Keys To Success

Keys To Success – Adapted from Marathoning: Start to Finish by Patti & Warren Finke

Hard/Easy Cycles

Training is accomplished by the adaptation to repeated stress. If overload or stress is repeated many times, it results in specific adaptation of the body strengthening resistance to that stress. When running, this stress can be applied by increased speed and/or distance. Adaptation does not take place during the overload or stress period, but during the recovery or rest periods between stresses.

In a runner’s training program, overload (hard workouts) can be achieved through either added speed or distance, while recovery takes place only when both speed and distance are minimized (easy workouts).

The more often you can overload and recover, the better. The key limitation is recovery. If the overload is too great, it may take so long to recover that you don’t get the maximum number of overload/recovery cycles and you may get injured. Likewise, if the recovery is inadequate, you will not have the strengthened resources to overload during the next cycle. This also leads to overuse injury.

Adequate recovery between overload cycles requires 48 hours or longer. 48 hours is the minimum time needed to replenish enzymes and nutrients, such as glycogen within the muscle cells, after a hard workout. For this reason, most successful training programs have at least one easy workout day following each hard workout day to allow for recovery. An easy workout, in lieu of total rest, can actually help speed the recovery by increasing circulation to the recovering tissue, which helps flush out wastes.

Injury Prevention Techniques

Any training is better than no training. Hence, the most important aspect of any training program is injury prevention. Some useful strategies and tactics for doing this are:

  • Having a training plan.
  • Separating speed and distance
  • Allowing adequate recovery between hard workouts.
  • Monitoring the response of your body to training
  • Proactive injury treatment
  • Utilizing coaches and clinics

Training Plans

The best strategy is to devise and write down a training plan which has target times and distances, which will allow adequate recovery between hard workouts. Long-term training increases (building mileage or adding more speedwork) should be gradual, at a rate of 5% or less.

Once a training plan is established, it should be viewed as a flexible framework around and within which the runner can employ various tactics to lessen the risk of injury. These can include variations in terrain, surface, and shoes. If necessary, individual workouts can be eliminated or changed, or the overall plan can be modified.

Recovery & Self-Monitoring

In order to get the training benefit of hard workouts, there must be adequate recovery provided to let the body rebuild before another hard workout. Otherwise, instead of the desired positive training effect, the result will be cumulative damage and, ultimately, injury. Typical workout weeks employ three (3) hard workouts alternated with four (4) recovery days or easy workouts.

A very useful aid is a training diary or log where you can record your training plans and goals, and write down any useful strategies that will help to get you where you want to be. You can also note resting heart rate (HR), training HR, recovery HR, weight, daily and weekly mileage, times, and a general comment on how you feel each day. Learning how your body reacts to overload and when to rest is important in maintaining health, and so a diary can help you determine your particular normals and monitor yourself.

It is important to dispel the old myth, “no pain, no gain.” It is possible to train and improve by hard work that does not include pain. It is not possible to train if you are sick or injured. A good training program should work to prevent these complications, however there is no one “right” way to train, and each runner needs to learn how his or her body reacts to different overloads and what works best. Remember, overtraining does not help anyone, even elite athletes, and a rest day is certainly needed when there is:

  • An increase in resting HR of 5 beats per minute or more.
  • A feeling of excessive thirst or dehydration.
  • A sluggish or extremely tired feeling.
  • The start of an illness such as sore throat or cough.
  • Difficulty sleeping at night.

Some questions most commonly asked by runners involved in a training program are of the form… “What happens if…

  • …I miss a day because of illness or injury?”
  • …I need a rest day and my schedule calls for a “hard workout” day?”
  • …I miss a whole week of training?”
  • …my _________ hurts, should I run on it?”

The answer to all of these questions is “Learn to listen to your body and respond to its needs!” If something is painful while you are running on it, that is your body’s way of telling you that it is being abused. If your body tells you it needs a rest, listen. The major goal is to remain healthy and injury free, and to enjoy your running. It is not to rack as many miles and consecutive days as you can. If you have to miss workouts, it may be necessary to drop back to an easier schedule for several days or weeks, and then gradually return to the previous schedule.

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