Dec 16, 2021
If you feel like achieving a sub-3-mile marathon pace
is beyond your reach, this episode of The Bare Performance Podcast
will inspire you to expand your horizons. Nick invites Jeff
Cunningham, an elite marathon trainer, to share the formula and
mindset that consistently lifts runners who compete around the
country to excel beyond what might seem possible.
An attorney by day, Jeff has developed a hybrid
coaching program that keys to training volume, speed work,
adaptations and nutrition. Hard data and metrics factor in, but at
the end of the day it all boils down to the one non-negotiable
component: Passion. Not just passion for running a marathon or even
for running itself; it’s got to be a passion for doing the
Jeff took Nick on and believed he was capable of a
sub-3-mile race pace goal based on a few key biographical elements.
With those baseline ingredients, Jeff believes, anyone is capable
of hitting a sub-3 marathon goal. And he has proved himself right,
time and again, as his runners reach their goals and blow beyond
No one can explain what it feels like to be ready to
go on race day. Knowing how to manage exhaustion is the essence of
marathon running – and something that cannot be achieved without
exacting, consistent intentional preparation towards a specific
outcome. Jeff explains how he builds confidence in his runners,
brick by brick. His formula has certainly worked for Nick, who now
knows the difference between running a race and racing a race. It’s
an incomparable, indescribable feeling.
The episode features lots of practical advice and
reveals Nick’s plans to turn his goal of running a sub-2:50 time at
Marathon this spring into an opportunity to share
resources, training programs and tools with other aspirational
runners. The ultimate goal? To inspire 10,000 personal records in
the coming year!
You can follow or reach out to Jeff about coaching
here to listen to/rate/review previous
episodes of The Bare Performance Podcast. You can also find out
more about Nick’s performance nutrition and health supplements
- (02:30): How Nick met Jeff and started working with
his team – and got on the path to his first sub-3-hour
- (04:45): Jeff shares the roots of his passion for
running, which stretch back to his childhood in the early 1980s. He
continued to run competitively through high school, college and law
school. From there he stumbled into coaching, which is his big
- (7:30): Jeff, who brings a hugely competitive
mindset, is all about his runners’ success. When they set a goal
and he helps him achieve it, that’s his ultimate
- (09:30): Why the sub-3-hour marathon has such an
allure. In the larger context, they’re monumental but relatable.
They can be completed by athletes at all levels of fitness, but
there is a line of demarcation when your time starts with a
- (13:07): Running is a rare sport in which the
barrier to entry is low and the possibilities for any given
individual limitless (within reason). It’s all about training and
- (17:45): Jeff shares his initial thoughts when Nick
came to him with his sub-3 marathon goal and some of the amazing
athletic feats that have defied even his own expectations. This is
how he came to discern the difference between realism and
- (19:45): In determining whether Nick’s goal was
realistic, Jeff noted some key factors in the plus column:
- US Army experience
- Respect for rigor and discipline.
- Tolerance for monotony.
- His ability to run a five-minute mile.
- (21:13): What Jeff wants everyone to know about
Nick’s sub-3-hour marathon performance: It was a “transcendent”
performance based on the harsh conditions.
- (24:11): Nick recounts some of his feelings, mile
by mile, and how Jeff helped him get across the finish line,
mentally and physically (in spite of the cramps). It’s all about
controlling what you can control (which doesn’t include weather
- (28:03): Starting Out: What Jeff looks for when he
takes on athletes. No. 1: What’s the level of passion? Not just
about the idea of funning a sub-3 marathon but whether they have a
passion to do what it takes to achieve that goal.
- (29:39): Once a baseline commitment is established,
the focus shifts to empiric data:
- Literal track record as far as training and stats
in recent history.
- Have you ever run a mile in under 5:40?
- Have you ever run a 10k at a 6:20 or 6:30
- What are the raw materials available? Natural
ability, stick-to-itiveness, commitment to process.
- (35:36): About the formula. What Jeff prioritizes
in building out his program: Volume – How much do you run daily?
What’s the longest run in the last month? And also pace.
- (39:34): Jeff shares thoughts on Coach Renato
Canova’s training methodology and the role of speed work (which by
his definition is relative to the race you’re running and the goal
pace). He explains the physiological impacts of anaerobic and
- (45:57): Training comes in two basic forms: lactate
threshold and critical velocity. It’s all about getting the
greatest aerobic adaptations with the least amount of strain on
fascia and connective tissue as well as quick recovery times.
- (49:00): The power of consistency reveals itself
like plate tectonics, slowly creeping in and elevating performance.
It’s better to be consistently good than intermittently great.
- (49:50): The beautiful feeling that is tapering
prior to a marathon. It’s an experience that can’t be understood
unless you’ve personally taken the journey.
- (52:24): The runner’s confidence is built brick by
brick by following a formula that sets them up to manage exhaustion
and even enjoy the stresses of race day. It’s a mental state that’s
available only if you’ve done the weeks and weeks of training and
are fully ready in the moment.
- (55:35): The runner’s world is constantly changing
and, because it’s not static, Jeff sees his job as helping people
figure out where their Red Line is – and how to move it.
- (58:00): What it means to use a fartlek (“speed
play” in Swedish) training model and how Jeff deploys tempo running
with critical velocity workouts. A couple of months out from race
day, he alternates fast-paced sets into daily mileage.
- (1:03:35): Nick introduces the important role of
nutrition (and recovery) in training. Hydration as well as the
right quality and quantity of calories is critical to keeping the
tank full enough. Nick and Jeff agree: If you stay on top of your
nutrition you can stay on top of your training.
- (1:06:58): Jeff explains his taper plan, which
generally starts about three weeks out. He gradually at first and
then more aggressively two weeks prior. The week of the marathon he
has his runners doing no more than 50-60% of their mileage and, far
from reducing fitness, many runners hit 10k personal bests without
- (1:10:27): A window into Nick’s upcoming
preparation for the Buffalo Marathon in May, which includes the
goal of a roughly 6:27 race pace:
- Moving Nick’s marathon Red Line, which means
looking at volume but focusing especially on training paces in a
way that doesn’t overwhelm but rather cultivates physiological
- Defining the total aerobic load and stimulus to
pinpoint the right amount of conditioning to maximize performance
and build on capacities already in place
- Establishing mileage not as a goal but a means to
- (1:15:50): Nick’s Buffalo Marathon journey is going
to be documented, including training programs and other tools and
resources that interested viewers can follow in their quest for
personal bests. His ultimate goal is to help lift 10,000 runners
towards a PR in the coming year.
- (1:17:00): Jeff draws an important distinction
between “all-consumed” and “all-in” pursuits. The former is
generally unbalanced and unhealthy while the latter adds
dimensionality to all aspects of life.
- (1:18:14): Nick shares an anecdote about an old
Army buddy’s visit to the BPN warehouse in early days. “Is this it?
Have you reached your goal?” his friend asked. That was the moment
when Nick gave himself permission to have a vision far bigger than
anything currently before him.
- (1:19:30): Jeff extolls the importance of believing
in ourselves. We are capable of much more than we think – so long
as we ask the questions and keep the faith.
- (1:20:40): Don’t bother pretending. As Nick
illustrates with an anecdote from his days in the military, there’s
no upside to faking it or trying to go out on your own when help is
available. Let the ego go.
- (1:22:30): Take something that you think is
unbelievable and make it believable. It’s a joyous process open to
“It’s more important to be consistently good than occasionally
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