Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Two Keys for Trustworthy Training

I'm coming off a really good run that I had today. Did a 20-miler. The longest I've ever run. Yup, my first marathon will be after a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike. That wasn't done by accident; I debated doing a marathon since signing up for IMC (key being: this debate was within one year of IMC). I got sound advice to avoid it. One person who said so was Bobby McGee, who's a brilliant triathlon/running coach. He didn't say it to me personally regarding my situation, but he did talk about it at a USAT coaching seminar I went to. I'll never forget it. Basically it came down to post-marathon recovery time for someone who would race the 26.2 hard, like I would. The recovery is not worth missing out on training you could be doing otherwise. Or worse, not recovering and going on with life like you didn't do 26.2. Note: this is not necessarily the case for seasoned marathon runners.

Anyways, so today was the biggest run I'll do before IMC later this month. Not gonna lie, I impressed myself. I set out to do it at an EZ sustainable pace. Emphasis on the "EZ" since 20 miles was new territory for more and I didn't want to bonk far from home lol. The run ended up being an 8:10 average pace, total time 2:43 and change, on a route full of rolling hills, but nothing too extreme, on a fairly hot day. That coming off a freaking HARD 58-mile hilly-ass tempo ride yesterday and a short swim this morning, and the training from Monday and the training from the weekend and... jk ;)

I don't run mega miles every week, and my long runs aren't always as long as one might expect for IM training, but I trust my training. My longest run to date is 15 miles. Today, I knew I could do the 20 without great concern with the training I've done. It was more of a mental hurdle I wanted to cross than a physical one going into IMC, which is arguably just as important. Point being, I believe most people can get away with fewer miles and still be effective at improving SBR skills. It's about how you run (or swim or bike) the miles you do that make a difference.

This is the philosophy I use with training plans for my athletes. There are two key components to make this work, which I'll get to.

But first, I have to mention the "social pressure" to log in extreme mileage and mega volume. Unfortunately, it seems many athletes are too concerned with "how many miles" they do each week or how "big" the week was. It's easy to get caught up in this, and sometimes I still do! It's fun to see that you laid down a gnarly week and logged in record-breaking miles. It's OK to be proud and brag a little even. Or how about when you see your friends saying how mega their workouts were via FB and Twitter; part of you wants to be right there with the same numbers, right? It's natural for us endurance athletes. And, yes, with 70.3 and Ironman training, on certain weeks, it should be about volume and logging in the miles.

But it's not all about that.

The questions that should be asked: What were the intensity levels, and how consistent was the training. I truly believe you can get away with as little training as possible (within reason) and still be a very good athlete, or, at the very least, achieve realistic goals if you stick to two main variables: 1) consistency and 2) intensity.

You're not going to get better at swimming, biking and running -- and remain injury-free -- unless you do it consistently every week. Some weeks do more than others. The idea is to make it "the norm" for your body. You become more efficient, and that brings an abundance of benefits. And when I say "injury free," I mean it's not smart to not SBR for days on end and then go attempt IM-distance sessions on a Saturday. No bueno. Be consistent. And don't mistake consistency as synonymous with volume.

The second part is intensity. Intensity is the king of variables. Studies show that if you take away volume, frequency and duration but maintain HIGH intensity, you can still maintain your fitness (good tip for taper weeks). So, yes, you'll have to build up some fitness by doing early-season base building and whatnot, i.e. high volume and low intensity, but as the season progresses and you're in the "competition" phase, don't feel like every week has to be mega volume if you're workouts are full of high-intensity work. It's an inverse relationship between volume and intensity, and the reason for that is: high-intensity work = more recovery time needed. More recovery means volume should not be skyrocketing. (With elite/pro athletes who recover freakishly fast or are used to high intensity and volume, this isn't always the case... but for the rest of us it is :) lol)

So one may ask, how does LSD fit into this? LSD workouts undoubtedly have their place in a training plan over the course of a season, for both the mental and physical reasons, but you could arguably cut some of those out if you're doing a lot of high-intensity work. One LSD sess a week for each sport is enough. You need to hit certain miles in training based on your race distance simply because you need to be specific to the race and develop those energy systems/familiarity. But more emphasis should be on intensity with adequate recovery. Try it. You'll see that a distance that was once designated to be an LSD sessions becomes faster with less effort.

Take my month of July, for example. It was NOT one of my highest volume months, despite what you may think having a Ironman in August. But I did a lot of high-intensity SBR that required more rest than when I'm only doing Z1-Z2 training. I raced and did race-simulation workouts, and I went HARD. Plus, for the most part I was very consistent with my training so my body was used to SBR no matter if I was going really long or short and quick. What ensured was a "less is more" month for me. Some coaches might argue that "more is more" no matter what, and that's the only way to get better. But I don't think it has to be like that.

This brings up the other key point: time management.

My month of July was also extremely busy outside of my training schedule. My days were not centered around training. School, work, new boyfriend, friends, family obligations, etc. A busy busy life outside of training is the case with most athletes I coach, as well. So when I sit down to create a training plan I try to make it about getting the most bang for your buck with every workout. Consistency and intensity become the biggest priorities. If that means more short hard runs because that's all there's time for and one long one, then so be it. It's better than no runs all week then a 20+ run once a week. Or whatever the situation.

Goals play into this. If you do have aspirations to be uber-elite or pro and training time is abundant, then I might take a different approach to some extent. There's more leeway to manipulate the training variables of volume, intensity, frequency, duration to achieve some crazy goals. But for most of us, to get results, just be consistent, get your dose of high-intensity work and don't worry so much about accumulating big numbers week after week, month after month.

And when all else fails, there's one factor that should dominate above all others: FUN. If you're not having fun, then why the F are you doing it?


  1. So very true! Especially the part about having fun. Best of luck in your upcoming race.

  2. Love it!... especially the last sentence ;) I totally agree with your training philosophy.. thanks!

  3. I think it also partly depends on how accustomed your body is to training. I'm a relatively new runner, and every time I run over 8 - 9 miles my feet are in agonizing pain (along with my hip flexor.) I suspect there are lots of little stabilizer muscles, tendons, joints, etc. that are still not used to the pounding. The final 4 miles of my first half IM were AGONIZING bc I hadn't done enough high volume run work. Just sayin'... I think it's easier for people who have spent years running to short the distance in training and still do ok...

  4. AWESOME.....! SO happy about that run and totally agree, you will be ready just when you need to be!

  5. Good post and great job on the long run.

  6. Thanks for this. After a crazy month of moving states, moving in with my boyfriend, and general life upheaval, I did my best to keep my training focused and consistent. I was not seeing the 'hours' I was used to, but I feel in a pretty good place now that things are settling down.

  7. Great point! and I hope I get to meet you in Canada-

  8. So true - I learned this last year in my 1/2 IM training and managed a decent pr. Lookong forwarding to cheering you on out there in a few weeks:)

  9. Great post! Consistency in SBR should be the goal in any plan. I love that people are seeing the light that intensity in training can overcome the mileage crisis people put themselves into. All those miles take a lot of time too. Shorter, higher intensity weeks makes it more fun in the end.

    See you in Canada and good luck in the final weeks!

  10. Love the post! I couldn't agree more with the perspective on intensity/consistency over volume. Sure, volume has it's place early on and can certainly help if held throughout the training, but it's not as necessary as many think. I get sucked into putting up the mileage often enough, but when time is limited, you can't do much.

    Keep up the good work. Looking forward to seeing how that first marathon goes!! haha

  11. Great post! I try not to compare myself to my friends who have the time to do huge volume weeks. I am trying to focus on doing the best I can with the time that I have :-) Looks like it works very well for you!

  12. I think the best part of what you said isn't about how you go about YOUR training but how you go about your athletes training. We all have busy lives and you know first hand how that affects training. Your insight into your athletes lives and training are what make you such a great coach! :)

  13. Fantastic advice. I see so many folks who get comfortable doing slow easy miles that the only progress they know is volume. Power is a function of work over time. As they say, the best way to win is to do more work faster.
    (p.s. the word verification for this was "raver" - even your security measures are cool)

  14. I've hidden a few people on FB because ALL they post about are the crazy long training days they do almost every day.

    Way to kill your 20 miler. You're gonna kill IMC!

  15. Way to go on that 20 miler!

    Thanks for this post --
    I've been trying to balance strong training for a half iron distance tri with the volume/intensity/etc that works for my body -- especially this time of year in the heat and humidity of our east coast summer. I often feel like what I'm doing isn't good enough because it's not what other people say they do, but I can only go into race day believing it's good enough for me :)

    Good luck with your race!