EXPERTISE AND CREATIVITY

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I first met Dr. Walter Herzog when he was 40 years old. I was a 22-year-old, inexperienced but overconfident master’s degree student when I stepped into his office at the University of Calgary. I was both impressed and intimidated. I could tell he meant business. He revealed in a later conversation that he did not feel the same way about me and, in so many words, told me that his first impression of me was not good. It would take me the better portion of two years to change my academic advisor’s opinion of me.
 
One day, I was sitting in Walter’s office talking to him about the research project we were working on—muscle-fiber recruitment patterns during eccentric contractions—and I asked him where his ability came from to develop his own ideas about how and why muscles work the way they do. (Walter is one of the smartest people I have ever met and is one of the top scientists in the world in the area of muscle mechanics.) Anticipating he was going to say something like, “That’s why I’m the advisor, and you’re the student,” I was surprised when he said, without hesitation, “Years of research.” It wasn’t until years later, after I had experienced years of research myself while working on my own PhD, that I understood what he had meant and had reached the empowering point where I could develop my own ideas.
 
Expertise is the foundation of all creative work.
 
When we become experts (not Instagram or Facebook experts, but real experts), we are able to think outside of the proverbial box and develop and pursue our own creative ideas. I’m grateful to Dr. Walter Herzog for teaching me this lesson when I was 22 years old. It has been my compass ever since.

BELIEVE

 

 

I get rejected. A lot. I fail. A lot. I look down. A lot.
 
But I keep going. Because I have an unyielding belief.
 
One of the athletes I coach recently reminded me of what I wrote in THE INNER RUNNER:
 
“I often tell myself, as I suspect many runners do, that the discomfort of doing a hard interval workout or tempo run, or of running 10 miles in the heat, will be worth it when it’s time to go to the starting line ready to race. I’ve run in both very hot and very cold weather many times in my life and have done innumerable hard workouts, and I ask myself, “Why am I doing this? Why put myself through such discomfort all the time?” But of course I already know the answer before I ask myself the question: Because it will be worth it. Runners run the miles in the cold and in the heat and the intervals on the track, because we believe it will be worth it. We tell ourselves, “By doing this workout, it will help me when I go to the starting line.”
 
But it may not. There are no guarantees, after all. Despite the miles in the heat or the rain or the snow, despite the hard workouts, despite all of the discomfort that goes into the training, we may still not get the result we are chasing. That’s life. I’ve never been as fast as I’ve wanted to be, nor have most runners I know. But in those moments of discomfort, we believe it’s worth it. We hold on to the belief, because that’s all we really have. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. But we have to believe that anything is possible.”
 
Of course, this passage is more than just about running. Running is merely a metaphor, and a good one at that, for life. Keep believing and keep working. And keep dealing with discomfort. It’s the belief, the ability to imagine the possibility, that makes us human.
 
Tag a friend who needs to hear this and read THE INNER RUNNER.

Q-Angle and Running

 

Ever notice that good female runners have very narrow hips?

Women’s wider hips compared to men create a more pronounced angle between the pelvis and the knee (called the quadriceps-angle or Q-angle), as the femur occurs at a more oblique angle compared to the femur of a man. A large Q-angle causes the patella to be more off-center from the tibia, which affects the alignment of the legs in the frontal plane. Tracking of the patella against the femur is dependent on direction of the force produced by the quadriceps. With a wide Q-angle, there is more lateral movement of the patella as the quadriceps contract, which can potentially put female runners at a greater risk for knee injuries (e.g., patellofemoral pain syndrome) than male runners. Research has shown that, although many females who have knee pain tend to have larger Q-angles, some studies have shown that there is no relationship between Q-angle and the development of knee pain, which suggests that factors other than or in addition to Q-angle (e.g., weak hip abductor muscles) contribute to the development of knee injuries. It seems that Q-angle is at least partially responsible for knee injury risk among female runners since a large Q-angle can influence a female runner’s knee joint biomechanics upon foot strike with the ground, especially when weak hip abductor muscles are unable to compensate to create greater stability upon landing.   

A larger Q-angle also puts women at a mechanical disadvantage when running. After a woman’s leg lands on the ground, she must push off the ground to propel herself forward. The application of muscular force has both a magnitude and direction. And the direction the force is applied has both a horizontal and vertical component. The more parallel a runner’s leg is to her body when it’s on the ground (i.e., the smaller the Q-angle), the greater the amount of the applied muscle force is transmitted in the vertical direction to the tendons to move the bones.

With wide hips and a large Q-angle, the femur is at an angle when the leg is on the ground. Thus, there is a greater dispersion of force in different directions, with some of the force of the muscles surrounding the femur (quadriceps in the front and hamstrings in the back) being lost in the horizontal direction rather than being transmitted into propelling the runner forward. If you watch elite female runners, you’ll notice they have very narrow hips that more closely resemble male runners. Research has shown that the hip width of very good female runners is similar to that of both athletic and even non-athletic males. Narrow hips allow runners to direct more of the muscular force into forward propulsion.

Learn more about Q-angle and how to train female runners with the REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ certification. 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT COACHING

 

I started my coaching career in 1997 at a college in New Jersey. I was the head coach at 24 years old, which made me one of, if not the, youngest head college coach in the country. I was very proud of that. I was fresh off my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the top schools in the world for exercise physiology and biomechanics. I was arrogant. In the years since, I have grown as a coach, an academic, and a person, but the deep passion has remained the same. Here’s a few things I love about coaching.

* Being a scientist and researcher. I love applying the science and research to cause specific physiological changes that will enable a runner to get faster. I love finding out why something works and why something doesn’t work. I love hypothesizing and trying training strategies to test those hypotheses.  

* Being an artist. I love organizing all of the training components and workouts into a systematic, progressive plan and balancing the right amounts of stress and recovery.

* Being a student. I love learning. I believe knowledge is power. I love understanding physiology, biomechanics, and training, and what it takes to get faster. I’m always reading and studying.

* Being a teacher. I love teaching the how and why of effective training so that the runner understands why we’re doing what we’re doing and can become part of the process.

* Being a strategist. I love strategizing with my athletes on how to train and race.

* Being an inspirer. I love inspiring runners to see and do what’s possible. To be in that position is truly a gift.

* Being a competitor. I love producing athletes and teams who beat their opponents. I have always been extremely competitive.

* Being a pursuer of excellence. I always want to be a better coach and I want my athletes to be better athletes.

Whatever it is you pursue, be a pursuer of excellence.

My Queasy Stomach

 

Stomach get queasy when you run? Feel like you have to poop your shorts? You’re not alone. Gastrointestinal distress is a common problem among runners. Try these 8 things to minimize the risk:

1. Avoid high-fiber foods in the few days before the race.

2. Ingest multiple types of carbohydrates during the race (which use different transporters), such as glucose and fructose, instead of more of the same amount of a single carbohydrate such as glucose.

3. Ingest carbohydrates during the race in more, smaller amounts rather than fewer, larger amounts.

4. Ingest carbohydrates with sufficient water during the race.

5. Avoid high-fructose foods the day before the race.

6. Avoid dehydration. Drink!

7. Avoid aspirin and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen.

8. Practice pre-race and race-day nutrition plan many times before race day.

To 5K Pace or Not to 5K Pace?

 

 

Many runners and coaches seem to be fond of training at 5K or 10K race pace, designing workouts at those paces. There is not much value to doing that other than to practice specific race pace. While it may seem logical to run at 5K (or 10K) race pace as often as possible to get faster for a 5K (or 10K), it’s not the best (or even a good) way to improve 5K time. It’s better to target the specific physiological factors that influence race performance.

5K race pace is too fast to train lactate threshold and too slow to train VO₂max, and so is not the best use of your training time. Instead, run at lactate threshold pace to train lactate threshold and run at VO₂max pace to train VO₂max. However, if you feel you need to practice specific race pace for the confidence it gives you, then train at that pace to meet the psychological purpose.

When you get REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ certified, you’ll learn all about how to do workouts correctly.

revo2lutionrunning.com

Time to Stretch! Or is It?

 

If you’ve ever run with a dog or watched a horse race, you’ll notice that other animals don’t stretch before or after they run.

Although most people have been stretching since their middle school gym class to prevent injuries, improve exercise performance, and reduce muscle soreness, the research on stretching tells a different story.

(1) Stretching doesn’t prevent injuries for activities that don’t include bouncing movements, like running, cycling, and swimming. If the activity includes explosive or bouncing movements, stretching can reduce injuries by increasing compliance of tendons and improving their ability to absorb energy.

(2) Stretching can prevent muscle injuries, such as sprains and strains, but not bone or joint injuries.

(3) Stretching doesn’t improve exercise performance. You won’t run faster or longer by stretching before you run. Research on stretching before strength training has shown a reduction in strength performance due to a decrease in muscles’ ability to contract.

(4) Stretching doesn’t decrease post-workout muscle soreness. Soreness comes from the inflammation in response to the microscopic damage to muscle fibers from training. Stretching doesn’t make muscle fibers heal any quicker, so stretching won’t make you feel less sore.

(5) The major benefit of stretching is to increase mobility and flexibility—a joint’s range of motion—thereby priming muscles to move dynamically through their full ranges of motion. When stretching to increase flexibility, doing it apart from your workout makes it even more effective.

Learn more about stretching and everything else at revo2lutionrunning.com

MARATHON TRAINING LONG RUN

Why don’t most runners run the full marathon distance (26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers) in training while training for a marathon?

Time.

When it comes to training, time is what matters, not the distance. Time represents the amount of stress. The reason why it’s not a good idea to run the full marathon distance in training is because of how long it takes most runners to do that and the consequent muscle fiber damage incurred and subsequent recovery time needed.

By contrast, elite runners regularly run more than 26.2 miles (42.2 km) in training because they run the distance so fast that it doesn’t take much time. In my published study on the 2004 U.S. Olympic Marathon trials qualifiers, I found that the average length of the long run for men was 25 miles (40.2 km) (range = 20-52 miles) and 23.5 miles (37.8 km) (range = 18-30 miles) for women. For the year leading up to the Olympic Trials, the men ran longer than 20 miles (32 km) an average of 17.7 times (range = 1-60 times), while the women did so an average of 10.4 times (range = 0-50 times). The large ranges shows there were big differences between runners in the length of the long run and in how many times the runners ran longer than 20 miles.

If a run takes you more than about 3.5 to 4 hours to complete, it’s going to take a lot of time to recover from that, and will thus get in the way of the other training you need to do during the rest of the week.

While most recommendations are to cap your long run at 20-22 miles (32-35 km), there’s no law that says you can’t run longer. It’s all about the time, and finding out where the point of diminishing returns are for you. For most runners, several to many 20- to 21-mile runs is likely better preparation for a marathon than one 25-mile run.

So give yourself plenty of time to prepare, and work up to handling several very long runs.

(To read the study on the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifiers, go to run-fit.com/research)

 

Are You An Individual?

 

The individuality of training is too often neglected, especially with so many runners running in groups and as part of running clubs. Both research and empirical evidence shows that there is a large inter-individual response to training, both in the magnitude of response and in the time frame for developing and retaining training effects.

What may work for one runner may not work for another. Not all runners who are capable of the same performance have the same work capacity. Some runners may respond better to high volume and low intensity while some may respond better to low volume and high intensity. Some need more recovery days between hard workouts than others. It’s important to know your training needs or, if you’re a coach or trainer, the needs of those you coach, and to individualize the training, even when in a group setting.

Training should also be individualized based on workout stress in addition to the strengths and weaknesses of each runner. For example, since the time under stress is what matters, not the actual distance, base workouts on time. If Jack and Jill do a 5-mile tempo run at lactate threshold pace to fetch a pail of water, and Jack runs 7:30 per mile pace and Jill runs 6:30 per mile pace, Jack has a more difficult workout because it’s going to take him 5 minutes longer to run 5 miles at threshold pace (and Jill will get all the water).

The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

 

When I was in high school, I attended a track camp. Sort of like band camp, but we ran instead of played instruments. The name of the camp was The Mighty Burner Speed Camp. It was a pretty unique camp, not just because of its name, which might sound intimidating to some, but because of the four camp coaches. They were the members of the United States’ 1,600-meter relay team that competed at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The four athletes who each ran a 400-meter leg of the relay were the fastest 400-meter runners of their generation—Vince Mathews, Ron Freeman, Larry James, and Lee Evans. Together at the Olympics, they won the gold medal in the 1,600-meter relay and set the world record of 2 minutes and 56.16 seconds, which stood for twenty years.

A man of words as well as fast legs, Larry James had a saying for us impressionable high school runners at his camp which, I found out years later, he borrowed from psychologist and author Stephen Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

“What’s the main thing?” he asked us, as we collected as a group on the track. “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” we responded in unison.

“What’s the main thing?”

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

“What’s the main thing?”

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Running directs your efforts, helping you to keep the main thing the main thing. There’s nothing like a long run to put the issues in our lives into perspective. We worry about things that don’t happen; we waste our time on things that don’t matter; we follow paths that lead to dead ends. Running puts us on the right path. It directs us toward a life of meaning. And it helps us get more done.

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