What’s the Purpose of Training?

By now, we should all know and believe that the more we run, the fitter and faster we should get.  Right?  But how?  And more importantly, why?  I want to briefly discuss the ‘how’ portion of that question. 
We can almost all agree that the bigger the base we build (the more miles we safely and smartly put into our legs) the fitter we can get.  But after a while, without any stimulus (increased pace) our fitness will plateau.  So how do we combat getting stuck at the same fitness level?  We add workouts!
There are 3 main goals of any workout that we attempt.  They are Purpose, Effect and Path.  Below, I’ll explain what each means and give practical examples for them.
Purpose:  What is the purpose of each particular workout?  What is the purpose of a 13 mile long run vs a 6 mile basic run?  Why does coach have me run repeat 800s with short rest and then a few weeks later repeat 1000s with tons of rest?
There are four main reasons for giving a particular workout – to work on endurance, stamina, speed, or sprinting.  Based on your (running) history, race plans/goals, current fitness and time of year, will determine what the workout should be.  Focusing on a marathon?  You’re best bet is a threshold workout which works both endurance and stamina.  Trying to run a fast 10k?  You’ll focus on the endurance and stamina portion, while touching on the speed training.  Working on being a great 2 miler?  You’ll need a combination of all four components.  Depending on where you are in the training cycle will depend on what you should do.
Effect:  How long will it take for me to recover from the workout?
When you factor in the effect of the workout, that will determine when your next workout should be.  If you know speed work thrashes your body, you’ll know to give yourself another day before you jump back on the track for another hard workout.  As you can tell (by trial or error, or any other way), the faster you run, the longer you’ll need before your next hard workout.  Some workouts are designed to tax your lungs and not your legs – these workouts are typically for fine tuning or tapering near the end of your racing cycle.  Other workouts are designed to build your aerobic capacity.  These workouts should have plenty of volume with relatively short recovery.  An example of a workout for a marathoner with a proper buildup would be 2 x 5k @ marathon pace with 5 minutes rest or 6-10 mile tempo run.  These workouts are super examples of ways to build aerobic capacity – the ability to carry oxygen and deal with the effects of lactic acid.
Path:  Is what I’m doing working towards my ultimate goal?

If you’re doing a workout or a run and you have no idea why, you need to stop and ask.  If you are coached by someone, you should communicate with him/her to find out why this workout will lead you to your peak race.  Does repeat 200s in March sound silly for someone who is racing a 5k in June?  Possibly.  But if there’s a plan in place and the coach is planning for the entire season, you should be OK.  Generally speaking, one poor workout won’t be the make or break your season anyway.  To really see benefits/disaster, you should look for consistency.  PR’s usually come after periods of solid and consistent training.  Failed races typically come when training is erratic or sporadic.  You should know where you fall within that spectrum.

Take these 3 factors into consideration when you plan your training.  If you have a coach, be sure to recognize what the workout is doing for you, how it relates to the overall plan, and how long it takes you before you feel ready for the next hard effort.

For more information, email Marc at trainwithmarc@gmail.com.  Below are links discussing some of the ideas I discussed above.

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