Category Archives: Training

Junk Science- 15 Minutes on a Stationary Bike Could Make You a Faster Runner

My rebuttal to a Runner’s World Junk Science Article

Articles like this drive me crazy. Based on this article, to improve your 3,000 M time (and probably your 5k time as well) you should hop on a bike and do short intense reps with short rest intervals- right?

Not so fast!  While there are interesting implications for runners in the story and it demonstrates that short intervals with short rest improve speed performance it does NOT by any stretch demonstrate that cycling is the best way to become a better runner!


  1. If you take a bunch of runners and one sub set does everything the same, and the other adds additional exercise, the ones doing extra work get faster. Duh.
  2. Among the ones doing extra work, the shorter rest intervals athletes improve the most. Duh.

What if your compared a group of people who did short bursts of running with short rest intervals to runners who trained with short bursts of cycling and short rest intervals? We don’t know for sure but I suspect the answer is that the principal of specificity comes into play and the runners get better at running while the athletes doing the cycling training improve some but not as much as they would if they did the running sprints.

I still don’t understand the running community’s fascination with cross-training. I love to run. Running is the best training for running. Not swimming, not cycling, not yoga, not cross fit, not burpees, not Zumba, or anything else. If you want to get better at running, RUN! Or try Cat Flexing. I’m pretty sure there’s a scientific study showing how it can help you run a faster 5k.

Cat Flexing! The new Cross-Training Fad! Cat-Fit!
Cat Flexing! The new Cross-Training Fad! Cat-Fit!

Step #3 of Being Awesome

I recently had a brief exchange on Twitter with @TheRunnerDad. He asked if anyone wanted to help write a book. I replied, “Sure, what are we writing about?” He said we could call it 10 steps to Being Awesome. We further decided- step #1 : Becaome a runner. Step #2: become a dad. This is logical since we are both awesome and we are both running dads. So what’s step #3?

What does it take to succeed in running? Hard work, good mileage, track sessions, mental toughness and strength training all play a role. The real trick is putting all elements together in a well-designed plan. You can pick up on tips for pace, track sessions and strength routines in countless articles in Running Times, Competitor Magazine or Runner’s World. But how do all the pieces fit together in your already busy week?

Here’s step #3: Surround Yourself with Awesome People

The good news is you probably do this already. Your friends, who run local races, show up for group runs and text you at 6:00 a.m. to make sure you’re on the way to the workout. These are your built-in advisers. Now take a next step and formalize this relationship. Ask four or five of the most knowledgeable, dedicated, successful runners you know to be your training advisory committee. Ask them to help you with your goals and hold you accountable. Send them emails about once a month asking for specific advice and letting them know how you’re doing. Most runners will be flattered that you asked. They will give you sincere insights and genuine encouragement.

How to pick your team

When I first tried this exercise, I had some people in mind. There were a few obvious choices. Then I thought through the qualities I needed to work on and which runners had those strengths. Mental toughness? Training tweaks for increasing 10K speed? Off the chart enthusiasm and that essential element of craziness? The voice of reason to moderate the crazy guy’s advice? I had check marks for all of these qualities in friends both locally and out of town. I had two runners that were younger and faster than me. Two who were close competitors to me and one who was quite a bit older than me but was a super-fast masters runner and currently terrorizing the 70+ age group runners. An All-Star team for sure.

Find at least one Crazy Runner for your advisory team.
Find at least one Crazy Runner for your advisory team.

Your advisory team will probably look much different than mine but select your advisors based on what you need to learn. Select only positive personalities and only serious athletes. Think about how they talk after a race. You want someone who can be analytical and honest but remain encouraging. Don’t pick the runner who always has a complaint about how something went wrong in the race. Watch for the runner who cheers for their friends enthusiastically and is generous with high fives. Do some Athlinks stalking and find that runner who is consistently solid and improving.

Dan with friends and super fast Masters guys, Dan Monteau and John Johnston.
Dan with friends and super fast Masters guys, Dan Monteau and John Johnston.

I have seen this concept succeed several times in my running career. As a kid, my running training was typically only once or twice a week. I would run occasionally with my dad on a four mile loop or go to the track with him. Then on many weekends, we ran races. Running races frequently was a wonderful experience to learn strategy, toughness, disappointment and the thrill of a PR. I also got to hang out after the race with other runners. Many of them took time to talk with me and encourage me. I was surrounded with solid, adult runners who helped motivate me and educate me. Additionally, I saw my dad arise early each morning to get in his training. I witnessed first-hand the dedication it took on a daily basis to be a runner. I was surrounded by good running influences!

In high school, my team wasn’t great. So I joined a running club with the one kid on my high school team who was a serious runner. At the running club track sessions, I was surrounded by experienced runners who were much older than I was. Soaking up their knowledge was extremely valuable.

Running in college was another giant step. I went from being the third fastest runner in the state to being the seventh fastest runner on the team. My teammates at the University of Florida made me a much better runner. Running with national class athletes everyday forces you to elevate your training and racing.

This concept holds true in life as a whole; not just running. Apply what you learn in running to become truly AWESOME.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn

“Birds of a feather flock together” – old proverb

Whoever walks (runs) with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20

“With many advisers, plans succeed, but without counsel, they fail.” – Proverbs 15:22

Shifting Gears: A Lesson from Jimmie

Jimmie is a weight lifter and personal trainer. He is built like a power lifter and has thrown around some impressive chunks of iron in his day.  I’ve known Jimmie since 1998 from the old Gold’s Gym days and back then if you offered to bet me $1,000 that in 2015, Jimmie would be running regularly and cranking out frequent 10 milers, I would have taken that bet. Then I would have offered to up it to $10,000.

I would have lost.

Train Harder
Train Harder

Jimmie had an injury recently and can’t do all the upper body work like he has for so many years. So in his words, “The sun’s still gonna shine so I better go workout.”

That means running. I’m impressed that he can shift gears like that. We all have setbacks in training: Injuries, time constraints, bad weather, or just low motivation. When you hit one of these problems shift gears and become solution oriented. You still have to work out! The fat’s not going to burn itself! Train Harder.

Study: Changing Running Stride Does More Harm Than Good

This article that I’ve now seen posted by three running friends seems to deserve a
response. One was a neutral “hey check this out” post, one was using it as an
excuse to continue running with terrible form and one bashed it in order to
promote Chi running.

See the full article here:

From the article:

Sixteen runners were recruited to participate in the study. They were asked to run at 16 kph (6:02 per mile) and their rate of oxygen consumption was measured to assess their running economy. Their stride rates and vertical displacements (or bouncing) were also measured. The treadmill used for the experiment was tricked out with a visual and auditory feedback system for cadence and vertical displacement.

The researchers gave each runner a target cadence and vertical displacement to aim for in a second go at running at 16 kph with a breathing mask on. The targets were intended to slightly increase each runner’s stride rate and slightly reduce his vertical displacement from current levels. The runners were able to hit these targets with relative ease with the aid of the visual and auditory feedback provided.

“Alterations led to an increase in metabolic cost in most cases, measured as VO2 uptake per minute and kg body mass,” the researchers confessed.

Back to my commentary:

This guy has funny running form
This guy has funny running form

First, the research study was 16 runners and with such a small sample size I’m not sure what conclusions can be made. Next it was a short term study not a longitudinal study over several weeks allowing runners to adjust to a new running form and have the accompanying muscle development that would go with using a different stride. So basically I think the study is junk.

In response to the “Running form doesn’t matter” or “You will naturally arrive at your most efficient running form over time by logging miles and listening to your body.”—I’d say yes, BUT,…. While I agree there is not a single perfect stride or perfect exact movement that can be applied to all runners, there are certain ranges of movement that are like guard rails to keep you on track. For example the whole heel strike vs. forefoot strike debate needs to be moderated with how far in front of your body is the strike happening and the loading rate on the leg. A severe heel striker hitting way out in front of their center of gravity and pounding the pavement with a slap of the foot is not running efficiently. A heel striker hitting just slightly in front of their center of gravity and maintaining a cadence above 170 might not be that bad! Should you force the runner to strike with their forefoot to satisfy that specific element of Chi running, POSE method or whatever other exact specification you’re relying on? No. Should you get the heel pounder, floppy foot runner to adjust some? Yes.

In response to the “One session of Chi Running and you’ll feel it is easier to run and be more relaxed!” — Keep in mind; these changes take practice, patience and many, many miles to accomplish. A single session of adjusting bounce and how hard you strike the treadmill will NOT arrive at a more efficient stride.

My personal anecdote on running form efficiency comes from a study I participated in at the University of Florida Running Medicine Clinic. I ran with shoes on the treadmill at 7:20 pace for a while and they measured my caloric needs by having me wear a mask that measured my breath as I exhaled. Then we repeated the same thing a week later but I ran barefoot. Most people in the study burned more calories and more fat running barefoot. Keep in mind all runners in the study were screened to be forefoot strikers so the transition to barefoot should be fairly easy. The obvious connection in my mind was that even though they were forefoot strikers, doing a different or new thing requires different muscle recruitment, makes you a little nervous and uncomfortable and therefore a slightly higher heart rate and caloric expenditure would be expected. But wait! My results were different. My heart rate was lower running barefoot and my caloric expenditure was LOWER running barefoot. Why? I run in near-minimalist shoes frequently. (Kinvara, Pure Flow, NB 1400, Type A5 racing flats) My body is used to less support and taking the weight off my feet felt fine. I was relaxed, rolling along and comfortable. So maybe over time, the other runners would also become more efficient at barefoot running with practice? I don’t know but it seems logical to me! We are all a research study of ONE.

Taking the Mystery out of Running Calculators

Finding the right pace for training runs, track work and tempo runs sometimes seems to be a mystery only known to expert runners and high dollar coaches. Or if you could find the formula, it was in the back of a book by Dr. Jack Daniels and while it all made sense (sort of) you still had to read mice type charts and do some math. I’ll be your trail guide to help simplify and sort of the training pace calculator craziness, twists and turns.

Does it all really matter?

That’s a fair question. It could all be gobbly gook made up by people with PhDs trying to sound smart and make a buck! Just go out and run, run, run, and you’ll eventually get faster- right? Without engaging in PhD gobbly gook, there is a scientific basis for running at certain speeds or effort levels for specified distances or amounts of time to get maximal results from your training. There is more than one way to zero in on the right pace /effort. Heart rate monitor training is great for beginning runners and those with a fetish for statistics. Running by feel works for experienced runners and those who are tuned in to their bodies. Pace calculators are essential for track workouts, race strategy and goal setting. The best system is some combination of these methods that fits your training plan and personality.

Reason #1 to use a running calculator- Measure race performance

Was that 5K when you won your age group your best performance? Or was it that 10K the month before? Or your awesome marathon? Use one of these calculators to compare your performances. According to the McMillan calculator and the USA Track and Field (USATF) Age Graded calculator, my best races have been my 10Ks. My Half Marathon time should be almost a minute faster but my 5K and 15K times are fairly comparable. I can also plug in my times from college and get an age graded score. My college PRs score about 4% higher than my current Masters PRs. So by that measure, I’m getting close to being as good an athlete as I was in college. I’m not running anywhere near the same times but on the age graded scale I can still race my former self! The other major benefit is that it moderates your expectations for a new distance or a race you have not run before. You can plug in your current 5K time and get an idea of a reasonable Half Marathon goal. You should moderate the calculator prediction with what you know about yourself, your training and the race conditions you’ll face (hills, heat etc.) but you won’t go out way too fast for the Half Marathon if you stick with the guidance of the calculator.

[Click on the images below for a larger view]

McMillan page1

USATF page

Reason #2 to use a running calculator- Run the most beneficial training paces

Most runners log regular training runs too fast and do their tempo runs too slow. The track interval paces are all over the map with some going way too fast and some afraid to push the pace. The McMillan calculator and Runworks calculator will give you training paces for various interval distances and types of runs. For me, those paces match up really well with what my coach recommends and with my goal times for various distances.

The way I approach interval work is usually race pace. I’ll run 800s at 5K goal pace for example. Mile repeats would be at 10K goal pace. This is more of a mental exercise but also gets me targeted physically on the right effort level for a race performance. The training principle of specificity! The calculators help me target those paces and get the specific training I need to reach my goals.

McMillan page2

Final Thoughts

Pace calculator tools are useful for planning your training, setting race goals and setting correct effort levels during all types of runs. The four below are some common and well respected ones that I’ve used. They don’t all use the same methodology so the results will be slightly different depending on which one you use. Think of them as guard rails to keep you on track, not exact targets.

Runworks Calculator:

McMillan Running Calculator:

USATF Age Graded Calculator:

Score My Run App for iPhone:

Speed Drill Sets and Sprint Sets

Speed Workouts

S1       Straights and Curves: Sprint / stride the straightaway on the track and jog / walk the curves. 2-4 laps

S2       Ladder: 100M (100M), 200M (200M), 300M (100M), 200M (200M), 100M.  Do the ladder X2 for a more challenging workout.

S3       Progression Run: Run one lap on the track, start at an easy jog pace, and gradually speed up throughout the lap until you finish the last 50M at a sprint / very fast pace. Use this to feel your form shift as you accelerate and maintain control of your form. Do 3 or 4 reps with full rest in between.

S4       200M Reps: 200M (200M). Do as many as fit your plan. Typically 5-12.


Drill Sets

D1       High Knees 25M, Butt Kicks 25M, High Knee Skip 25M, Lunge Short Step X10, Lunge Long StepX10

D2       High Knees 25M, High Knee Strides 50M, Butt Kicks 25M, Butt Kick Strides 50M, High Knee Skip 25M, Lunge Short step X10, Lunge Long StepX10

D3       High Knees Alt Speed 50M, Butt Kicks Alt Speed 50M, High Knee Skip 25M

D4       Karaoke 50M, Zombie Strides 50M, High Knee Strides 100M, Butt Kick Strides 100M. Do each one at least X2. Great advanced form and coordination set!

D5       High Knees 25M, Butt Kicks 25M, High Knee Skip 25M, Lunge Short Step X10, Lunge Long StepX10, One foot hops 25M, Bounding 50M, Two foot Hops 25M

Depending on your goals or experience level, what you select will be different. It is not a bad thing to have consecutive days of speed, just don’t do consecutive hard days. Depending on your training phase, work some speed in at least once a week and up to three times a week. These are just some examples. Make your own sets of drills and speed based on your training and your schedule.


Monday: D1, Tuesday: D3 + S2, Friday: D4

Tuesday: D1 + S4, Thursday: D4


Speed Workshop Notes

Here are the hand out sheets from the Speed Workshop:

Top Secret Speed


Coach Dan’s story:

First race in 1979. Many Coaches, hundreds of races, read dozens of books, talked to lot’s of runners, and I’m still learning.


What I mean by coaching yourself:

Gather advice from various sources and apply them to YOUR life and goals. Recruit friends to hold you accountable and encourage you. My coach is Joe Burgasser. I also have a group of running friends who periodically review my training and offer advice. Ultimately, I pull the advice from all sources and make it work for me.


Why Speed is important:

  • Form- Improves running form
  • Frame of Mind- If your top speed is faster, your 5K pace feels easier
  • Fun! We all know it’s more fun to run fast
  • Physics and Physiology-
    • Principal of specificity- range of motion: bicep curl example
    • Fast twitch / slow twitch muscle fibers
    • Aerobic / Anaerobic : Working on Anaerobic today

When to work speed into your schedule: (Can’t cover phases of training in full but come  Aug 27th for the full plan)

  • Base Phase- Full sets of drills and strides 2-3 time per week
  • Preseason / in Season- Smaller sets of drills 2 time per week
  • Race Phase-  Smaller sets of drills 1 or 2 times per week

How much?

  • Less than 5% of your total mileage should be drills and strides. Start at 2% and build up.
  • For example, a runner doing 40 miles per week and adding 3 times a week of drills and strides:
    • High Knees (100 M) + Butt Kicks (100 M) + High Knee Skips (100 M) + HK Strides (100 M) + BK Strides (100M) = 500 M
    • 500M X 3 days= 1500 M or almost one mile = 2.3% of total mileage
    • This is just a basic guideline to get you started. You might want to do a bit over or under the 5% mark depending on your other training. The idea is that the Speed Drill portion of your weekly running is rather small.

Form Notes

  • 180 steps per minute- A guideline, not an exact #.
  • Heel Float, knee drive- Why?
  • Center of gravity
  • Test your range of motion- prevent injury, help when returning from an injury


What to do- Always use forward motion!

  • High Knees
  • Butt Kicks
  • High Knee Skips
  • Hops / jumps
  • Lunges – short and long
  • HK Strides / BK Strides
  • Sprints, 100s, 200s, 300s