Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Marathon Training: Seeing The Forest For The Trees

A well designed plan, executed
with consistency and purpose,
places an athlete in the best
position for success.
"To see the big picture, get out of the dark valleys, climb to the sunny summits."  ~Mehmet Murat Ildan

In the midst of a 16-20 week marathon training plan it's easy for an athlete to lose sight of the big picture.  Every day seems to be precisely orchestrated with minute details of distance, time, and pace.  Coupled with that are the endless emotional highs and lows of training hits and misses.  While it's true that athletes need to commit their full attention to making the most of every training opportunity, it is helpful to understand that a larger picture with a longer view does exist.  

The Daily Grind (aka. The Trees)
Endurance athletes are asked to focus on what's directly in front of them, taking on today's training challenge with full attention and commitment.  It is only then that the athlete optimizes the time spent.  Every training unit has a prescribed intensity and duration.  This is known as training volume.  Training stress is the daily accumulated volume of exercise (both endurance and strength training).  It's important to note that it includes training units that are successfully completed and those that are not.  

The Big Picture (aka. The Forest)
Endurance coaches are keenly interested in both the objective execution and subjective analysis of individual training units.  Both the objectivity (data) and subjectivity (feelings) help the coach to understand how the athlete is tolerating the training stress.  It can never be predicted, with any acceptable degree of certainty, how an athlete will handle a larger training cycle at the outset.  The flexibility to adjust a training plan from day to day, week to week, and month to month is the hallmark of effective athlete-coach communication and engagement.  

Ultimately the athlete-coach relationship results in the improvement of sport-specific fitness.  Fitness is the result of accumulated training stress over a period of months.  A properly designed plan will gradually place increasing training stress on an athlete to stimulate sport-specific accommodation.  Fatigue is a by-product of training stress and represents the impact of the last few weeks of training.  The difference between fitness and fatigue is referred to as form and describes an athlete's readiness to perform optimally.  During periods of advancing training stress, it's expected that an athlete will carry more fatigue than fitness.  This is represented by prolonged periods of negative form values and subjective reports of tiredness from an athlete.  Both are monitored closely by an endurance coach.

With one eye on the present, effective endurance coaches look ahead to the apex of training and the subsequent taper to assure that the athlete has reached adequate levels of fitness and then successfully shed fatigue while mitigating losses in fitness to arrive at race day in optimal form.  The specifics of the apex and taper help the athlete and coach set reasonable performance goals.  

While much planning, preparation, and focus is rightfully given to race day, endurance coaches must also see and plan beyond the event.  This includes immediate and remote recovery practices (nutritional and physical) as well as training logistics (time away from running and off-seasons).  Taken together, this overall training plan results in both readiness to perform in the short-term and long term sustainability of performance.

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