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Your pasta dinner has been consumed; your D-chip is safely looped around your shoelace.  Your final cup of water is in your hand and you’re just waiting for the gun to go off.  What now?

 

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced athlete, taking a few key tips to the starting line can help you dig down and find your potential on race day.  Here are a good ones to consider:

 

1. Practice as many race day details beforehand as possible.

As Brett mentioned in this month’s Pro’s Perspective, it is important to stick with the tried and true details that have brought you successfully to this point.  Can you survive if an unexpected change of plans is required?  Sure.  However, knowing that there are several things you will do on race day that have been proven to work for you in the past can provide great peace of mind.

 

If you have a pre race or pre long run breakfast that has worked well, make plans to have the same on the big day, even if that means bringing along your own peanut butter, your favorite bar, your favorite drink.  Yes, the hotel buffet might look tempting, but if you haven’t eaten bacon before heading out the door for a hard run, today is not the day to try.

 

Resist the urge to wear that cute new thing you bought at the expo the day before.  Wear it later to impress your friends around the neighborhood instead, and go with the shorts and shirt that have worked for you on your long runs.  Consider the temperature ranges of your race day and have options for unseasonably cold or wet conditions already planned and packed for.

 

2.         Commit to running your race at your pace

Everyone has heard stories of those who start too fast and struggle at the end as a result, or seen races where the whole crowd appears to be sprinting from the start line of a long race.  Do the math on the time you want to run, and stay in the ballpark of those mile splits (and perhaps even a bit slower for the first few miles) during the explorative stages of the race.

 

It is extremely tough not to be caught up in the adrenaline of the crowd, the announcer trying to fire everyone up, the extra energy you have from being tapered and rested, and the older, less fit appearing person who seems to be running so fast and easily right by you.

 

However, resist you must.

 

You’ve come too far to let short-term emotional bursts drag you away from your long-term goal.  As they always say about everything else requiring patience that is not actually a marathon:  this is a marathon, not a sprint.  And the reason why they say it is because it is actually true when you are indeed engaged in a marathon and you need to be steady and independently motivated.  Nerves of steel.  You can do it.

 

3. Plan for a rough patch

There will be a time, if not in this race, but next, where you will go through a tough patch, get a cramp or a side stitch, or have an unexpected period where your ultimate completion may feel like it is in doubt.  Rest assured that is completely normal, and plan in advance to give yourself time to let it ease and sort itself out.  Think of it as an expected challenge you plan to meet, so when it occurs you can almost greet it with joy. Oh, only a side stitch, Ha!  I’ve got this.  I’m going to take some deep inhales until my muscles relax.  Man, I feel out of juice.  Perfect!  That’s what I was carrying this extra gel packet for.  Even if you haven’t brought the antidote, many times the race is long enough and your body resilient enough that what seems like a deal breaker has resolved over the next 3-5 miles.  Plan in advance to give yourself at least that long to let it ease.  Certainly anything that indicates serious injury or illness should be taken extremely seriously and acted upon with every caution. But if you recognize that crampy calf or that mid-long run “blah” feeling, be excited about how you are going to persevere past it and do.

 

4. Celebrate intermediate steps

Is it mile 10 and you are still on pace for your goal? Have you successfully made the first half of the race without feeling like quitting once?  Have you taken fluids and nutrition as planned through the first several miles?  Were you able to give a thumbs up to your spouse and kids along the course when they were waiting for you to pass late in the race?  Consider some of the ingredients to a successful race day and enjoy a moment of appreciation along the route when you execute these plans. A “good day” is comprised of a bunch of different things that have gone well.  You may not always be able to get through the race with a perfect score, but if you have several evaluative check boxes, you’ll have a more complete appreciation of how and why things ended up well in the end.

 

5. Visualize the finish

Before you start, imagine the weight of the finisher’s medal on your chest, the balloon arc or banner over your head, even the joy of triumphantly retrieving your baggage from the trucks and reuniting with your family.  These images, seared into your brain beforehand, can be powerful motivators when things get tough on the racecourse.  What will be most enjoyable to you about finishing?  Picture yourself doing that, and continue to keep picturing it until you cross the line and can enjoy it for real.



The Wall Street Journal recently took a look at the growth of races targeting women's participation and the men who run them.  Certainly an interesting off shoot of the phenomenal growth of distance race participation and that of women specifically.

 

Read the article by clicking here.



Personal Best:  Mental Strategies for Hard Workouts

 

 

It has been sitting on the schedule since you first looked a week or two ago.  Your first 10 or 20 miler, or the first time you are doing a tough track session more challenging than anything you have attempted to this point.  Or, maybe it is a workout or a run you have done before, but it didn’t go so well.  If one of the primary reasons we run is to enjoy ourselves, how do we find enjoyment in these seemingly daunting tasks?  Below are a few strategies for taking these challenges head on, not so you merely make it, but so you conquer and thrive.

 

US 5k champion Lauren Fleshman talks about some of these and others in our September Pro’s Perspective as well.  Read it here.

1. Remember that although this may be a first time for you, others have gone before you and have been successful.

Whether you are beginning your first training cycle with Focus-N-Fly or have been with us for 10 years, you can rest assured that every workout you’re given is based on what has worked for other runners.  It is exactly through these successful experiences of novice and experienced runners that we have built the system that is helping you now.  Know that your path has been trod before, that it is possible, and that it can be done.

 

2. Take one step at a time

One almost universally shared tip is to take a tough workout and break it down into manageable pieces.  Notice how both our beginning runner, Terri Wojtalewicz, and our experienced professional athlete, Lauren Fleshman, both talk specifically in their profiles about taking a long race one mile at a time or a hard workout one interval at a time.  You may not know if you can run 20 miles, but if it is on your schedule, you can be confident you can run a large percentage of it because it wouldn’t have been on your schedule otherwise.  So, say you know you can run 15 miles.  Beyond that, promise yourself you will run at least one more mile.  Focus on a task that will take several minutes vs. one that might take hours.   Conquer the one mile and celebrate it to yourself as you finish it.  Consider if you can focus again for one mile. Buoyed by the sense of accomplishment from the 16th mile, you might just be able to.  Before you know it, you’ll be at your goal distance and you will have built up a reservoir of confidence and positive self-talk that will be helpful for the next challenge.

 

3. Take as many variables out of the equation as possible.

No, you can’t control everything.  However, if you can set yourself up for a tough workout with food you know will work for you, and your “go to” shorts/ shirt/ socks, it may take one element of worry from your minds.  Find a routine by experimenting with fueling and clothing approaches on easy days, you so are confident in your choices on hard days, leaving your mental energy for the task itself.

 

4. Prepare in advance with the positive self-talk you are going to give yourself when you are in the thick of a tough day.

There will come a time when the run or the workout will require bigger than average effort.  What are the keys you will remind yourself of when that time comes?  Do your shoulders hunch and get tight when you are tired?  Plan in advance that you will try to relax your shoulders for 30 seconds at a time when that occurs.  Does your breathing get too shallow?  Tell yourself in advance that when it starts to go that direction, you will commit to several long and deep inhales to help get you back on track.  What are the types of encouragement from others that really have helped you succeed in running or in life generally?  Tough barking orders, or soothing positive words?  Prepare with these phrases already on tap to remind your body that you and your mind are in control and not the other way around.

 

5.  Decide if knowing the workout well in advance is helpful to you or not.

If you find that you get too stressed out thinking about a big one in the week leading up, but know that every week on a certain day that type of workout will occur, resist the urge to look ahead or forgo the weekly email for a time and instead look at it a day or two ahead just for logistical planning purposes.  You will know what type of effort is required (tempo run, track workout, long run), but you won’t have the time to build additional pressure on yourself.

 

6.  Create accountability and a reward. Enlist others.

 For many of you, just knowing you will return to the computer to log your workout is motivation enough to complete each day.  For some, you are able to train with others who can keep you buoyed even when the running isn’t coming as easily as you had hoped that day.  Others are training for a big goal with an emotional motivation, such as to honor a friend or family member, or to note one of life’s milestones.  If so, one strategy would be to create a visual reminder around the house to keep track of the steps or miles you are logging on the way to that goal, and use it as a positive motivation to keep you going as well as a reminder to those in your household to help keep you on track with encouragement, even if they know nothing about running.   Think of your training as a tower.  You want a tower that is a tall and as strong as possible, but one sub par day doesn’t mean the whole thing falls over, it just means you need to put that next block on there the next time out.

 

On a lighter note, it is ok to concede to the occasional treat as motivator, whether it is the espresso and pastry Lauren writes about, a meal at your favorite restaurant, or perhaps a pedicure for your marathon worn toes.  It need not cost anything, but if it is something you enjoy doing every once and a while, it might serve as a fun carrot for you as you travel toward the conclusion of your miles that day.

 

Remember, doing every single difficult workout to perfection doesn’t guarantee a perfect race, nor does missing one/ falling short a time or two necessarily mean you will not succeed.  What we are looking for is a field of data points, from which you can reasonably conclude you are prepared for the race. Every challenging day you complete allows you to strengthen the argument you are going to make for yourself on race day when the going gets tough, and oftentimes, those days although difficult, can also end up being the most memorable.

 

 

 



Two weeks ago one of our runners wrote me about taking the "Albert Haynesworth Fitness Test". 

For reference, Haynesworth is a star defensive lineman for the Washington Redskins.  He made headlines at the start of training camp when the 'skins now coach, Mike Shanahan, refused to let him practice until he passed a "standard fitness" test.  According to Shanahan this test was basic and had been completed by every other player.  The fact that one of his most important players couldn't complete the test irked the new coach and gave cannon fodder to the media around the beltway for two weeks. 

Here's the test:

  • Run a 300 yard shuttle run in under 70 seconds
    • Do this by running goal line to the 25 yd-line and back 6X
  • Take 3 minutes and 30 secsonds recovery
  • Repeat the 300 yeard shuttle run in under 73 seconds

Upon first glance this looks like a run of 300 yards (~275 metres) in 1 minutes and 10 seconds, a big recovery, and then the same thing in 1 minute and 13 seconds.

Oh, it isn't.  Foot in mouth

The exercise is an accute assessment of explosiveness, quickness and balance.  There are no less than twelve separate accelerations required along with ten 180 degree directional changes.

Our runner who ran the test told me "I felt like I was doing a strength test" and to an endurance runner this makes sense as we have developed our slow twitch, arobically funded systems in preparation for 3, 6, 13 and 26 Mile races.  Even though Haynesworth (listed at 6' 6" & 350 lbs) could never hang with any of us in a 5K, his ability and fitness is undeniable for his trade.  In fact my guess is that if we took a random sampling of Focus-N-Fly runners and had them race Albert Haynesworth this is the percentage of people who would beat him by distance:

  • 5K = 100%
  • 1K = 80%
  • 100m = 50%
  • 50m = 25%
  • 25m = 15%
  • 10m = 5%

In other words none of us big, slow distance runners would have any chance against a professional football palyer like Haynesworth in a short burst effort that falls right in his wheel house.

Hopefully this is thought provoking but I still haven't given you any practical advice so here it is.

We use running drills to help develop fast twitch muscles, anaerobic metabolism, and neurological response.  These drills makeup less than 1% of total weekly mileage and less than 5% of total time spent training. We also use fast interval training (<1500m pace) as an extension of this development for 5-10% of weekly mileage.   Both these exercises have specific objectives and can be beneficial.  In fact if you weren't doing these then you would have no chance against Albert Haynesworth in any race of 100m or less.  The bottom line is that we weigh this part of the regimen according to perceived value (it is valuable but not as valuable as all the aerobic work we do).

So you will continue to see the majority of your assignments focused on maintenance/easy and threshold/comfortably hard paces.  We know for certain the benefits of extended aerobic stress and they are well documented for endurance races but could they help a high-performance, short burst athlete in the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL? 

My guess is they probably could and I often wonder why more professional ball players don't utilize distance running in the off season.  It has been documented that the aerobic contribution is dominant in all races from 400m up so there is a contribution at shorter distances as well.

As distance runners we need to focus on the aerobic stresses that will help us improve the most.  Just don't forget about those drills and faster intervals when they're assigned.

Oh and the next time you're watching football on the weekend and you see those big guys gasping for air - just think of the Albert Haynesworth fitness test and the fact that all those guys have passed the test. 

Pretty incredible!

 

**BTW I am posting my Albert Haynesworth fitness test results on the forum in hopes that we might get a few others to take the test and post accordingly.

 



Here's another reason to keep exercising!

Effects of aerobic exercise training on cognitive function and cortical vascularity in monkeys

This study examined whether regular exercise training, at a level that would be recommended for middle-aged people interested in improving fitness could lead to improved cognitive performance and increased blood flow to the brain in another primate species.



Every fitness magazine has an article promising the best abdominal (also popularly known as abs) or leg strengthening workouts.  The amount of advice can be overwhelming.  The problem with most of these workouts is that they focus on just one aspect of a runner's body.  That is why we have designed the following whole body workout that we recommend for our athletes.  It takes just 20 minutes, but it will work your flexibility, strength, and core muscles. (Core muscles include the muscles in your abdomen, back, pelvic floor, and glutes.)  The 14 video clips below review each exercise and stretching technique.  Each takes about 1 minute to perform.  We recommend that you do the workout 2 times per week.  If any of the exercises are too challenging at first, please shorten the duration.  Over time, you will get stronger and be able to increase the duration.

Left and Right Side Planks - Targets the lateral abs

Hamstring Bridge - Targets the hamstrings (back of the thighs) and gluteus maximus (buttocks)

Cobra - Abdominal Stretch

Close Hand Push Ups - Also known as Narrow Grip Push Ups

Glute Stretch - Stretches the buttocks muscles

Single Leg Squat - Challenges balance, quadriceps (front of thighs), hamstrings (back of thighs), and glutes (buttocks muscles)

Quad Stretch - Stretches the front of the thighs

Partner Punishment - Targets abdominal muscles

Pointers - Core Body Stabilization

Hamstring Stretch - 3 different stretches that target the back of the thighs

Pretzel Stretch - Stretches the muscles of the back

Calf Stretch - Stretches the calves (back of lower leg) and achilles (back of feet)

Leg Swings - 3 different exercises that target the core muslces and stretch the pelvis, hips, and hamstrings

Foam Roller - "Self Massaging" routine

 

 

 



After an easy jog (according to your schedule) and light stretch, these drills will help prevent injuries, improve your running form, and increase speed.  Please review the 7 videos below for descriptions of each.

Toe Walking

Heel Walking

Rhythm Skip

Bounding

High Knees

Butt Kicks

Quick Skip

After each drill you should run the remaining distance to cover 100 meters so that when the 7 drills are complete you will have run 7×100 meters (exercises included).  Then finish up your warmup with 3×100 meter strides.  The 100 meters should be at your 1500 meter pace.  Give yourself at least 30 seconds recovery (feel free to take up to 1 minute if desirable).  Please review the video below for a description of a stride.

Strides

We suggest you perform these drills and strides prior to all track workouts or tempo runs.



 

Many of you probably worry about having "love handles."  This exercise works your

lateral ab muscles (which includes your external and internal obliques) and

systematically eliminates "love handles."



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