The Magness & Marcus Podcast- Episode 1- The Clean Slate Phenomenon

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I'm a distance runner, which means I am really good at thinking that I can do everything myself, as our sport is sometimes portrayed as the ultimate loner sport. But the reality is that, regardless of level, we need help, sometimes a lot of help, to get to the places we aspire to get to.

I'd been very fortunate to have some excellent mentors growing up and have always valued that type of system. I'm not sure if I lucked out with some great coaches, teachers, and mentors to guide me or what, but in 2014, I think I finally took full appreciation of it.

You see I've also been fortunate enough to have some really great and smart friends who I could kick around "theories of life" on long runs or critique each others latest foolish decisions. I've had great coaching mentors like Tom Tellez, Scott Raczko and my HS coach Gerald Stewart. Along with great running buddies like Andy Stover, Marcel Hewamudalige, and Moises Joseph who I could spend discussing the secrets of life on those long runs. But what I've really been bad at is getting outside of my normal comfort zone of friends and acquaintances. You see, I'm a self described introvert, who becomes an extrovert when I'm talking about something I'm passionate about. This contradiction means unless I'm geeking out talking science, coaching, psychology or some other random interest it's against my nature to seek out people and strike up a conversation.

What I learned from another person I consider a mentor, Vern Gambetta, is to always learn from others. Every time Vern is in Houston he gives me a call up to see if we can meet for coffee and have a conversation. And it's not because I'm special, it's because the man soaks up knowledge. I always admired Vern for this because he didn't have an ego and just sought out people doing interesting things regardless of what level or age they were at. The first time he reached out to me I was a 20-something nobody, and some of the best teachers of movement he's brought in to his conferences were simply PE teachers, not some pro sport guru.

In mid-2014, Shannon Leinhert reached out to me and asked to meet up when I simply posted I was in Eugene on twitter to chat about some of the things we were both doing. I didn't know much about Shannon except for her running accolades, but what impressed me was that here was someone who was just super curious about learning and picking people's brains. And after our quick meeting, it really made me ask the question of why wasn't I taking advantage of all the smart people out there that I could learn from? Conversations can give us so much information.

So, what's the point? Well since that, I decided I'd copy Shannon and reach out to people doing interesting things whenever I travelled. Whether it was meeting with Phoebe Wright in Seattle, Jon Marcus in Phoenix, Danny Mackey in New Mexico, or a random assortment of really smart people on my lovely track trips.

If I've learned anything this year, it's that everyone has an interesting story. The problem is that we live that life daily, so we're blind to the knowledge and experiences we have. It's our norm. So you have a lot of really smart, intelligent people who have hidden gems of ideas or ways of thinking and they don't even realize it.

The end of 2014, and hopefully 2015 is about exploring that. People are fascinating. Sometimes we forget that each one of us has a compelling narrative hidden behind whatever external facade we put on. So it's been my goal to explore that narrative.

The Podcast
So in 2015, I'm excited to announce one step in that process, a podcast with my good friend Jon Marcus.  Jon is one of those guys who I go to when I want to be challenged in the way I'm thinking and coaching. We have exchanged thoughts, ideas, and book suggestions for the last few years after spending some time in Portland at the same time. What I like about Jon is that, similar to myself, he's the ultimate generalist. He takes a philosophical viewpoint on topics and spends most of his time connecting ideas from outside the running world to what it is we actually are doing. And if there is one thing I've come to understand, it's that the ability to connect disparate topics is what learning is all about.

We decided to essentially try to take some of the conversations that we have in private and make them public. The goal is to get coaches talking, sharing, and understanding. It's not that we have any great secrets, but Jon and I both like to look at coaching from different perspectives, and both of us have had an "inside" view of the sport of track and field, so hopefully you'll learn something from our conversations!

So without further ado, I give you our first conversation, and it is just that, no editing, no fancy equipment, just two coaches talking coaching. We started like that on purpose. Our first topic is called the "Clean Slate Phenomenon".

You can check out our first episode on iTunes and subscribe to the podcast HERE

For now, you can listen to it here. We hope to provide new conversations every Monday. If anyone has any suggestions or questions, feel free to start the discussion here.

The Calm Conversation-How to deal with pain

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My brother had called and texted, telling me to find a place to stay in Pennsylvania. Like any mid 20's know it all, listening to my older brother wasn't something that came naturally. It wasn't even snowing at that point in the 4 hour drive from Penn State back home to the Washington DC suburbs of Northern Virginia. It didn't help that we were three post collegiate runners living on shoe string budgets where an extra night in a hotel would actually put a sizable dent into our bank accounts.

I'd started the journey the day before with my two teammates and friends Moises Joseph and Nikeya Green. We ventured up to Penn State to compete in one of their indoor meets and like most trips with Moises and Nikeya we never came home without at least one story to tell. But this isn't about the races themselves, but instead about our experience coming home.

You see, we were about to encounter one of the busiest blizzards that the Norther Virginia area had experienced in almost 100 years, that would limit us to trudging through snow, doing repeat 800m underneath an overpass, and repeats on a track with waist high snow everywhere except lane one for the next few weeks. Being young, brash, and with a little dumb luck of having Moises, who grew up in Florida, driving and myself, who grew up in Texas, navigating undoubtedly compounded the problem. Generally a Texan and Floridian don't have the best winter driving expertise. With our only Virginian, Nikeya, in the back seat, we drove along with only a slight fear of the impending weather.

The weather was actually quite deceiving. It was simply cold all the way until we made it to Virginia. As soon as we crossed the river on 495, things began to change drastically. The snow began to pummel our car as the freeway became an icy and slushy mess. Needless to say, in Mo's rear wheel drive car we weren't exactly built for dealing with this mess. Despite taking it exceedingly cautious, we found ourselves in the far left lane of a four lane highway taking our time. We knew not to be in any rush and Mo was handling the situation as best he could as us and a number of other seemingly bright people were out on the slush covered freeway that night.

Depleting for Performance and more Drug in Sport discussion

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I wanted to point a couple of items that may be of interest to readers.

Depleting for Performance
First, I'm fortunate enough to write a monthly column for Running Times. In this issue, I delve into using energy depletion as a way to get more bang for your buck in training. Essentially, the idea is to manipulate diet to help us induce certain adaptations. Thanks to Trent Stellingwerf for providing some great insights along the way:

As runners training for the marathon, we are inundated with messages about the importance of staying hydrated, fueled and ready to go. A whole culture surrounds the obligatory carbo-load pre-race meal, we carry drinks and gels to fuel us on the run, and we religiously replace our carbohydrate stores within the refueling window. But do we always need to have our fuel stores topped off? 
Coaches and scientists have recently begun to question if we want to be completely fueled during all of our training. The "train low, compete high" methodology advocates occasionally training with low fuel stores and then making sure that we are running on full when we compete. Research has begun to confirm that training in a depleted state is one of the triggers for adaptations that helps us better process carbohydrates and fats.

Continue Reading here: 

Drug Talk:
Secondly, I recently did a podcast on The Terminal Mile on trackie.ca, Canada's track and running website. In the podcast we dissect the recent Russian doping scandal and the problem with performance enhancing drugs in the first place. In addition, Rob Watson, a world class marathoner, and Peter Eriksson who is the head coach for Athletics Canada. So you get a wide range of views and information. The host does a great job of digging into a messy topic. For those interested in the topic, definitely recommend giving it a listen

The Terminal Mile Podcast

New Years Reflections and Anti-Resolutions

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2014 was a very good year for me. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of very good things happen  2014, as well as a few trials and tribulations that are necessary stressors that make you grow, adapt and develop as a person in ways that I doubt I could have predicted a year ago. And while I'm incredibly thankful for all that 2014 brought me, I think that's the point. You can't predict what will happen in a year.

With the new year, we are treated with New Year's resolutions which invariably fail. Some research claims that only 8% of people stick with their resolutions, which if given those odds in almost any other scenario, we'd be mortified by the failure rate. Instead of resolutions, I'm going to suggest an anti-resolution. Perhaps, a shift in mindset, instead of a defined goal is what is needed, so for my first post of 2015, I'm going to indulge you with a bit of philosophizing.

One of my favorite quotes from Baseball's "Moneyball" guru Billy Beane is:

The day you say you have to do something, you’re screwed. Because you are going to make a bad deal. You can always recover from the player you didn’t sign. You may never recover from the player you signed at the wrong price."
Of course he was talking about managing his baseball team and signing players and such, but I think this philosophy, for lack of a better term, holds true in life.

Today, with social media, an ability to instantly compare ourselves to any of our peers, and a high premium placed on accomplishments and "success", it's hard to escape the feeling that we have to do something. We have to accomplish some goal, take some job, marry some guy or gal, all on some set time line or else we're perceived as a failure.  Society and culture put us in a place of "forcing" us to do something.

And if we subscribe to Mr. Beane's philosophy then in the end we are screwed. Why? Because Beane believes that bad decisions are made when we put stress on ourselves and back ourselves into a corner. We shift the way we make decisions.

When we feel forced to make a choice, we put pressure on ourselves. And while some pressure is advantageous, what happens is our lovely stress hormones stick around at higher levels for a longer period of time as we put off making that decision. This chronic stress of feeling pressured shifts how we make decisions, biasing us towards doing things the way we always have instead of critically analyzing them.


Why BulletProof Diet/Coffee is based on a fraud

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I apologize to those who come here for good track or athletic related training advise. I normally save my rants for my favorite subject of Crossfit, but bare with me for this post as I take on something that has been bugging me for the past few weeks. Once again, it's from someone who makes claims that running the crazy high mileage of 50mpw is unhealthy, but that's not my gripe.

I’m not normally one to venture into the world of diet. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important, or that it matters, as it most certainly does. In fact, I love looking at diet and performance and understanding what matters and what is simply hogwash. Instead, I don’t like venturing into the world of dietary advice because it’s a place rife with pseudoscience, exaggerations, and lots of polarized arguments.  I hate the fact that we vilify things acting like they are the devil, only to switch what is hated a decade later. In many senses, talking about diet is like talking about politics, no one really wins and no one is ever really convinced.

In fact one of my favorite charts in grad school was a list of dietary trends where we flip flopped back and forth between what macronutrient (fat or carbs) was out of favor. The professor traced it back to the 1850’s and it was a great demonstration of this polarized behavior and cyclical nature of dietary trends.

But I’m not hear to talk about diet. I’m here to talk about a diet, but not the merits of that diet. I feel like commenting because, while the information is out there, no one really seems to give it credence.

Without further ado, let’s talk about Bulletproof coffee and the Bulletproof diet.
I’m not going to discuss the scientific merits or lack thereof of the diet, but instead look at it as an example of marketing, psychological bias, and why people believe dumb things.

Uncertainty, Randomness, and Over-control in Training

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Control the Contrallables

It’s what we preach in coaching and in life. Don’t sweat the small things that don’t have an actual impact on our well being or life. It’s one of the simplest and most profound lessons one needs to learn. And it makes perfect sense.

But like most things, can we take this concept to far? In the world of sport, we like to live in a world where we try to control every variable we can. We go out to Stanford to run in perfect weather, we set up rabbits so that the pace variance is minimal, and we write out months of plans trying to design the perfect training plan to reach out goals. Coaching is a game of control.

We ask our athletes to perform repeats at certain speeds with exact recoveries on a measured course. It’s all about control. Which seemingly eliminates chance, decreases the amount of uncertainty, and gives us the best opportunity to succeed.

All of those are valid points, and I would argue are true.

But have we gone too far?

A World of Uncertainty:
            What we do when we control is set up defined constraints. Our athletes are allowed to function within this box of constraints that we create. It’s a great situation when trying to elicit some sort of physiologic adaptation, but the reality is this: when we create constraints we also restrict autonomy.

            With heavily constrained programs, we’re reducing the athletes’ autonomy in practice to virtually nothing. There are few decisions to be made. It’s simply run X workout as assigned. Because practice is not truly a competition, and if paces are assigned, one doesn’t have to worry about what their teammates are doing around them. They can feel relatively certain that no one is going to throw in a hard surge midway through the mile repeats. They can feel pretty good that plus or minus a few seconds people will run the prescribed time until perhaps the last reps.

The problem is that races, games, sports aren’t like this. Yes, they have there own constraints in terms of race distance, game rules, and so forth, but there’s a degree of variability that one can’t control. Even with rabbits, there’s no knowledge of what the other competitors might do, how the pace plays out, or the variations that occur within.

Furthermore, we have to make decisions based on not only the race itself, but also what those are doing around us. When do these decisions generally occur? During the middle to latter portion of the race when stress levels and fatigue are at their highest.

The contrast is paramount. In practice we are required to process different information and make different decisions than in race situations.

In the world of ecological psychology, this is referred to as making happening versus doing decisions. We can look at a tradition laboratory based run to exhaustion test where you might do a VO2max test where you run on the treadmill at ever increasing speeds until you make the decision to stop. This is a happening decision. There’s no active adjustment, it’s one choice you make. On the flip side, races are generally doing decisions. We decide whether to follow the leader, surge when someone picks up the pace, speed up or slow down once fatigue goes, or when to unleash our final kick. We are actively making the choice to do something.

If you don’t think this matters, consider the research on fatigue in exercise science. For years, we had a simple paradigm of how fatigue worked because it was based on tasks to failure studies. It wasn’t until relatively recently that our brilliant researchers realized that things might be just a bit different if we took into account the fact that races are paced and self-controlled. The model for fatigue has entirely shifted.

Randomness:
What we are doing is training for a different test. The test we are taking doesn’t entirely match up with the studying we are doing for it. Perhaps from a physiological standpoint it does, but not from a decision-making and challenge standpoint. In school terms, it’s like we spent our time memorizing definitions for our history exam, when the exam was going to be an essay. Yes, we were studying and gaining the knowledge and there is an indirect transfer, but it wasn’t in the direction in which we were going to be graded in our exam.

While not trying to get too deep here, Dr. Jim Denison, who has done some work with the Canadian Athletics teams, uses the ideas of a powerful thinker named Foucault to look at the mismatch of training demands and racing. In this model, we have an interaction of time, space, and power.

Briefly, these concepts act as constraints to our athletes. So where we train creates natural constraints. For instance, training on a track creates the constraint of running around in a circle at a certain distance where we have norms of running in lane or doing intervals at set known markers. We have certain starting and stopping points that are well established. From a power standpoint, when we train in groups, we have designations that naturally occur. We have leaders in our group, who if someone “below” them took the lead, there would be an instant upset in power. There’s also the power relationship with the coach in the way that they dictate workouts.

Lastly, from a time standpoint, we are encapsulated by time in our sport. We are inundated with pace information from splits, garmin data, and so forth. This creates a natural constraint as we have norms and rely on external information to judge most of our progress and effort levels. One could argue that this constraint, which has gotten worse through technology, has reduced the ability to have the internal clock or the ability to read ones own internal sensation of effort.

The basis is similar to the concepts discussed here. We are constraining and controlling our athletes, not giving them the ability to grow and adapt in a variety of situations. We are creating athletes without the autonomy to grow, develop, and make decision on their own.

Picking up clues:
The way we make decisions in sport, whether it’s to speed up or slow down in running or to pass the ball in soccer is by perception of action possibilities in the environment. Our ability to discern what opportunities are available matters. So for a football star running back, he’s able to notice several different routes to take and almost instantly perceive and act upon the route that provides the best “hole” for him to run through. While our sub-par running back takes longer to discern the possibility or may even miss that hole entirely.

This ability to pick up “clues” from the environment matters. When we train in constrained and controlled environments, we’re not working on our ability to discern and bias ourselves towards the best decision to be made. In practice in a controlled environment, we might miss the repercussions of a subtly varied pace or the ability to recognize and anticipate someone else’s final drive to the finish.

Uncertainty, randomness, and so forth therefore should not be seen as things to eliminate all together, but instead as an additional way to stress the athlete to adapt.  They put us in a situation not only physiologically but also psychologically to be better prepared for a variety of situations we will encounter during performance.

 We can see the repercussions in life and in sport. In sport, we’ve all dealt with the athlete who can perform perfectly under controlled situations like set up time trials, but would fail once they got to the unfamiliar situation of a tactical trial. In life, many diseases we have now are diseases of modernity, where it is the lack of stress that causes them. We don’t have enough variation, randomness, and stress from which to adapt off of. Or as Nassem Taleb points out:

“It is the systematic removal of uncertainty and randomness from things to make matters highly predictable in their smallest details. All that for the sake of comfort, convenience, and efficiency.”

This eternal search for efficiency has consequences. In the realm of health and in life it can create a complacency and lack of ability to adapt in disparate situations.

So What?
Don’t get me wrong; I love planning out the physiological adaptations in a systematic way. It’s a cornerstone to coaching, but perhaps we need just enough randomness, uncertainty, and flat out not knowing to challenge our athletes in a different way. After all, as was the theme in a wonderful conference I participated in put on by the Seattle Sounders, we’re trying to build Anti-Fragile athletes. Based on Nassim Taleb’s latest book, the idea is to build athletes who thrive off of uncertainty.

Therefore, while we shouldn’t overreact and get rid of the physiological approach to training, and we shouldn’t give up the wonderfully useful concept of controlling the controllables, perhaps we could build better prepared athletes and people with a degree of randomness. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathtub, but instead interject a degree of uncertainty to your training.

Early in my career I made the mistake of trying to create athletes who were physiologically well adapted but could not thrive in randomness. They could kill the time trial, but would crater when it came to the unfamiliar territory of championship racing. This isn’t a problem in certain circles of elite performance where athletes and coaches will contrive to set up races in the exact way they want them, but in the world of tactics, uncertainty, and stress.

But in the real world, it is an issue. And it stems from the dynamics of the athlete and the training we set up. As Denison alludes to in his work on Foucault, is it no wonder that athletes sometimes falter when they are used to turning their brains off and being challenged in only the direction of effort, where they are left with “happening” decisions instead of “doing” ones?


Instead of constraining our athletes, challenge them in ways to grow and develop. There’s an unending amount of ways to change the power dynamics during training. Open up the constraints and challenge athletes to make decisions. Then perhaps we can create athletes who thrive in situations ranging from tactical affairs to one off time trials.

Coaching is all about manipulating the constraints you put on the athlete, to adapt and grow in the direction you desire. 

Everything you need to know about Doping Scandal in Track and Field

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It’s been quite an interesting few days for the IAAF I imagine. Track and field has finally joined the ranks of cycling in terms of perceived doping and corruption issues. In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me catch you up on the past few days.


  • ·      German TV station drops bombshell of a documentary
  • ·      Insiders claim that Russian Doping is about as systematic as the old East Germany regimes with things like:
    • o    enormous bribes to cover up positive tests
    • o   State supported doping
    • o   Allegations that the vast majority of Russian athletes are on drugs
    • o   The treasurer of the IAAF having to take a leave of absence because of his involvement
  • ·      Current president of IAAF’s son was involved in a deal to help Qatar gain the world championships in 2017 with the help of a 5 million dollar “bribe”.
  • ·      There is a list of 200+ names of abnormal blood results from 2006-08 that may or may not have been investigated by the IAAF.
    • o   On this list of abornmal blood results are Olympic champions, world record holders, athletes who won over 100+ gold medals at major championships.
  • o   Of this list Russia has over 50 names which isn’t surprising, while Kenya has 25, among others.
  • Several important members/associates of the IAAF have stepped down, taken a leave of absence, or just distanced themselves in some way (or told to..)
  • For good measure, throw in the smaller controversy at USATF convention where some seemingly back-handed deals went down, as always it appears.

In other words, shit has hit the fan in track and field.

All of this has occurred right after Seb Coe released his Athletics Manifesto that called for much stricter drug testing governance. I doubt Coe had any idea that a few days later his sport would face it’s biggest challenge perhaps ever. I wonder what Seb is thinking now about potentially signing up to deal with this mess of a sport?

Anyways, what I’d like to focus on is the doping aspect of the allegations. While I’m not some insider with secret knowledge, what I do think serves a purpose is looking at some of the ramifications of the recent news and what it actually means.
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