Matt Dixon is a professional triathlete and lead coach / co-founder of purplepatch Fitness, an organization that provides professional coaching and training of runners and athletes of all levels.
Missed Matt’s Part I of the Path to Performance? Read it here.
The common thread of every athlete I coach, from my squad of professionals all the way through to fitness enthusiasts, is that they want to improve. It is a natural, and appealing, human instinct that we want to experience progression relative to the hard work we invest in our training. To me, this is the search for performance. Not everyone is vying to win a World Championship, but we can all relate to the joy of positive results. The confusion and challenge often comes from the optimal route to achieve these results.
In my last blog, and provided a framework of defining performance, and a broad concept of how to achieve these coveted improvements. It is now time to dig a little deeper, and look set the lens for each performance component.
A quick review. While I encourage you to go back and read the first blog, let’s first do a quick review of the key points previous discussed, so that we have context moving forward:
Our Goal: To arrive at races ready to perform.
Our Mission: To maximize training load while achieving positive adaptations.
These key elements ensure that we avoid the simple accumulation of miles, and also establish the need to have a dynamic and flexible application of any training plan, as we manage through both the training load, but also the many stressors that life throws at us.
If we review the key elements of any successful athlete, it is common that their global approach to training includes:
- Progression in training load and type
Let’s dive into each of these to help you appreciate how you can apply the concepts into your own training approach.
This is magic word, if there is one, for your approach to training. No hero is made, or lost, in a day or a single training session. The mission is to be able to apply consistent training load over many weeks, months and even years, to create your best results. So what goes into creating great consistency?
A smart training plan
Ultimately, it begins with a smart training program, that is suitable to your current level of fitness, your goals, your true availability to train relative to life. This cannot be based off the approach a pro athlete uses, or your friend, but an approach that is achievable for you. I always prefer the 5% less rule for amateurs, in that I like to leave a little space for more, than pressing the load or time of training right against life or physiological capacity. This ensures it is achievable and able to be absorbed.
Excellent application of that plan.
Many athletes love to plan, or receive a plan, but fail to appreciate that the real art is a non-emotional application of the program. Success in this is an art, and is where the value of a great coach comes into play, but it is enough to say that rigidly following the mapped program, no matter your level of fatigue, soreness, lack of sleep or life events, is a sure path to turn a great plan into a destructive one.
Supporting the training with fueling
If I had to name the biggest mistake of most endurance athletes, it would be one of two things. The first is the lack of post-training fueling. Make it a non-negotiable habit to consume calories very soon after every single training session. It allows recovery, lowers necessary stress, and establishes better eating habits later in the day.
Make the easy really easy
The second mistake would be this. Allowing the intensity or effort of the less specific sessions to be too hard. If you go on an easy run, ensure that it is really easy. Adding load or speed to the easy sessions simply dilute the quality of the key sessions, and restrict the ability to adapt and recover.
Get your ZZZ’s
Your cheapest and most effective recovery tool you have. Compromised sleep will limit your performance level, both in sport and life. There is no getting around this.
With consistency being king, the remaining elements fall in behind, but remain critical. Next up is progression. When considering your own training progression, there are a few pieces to consider:
Avoid the simple repetition
Familiarity is nice, and there is plenty of value in repeating sessions for a period, but without progression in load of training type, you will quickly fail to respond. Begin easy, and simple, then build load and race specific training as you develop over the weeks and months.
Progression over the season
So many are in such a rush to improve that they add too much load, or training type too closely related to race intensity, too quickly. The result of this a heightened risk of injury or early plateau. Instead, a very patient and careful progression in load, with a parallel development toward race specificity as the season progresses, allows evolving stimuli and continued performance progression over the course of the season.
Progression over multiple seasons
For committed athletes, there should always be an appreciation that your endurance journey can never be optimized in a single year. All endurance sports provide the opportunity to improve over a year, but also continue to develop over multiple years. Imagine learning to play violin, would you expect to get an invitation to the best orchestra in year one? Likely not. Don’t expect the same in your running.
We now know that consistency is critical, and you must progress the load of training, but the mission is to also train to the specific demands of your event. This doesn’t mean we jump in and train at race intensity in every session, or at the start of the program. In fact, for seasonal year round athletes, we always discuss training in terms of two parts:
Build the Physiology
Training which is fundamental to global athlete development, and allows them to improve year on year.
Train for your race(s)
At least 50% of your season is focused on training, similar terrain and situations you will face in your key races. This is what the main sessions of your training week or block are built around. This component is also influenced by the type of athlete you are. If you are a road runner, training for a marathon, then your key race specific sessions may be vastly different than for an IRONMAN athlete who has to run a marathon off the bike. The demands, pacing and experience is so different that they have very little, expect distance, in common. Know your influence, what you are training for, and what you need to do to improve.
Another consideration is to appreciate who you are as an athlete. So many endurance athletes look to the elite and pro level athletes training approaches to establish their own programming. This is a grave mistake, as the likelihood is that the pros will have:
- Very different biomechanics: There is a reason they perform at this level, and while you may feel like you run like Usain, it likely doesn’t look quite like that.
- A much greater capacity to train, recover and sleep: They don’t have massive life demands beyond world class performance.
- A superior level of resilience and capacity to absorb training: Typically more years of training behind them, with greater musculoskeletal structural integrity
- A different event to navigate: An elite marathon runner takes just over two hours to complete a marathon. If it takes you three to six hours, then the event holds a very different personality and set of demands.
The final consideration to performance is the never ending requirement for great patience. The journey of performance isn’t one that arrives in a few weeks, or even months. It is also a journey that is likely to include plenty of set backs, hurdles and challenges that can never be foreseen. My best athletes I have ever coached always retain two critical components that add up to allowing a huge amount of patience:
1. Relentlessness: A unnerving relentless attitude toward their own best performance level.
2. Passion: A true passion and love for the journey and the sport.
I promise that if you can fall in love with the process, the outcomes always end up being more positive that you can possibly imagine.
Go find your own purplepatch, and fall in love with the journey.
About Matt Dixon
Author, Coach and Co-founder of purplepatch Fitness
Matt is an elite coach, exercise physiologist and former professional triathlete. His Master’s degree in clinical and exercise physiology, combined with his experience as an elite swimmer and professional triathlete, form the backbone of his coaching philosophy, the purplepatch pillars of performance, a much broader and adaptive view of the path to peak performance than conventional endurance sports coaching. His purplepatch athletes have recorded over 200 professional victories and podium finishes in IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 events, as well as over 150 amateur qualifications for the Hawaii IRONMAN World Championships. He is a highly sought after resource in the fitness and endurance community, writing and contributing to multiple publications such as Triathlete Magazine, Lava Magazine, Outside Magazine and Triathlete Europe, and is the author of the highly popular book; The Well Built Triathlete.
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