Good morning! This is a long-ish newsletter so I’ll keep the introductory words to a minimum this week. Let’s get right to it.
— Has the value of the sub-4 minute mile been diminished? That’s the question posed by the authors of this recent CNN piece and they consulted a few coaches, athletes, and journalists in an attempt to answer it. “Value” is an interesting word choice for the title of the article—I think “meaning” would have been more appropriate. Semantics aside, the answer is “yes,” a sub-4 minute mile doesn’t mean what it used to in the context of history, but then again, neither does a sub-5 minute mile, or a sub-3 hour marathon, or [insert an event and arbitrary time barrier here]. (More on all that in a bit.) I’ll argue that the sub-4 minute mile, however, because it involves a customary unit of measure that has a historical symmetry to it in the realm of Athletics (i.e. 4 laps of a standard 440-yard track back in the day equaled exactly a mile and in order to run sub-4 you needed to average under a minute for each of them), has long gotten an outsized amount of attention and excitement relative to other events and marks. This is most certainly still the case today as men at all levels of the sport are breaking 4 with never before seen frequency, despite the fact that it’s not exactly a symmetrical story anymore given that almost all sub-4s this day in age happen on a 400-meter outdoor track or, here in the U.S., around 307-meter, or 200-meter indoor ovals. (Why we don’t make the same fuss when a woman breaks 4:20 for the mile or 2 minutes for 800m is another discussion for a different day.) Anyway, questioning the meaning of a mark is nothing new but it sure makes for catchy headlines and heated debates. It’s always been the case in running and Athletics that as technology has advanced, training methods have improved, depth has increased, and the sport has generally continued to evolve that a time or mark doesn’t mean what it did yesterday, and won’t mean what it might tomorrow. That’s the nature of sport: the scale is always sliding and that’s part of what makes it exciting for athletes and fans alike. And while a sub-4 mile or a sub-3 marathon or a sub-something whatever might not mean what it used to, it will always hold significance to the person who did it.
— If it seems like Des Linden’s been around forever, well, you’re not imagining things. The soon-to-be 40-year-old first rose to professional prominence almost 15 years ago and has been competing at a consistently high-level ever since. Most recently, she clocked a solid 2:27:18, 18th-place finish at the Boston Marathon, a nice rebound from last fall’s New York City Marathon, where she unraveled in the second-half to finish 16th in 2:32:37. So what did she do differently this time around? She ran a little less than usual, increased the intensity a bit, and made sure she was feeling fresher for her key sessions, according to this recent profile by Sarah Lorge Butler for Runner’s World. “At some point you have to make some adjustments,” explains her coach, Walt Drenth. “You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over. You’ve got to give some deference to the work you’ve done and the cost of that work and your age and all of those things. So my argument was that, if we can do quality work that gives you the confidence to run fast, that might be the higher priority than running 125 miles per week and having those hard workout sessions be a little bit compromised because you’re tired all the time.” A lot of this resonated with me personally, and it’s consistent with how I’ve approached working with many of the older athletes I coach, especially those who have a lot of lifetime miles on their legs. At a certain point, one which is hard to define but it’s kind of a “you know when you know” type of situation, it’s not so much about improving specific endurance as it is maintaining power and speed.
— Along similar lines, but following a different path, 75-year-old Hans Smeets of the Netherlands is a 15-time world champion with multiple middle-distance age-group records to his name. His VO2 max, a measure of maximal aerobic capacity, is 50.5 ml/kg/min, the highest ever measured in a 75-year old, according to this Outside profile by Amby Burfoot. (Amby, who I had on the podcast a couple years ago, also has a great newsletter, which you can check out here.) How does Smeets do it? One, he took about three decades off running after dabbling in it as a teen, and got going again at the age of 50. At first he ran a lot, and then at the age of 60 he started focusing on speedwork. In recent years, however, he’s reduced both his overall volume and intensity, focusing on 1-2 tempo-style workouts a week while saving the real hard stuff for racing, which he does fairly frequently. It’s helped him perform at a high level, but most importantly, it’s kept him healthy well into his eighth decade. “If I had to pick two words to explain Hans’s success, they would be consistency and high volume,” says Bas Van Hooren, a Dutch national 10,000m champion and lead author on a recent paper exploring the elements that have contributed to Smeets’ success. “He trains a lot and has done so regularly over many years. This builds up huge adaptations, thus contributing to great performance.”
— I don’t know about you but taking care of business in the bathroom before I head out to run helps make me more comfortable and also provides me some peace of mind. On race day, it’s a non-negotiable for settling my nerves, as well as my stomach. According to a new study, summed up here by Brady Holmer in his excellent newsletter, Physiology Friday, it turns out the pre-run poop has performance-enhancing benefits too. “In this study, defecation resulted in greater blood pooling to the prefrontal brain during exercise than the non-defecated condition,” writes Brady. “This suggests that defecation allows for more efficient blood allocation towards the prefrontal brain, which is essential for maintaining high-intensity exercise performance. The higher brain blood flow was related to improved high-intensity endurance performance.”
— In recent years I’ve linked to a number of Kevin Kelly articles that I’ve found to be informative, insightful, and/or inspiring (1,000 True Fans and his annual “bits of unsolicited advice” being amongst my favorites), so I was thrilled to learn last week that he has a new book out based on the latter article. It’s called Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier and Kelly has been making the podcast rounds talking about it. This conversation he had with Aaron Lammer for Longform was my favorite of the bunch. They talk about collecting, writing, prototyping, publishing, taking a long range view of things, and it was just delightful.
— I was recently a guest on Jason Fitzgerald’s Strength Running podcast where we talked about combining a fast road marathon and a hilly 50-mile ultramarathon into one training cycle. This was a fun conversation about a topic that I’ve spent quite a bit of time exploring and experimenting with in recent years. It’s available wherever you get your podcasts or at this handy link. Also, Jason just released The Performance Training Journal, an old-school style running log complete with advice on racing, injury prevention, strength training, and more. In the age of Strava, I still keep a hand-written journal like this because it’s way more personal and, unlike digital platforms, forces you to really focus on and reflect upon what’s working, what’s not, and what you might need to change.
— Here are a couple videos of Ed Sheeran performing a couple of his new songs from atop a parked car in New York City last week shortly after a jury ruled that he did not rip off any chords from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” In this one, he sings “Boat,” and here he finishes with “Eyes Closed,” both tunes off his new album, Subtract. No mics, no amps, just him and acoustic guitar out in the open. Whether you like Sheeran’s music or not, it’s hard not to appreciate his incredible talent.
— A big thank you to my longtime partner Tracksmith for their support of my work this month and throughout 2023. The brand’s Spring Collection is now available, featuring a colorful refresh of some of my favorite training staples. I recently raced the Boston Marathon in the Twilight Tank, which I affectionately call my "home jersey," and I'll be wearing it again in Tracksmith's Twilight 5000 Series this summer in San Francisco and/or Oakland (I’ll likely be pacing one or both of those events). Whether you're stepping down in distance from a spring marathon, focusing on lowering your 5K personal best this summer, or trying to improve your speed before a fall marathon cycle, these races bring out the best of the running community: competition, camaraderie, and fast times under the lights. They're coming back to the Bay Area again this summer, but you can also find the full 18-city schedule at tracksmith.com. And if you buy anything on Tracksmith.com, and you’re doing so for the first time, use the code MarioNEW to save $15 on your order of $75 or more. If you’re already a Tracksmith customer, use the code MarioGIVE and you can get free shipping on your next order (and 5% of your purchase will go to support the Friendly House in Worcester, Massachusetts, an organization that is near and dear to me).
Training Tip: Don't cram it all into 7 days!
There are no universal laws that say you have to do a long run every weekend, hit a set number of "key" workouts each week (or on specific days, for that matter), or log “X” amount of miles in a 7-day stretch. While adhering to a weekly schedule can be convenient, don’t be constrained by it. Spreading things out over a 14-21 day cycle, especially for older athletes, creates room for adequate recovery time between key sessions, thus helping you get more out of them. What can this look like? It depends on the athlete and the situation, of course. It could be long runs every other weekend or twice in a 21-day period instead of every Saturday or Sunday. It could be a bigger midweek workout followed by three recovery days instead of 1-2 before you go hard again. Or it might be opening up space for strength training to fit into the schedule. The point is to be intentional—but flexible—in your approach. Identify the principle objectives you’re trying to achieve at any given period in time. Pick your spots for the workouts that matter most and build in enough recovery between those sessions. Allow more room for adaptation to take place. (And don’t feel the need to cram it all into 7 days!)
Workout of the Week
Rob Krar’s Man Maker. Hill workouts should be an essential part of any runner’s training repertoire. They provide a lot of benefits for a relatively steep price: speed, strength, fitness, focus, challenge, and confidence all wrapped into a tidy package of uphill repeats. One of my favorite hill sessions, especially for the ultrarunners I coach, is one I learned about from two-time Western States Endurance Run champion and all-around badass, Rob Krar, in an article I first wrote for Competitor/PodiumRunner in 2014. He calls it the Man Maker and regardless of how you identify, it’s a doozy that’ll help you become a better, stronger, and more well-rounded runner. Here are the details.
The bottom line.
“Although there is no progress without change, not all change is progress.”
—John Wooden, legendary college basketball coach, in his book, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court
That’s it for Issue 391. If you enjoyed it, please spread the love and forward this email to a few friends and/or share the web version in your little corner of the internet. Seeing this newsletter for the first time? You can sign up to receive it for yourself at this link.
Thanks for reading,
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