February 21, 2017 | Issue 67
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the morning shakeout
Writing: A frustratingly gratifying process.

Good morning! Here are a few things that caught my attention this past week. Enjoy!

Let the project define the plan. 

"You should never be religious about methods of any kind. The only sane way to work is to let the project define the plan. Only a fool chooses tools before studying the job to be done."—Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants

I pulled this quote from my notes on Berkun’s book—a quick and insightful read that recounts his time working remotely for—which I bought and read a little over three years ago when I moved to the Bay Area and began working from the comfort of my couch, I mean home office. I share Berkun’s words not to impart any wisdom on the secrets of working remotely but rather to help you think more critically about the process of preparing yourself or your athletes for a goal race or event. Let me explain. Despite being a business book centered around workplace culture, Berkun’s book has informed my coaching philosophy more than any “X’s and O’s” type of training book. In fact, there are many other non-running, non-exercise science books that also fall into this category but that’s another post for a different day (reply to this email or Tweet in my direction if that’s of any interest to you). Here’s how I’ve dissected Berkun’s quote and applied its wisdom to my coaching practice and training philosophy: 

You should never be religious about methods of any kind. It’s important to believe in what you’re doing but you also have to keep an open mind and re-evaluate your methodology when performances have plateaued, you’re stuck in an injury cycle or your athletes simply aren’t responding as well to the same types of workouts they’ve been doing for the past however many years. The same training plan doesn’t work for every athlete nor does the same training plan always work for the same athlete. 

The only sane way to work is to let the project define the plan. Translation: Don’t drive yourself mad trying to make someone else’s training schedule fit your lifestyle, your goals and your experience level. How many of you have Googled “marathon training plan” (or something of the sort), pulled a stock plan from a magazine or asked a friend for a copy of his or her training schedule after signing up for a race? Don’t blindly follow an “beginner” training schedule or string together a bunch of “race-specific” workouts and assume it’s going to put you on the proper path to the finish line. Start by identifying the specific demands of the race or event (i.e., “the project”) you’ve chosen to pursue and work on developing a plan that addresses those demands while taking your goals, experience level and lifestyle into account.

Only a fool chooses tools before studying the job to be done. Before developing a training plan or for you or your athletes, laying out workouts, or hiring a coach to help you take care of all that stuff, do your homework and ask yourself a series of critical questions, including (but not limited to): What the hell did I just get myself into? What’s a good goal for this race or adventure? How far away am I from that goal currently? What’s it going to take to close that gap? How much time do I have to work with? What does the course entail? What weather conditions will I likely face? Who am I competing against? What went well last time I attempted this race or something like it? What didn’t go so well? And the list will go on depending who you are and what you’re trying to do. Use the answers to these critical questions to better understand the scope of what you’ve committed to so you can choose the appropriate tools—or seek the right guidance—to get the job done. 

There’s a ton of great stuff in Berkun’s book that has a wider application outside the business realm. I’ll leave you with another of my favorite “coaching-applicable” tidbits that you can apply to your own training and/or coaching practice:

“Some companies, including Google, insist on having metrics to evaluate any decision, goal or feature. Despite the popularity of this belief, it’s easy to get lost in the the very metrics that help you find your way.”

Substitute “coaches” or “athletes” for “companies” in the above quote and it holds just as true. As training-related technology continues to improve and evolve, runners can track just about anything, from pace, distance and heart rate, to power, cadence, ground-contact time, vertical oscillation and a whole lot more. You can take all that data, throw it into a few fancy charts or some cool-looking graphs and use it to drive all of your training decisions. And while understanding, evaluating and improving upon these metrics can help you take your running performance to the next level, it can just as easily limit it if you’re not careful. It’s easy—and not uncommon—for many coaches and athletes to get lost in the weeds of these numbers and use them as a crutch rather than the tool they’re intended to be. Athletes are not robots and training does not always follow a repeatable and predictable formula. Remember to regularly check in with yourself or your athletes, get an honest, subjective assessment of how you (or they) are feeling and responding to workouts, and don’t be afraid to say “f*ck the numbers” and trust your instincts when making training and racing-related decisions.

Quick Splits

If you can successfully navigate the annoying pop-ups and blinking banner ads, check out Alex Hutchinson’s most recent piece for Runner’s World on Nike’s Breaking2 project. He provides a solid update on the athletes involved and some good insight into how they’re preparing for the “marathon moonshot” that will take place at a yet-to-be-announced place and date. I found the assessment of Lelisa Desisa particularly interesting—and I’m not just talking about the 200+ mile training weeks! “I asked the team more about what they’d seen in Desisa, and they said that his lab numbers—VO2 max, lactate profile, running economy—were particularly good,” Hutchinson writes. “In fact, no matter what criteria they used to rank their various contenders, Desisa was always in the top three—something that not even Kipchoge could match. But there was also an intangible element. Watching him run in the initial tests, Kirby recalled, ‘he portrayed confidence and strength.’ He seemed like someone willing to undergo challenges, and who would respond well to those challenges.” Despite regular dispatches from Hutchinson and Wired’s Ed Caesar, both of whom have exclusive access to the athletes and scientists involved, I’ve been a little perplexed by the lack of organic buzz Nike has generated since the announcement of the attempt. But fear not, I’m told by multiple sources close to the project that the Swoosh-driven marketing machine is getting set to kick things into high gear in the not-too-distant future. Note: I’m still having a hard time getting excited by the attempt itself but I am enjoying the stories Hutchinson and Caesar are telling about the athletes, where they come from, how they’re preparing and what they’re like when not tearing down the road at 4:40 per mile pace.

“[There was] a change in philosophy internally of not being too precious about what got us here,” Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram, explained recently to recode’s Kurt Wagner. “I learned a lesson from watching other companies who held onto things too long. If you look at the history of companies that have succeeded and the ones that have failed, there’s a pretty clear pattern that the ones that have succeeded typically morph every couple of years into something new. And that change is fairly uncomfortable.” This is a good read on how Instagram was forced to “reinvent” itself in order to stay relevant in today’s ever-evolving social media landscape. What’s interesting to me, and not discussed in the article, is the parallel—or perhaps lack thereof—this shares with many legacy media companies. The ones that are struggling (or out of business) are those that have failed to embrace change and evolve the way in which they engage their audience, produce and deliver content, and generate revenue. Social media companies such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat understand they need to constantly be evolving and trying new things—if they don't, they'll quickly get left behind. Twitter, despite its utility and the fact it has a legion loyal users (myself included), hasn’t seemed to grasp this yet.

 Yesterday marked 55 days until I give the Boston Marathon my third go on April 17. My training has gone well since the beginning of the year and I’m feeling strong with a little less than 8 weeks to go until race day. A big reason for that has been the inclusion of a weekly strength and mobility session with coach Nate Helming on Thursday mornings in San Francisco. Despite my distaste for the gym, I’ve gone every week that I’ve been in town and the difference is really noticeable to me. I’m super thankful for Nate’s expert instruction and want you to get a taste for it yourself through his new mobile app, The Run Experience, available for both iOS and Android. He didn’t ask me to mention it or pay me to plug it for him; I just feel it’s that valuable of a resource for runners, whether you’re a performance-oriented athlete or just don’t want to get injured. Check it out for a slew of free videos focused on strength training and mobility work you can easily incorporate into your weekly routine.

 As mentioned earlier, I work from home. Well, so does "Robert." Make of this tongue-in-cheek exchange what you will.

That’s a wrap on Issue 67. If you enjoyed this week’s edition, please do me a solid and forward it along to a friend or post it to your social media platform(s) of choice. Got a thought or idea you want to share with me? Just reply to this email or Tweet in my general direction

Thanks for reading, 



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