Goals Set the Direction, But Habits Are Best For Becoming The Runner You Want to Become

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at this rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it – but all that had gone before.” – Jacob Riis (social reformer)

Happy New Year Runners!

Each year approximately 40 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, by the time February arrives most have quit, and will probably make the same resolution next January. Why weren’t they successful? Most likely they didn’t develop the proper behaviors and habits necessary to be successful. Yes, goals are important and provide direction, however it’s the systems and habits that we develop, that are most important to our success.

I recently finished reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I highly recommend. He shares some valuable insight on how to develop good habits, and eliminate bad ones. In this article, I will touch upon a few insights that might help you get started in developing the habits you need to become a better runner and achieve your running goals.

Goals are helpful in that they provide us direction. Such as if we were flying from Los Angeles to Maui, it is helpful to know which direction we need to go. However, if we set a course starting from Los Angeles to land in Maui we would not arrive, if we did not make adjustments along the way. Similar with our running goals. We may have a goal of completing our first marathon, or breaking four hours, or qualifying for Boston, however if we don’t develop the proper plan, get in the runs and support work (dynamic warmup, cool down, strengthening exercises, and cross-training) and develop other important habits, we’ll not optimize our training. Instead, we may develop an injury and we won’t develop the endurance and/or speed necessary to achieve our goal.

Take Small Steps with a System-Focused Approach, Instead of Goal-Focused

One important principle from Atomic Habits is developing systems that set you up to become the person necessary to achieve whatever goals you set for yourself. Thus, to become a better runner such things as: proper training and nutrition plans, running form, support work, sleep, and hydration are important. If these are implemented on a consistent basis, incremental progress will be made leading to improved running performance, which then lead to better race results.

One of my favorite coaches of all time is the late Coach John Wooden, who had his players focus on making some small improvement each day that would help improve their game. These small improvements compound over time, like when you invest in mutual funds. Wooden put the emphasis on improvement and not on winning basketball games and national championships. As a result, some of Wooden’s players became some of the best basketball players in history (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton), and his teams won ten national championships, including seven in a row.

It is interesting to note that Wooden did not win his first national championship until he had been coaching at UCLA for 16 years! So, it took him a while to develop and successfully implement a system that would maximize his players’ performance, as well as his own coaching abilities. Similarly, if you are growing bamboo. It takes a significant amount of time for a bamboo plant to lay down an extensive root system. Then, all of sudden, a whole bunch of bamboo appears!

A systems-first mentality also allows you to fall in love with the process rather than the product/goal and you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running. This is important because we are hardwired for immediate gratification. The goal-first mentality forces us to delay gratification until the next milestone is reached. The goal-first mentality also creates an “either-or” conflict in which you are either successful or a failure. Also, a goal-oriented mindset can create a “yo-yo” effect, which once the goal is achieved, you revert back to old habits. This is common with those trying to achieve weight loss.

So, it can be more beneficial to focus on what you want to become, instead of what you want to achieve, and develop the habits or systems to do so. If instead of waiting until we achieve our goal, we can achieve satisfaction in performing the steps along the way, we will be much happier and are more likely to make good habits automatic. Early on we may want to set up a rewards system for when we are completing the habits that we need to become the runner we need to become. Therefore, if we complete our run and the important support work, then we reward ourselves appropriately. For example, I reward myself with ten minutes of additional guitar-playing time. Over time you may not need the reward system because you automatically include support work on your run days.

So, again even though your goals will direct you, what’s most importance is the system you implement to become the runner necessary to achieve those goals. If you develop the habits and put in the work, the results will follow, just as they did for Coach Wooden.

 Identity Focus

Another important aspect of Atomic Habits is to become identity-focused, instead of goal-focused. Your habits are consistent with the identity you have for yourself. So, in order to change your habits, you have to change your identity. For example, if someone is trying to lose weight, they could change their identity to that of a healthy person, instead of focusing on losing a certain number of pounds. They can then focus on making decisions consistent with what a healthy person does, and could ask themselves, “What would a healthy person do in this situation?”

Similarly, if you have a time goal and/or want to be a Boston qualifier, your identity could be I’m a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or a “Boston qualifier” and put your focus on the habits necessary or consistent with being a “sub-3:45 marathoner” or “Boston qualifier”. You can then ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that would get these results?” Therefore, you would begin developing the sleep habits (such as 7-9 hours of sleep per night, because while you are sleeping the important adaptations to your training are occurring), nutrition habits (proper nutrients to fuel you and support adaptations), and support work habits necessary. You may also determine that it is necessary to work with a coach, so that you optimize your running form for performance and have an optimal training plan.  You may also need to develop the mind-set of focusing on improving as a runner from year-to-year, and appreciate that it may take a couple of years to break 3:45 in a marathon, or qualify for Boston.

Habit Stacking and Designing Your Environment

Techniques such as habit stacking and designing your environment (make it obvious) may help you facilitate the habits consistent with your identity of being a “sub-3:45 marathoner”, for example. After my runs I grab a glass of water to begin hydrating and focus on “relaxing my legs” by doing gentle leg swings, gradually increasing the range of motion. I perform these close to our designated workout room, which has my yoga mat, resistance band, dumbbells, foam roller, and lacrosse ball all laid out in full view (designing my environment). This cues me to perform the rest of my support work, including my strengthening exercises and cool down (habit stacking). Also, I usually play music I enjoy while performing these, which makes it easier to perform. I’ve performed this routine so many times that it has become automatic, and I recommend setting up a similar situation for yourself.

I will touch upon other important principles from Atomic Habits and other behavior change strategies in future blogs, to help you become the runner you want to become and help you achieve your goals along the way.

Summary of Key Points

  • Success is the product of daily habits
  • Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results
  • Identity the person you want to become and develop the habits consistent with that identity
  • Consistency of habits is important. Start small and implement a proper reward system for immediate gratification once you’ve completed these habits. These habits should soon become automatic.
  • Focus on improvement over time, such as year-to-year, as a runner, not just a one-time goal

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help.

I don’t want to leave you with the idea that goals aren’t important. They have their place, as far as providing direction. Also, there are other steps you should take before beginning your training. Click here for a post from last year on goal setting and here to learn of other steps you should take before you begin training.

Also, it’s not too late to get started on training, if you are planning to run a spring half- or full-marathon. I began my formal training for the Colfax marathon last week.

Finally, I plan to lead a half- and full-marathon training group this year for fall half- and full-marathons. The group will meet once per week in Louisville (CO) for a run, and participants will be provided with a 16-week training plan. If you are interested, or would like to learn more, please contact me at brian@denverrunningcoach.com

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

James Clear. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.  Avery: New York, 2018.

Have Fun with a 5k Early in Your Marathon Training

Hello Runners,

I encourage you to consider running a 5k in your first two months of half- or full-marathon training. I found an organization called Park Run (https://www.parkrun.us/) that does local free 5ks throughout the year.

First, running a 5k can be a nice change from the normal routine of weekend long runs, which your body and mind will greatly appreciate! If you do most, or all of your training alone, a 5k will be a great opportunity to be around and connect with other runners. In addition, being in a race environment can be motivating and inspiring and help you enjoy and appreciate your training more.

Also, a 5k early on in your training can be a great way to determine your baseline fitness. Your performance from your 5k race can be used to predict your performance in a future half- or full-marathon, depending on your training for the next 12-16 weeks. This training will need to include long runs and other workouts that appropriately stress your aerobic system, such as progression and threshold runs.

Your pace for a 5k can be used to determine paces for your training runs by using prediction calculators. I use races and prediction calculators with almost all of the runners I coach, to tailor their workouts, so they are getting the most benefit, while training at paces that are most appropriate for them.

There are several online calculators that can be used including:

www.macmillanrunning.com

However, you need to use these intelligently in predicting your future half- or full-marathon pace. This includes taking 5-10 seconds off your 5k time and then plugging into the predictor calculator. Keep in mind this is a projected pace for these events, and certainly not a pace you would run these events at now. After all, you won’t have done long runs much more than 8-12 miles at this point.

You should aim for a negative split in your 5k. That is to run the last half of the 5k faster than the first half. The easiest way to accomplish this is to keep a consistent pace for the first three miles and then speed up for the last 200 meters or tenth of a mile. Also, Coach Jay Johnson, in his book Simple Marathon Training, recommends running the first mile very conservatively, including running the first half mile at a pace that is challenging, but comfortable. He says don’t worry about those people who pass you because most of them will be running a positive split (slower second half of the 5k). He suggests a negative split race is a better predictor of your aerobic fitness than a positive split race.

Make sure you recovery well from your 5k. You should perform a cooldown after the 5k, including walking and then stretching/foam rolling. Also, I recommend a brisk walk or other low to moderate cross-training the next day for approximately 30 minutes. You may want to take the following day off from running completely before resuming your running.

So, go out and enjoy a 5k!

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References:

  • Simple Marathon Training, Jay Johnson.

Ways To Have Fun With Your Training Runs and A Special Offer To Help You Achieve Your Running Goals

June 23 pic 1 6 mile morning runHello Runners,

As I finished my second week of marathon-specific training this past week, I was thinking about the importance of making training enjoyable and different ways to do so. I will discuss several of these ways later in this email. However, before I do, I want to share with you a new coaching option I am offering runners to help them achieve their goals.

For this new coaching option, you will receive a customized training plan with workouts for the entire month. During the last week of each month, you and I will have a 15-20 minute coaching call to discuss your progress and address any questions or concerns you have regarding your training. I will then send you the next month’s workouts based on your progress and your running goals. During the month you will also have the opportunity to email me questions that you have.

To initiate the process, we would have a 30-minute free coaching consult to discuss your running goals, running history, current training, favorite workouts, and any current or past injuries. The first month of your training will include a 5k or 10k race, or similar time trial, based on what is most appropriate for your fitness level and running goals. The results from this race or time trial will be used in subsequent training. Each month you will receive a new training plan with workouts to help progress you towards achieving your goals based on your progress from the previous month.

The cost for this coaching option will be $59/month, which is a significant savings from the customized weekly coaching service that I offer ($159/month).

For questions, or to get started, either reply to this email, or email me at brian@denverrunningcoach.com

Now, back to the ways to make your training more enjoyable, which I will include in your customized training plans.

Immediate gratification

  • Training for a half- or full-marathon takes a lot of dedication and at a minimum you will be training for 4-5 months. So at times, it might be difficult to get excited about a goal that is months away, while you are struggling through individual training runs or other workouts. Therefore, you need to celebrate your small wins along the way, because as humans we are hardwired to seek out immediate gratification. So, set yourself up to receive immediate gratification for each of your workouts. Is it stress relief, a sense of accomplishment, the hit of endorphins that make you feel awesome! Whatever it is frame your training and workouts around this to better help you enjoy your training.

Celebrate the small wins

  • Also, celebrate the small wins you are achieving as your progress towards your ultimate goal, such as completing that first 10-miler, 20-miler, difficult speed workout, etc. Share this with your significant other, family, friends, etc. Let them know how awesome you are. You deserve it!

Do the workouts you enjoy

  • Most runners have favorite workouts they enjoy doing, so perform these periodically, to help you enjoy your training. One of my personal favorites are ladder workouts, such as performing 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 4-, 3-, 2-, 1-minute work bouts (commonly referred to as intervals) at a somewhat hard to hard pace.

Incorporate shorter races in your training

  • It can be helpful to incorporate some appropriate shorter races into your training. Being in a race/event atmosphere can help re-invigorate you and help bring more energy into your subsequent training. Plus, doing an event can help you see the progress you are making in your training, which certainly can be motivating!

Run in an area you enjoy

  • Do you have a favorite place that you enjoy running? Then, do at least some of your training runs there. This may require driving, so wake up a little earlier to get to your favorite running spot and enjoy it.

Vary your training routes

  • One of our most basic needs is the need for variety. So, satisfy this basic need by varying where you perform your training runs. This might include doing some runs on trails, if you perform most of your runs on the road, or mixing in a few hills, if you usually run on flat terrain. I love to explore new areas, and so I will incorporate this into my runs, especially my long runs.

Avoid what you don’t like

  • For me this is simple, I don’t like running on the treadmill, so I don’t. Yes, this means running in cold and rainy weather sometimes, but I have a much better time than on a treadmill. Also, I find the track to be boring, so I perform my speed work on roads and trails, even incorporating hills sometimes for variety.
  • So, avoid, or at least minimize running in areas, on surfaces, etc. that you don’t enjoy. Your training runs shouldn’t be a slog.

Consider what inspires you

  • I am always inspired by the natural beauty of Colorado. In fact, that was one of the primary reasons why I moved to Colorado about seven years ago. So, I choose running routes that will incorporate natural beauty in some way. This makes my runs more enjoyable and reminds me how grateful I am to be in Colorado and to be alive!

Have a strong enough and the Right Why for training

  • I always recommend runners think about their goals and reasons why it is important to achieve those goals. If you have goals that are meaningful to you, and you remind yourself of these on a daily basis, it makes it easier to put in the training necessary to achieve these goals.

You don’t need to do a bunch of 20-milers to be successful in the marathon

  • Your weekly long runs should not be a weekly “death march.” You don’t have to do a bunch of 20 mile runs to be successful in the marathon. I usually only do two when I’m training for a marathon, and instead perform shorter long runs which incorporate speed or hills. Again, I run in areas I enjoy which make the long runs more pleasurable.

Don’t need to “hit your paces” for every run

  • Yes, there are certain workouts in which attaining a certain pace for a portion of the run is important, but this shouldn’t be the case for all runs. In fact, on easy days I would recommend not monitoring your pace at all and just focusing on enjoying an easy pace run. For my weekly runs with my friend, Sam, I don’t even notice the pace until after the run, and often it’s about 2-3 minutes slower than my goal marathon pace.

Consider doing some of your easy runs with other runners

  • If you don’t normally train with others, it might make training more enjoyable to do a run on occasion with a friend or running group. Just make sure to run your own pace. Often running groups are social, so I would choose easy runs to do with these groups, so that you can keep the pace conversational. I know I really appreciate the easy runs I have with my friend every week.

Consider your training runs a gift

  • I strongly encourage you to frame your runs as a gift you give yourself and not something you feel you should do. Consider all the great benefits that you’ll get from your training runs, such as stress relief, a sense of accomplishment, more energy, inspiration, etc. If you perform your runs in the morning it is a great way to start the day!

So, have fun with your training and try a few of the recommendations I shared. If you found this to be helpful, please share this with anyone you feel might benefit.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

Mindset and Intrinsic Motivation: Key to Achieving Your Running, Fitness, and Weight Loss Goals

During my run yesterday morning, I was thinking about the importance of mindset during training and accomplishing goals, whether it’s completing a first marathon, qualifying for the Boston marathon, improving health through exercise, or weight loss, etc. I’ll admit it was not easy for me to get up this morning and run. It was a drizzly and dreary morning; not very inspiring for a run. So, in these situations I use a few things to help motivate me. First, I remind myself of my goals.  If you haven’t written down your running/exercise/health and wellness goals for 2019 yet, then you need to write them down and post them somewhere you can see them daily. Remember, these are goals that are important to you! I’ve also developed an association with exercise, in which I feel great during exercise and after I’m done. So, I remind myself how fantastic I will feel after I’ve completed my run and strengthening exercises. If that isn’t enough, then it’s time to listen to my favorite inspiring music, such as the theme to Rocky.

Dr. Michelle Segar has dedicated her career to studying motivation as it relates to fitness. Here are a few recommendations that she gives as far as motivating oneself to exercise. She recommends reframing exercise and to stop thinking of it as a chore, and start thinking of it as a gift. One way to do this is instead of saying to yourself “I have to exercise”, say to yourself “I get to exercise.” This allows you to rely on intrinsic motivation, which has been shown to be a more powerful motivator, than extrinsic motivation. In this case, saying “I have to exercise/run” imposes a measure of external control and thus a lack of autonomy. However, when you say “I get to exercise”, you have full autonomy; it’s your choice. Thus, the motivation comes intrinsically, or internally.

Dr. Segar details more on motivation and fitness in her book “No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness.”

Also, a note on weight loss. For those trying to lose weight, I recommend reframing this to weight management, such as “I’m managing my weight”, instead of “I’m losing weight”. Consciously and subconsciously, we never want to lose. So, if we focus on “weight loss” we can be fighting an internal battle with ourselves, making weight loss difficult to attain because we want to gain back what we lost. However, if we reframe to managing our weight or weight management, the internal struggle within us no longer exists, and we can be more successful.

So grab your own personal power and use intrinsic motivation to help you achieve your goals. Enjoy the gift of exercise and treat yourself!

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

 

References:

  • Pinkcast 3.01: This is how to motivate yourself when you don’t feel like exercising (Daniel Pink)
  • michellesegar.com