The Obvious Technique for Getting Faster That Most Runners Are Too Lazy to Complete

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A few years ago I wrote post a while back about the power of tracking (anything!). Simple awareness of your behavior, even without a deliberate attempt to change, is often all you need in order to improve. Mind-blowing, really, and super-inspiring, especially at this time of year.

Today’s post from Doug Hay (whom you probably know as co-host of No Meat Athlete Radio and blogger at Rock Creek Runner), expands on this incredibly powerful concept in the context of running.

You say you’re serious about improving in 2015? Here’s where to start.

Runners are lazy.

That might seem like an odd thing to say about a group of people who run for pleasure (and not just because they’re being chased), but for the most part, it’s true. We’re lazy.

Runners are notorious for avoiding training routines, like foam rolling or core work, even though we know it will help prevent injuries and make us faster.

But I get it.

Foam rolling, strength routines, speed work, and other similar training techniques are painful and typically known to be the opposite of fun. Besides, after kicking ass for a 5-mile run, who wants to do more?

So even though those routines are important for proper training, I’m going to ignore the painful stuff for now. What I want to discuss today is one of the easiest techniques we runners can add to our routines that will help us get stronger, train smarter, and avoid season ending injuries. A technique that it isn’t painful, and doesn’t take much time. And believe it or not, it can even be fun.

But for some reason, almost nobody does it.

What I want to talk about today is tracking our workouts. Not just turning on the GPS, never to look at the data again (more on that later), but really tracking what we did and how we felt.

Why Tracking Matters

When my good high school friend, Jeff, got his first car, his father required that he take notes on everything about that Ford.

When he’d fill up the tank, Jeff would open up the glove compartment, pull out a notebook, and jot down everything from where he was buying gas to the car’s current mileage. Once a month, I’d catch him checking the tires’ air pressure and how the oil was holding up.

He knew all the stats on that car’s performance. He knew if it was running well or struggling through the winter.

At the time, I thought it was obsessive. But that’s because I didn’t fully understand his dad’s reasoning.

What I now understand is that with that information, Jeff knew exactly what helped the car run at peak performance, and saw warning signs if something was going wrong. When the car did have trouble, he could look back on when things started to turn sour, and report all that to the mechanic.

Now, I don’t track the stats on my car, and likely never will, but when it comes to running, Jeff’s father’s philosophy works perfectly.

The benefit of tracking running data is massive. By keeping a proper running log, we can see what is working and what isn’t, in real time. If something goes wrong and we get injured, it’s easy to look back and figure out what behaviors might have caused the issue, and how to avoid repeating that mistake.

If it’s a big race goal you’re training for, looking back on all the progress can be motivating and a powerful tool for when things get tough.

And when things go right on race day, it means you already have the entire playbook mapped out for next one.

Why Your iPhone or GPS Won’t Cut It

Over and over again, I see runners who no longer bother keeping any sort of actual records, because they think their GPS watches or phone apps do it for them. We turn them on before the run and off when we get home.

And voilà, our run is uploaded and tracked.

Unfortunately there are two marathon-sized problems with this:

  1. It’s only tracking what the watch can record (distance, pace, routes, etc.) and not how it actually felt.
  2. Because uploads happen at the magic of a button, we’re more likely not to look back on them ever again. That is, of course, until the end of the year, when we want to tweet out our total yearly mileage. #runningbrag anyone?

When all it takes is plugging in your watch to the computer, we don’t end up studying the information like we would if we were writing it out ourselves. And the information becomes useless.

9 Key Metrics to Log

In an upcoming section, I’m going to tell you to stop being a lazy runner and start keeping a training log. I’m even going to provide you with an easy tool to do it. But first it’s important to understand what to track and why it can be useful information.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s more than what your GPS tracks for you.

1) Type of workout: A 4-mile easy run is a lot different from a 4-mile run doing speed work on the track. To help differentiate the two on your tracking chart, note the type of workout first. Keep this simple to easily categorize. A few examples of types of workout include:

  • Easy Run
  • Long Run
  • Speed/Track Work
  • Hill Workout
  • Race

2) Daily Mileage: Your total daily mileage. This one’s a no-brainer.

3) Time/Pace: Track your overall time running, and break it out into pace.

4) Route: Always track where you ran. It allows you to review how hilly the course was, how frequently you’re running a particular route, and if certain characteristics of your regular routes might be contributing to an injury or improvements. Tracking your route also comes in handy when designing course specific training.

5) Terrain: Running on rocky trails or a paved bike path? Crowded city sidewalks or a gravel road? All these factors affect your pace and the benefit of that particular run. Take note of the terrain for reference in the future.

6) How you felt: I like to have a quick reference to how I felt during the run, and do it as simply as possible with just three options: bad, normal, great. That way you can quickly see if you’ve had several bad or great runs in a row, and make adjustments accordingly. It also serves as reference guide to how certain distances, paces, or routes affect your feeling about the run.

A helpful trick if you’re tracking on the computer is to use a color coded system for this, which makes deciphering how you felt even easier.

7) Effort: For this I recommend using a scale of 1 to 5. 1 being the a completely easy run and 5 being an all out effort.

8) Notes: A blank space for you to fill in any notes you have about the run. Important things to keep in mind are what you ate before, during, and immediately after, what shoes you were wearing, notes on weather, if you were running with anyone else or solo, your heart rate if you measured it, and anything else that has a major effect on the run itself.

9) Extras: I recommend you also track a few extras on a semi-regular basis, such as weight, diet, and what you’re training for at the moment. There’s no need to track these every single day, but they’re good to have as a reference in the future.

What to Do With All This Data

So you’ve taken my advice and started tracking your runs. Now what?

Just like my friend Jeff could do for this car, you too can now use the data you’ve tracked and put it to use in real time. At the end of each week, or at the very least each month, look back at your training log and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Where has my training been lacking? It’s easy to skip a workout here or a long run there without realizing that you’re doing it multiple times per week or repeatedly over several weeks.
  • Have I covered all the basic pillars of proper training?
    • Easy run
    • Speed work/tempo run
    • Long run
    • Strength/core training
    • Rest days
  • In what areas of my training am I seeing improvements? Look for patterns over the week or multiple weeks that indicate improvement in speed, endurance, or strength, and note which workouts are working for your training to use in future weeks.
  • In what areas of my training am I seeing weaknesses? If after 6 weeks, you aren’t improving on speed, for example, something isn’t working. Adjust your training to address that particular weakness.
  • Where am I now, and how should I move forward? Training plans are a constant work in progress. As you look back on the data, reassess where you are and how to properly move forward. It’s this lack of assessment that often leads to over-training and injury.

A (Totally Free) Training Log Tool

The web and your smart phones are full of fantastic tools for tracking runs. A couple of my favorites are Strava and Daily Mile.

While those tools are powerful, I find that the act of logging in to a site and posting a run publicly is often enough to hold me back from doing it in the first place.

So after speaking with Matt, I’ve decided to share with the No Meat Athlete family the training template that the runners I coach use to track their training plans. It’s simple, interactive, and tracks everything you need and nothing more.

Download that tool and receive more information on smart training here. (Just a heads up, the sign-up is hosted on my blog, so it will direct you away from No Meat Athlete.)

Quit Being a Lazy Runner!

Taking notes on 9 different things might feel like a lot of work, but when you actually sit down and do it, you’ll see that tracking each run only takes 2-3 minutes. Even the laziest of runners can justify two to three minutes of work if it means getting faster and preventing injuries.

And the best part? By creating a habit of tracking your runs, that same process will spill over into more than just workouts. Budgets, diet, meditation … just about anything you’re looking to improve can benefit from keeping a log or journal.

Start with running. This obvious technique is too easy and beneficial to keep avoiding.

About the Author: Doug Hay will teach you how to run further, faster, and more efficiently than you ever have before. Take the first step towards achieving your running goals with the Trail Runner’s Cheat Sheet, or download the free tracking tool mentioned above here.

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3 Reasons Why I’ll Teach My Kids to Run Marathons

I don’t write about it often, but I’m a father to two wonderful little kids — a four-year-old boy and one-year-old girl.

The obvious question (that people always ask) is whether my wife and I are raising them vegan, and the answer is a qualified yes:

Yes, but we don’t want to choose this lifestyle for them, or to make them resent their plant-based diet and their parents who forced it on them. So we involve our son (and will our daughter too, when she’s old enough) in the garden and in cooking, and we talk to them about why we eat this way. But when they’re old enough to want other foods — say, at a friend’s birthday party — that will be their choice. Outside the home, anyway.

People are less interested in whether we’re raising our kids to be runners, but that’s what I want to write about today. Because the answer is yes. At least, I’m going to try my darndest to steer them toward running marathons when they’re old enough. (Of course, if they just don’t like it, that’s cool too.)

Why running? Why long distances?

Not because “I like marathons, and therefore they should.” Physical fitness entirely aside, I’ve learned that running teaches a lot of important qualities that aren’t so easy to find in other activities these days (cue crotchety old man fist shake at the internet).

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When Did We Start Settling for Boring?

For the past four years, every single one of my runs has been the boring kind.

Who knows how many thousands of miles I’ve endured … and I just realized this.

How did this happen?

Like this: back when I was training to qualify for Boston, I discovered Core Performance Endurance. The program called for two kinds of workouts — intervals and hills — with easy days surrounding each.

To a fairly new runner like myself, the workouts were hard. Sometimes really hard.

But tough as those workout days were, they were better than the easy days. Because on easy days, you had to keep your heart rate below 70 percent of max, and that meant walking up hills. And it meant slowing down when the heart monitor beeped at you every time you started to get a little runner’s high and speed up … say, when a good song came on.

It was mind-numbing. Even worse, as you advanced through the program the length of time you had to endure this interminable boredom increased. From 30 to 40 to 50 minutes.

But the program worked. I qualified for Boston a year later, and I started running ultras for a change of pace.

And slowly, without my noticing, all of my runs became the boring runs.

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Can Tart Cherries Make You a Better Runner? A 7-Day Challenge to Find Out

If you’re a runner, you know there’s no shortage of new supplements and other products that claim to promote faster recovery for us. And mostly, as runners, we’ve learned to ignore them.

Usually, we just don’t believe it. Speed of recovery is hard to measure, subjectively, and even when the objective evidence is there, the miracle product du jour isn’t often something most of us would want to put in our bodies.

But tart cherry juice may just be an exception: (a) it’s natural; and (b) it seems like it might actually promote recovery. There’s a decent amount of science to say so, and the fact that it’s stuck around a while — I think I first heard of it in 2010 — certainly bodes well.

But what’s most intriguing to me about tart cherries is that they’re not just for recovery: they also have anti-inflammatory properties and have been demonstrated to reduce muscle pain during an event. Which makes them extremely well-suited for ultrarunning, where pain more than anything else eventually becomes the limiting factor … if they deliver.

Next week, that’s what I’ll be testing.

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How to Finally Enjoy Running: The Non-Runner’s Ultimate Guide

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Runner or non-runner, whichever you call yourself, I’ve been there. And I think I’ve finally figured out that whole label thing.

When running is fun — when, even when it’s hard, it comes easy — that’s when you feel like a runner.

But most of the time, for most of us, it doesn’t flow like that. It’s a chore, a discipline. A struggle that’s worth it, but a struggle nonetheless. Those times, we don’t feel like runners.

If you’re the former — a runner, all the time — you don’t need this post. Go run because running is fun for you, for its own sake, no other reason necessary. And know that the rest of us envy you, and wish it could be that way for us.

But if you’re not always that runner, today you’re in the right place. I’ve been on both the winning and the losing side of the daily battle to get the miles in. And when it’s working — when it’s actually and truly fun to run (words I never thought I’d say) — here’s what makes it so.

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How I Fell Back in Love with Running

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Bart Yasso, “The Mayor of Running,” reminding us why we love running.

This weekend that I was to become a runner again started off with me feeling like a fraud.

Thursday afternoon, I arrived in Boston. Two hours later, Jason Fitzgerald and I walked into West End Johnnie’s restaurant, where we were to meet the rest of the invited bloggers and some of the Runner’s World staff, the kickoff to our weekend at the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon and Festival.

We each got goodie bags from Runner’s World. In the bags, among other things: an early copy of the July issue of the magazine, which I’d been eagerly awaiting. Fully prepared for disappointment, just in case the article I was to be featured in got cut at the last minute, I flipped to page 37 and found something unexpected.

The article was there. Focusing on what the elites drink while they run. Scott Jurek. Shalane Flanagan. Dean Karnazes. Kara Goucher.

Me. 

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9 Ultra-Helpful Tips for Making the Leap from Marathoner to Ultrarunner

Note from Matt:  Last year when I chose the course for my first 100-miler, one of the criteria I looked for was “fair.” I didn’t want the easiest, flattest course around, but at the same time, it is 100 miles, so why make it tougher than it needs to be? 

Next month, Doug Hay will be running his first 100. But in choosing his race, he didn’t look for “fair.” Instead, he went with the race that most inspired him, the Massunutten Mountain Trails 100 — which happens to be one of the toughest on the East Coast. Not a coincidence.

This choice perfectly sums up Doug’s passion for ultrarunning and trails. And it’s the reason I asked him to answer a question that people ask me all the time these days: “I’ve run a marathon, but now I’d like to run an ultra. Any advice?”

Above all, the difference between marathoning and ultrarunning is the mindset, and Doug’s post will help you to understand that shift. 

Here’s Doug.

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When it comes to running ultramarathons — any distance over 26.2 miles — most people don’t have a clue where to start. The distance sounds so much longer, the courses so much tougher, and the word “ultra” that much more hard core.

I know that before running my first ultra, I worried about things like:

  • If I train for an ultramarathon, will I end up rotting alone somewhere deep in the woods?
  • Will training for an ultramarathon take over my life and piss off all my family and friends?
  • How do I even begin training for such a distance?

Questions like these were filling my head with doubt, and I know these same doubts are common based on the questions I get from runners and readers.

The good news is that the leap from marathoner to ultramarathoner isn’t as big as most runners believe. With a few key distinctions and (maybe) a little extra mileage, you can be well on your way to adding “ultra” to your running accomplishment list.

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4 Running Mistakes that Keep You Stuck and Frustrated

Sometimes, you just need someone to give it to you straight.

Occasionally Jason Fitzgerald and I do 30-minute coaching calls with new Run Your BQ members to help them build some initial momentum when they join our program. I’ve done a few dozen of these calls now, and in the process I’ve noticed something striking:

Almost every runner’s frustrations are the result of the same small handful of mental mistakes.

The good news is they’re fixable: all but one of these mistakes has an easy, obvious solution, once you’ve identified the problem. And that’s what I hope this post will help you to do.

I’ll repeat: at least one of these mistakes is to blame for the frustrations of just about every single runner I’ve talked to on a coaching call. If you’re not getting the results you want, look extra hard at yourself. Be brutally honest, and see if one of these mistakes isn’t behind your lack of progress.

Awareness of the problem is the first step to fixing it, and a huge one. After that, I’ve suggested a solution to each to get you started on the path to correcting it. The rest, of course, is up to you. 

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