12 Monthly Running Challenges for Your Strongest Year of Running Ever

Woman jogging down an outdoor trail

This post is written by Doug Hay, from Rock Creek Runner and NMA Radio.

What if I told you that by this time next year, you could be a completely different runner?

You’d either assume I’m some sort evil internet scammer, or want me as your best friend. Well I’m not a scammer…

But it’s true: this time next year, you could in fact be a completely different runner. Over the course of the next 12 months, you can get stronger and faster, build a massive endurance base, and become a smarter, more well-rounded runner.

That sounds pretty good if you ask me.

As a coach, I’m regularly approached by discouraged runners. They’re frustrated from lack of progress and the constant battle against injuries, even after months (or years!) of hard training. What I’ve discovered is that for the most part, all their frustrations stem from the same problem.

It isn’t lack of discipline or motivation — they wouldn’t bother contacting me if they didn’t have at least some motivation. Instead it’s that we runners get so caught up in a grand big picture goal, that we lose sight of the fundamentals. The smaller, daily challenges that craft a strong foundation for improvement and growth.

But that’s where the real progress takes place. And that’s exactly how I want you to focus your next 12 months.

Now here’s the thing … it ain’t easy. If you want quick-fix guarantees or magic pills, you’ve come to the wrong place. You have to do the work, log the miles, and push new boundaries.

But if you want to truly make 2016 the year you really step things up, then stick with me. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be an adventure. And — hopefully — you’re going to challenge yourself in new ways each month.

So, ready to find out what this is all about?

12 Months, 12 Challenges

Running is a complex sport.

On the surface, it looks simple … we’ve run since we were children, and even as adults it requires little more than a pair of shoes (if that). But if you’ve been training for very long, you know there’s a lot more to running well than simply lacing up. Speed requires one skill set, endurance another. A well-balanced runner builds on their foundation through well-balanced training, and regularly challenges herself through variety.

Your route to becoming a well-balanced, stronger runner? 12 months, 12 challenges, 12 unique ways of pushing yourself.

Below I’ve outlined the monthly challenges, which, all put together, can make this your best year of running yet.

Here’s how it works:

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7 Running Workouts to Build Strength and Endurance

Pronto a correre

This post was written by Doug Hay of Rock Creek Runner.

When did running get so complicated?

I ask myself that all the time, usually when frustrated by a tough workout on my training plan or a confusing training concept.

Running is such a simple act — exactly what drew me to it in the first place — until you complicate it with drills, exercises, and complex workouts.

Of course, it probably comes as no surprise that the workouts on your training plan aren’t there just to piss you off. They’re included to help you run stronger, faster, and for longer distances.

Unfortunately that doesn’t make it any less complicated, so today I’m going to break down seven common running workouts, and share a few examples of how you can put them into practice with your training.

The Importance of Variety

Before we start wading through the details, let’s first talk about variety. More specifically, why variety in your training is so important.

There’s a little running phenomenon I like to call “Single Speed Running,” where a runner logs nearly all of his or her miles at the exact same effort. Day after day. That speed is usually around 75 percent of max effort — not fast enough to really make your body work hard and adapt, but too fast to build much endurance or count as a “recovery” run.

Sound familiar?

Chances are it does, since that’s exactly what most runners do.

Not only does Single Speed Running keep you from getting stronger; it also significantly increases the risk of injury: our bodies need variety.

We need uber slow runs just as much as we need Lightning Bolt style sprints. The variety works the cardiovascular system and muscles in different ways, and makes room for both strength-building and recovery.

By understanding the importance of each workout, you’re more likely to begin incorporating a variety into your training, and in return, reaping the benefits.

But first, those workouts need to become less daunting and confusing … the goal of this post.

7 Common Running Workouts, Explained

Below you’ll find a description of seven most common running workouts for endurance runners. With each explanation, I’ve also included one or two examples of how to put the workout to use.

Let’s start with the easiest:

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The Discouraged Runner’s Guide to Boundless Consistency

This post is written by Doug Hay, co-host of NMA Radio and author of Rock Creek Runner.

“Self-discipline doesn’t actually exist.”

That’s what one of my blogging mentors (yes, that’s a thing) Jon Morrow said to me at a recent conference.

It’s a jarring statement considering we live in a world that talks about having or losing self-discipline all the time.

But after he finished the conversation, it all made sense. Jon’s point was this:

No one is born with self-discipline. Successful business people, professional runners, the President, they don’t have some self-discipline gene that the rest of us lack. And as we know, will-power is a finite commodity.

On one hand this is bad news. It means we can no longer rely on the “no self-discipline” excuse when it comes to running. Or doing or not doing anything else in life, for that matter.

But on the other hand, it’s great news.

Because it makes it possible for us to change. It means our failures as runners, our inconsistencies and lack of routine are only temporary. That we too can become the highly energized running routine superstars we’ve always wanted to be.

Consistent runners have fewer injuries, a stronger base, and greater long-term running success.

So if self-discipline isn’t a trait we either have or don’t, and a consistent routine is something we all want, what sets a successful runner apart from her discouraged counterpart?

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The Surprising Secret to Achieving Your Race Goals Sooner

Everyone knows you’ve got to pace yourself in a marathon.

Go out too hard, and you’re toast before the race is half over. And you won’t just lose a few minutes, either: starting too fast can turn race day into an utter disaster.

This is exactly what happened to me during my first marathon. My friends and I took off at Boston-qualifying pace, aiming for a 3:10:59 that we truly had no business attempting.

By mile 18, we crashed. And instead of a 3:10 or even a 4 hour marathon, it took us 4 hours and 53 minutes. Over 100 minutes slower than the time we had naively set out to run when we signed up on a whim six months earlier.

But what if I told you this same concept of pacing should apply not just on race day, but to your entire next few years of running?

Don’t make the mistake I did …

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Rich Roll on the High-Energy, Plantpower Diet (Plus, Win a Copy of His New Book!)


In just a few short years since he gave up cheeseburgers and decided to train for a triathlon, Rich Roll has gotten his name on the short list of people you mention when somebody asks if a plant-based diet can work for athletes.

It started with his surprising finish at Ultraman, essentially a double Ironman over the course of three days in Hawaii.

Then it was being named one of the 25 Fittest Guys in the World by Men’s Fitness, and in 2012, sharing his story in his first book, Finding Ultra. 

Recently, it’s been spreading the message with his uplifting and thought-provoking podcast, and traveling the world giving talks about his story and the power of a plant-based lifestyle.

Today Rich’s new cookbook, The Plantpower Way, hits the shelves, and it’s my immense privilege to bring you a new interview, recipe, and giveaway from one of the most recognizable people in plant-based fitness.

The NMA Academy Seminar with Rich Roll

Just after we ran the 5K at the Marshall Healthfest last month, Rich and I sat down to record an hour-long, in-depth seminar for the No Meat Athlete Academy. Although these seminars are typically private for our members, I’m excited to make Part 1 of that interview available here, in celebration of the release of The Plantpower Way and the one-year anniversary of the NMA Academy:

In this portion, we focus on diet and Rich’s new book. In Part 2 of the interview, which you can get when you subscribe for free to NMA Radio on iTunes, we dive into Rich’s low-intensity training philosophy, his approach to mindfulness, and his now-famous advice that you should quit lifehacking and instead invest in the journey.

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3 Ways I’m Training Smarter than Ever for My Marathon Comeback

Jogger checking the running timeNote: This post is sponsored by the Cherry Marketing Institute. Opinions are entirely my own.

It’s been a full three years since I last ran a marathon, and over five since I last ran one hard. Or, to be fair (since they’re all hard), the last time I was last in PR-shape.

Although I haven’t exactly sat around since then, the training I’ve done for ultras has been much more relaxed and slower-paced than what I ever did as a marathoner. Lots of hills because of where I live, but I can count on one hand the number of speed workouts I’ve done since qualifying for Boston back in 2009.

So a return to marathons — to gasping for air during workouts, to hurrying through water stops, and to not walking the hills — will surely be no picnic. But it’s a change, and as someone who will take change over boredom any day of the week, it’s one I’m ready for.

I don’t know if I’m going for PR. Certainly not in this first marathon back; I think it’ll take me two races and a full year to get anywhere close to my 3:09:59 best. I’d love to run Boston again, and because I’ll be 35 next year (whaaat?)3:09 would get me in again, even under the new, tougher standards.

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What Counting Your Steps Will Teach You About the Value of Running

Many shoeprints in fresh snow

This is post #4 in a 6-part series I’m doing in a sponsored partnership with Garmin and Whole Foods. (Not to mention the 9th day in a row I’ve published a new post, which I think is pretty awesome.)

Before this year began, I had no idea how many steps I took each day. 4,000? 10,000? 20,000?

Honestly if I had to guess without doing any math, any of those could have been it.

Now, I’m really tuned in. At the end of the day, with a glance right before bed at my vívofit, I see my step count — a little daily score to tell me how I did.

Five digits, I’m happy. Any fewer, and I remind myself to move just a little more tomorrow.

Here’s the biggest takeaway for me, though: just how dramatically the length of my run each day affects my step count. It’s way more than I realized … and that makes me want to never go a week without running again.

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A Ridiculously Easy-to-Follow Roadmap for Building a New Habit

Most of the advice we read about habits is fairly general: start small, create accountability, have a reward system, etc.

All great advice. But why so vague?

Because people have lots of different habits they want to change, and general advice can (hopefully) be applied to any of them. People like Leo Babauta and James Clear have broad audiences for a reason.

Of course, the cost of such generality is that nobody gets a tailor-made plan for creating their specific habit. Which makes it easier to rationalize not starting at all. At least, not yet. (Though it’s quite possible that if you search Zen Habits or James’s blog for a specific habit, you might find it. Worth a shot.)

Here’s exactly what has worked for me

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