Coach Joey's Corner: Risk vs. Reward

“ . . . nothing is certain. But such is life. But when you care about something, you try to make it work anyway.”

Welcome back to Coach Joey’s Corner where Joey Elsakr provides us with glimpses and insight on his current training, while also waxing philosophical on life and running.

Training Update 1/28 to 2/3


o   AM: 8 at 7:12 pace with 6 strides

o   PM: 6 at 7:34 pace


o   AM: 3 mile warmup, 4x1600 with 1 min jog rests, 2 mile cooldown. Goal was 515 average and working down a little. Splits: 515.9, 516.1, 511.9, 507.5.

o   PM: 5 at 7:29 pace


o   AM: 8 at 7:13 pace

o   PM: 5 at 7:33 pace


o   AM: 2 mile warmup, 10 miles steady/slight progression, 1 mile cooldown. Goal was 615 down to 545 pace. Ran 613 down to 541; 557 average.

o   PM: off. Vacation!!!!


o   AM: Vacation over. 4.9 at 7:33 pace

o   PM: 7.1 at 7:43 pace


o   AM: 20 at 6:44 pace with 8 strides in the last 3 miles

o   PM: off


o   AM: off

o   PM: 7.9 at 7:26 pace

Week Total: 94.4 miles. Since this is the first week of training updates, I’ll recap how I got here. I ran the California International Marathon on 12/2. The week that after I ran 3.3 miles. Then 27.9, 47.7, 63.5, 74, 81.1, 89.1, 95, and then this week.

Tentative Racing Schedule

  • Wrightsville Beach Half Marathon 3/9

  •          Purity Dairy Dash 15k 4/13

  •        Grandma’s Marathon 6/22

Still haven’t settled on Grandma’s, and I may add a couple more races, but this is the plan for now and will be finalized soon!

Some Thoughts

This was a decent week that wasn’t too flashy. A lot of easy running (my easy pace tends to be about 2 min/mile slower than marathon pace) and a couple moderate workouts. The mileage may seem a like a lot to some, but it’s something I’ve gradually built up to and is not a major stressor. So really, it wasn’t a super difficult week, which means it’s a good excuse to talk about an important concept in running.

Risk and Reward

Consider the reward vs risk graph below.



Like many things in life, I think the running risk/reward curve looks something like that. The main driver of risk here is increased training intensity. Reward is increased fitness/faster times. As you can see, the difference between sitting on the couch and running a little bit leads to rapid increases in fitness with minimal risk. Training harder leads to substantial increases in rewards while adding a decent amount of risk. But towards the end of the curve you’re essentially adding large amounts of risk for minimal increases in potential rewards. By definition, none of the reward is guaranteed (since it all carries some risk), and it becomes less and less certain the more you move along the risk axis.

Alright, that’s probably enough math talk for a Monday. What’s the point? In running, like in many other areas of life, it’s all about optimizing potential rewards and risk. Yes, you can go out and run marathon pace on all your easy runs with a couple killer interval workouts each week, but you’re adding a lot of risk and really compromising your chances at any reward. You’re also probably doing something that’s not sustainable long term.

For me, I gain momentum by executing every workout as planned and putting in good mileage each week. If my workouts were substantially harder and I could only execute 60-70% perfectly, it would be easier to get down on myself. And it would be adding risk. And it wouldn’t lead to substantially more potential reward. The key, in my mind, to being a successful distance runner is consistency. Too much risk can compromise consistency through injury, lack of motivation, etc. But nailing manageable workouts back to back to back results in a nice compounding effect with excellent results over time.


I’d rather be crushing it on the blue dot than just surviving on the red one.

The other thing about risk is that it can be mitigated. If you really want to be successful, you can take additional steps to prevent injury and make sure you’re getting the most out of training. I touched on this last week, but the essentials are staying ahead of injuries, taking your recovery seriously and getting enough sleep. This last point is extremely important if you actually want to benefit from your training.

Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Consider Galen Rupp. The man has every Nike resource available to him and he lives for running like Kramer lives for merlot.


And yet, he had to have surgery to repair his Achilles. So nothing is certain. But such is life. But when you care about something, you try to make it work anyway. And if you want to make running work, then it’s essential to learn how to manage and mitigate risk.

Until next week!