Tag: running

Harder is not smarter.

Harder is not smarter.

Training paces, especially in workouts, must have a high and low pace restriction. If the workout is written properly a goal pace, often an upper limit, is provided. However, I believe there must be a finite range. I think most amateur athletes would be happy to hit a goal pace and chip away at faster and faster times. On the day it can be a confidence booster and, maybe something to brag about. However, competent coaches use discretion and assess all of the variables before permitting this training habit. They know full well the extended recovery time following a really tough workout.

Too fast of a workout will cause the athlete to need prolonged recovery. Their legs could be dead for days, even weeks! Yes, they had a killer workout on Tuesday but their runs on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday have all been junk. Do they stand a chance in the weekend’s race? In the end what was really gained if so many days were unproductive?

I remember reading books by Dr. Jack Daniels, Joe Friel, etc. in high school and college. These coaches had calculations to figure out suggested paces for workouts. Every time, I thought “No way, that is too slow. I can go much faster than that. AND why is he/she suggesting so much rest!?” Then, like clockwork, I would run insane splits for the workout and feel flat for days after. Eventually, I tried the conservative paces and BOOM! I was feeling stronger day after day, week after week. The culmination of my quality weeks of training was making a difference opposed to attempts at blasting my legs on the track and recovering.

The same can be said about reduced recovery between intervals. Most of the time, a properly written workout is focused on attacking a specific metabolic system. Each metabolic system takes a known amount of time to recover. Chopping the recovery down makes it harder but does not facilitate the desired training adaptation and has increased risks of injury.

Harder is not smarter.

Shoot From the Hip

Shoot From the Hip

Last weekend, a local running club reached out and asked if I would give a short presentation on ancillary activities to help with running. I was asked to prepare something for everyone to do following their January, Saturday tradition back in the mom and pop running store they congregate in.

It is the club’s tradition to hold “Resolution Runs” on the local rail-trail every Saturday morning during the month of January. Two distances are offered; a 2.5 mile and 5 mile run/race. The event leaves little excuse for club members not to attend. The environment low key and often members collect to share in each other’s company opposed to competing. Most are looking forward to thawing with coffee and bagels back at the store.

I joined in for the 5 mile event and held, for me, a tempo pace alongside a local, collegiate running stud, home for winter break, (probably sub marathon pace for him). During the run, we had a great conversation about what exercises he has been doing with his college coach at school. I learned the prehab I had in store for the running club would be new to him and hopefully beneficial for all.

In the final 100m, I pulled a cheeky move and jokingly trying to out sprint my companion for the finish. After a laugh, we cool down with a slow run back to the store. When we arrived many of the 2.5 mile contestants and a few others had already schmear’d their bagels and were half way through a cup of Folgers. Everyone was swapping stories on how the day’s run went, how their training is going so far and what their goals are for the year. It was not long before I started my “presentation” centering on the importance of hip stability and guided them through a prehab routine.

I am a firm believer the majority of running injuries stem from weak hips. Sitting all day, reduced playtime, and general unidirectional movements have left modern runners (especially club and weekend warriors) prone to small nagging injuries. These minor injuries can really halt an athlete’s progression.

Your center of mass (COM) is somewhere around your hips/core when standing tall and all forces involved with running are going to be applied through this point. Running involves one contact point (the feet) at a time and the balance necessary to stabilize and the strength to propel forward. Furthermore, leg forces are going to cause an equal and opposite force on the upper body. Case in point, runners swing their arms as a countermeasure to leg swing. The force travels up the leg, through the hips and core and is countered with a lateral force by the opposite arm.

This pattern is primarily true when the core is strong and stable. However, weak cores and unstable hips tend to sway, drop, rotate or creates an angle that the force must travel through. To better visualize this, we must first understand the physics of the situation. A force acting at a distance from an axis is torque. 

Force * Distance (between force application and axis) = Torque

For simplicity, let’s assume the forces (gravity and propulsion forces) will remain consistent and the axis is your COM; leaving the variable in this equation to how stable or unstable your hips are. The further the distance your hips move the greater the torque produced. See these bologna values to get the idea:

10*1= 10 (Stable hips)

10*3= 30 (Unstable Hips)

Greater the distance the greater the torque. Get the idea?

The more the hips move, the greater the [unnecessary] stress on the body is. This shearing stress travels from the feet to the neck causing all sorts of nagging issues. How do we fix this? Simple exercises that I believe can be done at any time.

Before, after or during a completely separate training session perform these simple exercises. I promise you, none of these exercises will take away from the day’s workout. In fact, most of my athletes and clients feel better, even stronger, in the run having used these exercises as a warm-up; myself included. The goal is to reactivate and strengthen many of small dormant muscles in and around our hips that are not used in modern daily life.

The following exercises are not rocket science, therefore I am not going to keep them a secret. I would dare say all runners would benefit more from running 5 minutes less each day to accommodate these exercises into his or her schedule. Please feel free to follow this routine on your own (at your own risk). Check Youtube for any exercise you are not sure about:

Hips:

Lateral Leg Swing 10/side
Forward Leg Swing 10/side
Body Wt Squat 10
Single Leg Dead Lift 5-10/side
Lunge Split Jump 8
Clam Shells 10/side
Side Plank Dips 10/side
Fire Hydrant 10/side
Adductor Leg Lift 10/side
3-way Lunge Matrix 9 (3*3steps)


A core/abs routine should also be added to your training.

There are many other areas to improve imbalances and prevent injuries. I believe strengthening the hips and core can have one of the largest, positive impacts.

Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers

I have been rewatching the famed HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers. For those who haven’t seen it, the story follows a WWII airborne regiment dropped behind enemy lines the early hours of the invasion of Normandy (D-Day). From there, E-Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, affectionately known as “Easy Company”, pushed the frontline all of the way into Austria. They were an elite fighting force comprised of volunteers, not draftees.

Easy Company is revered for the brutal and agonizing missions they accomplished aiding the Allied victory in Europe. The relationships forged due to these objectives is that of a brotherhood. While friendships were not guaranteed, the soldiers counted on each other; often risking their lives for the man next to them. Outsiders and new additions were outsiders to the family. Which begs the question:

Which came first: Objectives forging bonds? Or, bonds completing objectives?

A key officer focused on in the miniseries was Major Richard “Dick” Winters. A respected leader by his men and command, he was routinely promoted during the Campaign. Major Winters often struggled with his elevated position as he was no longer able to fight alongside his men. I think it is fair to say he felt a certain disconnect in not being able to enact his decisions with the men carrying out his orders.

Bullets certainly aren’t flying but, I have always felt athletic teams weld friendships capable of furthering a team’s potential. As a former collegiate distance runner, now coach, it took some time to overcome the similar feelings Major Winters dealt with. While I am not ordering a squad of men to outflank a Panzer tank, I am the one who believes hill repeats on Wednesday are good for the development of an athlete. (The same athlete who won’t get his or her money back when their lunch inevitably comes up.)

Character building training like hill repeats, tempo runs, morning practice, ice baths, etc. are what makes a first-year runner family in a matter of days. Even without these, I think team members subconsciously give each other increasing levels of respect each day they come back to practice for more. As a coach, developing team culture can be as simple as clear direction, expectations and keep them coming back. Before long, leaders will rise and use the brotherhood to manage little things so the group can focus on important goals.

These same leaders will be the one shouting back to the runner who is hanging 2-3 strides off of the pace: “Stay with us! Only 600 to go!” The leader did not look back to see his or her teammate falling back, they know the sound a pack makes when running together and felt something was off.

Watching from across the field, you, as the coach, can observe the pack of five followed by one become a team of six. The lead runner maintains pace while the following four drop back slightly as to form a bridge between #1 and the struggling #6. You’ll see the sixth runner tuck their chin and take five strong strides to rejoin and together, the six pack up again. No one asked them to do this, they just do, almost everytime, without fail.

The group turns the last corner and you have a team charging towards you with no man (or woman) left behind.

 

Interview: James Snyder, Temple University

Interview: James Snyder, Temple University

On a sopping wet Wednesday morning at the end of November, I met James Snyder, Temple University’s Head Men’s & Women’s Cross Country Coach/Assistant Women’s Track Coach, for an early chat. The plan was to meet at 11 AM in the lobby of McGonigle Hall, the large glass building across from the famed Liacouras Center, in the heart of Temple University’s campus. I left with ample time to find parking in that part of the city, knowing full well the swift and accurate action of the Philadelphia Parking Authority. With the running gods in my favor, I found free parking on Broad Street right outside the hall’s front doors.

Stepping through the front doors of McGonigle Hall, I was quickly reminded of how enormous Temple is, especially compared to other schools in the region I have visited. For the few moments I lingered in the lobby, I felt a buzz of activity swirling around me. Streams of students passed by me in every direction. It did not take long for me to figure out McGonigle was not only conveniently located, but houses most of Temple’s athletic programs. So many of these students looked to be in peak shape; many of them clearly in sport-specific conditioning. 6’1”, exhausted, female icing a knee… probably Women’s Basketball. A skinny gaggle of  5’10”, 130 lb guys… probably cross country athletes (check out the book bags… USATF- YEP!)

I had the honor of getting to know James Snyder at a young age. He was one of the studs toeing the line against me in many local high school meets. In our hometown, nicknames tend to stick for life. At the time, James went by a nickname that encompassed the swagger he would be seen warming up with, often because he was the favored guy-to-beat: “Sny-dog”. Now, in a professional setting, I laugh to myself because it is so hard it is to call him by his given name. The guy is a legend and on a path that is writing history almost daily. The interview that follows is a paraphrasing of what was discussed, his philosophy and, of course, the Sny-Dog swagger.

The Temple Owls get their name from their founder, Russell Conwell, who was quoted saying “The owl of the night makes the eagle of the day.”  He is referencing the origins of a school that was originally a night school. Those Owls, who were willing to work a full-time job and go to night school after punching the clock, were undeniably hard workers. And the same is true today. In 2013, Temple hired James Snyder as the Head Cross Country/Assistant Track and Field coach. A quick review of his bio on the Temple Owls website will leave no questions as to why they hired him.

Just shy of thirty years old, James has brought a focused effort to accomplished so much in no time at all. After earning varsity letters for his running accolades and graduating George Mason University’s Exercise Science Department as the class Valedictorian, Coach Snyder felt Appalachian State University was the best fit for which to pursue a Masters in Exercise Science. During his two years in graduate school, he served as the graduate assistant for the both the men’s and women’s distance programs.

Immediately follow his time in Boone, Coach Snyder was offered a Operations Assistant position at Florida State. Or as James recalls: “A glorified equipment manager and travel agent, is what it was…”

Busting his butt for the Seminoles for a year was more than enough time for James to gain the attention from the Temple athletic administration. They had an opening for a Head Men’s & Women’s Cross Country Coach/Assistant Women’s Track coach. Having only interviewed over the phone, James was offered the job without setting foot on campus. July 2013, Coach Snyder moved into his new office.

Coach Snyder has found himself at the helm of two very different programs. The women’s team has three full seasons: cross country, indoor and outdoor track. Whereas the Men’s program was recently reduced to a cross country season and its nontraditional counterpart. How he approaches both teams are different, but the focus is the same: winning.

Recruiting:

The women’s team has the ability to secure elite female runners graduating high school from all over the world. Coach Snyder has built a roster full of many regionally dominant athletes, along with powerhouses from as far as Spain and England joining the ranks. After this past season, Coach Snyder’s recruiting efforts will be a little easier and internationally respected with a recent All-American honor earned by a talented Temple student-athlete under his tutelage. This was a huge honor and first, not only for Temple’s Track and Field but, Temple Athletics!

The men’s team has the unique recruiting aspect of an XC only program. Coach Snyder has mastered connecting with top male runners who know they will excel under his guidance. He has a keen eye to attracting the Division I quality athlete often overlooked by larger, three season programs. Because of this, these athletes have enjoyed podium finishes against some pretty big schools (IE: St. Joseph U.)

Training:

My favorite subject; and it felt like Coach Snyder’s too. I wasn’t trying to take up his whole day, but I was fascinated by how they approach training. Given Coach Snyder’s education, experience, and expertise I knew this was going to be a “clinic.”

Temple Distance does a lot of the same things as other programs. Coach Snyder said it best, “What we do is no secret. We all run long, tempo, threshold, intervals, and hill workouts.” Where they vary are the details like lifting, rest days, and something he likes to call “Be a better athlete day.”

James, being well versed in the importance of lower leg stiffness, incorporates an aggressive lifting program into each team’s training programs. He is such a large proponent of endurance athletes lifting that he has his athletes lift year round. Even during their competition phase, the teams are in the weight room at least once a week.

Furthermore, Coach Snyder is a firm believer that hard days should be hard. He likes to pile on AM lifting and PM workouts in the same day. The caliber of athlete he is working with can take this level of work.

The teams average 50-65 miles per week on the women’s side and 65-85 miles per week men’s. Temple’s athletes were identified during recruiting as being genetically gifted and coached to their peak adolescent abilities. Coach Snyder has perfected the ability to guide them up to the capacity necessary to compete at the Division I level; dosing the volume, intensity and rest to achieve the greatest results. He utilizes the NCAA required day off  (of practice and competition) in a way best suited for the student-athlete.

NCAA Bylaw 17.1.5.4  Required Day Off-Playing Season: During the playing season, all countable athletically related activities (per Bylaw 17.02.1) shall be prohibited during one calendar day per week.

Many programs around the country opt for Sunday to be the required day off. However, Wednesdays are practice-free at Temple, allowing student athletes the chance to catch up on school work, take the necessary labs for their sciences, and serves as an office admin day for Coach Snyder. This is genius! Distance runners are typically three season athletes and to balance school with that is extremely difficult; they are constantly trying to squeak labs and school work in around practice. They are at school to be students first; why not allow them a ‘break’ mid week to be just a student. Do you know many professors with office hours on Sunday? I don’t.

Be a better athlete day! We touched on this briefly, but I feel it is an aspect of Coach Snyder’s coaching philosophy that sets him apart. In exchange for an easy or ‘junk’ mileage day, Coach has the teams go for a light run followed by a comprehensive drill/multi-directional strength and flexibility session. Activities that build and support proper running mechanics, prehab injury risks and make unidimensional (forward) athletes stronger in every direction.

Following our lunch at Cosi, located in McGonigle, Coach Snyder was kind enough to walk me around the phenomenal athletic facilities. Rock walls, student support centers, two swimming pools, and a newly renovated weight room. Recent renovations to the 1100ft Olympic Sports Varsity Weight Room included 25 yards of turf, 16 Temple-logoed lifting platforms, and a snack bar for post training nutrition.

Coach Snyder finds it humorous the amount of food his athletes will consume following a lift, on their way to the cafeteria. “Two PB&J Uncrustables and a yogurt!? Come on guys! You’re headed to the cafeteria anyway!”

From the weight room, we made our way to his office. Walking in, it is exactly what every aspiring track coach dreams of: a little closet to call home. No windows, no couches, just somewhere you can have three or four filing cabinets full of recruits, fundraising, workout information. A desk with a stiff chair and two chairs for visitors. I wondered how many parent-recruit duos have sat in the very seat in which I was discussing life with Coach. Around the room, there was a pin-up board full of newspaper clippings, cliche running posters and administrative paperwork. Two shelves hung to my right, loaded to capacity with running, coaching, and physiology books.

Two male runners stopped by to inform Coach Snyder about their day’s efforts. James was grateful for the work they had put in and sent them on their way. One runner hung back to discuss which of coach’s books he should read next. From the tone of the conversation, it seemed this runner had a tendency to devour books, pushing Snyder’s catalog’s limits. Without hesitation, James was quick to offer a suggestion.

Following this interaction, a stinger of a question began to form in my head. One I hoped would not offend him, but had to be asked:

“Having heard the best way to improve a program is to recruit; do you [Snyder] have any evidence of actual coaching success to go along with the program’s results? What athlete have you developed from a freshmen to an upperclassmen with a measurable outcome?”

Straight-shooting Snyder responded with two examples of different athletes on his team. Yes, there is the naturally gifted athlete that will arrive on campus and dominate immediately. He used the recent All-American honors earned by a young Spanish student-athlete as an example. Yes, he would welcome 10 of them on the team. However, the majority of the roster likens to a Junior on his roster that came to Temple on minimal, if any, scholarship, and, at the time, was not in the “fight” at the end of the race. She worked her butt off and is now bringing in points at track meets.

Prior to his time at Temple, Coach Snyder’s goal as a coach was: to be the coach of his own athletes. He wanted to have four years to develop them, just as he did with the aforementioned Junior. Temple has given him this opportunity. Following my blunt question regarding roster development, it was reassuring to know this accomplished coach desires to identify, develop and nurture a team, not merely assemble one. You know, coaching!?

High doses of LSD

High doses of LSD

Don’t worry, we’re not back in the 60’s.  To me, LSD means long slow distance. I always get funny looks when I direct my team that’s driven to be faster that they are going to, “Run slow today.”

You can practically hear the reaction: “Coach, aren’t we here [at practice] to get faster? I can run the distance today much faster than you want! Let me run fast. Please?”

Far too often do distance athletes turn long runs into negative-splitting or tempo runs. 14 miles at 6:30/mi sounds so much cooler than the 7:35 they were supposed to run. I was one of those athletes. Chasing down any guy in the group who dared to half-step the pace. Before you knew it, we were in full flight, waiting for the next teammate to crumble from our blistering pace.  Although quite confidence-boosting, this was neither the time nor place.

As I began to understand and apply my education, I began to wonder why my coach would not rein us in? What pace is best for the body? What is the desired outcome from today’s run? I felt that was a really important piece missing from our training. I promised myself if I ever coached it would be with thorough instruction.

The goals for LSD runs are increased mitochondrial density, capillarization, and structural gains; in both connective tissue and our bones. In contrast, higher intensities of physical activity put too much stress on the body’s internal environment. LSD also offers a regenerative quality, flushing out and realigning muscle fibers. I feel it is easy for most to relate to the basic idea: back to back to back hard runs wear down the body.

But what, you may ask, am I getting out of LSD?  First of the adaptations would be increased number of mitochondria. Remember back to your high school biology class? Mitochondria are the power factories of the cells. It is their job to convert resources into energy through a series of chemical reactions. Let’s skip nearly all of the chemistry, for now.  The one thing you need to know is that these chemical  reactions require oxygen.

Running slow puts demands on the mitochondria, stimulates them, and stresses the body to make more. When energy needs are high for a long period of time, mitochondria will grow and divide. It is theorized that the particular enzyme responsible for triggering mitochondrial fission, AMPK, is not activated until the demands exceed the existing cells’ capabilities. Hard running switches the effort towards anaerobic metabolism (without oxygen). Anaerobic metabolism takes place in other parts of the cell and does not involve the mitochondria. That, of course, limits any stimulus of them. Anaerobic metabolism is also unsustainable therefore can not be performed long enough to stimulate mitochondrial development.*

*More research is suggesting High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can increase mitochondrial density. I am still hesitant to agree with the research. The information is too new. Just know HIIT is completely different than doing your 70 minute run as hard as you can. Explosive, fast training also leads to injuries much sooner than LSD.

Endurance athletes want MORE mitochondria. More mitochondria will result in higher aerobic metabolism output. In running terms, this translates into running faster at an easier effort. For example, a heart rate of 150 bpm produced an average of 8 minute pace. With LSD training athletes should begin to observe 150 bpm will soon be 7:45, 7:30, etc.**

**Eventually this linear efficiency does not continue at the same rate and begins to level off. This is why it is important to train/stimulate other energy systems.

With all of that aerobic energy production in the mitochondria, the cell is going to need a steady supply of oxygen, nutrients and waste management. A consistent aerobic exercise routine causes the human body to develop new blood capillaries in otherwise vacant areas. The result is a body more efficient at mobilizing resources and clearing waste.

This adaptation tends to occur further into a long exercise bout (75+ minutes). If an athlete is running too fast, odds are he or she will not make it to the duration of exercise necessary for capillarization to occur. Slow and steady wins the race of capillarization.

The final benefit of LSD runs is structural gains. Pretty easy to understand. The steady, moderate pounding LSD induces can increase the body’s work capacity. The bones become denser, the tendons tauter and muscles stronger. This is a slow adaptation that requires moderate, steady application of stress to avoid injuries: time on your feet.

Thank you for reading my brief overview of why running slower will make you faster in the long run (pun fully intended).

99 Problems, HILLS ain’t one.

99 Problems, HILLS ain’t one.

Hill Form:

If engineers thought big steps made life easier, then every stairwell would have massive steps. Instead they are smaller, more manageable step heights. From this approach we can develop a smarter hill running technique.

I usually have to break out some basic trigonometry when discussing hill running form with the team. Believe me, I am not a mathematician but, I find the following visual makes a lot of sense:hillform

1) Flat land stride length:

 

2) Hill Stride Length*:
(Green)

 

In the image above, the blue arrows represent a distance (x) between foot contact points on flat land. In the second image, the blue arrows are the exact same distance (x) apart on the hill, as they compare to flat ground. However, the hypotenuse formed from a hill actually makes the horizontal distance, closer together (x-3 inches). If there runner attempted to maintain the same horizontal distance per stride, the steps on hill would be further apart. IE: The green arrow are the same horizontal distance if it were not for the length added by the hill (x+3 inches). [I hope that make sense.] This is why I instruct my runners to chop their stride down, increase the number of steps-per-minute, and prioritize maintaining intensity rather than pace. All this being an attempt to maintain the same work output as flat ground.

In terms of steps in a  stairwell, the athlete is opting for the smaller step over the larger. Yes, at the bottom of the hill other runners might pass your athlete but, by the top your athlete will be the strongest and able to carry on with the race; often passing those who gained ground at the bottom but, now need to recover.

Another piece of hill running form is where the hips “are”. Some coaches say “lean into the hill”. I prefer “hips pressed” because leaning suggests the idea that bending over from the waist is productive. When it comes to the physics of hill running, bending from the waist turns your body into a limp noodle. The force applied at toe-off has to travel up the leg, around the hips and over the torso. With the hips “pressed-in” the athlete has a nice forward lean from the ankle. Therefore, the force is applied straight through their center of mass; making every step more efficient.

Small fast steps and hips pressed… Races are always first to the finish, not to the top of the hill! Good running form should aid a strong finishing position.