Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Get the best results from your endurance training

Years ago I ran a lot. I didn’t really have a goal in mind other than enjoyment. I’d head out on a run & they usually ended up being quite long. Just kinda running for the sake of running. Weekly mileage topped off at 40miles, all the same pace. This was a year round plan with very little variation. Nothing wrong with that for fun & fitness.

Then I started training for my first sprint triathlon. I now had a goal that helped me change the way I exercised. I was now “in training.” The number of workouts I did per week stayed the same but I cut mileage at least in half, each one now having a purpose. One or two were for speed, one would be longer. I added short bikes & swims to reflect the sprint distance race.

To my surprise I dropped two pant sizes & got ultra fit. I understand now why but at the time I was just surprised that doing less gave me more.
Me before a big race
I have athletes ask me about this all the time. How to train? How much, how often, how long...

Here’s a breakdown of how to plan training to get the best results.

  1.  Plan the races you’re doing labeling them as A, B or C (A top priority to peak for, C is like a training session). Believe me if you haven’t thought of this you aren’t alone.

  2.  Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) for said race – let’s stick with the A race from here.

-As you plan your goals draw in what level you’re starting from – beginner, intermediate or advanced. 

-Do you want to just finish & create a lifestyle or take it to the next level & have some pace goals? 
-Take into consideration how many weeks you have (increase slowly is best). 
-Consider your age, fitness level, the current volume (frequency x duration), duration of your race & strengths/limiters.
-What athletic background is, what other commitments you have & how much support you have.

Think it through & be specific.
Our athletes after finishing the Honolulu Marathon

3.  Periodization. Think of planning in terms of blocks going from building a base to specific skills to peaking for competition. The base phase (or general prep) works on gaining endurance, muscle memory & limiter work. For example working on swim technique, getting used to being on the bike over longer distances, endurance vs speed. For beginners this is the biggest block of your season.

    Then move on to adding more race specifics (specific prep) like bricks, hills & speedwork etc. Continued limiter training & easing into strengths work.

    The last few weeks before tapering is the competition phase. You’ll do more higher intensity work plus race day readiness sessions, maybe a short practice race. This is where you peak for optimal performance.

    Planning your general prep, specific prep & competition phases sets you up for the what comes next...

4.  Decide the volume of training (frequency x duration) – what’s your max volume just before you taper for the A race, and what’s your initial volume of training. Then fill in the weeks in between.

So where DO you start with volume planning? Good question. 

    1.Think key (priority) & non key (optional) sessions.

Key Training Sessions - At a minimum for each discipline, athletes should have one key higher intensity training session and a key endurance session per discipline per week (microcycle). Start with the volume you’re doing now & increase through the season depending on your race distance.

You may find this minimum is enough for your body to elicit adaption for your goals. Anything more & your body starts showing signs of over training. If so hold here no matter what the next guy is doing. If you’re a beginner, hold here. You will see results with this if each workout has a purpose. In this scenario if do more you risk over training and won’t see a positive response. The workouts will suffer, you’ll end up with mediocre sessions & in turn have mediocre results.

Maybe your body can do more & is adapting like crazy. Ok, slowly add in some non key sessions. You can work on your limiters or strengths: limiters in base/specific prep phase, strengths in competition. Work on getting more time in the saddle, doing swim drills or add a mid distance run etc. Your coach can help figure this out. 

I think the question of how much volume confusing a lot of athletes. How do you know if you can do more? I'll be writing more on this in future posts.

     2. Keep in mind our bodies respond to “loading” then “unloading.” This is a balance of training then resting to allow for gains. If you train hard all the time with little to no rest, the potential will never be fulfilled. The body strengthens during rest, not during work so give it time to make those gains. This can be a struggle. It's counterintuitive to take time off but science trumps logic here.

Science says as least one day recovery per week is necessary. Incorporating a full week of recovery during training season is also a good idea, especially when training hard for a big goal.

Struggling with comparison? Keep your perspective. Maybe you’re training for your second sprint while they’re training for their fifteenth. The more advanced athlete that’s training is obviously going to have more intense workouts & most likely can handle a higher volume.  

Like I mentioned before there’s also a difference in how much training an athlete’s body is going to respond to. My husband & I can have the same race, same goal yet his body responds to way more volume than me. Mine starts breaking down long before his. I've learned to train the way I need to in order to get results. This comes with experience, so learn your body & track your metrics. 

We see so many people getting confused and I can understand why. It can be really confusing! Hopefully this has helped give you some direction. Happy training!