Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Lessons In Endurance (part 1)

I have been involved in endurance sports since my high school years.  During my exercise physiology studies in college, I placed a large emphasis on learning as much as possible about enduring physiologically and mentally.  I’ve had the opportunities to work with, advise, study, watch and learn from such a broad range of professional endurance athletes and top amateurs, and along the way, I have found there are similarities amongst them in their training approach and what leads to their successes, and conversely, things they also have done similarly that have created problems and played a part in their failures.  I have also been my own human guinea pig as many of my friends and athletes can attest to.  Here is Part 1 in some simple things that many of you already know, but that doesn’t mean you do it;

  1. This first one is one you have heard so many times and seems incredibly simple and logical and yet most don’t adhere to it.  Consistency is probably the biggest factor in leading to your success in endurance sports.  Those who set up a realistic weekly plan that allows them to recover enough from each session so that they can train each day build the foundation that leads to success.  I know you are thinking “yeah, duh, no kidding…”, however I would say that maybe 90% of the athletes I have trained over the past 25 years have missed more than one of their weekly sessions on a regular basis.  Sure there are legitimate excuses for missing a training session, however most of the time we justify a reason to miss. 
  2. Following up on number 1, and this is an important one, those who succeed no when to push the pace and how hard they should push, and also go super easy on their recovery days.  Let’s look at the Kenyan runners for example; they have been dominating endurance running events for some time now, able to hold 4:40/mile pace for a marathon.  What many don’t see is that on their easier recovery runs, they often do these at maybe 8 minute per mile pace, which is crawling by their standards.  Many pro triathletes will do their recovery rides at a very easy pace, never coming out of their small chainring up front.  This way when it’s time to put in the quality sessions, they are primed and ready.  And for these quality sessions, the pro’s work very hard, but never lay it all out there – they save that effort for race day.  This is something that many of my athletes still don’t understand.  I learned in college that you should finish your quality interval sessions always feeling like you could do one more interval at the same quality if necessary.  In my early days, I would waste myself in training sessions, going with the cliché of “that which doesn’t kill me…” I had the same cyclical pattern for a while; train my ass into the ground, get sick, take the necessary time to rest and recover to get better, repeat.  My thinking was that I needed to train as fast as I wanted to race.  Now, without going into too much detail, this does make sense, however, it’s the percentage of the time in each session and each week that you spend at race pace (or faster) that can make or break you.  I’ve heard many pros say that they never delve too deep into the well in training – they save this effort for race day.  Mark Allen once mentioned something along the lines of that if you cannot get up and train every day of the week, you probably either over exerted the day or three before or you aren’t paying enough attention to recovery.  Yes, you should be able to train seven days a week!  I often give a full rest day to my athletes more for the mental break. 
  3. Analytics are great and using technology is a smart way to take the guess work out of your training, yet not at the cost of losing our “feel”.  I advise my athletes to purchase a heart rate monitor for training and racing.  For my triathletes and cyclists, I love setting up their training plans utilizing power, however I also realize that a power meter is a costly item.  These devices allow me, as their coach, to pinpoint more exactly just where there at, and also allow me to in a way, keep in an eye on them during their training, even though I can’t be with them during the session (that is, if they are following the details of the session!).  The metrics they provide me with often determines what I schedule for them in the coming days and weeks.  Many are getting too dependent on these tools though.   In fact, there are many coaches out there who feel that certain formulas they have read about from certain authors or in different books work universally, and prescribe what appears to be a detailed and scientific training plan for an athlete, yet it could be totally wrong for this specific person.  It’s important to learn how to feel – how to find a rhythm.  Again, you’ll often hear a pro discuss after a great race that they got into a good rhythm, or that their training the past month has “felt” really good.  During the taper, I tell my athletes I don’t want them to force anything, even if their metrics tells them they should be pushing harder.  I often prescribe sessions to my athletes by feel.  I may say “ride 90 minutes easy, by feel.  Don’t look at your power, or heart rate, in fact hide the devices.  Yet, show me the data when you return.”  At many of my training camps, which take place in some beautiful locations, I tape over, or take all bike computers, gps watches, for certain sessions.  When you are riding in Hawaii, I want you taking in the views of the ocean, the landscape, the surroundings, not the views of your device. 
  4. The optimal way to run well in a triathlon is to ride a steady pace throughout the race.  Not have peaks and valleys in your heart rate and power as we often do.  Lionel Sanders who’s been winning everything this past year, suffered a second place in a race he should have dominated even more as they had to cancel the swim, his weakness, due to conditions.  He overworked the hills on the bike.  He said in his blog that he typically races very steady on the bike to set himself up for a solid run, staying controlled on the hills, yet he ignored this advice and blew himself up for the run.  He then had to make several bathroom stops during the run as the wheels fell off.  He was overworked, dehydrated and suffered bloating and gastrointestinal distress.  He explains that this was created by him overworking the bike.  Many blame mistakes in their nutrition during a longer race leading to GI issues, but more often than not, it’s from either dehydration, overworking, or both.  Let’s go by perceived effort, a scale of 1-10, 10 being an all out effort.  Many will ride the flats at a 7 to 8 and work the hills at a 9 to 10 in a race.  The best way to ride is to ride the flats at a 7.5 to 8 and the hills at an 8 to 8.5.  You may concede a minute or two on your bike split, but if you run 10 minutes faster…