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The Runner’s Mental Checklist

We talk a lot about staying focused while training, and especially racing. Mental focus (toughness) is one of the main things that separates middle of the pack and upper level athletes. Instead of trying to block out the pain, great athletes are constantly focusing on some part of their performance, and taking mental assessments of their body and exertion, so they can lessen the pain without having to let off the gas.

We recently sent out a newsletter encouraging people to become more sensitive to what their body is screaming at telling them. We offered up a mental checklist for cyclists to go through so they could work to reduce perceived exertion while maintaining effort. We were quickly asked by a newsletter subscriber what our checklist was for runners. While there are similarities, the mental checklist for runners is quite different.

The order in which you roll through the points isn’t all that important because you should be constantly going through each point one after another. Most of them revolve around mechanics, but are great reminders when you are tired.

Here is what we tell our athletes:


1. QUICK off the ground (keep cadence consistent)

2. PUSH backward (optimize stride length)

3. LOOK out on the ground not the horizon (keeping spine neutral)

4. POP the elbows straight back (powering the opposite leg drive)

5. LEAN from the ankle (not from the waist up)

6. BREATH rhythmically and from the abdomen (play around with different rhythms)

7. FUEL the machine (more for longer bouts of training/racing)

For ultra runners, we add in an 8th. IMPACT. Reducing (really redirecting) impact on the legs can be the difference in making it to the finish line or a DNF. Once the legs are fatigued from impact, there is no coming back. Remember, 6 miles on a treadmill, concrete, and trails are completely different levels of impact on the body. Impact can be adjusted several ways. More cushioned shoes, slower downhill running, avoiding too much jumping over or off things, etc.

You can use each of these things to try to remedy issues on the fly. Play around with different cadences and stride lengths (amount of push back, not amount of forward reach). More lean means more forward propulsion and less wasted vertical movement when you are running. Breathing can be the source and the solution for cramping, high perceived exertion, etc. And you never want to forget about fueling consistently if you are going long.


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Coach Funston’s Pre-Race Breakfast

Everyone has a “go to” breakfast before that hard training ride or race. If you don’t fall into this group, become a member of the “go to” pre-race meal/routine society…it will pay dividends down the road.

Here’s a look at what I go with before my long rides/races.

Coach Funston’s Pre-Race (or race simulation) Meal:

  • Oatmeal (1 dry cup which I mix with hot water, ~300 cal’s, 54g carbs, low sugar, 10g protein, 6g fat per) – Overall low glycemic load but plenty of carbohydrates to provide fuel once the race begins. At home I add cinnamon for some extra flavor.
  • 2 Bananas (1 medium banana, ~100 cal’s – 27g carbs, 15g sugar, 1g protein, <1g fat) – One banana in the oatmeal, another banana to eat about 30 minutes before race starts. High in one of our favorite electrolytes – potassium!
  • Peanut butter (1 Tbsp, ~100 cal’s, high fat, high protein, low carb) – Slower burning fuel. Not all peanut butter is created equal…read your labels and avoid those loaded with sugar an other additives. I don’t over do things on the peanut butter.
  • Coffee – love that caffeine and jump starts that system…
  • Water bottle full of high quality H2O – sip until race time

Simple and to the point. Is there a reason behind the simplicity?

I’m glad you asked….

As we recommend to all of our athletes, never change up anything on race day. I know how my body responds to the above meal. I know it does not cause any GI (gastrointestinal) issues. I know it provides me with a good mix of fuels and allows me to perform at a high level.

But, I also know that I can generally get this meal at any hotel with a complimentary breakfast. Knowing this, I don’t have to worry about extra planning or prepping. I am able to keep my routine and start my race knowing that I am fueled and knowing how my body will handle that fuel. There is no doubt about my nutrition, which allows me to relax and just focus on the remainder of my pre-race routine.

Why do I limit the “fast burning” food choices for longer duration races?

You will also notice that I have a mix of protein, carbs, and fats. I like to limit the amount of simple sugars during this pre-race meal to make sure my body doesn’t inhibit fat oxidation and go straight to burning my stored glucose. Once the race is underway, depending on intensity and heart rate levels, I’ll switch to the faster burning fuels like bars and gels.

What about meal timing?

This all depends on the intensity and duration of the race/ride I am preparing for. I’ll share with you soon a chart on how I change my meal and meal timing based on the event distance and intensity in the future. For now, as a general rule, I like to make sure there is AT THE VERY LEAST 90 minutes or more of digestion time.

What’s your favorite pre-race meal? Comment below and let us know!

Oxford Run for Hope Half Marathon Course Preview

The Run for Hope Half Marathon is a rolling course through Oxford, MS with 538 feet of total elevation gain.  Don’t worry too much about the hills. Most of them are rolling and actually won’t slow you down.

The course has a blazing fast start which drops 92 feet over .4 miles. Be careful not to overdo it here since you will likely start off faster than your normal pace. Over the next 1.5 miles it will gain 125 feet with most of that coming early on with 2 short hills.  From about 1 to 2 miles the hills are rolling and will allow you to get into a good groove.  It levels out for the next 1.2 miles and then drops 164’ from the 5k to the 5 mile mark.  This will take you past the airport and lead you onto campus. During this downhill section, focus on leaning forward and letting the hill do the work. Avoid landing out in front of your body as much as possible, as this can put a lot of extra impact on the quads.

About 5.75 miles in there is a longer sustained climb that will barely slow you down.  Don’t hammer this climb but use it to get you ready for a few larger hills in the coming miles.  This is not the point in the race to hammer it. Focus on leaning into the hill and pushing backwards to generate as much force up the hill as possible. This will help get the glutes activating for the longer hills to come.

Once on campus, you will run a few slow and easy rollers until you reach Rebel Drive at 7.25 miles.  These hills are ones that will get you in a good groove and you’ll gain back any time you lose going up them, when going back down.  Rebel Drive is a 200 meter long hill which gains a quick 36 feet then slightly levels out (but won’t let you rest).  Take quick and short steps to keep your tempo up while running the hill and remember that you go back down nearly as soon as you crest the hill.  This is 1 of 2 difficult sections of the course. Don’t let it mess with your mental game. Focus on breathing and technique, and you will be fine.

Once you crest the hill on Rebel Drive, you will get to a short and easier hill up to The Grove.  This is a fast mile despite there being uphill.  Use your momentum to carry you up to the The Grove but don’t forget to allow yourself to recover.  This is still early in the race (8 miles) and you have another hill to run in a few miles.

From 8 to 9.75 miles you are either running on a flat road or downhill.  You will run from The Grove, around The Circle, then a long downhill past the baseball field towards highway 6.  Here you will turn left onto the most challenging part of the course.  You will turn into a .4 mile long hill that gains 110 feet, most of which comes early but continues to climb up to Rowan Oak.  Stay strong on this hill and you can pass or drop a lot of people. Focus on pushing back down hill! Don’t run all out as you still have 2 miles to run once you get to the top. But if you allow yourself to slow down too much you can easily lose a lot of time here.

Once you are up this hill, you will be on flat roads for 1.65 miles giving you ample time to recover from the hill and settle back in to put out whats left in the tank all the way to the finish.  At the end of this section you will drop 90 feet over .75 miles leading you into the final finishing hill.

Since the start and finish lines are the same, you will have to go uphill for the last .25 miles.  Use your momentum from the last down hill and your good uphill running technique to blast up the final hill to the finish line! Breathe, push back on that hill, and throw your arms up victorious!

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Trust Your Training!

Are you racing? Let us know how it goes!

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