Whisper Runner of the Week (& Testimonial) – Kiley O’Brien of Frontier Middle School

Photo from the Greater St. Helen’s District Track & Field Meet where Kiley (left) placed second in this race, the 1600m dash.

Serious props to Whisper Runner of the Week, Kiley O’Brien, for her performances at the Greater St. Helen’s District Track & Field Meet.  Kiley, of Frontier Middle School, put up a valiant effort in the 1600m dash, earning second place and matching her season best effort with a 5:42.  Seeded second going into the race, she knew if she was going to have any chance at first place, she would have to go toe-to-toe with the top runner in the conference, and for 800-meters, she did just that.  Her effort was admirable and she walked away very proud of her performance, and rightly so!  Later in that same meet, Kiley placed second in the 800m as well, matching her season best of 2:41.

Over the course of a year, Kiley has made huge gains in both consistency and times.  She has dropped 18-seconds off her mile time (6:00 to 5:42), and her 800m time has improved from a 2:50 in 2016, to 2:41!  Asking Kiley about her experience training with Whisper, she responded: “Training with Whisper Running means to strive to work hard at every practice.  On some of my worst days, when I just don't feel like running, Coach Dave is always so positive and helps me through it even though I might complain.  A lot.  In less than a year with running with Dave, I have taken 20-seconds off my mile time, and if you are a runner, you would know that is a lot of time to take off in a one mile race.  I am so happy that I can be the runner of the week so I tell people how awesome Dave is in so many ways.”

Kiley was the dominant runner for the Frontier Silverbacks this season.  She stands tied for 13th place on the 400m list, having run it only once (1:11.04), second in the 800m (2:41.3), and second in the 1600m (5:41.53). 

Congratulations, Kiley, for being the latest recipient of the Whisper Runner of the Week award.  It is an absolute pleasure to know that you are part of the Whisper team!


Summer Assignment #1 - My Perfect Race

There are a number of written assignments I will ask of my runners this summer, but one of them is to formulate the perfect race.  I prefer to do this sort of task in the off-season, where pressure to perform is minimal, promoting clarity and objectivity in their thinking.  I don't have a grading rubric for this, and I encourage them to think for themselves on this particular task.  After all, most of the kids that I train have parents who are runners.  Asking parents for assistance on this assignment could then lead to their parent's perfect race, rather than their own. 

This strategy is one way to cultivate autonomy in within their running, as well as forward thinking in their training.  Race plans need practice.  Therefore, in addition to the basic essentials of training: warm-ups, drills, intervals, cool-downs, etcetera, we openly discuss our race plans.  Of course, there will be fine tuning as they progress, but a written race plan is a great place to begin documenting intentions, then assessing what works, and what does not work.  It's a form of Goal Setting.  Creating race plans in written form provides greater focus, puts out any potential fires (decreasing anxiety), helps refocus if needed, and cultivates a smooth transition to Flow, which is a heightened state of the body and the mind harmoniously working in a moment when potential and ability meet optimal performance conditions.

Feel free to use the example provided by Kiley, who crafted an incredible race plan, or modify it to create your own.  It's pretty clear that when Kiley created this race plan, she was not attempting to outthink the room, but instead, she stayed within herself and created something that works for her in its simplest form.

Whisper Runner of the Week (& Testimonial) - Katelyn Flolo of Cornerstone Christian Academy

This week's Whisper Runner of the Week could have been a recipient of this award weeks ago, as her season started off with a bang!  Meet after meet, Katelyn Flolo, of Cornerstone Christian Academy, continuously broke her own school records in both the 800m and 1500m while on her way to victories in over half of her races this season!

Kiley (left) and Katelyn (right) after running the Vancouver Lake Half Marathon, where they finished 1st and 2nd in their age group with times of 1:49:43 and 1:49:49.

Kiley (left) and Katelyn (right) after running the Vancouver Lake Half Marathon, where they finished 1st and 2nd in their age group with times of 1:49:43 and 1:49:49.

Katelyn is a seventh grade runner who came to Whisper in December 2016 for some off-season conditioning and is one of a few runners who braved the nasty weather conditions in January and February.  Her consistency through the winter, training with her Whisper peers up to three times each week, paid off at her District meet on May 5th, where she ran a disciplined 1500m, finishing second.  30-minutes later, she earned Championship honors by edging out the runner-up by a quarter of a second in the 800m.   That 800m race was a season best by 5-seconds, and a 3-second lifetime best!

Asking Katelyn about her experience with Whisper Running in the six months she has been with the team, she responded: "When I was in third grade my brother – a sixth grader- began running cross country. Thoroughly inspired, my best friend and I ran our first mile (more or less) in about thirteen minutes. By the time I got to fifth grade, I was so ready for cross country. I finished my fifth grade cross country season as well as my sixth grade cross country and track seasons before I even considered running outside of my school team. I proceeded to run club track in the summer of 2016, then cross country at my school, and finally club cross country in the fall. My club and school seasons were great, and the workouts pushed me, but I still felt as though I wasn’t maximizing my potential. The “on-your-own” workouts soon became a chore, draining the fun out of running. Finally, in December, I found Dave. My first practice, I was surprised to see that there were three other girls, all my age and about my pace. As the workouts progressed, Dave pushed me to do things I never thought I could. The practices got harder and harder, but they were always fun. Whisper Running has helped me in all aspects of running, preparing me mentally and physically, and helping me overcome challenges in my form. It has also helped me to get connected with the running community through various fun opportunities, participated in as a club.This track season, my off-season training with Dave helped me to feel strong and fast when I ran. So far, I have dropped 6 seconds off my 1500m time, and 3 off my 800m. Through Whisper Running, I found that the key to enjoying running and being as fast as you can is to find a great group of people who are fun to be around, but push you to run your hardest."

Her season is not done, however, as she plans to race at the Meet of Champions in two weeks, and possibly additional meets through the USATF and Tracktown circuits.  Congratulations, Katelyn, on this award that was a long-time coming!  I am super honored that you are part one of Whisper Running team!

Run Less, Run Faster!

It took a lot of convincing, but after months of me (her coach) begging, Kiley finally ran an uncomfortable race, the dreaded 400m.  Typically a 1600m/800m runner (5:48/2:41), Kiley smashed the 400 (1:11.04), which will surely pay dividends in future endurance races. I will note, 400's in practice range from 79-88-seconds, depending on the workout.  Nothing mimics a race quite like a race.

It took a lot of convincing, but after months of me (her coach) begging, Kiley finally ran an uncomfortable race, the dreaded 400m.  Typically a 1600m/800m runner (5:48/2:41), Kiley smashed the 400 (1:11.04), which will surely pay dividends in future endurance races. I will note, 400's in practice range from 79-88-seconds, depending on the workout.  Nothing mimics a race quite like a race.

After Eric Jenkins won the Millrose Games Wanamaker Mile in a blazing time of 3:53, the television announcer referenced a training theory of Jenkin's coach, Alberto Salazar.  According to the announcer, Salazar believes that in order for Jenkin's to be a great 5k runner, he must work on his mile speed, hence the entry into the Wannamaker Mile.

This theory, running shorter distances to generate speed in longer distances, is a technique for any level of athlete.  Particularly runners who are in the kind of shape in which they can control speed as needed, generating top-end speed in races is the optimal time for a runner to feel faster, and ultimately gain confidence in their ability to grab a gear (run faster) if and when needed.  Though this can be done in practice as well, nothing truly mimics the feeling of competing against a cross-town rival, thus the reason to enter your runners in races shorter than their traditional.  Therefore, if you are looking for a way to get you or your runners over the hump of a plateau, peak for a new personal best time, or increase confidence in your runners ability to be fast for a sustained period of time, then make an effort to find at least one meet to race at a shorter distance.  If you want to run a fast mile, run an 800m, and if you want to run a fast 800m, then run the 400m, and so on.  The objective is to feel a new top-end speed while racing shorter distances, meanwhile providing confidence and the ability to change pace on-cue in the longer distances.

Parents, before districts encourage your children to talk with their coaches about this speed-play strategy.  Coaches, give this theory a shot in all of your athletes.  You never know, you could even find a new event for a few of your runners!  Regardless, it will most certainly pay dividends!


Whisper Runner of the Week (& Testimonial) - Ethan Harper of Lincoln HS (Portland)

Congratulations to Ethan Harper, a freshman from Lincoln High School (Portland), who has been on fire this track season!  Ethan is a hybrid of sorts, having run everything from the 200m to the 3k, with highly respectable times and personal records in each. 

Whisper Runners Ethan Harper and Serena Smith (Union HS) take a moment to say hello as their paths crossed at the University of Oregon Relays High School Invitational on April 14-15.

Whisper Runners Ethan Harper and Serena Smith (Union HS) take a moment to say hello as their paths crossed at the University of Oregon Relays High School Invitational on April 14-15.

Ethan was one of a handful of freshman racing last weekend in the Oregon Relays, where he participated in two relay events and the 800m Invitational race.  So far this season, Ethan has improved his 400m time by 1.5-seconds over last year, running 53.40.  In the 800m, he has been equally as impressive, running 2:04.88, which is nearly three seconds faster than last year!  His 400m is the fifth fastest freshman time in the state of Oregon, while his 800m time is in the top three for freshman!  He is also in the top-12 of all freshman times in the 1500m in the state of Oregon.  To say Ethan is versatile would be an understatement!

Having worked with Ethan for over two years, I couldn't help but ask him to provide a testimonial of his time with Whisper Running:

"Starting in the middle of seventh grade, I began working out with Dave and immediately discovered that running would be the most important love-hate relationship of my life. Coming out of seventh grade cross-country season, I was best described as an average runner right in the middle of all my races, and someone who absolutely loathed the feeling of running hard. Little did I know that within a few months I would find a passion for this sport and that I would always be looking forward to my next opportunity to compete.  As I started running with Dave, that contempt for running hard diminished, as after workout after workout I felt stronger, faster, and braver than before. Thus, I came out just about every weekend to have my butt kicked and my heart all the stronger for it. When track season finally came around and I found that I had the tools and skills to race well, competing suddenly found a place of love inside of my heart. As we continued to work, Dave built character and a seemingly insatiable urge to get faster in me as my focus always turned to the future and my next opportunity to race. My higher performance in school and my general happiness seemed to coincide directly with the drive for excellence that Dave instilled in me. Now I find myself a better person, who has a strong desire to compete and seek out the best from within, aspects that could not be found with such intensity in the kid who first started working with Dave two years ago."

Major props to you, Ethan Harper, on your outstanding accomplishments so far this season, and I look forward to watching your continued efforts pay dividends!

Ethan is a fierce competitor in every event, including the 4x400m relay.

Order Whisper Running Gear and...

Order now through April 10 and proceeds will help fund the Avery family, who tragically lost their son, Daniel, last Sunday.

Order now through April 10 and proceeds will help fund the Avery family, who tragically lost their son, Daniel, last Sunday.

NEW!  Show your Whisper Running by purchasing Whisper swag through Bashor Team Apparel (click here).  The online store is open through April 16th.  Order now and proceeds will be donated to the Avery family, who tragically lost their son, Daniel, last Sunday, March 26. Daniel was ran cross-country and track and field, and was also on the wrestling team at Union High School in Vancouver, Washington.  Further donations for the Avery family may be made at their gofundme (click here) website.


Whisper Runner of the Week - Paige Neff from Camas High School

Huge props to Paige Neff, a junior from Camas High School, who set two lifetime bests in one week!  Averaging 5:55 in the 1-mile as a freshman, and 6:12 in the 1-mile as a sophomore, Paige opened her 2017 season with a lifetime best of 5:40.7 at a dual meet against Heritage High School.  Four days later, Paige had another great performance by rhythmically running a steady pace at the Tiger Invite in Battle Ground, racing to a six second personal record of 5:33. 

Pictured above: Serena Smith of Union HS (left)  and Paige Neff of Camas HS (right) train together on a frigid winter day in January of 2017.  Paige was named Runner of the Week for her two lifetime best 1-mile races to start her season.

Pictured above: Serena Smith of Union HS (left)  and Paige Neff of Camas HS (right) train together on a frigid winter day in January of 2017.  Paige was named Runner of the Week for her two lifetime best 1-mile races to start her season.

Paige started training with Whisper Running on December 28, 2016 and has continued to show steady improvement.  Committing to an off-season training program is never easy, and with the nasty weather we had during the past three months, it's been downright miserable at times.  But Paige persevered and committed to the grinds of training in off-season training.

I asked Paige for a reflection of her off-season training,  as well as her thoughts thus far on her season performances, and here is what she had to say:

"A little over a year ago I made the very difficult decision to not participate in high school cross country during the 2015-2016 season. I made this decision because I was struggling with a breathing problem, Vocal Cord Dysfunction, that made even the warm-ups feel like an impossible task. Vocal Cord Dysfunction is were your vocal cords seize up during exercise making it difficult for air to pass through and go to your lungs and there is no medicine to help this. I had been dealing with this problem for two years and my body had had enough. During my season off I didn't run at all. I barely had any physical activity and was on a decline. I realized that without running, my life was a struggle to do basic things. I was so unproductive and realized this was not the way I wanted to live my life. At the beginning of 2016 I started to run on my own. I would run a couple miles a day just to get back in some form of physical shape. I was preparing for the upcoming track season but because I had such a set back of not running for three months, it was hard to get back to the shape I was in before. I worked hard during the 2016 track season and was ready for the cross country season. In the space of a year I had worked hard to get back in shape and I even became an alternate for the Camas cross country team but I wasn't done. I was so eager to train and potentially be on Varsity for this upcoming cross country season. During the off-season I found Dave and we started to train in January of this year (2017). His motivation through our workouts inspired me to keep working hard at my goals. When I wasn't training with him I was out running and pushing myself to get better. I trained with him and some other girls for a little less then two months. During that time I learned so many important things from Dave and the group we ran with. Then came this current track season. I am in the best shape I have ever been in because of what I did in those two months with Dave in the off-season. It really pays off to put in that extra work. Even if it doesn't seem like much now, it will show the difference between who worked hard and who settled for 'good enough'."

Congratulations, Paige, on your outstanding accomplishments so far this season, and I wish you continued success as your season unfolds!

Go Papermakers!

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Shouldn't these kids be out playin' 'Kick the Can?'

I recently heard, "Shouldn't these kids be out playing 'kick the can'?" YES, I fully believe they should! But at the same time, if kids are going to specialize in soccer, softball, football, etc., then why not specialize in the sport of running.

One of the most important aspects embedded within Whisper Running is the assurance that I will do anything in my knowledge and experience to teach kids the joy of running. One of the ways this is done is by accepting kids where they are at, both in fitness and personality, and teaching them the importance of setting goals and working through adversity. The idea is to help them cultivate a strong sense of self-worth and self-confidence, and to give them something they can be proud of doing on their own.

Photo Credit: Rikki O'Brien (Kiley's mom) at Round Lake (Camas, WA).

Photo Credit: Rikki O'Brien (Kiley's mom) at Round Lake (Camas, WA).

This past preseason, many of the Whisper Runners ran through some nasty weather, as many of you have experienced. These kids trained through it all - the snow, sleet, hail, nasty wind, and well-below freezing temperatures. This period lasted far too long! Recently, two runners ran the Vancouver Lake Half Marathon, and then two weeks later took part in the Nike Speed Run community event, a bi-monthly event quietly tucked away at the World Nike Headquarters in Beaverton.

The important thing here is this - these kids aren't just running. They are cultivating healthy relationships and memories that will last a lifetime. Though most come from different schools (Union, Camas, Frontier, Cornerstone Christian, Lincoln, West Sylvan, Shalala, Skyridge, etc.), the training they endure and perform together is something they will cherish for the rest of their lives, particularly when they momentarily look back and reflect on their amazing accomplishments.


Alan Webb - American Record Holder in the Mile (3:46.91)

This was an interview conducted in the summer of 2015, where I asked Portland native, Alan Webb, the "Why" of "Why he runs."  Enjoy!

"My Why is really rooted in the process of seeing myself get better.  Excelling was the real true root, the real discovery of my running talent.  I started out as a swimmer, but I did a lot of sports; soccer, basketball, and swimming were the main consistent sports growing up.  It was more swimming that I really gravitated towards and I discovered early on that if I spent more time doing an activity, I would get positive results from that.  It was a measureable thing, something you could control.  I also realized early on that other people were better than me.  In summer league swimming, others who swam with a club team year round were faster than me, so my parents signed me up for winter swim team, where I was able to train year round, and through that, my times improved.  It was an important part of my life.  It's where I learned that skill that when I was putting in practice, I was seeing results.

All along in middle school I was doing two-a-day practice and honing my skills as a swimmer.  When I got into high school, I had no formal training in running, other than gym class.  I didn't know it at the time, but participating in other sports was really shaping me as a runner.  Swimming created an extremely big aerobic base.  Basketball, soccer, and other sports also created agility and necessary skills.  When I got into high school, I was able to put all of these pieces into running and really excel.  I didn't have the right levers to be a great swimmer, but I have the physical tools and talents to be a great runner.  The work ethic skills and aerobic base, the polymeric training from basketball, the speed development in soccer.  Those pieces were all there when I took up running.

For my Why though, it's the process, not the result or the outcome.  I believe that's what makes running great for anybody.  Take the person who finishes last place in a race.  This person was the last place finisher, but they exhibited the same effort as the winner.  I don't see myself being any different than anyone else, even in moments o f triumph.  Those examples are what can drive everyone else.

No matter where they are or how good they are, it's about the process versus the actual result.   Excelling is really empowering, it's a great feeling of accomplishment.  But it's really the process that I enjoy."

What's your Why?

"This off-season, I am going to train harder than ever before!" ~ said Everyone.

Now that we are in the midst of the off-season, how is your training going?  Are you still on track to being more fit than ever going into the 2017 track and field season?  If so, then great!  Training in these cold and wet months, or as we’ve recently seen, freezing and icy conditions, takes real commitment!  However, if training has been sidetracked for any reason, perhaps Visualizing a forecast of your 2017 season can help you get started!

Visualization is the use of the minds-eye to see or imagine a performance.  It's a controlled fantasy of the mind; a fantasy which can come into fruition through determination and consistent training.  Visualization allows you to draw upon raw emotions, from defeat and disappointment, to victory and valor, both superior motives for religious training in the off-season. 

So, how do you perform Visualization?  It's likely something you already do, and it may be that you only need to tame it. Practicing the progressive steps towards optimal visualization during the off-season can give you an advantage during the season when a coach is providing feedback on technique or when you are seeing yourself through video-analysis and you are trying to control a bodily movement - visualization can help with this!  

Though visualization can take place virtually anywhere, initial practice of the visualization process in a low-pressure setting is suggested for optimal results.  As you become familiar with each of the steps, you may then advance the practice into actual training sessions.  For example, when practicing Breathing Control, it is suggested to create a mantra which produces a feeling of relaxation.  The mantra may be as simple as the word "relax."  Whatever the word or phrase you choose, the idea is to first practice that mantra while learning Breathing Control.  After a few sessions of Breathing Control, the next step is to practice your mantra while performing - when running intervals gets difficult, you can then say to yourself "relax," recalling that sensation of what full relaxation feels like, attempting to mimic that sensation while your body is fully engaged in the workout. 

Practicing your mantra during all types of running, from interval days to easy run days, is an important part of the "running with the mind" process.  A relaxed mind is fully engaged in the moment, ready for anything, from responding with a surge to staying in-tune with your form and posture.  Having a full-mind ability to apply your mantra can provide you with an opportunity to learn to control your emotional and physical exertion levels.

The steps in which we practice optimal visualization include, 1) Breathing Control, 2) Progressive Relaxation Training, and then 3) Visualization.  Initially, it may take 10-20 minutes to reach the point of Visualization, though it really depends on the duration of the preceding steps.  For example:

Breathing Control: Ideally, lying on a flat surface, focus only on the simplicity of the breath.  Inhale for a count of four.  Exhale for a count of four.  The pace of the count from one to four may take 4-8-seconds initially, but by within a few minutes, the count from one to four may take 10-15 seconds.  The inhales and exhales are at the same cadence.  Practice breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth.  After 5-10 minutes, progress to the next phase of the process.

Progressive Relaxation Training: While still lying on the flat surface, beginning with the feet, curl the toes like you are picking up a pencil and hold that contraction for about 5-seconds.  Next, flex the toes so they are pointing up in the direction of the knees, holding for 5-seconds.  Next the calves followed by the shins, hamstrings, gluteals, quads, abdominals, chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, and fingers/fists, each for about 5-seconds.  In between each muscle group, be sure to take a moment to perform some breaths.  As you become more familiar with PRT, you may combine muscle groups (hamstrings and glutes are a natural and easy combination).  You may also wish to connect your mantra with the inhale or exhale, whichever makes the most sense to you. In time, once you can easily differentiate between being stressed (contracting a muscle group) and fully relaxed (letting go of that contraction/stress), you can omit the contraction phase of PRT and simply relax the body, perhaps triggered by your cue word.  The hope is to relax on cue, within a split second, heightening attentional focus to the body as needed.  To move this practice, PRT, into your training, make your best attempt to relax muscles which do not contribute to proper running mechanics.  For example, head, face, neck, shoulders and elbows can stay relaxed, while your arms, hamstrings, glutes, calves and balls of your feet remain highly active.

Visualization: If you have been able to pay attention to your breathing and all of the static contractions and relaxations, then to a degree, you've already been visualizing.  To formalize the process a bit more, imagine yourself standing at the top of a staircase.  Once you see the stairs in front of you, proceed to walk down the stairs until you see a door.  Once you reach the door, push the door open and walk into the room.  Once you are in the room, there are three scenarios taking place.  One: in front of you is a table with your favorite dessert sitting on a plate.  First observe your dessert: perhaps the aroma, the colors, the texture, etc.  Next, using a utensil or your fingers, pick up a slice or piece of your desert and take a bite.  Notice the texture and the flavors, as you continue chewing that delicious treat.  You may spend a couple of minutes enjoying this moment.  Two: the next scenario is a natural chaser - the beverage.  Similar to the dessert, are there any noticeable aromas, colors or textures?  What kind of cup or glass is this beverage in?  Is it cold or hot, and, more importantly, can you feel the temperature when you touch the cup?  Next, take a drink.  Notice the consistency, the flavors, and everything that comes with this beverage.  Three: Imagine yourself standing on your driveway at home under the awning of your house.  It's a cool morning, but you are not bothered by the temperature.  It's raining, but it's more like a light drizzle.  Reach out with your hand, palm up, and let the rain fall into the palm of your hand.  Next, bring your hand back to your chest, start your watch, and go for a run.  The rest is in your hands - or, imagination.  Once you have concluded your visualized run, walk out of the room to the stairs, and then back to the top of the stairs.   

As you practice visualization, consider imagining things you wish to work on.  For example, if you would like to work on being taller while running, then visualize the cues you heard during practice, and imagine executing those cues during visualization.  This specific visualization, where you are working on form or technique will help train your nervous system to hone your running mechanics.  Will the act of visualization make you faster or improve your VO2?  No.  But it can help with your form and proper running mechanics, which can go a long way in making running more efficient, thus improving your times.

Good luck and have fun!