ByLiam Boylan-Pett WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 5, 2015
Fall is coming, and with it, the first week of cross-country practice. For athletes, it’s a time to be excited—the season is almost here, after all. But it’s a time to be patient, too.
Everyone wants to impress the coach with a killer first workout. But remember, the season is long. The first week is about controlling your excitement while still setting a tone for the rest of the fall. It’s a very important part of the process.
“Lower your expectations of the intensity levels,” says Mike Harris, the coach at Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota, of the first week of practice. “It’s just the beginning of the season. We’re going to gradually increase the intensity as the season progresses.”
Whether you’re brand new to cross country or a hopeful state champ, here are five mistakes to avoid during the first week of practice.
YOU OVERDO IT
It’s extremely difficult to be in peak shape from the first practice all the way to the state meet. In that first week, don’t force it. If a few of your teammates are fighting to beat you in a workout where you’re in control, let them duke it out. You’ll be ready to beat them when you pick up the intensity on race day and as the year progresses.
“We don’t want to hit the hardest workout of the season in that first week,” says Harris, who coached University of Colorado-bound Joe Klecker to a 4:04.13 mile in the spring. “We try to be pretty level-headed about how we approach a workout in that first week. And we’re going to underplay rather than shoot for the moon.”
YOU HANG BACK TOO MUCH
Don’t hold back for the sake of holding back. You may surprise yourself with a great workout in which you didn’t have to go all out.
Harris likes athletes who are willing to go to the edge. He believes it’s part of his job to harness the enthusiasm of athletes so that they’re ready to go on the right day. And he has to do that to some of his extremely motivated athletes, holding them back in workouts.
It’s a fine line, one that can be balanced when an athlete and coach have a good relationship.
YOU’RE NOT HONEST WITH THE COACHING STAFF
Be upfront with your coach about what you’ve been up to all summer. If you’ve put in a ton of miles, you might be ready to try a workout with the varsity squad, but if you’ve missed a bunch of time because of injury, family vacation, or binge watching Netflix, your coach needs to know. That way he or she can decide how to move forward with training. Don’t lie about it.
“We’re going to work with you, not against you,” Harris says. “Our script is going to be catered to each individual athlete as well as we can.”
YOU NEGLECT YOUR SCHOOLWORK
At Hopkins, academics take priority over running. “I’ll go to my deathbed suggesting that if they can’t do it in the classroom, they won’t do it on the course,” Harris says.
At most schools, cross-country practice starts before the school year. Take the first week of practice to get used to the running without the classwork.
Plus, get to know your racing schedule. On the first day of school you should let your teachers know if you’re going to be leaving class early for a race.
YOU SKIP THE EXTRAS
The first week of practice is no time to skimp on the drills, core-strengthening exercises, plyometrics, and recovery routines like foam rolling or taking an ice bath after a hard workout. In fact, it’s a good chance to establish a routine by setting aside time for the little things in your daily schedule.
“Create those daily habits that are going to make a difference down the road,” Harris says. “Slow down and really think about what you’re doing. This will set the tone for the rest of the year.”
This is important not only individually, but for the team, too. “We want the mindset for all of the athletes to be that they’re going to make a difference on our team,” Harris says, whether they’re varsity or J.V.”
By Kelly O'Mara, Published Jul. 28, 2015
When I was in high school, I would often find myself in the middle of a run suddenly so debilitated by pain in my lower side that I’d simply end up walking home or seeking refuge in a local gas station to wait it out. Eventually, the pain—a side stitch—would pass. Over time, it passed so entirely I haven’t been bothered by one in years.
But I am not alone in being temporarily crippled by the side stitch—or in having it disappear without explanation. Studies have found that nearly 70 percent of runners will get a side stitch in a given year, and swimmers and horseback riders see similarly high rates. Yet the causes of the ailment, as well as treatments for it, are still relatively mysterious.
“It just shows up when it wants to show up,” says Dr. AJ Gregg, head of Hypo2 High Performance Sport Center in Arizona. Gregg has treated a number of elite athletes for side-stitch pain.
Like many runners afflicted with these unexplained pains, I concocted my own theories: It’s all about breathing patterns. You simply need to get in better shape. Is it just me, or do side stitches seem to come on when I change running speeds back and forth?
“It is just you,” says Dr. Darren Morton, a senior lecturer at Avondale College in Australia.
Morton is the leading—and, in many ways, the only—researcher on side stitches, which are academically referred to as “exercised-induced temporary abdominal pain,” or ETAP for short.
One of the main reasons that Morton could be considered the only major researcher in the field is that there simply hasn’t been that much research done on side stitches, or ETAP. Most runners who are bothered by a side stitch would never visit a doctor for the problem.
“It’s more of a nuisance in a lot of cases, than life-threatening,” explains Gregg.
Side stitches have also been hard to study because of their transient nature and lack of definition. What exactly constitutes ETAP? Some people get the pain in their side. Some get it more toward the middle of the abdomen. Some are high in the abs; some are low. Many people also confuse side stitches and cramps, though those two things are very different.
RELATED: Got Cramps? Here’s How To Stop Them
The lack of research has led to wild speculation. But many of those theories, largely based on anecdotal evidence, are now being disproven.
For years, it was theorized that side-stitch pain was related to stress of the diaphragm muscles. But studies have found that ETAP occurs even in activities with low respiratory demands on the diaphragm and having a side stitch doesn’t result in limited lung capacity. Other theories suggested that side stitches were connected to gastrointestinal distress or to stress on the ligaments around the stomach and liver. The current operating theory, though, is that these stitches are caused by irritation of the parietal peritoneum, according to Morton.
“We have not proved what causes stitches but I am 99 percent confident that it is the parietal peritoneum,” he contends.
Think of the parietal peritoneum as a membrane corset that wraps around the center of your body and abdomen, says Gregg. As you fatigue and your body breaks down, your core muscles fatigue and your back muscles over-engage. The muscles in the back directly press on nerves that are felt in your abdomen and side (and sometimes even in your shoulder tip). The result is that irritating pain in your side.
What is also becoming more clear is that the side stitch does not necessarily discriminate based on ability—elite runners just might be more equipped at dealing with the pain and be more thorough about eliminating potential risk factors. Olympic bronze medalist Deena Kastor even reported struggling with a side stitch during the Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon last September— a race in which she shattered the Masters half-marathon world record. About 2-5 percent of the athletes who come into Gregg’s office are there because of side-stitch pain, and most of those seeking help are elite runners.
But the fact that Deena Kastor might be getting the same pain you get doesn’t do much good when you’re crippled in the middle of a race, especially since there’s no known immediate solution.
“There does not seem to be any consistent method for relieving them other than to stop exercise,” says Morton.
It’s like the old and annoying joke:
— “Doctor it hurts when I do this.”
— “Well, have you tried not doing that?”
In the middle of a race, that is not what you want to hear, nor is it helpful advice.
RELATED: How To Beat Marathon Muscle Cramps
Gregg works on trouble-shooting with athletes to figure out what helps them with the pain or why they might be predisposed to it. “It can take a little trial and error,” he says.
Eating and drinking large amounts within the two hours before running has been correlated with some side-stitch pain, so Gregg always starts by advising athletes to eat a little further out from their workout. And, if athletes have reactions to specific foods, then that’s also something to rule out.
Practicing deep breathing exercises, slowing down your breathing or adopting a deep and rhythmic breathing pattern has been found to sometimes help relieve side stitches. While side stitches are no longer believed to be originating in the diaphragm, these things can still help relieve the stress on the muscles across your back and abs.
Once a side stitch strikes, many runners also subscribe to the method of grabbing their side where it hurts. This has shown some success, partially because it works in a similar way to a core stabilizer or belt, and holds the muscles in place. Stretching the affected side or bending forward can also help relieve the muscles in the back that are pushing on the nerve that’s causing the pain.
These are all classic treatments that Gregg often recommends an athlete try, but when it comes to proof in the form of quantifiable results from research, he admits, “I have no idea if it actually helps.”
If the theory of parietal peritoneum irritation is accurate, then the best thing to prevent side stitches is to strengthen your core muscles so they don’t break down as you fatigue, or to focus on activating and engaging those core muscles when running. Gregg will sometimes suggests an athlete take an anti-inflammatory in advance to help relieve potential nerve irritation.
As a last resort, you could just wait a few years. Side stitches have been found to be very common among teens, but far less common as you age—theoretically because the surface area of the peritoneum is proportionally larger in teenagers. See, getting older does have its perks.
Read more at http://running.competitor.com/2015/07/injury-prevention/solving-the-mystery-of-side-stitches-in-runners_132491#cPAT6S7MzYRkPbSH.99
By Matt Fitzgerald, Published Aug. 15, 2015
This year I have spent a lot of time studying the diets of elite endurance athletes. My goal has been to identify common patterns that define “best practices” for other athletes to emulate. I have found several such patterns, but perhaps the most striking thing I have noticed is that, almost without exception, elite endurance athletes enjoy and are completely comfortable with their healthy diet. Maintaining high dietary standards is neither stressful nor onerous for them but satisfying and even automatic.
This feature stands in striking contrast to what I see in the recreational athletes who reach out to me as a sports nutritionist for help with their diet. The majority of these folks are fairly healthy eaters, but they are not happy eaters. To the contrary, their relationship with food is tainted by fear and guilt. They fuss and worry unceasingly about their diet.
RELATED: Why You Should Eat Like an Elite
Healthy eating has two components: healthy food and a healthy relationship with food. You need both to be a fully healthy person. Athletes who eat healthy food but have an unhealthy relationship with food are not fully healthy because their diet tends to become extreme and unbalanced, or else erratic, and because stress and anxiety are as damaging to the body as is bad food.
Most of my clients come to me because they have a physical problem, but the true source of the problem is usually psychological. I help anemic runners whose anemia stems from vegan diets, chronically fatigued cyclists whose chronic fatigue stems from grain-free diets, and triathletes gaining weight, whose weight gain stems from calorie-control diets, among others. But the real issue is the psychology that lies behind these extreme diet choices: a fear of food and a desperate need to control it.
Science backs up my clinical observation that worrying a lot about eating right does not often result in healthier eating or in better health. In 2015, researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand invited subjects to fill out a questionnaire that collected information about their psychological orientation toward food. The subjects were first asked to state whether they associated chocolate cake with “celebration” or “guilt.” The researchers found that those who chose guilt “reported unhealthier eating habits and lower levels of perceived behavioural control over healthy eating when under stress… and did not have more positive attitudes towards healthy eating.”
Other research has demonstrated that people who develop eating disorders tend to share certain psychological characteristics. Specifically, they frequently exhibit low self-esteem and a high degree of neuroticism (or anxiousness). Men and especially women with eating disorders are also far more likely than the average person to have suffered significant adverse experiences in childhood. It is my belief that the same psychological characteristics lie behind the fear-based relationship with food that draws some people to extreme diets, which, while not always resulting in clinical eating disorders, lie on the same continuum.
There is not much we can do to change our personality, and adverse childhood experiences cannot be undone. But this does not mean that an unhealthy relationship with food cannot be fixed. It happens all the time. The first step is simply to recognize that it’s not the food but the relationship that’s the problem.
The current popularity of extreme diets, or diet cults, as I call them, is a major obstacle to the development of a healthy relationship with food. These diets prey upon and exacerbate food fears, nurture food obsession, and serve as stepping stones to the sorts of problems that eventually lead athletes to seek me out for help, as well as to full-blown eating disorders.
I am not a psychologist; I do not treat eating disorders or talk to athletes about low self-esteem, neuroticism, and adverse childhood experiences. My way of helping athletes develop a healthy relationship with food is to encourage them to eat the way that the healthiest people—elite endurance athletes—eat.
There are five key habits that define this way of eating. Virtually all elite endurance athletes eat everything (forbidding no specific foods or food groups), eat quality (prioritizing natural, whole foods), eat carbohydrate (placing high-carb foods at the center of all meals and most snacks), eat plenty (allowing their body’s true energy needs to dictate how much they eat rather than heeding strict calorie limits), and eat individually (customizing their diet to fit their individual needs and preferences).
RELATED: Want to Run Faster? Eat More Carbs!
Elite endurance athletes practice these eating habits because they must practice them to be successful. Running and other endurance sports are so ultra-competitive at the international level that even the most gifted racers cannot win with inferior training methods or dietary practices. The five habits I have identified have become universal across all endurance disciplines and national boundaries because they work better than the alternatives.
Yet these same five habits foster a healthy relationship with food. Eating everything works against a fear of eating particular foods or food groups. Focusing on overall quality is a saner way to maintain high dietary standards than is selecting foods based on some weird conceptual stand-in for quality (such as how long humans have presumably been eating the various food types).
Maintaining a carbohydrate-centered diet promotes a healthy relationship with food because every major traditional cultural cuisine is carb-centered: rice-centered in India and China, potato-centered in the United Kingdom, bread-centered in central Europe, etc. Elite endurance athletes eat in culturally normal ways, but with above-average quality standards. This allows them to continue to enjoy familiar foods they enjoyed in their youth, to share holiday feasts with family and restaurant meals with friends, and to just generally feel as though they are not continuously swimming against the tide with their diet.
Eating plenty is salutary because it is how we are meant to regulate the amount of food we eat. It’s how animals and infants do it. But in the modern world, most people lose the ability to listen to their body and to eat according to its signals. We either mindlessly overeat because the television tells us to or we decide our body cannot be trusted and eat consistently less than our body asks for fear of gaining weight. But the leanest athletes, the pros, let their body call the shots.
Eating individually encourages a healthy relationship with food in a similar way. Nearly all popular diets at least tacitly discourage individuality, forcing all of their followers to start over with a one-size-fits all solution instead of allowing them to simply improve their existing (and presumably preferred) eating habits. Elite athletes allow themselves to customize their healthy diet to satisfy their personal preferences. They also pay attention to how different eating patterns affect their body and tweak them accordingly, not worrying about what everyone else is doing.
If you’re genuinely afraid of meat, or grains, or sugar, or dairy, or some other nutrient or food type; if you worry a lot about eating the wrong things, and feel guilty when you do; if you have a history of trying extreme diets; or if maintaining your current dietary standards feels like work to you, then try something different. Try eating like the healthiest and happiest eaters on earth, who just happen to be the world’s best practitioners of the sport you love.
RELATED: Eat Like a Kenyan, Run Like a Kenyan
Read more at http://running.competitor.com/2015/08/nutrition/the-importance-of-loving-your-diet_133520#66UGcq6bJVHaWBAf.99
Check out the latest post from our friends at Volt Athletics. I talk about strength a lot. Not the bulked up, "swoll" kind, real strength. Give this a read and get faster!
This is a great article from Runners World about the importance of properly maintaining you hip/pelvic alignment and strength. This is what we call a GAME CHANGER.
Foot strike, the darling of minimalism, is overrated. Good form starts with the pelvis and the glutes.
Image byPeter Crowther
PublishedMarch 31, 2014
Watch a video of Kenenisa Bekele winning a 5,000m or 10,000m, and it is quickly apparent that he and the rest of the world-class pack with him are doing something different from what most of us do every day. They float around the track, hardly seeming to touch it. They accelerate smoothly and effortlessly. Their legs seem to spin beneath weightless bodies.
We want to run like them, but too often we feel like we're muscling our bodies along, pounding the ground and working for each forward push. What element of their stride creates the difference? Where should we look?
For the past several years, we've been told to focus on their feet. Elite runners are different, form experts have said, because they land on their midfoot or forefoot, and we should do the same to run more smoothly, faster and with less injury. Where your foot makes contact with the ground became a litmus test of running prowess. Among some runners, the label "heel-striker" attained the stigma of "learning impaired."
And yet, many of those who adopted a forefoot strike and the minimalist shoes that accompanied the movement didn't see an improvement in times and continued to get injured. So much so that the movement has all but disappeared.
A wide range of experts--from kinesiologists to physical therapists, orthopedists to coaches--agree that the extreme emphasis the running world has put on foot strike is misplaced. Daniel Lieberman, the Harvard scientist who gave scientific credence to minimalism with his seminal 2010 article in Nature, says, "Frankly, when we published that paper, I never expected everyone to obsess about it as much as they did. Had I realized that, I would have added a sentence to the effect that while foot strike is important, there are many other important aspects of form as well. I have learned over the years that the worst thing to tell anyone is to forefoot strike."
Grant Robison, an elite runner and coach whose Good Form Running program was adopted by New Balance to educate runners on how to move into the company's Minimus line, says that while teaching runners to land on the midfoot was an emphasis a few years ago, he now considers it the least important of the four points he teaches: Posture, Mid-Foot, Cadence and Lean. "I draw people's attention to it, showing that if you can use more of your foot, things don't get stressed as much, but then I kind of let that be," Robison says.
But the minimalist movement wasn't wrong in suggesting that most of us need to improve our form if we are to run like Bekele. Trying to change how we land, however, didn't address the big goals of shifting our balance forward and moving our stride more behind than in front of us--essential elements of those effortless elite movement patterns we desire.
The emphasis on foot strike missed the mark by putting the attention on the end of the chain, rather than the beginning. We need to shift our focus upward to our hips and glutes, where the stride begins.
"More often than not, I see foot strike as simply being the end result of so many other things that are happening farther up the kinetic chain," says David McHenry, physical therapist and strength coach for Alberto Salazar's Nike Oregon Project. "The foot is really just the end of a big kinetic whip--the leg. Core and hips are where every runner should be starting if they are really concerned with optimizing their form, maximizing their speed and minimizing injury potential."
Jay Dicharry, physical therapist and director of the REP Biomechanics Lab in Oregon, agrees that foot strike is an effect, not a cause. He's measured heel-strikers who touch down with zero force and forefoot strikers who pound the ground. "There are many ways to move correctly," Dicharry says. But he sees similarities in all who move efficiently and powerfully. "If you can keep your posture in check and keep your hip drive up, you're going to run really, really well."
In sum, the experts say, mind your hips and your feet will take care of themselves.
What is it we want our hips to do? The key elements are balance and drive. Our torsos balance on our hips, and the hips are the fulcrums of the leg levers driving our bodies forward. If they are not working properly, the legs are unable to provide optimal power and speed. And many of us have trouble using them properly, resulting in all sorts of inefficiencies. The most common is overstriding: reaching forward and landing in front of the torso.
We don't overstride, however, simply because we wear overbuilt shoes and have learned poor running habits. We do it because our lifestyles outside of running create inflexibilities, weaknesses and poor balance. These are reinforced while running, such that now many of us are physically incapable of striding out naturally, with our legs behind our center of gravity. "We are not living the lives our bodies were designed for," says Irene Davis, a professor at Harvard Medical School and director of the Spaulding National Running Center. Bobby McGee, a Boulder, Colo.-based running coach who led Josia Thugwane to gold in the 1996 Olympic marathon, says the goal is to get back to how we moved as 9- or 10-year-olds, before environmental circumstances changed our patterns.
Heading to the gym to attack these weaknesses often doesn't correct them, however. Strengthening exercises will do little good without changing how we move and recruit our muscles. "Research has shown that strengthening alone--without retraining movement patterns--does not alter mechanics," Davis says. "The individual must own the new pattern, or it will not be durable."
Before we can own it, we need to feel it.
It all starts with proper posture, the experts say. Proper posture is what makes some athletes look graceful and light on their feet, balanced and agile. McGee calls it "getting connected." GP Pearlberg, an author and online coach, calls it "running tall."
Whatever we call it, learning it takes more than trying not to slouch or sucking in our guts. Good posture is not the stilted, rigid position we adopted when our mothers yelled, "Sit up straight!" We cannot imagine maintaining this pose for long while sitting or standing, let alone running, so too often we dismiss calls for better posture.
To get away from old ideas of posture, it might help to think of it as "hip proprioception," a fancy term that Trent Nessler, a physical therapist and the CEO of Accelerated Conditioning and Learning, uses to mean our awareness of what is going on with our hips, both the position of the bones and the muscles that are firing around them. Dicharry's book Anatomy for Runners centers around this concept. "It comes down to awareness and feel," Dicharry says, noting that people who have habitually poor posture "don't respond to cues like 'run tall' and 'keep your spine in neutral.' They pretty much have no idea they have a spine, or a hip, or any muscles that control them at all."
How do runners learn pelvic proprioception? The first test is vertical compression. Try the test below now.
HIP POSITION TESTS
HIP TEST 1: Vertical compression
While standing, have someone behind you put their hands on your shoulders and push straight down. If your body buckles at the back and hips, you know your hips and balance are off.
You can correct this buckling by changing your balance and posture. To find this new balance, one method is to reach up as high as you can as if trying to get something off a high shelf, then lower your arms without changing hip and back position. Another method is to place one hand on your belly button and one on your sternum, then, without moving the belly-button hand, bring your sternum forward until your weight is balanced over your hips and equally distributed between your forefoot and heel. Now have someone push down on your shoulders again: You should be able to withstand considerable force comfortably.
In adjusting your posture to achieve a balanced state, you likely noted your pelvis position rotated. A second test can help you feel this rotation better.
HIP TEST 2: Hip extension
Stand in front of a doorway with your back against the right side of a doorjamb and your left leg in the doorway opening. Kneel with your left knee on the floor inside of the doorjamb and your right knee above your right foot in front of you. Your left thigh should be vertical beside the doorjamb, with your back resting against the front of the doorjamb. In this position, you'll naturally have a bit of space between your lower back and the wall. Tilt your pelvis backward so the hollow between your lower back and the doorjamb disappears. Your pelvis should rotate up in front and down in back.
All my clients know I'm obsessed with their butts. Not like THAT, but in a (totally normal) clinical focus on the function of their gluteals. My signature catchphrase in the gym is, "SQUEEZE YOUR BUTT!" or "STICK YOUR BUTT OUT!" or basically anything else involving butts. But I've got a good reason to be obsessed with butts! Your butt muscles are not only SUPER IMPORTANT for your performance as an athlete, but also your ability to function as a human. The buttocks, as we know them, are made up of three different glute muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and the gluteus medius. The glamorous glute max gets a lot of attention (and songs written about it), probably since it's the largest muscle in the entire body, but the glute med often sneaks under the radar -- and I'm here to change that.
Read the Full Article @ http://blog.voltathletics.com/home/2014/3/27/butt-talk-with-christye
Originally posted 10/30/08
How many of us spend the majority of our days planning to do something? As a teacher I plan a lot. I have to plan how to get my students to participate in lessons and how that will lead to them gaining some knowledge they didn't have before. We all plan though. We plan to do work, plan to eat, plan to sleep even. Some of us go so far as to plan what we will wear for the whole week. Is this healthy? Where does it lead us?
I have seen the talk shows (unfortunately) that have on some master of organization who takes some disorganized and dysfunctional person and teaches them to plan and itemize their life. This is followed by a video montage of the person undergoing changes and then culminates in their total transformation. That would have us all believe that if we follow suit, we too can be productive members of society, as if planning is the key to success. Maybe planning is a key to success. I am a big advocate of going into a situation with a plan of action, but planning can only take a person so far.
What worries me is that some of us become consumed by the act of planning and forget to act. I don't think that everyone is meant to put on the "master planner" hat. In fact, I think that if too many people who are involved in the same activity try to plan, those plans end up canceling each other out. Then what are you left with? Well, you either end up with no plan at all, which isn't so bad at times, or you end up following some destructive mutant plan that will lead to disaster.
Runners plan too much in my opinion. It really isn't an athletes job to plan. Athletes are not objective with regard to their own performance and can not see that they really aren't capable of jumping over the moon. The act of planning should be left to coaches who are capable of remaining objective and are well-studied enough to make careful decision for an athlete. The athlete's job is to act on the plan. Some coaches believe that their athletes should play an active role in the planning stage. I think that a good coach has to be receptive to an athlete's feedback, but athletes shouldn't really be allowed to plan a season or a workout for that matter.
At least half of coaching is listening and interpreting what you hear. If you are a varsity coach, working with seven runners, you half to be able to speak seven different languages. Every athlete on that team is going to tell you something different and in a different way. You have to be able to read body language and decipher vocal inflections. It is not easy. So, if it is a daunting task for an adult coach, why would anyone reasonably expect an adolescent athlete to have any success at it. That is why I now advocate the No Plan approach to running.
The No Plan approach is pretty simple. Coaches plan and athletes run. Coaches need not micromanage though, let your athletes fulfill their half of the equation. If you are going to get any meaningful feedback from a race performance, then you have to allow your athletes to race naturally. Far too often I have athletes come to me with a need for a race plan. I help them plot and dissect the course, but I do not at any point expect them to do exactly what I have laid out, in fact, I hope they do not. Racing is pure. Good racing is usually the result of a mix of training, competitiveness, and personality. I break that mix down as: 30% personality, 50% training, and 20%competitiveness. There is an argument that could be made for a person's competitiveness being a component of their personality, but I prefer to think of it as an underlying trait of all humans, so it is tied more to instinct than to personality.
With all of this in mind, I suppose the best advice I could give to any athlete or coach would simply be to listen and be willing to fail. The coach has to plan for personality, competitiveness, and a myriad of other items. No one is right all the time. Coaches have to go out on a limb with their planning at times in order to push a runner to achieve a new level or breakthrough performance. Runners have to be willing to try out those hair-brained ideas that their coaches come up with so that if nothing else, they know what doesn't work. So plan away coaches, but remember that you hold another person's future in your hands. Make decisions that instill trust in your athletes and show them that if they believe, there are no real limits.
My advice to athletes: Feel your run, don't think it.
Track is a wonderful sport, dare I say, a pure sport. It pits the athlete against his or her limits and removes the annoyances of other sports, such as lucky bounces or bad calls by an official. Athletes on the track team can become very self-focused and that is not always a bad thing. However, most of the best ones will say that they performed better when they had a strong team behind them.
For distance runners, the concept of team in the context of a track season can seem rather abstract. Sure, there are 4x400m relays and the occasional DMR or 4x mile, but those races are limited to the few and elite. So, what does it mean to be a teammate during the track season and how do we use our team strength to achieve personal and group success?
The answer lies in how each of us derives motivation from a team environment. Some of us look to impress our peers and coaches, and lead the way to victory. Others of us are nervous wrecks who need support to reach the finish line. Still, some of us just need to be reminded that the efforts given on the oval are not for our benefit alone... we run for each other and win for each other. After all, what good is it to be placed on a pedestal if no one is around to hold you up?
Teamwork is what makes the world go round. It motivates and it holds us accountable. In practice, we push each other to reach new heights and put each other in place when our heads grow two sizes too big. In order to reap the maximum rewards of teamwork, it must be practiced daily. There are many ways to practice good teamwork and there should be no days off from being a good teammate.
Make it a point to congratulate each other on strong efforts every day. Encouragement is great when it comes from a coach, but it is even better when it comes from a teammate. Take advantage of the competitive environment a strong team has to offer. Workouts are meant to be competitive, so go ahead and challenge one another. Take a chance at beating someone new and you will both benefit. Without that competitive culture, the whole team begins to look complacent and, well... slow.
Lastly, train with a collective sense of purpose. Individual goals are great, but team goals are also worthwhile. There are a lot of examples, and a good team can chase many goals within one season. How many runners will PR by 20 or more seconds in the 1600m? How many girls can break 11:00 in the 3200m? or 11:50? How many boys will run under 2:00 in the 800m? How many points can we score against Mission Viejo and Dana Hills? These are all great team goals.
What will our team shoot for this season?
Track is upon us! Well almost. January is almost in the books and we will be making the switch to Track-specific training in a couple of weeks. Training for track is different than cross country. The fundamentals of aerobic training are not much different, but when we get specific, track looks and feels faster to most athletes. We primarily run three races: 800m, 1600m, and 3200m. The three races are all basically middle distances and therefore, require more speed work than a 5K race.
In order to meet the needs of our very diverse team, the coaches have conferred and decided upon a strategy that will tease out the speedy talents of some and develop non-inherent speed in others. The nice thing about getting faster is everyone can do it. Some of us feel like we have more or less genetic speediness, but no matter what you are starting out with, it can get better. Now, that is all well and good for the coach to say, but how does the athlete actually make it happen?
Speed must be worked on everyday in some fashion or another. In order to understand this, first take a look at what “speed” is in the world of running. Speed as defined by physiologists world wide is a product of stride rate and stride length. Basically, how fast can you put one foot in front of the other and how much ground do you cover each time you do so. Getting faster is the result of improving one or both of these components. Other things to consider are ground contact time, vertical bounce, and force (how hard a runner strikes the track). If we start by trying to improve stride length or stride rate, we can start seeing improvements almost immediately.
Speed can be improved on the track and in the gym. Drills, stride, hill sprints, and bleachers are all activities designed to help runners improve their stride rate. Just doing them is not enough though. In order to maximize the benefits of these activities, they must be done with focused intention to get better. You will only see improvements when you perform these activities with your best effort and evaluate yourself so that you see improvement each time. Your body will remember movements that you repeat over and over again. The more we do anything, the stronger the neuromuscular connection becomes. Therefore, practicing with bad habits will lead to bad results and practicing with good habits will turn you into a winner.
Work done in the gym or on the field as part of what we call “core” is meant to improve your strength and flexibility with functional movements. Power is a key factor when considering speed. Members of the Nike Oregon Project lift several times a week all year. Their coach, Alberto Salazar, says that his runners actually perform better when lifting more, even right up to their peak races. Distance runners who lift are not seeking to put on muscle mass in the gym, they are looking to gain strength in their lean muscle mass. However, that does not mean that runners should lift light weights. Lifting “heavy” ads strength faster and more effectively than light weights with a lot of reps. One cannot just simply start lifting heavy weights right away though. Our strength routines are designed to improve general strength first and gradually build you up to lifting heavier.
So, do you want to get faster? If you do, set goals for yourself and focus in practice everyday. As Coach Sue points out fairly often, “We race how we practice.” There is no magic race-day switch that you can flip. Work on speed daily and it will be there for you when you need it.