It’s not about whether women should or shouldn’t run…

Recently, I read an article titled ‘Why women should not run’. Initially, I found the article amusing. But then I found it really started rubbing me the wrong way, and I decided to answer. What is in the article? Well, essentially a long list of reasons why endurance workouts at the gym are useless, and don’t yield benefits. And then this is followed by a long list of articles supporting the claims.
What is the main idea? The argument is this: too much endurance will lower certain thyroid hormones (T3, T4, TSH, … ) which in turn makes it impossible to lose weight, regardless of physical activity. And that’s where the wheels start to fall off.
Indeed, it is well established that hypothyroidism is often associated with weight gain. However, to reach these levels of low thyroid hormones, you need to be in a very heavy training phase, typically seen at the elite level, where being lean is not an issue (although there are issues associated with being too lean, among women).

This is where things get interesting. The first article cited is “Resting thyroid and leptin hormone changes in women following intense, prolonged exercise training” (Baylor LS, Hackney AC. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Jan;88(4-5):480-4.) The group considered in this study consists of females participating in running, rowing, and weight lifting. Yet, the article singles out runners. Interesting. The article also explains that post-heavy training, the thyroid hormone levels go back to normal. But, still, the interesting part is that it includes women who lift weight, and row (which is far closer to weight lifting, crossfit, etc, than to running), and these women show the same drops in thyroid hormones. I look at the entirely literature list actually. Many articles are not women specific, so they are not appropriate to support the article’s claims. Some are rats/mice models. Good try though. Others are well known biochemistry results linking thyroid hormones and thermogenesis regulation. One actually discusses thyroid hormone levels and sleep-deprived young men (I’m still trying to get the link there…) But what thing is missing…

So, the author doesn’t like running, I get it. He wants people to do CrossFit types of training? Fine with me. They are actually pretty decent, provided they come with adequate warm-up, which is something lacking, at least in the sessions I have done and witnessed. The issue I have is when he claims that one training is better than another. Or that his approach is the ‘best in the business’. So, what is missing is well if crossfit, HIIT, etc. is superior (based on the single thyroid hormone levels criterion, which is very debatable…) I guess those who engaged in these activities don’t see drops. Wrong! The author conveniently ignored the work by Pakarinen et al. (88, 91, 93 — pubmed is your friend) showing that the same (reversible) changes occur in weight lifters and other such activities. The article takes a whole bunch of other shortcuts which are more or less entrenched in selective and confirmation bias. Disingenuous at best.

What is the bottom line? All physical activities are good. What is not good though is to present your system or approach as the best there is. Something triathletes used to be guilty of (and still are). And something we see over and over again on the CrossFit fora. All physical activity coupled with appropriate nutrition will help you lose weight, provided of course you don’t overestimate calorie expenditure, and underestimate calorie intake, you balance proteins, carbs, fats appropriately etc. But if you want to be a better runner, running will do the trick much better than CrossFit (see my previous entries on weight training, and the Q&A). If you want to be kind of good at everything including lifting, jumping, being explosive, etc. then CrossFit will do that much better than running.

So, find something you like, move, eat well and be happy.

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Motivation and goal setting

Yesterday, I gave a lecture titled ‘Exercising: Where Do I Start? What Should I Do?’ The lecture, as you would guess based on the title was really targeting an audience of people who would like to exercise, but don’t really know how, what, where, etc. However, some of the questions I had were very similar to what my athletes ask me on a regular basis, and for the most part can be summarized by a unique question ‘How do I motivate myself?

Here are a few of its forms: I want to start liking to run, how do I do that? I can’t seem to break the 1h mark for the Ironman swim, what should I do? I know I should run more if I want to break the 3h mark in the marathon, but man, it’s hard’. ‘My FTP is only 3.1w/kg, and all my friends have an FTP above 5.2w/kg,I’m demoralized’.

Yesterday during the lecture, I gave a few tips, and these tips apply just the same to seasoned veteran triathletes as they apply to beginners.

1.Measure. Have objective measures of where you are. A 10km race, an FTP test, a 20×100 swim test, weight and skin folds, etc. Use a measure that is validated, and is appropriate to assess what you want to improve, and one that can also be replicated in identical conditions. Don’t go test your swimming improvements in ‘what seems to be roughly 1mi’.

2. Once you know where you are, then set short term goals. Short term goals are far easier to manage psychologically. Thinking about your Ironman that’s in one year can be daunting and leave you flat half way through your preparation. Choose your objectives wisely. For instance, if you are currently swimming 20×100 on 1.30 hitting 1.18, then aiming for 1.15 in a month, while pushing your swim volume from 10mi a week to at least 12mi a week is realistic (discuss it with your coach, or friends if you don’t have a coach). If you aim to swim 1.12 without changing anything else, it may be less realistic. Similarly, losing 4lbs in a month, while raising your FTP from say 250 to 260w may be realistic, whereas going from 250 to 320 is not. And tie your objectives to actions. Having goals and no action will achieve nothing.

3. Set long term goals, and use the milestones set before to change the aims if need be, either extending the deadline, or making the goals higher if you realize you’re going farther than anticipated (the advantage of setting short term goals to the big goals). The adjusting may be necessary simply because it’s actually difficult to know how far you can really go.

4. Remember to focus on the process of improving. This will help if you realize you are not meeting your targets exactly. As long as you are improving, and you focus on the experience of improving (or trying to improve) then it’s never wasted time and effort.

5. Have a small network around you. Make your network aware of your goals. Maybe some are training partners who are a bit faster and can help you reach your objectives. Your partner can tell you to that maybe that 8th oreotella won’t help you reach your race weight (Maya, don’t even think about it…) Think about a small network around you that can support your endeavor, and that will be honest with you.

Happy Training!

PS And I knew I had another point to make…Your friends with 5.2w/kg FTP need to either check their weight more accurately, or the calibration of their power meters. Or (most likely) both.

So you signed up for a half-marathon?

This past weekend was the 7th edition of the El Paso marathon, including a half marathon, and a 5km. As always the organizers put on a great event. Although, I am sure a few of us would love to have it a bit later, mid March when the weather warms up a bit! Just like last year, I received a few emails after the race along the lines of ‘huh, it’s harder than I thought, how do I get ready for this thing?’ So, here is the short answer, in the form of a 12 week training plan, with the usual disclaimers: 1) see with your primary care physician if you are ready to start a running program; 2) see with your partner if getting up at 5am will endanger your relationship 😉 ; 3) be seen, be alert, run safe; and of course 4) hurry slowly.

Who is the plan for? For those who have done some running already. You run relatively regularly, or you have entered a couple of local 5km (3.1mi) or 10km (6.2mi). And you are attempting a half-marathon for the first time. If you have trouble with distances: a half-marathon is 13.1mi (or 21.1km). So, if you get on the treadmill at 6mph, that’s a little over 2h10. That’s just to put things in perspective. Here it is:

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 9.29.49 PM

What does easy pace mean? If you have some rudimentary knowledge of training, see this as aerobic pace, e.g., you can talk while running, not continuously, but pretty close. It actually corresponds to a range of pace. Sometimes you’ll be at the lower end (very easy), sometimes at the upper end, where you can still talk a bit, but it’s a lot more broken.

What are strides? They are short burst of speed. NOT a full sprint, more like an 800m. You focus on being light on your feet, have a relaxed upper body, and a quick stride, but it’s not a sprint. The efforts are just 20 seconds to 30 seconds, and you can rest fully (jogging) in between, say 2 to 3min easy jog in between.

What is tempo? To simplify, consider tempo pace anything from 10km to half marathon pace. You’re not just running easy anymore. It’s mildly uncomfortable to uncomfortable. Since the plan is geared for those who have raced a bit, you should have an idea.

What is the long run? It’s exactly what it says. At the start, it won’t be that long, but it will. And it’s the most important run of the week, so if for some reason, you can’t do a couple of runs during a week, try to keep this one on your schedule.

Happy Training!

Plyometrics and distance running

When it comes to endurance sports, there is a limited number of variables you can address to get faster. You can improve your maximal oxygen uptake with training (VO2max), up to a certain level; you can improve technique in some sports, like swimming; and you can improve your economy.
Running economy is usually defined as the energy required to run at a given (submaximal) speed, and is measured as the rate of oxygen consumption for a given speed (and respiratory exchange ratio). To simplify, it’s your mpg, and you want it to be as low as possible, without lowering your power output (or running speed). After many years of training it becomes very difficult to change your VO2max, especially since you’re also fighting time (after 20, your VO2max declines gradually). Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in the pool knows that it’s very difficult to change your technique (albeit not impossible). So economy remains. What can we do to improve running economy? Well the good thing is that, there are many things you probably do already that are factors improving running economy. For instance, just running more will increase (to a certain level) mitochondrial density and oxidative enzymes, which in turn are factors positively affecting running economy. You can also go train at altitude, which improves some metabolic processes that essentially help you use O2 more efficiently.

Another thing you can do is plyometrics. There are two (not so recent studies) that show plyometrics will yield improvements in running economy in well trained athletes as well as less trained athletes. Spurrs et al. in http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12627298 show an increase of close to 3% in just 6 weeks in a group of 17 Australian runners who have been training for 10 years or so, and ran between 38mi and 50mi a week. In the 3k test (just under 2mi) that amounted to an average improvement of 17secs in the test group, with no change in lactate threshold or VO2max.Turner et al. in http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12580657 showed similar results in less trained athletes. It was hypothesized in both papers that the improvements were due to increase leg-tendon stiffness, resulting in improved store/return of elastic energy. This was confirmed in subsequent studies. Both studies came from Australia…Not very surprising:

The ultimate plyometrics training partner

The ultimate plyometrics training partner

So, practically what does this mean? You can’t just go out and start jumping off of boxes, benches etc. because plyometrics are quite taxing, and the risk of injury is high. There are a few books available online that describes good plyo sessions for runners, and if you don’t have a coach familiar with plyometrics, the best thing to do is probably to get familiar with them prior to starting.

If you decide to go ahead:

1. Incorporate them in 2 easy / aerobic runs during the week (maybe just once per week if you’re injury prone). Here http://www.runningplanet.com/training/plyometrics.html is a pretty good list of some of the exercises you can try.

2. Start easy. 15min easy jog warm-up, 15min session, 15min cool down.
– 3x20secs running bound with 1min easy in between
– 3×5 repeats of double leg forward hops with a min easy jog in between
– 3×20 reps per leg of single leg forward jumps with a min easy jog in between

3. Test the first session and see how your legs feel the next day. If fine, then try a second session in the same week.

4. Be careful when increasing the repeats, and adding other exercises.

Your last option is wait for 6 weeks and see if I’m injured or faster.

To Lift Or Not To Lift?

On a very regular basis, the question of lifting weights comes back to the table. To be honest, this question is still subject to debate in the exercise physiology and exercise science community, to some extent. However, numerous general public articles throw out rehash of old write-ups about weights, some being presented as a panacea to dealing with injuries, or ‘running faster without running more’. They are invariably of poor quality, and as we all know, getting better requires hard work. If it didn’t, we would find something else to do, something that we can be proud of, because we know it took time, dedication, and effort to get there. There, I’m off my high horse now, and we can tackle the weight question. I will make the assumption that people asking ‘should I lift weights’ are asking because they want to swim/bike/run faster, not because they want to look buff. If you intend to look buff, then weights are definitely far superior to running 120mi a week.

I’ll ignore swimming because, first, I have not looked carefully at the literature on weight lifting and swimming, and second, most triathletes are usually very average swimmers, and could just get in the water more to get better. When it comes to cycling and running, there are two main ways to get faster: you can either improve your VO2max (the size of your engine if you will). Or you can improve how efficient you are.

In ‘Effects of concurrent endurance and strength training on running economy and .VO(2) kinetics.’ (GP Millet et al.Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Aug;34(8):1351-9.) demonstrate that ‘additional heavy weight training led to improved maximal strength and running economy with no significant effects on the .VO(2) kinetics pattern in heavy exercise.’ on a population of 15 triathletes. It was particularly interesting since Millet is not only an exercise physiologist, but has also been involved in triathlon coaching for as long as I remember, so he has a truly vested interest that goes beyond publishing yet another paper.
When it comes to cycling, the conclusions of Ronnestad et al in ‘Effect of heavy strength training on thigh muscle cross-sectional area, performance determinants, and performance in well-trained cyclists.’ (Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Mar;108(5):965-75. Epub 2009 Dec 4.) are similar, except that they demonstrate an increase in VO2max, while ‘Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists.’ by Sunde et al. (J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Aug;24(8):2157-65.) demonstrate improved economy from heavy weight training.

However, the population in question are not recreational athletes, and as ‘Effects of a concurrent strength and endurance training on running performance and running economy in recreational marathon runners.’ suggests in J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2770-8., there seems to be no impact of heavy weight training on running economy when it comes to average runners.

So, what does this mean? The first studies I presented focus on relatively advanced athletes. Not elite, but what the triathlon world would call very good age groupers. They are often athletes who have been training for a while, and who are relatively talented, so a fair amount of optimization of their training has taken place. In the study pointing to no improvement, we have a group of runners who are just not running enough yet. I am simplifying a bit on purpose.

In essence, unless you are already running and cycling a lot, chances are you will not improve or not much (i.e. no statistical difference in performance) by lifting weights. What this means is that, if you have an hour to spare, you’re better off going for a run, or a ride, if you intend to improve performance. For instance, a run with high intensity hills will help improve your running economy. At the pointy end, and provided you have the time to include weight training and still recover, the studies seem to indicate that lifting could give you that extra edge. One thing to take into consideration though: there is an increase risk of injury with heavy weight training, especially if you cannot do the sessions under the supervision of an experienced trainer, who understands your goals. The conclusion is that from a practical standpoint, for the immense majority of age groupers, weights are not on the to do list. Use your time well. Spend your time honing your skills by swimming, cycling, and running, and work on strength doing sport-specific sessions (paddles+elastic, big gear workouts, hill repeats).

Weight loss

I think I have everyone’s attention now. Although many came to triathlon at its beginning because it just sounded crazy, and let’s admit it, pretty stupid, the demographics have changed quite dramatically over the past few years. Many come into the sport now to lose weight. Yet, the ‘how do I lose weight’ question pops up regularly at Tri club meetings, group rides, and on internet forums (fora for those of you born in ancient Rome).

It’s pretty easy to do a long article on the topic so I’m going to stick to the fundamentals, and give some tips on how to lose weight in a healthy manner.

1. Thermodynamics 101: there are heated debates about whether the first law of thermodynamics should also apply to us. Yes, there are some metabolic issues, there are some efficiency issues, and water soluble and insoluble fibers, etc., but the bottom line is that the vast majority of studies show that if you want to lose weight, you must get less calorie in, than you get out. In other words, if you get in 3000kcal and burn 2500kcal (including basal metabolism), you will likely go on packing on weight.
Rule 1: get less calories in than you get out.

2. Overestimate / Underestimate: most people tend to underestimate how much they eat, and overestimate how much they burn. There are numerous apps that exist if you want to count calories, so these are a good start. Now, to estimate how much you burn, that gets trickier. Generally, running amounts to your weight in kg time your distance in km, on a flat course. So, if you run 10km and weight 70kg, that’s 700kcal. On the bike, it’s a bit more difficult, because it depends on air resistance, and a bunch of other factors that are difficult to measure. But a rough estimate is that an hour at an easy pace for someone around 140-150lbs shouldn’t be more than 350-400kcal, and 600kcal for someone bigger. When pushing the pace, you can assume a lighter person will be around 600kcal to 700kcal and 800 to 900kcal for someone bigger. These are crude lower bounds, which is good since the goal is to get more out than in. In the water, the estimates also range between 400kcal and 900kcal, depending on how fast you swim. A rule of thumb is to count 700 for 3000yds.This probably underestimates a bit, but once again, the goal is to lose weight.
Rule 2: running for 20min on the treadmill, burns less energy than a venti vanilla latte at starbucks.

Food items: that’s where things get really tricky, because you want to lose weight, but also stay healthy. So rather than writing a nutrition book, something I’m not qualified to do anyway, there are a few rules that you can use:
-Focus on fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, lean meats, seafood, various nuts, and fibers.
-Carbs are NOT bad. You are most likely exercising, and you need to replenish your glycogen stores. Make sure that you eat soon after working out, and eat carbs at that moment. Note: the calorie balance still applies at that moment. It applies ALL the time.
-Stay hydrated, and favor water. It’ll keep your stomach relatively full, and will limit the amount of food you can get in.

Other general rules:
-Try to avoid snacking too late. Avoid eating dinner past 7pm whenever possible. Or at least, avoid dinner too close to bed time.
-Don’t skip meals. In particular breakfast. A couple of studies show that missing out breakfast leads to consuming more calories during the rest of your day.
-Don’t lose more than 2-3lbs per week.
-Stay clear of the various unhealthy weight-loss strategies, that promise quick weight loss, that rely on ridiculous assumptions with no underlying scientific evidence.

That will probably not answer all your questions, but that’s a good start for those who are trying to lose weight, stay healthy, stay active, and race.

The value of hard work

One of the questions I frequently have to answer as a coach is the following ‘can you make me faster, faster?’ It invariably leaves me a bit puzzled because I start wondering why is it so important for improvements to happen instantly. Of course, those who know me won’t miss the irony of my saying this, given my impatient nature. However, when it comes to sport, I thoroughly enjoy the actual preparation, and the process of improving.

Instant gratification has been a societal accelerating trend over the last few years, and I am convinced that it makes us focus on the wrong thing, and blatantly misleads people (in all aspects of life). When it comes to athletic performance, losing weight, shaping up, getting fitter, whatever you want to call it, we are inundated with ridiculous commercials: lose 6in of belly fat with just 3 times 10 minutes a week of product ‘A’; improve your running economy while running less with product ‘B’; etc. You never (or rarely) see a commercial or an ad saying: work hard, work for many years, and you will improve, and enjoy the simple process of getting better.

The little triathlon community jumped on the ‘HTFU’ acronym, and quickly turned it into an ongoing joke: how can I improve my 5km time? HTFU. It’s raining and I have to ride on the trainer, what should I do? HTFU. Swimming is tough and I don’t seem to get better. HTFU. My own athletes will laugh at this because I’ve used it on multiple occasions. But truth is, it often IS the right answer. There is just NO SHORT CUT for hard, consistent work. How do you get better at swimming, cycling, or running? It’s simple. You swim, bike, and run a lot. You’re consistent. You focus on what you do. And you start realizing that what matters is to actually get better, at your own pace. Of course, the content of the sessions, the planning, etc do matter, but the sine qua none conditions to improving are consistency and hard work.

A practical example of this was started by accelerate3 coach, Brian Stover on slowtwitch. With the premise that many triathletes want to run faster (it seems we can’t just buy running speed unlike cycling), Brian created the simplest running plan ever: want to run faster? Simple! Run 50mi per week for 12 weeks straight! The content matters. Somewhat. But for the vast majority, it will pay hugely. Of course, you need to take this with a grain of salt. If you’ve never run more than 15mi per week, then try 30mi per week for 12 weeks. Although…start at 15, go up to 50 slowly but surely, and then do 12 weeks at 50mi. You get the idea. The same is true for swimming and cycling. Practice does make perfect. And, to be clear: sure Kenyans have longer lighter limbs, but the main reason for their running superiority is that they just run more. A lot more. My friend Olaf likes to quote Lao Tzu: the goal is the way. Focus on being consistent. Focus on repetition. Focus on making tedious tasks become easy habits. Focus on the process of getting better, rather than goal times. And you may surprise yourself, going way beyond what you thought you were capable of.

Who’s up for the 50mi per week challenge?

A running experiment

During the winter (I can already hear the Canucks, PacNWers, etc laughing about our Southwestern winters), it can get a tad difficult to head out on the bike. It’s cold(ish), it’s often windy, it takes 53 minutes to get ready, and because you’re wearing 3 layers of gloves, you can’t update your facebook status while riding, so no one knows that you’ve been riding for just 20min but stopped at the Bean for a coffee and a 400kcal muffin nonetheless. Not fun. Swimming isn’t fun either. 25yd indoor pool? Come on now! How about 50m outdoor (and heated)? So, what’s left is…running.

I was looking for something stupid to do for the end of the year, and it suddenly came to my mind. I’m going to see how many 200km back to back running weeks I can do without getting injured. For you, unit-challenged people, that’s 124mi. Sounds stupid enough. On a side note, I have also this twisted fantasy of mine that this may make me a better runner. Oh, and I actually enjoy running. It’s liberating, and it’s a great way to meditate.

What is the plan exactly? Well, the plan is rather simple. Run. A lot. Every day. But since good runners are those with excellent running economy, I figured I’d add a bit of work to improve running form. Hill bounding and hill repeats. But no track, no tempo work, none of that stuff, although I will most likely include some 30-30 work here and there. So, here it goes:

  • Monday: easy am run, hill repeats in the evening. (25km total)
  • Tuesday: long run in the morning, easy jog in the evening. (35km total)
  • Wednesday: easy am run, hill bounding in the evening. (20km total)
  • Thursday: easy am run, hill repeats in the evening. (25km total)
  • Friday: easy am run, easy evening run. (25km total)
  • Saturday: long run in the morning, easy jog in the evening (40km total)
  • Sunday: easy am run, hill bounding in the evening. (30km total)

Wow, now that I look at it, it really sounds stupid. Awesome. Stupid is my credo. All that to say that if you have a little bit more sanity than me, which isn’t hard arguably, you can use the general idea outlined above to work on your running, and running form during the colder months. In the meantime, I’m going to head out for another long run. And hopefully, I will be in excellent running shape comes the racing season. If not, I’ll be injured, and will be blogging more stupid ideas.

PS: Do not forget to sign the waiver before attempting this plan. 

 

Random Q&A

Q. Hey coach, it’s cold outside, can I run on the treadmill?
A. Anything that makes you run works. Yes, it’s slightly different from a biomechanics standpoint, there is no air resistance, etc. But you are running and that’s the bottom line. A lot more could be said, but that’s the short answer. As long as you run, you’re good.

Q. How about vasa instead of swimming?
A. Heeeeeeeemmmmmm, no sorry, get in the water. Although vasa can be added to swimming, it can’t substitute to it. You can’t feel the water, you can’t work on body position, you don’t kick, so no. Add it to swimming, yes. Replace swimming by vasa sets? No.

Q. I want to crossfit. Can I?
A. Sure. It’s the ‘off season’ (see a previous post) you want to add some variety, why not. Actually, it’s fun. Is it going to make you a better triathlete? Depends. It will make you a better triathlete than doing nothing. But it won’t make you a better triathlete than swimming, biking, and running. Yes, there are multiple sites saying otherwise. There are also a few sites predicting the end of the world a few months ago…specificity folks, specificity!

Tire flipping isn't part of triathlon

Q. I have a hard time training in the winter. Can I take the winter off?
A. Yes you can. You will be slower next season. It’s really up to you. Ok, I was trying to not be too sarcastic, but I really couldn’t.

Q. I need to become a forefoot runner, what should I do?
A. You want to become a forefoot runner or a faster runner? Better biomechanics on the run does not equate being a forefoot runner. Nor does running barefoot make you a better runner. It’s a lot trickier AND simpler than that. Yes, at the same time. We will go back to this in a future post. There is a lot of information around lately talking about barefoot, forefoot, mid foot, and the wrong causal links. Focus on becoming a better runner, not a barefoot or forefoot runner.

A short note on willpower

This time of the year, for those whose next races are several months away, is a good time to define where you need work, and what you need to do to improve, either on your own for the self-coached athlete, or with your coach. As I mentioned in the note on simplicity, improving your technique requires (a lot of) work. It is not simply a matter of understanding what you need to change, and try it a couple of times, but rather the necessity to automate the new motor (or mental) skills. In the words of Daniel Kahneman, you want to transfer your task from your system 2 (difficult tasks), to your system 1 (automated tasks). What does it mean from a practical standpoint?

1. Identify what the flaws really are.

For instance, you may cross-over when swimming, which makes you swim like a crocodile. That’d be great if you had a long propulsive tail, but the reality is that your legs going sideways slow you down a lot. Or you may want to improve running economy, by reducing extraneous upper body motions. Or even improving your foot strike. And no, it doesn’t mean a forefoot strike, but this is a long discussion better left for another post.

2. Identify the tasks and exercises to make you more conscious of these flaws, and to fix them.

That’s a lot harder to do. Especially for the self-coached athlete. Videos would be very useful since we are often not very good at imagining what we look like from the outside.

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

There is no quick fix here. You will need time to fix habits that have been developed over several years. And more time to turn these changes into habits. That brings me to a quick comment on music. Many of us like to train with music, and actually, research suggests that it improves your performance. See
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21803652 for instance. However, when trying to switch a task from system 2 to system 1, you want system 2 to be focused on the task at hand, without interference. When you are focusing on the song you enjoy running to, you start going back to your old patterns, and defeat the purpose. In other words, you are not improving your technique anymore. I know this will come as a total devastation to many who hate running without music. But then, if you don’t like running, what’s the point? No one is forcing you 🙂

It is quite natural to resist change in humans (in all facets of life). When trying to change technique, you will need to be very focused, rested, and with decent glycogen stores. The research group of Roy Baumeister has done a bunch of very interesting experiments to look at what breaks our willpower. Low glucose levels is one of them (which is why many coaches recommend that you grab gels, or coke, or sugar quickly when you are racing and start having negative thoughts). But also thoughts that mobilize system 2. If you’re running a set of 400s and your coach tells you, now compute 342 x 46 while running, you will slow down, and may just stop all together. Improving technique is a key component of becoming a better athlete. But it is not to be taken lightly. Identify. Focus. Repeat. And repeat. Again.