Run Long Run Strong Endurance Coaching, LLC

Heart Rate Variability: A Valuable New Metric for Athletes

20 Sep

Have you ever wondered why you feel so exhausted the day after a stressful day at work or school?  Did you know that this stress can affect your workouts as well as your health?  What can you do to ensure that you can hit that hard workout tomorrow, despite having a tough day at work today?  Heart rate variability (HRV) could be the missing link to help you unlock your potential and have a healthier future.

What is HRV?

HRV is the measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. This variation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is divided into two components, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight-or-flight mechanism and the rest-and-digest response, respectively.

The ANS works regardless of our desires (hence the name autonomic) and regulates a variety of metabolics, including heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and digestion.  A higher HRV means more variability between heart beats and indicates a healthy and rested system.  Conversely a lower HRV means less variability, meaning the body is overly stressed or may indicate a brewing illness.

Why is HRV important?

The clinical importance of HRV was first recognized in 1965 when doctors noted that fetal distress was preceded by changes in heartbeat intervals before any change occurred in heart rate itself. During the 1970s, researchers devised a number of simple bedside tests used to detect autonomic nerve damage in diabetic patients and this furthered our understanding of the connection between HRV and overall health.

The association of higher risk of death after a heart attack with reduced HRV was first shown by researchers in 1977, and in the late 1980s it was confirmed that HRV was a strong predictor of death after a myocardial infarction event.

So, what does this mean for us as athletes and how can we relate HRV to training and performance?  It’s actually quite straightforward.  If we are stressed, our HRV goes down and we are less able to perform a strong workout. If we are recovered and relaxed, our HRV goes up and our bodies are primed to hit the hard intervals or the weights.

How do we measure HRV?

There are several devices on the market (WHOOP, which I personally use, and Oura, for example) that measure and track HRV.  You can also measure HRV using a standard chest strap heart rate monitor and any number of apps available on your smart phone.

If using the chest strap and app method, the measurement needs to be taken upon waking, before eating or drinking anything. Measurements should be done 4-5 times a week in order to get a proper baseline and trend.

If using one of the devices available, your job is even simpler.  The device automatically reads your HRV during your sleep phase and records it to the device’s platform.

What controls HRV?

HRV responds to changes in the autonomic nervous system activity associated with stress. Studies show that HRV changes in response to stress induced by various methods.  Some contributing factors to changes in HRV are the amount and quality of sleep, healthy eating habits (or lack thereof), a stressful day at work or a relaxing day at the beach.

The ANS responds to all of these inputs by sending signals to either the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) or the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest), and HRV will reflect the most active system.

Myocardial infarctions (heart attack), diabetes mellitus and heart transplants are just a few health issues that can cause long-term changes to normal HRV.  Some drugs and supplements can cause short-term changes to normal HRV and should be taken into consideration when tracking HRV.

High HRV equates to proper recovery and effective management of stress. 

We can counteract the effects of life and training stress by getting plenty of sleep, eating a variety of high-quality foods and hydrating properly.  Avoiding alcohol and caffeine also seem to contribute better recovery and subsequently, higher HRV.

Long-term stress contributes to a persistent low HRV because the body is in constant fight-or-flight mode, and may indicate overtraining syndrome or simply a need to reduce overall lifestyle stress.

How can we use HRV to train effectively?

Tracking HRV is a great tool to motivate change. It may encourage a runner to get more sleep or drop that extra tempo workout if his or her HRV is unusually low.  Conversely, it may motivate a runner to work a little harder at those intervals or push a bit to get those last few miles of a long run if his or her HRV is high and the body is primed to take on extra strain.

While monitoring and training using HRV obviously can’t help us avoid stress, it could help us understand how to respond to stress in a healthier way by adding meditation or by aiming to get a little more rest.

The body doesn’t know miles, or hours at work, or a fight with our spouse.  It knows stress.  By tracking the body’s response to stress, we can create a training program that works to progress the runner without overdoing it.

Since HRV is a marker of all life’s little stressors, altering the training plan according to a higher or lower HRV is more appropriate than rigidly sticking to a plan that might ultimately be the runner’s undoing.  In this way we can potentially avoid overtraining syndrome, illnesses or injuries that often accompanies hard training without getting enough recovery.

Further Reading:

Heart rate variability: A new way to track well-being

Heart Rate Variability Standards of Measurement, Physiological Interpretation, and Clinical Use

Stress and Heart Rate Variability: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature

Susan G.

05 Jul

Run Long ~ Run Strong: How old are you?
Susan Gilstrap: 44

RLRS: Tell us a little about yourself (kids, married, job)?
SG: Married 12 years to a wonderful, supportive husband, Ken. I have two fur babies, 1) 5yr old purebred American Bulldog who is a meathead and loveable and 2) Winnie a 10 year old Corgi mix who just wants to lick you to death! We live in Dallas, TX. I work in advertising in downtown Dallas as a Sr. Art Director. 

RLRS: When and why did you start running?
SG: I started many years ago, around 2006ish and just wanted to get into shape.

RLRS: What keeps you motivated to train?
SG: Honestly, I’ve lost motivation throughout the years especially after my marathon in 2015. I’ve started again and it’s the feeling I get after waking up in the morning (and I’m NOT a morning person) and knowing throughout the day that I got my workout done! Plus, I love seeing the green after I’ve completed a workout in TrainingPeaks!! hahaha

RLRS: What are your hobbies outside of running?
SG: I love horses and use that passion to create handmade cards/art.

RLRS: What is your favorite race?
SG: Not sure I have a favorite. Depends on where I’m at with my training. A good 5k is always great for motivation because the distance doesn’t kill you and you get a medal!

RLRS: What is your bucket list event?
SG: Ooh, maybe the Honolulu Marathon and a 50 miler. (although the 50M seems almost impossible!!)

RLRS: What is the funniest thing to happen to you during a race?
SG: During my marathon in 2015, we did it in Eugene, OR where my husband is from. About mile 15, both my sisters-in-law and their kids were driving up and down the street in their grandma’s old Caddy screaming out the window! Then, some of them jumped on course with me!! Mile 15 was when things were still funny! (not at mile 19 though!)

RLRS: What is your proudest race moment?
SG: Crossing that marathon finish line!!!

RLRS: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you first started running?
SG: Don’t stop believing in yourself!!

RLRS: What is your best piece of advice for new runners?
SG: Take it workout by workout. Try not to get overwhelmed by your goal race. “My race, my pace.” To try and not compare to others paces.

Cynthia T.

08 Jun

Run Long ~ Run Strong: How old are you?
Cynthia Thompson: 50 years old

RLRS: Tell us a little about yourself (kids, married, job)?
CT: Two sons, ages 31 and 20.  Oldest is married and has given me three adorable grandchildren (5 and 2-year old boys, 6-month old girl).  Single. Work as a purchasing manager in the chemical industry.

RLRS: When and why did you start running?
CT: I started running at the young age of 46 when I realized I was playing in two different tennis leagues but still felt like I was out of shape – and I quickly learned that I was even more out of shape than I believed! I put myself through an unplanned C25K and . . . kinda got addicted!

RLRS: What keeps you motivated to train?
CT: I love the friendships I have developed running – having so many amazing women to train with keeps me going even when I am having a rough time.  I also love a challenge – once I have committed to a race, I hate the idea of letting myself down!

RLRS: What are your hobbies outside of running?
CT: Wait, there are things to do outside of running? OK, OK.  I still play in a Summer tennis league, I try to get on the water as often as I can with my kayak, I live the dream as Mimi to my grandkids whenever I can . . . and does binging Netflix crime series count as a hobby?

RLRS: What is your favorite race?
CT: I try to never run the same race twice – I like the adventure of trying new and different things!  I have to say that Big Turtle 50 miler is my favorite to date – but maybe that is because I am so very proud of the accomplishment of it.  It was a beautiful course too in the Daniel Boone National Forest in KY.

RLRS: What is your bucket list event?
CT: There are too many races to run! I love the idea of the Volcanic 50 which circumnavigates Mt. St. Helen’s – I so vividly recall watching that volcano erupt, and the idea of running it fascinates me.

RLRS: What is the funniest thing to happen to you during a race?
CT: Hmmmm . . . I was struggling with IT band pain during the Carmel (IN) Marathon, and there was an aid worker with pain spray – but I couldn’t pull my compression pants up far enough for her to be able to spray the outside of my knee!  So  . . . yeah, I kinda pulled my pants down right on the side of the course (yes I was wearing moisture wicking undies – no mooning my fellow runners)! Sadly, it didn’t even help much and I ended up finishing the half instead of the full.  But hey, it was quite the moment!

RLRS: What is your proudest race moment?
CT: Crossing every finish line for a distance PR has been a proud moment – but I definitely became the most emotional when I finished my first full marathon (Little Rock).  I will always be thankful to my friend Cari for running the entire 26.2 with me, motivating me, and even singing Disney tunes to me LOL.

RLRS: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you first started running?
CT: I wish I knew that every runner has insecurities, fast or slow is a matter of perception, and your only competition is yourself! (Sorry, I know that’s more than one.)

RLRS: What is your best piece of advice for new runners?
CT: Join a run club and run with friends!  I have formed some of the most amazing, supportive friendships through running, and the training is so much nicer when you do it together!

Tips for the time-crunched athlete

28 May

Time.  It’s the one thing we all have the same amount of, and it’s the one thing we all wish we had more of.  How is it that some people seem to get more done than others?  Why do some of us struggle to get half of our activities done only to run out of daylight?  The answer came to me when I started taking a course on life coaching.

As a running coach, I am put in a particularly sticky situation.  My athletes look to me for guidance and motivation as they set their sights on a particular goal.  When they join my team, I have them fill out an athlete profile where they answer questions regarding their goals, their lifestyles, and the time they have to devote to training.  It helps me to devise a plan that fits into their lives, but it also shows me where their running goals and their time to train might not be in alignment, especially when you add in strength training, yoga, or other complimentary activities.

Prioritizing is often thought of as a dirty word.  It usually means we have to assign importance to the myriad of things we have to deal with on a daily basis – and this is a problem for us because we think everything is important.  But the truth is there are some aspects of our lives that must get top billing, and that means that something has to be at the bottom of the list and might need to get booted if we run out of hours at the end of the day.

I fell into the trap of overbooking myself while training for the Hartford Marathon in 2015.  I was working full-time, going to college, and aiming for a marathon PR which meant speed training, long runs, and strength training sessions.  I chugged along, running six days a week and cramming in 3-4 days of strength training.  Unfortunately, I forgot about an important aspect of training – I’d neglected to plan in rest and recovery time.  As a result, I arrived at the start line fatigued, and my marathon suffered.

So, what is important to a runner and how do we figure out what we need to be a strong, healthy athlete while juggling family, work, and other obligations?  To get some perspective, I asked a couple of my friends to share some of their advice on what to do and when to do it.   

Professional runner Mike Wardian says, “I am a runner, so my focus is running.  I do some cross training by cycling and/or swimming, but mostly I run.”  He continues on to say that while he believes that running should be a priority, he also understands that a runner can benefit by weight training to create a more rounded, healthier athlete.  “My weight training sessions have become non-negotiable, and it really comes [down] to when I need to get up,” Mike claims. “I try to be as efficient as possible.”  He calls some of what he does “invisible training,” meaning he will run or bike to work and get some miles in that way, or he would run or walk with the stroller when his kids were small. By heeding Mike’s advice, it’s easy to see that by incorporating some of life’s daily chores into our workouts, we can alleviate some of the time-crunching that inevitably occurs in a busy lifestyle.

“You’re asking a good and important question, one that all runners must come to grips with,” says Amby Burfoot, former editor of Runner’s Worldmagazine and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon.  He continues, “The answer depends on several things, but mainly, what is your current primary goal?”  Amby feels that if your short-term goal is to attain a PB at an upcoming race, then your focus needs to shift to your running workouts.  However, he agrees with Mike on strength training, and advises that “regular strength training is important for its anti-aging effects; we all lose strength as we age.”

Okay, so we all agree that runners need to run, and that to be well-rounded we need to strength train.  Prioritizing – that dirty word again – needs to be implemented so we can be efficient in our training and still have time to play with our kids, sleep, and enjoy time with our spouses.  A great way to do this is to set up a plan, so we can evaluate all the activities that need to happen and in what order they need to happen in.  We can also look to see how we can combine certain activities (as Mike mentioned above) and maximize our training time.

Amby also offers some different ideas on getting that training in. “Don’t overlook steady-paced walking; it’s a great workout,” he says.  So, how about a quick power walk at lunch?  Or during your child’s baseball practice?  Or maybe a family hike on the weekend?  Mike thinks “having the family involved is so cool,” and feels that is an important way to combine training and family activities. “Everything is possible,” Mike says. He has two boys, a dog, a full-time job as an international ship broker, is a coach, and a full-time professional athlete, so finding ways to train that have a minimal impact on family and work obligations is key for him.

Taking Mike’s and Amby’s advice into consideration, what could I have done differently in my marathon training that might have resulted in a better outcome?  First, I could have dropped my running down to 5 days a week to give me a little more recovery time.  Second, since I was targeting a PR, I could have dropped one or two strength training sessions a week to focus more on running.  Finally, if I had made a plan for all my projected activities before I registered for the marathon, I may have realized that I didn’t have the ability to properly train for that goal, given everything else I had going on.

Having a job and a family and being an athlete can be a struggle, but if we plan it right it can be extremely rewarding.  Sometimes we may need to forego a run or a strength training session, but this will not make or break our race and shouldn’t be worried about. The bottom line is that running and working out should be enjoyed and not be a source of stress, but it can be a difficult journey if we try to wing it.  If you’re not a planner, it’s time to become one so that you won’t have to give up your sport, miss your child’s soccer games, or anger your spouse for not making them a priority.  In the end you’ll have a happier family and you’ll be a healthier (and less stressed-out) athlete – and you just might find that you end up with more free time than you thought you had.

Mike Wardian is an ultrarunner and marathoner.  He has a long list of accomplishments to his name, including holding the record for the World Marathon Challenge and wins at the US 50K, 50M and 100K championships. He lives with his family in Arlington, VA.

Amby Burfoot is a marathoner who grew up under the coaching of legendary runner John J. Kelley. In addition to his win at the 1968 Boston Marathon, he holds the record for the most consecutive completions of the Manchester Road Race at 57 times and is the former editor of Runner’s WorldMagazine.  Amby lives with his wife in Mystic, CT.

Elizabeth W.

25 Apr

Run Long ~ Run Strong: How old are you?
Elizabeth Wren: 31

RLRS: Tell us a little about yourself (kids, married, job)?
EW: I am a mother of three boys, Gavin, Kaden and Blake, 12, 11 and 9 respectively. I work full time for a Pharmacy Benefit Manager corporation. It is fulfilling and rewarding as well as challenging. I am currently in a deeply committed relationship with the man of my dreams; Rings and a wedding are in the future. I have been an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous for just over 8.5 years. Being sober is by far the best thing that I have ever accomplished. My children do not remember me when I was in my active alcoholism, for which I am extremely grateful!

RLRS: When and why did you start running?
EW: I ran track and cross country in high school. Then 3.5 years ago, after the end of a bad relationship, a dear friend took me on a run and I have been hooked since!

RLRS: What keeps you motivated to train?
EW: My own personal goals, my children, and my sobriety.

RLRS: What are your hobbies outside of running?
EW: I enjoy cooking, reading, baking, and shooting.

RLRS: What is your favorite race?
EW: That is a tie. Burning River Relay last year because it made me an ultrarunner. And it was absolutely beautiful. And Forget the PR 50k April 6th. It was the best race I had ever had. Perfect weather, I felt absolutely amazing and finished feeling like I could have kept running!

RLRS: What is your bucket list event?
EW: Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe a hundo some day? Or maybe Barkley Marathons? To be honest, I just want to run far in beautiful places because I have a strong body that will allow it.

RLRS: What is the funniest thing to happen to you during a race?
EW: Nothing yet.  Stay tuned!

RLRS: What is your proudest race moment?
EW: I have 2. One, finishing my first 10k (3 years ago). I was solo, alone, and still standing when it was over. It was a distance PR as of then. Two, finishing FTPR with a HUGE smile, feeling amazing, 90 minutes faster than my goal time.

RLRS: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you first started running?
EW: That you don’t have to be so damn serious all the time. It’s not all about “getting faster” or a competition. Running because you love it is so much more enjoyable.

RLRS: What is your best piece of advice for new runners?
EW: See my above answer!!  Also, have fun. And try a trail run or two!

Samantha G.

25 Apr

Run Long ~ Run Strong:  How old are you? 
Samantha Graham:  Thirty-One 

RLRS:  Tell us a little bit about yourself (kids, married, job)? 
SG:  I am married to my best friend, Sean, and we have a cat.  I live 1300 km from my family, so I have a support network of close friends who I love dearly and have become my family.  For work, I am a self-employed Instructional Designer – I design and develop curricula and learning experiences for corporate environments. 

RLRS:  When and why did you start running? 
SG:  I began running primarily to boost my endorphins and stave off depressive thoughts.  Without writing a novel, I had been working full-time from home for a couple of years after previously working in an office for several years.  I love being around people, even if it is just in an office and I am not directly socializing with them.  Working from home, alone, was mentally challenging.  I kept seeing pictures and posts on social media from friends who were running, so I signed up for the March 2018 Frosty 5k in Burlington, Ontario.  Never having run before, I had every intention of training for it but didn’t due to work trips and catching strep throat.  I ran that 5k in just over 33 minutes, but it took me another 45 minutes to thoroughly cool down and breathe normally again.  Even though I was utterly exhausted, I decided I wanted to finish a race without feeling like my heart was beating out of my chest.  I signed up for a 10k group clinic at a local running store, and the rest is history! 

RLRS:  What keeps you motivated to train? 
SG:  My training runs are a significant part of my self-care.  I thoroughly enjoy running; it gives me a chance to step back from the hustle and bustle of life, clear my head, and re-center myself. 

RLRS:  What are your hobbies outside of running? 
SG:  I love food and wine; I have a long list of brunch restaurants around the Toronto area to try now that we have reached spring!  I enjoy cooking and baking for myself and others, so much of my regular free time is spent in the kitchen.  I also SCUBA dive, and look forward to my annual diving trip! 

RLRS:  What is your favorite race? 
SG:  in 2019, I ran the Dopey Challenge at Disney.  I was able to run the 5k and 10k with my husband and then ran the half marathon and marathon on my own.  It was my first marathon, and my first time at Disney.  It was absolutely magical to run through all the parks! 

RLRS:  What is your bucket list event? 
SG:  Do I have to have one? I don’t currently have a bucket list event, but ask me again in 6 months! 

RLRS:  What is the funniest thing to happen to you during a race? 
SG:  I don’t know about funny things to happen during a race, but I have some pretty funny race photos! 

RLRS:  What is your proudest race moment? 
SG:  So far, my proudest race moment was at the 2019 Around the Bay 30k.  I had planned to run it as a training run during my build up to the 2019 Toronto Marathon, but a friend of a friend had a goal finish time in mind and could use the motivation and assistance of a pacer.  She is in her early 40s, and she wanted to beat the finish time her sister set at age 22 of 03:27:00.  The target finish time was well within my pace capability, so we ran together.  We beat her target finish time by almost 5 minutes!  She ran hard, crushed her goal, and I was SO PROUD of her! 

RLRS:  What is the one thing you wish you knew when you first started running? 
SG:  The first several kilometers are tough to slog through!  Smile, keep your chin up and your legs moving! 

RLRS:  What is your best piece of advice for new runners? 
SG:  Have fun!  Seriously!  Don’t take yourself so seriously that you forget to have fun.  Being able to run is a precious gift, and it should not be taken for granted!  Oh! Remember to smile! You never know when a photographer is going to catch you! 

If it was easy, everyone would do it

03 Mar

Today was a really tough run for me.  Not because it was 30 miles (it was 7).  Not because it was a mountain run (it’s pretty flat here in Groton).  And not because it was hot and humid (its barely 32*F and cloudy).  It was tough because my mind told me it was going to be.

In true New England fashion, Mother Nature had decided to wait until March to start dumping snow in our region.  Between last night and this morning we got the highest snowfall of the season, and I grumbled my discontent as I tried to figure out how I was going to get my training run in.  I finally decided to go with the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” program and just run the trails in the snow.

Everything conspired against me from the start – or so my brain told me.  I hadn’t planned on running alone but I had no choice because my best trail buddy is injured and all my other training partners either live too far away or had other plans. Then I had arrived at the trail head thinking that no one else would be stupid enough to be out in this crap.  Ha!!  Dozens of footprints (both human and dog), and a ton of fat bike tire and cross country ski tracks had turned the trails into a sloppy mess.  And what I thought would be a light fluffy snow turned out to be wet and slushy.  Ugh.  I had a crappy mental outlook right from the get-go.

The first mile wasn’t too bad, but then the shit hit the fan.  Slipping around in the slick footing sapped my energy and made me even crankier.  I tried to make the best of it, running when I could and walking when I had to.  I slogged through another mile, repeatedly saying to myself how hard this was and how shitty I felt, and how I could have possibly thought this was a good idea.

I thought back to yesterday, and the conversation I had with a fellow runner (and podcast host – hint, hint).  We discussed how many people try to take the “hard” out of running and racing, looking for flat courses to PR on and expecting full-on gourmet smorgasbords and heaters at aid stations.  His comment of “if you’re looking for easy, you’re in the wrong fucking sport” echoed in my head.  Remembering that trail running is not easy helped get me through another mile before the shitstorm in my head took over again.

I had been in a foul mood for quite some time when I looked up – and there it was.  My favorite part of this trail.  The fire road climbs though the trees and then all of a sudden you’re at the top of the bluff, the sea rolling out in front of you.  Today the addition of the sunlight struggling at the edge of the storm clouds took my breath away.  I remembered how blessed I was to have this wild place to run in, and I used this feeling to push me onward.

A few minutes later my energy flagged – again, and I sunk into my crankiness – again.  My mind was filling up with snarky remarks about how dumb I’d been to come out here when I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy run, and how I should have just stuck to the road instead of being an idiot.  It never fails to amaze me how hard we are on ourselves when a decision we’ve made doesn’t meet with our expectations.  I, especially, have never been good about rolling with the punches and it was clear by my running inner diatribe that I still hadn’t mastered this skill.

A quick glance up ahead alerted me to the presence of a hiker, and I moved over to the side of the trail and gave him a half-hearted wave.  As we passed I heard him say “keep it up!!”  Did he somehow know I was struggling, I wondered?  Or was he just being kind?  Then I realized it didn’t matter why he said it.  The encouragement from this random stranger was just what I needed to propel me down the trail.  And it lasted all of about 10 minutes before exhaustion ground me down once more.

About a half mile later the trail opened up on one side, bordered by the waters of Mumford Cove.  Most of the time I’d had my head down, trudging forward as best I could, but something drew my gaze over towards the water.  I watched as a seagull glided silently, just above the water’s surface and landed at a spot down the beach.  I stopped as he grabbed himself a snack and contentedly munched away, watching me watching him.  I was again filled with the sense of being incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy this place, even though I was suffering through this run.  The deep feeling of gratitude got me though another mile.

I slowly became aware of how each time my mental energy (and let’s face it – my physical energy) started to lag, something would happen to lift me back up.  And even though the moments of respite were brief, they were there – and I was managing to get the miles done. I was mulling all of this over when suddenly sentences started to link together in my mind.  I remembered a runner/writer friend of mine telling me that he composed entire books in his brain while out running, and I spent the last two miles of my run mentally writing this blog post.

I arrived back at my car, totally spent.  I knew I had made this run much harder than it had to be, just by starting off in a negative frame of mind. While I could have found peace and wonder by enjoying my favorite place, instead I punished myself by repeatedly drowning in disappointment at the difficulty of the run.

The lesson to be learned here is twofold.  One, your mind is a powerful tool.  Program it properly and it can help you reach goals you never thought possible.  Give in to negative, cranky thoughts and guess what – you’ll have a negative, cranky experience.  This really hit home for me today as I watched myself vacillate between the physical highs and lows based on my mental programming.

The second lesson is quite possibly more important and can be summed up in one of my favorite movie quotes.  In “A League of Their Own”, Tom Hanks’ character remarked “Of course it’s hard.  It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it.  Hard is what makes it great.”

Now get out there and run!!

~ Coach Faith

Need some inspiration? Check out my list of recommended podcasts, books, and movies

17 Jan

Whether you’re looking for something to listen to, read, or watch, I think you’ll find lots of information and inspiration in the list below. Let me know which ones move you!!


Trail Running Women

Hilary Spires

A great podcast for women, by women.  You’ll hear women trail runners talking about everything from running while pregnant, to eating disorders, to overcoming incredible obstacles.  Badassery abounds in this “ask me anything” format, and Hilary brings out the absolute best in her guests. Be sure to listen in – you might be surprised at who you’ll hear!!

The Strength Running Podcast

Jason Fitzgerald

Information on training and discussions with world-class athletes.  A great addition for anyone who wants to improve their running (and let’s face it – that’s all of us!).  Listen to your idols talk about their experiences, get tips from elite coaches, and get inspired by all the guests of this podcast series.

Ultra Stories Podcast

Human Potential Running Series (“Sherpa” John Lacroix)

No one tells it like it is like Sherpa John.  He’s opinionated, sometimes foul-mouthed, and about as real as it gets.  His episodes range from recaps of the races that he directs, to interviewing the runners who attend his “Stories Ultra”, to hearing about what it’s like to run with mental illness.  His podcasts encapsulate the true spirit of the ultrarunning community and are as funny as they are informative. Go for a run with Sherpa John and get some fuel for your soul.



Dr. Stacy Sims

“Women are not small men.” This is the basis of Dr. Sims’ research, and the premise that this book is founded on.  An overwhelming number of women train and eat like men, thinking this will make them stronger, faster, and healthier.  This could not be further from the truth! This book outlines proper nutrition and training strategies specifically for women at every stage of life and is packed with information to help women be the best athletes they can be.  ROAR should be a part of every woman’s library if she wants the best advice for a lifetime of health and fitness.

Fast After Fifty

Joe Friel

Let’s face it – none of us wants to admit that time keeps marching forward and robbing us of our health and fitness.  Current research shows that this doesn’t have to happen! Joe Friel’s advice on training for athletes over 50 gives hope to mature athletes and shows us how to stay strong and healthy for our entire lives.  Just as women should not train and eat like men, mature runners have different needs than our younger counterparts and we should treat our bodies as such. This book has contributions from from many experts who show us that age is just a number.

Training Essentials of Ultrarunning

Jason Koop

When I picked up this book last year, I never imagined it would become such a focal point of training for my third VT100k.  The principles Jason uses for both mental and physical training are based in science and are easy to implement into your own training program.  From goal-setting for your season to planning your pacing and nutrition for race day, this book covers it all. I highly recommend it for any serious ultrarunner, whether they are completing their first 50K or going for a 100 mile PR.


Alex Hutchinson

In his latest book, Alex Hutchinson combines stories with cutting-edge research to tease out the limits of human endurance.  Are limits physiological? Or are they psychological? Or mental? Or emotional? This complicated relationship is explored in depth and is supplemented by incredible stories of successful (and unsuccessful) feats of endurance, ranging from Roald Amundsen’s race to the South Pole to the Nike 2 hour project.  The book is an entertaining as well as inspiring and informative read, and is regarded as one of the best books on endurance ever written.

Let Your Mind Run

Deena Kastor

Deena Kastor shares with us the inner workings of the mind of an elite athlete and lets us in on the secrets that helped propel her to the top of US women’s marathoning.  The book recounts her life from her attempts at a young age to find an outlet for her athletic energy, to her almost burnout from the pressure of winning as a college track and cross country star,  to her position as a top-ranked masters runner. Deena teaches us to think about our running and our lives, and how we can improve both by employing visualization, positivity, and gratitude. A great read and the perfect addition to any runner’s library.

Gratitude in Motion

Colleen Kelly Alexander

This one has been an absolute favorite of mine.  Colleen sustained life-threatening injuries in a cycling accident involving a distracted driver, but didn’t let that dampen her spirit.  With hard work, mental toughness, and the love of her husband, she made it through a mind-boggling number of surgeries to emerge as one of the most amazing pillars of strength I have ever encountered.  This book is her memoir and chronicles her journey from a shy girl from the Florida coast to a powerful advocate for cycling safety and spokesperson for the American Red Cross. A must-read for anyone who needs a little inspiration in his or her life.


Unbreakable: The Western States Endurance Run

This movie provides a glimpse into the oldest and one of the most prestigious ultra marathons in the US.  It follows four top runners (Hal Koerner, Anton Krupicka, Killian Jornet, and Geoff Roes) as they battle to traverse the hot canyons, steep ascents, and brutal downhills of the Western States Trail and be the first to cross the historic finish line at the Placer High School track.


This moving documentary surrounds the bombings at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the amazing resilience of the city of Boston and the athletes from around the world that come to compete at this race, intertwined with the rich history of the race and the legendary runners who have made their marks on Boylston Street.  If you’ve never run a marathon, this film will make you want to register for one.

Finding Traction

Nikki Kimball is a driving force for women’s equality in sports.  In this film Nikki sets out to break the FKT (fastest known time) on the 273 mile Long Trail in Vermont, and not only did she want to set the record for women, she wanted to break the men’s record,  proving that women can stand on equal ground with men. Throughout her quest Nikki had to face difficult terrain, uncooperative weather, and physical challenges while maintaining forward progress. Her tremendous determination to complete the trail will leave you wanting to take the journey yourself.

Inspired to Ride

Inspired to Ride chronicles the inaugural Trans Am bike race.  Follow cyclists on their journey of 4233 miles through ten states, from the Pacific coast to Virginia, and be inspired by their incredible determination to be the first to complete the cross-country race.  Throughout the movie you’ll learn the riders’ stories, and you’ll cheer at the triumphs and cry with those that fall short of the mark. Even if you don’t ride, this is a must-see film for anyone who wants to watch a bunch of crazy people go after an extraordinary goal.


Do you believe in miracles?  You will after you watch the true story of Herb Brooks and the 1980 US Olympic hockey team.  Herb took a bunch of mismatched and rivalling hockey players and turned them into the best team in the world, all while teaching them to believe in themselves and each other.  Watching the US team triumph over the heavily-favored Soviet team will leave you feeling like anything is possible, as long as you believe.

Without Limits

This movie is one recounting of the life and career of Steve Prefontaine, one of the most influential and legendary amateur runners that ever lived.  From his modest start in a middle class household in Coos Bay, Oregon to his defeat of almost every top track runner in the world, Pre held fast to his views on running and racing and always held himself to the highest standards.  “A race is a work of art” was how Pre felt, and this film sets out to show how his gritty demeanor and single-mindedness on the track indeed made each of his races a masterpiece.

Getting out when the temperature goes down

03 Jan

(reprinted from Run Long ~ Run Strong Endurance Coaching Facebook page)

Cold weather running can be a challenge for most of us. We drag out all our tights, gloves, and hats and assemble them all into what can only be described as a refugee center for the Arctic. We check weather forecasts and try to plan our wardrobe according to what Mother Nature is throwing at us today. And then we are left with an amount of laundry that looks like it came from a family of ten. Now that winter seems to have descended on New England, it seemed appropriate to address the things we should and shouldn’t do as we head out the door.Most of us struggle with what to wear when the temperature dips. Should you layer up or go for the heaviest pair of tights and pair that with that awesome new sub-zero jacket that you just got? Mittens or gloves? Or should you just bail on the whole thing and hit the treadmill (gasp)? I asked a few friends if they wouldn’t mind sharing their tried and true tips and their go-to gear for when they want to get some miles in when the weather isn’t cooperating.

Chantelle Robitaille, coach and outdoor enthusiast, says, “Running in the cold doesn’t have to be miserable. Coming from northern Canada, I learned from a young age that there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad preparation.” She likes to layer up, adding that “if you plan it right, when you head outside you will feel a bit chilled, but you will warm up fast.” I’m all about the layers myself. Not only do layers trap air between them (which helps to insulate you), you can remove gear as you warm up and stuff in into your pack. You can’t do that if you wear just one shirt and a heavy jacket.

You also might want to consider a change of clothes when you are out for a long run in the cold. Once you start sweating it is very easy to get chilled if you need to slow down to negotiate a technical section of trail, or you are doing loops and are stopping to refuel and refill your hydration vest or bottles. “During a long run if it’s possible, I change shirts and whatever else I can to stay fresh. It makes a huge mental difference to throw on a clean, dry shirt or shorts after several hours on the trail, so I try to pack extras when I can,” says friend and fellow ultra runner Mike Crutchley.

Making sure the feet stay warm is a must, as the extremities are the most likely to suffer from frostbite or frost nip. “For socks, I’m pretty loyal to the Swiftwick Wool Line. They have all different ankle heights, which make them versatile in the running wardrobe depending on what type of terrain you’re running on or what type of footwear you’re reaching for that day,” says race director extraordinaire and fellow trail runner Jason Paganelli. Chantelle warns to “never double up on socks! A good pair of merino wool socks should do the trick here. Just make sure they go above the ankle and feel good in your shoes.” She recommends Smartwool, Darn Tough, or Voormi, and Mike echos the Smartwool endorsement.

I don’t know about you, but if my hands are cold then the rest of my body feels chilled. Lucky for us, there are many options for keeping those fingers warm and toasty even in sub-zero temperatures. “On your hands, this comes down to personal preference – but mittens will always keep you warmer than gloves,” says Chantelle. Brooks makes a great cold-weather mitten, as does Saucony and Nike. According to Chantelle, you can also try the lobster-claw style cycling mittens from Pearl Izumi or Craft. Whatever you choose make sure to bring a another pair of your favorite gloves or mittens with you, just in case you get wet or start to sweat. Cold, wet fingers are very susceptible to frostbite and that’s the last thing we need when we are out enjoying winter trails.

Finally, we need to keep our heads warm. A person loses 7-10% of their body heat through his or her head and while this may not sound like much, when the temperatures are below freezing, that heat loss can deplete a person enough to allow hypothermia to begin. This is especially important for those with less, um, insulation on their noggins, so I turned to my follically challenged friends to help me with this one. “I own a lot of hats! Beanies, skullcaps, ball caps, trucker hats, etc…I pack them all and for any occasion,” says Mike. Jason had a lot of advice for less-than-hirsute heads: “For me personally, being comfortable in the cold is always about maintaining the balance between staying warm and staying light. I hate to run with too much bulk, even in the winter, and that includes on my head. Luckily, the whole bald thing helps keep the weight down,” he says. One of Jason’s go-to toppers is his Smartwool Merino 150 Beanie (a super lightweight beanie made with a merino wool blend). He then added, “If I’m running at a lower intensity, or I know the weather is going to be on the colder side, I’ll reach for my Craft Race Hat. They sell these locally at Spark Bike Run Sports, and offer a TON of warmth.” Mike also says he changes his hats often, as this helps reduce the heat loss and keeps him comfortable over many miles.

Chantelle advises to use a buff as a versatile option for keeping the neck, chin, and ears extra warm. “You can cover up your neck, face and head with it, or just use it around your neck, or as a headband,” she says. These come in different weights, and fleece-lined ones are great for when the frost is really on the pumpkin. It also helps to cover your nose and mouth to ease your breathing when it’s really cold, and buffs make this easy to do. Chantelle added that “balaclavas also have their time and place- don’t worry about how it looks- people will think you are weird for running in the cold anyway!”

Finally, for those who suffer with Reynaud’s or a similar disorder, be extra sure to choose the correct socks and gloves/mittens for the temperature and bring changes of both, and hand warmers in the mittens or shoes go a long way towards keeping the hands and feet from getting too cold. Plan to have a place to warm up mid-run, or break your runs into two segments to reduce your exposure. And Chantelle says to eliminate the coffee before your run and opt for non-caffeinated beverages, as caffeine is a vasoconstrictor and may make keeping your extremities warm a real challenge.

There’s no reason to relegate yourself to the treadmill for the winter months, as long as you plan your route properly, stay hydrated and well-fueled, and choose the right clothing. So grab the mittens, the fleece-lined tights, and that silly looking balaclava and go exploring. Chantelle’s last piece of advice? “Have fun out there! Winter is a great time of year to see your favourite trails in a new light.”

Chantelle Robitaille is a coach at Carmichael Training Systems and holds a master of science degree in high altitude exercise physiology. Jason Paganelli, president of True North Running Company, is an avid road and trail runner and is the race director of many road and ultra events in the RI/MA area. Mike Crutchley has run numerous ultras and trail marathons and is a trusted trail partner of many years. I thank them all for their advice and recommendations for this article.

We are all a work in progress

20 Dec

For my first entry in this blog, I decided to reprint an entry from my  It seemed appropriate in launching this blog and certainly fits in with the subtitle “musings of an ultra marathon coach”.  The following is a glimpse into what led me to be a runner, chase my dream race, and eventually want to share my love of running with others and help them go after their own dream races.

Follow your dreams and you’ll never look back

(reprinted from a previous blog entry)

When I started running in 2011, I did it because I wanted to run a benefit 5k for my hometown tornado relief fund.  Back then, I hadn’t thought that it would eventually lead me to a new career path.  Since that day I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and just go with it.  I’ve discovered that despite what others may think, I can still achieve my dreams – even if they seem far-fetched.

I followed the usual path from 5ks to half marathons to marathons.  I got slightly faster but not as fast as I wanted to get, and since I came to running late in life I figured I was experiencing the point of diminishing returns phenomenon.  At some point in the 5k to half marathon transition I discovered trail running.  Trail running fulfilled my sense of adventure and got me off the roads and into the woods.  I continued my road racing while getting stronger on the trails (after a couple of falls resulting in a wrist fracture followed by an ankle fracture) and after a few road marathons, I began dreaming of an ultra.

Over the course of the next few years, I participated in many 50ks (some self-supported training runs), several 50 milers, three 100ks (one with a 97 minute PR!!) and my first hundred miler in 2017.  I still do road races, but my love lies with ultras.  I may not be faster, but I can grind down into a low gear and just keep on trucking.  I like the challenge of the trail, and I love pushing my body to limits I never thought I could.  I’ve had to tackle unique problems because of my age and my lack of a lifetime of running experiences, and I can relate to others facing similar issues.  I love figuring out how best to approach a training plan with an eye towards the mature runner (I hate the word older because it has a negative connotation for me).

I’ve ridden horses practically all my life.  It was my passion for many years, exploring several different disciplines and finally settling on endurance racing.  Its a lot like ultra running, only you have to worry about 6 legs instead of 2, and two living, breathing beings instead of one.  It taught me to multi-task under stress, focus on nutrition and pacing (for the both of us), and to be almost anally organized.  I had a tack box that went with me to every race and was only unpacked to clean everything and then repack it to be ready for the next adventure.  My ultra gear is no different.  I can just about do nothing but pack some clothes and food and throw my drop box in the car and go.  It takes a lot of the pressure off, knowing that everything is always ready to go…and I encourage my athletes to do the same thing.

I’ve been incredibly blessed to meet and run with some amazing athletes.  While I was in college I worked part time at a run specialty store originally owned by a local running legend, and it opened a lot of pathways for me.  I’ve been encouraged by Deena Kastor, inspired by Colleen Alexander, and coached by Amby Burfoot.  I’ve run races alongside Jeff Galloway and in the footsteps of Bill Rodgers, and I’ve shared trails with Hal Koerner and Amy Rusiecki.  Nothing like learning from the best.

I like to stay involved in the running community, and give back when I can.  I serve as a guide for Achilles CT, I have fundraised for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, I belong to the Shenipsit Striders (a local running club), I am a member of the USATF, I have led pace groups for local races, and I am an brand ambassador for Skratch Labs and UltrAspire.  I also volunteer at several ultras each year, enjoying the camaraderie and watching others live out their dream races.  I firmly believe in the old adage, “you reap what you sow,” and I apply that to my coaching as well as to my own experiences in my running life.

I’m a scientist by training.  I earned my associate’s degree in liberal arts and sciences from Manchester Community College in 2010, my bachelor’s degree in marine science from the University of Connecticut at Avery Point in 2013, and my master’s degree in oceanography from UCONN in 2015.  I guess you could say I love to learn, and I have a very analytical mind.  I like facts and figures, and I like the data to back them up.  So when it came time to choose a coaching certification program, I searched for one that was steeped in scientific data and had lots of peer-reviewed references to back up the training philosophy.  I found United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy, and it was a perfect fit.  The course was totally online, I could study at my own pace, and it had hundreds of references throughout the text to scientific articles that I could access and read for myself (luckily I still have my sign-in credentials from UCONN).

I’m looking forward to a lifetime of helping runners reach goals they never thought possible.  If you are interested in learning more, please feel free to contact me at  We will spend about an hour together on the phone discussing your experience and your goals, and then I’ll create a personalized plan just for you.  As a client, you can expect that I will be checking your data daily, and we will have weekly conversations to discuss your progress and any changes that might need to be made in your plan.  If you need any more convincing, please check out the testimonials below and then drop me a line.  #runlongrunstrong 

“Faith Strafach has been my coach throughout the running season of 2018.  In June, I had unexpected surgery and needed a plan to ensure I could fulfill my goal of returning to ultra racing in the fall. During that time, she prepared structured and graduating workouts, slowly increasing in mileage, while adding challenging speed work and tempo workouts.  She has proven herself to be a generous and giving leader who trains her athletes hard and encourages them to do their best.  She listened to my needs, reviewed my data frequently, and altered my schedule when necessary to ensure the program was tailored for me and my progress.  Her strategy encompasses a unique balance between coaching, mentoring, informing and challenging that has helped me immensely in getting back into racing shape.

She teaches discipline, hard work and dedication to her athletes. If you are looking for a passionate coach and are ready to do the work, I highly recommend Faith to achieve your goals and make your dreams a reality.” ~ Laura B., ultra runner 

“Faith has served a guide for Achilles athletes since April 2015.  She combines her passion for and vast experience with running, and pays it forward to individuals with a variety of medical conditions and disabilities.  Whether they are just starting out, or have to modify their walking/running, Faith helps them set goals and provides support during their workouts/training runs. On race day, Faith motivates, paces, and crosses the finish line side-by-side with her assigned athlete.  It’s hard to tell who is smiling more when the finisher medal is distributed.  Achilles is lucky to have Faith sharing her love of running, and giving of her time and talents in the service of others.”   Erin Spaulding, President  Achilles International-Connecticut

“Faith is so very encouraging and enjoyable to spend time with that you might not realize what great running knowledge she possesses, until you find yourself accomplishing running goals you had only dreamed about. I  recommend her coaching to any runner, from beginner to ultra distance runner.” ~ Neal B., runner

“If you are looking for a running coach who will motivate, inspire, and become part of your life you found her.  Faith is all of this and more.  As Faith learns about your abilities, and limitations, she uses this information to help motivate and push you to become a better athlete.  She is brutally honest (I love this).  She gets out and runs with you.  She learns your style and helps you with your pacing, breathing, hydration, or whatever else you need to reach your goals.  If want a coach that understands running, has a passion for the sport, knows about different terrains, ability levels, and how to fuel the body look no further.  You found her.  Trust me, Faith is the coach for you.” ~ Adam F., physically challenged ultra runner