Note: To me coaching is all about stewardship, using the knowledge and experience I have gained over 40 years as a runner, and 10 years as a coach, to help others pursue their running goals. So rather than publishing a book you have to pay for, I am publishing it here on my blog, free for all (runners and coaches alike) to read and enjoy, maybe learn something from it, or potentially have it prompt you to look at something from a slightly different viewpoint. If any of those happen, mission accomplished.
Chapter 1: The 5 Tenets of Training
When it comes to studying any topic, I have found it is very helpful to break it down into its elemental parts and understand how they fit together in order to make up the whole. When you do this it helps you understand what the key drivers are, the things that make other things happen and determine the outcome. When I first got into coaching this was one of the first things I did.
I have a long background in the sport of distance running, having started running road races and track meets as a grade school kid back in western North Carolina, and became obsessed with the sport at an early age. I checked out and read and re-read almost every book on the sport that was available at the Henderson County Public Library as a kid. From Lydiard, to Fixx, to Henderson, to Moore, if you had written about running back in those days I probably have read and re-read your stuff. This obsession continued on through high school and then into college where I ran track and cross country for the University of Mississippi. I would spend hours sitting around talking running and training with friends and teammates who were almost as obsessed with the sport as I was. Post collegiately I continued to run in road races and with the advent of the internet age more and more information became available, which I eagerly devoured. So when, in my 30’s, I started getting into the coaching side of the sport I had almost 3 decades of experience, reading and studying to draw from.
I added to this background in running, the training I gained in analysis during my work as a business and financial analyst in the corporate world over my first 15 years post college. I was trained and became experienced in the art of tearing down a business into its elemental parts so that I could understand how it works, what the key drivers were, and then build up a model of that company so that management could forecast results and run “what if” scenarios through it to see how various factors would affect outcomes.
So as I went into coaching, I combined my experience and knowledge in the sport with the analytical skills I had learned in the corporate world. One of the first things I did was sit down and determine what were the key drivers of training for distance running. What were the things that we could control that would ultimately determined how successful we were in our training. This first chapter is about what I found, what I believe to be the “5 Tenets of Training” for distance running, as it has shaped how I approach training runners for the sport.
My 5 tenets of training for distance running are:
Each of these 5 tenets are critical in our training and development as distance runners, but they are all interconnected. So our degree of success will lay not just in how well we develop any one tenet, but how well we balance and raise our game in all 5 tenets together.
Let's take a look at each tenet in a little more depth:
Distance running is a fitness sport in which we have to slowly and methodically build up our fitness and adaptations to the sport over time. Consistency then is a tenet in our training because the more consistent we can be in your training, the higher we can raise our fitness level. In Chapter 2 we will discuss the Principle of Stress and Recover which will underscore in more detail the importance of consistency in building fitness.
Interruptions in our training, even minor ones, at a minimum delay our fitness build-up, and when long enough or frequent enough, lead to a backslide in fitness and physical adaptations. When we experience an interruption in training, not only do we lose that time associated with the interruptions, we also lose the time associated to build back the fitness and adaptations we lost during the interruption. So if we lose 2 weeks of training due to an unexpected trip, our cost is not just those 2 weeks but those 2 weeks plus whatever time it will take to build back up the fitness or adaptations we lost during those 2 weeks. Often interruptions can cause a loss of twice as much time as the actual interruption lasts.
So a major focus in our training needs to be on consistency so that our fitness has a chance to build and progress as much as possible during our training cycle.
Capacity refers to the work capacity we build up in training. It is the amount of work we can do consistently in training and is made up of both a quality and quantity component. The numbers of miles we cover in a normal training week can be a good gauge as to the quantity aspects of work capacity and the number of stress (“hard”) workouts we can do per week can be a good judge of our quality density component of our work capacity.
Simply put, our work capacity is a major tenet of our training because the more work we can handle on a consistent basis, the more we can accomplish; the more fitness we can build and the greater the adaptations we can elicit from our training.
A major focus on our training then will be on building up or maintaining our work capacity so that we get the most fitness gains possible in our training cycle.
Frequency refers to the number of times that we run during a given period of time. Every time we go for a run of 20 minutes or more our body responds by releasing certain enzymes and hormones that help the body adapt to running and improve our cardiovascular fitness. To a certain extent the more often we run the better adapted to running our bodies become. This tenet has to be balanced with the need for runs lasting for longer durations in order to build endurance, and stamina and other specific fitness points, but to a certain point the more we can increase the frequency of our runs within our training mix, the better adapted to running and fitter we can become. I have established some basic rules for when and how to add additional runs into your regular training schedule and will go over those in Chapter 4.
Mixture refers to the stress (“hard”) workouts we do in our training, when do we do them, and how do we structure and sequence those workouts to build our fitness best. This is the “sexy” part of training that most books and article get written about and will be discussed at length in later chapters in this book.
The major focus of Mixture is determining what do we need to do to get the most out of our training (i.e what are the demands of our goal race) and how best to structure our workouts and training to accomplish that.
Mixture is a major tenet in our training because it determines, to a large extent, how well we use the other tenets to build up our fitness.
Passion is our continued desire to train and chase our goals. Passion is a major tenet in our training because it provides us with the motivation and fire to undertake all of the physical and mental components of training.
We cannot undertake training beyond what our passion will allow us to do or it will not last, so our passion needs to be monitored, nurtured and safeguarded as we train.
Synergy Of the 5 Tenets
How successful our training is will depend in large part on how well we balance all 5 Tenets of Training together. We should never focus solely or heavily of one tenet at the expense of the other tenets, but rather seek to balance and build up all aspects together. There is a very real synergy that comes from balancing all 5 tenets together in your training.
All of the tenets are interconnected and so when balanced together they help raise each other up and provide more from training. Being consistent in training makes it easier to build up our capacity and frequency and get the most out of our workout mixture. Building our work capacity gives us more to work with and helps us get more out of our workout mixture and provides more room for increased frequency. An increase in frequency allows us to build more capacity and gives us more opportunities to enact our desired workout mixture. Passion provides the motivation and fire to run consistently, and build our capacity and to run frequently and do all of the needed mixtures of workout to accomplish our goals.
If we let a focus on one component get out of alignment with the others it can jeopardize the synergy and cause the whole thing to come grinding to a halt. For example, if we try and increase capacity or frequency too quickly and breakdown we jeopardize our consistency. Or by focusing too much on building the quantity component of our work capacity we might jeopardize the right mixture we need to continue to improve. Or if we push forward too far in capacity and frequency, we may extend ourselves too far and jeopardize our passion to want to train.
Only the careful balance of these 5 tenets will produce the optimal results we are seeking, where we get the most out of the time and energy we have to put into our training. And ultimately this is what this book is about, how to find and utilize that optimal balance for each of us.
In the corporate world I worked regularly with a concept called the “scorecard” in which we would look at all the major drivers of our business and we would compare our practices and procedures in that area to the best practices and procedures of all best businesses in our industry. This helped us determine areas for improvement and growth, and where we could go first for the most immediate improvements.
So when I entered the world of coaching and had established the 5 Tenets of Training, I brought this “scorecard” concept with me and started to use it determine what components of the runner’s training where in most need to improvement.
For the first 4 tenets; consistency, capacity, frequency and mixture, I was able to develop a scorecard that graded their training on a scale of between 1 and 10 for each tenet, with 1 being what a brand new runner might be doing and with 10 being the best practices of the top runners in the world. This would allow me to give a score to each runner I worked with in each of these 4 tenets to see where their weaknesses may be and to help plan on how or if to boost each area during their training.
The fifth tenet, passion, is a little more subjective so hard to put a hard number on. So in regards to this tenet it is important to understand where running and running goals fits in that person’s life and how important and motivated they are to reach those goals. Then this would be taken into consideration in designing their training, being careful not to build training past what they might have a passion to maintain.
As you go through the process of looking at yourself, or a runner you coach, in terms of these 5 tenets and where they stand on each, it is important to remember that each runner will have certain useful maximums in each tenet. A useful maximum is simply the most a runner can realistically do in that tenets because of personal, life or other imposed ceilings. These useful maximums can and often do change over time. These maximums are not good or bad, they just are, and it is important to understand them as you design training programs. If a runner only has the time in their work/life schedule to run 5 times per week, it does no good to try and schedule 7 runs. If they only have the energy to run 50 miles a week, it is counter-productive to try and push them to run 70 miles a week.
One of the first steps I take with a runner I start to work with is having them fill out a questionnaire and then have a phone call with them so that I can better understand not only where they are in each tenet of training but where does running and their goals fit into their life, and what useful maximums may exist. This is important to flesh out and consider these before you can design the best program for them. It also fosters the conversation on those limitations and how or if they will impact the runner’s ability to reach their goals in the sport.