3 Ways to Avoid the Dreaded Performance Plateau

I love looking through my old training logs from high school and college. They’re a goldmine of info:

I can see the progression of almost every important metric that runners care about:

  • Finish times
  • Weekly mileage
  • Monthly mileage (more important than weekly mileage)
  • Workout frequency, length, and intensity
  • Frequency of strength work and cross-training

The patterns that you learn from reviewing years of training journals can give you some surprising insights.

Like…

What do I usually do in terms of training BEFORE an injury? (the answer to this question will help you prevent running injuries)

When do I have the most fun with my running? Can I replicate that more often?

What results in a massive PR? 

Today, let’s focus on that last question.

Because if you can replicate the principles (not necessarily the exact workouts, mileage, etc.) that lead to personal bests then you can keep improving and setting personal bests.

The alternative is hitting a performance plateau. Stagnating. Running the same times over and over again…

And nobody wants that!

The Plateau-Busting Episode

After working with a lot of runners for the better part of a decade, I’ve come to understand that there are three areas that most contribute to declining performances:

The Weather

Yes, this is a boring one. But if you can’t seem to get any faster during the months of June, July, or August, then it might not be you – it’s the heat and humidity.

As one of my college teammates likes to say: “In the heat, I don’t compete!”

Lifestyle Issues

One of the many lessons I learned from my cross country coach at Connecticut College was to avoid burning the candle at both ends.

What exactly does that mean? Well, it means you shouldn’t stay up all night making questionable life decisions and then expect to rock a 17 mile long run the next morning.

Everything from sleep, stress, to diet can either support or tank your running (I cover this in more detail in the podcast).

Training Problems

This is arguably the most important: if your training doesn’t progress, neither will your performances.

The fix, therefore, is to take the “next logical step” with your running when it’s appropriate.

In the latest episode of the Strength Running podcast, I dive into each of these areas and help you make better decisions that will support your running.

Because after all, wiser training and lifestyle choices will always lead to more productive running.

Listen to the episode on iTunes or on the Stitcher platform if you have an Android device.

One of the most productive ways of breaking through a plateau is simply outsourcing the problem to a professional who understands it.

If you’re tired of not improving, learn more about our coaching programs or simply send me an email. I’m happy to help.

And if your performance plateau is due to a nutrition or hormonal problem, I have good news…

Inside Tracker’s Annual Sale

Strength Running Podcast

Usually you can use code strengthrunning to save 10% on any testing service at Inside Tracker – a company that gives you an unprecedented at your body’s vitamin, mineral, fat, and hormone levels.

This was typically only available to pro runners but is now open for everyone. They test over 40 biomarkers in your blood and based on the results, give you custom nutrition and lifestyle recommendations.

In other words, they tell you what to buy at the grocery store (and what to skip), how to supplement intelligently so you’re not wasting your money on supplements that you don’t need, and how to change your training to avoid injury, burning out, or simply sub-par racing.

So if you’re training for a difficult race, want to ramp up your recovery, or are just a passionate running geek like me who’s always searching for more ways to improve, you’ll want to take advantage of this deal.

Better than 10% off, now you can save a whopping $200 on their Ultimate tier.

Save $200 off the Ultimate Package at Inside Tracker with code THANKSSTRENGTHRUN at checkout. It’s not case sensitive but it does expire Monday, November 27th at midnight. 

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Is “Balance” Holding Your Performances Back?

Balance: it’s something you’ll hear experts urge you to find in every area of your life. But is balance holding you back?
Christine Ultra Running

To address this topic, I’ve invited my Content Editor (and rockstar runner) Christine to share her thoughts on what it takes to accomplish big goals.

Take it away Christine…

***

We all know that you can’t go non-stop all the time. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

But when it comes to running goals, sometimes it’s better to set balance aside to see what you’re able to accomplish. Rarely can we achieve lofty goals without going all in, and that may mean committing to some unbalanced time in our lives.

I came to running later in life, after years as a competitive horseback rider. By the age of 13, I…

  • rode almost every day after school
  • spent long weekend days at horse shows
  • arrived at the barn before sunrise to prepare my horse and load up my equipment
  • would go home well after dark

For years riding was an integral part of my life and I thought of little else. Having a horse and competing regularly often meant passing up opportunities with friends on the weekends. And then (like now), I was rarely able to keep my eyes open much beyond 9 or 10 pm.

So it’s no surprise that once I started running in my late-20s I went all in. I slowly but steadily worked my way up from 5k to 10k races, then to a half marathon, and finally to a full marathon in 2007. I gradually went from running three days a week to six, with races scheduled frequently throughout the year.

In 2013 I started running ultras and recently finished the Boulder Field 100k last September. While I have always committed myself to training plans for any race distance, ultras have helped me push this to a new level. Committing to long miles on the trails and pushing myself to get stronger at climbing and descending hills was a significant commitment.

In the midst of training, some things I just didn’t have time for anymore. I didn’t have the time or energy for that extra yoga class each week. Running strong for 100k was my priority – trying to “balance” too many things just wasn’t going to work.

Balance, in some forms, does have a place. To avoid burnout and overtraining we all need days off (or even seasons off). It helps to have interests outside of running so that it doesn’t become your entire identity. We need variety in our training, including strength and mobility workouts to stay healthy.

But when you want to achieve something big your sense of balance needs to shift.

We usually think of the definition of “balance” in terms of this Merriam-Webster definition:

Stability produced by an even distribution of weight

This means that we spread our time evenly among the things we care about, essentially dividing our attention.

But in many ways this is much like multitasking which (despite its initial appeal) we’ve come to learn is far less productive than focusing deeply on a specific task.

What if we thought about balance more like this definition (also Merriam-Webster):

An aesthetically pleasing integration of elements

This would allow for an ebb and flow of what we do, meaning that sometimes we have to allow more time and space for the things that are currently most important to us.

Let’s think about where balance helps your training (and when it may hold you back).

The Benefits of Balance

1. Rest is necessary

This may sound overly simplistic, but it’s true. No matter how much time and energy you want to devote to your training, you also need to rest.

Rest comes in many forms:

  • a day off from running each week
  • 1-2 weeks off after a goal race
  • adequate sleep and recovery each day to bounce back from your hard training

Don’t underestimate rest – this is where growth happens as your body adapts to your training!

2. Interests outside of running

In the midst of pursuing a big running goal, you may have little time to devote to interests beyond your running. And that’s ok!

But that doesn’t mean those other interests can’t or don’t exist. Having other things you want to pursue can make your time away from running more fulfilling and productive.

If you’re injured and forced to take time off, having other passions can make that time less frustrating. You also may be less susceptible to runner problems like “taper tantrums” when you aren’t sure what to do with yourself without a schedule loaded with challenging training runs.

It’s always a little bit dangerous to have your entire identity wrapped up in just one thing.

3. Balance as variety in your training

Where balance is always appropriate is when it comes in the form of variety in your training.

Devoting yourself to a training goal doesn’t mean you run and that’s it. It means you do all the things necessary to support your running, including dynamic warm-up and strength routines, and varying your workouts between hard and easy efforts.

Without this kind of balance in your training, you’re probably headed down the road to injury and forced time off. Nobody wants that!

When Balance Holds You Back

50k Training Run

Christine having fun during a 50k training run

1. You’re not setting a lofty enough goal

The path to reaching your running goals starts with goal setting. And if you’re not setting big enough goals, it may hold you back.

After all, lackluster goals produce lackluster motivation to go after them. [Click here to tweet this quote!]

Goal setting starts with dreaming big about what you hope to achieve even though it may take years to get there.

Start with a long-term vision, but then break it down into more manageable chunks for the weeks and months ahead of you. What will it take to reach your ultimate goal, whether that means running a half marathon in under 2 hours, qualifying for Boston, or finishing a mountainous ultra?

When you’re pushing just beyond what seems possible, trying to maintain balance can hold you back. A big goal requires more than just dreaming – it requires putting in the daily work.

And that means that some other things in your life may get put on hold. Don’t quit your job, but you may attend fewer social events or have less time for other hobbies.

2. You’re trying to juggle too much

When you make the decision to pursue a big dream it means that some things will have to give. Most of us try to cram too much into our day – there’s so much we want to do, and it feels like we’re missing out by not doing it all.

But this is exactly where a self-imposed sense of balance holds us back. As with any form of multitasking, trying to spread our energy between too many things means we never really devote it to the thing that needs it most.

Maybe you can’t squeeze in that extra yoga class because you need to rest and recover from your long run.

Or maybe you need to put that new project on hold temporarily.

That doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do these things! We need to look at balance in the bigger picture – months or years rather than hours and days.

By letting go of the idea that we need to do everything, right now, we can focus on what’s most essential and reach our goals more quickly.

3. You haven’t surrounded yourself with like-minded people

When you make the decision to achieve something big with your running, you’ll learn that it’s nearly impossible to do it alone.

Surrounding yourself with people who support what you’re trying to accomplish can make all the difference (and we have just such a group for you!).

Your family or friends may think you’re nuts to start a running program or train for a race of any distance – and that’s ok! It simply means you need to find a community, either locally or online, that can help support you in your endeavors.

Over the last year, I’ve been fortunate to find a group of like-minded ultra running friends who made it seem as if running a 100-mile race is a fairly “normal” thing to do. Yes – it sounds nuts. But it’s amazing how surrounding yourself with others that go all in can shift your mindset.

The more time I spent with these friends, the more doable my 62-mile race felt. While these people are accomplishing some remarkable things, they’re not elites – they have jobs, families, and other commitments.

But they made training and running long distances a priority in their lives, and their accomplishments speak for themselves.

4. You have too many running goals

Even if you have gone all in with your running, it’s still possible to have too many conflicting training or racing goals that keep you from your ultimate accomplishment.

Are you the type of runner who wants to qualify for Boston, but also wants to race a 5k every weekend? It’s not efficient (or sustainable) to spread yourself that thin. At best you won’t get in any effective marathon training, and at worst you’ll end up injured.

A coach can be the perfect resource to look at the big picture of your training and help you weed out the non-essentials. If you have a 5k goal, focus on race-specific training with that in mind. If you want to PR in the marathon, your training is going to look very different.

“Balance” isn’t effective when it means running a 10k one week, a 5k the next, and a marathon right after that. Singular focus is a much more useful training tool.

5. You need daily focus to reach long-term goals

On Zen Habits, Leo Babauta describes the importance of focusing on an MIT – the “most important task” of the day. This is the heart and soul of single-tasking and avoiding the misconception of “balance” by juggling a never-ending to-do list.

While most of us would be hard-pressed to narrow our daily to-do list down to one thing, it’s a worthy goal. And when you’re trying to work toward a long-term accomplishment, the daily steps you take are the backbone of your effort.

Nothing big can happen without the daily work, whether that means fitting in a long run or strength session, or making a rest day truly restful.

Honoring your big goal means taking some time each day to push the non-essentials out of the way.

“Don’t worry if a few things slip when riding fast; they will!”

Growing up, one of my favorite riding  books was by George Morris (in the equestrian world his books and teachings are widely considered equestrian bible).

In one of his books, he has a picture of a rider taking a huge jump at a gallop, and comments on his form: “Don’t worry if a few things slip when riding fast; they will!”

I think the image has stuck with me all these years because this picture is the essence of someone going all in.

He’s flying around the ring at breakneck speed while steering his horse over a six-foot fence in an all-out effort to beat the clock and his competitors. Even the best riders in the world don’t have perfect form while doing this, but their heart and soul and focus are clearly evident in that breathtaking moment.

Yes, you can let some things slip.

You might not make every yoga class or spend hours in the gym on top of your training, but that’s ok.

Let go of the ideal of “balance” and do what matters most to get you where you want to be.

Additional Resources:

This post was written by Christine Sandvik.

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Sub-2:00 Half Marathon Training: How to Break 2 in the Half

The fastest growing race distance in the country is the half marathon with an annual growth rate in half marathon finishers of 12.5% since 2003 (per Running USA).

Half Marathon Finishers by Year

With nearly 2 million finishers per year, it’s no surprise that runners are hoping to accomplish the sub-2 finish time.

But running a half marathon in less than two hours isn’t easy. It requires averaging 9:09 per mile for nearly two hours of continuous running while navigating the course, terrain, water stops, bathroom breaks, and hundreds or even thousands of other runners.

For those who crave a challenge, breaking 2:00:00 in the half is a worthy goal. With the right training adjustments and preparation, most runners have the physical tools to make it happen.

You just need to put in the work.

Half Marathon Training Principle #1: Endurance

The first piece of fitness that must be developed is general endurance – or the ability to run for a long period of time.

Many beginner runners are hampered by low levels of endurance; therefore, the biggest gains in fitness come from building endurance (not from fast workouts!).

So, how do you increase your endurance? Most runners simply need to run more miles. This comes in three important forms:

First is running frequency – or the number of times you run per week.

For ambitious half marathoners choosing to run under two hours, at least four days of running is recommended. This will help improve your overall running economy and make running higher mileage easier.

Next is your weekly mileage (or volume).

If you’re running at least four days per week, your volume should be over 20 miles per week, but preferably over 30 miles. The increase in overall workload causes physical adaptations that make your body capable of running faster over longer distance. This is why elite runners run over 100 miles per week – it’s quite simply the best way to gain endurance.

Your long run is the final piece of the endurance puzzle.

To run 13.1 miles at a faster pace, it’s important to first be able to cover the distance at a comfortable pace. Many half marathoners try to cover 10 miles during training so they’re confident they can run 13.1 miles on race day.

But you’re not trying to run 13.1 miles – you’re trying to race the distance. Just like you have to crawl before you can walk, you have to first run the half easy before you run it fast.

Your weekly long run must therefore peak at about 15-18 miles or else the distance itself will remain challenging.

And you don’t want the distance to be challenging; you want the pace to be challenging!

Half Marathon Training Principle #2: Train Faster to Race Faster

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But too many runners never run any fast workouts and therefore are incapable of running fast on race day.

Instead, performing a weekly fast workout will make your sub-2 half easier to accomplish. Focus on the bread and butter half marathon workouts like tempo runs and fartlek workouts.

A Tempo is done at a pace that’s “comfortably hard” or what you could hold for about an hour (for highly trained runners). For runners targeting a sub-2 half marathon, this will likely be a pace in between your 10k and current half marathon pace.

Start by running this pace for 2-3 miles and build to about 4-5 miles. After about two months of tempo runs, you can transition to about a month of faster, fartlek workouts.

Fartleks (Swedish for “speed play”) are time-based workouts that you can run anywhere. A simple example is 6 repetitions of 2-minute intervals run at your 10k Pace. After each repetition, you take an equal 2-minute easy jog to recover.

Vary the pace of your fartlek runs to run faster than tempo pace – 10k and 5k Pace are great options. After you’ve done slower tempo runs, fartleks build on that fitness and help sharpen your speed so you can run faster on race day.

These strategies form the foundation of successful training for the half marathon:

  • Run more days per week so you can boost your weekly mileage
  • Include a weekly long run that exceeds the race distance
  • Run workouts that focus on paces faster than your half marathon goal pace

Combine these strategies and it’s only a matter of time before you run your own sub-2 half marathon.

Need some help? Our coaching programs have helped many runners just like you accomplish the sub-2:00 goal!

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How Much Mileage Should You Run During Marathon Training?

The marathon holds a special place in many runners minds: it’s the ultimate test of endurance, grit, and mental toughness.

marathon

Every day, I get questions from my readers about the marathon:

  • “Should I take a gel every 4 miles or every 3 miles during the race?”
  • “What brand of salt stick do you recommend?”
  • “Should I race in compression socks?

But the most important factor that affects how well you’ll race is not any of the above issues.

It’s how much weekly mileage you’re capable of running.

The principle is simple: run more and you’ll race faster.

Consider:

  • My college cross country coach (only half jokingly) prescribes more mileage to fix any problems with your running
  • Jay Johnson has said, “For the average runner, running more will lead to faster running.  End of story.”
  • Renowned UC-Boulder Cross-Country coach Mark Wetmore says, “The cornerstone [of our program] is the long-term, patient development of the aerobic metabolism.”

But it’s not just coaches who are advocating for higher mileage for improved performances… runners are realizing it, too.

How Do BQ Marathoners Train?

Strava published some fascinating data on the training of marathoners that I suggest everyone look at. Here are the highlights.

Faster runners run higher weekly mileage:

strava-marathon-mileage

Slower runners do more short runs and fewer “mid-distance” runs of 5-10 miles:

strava-marathon-long-short

And in this Runner’s World graphic, we can see that faster runners also run slower relative their abilities:

boston-qualify-marathon

Now we know: it pays to run easy!

How Do We Learn From This Data?

First, I don’t think any of this information is groundbreaking. This should not be your “ah-ha!” moment.

We’ve known for years that high mileage produces faster runners. And this data confirms two principles that we already know:

1. Running more helps you race faster

Is this any surprise? I’ve written about the value of high mileage for years:

2. Running easy is critical for balance.

Most runners are amazed at how easy “fast” runners train most of the time.

Here’s a great litmus test: if the best runners in the world run easy for most of the time, why can’t you?

And if you’re in doubt, just slow down. Slower is better than faster when it comes to training!

How Much Mileage Do SR Marathoners Run?

Now, the fun part: how much mileage do YOU run?

In the comments below, I want to hear from marathoners in the Strength Running community. Let us know how much weekly mileage you put in during your peak training.

I think this will give us a good idea of the ranges that are possible – and encourage us all to to run a little bit more.

Because when our capacity for work increases, so does our capacity for speed.

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Easy vs. Marathon Pace, Goal Setting, and More Q&A with Coach Mario Fraioli

The best runners know when to get help and work together. It’s like Michael Jordan once said:

Teamwork

If you’re a Lone Wolf, some things are inevitable:

  • Have a question? Prepare to spend hours going down the Google rabbit hole…
  • Feeling unmotivated? Sorry, you’re on your own.
  • Not sure how to break through your plateau? Time to “try everything!

But the runners who get the support, guidance, and camaraderie they need always seem to reach their goals.

Which one are you? 

Today, my friend Mario Fraioli is joining me on the podcast to help me answer your toughest questions and give you the support needed to reach new levels of performance.

Mario and I competed against each other in college (he always beat me) while he was at Stonehill and I was at Connecticut College.

After graduation, he dove headfirst into the running industry. Some of his notable achievements:

Today, his main project is The Morning Shakeout, a weekly newsletter of commentary and thoughts on running, culture, writing, and media.

Despite his coaching, writing, and training duties, Mario made time to help members of the Strength Running community with their running questions.

Mario Fraioli on Pacing, Goals, and Cross-Training

Mario Fraioli

In this wide-ranging conversation, we discuss the nuances behind six running questions about:

  • How to determine your easy pace
  • When to go for a BQ time or try to just finish in the marathon
  • Whether tennis can be used for cross-training (and when)
  • Street vs. Treadmill running
  • The optimal distance for marathon long runs
  • The relationship between age and the number of days you run per week

I crowd-sourced these questions from email, social media, and other sources.

Want your question answered on an upcoming podcast? Get in touch on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

Listen to this new episode on iTunes or the Stitcher platform.

Show Links & Resources

This episode of the podcast is sponsored by Ankle Foot Maximizer – an innovative strength tool used by elite athletes and recommended by top coaches and PhD’s.

If you struggle with foot or lower leg injuries, the AFX system will help you increase strength, mobility, and proprioception.

Use code STRENGTHRUN at checkout to save 10% on any order at afx-online.com.

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How to Run for Decades Without Burning Out

When I started running in high school, I had no idea I’d still be at it 19 years later. I thought it was just a way to meet girls (and my mom thought it was a good way to keep me out of prison).

But here I am, conquering summits and ripping up the track in my mid-30’s (I stayed out of prison, too!).

Are you the same way?

For a lot of runners, what started as a way to get in shape or lose a few pounds turns into a lifelong passion.

Soon, you’re going on running retreats and flying across the country to run a marathon. What did we do with all of our free time before running?!

Alas, not every runner gets to experience a lifetime of running bliss.

Some of us over train, burn out, or get so injured that we simply give up. But I will not let that happen to you!

Instead, let’s learn from lifelong competitors who are still running after decades of workouts, long runs, and races.

These are athletes that have discovered the secret to unlocking a lifetime of racing, trail runs, and workouts (in other words… a lifetime of FUN!).

And Jonathan Beverly interviewed 50 of them to help you run for decades.

Running Longevity 101

In his new book Run Strong, Stay Hungry: 9 Keys to Staying in the Race, Jonathan Beverly discusses the universal principles that promote lifelong running.

He spoke with 50 “lifetime competitors” like:

But more importantly, he interviewed a lot of normal runners! Not just Olympians or previous Boston Marathon winners – but average runners who don’t have elite genetics.

That’s why this podcast episode is so important: it’s what works for all runners – not just the best runners.

Subscribe here on iTunes or if you have an Android device, subscribe on the Stitcher platform.

Show Resources & Links

This episode of the Strength Running podcast is sponsored by Inside Tracker – a blood analytics service that allows any runner to get advance notice of burnout and overtraining by testing important biomarkers in your body.

They’ve generously offered 10% off any testing tier with code strengthrunning at checkout.

Inside Tracker tests for over 50 major blood biomarkers and based on your personal physiology, offer custom solutions to help you optimize any areas that are outside of the normal zones.

So if you’re training for a difficult race, want to ramp up your recovery, or are just a passionate running geek like me who’s always searching for more ways to improve, you can get 10% off any test at insidetracker.com with code strengthrunning at checkout.

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How to Turn 5 Years of Chronic Injuries Into Four (Healthy) Personal Bests

Imagine spending thousands of dollars to stay healthy, only to be injured for more than five years with every race slower than your first.

Kira Running PR

Kira, experiencing what it’s like to run strong without injuries

Would you consider giving up on running?

How much frustration, compounded over years, could you handle?

I want you to meet Kira – a runner so overwhelmed by her chronic injury cycle that she almost gave up running forever.

Her story is dramatic. With a successful first marathon finish in 4:09 she was excited about her future as a distance runner. But as she trained for her next marathons the injuries began to multiply.

Without consistent, healthy training, her second and third marathons got progressively slower.

Kira’s second marathon was a disappointing 4:24.

Her third? An abysmal 5:06.

When countless trips to the doctor didn’t help her ongoing pain, she looked online for an answer. She remembered:

I would spend hours on the Internet trying to figure out what I thought was some freakish thing wrong with me. I thought that I had some genetic problem with my hips that made it impossible for me to run.

Kira’s pain was excruciating and every training cycle it would force her to take weeks off from running. When she was able to run, she needed to modify her stride to avoid pain – only leading to a new set of problems, including Iliotibial Band Syndrome.

Nevertheless, she persisted. Despite her challenges, she knew she loved running too much to give it up.

My injury cycle happened for over 5 years before I decided I needed to change or give up running all together. I started swimming and biking but never found the same joy in it as running.

So for five years, Kira struggled.

Did she every get healthy (and stay that way)? Did she ever run a faster marathon?

Why yes she did!

How Kira Escaped Her Injury Cycle

Kira_Run Dirty

After yet another injury that left her unable to run for two months, Kira decided to get serious about running healthy.

In 2014, she invested in Injury Prevention for Runners (Strength Running’s most popular, and effective, course):

I decided to pull the trigger after utilizing the countless free resources on Strength Running. I had been following Jason long enough that I really trusted him and his advice.

He also always emailed me back and answered my questions, even when I wasn’t a paying customer. I had made so much progress by reading SR but I wanted to get even better and have the security of a real, well-thought out plan.

Kira was relieved at having such a specific plan to follow and it took any guesswork out of her training. She followed it precisely and started embracing the progress she was experienced.

Once I realized that it was all about mindset, it became easier. It also became “mandatory” [to follow the program] in my mind when I started seeing results. I was not only injury-free but I was getting faster!

Suddenly, Kira found herself several weeks into a new training cycle without any injuries. The weeks continued to roll by and Kira’s next marathon was fast approaching.

The Ultimate Test: Kira’s Next Marathon

She continued to run, happy and injury-free. Finally, Kira escaped what she aptly described as her “dark, depressing injury cycle.”

After so many years of chronic injuries, Kira finally conquered her sub-4 hour goal with room to spare, running the Long Beach Marathon in an impressive 3:52!

Curious to see how much you’d improve? Find out.

Beyond reaching her goal, Kira was finally running with confidence again. No longer was she heading out for a run and anticipating her next injury. By staying healthy, Kira also got stronger and faster over longer distances.

Kira explains what the program has taught her:

I learned that injury prevention makes WAY more sense that injury rehab (better to be proactive than reactive).

Injury prevention is not only easy, it is fun and makes running pain free and enjoyable.

Specifically for me, I learned that my hips and butt were really, really weak, and just running more wasn’t going to make them stronger.

Her description of the impact it has had on her running gets to the heart of the Strength Running’s injury prevention philosophy:

Running alone isn’t enough!

Kira doesn’t hold back when it comes to recommending Strength Running’s approach to prevention:

I tell every runner I know about Injury Prevention for Runners because it honestly just works. I feel so great that I can once again call myself a “runner” when at one point I had almost given up all hope.

This program is the best investment a runner can make. I believe that whole-heartedly!

Are these results long-term?

Three years later, is Kira still running strong and healthy?

Was this marathon PR just a brief detour into healthy, fast running?

Actually, not at all!

Kira was so excited about her results that we started working together more closely in my 1-on-1 coaching program a few months after her Long Beach Marathon PR.

Her current PR is 3:22 – a full 30 minutes (more than a 1-minute per mile!) faster than her previous PR of 3:52. And she set PR’s in many other distances as well!

I actually interviewed Kira about her experience with Injury Prevention for Runners:

What made Kira so successful – and is it possible for you too?

First, she took action and invested in her running.

While new shoes or a fancy fuel belt are runners’ “normal” purchases, these things don’t help you get better. Instead, she invested in her knowledge of the sport and reaped the rewards.

Second, she knew she needed to change.

After all, if you keep doing what you’re doing, then you’re going to keep getting what you’re getting.

To improve and say goodbye to your own injury cycle, you first have to change how you train. If you’re not willing to change, then you’ll remain injured.

Finally, Kira didn’t give up.

Anybody who’s been injured for a long time (myself included!) know how hard it is to miss the thing you love.

I was so depressed when I had my big IT Band injury that I sat on the couch for six months eating Oreos and watching reruns of House. Yeah, it was ugly.

But Kira understood that you have to keep moving forward and learning. Running is too special to abandon!

Just imagine if she had quit… she’d have never experienced the joy of running pain-free. Or set an enormous 47-minute PR that qualified her for the Boston Marathon.

If you’re considering of quitting running because of your own chronic injury cycle… DON’T!

Take the first step and learn more about how to run healthy.

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The 1% Approach to Massive Personal Bests

Would you like to be a strong, healthy runner who barely has to worry about injuries? If so, join the club…

Staying healthy is the #2 goal of Strength Running readers (after “get faster”). And there are a lot of reasons why this goal is so valuable:

  • Healthy runners run more, helping them build more endurance than their chronically injured peers
  • A focus on prevention results in more strategic strength training – which can help you sprint faster at the end of a race
  • Proper training also improves your overall athleticism, coordination, and running economy
  • Pain-free runners are happier! Why waste time on injuries, anyway?

Clearly, by focusing on prevention (here’s how, BTW), you’re focusing on being a better runner.

This week, you’re going to learn how to stay healthy long-term so you can be a stronger, faster, happier runner.

And since 2017 is the Year of Fundamentals, I want to get back to the fundamental building blocks that help you prevent injuries.

I will not be discussing:

  • Whether beet extract will instantly increase your endurance
  • What brand of foam roller is most effective for preventing DOMS
  • How to get ready for your marathon in 5 weeks with no injuries (spoiler: you can’t)
  • Baking soda, creatine, Vitamin D or other wacky supplements

These topics have very little to do with staying healthy…

Instead, we’ll discuss the fundamental pillars of injury prevention so you can focus on what works rather than wasting your time with what doesn’t work.

First, let’s look at some examples of what not to do.

Why Do We Sabotage Ourselves?

Behind the scenes at Strength Running, I’m constantly helping runners improve.

But often, that has nothing to do with a training plan or coaching program. It has everything to do with long-term strategy.

Recently I mentioned this on Twitter:

It’s exactly that perspective that a coach can help you with. Anybody can say “go run 10 miles” or “run 8x400m on the track” – that’s not what makes a great coach.

What makes a great coach is the person who can guide you when you have multiple decisions to make:

  • Will I set myself back if I run through this weird pain in my foot?
  • Should I run the fun run the day before my goal race?
  • I missed my long run – should I make it up, skip it, or something else?
  • I’m 2 weeks from my marathon and my knee hurts. What now?!

Good answers to these questions require perspective – and knowing what to avoid (which is just as important as knowing what to do). Not making mistakes during these crucial times is critical but often ignored.

It’s sexier to focus on “muscling through” an injury.

It’s easier to focus on “complete rest” for an injury.

But both are wrong. And by simply avoiding the wrong thing, runners will thrive.

James Clear knows the value of not making training errors:

Avoiding mistakes is an underrated way to improve. It’s easier to fix errors than boost skills. Rather than do your best, avoid your worst.

This echoes legendary football coach Lou Holtz:

It’s not the great play that wins the game. It’s eliminating the dumb play.

But in our never-ending quest for higher mileage, harder workouts, and faster races we fall into the trap of executing “dumb plays.” We make mistakes because we take shortcuts.

Just look at some of these training errors I’ve encountered over the last two weeks:

  • The trail runner who took a month off from running but wonders why his IT Band Syndrome hasn’t gone away (rest is not the same as treatment!)
  • The half marathoner who SKIPS HER TAPER but wonders why she didn’t race well
  • The beginner who’s attempting his first marathon next week… with persistent Achilles pain

If these runners eliminate the dumb play, they’ll avoid a world of hurt.

But they kept chasing their big goals – despite the warning signs – and will stay injured.

My goal at SR is to look out for you and prevent these mistakes so you can reach your potential and run faster.

So instead of being like most runners who make consistent training mistakes, I want you to think about marginal gains.

This concept is pivotal for preventing injuries and staying healthy long-term.

“The Aggregation of Marginal Gains”

A few years ago, British cycling went through a transformation. They became one of the world’s most dominant cycling countries despite a history of being… well, awful.

This was made possible by the “aggregation of marginal gains,” an approach to improvement that is both simple but incredibly powerful.

In Mark McClusky’s fantastic book Faster, Higher, Stronger he discusses this concept:

Instead of looking for one earth-shattering change, British cycling takes a different approach. It looks at every aspect of performance, and tries to improve each a little bit – even just a tenth of a percent.

If you find a training technique that makes an athlete that tiny bit stronger, it alone might not have a huge effect on a race.

But if you can stack those very small improvements on one another, finding a bit in tires and a bit in the wheels and a bit on the track surface and a bit in nutrition – well, soon those marginal gains begin to add up to big gaps between you and your competition.

How does this help you?

First, it underscores that a healthy lifestyle matters for performance, recovery, and staying healthy. If you can…

…even just a little bit each, then you’ll stack those gains on top of one another and a breakthrough in performance becomes more likely.

The concept of marginal gains can also help you dramatically lower your risk of injury.

Just a few small tweaks to your current training (NOT one earth-shattering change) can make all the difference between yet another setback and a strong, healthy season.

Focus on the 1%

You’ve seen how training mistakes can set you back. You’ve also seen how a series of small improvements can add up to a breakthrough.

This week I’ll be sharing more details on these small improvements and how you can take advantage of them to stay healthy, run pain-free, and get faster.

To start, get your first lesson here.

I’ll also be sharing more advice on social media, so don’t miss anything:

If you’re ready to finally run without injuries, I’m ready to help you transform your running.

I think this is going to be a huge turning point in your running career so get excited!

Make sure you’re on the Strength Running Team to get the best stuff – just sign up here and I’ll take care of sending you the first coaching lesson.

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Courtney Frerichs on Long-Term Success: Gymnastics, Strength Training, and Teammates

Last August, we witnessed the most electrifying track race in history at the World Championships: the women’s 3,000m Steeplechase:

Before this race, no American woman had ever won a medal in the steeple at the World Championships.

Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs changed that with an historic 1-2 finish, decimating a field that included the current World Record holder and Olympic Champion.

This was also the first time any Americans had taken home both gold and silver at the World Champions or the Olympics in a race longer than 400m since the 1912 Olympics.

Both Emma and Courtney also ran faster than the existing American Record.

NBC Sports called the race “shocking.”

Sports Illustrated described Courtney’s effort “certainly one of the biggest surprises of the world championships.”

And ESPN boldly proclaimed that this was one of the best races in the history of running.

I’ll paraphrase ESPN:

Before this race, Courtney’ fastest steeplechase time was 9:19. She beat that time by an enormous 15 seconds to win silver in 9:03.77. That’s like scoring a hat trick in a World Cup soccer game after totaling only three goals all season.

No American had won a world title in steeplechase since 1952. No U.S. women had ever finished 1-2 in any world championship distance race. Track nerds — why isn’t there such a thing as a football nerd? — are calling this the most thrilling race of the 2017 World Championships, and one of the greatest moments in American distance running history.

You sports fans can just call it amazing. Like a football game where — nah, forget that. After a race like this, nobody cares about football.

A 15-second improvement? Over a race that’s less than two miles long? INSANITY!

That kind of PR puts Courtney in the record books. She’s now the 8th fastest woman to ever run the steeplechase.

Today you’re going to hear directly from Courtney about this historic race.

Courtney Frerichs: “This feels like a dream”

Courtney Frerichs is on the podcast to talk more about the race, her background as a gymnast, and the role her team has in her success.

We’re discussing a lot:

  • How her gymnastics skills impact her running
  • The transformative advice she got when she just started running
  • What it viscerally felt like to cross the finish line as the 2nd fastest in the world
  • The role her team and coach has in supporting her training and dreams
  • The type of strength training that helps her stay healthy and perform well

This interview is just an excerpt from the full conversation available exclusively to Team Strength Running members.

In this program, you hear from a new guest expert every month. In the past members have received exclusive interviews with runners like Amelia Boone, Travis Macy, and Pete Magill.

Sign up here and I’ll let you know when we open registration to new members!

Listen to our episode with Courtney Frerichs on iTunes or on the Stitcher platform if you use an Android phone.

Courtney is a runner that burst onto the running scene quickly – just a few years out of college. And she didn’t even start running full-time until her senior year of high school.

As you listen to this episode, ask yourself:

  • How did Courtney make running fun, virtually guaranteeing that it would become a lifelong habit?
  • What other exercises, movements, and drills help keep her running strong and injury-free?
  • How does Courtney use other runners, mentors, and coaches to keep improving? Is she a Lone Wolf?

Please give Courtney a shout on Instagram or Twitter – she’d love to connect!

And for those runners who love diving deep into the training and mindset of pro runners, I have two important resources for you:

  1. The Little Black Book of Prevention & Recovery (free – features advice from 9 elites)
  2. Team Strength Running (every month we feature a new pro runner, scientist, coach, or author to help you refine your running skills, technique, and knowledge)

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Shake-Ups: Cool Down Exercises for Maximum Recovery

At the college level, it seemed that we spent as much time doing non-running training than we did running (and we ran 80+ miles per week!).

Cool Down Exercises

Even though we were running nearly an hour and a half every day, there were so many other things to do:

Sometimes, I felt like a part-time student and a full-time runner.

Layered on top of a high-volume training program, these cool down exercises, drills, and strength sessions had the desired effect: I felt athletic as well as strong and fast.

And it’s no surprise that our program was modeled after what the best runners in the world do on a daily basis.

After all: if you want to excel then you should model the best.

Now you know why I’m so adamant about “the little things” that help you run faster. If you only focus on running, you’ll only be a one-dimensional runner without the athleticism for speed.

Today, I want to give you a sneak peak into a drill that we did at Connecticut College to help cool down from a hard workout.

For more dynamic mobility routines, runner-specific core work, and strength workouts, click here to get our full workout library.

Shake-Ups: Cool Down Dynamically

Shake-ups are part of the cool-down process after a particularly challenging workout. They’re not as necessary after an easy run.

They’re designed to be completed as soon as you’re done with the repetitions, intervals, tempo, or otherwise the “workout” part of the training session – but not after the easy running you’ll do as part of the cool down.

How to Run Shake-Ups

Our shake-up video demonstration will show you just how to do these cool down exercises:

These drills are best done on a 400m outdoor track. One set (4 reps) will take you one lap of the track.

And each repetition will take you about 100m and includes:

  • 25m Skip
  • 50m Slow Stride
  • 25m Walk

The skips can be alternated so you’re doing a combination of front and backwards skips, A-skips, and arm swings.

Why Are Shake-ups Effective Cool Down Exercises?

These exercises are done after a challenging speed workout – and that’s the key to understanding their real benefit.

First, let’s take a look at what a hard workout does to your body:

  • Produces lactate and other exercise byproducts
  • Lowers the pH of the blood (making it more acidic)
  • Creates muscle damage that results in “tighter” muscles

Now that we understand some of the results of a fast workout, we know how to cool down effectively.

First, grab a six-pack and fire up Netflix. We’re going to spend the next few hours on the couch.

Ok… that’s not going to work. Actually, that might be the worst thing you can do to recover.

Let’s do this the right way!

Every hard workout should roughly resemble a bell curve of overall effort. Every activity brings you closer to your peak effort:

  • Start with a dynamic warm-up
  • Then do some easy running
  • Follow that with drills and strides
  • Now run the workout!
  • Cool down with shake-ups
  • And some easy running
  • Finish with a strength routine

Shake-ups form a bridge of easy cool down exercises between the workout and more easy running.

You’ll clear exercise byproducts from your bloodstream more effectively, increase your range of motion, build strength, and aid recovery (not to mention improve general athleticism and your running form).

For those days with exceptionally hard workouts, it pays to do an exceptional cool down to help you recover.

For more core, strength, and mobility routines, sign up here to get our full collection!

And a big thanks to Head Track Coach Ned Bishop at Connecticut College for jogging my memory about the structure of this exercise!

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