Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Basics

Below is a copy of "The Basics" page (written by Coach Mark Hadley) that used to be on EliteMarathning.com's website

Stress & Recover – The Base Unit
The base unit of my training philosophy is the one stress and recover cycle.  In the base unit (as illustrated below) we stress certain systems of the body and then allow it to recover, and when it has recovered it will become better adapted to the stress (fitter) than it was before.   

 
It is important to note that this principle has 2 important steps: 1) stress and 2) recover, and that one without the other does not accomplish the adaptation (increase in fitness) we are seeking.   
 
If you do not allow enough recovery between stress workouts you will not get the full super-compensation you are seeking. So to get the most from a stress and recover cycle, you must do the proper stress workout to work the fitness area you are seeking to improve, and then allow sufficient recovery afterwards so that the body can get the full fitness gain that the stress workout earned you. A very simple concept but one that many runners, from beginners to elites, struggle with consistently executing to its fullest. This base unit must be mastered in order for training to be as effective as it can be.
 
One complete stress and recover cycle is a base unit in our training. In general, I recommend the 2-4 day base unit for most elite marathoners and half marathoners.  A 3 day base unit being the most common of those; that is a stress workout followed by 2 days of easy/recovery runs. 

Day 1:  Stress Workout
Day 2:  Easy/Recovery Run(s)
Day 3:  Easy/Recovery Run(s)

Races or extra hard or long stress workouts may require additional recovery days. As a general rule we are always better off taking an extra recovery day to make sure we are recovered from the previous stress rather than cutting recovery too short that we don't get the supercompensation (adaptation) we earned in the stress workout. 
 
At its essence all good running training is just stacking one base unit on top of another in order to advance our adaptation and fitness in certain areas.  So it becomes imperative that we understand and master this base unit so we can successfully repeat it time after time in a manner that produces the greatest adaptations. 
 
The 5 Tenets of Training
Every good long term training philosophy needs some basic beliefs, or tenets, from which to anchor the training plan. These tenets will guide in general how we work towards our goals.   In my philosophy, the basic beliefs guiding our long term training are what I deem to be the 5 main tenets of training: consistency, capacity, frequency, mixture and passion.   
 
In order for us to realize our full potential as marathon runners, we must establish a balance between these five tenets, so that they work together in harmony as we will need each in order to reach our end goal. By balancing these tenets together in our training there is a synergy that can take us to a higher fitness level than any single tenet alone can.
 
Let’s talk about each of these 5 tenets in greater detail:
 
Tenet #1 - Consistency
Distance running (marathon running in particular) is primarily a conditioning sport. To a large extent the amount of success we will have in distance running depends on how good our conditioning is. 
 
Consistency – defined as  the uninterrupted stacking of base units - is the most effective way to improve on the runner’s level of conditioning, and it requires long term consistency to move their level of fitness to the point which they can fully maximize their potential as a distance runner.
 
 
 
The above chart shows the importance of consistency in building our maximum fitness level. The blue stair steps on the left represent 5 base units stacked on top of each other as would happen in a string of interrupted training. As an end result of the consistent training, our fitness level rose from the base up to Fitness Level 1.   The red broken stair steps on the right represent 5 base units executed with 2 small interruptions (one after base unit 2 and one after base unit 4). You will notice that with each break/interruption, our fitness begins to backslide as we loose some of the adaptations previously gained, and as a result a portion of the next base unit is wasted regaining lost fitness caused by the interruption. The end result of the red broken pattern of base units is a lower fitness yield – Fitness Level 2.   The cost of the interruptions in consistency in training was not only a lower fitness level, but also it required more time to accomplish as we had the time needed for the 5 base units plus the 2 interruptions.   Consistent, uninterrupted training yields higher fitness levels and does it quicker.
 
There are physiological systems in running, such as aerobic development, that take many years of consistent training to develop to their full potential. If these years of development are interrupted with inconsistency the process is stalled and full potential of those systems may never be reached, or at the very least will take far longer to achieve.   One major problem many distance runners experience is having to spend large blocks of training simply regaining past fitness due to extended time away from training, rather than advancing to new levels of fitness. 
 
Things that cause inconsistency, such as injury, illness, lack of motivation or goals, and an “off season” mentality, then need to be avoided as much as possible. This means balancing the demands of the other tenets so that consistency isn’t jeopardized.  
 
It is important to note that since consistency is a main tenet of my philosophy, that sustainability is also a key. We must approach our training in such a way that it is sustainable for long periods of time. In order to do this we must make sure we avoid any sustained deficiencies in recovery, in sleep, energy levels, nutrients, or any other area vital our ability to be consistent.
 
Tenet #2 - Capacity
Any talk on work capacity should probably begin with its foundation – the overload principle. This principle states that through a gradual increase in work load the body grows stronger as a result.

One major key to making the overload principle work in distance running is to build up our work capacity very gradually over time.   We are after a sustainable (remember our first tenet) increase in work capacity and if we build too quickly it will not be sustainable.
 
We should think of work capacity in terms of both quantity and quality of mileage and density of the quality. As we know 100 miles a week all done in easy moderate length runs is not the same as doing 100 miles a week that includes 2 quality workouts and a long run. So our work capacity is the mixture of quality and quantity. In my philosophy, we adopt a base unit and micro-cycle routine (discussed in the section on “training cycles”) which determines how frequently we do stress workouts and how frequently those stress workouts are quality focused workouts. So I will leave the discussion of quality for that section. But with quality being somewhat equal as established in our micro-cycles, that leaves the quantity component of our capacity.  
 
Given a fixed quality level, as a general rule the greater the quantity of work we can handle the better our potential performance level, up to a certain point. That certain point will be our own personal maximum effective mileage limit. What this maximum effective mileage limit will be for us will depend on many factors including, physiological make-up and lifestyle. For most athletes, especially elite marathoners, it will take many years to approach this maximum effective mileage limit.
 
We must balance the building up of our capacity with the other tenets and within the framework of our stress and recover principle.   What this build-up looks like then, is a slow build-up of the mileage we can handle during the recovery phase of stress and recover and still fully (or adequately) recover, and how much quantity we can handle in our stress workouts themselves. 
 
A major key to building up this quantity, in a sustainable way so that we do not break down and jeopardize our first tenet (consistency) is to build it up slowly and in a methodical manner.   I recommend doing this by adding a small amount to your quantity totals (maybe 4-8 miles in a week), once at the beginning of a new training cycle (16-26 weeks). This gives your body the whole training cycle to adapt to the increase and gain the majority of the benefits from it before increasing again. In this way you can gradually increase your mileage over time but do it in a sustainable way, thereby balancing it with our first tenet.
 
Once our maximum effective mileage is reached, our future capacity gains would be mainly in the area of quality – which we’ll discucss more in other sections.
 
 
Tenet #3 - Frequency
When talking about frequency in terms of training for distance running, I am referring to both the number of times you run in a given period of time and distribution of runs in that same time period. For example, if I am looking at frequency in terms of one 7 day week, which is a common measure, I may instruct an athlete to run a total of 6, 8, 10 or even 14 times in that 7 day period, depending on their background, current level of fitness and goals.

There are several reasons why frequency is a major tenet in my philosophy. Most importantly is the fact that our bodies adapt best to something that is done most frequently. There are certain adaptations that our bodies make to distance running that are short lived and if our frequency is low, then our bodies start to lose these adaptations between runs and we end up having to build them back up to where they were in our next run instead of advancing them.   Additionally during runs we get boosts of certain hormones and enzymes in our body that enhance fitness and/or recovery, the more often we run the more often we get these benefits.

It is also important to note that running is a very specific sport, in which we use certain muscles fibers at certain intensities and in certain ways.  Other exercises, while maybe good in general for increasing heart rate and general fitness or generally working muscle groups, will not specifically work the exact same muscle fibers in the exact same way as you do in running. This means they are somewhat poor substitutes for developing and training these muscles in the ways we need to use them in running. Running is still and always will be the best way to train for running.

While the scientists are still not 100% sure of the exact best timing of our runs to maximize the training stimulus, many runners and coaches have found, after decades of trial and error and circumstantial evidence, what seems to work best in various scenarios (i.e. mileage levels, stress workout frequency, etc.).

Most world class distance runners run 12-14 times per week. This appears to be consistently the gold standard and has remained so for decades. Some run less and some more, but the majority of elites eventually settle on this number as what works best for them. Typically this is done as 2 runs per day most days.

So I have generated some simple progression rules on frequency that guide how I train athletes with respect to this tenet to help them approach the gold standard as much as is appropriate for them. I have them step into the progression at whatever point is appropriate, given where they are at when I begin to coach or advise them. These rules and progression are as follows:

• Then add one day per week per training cycle until 7 days per week is achieved
• Once your are running 7 days per week and the duration of your average easy run reaches 60 minutes, then begin to add second runs into your schedule
• Add in 1 short (20-30 minute) secondary runs per training cycle until you reach 5-7 secondary runs per week.
• Increase the duration of the secondary and primary runs as is appropriate
Note: When adding a second run into a day, ideally the run should be 12 hours removed from the start of the last run and 12 hours before your next run.  This is not always possible, so I recommend shooting for that as a goal but at a minimum try and get at least 6-8 hours in-between the start of your 2 runs.

Pretty simple rules, just a gradual and incremental increase in frequency until you are running a maximum of 12-14 times per week, or stopping at whatever level is appropriate for the time and commitment you have.

Interestingly, if we take what we just discussed about frequency (specifically maintain short lived adaptations and increasing levels of hormones and enzymes) and apply it to our taper before goal races, we will see that we should not be decreasing the frequency of our runs during our tapers, but rather the duration.

At one point in the past I use to make what I now think is a mistake in pre-race taper, and have seen many others make the same potential error.  Often runners, who regularly run doubles, enact their taper in the week or two before their goal race by eliminating or reducing the number of their secondary runs. This reduces their mileage and in theory allows them to rest up for the big race.  But I suggest to you that this may be the wrong approach.  Because of the importance of frequency in hormone and enzyme production/activity, I believe the correct taper should be a reduction in the duration of runs rather than their frequency. That is to say we may be better off running 12-14 times (or whatever our number is in normal training) the week of a big race, but just for a decreased duration or intensity on each run to reduce our mileage. By doing this we allow our muscles to rest-up and top of glycogen levels but also keep our hormone and enzyme levels high, an ideal situation from which to go racing.
 
Tenet #4 – MixtureMixture is the various different workouts we do as runners, when we do them, how frequently do we do them, and how does this frequency change over time. This topic is the subject of countless books, articles and seminars. And true to form, I have my share of things to say on this subject as well, most of which I’ll save for the sections of this website on workouts and training cycles. 
 
Most coaches can talk and debate for hours or even days on theories and philosophies on workouts, what works and why and how to structure each.   I think this is the area of training that has progressed the furthest in the last 50 years. Although, I will say that I am constantly amazed to find certain principles and workouts that were done 40+ years ago are still spot on today, we just now better understand why and how to use them.
 
It takes a combination of physiological understanding, experience in application and the art or feel of knowing how to and when to apply each for that individual, in order to obtain the best results from your mixture of work. 
 
I’ll get into this subject in great detail when I talk about our training cycles and workout types in other sections, but here are a few basics I want to convey early on and often as they are keys in my philosophy.
 
Runners are very similar to chains in that they are only as strong as their weakest link, and if any area is ignored for significant periods of time it will rust and weaken and hold back the rest of the chain. Now that maybe an over simplification, but the concept holds true. In order to realize our potential and continue our forward progression as runners we need to include all facets of work in our training on a regular basis. So what we change is the frequency in which we work on each area, not if we work on it.  All runners will have strengths and weaknesses, and a weakness is not an excuse to not work in that area, but rather a cry for work. And our strengths are not prompts for exclusivity, but rather tools used to help areas of weakness and opportunities to promote growth.   As I said earlier, we’ll get into all this in more detail in other sections.

Tenet #5 - Passion!
Passion:  A deep desire and love of the sport to the point that you decide to do your very best and develop the talent you have for it.  This passion requires that you maintain a positive attitude about training and racing because running is seen as a great gift and as such it is a privilege to do no matter the outcome of the run, workout or race.

This passion, by its very definition, requires us to also approach training in a smart and disciplined manner, as well as an enthusiastic one, because it will take smart training coupled with hard training to reach our full potential.   This means while enthusiastic about workouts and working hard, we must balance that enthusiasm in order to make sure we adhere to the other tenets of training, because ultimately we must have all 5 tenets working together in unison in order to realize its full synergy.  

Thing we need to know about this passion we seek:
 
  • Passion is part feeling and part conscious decision – we have to want it (the easy part) AND have to make the conscious decision to embrace it and make it happen (the hard part).
  • If it is not fed and safe guarded, passion can be diminished or even be extinguished and if not kept in check it can burn too high and burn out.  So the passion we seek avoids the extreme highs and lows and instead steadily and resolutely marches forward towards its goal.
  • The passion we seek is a strong burning but resolute flame, the kind that can weather the storms that will surely come from time to time, the one that will slowly forge our bodies and minds in to rock hard manifestations of distance running prowess over months and years of work.
  • When tough conditions present themselves, such as inhospitable weather or challenging courses, this passion embraces the challenge before it and see it as an opportunity to grow, harden itself and improve.  Its thoughts are never “how do I survive this” but rather “how do I conquer it”. 
  • Passion is an attitude that permeates all aspects of our training on a daily basis, not just when we get ourselves psyched up.  It is positive, it is resolute, and it is unwavering. Ups and downs in training do not affect its strength or mission. 
  • If we train with passion we have no need to brag or be obnoxious on race day to try and psych ourselves up, instead we arrive on the start line with a calm confidence, knowing we are ready for the task at hand.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this very helpful post!

    ReplyDelete