The happy endurance athlete: Train to be enduring not just to endure!

The happy endurance athlete: Train to be enduring not just to endure!

When the sun is shining, as it is today as I type, I really do want to swap the unforgiving iron in the gym for the crisp air and winter sun. There’s nothing quite like being outdoors and running, focusing and entering a mindful and quiet zone.

For me, running can be almost meditation… ok there some days when it’s pouring with rain, and freezing cold and I can’t see because my glasses don’t have windscreen wipers…. that is the norm in England I know, but indulge me.

Running, Cycling, Swimming, Mountaineering, or Triathlons are the prized pursuits many individuals seek to undertake and set challenging goals for each year.

Many will achieve those goals, and what a sense of achievement they bring. It’s true to say that they aren’t always enjoyable and the process can be arduous. Perhaps on reflection some of you may utter to yourself ‘was it worth it?’ or ‘I’m glad I did it, but I can’t bring myself to do another one!’

Participation in endurance events is at an all-time high, racing bike ownership is the new middle-aged sports car purchase, and most of you will know someone doing a triathlon (particularly as the Brownlee’s have destroyed the competition for the last 5 years, inspiring the young and old alike.)

But what does it take to train for an endurance event?

Why do people, on one hand, become evangelical and the other seem to be in a perpetual state of injury or burnout? Is injury the pact you make with the devil in order to complete a marathon?

I argue that there is a way to train that doesn’t have to lead to burn out or pain. I’m going to start by giving you one of the best strategies to succeed without overtraining or injury.

But it requires you change the way you approach your training and how you perceive the value of your run, ride, walk or swim.

It’ll allow you to listen to your body, move with the ebb and flow of your life but still hit your training targets.

You could call it Mindful Endurance….

It all starts with one simple concept…..TIME.

The popular programming method: Running for Distance

Typically, all endurance athletes measure the success of their training session by first, how many miles they’ve covered and secondly the time they did in. This feels like a natural approach.

The weekly boast: “I ran 50 miles this week…” “I swam 500 lengths….” “I rode 300 miles….” etc

The idea being that as your training progresses you cover the same mileage in less time. This must mean you are faster?

Well, yes and no.

I can see the value, it gives you something to aim for and something to compare your performance against. Ultimately, your race will require that you cover a specific distance, and in order to perform well in the event, you’ll need to do it quickly. If that is all that matters...

In that sense, this strategy would appear to be the natural system for conditioning you to succeed in a race. There is no doubt it works, but I believe it fails to serve you well in the long-term and ignores other important elements which contribute to true athleticism.

What’s missing? Health firstly, the strategy above fails the athlete initially because requires that them to push hard in order to reduce the time it takes to cover a particular distance. This will at times be at the expense of their health and will reduce their overall fitness long term.

Secondly, it’s a false metric. By this I mean, that if you judge your fitness on successively faster times, I argue that this an unreliable method of measuring progress. On days when you're feeling healthy and strong, you’ll run well, on days on when your feeling subpar, you’ll push… perhaps you’ll equal or smash a previous time. But your perceived effort will be totally different, and it’ll again be at the expense of your health. Consequently, you’ll ramp up your nervous system and feel elated but it’s a chemical by-product and not an indication of fitness.

It also doesn’t factor in recovery, because if we follow the previous point highlighted, you will push yourself to exhaustion in order to measure progress. I know through experience that over time, the training load will not be manageable and you’ll either overtrain, get injured or increase your stress levels. At its heart it requires an athlete ignore their body’s messages in order to succeed in training.

Finally, it’s frequently demoralising. Why? Because it’s an arbitrary number that’s been set either because you want to hit that mileage or it’s a percentage of the race distance. I’ve met so many individuals who come back after a run tired and grumpy because they only ran 6 miles in an hour rather than last weeks 6.7… soon after that starts happening you start questioning whether you’ll hit your target time for the race and then negative thinking starts to take hold. Which never helps.

Why that distance in that time, how was this calculated? By using a chart in a magazine or its what a training partner does? It's arbitrary in most cases.

I’ve done all of the above. I’ve learnt and can provide an alternative.

Running FOR time.

Once you’ve got a goal and know what it takes - say your want to run a half marathon in under 2hrs - we then establish the time we can allocate to train each week. This means when you schedule in your activity (swim, bike, run etc) you reserve say an hr on Monday, 45 mins on Wednesday, 45 mins on Friday and 2.15hrs on Saturday (example schedule).

The time available to train each day won’t vary, it’s fixed, so the key metric is you are consistently running for, in Saturday’s case, 2.15 hours.

Here’s the switch in thinking:

You are not covering say 10 miles in 2.15 and hoping you can get 10 miles down in 2 hours over the next few weeks. Instead, you are ensuring that you engage in endurance activity for (in this case) 2.15hrs every Saturday.

Why is this different?

Initially, we want you to maintain a consistent training volume (time), we want to expand your comfort zone (covering more distance over the allocated time as the week's progress).

This system will ensure that 10 miles in 2.15 will become 11miles in 2.15hr over a training period.

Then when you come to race day sub two hours will be easy because you routinely spend longer on your feet. You have become faster by being able to cover more ground in a set time - in this case your on your feet longer than you aim to be on race day.

Here’s the real benefit that’ll supercharge your training:

On days when you're feeling a 6-7 out of 10, you can still run for 2 hours 15, you just reduce your pace! This way you’ll maintain your form and avoid teaching your body to bad positions (we all know not to lift heavy weights when your form is compromised… why is acceptable in the endurance world?)

Yeah, you may only cover 6 miles, but you were on your feet for 2.15hrs. This conditions the body mindfully and builds real world endurance.

I know that this method will teach you to listen to your body, and there will be no need to mentally beat yourself up because you didn’t run fast enough… hell, you ran for 2.15hrs just like last week.

Conclusion:

The first system forces you to increase speed to reduce your time, and success is based on lower times at the possible expense of your health and form.

Mindful Endurance enables you to increase your distance whilst still spending the maximum time on your sport your diary will allow. Success is based on consistently engaging in your sport of choice, not at the expense of your health. You train at the tempo at which your form is maintained and your body requires. Your speed will increase as consequence of consistent training.

Here’s a better weekly boast: “I ran for 6 hours this week…” “I rode for 12 hours this week” “I was I the pool for 4 hours this week”

I argue that you’ll reach the day of the event and feel fresh, prepared and confident with a serious ability to endure for long periods without suffering.



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