Impact Running Newsletter: Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 12

I visited my chiropractor for my weekly appointment today and responded to her question, “What’s new?” with what feels like it will be routine answer for the foreseeable future. “Not much.”

I was excited about the start of baseball, especially as soccer in the English Premier League ends for seven weeks. But the outbreak amongst the Miami Marlins makes me nervous that baseball, or football or college sports for that matter, can carry on safely over any sort of prolonged time. Where Europe took virus suppression seriously, the US misused the lockdown period and it feels like a weird holding pattern of sorts will be the norm for the foreseeable future, with periods of required shutdowns of either teams or entire league, schools or the entire idea of in-person learning. I just keep trying to stay safe and limiting ventures out as much as I can.

Gloomy as that sounds I am enjoying the reading and research for my running rebuild. I have been regularly working on posterior chain and core strength and have gotten more consistent with mobility and it feels like there are some tangible results. I will have to see how I feel when I resume running, but for now those small but noticeable changes have me feeling confident about my eventual return to the road.

I also signed up today to be screened as a volunteer for the Phase 3 trial of the Oxford COVID vaccine. I have no idea if I will make it through the screening and I admit to being nervous about the possibility of being a guinea pig in such an important but hurried experiment. However the results from the Phase 1 and 2 trials have me feeling confident about the safety of the vaccine and this is a moment where the entire world is in one way or another at a standstill waiting for the tools that can return us to normalcy. If the study needs volunteers and I can help, I would like to try.


England: New guidelines on mass participation races released

English runners have the benefit of living in a country that took COVID suppression seriously (albeit after a perilous first act). The reward? They can start to look ahead to the potential return of races. While MLB here in the US could not make it a full week without an outbreak spreading through a team, English soccer games have gone on for two months, and without a bubble, with few cases amongst team personnel. Feeling comfortable with that success, the English government has given the ok for the slow return of mass participation events. United Kingdom Athletics and Run Britain have responded by releasing their guidelines on how races can return. I’m not sure that I would personally feel comfortable even within these guidelines, but then I live in one of the virus hotbeds in the world so I’m not sure I would feel comfortable doing almost anything around a large crowd right now. The guidelines are not too surprising: socially distanced start lines, fewer contact points, discouraging runners from laying down at the finish line. The experience would clearly be a different one for the time being.

The Most Interesting Runner in the World

I have only just recently learned about the remarkable running exploits of Tommy Rivers Puzey, an ultramarathoner currently fighting for his life having been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. From the reading I have done, it appears there is nowhere that Puzey hasn’t run some sort of ultra and he seems to bring what I can only describe as an Anthony Bourdain-like curiosity to his ventures, not simply running the local terrain but trying to better understand runners and the running culture in those places. In this deleted chapter from his recent book, Running the Dream, Matt Fitzgerald describes a run where Puzey paced him while sharing a wonderful story about running an ultra up a mountain in Costa Rica. A disappointing finish in that mountain ultra stoked Puzey’s curiosity and led him to an insight that bettered his running and serves as a guide to all runners about balancing life and running.

How to Train Right Now to Make 2021 a Breakthrough Year

Ultrarunning coach Jason Koop shares this piece on how ultrarunners can use the disruption in racing to better prepare themselves for racing in 2021. More time, Koop points out, is something he is always looking for with his runners and 2020 provides just that. More rest and using workouts to tackle weaknesses are two of Koop’s focuses, with several suggestions given as to how ultrarunners can shore up weaknesses in different areas. This syncs up well with my own quest, which I wrote about in last week’s newsletter, to rebuild my running house by constructing a sturdier foundation. Many of my readers will not be ultrarunners, but Koop’s suggestions should emphasize to every runner that this is a year to consider weaknesses and carve out the time to work on them as we wait for normal racing to resume.


Improving Our Relationship with Failure

Steve Magness notes a performance paradox, that two people can view the same performance in fundamentally different ways. For those who view a subpar result as a failure, it may be necessary to reevaluate the definition of success. Is it based on bettering our previous self or on beating external competition? When experiencing failure we gain an opportunity to evaluate our goals and goal setting. We can create a continuum of possible successes, giving ourselves a range of outcomes to train toward. We can also focus on the process. I am doing this during my running rebuild. Rather than focusing on a distant outcome, for me it is almost always something related to qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and instead focusing on the process of putting in the work in several training areas with the belief that sustained work there will deliver the results I am seeking.


The Case For Wise Hope And Wise Action

Outlets continue to promote tenuous science and conspiracy theories, the most recent example being the sideshow covered by Breitbart on Monday where a small number of doctors denied the need to masks to stop the spread of COVID and repeated the call for using hydroxychlorquine to treat infected patients. These continued episodes are frustrating. I try, still, to react to those who reach toward such conspiracies with empathy. We are in tough times and without a unified message about how tough these times will continue to be, it is natural that people scared by their own uncertainty will gravitate toward anything that offers a quick exit.

This piece from Brad Stulberg stretches back a month or so but speaks to difficulty of finding stable ground in an unstable time. Gravitating toward one extreme (everything is fine!) or another (everything is awful!) is easy and offers a level of short term comfort. They are not the only options though. Stulberg offers a third, middle path, one rooted in acknowledging the difficulty of the now while resolving to move forward as best as the situation allows. Drawing on the work of a personal favorite of mine, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, Stulberg explains the benefits and practices of this third path. If the weight of the ongoing pandemic has been dragging you down lately, this is a necessary read.

Hope Through History

I binge-listened to this podcast over the weekend and found it engaging and, as the name suggests, hopeful. The series focuses on five trying times from the last century: the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Great Depression, the German blitz of 1940, polio outbreaks, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Each episode focuses on the good and the bad of the responses to each crisis, offering a road map of sorts for handling trying times.

Much of the current emergency is out of our hands, yet there are lessons we can nevertheless take from these moments. We cannot enact policy as FDR did, but we can be open to experimentation as the scientific and political communities try to navigate the challenge of a novel virus. We cannot rally a nation as Churchill did in 1940, but we can adopt his cleared-eyed realism as we navigate the current situation, eschewing those who would hawk miracle cures and silver bullet treatments. We cannot create a vaccine but we can note that in the lead up to the discovery of one for polio and large number of ordinary people did what they could to help finance research through charities like the March of Dimes. As runners, we can take heart that all of these practices build the mental fortitude to handle training and racing. Clear-eyed reality as a preface to optimism has solved many of the globe’s toughest problems and are equally important to working through smaller challenges as well.

This Week’s Quote

“You don’t have a right to the cards  you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.”

– Cheryl Strayed

My Podcast

As I begin to rebuild my running my co-host Andrew and I are starting a series of discussions on our podcast about the same thing. We will be discussing our own experiences with our running rebuilds as well as talking to professionals in various fields that will shed light on how to improve different aspects of running and fitness. Last week we featured two physical therapists to discuss proactive treatments and practices runners should adopt to improve performance and prevent injuries. Visit Rust Belt Running to find out where you can listen to all episodes of our show.

A Small Request

This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.


Impact Running Newsletter: Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 10

With racing cancelled for the foreseeable future (on Monday Chicago announced their cancellation) I have been in a weird spot. My running centers around racing and with them out of the picture I have not had the motivation to run. The last miles I ran were over a month ago. 

The question over what I should be doing or even want to do as a runner is one that has been wrapped up in a yo-yoing back and forth between excitement and optimism about various projects and goals — the sort of focusing that this major disruption to life allows — and the fatigue and malaise that comes from the realization that this moment is anything but normal. I miss normal. 

That said, I am putting this time off from running to good use. Absent the momentum and pressure of race training I am re-examining every aspect of my running practice. Much like one might begin the remodel of a room in a house by tearing it down to stud, I am tearing down my training methodology and starting to rebuild it one piece at a time. The various aches and pains I’ve carried since the late stages of my 2018 Columbus training speak to imbalances that I’ve tried to train through with mediocre results. So I am re-working my strength program. I know mobility is a crucial component for long-term health but I have always been good at finding reasons to avoid regular practice which then found me spending extra time trying to work through various aches and pains. So I am devising a regular, 10-minutes-a-day mobility program. I am regularly meditating. Slowly the foundation is settling.

This week’s newsletter is written in this spirit. Many of these links get back to basics in one form or another, whether it is looking at how keeping a detailed training journal (something I do, but not well) can help with motivation and detailing training breakthroughs and obstacles or providing an interesting look at how you can organize blocs of time during your day to make room for important work. Let’s dig in.


5 Reasons to Keep A Training Log and How to Do It

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you are mailing in certain practices until you take a long hard look at them. While I keep a training log, and have for years, too often I pass up updating it on a daily basis in favor of filling it in at a later date using the information stored in my Garmin app. Sure, the relevant information is transferred, but other important subjective information is lost when it is not automatically recorded. As I surfed my usual sites to find links for this week’s newsletter I found this helpful how-to on keeping a training log from Matt Fitzgerald. If you are new to running, it is a good tutorial on how to keep your own log. If you are a veteran runner like me, it may provide new ideas on what to keep in your own log. Despite my up and down consistency in filling mine out, I still do go back and mine my old logs for clues about what was helping me run well or what I was doing wrong when I was dealing with injuries. Logging my runs, workouts, and physiological information regularly is the best way to make sure I am building and maintaining the foundation I am seeking to build. Fitzgerald has some good ideas on what is worth tracking.

In 2020, Virtual Racing Becomes a Reality

I love race day. I love being around other runners. I love the crowds. I love the buzzing anticipation at the start line. There is something about the in-person experience that just cannot be replaced. When Columbus Marathon race director Darris Blackford explained the decision to cancel this October’s race, one reason he gave for not conducting a virtual race was that the race experience simply cannot be duplicated when everyone cannot be together. Agreeing with that sentiment, I have been a skeptic of virtual racing.

I appreciated the new perspective this article from Amby Burfoot provides on virtual racing. He details the efforts made by bigger organizers such as Boston and New York to launch virtual races as a way to deflect the losses from cancelled events, as well as less heralded creations (a virtual run across Tennessee from Barkley Marathon creator Laz Lake expected to garner 200 entrants but instead grew to 19,000, helping to support the charities that Lake’s masochistic events support). Something I had not considered is that virtual racing has inspired a new group of runners who had previously avoided racing. Their reasons range from nerves about participating with so many other people to wanting to avoid the hassles of travel. Virtual racing is still probably not for me but it is good to see that in the middle of this disruptive time that so many runners, novices and veterans alike, are finding ways to enjoy the sport. 


Rise above it or drown: How elite NBA athletes handle pressure

First, I will love any article that begins with an inside view of Steph Curry’s hurried late-game shot against Kevin Love from Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. The story of that missed shot serves as the entry point for examining how Curry, and several other current and former NBA stars, prepare to handle the pressure of intense moments. Two points stand out from this lengthy read. First, the role of immersing one’s self in the moments that create discomfort. By envisioning those moments and practicing through them again and again one can build more efficient neurological wiring that is better able to handle the pressure. Second, the role of tuning out outside noise in order to calm the mind and create a deeper focus on why a pressure-filled moment is important to the competitor. 

Why I’ll Always Be an Ocean Person

One of the insights from this article is the role of nature in recovery. Simply being able to look outside at a natural setting, or even having pictures of nature on your computer, can help reduce stress and enhance recovery. Beyond that, this article examines why humanity is attracted to water, an attraction that is likely tied to our prehistoric brains when the absence of readily available water meant that finding it signaled life and safety. Though we are past those days, we still have a craving for water and for the sense of calm it can provide. Plus, if you are anything like me, you could use a good vacation given everything that is going on. The beach and the lapping of the ocean does sound heavenly. I’ll be right back. I have to listen to a recoding of waves hitting the sand.


Are You Using Social Media or Being Used By It?

I’ve been using this space lately to create a conversation around the use of social media. This article from Cal Newport is interesting because it lays out crucial reasons why people should examine their social media use and details how social media companies engineer their platforms to compulsively suck users in. Capturing users is the name of the game for social media companies; it is the basis of their business model. The average user spends two hours a day surfing social media. Going back to my stated goal of rebuilding my running practice to include regular strength and mobility work, I have had to recognize that while I do not spend two hours a day on Twitter and Facebook, I spend more time on them than I should. I cannot say that I do not have the time to regularly mobilize and strengthen. I simply have prioritized other things, like compulsive social media use, over them. If you are in a similar boat, this article lays out ways you can better utilize your time while also enjoying the benefits of social media. You do not have to completely eliminate social media from your life, something I was considering several months ago. You simply have to better understand what you want out of your social media use and make a few small tweaks to create the experience you want and enjoy the benefits you want.

This Time-Management Trick Changed My Whole Relationship With Time

Another aspect of my running rebuild is planning how I utilize my time. During the stay at home order in Ohio it was easy to make time for my priorities because I had plenty of time at my disposal. Having gone back to work I have found that I need far more structure to make sure I fit everything in. The time management technique in this article, one of dividing your time into 25 minute chunks punctuated by quick breaks, may not be for you, but it raises excellent points about utilizing your time by focusing on the things that really matter to you and avoiding the pitfalls of trudging through lengthy “productivity” sessions that end in fatigue and mindless scrolling or binge watching shows. As the article’s author Dean Kissick asks after laying out his new practice of time management, “By changing my relationship with and appreciation of time, the technique has brought me to some profound existential questions about whether I’m wasting my life — my fragile, fleeting life — on activities I neither care about nor enjoy.”

This Week’s Quote

Post traumatic growth is when we change and evolve in good and healthy ways as a result of trauma.

It often involves finding meaning in our pain.

It can help to think of post-traumatic growth like kintsugi, a type of Japanese pottery made from broken ceramics. Artist use precious metals to put the pieces back together, and the repaired version is considered more beautiful and desirable than the original item—especially because the process takes quite a bit of time.

Some people tend to come out on the other side of trauma better off than they were before, while others don’t. 

We don’t totally understand why this is, but one thing that crops up is that those who find meaning in suffering tend to be more resilient.

     -From a post by Precision Nutrition

A Small Request

This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.


Impact Running Newsletter: Improve Your Running, Performance, and Perspective Issue 8

This has been one of those weeks where I realize just how worn out I am. I have not had many moments like this during COVID, but the last two weeks have presented me with multiple reminders of events and gatherings I would have been enjoying in a pandemic-free world: the Towpath 10-Miler on Father’s Day, a Rolling Stone’s concert the Friday after, a series between my beloved Cleveland Indians and the cheating Houston Astros that would have been taking place this week, and a 10k in the small city of Medina that I have run almost every July 4th since I first started running. Then on Monday I received an email from the Columbus Marathon, one I expected, that this fall’s race would not be taking place either. In a year where so much has already been lost the hits keep coming. 

I am also finding it hard to keep ahold of the positivity I felt at work where a slow start to June ended on a much more positive note. No, the restaurant I work at has not come close to reaching it’s pre-COVID numbers but their have been signs of improving business, progress that I fear could be wiped out as the country sees surging cases in the continuation of a first wave that never really broke. 

I have much to be thankful for, I understand that. One of my co-workers lost her 25-year-old niece two weeks to COVID; I have faced no such loss and I knock on wood and pray that that will continue to be the case. Yet what was evident at the outset of this pandemic remains true: this is a world-shaking event that is reshaping life and will leave a residue for years to come. On many days I handle that reality well. In the last week I have lapsed a bit.

Sorry for that bummer of an opening.

I really do love this week’s newsletter. This past weekend would have been the running of the Western States 100, a race that has captivated me since I first read Dean Karnazes’s book, Ultramarathon Man, and the first link has a great feel good video on runners pushing to finish the race in the last hour before it’s 30 hour cutoff. I have an interesting workout/challenge you can attempt, especially in this time of cancelled races. I float two ideas, both applicable to running and performance, about giving yourself the permission to be bad at something as well as why fake toughness is not the ticket to conquering tough times. I let Kelly Starrett make a case for an evening mobility routine and I wrap up with something completely non-running related: how an overture about a Russian victory over the French in the 1800’s became synonymous with July 4th. Let’s dig in.

1. Golden Hour: The Best Hour in Ultrarunning

If you want a feel good running story in this year of mounting race cancellations, this is 17 minutes well worth your time. This short documentary follows several runners in last year’s Western States 100 who battle to complete the grueling 100-mile race within the last hour before the event’s 30 hour cutoff, the golden hour. Much like the Boston Marathon, the Western States 100 is an event one must qualify for and even then far more applicants qualify than the race can handle, meaning entry is not guaranteed. The runners interviewed make it clear the race is itself their reward often the culmination of years of training and waiting to make the field. The scenery is gorgeous; the course literally runs over mountains, and the last five minutes are gripping as we wait to see who will make the cutoff.

2. Workout of the Week: Ken Cooper’s 12-Minute Fitness Test

Speaking of race cancellations, I received notification this week that my fall race was cancelled and suddenly find myself unmotivated to train for a marathon and looking for a new challenge. This workout caught my eye because it is 1) different from any other sort of running I do, 2) a challenge I could use to pit myself against friends or to measure progress down the road, and 3) would allow me to estimate training paces for future marathon training. The workout is simple: find a flat course and run as far as you can for 12 minutes. The results will help estimate VO2max; in fact it was first designed by an Air Force doctor to do just that without the need for lab equipment. The article includes the formula for using your result to determine VO2max or a link to a website to do the calculation for you. 

3. (It’s Great to) Suck at Something

This article by Karen Rinaldi summarizes the message of her book, which I picked up a copy of last week, on the subject of daring to be bad at something. The message is one that could have spoken to me as a young soccer coach, as a runner who had just bombed his first marathon, and even today as I try to teach myself how to play the guitar. I wrote in last week’s newsletter about how I am trying to keep hold of practices and habits that I established or re-established during Ohio’s stay-at-home order and learning guitar is atop that list. When I had near unlimited time to practice it was easy to allow myself to be bad but now that time is more limited I feel a pressure to progress that has sometimes dulled my enthusiasm. Rinaldi’s point is worry less about this pressure and to enjoy the freedom to be bad at something if you enjoy it. That message takes me back to my early running days when I was enjoying the new practice of race training but often doing it poorly, running tempo runs too fast, arbitrarily increasing or decreasing mileage, sporadically performing strength work, and running poor races as I ignored pacing guidelines. I simply did not know what I did not know. Rather than worrying about perfection or beating myself up over poor performance (not too often anyway) I learned from being bad and slowly and steadily improved. Even now, in my tenth year of running, and with two BQ’s under my belt, I still see areas for improvement, or rather, still know that there are things as I runner I still suck at. But I still love it.

4. Kelly’s Evening Routine

Mobility is one of the core areas of my running I try consistently attack though my discipline over the years has waxed and waned despite its obvious benefits. I would prefer to do my mobility work in the evening to relieve the knots and tension from the day’s workout and the impact of a tense shift on my feet. However, I often default to sitting down to a meal, a beer, and tv after work. Here, Kelly Starrett, who is my go-to person for mobility work, discusses why a nightly mobility program is helpful, not just for restoring health to soft tissues, but also for helping to prepare the body for a good night of sleep which can boost recovery and further enhance performance.

5. The Dudes Who Won’t Wear Masks and Fake Toughness vs the Real Thing

“Strength without flexibility is rigidity, and flexibility without strength is instability.”

I have been thinking about this quote often in the last few weeks as COVID-19 cases have once again climbed in the US. During the pandemic I have tried hard to keep an open mind about the theories I have seen friends and acquaintances float on social media. I remind myself that this is a once-in-a-century event that challenges our models about our control over the world and that it is reassuring to find conspiracies or scapegoats that can explain away an evolving and complex situation or to plug ahead with bullheaded thinking revolving around the idea that if we do not make a big deal out of COVID-19 it will cease to be a big deal. This has been especially prevalent in the debate around wearing masks, despite strong, mounting evidence that masks help prevent the spread of the virus. The debate seems to reflect a misplaced sense of toughness, which reminded me of Brad Stulberg’s excellence article on fake vs real toughness from several years back. I return to my understanding that this is a fluid, unprecedented situation and not everyone is going to suddenly walk in lockstep on what may appear to many to be common sense safety measures. However, during times of uncertainty the response cannot be to simply double down on a stance and call it toughness, end of story. When I was coaching soccer, if my team was hemorrhaging goals, it would have been crazy to double down on current tactics and training techniques and defiantly say that everything was fine. If your current training for a road race leaves you routinely dealing with injuries, it’s not being tough if you defy the notion that you must make any alterations to your training and run through the pain. Consistency, for a time, is needed to establish a baseline against which progress, or a lack thereof, can be measured. Eventually change becomes necessary if progress stagnates or does not occur. Then you must open up to new information and adjust an approach to a situation that is not working. These are uncertain times, I get that. Following a losing strategy in the name of looking strong is not going to make these uncertain times any easier to bear or end them any sooner.

6. The Co-Opting Of Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’

In better times I would seeing the Cleveland Orchestra perform this weekend at the gorgeous Blossom Music Center, the highlight of which would be their performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. While you may be unfamiliar with the entire piece, you have likely heard its climax (you can listen to my favorite version of the full Overture here). What is odd though is this work, now synonymous with American Fourth of July celebrations, has absolutely nothing to do with July 4th or even America. Instead, Tchaikovsky’s piece is about the Russian defeat of Napolean during the Battle of Borodino. The interview in this article details the structure of the Overture (if you can ever see it performed live, I highly suggest sitting close to the orchestra as the Overture, which is a musical representation of war, appears to be a literal battle between different musical sections) and how it made the leap from a celebration of a Russian war victory to one of American independence. What does this have to do with running? Absolutely nothing. Ah the joys of writing your own newsletter. 😀

A Small Request

This newsletter is a labor of love and I would write it even if no one read it (as it is few people right now do). I do not write because I have all the answers but rather because the topics interest me and because writing about them allows me to further explore them, internally debate them, and work through them. I share these links because reading them and thinking about them helps me to be better in my running, in my coaching, in my relationships, and in life. If you read this newsletter and think it would benefit someone you know, I ask that you take the time to share it with them. If you have a question for me or a comment on how I can be better in this space, please take the time to reach out. Thanks.