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?

Neuromuscular Training For Runners: Quick feet box taps

Everyone wants to run faster, right? Part of getting faster is of course doing the shorter repeats; one must build that explosive power of course. BUT, there’s another part to getting faster and it’s training your BRAIN and nervous system to respond at a quicker rate.

A runner can’t utilize that explosive power to run faster without the nerve and synapse networks first being created to ‘tell’ your foot to move faster off the ground. Isn’t science and the brain cool?

The neuromuscular part of training isn’t something every runner is aware of, but if you’re not addressing it you can run all the 200′s in the world and not really be tapping into your full potential. I’ve written a few articles about the neuromuscular training and how it relates to runners:

* The Multi-Level Approach to Getting Faster
* Work on Getting Faster in Tri-Fecta Form

One of the exercises I mention are ‘Quick Feet Box Taps’. I got an email from someone who wasn’t quite sure if they were doing them right so I decided to make a little video.

You can also find it on my Instagram page. Start with a set of 15-30 seconds and see how many taps you can get. REMEMBER it’s QUALITY over quantity. If you’re getting slopping you’re going to start reinforcing bad habits and that will defeat the purpose. Work up to two sets and do the 3 times a week…preferably as part of your dynamic warm-up routine before workouts or immediately following the workout. It can be fun to watch yourself improve with more taps every week…you know us runners and that competitive spirit. ;) But again, quality over quantity…so if you have to start slow that’s what you need to do!

What, you love my shirt too?! Well, thanks…it’s my Ezzere Runner Face Tee! :)

Happy Saturday my runner friends. Get those feet firing off the ground, coupling neuromuscular training and speedwork, and watch your PR’s get faster! :)

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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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!!!

Ruling Your Fear: Running Like a Gamer, Fear be Da**ed

Let’s talk fear. Okay, I’ll break the silence and let you in on a dirty little secret: EVERY runner has fear. Regardless of how fast they are, how much they’ve accomplished, the Gold medals sitting in those shiny cases…every, single, runner has fear.

Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that you WANT something. You have goals, you want to hit them and you’re scared/nervous/anxious because if you fall up short…then what? Fear merely proves you have goals that MATTER to you.
running motivation art
With running there is also the fear of the pain. BAM. I just touched on the TWO big taboos runners are never to speak of in the span of less than 150 words: fear and pain. Knowing that pain is going to be there, that you’re going to have to be mentally tough and push through that pain, that you’re NOT going to let that pain break you…that’s also where a large part of a runner’s fear comes from. And it also explains why, every runner, regardless of how good they are, be they professional or back of the packer will harbor some ‘fear’…every runner goes through pain. It’s part of our sport.

Now the thing is, the big difference between elite runners who race like ballers and every other runner who races like a gamer and the runners who implode is: the gamers don’t let the FEAR rule them. Gamers rule the fear. They turn the fear around, use that energy more as nervous-excited rather than nervous-fearful/worried. See the difference? It’s all in the mind.

Not letting fear rule you is difficult, even the most experience runners go through periods where they may struggle and need to get back on track. And to be honest, there’s always going to be a point in a race or workout where you’re riding a fine line between keeping your fear in check, “Am I seriously going to believe I can make it at THIS pace for THIS much longer?”

Combat The Fear

* Find Your Confidence: Not letting fear rule you means you push those doubts aside with reminders of why you ARE a gamer. Think of past workouts, know that you’re mentally tough, know you’ve survived plenty of times when you’re mind began to doubt your ability…and you proved that silly mind wrong.
* Find Your Mojo: Tap into that confidence and a part of that is just realizing WHY you’re doing something. Without the ‘why’ as a driving force it’s easy to just let the fear take over and not give a flip over the outcome. Set some goals and know WHY you’re willing fight through this fear and OWN it.
* Relax: The thing with running and pain and then running through that pain, if you try and ‘fight’ it you usually wind up running slower. Kinda like you just have to ‘relax’ into the pain, let it come, than do your best to just numb it out. If this makes sense? To put this into more ‘physical’ terms, a good way to describe it is to just make sure your form and body is relaxed, you’re not clenching your jaw or fists or scrunching your shoulders up near your neck. Relax your body, relax your mind, don’t ‘try too hard’ and don’t ‘fight it’.
#epicfailWIN picture
Everyone has fear, and that spans across all areas in life, but I’ve always found the best way to rule your fear is to DO what’s scary and prove that you lived through it. The more times you get through it, the less scary it becomes because you’ve built up your confidence.

I’ll tell you what helps me, and I’m be brutally honest, I say it like it is to myself, “Stop being a freaking idiot, just effing DO it.” Now, usually I’m not fearful of workouts, but I ultimately realize that the fear is stupid. Just effing do it would certainly apply across the board though, and with running sometimes that tough love is what you need. ;)

As for running, you can never let fear of workouts or racing turn into a monster: 1) because that sucks any fun out of running in the first place 2) you’ll implode in the workouts or races. Rather, just STOP thinking so much and freaking start. Just get going, relax, and roll with it…fear be da**ed.

The reason I feel it important to SHARE that EVERY RUNNER has fear is because you shouldn’t feel like a weakling just for having fear. You’re only a ‘weakling’ if you let that FEAR rule YOU. If that’s the case, don’t lose hope because you can always turn that around…tap into your confidence and race like the GAMER you want to be. ;)

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I wanted to do a post on fear because it came up in a really great article by Jason Fitzgerald at Strength Running. Read “7 Quick Lessons from my 16th Place Finish at the Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Half Marathon” because it’s filled with tons of important recovery tips for runners. The bit on doubts is what triggered my idea for this post. SR is a great resource for runners, so go, stay and check out all his awesome reads!

I also talk a lot more on the mental side of running and tips to tune out that pain in my ebook “Effective Mental Strategy: Race better by out-thinking your brain”
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1) Fear is ever-present in running and in life. What is the last things you had fear or anxiety about?
2) How did you deal with that fear in a positive, GAMER way? Or did you find that fear won that time?
3) The last time fear won, how did you learn from that experience and make it so you can overcome that fear going forward?
Yo, we all lose sometimes, it’s just important to learn and make that a productive ‘loss’.

A Runner’s Starting Line Confidence

Sometimes a runner’s already won the race before the gun’s even goes off. Questions. Doubts. Insecurities. None of these belong at the starting line; starting line of a race or a workout. A runner needs confidence. NEEDS it… no amount of physical endurance, speed, or fitness can make up for it.

How one steps to the line is what separates the GAMERS from the runners who perform at about the level they do in workouts, and then harriers who self-implode.
runners confidence
Confidence is a tricky one, it’s a mental factor of running and training. Once shaken, a runner’s confidence can be quite difficult to fully restore. Injuries, off days, strings of bad races, all of these plant seeds of doubt. Doubt is like a monster that, once you feed it, it grows exponentially in size. It’s a voracious monster that will eat a runner whole. Step to the starting line enveloped in that ugly monster and you might as well not even wait for the gun to crack. You’re already a dead runner ‘running’.

By the time you step to the starting line, there is NOTHING you can change about the past. Stop any questions of, “Should I have done…?”, “Did I do enough…?”, etc. You can’t do it, so no use worrying about it.

Don’t let that scare you off, if you’ve got some doubts, that’s only natural. And if you’re currently fighting from falling into the pit with that ugly doubting monster, THERE IS still hope for you yet. It works two ways. You CAN restore your confidence. You CAN still step to the line a gamer. It just takes some work and shifting your thinking.

Usually doubts start from one of two places:

1) An Event: Events would be after injuries, poor performances, etc…it starts with a legitimate reason to question if your fitness is off and snowballs. Usually the first race or workouts back after an injury a runner naturally goes in with a little more trepidation. You need some solid performances under you belt to steamroll that confidence train back.
To help BOOST that train, remember that your talent and fitness never goes away. Your first race back may not be your PR, but trust in the process, trust in your dedication, and trust that you’re only going to improve from here.

2) Anxiety and Stress: Anxiety and stress tend to spike around pre-race time. I wrote whole posts HERE and HERE on how to use those nerves to your advantage. If you let too much pressure, internal and external, load you up, it’s like running with a weight vest. To help unload that pressure, usually it takes the runner looking within THEMSELVES and finding that passion and love for running that brought them to the sport. If they can get back the excitement and joy for just running, eventually the times, workouts, and races will get back on track.

Ironically, the LESS you think about races and workouts, typically the better you’ll do.

Remember that NO race is the last race in the world. Yes, it can be a Championship race or a PR you’ve been wanting to pop FOREVER…but know that tomorrow will always come and another race will too.

1) Where do you draw your confidence from before a race?
2) How do you use a race day atmosphere to BOOST your performance compared to regular workouts?
3) Have you ever had a time when your confidence was shaken, how did you get it back?

Let Track Season Bring Out the Gamer in the Runner: Each event, different variables to master

Lately it feels like my brain is running way faster than my legs could ever keep pace. That’s a darn shame, because one would certainly opt for running a new PR rather than mentally shouting, “SHUT UP!” to your brain at 2am and imploring it to go to bed. ;)

Speaking of PR’s, track racing season is getting to be in full swing. Some people have a bit of a phobia when it comes to the track, others find the monotony of double-digit laps, well, monotonous. The thing with track though, is it BLEEDS speed…as a runner, how can you not love that?
runner yelling track
Each distance is unique, duh, the number of laps to the race you’ll be running presents its own challenges. The ratio of speed to endurance, the contrast between utter lactic ONSLAUGHT from the gun versus the more gradual building of the pain in the 10k. Both grueling, just in a different way.

Each race has a ‘volatile’ factor. This would be the crucial moments and laps that can make or break your race. The margins of time where if you’re not ON IT you may have very well lost the race even if you’re still got laps and laps to go.

There’s not just ONE moment in time of course, but for the sake of brevity let’s highlight a few of the volatile factors for the events:

* 1500/Mile: That dang third lap. Here is where the pain of the pace has already set in, the ‘taste’ of the finish isn’t quite close enough to kick in. Your mind starts to dauntingly anticipate that grueling last lap. COMBAT: Know that third lap is going to suck, know that it will make your race if you can pass the people letting their brain wander.
running in bunhuggers
* 3200: Right around laps 4-6 it is easy to let your brain check-out. It’s prime time to make a move, surge and establish a gap on those who either went out too fast for that first mile or the poor souls who are just letting their mind wander. COMBAT: Go out on pace the first mile and throw down a move…remember the beauty of negative splits.

* 5k: It’s funny how running that first mile can feel so easy, a breeze, too easy. The middle mile is where you need to wrangle your brain and keep it FOCUSED. Much like the 3rd lap of the mile, the middle of your 5k can lapse into a fog if you’re not careful. COMBAT: Don’t let yourself get pulled out too fast the first mile, stay mentally engaged the middle mile, and anticipate the cold slap of pain somewhere after the second mile. It’s funny how it can suddenly sneak up on you, but be prepared for it and stay strong through to the finish.

Each race has its own set of ‘volatile’ factors…that’s what makes each and every track distance so fun. It’s a test, as is everything with running, testing mostly yourself. The competition is there as an opportunity to propel your performances forward…feed off of their presence.

Track is awesome, just don’t let the distance of the race pull a fast one on you. Be prepared and then enjoy the unique challenges of each event.

1) What is your favorite track distance to race?

2) Pick a distance I didn’t highlight and share one of their ‘volatile’ factors.

3) Share a ‘volatile’ factor that I didn’t address for one of the above races.
best running shirts

The Distance Runner’s Warm-up: Get your body and your mind prepared to run FAST

The runner’s warm-up is a unique time. Before a hard workout, and even more-so for a race, there’s a lot that needs to happen both physically AND mentally.

A warm-up tells your legs to ‘wake up’ because they’re about to start running fast. Gradually notching down the pace, starting with the relaxed running, prepares the legs, rather than a complete SLAP in the face…the shock of a hard 400 off the bat. Got a bit of the lazy bug or backwards thinking towards the warm-up? (ie: Thinking that you’re ‘saving energy’ for the workout/race is backwards logic…hehe)
turn left on the track
* Physiologically: Those super expensive cars can brag about going 0-60 in seconds, but your body doesn’t work that way. Sort of like you wouldn’t want to get ripped out of bed and chucked into the middle of a tempo run, your legs need time to adjust to, “Okay, time to run,” then “Okay, time to run FAST!” The science behind it can get wordy, but basically muscle function and glycogen burning (sourcing energy) works most efficiently when done through negative splits. Start slow (ie: running a warm-up) and work into those faster paces.

* Feels ‘easier’: Thanks to that science, your muscles, once introduced/eased into that pace, will make the same times feel relatively easier. You will be able to then run faster off of a proper warm-up. I think all runners are down for that.

* Mentally prepare: The warm-up is also a time for runners to get their heads on straight. Visualize what you want to accomplish during the workout, quell those nerves and keep them in check. Remember that you will stay relaxed and controlled when the pain is setting in.

What is a ‘real’ warm-up?

Studies are proving there should be more elements to your warm-up routine than just some easy running. Runners want all of those muscles alert and engaged before the hard running starts.

* Easy running: Aim for at least 15 minutes, I like at least 2 miles under my legs.
* Dynamic stretching: Do some good stretching, here is where the more dynamic ones like leg swings are perfect.
* Drills: Skips, fast feet, etc. A series of drills will wake up the nervous system and get your legs firing faster. [I did an article on that HERE]
* Strides: Here is where you start to bring the pace down with a series of strides. Stay controlled and make each one progressively faster.

By the time you hit the line for that first interval or race you want to feel loose and ready to go. You don’t want to ‘waste’ the first interval, or mile of your race, because you’re still warming-up.

girl on track

Get your head on right. ;)


A bit more on the mental piece of a warm-up.

A runner’s warm-up is a process; over time you want to have the series of elements (stretches/drills/etc.) down so well you could do it on auto-pilot. This routine establishes continuity for your muscles but it also gives your MIND something concrete to focus on.

Focusing on the routine of your warm-up is an effective way to stay calm beforehand, rather than get overly worked-up with nerves. Especially on race day, by the time you start your warm-up you should feel ‘safety’ with it…it’s something that is the SAME, that you’ve done over and over again. Proof that you’ve made it through plenty of hard workouts, managed to fight through the pain, and you’re capable of doing that again.

A runner’s warm-up is the little cup ‘o joe the body needs to perk the heck up and get ready to run fast…it’s also a time to get your head on right and ready to tackle that workout or race! :)

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The Boston Marathon tragedy is still haunting our thoughts and flooding runners with emotions. I am continually reminded of the good in humanity, in stark contrast to the horrifically dark side. While we will never be able to understand why or how a person or persons may be driven to lash out in this manner, hold tight to the reality that for every ‘bad seed’ there are many more with good intentions and of a benevolent manner.

Keep running united, keep running for Boston, and keep supporting all effected as best you can!
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1) What’s your warm-up routine look like?

2) How do you use your warm-up to get your head screwed on right and ready to roll that workout/race?

3) How has your warm-up evolved over the years?
For most it’s gotten longer…haha.

4) What is something you’ve seen/heard/read that help shed some light over this recent tragedy…or given you some hope for humanity?
The immediate coming together of runners all over, and not just runners either.
best running shirts

Running Mentally Engaged: Keeping your brain in check when the pain sets in

Running is tough. Racing is tougher…downright painful. The brain has a funny little way of dealing with that pain, it gets sneaky and tries to coax us into slowing down.

Runner Brain: “I want to run a PR, dang this hurts, but I’m going to put the work in and stick this out.”
Annoying Tired Brain: “Well, fine, if you’re not going to listen to my complaints and willingly slow down I’ll just find other ways to trick you into it!”
your brain on running
Oh the brain, you slippery little eel, you.

* Self-Defeatist Thoughts: This would be when you’re running and your mind starts screaming in your ear, “You seriously can’t keep this pace up for any longer.”
* Dwelling on the Future: This is when your mind has on repeat, “Umm, and HOW much further do you think you’re going to be forcing me to do this? Think again buster, you CAN’T last that many miles more!”
* Bargaining: When your runner brain and your sane tired brain get into a war, your lame-o brain argues, “C’mon, just ease up a little, trust me you’re not going to feel guilty or regretful about it, just ease up.” This is also known as a lie, because your runner brain knows you’ll feel regretful.
* Wandering: This is when your brain full-on goes on vacation, if you catch yourself mid-race thinking, “Wow, I really like the zebra print on that lady’s shirt, you see her, the one sitting on the 20th row of in the stands.”

A Wandering Mind = A Slowing Body

See, when the mind decides to check-out and wander like that what inevitably ends up happening is the pace starts to lag. Running through pain takes a special kind of focus, focus on forcing yourself to relax, to keep pushing, to stay ENGAGED in the race.

When your mind wanders it is sneakily distracting you from the battle race at hand. My latest article at Competitor.com is all about staying focused during a race so you then, race your best: “Got a Wandering Mind? Here’s How to Stop It”

Read the article, but I’d like to add that a wandering mind is much different from zoning out during a race.

tired runner

Aww, c’mon, I’m only joking…kinda. ;)


I’ve talked about how zoning out is a mental trick to pushing through the pain. Zoning out:
* Locked Eyes Ahead:
Find a runner ahead of you, stare at a single spot on their back and refuse to let any distance open up between you and the spot.
* Breathing and Form: When you zone out you think only of the tangibles you can control and NOT the pain from lactic acid. Thinking about standing tall, keeping your form in check, and breathing controlled are all tangibles to think of.
* Think Relaxed: When you zone out you want to let go of any tension; don’t have your fists and jaw clenched, don’t have your shoulders in your ears.

Finally, zoning out is the epitome of being ENGAGED in the race, you’re single-mindedly in it.

A wandering mind is where you’re brain is anywhere but in the race. It is, in reality, just a backwards trick that your tiring brain is using to get you to slow down.

Don’t fall for it. Running often comes down to mentally ‘beating’ your own brain. Push past the pain, get through those intervals, drive for the finish line, and stay present in your race…because THAT is how you improve as a runner. THAT is how you set those wonderful PR’s. ;)

1) What is an example of a trick your brain has tried on you to get you to slow down?

2) How do you one-up that slippery little eel of a complaining tired brain?

3) What is an aspect of zoning out? How do you stay zoned during a race and stay ENGAGED throughout?

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Rule Your Running Terrain: Because races aren’t done on a treadmill

Unless you’re racing on a track, there’s SOME kind of terrain you’ll need to be prepared for come gun-time. Even during track season athletes have much to gain from varying the terrain on their workouts.

  • Power and Speed: Hills build strength and when taken to flats that translates to speed. That same kind of logic applies to doing repeats on grass, the times may be ‘slower’ but you’re working harder and building strength.
  • Injury Prevention: Running on softer, more forgiving surfaces helps reduce impact and thus lowers your chances for injuries in the long-term.
  • Diversity: Running is a very repetitive action and mostly only working in a single, horizontal plane. At least by varying things slightly you’re able to give your body a bit of diversity; if you fail to do this, smaller muscles get weak and imbalances become injuries in waiting.

Those are all general reasons why mixing up your running terrain is a good idea, but if you know your actual race course will have key elements you’ll need to be prepared for, it’s even more important to introduce those same obstacles in training.
turn left on the track
Hilly Courses

  • Uphill Repeats: It take power to get up those hills; including uphill repeats into your routine may seem like an obvious but not all runners actually DO hill work, or they don’t mix-up the kind of work that they do. Think of hills in a three-pronged approach, similar to your regular running workouts. 1) Do 100-200 meter hill bursts, allow for full recovery between each repeat; this is your speed session for the week. 2) Longer, 600-1600 meter hill repeats for your endurance-focused interval sessions. You could also do tempo runs uphill (on a treadmill set on a grade if you don’t have an actual course). 3) Including rolling hills into your easy days ‘sneaks’ hill work in.
  • Downhill Repeats: Many can overlook just how taxing a lot of downhill on your race course can be. If your race has a significant amount of downhills (Hello, Boston Marathon!), be sure to get used to running on the decline; your quads will be working even if you don’t ‘feel it’ right away. You can include some downhill repeats in your training; just be careful in terms of injury because downhill running does increase the forceful pounding of running.
  • Form: Running hills makes it even more important to have good form; when running uphill maintain the same effort that you would but decrease your stride length. When running downhill, make sure that you’re not tensing up and causing yourself to ‘brake;’ rather, relax and let the momentum of the decline help do some of the work for you.

trail runner
Trail running

  • Ankles and lower legs: Trail running is about as diverse as running can get, twists, turns, awkward foot-plants aplenty. Here is where you need to be sure your ankles and feet are used to landing in various positions. The way to do that is, well, running trails, taking turns, and including mobility work outside of running.
  • Core and Mobility: To reduce your risk for injury when running, you want to have a strong core, be flexible, and have as much range of motion as possible. Schedule time for strength training, dynamic stretching, and drills; not only will it help safeguard you against injuries it will improve your running performance.

Tracks, Roads and the Elements

  • Tangents: Some math logic here, but running longer adds more time to your race results. Road races are measured off of the shortest possible marked distance, so look for those tangents and don’t run wider around turns than you have to. On the track, unless you’re going to be boxed in, do your best to not needlessly wander into outer lanes.
  • Drafting: Even on the calmest of days drafting makes a difference, mentally it’s much ‘easier’ to sit behind someone else and let them do the work. If it’s especially windy, find a body and tuck in behind them!
  • Weather Conditions: The conditions of race day can make a HUGE difference in your performance; not only should you take these into consideration for your race-day pacing goals but train in the same kind of conditions. For cold races be extra certain you do a full warm-up to make sure your muscles are properly warm and ready to hit those faster paces.

Until the day that all races are held on treadmills, runners should be mixing up the terrain of their workouts and runs. By tailoring your training to your specific race course you’ll be setting yourself up for even better results. And hey, who doesn’t want to run that much faster and have a bit of an edge over their competition? ;)

1) How do you train for your course? If it’s for the track, how do you add diversity to your workouts?

2) Do you prefer road races, track races, cross-country, or trail races?

3) How do you plan, adapt, or prepare for various weather conditions?

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