Catering to the Individual

Individualization is one of those buzz words or so called principles of training that coaches and books on training frequently quote. But what does this actually mean and do people actually adhere to this so called training law? You’ll find that most people claim to adhere to it, but few actually do. It is very rare that a coach can completely adapt to the individual. Instead, most coaches try to adapt the individual to their training system, instead of adapting the training system to the individual. While this might seem like a different in semantics, it is actually much more.
When most coaches think of individualization, they do the former and try and adapt their athlete to the training program. By this, I mean that they have their own training model or system and they try and force the athlete into this model. For example, if someone was using a strict Lydiard system, he would try and get the athlete up to 100mpw, then follow it with hills, etc. The coaches idea of individualizing this program for the athlete would be to adjust the quantity or quality of the training, but the overall system would be the same. For instance, he would adjust the mileage up or down or the amount of hill repeats done, or any other variable like this. By doing this, the coach thinks he is adapting to the individual. However, all he is really doing is taking that same training model and putting the athlete in it.
Another form of individualization used by coaches is to adapt their training program based on the event the athlete runs. In doing this, coaches change their training system slightly based on the different track events. The athletes are put into groups based on the type of runner they are. If they are a 1500m runner, then their training would differ slightly from if they were a 5,000m runner. For instance, one such system, based on Frank Horwill’s work, would use the 2 distances above and below the race distance as the main training paces. A 1500m runner would therefore train at race pace in addition to 400m, 800m, 5000m and 10km pace. While a 5000m runner would get rid of 400m pace and add half marathon pace. The problem with this type of individualization is that it assumes that every runner running a particular event is the same. So the coach is NOT adapting to the individual. Instead he is adapting to an event. He still has a particular training system, and slightly changes based on the event run.
True individualization requires adaptation of the training system to the athlete. This means that the training system changes, sometimes entirely, based on the individual physiology of an athlete. If we look at physiology, it can be seen that individuals vary widely in a number of different aspects. Some of those aspects we are well aware of, such as the percentage of different muscle fibers an athlete has. Other aspects are probably unknown to us, such as some genetic limits, or the total amount of adaptation energy a person has. Acknowledging that we do not have the whole picture figured out, it is important to make individual adaptations in our training based on the parameters that we do know. For example, it is relatively easy to change training based on fiber types. An athlete with predominately Fast Twitch fibers will adapt very differently than one with predominately ST fibers. The same can be said with athlete with high or low aerobic and anaerobic capacities, or Lactate thresholds, or any other parameter.
As a quick example, the FT athlete will need a different type of endurance training than the ST athlete. If both athletes wanted to run the 5k, a traditional training scheme might say that VO2max and Lactate Threshold are essential for the 5k. So the coach would use lots of VO2max and LT training. The problem with that is that each of these training zones (zones are another pet peeve that I hate… but that’s another topic) will affect the athlete differently. By doing lots of LT training, the FT athlete will actually decrease his anaerobic capacity too much and not get much of a training stimulus because he has a high percentage of FT fibers. If we look at LT training, it can be seen that the intensity isn’t great enough to elicit many aerobic benefits in FT-b type fibers. So the athlete wouldn’t be improving the aerobic capabilities of the fibers he predominately has. In addition to this, the few ST fibers he has, would probably be overwhelmed. To improve endurance, a more prudent approach for our FT athlete would be to do repeats at a quicker pace (3k-10k pace), such as 800’s. This is just one of many examples that could be given.
Ignoring Science for a minute, the individualization of an athlete’s training can be seen in the wide variety of successful training programs used by different coaches. If we just look at one event, say the 1500m, we can see that we’ve had World Record holders and Olympic medalist succeed off of a wide range of training programs. Some used very high mileage, some used very low mileage. Others used endless repeats with lots of anaerobic training, while others were strength based. How can so many seemingly different programs produce great results? It’s because the program worked for that individual. It may not have worked for another equally talented but different runner. Even the greatest training system will NOT work for every runner.
Acknowledging that a wide variety of training programs work for a variety of runners allows us to see that the best individualization would be one that would allow for a coach to train athletes in completely opposite ways if need be. For instance, a coach could have one athlete doing 120mpw with lots of LT running, while another athlete on the same team doing 40mpw with lots of fast repeat 400s. Unfortunately, this type of individualization rarely occurs because it would take an in depth knowledge of a wide variety of training systems. Coaches sometimes feel like they have to develop a system (such as a Lydiard, or Daniels or whoever system) and not deviate from those principles. Perhaps then the best system is no system at all, and just coach purely based on what one particular athlete needs. Unfortunately, that may beyond our grasps at the moment because of knowledge limitations, among other things.
Lastly, if you do not by all of the information in this rant, consider this workout. It is designed to improve recovery, increase capillarization, and increase the aerobic capacity. These claims have been backed up by research and by the success of many athletes. What’s the workout?

6-8x200m w/ 50m walk breaks in 26

Yes, for sprinters (which is where I got the info from) it will do things such as increase capillarization. Yet for distance runners, it would serve as a type of speed endurance or anaerobic workout. For distance runners the same claims have been made for long runs. How can the same workout accomplish two completely opposite things? How can 14 mile runs and 200s in 26-27 accomplish the same thing in different individuals? Individualization.

800m Time Trial-

So for the fun of it, I did an 800m time trial yesterday. It wasn't anything I had planned or even specifically trained for. It was just a kind of spur of the moment thing, as evidenced by the fact that I ran 8+ miles in the morning and did a mini fartlek the day before. Needless to say I wasn't exactly fresh for this.

Anyways, I needed to test my new allergy and asthma medication sometime, so I figured yesterday was as good a day as any. Instead of treating it like a race, I just did a 1mile jog, then a few stretches and a couple strides and was ready to go. I had a two person crowd during the warm up (two older guys trotting around the track) but unfortunately they left before the big race commenced. So I had a capacity crowd of zero watching me. To further hype me up, their was a nice strong wind down the backstretch.

Throw in all of this and I almost bagged the thing, but decided I'd go out and if I came through the first 400 and felt decent, I'd continue. If I felt like crap, I'd just bag it. After standing on the starting line for a minute or two, hoping that the wind would die down, I decided to get this thing over with.

Not having done much work at 800m pace lately, my first 200m was WAY too fast. I didn't split it off but I saw 26-27 when I crossed. So I figure 26 high-27 low, but the problem was this was INTO the wind. To compensate for this, I slacked off the pace and tried to relax. I came through the 400 right at 55, and made the decision to continue for now. The next 200m sucked big time. I backed off WAY too much and the wind threw off my pace judgement. I threw in a nice 29sec 200 to come by 600 in 1:24.2. At this point, I thought, well I'm either going to die in and run 1:54 and know I suck, or I could kick it in and run okay. I ended up choosing the later option w/ 120m to go and split 28.3 for the last 200 to run 1:52.5 for the 800.

I think I had another gear there if someone was there pushing me. Also, I lost too much into the wind from 400 to 600m. I'm not sure exactly what to think of this. It's my second fastest 800m ever (which isn't saying much b/c my 800m pr sucks) in pretty crappy conditions, by myself, at the end of a 90mi week.

The race itself felt pretty good. I recovered quickly which is a plus and no bad asthma effects. I could feel a burning type sensation in my throat and feel it start to shut down a little. So still got to correct that problem.

So, what to do now. I think I'm going to give a rested 800m a go, since I'm close to my PR. Might as well salvage the season and get an 800m pr out of it. I'll probably need to do a 1500m to test the medications to see if they work in that race, because that's what's been giving me the most problems. Who knows where though. I might just do another time trial or something.

Oh ya, I won the race too, competition was fierce.

Year in Review- SUmmer and Cross Country.

Ignoring all the medical problems, it seemed like a good time to do my year in review process. Since I can be a little more objective now, I look back through the log at each days workout as if I was analyzing someone elses trainings. I go through and find the good points and the bad points and see if I can learn anything from it.

So here it goes, the year in review from summer base through track season. I'll highlight certain workouts that went well and that sucked.

Official Summer training started 7/9/06 after I got back from Ireland.

Mileage high-103

Comments: I never realized how much the summer heat and humidity hear killed my normal running pace and more importantly my LT pace. I don't focus on splits and usually just split off a 400m in the middle of a run for feedback purposes, but during the summer, the pace per mile was a good 10sec slower than when it cooled down slightly. In fact, you can tell when it starts to cool down by my LT runs getting better.

What I'd do different: I should have done more 10milers. I had the 20-35min LT runs down but needed an occasional (once every 4 weeks) 10 miler in 51-53min to tie things together.

I also think I got trapped into a pattern of 2 LT workouts and 1 hill sprint. I've got to change the stimulus up a little (which I do over winter base training.)

XC season:
key workouts:
6mi of alternating 1200m at 5:20 mi pace and 400 in 70 on the trails. This was a good workout series to me as I progressively shortened the "slower" portion and lengthened the faster section in later workouts. I really liked how that worked out. Wish I could have done it on the same course, but getting to school changed that.

3x(5x400) in 65 w/ 20sec rest and 5min b/t sets- I really liked this progression too. Definately use a variation of it again. Progressed from this to 3x(4x500) to 3x(3x600) to 4x(2x800) .

What I'd do different- I needed more specific work for the 10k in CC, although I wasn't focusing on it so this wasn't a big oversight. I should have trained more for the race course (i.e. hills) at club nationals. I wasn't prepared to run that way. I was prepared to run fast on flat ground. SHould have taken that into account. Big oversight.

Should have paid more attention to recovery. I think I was cramming too much into a week in some instances. My school schedule was messed up, so I think my recovery and thus adaptation was hurt a little by this.

Track to follow soon.

Problems, Problems, everywhere....

Alright, quick update on all my stupid medical problems. Yes I tend to get the weirdest diseases and problems ever...

So I went to my doctor and he ran some tests to figure out what the heck is wrong with me. We have already established I have exercise/allergy induced asthma by a methacholine test, but the question is why aren't the asthma medications working?

Well it turns out those meds may have in fact been irritating a whole different problem. Vocal Chord Dysfunction..... Ya I had no idea what he was talking about at first either. Go do a search and you'll find stuff (for you runners, Megan Kaltenbach appears to have suffered from it). Basically by Vocal Chords are out of whack and closing up during the race. Thus my recent spat of drop outs and DNFs in races. What led him to suspect this was when he saw how suddenly the "asthma" came on and how the doctors/trainers on site reported me having a "strider" sound and such during the "attack." Also, the fact that my throat always seems to be what's closing up and not as much in my chest is another indicator. There's problem #1.

Problem #2. We had more Immunoglobin E (IGE) levels checked. IGE is basically the "allergy antibody" in your body. These are the things that attack the allergens that come into our body. Normal levels are in the 70ish range. Mine was in the over 400+ range. Another good sign....

Yes, I am messed up. I have to see a speech therapist to train/strengthen the vocal chords so that they stop spasming out and shutting. (Yeah....weird... I know). As far as the allergy reaction, there are a couple of different options. One is to do the normal thing and to continue to treat the symptoms, which doesn't appear to be working as I'm on 2 different allergy medications plus some asthma crap (which this time, doesn't irritate the vocal chords...) or go with the more extreme measure and try the new Anti-IGE drug that came on the market only 2-3 years ago, which comes in the form of an injection.....oh goody.....

As far as running goes...... The plan is to do a race or two this summer (still don't know where, suggestions for late june/july races???) to make a last ditch effort at trying another/different allergy/asthma medication. I wouldn't really be looking to bust a performance or anything, just go balls to the wall and if I fall apart I fall apart, but I'd know whether it was due to lack of fitness or asthma attack. If that med doesn't work, then we know we gotta go a different route...

This is frustrating. One problem after another. But no matter what, I'll always be out there trying, even if the results I want aren't there....
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