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Today we are talking limiters, or more importantly, what holds us back from a better performance? Limiters can be plenty, ranging from mental limitations, such as fear of success, to physical limitations, such as finding your ideal race weight or becoming a better warm weather runner.

We look for our limiters at the end of the season, when we can take a comprehensive look back at the year and properly assess what we are happy with, what we are not happy with, and what specifically we can change.

For example, I am a very poor heat runner, but if my “A” race is in February in Kansas City, I don’t need to worry about heat acclimation because race day it will be cold. Another example is if you need to improve your hill running but your marathon is on a flat surface, becoming a better hill runner isn’t necessary.

Physical, injury, life and mental limiters can all hinder your performance

You can never be 100% limiter free. However, a very distinct weakness in one area can have a large overall impact on your racing or training

No fear, all limiters can be improved! It takes time, dedication and effort. Some limiters are easily adjusted and other limiters, such as mental focus, may be deeply ingrained in you from a young age and could take quite some time to improve.

Simply identifying you limiter can have an immediate impact on improving it during training and racing.

Today, we are going to look at four types of limiters and use the information we gather to fine-tune our training for 2014.

Physical limiters – what moves us

In “Your Best Triathlon”  Joe Friel discusses three basic abilities and three advanced abilities, which dive into the concept of limiters. I’ll use these examples, but title them, Physical Limiters

Basic Abilities

Aerobic Endurance (AE)

Aerobic endurance is the function of your body’s aerobic system to efficiently deliver blood and oxygen through your body to the working muscles. In order for this to happen, your body needs to work at a low heart rate and effort, which allows you to utilize the aerobic system and fine tune it’s components.

Limiter: If you gradually slow down late in your training session or your heart rate begins to rise without an increase an effort, aerobic endurance is a limiter. Aerobic endurance is a limiter for many runners because of the focus on slower workouts and the patience it takes to develop it.

Improvement: Working more on the base building portion of training. 60-90 minute runs are key for developing the aerobic system.

Speed Skills (SS) 

Speed skills does not mean how fast you run, but rather how fast your arms, legs and body are moving when you run. SS are often referred to as your cadence. On a larger portion, we want to make sure your movements are effective and efficient.  Running with an optimal cadence improves your running economy. It takes practice to improve speed skills, and during the improvement phase, you may notice it is harder to run than it was before. You are completely rewiring your nervous system to function differently, so do not worry.

Limiter: Have a coach look at your running form to see what you should work on. If you already have very good form, practice it even more. With regards to cadence, optimal cadence is around 90 foot strikes a minute for each foot, 180 strikes a minute for both feet, or 3 strikes a second for both feet.

Improvement: Find a metronome app and slowly increase your cadence by 4-5 total steps per minute. Once you feel comfortable, keep increasing the cadence until you are close to 90/180.

Force (Fo)

Force is the strength you apply to the ground while running. Although many running styles advocate for lifting off of the ground, you still push off of the ground when you run. Force propels you when it’s windy or there are large hills in your race.

Limiter: If you feel very tired while running uphill or into a headwind. Technique also falls apart as you begin to feel the burn.

Improvement: Hill repeats are fantastic for runners as well as early season, heavy weight lifting which helps with explosiveness and really building strength in those muscles.

Advanced Abilities

Muscular Endurance (Me) 

Muscular endurance deals with the capacity to maintain a fairly high force for a relatively long time. The technical definition is the ability for your muscles or group of muscles to sustain repeated contractions against a resistance for an extended period of time. This is the exchange and relation between Aerobic Endurance and Force. Aerobic endurance gives you the cardiovascular ability to sustain effort, while force gives you the strength to sustain the effort. Combine those two together, find the balance and bingo.

Limiter: Muscular endurance is a limiter if your endurance or force is not developed enough, or if missed workouts caused you to skimp on the aerobic endurance side of training.

Improvement: Ensure you are developing aerobic endurance AND force well enough before attempting muscular endurance  workouts. Also, if you periodize your training correctly, muscular endurance should be a part of your training as you get closer to race day.

Anaerobic Endurance (An)

Anaerobic endurance success is build on aerobic endurance and speed skills. This type of training is done at very high intensity. Anaerobic endurance training and produce great results, but those results come at a much higher risk of injury. Therefore, you should make sure you are completely rested and ready for an anaerobic endurance workout.

Limiter: Anaerobic endurance weakness is seen is shorter distance events, like 5k,10k,13.1. A sign in longer events it the inability to cover a surge or push on the run.

Improvement: More work at very high intensity and incorporating this into your training cycle. Also making sure you are well rested before Anaerobic Endurance workouts so you get the most out of them.

Why this is important to me as a coach

Physical limiters provide me with a focus for certain portions of your training plan and your training cycles. If you have an “A” race where a limiter comes into play, for example, a half-marathon that is very hills and Force is an issue. I would then make sure to focus on force and include even more training to increase that limiter.

My personal analysis

I’ve got some work to do this year, that’s for sure. Force will be a BIG focus as my uphill running is not nearly as good as it should be, and I have some tough races full of vertical gain. Aerobic endurance as well due to the long distance ultras I will be doing.

Injury Limiters – what stops us from moving

This is a catch-all limiter. What sort of injuries did you have this year and how can you overcome them? Here are a few questions to ask

When did the injury occur? Did it happen all of the sudden (acute) or was it ongoing.

How did it occur? Running? Lifting? After a run? During?

What is the root cause? I talked about this before in a previous post, but some running injuries are attributed to our lifestyle. If you sit all day, that could cause a bad hamstring as much as running does. In fact, we are not training roughly 22.5 hours a day, so often, our lives are exactly what causes the injury in the first place.

Why this is important to me as a coach

Injury sucks. Plain and simple. Understanding where you were limited by injuries in 2013 will help us get on the right path for 2014. Knowing the specifics can help us lessen the risk of overuse or repetitive injuries in 2014.

My own analysis

I’m still dealing with this stupid right leg issue. I have to continue to go to massage and treat it on a daily basis. Now that we are in Boston, I’ll also rebuild my standing desk and take active breaks every hour to stretch and get moving.

Life Limiters – what we live 

What happened in your life this year that caused your training to suffer. Below are a few common causes.

Changing Schedule
Watching Kids
Tired after work
Limited availabilty

With your life limiters in mind, what can you do to manage them? Be aware, some of those limiters you cannot easily change. For example, you may not have time to train on a specific day of the week, and that is okay. Be honest with yourself about what you can change, and what is out of your control.

Keep in mind to choose a race that best fits in with your life. You are better off running half-marathons than full marathons if you know it will fit in better with your schedule.

Why this is important to me as a coach

We make a promise to each and every one of you to fit training around your life, not the other way around. Life limiters are the single most common way to derail training. When you don’t train, you don’t get better physically, and the missed workouts take their toll mentally. I’ve found many life limiters are easy to overcome once you admit to them and decide how to make the best out of the available time you have.

My own analysis

I don’t have an issue with life limiters. It’s more making time for my workouts around coaching and running the business. Going from 12-2 seems to work well for me to break up my day and switching long runs to Friday frees up the weekend to spend with Jess or travel.

Mental Limiters – what we think and feel

I really like the book, The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training, by Jim Taylor Ph.D and Terri Schneider. Don’t let the word triathlete fool you. While they do use specific triathlon examples, their methods and thought process is easily stretched across the endurance world.

Their Prime Triathlon Profile is comprised of twelve factors that influence your overall performance. The factors are listed below, taken straight from their book.

All of the factors are listed on a 1-10 sliding scale. Place yourself accordingly and write down your numbers for each factor.

Self-Awareness involves how well you know your mental strengths and weaknesses. Do you have an understanding of what helps and hurts you mentally? (1-don’t know 10-know self well).

Motivation – refers to how determined you are to train and compete to achieve your goals. Motivation affects all aspects of your physical conditioning, technical and tactical development and mental preparations. do you work consistently on all aspects of your training or do you try less hard or give up when you get tired, bored or frustrated? (1-not at all motivated 10-very motivated)

Confidence relates to how strongly you believe in your ability to achieve your goals. It is reflected in how positive or negative your self-talk is in training and during races. Confidence includes how well you’re able to maintain your confidence in races, especially when faced with challenging conditions. Do you stay confident and positive or do you lose confidence and become negative in difficult conditions and when you’re not performing well? (1-very negative; 10-very positive)

Intensity determines whether your physical state helps or hurts you in races. Are you able to stay calm and relaxed or are you too anxious before and during races. (1-anxious; 10-relaxed)

Focus is concerned with how well you’re able to keep your mind on performing your best during races. It involves avoiding distractions and staying focused. Are you able to stay focused on what you need to do in order to perform well or do you become distracted by things that hurt your performances? (1-distracted; 10-focused)

Emotions – involve how well you’re able to control your emotions before and during a race. In important races, under difficult conditions or when you’re not performing well, do you stay excited and inspired or do you get frustrated, angry or depressed? Do your emotions help or hurt you in races? Ryan’s note: This extends to training as well. (1-bad emotions, hurt; 10-good emotions, help)

Pain refers to the amount of physical discomfort you experience in training and races and how you respond to it. Does the pain you feel interfere with your giving your best effort in training and races? Are you able to effectively master the pain you experience? Note: This is discomfort felt at hard efforts, at mile 20 of the marathon. Not injury pain. (1-severe, can’t master; manageable, can master).

Consistency relates to how well you’re able to maintain your level of performance during a race or training. Does your level of performance stay at a consistently high level, or does it go up and down frequently. (1-very inconsistent, 10-very consistent)

Quality refers to how well you’re able to maintain the highest quality truing with clear goals and purpose and ideal intensity and focus. Are your workouts of the highest quality or does their quality vary significantly? (1-poor quality, 10-high quality). 

Adversity is concerned with your ability to respond positively to adverse conditions and obstacles you’re faced with in training and races. For example, how do you react when the conditions are cold and windy or when you get a flat or a cramp? (1-respond poorly; 10-respond well)

Role involves whether training plays a healthy or unhealthy role in your life. Does training have a balanced place in your life and does it bring you satisfaction and joy or has it taken over your life and does it have more costs than benefits (unhealthy; 10-healthy)

Prime Endurance* refers to how often you achieve your highest level of training and race performance. Are you able to achieve Prime Endurance* regularly or is it a rare occurrence? (1-never; 10-often) *In the book it is listed as Prime Triathlon*

Where does it seem you are lacking? If you are below a 7, that is a factor to work on. Keep this list handy and discuss it with your coach. If you are not with a Miles to Go Endurance coach, the book gives sample exercises and longer explanations on all of the factors above.

Why this is important to me as a coach

The mind controls the body. No matter the amount of training, if your mind goes during a training run or race, your body immediately follows. It’s so important to train the mind as much as possible, and knowing where to improve mentally is just as important as where to improve physically.

My own analysis

SA-9, Mot-6, Con-10, Int-9, Foc-7, Emo-6, Pain-7, Cons-5, Qua-9, Adv-9, Role-8, End-6

I know I have many different things to work on mentally, mostly around motivation and consistency. Now that we are settled in Boston and I find myself more in a groove and routine, training is much easier than it was. Also, I’m a creature of habit. If I do it every day, I keep doing it. I’ve been able to stay focused on the task at hand and that has led me to be able to keep training and keep the motivation alive because the results are coming.

Now that we’ve looked at what held us back in 2013, we finish this week by taking a look at how we will combine all of these elements together into a focused training plan for each and every one of you.


1) Your Best Triathlon – Joe Friel

2) The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training – Jim Taylor Ph.D and Terri Schneider

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