When I ask people what their focus is or what they’re working on before, during and after each run of a typical training week, they often can’t explain it, even if they’re trying to do all the right things. Training well means much more than simply “doing your best” or “giving 100%.” That’s not specific enough for you. Points of focus, technique, and realistic running speeds/distances, set just above your current skill level, give a direction to your running. Task oriented goals like these are the building blocks of motivation, and learning to set the right goals helps you enjoy the process of running and racing more fully.
Whether you’re a weekend warrior in Colorado or a Maasai Warrior in Kenya, I know hundreds of training techniques that can help you as a runner. But I can’t play the purist. We both know you can only train the way your mind, body and schedule work best.
A good coach does not have injured athletes. They understand that your cardiovascular fitness improves more rapidly than your physical structure, so your muscles, joints, and tendons need time to catch up. They can tell when your legs are tired and you need to give yourself some more rest.
I suggest the principles to follow rather than tell you what you should be doing all the time. While meticulous planning, scientific testing and monitoring all have their place they can’t give us a complete picture of our true, innate running ability. By over-focusing on tangible physiological benchmarks, we often overlook the intangibles: the psychological, spiritual, and even mystical factors that allow us to tap into our energies and unlock our hidden potential.
Learn more about Art’s approach to coaching:
Here’s more from the depths of my coaching philosophy:
On Synthesizing Science
Running gives us a real-life experience of scientific method as applied in our personal lives. I’m passionate about clarifying the jargon of scientifically proven training principles and bringing things down-to-earth by adding the element of practical experience.
Each physiological state, aerobic, lactate-glycolytic and anaerobic produces energy with distinct sensory-based references. The body knows by the way the world looks sounds and feels. The key is to constantly monitor my experience as I move: What do I see? What is it that I hear? How do I feel? When I’m free of strain or tension, the sensory information is distinct, expansive and three dimensional with a peripheral vastness and expansiveness. The point for me is to focus on the experience I’m having rather than dwell on the pace I’m running. All I think about is how to manage my energetic state effectively so my natural speed and endurance can emerge in a relaxed way.
Why I Coach
In today’s highly commercialized, corporate world, to run for spiritual balance is not so easy. Pop culture distracts us with a barrage of advice on the science of peak performance; weekly mileage, speed work, cross training, form correction, minimalist footwear, sports nutrition, beer running, body work, mindfulness techniques, and wearable technology to track our every move.
It takes a leap of faith to tune out the noise, become less concerned with looking good, final outcomes, beating your previous times or another person. It takes serious daring to take my help to search out the best in yourself. But it’s the best way to gain confidence to go your own way, at your own pace, without worrying about how other people train.
Do you know if you’re too loose, too tight, or just right in your approach to the challenges you are facing? Training with me is about being precise and selective with getting your external workload right while keeping your internal goals. It starts with setting up a healthy lifestyle and working with the right people. A good training strategy is much more than planning or splits. It’s a basic way to express your individual freedom.
On Group Training
One of the trickiest parts of coaching a group is individualizing within the group structure. As coaches go, I’m one of the best at watching each runner closely so I can read both their form and fatigue to gradually loosen the demands of the workout at exactly the right time for each person. So they maintain the right amount of effort by working that small bit beyond their comfort zone.
Don’t mistake group activity for productivity however. Whether you’re running in New York’s Central Park or here in Boulder’s Mountain Parks, it’s easy to see when people from the same team, class or club are running amok. In the thick of marathon season, for example, clusters of disconnected harriers with the pack mentality may all seem to be rushing in opposite directions along the many trails, paths and back roads. Those out training on their own can easily be subsumed in the chaos!
On Longevity and Performance
Can I run forever? Coaches and competitors alike are constantly grappling with the question of making concessions to age. There have always been inspirational runners who defy conventional beliefs regarding aging and human performance. I love to study and understand the cause and affect of fitness on lifespan. Analytics that merge scientific training with modern lifestyle habits and relevant health factors always inspire me to live a more balanced life. One of my favorite studies suggests that a person’s “fitness age” — determined primarily by a measure of cardiovascular health — is a better predictor of longevity than chronological age. Perfect!
More importantly though, researchers far smarter and more eloquent than I am have recently reported some very interesting findings. The three-decade Harvard Men’s Health Study indicates that the strongest determiner of longevity by far is not cardiovascular health, but the quality of relationships, friendships and family ties that one has cultivated throughout one’s life. The better the quality of our relationships, the longer and happier our lives.
On Trail Running
“I love to run where the lightning strikes!”- Art
To put it more mildly, psychologists are beginning to corroborate the profoundly positive effects on people that occur when they push their legs and lungs in nature. Recent research exploring the deeper neurological mechanisms involved suggest that spending time in nature is vital for maintaining mental health in a rapidly urbanizing world.
The studies suggest what outdoor educators, mountain athletes and backpackers have always known: the sense of wonder and awe elicited by the forces of nature invites people to redirect concern away from the self and toward everything else. Those adventurous people who have been touched by this hidden spiritual power often act more generously and ethically and feel a deeper connection to others and the world in general.
Simply going for a walk in the park, ambling along a local open space trail, or climbing your favorite mountain will—at least temporarily—clear your brain of anxiety while considerably reducing stress hormones. The more awareness we can bring to our outdoor activities, the greater the likelihood that these positive results will “stick” once we return to the city.
On Mindfulness Meditation
One slight problem with the so-called “mindfulness movement” today is due to vague, lofty claims and generalizations about what it is and what it can do, especially in the area of human performance.
The way it is taught in almost all schools of Buddhism and I believe the way it is known widely in American culture — mindful meditation is simply allowing thoughts to come and go (to arise, to dwell, and to recede) without either indulging or suppressing them, and then returning to the object of meditation, which is commonly the breath. The gradual (often very gradual) result of this kind of mindfulness meditation is greater relaxation, less self- and other-judgment, and greater mindfulness and awareness of one’s inner and outer environment.
Sitting quietly for 20-30 minutes every day helps reinforce the sense of calm and peace I experience through running; it affects the quality of energy I bring to my running; and it has a profound effect on how good I feel inside. The simple act of sitting cross-legged on the ground with my back still and straight helps me deepen my level of concentration by increasing the amount of time my mind can remain undisturbed. By practicing regularly, the deliberate holding of a constant focus and effortless absorption of sitting has given me a sense of unity and rightness of movement.
On Health & Fitness
The illusion of health is not health. It’s easy to assume that running and other endurance activities always lead to a wide range of health benefits, but our overall health is also influenced by how we lead our lives, both at home and at work. We’re all familiar with how much stress can arise due to competing demands on our time and attention. Best case scenario, the time we spend in training can help counteract these tensions by putting them in perspective and making them manageable.
Ask Dr. Phil Maffetone: “An injured knee, an irregular heartbeat, recurring respiratory infection, chronic fatigue or other health problems should not be considered “side effects” of training hard. These symptoms are all indicators of an imbalance between fitness and health.”
It is vital to acknowledge this and pay heed to our bodies, no matter how old we are.
There was no worse feeling for me than not being able to race up to my expectations. My desire to win must have been admirable at least. I thought the ultimate happiness to be derived from training was to compete. Eventually, experience taught me that any given race has a back story. I’ve been in 100-mile races where the first 5-6 finishers set personal bests. Should any of us have felt disappointment at not winning?
The racer and the pacer form two ends of the competitive spectrum. The pacer end is synonymous with the Olympic ideal where participation and doing your best is what matters most. The racer’s mentality is that failing to win is unacceptable, that winning is all that matters. In today’s highly competitive, commercialized world the choice of which camp to be in, racer or pacer, is not so simple. Even the smallest defeat can leave a bitter taste and rationalizing it is not always that easy.
I love the fact that the word “competition” derives its meaning from the Latin words con and petrie: “to search together.” In other words, the best way to find out how good my skills are is to match them against the skills of other people with similar ability.(1) Competition is not ego oriented for me anymore. I’m less concerned with the final results than I am with searching out the best in myself.