A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Two Choices for Training; Force, or Gentle Influence?

There seems to be two ways to solve things. In every single issue I can think of, that seems to be the case.

The first way to solve issues involves a lot of force. Force does work, up to a certain extent, and the results are almost immediate, there there always seems to be some unintended consequences in the long term though, and over time, these unintended consequences tend to undo the initial results and most of the time makes the problem worse. An example would be taxes a person pays for something. A tax most definitely forces people to pay for a certain project. And when governments issue a new tax, the results are usually immediate, with new money flowing into the taxing authority's coffers.

The problem is, taxes deprive the people of money they can use to better themselves and their businesses, can even shut businesses down, and destroy people's budgets. Over time, if enough people shut down their businesses because the tax prevents them from turning in profits that could better their business, the incoming money dries up, and the taxing authority takes in a lot less money. It's basically killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

The second way to solve issues involves using as little force as possible, but using influence to gently steer things in the right way. This might involve a lot of patience, and a lot of time, but if done right, will yield tremendous results, but without the consequences of the method of force.

Let's go back to this issue with taxes again. Let's say that instead of taxing people to force them to give money to a project, you instead get the word out that this so-and-so project will maybe save lives, or maybe improve the lives of people in a certain area, or whatever good cause and, instead of levying taxes on people, ask them to donate some money for that cause. Most people have very good hearts and are eager to give some money to the cause, provided that the cause was just. Plus, each person would be free to donate a portion of the money that will not damage their livelihoods or businesses. These people will still be enjoying their profits over time to keep giving to this cause without the money drying up. There would be definitely no consequences here. The golden goose would still be alive, laying those golden eggs for a long time.

Anyway, I'm not getting into politics here, I just want to set some examples up because this is exactly true when it comes to training for races also, from 5k races all the way up to 100 mile ultramarathons, and triathlons too. It would be great to understand that you always have that decision to make when approaching your race season.

The past approach, and the approach that is still common today, is the "no pain, no gain" attitude. Now granted, we have gone a long way from the bad old days of running where the two speeds were "fast and faster". Periodization is definitely a more rational approach when we develop our training plans for race season.

But we have to go farther than periodization. A LOT farther.

Using the two methods above, the first approach, force, is still in use today, and STILL used by a lot of coaches also. The "force" method is basically assigning about 3-4 hard training workout per week, stressing THOSE as the way to improve your speed and distance.



In other words, these athletes and coaches are stressing and leading with their hard workouts first, then just taking either a day off or maybe a few measly miles for recovery on their off day of periodization.

Oh, it definitely works, of course. But the percentage of hard workouts is so high and the stress is so great that there is a HUGE chance of getting injured with this method. Essentially forcing your body to go hard or the majority of your weekly mileage over a lot of time can lead to breakdown, stress, and, given enough time, permanent injury. Over a decade or so, these people tend to disappear from the racing scene entirely, all broken down, injured, and mentally burned out.

The second method, the method I advocate, uses gentle nudging and influence to achieve goals. It involves stressing not the hard paced training, but the easy paced training. Yep, the "junk" miles that some people complain about.


This type of periodization plan is much different than the "force" one above. Most weeks would only involve 1-2 hard training days for each discipline. For example, an athlete would do 5 hard paced miles during one day, but the following day, he would do 8 very easy paced miles. The percentage of easy miles is MUCH GREATER than those of the hard paced miles.

"But Pete," I usually hear people say, "how can 8 miles be considered 'easy'?"

Those athletes who ask that question obviously come from the fabric that every workout is supposed to be hard, and that one is supposed to be tired after every workout. This myth *has* to be dispelled, and it is the one issue that I find myself taking the most time trying to make the athletes unlearn.

For running, an easy pace is supposed to be minimally 90 seconds per mile slower than your hard aerobic pace, and optimally 2 minutes per mile slower.

Athletes who try this new easy pace come back to me and say that it feels very slow.

"Yep, it's supposed to be slow", I respond. "How did you feel at the end of the run?"

"Not tired at all."

"Bingo", I say.

The athlete did 8 miles and he didn't break a sweat. That's PERFECT for building weekly mileage.

Now here's the kicker. Athletes who use this method for over 3 months have seen their easy pace get a lot faster. I've had one athlete go down from a 10:30 minute/mile pace to a 9:00 min/mile pace in that amount of time. This is the "no-sweat", relaxed conversational pace with no sign of tiredness at the end of the training.

What truly surprises these athletes is that they actually found out that their hard pace went along for the ride as well and got faster too! I've had athletes go to races, not expecting much, actually get PRs in their race and even make the podium for their age group.

So, it's as simple as this. In training, you can either stress your hard pace, or you can stress your easy pace. Both methods will improve your fitness. One is very stressful and can lead to injuries and mental burnout. The other method is more relaxing, less impactful, and in the long term, not subject to any injuries at all.

So which do you prefer?

If you want to do well every single year, yet keep running well into your old age, I think the choice is clear.


P.S. For all you astrologers out there that believe in signs, I was born as a "Cancer", which is a Water sign. Water people tend to use more influence than force to get their way. We don't see immediate results, but we eventually do get our way over several months or years! Take a look at the Grand Canyon; Water might not seem as tough when compared to Earth, but SOMETHING carved that big hole in Arizona over millions of years! I would definitely say that the winner is the Colorado River at the bottom of that canyon. :-)


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