Monday, November 18, 2013

A Letter to George Z

I always look forward to George's blog posts.  He is open, honest and is just another good family guy trying to be competitive in a sport he loves.  Given how busy he is, I always wonder how he has time to write so much, but I'm glad he does. 

Anyway, I have been pondering his recent race performance and training "angst" and trying to figure out if I have anything to add to his thoughts.  I was going to write him a big long e-mail.  But instead I figured I would write a big long blog post.  Since George puts all of this thoughts on the internet anyway, I figured he wouldn't care if I responded publicly as well.  That way if anyone else can learn anything from the exchange, then all the better. 


I have some thoughts for you regarding your race performance this year, training, etc.  As always when I give unsolicited and probably unneeded advice, please take it from the perspective that I'm just trying to add to your internal dialogue and give another point of view.  I'm no expert, and I know that you have many friends with much more skill and experience than I do.  However, maybe I can add something minor to the mix. 

My thoughts fall into two categories - training/recovery and weight training/flexibility. 

As it relates to the first item, you had noted that your race performance this year have been pretty weak compared to your expectations.  I think of training for performance as an equation that needs to be balanced.  In a perfect world, you would run 20 miles a day at 6 minute pace every single day, sleep for an hour or two a night and win the Olympics.  Obviously you can't do that.  The reason is when you stress your body, you need to give it time to recover so your body can adapt and you can get faster, stronger, etc.  So if you run 20 miles at 6 minute pace one day, you might need to sleep for 10 hours and take 3 days off running.  You know this already.

If you think of it as a math equation, you can think of the training stress as a negative number, and the recovery as a positive number.  So if you earned a -5 due to training, you have to earn a +5 from recovery (sleep, diet, rest, stretching, ice baths, etc).  I think you have this concept pretty dialed in as it relates to running periodization.  What I think you might be missing is the other life stresses that are earning you negative scores that you aren't offsetting with positive scores. 

Compare your week (especially Saturday) before the race to Lucho's.  Assume you both had a similar base fitness level.  Who is going to win on Sunday?  The guy who stayed home that week and basically rested the day before the race?  Or the guy who spent hours on an airplane (terrible for the hips) all week and then walked 10 miles the day before the race? 

My hypothesis is you might not be running overtrained, but you may be "life overtrained" I know what it is like trying to fit a workout in before you have to take the kids to sports practice, or get to a work meeting, etc.  I strongly believe that same  hour training is not as productive as a totally open hour on a Saturday morning.  The life stress around it affects your performance.   I typically train at 5:00 am because that is the only time I usually have in the day.  My performance during those 5:00 am workouts is always worse than if I was doing it at 9:00 am.  That is just how the body works. 

But you have to live your life and I know those things are important to you (as they are to me).  So what do I recommend?  First, I would recommend that you need to come to peace with the fact that your racing performance will absolutely suffer because of the life choices you made.  Just accept it and don't stress that you are slower than you would be under different conditions.  Deal with it and move on and look to maximize what you can.  But you have to mentally accept that your "life maximized" race performance will be worse than your "no life/job other than racing" performance.  Don't torture yourself with race times from the second category when you are living in the first category. 

Second, find a way to balance the equation better.  Assuming no life changes can be made, then from a training perspective, rest more.  Limit your mileage for a month and see what happens.  Reduce the junk miles.  Follow the rule of making your slow runs slower and your fast runs faster.  If your schedule (especially your work travel schedule) is creating negatives in the training column, you have to reduce the negatives created by actual training to balance the equation. 

If you know that you are going to do a 10 mile hike with your son the day before a race, either don't race, or accept that you are racing for the fun and the community aspect of it, but don't sweat your time.  You can't have it both ways, so you have to mentally accept and embrace whatever your decisions are. 

From a strength training perspective, I would advise you to focus more on flexibility than strength training.  You say that you need to do more strength training.  Personally, I have seen a much more significant (life changing) health benefits from flexibility and mobility than strength increases.  Regardless of what the Crossfit Endurance people will tell you, I'm not convinced that squatting 250 pounds helps you run a 5k faster. 

However, I am convinced that mobility and flexibility helps immensely. 

I can't remember the source, but I recall a study of vertical jump I read once.  They tested the subject's vertical jump.  Then they simply required the subject to go through a specific hip flexor stretching routine for 2-3 minutes.  Then they tested the vertical jump again.  If I recall correctly, the average vertical jump in the study increased by a couple of inches in just the 3 minutes between tests.   Especially as you age, flexibility and mobility matter more. 

I have yet to find an ache or pain in my body that wasn't eventually solved by either increased mobility or determining the strength weakness that caused the problem and resolving it.  Long story short, I would rather you spend 15 minutes per day doing a dedicated hip/hamstring/quad mobility stretching routine, and have you do 10 perfect form overhead squats with a PVC pipe than do 100 regular bodyweight squats or squats with a barbell (once you are able to do overhead squats with proper form, you will see what I'm talking about). 

I would be happy to provide more information on stretches, mobility routines, etc.  I will say that when I talk about stretching, I'm not talking about the typical warm up before a run, etc.  When this mobility work is done correctly, it is quite painful.  Last week Derek put me through a 20 min hamstring stretching routine.  It was so painful that I would have rather run 1/4 mile intervals.  But it sure is worth it when you are done. 

So in a nutshell, if you made me your trainer for the next 3 months, in general I would do the following:

1.  Cap your weekly mileage (maybe at 50 or so based on your recent training?).  This will force you to make time to do the other stuff I think you need to do, and will also mentally force you to push harder when you do train, instead of back off and just log junk miles so you can tell yourself you ran 75 miles this week so you had a good week training.  This also motivates you to take better care of your diet, recovery, etc because you will feel like you need to make up for the "lost" training time.

2.  Begin a serious mobility training routine (with a little strength work thrown in) that takes about 15-20 minutes a day.  This time equates to roughly 2 miles run.  I strongly believe that your time at this point is better spent on the mobility work than running those 2 extra miles. 

3.  Focus more on recovery.  Get more sleep, ice baths maybe??, etc.  Just give yourself a break.

4.  Eat better.  If you are serious about performance, it is tough to complain and overanalyze all of this other stuff if you eat like crap.  If you want to improve, eat better.

On the bright side, if you followed my recommendations and didn't get any faster, I am positive that you would be healthier overall.  Not a bad accomplishment in my mind. 

I hope some of this is helpful or at least though provoking.  Good luck.



  1. holy crap.

    So this requires more of a response than I can pen at the moment.

    But maybe all I really should say is "thank you."

    Thank you.

  2. Ken: I think this letter is one of the best things I've ever read. Today I'm going to write a new blog post sharing some personal experience that, to me, kind of relates to what you're saying here.


  3. Very generous of you to write and share this. Great suggestions that are applicable to all runners. Thanks.

  4. Thanks for the kind comments everyone!

  5. Great post. Quality not quantity. It's what I tel my wife :)