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.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Don't Ever Be Routine With Your Training!

Last week I was talking to a triathlete about training.

He was telling me that every Wednesday, he does his longest swim of the week, a 1500 meter set, in which he tries to beat his time from a week before.


I nodded, but also asked if if it would be better to maybe do some shorter, more intense sets on this particular Wednesday instead.

"Oh, no; are you kidding me? Wednesday is always my long distance set. I cannot change that."

I then explained to him about the folly of a routine like that, and the mental burnout and frustration that might follow once he couldn't beat his time for several straight Wednesdays.

The guy wouldn't have it. Oh well, some people are destined to fail all the time.

I hope it's not you who are like this. If this sounds like you, you really have to change your training up frequently.

And please keep an open mind on this, because this can mean the difference between staying in the sport, or leaving the sport due to injury or mental burnout.

The reason why I'm bringing this topic up is because of the training I did this year, which was quite extraordinary.

I've been training for the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning, something that both excites and scares the bejeebers out of me (click the link to see why!). A huge undertaking like this deserves a very elaborate training plan. All this hard work ends with a long 30+ run this Saturday with friends on the Appalachian Trail.

Next week, I start my taper. Whew!

I've already started doing a bit of a debriefing on the training that I did that got me to this point of time. As of right now, I'm about 177 pounds, 8.5% body fat (at least the scale told me this), and have logged many miles on the trails, on the bike, and in the water since I started the training this year. I've also reformed my diet. I still cannot believe that I succeeded in changing my diet for the better, but it's been done!

Looking back at my training, there is one key thing that stands out with the schedule, and that is that ALL of my weeks look different. Different in terms of what days my long training happens, different in terms of where I train, different in terms of what the highlights of each week is.

My trail run on Wednesday night on one week may be a trail run on Monday night the next week. My long run that I did on Saturday one week might be done on Sunday the next week. And, for summer, my open water swim on Tuesday last week will be done on Sunday this week.

And that's indeed the best thing that I always do when I design plans for myself and for other people.


The idea of settling into a weekly "routine" provides a bit of comfort to a lot of people. One person might meet others for lunch every Tuesday at noon, and others will attend a spinning class each Thursday night. There is a comfort knowing that their "schedule" has already been made without putting in the effort to look at it.

Others are hopelessly locked into a routine. Most people work from 9-5 on Monday through Friday while some are locked into overnight jobs. Students are locked into a weekly schedule at college at the same times. So sometimes keeping a routine is beyond control.

Routines might be a way to keep people in their comfort zone, but remember that most of you athletes want to excel in your races, right?

That means getting out of your comfort zone. And therefore out of a set routine.


Routines feel safe to have, but they definitely do not really put excitement in your life. Think about it, why do people have to vacation from time to time, even if it means just taking off from work? On its most basic level, a vacation is an *interruption* of your normal routine, and that is why people look forward to it. It provides the excitement that your normal routine cannot provide, a chance to be a bit rebellious from that non-stop boring weekly pattern of your weekly agenda.

Even if a vacation is just sitting on a beach and doing nothing, you'll remember it as a highlight because it is not a part of your regular routine!


 At the end of the year, when people reflect on what they did the past year, it's those vacations that are easy to remember, not some boring day at work, right? And as an athlete you will always remember the races you did also. A race is pretty much a break from the normal Sunday morning run with the group and thus a break in your routine, right?

And that is why I try to break routines when developing my training plans for me and my athletes each week. To define each week differently makes it really tough on me as a coach because I basically have to start each week from scratch. I do have a long-term spreadsheet for me and each of my athletes designed to provide me with a general agenda where we ought to be during a particular stretch of the season, but as far as day-to-day developing of training plans, I start with a blank sheet of paper in front of me and go from there.

Looking back at my own schedule, I remember each week as clearly as the one before it. "Oh, this was the week where I did two 15 mile loops of the Staten Island Greenbelt in the rain", "oh, this is where I went hard on the trails in Wolfes Pond Park, that was a great run", "oh, that was the Wednesday where I went to NJ and did a very tough windy 60 mile ride through Jamesburg, wow were the winds tough!"

I also remember each group runs with the NY Trail and Ultra Meetup, the "5 Bridges Run" run in Manhattan with the NY Flyers, the group mountain repeats overnight at Mt. Beacon with some of the area's best ultrarunners, the crazy Leatherman's Loop Run with the Leatherman Harriers, and recently the sweltering 34 miles on the D&R Canal Towpath with the Raritan Valley Road Runners.

There were so many highlights to this year's training and so much excitement to be had this year looking forward to the special training done each week that I didn't actually mind the hard work that I did.

In fact, at this point of time, I'm kind of bummed that I have to let it up and start my taper next week!

This is the result of getting out of a set routine every week. It's definitely tougher because you have to make up a different schedule each week, but the rewards are worth it! No boredom with the training whatsoever! No mental burnout and a lot of highlights when looking back at the training.

And the excitement leads to better training and better results in races!

And this is the challenge I give to all you athletes out there. Break your routine. Don't do a long run every Sunday because you're compelled to. Don't maintain a running "streak" because you feel like you "have to". That's just plain stupid on your part and evidence that you are not giving your training much thought at all. When planning your week next week, throw in some training on an odd time that you've never done before. Do your long run in the early morning of a weekday instead of on a Sunday when you usually do it. Make your tempo run on a Thursday instead of doing your regular speed routine on a Tuesday. 

A little night trail running is quite different from most normal training routines. Get out there and give it a try!

And, by all means, run in a totally different area when you get the chance. It'll throw some excitement into your weekly training and will be the one that you will actually look forward to as it approaches.

Hmmm, this doesn't look like the Staten Island Greenbelt. And that is definitely not Moses Mountain in the distance!


I know most of you cannot change your work hours or your hours with the family, but you can always change up your fitness schedule from week to week. Don't mind the extra work in setting up the schedule; you'll be compensated with more fulfilling and exciting fitness life. Trust me, it works!

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