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,



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

Make Some of Your Long Runs More Challenging Than Your Marathon To Make Your Marathon Easier

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” – Colin Powell

Hello Runners,

Over the past few weeks I’ve been incorporating hills and trails on some of my long runs. These runs have been really challenging and my paces have been about a minute less than my goal pace. However, I’m getting some great benefits from these runs that are going to help me on marathon day! I used this strategy for the last marathon I ran a few years ago, and while I watched many runners struggle in the last five miles, I was still strong. In fact, several spectators made comments of that nature.

If you are running a flat marathon, such as the Chicago Marathon, you will most likely be pleasantly surprised at how strong you feel by incorporating some tougher long runs in your training. If you are running a marathon with hills, especially at the end, such as the NYC Marathon, then you will be stronger on these hills.

Fortunately, I’m able to run from my house to areas with hills, trails, and both. Here are some benefits to running in such areas:

Benefits of Running Hills

  • Great leg strengthener, especially for quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and muscles connected to the ankles providing great support for our knees and ankles to help minimize risk of injury and increase running pace
  • Our muscles are made up of different muscle fiber types. You may have heard of these. Basically, we have Type 1, or slow-twitch fibers, which we predominately use when we run a 5k, half- or full-marathon. However, for longer events, such as marathons, these fibers need a break from continually contracting. This is when we use our other muscle fiber types, especially the intermediate, Type 2a fibers, to give our Type 1 fibers time to recover before using them again. Basically, cycling between different fiber types during marathons, allows us to keep running. While the Type 1 fibers are great for endurance, the Type 2a are great for endurance and speed. Training on hills helps strengthen these fibers and helps improve their endurance performance, so they can help us out more during our marathon. This can result in a faster running pace, minimization of fatigue towards the end of a marathon, and allows us to be stronger on any hills we encounter during our event.

Benefits of Trails, Especially with Rocks

  • This is great for running form because it forces us to pick up our knees more, which improves running cadence (number of steps you take per minute). Unfortunately, I was not as focused on getting over some of the rocks on the trail I was running on a couple of weeks ago. I tripped and did a face plant resulting in some nice cuts and scrapes on my hands, elbows, knees, stomach. Fortunately, it wasn’t worse than that! So stay focused when running, especially in rocky areas!
  • Running on trails can provide some nice variety to our training, and often will require the use of some different muscles to help stabilize us more, especially muscles connected to the ankle joint. This can help with running form as well, in that it can improve our stability when you have one foot during your marathon or other event.

So, I recommend incorporating some tougher long runs early on in your training. I would focus more on flatter long runs on roads, or hard packed trails with minimal rocks, during your last 2-3 months of training. This will allow you to run closer to your goal event pace.

Also, you will need to appropriately balance these tougher long runs with your runs during the week, so that you can allow for recovery and still complete these runs. This is certainly something I keep in mind when developing training plans for the runners I coach, and for my own training plan.

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

Also, if you know anyone who might benefit from this email, please share this with them. Also, if this was beneficial, please “Like” our page. Thank you.

Your friend and coach,


Marathon Training 2019 Day 69: Train Like An Athlete, Not Just a Runner, or Risk Not Achieving Your Running Goals in 2019

March 29 2019 Snowshoeing in RMNP on KJs bday






Today I ran ~10 miles at a comfortable pace and included 4 x 8-second hill sprints towards the end of this run with full recovery in between hill sprints.

Immediately after my run I did the following exercises:

  • Leg swings forward and back with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Single-leg stand (~60 seconds for each leg)
  • Pushups on a stability ball (10 repetitions)
  • Monster walks side-to-side and forward and backward (15 repetitions on each side and in each direction)
  • Y, T, I, and W (10 repetitions for each position)
  • Clamshells (20 repetitions on each side)
  • Prone planks (~45 seconds)
  • Side planks (~40 seconds)
  • Supine planks (~30 seconds)
  • Glute bridge hip lifts (10 repetitions + hold for 30 seconds after last repetition)
  • Quadrupeds (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Toe yoga (10 repetitions times for each foot)
  • Fire hydrants (10 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg balance (~30 seconds for each leg)
  • Bounced on stability ball with smaller ball in between knees (3 minutes)

After these exercises I did active isolate stretching for the calf muscles and ball rolling for the calf muscles and plantar fascia.

While I was performing my ten mile run, I was thinking about the importance of training like an athlete, not just a runner. Running is a repetitive exercise performed primarily in one plane of motion, the sagittal, or front-to-back, plane. However, it is important to be able to stabilize motion in the other two planes of motion, the frontal, or side-to-side, plane, and the transverse, or rotational, plane. In fact, lack of stability, mobility, and strength in these planes leads to many of the common injuries experienced by runners, including IT band syndrome, plantar fasciitis, and issues of the knee and ankles. Therefore, runners need to train like athletes and improve stability, mobility, and stregnth in all three planes of motion. Thus, I have included exercises in the fitness training program for this. If you have not received the fitness training program, you can access this by opting in on the Welcome Page, under “Subscribe to My Newsletter.” Such exercises would include monster walks from side-to-side (frontal plane exercise) and forwards and backwards (transverse plane exercise).

You can also improve stability, mobility, and strength in the frontal and transverse planes of motion through certan modes of cross-training. One of my neighbors is a very fast runner and I see him running with his young daughter from time-to-time. Last week I saw her rollerblading, which is going to help her build stability, mobility, and strength in the frontal plane. She’s going to be a great athlete and runner!  Cross-country skiing is another great cross-training activity that will similarly be beneficial in the frontal plane. For this, and other reasons, I like to include cross-country skiing for some of my cross-training workouts. Other forms of cross-training can also be beneficial for improving stability, mobility, and stregnth, so I recommend including some variety in the modes of cross-training that you perform. My wife’s birthday was this past Friday, and we sprent a couple of days snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Snowshoeing is another great mode of cross-training. I have continued to feel the effects of those workouts in my glutes, which is also going to help me have more power in my running stride, and thus be a better athlete and runner.

So, embrace being an athlete and not just a runner, to improve your chances of achieving your running goals for 2019.

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

Your friend and coach,


Marathon Training 2019 Day 62: Embrace Hill Running, Benefits and Techniques

March 20 Moonset on Equinox

March 21 moonset small version







“Hills. We love them. We hate them. They make us strong. They make us weak. Today I chose to embrace hills.” – Hal Higdon

Belated Happy Equinox and welcome to Spring! I’m so happy that spring, my favorite season, is here.  On the equinox and the day after the equinox, there were some beautiful moonsets over the mountains. I tried to capture these during my morning runs.

In this post I want to discuss hill running a bit. As I near the end of my fitness training portion of my marathon training, I incorporated some hills on my ~8.5 mile long run today. I also performed 4 x 8-second hill sprints towards the end of this run.

Immediately after my run I did the following exercises:

  • Leg swings forward and back with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with both straight and bent leg (10 repetitions of each for each leg)
  • Single-leg stand (~60 seconds for each leg)
  • Pushups on a stability ball (10 repetitions)
  • Monster walks side-to-side and forward and backward (15 repetitions on each side and in each direction)
  • Y, T, I, and W (10 repetitions for each position)
  • Clamshells (20 repetitions on each side)
  • Prone planks (~45 seconds)
  • Side planks (~40 seconds)
  • Supine planks (~30 seconds)
  • Double leg hip bridges (10 repetitions + hold for 30 seconds after last repetition)
  • Quadrupeds (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Toe yoga (10 repetitions times for each foot)
  • Fire hydrants (10 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg balance (~30 seconds for each leg)

After performing these exercises, I did one-minute static stretches for the calf muscles and lots of softball rolling for the calf muscles and plantar fascia!


It is helpful to incorporate hills on some of your long runs. This will help you build strength in your legs to improve your strength and speed, as well as help you improve your running economy (efficiency) and help you minimize the risk of injury.

Tip of the Day:

Running on hills can be beneficial for building strength and power in the legs, as well as improving running economy (efficiency), which can be transferred into improving running speed. This leg strengthening can also be beneficial for minimizing risk of injury.

When running uphill, lean slightly forward from the ankles, shorten your stride, and increase your arm swing speed. Keep your back straight, so that you’re not bending from waist. Also, keep your head and neck in alignment with your back. Look at least a few feet in front of you, instead of looking straight down at the ground, even if you are running on trails. Don’t dip you chin down. These will all help you keep your airways open, so you can maintain normal breathing.

Unless you are performing hill sprints (previous post), hill repeats (future post), Fartlek or a paced run, such as a threshold pace run, you should not push too hard when climbing hills, and try to stay as relaxed as possible. Keep steady rhythmic breathing, as best as possible. When you reach the top of the hill don’t push the pace and effort too hard on the other side, whether it is flat or downhill.

When descending, think of running downhill like downhill skiing, if you downhill ski. That is leaning slightly forward, instead of leaning back, like you might do if you were descending a hill on a road or mountain bike. You should land on your midfoot or lightly on your heel. You should take smaller steps, so that you have better control

When running downhill try not to push the pace too hard during training, unless you are performing downhill repeats. During training, you should never push the pace on downhill portions when running on the road or other hard surfaces, because this puts significant stress on your joints, particularly the knee. If you are performing downhill repeats, I recommend performing them on a trail or on grass. If you are performing a Fartlek run or threshold paced run, I recommend performing these runs on trails, grass, or shallow (not steep) downhill.

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

Embrace hill running. It will help make you a stronger and faster runner.

Your friend and coach,


Marathon Training 2019 Day 55: Benefits of Resistance Training (Weightlifting) and When Should You Perform This

March 5 2019 run“Working hard and working smart sometimes can be two different things.” – Byron Dorgan

This post is from Sunday’s workout in which I ran ~8 miles at an easy pace. I also included 5 x 8-second hill sprints with full recovery during this run. Immediately after my run I performed the following strengthening exercises:

  • Leg swings forward and back with straight leg and bent leg (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Leg swings side-to-side with straight leg and bent leg (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg stands (~60 seconds)
  • Pushups on stability ball (8 repetitions)
  • Monster walks side-to-side and forward-and-back (12 steps in each direction)
  • Y, T, I, and W (10 repetitions for each position)
  • Clamshells (20 repetitions on each side)
  • Prone planks (~40 seconds)
  • Side planks (~30 seconds)
  • Supine planks (~20 seconds)
  • Glute bridge hip lifts (10 repetitions)
  • Quadrupeds (15 repetitions on each side)
  • Fire hydrants (10 repetitions on each side)
  • Knee circles forward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Knee circles backward (10 repetitions for each leg)
  • Single-leg balances (~30 seconds)
  • Bounce on stability ball with smaller ball between thighs (3 minutes)

After these exercise I rolled the plantar fascia with a softball because of some plantar fasciitis creeping up and foam rolled calves, hip flexors/quadriceps and hamstrings.

Tip of the Day:

Performing strengthening exercises that address muscle imbalances/weaknesses, improve stability and mobility, and improve power and speed are an important component of every runners training program. These exercises can improve running performance and help minimize the risk of injury.

The question is, on what days should you perform strengthening exercise, especially those exercises of higher resistance and lower repetitions, such as when using weights, kettlebells, resistance bands, or even, just body weight?

True or False: The best time to perform heavier resistance training is on your harder run days, such as when you perform long runs or speed work.

I have spoken with many runners about the best time to perform resistance training. Some runners have asked me if the best time to perform harder resistance or strengthening workouts is on easy run days or days off from running. This discussion leads to another important component of your training, which I mentioned in a previous post, which is recovery. Adaptations to the training you do occur during recovery, not when you are actually performing the workout. Therefore, you need appropriate time to recover. If you are doing harder resistance training or strengthening exercises on your easier or off days from running, there is little or no time for recovery. Thus, you won’t get the benefits from the speed workout or long run you did. Major bummer! 🙁  You also won’t get the benefits of a harder resistance or strengthening workout. Double bummer.

Yes, I know for time sake it would be easier to fit the harder resistance or strengthening workout on a shorter, easy run day, or a day off from running. However, you don’t need to spend hours at the gym lifting weights, like my brother and I used to do when we were younger, and I had other goals than improving my run time.

So, the answer to the statement above is true. The time needed to perform harder resistance and strengthening exercises should be at most 15-20 minutes. You can see above the exercises that I did after a long run, and this took me about 15 minutes to perform. Also, I recommend performing the resistance training after your run, because the run should be the most important component of that day’s workout.

So, remember the following, “Keep the easy days easy, and the hard days hard.” This will allow you to stress your body on the hard days (and offer additional challenge from the resistance training, basically feeling like you have run additional miles) and allow your body to adapt during the easy days (such as easy run with strides, brisk walk or low to moderate cross-training workout). For example, in the Fitness Training Program I have included monster walks with a resistance band on long run days and days when I’m performing hill sprints, but not on days when I’m doing an easy-paced run with strides. On easy run days, I have included exercises that should not be as challenging resistance-wise, but still beneficial.

Keep in mind that you’ll want to be smart with incorporating and progressing harder resistance or strengthening exercises into your training plan, or you can be injured and that can set your training back. Many of us have desk jobs and thus, have significant muscles imbalances and weaknesses that should be addressed first, before using heavy resistance.

I also highly recommend that you have a spotter with exercises in which you are lifting weights.

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

I wish you the best with your training.

Your friend and coach,


Marathon Training 2019 Day 7: Mobility, Stability, And Strengthening Exercises Step 1

MLK“If I cannot do great things. I can do small things in a great way.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, I did a brisk walk with my dog, Zadar, to recover from yesterday’s “long” run. Walking can be a great form of cross-training, especially after a long run.  As Coach Jay Johnson in his book “Simple Marathon Training” states, the walk the day after a long run is crucial for recovery.  The walk facilitates the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to muscle fibers damaged from the long run on the previous day.  This is also a great opportunity to spend with your family and your dog, if you have one.  You can also do an easy bike ride or hike.  This recovery workout should be done in a flat area or one with gently rolling hills so that you can cover approximately 3 hours in an hour.  I recommend that this walk be at least 30 minutes and depending on your level of training and fitness 30 minutes may be ideal.  I would recommend doing no more than 60 minutes because tomorrow will be another run day and we want to be as fresh as possible for that run.

I also did mobility and strengthening exercises, as well as foam rolling. See the tips below for a video of the strengthening exercises.

Recommendation: Today, I recommend that your cross-train for 30 minutes. I highly recommend walking at a brisk pace, this mode can be the most beneficial in aiding in recovery.  Specifically, a brisk walk can facilitate getting oxygen-rich blood to damaged muscle fibers from yesterday’s long run. Also, a brisk walk can be done with other family members and the family dog(s). You also bike, swim, or use elliptical machine at the gym, or other great recovery modes would be a hike or cross-country skiing. I strongly recommend that whichever mode you choose, perform it in a flat area or area with gently rolling hills. Remember that the purpose of today’s workout is recovery, so don’t overdo it because tomorrow is another run. After your cross-training, I recommend performing the exercises above and performing a cool-down.

Tip of the Day: Mobility, stability, and strengthening exercises are a critical component of your training plan and need to be performed on a consistent basis. I strongly recommend that you perform these exercises after your runs and cross-training workouts. The exercises in the video (step 1) below should be performed for at least 4-6 weeks before moving onto the next progression of somewhat more challenging exercises (step 2). These exercises will help improve your core and hip strengthening, important for stabilizing your hips and pelvis while you run, as well as providing power. They will also help improve your range of motion, especially in the hip area. In addition, toe yoga will help you improve control with your big toe, which can help with stability. While performing these exercises, be sure to breathe normally.

Video for mobility, stability and strengthening exercises:


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

Enjoy your recovery day!

Your friend and coach,




Simple Marathon Training, Jay Johnson, PFB Publishing: Denver, CO, 2016.







Get Ready To Achieve Your Running Goals for 2017!

Hello Runners and Happy New Year!  I hope that you had a great 2016 and are looking forward to an awesome 2017!

Have you thought about what you want to accomplish as a runner in 2017?  Is it improving your fitness and health?  Do you want to improve on your time in a 5k, 10k, half, full marathon, or ultra distance event?  No matter what your goals are, there are things you should consider, and steps you should take to maximize your chance of achieving your running goals in 2017.  In this article I’m going to briefly discuss five steps to take, which can help get you started on your journey to achieving your running goals for 2017.  So, that you can have a smile on your face when you have done so!

Step 1: Have testing and assessments done

Depending on your age, health, and last visit you should meet with your physician to be cleared to participate in vigorous physical activity.  First and foremost, you should make sure that you don’t have current disease, such as heart or pulmonary disease.  You also want to be sure that your thyroid and metabolic system are functioning properly.  Please check out this previous blog that provides more details on what you should have assessed, including vitamin D and certain hormone levels:


I strongly encourage you to have the function of your shoulder, hip, knee, and ankle joints assessed.  A physical therapist or physiotherapist can identify any possible muscle weaknesses/imbalances or flexibility issues that might be negatively impacting your running performance, increase your risk of injury, and potentially keep you from achieving your running goals in 2017.

Also, if you have not done so, I encourage you to have your running form evaluated.  There may be some minor tweaks or adjustments to your running form that may significantly improve your running performance and help minimize the risk of injury.  This can be performed by a biomechanist, exercise physiologist, or running coach.

For example, I have noticed a number of runners who have their shoulders hunched and/or rounded and have their heads forward.  I know a lot of this has to do with the fact that many of us have desk jobs and we spend hour after hour, day after day, hunched over our computers.  If you are training for longer events like half and full marathons running with hunched and rounded shoulders and a forward head will take its toll!  The upper body will fatigue and will cause other areas of the body to have to work harder to compensate.  Thus, these areas will fatigue faster as well.  So, one important aspect of successful running form is keeping your shoulders relaxed.  When you run you should check periodically to make sure they are relaxed.  If not, shake out your shoulders and hands and reposition them so that your shoulders are relaxed.  In a future article, I will discuss other tips that can help you improve your running form. 
Step 2: Assessing Time for Training and Establishing Goals

Before establishing your running goals for 2017, you should consider how much time you will honestly have for training.  You should honestly assess the time for other important commitments in your life, such as family, work and/or school, time with friends, community, other hobbies/interests, and yes, sleep!  After you have determined the amount of time for these, how much time do you have left for training?  You should also consider your current fitness level and amount of time you have been involved with running in developing your goals.

Also, the goals that you develop for yourself should be challenging and a reach, however you should feel that they are attainable, if you dedicated yourself to their achievement.

Now, write down your goals and how it will feel and what impact this will on your life once you have achieved them.  Post your goals somewhere where you can see them every day, such as on your refrigerator (where I put mine), bathroom mirror, etc.

Step 3: Support

Who will your support team be?  I like to think of this on two levels.  First, who will work with you with the commitments you have, so that you have time available for training?  For example, if you have children and need to take them to school, practices, watch them, etc.   Work out a schedule with your significant other and others who can trade off with you, so that you have time available for training.  For work, you may want to discuss having some flexibility in your work schedule with your boss/supervisor and co-workers, so that you can fit in your workouts.

Second, who will hold you accountable or lend an ear when things aren’t going well with your training?  Who is going to hold you accountable so that you get in most, if not all, of your workouts?  Does it help to train with someone like a significant other, friend or friends, local running group or club?  You might consider hiring a coach, who you meet with, or at least speak with on the phone, every week or couple of weeks, to make sure you stay on track to achieve your running goals.

Also, consider who will support you emotionally if your training isn’t going well.

Step 4: Running shoes/attire

Take a look at the soles of your current running shoes.  How worn are they?  At some point this year you will need to purchase new running shoes.  I will post a more complete article on this in the near future.  For now, here are three important factors to consider when purchasing your next pair of running shoes:

  1. Avoid high heels, that is a shoe with a significant drop in height from the heel to the front of the shoe. This negatively impacts proprioceptive responses in the foot (see more on proprioception below).  Instead, use a flatter shoe.  Initially, you may want to try a shoe with approximately a 6 mm drop from the heel to the front of the shoe.  Then, at some point, you may consider transitioning to a shoe that is zero-drop or close to a zero-drop shoe.  You may consider this not only for your running shoes, but also the shoes you wear the rest of the day.  Your feet and body will thank you for it.
  2. Avoid too much cushioning. A big factor in maximizing your running performance while minimizing the risk of injury comes from your body’s ability to respond when you have one foot on the ground.  This is termed proprioception.  The more in contact your foot is with the ground or surface you are running on, the better the proprioception.  The more cushioning you have in your shoes, the worse the proprioception, so your body is not able to respond to changes in running surface and your joint positions as well.  Thus, too much cushioning can negatively impact running performance and may increase your risk of injury.
  3. Get a shoe with a wide toe box, so that you can spread your toes. This will help you better control with your toes.  So much of your stability, when you have one foot on the ground, depends on your big toe being firmly on the ground.  If you are not able to get your big toe firmly on the ground, then you negatively impact your running performance and you increase your risk of injury.  So many shoes out there scrunch the toes and do not serve us.  Squeezing your foot puts the squeeze on your ability to control you’re your foot.  So don’t buy shoes with a narrow toe box.

As for running attire, do not run in cotton.  Cotton will soak up sweat leaving your running clothes heavy and you with the chills.  Instead, go with synthetic blends.  In cold, windy, and rainy weather dress in layers.  I will send a more detailed article on running attire in a future article.  Not enough space in this article to go into more detail here.

Step 5: Have a plan

Last, you should have a plan that will progressively get you to your running goals.  When you wake up each morning you should know what you are doing for a workout that day.  “Winging it” will not effectively get you to your goals.  Your plan should include 3-5 runs per week, depending on your goals, running history, age, and time you have for training.  You should also include cross-training, such as swimming, biking, or even walking at least 1-2 days per week to help you recover from your runs.  Strengthening exercises are a must in your training program, and should be done at least 2 days per week, and in most cases, 3-4 days per week.  Many runners are weak in the core, lower back, hip and pelvic stabilizers, so these muscles need to be strengthened.  I will include more on this in future videos.   Your training plan should also allow for proper recovery, so that your body can adapt to your workouts.  Thus, allowing you to become a stronger and faster runner.

Your run workouts should consist of three components: a warmup, the run itself, and post-run, which may include strengthening exercises, in addition to a cooldown.  The warmup should be dynamic to increase blood flow to and increase the temperature of the muscles you will be using when you run.  I will go into more detail on this in a future training video, however some examples would be rolling shoulders forward and backwards, walking on heels, walking on toes, leg swings side-to-side and forward and back.   No, static stretching, in which you hold a stretch for 20-30 seconds, is not part of an effective warmup.  The cooldown should include foam rolling and/or rolling with a tennis or lacrosse ball, or some other self-myofascial release.  I will discuss this further in future blogs and training videos.


Please share any questions or comments you have by clicking on the contact link at denverrunningcoach.com or by emailing me at brian@denverrunningcoach.com.  I can address these in the next article I send or a future article.

It’s All in the Hips (and Pelvis) Part 2: Strengthening the “Glutes”

As part of an ongoing discussion of the article entitled “It’s All in the Hips” that appeared in the April issue of Running Times I want to discuss the importance of the “glutes” and how to go about strengthening them and making sure they are activated. Many of the injuries that runners develop are due to weak or improperly activated “glute” muscles. This article will cover strengthening of the” glutes”, while the next article will cover making sure the “glutes” are being properly activated.

What are the “glutes” and where are they located?

• Gluteus medius and minimus : Attached to outer surface of the ilium (the uppermost and largest of the three hip bones) and the femur

• Gluteus maximus: Attached to outer surface of the ilium and posterior side of sacrum and coccyx and the femur

What is the function of the “glutes”, including during running?

• Provide power to our stride to propel us forward as our hip extends

• Provide balance and stability when one foot is on the ground, which keeps our body aligned in the three planes of motion (sagittal (front-to-back), frontal (side-to-side), and transverse), without this the forces of running can lead to injury

What happens if the “glutes” are weak in runners?

• Adversely affects posture

• Can cause other muscles to compensate like the tensor fascia latae (TFL), which can lead to IT Band Syndrome

• Can lead to overpronation, which can cause plantar fasciitis

• Can contribute to the development of patellar tendinopathy and patellofemoral syndrome

• Can contribute to the development of medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints)

How do we strengthen the “glutes”?

• Exercises primarily for gluteus maximus:

– Stability Ball Glute Bridges : http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/exercise-library-details/0/66/

– Body weight squat: http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/BWSquat.html

– Single leg stand (note: hold for 30-60 seconds or until fatigue): http://www.acefitness.org/acefit/exercise-library-details/0/112/ – Step-up (can be done just with body weight): http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/DBStepUp.html

– Standing lunge I recommend different angles to target different portions of the glute muscles (straight in front, to the side, 45 degree angle in front, 45 degree angle behind): http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/BWLunge.html

– Walking lunge (can be done just with body weight or dumbbells): http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/BBWalkingLunge.html

– Split squat: http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/BWSplitSquat.html

– Single leg squat: http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/BWSingleLegSquat.html

• Recommendations for these exercises:

– Frequency: 2-3 times per week

– Number of sets: 1-3

– Number of repetitions: 8-15 or for 30-60 seconds depending on the exercise

– Resistance: Some of these exercises will be challenging enough with just your body weight, however if they are too easy then you can challenge your muscles by adding appropriate resistance so that you can perform the prescribed number of repetitions with good form

– Progression: Over time as the exercises become easier, I would progress from the easier to the more challenging exercises. The order of progression from easiest to most challenging is: body weight squats (double leg) → step-ups → lunges → split squats → single-leg squats

– Perform 1 or 2 of these exercises

– I would recommend also incorporating glute bridges and single leg stands

• Exercises primarily for gluteus medius:

– Clam shell

– Side lying single leg raises in three positions (foot in neutral position, toes pointed up, toes pointed down)

– For both of these exercises see the first half of eight week progression part 1 video: http://www.coachjayjohnson.com/2011/11/eight-week-general-strength-progression/

• Recommendations for these exercises:

– Frequency: 2-3 times per week

– Number of sets: 1-3

– Number of repetitions: 5-15

– Resistance: Some of these exercises will be challenging enough with just your body weight, however if they are too easy then you can challenge your muscles by adding appropriate resistance, such as using a resistance band, so that you can perform the prescribed number of repetitions with good form

• Other exercises to strengthen the gluteus maximus and medius:

– Body weight squat with hip abduction – perform a regular body weight squat, at the top of the squat abduct on leg (raise it up and out), alternating legs

– Single leg body weight deadlifts (note: this exercise may be too challenging for some runners and triathletes to perform properly): http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/GluteusMaximus/BWSingleLegStiffLegDeadlift.html

Please contact me with any questions or comments.

See you on the road or trail,


General Guidelines for an Off-Season Program to Help Transition into the 2014 Season

I have addressed some of the components of an off-season maintenance program in two previous articles, specifically cross-training and strength training. In this article I will tie together all of the important components of an off-season training program and provide guidelines for each. Although cross-training is one important way for us to maintain aerobic fitness during the off-season, we don’t want to neglect running, if possible, depending on the weather or access to a treadmill.

Guidelines for running during the off-season:

• Run 2-3 days per week

• Most runs should be at a comfortable, conversational pace

• Include a longer run once every 2-3 weeks, distance depends on goal events, fitness level, running history, any current injuries

• May progress to short intervals, such as strides, hill sprints, Fartlek (speedplay) runs

• Include proper warm-up (maybe include some basics for warm-ups)

Strength training guidelines:

• Should be done after any cross-training or running workout

• Focus on exercises to improve activation of abdominal, hip abductor, hip flexors and extensors (gluteus maximus and hamstrings) lower back, and scapular stabilizers

• Performed 2-3 days per week on non-consecutive days

• Use body weight resistance or low resistance

• Typically involve a progression, which can include adding an instability component, such as performing exercises on a pillow, or increasing the range of motion of the exercise

• Exercises are typically performed to fatigue and not a specific number of repetitions

• Rest period can be 30-60 seconds between exercises, or you can perform the exercises in a circuit, and just move from one exercise to the next with little or no rest

Cross-training guidelines:

• Performed 2-3 days per week

• I would recommend using a variety of cross-training modes to incorporate a variety of muscles

• Ideally, choose at least some cross-training modes, which incorporate motion in different planes than running, such as side-to-side or transverse plane motion, as opposed to forwards and backwards motion

• Intensity should be light to moderate, with incorporation of short intervals every 2-3 weeks with full recovery

Additional components:

• Foam rolling:

• Roll on tight, overused muscles until a tender/sore spot is found

• Apply pressure to tender/sore spots  and hold for 30 seconds

• Perform 5-7 days per week

• Stretching:

• Should include calf, hamstring, glutes, hip flexors, IT band, lower back, chest

• Hold stretches for 30-60 seconds

• Perform 1-4 repetitions for each stretch

• Perform after foam rolling, as the last component of a workout

If you don’t own or have access to a  foam roller I highly recommend getting access to a foam roller. Foam rolling can be beneficial in improving flexibility and reducing soreness in tight, overused muscles. An example of tight, overused muscles common to runners and triathletes are the hip flexor (thigh) muscles. To improve flexibility and lengthen these muscles roll on the hip flexors until you find the most tender/sore areas and apply pressure with the foam roller for 30 seconds (see picture below). If performed on a regular basis, this can result in increased range of motion when bringing the back foot up towards the glutes. This will increase the power with each stride, increasing speed.


Final note: A maintenance program should be designed to accomplish a few goals, which will help transition us into successfully building aerobic fitness for the next running season. The goals of a maintenance program are to maintain and start rebuilding endurance, and to address muscle imbalances and flexibility issues to improve running form (biomechanics), so that we are more efficient runners with less chance of developing running-related injuries, and possibly start incorporating some short intervals to improve running economy (similar to efficiency) and biomechanics.

Please contact me if you have any questions. I would love to hear from you!

See you on the road or trail.


Strength Training for Runners and Triathletes During the Off-Season

Strength training is a vital part of any runner’s training program, during preparation for races and during the off-season. The goals and emphasis of strength training vary during preparation for races and during the off-season. Depending on the fitness level and goals of the runner, strength training may be divided into as many as five different phases including: functional, endurance, strength, power, and peak or performance. Strength training is important for improving speed and for injury-prevention. This article focuses on how to effectively use strength training during the off-season and addresses one particular area that runners should focus on.

What is strength training?

• Performing exercises against resistance to increase muscular strength (or amount or rate of force production) and improve function of skeletal muscles

• Forms of resistance include:

– Body weight

– Resistance bands

– Medicine balls

– Dumbbells

– Kettle bells

– Resistance machines


Why is strength training important?

• Improves running economy (basically how efficient we run) and increases running speed, especially speed at lactate threshold (speed at which lactate begins to significantly accumulate in the blood and in which our breathing rate significantly increases) which is one of the best determinants of running performance

• Corrects muscle imbalances to improve running efficiency (biomechanics) and to minimize injury-risk • Helps maintain or improve body composition

• Provides psychological benefits

• Helps improve respiration or breathing during running

• Increases short duration and long duration endurance capacity

• Prevents loss of muscle mass that occurs as we age

• Helps maintain or improve mobility and stability at appropriate joints


Although often ignored, strength training is a must for all runners. Many runners are weak in the core muscles, especially the gluteus maximus and hip abductor muscles (muscles responsible for moving hips away from the midline of the body and stabilizing the leg as the foot hits the ground), such as the gluteus medius. Many of the injuries that runners experience can be linked to weaknesses in the core muscles, especially the gluteus maximus and medius, such as IT Band Syndrome, plantar fasciitis, medial tibial stress syndrome, and Achilles tendinopathy. Incorporating strength training into your program only requires 20-30 minutes 2-3 days/week and can significantly reduce your risk for the above-mentioned injuries. Another group of muscles that get ignored and should be trained are the scapular stabilizers (muscles that stabilize the “shoulder blades”). These are important to maintain proper posture in the upper body during running to avoid early fatigue and unnecessary strain in the upper back, shoulders, and neck.


Guidelines for strength training:

• Frequency: 2-3 days/week

• Number of sets: 1-3, start with one set and gradually increase the number of sets

• Number of repetitions: depends on the phase and focus of training, can be as few as 5-10 repetitions, if focusing on strength and power, or higher if focusing on endurance

• Intensity: Again depends on the phase and focus of training, such as low to moderate for functional and endurance training, and moderate to high for strength and power training

• Be sure to exhale on exertion and inhale on relaxation during strength training exercises


Ideally, exercises which are functional should be used, especially early in a strength training program or during the off-season to transition into the next season. Functional exercises mimic the movement and muscle recruitment patterns of running, and also help improve mobility and stability, which are important to running performance and injury prevention.


Simple exercises to improve hip abductor strength:

• Clamshell and side lying leg raises with foot in three different positions (neutral or normal position, toes pointed up, toes pointed down)

• Perform these exercises 2-3 days per week on nonconsecutive days

• Perform 10-20 repetitions for each exercise (or each different foot position) or until fatigue

• Clamshell (clams in the video below), side lying leg raises exercises appear in the first part of the following video by Coach Jay Johnson:

• To increase resistance and gain more benefit from the exercise, lower the leg at a slower and more controlled rate


Final Note: The primary focus of strength training during the off-season should be on correcting any muscle imbalances and improving core strength. Functional strength training will lay the foundation for you to be successful in your training for 2014 events.