Strength & Speed

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S&S Articles

Why Are Some Amateur Marathoners Fat?

Posted by Strength & Speed on June 2, 2016 at 8:35 AM

     Run a marathon. Lose weight. The first is a common bucket list item and the second is a common New Year resolution. Both items seem to line up well when planning out your goals for the season. Many people think if I train for and run a marathon, I am going to shed a ton of pounds and end up as a lean running machine. Fast forward four months and the same runners barely appear different even after months of high volume running. What gives? I thought I was burning more calories so I should be thinner now?

     While you can lose significant weight by running, it is often not as much as most people imagine for a couple of reasons. The first is diet. Your body composition and diet have a lot more to do with your daily diet than most people think. It is easier to maintain a healthy diet combined with moderate exercise than to try and use extreme levels of exercise with a poor diet. Your body composition and weight is determined by your food choices more than most people think. For example, when I used to diet for bodybuilding shows, I worked out a lot less than I do for training for World’s Toughest Mudder or other ultra-races. If it was as simple as calories in/calories expended, I would be leaner when training for WTM. Not all calories are created equal and eating 300 calories of Skittles will have a different effect on your body than eating 300 calories of chicken breast.

     The second reason is running makes you hungry. High running volumes cause a rise in hormones that make you want to eat more. This is why after a several hour run, you may not be able to resist ordering dessert or that Venti Frappuccino. Sure you just burned off a ton of calories but refer back to the first point that it is not as simple as calories in/calories expended. The rise in appetite may offset the extra calories you burned. Add in the rationalization that every runner does, “I just ran 10 miles, I deserve that extra piece of cake” and suddenly your body composition is no longer trending in the desired direction.

     The final reason is that high volumes of running can also drop testosterone levels. Testosterone helps keep your body fat percentage at lower levels. If, like most runners during marathon training, you stop lifting weights you lose the associated spike in testosterone accompanied with strength training, and your testosterone levels are even lower than normal.

     All of these aspects in conjunction with each other creates a compounding effect, which leads to a runner who is either has no weight loss or has a skinny/fat appearance (low body weight but high body fat percentage). To avoid this trap you should do the following:

     1. Continue to eat healthy foods just at a higher volume during endurance training.

     2. Rarely indulge in post-run cheat foods. Not every run warrants an ice cream Sunday as a reward. If you are going to indulge try to eat your cheat food immediately before, during or immediately after your run. Furthermore, try to limit post-run indulgence to a particularly long run as in 2+ hours.

     3. Strength train twice a week to help spike testosterone levels.

     4. Remember not all calories are created equal.


Evan's Ultra-Running Rules

Posted by Strength & Speed on February 20, 2016 at 9:55 AM

     Let me preface this by saying, that these rules are from my own personal experience and are focused towards new ultra-runners. Since I have very few friends that participate in more than two ultras in their lifetime, I have not had a lot of other data to back up these claims. However, I found they hold true for me:

1. If you can run ½ the distance of the race, you can cover the full distance.

      I created this one after dipping my toe into the ultra-running pool. My first couple of ventures in ultra-running, I did minimal training and then just sucked it up on race day. While it does create some memorable experiences and proud finishes, it also leaves some emotional scars I do not care to repeat. My longest continuous bout of running prior to my first 40 miler was during a marathon (which I ran about 20 miles of). My first 50 miler, was after my longest continuous bout of running was a marathon. I know if I can run half the distance, I can finish the full distance. Of note, the finish will not be pretty, but you can get there.

2. If you want to finish without completely falling apart, your weekly mileage needs to be at or greater than the race distance.

     How was my first 100 miler? Awful is the answer. Here is a link. I often do a lot of cross training including cycling and weight lifting. However, cross training cannot replicate the amount of damage done to your tiny supporting muscles that get trashed during an ultra. My highest race distance and weekly training volume distance were both around 75 prior to my first 100 miler. I “coasted” through the first 78 miles of my hundo. I finished the first 75 miles in 14 hours. Around mile 78 I thought, “Wow my hip flexors are hurting”. My experience went from uncertain to bad in about 10 min. It took me another 10 hours to finish those last 25 miles. I think a higher weekly training volume would have made the difference to build strength in all those tiny ancillary muscles that support forward movement.


3. Eat often.

     I have never finished an ultra event and thought “wow, I am so stuffed, I probably should not have eaten so much.” Granted, I do have a calm stomach and rarely get stomach pain when running. As long as I am eating foods my body is used to, I have never had problems. Your body is churning through fat, carbs and protein to fuel its movement. While you cannot realistically replace all calories burned, you can replace enough not to feel absolutely terrible. When it comes to eating, I would rather overeat then under-eat. Once you hit that wall from under-eating, the emotional impact is hard to recover from.


4. When you think you are going to slow, slow down a little.

      This one is definitely not mine. I cannot exactly remember where I first heard this, perhaps it was Hal Koerner’s Guide to Ultra-running or possibly just from a ultra-running website. Every race regardless of the distance starts with people who have no concept of pacing, whether it is a 5k or a 50k. Unless you have a previous PR in that distance, chances are you are starting out too fast. Ultras are so long you can always make up the time in the second half. Once you start crushing out some negative splits, you can start picking up your pace at the beginning.


5. Always run your own race. 

      If someone is in better shape then you, the ultra will definitely reveal it. While ultra races require a strong degree of mental toughness, it also requires you to stay within your body’s capability. Trying to match pace with someone out of your league is a recipe for disaster. Unless you are racing for the podium and you know you are close in physical ability, just run your own race. Notice it says racing for the podium AND similar physical ability. Running your may get your placed higher than trying to match someone else’s pace. Each person has a different body, different percentages of fast/slow twitch muscle fibers and different fueling strategies, so moving at exactly the same rate is not always best.


What if Super Heroes played Strength & Speed based sports? Part 2: Speed

Posted by Strength & Speed on May 18, 2015 at 10:35 AM

If you missed last week’s post, make sure you check it out. Last week we covered what happens when superheroes enter strength based sports, this week we will focus on the ones that entered speed based sports including track, ultra-running, cycling, triathlon and obstacle course racing.


6. The Flash- The Flash as a gifted runner sets his sights on improving the world record in various track events. He decides to stay away from road racing because he realizes he will get disqualified if uses his speed combined with vibration to run through walls. After crushing world records for a couple of years, he happily retires with a lifetime shoe contract from Nike. Usain Bolt falls into a deep depression after seeing all of his records shattered and begins to follow his reported diet from the Beijing Olympics. Bolt ends up eating McDonalds Chicken McNuggets and Fries for every meal of the day for the next 10 years. Bolt now lives in Kingston, Jaimaca and has gained so much weight that he is no longer recognizable by the public.

7. Quicksilver- To avoid having to compete with the Flash in running, Quicksilver takes up cycling and excels. He becomes the first person to win all three grand tours (Vuelta, Giro and Tour De France) in one year. His high rate of cycling burns through glycogen at an obscene rate. His domestiques are required to take non-stop trips back to the team car to refill food and water for Quicksilver. After a couple of years of riding, there are no domestiques capable or willing to keep up with the champion. He retires from the sport after winning his 5th Tour de France.


8. Spiderman- Possessing a mix of acrobatic skill and speed, Spiderman throws his hat into the Obstacle Course Racing Circuit. He does not have the dramatic impact as the other superheroes in their chosen sport. Although Spiderman is great on obstacle heavy courses, he typically does not win on run heavy course losing to athletes like Ryan Atkins and Hobie Call. When interviewed after the Obstacle Course Racing World Championship about the difficulty of the Platinum Rig, he seems confused and states, “I just swung from the first handhold to the last and skipped everything in between.”

9. Green Lantern- Since Green Lantern’s strength is based on willpower, Green Lantern enters the sport that requires the most willpower, ultra-running. He equals the records of athletes like Scott Jurek and manages to win Badwater 135 along with the Leadville 100 in the same year. Eventually he enters World’s Toughest Mudder as a team. His three teammates are three copies of himself that he created using his power ring. The move is questioned by Tough Mudder and he is subsequently banned, requiring him to turn in his first place prize. Upset, Green Lantern returns the following year with other members of the Green Lantern Corps becoming the first team to win the Orange/Black 125 mile bib.


10. Daredevil- Daredevil decides to use his physical ability and disability of blindness to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. He teams up with fellow lawyer Amelia Boone to form an all lawyer World’s Toughest Mudder team. To round out their team all lawyer, they recruit She-Hulk who comes out of her retirement from sports to raise money for a good cause and Two Face. The team raises a record amount of money and places second behind Green Lantern’s team. Luckily, they are later bumped up to first place after Green Lantern is disqualified. Two-Face insists on flipping a coin instead of rolling the dice when he approaches The Gamble (a game where a roll of a die determines if you bypass the obstacle or go through electroshock therapy). His team is very unhappy because it worsens the odds to ½ instead of 1/6. When asked about the experience, Amelia states, “It was great raising money for a good cause but I feel like Two-Face is bipolar.”

11. Ironman- Ironman decides to follow his name and enter the Ironman World Championship in Kona. He skips qualifying by having Stark Industries sponsor the event and leveraging his celebrity status. All of sudden celebrity athletes like Chef Ramsy racing seem like less of a big deal. On his first attempt at the championship, his iron suit sinks to the bottom of the ocean. Disgruntled and embarrassed with a DNF, he vows to return the following year. In a sport that obsesses over technological improvements via things like lighter and faster bikes, Ironman is in his element. He builds a suit capable of swimming incredibly fast using propellers and that has built in wheels for the bike section. To show that he is not just a “guy in a suit”, he actually runs the marathon portion of the triathlon. After taking just 40 minutes to “swim” 2.4 miles and “bike” 112 miles, he sets off on the marathon minus his suit. Seven hours later, Ironman sets a world record by finishing the run with a time of 7 hrs 40 min. People are disgusted by his 7 hour run and call the act a travesty to the sport. Ironman still counts it as a victory and gets the “M-dot” symbol engraved into the calf of his suit. Afterwards he goes back to Stark Industries and continues to sell ultra-light bicycle parts to the triathlon community ensuring a steady stream of income for the foreseeable future.


That concludes our article on Superheroes in Strength & Speed sports. I hope you have enjoyed it. If you have any other superheroes you think would provide interesting adventures into the sporting world, feel free to post it to our Facebook page.


Winter Training Techniques

Posted by Strength & Speed on February 21, 2015 at 1:45 PM

It is 10 degrees out, it is snowing outside and your mind is telling you not to hit your training goals and to take a rest day instead. While in some instances, like safety concerns, this might be the right choice. However, most of the time there is realistically no danger except maybe a threat to your will to exercise. Here are three simple techniques to help you get through this winter training period.

1. Dress in multiple moisture wicking layers: The multiple layers allow you to adjust your outfit as you continue your run. I often leave the door for winter workouts with a hat, gloves, a light neck gaiter and several thin layers. As I heat up during the run, I can easily remove the neck gaiter or the hat for immediate cooling. The multiple upper body layers can also be removed and tied around your shoulder or upper body. Part of dressing in multiple layers is covering exposed skin, which will help increase your feeling of warmth.


2. Conduct a Warm Up Prior to Your Workout: Often my first mile is a loop that takes me back by my car. This first mile allows me to wear a sweatshirt or additional heavy layer for the first mile. Typically, after a mile of running my body has reached its comfortable state. Having the first mile near your car makes starting the run significantly less painful. Another option is actually doing your warm up indoors on a treadmill, stationary bike or just by doing calisthenics. This heats up your body so when you step outside, it will actually feel nice as opposed to freezing. Just be sure not to get too hot, which could result in being covered in sweat that would freeze when you go outside.  One recommendation is coffee mixed with Nocciola Hammer Gel (aka chocolate-hazelnut flavored gel) providing a warm caffeine boost with complex carbohydrates. Another option, which is a variation on oatmeal that Christy Griesse uses is: 1 scp Hammer vanilla Whey + 1 tsp chia seeds + ½ cup oatmeal + 1 small banana + cinnamon. This provides carbs, a warm substance for your stomach and protein to prevent muscle breakdown while exercising.


3. Don’t Be a Pu**y: This is the hardest one for most people but it is the most important. Going outside in sub freezing temperatures everyday requires a certain amount of mental resolve. To assist with not being a pu**y you need to change running in winter weather away from a decision and to a requirement. By changing this from a decision to a requirement, it takes away the not running option. I view getting up to a run as a requirement that I have to do, not a choice. Furthermore, once your realize that the uncomfortable cold feeling will go away after the first ten minutes this should become less of an issue. If this is too politically incorrect for you, use Travis Faherty’s saying “Embrace the Suck” instead.

Other than that, just be sure to train safely during the winter months. The icy roads can make it dangerous for runners and drivers alike. You may want to invest in traction devices for your shoes like Yak Trax, which help grip the icy ground. I also recommend carrying a cell phone in the event of an emergency, wearing brightly colored clothing and wearing your Road ID. A Road ID will ensure any accidents that occur will be quickly and safely resolved. Best of luck training….and remember the importance of step 3.


Have We Cheapened the Value of Race Medals?

Posted by Strength & Speed on January 19, 2015 at 3:35 PM

I wrote a good portion of this article a couple of weeks ago, but I woke up this morning and decided it was time to finish it. After my alarm going off, I took a moment to check Facebook to see what was new. This morning I woke up to see “The Color Run’s” advertisement for post-race goody bag. For participating in the Color Run, the company gives you a t-shirt, a headband (similar to Tough Mudder) and a medal. This was the last straw for me…

If you are reading this article chances are you are like me and have a bunch of medals from various races over the last couple of years. My race medals range in event type, distance and even sport. I have medals from ½ iron distance triathlons, iron distance triathlons, marathons, ultra-marathons, bodybuilding events and ones for winning my age group in shorter races. It took me about a decade to collect the majority of these medals. Most of them represent hours of active racing, even my fastest marathon still takes almost three hours. Three hours is a sizeable commitment regarding both physical and mental stress.

Over the last couple of years, I have also started to collect race medals at an increasing rate. This includes various Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) events, half marathons and even some 10k road races. Even though I am only racing marginally more, the number of medals has disproportionately increased. It is not because I am placing higher but because more races are giving out medals. While I am proud of my results in these events and proud of the hard work I put in to achieve my placing, I wonder if we gone overboard?

I realize this may be a very unpopular article since everyone likes getting medals. However, I think giving out a medal for every event might “cheapen” the value of medals in general. I have medals from courses that were 3 miles in length and barely had any obstacles. That is like 20 minutes of exercise and is shorter than 99.9% of my workouts. If the course were any shorter, it would barely be considered a race. Try and find a race that is less than 3.1 miles, you will have a hard time except for the occasional one-mile event put on my serious road-running clubs. The majority of obstacle racers can complete these distances with relative ease and be strong enough to go back and complete the same course the following day with an equivalent time. In fact, I have earned medals on some mornings and then gone back to the gym or road later in the afternoon to get another workout. For me the Color Run’s medal is the last straw. The event is not even timed!!! You can literally take all day to finish the 3.1 miles and still receive a medal.

Some races have taken different approach that I appreciate. Tough Mudder views their events as a challenge and not a race, hence the lack of timing chips. As a finishing prize, Tough Mudder gives out headbands to represent your accomplishment. The only race that Tough Mudder runs is the World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM). WTM is both a challenge and a race as dictated from the Tough Mudder creed. Despite being possibly the most difficult event I have ever completed, they continue to stick to their roots and give out finishing headbands. Even the overall winner gets just a headband…well that and an oversized check for $10,000. They have also added mileage bibs to represent your accomplishment, which I also love. It is something different to represent a different type of accomplishment.

Ultra races, specifically 100 milers, give out belt buckles. Although in the past couple of years, I have seen belt buckles start filtering down to other distance ultra races like 50 mile or 50k. When I started racing ultras, the only belt buckle I could find was for a 100 miler. Other races like the Death Race give out a skull as their finisher’s prize. I have also received some other unique finisher/participation prizes such as a blanket, a backpack or hat. The point is I like unique prizes for unique types of events.

Do I think this will change and we will see a reverse in the medal trend? No chance. Even though OCR and other racing events are sports when it comes down to it, they are fundamentally businesses. Businesses do their best to make money and people like medals when they finish races. To combat what I view as a devaluation of race medals, I have started organizing my medals by sport. I put my 17 marathon medals in one area, my two iron distance triathlon finisher medals in a different area and my four half iron distance triathlon medals in a third. I have further separated what I view as some of my more “valuable” medals. Things like my Boston Marathon Medal, 3rd place Overall in the Andrew Jackson Marathon, OCR World Championships Medal and Warrior Dash World Championship medal hold a special place on my shelf.

For some people, a 3.1 mile obstacle race may be a huge accomplishment and they should be proud. However, if the prize was something else besides a medal, when that same person went to a longer or harder event that resulted in earning a medal, the accomplishment would be that much sweeter. I just believe that not every race deserves a medal and not every piece of exercise should be rewarded with a tangible gift. Often the value of racing and exercising is the experience itself and not a piece of medal.

Am I being elitist? I think some people will say so, but you need to draw a line somewhere. Where is it going next as companies try to draw in more racers? Maybe next is a race where everyone gets a trophy. Normally only the top three get a trophy, but if medals are drawing in racers imagine the positive effect of everyone getting a trophy. Or how about a gym where every day that you show up u get a medal. Thanks for showing up today…here is a medal for putting in a marginal amount of effort. These ideas may sound ridiculous to you, but just as you might view this article as elitist, someone might view your opinion of this last paragraph as elitist.

What are your opinions? Are we devaluing the value of our accomplishments by rewarding every piece of physical activity? Or is the value of the medal so intrinsic that it does not even matter?


Should Boston Allow Charity Runners?

Posted by Strength & Speed on January 17, 2015 at 9:40 AM

Boston is one of the few marathons in the world that requires qualification to race. Those who have run the race after qualification wear their jacket, shirt or hat with pride as a mark of being a serious competitive runner. The current standard for males requires running a marathon in 3:05:00 or faster as a 35-year-old male. The qualification times vary with age and gender. Getting a BQ or Boston Qualifying time is the goal of numerous marathon runners all over the world. However, due to high volumes of requests to run, they have implemented a rolling standard. Therefore, if you run faster than 3:05 they will rank you for entry to the race.


Current Boston Qualifying Standards


In 2014, 1,900 runners that requested entry after qualifying were denied race bibs. That does not count the number of people who wanted to race but maybe missed the window to apply for registration. This also does not account for those that wanted to race, but did not know their schedule 8 months out as is required to apply for the race. It also does not account for people planning to qualify in the 8 months leading up to the race.

Of the approximately 27,000 runners who race annually, 5,000 are non-qualifiers who receive entry from sponsors of the race, partners or charities. To be more specific about half of the 5000 are charity runners. The entries from sponsors and partners will always be there because they are funding the race.

The question is, should there even be charity runners in the Boston Marathon? There are plenty of other races to run if you want to run a marathon and are not fast enough for Boston. No matter how much money I raise, I cannot race in the Olympic Marathon or stand on the field of the Super Bowl. Why do we treat the Boston Marathon differently even though it is the most prestigious marathon? (It is arguable if winning the Olympic Marathon or Boston is more prestigious for a runner.)

True, they do raise a lot of money for charity but that money could just as easily be raised for another race. Most of the people I have met that think charity runners should be allowed, as not runners themselves. If you are not a marathoner, try qualifying for Boston and let me know how that goes. If you ever reach that level, then you will truly understand the amount of work it takes to achieve to qualify. Then I would like to ask you again if charity runners should be given entry?

My Boston Marathon Finisher's Medal (blue and yellow ribbon on hanging from the trophy on the left)

Below is the rest of my race medals.  

Notice that my Boston Marathon Medal is separated from my other medals and placed with my trophies for age group, weight class and overall wins.

Medals from marathons, half iron tris, full iron tris and a couple of age group wins for 5k/10ks. 

The athlete side of me says absolutely no charity runners. The more compassionate side thinks a small number are okay. But are charity runners worth the expense of excluding qualified runners from the race? I know the first year I qualified, I thought I will never be able to run that fast again and I would have been devastated if I did not get into Boston. My solution would be to let the Boston Qualifiers decide, since only they truly understand the work required to qualify. To do this, it could be as simple as adding an additional question to the race registration website. While I like this answer, I do not think it will ever occur. The amount of positive publicity that Boston receives for raising all that money is something I do not see them ever giving up. To counter the hostile feelings towards the Boston Marathon, other organizations have started their own races that are qualification only. The Gansett Marathon advertises itself as the ONLY qualification only marathon. This race, taking place in Rhode Island, even upped the standard by having qualification times that are 5 minutes faster than Boston’s published times. In 2012, there was also a half marathon in Salt Lake City, Utah called The Prestige Marathon. The Prestige Marathon had qualification times slightly faster than Boston Marathon race pace but as of 2015, it appears the half marathon and now full marathon is open to all runners. The race has also been renamed the Utah Valley Marathon. The qualification process apparently fell short of its goal, probably due to a lack of applicants.

What are your thoughts? So should we let charity runners and non-qualifiers in?


Myths of Running

Posted by Strength & Speed on January 12, 2015 at 9:30 AM

As a trainer and an athlete, I get questions about running frequently. Runners making the transition from recreational to competitive athlete often believe these myths. These are some of the “Myths of Running”:

Myth #1: Just go as hard as you can all the time


This is also a common misconception with new runners. I have also heard this from runners who do not train frequently enough. The thought is, “if I just go 100% all the time then I will maximize performance”. If you are only running once or twice a week then yes, you can use this method as long as you still have even pacing across your run. However, if you are following a training plan and running three or more times a week this will quickly lead to burnout.

Without going into a complicated lesson biology lesson, the body has several different energy systems to improve running performance. These can best be trained by running at paces that are comfortable (stressing aerobic system), uncomfortable (at around10k speed to stress your lactate threshold) and very uncomfortable (to stress your max, similar to 5k pace, VO2 max). Even on short races like 5ks, your aerobic system plays a large part in performance. That being said most runs should work on aerobic system development. This is done by running at slower than max pace for long periods. For example, to maximize this it would be better to run 6 miles two days in a row at 8:30 mile pace than it would be to run 7:45 one day and be too tired to run the next day. By reducing your pace, you can often add more volume, which results in greater aerobic gain. Stressing the other systems should also be done but not every day. Once a week for VO2max (short intervals) and for lactate threshold (long intervals or faster paced runs) is enough stress for most people without leading to burnout.

The bottom line is you do not need a PR on every training run. Save that energy for speed workouts and races for your best results.

Myth #2: Banking time


Many people line up to the start of races with this plan: If I just run the first half of the race 10 sec faster per mile than my goal pace, I can run 10 sec per mile slower on the second half to account for fatigue. This plan seems logical, right? Wrong. The idea of "banking time" is a fallacy.

If you look at the best running performances, they are equal pacing across the board or have a slightly negative split. Through data from countless elite performances and from personal experience, even pacing is the best way to run. As your body fatigues toward the second half of the race, you will have to put in more effort to sustain that pace. Running too fast at the beginning creates debt, which is difficult to recover from without severe slowing.

Some people may cite some of their best races where they ran a positive split. Well, I would argue that an even split across the board would have resulted in an even faster time. The longer the race, the more important this becomes. All of my fast marathons were even or slightly negative splits. So let everyone run off too fast at the start, passing them later in the race will only fuel your speed further as they crash and burn.


The Most Common Mistake by Runners and Weightlifters

Posted by Strength & Speed on December 28, 2014 at 12:15 AM

I had trouble deciding who the biggest offender of this common mistake is. I originally had it as a running mistake but I have seen an equal number of people at the gym making the same mistake. The biggest mistake most people make is lack of variation.  Everyone is guilty of it, me included. Once you develop a routine, it becomes hard to break from it. However, changing how you exercise, forcing your muscles to adapt is how you get stronger/faster. I will start with runners.

For runners, the issue usually lies with a lack of a training plan. Many runners will follow their "usual" running "schedule" and then not understand why their speed has hit a plateau. If you run 5 miles everyday year round at the same pace your body will eventually be able to handle the stress and stop adapting. In order to get faster or have more endurance you need to change either duration or intensity. This means add speed work or add mileage to your weekly total.

I see it all the time with people..."I can't get faster". Well what have you changed to improve? Nothing? Then why are you expecting a change? I have also heard "I've reached my physical limit". Bullshit. You may have reached your physical limit running 15 or 20 miles a week. A change in training will cause better adaptation. I change my marathon-training plan every year adding speed, distance or both, which is why I am faster every year. I cut a 1hr 30 min from my first marathon (which I didn't train for). My gains get smaller every year but they are still there. I cut 8 min from my marathon time from 3 years ago and cut 2 minutes last year. This is with alternating my focus on running and weightlifting. A pure running approach will lead to better improvements.

Next on the list is weightlifters but this is more common with non-competitive weight lifters. Most serious bodybuilders or power lifters do not make this mistake as often since they are usually following a specified training plan.  Many gym goers will follow the same exercises for the same rep scheme week after week and year after year without much improvement. Your workout routine needs variation to grow. That does not mean change you exercises every week but it should change over the course of months. One technique I found useful in the past is to pull out a several week workout plan from a magazine or book then follow it through to completion. Afterwards I will switch up the plan following a different plan. This ensures I am not just falling into the habit of following the same routine month after month.

As a drug free athlete the part of the year I make the most lifting gains comes from following a power lifter style workout for a couple of months (usually 5x5 for four weeks, then 3x3 for 2 weeks, then 2x2 for a week or two). Even though my main goal is body improvement and not strength gain, after a powerlifting phase I will be able to lift higher weights for 10 reps (resulting in a better body). This is especially important for drug free athletes since strength gains do not come as easy. If you regularly attend the gym and have never followed a powerlifting split for a couple of weeks you need to try it. The strength gains you will receive are significant. These gains will provide benefit regardless of your goal.

So make sure you change up your routine if you want to see gains. This is not just for exercise routine but also diet. More protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats will result in muscle gain. Keep changing things up to avoid stagnation. Everyone is guilty of lack of variation, me included. If I chose a more challenging plan, I could improve more. If you look at your long-term running or lifting schedule and none of it pushes you out of your comfort zone you are wrong. So push yourself if you want to see a change. Remember, if you are not actively trying to improve, chances are you are slowly sliding backwards.


The 100 Mile Run

Posted by Strength & Speed on December 22, 2014 at 2:00 PM

“You just have surgery?” I was asked at work last Monday morning. “Nope” just ran 100 miles this weekend. My unfamiliar coworker kept walking not sure of what to believe. Now that I retell the story, I understand how ridiculous it sounds to most people. He probably thought I was being sarcastic. I kept walking at a pace not much faster than a crawl…and best of all…I was walking backwards. After straining my hip muscles, I could no longer properly walk forwards. Hence, my extremely slow moonwalk down the hall to my office. I continued to get weird stares until I finally made it to my seat.   I then eased myself down like I was carefully putting down a priceless vase.

My 100 Mile Race journey actually started in college. When I was a student, I heard of two of the older members of my fraternity that had run from Baltimore to Washington D.C., a total of 40 miles. Not wanting to be outdone by legacy fraternity members, my roommate and I woke up one Saturday morning and started our own journey. Forty miles later after a brief lunch at Arby’s, we arrived at Pershing Square in Washington D.C. after 9:59:44. Hardly an impressive time but we were operating unsupported and we stopped for about an hour for lunch.

Sitting at the bar the following week, we decided that we needed to run 100 miles. Why? I do not know, it just seems like a nice round number. It seems to make more sense than running 99 or 101 miles. It is a number that would test the mental and physical limits of the human body. Fast forward about a decade and I still had not run the 100 miles as I planned. I had run a couple of other ultras though including a 40 mile trail run and a 50 mile race.  I had also run two marathons in two days, which is supposed to be harder than just doing a 50 mile run.  As I prepared for the World’s Toughest Mudder (WTM), I figured why not add on a 100 miler a month later since I will already be in ultra distance shape. Plus, the 100 miles will not seem as bad compared to WTM because there will not be any obstacles.  What I did not account for was the mental fatigue and wear on my joints that comes with running 75 miles (my distance at WTM). After spending 24+ hours racing, it takes as much of a mental toll as it does a physical toll  Regardless, I was already signed up for the 100 miler and it had to be done.

Starting Line of Brazos Bend 100 30 min Before the Start (a little quieter than your typical start line)

Brazos Bend 100 was four loops of a 25 mile trail. The trail was mostly hard packed dirt, some pavement and the last 10 miles of every loop was horse trails. The horse trails varied in terrain from smooth to rough. After the first 10 miles I noticed my ankles felt like they had run 20 already. Most likely a byproduct of not recovering fully from WTM, regardless, I continued. At the 25 mile mark 3:49 had elapsed and I thought a sub 20 hour finish was possibly in reach but way too early to tell.

At the 50 mile mark my pace had slowed and I crossed the line at about 8:30. I was not feeling as good as I thought I should feel and figured I would probably end up between 20 and 22 hours. Up until then, I had run the entire time. I continued running until mile 52. At that point, I realized my run was probably not much faster than a walk. I switched to a run/walk method alternating about every ¼ of a mile. I used this method for the next 25 miles, finishing 75 miles total in just under 14 hours. Things were on pace on pace to finish sub 20 and I was feeling confident having gained a second wind.

50 Miles Complete

I continue my run/walk method until mile 78, when I went to run and nothing happened. “That is weird” I thought. My pace for the last 25 miles was averaging 12:30 and as long as I stayed below 13:40, I knew I would hit sub 20 hours. I continued walking and tried to run again but nothing happened. My hips felt unusually tight but any specific pain was lost in a sea of pain signals. When you run ultra distances, you are getting so many pain signals from your legs, it can be hard to tell if something is actually wrong. My pace went from a 12:30 to a 20:00 min/mile for the next two miles. Then it dropped again to a 30:00 min/mile. I called my dad, aka my pacer, over to me to walk with me. My hips were screaming in pain and even a slow walk was uncomfortable. A run was out of the question, I no longer cared about time, it was all about finishing now.

With 17 miles remaining and my hips in pain, I continued a slow walk. My father had to listen to me grunt in pain for the next 8 hours as I slowly moved along the course. I went from 7th place back to 26th as I stumbled through the night. The worst part was even at mile 92, with only 8 miles remaining you can do simple math to figure out what time you will finish. For me, after covering 92 miles, I still had another 4 hours of walking left….brutal. I eventually finished with a time of 24:16. Significantly slower than planned, but I finished. I think if I had not done WTM the month before, I would have come away with a better time, but you never know.

Getting Picked Up From the Airport

For a couple of days I thought I might have seriously strained or ripped a muscle. I could not lift my left leg off the ground and had to be helped around the airport in a wheelchair. That about sums up the story since there is not much excitement in plodding through the woods for 24 hours. I did get to see some alligators sunbathing as promised by the race website. I even saw some at night with their orange eyes glowing as I shined my headlamp into the marsh right off the running path.

Finisher's Belt Buckle

So why run 100 miles? For me it is about the belt buckle.  Just kidding, although I do wear it almost all the time.  For me it is about testing yourself. The ability to push yourself until you find a personal wall, break through that wall and keep going sets new upper limits for your body’s performance. So keep training and look for your own walls to break through.  Whether it is 50 miles, 26.2 miles, 3.1 miles or maybe it is just making it around the block without stopping.  Distance is relative to the runner and what is far for some may only be scratching the surface for others. Remmber, the human body is a racecar that is designed to be pushed to the limits and should not be kept motionless in the house.


Looking for the next Born to Run? Here it is....

Posted by Strength & Speed on December 21, 2014 at 6:45 PM

Book Review of The Sports Gene by David Epstein

  If you are looking for the next book that is going to be the talk of athletic circles, the Sports Gene by David Epstein is what you are looking for.  His book examines why certain people seem to be born to excel in specific sports.  This book is fantastic and once I picked it up, I could not put it down.  This is one of the few books I have completed and immediately thought I need to read that again because I know I did not retain all that information.

The author goes through details on why some people just seem to come out of the womb good at certain sports. While he does not ever identify “the sports gene”, he does explain what types of characteristics cause people to excel over a variety of sports.  The sports gene is actually a complex combination of genes that helps select certain people to excel in a specific sport.  If you are looking for the one magic sports gene, you will be waiting a long time.  The complexity of the human body is far beyond only one gene determining our athletic ability.

Book Available Here: The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance


My favorite part was his explanation on why Kenyans are such good runners.   There are numerous factors that make them good at running which have all been stated before, including an entire population with running as their primary sport, diets that result in lean body types (unlike America), training in the “sweet spot” of elevation and running as a means of transportation.   Additionally, genetically they tend to produce children in the higher end of VO2 max and lactate thresholds.  However, what is most impressive is he offers an explanation that I have never heard before.  He states they have a genetic predisposition that produces ideal hip widths and limb lengths for running.   It truly was fascinating, but for details, you are going to have to read the book.

  He covers other sports too focusing on what genetically makes those athletes great.   The book explains why a shorter basketball player can still achieve success in the NBA based off a physical characteristic that is not his height.   He explains why baseball players seem to have super-human reflexes.  David also talks about how someone can walk into high jump and set records instantly despite the absence of practice.

  Another interesting part of the book is a section on the future of sports that could involve the next generation of doping, gene doping.  It presents some interesting possibilities and offers some unique questions on how to govern sports when the population has the ability to modify their genetic code. If you like the books Born to Run or Why We Run and/or the documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster, you will definitely like this book.  It is written not just for runners and strength athletes but includes details on numerous sports including baseball, basketball, high jump and several others.

  I strongly recommend this book to any athlete.  My only caution is that his studies are all centered on elite athletes.   However, 99% of us do not train at the elite athlete level.  This can lead people to believe that they cannot improve or achieve their goals because they were not born with the proper genetic gifts.  Through hard work, the goals set by 99% of the population can be achieved through hard work.   The bottom line is we will all show a marked improvement in performance through training.  Some of us start at a higher baseline making training seem easier but everyone benefits from training.  If you feel like you are a “slow responder” to training, do not let that stop you from training to the best of your ability.  Never let the genetic hand you were dealt be your limiting factor.

If you want to hear more from David Epstein before buying this book, check out his Ted Talks.  The video only scratches the surface of some of the topics he talks about.  It is like reading a portion of one chapter of his book.  

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