Yesterday, the marathon running community learned the postponed 2020 Boston Marathon was cancelled. Another race fatality due to COVID-19!
I suppose this news was not shocking, yet many folks in the distance running community have found themselves lost when there is not a race on the calendar. Within my cohort of runners, I have seen everything from the forever committed to self to those paralyzed with depression or anxiety. Although many know that exercise and especially running are natural antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, in the current atmosphere, there are those that have chosen the couch, the path of least resistance over pounding the pavement or trails for some good old exercise and sunshine. I know typically active folks that are now fighting the battle of the COVID-19 bulge from inactivity and the comfort snack attack.
Suddenly I am thinking about Forrest Gump and the often-quoted line, “Momma said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get”. So many started out 2020 with high hopes and goals, but that damn box of assorted chocolates did not contain any of our favorites. First no Tokyo Marathon and then marathon after marathon fell to the pandemic restrictions. No, not the Boston Marathon, let us just reschedule it for later in the year. Now that one is gone!
Just because life gives you lemons does not mean you cannot squeeze them for some refreshing lemonade. I, as well as some of my runners have used this opportunity to work towards the best version of ourselves. Meet Kathy in this blog photo. Kathy is a 61-year old experienced recreational marathon runner. As a matter of fact, she ran the Boston Marathon last year along with two other marathons. She came to me in January for training and three weeks into training she had to take a bit of time off for unforeseen circumstances. I was pleasantly surprised when she returned 2-months later and when she came back, she came back ready to go all in! A few weeks after her return we learned the marathon she was training for, Mountains2Beaches was cancelled! I offered her training credit for a future race, but she wanted to keep training, but I insisted that the mileage remain only moderate and easy intensity initially.
Kathy has been compliant with her training and we are seeing her training paces getting faster. Even she has been shocked with some of the paces she hit once we added a bit of intensity. In one month of being on the Run with Gina nutrition challenge, she lost nine pounds! Now she is seeing those benefits translate into her running. She has now signed up for a new resistance training program I designed. I am excited to see how this will impact her weight loss journey, as well as her continued improvement in running, which is the same pace or faster at LESS effort. I believe in the least load and intensity to produce the most optimal results. This is an intentional process to avoid overreaching, over training, and injury withing my running demographic. It is the Rwg way!
Thank you, Kathy, for what you bring to the Run with Gina family and running community collectively. We are all enjoying your lemonade stand! How about the Run with Gina 2020 Boston Marathon runners? So far it looks like most of them are in for the virtual 26.2 and they will make it as awesome as possible!
One time a runner said to me, “Everything you tell me contradicts what other coaches have told me”. Another runner in an unrelated conversation said, “It isn’t that we haven’t been told before, it hasn’t been presented the way you convey it”. Either perspective, the listener will do what they want for logical or emotional reasons. Typically, emotions trump logic in most areas of life. Remember that crappy relationship you once had or your junk food binge or maybe your ego sabotaged your long-term goal?
One of the training components I try to stress to the runners that work with me is the benefit of running “easy”. Many runners run too fast, too often or too fast, too soon in training and it leads to overtraining, overreaching, burnout, and injury.
This past weekend on Instagram, Aliphine Tuliamuk, the winner of the Women’s US Olympic Marathon Trials shared her 20-mile long run from her Garmin Connect. One of my runners shared it on social media, pointing out her pace of 6:51 min/mi at a 123-heart rate (HR). This brought me joy because my runners notice heart rate! My runners know I do not heart rate train but am heart rate aware because it is a measure of fitness, aerobic status, and overtraining. The latter, shattering your potential.
Looking at the shared social media post, I knew I had to make this into a teaching moment for those that do want to become the best they can be. Tuliamuk’s 123-HR is estimated to be 66% of her maximal HR, given her age of 31. According to legendary coach, researcher, and professor, Dr. Jack Daniels, all easy runs should be run at 65-78% maximal HR. I have yet to see any of my runners run 65% and many run all easy runs above 78%.
It is true that heart rate can vary depending on multiple factors including stress, sleep, hydration status, and medications to name a few. I chose to mention all these factors because it is what I deal with in my demographic. The over stressed, under slept, poorly hydrated, and medicated. The latter sounds bad, but know the average age of my demographic is 55, not to mention I have several folks that can thank their heredity for high blood pressure.
For those of you that say that you go by perceived effort (subjective) and you feel fine, even though objective data (HR) says you are running at over 80%, let’s return to Tuliamuk’s 20-mile long run at 6:51 min/mi pace this weekend and compare it to her Olympic marathon trials win, where she ran 2:27:23. This my friends, is a 5:39 min/mi pace, 1:12 min/mi FASTER than her long run training pace. By the way, that 5:39 min/mi is not even her marathon PR pace.
How slow do you run your easy runs? Are all your runs at or faster than race pace? The entire point of running easy in the aerobic zone is to accumulate more mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell), increase capillaries that allow for more delivery of oxygen to the working muscles and mitochondria. More mitochondria also mean more enzymes to aid in chemical reactions that break down carbohydrates and fat for fuel. Not to mention, easy intensity running switches the fuel of choice to endogenous fat and spares glycogen (carbohydrates). These are the benefits to easy aerobic running that should be the heart (no pun intended) and soul of any endurance running program. Running slow sometimes means leaving your ego at home when you leave to pound the pavement.
Was that last paragraph too much science? Here is the translation = slow down to run faster on race day! I had been wondering how I would finish this blog post until I was halfway done and received this text, “Coach! Check out my heart rate today!!!!! This is what 8-hours sleep does for me, I guess”. Yes, yes, yes, they do eventually “get it”. A couple years ago I had to tell this runner, “I want you to do a critical appraisal of your lifestyle and if it promotes your goals”. Quickly I got the “What is that supposed to mean”? My reply, “I do not want to wake up in the morning and see that you had been commenting on social media at midnight”. This runner ran today at 76% her maximal HR for the first time ever! I used to hound her for always running near or sub race pace and her HR being too high for years! Glad to see she is seeing all the benefits of my nagging or coaching, depending on your perspective.
Coach Gina (The nag)
Yesterday I started reading, Change Maker by John Berardi, PhD. I received it as a bonus gift for purchasing his nutrition coaching program, Precision Nutrition. When it first arrived, I thought the chances I would read it would be slim. Not only was I wrong, I was reminded of the old saying, all things happen for a reason. I am 100% supposed to read this book. Ironically, as I read the pages, I was constantly reminded of topics I wrote about in graduate school about individualized training, trust, whole body healthcare, and ethics.
You see, I am a registered dental hygienist that spent 3-yrs in a kinesiology graduate program where all my classmates were strength and conditioning coaches in professional and college sports, athletic trainers, physical therapists, personal trainers, and physical education teachers. There I was a nobody, that did not have the “experience” of training athletes or anyone for that matter. But I was one of the rare healthcare providers in the program. Someone that had spent years, sticking sharp, stainless steel instruments below my patient’s gums, sometimes anesthetizing them, as well as some of my dentists’ patient’s when they were unsuccessful in getting them numb. Those that work with me in the dental office know I am the anesthesia closer. Working in this business requires the skill of building trust. I spend my days going over medical histories in a country that had an obesity rate of 30.5% when I first started as a dental hygienist in 1998 to the current 42.4% according to 2020 published statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I have listened to my patients worries about their diagnosis of Type II diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, cancer, depression, and weight gain. Frankly, that is not an exhaustive list. Again, I sit is a position of trust, the active listener, and tear wiper.
The foreword in Berardi’s book was written by Jonathan Goodman, founder of the Personal Trainers Development Center (PTDC) https://www.theptdc.com/ and Online Trainers Academy (OTA). He makes an important statement that many consumers do not know, “Unlike many other fields, the health and fitness industry seems to throw people into the profession headfirst. It’s a certification or training course and then…sink or swim”. All I know is trainers, sports, nutrition, and health coaches need to swim and start swimming fast before we hit 50% obesity rate in the United States. Thank you, Canadian friends, (Berardi and Goodman) for opening this American’s eyes. However, those folks need to reach for help, correct? But as my favorite line (so far) in Berardi’s book goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”.
So why is the marathon coach writing about this subject? Because this running coach is athlete centered. The running coach is also a healthcare provider, who frequently sees her two worlds intersect. Berardi’s point with weight loss through physical activity and nutrition coaching is that in general, the field of fitness is in its infancy and there is not a progressive plan for all coaches to follow and a “Progressive plan is what’s been missing in health coaching, exercise coaching, even-to some degree-nutrition coaching”. Run coaching has been around much longer, following many training principles such as interval and fartlek training, both thought up in the 1930s, 30 + years after the marathon at the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896. Running clubs/groups in the U.S. have been around since the 1950s and training programs have popped up here, there, and everywhere in recent years, all following progressive plans based on training principles of the 1930s. Progressive programs developed for young athletes that had significantly different lifestyles than today, including diet, sleep, and stress and certainly not overweight, obese, or living in a culture with 42% obesity rate.
Staying consistent with my athlete centered approach, some of my runners will never even see intervals or fartlek’s in their training. Most will never run over 18-miles in a long run. Most will have less than a 3-week taper. In 2019 I coached three runners to their first time Boston Marathon qualifying time. One of them never ran intervals in training. One of them had a 10-day taper before the marathon…yes, 18-mile long run, 10-days out from the marathon. The third, sat out the long run three weeks out from the race. Not only did all meet their Boston qualifying time, they ran personal bests in the marathon by 11, 25, and 47-minutes! Three runners, three unique needs, three incredible results. This my friends (students), is what is possible with a relationship with an athlete centered coach.
In the end here, we have a paradox. The problem with fitness coaching for weight loss is that a progressive plan does not exist and the problem with some marathon programs is that they coach using a standard progressive plan. What is the solution for both? Client centered. Coach the client from head to toe, based on their needs, physiology, mindset, and motivation. Your coach needs the skills to foster the last two through self-efficacy. Do not have that in your current program? Have no fear, this teacher is waiting for you.