Friday, February 22, 2008

Run like Sergio

Wim de Doncker asked me to write a little piece about Sergio's run training. You can read it here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Discussing training, discussing coaching

Recently I was asked to write a little piece about Sergio’s run training. Sergio is unarguably one of the best runners in Ironman, and the interest in what makes him a fast runner is normal. As I was writing the piece, it occurred to me that from all the things that I have written about training, all the discussions I have had about training, I never used one of my athletes as validation to my training methods.

Regarding this subject, I have two interesting stories.

Story #1: Some weeks ago there was a training discussion on the men’s forum of Slowtwitch about training theory and methodology. As the discussion “evolved” (not a good application of the term “evolved”, but I digress), a coach that will remain anonymous here felt he needed to validate the point he was making by quoting the “great results” a pro athlete he coaches had obtained at a recent Ironman race using his particular approach. After some googling, I found out that the said athlete was 23rd overall on that race. More interestingly, an athlete I coach was 2nd on that race, almost half an hour in front. My first thought was, my goodness, how much better are my training methods? More amusingly, the said coach was arguing with another coach that has had an athlete win that particular race in the past, and that over the last season alone had 4 ITU World Cup wins. How much better are his methods?

Story #2: A few years ago, I remember this coach, another anonymous soul, talking about his “8:20 guy”. The reference to his “8:20 guy” was generally given at the beginning of the articles, so as to lend credibility to what he was about to write. I remember at the time following what he wrote carefully, as I was impressed that a coach with less than 5 years experience had a “8:20 guy”. This “guy” was also pretty young at the time and had a bright future ahead of him. A few years later, the “8:20 guy” has fallen off the (triathlon) world. No longer you see his name on result sheets. What, at the time, was fed to us as amazing tales of heroic training, are in hindsight sad tales of misguided training that ended in full-blown overtraining syndrome. And I guess because it is said that “hindsight is 20/20”, now the said coach tells us how the athlete was responsible for destroying himself. Wait… the athlete? What happened to his “8:20 guy”?

These two stories nicely ilustrate the point I want to make. Too many times you see coaches using their own “n=1” examples in order to attempt to validate their methods and practice. This is especially used by coaches with limited experience, that anxiously want to market themselves as high-level coaches. Some, like the coach in story #1, have bright headlights and expect their future clients to behave like deer. Some, like the coach in story #2, are fully successful coaches because they suffer from the type of selective memory that only remembers success. In common, they share a way of conducting business that is fast becoming the norm in the industry. To the detriment of the athletes that end up hiring these coaches.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

There is life after the end of this season

That is an obvious title. For most competitive athletes, there is no doubt in their minds that they will be training and racing in the next season and beyond. There is also little doubt in the minds of competitive athletes about the need to improve from year to year. However, very little is said by most triathlon training gurus about the need for a multi-year plan. Instead, we get narrow views of athlete development, like the one-size-fits-all 24-week plans for Ironman training, or the athletes and/or coaches that see multi-year development kind of like “Groundhog Year”, with every season starting at the tune of Sonny and Cher.

The first requirement for a continuous performance improvement over several years is to establish at an early stage a multi-year plan. This plan should delineate, in broad terms, the building-up of conditioning over several years.

In order to elaborate the multi-year plan, it is essential to access:
- a profile of the athlete’s weak and strong characteristics
- the athlete’s ability to adapt to the various training methods

The multi-year plan sparingly needs to readjusted according to the physiological development of the athlete. This requires an ongoing observation of the evolution of the athlete’s conditioning level, based on training feedback, test results and racing. In order to benefit from the long-term guidelines that the multi-year plan contains, not too many changes should be made to it.

So what training information should be stated in a multi-year plan?
- Long-term racing objectives (e.g. win a determined race).
- Long-term motivational goals (e.g. participate at a competitive training camp).
- Long-term training load goals (e.g. achieve a determined training load necessary to achieve the long-term racing goals).
- Laboratory and field tests to evaluate the evolution of conditioning.

In order for us to achieve our goal, it is not sufficient to just have a clear picture of the goal. It is also necessary to have a picture of the path to the goal. Only through the clear picture for athlete development that the multi-year plan provides, we can expect for the continuous performance improvement we all want to achieve.