Running by feel

Hi Everyone!


Hope y’all had a fantastic weekend. I was remiss last week in not mentioning some amazing trail run results: Seema and Val ran 17.5K, Madalyn ran the 25K and Meighan ran the full 50K in deep snowy conditions! Way to go toughies. And speaking of toughies, Zoë raced in the Nationals XCountry race this past weekend coming 4th in her age category!


These races segue well into what I’ve been thinking about this week. That is learning to run by feel and to trust what your body is telling you, and practicing the mental strength aspect of running.  I like the idea of trail races and xcountry races because they force you to do that. When we’re aiming to run a road race (or track race for that matter), we get very caught up on time goals and therefore specific paces in training. Our training becomes focused on running a certain distance at a certain pace. And we have tons of gadgets and devices to tell us whether we’re on track. This can be useful as we ramp things up and get closer to the training specificity for our event. But what’s even more useful and powerful is learning to understand how you’re feeling and what you’re capable of without being told by your watch or the clock.


At this particular xcountry course for Nationals, we figured that the women’s times were about 1:30-2 minutes slower than they would run on the roads. This is usually how xcountry plays out because there are hills, mud, grass, lots of turns, … So how do these athletes know how to pace themselves? Every course and conditions are different. They have to rely on their ability to trust their bodies’ cues and just race. I’m quite certain none of them look at their watches for pace feedback. That would only create a negative mind-body reaction. Can you imagine working your hardest and your watch telling you you’re running 1-2 minutes slower than usual?


I can guarantee you one thing: your body is smarter than your watch. Many people who have breakout races are not at all aware of the time while they’re running them. They are listening to their bodies’ cues and are in the moment. That’s the only way to achieve something you might not believe is possible. Alex Hutchinson’s famous example from his book Endure recounts how he had a breakthrough performance on the track because the person giving split times was calling out the wrong times (he thinks it was some sort of translation glitch), so Alex believed he was running faster than he was, and his internal feedback told him he was therefore having a great race – and this then became what happened. He was unintentionally freed from the pace/internal feedback constraint and his body did what it was capable of doing.


Many of the top runners and triathletes are now training using lactate testing. They test their lactate levels multiple times throughout a workout to ensure they are training in the correct zone. I’m very interested in this and have read and listened a lot about it. What I’ve mostly come away with is this: the science behind it is supremely individualized and very finicky and specific. One person’s levels are not someone else’s levels and things such as taking in carbs, sweat on the skin, altitude and heat can all affect it. BUT, athletes are actually very capable of hitting the right zones/paces when they learn to go by feel. Your body is giving you all the cues you need. In labs the lactate curve is very closely related to the breathing rate and perceived exertion curves. Learn that first. THEN when you’re comfortable trusting yourself, you can add more and more external feedback as your backup. And when you find yourself at your goal race and it’s hillier than expected, or hot or cold or windy – OR you’re capable of a race no one predicted – you’ll be able to perform at your best level on that day regardless because you’ll be a pro at trusting your body.


How to do this: set the intention of each run (easy, tempo, long, progression, …) and don’t look at your watch until after. Tell your watch what you did – don’t let it tell you what to do.


On to tomorrow’s workout! Lakeshore and Leslie – 6:05 drills, 6:15 GO time!


The purpose of this workout: accumulate time spent at threshold. To that end, the pace of everything will be the same – tempo/threshold pace. What this feels like: to begin with, not hard. You can talk, probably for the first 5 minutes. The intensity builds as the volume accumulates. This is why we take breaks. We want to give as much stimulus at this level as possible. We are never going “Hard” or feeling that alarm or panic feeling (we will work on that feeling later in the season 😉 ) So this is a feeling at this point, not a pace. The idea at this point is to try to keep it consistent.


The workout:

2 x 1 mile with 2 min rest, 4-5 x 800 w 1:30 rest ALL AT THE SAME PACE. Yes, this is higher volume than usual but it is NOT a V02max workout. If you’re panicking at the 2nd 800 you’ve gone too fast.

Beginners, do 1 x 1 mile and 2-4 x 800.

Finish with 4 x strides


That is all – see you in the am!






Weather moods

Hey Everyone!


This weekend was the Holy Jolly 5K where Jeff Smith ran 18:20 for first in his age group! And Amanda Bugatto’s b-day hills where she ran (can confirm – zero walking) 50 laps of Pottery Road hills! (25 up, 25 down). Back to my previous post – there’s no better way to celebrate our strength and vitality than by physically rejoicing in what we are capable of doing!


This week I’ve been thinking about the weather and how it really does have a direct impact on our moods. Or at least it can. Rain, snow, dark and gloomy days can really make some of us feel like retreating to the indoors. The only way I’ve found to combat this is to get out and run in it. Doing an activity like running is almost an act of defiance against what the weather and our minds are trying to tell us. Regardless of how I feel beforehand, after running in cold or gloomy weather, I start to view it as beautiful. I feel more connected to nature and the environment, and I appreciate the light, the temperature, the elements. It’s the classic case of, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. If you don’t like the weather, go for a run in it – you will suddenly appreciate it! I concede, there is the odd time where this isn’t the case, like if the wind is driving ice directly into your face and you’re in pain, or you find yourself on an icy path where you suddenly can’t go forwards or backwards and have to slip and slide your way to the nearest tree branch for support. But in general, you really can dress for anything. So let’s arm ourselves to be prepared. Get lots of wearable lights. Have multiple layers, including hand warmers, balaclavas and goggles. Overdress if you have to in order to get yourself out and going. I know it’s not as inviting to step out the door right now, but overcome the first 10-15 minutes and I promise you will bring your own sunshine to the day. And sometimes just that contrast between the weather’s mood and the mood you end up with, makes it all even more joyful.


On to tomorrow’s workout! Riverdale Clubhouse meet at 6:05 for drills, 6:15 Go.

I know some of us just did a bunch of Pottery Road hills on Saturday. But, we’re back to hills. For this one though, I want to keep them short and snappy. We’re on the power part of the season, less on the grind. So let’s do Riverdale cement hills and keep them quick and powerful. (if in the beach, it’s about a 200m hill). If you have a light to run with, I suggest you bring it – it will be pretty dark to start.


Let’s aim for 8-10 of them – or until we feel like we’re absolutely losing power if that’s earlier. Then we’ll take a 2-3 min break and add a little 8 min tempo. We can go up to Broadview and back. Just to touch base with that stuff – we can handle 8 mins!


That is all – see you in the am!









Shoulder seasons

Hey Everyone! 


No races last weekend – we’re right in the middle of the shoulder season for most training and racing. For most of us there’s nothing on the books for at least a few months, and we might still be coming down from big training blocks and races in the Fall. This time is important for recovery, but it’s also important for building. Shoulder seasons are when we can build our big aerobic bases that we’ll pile our spring work on top of later. They’re also the perfect time to work on strength as well as pure speed and power. Both of these ends of the spectrum are good to develop now, so that when it comes down to building mile upon mile of race pace work and the long intense efforts, it is on a platform of bigger aerobic and muscular strength. Once you get into it with “race fitness” building, it is mostly too late to tinker with your pure speed and power and you are better off layering it all on an aerobic capacity which is already in place. What does this look like for now? Lots of long easy miles, mixed in with some short hill sprints and strides as well as more focused gym work with heavy weights and dynamic plyometrics. It looks like less intense tempo runs and Vo2max workouts – you can keep them in, but the intensity and volume of these should be lower. I’d recommend really taking the next 6 weeks to focus on these elements, and come January when you start a “training plan” (if you are) for a spring race, you will have a higher ceiling to reach towards. 


What I’ve been thinking about this week is the idea of running – especially when you’re not running. My family experienced the flu, directly after a bout with covid. I spent many days not even moving, let alone running. I kept thinking: I know I’ll be better when I feel like going for a run. It was a very disorienting feeling –  not even wanting to run. And then I’d see my friends getting together to run, and see people running down the street, and I’d think: what an ultimate declaration of health. Going for a run is such a statement. It’s saying “I’m alive and healthy, and I’m celebrating what my body and mind can do together through effort and movement”. It’s reinforcing your own vitality to yourself. Boy is that easy to forget and take for granted until you don’t have it. I fantasized about having the physical and mental energy to just run – with no pace or distance in mind, but just the feeling of freely moving my body rhythmically through space. I’m happy to say I’m back there. I’m not running hard or fast yet, but boy am I enjoying the ability to just go out and do it. I guess it’s a good thing to get these kick-in-the-pants reminders not to take for granted the things we love every now and then. So this is my reminder to all of you: if you want to celebrate your health and vitality and gratitude for being alive: go for a run. It’s the best way to celebrate I know. 


On to tomorrow’s workout! Back to Lakeshore and Leslie – 6:05 drills, 6:15 GO time! 


On the theme of both stretching it out and keeping it snappy, we’ll do a workout that addresses those ends. 

  1. 1.5 mile tempo. This is three 800m laps. If you like you can start easy-ish and pick it up slightly every 800m. 3 min rest. Then sets of 400m @ 5K-ish pace, 1:15 min rest, 200m a little quicker. Very slow easy 200m jog recovery back to the start of the 400. Repeat 4-5 times.  
  2. If going by time: 10 min progressive tempo, 3 min easy, 4-5 x 90 seconds @ 5K pace, 1:15 easy, 30 seconds as a long stride – 2 min easy recovery bw sets.  


That is all – see you in the am! 






Bad Races

Hey Gang!


Huge congrats to everyone who raced this weekend! Lori who ran the NYC marathon in record breaking hot temps, Sean and Adam who ran their first ever marathons in Hamilton, Zoë who showed you can crush a marathon with a smile the whole way, and Andrew H, Steph, Elese and Shauna who rocked the Half Marathon! Way to go everyone.


What I’ve been thinking about lately is tough races. As many “great” or “good” races we’ve celebrated lately, I’ve seen almost as many athletes and friends struggle with tough races. It is a law of averages. There is not an athlete around who has not had a tough race. If you’ve never experienced a bad race, you haven’t raced much. Every single Olympian and world class athlete has suffered their share of tears and disappointment in races. Sometimes, sadly, it happens on the world stage and we all witness it. A bad race is never the end though. It is just that. One tough race. And we can learn more about ourselves from those than we do when it all comes easily.


There can be many reasons behind ‘bad’ races. Battling illness, even something small, can be enough to throw you off your game. Life stress is another one. The mind-body connection is something we’re still learning about, but we do know that our emotional, mental and hormonal states are all deeply intertwined with our physical experiences. How our bodies respond to environmental factors like heat or cold can affect us much more than we might think. A slight injury or just dipping into over-training can be enough to throw a race performance into the struggle zone. And all of these factors combine and influence each other in ways that makes it impossible to control or predict.


The kicker is, when we’re in the middle of a “bad” race, it makes the fight even harder. It hurts more, the negative mental chatter is overpowering, and the will to push dwindles away. There is nothing fun about these experiences. As a coach and fan however, I can say that witnessing athletes power through these races and not give up, is tremendously inspiring and emotional. We know this result is not what you worked for. We know you are terribly disappointed and crying inside. We know every rational thought is telling you to just stop. But you still forge ahead and try with all that you have left. I think it is these “bad” races which really show what toughness is.  We all KNOW how hard it is, because we’ve all been there. It fucking sucks. But unfortunately it’s a rite of passage. If you put yourself on the line enough times, you will have great races, you will have good races, you will have ok races and you will have bad races. It’s normal and to be expected. The trick is not to read too much into them, be able to put them behind you, and move on to the next one, knowing you’re a stronger, wiser athlete for the experience.


On to tomorrow’s workout! Back to Lakeshore and Leslie – 6:05 drills, 6:15 GO time!


I’m thinking we could use a little change of pace (literally) as a re-set between seasons. Many are thinking of ramping up for Spring events and coming off some big work from the Fall. I’m thinking some basics with more focus on drills and some speed will work well for us right now.


  1. 1 mile tempo (to warm-up the body) 2 min rest
  2. 800m as 100m stride/100m v easy recovery jog (I’ll put cones out every 100m) 2 min rest
  3. 1 mile tempo – 2 min rest
  4. 800 m as 100m stride/100m v easy


The idea behind this one is not to leave us clutching our knees in exhaustion but to leave us feeling a bit peppy and energized. We’re reminding our legs how to run fast and feel springy. Hard work will come but it’s best to add it onto legs that remember how to turnover quickly.


That is all – see you in the am!






Hey Everyone!


Happy day-after Halloween! Hope everyone had a fun, spooky and candy filled day. No races were run this past weekend, but coming up we have New York (Lori) and Hamilton (Sean and Zoë in the Full and Shauna, Steph, Elese, Andrew H in the Half). Good luck all and please set up a time w me to chat race plan if we haven’t already!


I’ve been thinking this week about how much we care about our running. It is a great thing, but also a double-edged sword. One of those tricky things in life which we constantly have to work on and self-monitor to get it right. Caring is great as it provides meaning and leads to learning and growth. Caring too much, and attaching so much meaning and self-worth to results that it becomes scary or paralyzing to try hard or race, can be a problem. Sometimes it’s good to remember: it’s just running.


In high school I cared a lot. I trained with a club and ran “for serious” while many kids entered our regional inter-scholastic races “for fun”. I can remember feeling envious of them. I wanted to be able to run “for fun”. Of course, I loved to run and train and race, but I also wanted to not care as much as I did.  I wanted to be able to laugh and goof around and enjoy the day instead of being a stressed-out ball of nerves where only the outcome would determine whether I would be happy or not. My goal became to learn how to keep what I loved about training and racing, but learn how to become one of the more laid-back kids who didn’t seem to torture themselves the same way I did.


I care. Of course I care. We all care. We’ve all heard those people who say to us “I wish I could do what you do”. And you think, “well, if you cared, you would”, and you think how lucky you are that you’ve found something you care about.


I’m sure we’ve all also experienced those races where we’re standing on the start line full of nerves and adrenaline, and we look back at the fun-runners laughing and chatting or still wandering around, not worried to miss the start, and we think “that must be nice”. But we can’t go back. We care, damnit. And there are so many good things that come with caring. So, we just have to continually work on that balance. There is no easy answer – it’s just self-discovery. Keep it in that zone of caring enough, but not too much. I’ve been working on it for over 30 years and the pendulum still swings too far sometimes one way or the other. I feel for the most part I’ve found the balance, but I guess I’m also ok with the roller-coaster.


“If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;” – Rudyard Kipling


On to tomorrow’s workout – we’re back to hills!!!  (racers – scroll down for your workout)


I’ll keep the tempo bits out for now. Those are great to add in when we’re in race-mode, but I think most of us are back to base-mode.


Pottery Road: Steady. 5-8 x full hill. Steady up, easy down (fast down sometimes has a purpose but really risks injury, so for now, easy). Get there any time and launch into it. I usually arrive around 6:05-6:10-ish.


Beach Hill: 5-8 x 400m steady up, easy down. (coordinate timing w Tanis if doing this one).


Half Marathon racers: 2 x 800 @ race pace w 2 min rest. 2-4 x 400 a tad quicker, but NOT 5K pace with 1:30 rest.


Marathon racers: Can do the same thing (will be slower obviously) – or opt for sleep in and 3-4 x 60 second pick-ups in a run. Sleep might serve you better at this point.


That is all – see some of you in the am!