Coach Blog: Fall Training September 9-15

This week was a bit of a different kind of week. We’ve been at it for two weeks and so it was time for a rest. The rest was well-timed as we hosted the first xc meet of the year for universities and CEGEPs on Saturday, so those who wanted to race could feel fresh for their attempt. The week unfolded as follows:

Monday: Team meeting. The idea of team meetings, while obviously not unique to him, was impressed upon me by Dr. Joe Vigil. In his book, he talks about how it is important to get everyone together, and get people on the same page in terms of their goals, and to build the confidence in them that they can achieve those goals. So this meeting was the start of that. My goal with the meeting was to share with the team my philosophy of training, and give them some tools to understand the process, so that when they go to race, they can look back at their training and know exactly why we did what we did, and be confident that they are ready to perform.

The outline of my talk can be summarized in three short phrases: Run more, mostly easy, rest up. It’s similar to Michael Pollan’s “food rules”; I came up with this little motto to impress upon runners what the priorities should be to get them to their goals.

Run more: this is what it sounds like. I am a big fan of lots of easy mileage. There are physiological benefits to running a lot (and to running slowly). It is usually NOT more efficient to run less and faster, unless you have a particularly unique situation. Not only are the benefits physiological (increased mitochondrial number, size and location relative to the cell wall; increased stroke volume, more capillaries), but they are psychological as well. The more you run, the more you put your mind and body in a state of running, and the more “normal” that becomes. If something is normal, you feel comfortable about it. The more you can feel comfortable when you run, the more you can do, and the faster you do it when feeling comfortable, the better your performance.

Mostly easy: It is easy to look at this part of the motto and think that I am ignoring the importance of workouts. But actually, the phrase includes workouts: they are just prioritized appropriately. It’s not ALL easy, or ONLY easy. It’s MOSTLY easy. Pretty much all the science out there has a range of between 75 and 90% as the amount of endurance running training that should be done at an easy pace. I would say that qualifies as “mostly.” So the space for workouts is there, but they aren’t where you spend most of your time and energy. Ironically these blog posts are mostly about workouts, not easy runs. But that’s the trick with running: it’s a lot of lonely, boring work. At least with the club we can make it less lonely.

Rest up: There are a few ways to look at performance. One useful image I have seen is that performance is a function of fitness and fatigue. So the higher your fitness, the better your performance, but if your fatigue is also high, that diminishes performance. The first two elements (run more, mostly easy) take care of the fitness. But when you build fitness, you also build fatigue. So in order to achieve performance, you need to rest up, and lower your fatigue. (What is fatigue? Apparently it is very simple: it is just the feeling of being tired. It’s nothing more complicated than that. If you feel tired, you are tired.)

The what, when, where and how much of all of this depends on the individual. 100 miles per week is not a magic number. Neither is 400m in 60sec, and neither is 6x1mile at 10k race pace. But the principles above can be applied to everyone to guide the more specific elements of training.

I have more to say on this, but I am still working through the ideas and some reading on it, so next time we have a team meeting, I will share it with the team, and then I will share it with you all!

Wednesday: Today we did 200m repeats at summer goal race pace. So for 800m runners they did 4x200m. For 1500m runners, 8x200m. For 5k runners (and anyone aiming at 10k and up) 20-25x200m. This is a pretty easy workout for most. For some of the beginners, it was tough to get through all 25 200m, mostly because it is long (with 200m recovery it ends up being 10k around the outdoor track at Molson Stadium). But on the whole, this is not a tough workout. The pace is not that fast, or if it is (like for 800/1500 runners), it’s still only 200m (they got a little more rest, too). The goal of this workout is to get that summer track pace in the legs. It is good to get a break from the track, don’t get me wrong. I am the biggest proponent of unmeasured, soft surface fartlek you will find. Most of the runners have been off the track since the end of July, though, or haven’t been on the track much at all, so this is just a little taste. We will do it again in 3-4 weeks. This way, when we get to running on the indoor track (which we will do once a week, since we have it and it will be nice to run unencumbered by winter once in a while), it’s not a big shock to the system.

The workout is also a progression that Greg McMillan has done, starting at 200m intervals for the total work of your goal race (i.e. 5k of 200m) then building up to longer intervals. So eventually you end up running 6x800m at 5k pace and while it is a tough workout, you aren’t just dropped in out of the blue.

Saturday: Race! The women raced 4k and the men raced 6k. Don’t get me started on why different distances for men and women is dumb. You can find all the results here.

Under the club colours we had 11 women and 12 men racing. But what is also cool is that we had club members competing for McGill University, Concordia University, CEGEP Andre-Laurandeau and Champlain College. As a coach, I am very proud of this because it shows that schools and clubs can work together. I will never understand club coaches who are so insecure that they tell athletes they shouldn’t run for their school. To me this is borderline irresponsible as they are depriving those athletes of a great experience. I’ve been told that the reason is the club coach knows the annual plan better, or that the coach is making a living and has to make sure to keep his clients, or that the school coaches are too demanding or too inexperienced, but all this makes me shake my head. These coaches have completely missed the point. Perhaps their hearts are in the right place, that I grant. But two things: 1) athletes are not possessions. They don’t belong to you, you don’t control them. 2) school teams are the lifeblood of our sport. If we don’t support them, we are missing a great opportunity to grow the sport. “Club chauvinism” is small-minded thinking.

Now, certainly, school coaches can be jerks, just like club coaches can be. Anyone can be a jerk. In Ontario, there is a rule that says kids have to go to a certain number of practices to be eligible, and this is the cause of some concern. It’s a rule that is not for the benefit of the athlete, and is easily skirted without conflict if both coaches are on the same page. The key here is communication. If you are worried that the other coach doesn’t get “the plan” well talk to him or her. And by talk to, I mean listen. I find it hard to believe that coaches are so far apart on philosophy that programs are completely incompatible. At the very least, the common ground should be that both coaches are working for the benefit of the athlete. Listen!

This is a fairly philosophy-heavy post, but we had a fairly training-light week, so I had to write about something! Next week (i.e. this week’s training) we run with varsity, and do some hills!