How James Ran 3 Personal Bests After Years of Stagnating Finish Times

Improvement can be a fickle phenomenon. Sometimes you get a lot faster, seemingly out of nowhere! But often you struggle for months without a single sign of progress.


Just the other day I was speaking to a group of pub owners at the Hilton in downtown Denver. Anheuser-Busch invited me to give a presentation about improving performance.

As a coach, that’s my job: harness improvement to help runners perform better.

One of the attendees asked me, “How do you determine HOW you train someone to improve? What do you have that person do?”

It’s a great question for three reasons:

  1. Often, we don’t know the first step so we don’t start.
  2. Even when we know what to do, we don’t know what to do first.
  3. The many options for improvement can be overwhelming.

My answer spoke to a hierarchy of training interventions that are low risk, high reward, and that aren’t currently being utilized in that runner’s training.

Which brings me to the subject of today: James!

You see, James had been doing almost everything right in his running. And it showed in his results (James had run a 17:25 5k!).

But like many runners, he hit a performance plateau. He was stagnating. His finish times weren’t improving anymore.

It didn’t end like that, though. There was a training intervention that James wasn’t using in his running…

This story is about how James turned his running around by incorporating just one new aspect of training.

The result? Three new Personal Bests and feeling better than ever before.

“I Lost Any Pop In My Legs”

High Performance Lifting Testimonial

Strength training: it works!

James was starting to feel frustrated. He hadn’t run a single Personal Best in a few years and felt like the progression of his training was slowing down.

He sent me this note:

My running had become somewhat stagnant. I was working hard, trying to run more miles and get faster but had lost any pop in my legs. My leg turnover was lost after the mileage.

I felt like I had more speed than I was showing in races and had not set any PR’s in a couple of years.

With his running stagnating, he became a student of the sport. After reading countless articles that spoke to the benefits of weightlifting for runners, he knew it was incredibly valuable.

But couldn’t James just be more consistent with strengthening exercises like squats or the bench press? Hardly. He said:

I had a past track record of getting to a point when I tried to do weights myself but I flaked out when I didn’t see results or wasn’t inventive enough to know what to do next.

Lifting weights is not a “natural” thing for endurance runners. The gym is usually a foreign place… we’d rather be out running!

But James realized that if he was going to escape his cycle of stagnation, he needed something more than “squats and bench press.”

“I Stayed the Faster Version of Me”

Maggie Callahan Strength Training

Strengthening exercises like the squat are fundamental for runners

One day, I sent James an email about our flagship lifting program High Performance Lifting. He said:

It seemed like the resource I had been searching for. I loved the idea of following a specific, intelligent plan designed for runners to achieve their running goals.

The periodization of the program, matching to a goal race, made sense to me because I do this with running in a training cycle. I thought, if I want to get to the next level of running, I need to move forward with this.

James took the leap and invested in the program. Knowing he needed purpose and organization to his weight training, it was a great fit.

And suddenly, he started realizing how much better he felt after consistently focusing on runner-specific strengthening exercises:

The first immediate change I noticed was an improved ability to explode into a faster interval. I felt I had more push with each stride and my form did not break down as I got further into a workout or race.

I was able to stay the faster version of me for longer.

His new strength allowed James to not only get faster, but run with better form when he’s tired (this is a significant way to prevent injuries!).

James understood that these strengthening exercises were worth it, despite the added demands on his schedule.

Even with a job, a family with three children, and trying to run higher mileage, he started really looking forward to this part of his training.

Watching the PR’s Roll In…

james marathon PR

James running his PR marathon last year

Three months after beginning a strength training program built exclusively for runners, James was loving his progress.

Not only that, but he started seeing his new strength as an edge over other runners like him:

I PR’d by almost 40 seconds in the 5k 3 months after starting the program (16:48 from 17:25). My 10K and marathon PRs have improved this year as well.

In addition, the program is helping me run healthier for more miles as it has strengthened some of my weak spots. I run more upright in workouts and have added weekly miles.

Strength training is one of the edges I have over similar runners because I understand lifting is more key to my performance than a few more miles on the road. I certainly recommend it to someone looking to reach a new place with their goals.

Sometimes, it’s hard to intellectually understand the benefits of strength training:

  • lower injury risk
  • stronger and more powerful stride
  • improved running economy
  • faster finish times

Sure, we get that strengthening exercises are important (like how we’re supposed to eat our vegetables). But knowing is not necessarily the same as seeing.

James has personally experienced the transformative benefits of weightlifting. And now that he knows just how much better a runner he can be with strength work, he’s never going back.

Lifting weights is just as important as running. You can’t do the same thing all of the time and expect to grow. This is why the updates that come out with HPL are great. I can continue to progress forward.

I’ve also learned to look at my running as becoming a better overall athlete. The better of an all-around athlete you become, the more you can push yourself. I think this will become even more important as I inch closer to being a Masters athlete.

James is now stronger, faster, and healthier than he has been in quite awhile.

And he’s completely right about strength and athleticism being more important as you get older. In fact, strength training is one of the most effective methods of fighting back against aging!

Now James has a plan to prevent injuries, keep getting faster, and improve his running far into the future.

Register here for Strength Running’s weightlifting guidance to see how James transformed his running.Runners Need to Lift

You’ll learn more about why you should lift, plus common mistakes runners make in the weight room.

And the best part? Just like James noticed, you’ll have a clear “edge” over your competitors when you follow a progressive, periodized, runner-specific strength program.

So sign up here, start lifting, and that next Personal Best will be right around the corner!

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Is a Running Form Analysis Right For You?

You’ve probably heard about running form analysis or know someone who has been through it. But do you know what it is exactly, or if you can benefit?

Running Form

Let’s be clear from the start about what it’s not: Going to a shoe store, hopping on a treadmill and getting an assessment from a store sales rep. This is nothing more than a gimmick to steer you toward purchasing running shoes, inserts, and more.

At the other end of the spectrum is a day-long analysis performed in a clinic, like the famous University of Virginia Speed Clinic. You’ll get all the information you need and more – plus pay a pretty penny – for this high-end service. While there’s no doubt there’s much to be gained from this approach, it’s probably more than the average runner needs.

There’s a middle ground, however. A service like the Running Form Course is one example.

A good, thorough form analysis is much more in-depth than the shoe-store version and cannot be accomplished with a two-minute jog on a treadmill. It should be overseen by a qualified professional, either a running coach who knows what he or she is doing or a physical therapist who understands running form. Video should be part of the drill, and a set of thorough analytics and recommendations should accompany the package.

To really understand form analysis, we checked in with Olympic triathlete and run coach with Race Ready Coaching, Joanna Zeiger, PhD. She says form analysis is a good idea for anyone who runs consistently:

I have all my athletes go through it. It’s important for any committed runner, at any level, in order to run at the most efficient form possible.

I liken it to a fingerprint. We all have our own unique style and even after form changes, you’ll still maintain that style.

A word to the wise: don’t expect an overnight fix. Form analysis will likely turn up several places for improvement and you won’t be able to implement it all at once.

A better approach is improving each element gradually, which will require a hefty dose of patience. If you’re up for the long game, however, it can pay off.

Running Form Analysis Basics

Better than my form are those shaved legs!

The approaches to form analysis will vary depending on who you have turned to for help (you’ll see this in this group interview with 6 running form experts).

Live, in-person running form analysis is best, and video will probably be part of the overall look (though this is also the most expensive option).

If you’re working remotely with a coach, video is essential. Zeiger agrees, noting that any running form analysis should include video with a complete, head-to-toe look at how an athlete moves. You want to find someone who is going to break down your form frame by frame.

What are coaches looking for? Zeiger’s team examines four basic tenets of form:

  • Breathing
  • Cadence
  • Where your foot lands, either under your center of mass or out in front
  • Muscle imbalances

Then, based on the finding, specific suggestions are made to upgrade your running form.

Focus on Breathing First

You might be surprised to find that a common starting point for running form analysis is breathing. Zeiger explains:

I’d say that 99 percent of runners are chest breathers. The only runner I’ve ever encountered who could properly breathe from the diaphragm was a dancer who had spent a lifetime perfecting it.

When you breathe shallowly from your chest, you are creating patterns that are detrimental to your form and movement. It’s much easier to engage your glutes, hip flexors and other important body parts when you draw breath from your belly.

A dead giveaway that you don’t diaphragmatically breathe is seeing your shoulders rise with each breath. Instead, you want your belly to extend with the breath intake, something that feels unnatural for most runners.

To fix poor breathing patterns, drills are in order to help athletes improve. None of this is easy. In fact, in order to truly nail proper breathing, you need to put it into practice all day long. The hope is that stead, daily practice will eventually lead to a new, second nature form of diaphragmatic breathing that will carry over into your running.

Some people, Zeiger says, never fully get the proper breathing down, and many will throw in the towel out of frustration:

Many people, when they see themselves on video are horrified by how they look. They see the big picture and get overwhelmed, but we break it down into small chunks.

If and when a runner nails diaphragmatic breathing, the other pieces more easily fall into place. From there, analysis can move onto other benchmarks, like cadence, landing under the center of mass and muscle imbalances.

Running Form Metric #2: Cadence

Cadence, or how many steps per minute you take when you run, is another area that analysis can help improve. While many runners are familiar with the goal of 180 steps per minute, this isn’t a formal “rule.”

In fact, if your easy running pace is slower than 10 minutes per mile, this might be downright impossible. Instead, aim to run more than 170 steps per minute if your easy pace is faster than 10 minutes per mile. Or 160+ steps if you’re slower than 10 minutes per mile.

Even small improvements in cadence can make a difference in your economy and how you’ll feel. Zeiger adds:

If you can get up to something like 170 or 175 steps per minute, it will help. You’re not going for a big jump in cadence, but rather, incremental change. You can start with one step faster per minute, and go from there.

Runners interested in cadence improvements can turn to running form drills that emphasize high knees and quick feet, all in the hopes of slowly bringing the turnover rate up.

Here are a few examples:

Establish your baseline cadence – either with a watch, an app, or plain old-fashioned counting footsteps per minute. Set targets to meet along the way and remember to move up slowly.

Form Analysis Metric #3: Landing Location

A third basic measurement is whether or not runners land with their feet extended out in front of their bodies, or under their hips or center of mass.

Landing perfectly under your center of mass is probably out of reach for most runners, but any improvements in over-striding will help improve power, running economy, and injury resilience. Your body will absorb less impact and you will more efficiently use energy return with each stride.

As with other form tweaks, Zeiger recommends an incremental approach and sets of drills to help with improvement. Complete 2-3 sets of 3-4 running drills several times per week and more efficient movement patterns will start to become second-nature.

Another helpful cue to help runners land underneath their hips is to practice “putting your foot down.” This changes how you think about running; instead of “reaching out” with your leg to cover more ground, you’re putting your foot down directly underneath your body.

This subtle change in perspective helps ingrain this cue permanently into your muscle-memory.

Do You Have Muscle Imbalances?

The final tenet to consider with running form analysis is whether or not runners have imbalances (which most do, as Jason talks about here!). These imbalances put more strain on ligaments, tendons and the muscles themselves.

Injuries are a sign that something is indeed out of balance, but before reaching that stage, an analysis of simple movement patterns like squats, lunges and similar movements, is a good way to spot them.

Some key exercises to help improve these issues include:

  • single-leg squats
  • “superman” extensions, performed prone on your stomach
  • single-leg deadlift, first unweighted and then progressing to weighted
  • one-legged bridges
  • walking lunges with a twist

All of these exercises are included in our flagship training program Injury Prevention for Runners.

In addition to addressing muscular imbalances, it’s a smart idea to check on overall balance, because running at its essence is a series of one-legged stances. There are many simple ways of improving balance:

  • Spend time on one leg while brushing your teeth or standing in line at the grocery store
  • Up the ante as you become more adept by closing your eyes in this stance
  • Make it harder by throwing a ball back and forth with a friend while on one foot
  • The hardest option? Performing single-leg bounding (a plyometric that’s best done by experienced runners)

Addressing and correcting imbalances early can be a productive strategy for preventing injuries before they even occur.

How to Start Improving Your Form

Working on form improvements can feel time consuming and overwhelming. It’s also not exactly what runners would love to be doing and it will be a long process.

Zeiger notes:

It can be tedious and slow but if you want to do the things you enjoy, sometimes you have to do things you don’t enjoy in order to pull it off.

When you get injured, you often receive a set of rehab exercises to help heal. Then once you’re better, you quit and often times end up injured all over again.

As with rehab, the drills you start to improve your form should be looked at as lifetime commitments. Once you have them mastered, they won’t take that much of your time, and if you find yourself squeezed for time, it’s better to drop a mile out of a run and fit them in than the other way around.

And if you’re one of those runners who doesn’t want to see how you look on film, Zeiger says get over it in the name of improvement:

Most runners are actually horrified by how they look on film, but they need to move beyond that. Once you can see how you look and where you need improvement, it becomes must easier to visualize as you put in the work.

Form work isn’t sexy or fun, but it is important.

Make it a regular part of your routine with:

  • Weekly strides and form drills
  • Breathing properly
  • A focus on cadence and where your foot lands

Let’s not also forget that strength training is one of the best ways of improving your form.


Because all weightlifting is for runners is coordination training under resistance. With more coordination – and power – you’ll have a more economical and fluid stride.

Finally, if you want the help of a professional but don’t want to blow the mortgage on a live in-person video analysis at a top sports lab, check out The Running Form Course that provides expert guidance and video running form analysis.

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Megan Roche on Being a Happy Runner

Of all the ways that you could improve as a runner, none is more powerful than honing your “mental fitness” to beat anxiety, improve consistency, and boost motivation.

megan roche happy runner

That’s because in 2019, we’ve largely figured out how to train runners physically. There are some minor differences between respectable coaching philosophies but they’re not wildly dissimilar.

For example, no prominent running program in the world (high school, college, elite) advocates low mileage and high intensity. We tried that in the 1940’s and 1950’s but have moved on (CrossFit Endurance is still playing catch up).

We also tried high mileage and virtually no intensity (i.e., almost all of the runs were easy), leading to the surge in American marathon dominance in the 1970’s and ’80’s. Think “Boston Billy” Rodgers winning a slew of Boston and NYC marathons using this approach.

Advances in exercise science and testing equipment and methods has allowed us to figure that we need both: a healthy mix of aerobic work and fast, intense repetitions (though, not as much as we previously thought).

Author Matt Fitzgerald summed this up nicely:

A high-volume, mostly low-intensity approach will still rule [in the future], because it simply cannot be improved upon. The only real alternatives—training less and doing everything fast—have been tried and they don’t work as well.

But while we’ve mostly cracked the case on how to train runners, that doesn’t mean that we’ll never improve and get faster (as a species, not as individuals). Because there are always more factors that can be improved:

If I had to wager on the area that has the most promise – for any runner – it’s training the brain. Shifts in mindset, outlook, and how you think about running can unlock new levels of mental toughness, motivation, anxiety management, and focus.

Ever been a few miles from the finish of a race and dark self-talk creeps into your brain, advising you to slow down because you’re not fast enough? Then you understand how a change in perspective can be a game-changer!

I wanted to bring on a high-level runner and coach who understands this concept to talk more about a single aspect of your mindset: happiness.

Please welcome Megan Roche to the podcast to discuss her new book The Happy Runner.

Megan Roche on Being a Happy Runner (and why it will help you run faster)

Megan Roche

Megan Roche is a professional runner for HOKA ONE ONE and the 2016 USA Track & Field Trail Runner of the Year at the ultra and sub-ultra distances.

A five-time national champion, she’s also the North American Mountain Running Champion and a six-time member of Team USA.

Her new book The Happy Runner: Love the Process, Get Faster, Run Longer was written with her husband David Roche (also an elite runner who contributed to our Little Black Book of Recovery & Prevention) and presents a unique and compelling view of how to excel as a distance runner.

In it, she discusses a wide range of fascinating topics for runners:

  • The difference between hard and fast – and when to prioritize each
  • How to define “the process”
  • Why kindness can help you become a better runner

And of course, Megan and David cover the training side of things with a focus on how to get the most out of your body.

In this podcast conversation, Megan and I talk about:

  • Can positivity make you a more robust runner?
  • Does running make people more optimistic?
  • Why is running “meaningless?”
  • How her medical degree has impacted her training
  • A lot more…

Listen to the show on Apple Music or on the Stitcher platform.

Show Links & Resources:

Thank you Megan for speaking with us today and sharing your love of running! This was a fun and helpful episode that’s a great way to start the new year.

Thank You Inside Tracker

This episode was made possible by Inside Tracker who is offering a 10% discount with code strengthrunning at checkout.

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 to save 10% on any test (including their affordable DIY and Essentials)!

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The Best of Strength Running in 2018

Strength Running produces so much multimedia material that you might have missed some of our most popular content last year. Never fear, here’s the best so you don’t miss out!

Jason Podcasting

With 2019 underway, I want to help you get started on the right foot (and use more running puns).

Before we press on the accelerator and take the new year by storm, let’s slow down and reflect on the most popular pieces of content from 2018 (and why they were so impactful).

We’ll do this by category:

With literally thousands of individual pieces of content from articles to tweets to videos to photos, this year was a whirlwind of running advice.

Let’s get started!

The Most Popular Video

I’m not surprised to feature this video… it went viral and took off like a rocket when it was published.

And I’m not surprised. How many of us want to run longer with less fatigue? To get more out of our long runs and feel better being on our feet for hours? It’s every runner’s dream!

So I took to the mountains and filmed a gorgeous video featuring Aspens, mountain streams, and trail running:

Of course, the real value here are the training adjustments you can make to make long runs more productive. Perhaps this could be a new strategy for 2019?!

Don’t forget to subscribe to our channel so you never miss a video.

Most Popular Social Post

I started taking my Instagram game to the next level last year. And to do that, I got photos that will make you laugh, cry, or just shake your head.

But the most popular post was actually this beauty:

You see, I was pacing my friend in a half marathon and saw the photographer on the side of the road.

The result? Me being goofy.

Running can be tough sometimes so it’s important to smile and remember how fun it can be.

I hope you enjoy the scenery and have a quick laugh! Give me a follow for more shenanigans.

Most Popular Article

There was a clear winner in the most popular blog article category this year:

Is bodyweight strength training enough for runners?

This piece was written by Amanda Loudin, an endurance journalist that writes a regular column for Strength Running. She pulled in a physical therapist to make this a compelling, no-nonsense piece for runners looking to add strength work to their training

Most importantly, this piece highlights the fact that there must be progression in your strength training – just like in your running.

That means your lifting must get more advanced, complex, and difficult as you become a stronger and more capable athlete. Get this concept right and your injury risk will plummet and your performances will skyrocket.

For a deep-dive on this topic, check out our full strength ecourse.

Most Popular Guest Appearance

Coach Jenny Pod

Earlier this year, I was thrilled to be a guest on the Coach Jenny Show to talk about strength training mistakes and how to structure “elite level” lifting.

Hosted by renowned coach and author Jenny Hadfield, this was a real honor and treat for me!

It was a wide-ranging conversation about:

  • How my own injuries changed my thoughts on strength work
  • The type of strength training for injury prevention vs. performance
  • Balancing strength and running

You can listen to the episode here. A big thanks to Jenny for having me on!

Most Popular Program

high performance lifting

This year we released a new training program called High Performance Lifting – our most ambitious product yet.

I partnered with Randy Hauer, a USAW National Coach, to make it happen. With 16 weeks of progressive, periodized weightlifting that’s good enough for elite runners, there’s no other lifting program for runners on the market.

A videographer filmed two pro runners (Maggie Callahan and Addie Bracy) perform all of the movements at a weightlifting gym in Boulder, Colorado.

And the feedback has been incredible:

  • “2 minutes off my half marathon PR… damn I could tell the difference!” – Joanne
  • “Thank you for your HPL program, my training went exceptionally well with no injuries! HPL was the icing on the cake and I finished 2nd in the 69-74 age category at the Columbus Marathon and really felt strong the entire distance.” – David
  • “HPL is helping me become both a better athlete and runner. Thanks for this awesome program!” – Allison
  • “I was starting with very little strength but I’m surprised how much stronger I’m feeling.  I already notice it in my running, especially going up hills.” – Patty

If you’re ready to take your running to the next level, there are very few better strategies than weightlifting.

Learn more about it here to get an edge over your competitors.

Most Popular Podcast Episode

Mark Cucuzzella Running

Dr. Mark Cucuzzella has the distinction of being the most popular podcast guest for 2018!

Our discussion, titled Mark Cucuzzella, MD on A Comprehensive Injury Prevention Plan had more downloads than any other episode.

I’m not surprised given all we talked about:

  • Running form: cues, mistakes, and big picture principles
  • Barefoot running: how to get started and avoid injuries
  • Lifestyle: what factors predispose you to getting hurt?

For any runner who struggles with injuries, this is the go-to resource for better understanding injury prevention and your own injury cycle. You can’t go wrong with Mark’s book, either.

Want more on this topic? Our free injury series has been enjoyed by tens of thousands of runners just like you.

Most Popular Idea

I’m adding this section at the last minute! In 2018, I introduced several new concepts to the Strength Running community.

None is more powerful than this: the most powerful injury prevention strategy available is your training.

It’s not an ice bath, or heat, or compression socks, or self-massage, or ART, or nutrition, or strength training, or more days off.

Preventing injuries start with how your running is structured (I filmed a video about this here):

  • Are you doing appropriate workouts for your fitness level and goal race?
  • Does your mileage build logically, strategically, and carefully?
  • Is your long run prioritized safely?
  • Does your training progress from where you are now to where you want to be?
  • Is your training periodized to match your goals?
  • Is the overall effort of your training distributed strategically throughout the week?

Runners were surprised because we’ve often been taught that to prevent injuries, we have to add in “extras” (strength work, foam rolling, ice baths, etc.).

But no amount of strength training or other recovery work will offset poor training habits.

Training first. Always training first.

If you want help figuring this part of your running out, we have a lot of options for you!

What Do You Want To See In 2019?

Now, it’s time to chime in with YOUR favorite piece of content in 2018. What most helped your running? What podcast, video, or article most resonated with you?

And more importantly, what do you want to see in 2019?

Would you like to see something new? Or change how I do something on the blog, social channels, or podcast?

Leave your comments below and let’s make this year our best ever!

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How to Set (Any) Goal Time

Running is a uniquely objective sport because at its most fundamental, it’s all about the numbers: mileage, workout splits, and race finish times.

set goal time running

Of course, most of us run for far more meaningful and valuable reasons than “the numbers” but today we’re just going to talk about the performance side of running.

Running relies on the cold, hard measurements of time – rather than on the subjective whims of a coach or teammate.

Perhaps that’s why I was initially drawn to cross country after being a basketball player. There were so many times when I had no control:

  • The coach didn’t put me in the game for as long as I wanted
  • A teammate didn’t pass me the ball or run the play that we practiced
  • Mistakes by other players cost the game

Even though my first love was basketball, it was extraordinarily frustrating at times.

With cross country, everything was different. It was refreshing to immerse myself in a sport where success, failure, and everything in between was measured to the hundredth of a second.

You either ran faster than the guy next to you or you didn’t. And the outcome was measured by a fully automatic timing system that was more accurate than a human being. I didn’t rely on the call of a referee, or umpire, or coach. I was in control.

Because of this objectivity, running is a numbers sport. And it’s not just about finish times.

Runners are always tracking the many metrics that exist in running. Sometimes that’s long run progressions, weekly mileage, or total vertical gain.

Other times, we love studying minutiae like vertical oscillation, ground contact time, or heart rate variability.

But today I want to focus on the most popular metric there is in running: finish times.

That’s because the most common question I receive is, “how fast can I run?”

The question comes in many forms:

  • Do you think I can run a sub-20 5k?
  • I’m trying to PR by 9 minutes to qualify for Boston; can I do it?!
  • A 1:59 half marathon is my dream. Can you help me get there?

My goal here is to help you learn how to determine an appropriate finish time in any race distance. So the next time you’re planning a big race, you know how to pace yourself.

Let’s dive in.

The Concept of Equivalent Race Performances

The best predictor of what you’re capable of on race day is a recent race performance.

Race a variety of distances frequently and you’ll always be able to fairly accurately predict a finish time.

But too often, runners try to use their training to predict a finish time. I’ve heard it all:

  • “My easy running pace is about 8:30/mile. What could I race a 10k in?”
  • “Sometimes I can push a 5-miler and finish under 40 minutes. Do you think I’m ready for a half marathon PR?”
  • “I usually do a fartlek like 10x1min on the treadmill at 6:30 pace. Could I run a sub-20 5k?”

Honestly, I have no idea. And no coach will be able to tell you much from training data like this.

But a race (any race!) is uniquely different because it’s a maximum, 100% effort. It’s your best possible finish if you give the race your all.

Let’s see an example. If you recently ran a 5k PR in 25:00, then you’re probably ready to run about 52:00 in the 10k. These are equivalent race performances.

Based on your 5k finish time, here are even more estimates (this time for the half marathon:

Equivalent Race Performances

Here you can see a cross-section of finish times that are competitively equivalent.

To Get Faster, Get Faster

It seems like every week I meet a runner who has a big marathon goal. To meet that goal, they run 2-3 marathons per year.

But your capability as a runner is better built by training for a variety of race distances.

Remember: fitness is fitness.

Rather than solely racing marathons, switch up your training to focus on improving your 5k finish time. Or half marathon. Or 10k. Or whatever. Just focus on getting faster!

Because a fast runner will always race fast finish times – even if that race is a new distance that they’ve never run before. And shorter distances (like the 5k) are far easier to run well than longer distances (like the marathon).

This is when the concept of variety can be applied to your season planning:

  • If you’ve spent 1-2 seasons preparing for one type of race, it’s time to focus on a different distance
  • Dedicate yourself to something new: trail races, an ultramarathon, obstacle course racing, or even a triathlon
  • Abc

Training for different types of races is not just mentally exciting but it forces you to run different types of workouts.

For example, marathon training requires high mileage, consistent long runs, and aerobic workouts. But a 5k requires a difference balance of mileage and long runs with a dramatically more intense progression of workouts.

Even if you’re a marathoner at heart, don’t mistakenly believe that if you’re not running big miles and high mileage long runs that your marathon in 6-12 months will suffer.

Indeed, it’s quite the opposite. Maintenance of your aerobic base is relatively easy – and you’ll be doing that while layering 5k-specific speed on top of that endurance.

The result? A dramatically faster runner who brings a more varied skill set to the marathon.

How to Run a Sub-20 5k

I want to give you a concrete example of training milestones and equivalent performances for a specific goal: breaking 20 in the 5k.

This is a common time-barrier for runners to focus on for this race distance.

And for good reason: you’re going to like a 5k PR that begins with a 1 instead of a 2 far more!

I recorded a quick video to go into this specific example in more detail:

You’ll see that the goal is approached methodically and patiently:

  • First, you focus on training metrics (mileage, long runs, pacing)
  • Next, you start racing a variety of distances and different types of races
  • Finally, once you’re close, you begin running 5k-specific workouts and chase a sub-20 finish time

The goal is to always focus on getting faster, no matter the race distance. That helps you get faster – no matter the race distance!

I use this approach with many of my runners and it helps me not only predict their performances, but help them achieve “unbelievable” results:

“It’s amazing how on-target you were with your prediction. I finished 4:11:34. I have to say the training was excellent, and I’m back at work and not in too much pain which says a lot.

A year ago I would have never imagined running 4:11 let alone finishing the marathon. Thanks for your help!” –Jesse

“18 months ago, I approached you with what I thought was an outrageous goal: to get my post-two-kids body into good enough shape to crack the4:00barrier in the marathon.

I got two PR Race Plans and finally,Saturday, the big pay-off:3:57:28! That time was actually good enough to win my age group! It was an amazing race, I felt so strong throughout, I negative-split the race, and my fastest mile was actually mile 26, at8:35. I couldn’t believe it!” – Dena

“Hi Jason, I took my first PT test for the Army today. It was a diagnostic run and I managed to run 2 miles in 17:45. I’ve never ran 2 miles that fast before. Prior to doing your plan I was at 23 something. I honestly didn’t think I could run that fast.” –Trisha

The writing is on the wall:

If you want to race fast, always be training to race fast (no matter the distance). You’ll be prepared for whatever race you’d like to register for – and likely, a lot faster than you think!

To experience this phenomenon yourself, browse Strength Running’s Training Programs. We have something for everyone.

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Is a Standing Desk the Fix for Prolonged Sitting?

When I first started running, I couldn’t finish a 3-mile run and was sore for two weeks. Was running supposed to make your legs feel like they went through a meat grinder?!

Jason Finish Line

Me, feeling like my legs were put through a meat grinder. More carnage on Insta!

But soon, the feeling of being run over by a tractor subsided. As my fitness grew over the weeks and months, it was replaced by a feeling of strength.

I felt powerful and fast. Soon, I ran a sub-6:00 mile… and then 5:19 by the end of the indoor track season. I had never felt so athletic and in control of my body as I did during that first year of running.

Flash forward eight years after high school, college, and a combined 24 seasons of cross country and track and I started my first job.

My first memory? How sitting down for eight hours all day made my butt sore.

For the first time in my life, I was forced to spend a large majority of my day planted in a seat. And that feeling was the very opposite of how I felt as a new runner.

Gradually, I got used to sitting for prolonged periods of time. At no point did I have a fun ergonomic chair, an adjustable standing desk, or any way to mitigate the effects of being slumped in a chair for a third of the day.

When I started running after work, I noticed the difference:

  • Warming up was harder and took longer
  • I felt tight and stiff like I had just run a workout
  • My running felt uncoordinated and “clunky”

I soon realized that going from “Couch to Track” was inviting injury and limiting my running performance.

Then, the effects of sitting for long periods of time started being studied.

The results left me worried that my lifestyle wasn’t just detrimental to my running, but my overall health and longevity. Running is important, but even more so is my general health.

But let’s step back for a minute.

Is Sitting Really That Bad For You?

Bad Sitting Posture

Spending a majority of the day sitting down is quite bad for your general health – even if you run a lot!

A wide variety of studies (including this particularly scary one) summarize the negative effects of prolonged sitting. Sitting…

  • increases your risk of heart disease, some cancers, obesity, and diabetes
  • reduces HDL (or “good”) cholesterol in the body
  • increases fatty acids in the blood
  • Puts you at a great risk of dying…

To put salt in the wound, the science is clear that no amount of exercise will negate all that sitting. It’s an unhealthy behavior on its face because of how long your muscles go without any contractions.

Nevertheless, Americans are still spending an average of 13 hours per day sitting down.

Even if you’re running a lot, it won’t counterbalance all this sedentary behavior. It’s still unhealthy (just like if you smoked a pack of cigarettes per day and ran a lot).

Usually, you’ll read that the answer to this problem is an adjustable standing desk.

Standing is better than sitting, right? Not so fast.

Standing Desks are Not a Panacea

Jarvis Adjustable Standing Desk

If you think that a standing desk will solve this problem, then unfortunately I have bad news: standing isn’t much healthier than sitting.

Prolonged standing has its own risks:

  • Increased risk of back pain
  • This study shows that standing for 6 hours per day doubles or triples your risk of needing surgery for varicose veins
  • Excessive fatigue and lethargy
  • Sore feet, swollen legs, and muscular stiffness

The New York Times recently ran a story decrying adjustable standing desks as overrated. Here’s a key excerpt:

Many health groups recommend that people at work take frequent walking breaks. Replacing sitting with standing does not fulfill that recommendation and may even mislead people into thinking they’re doing enough activity.

Standing is not exercise, after all.

But while standing desks will not improve your cardiovascular health and replacing sitting with standing is not recommended, that’s not really the argument I’m going to make here.

Thinking that you have to either sit for the day or stand all day is a false choice. The reality is that humans are made to move and we should continue that trend during the workday.

The Solution: Varied Movements

Instead of a binary choice of “sit or stand” we should take a more nuanced view of how to optimize our workday.

As creatures of movement, our best option is variety:

  • Sit (helpful if you can sit in a variety of chairs)
  • Stand
  • Kneel or sit cross-legged

If we could take several recesses throughout the day to hit the playground, we’d all be better off.

That’s because we shouldn’t spend a large chunk of time in any one position because our muscles are plastic. They can be molded and shaped and they remember the positions that we put them in. If you slouch in front of your computer for a few decades, that’s just what your posture will look like…

All that time sitting will make your quadriceps and hip flexors tighten. If you spend all day standing, your lower back and feet will get stiff and sore.

In addition to varied positions throughout the day, we should always look for opportunities for more movement, too:

  • Taking a phone call or short meeting? Walk around the office or around the block
  • Use the printer on the other side of the office, forcing a quick walk
  • Use your lunch hour productively to run, lift weights, or go for a walk
  • Walk to your colleague’s desk rather than sending an email
  • Use an ergonomic chair and desk setup to improve bodily positions

I’ve long tried to incorporate more movement into my day, but I haven’t optimized my desk. I was still sitting down in the same position for most of the day – and I could feel it.

But I’ve changed that: I’m now a proud owner of a Jarvis adjustable standing desk.

And I’ve never felt better.

The Jarvis Adjustable Standing Desk

A few months ago I reached out to Fully, a company that creates office furniture for active people. I wanted to prompt myself to sit down less during the day and Fully’s products would not only help me do that, but succeed in style.

I now have a Jarvis adjustable standing desk with a crazy stool called the Tic-Toc Chair. Check out my setup:

Jarvis Standing Desk

Like I mentioned before, standing (as opposed to sitting) is not a panacea. It’s not necessarily any healthier than sitting down because both, for prolonged periods of time, have major drawbacks.

But the answer to this conundrum is variety. Now I have options. I can…

  • Sit on a stool that swivels and rocks back and forth (the rocking is a lot of fun!)
  • Stand up (allowing me to move more freely)
  • Kneel on the floor (I’m doing this as I’m typing; while not the most comfortable, 10-15 minutes at a time feels good)
  • Pull a regular chair over and sit “normally”

Varying my movements and body positions throughout the day – instead of staying slumped in a chair for eight hours – helps me reduce soreness, avoid some of that inevitable afternoon drowsiness, makes it easier for me to transition to running after I’ve been working, and helps prevent injuries.

I also created a video about why runners should think about standing desks:

Besides the function of my Jarvis standing desk, I also love its style:

  • The bamboo table top is attractive and one-of-a-kind
  • The alloy metal is a stark contrast – in a good way
  • Bamboo is also sustainable (it matures in 5 years and releases 35% more oxygen than similar trees)
  • The programmable

Successful runners know that running is a lifestyle, not just a sport or a hobby. What you do the other 23 hours of the day is just as important to your overall health and longevity as an athlete.

And I’m not the only runner who’s using a Fully desk to aid their running!

Is a Jarvis Standing Desk Right For You?

I don’t think these types of desks are perfect for everyone. If you’re at a higher risk of varicose veins or have other medical issues that could be exacerbated by standing for an hour or two at a stretch, it’s best to wait and ask your doctor if something like this is right for you.

But for the majority of folks, an adjustable standing desk is another tool in your injury prevention toolbox. It will prompt you to sit, stand, kneel, or rock.

And that variety of movement (not necessarily all that standing) is what really helps you prevent injuries long-term.

Of course, you should focus on more impactful injury prevention strategies like:

  • Running itself (periodization, progressions, and distribution of effort)
  • Strength training regularly
  • Running appropriate paces
  • Lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, and nutrition

But once you’ve nailed the fundamentals, it’s time to think about other avenues for growth.

And I think an adjustable Jarvis Standing Desk is a great option. Check out the options and build your own here.

Leave a comment below: How do you structure your lifestyle – the other 23 hours of the day – to promote injury prevention and help your running?

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Strength Coach Tony Gentilcore on Deadlifts: Form, Dangers, and Function

Studying different sports and disciplines is a great way to develop your understanding of running. The commonalities and underlying principles are often universal.

strength training athlete

A few years ago, I was an instructor at an adult fitness camp. For four days, I taught a variety of classes:

  • Injury prevention and running form
  • Running for beginners
  • Obstacle course racing
  • Advanced training strategies
  • Programming (how to plan your training)

The last class – programming – was fascinating. I presented with Staci Ardison and Anthony Mychal (two strength coaches). As we were planning our presentation, we realized there were very few differences between the two disciplines.

Running and strength training at their most fundamental are eerily similar in how they’re planned:

  • Adaptation to stress and how that’s used productively during a training cycle
  • Periodization among varying phases of training (for example, base training vs. a competition phase of training)
  • Progressive overload over time
  • Expectations for improvement for beginners vs. veterans

I can’t be too surprised. After all, human physiology stays the same no matter the sport.

And over the last two years, I’ve been learning more and more about strength training. In fact, our new strength program High Performance Lifting (details here) has rocketed to our most popular training course.

Like many runners, I’m not in love with weightlifting (I’d rather be running!) but I’ve come to appreciate just how valuable it is for endurance athletes. Higher levels of strength almost always lead to faster race times.

As USA Weightlifting National Coach Randy Hauer has said:

There are no weak, fast runners.

Strength is best thought of as a complementary and necessary attribute for success in running. Without it, your progress is limited.

That’s why I’m thrilled to present a new podcast with strength coach Tony Gentilcore.

Tony Gentilcore: Everyone Deadlifts Dozens of Time a Day

Tony Gentilcore

Tony previously joined us on the pod to talk about why runners should lift.

He’s back on today to go into more detail. Tony pointed out during our conversation that all of us deadlift all day long. Whenever we pick something up from the ground (a child, a bag of groceries, your running shoes), we’re performing a deadlift.

If we practice that movement and get stronger moving in that way, it will make life – and our running – a lot easier.

And that’s the mentality we should all have when we think about strength training: it’s exercise that makes other exercise easier.

But we’re going to talk a lot more about the deadlift in this episode:

  • Is there such a thing as “perfect” lifting form?
  • Should we chase ideal form or make adjustments based on our own anatomy?
  • The similarities between running and strength training

Check out the latest episode on Apple Music or Stitcher.

Show Resources & Links:

This episode was made possible by SteadyMD, a primary care service specifically designed for runners, by runners.

Please give Tony a shout on Twitter and thank him for coming on the podcast; he’s been a great friend to SR and runners over the years!

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How a Physical Therapist (and 2:24 Marathoner) Prevents Injuries

Inside information is often a key competitive advantage. When it comes to the stock market, that advantage is so large it’s even illegal!

Verrelle Wyatt Physical Therapy

But when it comes to running, inside information isn’t illegal or even frowned upon. In fact, it’s encouraged!

That’s why I urge you to…

Each opportunity to learn makes you a more formidable opponent. With every juicy tidbit, factoid, theory, and new strategy comes a better understanding of how to structure your training and inch closer to your goals.

These experiences give you a firmer grasp on how to train effectively, prevent injuries, and break through a performance plateau.

Today is a unique opportunity to get some of this “inside information.”

That’s because I recently sat down with a physical therapist who’s also a high-performing runner.

Combining real-world knowledge of how to train, race, and improve with the professional background of a physical therapist, my guest on the podcast today will give you a deep understanding of how to get faster while staying healthy.

Verrelle Wyatt on Injury Prevention

Verrelle Wyatt

Verrelle Wyatt is a 2:24 marathoner, 4:18 miler, and an Athletic Hall of Famer for his high school. He received his doctoral degree in Physical Therapy from Walsh University in Ohio.

He has two medical licenses in both Physical Therapy and Sports Physical Therapy in addition to being certified as both a Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES) and Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES).

In this conversation, we discuss a lot:

  • His experience working with Cirque du Soleil athletes
  • How having a doctoral degree in PT has informed his running
  • The training that led Verrelle to a 2:24 marathon
  • How to avoid the common injury mistakes that land runners in his office

This episode is an excerpt from our full conversation for Team Strength Running, Strength Running’s affordable group coaching program.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or on Stitcher.

Show Resources & Links:

Don’t forget to sign up here to learn more about Team Strength Running! We’re opening soon and this is your chance to gain your own competitive advantage…

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What To Do During the Off Season

The holidays have somehow snuck up on us and we’re all feeling the time crunch. How do we find time for our running when time is short?

off season running

Parties, shopping, and kids’ concerts have a way of snagging our free time and zapping our energy. Fitting in runs becomes more challenging than normal, which can leave us feeling frustrated.

Here’s an idea: why not make December your month for off season running? By now you’ve probably completed all your races and haven’t really begun to invest in training for 2019.

It’s the perfect time to let loose.

This break from structured training is good for you, too, both mentally and physically. The impact of training and racing over the past year has likely caught up to your legs – and your emotions. Each needs a well-structured off season.

Adrienne Langelier, MA, LPC, a sports psychology consultant, agrees:

Just as we need time to physically recover from a year of racing, we need time to mentally recover, too. Keep in mind that in order to get optimal performance, we need the proper balance of stress and rest. That applies to our emotions as well.

In other words, you can’t keep going at peak level fitness. Even the pros take some dedicated downtime and many are quite public in sharing these valuable rest periods. Taking a page from their books and incorporating an off season of running can reap big benefits.

What’s at risk if you don’t take some down time? On the physical end, overtraining or injury. On the mental side: heightened stress, says Langelier. When that’s in play, the risk for burnout goes way up.

To avoid that scenario, take advantage of off season running and kill two birds with one stone by using December as a logical time to step back in your training.

How to Make December a Recovery Month

Just how long you should allow yourself a break from structured training is dependent on how hard your season was, who you are as an athlete, and what your tolerance is for downtime.

Langelier has some more thoughts:

It really depends on who you are and what will work best for your circumstances. The loose standard is about two weeks but it can be longer if needed. The important thing is to wait until you feel refreshed and recharged before getting back after it.

When we talk about a break, that doesn’t necessarily mean no running at all, although if that’s what you think you need to continue into the new year mentally energized, by all means do it. For most people the break is more along the lines of time away from specific, structured training.

If you happen to have any signs of Overtraining Syndrome, you’ll want to take more time off from running. Jason and elite endurance athlete Travis Macy discuss OTS in greater depth in this video:

Langelier suggests using this time to do all the things you might push aside when in the midst of heavy training:

This is your chance to stay out later at that partyor take a cooking class, read some good books, or whatever outside passions you never indulge.

I really enjoy cycling but don’t do it all that much because of my run training. When my season ends in a few weeks, I’ll ditch the watch and head out on my bike. It will probably involve some stops at a coffee shop, too.

It can also be a useful time for tending to those projects around the house that you’ve neglected in favor of training all year. Or consider doing the volunteer work you’ve been eyeing up. Dive into an art project with your kids.

The sky is the limit and now is the time to take advantage of it.

Upgrade Your Mindset

Langelier says that you should treat this off season as a celebration:

Reflect back on how hard you worked and which goals you achieved. This is a good time to mark the accomplishments.

Invite some of your running friends over—if you haven’t had your fill—and enjoy time away from training together. If you need to pull running into the mix somehow, catch up on your marathon majors spectating via on demand or throw on one of the excellent sport documentaries released over the past year.

Leaving the watch at home during this down time – as Langelier does – is just what’s in order, too. You don’t want to be focused on pace or mileage right now if you are going out. Instead, run if the mood strikes and let your legs dictate what feels good and what doesn’t. This allows for both the mental and physical break you need.

If you do want to keep some fun running in the mix, consider a holiday-themed “race” complete with costume, or a short, easy run through holiday lights in your neighborhood with some friends. Add in a cookie exchange at the end and your day is complete. Plenty of towns and running clubs now offer opportunities like this if you don’t want to plan a group event on your own.

If you’ve spent most of your miles on the road, consider trail running. Getting out into the woods has numerous benefits, not the least of which is lowered levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) according to a plethora of studies.

Treat yourself to a quiet run on dirt in a spot you might not otherwise explore. You’ll feel like a kid again and your muscles will benefit from the break along with your mind.

If you want a break, there’s nothing wrong with a hike instead of a trail run. Bring the whole family along and enjoy what might be some much-needed togetherness after a year of weekends dedicated to long runs.

How to Come Back to Real Training

As you approach the time you return to structured training, look back over your training logs and pull out a calendar to begin plotting out the coming season. Review what worked and what didn’t and revise your 2019 plans accordingly.

Strength Running’s season planner worksheet will be quite helpful for this exercise.

Things to look for in your training logs:

  • how often you raced and how that frequency worked for you
  • what distance suited you best
  • whether or not you want to step up race distances or maybe even dial back
  • determining what your “A” race will be for the year or if you might want a couple of “A” level races in the mix.

Have fun with the planning and dream big if it fits into your current lifestyle and commitments.

When you begin to feel like training again, don’t jump back in where you left off. Part of the point of this down time is to decondition. Langelier adds:

We take these end-of-season breaks so that we can then reach a higher level. But if you get excited and do too much, too soon, you’ll sabotage those gains.

It should be a slow burn, not a bonfire. Accept that a loss of fitness is part of the process. It’s not fun, but it is necessary.

For those who struggle with this idea, Langelier recommends you remember that it’s only temporary. You’ve got a great base coming off your prior season and any seasons leading up to it. You will rebound quickly and will be stronger for it.

One way to ease the mental pain of rebuilding fitness is to check in with your progress every week, says Langelier:

Always look at how far you’ve come. This can go a long way to feeling better about time away from training.

Langelier herself likes the process of getting back into shape after time away from structured training. “I look at it like a science project,” she says.

Think back on your early days of running, when each week brought new successes. As your return to fitness, these early weeks of structured training should help bring back that fresh excitement and remind you of why you love the sport so much.

The ultimate goal should be welcoming a new year of running with a new level of enthusiasm. If you’ve taken your downtime as seriously as your training, that should be well within reach.

Onward and upward. Now start planning!

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Jason Koop on Coaching Competence and Smarter Training

‘Improvement’ is why I fell in love with running. Seeing my ability to run further or faster improve over time became intoxicating.

Jason high school

Racing the 2-mile for Lexington High School, 2002.

My addiction to improvement and progress was, in hindsight, one of the “performance multipliers” that has helped me most in my life.

Whether that’s Strength Running, my marriage, finances, running, or even home improvement projects, I’m still very much focused on consistent, gradual improvement.

This concept also bleeds into my personal life, where my 2017 resolution to “read more” has taken on a life of its own. Learning by reading books is now a consistent and gradual presence in my life. The more I read, the more I want to learn.

That’s why I’m excited to introduce you to Jason Koop, a coach who I have deep respect for because of his commitment to evidence-based training, honing his craft as a coach, and being a life-long learner.

As a runner himself, Jason has two top-10 finishes at the Leadville Trail 100 and has finished some of ultrarunning’s most challenging races like the Badwater 135, Wasatch 100, and the Hardrock 100.

He’s the author of Training Essentials for Ultrarunning and Director of Coaching at Carmichael Training Systems. He’s been at CTS for over a decade working with runners, cyclists, and triathletes.

Today, coach Jason Koop focuses more on trail ultramarathoners, guiding some of the best ultra runners in the country:

  • Dakota Jones, winner of the 2018 Pike’s Peak Marathon (after he cycled 250 miles in the four days before the race…)
  • Missy Gosney, 4th at the 2015 Hardrock 100 Mile
  • Timothy Olson, former course record holder of the Western States Endurance Run

But his approach to the sport can be applied to any distance. Running fitness is running fitness, after all.

That’s why no matter who you are, you’re sure to learn something new in this episode.

Jason Koop: “It’s a success by lack of failure proposition”

Jason Koop

This wide-ranging conversation covers a lot:

  • The nuances and pros/cons of progression runs
  • Why (and how) to never let yourself become more than 10% detrained
  • The impact of climate change on the sport of running
  • What Jason Koop wishes he could tell his 20-year old self
  • How he continually learns about running, coaching, and exercise science

Our conversation is a must-listen for aspiring coaches, ultrarunners, and running geeks who want to dive a little deeper into training theory.

Subscribe on Apple Music or on the Stitcher app.

Resources & Links from the Show:

If you enjoy today’s episode, please drop Jason a line on Twitter and thank him for taking the time to speak with all of us!

Enjoy Inside Tracker’s Best Deal Yet

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Use code strengthrunspecial to save $200 today.

If you’re not familiar, Inside Tracker helps you identify imbalances, physiological weaknesses, or even over-training by evaluating over 40 biomarkers in your blood (like stress hormones). I was personally tested with the Ultimate Package last year and loved how easy it was and effective the recommendations.

And that’s what I really love about them: they help you remedy any imbalances in your results. So they don’t just tell you what’s wrong, but how to fix it.

See all the details here on what the test covers, how you can use it to your advantage, and the roster of high-level runners taking advantage of this unique service to “peak under the hood” and see what’s going on inside their bodies.

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