Base Training Paying Off Big Time As Race Season Approaches

Steve Giving A Pre-Race Talk to the Beach Runners

One more long run to go before I start my taper for the Catalina Marathon. Last Saturday was one of those days we all hope to have, experiencing the fruits of our labors. Four months ago I was told long distance running may be a thing of my past. I had severely herniated a disc in my lower back and could barely move. My left leg and foot was numb. I didn’t know what to do at first and found myself in a desperate place. I had to re-focus.

The first thing I did was surrounded myself with the best doctors and experts I could find. I researched my injury and talked to people that were dealing or had dealt with a herniated disc. Surgery was my last option. I knew I could come back, and be my own best success story.

Last Saturday I felt like I had written the second to last chapter in my first book about recovery, no surgery. I ran 20-miles. I ran them slow and safely. I ran them with the Beach Runners and the mutual support was awesome. It was not a race and it took me 3:45:00. I was probably running at a 5 hour marathon pace. I was thankful and honestly a little surprised how well I did and felt. This is another testament to my training with Coach Ilg’s, Wholistic Fitness and the ChiRunning® techniques. By Monday I comfortably ran 4 miles with an athlete I train, taught two indoor cycling classes and a yoga class.

So, this weekend is the Pacific Shoreline half and full marathon. The Beach Runners will be out there in force and I am thinking of adding it to my race schedule, just as a fun day running with people I like and care about. I want to cheer some of the new Beach Runners in as they will complete their first half marathon. Just another Sunday for a member.

I have to mention that this injury has given me the opportunity to really listen to my body and bring the intensity down. This has been the best base training months of my athletic career.

Now I will continue my rehab, keep this attitude of gratitude and listen to my body. If we don’t see you out there this Super Bowl Sunday, Join Gary and I in Catalina Saturday, Feb. 10, for the Buffalo Run, half marathon. By the way, the final chapter will be completing the Catalina marathon Saturday, March 17. members and friends get discounts to these races!

Base Training Focused, Steve Mackel ChiRunning®/ChiWalking® Instructor

I Had Writers Block. Is Your Training Blocked?

Top O’ Pasadena, January 2007. Gotta Love So Cal

I seem to have writers block. I have a few half written articles yet I haven’t been able to wrap them up. I started to think about this and how many email me wondering why they are going though what I am going to call “Training Block,” sound familiar? You decide to start training and it goes well for a while then it gets a little harder to get motivated. Things come up, time doesn’t seem as available as it was, believe me, I can relate. How do we get going again?

So, I am back at my computer typing away and here to remind you that all you have to do is to get back on the horse and start now or sometime today, just like me typing and posting. Make the decision now and do not waiver from that decision for today and then do it again tomorrow, one day at a time.

I hope the picture above of another beautiful day in So Cal will motivate you to get out and train.

Train Focused, Steve Mackel – USA Triathlon Coach

Our life is our passions

Railey Beach, Thailand. Some of the best climbing on the planet.

After two weeks of traveling Cambodia, I finally made it to my final destination…Thailand. The land of a thousand smiles, the land of the most amazing food I’ve ever eaten, and the land of beautiful beaches and scenery. Just finished a day doing some of the best rock climbing in the world…in Railey Beach. Many of you don’t know but I climbed rocks and mountains for years. In fact, that was my big passion before getting into running/yoga. So I paid a guide yesterday to take me out not knowing how I’d do after over two years of not climbing. First couple of climbs for me were sloppy affairs…my technique was rusty…so I was pulling too hard with my arms instead of climbing with my feet and using the much stronger muscles of my legs. You have to be careful rock climbing that you don’t “blow out your arms” by cranking on them too hard. It is easy to completely exhaust yourself after just one climb. So I told the guide I needed to do something easier. I climbed some easy routes later in the morning…5.6, 5.7, 5.8. I began climbing slowly and focusing on my posture and especially using my feet. After another tasty Thai lunch we began climbing harder routes in the afternoon.

By doing something easier first, by warming up, and getting back to basics, my old form began to return. I began dancing on the rock, instead of cranking through cruxes, I’d work my feet up, then be able to reach through the cruxes, saving my arm energy. I climbed four of the most amazing climbs ever that afternoon, with a beach underneath me, a view of the Andaman sea.

There was a moment late afternoon, as I stepped on a stalactite, 60 feet off the ground, where it all came back to me…the thrill of living on the edge…the fear of falling…the views…the exhiliration of doing something I thought I couldn’t do. And I thought to myself “why do I not do the things I love” in California. Rock climbing was a lover I let slip away. Partners got married, had kids, mortgages, got responsible….all the things I’ve been avoiding. This became an excuse for me to not live. I’ve been fooling myself to think running, yoga, resting was it.

I love running. I love yoga. I also love so many other things that have come back to me on this trip. I try to go out dancing every night…usually to the local Cambodian or Thai clubs. Often the only farang (westerner) in there. Here thousands of miles from home…in the middle of a dance floor…I am home. I feel the freedom to express myself with my hips, arms, legs, and my smile. That energy and enthusiasm is so contagious, it spreads so quickly. I can find dancing partners here very easily, no attitudes, no looks at me like “who are you” like I face in Los Angeles.

So here Southeast Asia, I’ve fallen in love with so many things. Girls. Food. Climbing. Yoga. Running. And Dancing. The things that make me feel alive. I’m not sure how all this experience will manifest itself when I return and go running with the Beach Runners, teaching yoga, teaching english.

But I do know I’ve changed. I’m opening up. Becoming more of me. Instead of what I think I should be.

I’m learning to live more passionately. More on the edge. With a big open heart unafraid to express itself, let the joy of living spill out for all to see and to return to all the things I love when I come back to the California. Life is short. When we die we will be remembered for the things we loved.

So love something with all your heart. Even its only for a minute or an hour or day or even better…

a lifetime.

Run with Joy,

Gary Smith, ChiRunning® Instructor

John’s AZ Rock ‘n Roll Marathon Report

John (2330) PRs in AZ Because He Sticks With the Beach Runners’ Program

On Sunday I ran the Arizona Rock-N-Roll Marathon in Phoenix (and Scottsdale and Tempe). My time was a PR, which is comforting since it was only my second marathon.

I learned a few critical lessons leading up to the marathon. First, avoiding injury. Two weeks prior to the marathon, while running with my usual Beach Runners’ group, I started feeling shin splints in my left leg. As it did not go away after a mile or so, I stopped. I stretched my leg for about a minute, and then I walked for a minute. I then ran slowly for about 1 1/2 miles, alternating between the concrete and sand (and checking my footprints in the sand to see if my foot-strike looked good, per the Chi Running book). I then met up with coach Steve — who was resting at his mid-way running point — to discuss the issue. I resumed my slow running, focusing on my form, and my leg was feeling better. I did not resume my normal pace until I turned around with some of my usual running buddies who were heading back. I finished my run without any shin splints, and only missed less than 2 miles of running versus the rest of the group. Big deal.

Second lesson: more fuel to avoid bonking. On a couple of my long runs leading up to the marathon, I simply ran out of gas. My body felt reasonably well, judging from my recovery time post run. I had only been eating about 1 gel pack per 45 mins to 1 hour. So for the marathon, I decided to eat a gel pack (100 calories each) every 1/2 hour.

The marathon itself provided a third lesson: you can’t prepare for everything (at least until you’ve done a lot more than 2 marathons). The day of the marathon was the coldest day on record in the Phoenix area in 16 years!!! Phoenix weather this time of year is supposed to be like Southern California’s: pleasantly in the high 40s or low 50s in the morning. But the race started at 29 degrees. Brrrr!!!!! I knew enough to bring extra shirts and other clothing that I could toss away as the race proceeded. Once I warmed up, however, I really did not need any extra clothing. But many of the runners were only comfortable with much more clothing. With this weather, unless a runner had been used to running in sub-freezing temperatures, you really didn’t know for sure what you needed until you did it. Fortunately for me, I guessed correctly.

I had run the Long Beach marathon in October at 4:42:27 relatively comfortably, so I figured I could go at least 4:30:00 in this one. But I decided not to have any sort of printed time pacing on my wrist (unlike the L.B. marathon). Instead, I ran at what I felt was a comfortable pace, with my trusty Garmin to tell me my current heart rate to check that I was not stressing myself.

The Garmin also told me what my average pace was, but that led to my fourth lesson: technology might fail you. About 1/2 way through the race, the Garmin lost connection with satellites for a few miles. It reconnected for another few miles, but in the last 6 miles it received nothing. So much for keeping tabs on your average pace. (Although this marathon had timers every 1 mile.)

As the marathon progressed, I used the first lesson about avoiding injury. At some points in the middle of the run, I felt some extra pain and stress in my right foot. During those times, I eased up a little bit on my pace, and focused on my running form including breathing “into” the injured area. This always worked, since my foot would feel better after a couple of minutes. And I had no significant foot pain in the last several miles of the race. I had prepared mentally to walk or stop and stretch if easing up on the pace only resulted in the same or increasing pain, like I had on my weekend run 2 weeks ago. Fortunately, my body responded without those measures.

At the 20-mile mark, I employed a fifth lesson from Beach Runners: go for a negative split. I felt reasonably well at that time, so I took my metronome and increased the tempo from 88 to 90, and leaned a little more to increase the speed. At the 24-mile mark, I still felt okay so I increased the tempo to 92 and ran like I wanted to have nothing left at the finish line. (Leading up to Sunday, I had run at 88 or 90 in my long runs, and at 94 on my weekday “tempo” or “interval” runs, so a 92 was not new to me.)

I finished the race at 4:21:31, with an overall pace of 9:59 min/mile. Between the data provided by time chip and my Garmin (resetting the “lap time” at various times as I passed distance markers), this is how my race broke down by intervals:

First 6.2 miles (10K): overall time of 1:03:03; interval pace of 10:10/mi

6.2 mi to 13.1 mi: overall time of 2:12:53; interval pace of 10:07/mi

13.1 mi to 20 mi: overall time of 3:22:51; interval pace of 10:09/mi

20 mi to 25 mi: overall time of 4:10:26; interval pace of 9:31/mi

25 mi to finish: overall time of 4:21:31; interval pace of 9:14/mi

As I crossed the finish line, I felt tired, but I didn’t have all that much pain, other than a dull pain in my gut (aka my “chi”) and, strangely enough, some pins-and-needles in my arms. Immediately after I stopped, however, I didn’t notice anything in my gut or arms. Instead, I felt T-I-R-E-D and I had P-A-I-N all over in my legs. No joint pain or shin splints or the like however; just muscular pain as if I had just run 26.2 miles. Curiously, my butt felt okay post race. “Butt” once I got to my parents’ car for the ride to their house, as soon as I sat down, the P-A-I-N in my butt felt worse than in my legs.

Post-race, I employed a sixth lesson: have lots of fuel. (At least this works for me.) After the Long Beach marathon, I didn’t eat much and after about 15 minutes I was incredibly woozy. I had to lie on my back or stomach for a couple of hours until I felt good to walk around for a cab ride home. This time, my wife Laura had ready for me a protein shake, electrolyte drink (Ultima), peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and bananas for me to scarf down. So, even with feeling tired and pain, at least I avoided the woozy feelings this time.

I sit here today, 2 days post marathon; I’m feeling pretty good. Like I might go out for a short, easy run on Thursday (like I did after the Long Beach marathon). No way I’m going to be out of commission for a couple of weeks or more like a lot of marathoners.

Here’s to ChiRunning® and to the Beach Runners!


The Barefoot Coach

Steve and the Barefoot Coach, Todd

I’ve been coaching the Beach Runners since the program’s inception of May 2005. I have met a lot of people and a few coaches. Along the way I met Todd, who coaches the TNT team out of Long Beach. Our runners cross on the bike path and streets of Long Beach and Todd and I usually run into each other out there too.

Both of us run with our athletes. What sets Todd apart is that he runs barefoot. He runs barefoot all the time. He’s run countless marathons. In fact, it is a rare day when you can catch him with real shoes on. A couple of things about running barefoot, is that you need tough feet and good form. As a ChiRunning® Instructor I can really appreciate his good form.

So, if you are out there running and see a guy running without shoes on, ask him for a tip and find out if he’d rather run on the hot pavement or the frozen concrete we have been experiencing lately.

Train Focused, Steve Mackel, CHt

The Big Chill

Sweats, Hats, Gloves Clothed the Beach Runners Early Saturday Morning

So Cal is cold, burr. Let’s face it, if you are like me and not a transplant, our blood is thin. It gets this cold only a few times every few years. I saw a story on the news about pipes freezing and bursting. Even the transplants were cold this weekend.

We experienced the cold weather Saturday for the Beach Runners run and dressed in layers. I wore four layers on top and thermal underwear over gold basketball shorts on my legs. We were running at least 2 hours and 15 minutes. I ran 2-and-a-half hours with Mercedes. It was her longest run ever and I am getting my endurance back. It felt good. I think I am ready for the Buffalo Run on Catalina.

Some of the Beach Runners went 3 hours and we all knew it would probably warm up yet I was glad to be running in my thermals. Jake toughed it out in running shorts and a sleeveless running shirt, while George wore his leather jacket until the run started.

One great thing about this crisp weather was the views. It just seemed clearer. It was a beautiful weekend to run and the cold weather made it different and fun. Please remember to hydrate often even when it is cold. You may not realize your loss of fluids in this weather. You don’t sweat that much, the he humidity can be low, and the next thing you know you forget to drink. It may be time to invest in some gloves too.

Train Focused, Steve Mackel, USA Triathlon Coach

Beach Runners’ Mentor George and Coach Steve Bundled Up

Endurance Races – A Humbling Experience

Every Race Brings a New Experience

I remember training for my first marathon. I thought to myself that 26.2 miles really wasn’t that far. I had done long backpack trips and that was with a pack on. I was in decent shape and the worst-case scenario meant walking. No big deal, right?

I figured I should try a half marathon before the big day, so a month and a half before the 2002 LA Marathon I did a half marathon in Orange County. It took me 1:50:00 to complete my first half and I learned a valuable lesson that day, 13.1 miles was farther than I thought. I was cool until the 10-mile mark, and then my legs were done. I walked it home, sore. I realized I was in big trouble for my upcoming race.

The next Monday at work one of my colleagues, Shelly, asked me how it went. I said my legs were killing me and that I had broken down at mile 10. A few months before he had completed the Chicago Marathon and recommended Jeff Galloway’s book Marathon. I went out, bought it and read it. I learned a great deal about getting ready for a marathon and how I was doing it all wrong. First of all I didn’t have any runs longer than 10 miles under my belt. My mind was not in the right place and I had not given enough respect to the task at hand. I knew I would not be properly prepared yet I started to do Jeff’s run/walk program.

My goal was sub 5 hours and I had bet friends $300 I could do it. Win or lose the money was going to charity so no big deal, now I just had to finish, hopefully under 5 hours. Race day came, the day was hot and the race started 45 minutes late. I started out slow only because there were so many people and with the race being delayed everyone needed a bathroom break in the first mile. Any bush or building did for many of us. The next 13 miles were uneventful yet I was starting to feel it.

My friend Jason met me at mile 16 and had planned on running with me to mile 20 where Michele and Shelly were going to help me down the final six miles. Jason was great and ended up running us all the way to the finish linne, carrying my water belt that was heavy and bouncing around on my hips. I owed him and still thank him. I finished the last mile strong only because Shelly told me I would find something left in the tank. I did and ran mile 26 in 8:07 for a 4:59:09.

I was beaten up and sore for a week. Going down stairs was torture. I had learned respect and how humbling long distance running could be. I tell this story because 7 marathons, 4 half ironmans and many other dozens of other endurance races later, I am still humbled every time I am on the starting line. I respect the necessary training, the mental aspects, everyone racing, and the volunteers.

With many races coming up in the next three months I offer this to remind all of us to show some humility out there, be thankful for all you have, listen to your body, thank everyone out on the course supporting you and train properly.

Train Focused, Steve Mackel, Beach Runners Head Coach and Program Director

The Killing Fields of Cambodia


Yesterday I visited the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. In 1975 after Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia, his army the Khmer Rouge, entered Phnom Penh and evacuated the city. And I mean the whole capital of Cambodia, sending people out to the fields for a “reeducation” in living a simple agrarian lifestyle. The professors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, basically anyone that was a professional or had any iota of education was executed. And their whole family was then executed.

This was the story throughout this beautiful country of Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. In all, over 2 million people killed from torture, executions, or starvation. A whole generation of professionals wiped out in one of the worst genocides of the 20th century while the world watched and did nothing.

I sat on the bus from Siem Reap speaking to an Cambodian lady who lived through that time. She was forced out of Phnom Phen with her family when she was six. Her family escaped the Khmer Rouge and lived in the forest for three years eating bugs, plants, anything that was edible. Then she lived in refuge camps for many years after that before moving to Australia. She could not speak without tears in her eyes.

Cheong Ek, one of the largest killing fields, had 86 mass graves and 9,000 bodies found. So what do you do in such a sombering location like this?

Something that we practice every Saturday…I meditated under a flowering Jasmine tree.

In fact in this land of the Buddha, I am meditating every day. Sitting quietly in Temples which are everywhere. Sitting under trees. Sitting in my hotel rooms. Trying to calm my mind.

Coming from the hectic Los Angeles lifestyle of commuting, frenzied work, teaching, coaching, writing, building a business, I had so many things on my mind starting this trip. Whizzing by at a million miles an hour.

Meditation was very difficult and still is difficult. But its getting better. This morning I sat in the Buddhist temple Wat Phnom, built on a site where four Buddhas where found left by the river. A temple with 700 years of meditation inside. And closed my eyes and felt what I teach in yoga, the sweetness of my breath.

Not forcing it, just feeling my breathing breath me. Slowing down. Turning inwards.

So yesterday, I sat meditating next to the mass graves of Cheong Ek and tried to listen to what all those people would tell us…

getting quieter and quieter…


Cheong Ek

8,000 skulls in a tower
I sit quietly next to mass
graves of headless
women children men

Their crime was their minds
Thinkers, writers, educators

And I wonder what they
would whisper in my ear
As I sit under this Jasmine
Tree counting breaths

Remember us?
Tell our story?
Don’t let this happen?

Or would they be screaming?
Maybe they might have even
saw a bit of beauty
a monarch butterfly
a flower
a lotus flower in the bloody pond
Maybe after days of torture
They found some peace
in Buddhist breaths
Kneeling blindfolded
before the hoe the machete the cane

I sit here listening today
amongst holes bones
clothes with no people

And watch butterflies dance
from grass flowers to flowers

Hearing not anger but a second
of peace just a second reminding
us to do what they couldn’t



2 Tough Hours

Beach Runners’ Mentor Dion in the Middle of the Pack

As the Beach Runners prepare for the Catalina Marathon or LA Marathon, Gary and I decided to throw in some trail and hill running Saturdays. For the next two months we will be spending half our time in the hills of Palos Verdes training for our big races.

This past Saturday we brought the mileage down yet the terrain went up as we ran the coast and hills. It was so beautiful. The wind had blown everything out of the basin and off the coast. It was sunny and cool when we started. It didn’t take long for us to warm up and the day did too. An hour later we found ourselves halfway up “The Hill” taking a picture.

We took a moment look around, drank some water or sports drink, ate some food then turned around and headed for home. A negative split was on our mind as we practiced our ChiRunning® techniques on the varied terrain.

I am just getting to the point where I can run two hours which is amazing considering three months ago one doctor said I never run again. Not only did I run, I ran some big hills. The next day my legs were feeling as Coach Ilg says, “well trained,” ouch.

It was also nice see how well so many Beach Runners handled the run. Some ran the longest in their lives. Our half marathoners are almost ready and we are only eight weeks into the program. Now they get to continue training the next nine weeks. They’ll be more than ready.

We were also joined but Outside magazine columnist, The Lab Rat, Nick Heil, click here to check out his latest on-line article. After an awesome yoga session twelve of us headed to a local breakfast spot in San Pedro and truly refueled. You just can’t beat January in LA!

Train Focused, Steve Mackel, Beach Runners Head Coach and Program Director

Real Food and Running Friends

Wanna Improve Your ChiRunning®? X-Country Ski

Fun in the Sun

I had some time over the Christmas holiday to try x-country skiing for the first time. I have been downhill skiing and snowboarding my entire life but I never had put on the skinny skis. I think I started out the right way, took a quick lesson. Our teacher had been x-country skiing since she was a little girl in Norway. We had the real deal teaching us.

At first, she wouldn’t let us put our skis on we just had to feel our feet on our boots. She didn’t want us to even look at the ground once we put our skis on, it kept coming back to feeling our feet and our body weight over our feet. It was the snow version of a ChiRunning® lesson I teach. Then we hopped up and down with our skis on and got a feeling for the skis. The next thing I know I am in the tracks x-country skiing. She taught us how to slow down and wedging on x-country skis is much harder than alpine skis. We found an easy 4k track around a frozen lake and were off.

Before I knew it I was applying many of my ChiRunning® and yoga skills and soaking in the scenery. Oh yeah, it was a workout. After the lake loop, we found another, more difficult trail and cruised around for another 45 minutes. I kept thinking to myself good thing I have been developing my “Body Sensing” skills.

Now, every once in a while when I am snowboarding I might find a day to leave the speed at home and explore the winter wonderlands. Next time, give a try yourself.

Train Focused, Steve Mackel ChiRunning® Instructor


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