I usually lead a group run on Wednesday afternoon, but they only like to run six miles, so I tack in miles before and after to hit what's on my schedule. After 12 hours at work, I put on my tights and zipped up my Northface jacket and went out the door to get some miles in before the group run. I followed the same route as always, winding through a lightly-trafficked subdivision. Four miles into this Wednesday's run, I was hit head on and at full speed by a cyclist. He swerved from the shoulder of the road, into the sidewalk that I was running on. While it sounds funny (it is, I know), the cyclist who was riding at 16-17 miles per hour was hurt too.
When the initial impact occurred, I didn't know what happened. It was pitch black and I was on my back. The wind was knocked out of me, and during that time that I was panicking and unable to catch my breath. There were a million thoughts running through my brain uncontrollably. Was I hit by a car? A bike? A deer or some animal? Was I attacked? Once I was able to breath, I was afraid to stand up still not knowing the extent of what happened. I pulled myself to my feet and noticed my watch was still running (damn it, what will my Strava friends think!?). At this point, I assessed the damage. It hurt to breath, I bit my tongue badly, and my legs hurt. As I looked back, the cyclist was wobbling to his bike and wouldn't respond to my attempts to ask if he was okay. He may have thought that I posed a threat to him, or felt guilty that he smashed an unsuspecting runner, but I certainly wasn't mad.
At this point a moment of realization occurred and I panicked. Nothing was likely broken, but I was hurting. I have been running a lot of high volume mileage, quality speed work and long runs. I've been executing the training plan that my coach developed for me. We were rocking it. I didn't want to let him or my wife or family down. It reminded me of breaking my foot in a race. Was I going to be out another 6 weeks? I am fit and I am three weeks away from a race. It was Wednesday, and I still had 60 miles to run before Sunday night on my training plan. I knew I wouldn't finish the run, I couldn't breathe properly. But I still had to cover ¾ mile to get back to my group. I was hopeful that even though this week was ruined, I could still still salvage some fitness for the race. My limp progressed from a goofy walk, to a shuffle and then a jog. I made it back and told everyone what happened. I started shedding layers of clothes to blood, scrapes and bruises that I didn't even know were there. I realized that while the impact hurt, it didn't break anything. While I was scraped up I wasn't seriously injured. I was hurting, but I wasn't going to be held back by that. I was right about one thing: I'd be 7.5 miles short for my Wednesday run.
This is where the the accident did more good for me than finishing the run ever would have - I made a commitment in my head to work through the pain over the next few days (as long as it didn't alter my gait or form) and get those miles in. This means something to me. On Thursday (today) I ran 12 miles. Every step hurt my scrapped up butt, every breath hurt my bruised shoulder, lat, ribs and pecs. Every breath out reminded me that my tongue was cut. All of these are minor in the grand scheme of things, but I had every reason not to run and I did it anyway. As I kept plodding forward, the pain started to subside some.
When the going gets tough at the Pilot Mountain Trail Marathon in 27 days, or during my 100M race this fall, this is a run I'll remember. I'll know that I've been deep in the trenches, the swamps - a bad place mentally before and I can keep going even when every muscle in my body hurts. I can push on even when I have to work for every breath. This is one of the many opportunities over the last year that have helped me become more resilient and tougher. This was also comparable to a checkpoint or exam; how tough am I? I aced this test, I'm as tough as nails now. But I wasn't always…
Growing up I was weak as hell from a mental standpoint. I was insecure, scared of failure and didn't believe in myself - I couldn't take risks or even be myself. I was afraid to be who I really was. I wanted to be accepted. This provided me with another opportunity to silence those inner doubts and be courageous in the face of pain and adversity. I love growing like this. You can't get it from a normal 12 mile easy run. This shit is situational and cannot be simulated. I'm not that scared insecure boy anymore. I am not the kid who is easily conquered by his demons and inner voices. I was never missing talent and I've never lacked work ethic - I'm a workhorse. I lacked mental strength and courage, but I've come a long way and it's evident. My doubts are what killed me in the past, now I kill all of my doubts and I feel unstoppable. My doubts and negative talk were the root of my problem, and over the course of the last few years I ripped those roots out of the ground and planted new seeds that will make me grow.
No feeling sorry for myself - ever. No letting anything stop me - ever. I'm coming for what I want.
As a disclaimer - please don't let my message get misconstrued. I'm not telling anyone to run through injury or pain. If you're hurt and you run it will get worse and you'll be in a bad situation. Be sensible and always conservative. I knew my aches and pains were cosmetic and mental. This provided an opportunity for growth for me in my own personal journey.
Improving aerobic endurance is a painstaking process. After all, aerobic endurance is forged from years of consistency and countless miles. While the mileage and speed work are the two aspects of training that get the most attention, there are little things you can add to your weekly routine that will pay off. Periodically add these 3 elements to your training and it will pay off:
Short Hill Sprints:
I love to do these following an easy run; especially the day before a speed session. Not to be confused with ‘hill repeats’ which can be an effective means of improving VO2 max - but hill repeats can impact recovery or the next day's workout. Short hill sprints, typically 10-20s in duration on a 4-6% grade give you a lot of bang for your buck. While they don't typically last long enough to make your legs heavy the next day, they do provide a stimulus in the form of a runner-specific strength workout. While weight training is effective, this type of training is runner specific and improves your ability to generate and sustain power output. These sprints improve your running mechanics and strengthen your lower leg tendons and muscles, hamstrings, quads, glutes and hips making you more resistant to overuse injuries. Being more resilient means that you may be able to train harder and longer while recovering better. As a bonus: there is evidence that short sprints like this improve a neuromuscular connection, allowing you to run more efficiently at faster paces and better recruit muscle fibers during activity.
Periods of faster-paced running injected into an existing easy run. For example, I typically have pickups prescribed a few times weekly in my 10-12 mile runs. I’ll usually do 4-6 x 30 seconds of pickups with at least two minutes of easy running before the next one starts. The practice of doing this essentially forces your body to adapt to the physiological demands of running faster, without being long enough to build lactic acid or develop heavy legs for the next day. I aim for 1 mile to-5k estimated race pace by feel to really get my legs turning over. The runners who add pickups to their run improve their mechanics and positively impact their running efficiency. Simply put, pickups make you more comfortable running faster.
Running downhill generates more than 50% more force than normal running. It beats up your quads, and glutes, but if you master it, you'll see much improvement come race day. In fact, elite runners run downhill much more efficiently than the average runner. Downhill Sprints of 10-20s on a 4-5% grade help you improve speed and neuromuscular connection like short hill sprints. As a start - aim for your 5k pace by effort for the short bursts. Usually 6-10 downhill sprint repeats is enough to provide the necessary stimulus. As an added bonus, downhill sprints get you more comfortable with running downhill leading to faster race times from that aspect as well.
Get faster and fitter by becoming stronger.
I've been asked by more than 20 people recently to write about my nutrition and thoughts around diet. I've been tremendously busy, but I've also been hesitant to write about nutrition because few things are more polarizing. After all, diet is heavily ingrained in our culture and social lives and we have this unnecessary emotional attachment to what we eat. I think who we share our meals with is far more important than what's on the plate. So why argue? I'll get to exactly what I eat below, after I lay out my rules, but many of you will be shocked.
Before you read any further, please understand that I am not an R.D. - I'm actually in a business career and it's likely that I'll be heading to law school. I am well-educated when it comes to nutrition, and I'm very passionate about it. I've been a fitness professional for more than a decade. This is what I live for, but ultimately I am not a dietitian, so keep that in mind.
I'm writing specifically about my thoughts around nutrition for athletic performance. I'm certainly not writing about disease prevention or cure - that's above my pay grade.
The most common question I get is:
“What do you eat and how can I look like you?”
The short answer is that you can't, we don't have the same genetic makeup. As a side note: I don't eat to ‘look’ a certain way as much as I eat to ‘perform’ a certain way.
From all of the data I've gathered and all of the painstakingly tedious research I've done - I know one thing in absolutes: Elite athletes don't typically cut out any specific macro-nutrient from their diets. I personally know elite runners who wouldn't dare have a cheat meal, and I know elite runners that eat Arby's before a race. There are fringe athletes in the endurance community who do cut out whole food groups, but this rule is mostly-true. Zach Bitter eats a ketogenic diet he is one of the rare anomalies among elite athletes. You don't need to start name-dropping other people who don't eat carbs (I swear that I don't care). My personal friend Sage Canaday is a vegan and a world class mountain-ultra-trail runner, but it's not all too common among elites.
For most people, I think that moderation is going to be the key to success. Numerous large studies show that unless someone has a medical or health related reason for restricting specific aspects of a diet, they'll ultimately end up back where they started.
Nobody can produce facts or reproducible studies that say “this or that” is the optimal human diet for performance. I can say, however, that slamming a series of chemical-filled saturated fat-laden cheeseburgers down your throat isn't good (yes, even if you've removed the bun).
No matter which philosophy you subscribe to, here are the rules that I follow -
I currently average about 100g of complete protein per day on a diet in which I consume no animal products whatsoever. I would like to emphasize that I make no effort to get extra protein, 100g comes pretty easy when you're eating a varied diet. Yes, a varied diet makes complete proteins.
3.) Water consumption must be adequate. I spent years dehydrating myself. When I ruptured my hamstring during college soccer, it was suspected that dehydration played a major role. Now when my training volume gets higher, my right hamstring suffers most still. This seems fairly simple, but it's a common issue and should be addressed.
4) There's no point in going Gluten-free if you don't have an intolerance to gluten. You could say “wheat belly” but I've never had a wheat belly, so not sure what the issue is. Though each person is different, you need to find what works for you. I think sprouted grains are an even better choice than standard whole wheat.
Biggest thing to remember:
What works for me might now work for you. I'd never attempt to convince you to eat what I do. I have flaws, as does my diet. I have been eating a plant-based whole food diet in which I consume zero animal products whatsoever. Please don't call me a vegan though. I don't really like the idea of being pigeonholed into some philosophy that is associated with judgmental hippies. I just do my thing and I don't judge anyone else. That's another reason I've been hesitant to write this article. I haven't always been plant-based, but I have always been uninterested in meat; I just don't enjoy it and it gives me acid reflux. I also hate the way animals are treated and would argue it's a catalyst for disease, but that's another story.
Within the next week I'm going to write an article or make a video which chronicles a full day of eating for me personally. Since becoming fully plant-based I have recovered faster, had no instances of acid reflux, and have been able train at a higher volume all while saving money at the grocery store. I attribute most positive changes in my physique, musculature and performance improvements to my switch to a plant based diet, I was will able to gain muscle, I lost fat and didn’t have a guilty conscience in doing so.
I'm going to recommend at this point that you stop reading because below I'm going to tell you why fad diets are complete rubbish and it's going to offend people, it's going to hurt some feelings, it's gonna make me lose some followers.
Okay, if you're still here; here's the deal. If you've ever struggled with weight issues, or body image, or poor performance - you know that you would have killed for a quick solution. The part that most people hate is that there is no quick solution. But that's what they want to sell. How boring is that?! This new keto craze may have some applications - specifically in epilepsy treatment, but it's long-term effects have yet to be determined. My guess is that we'll see seemingly fit 55 year olds collapsing left and right from heart disease. When you're overweight or obese - it feels good to throw some bacon at it. That's what fad diets do - they sell you on your addictions, on the things you don't want to walk away from. Sure, if you eat only 1600 calories worth of bacon each day, you'll lose weight. You'll also triple your odds of dying from pancreatic cancer I'd imagine too. Isn't the keto diet just a new version of the Atkins diet? With no intent to body-shame Dr. Atkins, wasn't he clinically obese and struggling with heart disease and hypertension? Not exactly what I'd hope to emulate. In addition to his large midsection and collection of obesity-related diseases, he had a fat wallet filled with money from profiting off of his fad diet that either didn't work or wasn't easy enough for him to sustain.
Am I boring? Doesn't it suck that I'm not trying to sell you some magic pill? That I'm saying the best way to be healthy is adopt a sustainable lifestyle, make sacrifices, and stick to it for a really long time? I hate the idea of profiting from people's struggles with health and obesity or food addiction. If you are on the fence about changing your diet, whether to plant-based or not -message me, and I can give you tips, recipes and other useful tools. I'll help in anyway possible.
Thanks for taking the time to read.