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The Standing Athlete – Nose to Toes

Let’s get your musculature organized while standing so that we can replicate it when running. This 5 minute video (courtesy of Kelly Starrett of will get your feet straight, butt tucked, abs engaged, shoulders/blades aligned, and head up (and out off…)! This mental exercise and will be exhausting (but with big payoffs). As my wife/coach tells me: “Make Better Choices!”

Your queues are:

  • Feet straight ahead
  • Butt squeezed (relax to 20% engaged) to correct your anterior pelvic tilt (butt tucked)
  • Abs squeezed (relax to 20% engaged) to further support that pelvis and bring the rib cage down slightly
  • Shoulders externally rotated (palms out) with some tension in the shoulder blades
  • Head up and just move your eyes to look downward

This can help with lower back pain for most adults. This is also a primary focus when you start to get fatigued in longer runs (you release the abs and glutes which allows you to hang off that anterior pelvic tilt – butt sticking out). The lower back needs to work hard along with the hamstrings covering for the lazy glutes.

So, if you hear me calling you “Lazy Ass”, you know to “Tighten-up” and get focused for better running.

Addendum: Here is a video of some mobility exercises to help relieve back spasms before you pop meds.

Knee hurts? Take 3-6 weeks of hip exercises and call me in the morning

It is all about the hips. Many of the lower body pain problems in running are due to weakness or inability to activate muscles in the hip complex. These hip exercises are recommended by Dr. Reed Ferber of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary. Based on his studies, he found that 6 weeks of these exercises solve 92% of runner knee pain issues. I have found that most runners will see a significant reduction in knee or IT Band pain after about 3 weeks (your mileage may vary). I am not a doctor so I recommend you see a professional  (but I know most runners hate seeking professionals, or you can do these non-running exercises while waiting to get an appointment…).

Here are the recommended exercises for those who are experiencing pain, or would like to prevent pain and dysfunction (i.e. All Runners!). You can perform them while watching TV or YouTube cat videos.

If you can only do just one exercise, make it this one.

Take-aways from expo speakers (for runners)

Ryan Hall – 2 time Olympian, American record holder for the marathon.
I picked up his book in 2011 “Running with Joy” which he wrote while training for the Boston marathon – I liked it and re-read it during my training for Boston 2012.

  • Even the pro’s (with all of their supports) struggle with injuries like Plantar Faciitis – he ran through it during the trials to qualify for the Olympics, but the compensations caused a hamstring and quad/knee issue. During the Olympic marathon, he had to drop out due to the hamstring problem. He ended up taking 6 weeks off to deal with the issues. So, you will pay the “piper” at some point – the earlier option is to solve the pain issue before it compounds with additional problems.
  • His mother-in-law trained for a marathon at age 55 without consulting her pro-running daughter and son-in-law (she probably thought her kids would call her nuts – although all runners are a bit nuts). Her longest run was 13 miles (following my researched recommendation of limiting long runs to under 3 hours). She had an enjoyable experience without being beat-up in training.
  • Regardless of how training went, or the results of lead-up races, it is a clean slate at the starting line of a race. Wipe those thoughts out of your mind and think about the good days in training. He has experienced winning and PR performances after weeks of poor training or miserable lead-up races. You still need to run a smart race and listen to your body’s feedback.

Ben and Steph Bruce (America’s power running couple):

  • When asked about getting through those tough spots in a race – you need to ask yourself who you want to be in that moment: a competitor or a quitter. The suffering is temporary, but the regret of not putting in a full effort will last forever. Don’t just decide to be tough on race day; you need to practice it in training – that last repeat or the end of a tempo run or feeling sluggish on that long run. In preparing for the race, visualize that tough spot at 20 miles and ask yourself those questions now so that you have the scripted, automatic answer at that low spot. Find a mantra that works for you that is internal: “I can do this. I will do this” or external like: “Honor the people that have been supporting me”. Consider dedicating each mile to someone important in your life and you can’t let them down. Write it on your pace band and stay focused. Remember: “pain is temporary, but Internet results last forever”.

Rock and Roll Phoenix Marathon 2015 – Friday expo and Ryan Hall

Friday: Expo dayRyan HallSoooo, as I was interviewing Elite Marathoner Ryan Hall at the expo…  I asked him what differences he has experienced with new coach Dr. Jack Daniels. He said that Jack is very down to earth, but very detailed and prescriptive in his training plans. Jack’s VDOT system is very interesting. As Ryan likes to experiment, Jack will work with him to make adjustments and monitor the performance changes. Jack is very humble and will say “I don’t know”, when he doesn’t know. An example was when Ryan did not do very well in a race and it surprised both Ryan and Jack. When Ryan asked Jack what he thought went wrong, Jack replied “I don’t know”. Ryan appreciates the honesty and the humility in the coach. I also asked what did not work so well from Jack – he said that Jack wanted to have 3 easy days between each hard workout, but Ryan found he works best with just 2 easy days between, or he feels sluggish.

Other Ryan stories:

He was about 15 minutes late for the interview, and when he arrived he shared his story: He just spent 2 days flying back from Ethiopia and had a short run this morning. He was catchingup on his jet lag, so he set the alarm for 3:15 in his hotel and had a nap. His phone starts ringing at 3:30 – he set the alarm for AM and not PM – so don’t let that happen to you on race day! 🙂 He knows a lot of running routes from airports when he has layovers – he especially likes LAX as there is an In-N-Out Burger, one mile from the airport and he runs there to eat. Frankfurt has some amazing wooded trails next to it.

He LOVES coffee and is very particular in how it is made – he does not allow his wife to make it as she just throws the stuff in… Ryan roasts his own beans and uses a pour-over coffee maker. He has a special tea pot that heats the water to precisely 204 degrees F (the perfect temp to properly make coffee) and he has a precise ratio of coffee to water. When Ryan is heading to a city, he searches Yelp for the best coffee shop in the area. He only allows himself caffeinated coffee on hard workout days (so having 3 easy days between hard workouts deprived him ofanother day without coffee…).

Ryan also talked about his mother-in-law running her first marathon at age 55. She got a plan of the web (her daughter and son-in-law are elite distance runners… I assume she didnt’ want to bother them) and she said things were going well, even with her longest run being 13 miles… Ryan thought to himself (oh my), but said that she should focus on enjoying the experience (OMG). Thankfully things worked out well for her and she had a great day. [Take away – don’t kill yourself in training and limit your long runs to something acceptable. Note that the elites rarely go over 20 miles, and they are still done in about 2 hours]

Ryan talked about his bout with Plantar Fasciitis and trying to run through it with race obligations and the Olympics coming up. It ended up causing more problems in his hamstring and knee due to the compensations. He finally had to take some time off. [Take away – even the Elites with all their support, have to deal with these types of injuries]

When asked about how he deals with “lows”, he said that when you get to the start line, it is a new day for everyone and the slate is clean. Regardless of some bad warm-up races or some rough training periods, there is still the opportunity for greatness.

…and Ryan said he had to get a selfie with me!Ryan Hall selfie

Streaking and Recovery

If the laws forbid it, you better be fast! There are some underground races where “running free” is encouraged.

The other “streaking” involves running a minimum distance every day (clothing optional). This may conflict with the runner’s ultimate goal of increasing performance. Everyone responds differently to training loads and recovery strategies (the alchemy of coaching runners). For most, “active recovery” is effective, but it may be something other than running. Consider yoga, cycling, hiking hills, walking, etc. where you are put through ranges of motion and get the heart rate up to an aerobic level. For others, their body and mind need a break from running and exercise. Remember that this is supposed to be enjoyable.

Your choice to run on recovery days may depend on the type of soreness you are experiencing.  I like the feeling of soreness from muscles that have done me proud. I don’t like debilitating pain. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) peaks at about 48 hours after the stress load. This is normal and for most, active recovery works best. If the pain is more in the connective tissues or joints, it might be best to give them a day off and if it continues, please see a professional. Pain is a great feedback system if you heed it’s warnings.

Stretching is hotly debated and the consensus: “do it if you like it”. Never take it to a level of pain (tearing of fibers) and static stretches on a cold body is risky (I prefer to perform a minute of dynamic stretches after a mile or so of running). Stretching while “streaking”… not pretty.

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A tale of 3 runners…

Sooo, three people arrive at the Phoenix Rock and Roll Half Marathon. One girl flew in on Friday, hit the expo and an NBA basketball game downtown, then shopping and a Coyotes game Saturday. Her goal was to have fun with little expectation of a finish time. She beat her expectations and was only a few minutes off of her September PR, so it was a great day and weekend (back home Monday). Another girl wanted to PR by a minute and set her training goal accordingly. During training, she hit all her training marks on most every workout and was at the starting line confident. She was worried that she didn’t work hard enough during the workouts, but I had said “Trust the Plan”. During the race, she stayed on-pace for the first 9 miles and had a finishing kick for the downhill section to the finish. She bettered her expectation and PR’d by two and a half minutes (performed better than training paces). She was very excited about her results and was not too beat-up for the next few days (happiness minimizes the pain…).

The guy arrived at the start line with a lofty goal of PR’ing by 3 minutes from a September race (which was a PR). Training was just ok with him struggling to hit the faster training paces on the tempo runs (those are near planned race pace, but shorter durations). Most of those workouts did not go well… On race day, he still was going with the pace plan for that lofty PR and was fairly confident he could hold it (disregarding the failed tempo runs and the advice of his wife…). The gun goes and everyone is flying out of the gate on a downhill section. First mile was on-pace, miles 2 through 5 started a slight uphill so the pace slipped by 10 seconds and the effort/breathing was a bit pushed. Miles 6 through 9 was a struggle to even hold that pace of 10 seconds off goal and slipped to 15 to 30 seconds off per mile. Then there was a short steep hill and then a long downhill section – if he can just push that hill and fly down the backside, he might be able to be close to his PR.  He labored up the hill and was not able to fly down the backside at all… Today would not be a PR day nor close to a PR. The hip flexor started to flare up and it was now just a slog to the finish. It ended being two minutes slower than September’s PR. The beer after did not taste quite as good.

Take-aways from the day: Even a coach needs a coach, or just enough smarts to heed the advice of his wife (has that ever been said before? Well, maybe never written… by a guy). J   So if you are self-coached, talk about your plan to someone that knows you and will give you some honest feedback. Set a realistic goal that won’t be easy, but achievable on a good day. Plan your training based on your current fitness with test points to ensure you are on-track towards the goal. Remember that training is not racing and it should never be full-out. Expect to make adjustments during the training because life happens. Finally, a bad race-plan is most always followed by a bad day racing and a bunch of time to stew about it. Don’t be “That Guy” (or girl).

Getting your Protein

Now that you are into endurance training, consider your recovery from workouts. You need between 0.55 and 0.65 grams of protein per pound of body weight [1]. A 160 pound runner needs 88g to 104g of protein per day. Optimally you want 20g of protein immediately after a workout, mixed with carbohydrates in a 4:1 ratio (80g to 120g carbs) [2]. Most people cannot convert more than 30g at a time, and the excess may be converted to fat stores [1].

A variety of protein sources is a healthy choice, so mix it up. Note that chocolate milk has a 4:1 carb/protein ratio in a handy container. For a solution that does not need to be kept cool, bring a bottle with pre-measured protein powder that just needs water added. Here are some other options:

  • 1 egg = 6g protein
  • 6oz salmon = 34g
  • 1 cup quinoa = 8g
  • 1 cup lentils = 18g
  • 1oz almonds = 6g
  • half cup cottage cheese = 14g
  • 1 cup milk = 8g
  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal = 6g


  1. Matthew Kadey M.S., R.D. on a article “The Skinny on Protein”
  2. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, from the same article.

And some additional reading:


Looking for a good and quick pre-run snack?

For those who have read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall, you know the Tarahumara runners eat chia seeds (ancient superfood) for fuel and energy on their ultra runs (50 – 100 miles).  Chia seeds are high in protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, calcium, iron, manganese and phosphorous. When soaked in water, they form a thick, gel like mass. It is believed when Chia seeds are eaten, the gel-forming reaction occurs in the stomach, forming a barrier between carbohydrates and digestive enzymes, thus slowing the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar. The result is a super slow release of energy. The other result of this gel-forming reaction is the retention of water which means water loss is minimized and electrolyte balance is maintained for longer.  The Tarahumara combine chia seeds, water and lemon or lime to form a thick drink they consume before their runs. On half and full-day trail runs, I eat the dry seeds and chase it with water.

I have experimented with chia seeds during my training and I find they are quick and easy to eat before a run.  My favorite pre-run snack is to eat 3 or 4 spoons of Chocolate Chia Pudding which combines the benefits of chia with cocoa powder (caffeine), brown sugar (quick energy) and soy milk (calcium). Enjoy!

Chocolate Chia Pudding

  • 2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup soy milk (original or chocolate … for a real chocolaty experience)

Mix cocoa powder and brown sugar together until smooth.  Stir in chia seeds and soy milk.  Let mixture rest and then stir again.  Repeat a few times for 20 minutes.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours to overnight.


  • If you want some extra caffeine, add 1 tsp. instant coffee powder to the pudding.
  • If you want some extra energy, drizzle 2 tsp. honey over pudding.

Can I shuffle my workout days?

Yes, but carefully. Good training plans incorporate multiple cycles. Weekly cycles (microcycles) will balance harder workout days with easy or rest days to follow. The fitness response/benefit happens during the recovery after a workout. Likely, 48 hours is the sweet spot for recovery, but everyone is unique and needs to factor in the usual suspects (age, fitness level, propensity for injury, stress, fuel, rest, sleep, sleep, and sleep). The real recovery comes during deep sleep [video] [article].

Longer cycles (mesocycles of 3 to 6 weeks) will have a gradual build up and then a lighter week for recovery for both the physical and mental aspects of long-term training. This is where you schedule your tune up races or vacations/travel.

The big picture planning (macrocycles) considers your running year where you schedule one or two “prime” races or events along with family and work commitments (this makes for interesting discussions). This prioritization is a key element for successful running and planning.

Yes, you can swap the days you schedule your tempo runs with your speed workouts and/or your long runs – but maybe not stacking your hardest workouts too close together. For you, maybe 36 hours is all you need after your long run on Saturday morning so you can do your speed work on Monday night and then tempo run on Wednesday morning. On a monthly scale, you can move your “easy” week to match your vacation. On an annual cycle you might take a 12 week plan and fit it into 13 weeks with a break (for vacation or a small taper heading into a tune-up race).

Why hill repeats?

Many races advertise a “fast and flat” course however, this does not mean “flat as a pancake”. It is very common for courses to have rolling hills and if you have not trained for these elevation changes, you may feel like you are scaling a massive mountain every time you encounter a hill. Around Lethbridge you can experience rolling hills along 11th or 12th Street South, between 6th and 10th Avenue.

Hill repeats can make you a stronger, faster and healthier runner by:

  • Improving your leg muscle strength.
  • Quickening your stride (uphill).
  • Expanding your stride length (downhill).
  • Developing your cardiovascular system.
  • Enhancing your running economy.
  • Protecting your leg muscles against soreness.
  • Being a replacement for sprint workouts.

You can reap the benefits of hill repeats very quickly.  In as little as six weeks of regular hill repeats, you can expect a significant improvement in your muscle power and speed.

Here is a short video on the benefits of hill repeats:

Knowledge & Performance: Hills

Knowledge & Performance: Downhills