Sunday, February 24, 2013



      As you plan your 2013 running year, you are probably asking yourself and your training partners a lot of questions, for instance: “What are my goals?”  “Is this a year to get a coach?”  “How do I know if I need a coach?”  “How do I find and choose a coach?”
      Finding a coach is a little like finding the right running shoes.  I know how that sounds but think about it. Just like running shoes, there are lots of different options but the shoes must fit the runner. After all, for the coach/athlete relationship to be successful you must find someone you trust, someone you can easily communicate with, and someone you can work with.  In the end, you must believe in your coach and your coach must believe in you.  
    Five different coaches have coached me and I believe that each one helped me gain more knowledge and improved my running. In addition, I have been coaching other runners for 5 years and have my USATF (USA Track & Field) and RRCA (Road Runners’ Club of America) coaching certifications. So why do I have a coach? Why don't I just coach myself? Some of the reasons I work with a coach are that my coach holds me accountable, my coach keeps me from over training, my coach helps keep me motivated and injury free.
     Whether you are training for the marathon distance or 5K, there are plenty of different coaching philosophies out there:  more training miles, fewer miles, cross train or not, heart rate training, 2-a-day workouts, more or less speed work, long taper, mobility training and on and on. The real key is how the coach puts all the pieces together creating a unique plan specific to you, the athlete. For instance, I may have the same coach as someone else but each of us probably will be coached differently based on our strengths, weakness and abilities.
       A good coach will assess each athlete and figure out what he or she needs. Now, if your coach doesn’t do that it is time to find a new coach! I have experienced this situation firsthand. I had a coach who believed in high mileage for marathoners. I gave it a try even though my body was giving me negative feedback to the mega-mile program.  Guess what? I got injured.
     Because that coach really believed in his training plan and wasn’t taking my feedback into account, I knew I needed to move on. He just didn’t understand the type of training that I needed to improve and stay healthy. 
      Now I have found a coach that has a top priority of keeping me injury free. It helps that he a chiropractor and a runner. In the past I have hired the well-known coaches with impressive resumes that are also top elite athletes. I did on-line coaching with them. What I realized is that they were not able to see who I really was as an athlete, my strengths and how to push me to overcome my weaknesses. My coach right now might not have written a book or currently coach world-class athletes but I feel he has helped me more than the other coaches I have had in the past.
      Do your research, write down what you expect out of a coach and interview them before starting to train with them. Keep your goals in focus and do what is best for you.  Remember, if the shoe fits…!


  1. Maybe you were running too fast on your easy days to recover, while doing the higher mileage? Or not getting enough calories, sleep, iron, or time to relax? Rest and recovery are the single most important things to handling higher mileage.

    I remember when I started moving up my mileage, I found I had to slow down A LOT-- from 7:00-7:45 pace, down to 8:30-9:00 pace. This point was further hammered into me when I went to train in Colorado with other elites, who had figured out the same thing! I also had to do more of the 'little things', as mentioned. Once I figured out the iron part, in particular, plus the running slower, then the "spark" was set. Don't discount the higher mileage quite yet, but certainly try to strike a balance between everything in your life-- do what you can, without burning the candle at both ends and breaking down.

  2. High miles can help certain runners. It is amazing to me how many miles you can run Camille. When I run slower than 7:45 pace my form seems to break down and that is when injury happens. Maybe some day I will be able to run more miles but for right now I am improving without injuries. Why change a good thing?

  3. The key is running with a quick turnover and light step. Neuromuscularly, you use a different gait and muscle groups, so you have to learn how to run slow, just like you learn how to run fast! I think in my mind about running with my marathon stride-- relaxed, quick turnover, and not trudging. It's more efficient too and easier on the body than trying to "stride out". The hard-easy method becomes ever-more important. I should forward you a really good email from an old coach-- he explained it all perfectly.

    I remember reading about how Edna Kiplagat's longest run was 20 mi. at 7:30 pace--this a woman who runs low 2:20s in the marathon! When I trained in Alamosa, I ran sometimes with a 2:27 Polish runner-- I actually had to slow down to run with her on her easy days. Then, she would get out and blast 400's on the track... likely because she was well-rested!

    You ran higher mileage for a period, dropped the mileage and did more speedwork, and ran a solid marathon. It's not far-fetched that the endurance you built from the higher mileage is what "carried you" to sustain your speed. As with anything else, there's a learning curve and adaptation period with running higher mileage. It's part of the overall "big picture" too-- when you cycle into lower mileage and more speed, of course you're going to feel good! It's easy to only focus on the "present" and think you thrive on lower mileage... while forgetting all that aerobic base you did months before (which is sustaining the speed)! At some point, you will likely need to cycle back into higher mileage again, to "get that aerobic buzz".

  4. In the final analysis running an individual endeavor and I believe that a person’s training should be reflective of that. Dr. Jack Daniels said it best in his book, Daniels Running Formula when he said: “We are all individuals and must be treated as such to achieve success in any pursuit.” Tammy’s echoed Daniels when she said, “The real key is how the coach puts all the pieces together creating a unique plan specific to you, the athlete.” There is no one way of coaching runners, even highly competitive runners. Tammy’s journey to find a coach that worked for her is evidence of that basic truth.
    High mileage sounds good in theory. If you a competitive runner like a Tammy Lifka and you see Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher, Desiree Davilla and many others running 100 -140 miles per week the natural reaction is to follow suit. What is forgotten is that is what works for them. That doesn’t mean it will work for you. Runners react to the same training in different ways. Additionally, it must be remembered that running is their job – the only job for them. They have very good support systems (coaches who are on site, therapists, etc.) and don’t have to deal with the stresses that runners who have jobs, families and other day to day responsibilities have to. That is not meant to be an excuse, rather it is a fact. John Adams said it best when he said, “Facts are stubborn things.”
    When it comes to the actual running, I don’t think Tammy’s problem is one of going too hard too often or mechanics. From my first hand experience seeing her run she does follow a hard-easy approach. What she doesn’t do any more is run mileage for mileage’s sake beyond a certain point where the returns are outweighed by the potential for decreased performance and possible injury As Daniels points out there are both a diminishing rate of those returns and an increase in potential injury as the mileage increases for all runners. The key for any runner is finding where that zone lies that best maximizes their performance.
    I agree that running with a quick turnover and a light step is the best way for a runner. You can run inefficiently and run fast. Anyone who has done much speed work on the track quickly learns this lesson. It was not by accident that Coach Sam Mussabini told Harold Abrahams in the movie Chariots of Fire to run light as a feather, like he was running on hot coals. What I don’t understand is when you are running easy, quicker turnover will make you go faster, not slower. Short strides by all means, but unless the laws of physics can be revoked increasing turnover will mean running faster. The exceptions are running in place, running backwards and perhaps when humans figure out how to travel back in time or at least invent the transporter beam used in Star Trek.

    A coach should adapt to the runner, not the other way around. Finding a coach that works for you sometimes can take time and might only be learned through trial and error. Success on finding the right coach for you can be measured when you see improved performance over time.

  5. I studied enhancing bone recovery with high frequency mechanical stress in grad school. Getting injured is more related to the intensity/magnitude than to mileage-- higher intensity creates greater strain and stress between muscle and bone, and a point of "fatigue" is reached sooner. You are less likely to get hurt from low intensity high mileage, than from high intensity high mileage-- intensity being the key factor. This is why you have to slow down the easy days to recover better with the higher mileage. Not only does it help with recovery, but also aerobic adaptations/fat metabolism.

    This is taken from an email I got from Tom Peterson, who's the former coach at Hawaii. He describes how easy runs should be done:

    "Some runners have their minds made up. If they run a marathon in 5:45 miles, they absolutely cannot fathom running training miles at a pace more than a minute slower and trying to get them to agree to run two minutes slower than that is totally out of the question!
    Have you ever seen Kenyan men warm-up before a race? If they were on a track, you will find most times they are not running 90 second quarters, it’s doubtful they are running 1:45 per 400 meters. More likely they are jogging 2 minutes or slower per lap and these are guys that can run sub 4 minute miles and sub 13:00 for 5km!

    If you go out for a ten mile run in the morning, are you blazing through it in 70 minutes because you’ve got places to go, people to see?

    There is nowhere else you should be, no other more important task in the day than a proper workout at a proper pace.

    LSD (long-slow distance) is hard for young runners to fathom. They think the only people that do LSD are old, slow runners. Nope, the slower you go the farther you can go, but those miles must be comfortable. Don’t beat your body up, build it up, strengthen it.
    The secret (well, most people think it’s a secret), but I tell enough people so it shouldn’t be. The way to do LSD is with a quick turnover rate and no back kick.

    That means landing softly and relaxing the foot, but still keeping the tempo high and the heart pumping volumes and the lungs getting a good workout without the legs feeling like lead. It comes with practice and I know you can do it.

    No thudding, thumping or thundering along or slapping the feet, think light on your feet and land light on your feet.

    Running without earbuds allows you to concentrate on your surroundings and environment. Better to listen to your breathing and footfalls.

    Concentrate and focus on the work at hand.
    And for safety sake as a woman you want to know who or what might be behind you as you run.

    There are 22 other hours in the day to listen to your favorite music.
    Concentrate on those footfalls, make them deliberate and calculated.

    Too many think LSD means bounding, bouncing, lumbering along in slo-mo.
    Again, nope.
    Short, baby steps.
    Pick ‘em up, put ‘em down.
    We’re talking a minimum of 120 footfalls a minute, for some they can come closer to 180.
    Less air time, more ground time.
    As I’ve said before...
    turnover, turnover, turnover.

    I can tell you of some sub 2:20 marathoners (5:20 per mile pace) who do the majority of their mileage slower than eight minute miles (and we’re talking 120, 140 sometimes 160 miles a week).

    Again, the slower you go the farther you can go.
    Another Coach was asking me for advice on his runner who had a bad race. When he told me she was doing "easy" 7:00 minute miles I immediately reacted and said to myself, “Well, there’s your problem right there!”

    The big problem is many disagree with me. One minute and fifteen seconds slower than your marathon race pace doesn’t seem (to me) easy.

    Pounding the pavement, hammering the pace over and over again, mile after mile, day after day at marathon race pace or just a little slower doesn’t build a runner up, but tears them down. You are more readily prepared for races when you are rested and ready, not run down and feeling ragged."

  6. With all due respect to the posts above, training, under the careful, watchful eye of a knowledgeable coach can have the greatest rewards. But in my experience, there aren't too many of them out there. Telling Tammy that 120 mile weeks at a slow pace is the path to success is utter nonsense and goes against the idea that each runner is different. "Do what I do and what I tell all my runners to do and you, too, will be just like all my runners..."

    As a coach, (and this is where the art of coaching truly applies) the most important piece of information to know about an athlete is what body type they have. Are they naturally slow twitch or fast twitch and/or where do they fall on the continuum? This requires a careful assessment of their body type, past race performances, previous training cycles, their likes and dislikes; even down to a simple review of their appearance.

    Once a coach can determine what type of runner they are, they can then build a program, working on the weakness(es) of the runner all built around the goal of a particular race distance.

    One glove most certainly does not fit each runner.

    As an extreme example, do you think Usain Bolt's coach would have him run 120 mile weeks and then tell him he will get faster?

    We all have varying degrees of two engines: aerobic and anaerobic. Those of us with a higher naturally occurring abundance of fast twitch (FT) muscles fibers likewise have powerful anaerobic systems. Like me, a naturally FT guy, I can take a year off of running and at the drop of hat jump on a track and run a sub-30 second 200. You might say I have been blessed with a high energy, high glycogen fuel burning powerful anaerobic engine. But this high fuel burning engine can be my downfall should I decide to, foolishly, run a marathon.

    Likewise, the runner with an over-abundance of ST fibers uses fat (a much more abundant, yet WAY less powerful fuel source) as their fuel. Most ST folks love the marathon and run all day but usually at one speed.

    So the magic of the well trained coach is recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of their runners and adapting a program that works for only THAT runner.

    For the slow twitch runner, we need to train them to use a larger portion of their anaerobic system. It is when they can use a combination of both their aerobic and anaerobic system that they will have the most success in their racing.

    I can prove, with the use of a simple lactic acid meter that having a naturally slow twitch runner, like Tammy, run 100's of slow miles would have her stagnate as a runner. Her 2.0mmol and her 4.0mmol levels would be too close to each other.

    I have witnessed this first hand when a particular runner came to me. She was a decent, slow twitch runner. But her 10k pace and her marathon pace were almost identical. She had been running 100's and 100's of miles. What a pity. I got to work with her and she broke 3 hours within one year.

    In no way am I saying Tammy runs her slow runs too fast. She learned that lesson early on. The best thing I can advise runners when I can't prick their finger is to buy a heart rate monitor and learn to know what SLOW really is. Once the runner learns what slow efforts are they can begin to leave the HR monitor at home.

  7. In no way do I disagree with the above and figuring out what works for each individual. We're not all birds of the same feather. However, I'm not saying you should slog out 120 miles- of course you have to do a variety of training to stimulate the body in unique ways. The point that Tammy missed though is slowing down the pace on easy recovery runs with the increased volume. As I pointed out above- learning how to run easy, correctly, is a process in itself. I'm also a big fan of the heartrate monitor for teaching one how to run easy (<70% of HR max)-- far more valuable than a Garmin. Unfortunately, too many people get caught up looking at their Garmin and not listening to their body and slowing down the pace to recover better. Then, injury can result, as Tammy mentioned. I don't think it's fair for Tammy to knock a method when she was doing it incorrectly.

    Furthermore, that period of higher mileage likely provided the stimulus to sustain the speed when she transitioned to lower mileage/more speed. Of course you'll feel great running lower mileage after a period of higher mileage! It's shortsighted to forget what one did in the months/years before a current training cycle and how that impacts how they're performing in the present. A coach is able to see the big picture, understands the long term process, and how it all fits together. Whether the athlete is willing to listen and trust is up to them.

  8. I feel that everyone has very good points and has sparked a lot of good discussion. I will say that I never knocked any method. I was very clear that everyone needs a different method and that 100+ method was not for me. I believe it is helping my friend who is training with your husband Connor. I also agree that it is hard for me to run slower than 8:20 pace and not feel my shins the next day. I do need to learn how to run with good form when I run slower. All of us need to work on something and that is on my list. Camille you are an example of how running high miles has improved your marathon time. Keep up your training. I also enjoy reading your blog. You have a lot of knowledge to share and I have learned a lot from you. Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts.