Finding the right system.
Do you follow a Lydiard system? Daniels? Coe? Hudson? Or how about Pfitzinger? That is a very common question that many coaches and athletes get asked. It typifies our need to simplify training down into something that is easy to digest.

What’s Lydiard? 100mi weeks leading to a peak.
How about Coe? 5-pace theory.
Daniels, you say? LT,VO2, reps, intervals, and don’t forget your V-dot.

Of course, I’m taking it to the extreme, but this oversimplification does our athletes a disservice. Do you really think that Lydiard had one distinct training system that he used every single year? No. He adapted, changed things up, made modifications based on his athletes. You can even see this in the progression of his books. Look at a Lydiard book from the 1960’s and compare it to one printed in the 2000’s. There will be some big differences. Look at Seb Coe’s career, as outlined in Peter Coe’s book. Yes, Peter Coe has a system that he outlines, but it is adapted to the athlete across his career. Coe focused on different parameters throughout his son’s career. The training Seb did at the age of 18 was certainly different than that when he was 28.

All of this might seem like it is common sense, but in reality do you adapt your training from year to year? How many coaches use the same basic formula year after year for their athletes? They only think of what it will take to bring athlete X to a peak for that year. Then once that season is done, the athlete takes a break and then repeats the process of coming to a peak.

The problem with that approach is that training changes us. What are you doing when you workout and then recover? You are making subtle changes to your physiology. So much so that after several years of work, you will probably have a different muscle fiber type percentage than when you started. That is just one example, but everything changes. The training has to adapt with it. That same workout you did last year of 400’s in 65 won’t have the same effect the following year.

It’s not just the speed of the workout that has to be adapted but also the volume, and the recovery. It’s one of the reasons why simply stating that an athlete has to do X amount of work when doing a workout at X pace doesn’t work. It’s the same reason why doing long runs as a percentage of total mileage is ridiculous. The amount of running in that workout is dependent on the athlete, not some formula.

Not only do individual workouts need to be changed at times, but global training changes need to be made. A couple examples are the density of the work and the amount of total mileage. Most people only think in terms of mileage increases, but it also includes mileage decreases. In the U.S., it’s easy to classify yourself as a high mileage or a low mileage guy, I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past, but that is simplifying things far too much. In an athlete’s career there is going to be a point where he needs to run some high mileage, but there is also a period where he will most likely reduce his mileage. If we look at steeple WR-holder Shaheen’s average KM per week during the base phase you can clearly see this.

2001 : 90
2002 : 120
2003 : 150
2004 : 180
2005 : 150
2006 : 130

Why did the mileage drop? Because after several years of higher mileage, he no longer needed it. Most mileage is only good for general endurance, or building the foundation for the athlete. Once the foundation is built, why try to continue building it if it is already developed? Instead, he cut the mileage and by cutting the mileage was able to focus more work on specific development, or training with more of a direct influence on his race.

The whole point of this blog is to get across the message that you have to think long term. What would bring an athlete to a peak this year might not necessarily be best for him for his entire running career. You have to think beyond one season. That is why cookie cutter approaches of following some formula of doing A then B then C to reach peak doesn’t work in the long term. The training you do today needs to improve the training and racing you are going to do next year and the year after.

That is why early in a runner’s career, a focus on more general work with a lot of mileage might be great, but 4-5 years later, that athlete might need a lot of medium paced mileage. Similarly, an athlete might need to build a foundation of pure speed and mechanical support, while later in his career, having established that foundation, more work might be spent translating that into speed endurance.

In essence, EVERYTHING should build towards the end goal. Each year should be building on top of the last one, not just repeating what has been done before.

Hopefully, next time I’ll get into some examples of how things have to change, progress, and adapt over a career.

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    1 Comment

    1. Anonymous on May 2, 2009 at 6:40 am

      Great post.

      How long though, does the general endurance from the high mileage years last? For Shaheen, could there be another year of 180km/week, say the year before an Olympic year?

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