I get asked what my training philosophy is on a regular basis. My usual response is, “Nothing gimmicky: ‘Don’t Do Anything Stupid.’” That pretty much sums up my approach to my own training and what I try to impart upon my athletes. But that’s really not prescriptive or tremendously helpful for a newcomer to the running scene or to an experienced runner looking for their next breakthrough. Here is a bit of an expanded view of “Don’t Do Anything Stupid.”
Full disclosure: Each of these training rules is a direct result of my own stupidity and what I’ve learned from it. I’ve spent my fair share of time making the same mistakes that every runner makes, and I’m not done making mistakes. Hopefully by reading this, some of you out there can either validate what you’ve learned or avoid one of these pitfalls. No matter what, it should be a good reminder of how to train smart.
Rule #1: Missed workouts are gone. NO MAKE-UPS.
This is an absolutely mandatory rule for anyone who trains with me. Trying to make up for a missed workout is a downward spiral that inevitably leads to overtraining fatigue and/or injury. Another way to think of this is to look only at what is in front of you, and forget what is behind you.
Rule #2: If you are debating whether or not you need a rest day, then you need a rest day.
To me, this one is simple math. Probability of “losing fitness” by taking a single day off: Pretty low. Probability of having a negative experience on a day when you just don’t feel like running: Pretty high. Being tired or just not having any mojo means something – listen to your body.
Rule #3: Train at your current level, not your ideal level.
This one is hard to wrap your head around, but very important. Let’s say you just ran a half marathon in 1:45 and have a dream to run a 3:00 marathon later in the year. If you go run a bunch of intervals and tempo runs (or, try to, most likely) based on a 3:00 marathon pace chart, you’re going to burn out in a hurry. But, if you log lots of quality miles at your current ability level, you’re going to improve. There’s also an implicit rule within this one: Set reasonable goals based on your current level and your ability to train.
Rule #4: Aerobic Fitness > Numbers from a Track Workout
Or, stated differently, lots and lots of easy miles will do a lot more for your race times than sessions on the track will. This rule is a lot more true the longer the race gets, but over all distances I truly believe that general fitness is way more important than any other factor. This gives us our ability to maintain goal pace, stay in control of our breathing and heart rate, and be confident late in the race. So, don’t skimp on the miles…build a nice, big base first, then feel free to fine-tune with the speedy stuff.
Rule #5: One Thing at a Time
Every single runner has a whole list of things that they could work on to be a better runner. More miles, more race pace miles, more hills, more weights, more core, etc. I’m a fan of all of these things, but I’m only in favor of adding one new thing at a time. Our bodies need time to adapt to anything new, and inevitably adding in a new aspect of training is going to impact everything else. Be patient, give your body time to adapt, then think about what is next. For myself, I even go so far as to only add one more thing per training cycle (a block of several months). I’d rather have the cushion against getting injured over the expected benefit of adding in several other training disciplines at once.
Here are some other great training rules from dailymile, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m including them because I agree with them and think that everyone can learn from them.
From Ariana Hilborn, Olympic Trials Qualifier: You are never as good or as bad as your last race/workout.
From Greg Strosaker, Towpath Marathon winner in 2:54: How you bounce back from the bad workouts is more important than how many good workouts you have. It’s about the season, not the workout.
From Kristen Faughnan, who logs over 15 HOURS of training a week and is on my top-2 list of Badasses: I follow my plan the majority of the time, but when I truly feel the need to divert, I do it. This is to help myself from burning out and from forgetting why I love to stay active.
From Mike Holcomb, probably the 2nd hottest guy to ever live in Winterville: Three words: Have a plan.
From Lynn Gibson, Ultra Runner/Supermom/Super Motivator: Beer. (yep, had 2 while writing this post…)