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My Training Philosophy

I wanted to try to describe and go over my philosophy of training.  Sometimes athletes or other runners ask.  Sometimes I ask myself.  I think generally, after a certain period of time. I think we often come to many of the same conclusions.  With that said I do have a couple of opinions that are maybe somewhat unique. 

As far as philosophies go, my biggest one is to coach the athlete you’re working with, including if that’s yourself.  Every runner is different and it’s incredibly helpful to use all your previous knowledge and experience, or to tap into your wealth of exercise science, but many runners are truly unique.  I can tell you a ton of stories of people executing strange and very different training plans that just worked really well for them, and they had a ton of success.  So first and foremost my philosophy is to listen and adapt to each specific person.  

The next two to three things are probably just as equally important.  Those would be utilizing the total training load, creating polarity in training, and some type of principle of relative speed. Let’s talk about all of em real quick.

First is training load; total number of time, minutes, miles or however you track your week (hopefully time).  Not incredibly complicated, but we almost all know that we can really manipulate fitness by changing the total training volume.  Experienced runners eventually start to know certain points and thresholds. Example: Someone might know that over 10 hours is where injuries start to pop up for them so they keep things around 9 and choose to add in cross training or strength instead of more minutes of running.  The key is to slowly and safely maneuver the total training time until we find the right amounts that work.  We also have to keep in mind how different speeds, life stress, and other forms of training impact our training weeks.

A gross generalization is that often, when working with newer athletes we can see an increase in fitness by just running a little more. 

Next is Polarity.  Might be my favorite one and in my completely biased opinion, the most important.  Polarity is defined as the state of having two opposites or opposite tendencies;  The north and south poles, Positive and Negative, and for us Easy and Hard, or Faster and Slower.

Balance in the training philosophy particularly when it comes to polarity
Balance in the Force

Probably the number one thing we see when working with a new runner is that they often run everything at the same effort.  Not always the same pace but often a similar effort.  That effort is usually best described, by me, as kind of hard, and if I’m feeling good it's really hard.  Lots of coaches, running books, and other runners describe this as the grey zone. The gray zone is often at the bottom end of the aerobic threshold.  It regularly is as hard aerobically and cardiovascularly and true threshold work but isn’t fast enough to get the high end aerobic or the super important muscular system the type of stimulus we really want for the best adaptations.  The worst part is that running a lot in the grey zone is just as tiring and brings a similar amount of fatigue as true high end aerobic threshold work, without all of the benefits.  So it’s common to see folks working really hard training this way without big improvements or great racing results.  In comes polarity.  We slow down the easy days to get out of that low end aerobic threshold zone.  This gives us fewer waste products built up, (sometimes referred to as lactic acid) and leaves us feeling fresher and more energized for the next run.  We then insert some true harder days with specific targeted zones or paces.  This polarity, widening the gap between our easy and hard days, is foundational to my philosophy for training.

Last one, okay maybe I lied they’re all my favorite, is relative speed.  This is referring to what we do on those harder, faster days.  This one is so simple and basic you might think it would be silly to mention it, but running training goes through phases and fads and as weird as it is this point needs to be addressed.  

When I say relative speed I’m referring to speedwork doing relative to the speed you’re trying to race at.  If you’re trying to break 3 hours in the marathon, 6:50 pace, doing work faster than 6:50 pace will help you be able to run more miles at 6:50 pace.  The same applies to strength.  If you want to lift 20 pounds as much as possible, lifting 30 pounds will make lifting 20 pounds easier.  It does not directly apply to lifting 10 pounds a lot and hoping lifting 20 pounds will become easier.

Now that was such an elementary set of sentences you might be confused to what’s my point.  Well there has been more and more discourse on how the answer to all of our running problems is SLOW RUNNING.  Zone 1, Zone 2, Maffetone, Low Hr, etc. etc. All of those things are important for the lower side of our training polarity, but they in no way address the other side.  I see people constantly talking about, and giving advice to runners, to just ‘build a base’, run super slow, maybe even walk, for months and months and months, and eventually your HR will lower.  This is a great way to get aerobically efficient, your HR will eventually lower, BUT it is not the best nor most efficient path to get to where you want to go.  Running slow won’t help you get ready to race.  Zone 1 training won’t magically make threshold work way faster and solve all of your running problems. No, we need a balanced training profile.  You can very easily add in small doses of threshold work or relative speed in the early stages while simultaneously keeping the bulk of training focused on lower zone easy days.  I guarantee you’ll get better results.

In the beginning we might need very little or almost no relative speedwork at all. That Zone 1-2 training will carry us a long way in the early stages of training.  But at a point, faster running becomes one of the most effective ways to improve performance.  The same way keeping essay days in those lower zones is important.  We have to fight the urge to lean too hard one way or the other on the polarity matrix.

Over emphasizing the importance of any training aspect gets us out of balance and will slow our improvement down. 

At the end it comes down to coaching each person individually.  We can use a philosophy or framework to guide things, but if we’re not present and adapting to the dynamic human we’re working with, we’re doing ourselves and the people we work with a big disservice.

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