The Process of Endurance Training

One of my favorite conferences to attend and present at every year is Vern Gambetta's GAIN symposium.

The reason I love it so much is simple. It challenges you. You don't just go to GAIN to nod along and get a pat on the back to reaffirm what you are doing. Instead, you go there to learn, be challenged, and to think outside of your established norms.

The main reason this occurs is because of the man behind the conference, Vern Gambetta. In knowing Vern throughout the years, the biggest thing I've picked up is to seek out people who are "smarter" than you in their field and learn from them. Anytime Vern comes to Houston, I can expect a call and a meet up at the local starbucks for a conversation about the latest trends and developments in training and track. He doesn't just do this with me, he does this wherever he goes, with whatever so called "expert" is in that town.

Because of Vern's immense curiosity, the GAIN conference is an extension of this idea. You have extremely passionate people from all over the world and from a variety of backgrounds. Whether it's a football strength and conditioning coach, a rehab expert in Soccer, US ski team coaches, Premier league soccer conditioning coaches, or even an inspiring elementary school PE teacher, everyone there is there for one reason, to learn.

And because it's not a conference that brings people together who are ingrained in the dogma of your own spot, it forces you to look at what you do from a completely different perspective. It's the questions you get, whether it was Oregon and OTC strength coach Jimmy Radcliffe or continual bug in my ear English conditioning coach James Marshall, that make the difference. The conversations, questions, and evaluation make you reevaluate what you do and see it in a completely different light.

Above all, the lesson I take away every year is surround yourself with passionate, inquisitive people. It doesn't matter what aspect of life, if you seek out people passionate about what they are doing, you will learn and grow.

I was fortunate enough to give two presentations there. Below you will find one of my presentations entitled, The Process of Endurance Training.

As I've grown as a coach, I've realized that it's the process that counts. As I tried to outline in my book, I'm not here to tell you how to paint by numbers and create a training plan. Instead, my goal as a coach and educator is to teach you the process behind developing a plan.

So in this presentation, I go through how to create a model for development and apply that to your sport and your athletes.

One of my other mentors, Tom Tellez, liked telling me when I was a 20yr old coaching newbie, that the goal as a coach was to learn as much as you can. It will be confusing at first and it won't always make sense. But as you devour more information, you begin to create a model of how the body works in your head. Once you develop the model, the training becomes automatic and you can sift through new information with ease and plan and develop athletes much more efficiently.

So it's with these thoughts in mind, that I hope to share with you how I have developed my ever evolving model of endurance training.

Soccer as the Battle between Endurance and Speed.


Looking at the world cup and soccer as the Battle between Endurance and Speed.

With the world cup wrapping up, I figured it was a good time to throw some soccer, or football for our non-American centric readers, into the mix. Soccer, believe it or not, was my first sport. I grew up playing soccer and at a reasonably high level for a pre-teen kid, doing the whole select/travel team soccer thing for a few years. Although most of my success was due to two things: 1. Deciding it was a good idea to train myself to kick with both feet when I was around 10 and 2. The ability to sprint faster and run at that speed for a lot longer than anyone else we played against.

My soccer career came to an abrupt halt because I ran too fast. My HS coach said I could only do one if I wanted to be great at something, and he thought I could be great at running. Thankfully, I think I made the right choice in terms of talent maximization.

Enough of my trip down nostalgia lane, the point isn’t to reminisce about my could have been soccer career, instead it’s to use soccer as a backdrop for conditioning. You see in sports like soccer, which have a heavy endurance and speed component, there’s always a debate on how much endurance work and how much speed work needs to be done.

I’ve long made the argument that if you want to understand athletic performance, talk to a track coach. Not a “athletic performance” coach or one of those guys at your local gym, but a track coach. Not sprint coach or distance coach, but someone who understands sprints to distance to throws to jumps.

Why? Because you have to understand all aspects of speed, power production, strength, endurance, and recovery from a training and technical standpoint. And from a training design standpoint, only swim coaches rival distance coaches in their love of training theory and design. And more importantly in their ability to understand how to put together interval sets and workouts that attack different adaptations (which is a lost art).

What’s the point?

It’s time for an ill-informed, distance runner biased, look at conditioning on the soccer pitch, or really any field at all.

Why tapering can be a dangerous thing!


Getting fit is the easy part. Getting fit at the right time is what makes our sport difficult.

While we spend the majority of the time getting race ready, often times we let all of that training go to waste by messing up the final preparation for the race. It's probably the most nerve racking part of designing training is often the last few weeks. For the athlete it brings on questioning of whether you are prepared, anxiety over whether all of this work will pay off, and a growing mismatch between how e feel and how we expect to feel.

 From a coaches perspective, it should be simple. The large bulk of the work is done and now it’s time to soak in the rewards. However, it’s also the time when as coaches, we probably do the most second-guessing, over-analyzing, and flat out search for perfecting the training before our athlete runs. In fact, there are some coaches who completely eschew the traditional taper, like Scott Simmons, and I can see their reasoning.

In the end, it’s a conundrum of doing enough to feel like we’re doing something, but resting enough so that we are rested and recovered going in. While we won’y go into a full fledge discussion on tapering, I want to examine a few concepts.

When looking at a taper, the three things I’m concerned with are getting the legs feeling right, which I use the concept of “muscle tension” to do, getting the mindset right, and getting the physiology/fatigue right.

In the research world, a traditional taper involves a large reduction in volume and a maintenance or increase in intensity. This generally works well in the research, but often fails to translate in real life practice with higher level athletes.

Why the mismatch?
1.     One reason is psychology.  Runners are hardwired for routine.
2.     The physiology is different for highly trained vs. recreational, and multi-peaks versus one off peaks

How your perceptions influence reality


            The last time I mentioned dating in my blog, I got the most hits in my blogs history thanks to my spiel about breaking up with a girl because she did crossfit. So I figured I should use that same tactic again, to attract more visitors who don’t find my scientific treatise on various studies as interesting as my love life.

I’m just kidding…well sort of…in this blog I want to switch gears slightly from the normal training based ones, and look at something that relates in a very real but somewhat roundabout way. Bare with me and I promise I’ll connect it all back to running and training, or at least do my best to try to…

            How we perceive the world around us directly influences everything we do. Whether we frame a challenge as positive or negative can directly manipulate and influence the outcome of that challenge. If we see ourselves as someone who has little willpower, we’ll likely have a self-fulfilling prophecy and suffer in the willpower department. And it goes beyond how we see ourselves, but also how we perceive objects, other people, and how they perceive us. All of this wonderful feedback from the periphery of the world helps to decipher what decisions we make, actions we take, and bias we hold on to so tightly. Before getting into a philosophical diatribe on the human mind and the way the world works, let’s start with a story about myself.

Classifying Runners- Fun with numbers

In my book, I had an entire section on individualization and how to classify runners. Most coaches rely on simply splitting Instead, I tried to expound upon a model using a Fast Twitch vs. Slow Twitch fiber continuum for each event. Where we expand and instead of classify someone as a 5k runner for example, we consider him a fast, slow, or specialist 5k runner.

To figure out how to classify someone, I suggested and have always used a combination of a few factors including PR comparison, lactate levels, stride mechanics, and so forth, which has given good results. But I wanted to see if there was a more quantifiable way, using PR comparisons in particular.

Usually when we compare our PR's we are looking at how strong they are compared to each other. So we can see whether our 800, 1,500, or 5k is comparatively stronger than the other. We can use calculators that predict our races and see what ones we are closest and far away to get an idea or we can use tables like the IAAF's to compare the relative "strength" of each PR.

These are all good methods, but again, there's a bit of guesswork of what's your strongest event and how much stronger or weaker it is. So what I wanted was something quantifiable and objective.

Rule Breaking is Contagious- How the Brain causes social concepts to spread


We’re all familiar with the idea that germs and diseases can be contagious. It makes perfect sense that if our family or social circle has people who are sick that our chances of getting sick if we are around them increases. It doesn’t mean we automatically get sick, thanks to the strength of our immune system, but the likelihood goes up.

It turns out that germs aren’t the only thing that are contagious. Research is now pointing to the fact that social concepts are contagious too. Just like the stomach bug can be passed around your family or team, the desire to workout, stop smoking, lose weight, gain weight, or really have any self control is all contagious.

The Psychology of mental toughness- Willpower, self-control, and decision making


            In the sport of distance running, we are used to embracing the idea of mental toughness. Whether it’s embraced through your standard Steve Prefontaine quote about guts and glory, or from the recent front running, make everyone suffer tactics of marathoner Shalane Flanagan, runners take pride in their ability to hurt. We spend countless hours trying to sharpen our own mental fortitude, but ask any runner from the elite to the weekend warrior and having mental strength to either push through the last miles of the marathon or even simply to get out the door for another early morning run, is on the top of their list. The question is, what is this mysterious toughness and can we train it.

            To tackle this question, we need to delve into the world of cognitive psychology and use the concepts of will power and self-control to give us clues on how the mind works during difficult situations.

            According to the most recent models of fatigue, when we race, the pain we feel is an emotional response that is intended to keep us from venturing outside of the safe walls of homeostasis and causing harm to ourselves. Whether we speed up or slow down during a race is simply a decision. Based on our prior experiences, our expectations, the metabolic feedback that our brain is receiving, and a dash of motivation thrown in, our brain essentially tells us whether we should make the decision to slow down and give in to the fatigue or to try just a little harder to keep going.
Willpower, Self-Control, and Fatigue
            Will power and self-control refer to how well we can override or resist desires. For example, when the alarm goes off at 6am for your morning run before work, it can be incredibly tempting to hit snooze and get another hour of sleep. If you resist and instead get up and go about your day, you used a small bit of willpower to overcome the desire to sleep. The same could be said for forgoing that piece of chocolate that you really want before dinner.

            The interesting thing is that willpower seems to be a finite resource. We seem to have a pool of “willpower energy” to draw upon each day. As that pool of energy is used up, our ability to resist and use self-control diminishes. For example, research has shown that resisting the same temptation, like chocolate or another sweet, early in the day is easier than resisting later in the day. Similarly, there have been numerous studies to show that if we are made to exert self-control on one task, then we are more likely to give in on a subsequent task.
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