A Gold Medal Mind: My interview with Dr. Jim Afremow

dr. jim afremowTo run and race your best it’s critical you’ve got the right mindset. Dr. Jim Afremow has made it his mission to help runners and athletes of all sports hone their mental training. Just as important and the physical workouts, an athlete’s mind can create a champion or turn into one’s own worst enemy. I wanted interview Dr. Afremow both because I respect his body of work and level of expertise and also because, let’s be honest, the psychology of our sport in straight-up fascinating! Often time elite athletes have trouble putting into words exactly how they get into gamer mode…so read on to hear a mental game’s coach put words to the ability:

JIM AFREMOW, Ph.D.

 

 

1)    What got you started in athletics, and what were your favorite sports growing up?

 

I grew up on sports and physical activity primarily through my father who appreciated the importance of having an active lifestyle. He especially enjoyed hiking, mountain climbing, and participating in Masters track and field. As a youth, my favorite sports included track and field, soccer, and golf.

 

2)    How did you foray into becoming a mental games coach and working on the sports psychology end of the spectrum?

 

Sports psychology provides the perfect opportunity to bridge two of my passions: sports and psychology. I have always been fascinated by human behavior and how all of us can learn to reach our greatest potential. I earned a doctorate in sports psychology and a Master’s in counseling, both at Michigan State University.

 

3)    You work with a variety of athletes in different sports, but in working with runners what are some of the most common mental hurdles they struggle with?

 

Mental toughness is equally import to physical strength when it comes to shining in sports. Adversity strikes all athletes in different ways at different times. Runners must learn how to stay focused and confidently move through any kind of setback, such as a mental block, performance plateau, prolonged slump, or injury. They must also develop ways to reduce off-field issues or concerns that interfere with their training and races.

 

4)    Confidence is a big one with runners and racing, and confidence tends to ebb and flow, be it after bad workouts or ongoing injuries. What are some of the techniques you use to help runners rebuild and remain confident in themselves and their abilities?

 

Confidence is a beautiful thing! Confidence in yourself and your athletic ability is critical to performing your best when it matters most. One strategy for boosting your confidence is to remember a particular occasion when you triumphed over a difficult challenge and write about how you made it happen—memory is the prelude to memorable performances.

 

5)    Race day nerves tends to be another big one, what are some of your suggestions for keeping your racing nerves in check?

 

First and foremost, understand that pre-performance anxiety is how our body readies itself to perform at its peak. So, recognize anxiety for what it is―that’s how humans are made. If you know that, it helps to normalize race day nerves. My new book The Champion’s Mind presents scores of practical tips to help you harness anxiety and use it to your advantage.

6)    In running and in athletics in general what is something you feel is an especially crucial mental component in being your best, if not THE best?

 

Have a big-picture goal and chip away at each and every day. “When you’re good at something, make that everything,” said tennis legend Roger Federer. All it takes is all you’ve got!

 

7)    What’s your favorite mental tip for runners to race and run their best?

 

During competition, the key word is “performance” because if you focus on performing (rather than on any results or other extraneous factors), then you’re totally in the present. Being in the present and staying purposeful lets you “own the moment” and maximize your abilities.

 

8)    What was the greatest lesson or piece of advice you’ve been given either from a mentor, teacher, or athlete that you’ve applied to your work?

 

One important lesson is that we either win or we learn. Forget about losing and focus on continual improvement. Give yourself credit where credit is due and celebrate what you did well. But then if you didn’t do as well as you wanted, say, “What did I learn from this that’s going to help me perform better next time?”

 

9)    Tell us about your book, your services, and your website?

 

The title of my new book is, “The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive” (Rodale, 2014). The Champion’s Mind explains “what” athletes can do to champion themselves and “how” they can do it. That is, how athletes can fine-tune their game mentally and emotionally to consistently perform at their best. If you want to discover how great you can be and how much fun you can have in your sport, don’t leave the mental game to chance or circumstance.

 

So, I provide individual and team sports psychology services for personal excellence, peak performance, and team success. Although my private practice is located in Phoenix, I work with athletes from all over the world. Important topics include confidence, concentration, composure, communication, and commitment. All athletes can and should learn how to think like a champion. For more information, please visit my website: www.goldmedalmind.net.

 

10)Ultimately, what is your goal in being a sports performance specialist? What gives you the most sense of pleasure and fulfillment?

 

To help people reach their true and full potential in sports and all other demanding endeavors. To help people grow as athletes and as people. Champions think gold and never settle for silver or bronze. They understand that personal best is their ultimate victory. Why settle for anything less?

Monday Morning Running Motivation: Please don’t waste

I grew up in a house where my mom HATED to see things go to waste. We were a household who left-over’ed and if we didn’t clean our plates we could usually count on Mommy-O to finish them off. She WAS a runner after all. The thing was, it killed my mother to put food in the trash or down the disposal.

Wasting is, well, a waste.

penguin and spilled ice cream art
This holds true in life. And with the human body, if you’re even an iota interested in physiology, anatomy, and sports science you’ve got to just take a step back and think, “Holy crap, the body is amazing. Like freaking incredible.” All the complexities, the systems working together, playing off of each other, people can quip the ‘miracle of life’…heck, it’s pretty dang remarkable what goes in to just digesting! Something enters the mouth, get broken down, gives you the energy to run, and then gets pooped out the other end. That’s pretty dang cool!

Not taking advantage of just how amazing and remarkable the human body is, it’s a waste. Obesity, a growing lack of exercise, a growing disinterest…bordering on HATE of activity is a waste, it’s sad. Here is this amazing human body machine…just waiting to DO, to perform.

A body can be worked. It can be run. It can be trained. It can be stressed by training and then, if given the chance to recover, it will GROW, become stronger, tougher, faster, and then eager to achieve even more. Keep doing that and watch how far you can go.

Physiology is quite amazing, don’t forget that. Don’t take it for granted either…PUSH yourself to discover your own potential.

A vehicle left abandoned is waste. Take advantage of the miraculously, mind-blowing things your body can DO and get DOing.

Taper Troubles: Peaking right to run your best race

For runners, finding that perfect taper and method to peak right sure can be difficult! Which sounds kinda crazy because taking the taper at face value, one could think, “Well, I just need to cut back. I’ve done all the work, so let’s just coast on until race day and wind up with fresh as daisy legs!”

WRONG. Any runner can tell you tapering is a bit of a beast. Sometimes your legs do feel an extra bounce, other times they start feeling like dead weights and you start to freak out, “What the heck, why am I trucking bricks?!”
find your own trail
Some runners even build a little superstition around it, “The worse my legs feel on the warm-up the better they feel in the race.’ Not going to lie, I’ve experienced that one and can back the logic.

So let’s talk taper. We’ll even start from the most basic of basics up.

What is a taper? Training is done in phases, working backwards from the date of your big race. The closer you draw to your race, the more the goal of workouts shift from ‘building fitness’ to ‘sharpening’ and ‘honing’. A week before your race you’re not going to be able to increase fitness anymore, that work’s been done, so it’s a matter of maintaining fitness and then reducing the volume so your legs feel fresh come race day. [Tapering can be done anywhere from 1-3 weeks before your race, depending on distance and all that good stuff.]

Logistics: Runners who are tapering will cut their overall miles back, the volume of workouts decrease, and you’ll see workouts like 200′s, 400′s, or for marathoners, maybe a few longer repeats (ie: miles) at race pace. Just getting the wheels turning.
running in circles
Common Mistakes:

1) Not decreasing enough: If you’ve been training at 110 miles per week and your ‘taper’ is cutting down to 100 miles per week that’s really not going to leave you feeling all that fresh, right? Same goes with pushing your ‘taper’ workouts too much; grinding out your best 6xmile four days before your race day isn’t doing you any favors.

2) Decreasing too much: So the runners who think, oh I’ll just go from 110 miles down to 20 and I’ll feel GOLDEN! Wrong-zo. The body has a crazy way of adapting to us crazy runners and doing what we do. Dramatic shifts, the body doesn’t like that at all. Go too far from one extreme to the other and your body will be like, “wtf is going on?!” In the case of the runner above, they’ll actually be feeling sluggish because their body is used to much more stress. It actually NEEDS more miles to feel better. Crazy, huh? But kinda cool too.

Bottom line: There’s no perfect amount for everyone, it comes back to what works for you and your race distance. But a nice rule is that when tapering your mileage should be reduced by 20-25% of your average training volume.

3) Pre-Race Day Off: Many runners like to take the day before their race completely off. I would like to argue that, they should instead take the day TWO days prior to their race off. Why? Sometimes your legs will feel stale after a complete rest day, it’s better to do a short shake-out run and strides the day before to ‘bust out the rust and creaks.’ You still get a day off, but going into the race you’re not ‘creaky’. This is also why if you’re running a night race, lots of runners like to do a short (10-15min) shake-out run that morning.

4) No Speed-work: Taper logic might seem like you shouldn’t do anything hard…go into the whole week totally fresh and rested. Refer back to number 2 and realize that once your body has become accustomed to a certain degree of work (ie: stress) it needs the stimulus. Going 4-plus days without any faster turn-over will leave your legs feeling sluggish and slow. For races 10k and below, a good workout to do three days before your race is 8x200m with 200meter recovery. Any way you slice it, you still want some ‘sharp’ quality sessions leading up to your race.

Tapering is a tricky science, that’s why I firmly believe runners should have a coach they trust to do the sciencey planning stuff. Then the runner isn’t left ‘thinking’ all this out. Planning and wondering “is this workout right? Is this what I should do?” can get in the way of your workouts, and it can be liberating to give that ‘stress’ to someone else who KNOWS their stuff.

That way, runners can just turn their brain off and stick to what they love to do…run. Hey, running the workouts are hard enough, no reason to add more thinking than necessary to the mix. ;)

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More posts on RACE TIPS

More posts on PRE-RACE CONFIDENCE

Make sure you’re looking GOOD doing all that training…Ezzere’s got your back there! :)
ezzere peacock runner tee

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Runners Three Tip Tuesday: Work on getting faster in tri-fecta form

Good things can come in threes, but then again plenty of awesome things come in twos and fours. Runners have two legs, four laps make that perfect mile…though do those four laps REALLY feel all that perfect when doing mile repeats?? ;) Brain: “FOUR laps, let’s call a mile one lap!” Juuust kidding.

running track

The cool place all runners get to hang out.


Well good things can come in any number but today you runners are getting a three-pack. Here are some Training Tips in Triple for your Tuesday:

1) Runners Who Skip: Runners can become a little too linear for their own good. Example is looking only at their running workouts to improve and taking that little metaphor to the literal: running is a repetitive, linear, single-plane action. If you don’t work your body in a variety of ways it gets tight. Tight will equal restrictive, bring you injuries and impede your speed.

Offset that by doing things OTHER than running: core work, flexibility, and agility drills. Move in the horizontal, even do some skipping to ‘dilly around’ with your neuromuscular thought patterns. Your brain actually has to be ‘played with’…it gets stuck in a pace/pattern run with just running. So as crazy as it sounds doing things like skipping, backwards skips, crazy feet drills give it a little ‘reset’ and make it more ‘sharp’ when you come back to running steps. Oh, and those fast feet, like chili pepper jump rope things, those will help your neuromuscular training too…get those feet conditioned to FIRE off the ground faster = faster speed and sprinting.

2) Be Quiet I’m Sleeping: Sleeping should really be an Olympic sports…or at least one of everyone’s favorite past times. Want to have a sleep-off? Just kidding. But seriously, for the runner in training you should guard your zzzz’s with just as much ferocity as you do lane one during repeats.
runner on track
Sleep is where you body does the vast majority of its repair, sleep is a restorative process. But it’s really the deep, REM sleep that you need. That’s why people who are light sleepers or wake up multiple times in the night can still feel so flipping tired later even if they’ve been in bed 8-12 hours…they’re not sleeping continuously or getting a deep enough sleep. Sleep issues are really tricky, I’ve got them, so if you do have trouble sleeping already do the basics: make it as dark as possible, don’t even have the light from your phone on, try a fan for white noise, relax and power-down before bedtime to put your brain in sleep-mode, and from there you may need to seek out some other options and work with a doctor.

For those of you are are lucky enough to NOT have a problem sleeping but just skimp on the hours because you’re busy, I’ll say this: 1) you’re only hurting yourself and your training 2) you’re taking sleeping for granted…trust me, lots of us insomniacs would die to get some extra hours!! haha…take advantage of them and aim for 8-9 hours a night for optimal performance.

3) Laugh: Wow…you think I’m a nutzo for just saying that. I’ll go on record and rattle off just why laughing is a training necessity:

* Running is hard: yea, it’s painful. But misery loves company and laughter. Those slow jogs between intervals is when you and your training buddies should be making fart jokes.
* De-serious: It’s easy to be too serious in life and apply that to training. Ironically getting ‘too’ focused on your workouts and training has a funny way of making you eventually start slowing down. It’s because of pressure and it’ll also rob you of the passion…both recipe for disasters. Make sure you’re excited and focused on your goals…but still ENJOY it. So laugh.
* Running gets awkward: Need I say more? Runners will have to fart, burp, poo, chafe, adjust a wedgie etc. mid-run. It’s just funny, get over embarrassment and do it. Make a joke about it.

There ya go. Take this Tuesday and make it a point to improve your running in three ways. Heck, please apply the laughter part to your overall life too!

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Related Read: My latest article on RunBlogRun: Running the ‘Extras’: Think outside the miles and improve your performance

Another of my new articles on RunBlogRun: Young Runners and the Issues of Volume and Intensity

Need a laugh? My CARTOONS are here for you! :)
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Sunday Morning Running Motivation: Withdrawals

Because let’s be honest, running withdrawals hurt a h*ll of a lot more than the injury.

injured runner cartoon

For all those healthy enough to run…be THANKFUL. Never forget that, on the days you really aren’t jazzed to suit up and start, put it in perspective. Would you rather be chained to the cross trainer?

Our runner hearts go out to all the currently injured runners…we’ll donate some miles on your behalf. Heal up, cross train like you mean it, and you’ll be back at it again in time. Don’t go mad until then though!

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Posts all about Running and Injures
More Motivation for Runners
Even runners going through withdrawals can at least LOOK runnerchick chic in an Ezzere Tee!!
Tips for Cross Training
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The Low Mileage Runner: How to maximize your performance off of low volume

A headline caught my eye recently: “Be a better runner without running.” *About face* Now I respect the news outlet that ran the article but the snark in me can’t resist thinking, “This kind of thing belongs in Runner’s World next to the column ‘How to get faster in your sleep!’”

track dreams

Track dreams…but you still need to actually run on the track too. ;)


In seriousness though, yes there are ways to improve your running and get faster that aren’t running. HOWEVER, these are thought of like ‘extras’…you still have to run.

Everybody and every BODY handles a different amount of volume and quality. Not everyone can log 110 miles per week, with a hard speed session, endurance session, and long run in a 7 day cycle. Some people can run 170 miles per week just fine, others get hurt going over 50…waaah-waahh it’s not fair but that’s how it is.

Know your body. Know your limits and maximize them. Just because you can’t RUN more than 50 miles per week does not necessarily mean you can’t beat the runner doing twice your volume. Enter QUALITY.

Here are a few quick tips on maximizing your training if you’re a runner who is a little more ‘fragile’: (ie: improving your running with running less and doing other stuff)

* Extend Your ‘Week’: By this I’m talking about viewing your training cycle as 9-10 days rather than the standard 7. Meb Keflezighi has talked about doing this as he’s aged, and many masters runners work off of a longer training week. This allows for more recovery between hard workouts.

* Rule of 10 and Baby Steps: If you’re injury-prone already you know you need to BABY your body a bit. Only increase your miles by 10% each week. Then be honest with what your mileage ‘max’ is. If you start getting extra creaking when you kiss 50, stick there and supplement with extra cross training instead of miles.
stress fractures suck
* Swap Your Easy Runs: Plan your miles for the week and ‘save’ them for your hard workouts and long runs. Those are the days that will give you the most bang for your mileage buck. Cross train on the easy days; to be honest the benefit of easy days are mostly just getting the steady cardio in…you can do that running or cross training. The former is just a lot easier on your body.

* Seek Soft Surfaces: The pavement is harder on your body than the trails, track, and treadmill. Seek these softer surfaces. Also know that lots of downhill running exponentially increases the impact on your joints, so steer clear of huge, sharp downhills.

* Get More Efficient: Most injuries are a result of a weakness and muscle imbalance. Fix those and you’ll be running more efficient and most likely be able to handle running more. All the more reason to fix your form, get a stronger core, and solve why you might be stuck in a vicious cycle of injuries.

* Fitter With Cross Training: Ideally you want to be doing your hard workouts as running because this will translate the best for racing but you’d be amazed by how fit you can stay with cross training workouts. So if you have to do some of your ‘running’ workouts on the cross trainer don’t freak out and remember it all comes back to effort. Go hard, get your heart rate up, feel the burn in your legs and lungs, and you’re getting work done.

Not EVERYTHING that will get you faster comes from running more miles. Think outside the box, learn your body, and maximize your potential.

Though the snark in me still has to end with this: “but, duh, you still have to do some running.” ;)

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More articles on cross training and workout ideas!

More articles on injuries, recovering, and how to prevent them!

Lessons From the Track: Running your best takes more than left turns

Now my younger brother’s first love is rugby, second is football, but for the three weeks between seasons he decided to do track! Wahoo…I was stoked!! I’m also in awe of the fact that he doesn’t do any speed-work and then just blitzes those 400′s and 200′s like they’re nothing.
wesley track sprinting
The mystery is solved as to where all of the fast twitch muscle fiber genes in the family went. Clearly all were saved and concentrated into the youngest Chock sibling. Oh and I guess he stole my coordination genes too. ;)

Granted he’s got the competitiveness of a Chock, so he’ll gut out a race and pay the price after to hit those marks. But the truth is that last 100 of a 400 isn’t fun for anybody, no matter if you’ve trained or not…BLECH…talk about booty lock.

Checking out those high school meets has been fun, observing just as much so, and here are a few tips I’d pass on if teenagers actually cared to listen to us old folks:

* Warm-up and Recovery: set yourself up to run your best, not warming up before a race is setting yourself up for both injury and running below your maximum potential. Cold muscles no likey sprinting. The same for after your race, do all you can to recover so you can come back stronger. That includes a cool-down and refueling within 30 minutes of finishing.

* Drafting and Tangents: it was windy at the track meet and those are days where you really want to draft. Leading expends more mental energy and on windy days it expends a heck of a lot more physical energy to lead. If you can, tuck in behind somebody until you’re really to surge past them. When you DO make your move, try to make it on a straight away…running the tangents on a race course is the same idea, don’t run more than your race distance or your competitors are.
run to beat you
* When You Pass, You PASS: racing is mental like that, when you make a move and pass someone you want to be passing them for good. Conserve energy and then blow by that sucker! Don’t ‘weakly’ pass them because then they can just tuck in behind you and let you do the work. You want to BLOW by them and try to mentally break them. Make them think, “Dang, they’re feeling much stronger than me, I can’t keep up.” Even if you feel like crap, it’s a race, you should feel tired, but your competitors don’t have to know you’re tired as heck and clinging on until the finish line. Break them and leave them in your dust.

* Cling-on: sorry, no sci-fi reference, but this speaks to those getting passed. Read above. You can’t get in the mind of your competitors and chances are they’re working, tired, and hurting too. If they pass you, rally the troops and try to stay with them. Don’t let THEM mentally break you. See, it works two ways like that. ;)

The last thing I’ll add, while I like to joke that I have not a single fast twitch muscle in my body (I’ve never been biopsied, but I’ll say I probably only do have one!) DON’T use that as an excuse to avoid speed-work. It’s incredible how much you can manipulate and overcome your natural predisposition in terms of speedster versus endurance maven. You’d be surprised that, yes, even ye of one speed can get some wheels on themselves and wind up with really strong kicks.

The thing is you just have to train those muscles! For speed you need to build power (hills, sprints, plyo’s) and all that good stuff is plenty of fodder for another post!

Get out there and kick some butt…embrace the booty lock too! ;)
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Have you checked out my Ezzere Running Tees yet?? Mosey over, folks!!

Send MAJOR cheers to one awesome Kim @ Day with KT this rockstar runnerchick and mom is out to kill it at her 50 mile race this Saturday!! WAHOOOO!!!

Run With the Heart of a Lion

Today I will look a fear in the eye. I will not blink.

Today I will take a doubt and refute it. I will not hesitate.

I will look only forward, learning from what’s been behind. I will not criticize, belittle, disparage.
run with the heart of a lion motivation art
I will see only dreams and possibilities on the horizons. A future bright, no limits, goals big enough to scare.

But fear be d*mned.

I will run with the heart of a lion.

I will LIVE with the heart of a lion.

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Speaking of lions, here is my latest Competitor article on THE lion himself: Meb Keflezighi

Celebrate your mother lion! Mother’s day is fast approaching…show your mother how she MOTIVATES and INSPIRES you with an Ezzere Tee. BUY NOW so it’ll get there by Sunday!

The Comparison Game: What will help you improve and what will drive you insane

A friend of mine was asking his runner friends what their favorite training tracker or log was. Apps, watches, etc. were all thrown out there. Personally I don’t use any of the online training upload apps or sites, not that I have anything against them, I just have a love/hate relationship and here’s why.

1) What are you comparing?

Now I’m OCD and I know that about myself. I abstained from buying a Garmin for so long because I can easily turn it into an ugly thing with knowing too many numbers. I know that about myself. But I also know the watch can be a great tool to use. So I bought it and learned how I can ‘safely and sanely’ use it. And yea, I flipping love it.
garmin
But I don’t upload stats and pour over the elevation charts, I don’t wear a heart rate monitor I go off of effort, I don’t want to feel like a scientist about my runs. But that’s just ME. Of course hard workout splits I do care much more about, but I don’t look at the splits on my easy days.

But some people LOVE all the stats…that’s cool beans, that’s why they make all those things! I just caution you to compare what matters and what can actually be destructive.

* Fast Hard Workout Splits Matter.
* Fast Easy Run Splits Work Against you.

Make sure you’re able to recover on your easy days so you can NAIL those hard days. Those are what count.

2) Competition for the sake of competition?

Lots of runners are Type-A, a bit OCD, and of course competitive. Now there are things to be competitive about: races, PR’s, etc…but then there are other things that are just dumb and destructive.

If you’re trying to do XXX amount of miles because you want to beat Joe Moe’s total miles at MilesTrackerMadness.com (just pulled that outta my head, not a real site??) then you could wind up injured or overtrained.

They don’t give PR’s or medals to people in training, what matters should be race day. If you’re feeling sucked into wanting to do more for the sake of just doing more stop and ask yourself this:

“What’s in the best interest of my long term running goals?”

Btw…who knows if Joe Moe is even being truthful?
running to win text
3) Motivation versus Pessimistic attitude

Most runners are motivated when they see incredible feats like Meb winning the Boston Marathon!! Hurrah!! But thinking on a more logical scale, seeing what people are doing who are closer to your fitness level, running pace, or age can be just as motivating. If you’ve run with someone and trained frequently with them, if you know you can keep pace with them in a workout and you see they raced XXX you should be feeling quite confident that you, yourself have the ability to race XXX.

The problem is when runners come down with the wrong perspective…namely a pessimistic one. “What the heck, Meb can run a whole marathon faster than I can run a half! Why am I even bothering?!” That’s really just an excuse your brain has for wanting to be lazy and not try at all. ;)

You will probably never beat Meb…yo, honesty policy. But you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to Meb unless you’re on ‘that level’. The motivation of elite runners should come in the way of:
* Running hurts for everyone. The test is pushing YOUR limits.
* Running is fun. If you’re not keeping it that way then that’s sad and find something you are passionate about.
* Compete agains yourself. PR’s are called PERSONAL Records. You set a new one and THAT is something to be proud as heck about.

Keep things in perspective and realize what you SHOULD be comparing your running to and what you shouldn’t. Use any App or community training forum as the positive it can be: a motivating space for people to stay on track and dedicated to their goals.

Emphasis on THEIR…ahem…YOUR GOALS. ;)

1) What do you compare?
2) How do you, and how much do you, use a training log?