we can “get in and get out” fast, meaning the pain while possibly acute, doesn’t last that long.

Second, the fact that mentally were are on-edge or antsy before a workout is a good thing. It means that the mind is priming the body to perform. Just as we talk about before a big race, we want to be in a heightened state of awareness. We want to be on pins and needles so that when we need to hit the gas, the body knows we’re serious. Think of the opposite for a moment: if we were to show up at races sleepy, lethargic and with no drive, how would we get ourselves to push through the pain when the pain starts really mounting. Just like before a big test, a speech, a marriage proposal, the fact that our pulses are racing and we’re sweating a little is a good thing to keep us focused and to keep up the intensity.
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Training — Five Tips to Motivating Yourself to Run

running-advice-bugI was thinking the other day at the track about something that gets me motivated to run. I have noticed that when other people are on the track with me, or even better watching, that I tend to run just a little bit harder. This is especially true when people are watching soccer games out on the field and I know they aren’t really there to watch me. For some reason this little bit of “pressure” of people watching, gets just one extra little notch out of my workouts.

So I started thinking about how this might translate to other people. Everyone is motivated in different ways, but I have a few things that pop to mind that you might want to try to wring out just a little bit more from your workouts. Try some of these tips and see if they work to give you a little bit of extra motivation.

1. Race once per week — My colleague Coach Dean likes to say that racing even one mile per week is excellent for building racing skills and fitness. Our competitive drives come out when we are put under pressure and racing situations tend to push us to run harder than just about any other time. But in advising you to race, I’m not saying that you need to run a marathon every weekend. For from it. Pick a training partner and challenge one another to one mile, one quarter mile, or any other distance on the track. It really only takes on person to go up against to get your competitive juices going, so find someone and throw down the gauntlet once per week.

2. Get a training partner of equal or better speed — I do most of my training alone, but one of the best ways to get a little more our of your workouts it to pair yourself up against someone — especially someone just a little faster than you. Toeing the line on the track in 400s or 800s with someone that will take turns leading wrings a little bit more out of those workouts. And when you starting feeling fatigue, you’re less likely to back it off with another set of eyes on you.
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Training — When are you Really Committed to a Marathon?

running-advice-bugI get lots of e-mail requests here at that usually involve an injury or some other disruption in training and they almost always include the following language, “I’m already committed to doing this marathon” and then they ask “what should I do?” I typically jump in an answer the question by suggesting changes to their goals in the race or their training leading up to it, but I really have to pause and ask, when (oh when) are we really committed to a particular marathon?

There are cases, I would agree when you really have made a commitment to do a particular race. A couple that might come to mind are: you’ve booked non-refundable airfare and hotel arrangements in someplace exotic like Beijing; you’ve organized a family reunion around a race 200 of your friends and family are flying in for it; or perhaps you’re running for a charity or in honor of someone you’ve lost — I’ll come back to this last one later.

The thing is that in most cases, my advice when you’ve been laid off running for say two months is going to be something you don’t really like. I might suggest that if you’ve haven’t completed your training that you walk the marathon (many runners hate this suggestion) or that you go to the race as a specatator and watch instead (which even more runners hate). I did the later myself in 2004 after spraining an ankle a few weeks before my first Boston Marathon. I wasn’t going to be able to run, but I went anyway and enjoyed the weekend as a specatator (it was acutally more fun than the next time when I ran the race). The bottom-line is that our advice when you’re not ready to run a race is. . . not to run the race or to take a deeply discounted goal and go do what you ARE prepared to do.

I’ll often suggest to runners that they also switch to a later race, complete there training and just let this one go. But this is where the “I’m already committed” to doing this race comes in. And in many cases, there is no big obvious reason like those I cite above. It’s just more a matter of wanting to do this particular race.

So why is it so hard to let go of a particular race. Well, I think its the fact that we’ve set a goal to do that particular race and in our minds letting go of that goal becomes tantamount to admitting failure – failure to complete a goal that we’ve set for ourselves, failure to overcome an injury, failure to live up to the dream of being immune to the obstacles that are thrown in our way.
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Training — Making Resolutions That Stick

running-advice-bugIn a post last week, I wrote about some easy New Year’s resolutions for runners can take — baby steps, if you will — that will help make them better runners. This week, I wanted to take another look another problem that runners often have with their New Year’s Resolutions: making resolutions that aren’t specific enough for them to be met.

New Year’s resolutions are goals. They are often self-improvement goals, but goals just the same. We see in the new year the opportunity to improve, so we set out to change something in our lives to do things differently.

Goals are meant to help us reach new milestones or make changes in our behaviors and they can be very effective in doing so. But in order to be effective, they need to be actionable and they should be very manageable. Whether it be to lose weight or to run faster, if the goals are going to stick then they need to be specific.

Perhaps the biggest problem in making good goals is that they are not specific enough. The two goals that I just mentioned above — losing weight and running faster — are great examples. They are so non-specific that you’d have little chance to turning them in to reality. How are you going to lose weight? What would you do to get faster as a runner? These are just the first of many questions that will come up with goals that are missing specifics to help you attain them.
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Training — Post-marathon burnout is real, tips on dealing with burnout

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

A reader named Jen was feeling somewhat blue and burned-out after the hard training of her last marathon. She wrote to me about the issue and I thought I would share my answer to her here. We actually just did a video on this topic, but it was published during the December holidays, so perhaps you may have missed it. To watch Season 2 – Episode 8 – “The Burnout Episode” click here.

Here is Jen’s question:

I’m curious. Do you, as an experienced runner, ever get the feeling that you just have to keep training — even over the winter months? Do you feel like there always has to be a “goal”, or a “purpose” for a run? My next race is going to be Eugene, and technically training would start about 16 weeks out…but I’ve been running hard all month (literally 3 days after Seattle, I was running and felt like I had to start training again). Is this how you feel after a race? Like, what’s next? How can I improve? Better get started right away…yada, yada, yada. Now I’m reading about overall performance decreasing due to overtraining and burnout…YIKES. Really? What do you think?

Burnout is most definitely a real issue. It comes up at every level from beginners to the most elite athletes. It may show up in different ways, but we see it at all experience levels. With beginners, burn-out may happen after just a few weeks of moderate training. And at the other end of the spectrum elite athletes have some of the worst problems, because they train so intensely. Many times by the end of their seasons — when they are preparing for championship events — they are so burned out that their performances start to suffer. This is reportedly one of the reasons why Lance Armstrong used to skip most other races except the Tour de France — because he wanted to be avoid the physical and mental toll of the long professional bike racing season. (He took a lot of heat for this — by the way — as many people said that his ability to singularly focus on the Tour gave him an advantage over other professionals who had to race all season to make their living, but let’s get back to burnout.) Burnout certainly happens.
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