Alex Hutchinson on the Limits of Human Endurance

Throughout history, humans have doubted their own abilities. For some reason, we love self-imposed limitations…

Mount Everest

Everest: the top of the world

In the 1940’s, running a mile under four minutes was considered by many scientists to be impossible.

Today, more than 1,400 men have run a mile faster than 4:00

Before 1978, summiting Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen was considered impossible.

Today, about 200 people have summited Everest without supplement oxygen…

As of today, a sub-2:00 marathon is a pipe dream.

But in the future? Who knows…

The pattern here is clear: we’re not very good at predicting the future limits of human endurance.

While the pace of new world records has certainly slowed over the decades, nobody really knows what the human species is truly capable of in the endurance arena.

And to me, that’s incredibly exciting.

It means the future is untold, unwritten, and unencumbered. And that as long as people have the desire to compete, we will continue to strive toward greatness.

And as we strive toward ever increasing levels of greatness, what are the factors that limit us? How might we overcome them?

That brings us to today’s podcast guest: award-winning science journalist Alex Hutchinson.

How to “override the brain’s protective circuitry”

Alex Hutchinson holds a PhD in Physics from Cambridge, a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia, and is a former national-class runner in Canada. He’s written for Runner’s World, Outside Magazine, The Globe & Mail, Popular Mechanics, and many other major media.

I’ve been pestering Alex to write another book after Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? became one of my favorite exercise science myth-busters (if you haven’t picked it up yet, I highly recommend it).

And he finally delivered! His new book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance has quickly become my favorite running book from the last few years.

With a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell, you can’t go wrong:

Alex Hutchinson

Our conversation centers on the psychological limits of endurance:

  • intrinsic motivation
  • peer pressure
  • joy and running for “the right reasons”
  • how to access hidden reserves of energy
  • overriding the “central governor”

Alex’s book showed me the many factors that limit endurance – and practical methods for overcoming those limitations.

Often, it’s not your training that predicts your race performances, but what’s between your ears.

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Show Links & Resources:

A big thank you to Alex for coming on the show. This was a very interesting discussion for me and I hope you enjoy it, too.

If you enjoy the SR Podcast, your honest review on iTunes is much appreciated!

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Fartlek Training 101: The Ultimate Guide to Fartlek Workouts

Fartlek training is a versatile, powerful, and silly-sounding way to run fast workouts. And fartleks can be done by anybody – virtually anywhere.

Fartlek Training

An accurate depiction of fartlek training

In high school, I thought I was a “tough” runner. Racing fast requires one to endure suffering and I told myself that I was good at withstanding the strong discomfort of running fast.

That is, until one specific fartlek workout during cross country left me wondering if knitting was a more appropriate hobby.

My coach devised a devilish workout:

  • We ran hard on the track, about 5k race pace, when he blew his whistle
  • We slowed to a recovery jog when he blew the whistle again
  • Rinse and repeat until coach decided that we had had enough

This is a variation of a fartlek workout. And what makes it so challenging is that we didn’t know when the repetition would end – that was up to the whims of our maniacal coach.

With no mental model of how long we were running at race pace, our perceived effort was higher. The workout just felt so hard despite it not being that long or fast. It was more mental training rather than physical training – and made me rethink how tough I thought I was…

And there lies the beauty of fartlek training: it’s so incredibly versatile.

No matter the goal, fartleks deliver:

  • Use fartlek training in place of more traditional, formal track workouts
  • Vary the duration and pace to introduce randomness to develop higher levels of mental fitness
  • Use fartleks as a “bridge” between easy running and more structured, challenging workouts
  • Run a fartlek workout to have fun with no extra pressure!

In other words, they’re effective at accomplishing nearly any workout goal you might have! No wonder fartleks are so popular…

What exactly is Fartlek Training?

Fartlek Workouts

What the fartlek?!

Mention the word fartlek and non-runners will arch an eyebrow and ask slowly, “I’m sorry… say that one more time?”

Fartlek is a Swedish word that translates to “speed play” and can be simplified to mean alternating fast running with slower running.

That’s it! Now you understand what a fartlek workout entails: faster repetitions with slower recoveries.

According to Michael Sandrock’s Running Tough, fartlek training was popularized by two Swedish milers named Gunder Hägg and Arne Anderson. Two of the top milers in the world, they “knocked loudly on the door of the 4-minute mile in the 1940’s.”

Sandrock goes on to describe the visceral nature of fartlek training:

Fartleks can take us back beyond our childhoods, back to the primal origins of running, as I discovered on a trip to Kenya. When I was in the Rift Valley training with the young runners, we would sometimes run across pathless fields, the sun hanging low above the Rift Valley escarpment in the distance.

I remember thinking, This is how our ancestors must have run when they first stood up on two legs not so far from here.

Coach Brad Hudson describes the fartlek as a training tool in his book Coach Hudson’s Little Black Book:

A fartlek can be used to accomplish just about anything that you would want to get done on the track. There are a lot of ways to raise fitness and get in great workouts, and they don’t all have to happen under the structure of an oval.

Many times a fartlek can be used as a general workout, a light workout, or a “do-as-you-feel” workout. You can also turn it into a harder, more specific workout to be used at any point in training.

Because fartlek training is so versatile, you can structure workouts in nearly endless combinations:

  • Fixed distance for the repetition
  • Fixed time for the repetition
  • Varying distance/time for the reps
  • Varying pace for both the rep and the recovery interval

Usually, fartlek workouts are done on the road or trail. They’re not as structured as track workouts so they can literally be done anywhere that you can run. But you can also run them on the track, too.

2 Types of Fartlek Training Workouts

Fartlek

For more hilarity, see Jason on Twitter

Fartleks can be easy, general, specific, hard, or race-specific. With the inherent variety in fartlek training, there are virtually unlimited workouts that you can structure.

But there are two types of fartleks that are most common: time-based and random fartlek workouts.

A time-based fartlek is probably the most popular because it’s most true to the spirit of the fartlek. Each repetition is based on time, rather than distance.

A few examples could include:

  • 10 x 30 seconds hard, 1 minute recovery
  • 1, 2, 4, 5, 4, 2, 1 minute pyramid fartlek at varying efforts
  • (5 x 2 minutes) + (4 x 1 minute) at 5k / mile effort

The options available to you within this narrow type of fartlek workout are nearly endless.

A random fartlek is when the repetitions or the recovery is varied based on the terrain, your passing whims, or the song playing in your earbuds. In other words, the reps can be quite random!

A few examples could include:

  • Run uphills hard, downhills easy on rolling terrain (great for building strength)
  • Run hard until you feel like slowing down. Run easy until you feel like speeding up. Repeat.
  • Alternate a playlist with short and long songs and use those to influence your workout
  • Like my example from high school above, enlist a partner to determine the repetition length for you!
  • Run hard to certain landmarks (signs, trees, mailboxes) and recover until the next landmark

These random fartleks are best used during base training when specific fitness isn’t the goal. They can be made easier than traditional workouts so they help transition the athlete between easy running and hard running.

If you want more specific fartlek workout examples, I recorded a quick video with my three favorites:

Fartlek training can be easy or hard (or somewhere in the middle) and these three workouts deliver!

Want more workout ideas? Check out my book, 52 Weeks, 52 Workouts, One Faster Runner.

Fartlek Training Q&A

It’s not every day that you need to recover from a giggle fit and then learn Swedish to figure out a running workout.

And I’m sure other questions have come up about fartlek training so let’s do some Q&A!

When is it ideal to run fartlek workouts?

Fartlek training sessions can be run anytime – since they can be used for virtually any training purpose.

Often, they’re used as a bridge between base training and specific training. This has less to do with the physical demands of the workout and more with the mental challenges.

Hudson explains in his Little Black Book:

There are times early in a training phase when an athlete may be phsyically prepared for a hard workout, but may not be mentally ready to take on a set of standard intervals and distances.

There can be a big difference, mentally, between doing 10 x 1,000m and 10 x 3 minutes.

Sometimes it is just as beneficial to do a hard workout by placing the emphasis on feel and effort rather than being tied to pace and distance.

There’s less pressure on the runner when they’re running for time and effort, rather than distance and pace.

Are fartleks better used for some races and not others?

I think so! Since fartlek workouts are rarely run on the track, they’re typically done on roads or when you’re out trail running.

Because these sessions are executed on these surfaces, they lend themselves to road or trail races. I also think fartleks are great for:

  • Cross country (which are very similar to trail races)
  • Ultramarathons (these are usually held on trails)
  • Obstacle course races (like Warrior Dash)

Whenever you’re training for a race that can be hilly, off-road, or has a lot of stopping and starting, then fartlek workouts are an effective workout to build race-specific fitness.

What type of runner benefits from fartleks?

Any runner! Since fartleks are so incredibly versatile, they can be used by a brand new runner or the professional preparing for the Olympic Games.

But fartlek workouts can be particularly beneficial for new runners because there’s less pressure to perform. You don’t need to hit an exact pace during a fartlek – effort is more important.

And that’s exactly what new runners should be trying to learn: the ability to “feel” a given pace, making it intuitive and second-nature. If you can control your pace by relying on your perception of effort, you’ll be a more skilled runner.

Combine more traditional interval sessions on the track with fartlek workouts and runners will have a more nuanced, complete understanding of what various paces feel like.

And that makes racing a lot more productive!

What pace are fartlek workouts?

Fartlek training is much like children chasing each other in a big field: there’s no set pace or recovery. It’s all up to you.

You can run with the landscape, opening up on downhills and slowing down on the uphills (or vice versa). You can sprint through a field, run hard on the straight sections of a trail, and recover whenever you’d like.

Sprint, run easy, go hard or steady, and then run gently. It’s entirely up to you.

You can make fartleks more structured or less structured. Fartlek sessions that are more “formal” will have specific paces and recoveries – but not all of them.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself. Fartleks have an element of joy embedded within them that you simply don’t get from track workouts so enjoy some trail running and make sure you have fun!

If you’d like me to help you plan your workouts, consider one of our training programs. I’ll take the guesswork out of your training!

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How Sam Plans to Escape His Cycle of Injuries

Learning from the best is important – because “the best” are, by definition, the individuals at the top of the game.

never stop learning

This paradigm is noticeable everywhere:

  • Entrepreneurs read biographies (I’m reading Buffet right now) and join mastermind groups
  • Aspiring academics learn from PhD’s
  • New runners join a team and get a coach

Experts understand the nuance of their field – and the most helpful are usually those who combine technical expertise with the ability to teach it to everyone else.

But sometimes, you don’t necessarily want to learn from the industry’s most sought-after expert.

Sometimes, we want to hear stories about people just like us.

And that’s what we’re doing today on the Strength Running podcast – helping Sam escape his cycle of chronic injuries.

Sam is a member of Team Strength Running and is able to talk over these issues with me on our live coaching calls.

If you’d like that opportunity, sign up here to see when the team is accepting new members.

Sam’s journey might sound like yours: formerly overweight, he started running and soon fell in love with the sport. He started running more, seeing some success, and actually won some races.

But then the wheels fell off and the injuries started coming fast and furious: plantar fasciitis and IT band syndrome seemed to plague him every few months.

If any of this story sounds familiar, you won’t want to miss this episode of the podcast.

“When I got injured, I was only running”

Sam Team Strength Running

Sam started running in 2002 to lose the weight he put on in college. But his training really picked up years later when he started racing more in 2015.

He told me:

I set a goal to run another marathon in December, 2016 with a goal of a BQ. I dumped weight lifting  and boot camps, to focus on running. I jacked up my miles going from running 10-15 miles and week quickly to running 30-40 miles a week.

Leading up to the marathon I developed plantar fasciitis but was able to train through it. A week before the race I developed ITBS and ran the marathon anyways. It was a horrible race that left me sitting on the side of the road at one point.

But I finished (actually setting a PR in 3:30) and could barely walk afterward. After 2 months, I started training again and decided I wanted to try triathlons.

I jacked up my miles and completed a Half Ironman. But I didn’t take time to recover and developed ITBS. And I’ve been battling with issues ever since.

Listen in as we strategize how to get control over this injury cycle so Sam can focus on racing faster.

Subscribe on iTunes or on Stitcher.

Show Resources & Links

A big thank you to Sam for joining us on the podcast, opening up about his running history, and allowing us a small glimpse into his life.

If you’re interested in getting coaching assistance, learn more about Team Strength Running:

  • A full library of training plans for every type and ability of runner
  • Ongoing running education every month (remember: knowledge is a competitive advantage)
  • Teammates for endless inspiration, running motivation, and camaraderie
  • A coach! I’m there for you – helping you succeed every step of the way
  • Team discounts and bonus resources (the team has its perks!)

Check it out here. I think you’ll love being on the team.

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What Every Fast Runner Knows About Running Motivation

Running motivation: sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. But can you create it out of thin air?

running motivation

Fast runners know that motivation can be engineered. It can be supported, built, and expanded. You don’t have to just “hope” that your motivation to run will be there in the morning when the alarm blares…

But motivation is fickle and unpredictable. Some days, you’re ready to crush a track workout or long run. Other days, you can barely bring yourself to jog for 30 minutes.

You don’t have to be a hostage to the whims of your running motivation, though. Relying on motivation is a fool’s errand.

Instead, you can structure your running life in such a way that missed runs or skipped workouts are virtually nonexistent.

You can do this without:

  • the latest productivity app
  • getting up at four in the morning every day
  • joining a convent or becoming a monk…
  • “biohacking” your way to the podium

In this article, we’re going to discover a simple framework for automatically improving your running motivation and increasing the chances that you train hard – so you can race faster.

And it all starts with other people in your life.

Running Motivation is About PEOPLE

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing.  That’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

My first run ever was a 3-mile loop from my high school’s field house around the neighborhood. I was 14 and cocky so clearly, I was ready to crush the first day of cross country practice.

But reality hits you like mile 20 in a marathon. Less than halfway through, I resorted to walking. By the end of the loop, I had walked nearly a quarter of the distance and didn’t think I’d ever run again.

If left to my own devices, I probably would have quit. But…

  • My mother told me I couldn’t quit after one day (thanks mom!)
  • My coach said I’d never enjoy speed if I didn’t get in better shape first
  • My friends called me a loser (thanks fellas)
  • My teammates knew I simply needed more consistency

The end result is that I stayed on the team, becoming one of the faster runners on the Junior Varsity squad after a few months of patient work. By the end of the season, I was running sub-6:00 miles and having a blast.

What would I be doing now if I had given in to that voice complaining in my head?!

Clearly, the people in my life kept me on track. They nudged me in the right direction – and their support means everything.

In fact, the people you surround yourself with have the potential to improve your performances by up to 30%!

Inspired by Brad Stulberg, a performance consultant and author of Peak PerformanceI recorded that video to share my experiences with having a “tribe of support” and demolish the myth that success happens alone.

It most certainly does not.

Any runner who’s achieved big goals has relied on a network of support:

  • Other runners – for both running motivation and guidance
  • Coaches and mentors (even if you only read their books)
  • Doctors, physical therapists, masseuses, and sports psychologists
  • Podcasts, music, and other aids to get you through workouts
  • Your spouse! Endurance athletes always need a supportive partner

These aids make big performances possible. They get you through the hard times and keep you moving in the right direction during the good times.

If you don’t have that community of support, you’re at a disadvantage. But Strength Running can help!

Let’s also be clear: this isn’t just my opinion – it’s also supported by science.

The Science of Peer Motivation

No matter how we look at the role of other people in an individual’s success, the science is clear: your “tribe of support” makes it easier to succeed.

From academics to sports to business, your network can literally make or break your career.

Consider that kids significantly influence other kids to get involved in sports (source) and that friendships increase children’s motivation to engage in physical activity (source 1source 2, and source 3).

Positive peer pressure works in academics, too (even when that support happens online).

As famed business guru Jim Rohn once said:

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

And if we look at famous coaches and athletes over the decades, this sentiment was known before the science could play catch-up:

“Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” – Vince Lombardi

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” – Michael Jordan

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” Phil Jackson

“Great teamwork is the only way we create the breakthroughs that define our careers.” – Pat Riley

When the best athletes, coaches, and science confirm that the people around you have an overwhelming impact on your success, we should stop and pay attention.

Careful: It Works the Other Way Too

So, we’ll all be Olympians if we get a coach and a team, right?

If only!

In fact, surrounding yourself with the wrong people can be more disastrous than being a Lone Wolf.

The other day I was looking at the r/running board on Reddit and many of the threads made me cringe. The advice you get from random strangers on an internet forum is not always ideal!

Here is a seemingly simple question, “How many times per week should I be running?”

Days Running Question

But the answers range from “every day” to a long discussion about the use of hip flexors. Both answers are misleading; they’re either too aggressive or irrelevant.

Another cringe-inducing thread was about preventing injuries. Can you guess the answers?

  • “The vast majority of injuries are caused by poor form” (no, they’re caused by training errors)
  • “Get your shoes at a local, non-chain running store” (how does this help with injuries?)
  • “Please, please take Vitamin D” (this literally has nothing to do with running injuries)
  • “Run barefoot. If not all the time, at least do it a few times a week.” (ugh NO! Barefoot running is a tool, not a lifestyle)

If you’re going to ask for running advice, ask a professional who knows the sport. Find a coach, accomplished runner, or a certified individual who knows their stuff.

Differentiating between the signal and the noise is something that only someone with a lot of experience can do well.

The quality of your future training depends on it.

How to Use This Info to Your Advantage

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

Now that we understand that success doesn’t happen in a vacuum – and indeed, it’s reliant on your “tribe of support” – then it’s critical to find that tribe.

There are a lot of options:

Use the “Find a Club” Tool at RRCA

If you want to join a local running club that meets in your city, the Road Runner’s Club of America has a helpful search tool.

Local clubs offer a lot to their running community, including races, beginner running programs, group runs for extra running motivation, and coaching opportunities.

If you’re planning on using a local club for a coach or training guidance, you likely won’t get the personalized attention that you would expect from a 1-on-1 or private coach.

But you can’t beat group runs, especially when they tour some of the best running routes in your area.

Become Self-Taught

There’s nothing sexier than a lifelong learner. Get engaged with the topic of running and there’s no doubt that you’ll improve.

After all, knowledge is a competitive advantage: you’ll make fewer training mistakes, more strategic decisions, and ultimately race a lot faster.

I don’t think you necessarily need “in-person” mentors – learning from others from afar can be effective as well.

  • Read a lot of running books (especially by authors that you trust and respect)
  • Follow inspiring (and good) coaches on social media (I recommend Jonathan Marcus and Mario Fraioli among many others)
  • Get your own coaching certification (I recommend either USATF or RRCA)
  • Attend running camps, conferences, retreats, and other opportunities to learn more about the sport

The more involved and engaged you are with the sport of running, the more motivation and knowledge you’ll be able to give to it.

Join a Virtual Community

Not everyone can attend the weekly workout with the local running club or get their coaching certification (trust me, much of the class can be quite boring!).

A good alternative is to harness the power of the web to learn, be inspired, and get the support you need to succeed.

Even though you’re not actively running with an online “team” you can still rely on them for running motivation and getting all of your questions answered.

Over the last few years, SR’s own Team Strength Running has been helping hundreds of members reach a wide variety of goals:

  • John recently set a nearly 2-minute personal best in the 10k (and Ken a 3+ minute PR)Team Strength Running
  • Stephan ran her debut ultramarathon!
  • Colleen beat her marathon goal time by 8 minutes
  • Karina has hit 50+ miles per week for two weeks in a row

No matter your goal, we can help you get there with live coaching calls, a library of 30+ training plans, new expert interviews every month, and most importantly: a team of runners just like you to hold you accountable and skyrocket your running motivation.

We don’t open often, so sign up here to learn more about our community and how we can help you achieve more with your running.

You’ll be the first to know when we open the doors for new members.

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Superfoods, Veganism & Fasting: A Registered Dietitian’s Perspective

There’s no shortage of nutrition advice on the web. In fact, even Amazon hosts over 70,000 cookbooks!

diet for runners

I find that staggering. Is eating – such a basic human need – really this complex?

Whatever happened to Michael Pollan’s timeless advice from In Defense of Food?

Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.

Rather than common-sense, flexible approaches to nutrition we’re left with dogmatic rules that force us to think about our food choices all day long.

Today, we have “experts” promoting diets that require supplementation (does that seem optimal to you?).

Or diets that mandate that you score every single piece of food you put into your body.

Perhaps the worst offenders are macronutrient diets that require you to calculate the percentages of fat, protein, and carbohydrate for every meal, snack, and bite of food that you consume.

There’s a better way. I prefer enjoying my food, thankyouverymuch.

But it’s interesting that elite athletes rarely – if ever – follow strict diets:

If the best runners in the world aren’t following a formal diet, what IS the best way to eat?

Thankfully, you don’t have to listen to this running coach talk about eating for performance. We brought you the industry’s top certified professional to do that: a Registered Dietitian.

Heather Caplan, RD on Performance Nutrition

Heather Caplan RD

Heather Caplan is a Registered Dietitian, certified running coach, and host of the RD Real Talk Podcast.

She’s also the former Head of Nutrition and Coaching at tech startup Spright, Inc. She’s also worked in corporate wellness coaching and public health nutrition counseling.

Her work has been featured in national media such as Runner’s World, The Washington Post, Women’s Running, Outside Online, and others.

Heather is on the podcast today to answer YOUR nutrition questions:

  • Are superfoods legit?
  • What’s her hot take on fasting and the vegan diet?
  • How much meat is too much?
  • Can nutrition play a role in injury prevention?
  • And more!

This is a very wide-ranging discussion based on your answers to my Twitter question here. If you like this format of podcast, we have two more you can download here!

Download the episode on iTunes or on the Stitcher platform.

Show Resources & Links:

Related Podcast Episodes:

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And if you’re a fan, your honest review on Apple Podcasts will help us reach new runners!

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Injury Prevention Essentials, with Ian Sharman and Dathan Ritzenhein

If you run and one of your top goals is injury prevention, you are one smart runner (injuries afflict up to 75% of runners every single year!).

Staying healthy is a great indicator of success in the sport of running.

That’s because injury prevention efforts increase your consistency – and I’m quite fond of saying that consistency is the “secret sauce” to accomplishing your goals.

Hell, we even have a consistency t-shirt!

Get injured less frequently and you’ll be able to run more mileage, complete more long runs, and nail more hard workouts.

And in a sport where “more” is often better, your higher workload capacity is going to lead to much faster racing.

But I know it’s not always easy. There’s a lot of really bad injury advice floating around on the interwebs – so I thought I’d make it easy.

Last year, I asked 9 elite athletes to share their injury prevention secrets. There are trail runners, road marathoners, triathletes, obstacle course racers, and everyone in between.

The goal was to outline each athlete’s favorite prevention strategies (so you can learn from them).

Now, anybody can download the free Little Black Book of Prevention & Recovery to peak behind the curtain and discover their most treasured tactics for staying healthy.

Today, I want to highlight two of my favorites from Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein and 4x Leadville Trail 100 winner Ian Sharman.

In each section below, they’ll explain their best injury prevention strategies in their own words.

Ian Sharman: Comprehensive Injury Prevention

Ian Sharman Leadville 100

Ian has run around 200 ultras and marathons in every type of weather and on all terrains. He’s won around 50 multi-day races, road marathons, trail ultras and adventure races with experience of running in many mountain ranges, including the Himalayas, Andes, Rockies and European Alps.

He also holds the fastest time in a trail 100-mile race in the US (12h44m), the record for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (69h49m), has won the USATF 100-mile trail championship twice and is a 4-time winner of the Leadville Trail 100. Ultra Running Magazine has voted him as high as 2nd in its annual Ultra Runner of the Year rankings.

Visit his website or follow him on Instagram.

Enter Ian:

Flexibility in running schedules makes all the difference so adjustments are needed on a regular basis to fit around varying work/life schedules and how a runner’s body responds to training sessions. As a general rule, see a physical therapist or similar expert for any remotely serious injury or when a more minor injury isn’t clearly fading within about a week.

Exercises

I advise a simple routine of dynamic stretches every day, even if you don’t run that day, to improve general strength, flexibility and stability. That includes leg swings, lunges and squats. Even when brushing your teeth balance on one leg to improve core strength and stability.

The combination of these and regular foam rolling really help to reduce potential injuries and therefore improve your running. If there are specific injuries or issues then see a sports’ medicine specialist.

Foam rolling

A large proportion of non-traumatic running injuries stem from muscle tightness leading to restricted biomechanics and alterations in running gait. Therefore, I advise foam rolling (which is more effective than a massage stick because you can utilize more body weight to apply pressure to the muscles) every day.

Imbalances of just a fraction of an inch in how each foot lands can lead to injuries – often the area that hurts isn’t the real problem. Getting those muscle tissues and the fascia loosened up and able to move freely definitely prevents some easily avoidable injuries.

Roll every angle of every muscle in the legs, glutes and hips (basically all the areas that feel tight or sore from running, plus areas that may feel fine but are still getting tighter). A roller that’s hard rather than soft will work more effectively.

Massages

I advise getting a sports massage every 1-4 weeks, depending on the training work-load and history of injuries in the past, for the same reasons as above. Sometimes we might not be thorough enough with the foam roller and it’s better to let an expert have a look.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve thought my leg muscles were nice and loose, but a masseur still finds knots and tightness – again helping prevent possible injury. Yes, there’s a cost involved, but how much does injury cost in terms of missed races, not to mention your general happiness or physical therapy costs?

Sleep

Sleep is vital, but we often deprioritize it. When we’re asleep our body is healing to benefit from the key adaptations from the training we’ve put it through. It’s probably not realistic to get the optimum number of hours every night (which typically means at least seven hours). Also, straight after a race it’s vital to get more rest than usual. The more quality sleep you can get, the faster your body can heal.

Recovery runs

Every run should have a purpose and that’s generally either a long run, speed, hill work, or a recovery run. Recovery runs should be done at a very slow pace, but still focusing on maintaining good form. This is the speed you’ll likely be going at towards the end of an ultra anyway.

As the name suggests, recovery runs also help your legs recover from harder efforts, flushing out the muscles and increasing blood flow to the muscles that have been broken down on harder or longer runs. This helps to get the required nutrients to the muscles to rebuild and adapt optimally. Recovery runs are really important.

Recovery time after races

There’s no rush to run again after each event, especially a big ultramarathon. All that rushing back into training does is increase the chance of injury.

Take at least a week completely off running, then start walking and hiking. Ultimately the most important thing to remember here is that your body may take different amounts of time to recover from one race to another and that someone else’s recovery time is probably not the same as yours.

Your body will give you clear signals as you restart running after a race and it’s important to realize that feeling bad on a run is a sign to back off rather than step things up.

Dathan Ritzenhein: “Focus on Strength Training”

Dathan Ritzenhein

Dathan Ritzenhein graduated high school with 6 National Championship titles and left the University of Colorado with four All-America titles, a national title at cross country, and the school record in the 10,000m.

As a professional runner, he has competed at the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympics and won the US Cross Country Championships three times.

Dathan also held the previous American Record in the 5,000m in 12:56.27 and has a personal best time of 2:07:47 for the marathon and 60:00 for the half marathon. With a history of injuries, Dathan is a great voice for reason when it comes to injury prevention!

Follow him on Twitter or check out his sponsor Generation UCAN.

Enter Dathan:

Injury is the hardest part of being a competitive runner. I am reminded of this each time I look at my 20-year-old Cannondale bike as it sits on the trainer in my basement. It has been a steady companion over the years but it brings back some bad memories!

Injury may be tough but it is also the best opportunity to not only test your willpower, but to improve the things which most runners neglect. Let’s face it, nobody falls in love with cross training, we do it because we love to run and it is the quickest avenue back to running fitness.

Unfortunately, it can also make you even more susceptible to future injury if you bury yourself in aerobic cross training at the expense of increased time devoted to the strength and structure of your body.

After injury, the first inclination of most athletes is to bury themselves in long hours on the bike, in the pool or on some other piece of cardio equipment. While that will keep the weight off and maintain cardiovascular fitness, you lose flexibility, neglect the range of motion specific to running, lose the power required to run fast, and don’t load your skeletal system to maintain bone density.

You are now able to be back running quickly, but a couple weeks down the road get ready for the next injury. Trust me, I know, been there and done that many times!

It’s easy to spend so much time cross training that you’re too tired physically and mentally to spend the time needed to rebuild the body with necessary strength training. Have a plan, just like running. Don’t just go to the gym and decide that day!

Start with having someone help you who has experience with coming back from injury. Whether it is a coach, training partner or therapist, this is important because it is a delicate balance between healing and building strength and fitness. They will be a sounding board because it is easy to let your emotions get the best of you which leads to mistakes.

Plan to spend 3-4 days per week focusing on strength training. You can do some easy cardio training those days too, but use it more as a warmup and cool down. Not only will this be good for your body’s structure but it will give your body the rest it needs to heal. If you do hard aerobic cross training every day, your body never gets the chance to recover and repair. It’s easy to over-train with cross training because it doesn’t beat your body up like running does so it’s easier to go hard every day until you’re fried.

This approach will keep you fresh enough to push hard on the other days and get the most out of hard cardio workouts. Make them count! This is a good balance between rest, strength and maintaining fitness.

What Prevention Tactic Will You Use?

There are many different ways of tackling the complex topic of injury prevention. But both Ian and Dathan have outlined effective, proven strategies for staying healthy.

And they’re in alignment with my coaching advice:

Incorporate these lessons into your training and I know you’ll not only prevent more injuries, but you’ll also just feel better.

Of course, we have a lot more in the full book that you can download for free.

You’ll hear from:

  • Amelia Boone
  • David Roche
  • Kelly O’Mara
  • Devon Yanko
  • Max King
  • Andy Wacker
  • Joseph Gray

Everyone who registers for our free injury prevention email course will get the book immediately after registering.

Enjoy!

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How to Balance Running in Your Life, with Keira D’Amato

Most of us don’t have six hours per day to dedicate to running. Though if we did, I’m sure we’d all love that freedom!

running balance

But in reality, we have to make time and shuffle our schedules to accommodate all of our responsibilities:

  • Kids and family
  • Work and professional obligations
  • Social events
  • Sleep? Maybe?

It’s no easy feat to train well, work, have a family, and find some free time to read or have fun.

I remember back to one of the most challenging times of my life: the year after college when I had a 75-minute commute and a 9-hour work day.

That meant I was running 80-85 miles per week at 5:30am in the dark, in the freezing winter of Massachusetts. I had no time to do anything besides work, run, and ensure I slept 8 hours a night.

Now that I have a family, that’s not a possibility. Hard decisions have to be made…

To help with those tough decisions, I want to introduce you to Keira D’Amato.

Running’s Renaissance Woman: Meet Keira

keira damato running

Some people have running in their blood. And I think Keira D’Amato fits that description.

She was a 4-time All-American at American University in Washington, DC, specializing in events ranging from the 5k to cross country.

After college, she worked for years as the marketing director for Potomac River Running and today she’s the “running realtor” for the northern Virginia and DC areas.

But she never quit running. Just last month, she won the Rock n Roll Half Marathon in Washington, DC.

Keira is running after the Olympic Trials marathon standard of 2:45 – and she’s close with her 2:47 PR!

Oh, and she’s married with two kids…

In this conversation, we discuss:

  • the many roles she’s had in the running industry
  • what she’s learned about runners from being so involved in the sport
  • her marathon progression from nearly 4 hours to 2:47 (!!)
  • how her current training has gone and her strategy to get the OTQ
  • how she manages to train at an elite level with a job and a family

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or on the Stitcher app!

Show Resources & Links:

If you found this podcast helpful to your running and want to support the show, it would be a massive help if you submitted an honest review of the podcast on iTunes.

I appreciate you!

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You Be the Coach: How Would This Runner Improve His Half Marathon?

The topic of “getting faster” is compelling because there are so many options of accomplishing this goal! They’re nearly endless…

Fast runners

Of course, because the available strategies for increasing your speed are mostly limited by your imagination, it’s a really difficult question to answer thoroughly.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t tried! Strength Running has 600+ blog posts, 50+ podcast episodes, and 100+ videos to help answer this big question and help you get faster.

The topics that fall under the umbrella of “running faster” are plentiful:

  • General nutrition
  • Race-specific fueling
  • Strength training
  • Plyometrics
  • Injury prevention and consistency
  • Aerobic workouts
  • Anaerobic workouts
  • Hill workouts
  • Sprints, strides, and hill sprints
  • Running drills
  • Mileage
  • Long run distance
  • Long run structure

That’s a random list I wrote in about 20 seconds. And we can drill down into each topic to reach sub-topics of even greater specificity!

Man, I love the complexity (and simplicity) of running.

But usually, I need more specific information to give a more personal, nuanced answer. That’s what we’re both going to do today!

Get Faster in the Half Marathon

I want your help answering a question I received about getting faster at the half marathon:

I just ran a half marathon and achieved a Personal Best of 1:31:29. Although it went well, I felt more tight and tired than I wanted after mile 10.

I believe my speed is good, since I ran a 19:41 5k earlier this year. Do I need longer long runs? My longest leading up to the half was 11.5 miles.

So, what do you think?

What issues – based on the information we have – would you bring up in your answer?

How should this runner think about their next half marathon race?

Leave a comment on this blog post explaining what you think this particular runner should do to keep improving in the half marathon.

Ok, now that you’ve left your comment below it’s my turn! I recorded a video with my thoughts:

It will be fascinating to see how our answers differ or are similar.

And hopefully, after being a member of the SR community, you’re able to get better and better at answering these types of questions!

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How Tyler Andrews is Chasing the 50K World Record

Stretch goals – those that are on the border of possible and impossible – are the most exciting type of goal to set.

Tyler Andrews 50k world record training

Tyler Andrews; photo by by Melanie Ng

They’re often so challenging, difficult, and outlandish that they result in failure.

But occasionally, you succeed! You might beat 5 years of chronic injuries. Or find a new training approach (like Maggie here) that helps you reach that next level of performance.

Stretch goals are important because they’re exciting. They spur you to action and light a fire underneath you. Even if you fail, a strong performance will likely still happen.

And I strongly believe every runner should be targeting a long-term stretch goal.

The alternative is a goal that’s completely realistic, uninspiring, and incremental. Failure results in another hum-drum performance.

How incredibly boring.

I want to encourage you to take bigger risks, believe in your abilities, and challenge yourself to accomplish more with your running.

And Tyler Andrews is here to inspire you to do just that.

Tyler Andrews: DIII to World Record Attempt

I love stories about runners who improve at incredible rates and defy the odds. Tyler is one such runner.

He was a competitive Division III runner – but certainly not a multiple All-American or other kind of standout performer.

But that never stopped him from chasing big goals.

After graduating from Tufts University, Tyler kept training and improving. He’s since qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials and currently holds the world record for the fastest half marathon ever run on a treadmill (63:38).

Now he has his sights set on another world record: the 50K ultramarathon distance.

And this Friday, he’ll be making that WR attempt in California at the Santa Barbara Easter Relays. After 125 laps on the track, we’ll know if he was ready to topple the 30-year record of 2:43:38.

In this far-ranging conversation, Tyler and I discuss a host of issues:

  • The geeky nitty gritty of his training – most at 9,000+ feet altitude in Quito, Ecuador
  • His pacing and fueling approach for a track 50k
  • More philosophically, why is he attempting to break this record?
  • And a lot more…

Listen to the conversation on iTunes or on the Stitcher platform.

Resources & Links from the show:

Whether you’re going after a world record, a race record, or a personal record you’ll appreciate Tyler’s drive to use running to improve himself. He certainly made me want to set another stretch goal soon!

Please also check out the sponsor of today’s podcast, Inside Tracker. They test over 40 biomarkers, like various stress hormones, to determine if you’re training too hard, too little, or have any physiological weaknesses that can be remedied by either diet, exercise, or lifestyle changes.

In other words, you learn about problems that have actionable solutions.

After getting your results, they communicate what you can do to lift or lower your results into the optimal range. For any runner who wants every advantage, to see what they’re truly capable of achieving, I highly recommend Inside Tracker.

Don’t forget to use code strengthrunning at checkout to save 10% on any test!

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Weight Lifting for Runners: Six Surprising Lessons from a Pro Strength Coach

I love runners who want to improve. They’re learning animals, always vacuuming up knowledge about this great sport.

weight lifting for runners

It’s not how much you lift, it’s how good you look doing it. More on Instagram

And I have to agree: learning more about running is one of the best ways to get faster, avoid injury, and boost your endurance.

Why?

Because applying knowledge triggers the learning process and creates wisdom. With wisdom comes a lot of benefits:

  • You make fewer training errors, resulting in fewer running injuries
  • With less time injured, you develop consistency and run more
  • Workouts and long runs become more strategic and productive
  • Season planning, race strategy, and training progressions become more sophisticated

All of a sudden, you’re a smart runner making smart decisions. And you get a lot faster!

The goal of Strength Running is to elevate the sport by educating runners about proper training and inspiring you to do the necessary work to improve.

That’s why I encourage you to invest in your running, get guidance when you need it, and read more books about running.

But often, I don’t have all the answers (nobody does!). That’s why I love bringing in experts:

And today, I’m bringing you some wisdom from our favorite weight lifting coach Randy Hauer.

Think About Training From Many Perspectives

Lifting Coach Randy Hauer

It’s highly productive to think about running from different perspectives:

  • How would a strength coach evaluate your training?
  • Would a sprint coach modify your speed workouts?
  • How does a sports psychologist prepare for the mental side of racing?

As you can see, other professionals give us a more nuanced, deeper understanding of running and performance improvement – and that knowledge is a competitive advantage.

Below you’ll see that the topics Randy and I discuss aren’t strictly limited to strength training. But that’s a good thing: it allows us to think about running from new perspectives.

And I think there’s a lot of value in that exercise.

Let’s get started. Below you’ll find excerpts from an email exchange and a conversation between Randy and I about all sorts of training issues. I hope you enjoy this.

Lesson #1: Ego is the Enemy

Randy shared a short story with me:

One of my male high school sprinters who DID like lifting is now an athlete at Brown. He started with empty bar like everyone else 3 years ago.

He now hang power cleans 250lbs for reps at a bodyweight of 175lbs (same bodyweight as in high school) and his times, of course, have improved with his strength.

What’s the lesson here?

In my mind, it’s that if a young, Division I collegiate sprinter at his peak starts lifting with the bar, you should, too.

Many runners get hurt because they let their ego get in the way of reasonable training decisions. They fall prey to the “3 Too’s” that lead to injuries: running too much, too fast, too soon.

The same can be said for weight training. Lifting too many sets or reps, with too much weight, before you’re ready is a recipe for injury.

Start with reasonable weight (or mileage). Progress intelligently. Listen to your body. Don’t satisfy your ego.

Lesson #2: Good Posture Requires Strength

Many runners are surprised to hear that I typically don’t recommend a “forward lean” when it comes to proper running form.

Why? Because leaning from the ankle (rather than the waist) requires strength that most runners don’t have.

The solution is strength training and Randy has some great real-world examples:

When I get new runners, the first thing they notice is an improvement in posture. It’s just less taxing to stay upright while they run. This is key.

As the postural muscles fatigue, the respiration muscles start pitching in which interferes with their prime function: breathing. The more fatigued the postural muscles get the harder it gets to breathe.

Squat, presses, deadlifts, and explosive lifts all work the postural muscles. Big payoff, which is again not so obvious.”

In sum, if you want to retain great posture while you’re fatigued and running fast, you have to get strong!

A sound weight lifting for runners program will take this into consideration (if it only includes core work, you know you’re not doing it right).

Lesson #3: VO2 Max isn’t Everything

Back in 2010 I participated in a study that require a VO2 Max test. It was exciting to learn more about this metric but afterward, it had absolutely no impact on my training.

That’s because it’s not something that runners actively try to improve because it does not mean you’ll race faster.

In other words, a higher VO2 Max does not mean you’re going to become a faster runner.

This sets off a fascinating discussion about endurance and speed, which Randy dives into below:

There is a huge genetic component to speed that can’t be ignored.

For example, Paula Radcliffe had a slightly higher Vo2 max in high school than when she set the marathon world record. Her best half marathon time was about ~2 seconds per mile faster than her best 3k time when she was 17.

With proper training, anyone’s speed can be improved and taught to endure, but there are limits.”

The lesson? Speed development has its limits, but endurance can theoretically always be improved.

Lesson #4: Speed First

I’ve often tried to impress upon runners several ways to think about speed:

  • Speed requires more coordination, strength, and power (and helps you build these physical skills)
  • Very fast running also reinforces proper running form
  • A runner’s “range of available speed” increases the faster your Personal Bests become

Therefore, I think it’s beneficial for runners to focus on shorter races earlier in their careers and longer races later in their careers.

We can see the benefit of this approach in Galen Rupp’s explosion onto the marathon scene over the last few years. Randy notes:

One of the announcers at Chicago Marathon had it right when he noted the Africans went out too slow to truly test Rupp (10k and Marathon Olympic medalist) over the distance. They basically gave him a 20 mile warm up and then he raced the remaining 10k alone to the finish.

He has that fundamental speed in reserve. He does do regular weight training with the Nike Oregon Project, too.

Rupp has “fundamental speed in reserve.” With just a bit more focus on endurance, he’s successfully transitioned from a middle-distance specialist to a marathoner.

Many of you will notice this echoes my common suggestion to train for a fast 5k or 10k once you’ve fully recovered from the marathon.

Varying the focus of your goal race means you’ll vary the focus of your training. And those faster workouts (those that you’d never do for the marathon) improve your fitness, coordination, speed, and power in ways that marathon training never will.

Get fast first and then extend that speed with endurance!

Lesson #5: Want a smooth stride? Lift weights

I get this question about once a week:

How do I improve my running form? Fast runners make it look so easy… almost effortless!

Well, it’s never without effort. But you certainly develop a smoother stride the stronger you get. Randy is adamant about this:

Strength training teaches your Central Nervous System (CNS) to coordinate which muscle fibers to use and when (called inter-muscular coordination).

It also teaches your CNS to more efficiently coordinate which muscle groups to fire and which to relax (intra-muscular coordination), often improving running technique without even addressing it directly.

Runners who know Maggie, for example, have commented to her and me after races how much her form has improved over the last couple of years.

A smooth, powerful stride is the result of many skills being expressed at once:

  • Strength
  • Efficiency
  • Power
  • Coordination

And those skills are all built with strength training! Get started here.

Lesson #6: Strength Builds Speed

Mitochondria are found inside your cells and they essentially have the job of respiration and producing energy for your body.

One of the main benefits of endurance training is the densification of cellular mitochondria, allowing you to run faster for a longer period of time.

But that’s not the only way of creating more mitochondria – you can also start lifting weights! Randy sheds some light on this aspect of weight training:

Strength training also has a positive effect on the cellular level by improving an athlete’s ability to clear lactate by building more mitochondria and the transport proteins that shuttle lactate. The better at lactate clearance, the faster you go.  

Studies have shown that endurance athletes who strength train have more mitochondria than those who do not.

Runners who have any type of time-based goal should think about weight lifting as a key component to their training.

Attacking the problem of building more mitochondria from two different sides (endurance work and lifting weights) is far more productive than relying on just one mechanism.

How to Implement this Advice

There’s a lot of helpful running advice in this one post. What’s the best way of using it to your advantage?

Three main lessons jump out at me:

  • Endurance can theoretically always be improved. Run a lot, run long, and do so consistently.
  • Don’t ignore speed: train for a short race at least once per year and do regular speed work to maintain this skill
  • Lifting weights is invaluable. Start lifting weights if you’re not already.

Since Randy is a strength coach (and works with quite a few elite runners), much of this discussion focused on the valuable benefits of weight lifting for runners.

We’ve partnered together to create a program called High Performance Lifting that’s one-of-a-kind: the only program developed by a USA Weightlifting National Coach and a USA Track and Field certified coach that:

  • Is advanced enough to be used by elite runners
  • Is approachable enough to be used by almost anybody
  • Includes 16 weeks of detailed programming with HD video demonstrations

If you’re not sure how weight lifting for runners is structured, this is your opportunity to learn exactly what to do (without wasting your time on what’s not important).

You can also sign up here for our free email course that goes into more detail about these concepts.

Either way, use these training lessons to your advantage so your next race will be your next Personal Best!

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