We often speak about training our body. We do long runs and speed workouts! We talk about AT work vs Vo2Max work. We figure out the right mileage and the right recovery, but how often do we train our brain to be ready to race??? My guess is not often and definitely not nearly enough. When I hear runners tell me "Coach I gave 100%" Its not that I don't believe them its that the human brain has a function called "Perceived Perspective". This means that based on how you train the brain you may think 100% is all you can give. Its not too different from having a huge lung capacity meaning you can breathe in tons of air but if you VO2Max is low you will use very little of that air or more importantly of the oxygen which is what you need to run fast. So it is true with the brain that X amount of effort may feel like 100% but a brain that is not trained will feel that at 85%. Once you train the brain and prepare yourself to know how to envision a race the pain associated with it you will find that extra gear or that extra effort to go what often we say is 110% but in reality its just getting closer to your true 100% ability. I have see runners with much more ability not race as well as runners with less ability but with great mental conditioning. So now the question is how do we use visualization to prepare for a race.
How to use visualization
After a bit a break we are back to day with one of my favorite topics. I am often asked what components make up a great runner. There are many ways to look at this and how to answer this question. You can look at it from strictly a physiological perspective in terms of Lung capacity, VO2Max ratings, muscle fiber ratios, and other similar factors. Or you can look at it from a more "soft skills" perspective (by the way I hate this term as runners are anything but soft) such as coachabilty, work ethic, and drive. At some point it's a combination of all these factors and one can debate which is more important or what order they should be prioritized but today I want to talk to you about one component that is not only over looked but down right neglected. Those that can master this piece can become great runners, those that can't truly won't regardless of all the other factors combined. I'm talking about "Mental Strength" and its effect on the success of any runner from a world class record holder to a first time 5K weekend warrior. The mind will be a factor in how you succeed at running and many other aspects of your life.
So let's talk about what I mean by mental strength. I am not referring to how smart we are or even how smart we strategize for our races or tactics. This is important as well but we will leave that to another day. For now I'm referring to what occurs in your mind (some would say heart) when you are racing. Those spooky voices we all get that say "I can't do this" or "I'm too tired" or " I didn't get enough sleep last night" and so on. You all know what I'm talking about. The long list of 1000 excuses as to why we can't accomplish the goal we set out to do. If you think about there are many and they will be right there next to you next time you race and really every time you race. Just like the physical fatigue of any race the mental fatigue during a race is a real thing and can ruin any race for you if you let it. So if we follow this logic.... Why do we train endlessly to handle physical fatigue during a race but never really train to handle the mental fatigue? You would never think of not running a mile or very few before a big marathon race? Then why do we go into races with little to no preparation on the mental side? the answer is we shouldn't.
Mental Training should be a part of any runners training plan. By this we are not talking about taking a class or finding mental games to play on your phone. We are talking about getting your mind ready to respond to race conditions just the same way you do on the physical side. From a simple perspective we do hills to get ready for hills in races and run speed workouts to get ready to run faster at races so we need to figure out what our mind needs to be capable of doing in a race and duplicate that during practice. Some of these we do with out thinking. Hard AT runs are a great mental preparation for sustained long hard efforts. Speed work and hills prepare us to be confident we are ready to handle them and than in itself makes us mentally stronger. In addition to the occasion side benefits what can we do to specifically work the mind and get more mentally fit to race. If you are a coach you can do this with your athletes if you are self coach its a bit hard but still possible. Once in a while I like to add 1 or 2 additional reps during a speed workout but not tell my runners until after they have completed what they thought was the last rep. Some of you right about now are thinking "Evil Coach!" Here is the thinking behind this. Runners then to rush harder on the last rep. My runners call it "sandbagging". Then they all collapse in the finish area and take a breathe before starting the cool-down. I used to think this was a bad thing but in reality its the prefect setup. By asking them to run 1 more 400 or 1 more hill repeat I'm no only challenged their bodies push harder when exhausted but more importantly I'm going to show them that as hard as you think you are pushing in a race you can give just a little more, push just a little hard. The difference of the little more can mean the difference from 2nd place to winning or the missing a PR by 1 second and getting that PR. In reality that 1 extra rep won't make you all that much faster physically but the knowing that when you were asked to give me you were able to get off the ground and crank one more out and hit your time will make you mind stronger. You will gain confidence that when it get rough in a race and you think you can't give anymore you will find a way. The reason you will know it will work is why well because you have done it many times at practice already. So what if you don't have a coach to do this because the trick is not knowing when you will be asked to do more! You can do the following bring 3 pieces of paper folded up in your bag. One says 1 Extra Rep, one says 2 Extra Reps, and one says go home! When done pull a random one out of your bag and presto! This is just one example of how to become mentally tougher on your runs. You can run that extra mile you can throw in a mile at tempo pace at random times. None of which will get your injured or throw off your training but challenge you to respond and react to the "ask" when the race calls for more you will be ready to respond both physically and mentally!
This week we take you back to the summer of 2016. Not just to the Summer Olympics as many of you would expect but to courageous fight to make the Olympic team that took place a few weeks before. Imagine the sense set in Eugene Oregon, Hayward field with the eyes of an entire nation set on who would make the US Olympic team and represent out nation at the Rio 2016 Olympics. There is always drama and tons of heart pounding moments at every Olympic trials but nothing compares to what Brenda Martinez went through that year. For us who grew up in southern California like Brenda she is our local running hero and all of us were trilled to have the opportunity to watch her race and make the Olympic team in her bread and butter event the 800 meter race. Not a doubt in our mind that she would make the team and move on to Rio to represent the US. Well at least not until that faithful moment when our hearts stopped pounding and just stood still. You see during the 800 meter final at the trials she was just meters away from qualifying for the Olympics when her feet got tangled up with Alysia Montano which cause Brenda to stumble just enough to allow 4 runners to scream by her in the final meters of the race and kill her hopes of going to Rio. I clearly remember sitting in front of my TV in utter shock and dismay at what had occurred. How could this have happened? I was angry for her. I wanted someone disqualified or something to be done. But as it turned out there was no going back.
What was even more amazing and telling of Brenda's personality and character was what she did after the race. She didn't put blame or point fingers at anyone. She took the disappointment and pain she felt and absorbed it. She decided to take the higher road and now focus on her next race, the 1500. Most of us might have given up but not Brenda! She was out to get her rightful spot on that team before the trials end. The road will be harder but if anyone can do it Brenda could! Just days after the tragedy she moved past the prelims and the semis by winning her heats in the 1500 and was now back to this all familiar spot of 1 race to determine if she gets to run in Rio! And living up to the drama and trills of trials this was one for the all time memories. With 200 meters to go she was in 5th place and this was it. Do or die for Brenda and all her fans! She moved past one runner and now was neck and neck into the final meters of the race with Amanda Eccleston to the last 3rd place spot on the team. It all came down to the final lean and no one could tell who got it not even the runners themselves. Both leaning hard and stumbling through the line. It all came down to a photo finish and just like that Brenda had done what many thought was all over a few days before! Brenda Martinez had made the Olympic team in dramatic fashion! Hats off to Brenda for showing us that its never over and you should never give up!
As many of you read the title of this you are probably thinking "but coach that's a race and not a workout ???" And you are correct a time trial is a race but there is an added benefit to racing this particular distance as a workout as well. So let's cover the basics first. First of all racing too often can lead to burnout and poor performances in the end of the season or post season when it really matters so we have to keep this in mind to not race too often and too early. That being said there is a benefit we get from every race we run. Each time you race you you learn to pace better and learn to adjust many aspects of your racing. How fast can you start and not die out? How early can you start to sprint to get the best possible time? And more! Learning to race is key to those big races in the future.
So all that being said why should we do a 2 mile time trial as a workout? The key factor here is that at this distance most runners will run at the exact pace to work one of our systems we are always taking about. In previous articles we spoke about VO2Max and how doing 1K or 800 meter reps are a great way to work that system and improve your running overall. What occurs at the 2 mile distance is that racing all out will produce the same effect. When you race 2 miles you are running at Vo2Max and getting an additional training benefit added on to the other benefits we discussed. Now word of caution is don't over use this as a workout but know that its an alternative to through in to break up the routine. The benefit I should mention is that doing this early in the season will give you a gauge for how preseason work is going and allow you to make any adjustments. This gives you a baseline as well to measure your season improvement. So how do you put this all together? Here is how:
2 Mile Easy pace warm-up
2 Mile Time Trial
3-4 mile Easy Run afterwards
Finals notes is that I like to add some mileage afterwards as this is still a workout day and one item you can add as well is some short 200 meter strides after the to work on speed on tired legs. More on that in a future article.
This week I'm taking you back to a route I used to run a regular basis. Typically Saturday mornings but an occasional weekday after or before work. In the mad mad world we live its nice to have a spot like the Back Bay in Newport Beach to get away from the concrete jungle we live in. If you are in the area or want to take a drive for a weekend run this is a great choice. The area is huge and part of a nature reserve located in Newport Beach very close to the beach and right off of Pacific Coast Highway. On any given day you will see runners, cyclist, and hikers in the area. The loop that goes around the entire reserve is about 10 miles long which makes for a great place for a long run without hitting red lights or other reasons to stop. This loop as you would expect is called the Back Bay Loop. Its made up of almost entirely of paved route dedicated to runners, walkers etc so no need to deal with cars. There are some exception where for a short periods you are on a streets but its very manageable and not very much lights . Most of the route is flat with a few small hills. Depending on whether you prefer crowds or not this may be for you. At times there can be a number of people on this route which is nice to have company and even run into other runners. If you prefer to be out there on your own that may be difficult here unless you are out there very early. What you can't bet out there is the views of the bay through the entire run. Take that in as you are out there and make your run that much more enjoyable. There are many areas to park and start your run. Bayview park, Back Bay Lookout (along the street), and Upper Castaways Park to name a few. That's up to you. Next time you are in the Newport area stop by and give this route a run and see what you think. Here is the map to the Back Bay loop: Back Bay Loop Map
Today was a very busy day but the best kind of busy. The day started at 6:00 AM running with my WAR Elite Athlete who is also my assistant coach then 3 miles into our run we met up with another WAR Elite runner and the WAR running club and run 10 more miles! Then we rushed over to the Cal High All-Comers meet for some track and field action. Our Cal High distance team was running their first preseason meet and its always an exciting day to see how the season will start. They ran the 1600 meters race and the races were packed. 7 heats of 1600 meters in total and I was in 7th heaven watching each one of them. It wasn't just the fact that fast times were run but that we were now on a head on collision course with the season to come. As one heat after the other went off all I can think of is of the season to come and how will it go. You see this is my last season at the high school level and it pains me to start it as I know the end draws closer. I've been at Cal High for 5 years with 5 X seasons and a 5th track season on its way now. As sad as I am to be leaving I will cherish this last season for all its worth. As I watched the races today they seem to pass in slow motion as I pondered the future and the past all at once.
I thought about the kids that have come through Cal High over the last 5 years. Each one of them giving themselves to this program and in part to me as their coach. Some we got along right away others we struggled but in the end we found common ground in the love for our sport and the goals that we shared. Some were very fast runners others not as much. Some were very hard working runners others not as much. But each one of them taught me something new about coaching as all the athletes I have coached before them did. Each runners brings their unique personality and and perspective to our sport and from each I learn a little more how to bring out the best in them and future runners. In fact those that give me the most grey hair at the ones from which I learned the most. Every year I have a kid that wants to test me see how far they can push and seeing them grow and change year after year brings some much joy to my heart. You can see it the moment it "clicks" and they fully commit. The greatness is soon to follow and watching it is kind of magical!
So the season is off to a great start with 4 boys 4:32 or better and 2 already under 4:30 for the 1600. 2 girls in the low 5:30's and all groups including freshman off to great starts this early on. As I type this article I realized looking up on the winter all-comers top list that our 1-2 boys are now 1-2 in the State in the 1600!!! The most exciting part if that we haven't even raced our bread and butter race the 3200! Or as I often tell the kids " the 3200 is our baby!" I can't wait to see how we do next week running our baby! We are going to make this last season one to remember! Thanks again for reading my Saturday ramblings! Best of luck with all your running goals!
As runners we all know we should be eating carbohydrates and for the most part we do a good job of consuming enough of them but on the protein side we may be a bit behind the times on the amounts and quality of protein that we need. When speaking of protein and performance together we often thought of weightlifters or body builders that needed to bulk up but rarely in terms of runners. We had this old fashion image of that scrawny bony runner when we thought of performance. Truth is runners today are stronger and more powerful than their counterparts of 20 years ago. We know now that distance runners need power and speed as much as they need endurance and stamina. To this end you must consume a good amount of protein on a daily bases in fact preferred in every meal. Remember every time you workout and use any muscles it takes time and fuel to recovery those muscles and get them ready for the next workout or race. Protein is the building block for muscles and without it you will not get stronger and in turn faster.
So we are cleat that we need protein but how do we get that? I am not stating that you go out and buy a steak dinner each day. Most steak contains a high level of protein but also contains large amounts of fat. There are leaner cuts that help but we want to look at healthier options for runners to still get the right amount of protein but avoid other pitfalls like unhealthy fats and bad cholesterol. You want to gravitate towards other sources such as Fish, Chicken and Tuna. Did you know that per calorie Albacore Tuna contains more protein than almost any other food. In fact one can of white tuna can contain up to 41 grams of protein. That's only 220 calories with that much protein. How about nuts such as almonds contain 6 grams of protein per ounce of almonds. They are a great source of vitamin E, fiber, and healthy fats. Then there is eggs. Once label as a bad food due to its cholesterol levels now we know better and each egg contains 7 grams of protein not to mention the very healthy amino acids as well.
There are many healthy choices of protein for runners and not to mention great tasting but you need to be smart in what you eat and how much. Remember you only need 1/4 of your meal to be protein the rest should be mostly Carbs with some healthy fats thrown in. you only need 80-100 grams of protein per day so keep note of that. So this makes more senses a 5 ounce piece of chicken already contains 40 grams of protein. So in general runners need protein but healthy protein and in small quantities. Select your food carefully and try to get the most protein for small amounts of calories and avoid the unhealthy fats. Here is our list of recommended food items:
The Flying Finns were known worldwide for their ability to run and in the early Olympic years they were dominate in the distance events. But since the 1936 games Finland has not won even 1 gold medal. When the young Lasse Viren came to the Munich Olympics he carried the entire weight of his countrymen on his shoulders or should I say on his legs! He woudl first be racing the 10,000 Meters and the question no everyone's mind was could Viren bring back the glory to Finland that they were so proud of? Virne was by no means the favorite. While he was fast he didn't have the experience to match most runners in the field. Just the year before at the European Championships he had only finished 17th in the 10,000 Meters adn 7th in the 5,000 but still he set out to make history.
As the race went off he was greeted by a blistering pace set by Dave Bedford of Britain with a 69.9 split for the first lap. That pace continued through the first mile crossing the line in 4:15 well ahead of world record pace. It was clear it would be a fast race with 18 runners in the race that had already run faster than the current Olympic record at the time but no saw this pace happening. Even more amazing was that 11 men were still in the lead pack and no one was was backing off. As they reached the mid way point tragedy would strike in the form of a collision in the lead pack. It involved Frank Shorter of the US, Viren and Gammoudi of Tunisia who ended up doing a cartwheel into the infield. Viren fell as well and for a split second just lay there on there on the track without moving. That moment was only but a second but for the Finns its was an eternity. But of course Viren got up and sprang into action with a sense of urgency. Less than a lap after the fall Viren was back with the lead pack but unfortunately Gammoudi was not able to recover and would end up dropping out.
After about 6000 meters into the race Viren road that wave of adrenaline right to the front of the race. then Yifter took it back and so began a game of cat and mouse in the front pack with neither one of them wanted to release the lead. By 8000 the rabbit Bedford who had pushed the pace so hard in the early going had now hit the wall and dropped way off the pace. Now 4 are left in the lead pack with a little more than a mile to go. Each runner watching the other to see who would make that final move. With 600 meters left it was Viren who dropped the hammer and with a loud statement said go with me if you can! No one could Viren ran the last lap in a blazing 56.4 to win the Gold Medal. He ran a 27:38.4 breaking not only the Olympic record but the World record as well! If that wasn't enough Viren would go on to race and win the 5000 race in that faithful race with Prefontaine. And if that wasn't enough he would go on to win the 10000 5000 double once again at the Montreal games 4 years later. And yes you guessed it if that wasn't enough he also ran the Marathon at the same Olympics and took 5th. Don't see anyone doing that ever again.
So that's not a typo. HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training is a relatively new method to train distance runners but it's actually been around for quite some time. We have adapted this training from the weightlifting community. Weightlifters would put on more weight lift with much more intensity but less reps total and longer recovery in between. They found this produced bigger gains that the less weight and more reps. The concept is tried and true and as we mentioned around for a long time but what we have seen the last few years is this same concept adapted towards not only sprint runners and jumpers which makes sense but also for longer distance runners. Early on there was some resistance to this move and hesitation that it was the wrong way to go. I will include myself in this category as it challenged our traditional way of thinking in the distance world. As we learned more about the benefits of HIIT I became more convinced that not only is it a good training method but should be incorporated as a common and core component of any distance training program.
So what are these benefits we keep talking about? Before I answer this let me clarify that HIITs are not for everyone. You need to have a a solid base of endurance running and even have done some more traditional speed workouts before adding HIITs. What I mean by traditional is AT work, 400 repeats, 800 intervals, etc. All of this will make sure your body is prepared not only to not get injured but also gain the full benefits of these workouts. The benefits are as follows. First of all HIITs like it's weightlifting counterpart makes the muscles stronger but the muscles I'm speaking of is the heart and in general the cardiovascular system. HIITs will ensure it is much stronger and therefore able to pump more blood to the through the body and in particular to the "running" muscles meaning your legs etc. Remember more blood means more oxygen, more oxygen means faster running. The next benefit is that those "running" muscles themselves get better at using the oxygen being delivered by the blood. What's the point of receiving more oxygen if your muscle can't use it. Finally HIITS also provides a benefit of improving your stride. Your stride will become more efficient as the coordination between your central nervous system and those "running" muscles improves and provides a quicker cadence and more fluid running form.
So let's put this into practice. First of all as always make sure you do a proper warm-up of 1-2 miles of Easy pace running. You should have a leg swing drill or other similar drills to do before any speed workout but especially these type of higher intensity bouts. The most straight forward workouts is to do 6 100 meter reps all out but with 2-3 minutes of recovery in between. Recovery can be walking or jogging but no standing for that time only. That can lead to tightness and possible injury. As you get more comfortable with these increase the number of reps and the distance of the reps but no longer than 300 meters. You can also reduce the recovery time but no lower than 1 minute. After of course do a cool-down of 2 miles of Easy pace running. Now that being said my favorite variation of HIITs is to do it blind. Ok just to clarify I do NOT mean to put on a blindfold or close your eyes what I mean is that you are not aware of the distance of the rep. You need a coach or a partner that will help you with this and a good loud whistle. Runners jog around the track and and at 1 whistle blow they run all out without knowing when the rep will end. Could be 8 sec could be 30 seconds it will vary. When the coach decides they will blow the whistle 2 times and go into a slow jog or even walk. Recovery should be at least double of the hard effort. Then the whistles blows once again for go! Do this for only 5-15 min total but offers a great workout on its own or an add-on to other interval work. The reason I like these is that it adds on more benefit to the list. Developing your runners brain muscles is just as important as the other muscles. This makes a runner more mental strong and prepared to handle anything on the track or road.
Here is what a typical HIIT workout would look like:
2 miles warm-up at Easy pace
with 3 min recovery of walking or jogging in between
2 Miles cool-down at Easy pace
Hope you found this helpful and as always best of luck chasing your running dreams!
I would be remiss if I didn't write about our very own Greenway Trail. It's a blessing these days in the concert jungles we live in to have an area to run like this right in the middle of a city. The Greenway Trail (Whittier) runs from Mills and Lambert west until right before you hit the 605. Beyond just a nice place to walk run and bike it has become sort of a gathering spot for all of us that live in the area. It's rare when I am not running on the Greenway that I go more than a few miles before running into someone I know. The quick "hey how's it going" or "great job!" makes the run even better. This won't be a turn by turn direction of the route as there really is only 2 ways to go, East or West on the trail but here is some highlights on the Greenway trail.
First of all It runs for 4.64 miles from Mills and Lambert to where you dead end on Pioneer Rd just slightly south of Beverly. Of course you can run it out and back or in reverse just up to you. Most of it has options to run on the paved path or on the side there is dirt if you prefer. You do avoid crossing some streets while on it or there are cross walks right on the trail but a few times you need to move to the street corner then cross. It even goes over 5 Points (Washington and Whittier Blvd) on a bridge but fair warning if you run a a group the bridge will wobble just enough to feel it. No danger of it collapsing or anything like that its on purpose but the first time you feel it wobble it may catch you off guard. Much of the way is covered with trees and shrubs and even flowers so makes for a much nicer run that on the streets. There are even some workout areas where you can stop a do some exercise and some historical information as well at some stops. Near Whittier High School there is a dog park which is fairly new and a great place to bring your dogs and let them free with other dogs. They are fully gated so no fear of them running away or chasing other runners or cyclists. Near the far end it also goes through Palm park which has restrooms and a water fountain. This is a great starting or turnaround spot for any run. And last but not least you can even find some art displayed through the run which makes it nicer.
Now how to run it. You can definitely run from one end to the other and turn back at any point on the trail. While this is fine you can also change it up. I like to do runs where I start elsewhere and then connect to the Greenway for a few miles then exit somewhere along the way. At the West end you can turn right on Pioneer and left on Beverly to connect with the San Gabriel River trail less that .5 miles away to then run as far as you like in either direction. On the East side you can run north on Mills and cross Whittier to run into the hills or if you like a rougher trail type run just stay along the railroad tracks and you can run all the way into La Habra. Just keep in mind some area have lots of small rocks so be careful. The great news is that they will be expanding the Greenway in that direction through not just La Habra but Brea and eventually connecting out near Yorba Linda to the Santa Ana River Trail. I know land has been bought and now just waiting on permits and funding from each city through grants for the construction. So give this Trail a try and make your running journey more enjoyable!
Coach Rojas has 11 combined years of coaching experience at various levels including coaching a high school D1 State finalist team and 3 years in a row of a top 10 state ranking. He is passionate of the sport of running and loves to see new runners take up the sport! He wants to share a lifetime of running experience to all