Saturday, January 7, 2012

Coach Al's Simple Training Principles

"The marathon is every runner's horizontal Everest" - Hal Higdon

Got my new RUNNER's WORLD this week, and even after 30 years of reading this magazine, I still flip through it with some excitement that probably should have faded a long, long time ago. I remember when I first started running, right after the Titanic sank, RW came out and I still recall they had a deal that instead of renewing your subscription every year, you could get a lifetime subscription for $200!! Of course, I thought "What a rip that is!". I'm pretty shrewd...can't pull one over on me!

One year. I recall talking to Bart Yasso...we're old friends...well, I talked to him once at the Boston Marathon Expo. I remember him telling me that RW will always be popular because every runner wants to lose 5#, every runner gets injured, every runner wants to know about new shoes, and every runner wants to run faster and longer,.And it's that training thing that always gets me intrigued. Good grief! How many different ways are there to train? A lot apparently. At least one way per month times 12 times per year times enough to fill up a lifetime subscription! Some folks need complexity, specificity everyday, and no flexibility to the program, so for those folks, voila! But, I find myself looking quickly at the RW program, and if there are every week intervals on the track (which are more like work to me than fun) or mid-week long runs (which is impossible to fit into my work/life schedule), I know to just "walk away slowly".

There are no short cuts on the road to marathoning and beyond. It is long, and unforgiving. Since I first began training beginning marathoners things to do right and, more importantly, things NOT to do wrong, I have always tried to keep the tips and philosophies as simple as I could. I just hate when training programs get overly complicated. Unless specifically asked to do so, I rarely will write out a very detailed training schedule for one of my trainees. I know I’m better off not establishing a daily (anal) schedule. If you look over the training schedule for the Mercedes Marathon on the right side of my RUNNING WITH AL or TRAINING WITH AL blogs you'll notice it has a weekly total, a distance for the long run, and that's it. No hills, no speed, no Heart Rate goals. Now, I gear this schedule to the new or non-competitive marathoner, but I have always felt that if you want to be good at running long distances, you have to train at long distances...the rest is icing on the mashed potatoes.

Now, don't me wrong, or work yourself into a lather, because I know that to become the best runner you can possibly be, you better get your butt on a track, or run up some tortuous hills, or do some long tempo runs. But, the bulk of long distance training is putting your feet to the road or trail for an extended period of time CONSISTENTLY. It's pretty simple.

But still, it's funny that I have always been an avid reader of training philosophies and techniques. Indeed, next to my bed sit dozens of books on how to train for endurance running. Some of my favorite books on training, which tend to be loaded with many types of workouts, are my favorites because of my love for exercise physiology and how the body can literally transform to an endurance machine simply by making the body adapt to the stresses you put upon it. There are hundreds of workouts one can do, but there are really only a few training principles that I need to follow to achieve the results I want. Sticking to these principles "in the long run" is more important than focusing on specific workouts.

There are five basic principles in my training program. These are quite simple.

Principle Number 1: build and maintain the aerobic base. In its most basic form this is simply building up and sustaining weekly miles. To a beginning long distance runner, the most important thing is to run long distances. So, my training has always built around intelligently building your base. I'm not a fan of doing cross-training as a substitute for running mileage. To round out a fitness program, fine. But if you want to be a good runner, you have to run...period...end of discussion. How many Kenyans have you seen riding a bike?

Principle Number 2: Build strength in your legs. Don't avoid a hilly course. You have to develop both the front of your thighs (quadriceps) and the back of your thighs (hamstrings) through the rolling hill courses. Run on some uneven terrain (trails) to develop the lower leg (calf) muscles and ankle stability.

Principle Number 3: Grow the body's capacity to run faster at a lower heart rate. There are many methods to do this. Running hill repeats are pretty fail safe, but I like to just slowly pick up the pace gently over a distance. Doesn't have to be real long, but don't make it a short sprint.You can use a Heart Rate Monitor (I don't) to control your effort, but I find these efforts should be hard, but smooth and not in the "I'm absolutely dying" category. These run at or below my anaerobic threshold (basically always conversational).

Principle Number 4: Specificity of training. Teach the mind to deal with the adversity that it will face come race day. This requires doing long runs and shorter races on similar terrain and under similar conditions as the race I'm training for. Be it heat or hills or trails or rain/snow.Training in these elements prior to race day is critical not only to perform well but to be safe. If you plan to use gels, or drinks, or any other aid during a race, you better use it in training.

Principle Number 5: The bulk of your training should be done at the pace you intend to run your race. I'll never understand how the heck your body will ever get comfortable at your intended marathon pace if you're doing fast intervals on the track and doing your long runs 1-2 minutes per mile slower than race pace. As a caveat (fancy word for exception to my rule) to this Principle, I do believe Yasso 800's are valuable for a runner trying to improve his previous marathon time.

This, of course, is pretty basic about some of my coaching philosophies, and because they're my Principles, I could change them tomorrow. But, through many years of making a ton of mistakes on myself, I keep coming back to this premise: Keep it as simple as possible with a solid foundation and then tool all that other stuff to what fits you. If you don't like it, you won't stick with it, and there lies the absolute, #1 Principle of consistent.

That's it for this week buckeroos. Ok, gotta go and finish that new Runner's World I got. Maybe there's another training article that I'll be intrigued with and then ignore.

I'll see you on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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