Thursday, March 14, 2019

100-Day Running Streak

I first opined about running streaks 12 years ago.  In that post I talked more about what makes a streak and how we trust those who say they haven't missed a day. Five years ago, I spoke about it again and how streaking can often impede a good running goal. I also gave reasons for when it is good idea to stop your streak. Then today, I hit 100 days in a row where I haven't missed a run.

My previous record was 48 days in 2012. That streak ended when a combination of a cold or illness met up with a long flight and travel day. Heeding my own advice which I would late write above (can you heed something you haven't said yet?) I took the day off. Since that time the longest streak I had came in 2016. This was surprising to me because when I was counting the days earlier this year I was convinced that January was the first time I had ever run every single days in a calendar month. I as wrong. My second full month in Austin, Texas, in the thick of sickening heat, I ran every day in October. (In fact, I ran 35 times in October, and with some in prior September and some in November after my consecutive days streak was 43 days.)

This particular streak started because I did an experiment in December. Even though I fell on consecutive days and cut up my knee, I kept going. I kept going not because of the streak but rather because everything felt good. I had matching ouchies on my knee that looked super weird but that's just cosmetic.

One week in to that experiment I had experienced some slight groin pain which made me think I might need to take some days off. It wasn't that surprising as I was adding distance and adding days. I normally take one day off a week. But the pain abated and I finished 2018 without missing a day. Then I began 2019. For a variety of reason I pulled out of some races in January which is usually when I take a rest day. January continued to have pleasant and cool running weather which helped me continue the streak. The previous January had some very cold days in Austin but they had quickly subsided and gave way to a plethora of 80-degree days. I figured when this happened I would take a break. This year that did not happen.

This nice weather continued into February. Dealing with some personal heartache issues I found myself turning to running again.The weather stayed nice. No legs problems or injuries of any kind cropped up. I figured I might stop my streak at 52 days (52 is somewhat synonymous with me) but that came and went unceremoniously on a day that was also 52 degrees when I ran (because of course it was.) I saw that if I ran all of February, making it two months without a missed date, I would be at 86 days straight. Besides being my football number in high school, it is my favorite number. How can you not like a number which is also a verb?! I had a plan to do something which would take me out of my normal order of sleeping in on Sundays the fiest weekend of March and I thought that perhaps this would be the streak- ender. Then the plans got cancelled on me. So instead I found myself consoling myself with another run.

Meanwhile, the nice weather in Austin continued. Well, nice for me. Everyone else was freezing and complaining. I was scheduling 16-mile runs in the freezing temperatures because it had been years since I had felt these. I noticed I would get to 100 days on Pi day, and if I were to beware the Ides of March on March 15th, perhaps I would end my streak on the 14th. My run on the 13th went pretty crappy. I felt exhausted. I thought perhaps I would show how little streaks mean to me by not running that 100th day. It takes fare more gumption to stop at 99 then it does to push hard to get to 100.  I know this because I had a 9.9 mile route that I ran all the time in Salt Lake City when I lived here that everyone else said they would run that extra .1 to get a round number. I didn't see the point. I mapped out the run, ran it, and it ended up being 9.9 staring and finishing at my door. Adding more would just be ridiculous. leave numbers not on round endings than it does to power through when you are sick or injured. But I woke up today, the weather was warm but dry, and a few steps into the run I knew it was going to be a good day.  No need to stop the streak on this day.

So March 15th has a scheduled 16 miler. It will be my 101st day of running. The next two weeks call for more surprisingly "cool" temperature in Austin. After a summer last year forced me to run on a treadmill more times in a month than I may have the rest of my life, I know that it is the weather which most dictates how I run. As long as I continue to feel good, I am going to keep running.

I am not sure when the streak will end. Part of the streak is undoubtedly tied to the fact that I haven't had a single race since the first weekend of December. I also had some travel plans cancelled and some others fall through. All of those are things which usually make me take a day off. With my next confirmed race not being until the end of April, maybe the streak will go onto to then. Maybe I will find a race which will take my fancy and I will run it before. The aforementioned heartache is abating somewhat so perhaps I won't "need" the run as much anymore. I truly don't know what will cause the first rest day and I am sure it will be at some weird number that has no significance.

That will be perfectly fine with me, too. This streak has had multiple purposes and all were to make me a better runner. The second it no longer serves my desires to help me on my running journey, I will rest.

Until then, long live the run!

Some Stats:
100 runs. (I never did a double.)
Total miles run: 892
Longest Run: 20.5 miles
Shortest Run: 4.65 miles (twice)
Most often run distance: 10.3 miles

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Why You Need a Running Coach

I coach runners. I love doing it. I don't care what their skill level is. I only care that they want to get better. That means I have worked with people trying to finish a marathon under seven hours and I have people pushing to go under three. In addition, I have people who have no desire ever to do a marathon and that is absolutely perfectly fine with me. (The marathon gets too much credence as the standard bearer for running and racing anyway. And this comes from the guy who has made a career in part off of racing 52 marathons in 52 consecutive weekends!)

In my coaching I have heard every question one can possibly imagine but the main one would be "Do I need a coach?"  Well, the answer is pretty simple: absolutely everyone could benefit from good tutelage.

What makes me think I can coach runners? I don't have a RRCA certification. I admit that right upfront. But I am a former 235 lb rugby player whose first marathon was run run in 4:12 and I have subsequently got that down to 2:49. Having run over 300 races over a half-marathon distance, in every weather condition possible, on every road and trail condition imaginable, I have put in my time. But more than that, I have tried to become a student of the sport by ensconcing myself in those who know more than me and even those who know less. I never want to stop learning.

Moreover, as I have been doing it now for a decade, I have learned on the job, so to speak. The athletes I have helped guide have, to a runner, improved greatly. That is something I take great pride in.  But if you are still skeptical why you need a coach at all, let me lay out some reasons why I think it is paramount that we all put our training in the guiding hands of another.

Provide Motivation And Support

We are very disconnected in today's world. You might have a plan and a good one but you are often doing it alone. Having a coach there to rein you in and help you understand that recovery and rest are part of training is paramount. I emphasize to my athletes to know that a rest day is more important that a workout day. It is not a lost day. It is the day when you get better from the hard workout you did.

It is not difficult for people to want to go full bore. It is harder to keep that attitude tempered over time and a good coach will provide the best guidance. Offering safe and effective workouts to keep you in the best shape is what comes from having been down the same road themselves with their own running and with those they coach.

Minimize Risk Of Injury

This is a biggie — especially if running is a lifelong interest, which it should be. One thing I counsel against is having a bucket list of running some race or some distance. It is great to check things off but when you put something out there as the be all and end all, it often is the end all. That said, according to studies, up to 80 percent of runners get injured at one point or another. That's a lot of down time keeping you from meeting any of your goals.

A running coach is a small investment for running injury-free for years to come. You have to find one that will push you but also know when to make sure you back off.  It doesn't matter how hard you run if you can only do it every so often because most of the time you are laid up. So much of a race is simply getting to the starting line healthy. Everything after that is just icing on the cake.

Learn Goal Specific Training

Some people are attempting to break fast time barriers; some people are looking to run three miles straight for the first time in their life. A good coach will teach you how to manage different training loads.

Beginners and experienced runners both need to avoid common training errors. A coach should be there to advise against running too much too soon, not including enough rest and recovery time, pacing themselves correctly in a race, and reminding them to watch their apparel and footwear. They will teach you when to run at an easy pace, when to should schedule a long run, or if you need to adjust your form or technique. Every single runner have a different plan and no cookie-cutter free plan on the internet is going to give you what you need.

Rehab After An Injury

OK, well we addressed the idea of trying to stay injury-free but often than just doesn't happen.  So if you are injured, a good coach will be able to look at what happened, addressed the underlying factors that contributed to it, and guide you on the path to recovery. Returning to running symptom-free without this guidance is a setup for re-injury and more frustration.

A knowledgeable coach can help you determine the problem, suggests exercise strategies to get you on the road to recovery, or refers you to a medical specialist.

Improve Performance

Identifying what motivates an athlete and then helping him or her with goal setting is the absolute key. Not every runner wants to win a race. Some run for solitude. Or just for the fitness aspect. Your coach should know what you want so they can help you achieve it.

Running coaches design training plans to systematically build your performance towards achieving your goal. Maybe they read a great article on how to run your best 5K ever, but the information is more suitable for an athlete at a different point in training. Performance can only be improved if your coach knows you and knows what you want.

All told, every great has had a coach. From Michael Jordan to Serena Williams, to Tom Brady to Shalane Flanagan to Meb. If you are looking for that coach to help you get to the next level, I would love to talk to you more. 

Send me a message at and we can begin the discussion. There is no time like yesterday to begin doing what you want but yesterday is gone so let's start today!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Book Review: When Running Made History

I decided to read a book a week for 2019. Hardly a lofty goal and when you see what 52 books looks like on a shelf, it makes you sad to think that is all you have read. But it is a goal nonetheless and one I have kept so far. One week! Whoo! Steve Holt!

First on my list was the tome by Roger Robinson entitled "When Running Made History". I thought about saying how I would be biased in writing this review as I am lucky enough to call Roger a friend. Then I realized how often we misuse the word "biased". Just because we have a connection to something doesn't mean we are biased to it. In fact, like when people say, "Well isn't that pot calling the kettle 'black'", I have always thought "Well, is there anything more qualified to call a pot black than a kettle?" In other words, I love running, have tried to be a student of the sport since I became a small part of its history by running 52 marathons in 52 weeks, and the fact that I am reading and reviewing a book by someone who has forgotten more about it than I know simply means I am choosing my sources correctly. Having said all of that, let me give you my review.

I have read a few other of Roger's books and have thoroughly enjoyed his writing style. A rather learned man, he writes with ease and eloquence I could only hope to emulate. In fact, when I read his writing I can hear his posh British accent enunciating every "t" and accenting each syllable articulately. Roger is a literary scholar, elite runner, sports commentator and journalist, and this book is his account of him crisscrossing continents while recording sixty years of seminal racing moments that he observed in one or more of these roles. He is involved in so many amazing events that he is the reference point people should use when they mention Forrest Gump to show that they actually know an existing runner rather than a fictitious one.

Lest you think that the book reviews moments in running which are historical for running, let me disabuse you of that idea. Rather, this is an account of when running itself as a sport transcended the footfalls of runners and addressed much larger topics, ideas, and movements. Whether he is regaling you with tales of running in Berlin at the time of German reunification in 1990, organizing a replacement track meet in New Zealand after the disastrous 2011 earthquake, or the triumph of Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Robinson is not talking about how running is neat. No, he is showing how running has been instrumental in either making by itself, or helping to push along, massive social change. Roger need look no further for such inspiration than his betrothed since he is married to Kathrine Switzer who (and if you are reading this and don't know, I mean, wow) in 1967 became the first registered female to compete in the Boston Marathon. 

I read this with rapt attention and even a bit of smugness given how much Roger and I agree on so many things. Rest assured, we disagree as well (he does not care for the Nike-sponsored Breaking 2 attempt to run under two hours for the marathon, whereas I thought it was awesome) but those are few and far between. 

Getting this ringside seat to decades of running escapades which have created the world in which we now live is a treat. Reading it from one who can put it in such a way which gives it the necessary loft it deserves is even better.

Roger is lucky to have seen so many events up close; and running itself, because of this book, is lucky Roger was there to see and share them with us.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

17-Day Running Experiment™

A rare combination of nice weather for running (well, nice for me, anyway - I like it cold), being home for an extended period of time, and no races had me deciding to do something I had wanted to do for quite some time.  I wanted to run the same stretch of trail here in Austin virtually every day for a few weeks straight. I don't mind its sameness and while I do venture to other locales, the convenience of leaving my door and running without driving to a location or needing to worry about a single traffic light or car is hard to beat.

Looking over my beloved running spreadsheets, I noticed something that surprised me: I had never run double-digit mile runs for more than a week straight. Never.  I had run 350 miles in a week. I had run a 90.65-mile week followed by a 75.95-mile week but neither had a double-digit mile run every day (although some where close with 9-milers in the mix). It shouldn't have surprised me as it logically follows my desire to adequately rest after long or strenuous runs and then get back at it again. So, after a 11.3 mile run which felt particuarly excellent, I decided I would run 10.3 miles (a 9.5 miler out-and-back on the trail with a .65 -mile to-and-from the trail to my house) for the last 17 days of 2018. I wanted to see how my body would hold up to the miles, the unflinching sameness, and how my weight, speed, and recovery would be affected.

For some background, I first ran this 10.3-mile course a few months after I moved to Austin. I found
that going into this experiment I had only run it 23 times in two years. In fact, at the end of October and the end of November I had done miniature versions of this experiment of five and four days respectively, meaning that of the 23 times I had run it, nine had been in just the 6 weeks prior to me commencing this data-collecting happy fun-time gala. This was mainly because I only tended to venture out for this distance when the weather cooperated and I was feeling good. I have tons of crappy short distance runs but very few bad long runs. When I am feeling it, I stretch the workout.

For some reason, when I run courses, the first few times seem to be the fastest. Even though I become more familiar with them, I rarely improve the time. With this course, the first two times I ran in on 01.27.17 and 01.29.17, were the fastest. Then a month later, I ran the next two fastest times on 02.27.17 and 02.28.17. This is not surprising as the weather was "cold" then. After that, I never came close to running those times again but I also never broke 1:20 for the run until the first time I went for a long run after being attacked by two guys in Austin last summer. (Yeah, you read that right. For more, check this out here.) Then in those mini-experiments this October and November I ran a 1:21:02 and a 1:23:21 that almost killed me (both because of unusually warm day).

My goal for these 17 days was to make sure no runs were over 1:20. Other than that, I was going to run how I felt and see what it produced. So, without any further ado, here are my daily runs and what I found.

Day One:
10.3 Miles in 1:18:54 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 54 degrees and sunny; 50% humidity
Ending weight: 187 lbs

This run started right after I found out some frustrating business news and really didn't have my mind in it at all. Usually runs help me straighten out anger or frustration but this one just seemed to be compounded by the news.

Day Two:
10.3 Miles in 1:19:51 (7:45 pace)
Weather: 58 degrees and cloudy; 42% humidity
Ending weight: 186.6 lbs

Pushed it hard to make sure this was under 1:20 but was pleased with the overall result after having done a 7-mile hike after the run the day before. I figured this would be the most tired I would be for the whole two weeks.

Day Three:
10.3 Miles in 1:18:54 (7:38 pace)
Weather: 69 degrees and sunny; 25% humidity
Ending weight: 185.6 lbs

This felt a bit faster than it was but was happy to better my time from the first day. The run was only memorable  because when I got home, I had no water at my loft and had to wait three hours for a shower. I stank.

Day Four:
10.3 Miles in 1:16:47 (7:27 pace)
Weather: 57 degrees and mostly sunny; 80% humidity
Ending weight: 186.2 lbs

This was a good run but only on the way back home. Going out was rather pedestrian but once I hit the turn-around I felt like a different runner. After three days of losing a little weight, I gained some back.

Day Five:
10.3 Miles in 1:17:55 (7:34 pace)
Weather: 60 degrees and cloudy; 90% humidity
Ending weight: 184.2 lbs

I wasn't surprised to slow down, mostly because of the high humidity and what it does to me, but I was happy I seemed to be back on the losing weight kick again. My plan was to not change my eating patterns for this experiment to see how much running itself does to get weight down on people who are already relatively fit. Sure this would be a limited range of dates and a party of one but it was what I could do. I figured I would be below 180lbs in four-days' time.

Day Six:
10.3 Miles in 1:18:05 (7:35 pace)
Weather: 64 degrees and sunny; 28% humidity; VERY windy
Ending weight: 184.6 lbs

An extremely windy day with gusts into the 30-mph range accounted for the slight slowdown here. I was actually rather pleased with how it went given that wind. Surprised my weight went up a tick but no problem there.

Day Seven:
10.3 Miles in 1:17:48 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 64 degrees and sunny; 35% humidity
Ending weight: 185.2 lbs

The night before this run I had felt a bit of a pull in my right groin.  I wondered if a week was too long to be doing this to my body but come morning, the pain was gone. Given the 11.3-miler I did before this experiment started, this seventh straight day here meant that with eight total, I had now surpassed the most consecutive days with double-digit miles run in my life.  *confetti throw*

My body celebrated by gaining weight inexplicably.

Day Eight:
10.3 Miles in 1:19:11 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 70 degrees and sunny; 35% humidity
Ending weight: 185.6 lbs

With a schedule of other things to do, I got up earlier than normal to get this run in which I think contributed to a sluggish beginning and overall run. Who am I kidding, it was the fact it was freaking 70 degrees on December 22nd. Another small weight gain had me puzzled.

Day Nine:
10.3 Miles in 1:18:23 (7:37 pace)
Weather: 58 degrees and sunny; 65% humidity
Ending weight: 187.2 lbs

First time I began to feel a little bit worn down.  The fact that after nine days of this I had GAINED .2 of a pound overall was a bit frustrating as well.

Day Ten:
10.3 Miles in 1:17:22 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 55 degrees and cloudy; 58% humidity
Ending weight: 187.6 lbs

As I waited for a new watch to be delivered, I had run the first nine runs of this experiment carrying my phone. I had played music out loud while doing so and it felt like it had helped me along a bit. I wondered how much not carrying a phone in my hand and also not having music would affect me and if the two would cancel each other out or what exactly. On my first one with the new watch, I ran my second fastest time so far and also gained another half a pound. Because...?

Day Eleven:
10.3 Miles in 1:19:54 (7:45 pace)
Weather: 74 degrees and sunny; 80% humidity
Ending weight: 183.6 lbs

Ridiculously warm temperatures for Christmas day and the weather wore me down. Took everything I had to keep the run under 1:20 and for that I am proud. I apparently also sweat out four pounds from the day before or something.

Day Twelve:
Weather: 65 degrees and windy and rainy; 100% humidity
Ending weight: 184.6 lbs

I expected very little out of this run given the humidity but the rain seemed to cool me just enough as I almost ran the exact same time from two days prior. The weight continues to yo-yo.

Day Thirteen:
10.3 Miles in 1:16:39 (7:27 pace)
Weather: 68 degrees and sunny; 48% humidity
Ending weight: 184.6 lbs

The rain only got worse throughout the night and created ridiculous flooding in the area. By morning it was sunny but as I approached an underpass I saw what looked like really deep mud. Just before getting to it, however, a slick patch reached up and grabbed my feet, pulling me down to the ground, skinned my knee and slammed my hip. I fortunately didn't do any structural damage and I laughed thinking that three years ago on the day after Christmas I had done something similar in Portland, giving myself a spiral fracture in my pinkie. Ran the next mile to the turn- around and then all the way home with a muddy and bloody leg.

My weight stayed the same so I guess that's good. And if I hadn't fallen I might have broken 1:16 on this run which would have shocked me something fierce.

Day Fourteen:
10.3 Miles in 1:19:36 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 50degrees and sunny; 50% humidity
Ending weight: 187.2

With the sun and heat and low humidity I assumed the mud would be dry in my slip and fall spot. It was. However, the muck I had seen from the day before, while looking dry, was still inches deep and slick. Down I went again because I am a fool. This time my entire side was covered in a clay-type mud. I skinned the same knee again but this time on the other side so now it looked like I had sunglasses.

My cautiousness and soreness were what caused the rest of this run to be quite slow. And then I got home to see that after two weeks of running my weight was exactly the same.

Day Fifteen:
10.2 Miles in 1:16:09 (7:28 pace)
Weather: 44 degrees and cloudy; 60% humidity- first time I wore a shirt
Ending weight: N/A lbs

I had to deviate from the course for a variety of reason on this day and maybe that was a good thing. Lord knows which knee I would skin if I went down again here.  Instead I ran a different course and ended up chasing some random former BYU track and XC runner for bits and pieces of the run.

I didn't have a scale so I haven't the foggiest idea what I weighed. Anywhere on the scale would probably be right.

Day Sixteen:
10.3 Miles in 1:18:54 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 40 degrees and cloudy; 80% humidity
Ending weight: 186.2 lbs

Was pleasantly surprised to see that someone had shoveled out some of the mud on the far sides of each part of the sidewalk but it was still a bit slippery. The cool temperatures were great but I felt so very heavy. My body seemed to be made of lead. I could muscle through the run but it was tough. Each slower mile felt like it took so much effort. I was able to finally get going in the last few miles but this was way slower than I expected.

Day Seventeen:
10.3 Miles in 1:12:15 (7:01 pace)
Weather: 54 degrees and sunny
Ending weight: 185.4 lbs

The goal for this run was to try to run the fastest I had ever done on the course. I knew it was going to take a solid effort for sure and in order to do so my best shot was to make the first half of the run much faster than the first half of the previous PR. The second half was a blisteringly fast time and I just didn't think I could match that.

Mile after mile of the first half of the run shocked me as I was crushing mile times I hadn't run in ages. By the time I was at the halfway point I was 2:16 faster than I had been at my previous PR. Only at mile 6.5 did I finally run a mile equal to the previous run. The next two were a hair slower but it was clear I was going to crush my PR. If I had done the math properly and realized another 15 seconds faster would have netted me a sub-7 for the whole run I think I could have found that in the reserves. As it stood, I killed my PR by 2:25. That is quite possible the fastest double-digit training mile I have ever done. Yeah, I was happy.


So, my observations. It should be quite clear to anyone that you can't simply run your way into weight loss (if you are already healthy and about at the weight you want to be already.) If you count the 11.3-miler I ran before this experiment, I ran 186.3 miles in 18 days at an average pace of roughly 7:33 and in that time gained and loss weight rather randomly while more or less eating the same way I had for the other 350 days of the year. I am curious how, in the next few days, once I settle into a more routine running schedule, my weight will be affected.

I am also severely affected by the weather. This is no shock as I have written about it extensively. However, it still leaves me a bit surprised how much weather is the deciding factor between a good and bad day. More or less, if it is going to be anything over 60 degrees, I have to change my plans for the day to some extent. Give me cold on a day where I might otherwise not be feeling so great and chances are high I will have a good run.

Was very pleased to be able to really make the last workout so fast after so many days of the same run. I had no idea if I could will myself to that effort and for the most part I think that run was 90% mental.

All told I think most of what I learned is how easily one can adjust to something new and difficult. I obviously have somewhat of a base but to force myself to do the double-digits wasn't too hard after a while. I did sometimes not like the idea that I knew exactly what I was to run each day as I often play it by ear. That sometimes led to a little bit of dread and I often runcrastinated.

As I coach athletes of all abilities, it is paramount to me to always be pushing myself and finding new ways to stretch talent out of a body. I want to always be innovating and testing and fortunately I can use myself as the guinea pig here.

I finished December with the most miles I had run in a month in five years. In addition, I ended the year with 2199 miles. Since running an extra mile wasn't in the plan, and wouldn't have helped me in any case, I showed I truly believe in my adage of not necessarily counting your miles but making your miles count. If I can leave the year so close to a cusp of another mileage bump like that than my athletes know what I prescribe for them in their own workouts is what I truly think they need to do and no more.

Here is hoping you have the happiest of new years and 2019 meets all your desires!