In the days since my flight to Dallas I have been replaying the conversation I had with the passenger next to me over and over.
An elite marathoner in the 1970’s with a PR of 2:19 – he certainly had the pedigree and accomplishment(s) to back up his philosophies on coaching and training. We talked about our favorite type of workouts. We covered the change in equipment, specifically running shoes and GPS watches. We shared stories about the moment an athlete “breaks through” to a new level and how it can unlock a much more confident runner catapulting him or her to new heights.
We also talked about managing disappointment from a race that does not go according to plan or bouncing back from a workout where you more or less fall flat. How the delicate psyche of a distance runner can take weeks and weeks to harden, but only an off day or off race to crush.
Each of the topics we spoke about are worthy of a full discussion here on Run for Dom. And that is exactly what we will do over the next week or two. Sharing insight and experiences from one of the top marathoners of his generation filtered through me his new acquaintance and friend.
As the conversation meandered from topic to topic there was one common thread that seemed to weave its way back into our conversation repeatedly.
Consistency in approach, consistency in your training, consistency in your effort, consistency in life.
It sounds simple enough, so “no-brainer”, but its basic tenet escapes many an athlete and individual.
When talking about consistent training there are two fundamental areas where this needs to apply.
1. A long-range view of your training program.
2. Injury prevention/avoidance.
What I mean by a long-range view of your training program is that each day needs to have a specific purpose. As my friend put it to me, “You should start with your goal race several months out and work backwards to today. Everything you do should be about that date circled on your calendar where you are hoping to peak and give your best effort. Distractions along the way will detract from that performance.”
Ever since 2008 when I chose the Pittsburgh Marathon in the spring of 2009 as my attempt at running a “Boston Time” or sub 3:20 marathon, I have had a long-range training plan in place. Today my current training plan stretches through Sunday October 28, 2012 – Ironman 70.3
June, July, August, September and October are planned out and defined. Rest days and recovery workouts are plotted strategically. Hard days, long runs, hill work, long rides, swim workouts in the pool, open water swims, tune-up triathlons and running races to keep me sharp – all in place for the next four months.
There is no “decision” to make when I hop out of bed in the morning. I KNOW what I need to do and weather or illness or injury permitting – we are going to go out and execute that plan. If a particular workout does not go perfectly I try very, very hard not to dwell on it. I am preparing to “RACE”, I am not “RACING” my training plan.
There is a huge difference between the two. There is a place for running without a watch. There is a place for just running, swimming or cycling because you love it and you do it at whatever pace “feels good” on that particular day. It is those workouts that allow you to push HARD on your HARD days and not burn out.
We spoke about the mistake that athletes make when they feel like they have to “make-up for” missed workouts.
If a workout needs to be skipped because life, work, injury, illness or something else gets in the way – then it is simply that. A missed workout.
It needs to have a line drawn through it and be moved on from – there is no making up those miles. Now a minor shift in priorities, such as today where Landry needed a little extra sleep which put us behind our schedule I moved my hill repeat session to Friday and substituted my long bike ride of 40 miles in its place.
That is a strategic adjustment to ensure that our run miles (50) and cycling miles (70) were achieved this week while I was coming back from the stomach virus from last weekend. What I did not do was try to also get in my 14 mile long run I needed to skip on Sunday when I was under the weather increasing this weeks run mileage by 28%. That is foolish – any residual benefit of doing so comes at great risk.
Sure my training log might look impressive on the refrigerator door – but I also might be looking at an injury and the downtime associated with it.
Those 14 miles are lost – and if I continue to do the right things, stay consistent and focused – I will NEVER miss them.
The second point we spoke about with respect to consistency focused on avoiding injury.
The coach told me that when his athletes change shoes he does not allow them to run more than 4-6 miles in a new pair for several weeks. He said that, “Many people feel like they need to break in new shoes, I believe that it is the athlete that needs the break in period. We are adapting to the shoes, not the other way around.”
The idea of injury minimization or avoidance is that if you are wanting to improve you have to be consistent in your training and approach. You have to be able to train for weeks and months at a time consistently to see the benefits of that hard work.
If every 3 or 4 months you end up injured and need to take 4,5 or 6 weeks off – even longer in some cases – when you return to running not only will you have lost all of the gains you made over the three months leading up to your injury, you are a solid 2-3 months away from simply reaching the starting point again.
Now close to 3/4 of a year has gone by and you are no better off than you were when you started.
To an aging athlete like myself, staring my 45th birthday in the eye on July 31st – I cannot afford a lost 9 months if I am going to continue to improve as an athlete.
I shared the story of the three days I took off while Dawn, Landry and I were on vacation a couple of weeks ago. I noticed some soreness in my left heal after my third consecutive run day. I took my normal rest day and the pain was still there lingering. I skipped 8 mile and 10 mile runs on the two subsequent days and then took my scheduled rest day.
Now with 4 days of rest I resumed my training and was back running a 10-miler at 6:54 pace never missing a beat.
Had I pushed through that injury it very well might have become something far more serious, led to PF or another lower foot strain and hampered me the entire summer.
By taking time off and using that time wisely, I avoided injury and was able to get back to consistent training and keep moving forward.
During my ride today I thought a lot about this notion of consistency. How it is a critical piece of focused training and improvement, but also how it applies to virtually everything in life that you would want to be good at. Your relationships, your job, a career search, fatherhood, being a good husband.
It all comes back to consistency. If you do the right things consistently, never worrying too much about any one individual result that does not look the way you thought or hoped it might – in the end, you will end up right where you are supposed to be.