April 4, 2017 | Issue 73
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Marin County
The winter rain is finally starting to look good on California.
Marin County, California |  

Good morning! Here’s a varied serving of insight, inspiration and interestingness to kick your Tuesday off right. Enjoy!

It’s peanut butter-jelly time! 

The best thing I’ve read recently was Baxter Holmes’ deep dive into the NBA’s peanut butter and jelly addiction, of all things. The details of Kevin Garnett's pregame dependence on PB&J, different players’ preferences in breads and spreads, and the Warriors’ “Great PB&J War of 2015” evoked a few chuckles, but it’s the connection between psychology’s impact on physiology that’s worth highlighting here. “Your thoughts about a food will actually help to shape how your body reacts to that food,” said Brian St. Pierre, director of performance nutrition at Precision Nutrition. That interplay between psychology and physiology extends far beyond food. It also applies to training, more so than many coaches and athletes realize. You could substitute “training” or “workouts” for “food” in the quote above and the same would still hold true. Under-appreciated and under-emphasized is how believing in the training you’re doing impacts the effectiveness of that training. For example, what’s a better race-week workout: mile repeats or fast 400s? This is no different than asking what’s a better pregame meal: PB&J or rice and chicken? In either case, you could make an argument for why one is a better choice than the other, but ultimately the “right” answer depends on the athlete. Just as Steph Curry believes that eating a PB&J before a game helps him perform at his best, I know that assigning a certain athlete three 1-mile repeats at tempo pace over 10 quick 400s the week of a big race is going to help her step to the start line with the confidence that she’s ready to achieve her goal (of course, assuming the rest of her training has been consistently solid). Remember: the main goal of training (or a workout) isn’t just to improve fitness—it needs to bring you (or your athletes) confidence. As a coach, if you can’t get your athletes to buy into your approach and understand why they’re doing what you have them doing, the most carefully constructed workout in the world isn’t going to do squat. Bottom line: Do the work, but more importantly, believe in the work you’re doing.

Work hard, rest harder.

“[World-class performance] comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours or deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.” If you haven’t read the book, check out this excerpt from Alex Soojung-Kim Pong’s excellent REST: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, which addresses deep work, deliberate practice, and—as the title suggests—the importance of taking deliberate rest breaks, all topics I’ve touched on previously in the morning shakeout (here and here if you missed ’em the first time around). What’s great about this book is that it doesn’t discount putting in the time necessary to achieve success in a given field; rather, it acknowledges the importance of working hard while emphasizing that hard work is focused work that needs to be supported by an appropriate amount of rest to truly be effective. This applies to creative folks such as writers and musicians but also scientists, business leaders, politicians and—although not addressed in the book—athletes (especially runners)! In a world where those who do more are celebrated for the mere fact that they’re doing more than everyone else, this read is a good and necessary reminder that it’s not about how many hours you work or the number of miles you run in a week—it’s what you do with those hours (or miles) and how you rest your mind and body when you’re not working (or training) so you can absorb and take advantage of the work you’re putting in. “Deliberate practice is an effortful activity that can only be sustained for a limited time each day,” wrote Karl Anders Ericsson in a study of violin students Soojung-Kim Pong references in the excerpt (the same study Malcolm Gladwell based his 10,000 “rule” on in the book, Outliers).

Given that, knowing when to rest—whether it’s as an employee or as an athlete—is a key to optimizing performance. A rest day isn’t a punishment from your coach, just as stepping away from your work doesn’t show a lack of commitment to the task at hand. If you’re working hard enough, rest is going to be necessary in order to recharge, reboot and stay on track—especially when frustration sets in and progress has stalled. “Deliberate practice isn’t a lot of fun, and it’s not immediately profitable,” Soojung-Kim Pong writes. “There’s little that’s inherently or immediately pleasurable in deliberate practice, so you need a strong sense that these long hours will pay off, and that you’re not just improving your career prospects but also crafting a professional and personal identity.” Or in the words of Ed Whitlock, who I wrote about in Issue 70, “training is kind of a drudge.”

Gracias, Generation UCAN.

A big thank you to Generation UCAN for extending their sponsorship of this newsletter through the end of April. Their support helps bring the morning shakeout to you free each week while also allowing me to spend an inordinate amount of time working on it. For the duration of the sponsorship, UCAN save 15 percent on the same drink mixes I use to fuel my own training by going to their web store and entering the code SHAKEOUT at checkout.

Quick Splits

— I’ve written at length about doping in past editions of this newsletter but frankly I’m getting really tired of it. Read this and tell me how (and why) people continue to take governing bodies like the IOC and WADA seriously. How do you explain not following your own procedures and protocols? The obvious answer is to protect guilty parties from getting in trouble and causing a major part of the sport’s already fragile foundation to fall apart. I say let's knock the damn thing down and rebuild it from the ground up—sport's governing bodies are in dire need of reinforced foundations across the board. The current ones are faulty and full of potentially fatal cracks. 

— Along those lines, imagine being an Olympic athlete eligible for a retroactive medal upgrade because the person(s) who finished ahead of you at the Games finally got busted for doping. Now, imagine finding out about it on social media—not from the IOC or IAAF—as Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher and others recently did

— Imagine racing (OK, surviving, really) for 60 hours only to hit the finish line just 6 (yes SIX) seconds after the event’s official cut-off time, leaving you amongst the 98 percent of people who have failed to officially finish the uniquely quirky and impossibly challenging Barkley Marathons in the backwoods of Tennessee. That’s what happened to Gary Robbins yesterday and I’m still not sure what to make of it. Brutal is the only word that comes to mind: brutal course, brutal conditions and brutal feelings of heartbreak and disappointment. Hats off to Gary for his valiant effort, as well as John Kelly, who became just the 15th finisher since the race’s first running in 1986. Kelly made it under the 60-hour cutoff with only 30 minutes to spare, reportedly falling asleep from exhaustion toward the end of the race and finishing wearing an orange hunting hat and plastic shopping bag he found along the course. For those of you who don’t follow ultrarunning and are unfamiliar with the Barkley Marathons, here’s a little primer (and another one for good measure) that will give you a quick peek into what the insanity is all about. CliffsNotes version: It’s next-level nuts. 

“I’m pretty sure the human body has a mileage limit.” Real talk from one of my all-time favorite marathoners, Yuki Kawauchi of Japan. Be sure to check out Part II and Part III of the series for more nuggets like this one and incredible first-person insight on what it took for Kawauchi, an unsponsored athlete who works full-time, to qualify for his country’s world championship team. It’s total running-nut nerdery. 

— Will you be in Boston on Marathon weekend? Let’s go for a run! Join me at 8:30 AM on Saturday, April 15 for the morning shakeout presented by Generation UCAN and hosted by Tracksmith. We’ll gather at Tracksmith’s new home (285 Newbury Street, Boston) and head out for a social 4-mile run. Coffee, bagels, free UCAN samples and plenty of good banter to follow. Everyone is welcome to join. Please RSVP here so we can get a handle on how many people to expect.  

— Speaking of Boston, I’ll be giving the race my third go in a little less than two weeks. My good pal and strength coach Nate Helming of The Run Experience joined me at the track a few weeks back to film one of my workouts and discuss my preparations for race day. Check it out!

That’s it for Issue 73. If you liked what you read here, please pass this email along to a friend—or 50 if you’re so inclined! If you didn’t enjoy it, please reply and let me know why. I’ll be grateful either way. 

Thanks for reading, 


P.S. Many thanks to my understanding and supportive wife Christine, who drove the 9-1/2 hours it took us to get home from San Diego yesterday so I could knock out most of this week’s newsletter in the passenger’s seat. That’s love!

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