Friday, December 19, 2014

The Mental Side: Setting useful goals

The final aspect of the "mental game" I'd like to address is goal-setting.  Any sports psychologist will tell you that setting the right goals are important to getting the right mental approach, but I'm hesitant to endorse this idea wholeheartedly. 

However, I do have to be a pragmatist.  Maybe in an ideal world you wouldn't have any goals other than "do your best," but that's just not realistic.  Runners have times they want to hit, places they want to finish, and championships they want to qualify for.  Even in workouts, you probably have goals or desires—you know you're supposed to be running 33.x for these 200s, but it'd be great if you could squeeze it into the 32s for the last few, right?

Goals and desires are inevitable, and in almost all cases, they're a huge part of what motivates a competitive runner to train.  Whether it's a five-minute mile that motivates you or a spot at the USA Track and Field Championships, goals are an inevitable part of running.

Instead of the "high but achievable goals" mantra of sports psychology, I have had better success with a different approach, namely, setting two parallel goals, a "floor" goal and a "ceiling" goal.

Floor and Ceiling Goals

The floor goal is a basic marker of what you are sure you can run, even if conditions end up being less than optimal.  It should be a time (or place) that all of your workouts have indicated is definitely within your grasp.  The floor goal functions as a reminder that not every race is going to be your greatest race ever, even though you'd often like it to be.  The floor goal should be challenging enough so that it'd take an honest effort to run, but low enough such that failing to hit your floor goal indicates a significant problem in your training approach or racing strategy.

The ceiling goal is the one most runners have when they dream up a target to aim for.  The ceiling goal asks, "If everything goes near-perfect and I have a great race, what do I legitimately think I could run?"Ceiling goals are helpful because they can provide pacing guidelines.  If your ceiling goal is to run a 9:00 3200m, you definitely shouldn't come through 800m any faster than 2:15 or so.  This, along with motivation, is the function of the ceiling goal.

To walk through a simple example, let's say you're a high school sophomore just starting out your track season.  As a freshman, you ran 5:20 in the mile, and this fall, you ran 17:30 for 5k XC.  In your first track meet, an intersquad time-trial, you run 4:54 and felt like you could have gone faster.  Two weeks later, you have your first real meet.  How should you structure your floor and ceiling goals?

The Mental Side: How to make a successful race plan

If you want to do well in a race (and who doesn't?), one of the most basic steps to accomplishing that is making a plan.  Coaches and sports psychology advocates love to talk about having a plan and setting goals for an upcoming race, but as you might expect, the details about how you should go about setting up this plan and what your goals should be, conceptually speaking, are debatable. 

The first real question to address is "should you have a race plan?" This might seem a silly question at first, but there is a good line of argument behind not having a plan: First, you don't have any idea what's going to unfold in a race.  It could get out fast, it could get out slow, the top runner might be out with injury, etc.   Making a plan that says "I want to be 5:10 at the mile at the state cross country meet" might be a good idea in theory, but what if the top runners are hesitant and first place at the mile is only 5:14? On the other hand, the race could get out very hard, with the back of the field being 5:06 or 5:08.  In both cases, your race plan leaves you high and dry, and undoubtedly causes you stress when you realize your race is not going according to plan anymore.  Not having a plan allows you (in theory) to react to the race as it develops.

The same event can unfold in vastly different ways.  In 2007, Rob Finnerty led a strung-out field through the mile in 4:41 at the Minnesota state cross country championships.  Two years later, eventual winner Aaron Bartnik (191) pulled away after a huge front pack came through in a relatively pedestrian 5:09 first mile. 
Too often, however, I've found that having no plan at all leaves you feeling adrift, unable to exert much control over your situation in the race.  The mental "energy cost" of making a decisive move in a race is much higher once fatigue has started to build up.  Most runners know how easy it is to put off starting your kick or let a competitor slip away in the final stages of a race, even though it's contrary to what you want to accomplish.  Making these sorts of decisions before the race, when possible, alleviates some of this decision fatigue.  Having a plan allows you to exercise some amount of control over what's going on in a race.

Deciding to have a race plan is easy.  Choosing how to construct it is a little more challenging.  Sports psychology resources will tell you that your goals and plans should be concrete—e.g. "be in 10th by halfway" instead of "run near the front."  I, however, advocate a different approach.

It might be nice to sketch out your vision for the perfect race on paper (indeed, I did this for most of my senior year of high school) but because of the aforementioned issues of uncertainty about the race, this can lead to panicking and unwarranted disappointment over factors that really are out of your control.  As Mike Tyson famously said, "Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." Instead of being myopically focused on details, it is better to return to basics: What is the purpose of a race plan?

For me, the answer is simple. A race plan should keep you focused on the right concepts at the right points in the race. Paces, place, and tactics can be part of the periphery, but the core of a race plan should be a very short list of concepts, feelings, or mental states to focus on.    

The Mental Side: Sports psychology and an alternative philosophy of running

"Be water, my friend."
I'm not a fan of most elements of  sports psychology.  Why? Because I think it usually attacks the problem of inconsistent or poor performance from the wrong angle.  In virtually every case, the main problem with a poor "mental performance" in a race is caring too much.  Athletes invest a huge amount of emotion and self-worth into their running performance, and a poor performance, understandably, hits you hard in both of these areas.  By using classical sports psychology techniques like concrete goal-setting ("I will break 4:30 in the mile"), race visualization, or listening to motivational music or self-talk CDs, you magnify the emotional investment that a runner puts into his or her race performances. 

A gymnastics balance beam is four inches wide.  Walking along a four-inch-wide line just above floor height is simple for anyone, but elevate that beam up four feet off the ground, and most people will find it much more difficult.  Raised thirty feet off the ground, all but the bravest of adrenaline junkies would refuse to walk it, even with a safety rope.  Using this as an analogy, we can see how elevating the value of a race in a runner's mind is akin to raising the balance beam ever higher in an attempt to motivate them to cross it.  If you set concrete and ambitious goals, visualize your race ten times over, listen to a self-talk CD and your pump-up mix before a big race, but don't run your best, what happens to your mental state?

Thus is my opposition to most sports psychology strategies.  If an athlete is performing well in workouts but not on race day, the first issue to address (other than poor pacing—most often going out too fast—which is frequently the true culprit for "not being tough" at the end of a race) is the level of emotional investment and expectations in races.  I believe that, physically speaking, races should be approached exactly the same way as a workout, down to the specifics of the warm-up.  If your training approach is sound and you are a reasonably experienced racer, you should not have a problem putting out solid performances on race day.  This doesn't mean every race is going to be a slam dunk—just like every workout isn't a slam dunk either.

To be sure, there is value in being prepared for a race.  Having a plan, having some conceptual goals, and having themes or concepts to focus on at different points in the race can all be very helpful.  "Hah!" you say.  "So you do use sports psychology!" Well, to some extent.  But it's one thing to make a race plan, and something else to make a good one.  A good race plan is one that does not invest your self-worth in your performance and keeps you focused on the task at hand—essentially, one that allows you to run as if you're doing an extremely hard workout.  You can read more about how to make a successful race plan in the companion article to this one, conveniently titled "How to make an effective race plan."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Building a plyometrics program for distance runners

Dr Yuri Verkhoshansky (L), the "Father of plyometrics"
Usually, training techniques in distance running are ahead of the science.  A lot of things most runners and coaches would consider core elements of a training program, like high mileage, short repeats for speed, or long runs aren't supported by a solid body of science.  And that's okay! Some things, like proper long-term development, just aren't well-suited for a laboratory study.  What's really perplexing, though, is when training lags behind the science.  One area where this is true is explosive strength training, and plyometrics exercises in particular. 


"Plyometrics" is a term that was applied to explosive jumping exercises developed originally by the Soviets.  The actual root of the word means, in Greek (plio / plythein + metric), "to increase the measurement."   Today, "plyometrics," or "plyos" for short, is often taken to refer to pretty much any body weight jumping exercise, but historically it referred to a very specific kind of jump training. 

True plyometric training takes advantage of a muscle process called the stretch-shortening cycle, which (without getting too bogged down in details) allows your muscles and tendons to temporarily store energy from impact for a fraction of a second, then release it to help rebound off the ground.  This is what allows you to jump higher after doing a "windup" instead of jumping from a dead stop.  The stretch-shortening cycle plays a major role in running economy in distance runners, as the greater the percentage of impact energy you can return, the less "new" energy you need to expend each step.  The critical thing to remember about the stretch-shortening cycle is that it is time-dependent: unlike a spring, it can't store energy indefinitely.  The stretch-shortening cycle works best when your contact time with the ground is limited to a few tenths of a second, so slow or medium-speed jumps (or jumps which don't involve an impact immediately prior to takeoff)  aren't truly plyometric.

Additionally, plyometric training is designed to get maximum force and energy return out of your muscles.  As such, each plyometric exercises in a plyo training regimen needs to be done fresh.  This means plyometrics are not a conditioning tool; doing many plyometric jumps in succession without taking adequate rest undermines your ability to return the maximal amount of energy possible, and thus hampers the training effect.  There is no such thing as "plyometric circuit training" (though certainly similar exercises can be used in circuit training).

The lack of plyometrics programs for distance runners

Getting back to our initial point, plyometric training is a well-documented way to improve running economy and performance in distance runners.  This has been documented in recreational runners (~10 miles per week, no performance data)1, moderately trained competitive runners (35-50 miles per week, 3km PRs of 9:22-10:17)2 and highly trained elite runners (60-90 miles per week, 3km PRs near 8:30).3  The fact that plyometric training has been demonstrated as an effective training method even in high level runners would make you think that it'd be quite popular.  Unfortunately, that's not the case.

I don't doubt that many top runners and coaches employ plyometric training, but this practice hasn't percolated down to the distance running rank-and-file.  This might be intentional, or it might just be that high level coaches are too busy to bother with publishing their entire strength and conditioning programs.  There's certainly no shortage of brief articles or blog posts extolling the virtues of plyometrics, but these conclude with bland recommendations like adding a few squat jumps to your weekly routine.  Full plyometrics training programs designed for distance runners are sorely lacking.  After having researched plyometrics in-depth and not finding anything in the way of quality plyometrics programs for distance runners, I decided to construct my own.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Getting the warm-up right

How do you warm up for a race or workout? If you're like most high school and college runners, your warm-up is probably not too far off from Joe Rubio's humorous characterization of the typical runner's pre-workout routine

"10-15 min easy. 4 half-hearted strides. BS a bit. Run the workout"

This might be sufficient if you're a novice runner.  But if you're at all serious about competitive running, it's well worth the time to take your warm-up more seriously.  Today, I'd like to take a look at several elements of the warm-up and consider how a more advanced runner might use them to his or her advantage.

To be clear, the purpose of a warm-up is to get your body ready for the demands of the workout (or the race).  Because of this, different workouts or different races will necessarily demand different warm-up routines, as will different individual runners.  If you warm up for a 10k the same way you warm up for a mile, you probably need to reconsider your warm-up routine.  In this article, we will analyze several elements of the warm-up routine and discuss various ways to modify them based on the situation.

1.  The warm-up run

The first and most obvious part of a warm-up routine is the warm-up run itself.  The most basic and most common way of doing this is 8-15 minutes of easy running.  This can be modified in two directions to suit your needs: you can either do more running (20-30 minutes, for example), or you can do some or all of the warm-up run at a faster speed. 

Running at a higher intensity near the end of your warm-up routine primes your body for a sustained effort in a workout or a race.  If you jog a bit, do a few short strides, and start doing a workout like 8x1000m at anaerobic threshold with a minute rest, you'll find that you don't feel your best until the second or third repeat.  That's because your body wasn't fully revved up for the first one.  Like starting a car engine cold, you naturally feel off-kilter during your first few minutes of faster running.  If a workout or a race is important to you, it's vital to get this off-kilter sensation out of the way before it starts. 

Now, it's not mandatory to do faster running during the warm-up run.  I do think it's mandatory to do some sustained faster running at some point during the warm-up as a whole, but it can also come in the form of a medium-length repeat done before or after strides, which we'll discuss later.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Using Shoe Goo to secure a loose insole in racing flats

I'm a big fan of doing faster workouts in racing flats—lightweight, low-profile running shoes designed for road races.  The light weight allows you to go run faster, and the lower heel-to-toe differential gets your ankles, calves, and Achilles tendon used to working through a broader range of motion.  This can help prevent lower leg injuries and calf soreness that can crop up when you do a longer race in spikes. 

You can see creases from the crumpling

Partially thanks to the now-fading minimalist movement, racing flats have gotten a lot lighter and lower to the ground over the past several years.  While this is great from a performance perspective, the drive for ultra-light shoes sometimes causes design flaws to be overlooked, and this can ruin an otherwise-great shoe. 

I've been wearing New Balance's RC5000 flat in track workouts and road races for about nine months now, and overall, it's been great.  But recently I've had problems with the shoe's insole crumpling up under my toes.  Usually, if a racing flat has an unusually-thin insole, as the RC5000 does, it is glued down so this does not happen.  This is the case with virtually all insoles in spikes as well—having a flap of foam or fabric peel up under your forefoot during a race or workout is extremely irritating.  But New Balance either chose not to glue it down, or used an inferior glue that can't withstand the stresses of fast running. 

In any case, I decided to glue the insole back into the shoe so I could keep using these flats.  I contacted New Balance to see if they had any advice on what adhesive to use, but their response, quoted below, wasn't particularly helpful:

We don't recommend gluing your insoles in your shoes. We make our shoes with removable inserts to allow you to further customize your shoe fit through the use of our upgraded insoles or your own orthotic. You can try another type of insole, such as Dr. Scholl's. Another idea is trying a different lacing method to keep your insoles from moving

So instead, I did some research.  Surprisingly, there is not much on the internet about how to fix a running shoe insole that's peeling or crumpling up under your foot.  I've used Super Glue (cyanoacrylate) to fix a peeling insole before, but that was on a pair of Nike spikes with a flat, smooth surface immediately underneath the insole.  The bottom of the New Balance flat has a mesh overlay, visible above, and I suspected that Super Glue would not adhere very well to it and could potentially leave hard lumps under my feet.  So that wouldn't do.  I considered a number of other adhesives, like contact cement, epoxy, and barge glue, but they didn't seem like good candidates: they either dried into a hard, brittle substance, cured nearly instantly, or wouldn't work well on foam EVA and fabric.  I settled on using Shoe Goo, a polymer adhesive that hardens into a strong but flexible rubbery substance after curing for several hours. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Brief Thoughts: Long easy runs in marathon training

The long run is a central piece of marathon training for everyone from recreational marathoners all the way up to national-level competitors.  There are a lot of reasons why distance runners, and marathoners in particular, do long runs; these include increasing mitochondrial and capillary density, improving leg strength and resilience to the pounding of a two, three, or four-hour race, and, most pertinent to this post, to put in mileage in a low glycogen availability state.

If you aren't up on the latest training jargon, that last point just means that one purported benefit of long runs is to deplete the stored carbohydrates in your body so you are forced to burn more fat.  When your body has run out of carbohydrates, you have "hit the wall," colloquially speaking—fat is much less efficient to burn than carbohydrates, so you end up slowing down significantly.  When this occurs in a race, it's sometimes called "bonking."  This is obviously undesirable during a marathon, and one way to avoid it should be to train your body to parse out its carbohydrate stores more efficiently, sparing more for the end of the race, hence the long run as a staple of marathon training.  The long run takes on such importance in a typical marathon training plan that you'll often see runners doing as little as 30 or 40 miles a week putting in a 16-22-mile long run every week to prepare for the marathon.  Moreover, this run is virtually always done at an easy pace, or with only small segments at marathon pace.

There are a number of problems with this situation, but the one I'd like to focus on today is the carbohydrate-burning aspect.  In short, doing long easy runs is not going to deplete most runners' carbohydrate stores! Let's take a look at why.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Preparing for championship races with Renato Canova, Part III: Caleb Ndiku's training before the Commonwealth Games 5k

Workout schedules and analysis of the training of Renato Canova's athletes have become some of the most popular content on my website.  Today, we're taking a look at a short block of training done by Caleb Ndiku.  Regular readers will remember Ndiku—I analyzed Ndiku's training schedule before his victory over 3000m at this year's World Indoor Championships.  Ndiku's outdoor campaign this spring and summer included a 13:01 win at the Prefontaine Classic 5k in Eugene, a 7:31 3k in Europe, and a victory at the Commonwealth Games in the 5k.

Canova graciously provided the final seventeen days of Ndiku's preparations for the Commonwealth Games, and in usual fashion, I have formatted them into a printable schedule and translated the paces into relative percentages of race pace.  The preparations for this race are especially interesting because, as Canova remarks on the LetsRun thread in which he detailed Ndiku's training, it was written with the assumption that reigning Olympic and World Champion Mo Farah would be in the race, and thus Ndiku would need to be in peak shape to win.  Farah ended up not running, citing medical problems, handing Ndiku a fairly clean victory over compatriot Isiah Koech and New Zealander Zane Robertson.

Info and Disclaimer
All of the usual caveats about interpretations apply—I'm just a coach and writer, I'm not Renato Canova himself, so this is only my opinion and analysis of the training.  And I accept any responsibility for mistakes or typos.  Percentages are calculated in the "Canova" method, meaning that 90% of 5k pace, for example is 5k pace * 1.10.  Based on Ndiku's performance at the various Diamond League meets this spring, I set Ndiku's current 5k pace at 13:00 for the calculations.  Varying this by 5-10 seconds will have no significant impact on the percentage calculations.

At the link below, you'll find the training schedule, formatted, converted to imperial distances, and with paces translated to relative speeds.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Feature in Running Times on sports drinks

I've been up to a lot behind the scenes recently: doing a lot of research for an upcoming injury article, doing freelance work, and keeping up with my regular articles at  One of my biggest recent projects was an article for Running Times magazine on some of the marketing claims of new sports drinks.  The hard copy version came out in the July print issue, and the online version was just posted.  Check it out!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The different roles of strength training for distance runners

Strength training for distance runners is a pretty popular and contentious topic in the world of training, and I don't have much up on my blog about it.  I recently got an email asking about my opinion on strength work for distance runners, and it spurred me to condense what I know so far about the subject, so I've adapted my response to that email into a blog post.

Strength work, and especially weight lifting, is in a bit of an awkward place right now, because (unlike most things with training) the science is actually ahead of the coaching—or at least the coaching material that's out in the open.  Weight lifting was dismissed for so long for distance runners that there's very little training literature on how to actually go about integrating it into a training routine.  On one hand you've got running coaches who know nothing about lifting saying you should only do body weight stuff 1x a week, and on the other you've got weight lifting coaches who know nothing about running saying you should lift heavy 3-4x a week and not run on those days.

Whether it was fears that weight lifting would cause a runner to "bulk up" and slow down, or claims that most strength work isn't specific enough to distance running, a comprehensive theory of how strength training fits into an overarching training plan is distinctly lacking in the coaching literature.  I don't doubt that there are plenty of coaches out there who are far more knowledgeable than I am on this subject—there certainly are—but there's a distinct lack of literature (books, articles, interviews) describing how to go about piecing together a comprehensive strength program.  Sure, you can watch a video on Flotrack of Galen Rupp doing single-leg barbell squats, or read a magazine article about how Shalane Flanagan does hurdle drills for hip mobility, but there's no Daniels' Running Formula for strength work.  This problem is particularly bad when it comes to weight lifting.

When evaluating whether a certain kind of strength work is useful for you, you need to ask yourself "what purpose is this serving?" and "is this the best way to achieve the outcome I want?" Weight lifting and strength training in general can serve one of several purposes in training: injury prevention, general strength, maximal muscle fiber recruitment, or running-specific explosive training.  I'll go through each of these four purposes one by one.

Strength work for injury prevention

A lot of people think that you should lift or do "core work" to prevent injury, but really, the best kind of strength  for injury prevention is boring, physical-therapy style exercises for hip strength.  Scientific research supports strengthening the hip muscles, ESPECIALLY the abductors and external rotators, as a way to prevent injury—especially knee injuries like runner's knee or IT band syndrome, but hip strength appears to be connected with overall injury rates as well.

There's a huge range of hip strength exercises out there.  Based on some rudimentary research on muscle activation patterns, I particularly like these four:

*Side leg lifts
*Clamshell leg lifts
*Glute  bridge with leg lefts
*Monster walk with theraband

I myself do these four exercises six or seven days a week, 20-25x for the leg lifts, 90-120sec for the glute bridge, and 2x30 for the monster walk.  This is just one example, and there are a lot of other exercises that are likely equally good, but if you're ONLY looking to prevent injury, this is the kind of strength work you want to do.  It's not fun, it's not exciting, and it's not physically challenging in the same way a pushup is.  That's why I call this routine "the boring exercises" with the high school runners I coach.  Instead of a 30min ab strength routine, you're far better off just doing hip strength.  Ab strength isn't bad,  per se, but it's not been directly connected to injury risk.

Instead of core strength routines that only strengthen the abs and the lower back, I'm partial to the Pedestal routine, developed initially (I think) by Dan Pfaff and probably popularized among distance runners by John Cook, who coached a number of American elites, including Shannon Rowberry and Leo Manzano.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Five steps to long-term success in high school boys' distance running

A lot of people like to overcomplicate training.  Advanced workouts, intricate training schedules, and complex strength circuits all have their place in pushing the limits of talent and race preparation, but when it comes to the real legwork of training—getting a young, talented runner into great shape, or getting big improvements out of a less talented runner—the road to success is really pretty simple. 

The following steps, in order, are the path that I believe male high school distance runners should take if they want to improve long-term.  The training progression laid out below may not be ideal for running your fastest right now, but that's not the intent—the intent is to improve long-term. 

The specifics of a training program are highly variable and depend on a lot of factors.  That's why I'm not a huge fan of pre-packaged training plans.  But despite that, there are principles that apply to nearly everyone.  There will always be exceptions: if you're very talented but highly injury-prone, for example, you'd want to adopt a substantially different plan, as consistency and health is more important than peak volume.  Runners with substantial speed (under 56 in the 400m for boys without very much training) would also likely adopt a schedule with more focus on developing speed.  But if you're a relatively durable but average, unathletic, skinny guy, this is the roadmap you want to follow during your "off season" training—i.e. the summer and the winter. 

Your off-season training is usually the part about your running where you have the most control, and it's where you'll likely make the most improvements.  Another perk is that you are pretty much guaranteed some good races if your off-season training is good.  While training and workouts during the racing season are obviously important, it's very hard for anything but a totally incompetent coach to screw you up too badly if you're already an aerobic monster. 

Many of the same principles apply to girls, but I'm not comfortable putting down concrete paces or run distances because I just haven't coached very many of them.

The below steps should be done in order, and you should not move ahead to the next step until you're able to do the previous one.  For example, if you can't run six days per week without getting injured, figure out WHY and fix it before you try to do all of your runs faster.  Avoiding injury is a big subject, one which deserves its own "roadmap to success," which I'll write up some other time. 

A few of these steps can be adopted simultaneously or in any order, and are noted below.  Do note that it will take a long time to progress through this plan.  Not "long" as in months; "long" as in years.  In most cases, the year you start running six days a week will not (or should not) be the one where you start doubling four days a week and doing fifteen mile long runs.  Running is for the patient—marshal your ambition!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Championship Racing with Renato Canova, Part II: The Training of Caleb Ndiku

Some of the most popular posts on my blog are the articles on the training schedules and coaching philosophy of Renato Canova, arguably one of the most successful running coaches in the world.  Canova, born in Italy, rose to prominence by coaching many top Italian runners but is best-known now for his work with elite Kenyan runners.  The Olympic and World Championship medalists he has coached are too many to list concisely.  But what's perhaps more remarkable about Renato Canova is his willingness to share the training schedules of his athletes with the rest of the world.  While other coaches keep their athletes' schedules tightly under wraps, Canova posts them online, usually at, for anyone to look at.

This article concerns the last nine weeks of the training of Caleb Ndiku in preparation for the 2014 World Indoor Championships at 3000m in March.  Ndiku, an incredibly talented 21-year-old Kenyan, secured the gold medal in a slow, tactical race with a long kick from 500m out.  As Ndiku lacked the blistering finishing speed of other top runners, Canova designed his training schedule to foster the development of a long, sustained drive to the finish.  The strategy worked out brilliantly, as Ndiku covered the last 1000m in under 2:22—28.4 second 200 pace!

If you haven't read anything about Renato Canova's training philosophy, you can use my article, "Something New in Training: The Methods of Renato Canova," as a helpful introduction.

Another good companion article is Preparing for Championship Races with Renato Canova, an article of mine which reviewed the preparations of Sylvia Kibet, Silas Kiplagat, Imane Merga, and Thomas Longosiwa before the 2011 World Championships in Daegu.  You will see many similarities between those schedules and the training of Caleb Ndiku. I have also analyzed Canova's marathon training schedules for those who are interested.

A Brief Note on Percentages

Most workouts in a Renato Canova training schedule are prescribed using percentages of race pace.  Canova does the math a little different than an American might.  Percentages are always expressed as fractional deviations from the original pace—so to take 90% of 5:00 mile pace, Canova (and I when figuring out the paces of these workouts) would do 5 * 1.1 = 5.5 or 5:30 per mile, not 5 / 0.9 to get 5:33 per mile. All percentages portrayed in the schedule are calculated using this method.


As usual, I need to caution that these interpretations are wholly my own.  I'm not Renato Canova, so I can't guarantee that my analysis is correct.  So take what I say with a grain of salt.  With this schedule in particular, I had to make a lot of educated guesses, as I can't compare it to a similar schedule from another athlete preparing for the same race as I could with the other Canova schedules I analyzed.  Because of this, it's hard to distinguish what might be an idiosyncratic workout that plays to a unique strength of Ndiku, or something that is a part of the general Canova plan.  I also take responsibility for any typos or mistakes, of which there are sure to be at least one or two.

The Training Schedule

Caleb Ndiku's last nine weeks of training are available as a .pdf here.  The paces of his workouts are provided both in actual pace/splits and as percentages of 3k and 5k pace.  I used Ndiku's 3k performance of 7:38 in Düsseldorf as a basis for the 3k pacing, and a converted value (7:38 → 13:18) for his 5k fitness.  

You will notice a ~4 week gap in the workouts around when Ndiku traveled to Europe to race.  Canova did not provide Ndiku's schedule during this period, so unfortunately I had to leave it blank. The schedule itself is sized to 17"x11" paper but can be easily printed at 11"x8.5", albeit in a pretty small font.

The original LetsRun thread can be found here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Brief thoughts: How to properly run interval workouts

I'm a big proponent of thinking about HOW you do a workout, not just what workout you do.  Just as there are good workouts and bad workouts (or perhaps "not so good" workouts), there are also right and wrong ways to go about doing a workout. 

As a high school coach, I see a lot of young runners going about doing workouts the wrong way.  While I do my best to correct them, coaching can only go so far.  Experience, understanding, and fitness also have a lot to do with your ability to run well in workouts. 

Let's say the workout of the day is 6x1000m at anaerobic threshold with a 200m jog recovery—goal pace, 3:45 per km.  Novice runners usually go about doing the workouts one of the following ways:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Runners Connect podcast on training, injuries, and physiology

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by Lucas Felten of for their regular podcast on all things running related.  Over the course of the 45-minute interview, we talked about the science behind why runners get injured, what you can do to prevent injuries yourself, and how to go about training the right way.  It's great to get an opportunity to articulate my philosophy about how to approach training for distance runners and to spread the word about avoiding injury.  We also talked about physiology, threshold training, and my book, Modern Training and Physiology for Middle and Long Distance Runners.

If you've got some time to spare, check it out! The link below leads to the splash page for the podcast.  Download the mp3 directly here.

4 Simple Methods to Improve Consistency and Reduce Injuries. Interview with research expert John Davis

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Should young athletes undergo testing for heart abnormalities before participating in sports?

One of the big stories in the running world a few weeks ago was Mo Farah's collapse at the New York City Half-Marathon.  Though it turned out okay—Farah regained consciousness and was carted away in a wheelchair, then appeared later at the post-race press conference—for a moment, everyone present surely feared the worst. 

Usually, when runners collapse after a race, they'll be fine.  The most common cause of post-race collapse is a transient drop in blood pressure that occurs when your muscles stop contracting rapidly and when your heart rate drops precipitously after you stop running.  After lying down for a bit, elevating their legs, drinking some water, and being tended to by medical staff on-site, they'll recover quickly.  But occasionally, runners collapse at a race for much more serious reasons.  Hyperthermia and hyponatremia usually affect slower runners for a number of reasons (they tend to be heavier, their race takes longer, they have more time to drink too much water, etc.), but are rare in elite runners.1  But being an elite runner offers no protection from another cause of collapse: sudden cardiac arrest.

In 2008, professional runner and Olympic hopeful Ryan Shay collapsed and died only five miles into the Olympic Trials Marathon.  The cause was a previously-undetected heart defect, known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  Though Ryan Shay's death was one of the most well-known in recent memory, a substantial number of runners die of sudden cardiac failure every year, either while training or while racing.  Many of these are middle-aged or older runners succumbing to the same kind of heart disease that claims the lives of thousands of sedentary people every year, but a troubling number are young, seemingly healthy runners aged 35 or younger.  These people, like Ryan Shay, have undetected heart abnormalities that leave their hearts prone to failure.  Just last week, a 16-year-oldgirl collapsed and died after the Virginia Beach Half Marathon, one of a significant number of high-school and college-aged athletes to suffer sudden cardiac death during the course of their athletic pursuits. 

Hard numbers are difficult to come by—given the rarity of sudden cardiac death, numbers in individual studies are all over the board.  But the incidence rate appears to be around one death per 100-200,000 young athletes per year.2  While this seems like a vanishingly small number, when you consider that there are about eight million high school and college athletes in the United States at any given time, this lines up with the estimate of about one hundred young athletes dying every year in the United States, extrapolating from a small study of Minnesota high school sport participants.3  Of course, sedentary young people die from sudden cardiac death too, but being an athlete increases your risk by about threefold.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Brief Thoughts: Misinformation about running injuries all over the internet

I can't remember why, but I was reading an article on WebMD when I saw a sidebar linking to a sports injury quiz.  Since a large part of what I do every day is working to get to the bottom of running injuries, I decided to check it out.  Though most of the questions were about traumatic injuries to the upper body, which are much more common in contact sports, there were a few on running injuries.  I'm pretty used to seeing misconceptions all over the place when it comes to the causes and optimal treatments for running injuries, but one slide bothered me because a) it was so aggressively incorrect and b) WebMD content is supposed to be vetted and approved by a medical doctor, which lends it an air of authority.

I've reproduced the offending slide below:

The available answers, by the way, were "torn ligaments," "inflammation," "tiny fractures," and "all of the above," none of which are wholly satisfactory.

As readers who have perused my Injury Series articles will know, "shin splints" is a vague term that usually refers to medial tibial stress syndrome, which is a well-defined problem that occurs on the medial edge of the tibia (your shinbone).  Unfortunately, the term "shin splints" has morphed into a catch-all term for any exercise-related pain in the shin.  WebMD's picture of an athlete icing the lateral side of the upper shin certainly doesn't help.  The equation of "shin splints" to "shin pain of any sort" causes mundane things like shin muscle fatigue and more serious things like anterior compartment syndrome to be conflated with medial tibial stress syndrome under the improperly-used umbrella term of "shin splints."

Worse, the answer—"inflammation of muscles, tendons, bone, and other tissue surrounding the shin bone"—is demonstrably incorrect. Though the main purpose of this post is to address the larger issue of outdated or simply incorrect information about running injuries that's all over the place on the internet, I should be thorough and formulate a more proper answer to the question of what "shin splints"—understood to be medial tibial stress syndrome—are caused by.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ask Running Writings Episode 5: Time off after a racing season

In this video, I answer a question from a viewer on how much time you should take off at the end of your competitive season. Many coaches recommend or even require their runners to take 10-14 days completely off from running. What are the benefits of doing this, and is it necessary for everyone?

If you've got a question that you'd like answered on a future episode of Ask Running Writings, leave a comment on the video page or drop me a line at the Contact Me page!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Yearly progression in training for high schoolers

Your training schedule is perhaps the most important determiner of your long-term success as a runner in high school, college, and beyond.  Well, that and your consistency—how well you are able to adhere to your training schedule.  The running career of a talented young high school runner is often determined by his or her long-term training structure: not just the workouts he or she runs this week or this month, but the progression of those workouts and the overall training structure each successive season and each successive year.  Today, instead of writing about specific workouts, I'd like to talk about how you can progress your training from season to season and from year to year. 

Just as you grow wiser, stronger, older, and more sophisticated as a person over time, so too should your training.  In general, as a runner becomes older, he or she should aspire to run more mileage, more volume in workouts, and have a schedule that is more complex. The most obvious application of these principles is in coaching high schoolers who aim to progress from complete novices to state or national-caliber runners in only a few years.  This progression necessarily continues in college, and beyond if they continue to compete as a post-collegiate runner.  Though we'll use the example of a high school runner below, many of the same principles about progression in training apply whether you're thirteen or thirty.

 Below, we'll look at the kind of overarching career training plan that a talented young (8th or 9th grade) male runner might lay out.  I'm not so interested in the training you do during the season, since that's pretty self-explanatory: most weeks should have one high-end aerobic workout, one race-specific workout, and a race or a lighter tertiary workout, with the other days filled in with easy mileage.  Besides, in-season training is largely out of the control of high school and college athletes.  Where they should focus, and where the big gains in fitness happen, is training during the "off season," or the summer and the winter.

Each season, you should have an "ideal" schedule that you gradually work your way up to during your base training (usually summer/winter), then maintain for several weeks.  The real key to long-term improvement is good, consistent training.  I'd much rather see a boy who's a rising high school junior string together four or five weeks of 55 miles than go all-in on one week of 80 just for bragging rights. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Ask Running Writings Episode 3: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

Got another video done—this one is on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).  Even though many runners take these with the belief that these drugs will help speed their recovery from injury, the scientific literature says otherwise.  Check out the video for more! I've reworked the formatting a bit so the screen isn't quite so cluttered, so let me know what you think.

If you've got a question that you'd like answered on a future episode of Ask Running Writings, leave a comment on the video page or drop me a line at the Contact Me page!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

52 more lessons from another year of weekly writing

This week, I marked two full years of writing weekly articles on science and running for Runners Connect.  Last year, I made a list of one thing I learned about running from each week of writing, and I'm doing the same this year.  The shorter and more focused nature of my articles on Runners Connect allows me to cover a huge number of topics, which is reflected in the list below! Check out for the full articles, as well some guides to injuries that I've written and a ton of other really useful information on running as well.

1.    Massive increases in training volume and intensity are likely to result in overtraining, a problem where your body responds hostilely and normal adaptation mechanisms fail.  Avoiding this is not just a matter of your training, though—getting more sleep and keeping your overall stress level low also helps keep you safe from overtraining.  If you are overtrained, it can take several weeks to work your way back to health.

2.  Because bones have a unique healing timeframe, the standard "increase mileage by 10% per week" rule might not work best for people susceptible to stress fractures.  Two ways to make sure your body can handle new mileage territory is by taking a down week every 3-4 weeks as you increase mileage, or using an "equilibrium" model, where you increase mileage by 30% one week, then maintain that same volume for several weeks before increasing again.

3.  For ideal performance, there's a balance between having a stiff, responsive surface and a little bit of "give" so you can get a lot of energy back from the ground.  On a soft surface like grass, you can get away with wearing the thinnest, lightest spikes you have, but on pavement, you probably want something with at least some cushioning.

4.  Some innovative new studies have connected hamstring tightness with increased stress on the plantar fascia and abnormal loading in the forefoot. 

5.  Many runners get extremely sore calves after their first race of the season.  This is because they spend the entire offseason training in regular running shoes, then run an entire race in low-heeled racing flats or spikes.  To avoid this, do some strides in low-heeled shoes (or in no shoes at all) a few times a week, even during parts of the year when you aren't racing. 

6.  The four best exercises for hip strength are the clamshell, side-step (or "monster walk"), glute bridge with single-leg lifts, and quadruped hip extension (pictured below).  If you're only going to do a few strength exercises, do these!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Ask Running Writings Episode 4: Gear for training in extreme cold

I'm actually still working on Episode 3 of Ask Running Writings, but given the blast of arctic air that's engulfed much of the Midwest, I figured I'd do my best to get this video (Episode 4) out as soon as possible.  It's about the kind of equipment you'll need if you're going to run outside in extreme windchills.  The gear showcased in this video will take me down comfortably to wind chills of at least 40 below zero.  Check it out!

If you've got a question that you'd like answered on a future episode of Ask Running Writings, leave a comment on the video page or drop me a line at the Contact Me page!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ask Running Writings Episode 2: What should you do during the recovery period of interval workouts?

Here's the next episode of my YouTube series! Something I'm asked a lot by young athletes and their coaches is "what should I/my runners be doing during the recovery period of interval workouts?" The best answer is "it depends"!  Different kinds of workouts call for different recovery tactics.  Check out the video for more!

If you've got a question that you'd like answered on a future episode of Ask Running Writings, leave a comment on the video page or drop me a line at the Contact Me page!