Just a warning, this is going to be a bit wordy. I wrote it up originally as one post, but it just got too long. So, I've broken this post into a few parts for your digestion. I have a lot to say on this topic, especially since it is about me, which is why it is taking so long to dump my brain of all these thoughts. Rather than titling it my training approach, this is more of a manifesto. So here we go...
My intent of this series is to document my thoughts (as of today) about what I know and how it is influencing my training moving forward. I have read quite a bit recently, as I mentioned in my previous post. By combining this information, with the information that I have learned from my years as a runner in high school, through all the training I have been doing recently, and mapping it to myself today, I have developed a series of principles that I plan to follow and believe they apply to most people. Each principle consists of a section below.
Assessing Your Endurance Background
As athletes, the way we get into sports is almost always by the influence of others around us. Sometimes we are of similar ability, while other times we are inspired by those of much greater ability, such as professionals we see on tv. In any case, BEFORE we begin any type of training, we must assess our endurance background. Whether this is your first year or your 20th, assessing and re-assessing where you are today, will give you the basis for establishing goals for tomorrow.
Inspiration and excitement of signing up for a major race typically provokes us to jump right in, without stepping back to develop the foundation. That foundation, whether it is the plan you will follow, the level of fitness you already have, or the knowledge of the sport you are training for, all plays a significant role in shaping your approach to training.
And this time is exactly where we need to Assess Yourself. For me, this means looking back at the previous years and figuring out what went right, what went wrong, and what I would change. Then, I start thinking about my goals for the upcoming year. Are they realistic? Can they be measured? Unrealistic goals can frequently drive oneself to injury throughout overuse. Goals that cannot be measured will seem unattainable when the training is tough, so making sure they can be measured will prevent them from slipping away.
My background consists of a long history of just running (approximately 16 years), when you consider that I was a competitive runner in high school. It is even longer in sports in general, as I started playing soccer when I was 5 and played up through high school. After high school, I continued with sports by playing rugby in college for 5 years. After gaining a lot of weight (some of it muscle, some of it beer), I got back into running and began this whole triathlon/endurance sports craze. However, I don't consider myself to have an extensive endurance background. Soccer and rugby, while you run a lot during both sports, include mainly sprinting. While a runner in high school, I was a competitive sprinter (55m up to the 400m) who also ran cross country (5k). That was it. My body has not been trained for endurance sports. So when I assess where I am, I have to realize that although I have an extensive background in sports, it is not an endurance background.
I believe the endurance background/experience of the individual significantly influences the benefit of any type of workout. Assuming you have a deep base, which is discussed in Part 2, and extensive endurance background, all those "sexy" types of workouts (intervals, repeats, tempo runs, etc) may serve to benefit you. However, I believe most people could similarly benefit from just consistent running, without needing to exert so much stress in a single workout.
After assessing myself, I am going back to the basics to build up my base through heart rate training, which is described in the next section below.
Building the Base
Developing base level fitness is, in my opinion, the single most important aspect of any training program. One of the biggest takeaways I got from my reading is that a solidly built base will not only serve you well later on in the season as you get closer to your "A" race, but it will build you into your next year as well by establishing a higher baseline to start from. This framework allows for year after year progression (long term), which is one of the keys to getting faster over time. I'll get into long term versus short term in a later section, but essentially, an athlete's patience in developing a huge base will increase your ability to perform well, recover faster, and handle more work/stress. Sounds pretty good, right?
It is my belief that this is one phase of training where most of us do not do enough work to warrant the workouts we do. Building the base isn't all about slow, long distance. But it is about being patient and consistent.
One way to get feedback during the base building period so that you know what you are doing is working, is by conducting baseline tests every month or so (but no more frequent, since it takes time to improve and anything more frequent could lead to frustration). A baseline test should be conducted at the beginning (to assess where you are today), and then repeated (to indicate progress), while attempting to maintain consistent conditions, such is not being done on a windy day. You then take these baseline tests and chart them over time. If you keep a log of your daily workouts, along with a record of these baseline tests, it should be pretty clear why or why not you got the results in each test.
One baseline test that I am doing currently, can be found here (though you should also read the whole series of posts on the topic, because it is excellent). Though my base building will not consist of nearly as many miles per week, as is discussed in the post, it is my intent to build to a volume that I consider high, based on my own experience. While building the base, results from the baseline test are where you should be able to find your motivation to continue at the (relatively) easy training you'll be doing. Run the base mileage as prescribed. Record your workouts daily. See the results in the baseline tests. Chart your progress. Only AFTER you have developed a sufficient base, should you consider adding in those other types of training (ie repeats, intervals, tempo, etc). Not vice versa.
While other approaches may work, this is where I believe I am best served. I have tried other approaches and either hit a plateau very quickly or got injured. My endurance background (or lack thereof) needs to be built in order for my body to be able to handle the regular stresses associated with those other types of training. It is simply not sustainable for me based on where I am.
So I will be building up my base and charting my progress.
My next post will continue the topic...once I can get it into words from up there in my head.