Essential Advice No Runner Should Ignore

Essential Advice No Runner Should Ignore

Mark Kennedy
Founder of None to Run
November 29, 2023

This is an interview with Jeff Gaudette, the Owner and Head Coach of Runners Connect. Jeff is a former Division-I All-American in Cross Country and competed professionally for 4 years after college.

Jeff now coaches runners of all levels and helps runners run faster. For more on Jeff and Runners Connect, I encourage you to check out the Runners Connect website.

Is there particular training method or workout that most runners simply don’t do (for whatever reason), that would help them run faster?

Jeff Gaudette:  I wouldn’t say there is any one workout or method of training, but more an overall approach to the long-term aspect of training that many runners forget to consider. Let me try to explain that concept. By far, the best way to get faster is to have consistent miles and workouts month after month, year after year. Having stellar, home run workouts is great, but the real bread and butter is actually your accumulated mileage and training over time. 3-6 months of solid, but not spectacular workouts is an order of magnitude more beneficial than 3 or 4 weeks of awesome workouts in that same time span with a lot of the remaining weeks spent injured or over trained. Unfortunately, many runners focus so intently on the next race that they neglect the big picture. For example, they’ll jump right back into full training after needing a week off to heal a sore Achilles so they can get as fit as possible for this one race. In the process, they have a string of bad workouts and the quick jump back to training forces them to miss a few days here and there. Then, the injury and quick jump back to training turns into a vicious injury cycle after the race and they go another month or two cobbling together workouts without optimal training. This process repeats itself and no true progress is ever made.To really take your running to the next level, a runner must keep the big picture in mind and make sure their training compliment long-term development as much as it does getting prepared for the next race.

What are a few common myths when it comes to training for a marathon?

Jeff Gaudette:  The most common myth is that they absolutely NEED to run multiple 20 milers in the training leading up to the marathon.  Psychologically, most runners feel that once they are able to run 20 miles during a long run, they’ll be able to run 26.2. However, while hitting the 20-mile mark might feel like it’s an essential component of marathon training, is it really any better physiologically than 19 miles, or even 16 or 17 miles? The scientific research suggests that it’s not. In terms of aerobic development, one of the main benefits of the long run, research demonstrates that 90 minutes to two hours of running seems to elicit the greatest amount of mitochondrial growth. Research has yet to show that running longer than two hours provides any greater stimulus to aerobic development. Ok, so there isn’t a specific physiological benefit to running 20 miles.

But, why not just run 20 miles if it makes you feel more confident? First, the longer you run, the more tired you become and the more your form begins to break down. Your major muscles become weak and susceptible to injury while overuse injuries, like tendonitis, begin to take their toll. Second, recovery time after a very long run is significantly lengthened compared to a more moderate long run. This means you can’t complete more marathon specific workouts, like tempo runs, throughout the week. Second, most marathoners think that running faster on their easy days will help them improve faster and is necessary because they have to hold a fast pace for 26.2 miles. Unfortunately, this isn’t how running it works. Each day in a well-designed training plan has a specific purpose, and the easy run is no different.  The purpose of an easy day is to facilitate recovery and develop the aerobic system. Running too fast actually diminishes your ability to do both. An easy recovery run increases blood flow to the muscles specific to running, helping to clear out waste products and deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients. If you run too hard on an easy day, you create more muscle tears than you’re fixing, extending the amount of time you need to fully recover. This can cause you to run poorly on subsequent workouts because your muscles are still fatigued. Furthermore, when we look at the research on the optimal pace for aerobic development during a long run, we find that it peaks at around 65-70 percent of your 5k pace. Running faster isn’t any more beneficial and, as we understand about recovery, it only makes it more difficult to hit the important, marathon specific workouts.

What mistakes do you often see runners make when choosing a running shoe?

Jeff Gaudette:  Typically, it will be following the advice or review from another runner or blogger. Each shoe is made on a different last and will generally work for a certain foot type or bio-mechanical pattern. What works for me might not work for you. Runners need to listen to their body and develop a good sense for what a good shoe should feel like and disregard advice from everyone else.

What is the most common mistake runners make when trying to improve their form?

Jeff Gaudette:  It's easily that barefoot or minimalist running automatically forces you to run correctly and is a panacea for all form related issues. While minimalist running does promote better form, it doesn't happen magically or overnight, and many runners take months to fully develop the strength and flexibility needed to adapt to minimalist running. Just because you wear minimalist shoes doesn't mean you're going to run with better form. Consider a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina. When researchers interviewed 35 runners who wore minimalist shoes and asked them whether they were heel or forefoot strikers, all 35 responded that they were forefoot strikers.

However, after analyzing foot strike patterns with a slow-motion camera, 33% of the runners were actually heel strikers. The problem for runners who wear minimalist shoes and don’t land on their forefoot when they think you are is that vertical loading rates can be up to 37% higher than heel striking in traditional shoes and 50% higher than forefoot striking in minimalist shoes. It doesn’t take a PhD to realize that increasing your ground impact with each step by 50% can lead to some serious injuries. If you’re going to transition to barefoot or minimalist footwear, take the time to develop your proprioception, foot strength, and proper barefoot running form. Don’t just assume that switching to minimalist shoes means you’ll start running correctly.

Most people think running coaches are only for professionals. Is this the case?

Jeff Gaudette:  Absolutely not. In my opinion, even for elite runners, the biggest benefit of having a coach is having someone to keep you motivated, confident, and focusing on the big picture. As I mentioned previously, it’s very easy as an athlete to think only about the next goal race. A coach can help put workouts and training in perspective. When you want to run through an injury or a bout of over training, a coach can hold you back and help keep you focused on the long-term. Likewise, having a coach to share your concerns and fears with is priceless. It is a guarantee that you will have some bad workouts during your training. It could be general training fatigue or stress from work or your family, but you will have a few rough weeks. Without a coach, it’s easy to get nervous and overdue it, or not know when to back off. A coach is there to put workouts in perspective. To remind you when a workout was supposed to be hard and when you need to take some rest. Finally, there is the obvious benefit of having your training well-planned out. Even if you’re only trying to break 2 hours for the half marathon, it’s an important goal and something you put a lot of time and effort into. Having a good plan (that you don’t have to question) will get you there sooner and ultimately running faster than you even thought possible.

Runners Connect offers “online coaching” programs (i.e. the coach is not with the runner during their workouts).  Are there any limitations to the success of your clients with this approach?

Jeff Gaudette:  Of course. First, by not being present at a workout, we can’t change things in the middle if you’re having a good or bad day. Sometimes, when you’re really struggling, it makes more sense to back off and put the workout on hold for another day. Sometimes an athlete is really feeling it and it may or may not be a good idea to pick it up. We can’t make those calls in an online coaching environment. We also miss out on those trivial interactions when meeting fact-to-face that help establish rapport.

For runners I work with in person, I can often tell when they’re having bad day and can adjust a workout accordingly. More importantly, it’s easier to just chat about training theory. In the online environment, it’s a lot of specific question then answer. Sometimes, you learn the most from small conversations. We try to combat this second issue by developing a community within our training platform. Athletes can post questions about their training or running in general and our coaches answer. We’ve found this really helps generate discussion and teach athletes things they didn’t even know to ask about.

Are there any particular exercises that can help a runner “bullet-proof” their body?

Jeff Gaudette:  Absolutely. Improving core strength is critical to staying injury-free. Core strength isn’t just abs, they’re only a small part of the equation. Rather, core refers to the lower back, hips, transverse abdominis (deep core muscles), the glutes and hamstrings. Weakness in one of these areas is the root cause of 90% of running injuries. In fact, in a study conducted at Stanford University, researchers measured the difference in hip strength between healthy runners and those who suffered from IT band syndrome. All 24 of the injured runners demonstrated significant weakness in hip adductor strength. After a 6-week hip strengthening protocol, 22 of the 24 runners reported being pain-free. After 6-months, all 24 runners reported returning to full training with no further injury. All it takes is 10-15 minutes per day of core and hip strength and a runner can dramatically decrease their chance of injury. We have two free routines available:

  1. The runner’s core routine
  2. The runner’s hip strengthening routine

Any favourite running resources or books?

Jeff Gaudette:  I tend to gravitate to the more scientific discussions about training. Dr. Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running is a great resource. I enjoy reading the blogs of Steve Magness and Jay Johnson because they’re both so open about what they don’t know and willing to look at training through a different lens. They don’t claim to know it all, they just want to create discussion about the ideas they have. That’s fun to read!

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