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The Bare Performance Podcast

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 work.

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 them.

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 the Buffalo 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 @Insta.

Click 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 here.

Key Takeaways:

  • (02:30): How Nick met Jeff and started working with his team – and got on the path to his first sub-3-hour marathon.
  • (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 love.
  • (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 satisfaction. 
  • (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 “2.”
  • (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 mindset.
  • (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 pessimism.
  • (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 conditions).
  • (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 pace?
    • 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 neuro-muscular training.
  • (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 even trying. 
  • (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 adaptations. 
    • 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 an end.
  • (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 anyone!

“It’s more important to be consistently good than occasionally great.” 

Further Contacts/Resources:

Bare Performance Nutrition:
BPN's Instagram:
Nick Bare:
Nick's Instagram: @Insta