The Sub 2hr marathon- Why Coaches and Scientists don’t understand each other.

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This past week at UH I had the pleasure of sitting in on a talk by Dr. Ed Coyle on ‘how fast could we run a marathon.’ Coyle is a well-established researcher, but he’s most well known for his infamous research on Lance Armstrong that showed improved efficiency over his career. Coyle still maintains the validity for this research for some reason, which to many dampens his work, but that’s for another topic.

The reason I’m writing this is because the talk and the discussion after demonstrates a fundamental flaw in the world of sports performance and exercise science.

I sit in this weird in-between zone of scientist and coach. I consider myself more on the coach side, since that’s my primary job, first love, and how I got into this sport, but still I live full time in both worlds. There are a lot of really good scientist and coaches who dip their fingers in both sides and they’re to be commended, but I think my situation is slightly unique in that I’m truly fully engaged in both sides at the same time. I have to be. So it’s these two interacting worlds that I battle.

I’d like to use this post as a learning tool. An almost “A scientists guide to how to interact with coaches.” Then in the next month or so, put up the counter point and produce a guide for how coaches should interact with scientist.

Before we get there, let’s use Coyle’s talk as a framework to understand the disconnect.

Podcast- Drills, Skills, and Sprinting- The role of the neural component in running

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In this episode of Magness & Marcus on Coaching, we take on one of the oft-forgotten and misunderstood items in the world of running: the Neural component. Starting off with defining the CNS and motor programming in coaches speak, we take a look at how to integrate this type of work in the realm of distance running. Investigating sprinting, drills, lifting, and ploy's we try and give the listener an understanding of when we implement these items (hint: not thrown in after a workout), how much we need, and what type we need.

Before ending, we get into two of my favorite topics when discussing neural work: Fatigue and priming. CNS or neural fatigue is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the endurance world. As it's a fatigue that we runners don't quite understand. We're used to feeling drained or tired after really long runs or hard workouts which give us this sensation of fatigue. With neural fatigue, our trained senses often betray us. Understanding what neural fatigue feels like and how long it takes to bounce back from is key to understanding how to program this work. Lastly, with priming, we can use neural work like sprinting, hops, or ploys to get the body primed to perform at peak physical performance the next day. After this podcast, you should have a better understanding of how to implement these concepts in your training.

As always, let us know if you have any topics you want to hear covered or comments on any of our shows,

Steve & Jon


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Resources you might want to check out:

The Neuromechanics of Human Movement by Roger Enoka

A brief rant against VO2max and vVo2max

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Excuse me while I go on a brief seemingly anti-science rant. Which might be a bit surprising given the name of this blog and my background, but since the topic is VO2max, it might be expected.

You see, I have a long history with VO2max, as evidenced by this article here. It’s not that I think the parameter is useless, it’s just that it’s overemphasized. We can measure it and have been able to measure it for almost a century. Therefore, it must be important.

Even now, it’s the cornerstone of what people perceive to be endurance in the exercise science world. It’s reach extends far outside of that though, as you’ll hear soccer players, weekend warriors, crossfit gurus, and so forth all talking about and asking about how to increase Vo2max. It’s not how to increase endurance. It’s how to improve their VO2max.

As if it matters.

Podcast- The Evolution of a Coach- How to figure out what actually matters

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After a one week hiatus, Jon and I are back for our longest episode of the Magness & Marcus podcast yet. In this one, we meander through a wide range of topics with the central theme of looking at how we have evolved as coaches and to try to take away lessons from what that evolution means.

Perhaps most interesting to me was tracking what we focused on in educating ourselves. What we found is that we have followed similar paths of first diving head first into the fundamentals of coaching with classic training texts like Lydiard, Daniels, and Cerutty before adding in a touch of science to understand why those methods worked. Then once the foundation was there, we've both branched out to focusing on concepts that on the surface are only vaguely related to coaching. In the podcast we try to go through why this progression tends to occur and what it means.

After laying out our progression as coaches from a learning standpoint, we discuss how our coaching practices have changed over the years. Jon tells a great story of one of his coaching mentors, Rob Conner of Portland, and how he came to see that having less control is often the way to go. Instead of trying to micromanage every single factor of training, giving the athletes autonomy to make some of those decisions can lead to better engagement and in the end better performance.

While there are a number of other topics covered, I'd highly recommend this episode for any young coach. Hopefully you can learn from our mistakes along the way!

Thanks for listening,

Steve & Jon



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Books mentioned in the podcast:
Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Daniels Running Formula by Jack Daniels

Better Training For Distance Runners by Peter Coe

Run, Run, Run by Fred Wilt

The Mechanics of Athletics by Geoff Dyson


Resetting your set point- Changing perspectives to get to the next level

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Perspective changers- Resetting your set point.

That  ‘barely keeping it together’ feeling that we normally expect to come and go as our life becomes a little chaotic, doesn’t really go away in life. At first this was a bit concerning, as I think we have this idealized image in our head of having everything go according to plan and for us to be in some blissful state of optimal balance where our challenges and our ability complete them match up perfectly. This sense of 'barely holding it together' is our minds way of making sure we are just stressed enough to get the work done. It's a signaling mechanism. If we were in a constant state of balance that means our ambition or challenges are just a bit too low. Or at least that's what I tell myself, so I’ve kind of come to terms with and embraced this feeling to a degree.

So when you are sitting in your class for your grad program on a lovely Monday evening and the profs pull a group assignment where we essentially have to go through and report our degree of progress on the two major projects due in the class (a big writing assignment due in 3 weeks, and reading a book that will result in a big writing assignment in may), things get a bit interesting. If not, for the sole reason that now the professors and the other 20 people in the class, now know that you are that ‘slacker’ who hasn’t started a single thing on either…

(TO be fair to myself, my not starting the book yet was intentional, as I try to be an avid reader with a somewhat sucky memory, and if I read through the book now, I’d probably have forgotten most of it by the May time frame. Also if any of my profs are reading this, don't hate me...)

It’s not because I actually enjoy waiting until the last minute to get things done; in fact I prefer the opposite. But when compartmentalizing and prioritizing work, this is how it kind of fell.

And maybe there is a degree of arrogance or a type of lassez faire ‘not caring’ coping mechanism involved but to me the real reason is perspective.

Just as we pace ourselves in a race, and sometimes misjudge, when we do projects we tend to invoke some sort of pacing strategy. Just as we enter a race and know that if it’s a mile, it will take me roughly 4 minutes and change to finish, we do the same with projects. And just like races, the degree of certainty in our calculations on how long it will take us to pull it off is related to our fitness, abilities, and experience.

What happens in a race is we have this kind of pre-race template for our expectations of how things are supposed to go. In other words we have a norm or set point and everything is compared to this. The same concept applies to almost all of life. We compare things to some norm.

Self Importance and the myth of the perfect workout

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In today's episode of Magness & Marcus, we take on the myth of self importance.

As coaches we put a large emphasis on the items which we can control and in coaching terms that means the workout schedule. There's this idea that creating the perfect workout schedule is the key to success. For years, we spend all of our efforts in refining what kind of workouts to give and when and where to give them. When I go to coaching conferences, everyone wants to know the exact workout plan. It's ingrained in our heads as coaches to place the workout schedule as the most important thing.

Why? Because it's the one thing we can control. It's the item we can manipulate and has a direct impact on the athlete's success. We've also invested a ton of time learning about workout creation, so we have this cognitive bias to think that it is the absolute key because we invested so much time and effort trying to figure it out

 What we are unknowingly doing is creating the illusion that the schedule is king and any deviation from the planned practice is a failure. It's the reason why athletes will go into a panic if they are forced to take a day or so off and will often ask to make up the workout. We deviated from this perfect plan.

This cultivates an environment where perfect conditions and a flawless build up to a race is needed for success. In this podcast, we give examples of athletes taking multiple days off per week PRing, 1500m runners turning into 10k runners, and athletes who didn't warm up PRing, to illustrate that perfection is not needed. Instead we need athletes who respond to challenges and don't expect perfection.

So instead of falling into the trap of interventionism, where as coaches we feel this urge/need to do something to demonstrate some sort of control, develop athletes who are flexible and resilient to challenges. Often times it's the decision not to do something that is the best decision.

I hope you enjoy this week's episode and remember to keep things in balance and don't overestimate the value of things that we can control just because we can control them!


Thanks for listening,

Steve & Jon


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Episode 5-Handling Transitions- What separates people from making the jump to the next level

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Whether it is going from high school to college or from college to professional, we've all know stories of those who transitioned well and those who went through a rough patch. In this episode, Jon and I delve into these transitions. In our longest episode yet, we initially look at some of the roadblocks and obstacles that might prevent people from making that jump to the next level. From here, we dissect what people who successfully transition actually do and then look at how to apply these concepts to our own runners.

As the conversation progresses, we end with looking at the differences between the East African runners and the American's in terms of mindset taken and how the mindset might make a bigger difference then any special "secret" like altitude, training, or diet.

Whether you're a high school runner getting ready to make the jump to college, or an athlete wondering how to make that jump to the next level on the professional side, give this episode a listen as they'll be something for you to take away.





As always, hope you enjoy and feedback is appreciated,

Steve & Jon

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