The folks at Runnersfeed asked me if I could give the top 5 lessons I learned while at this past weekend’s Canadian National Endurance Conference; and although it won’t be nearly as entertaining as David Letterman’s Top 10 Lists, I hope it gives people who did not have the opportunity to attend an idea of what was covered.
For me, the most important outcome of the weekend was the energy and excitement I gained from hearing the speakers present and chatting with other coaches and athletes. In fact, I was so pumped up last night about how hard I am going to train and how fast I am going to run this year that I could hardly sleep!
So in no particular order, these are the overall messages I came away with from the conference:
1. Self-Determination is key to success.
Many of the coaches I ran into during the conference asked me why I was there and if I was planning to become a coach. Well, yes, I would love to get more into coaching in the future, but that was not the only reason for my trek to Vancouver for the conference. Darren Treasure’s presentation on Coaching & Athlete Relationships affirmed something I already believed but did not know the academic terminology for – and explained why it was important for me to be at the conference. He believes that for an athlete to be successful, they need to feel:
He spoke about the athlete’s role in providing input into training and racing schedules. I am really fortunate because my coach has always allowed and encouraged me to be involved in what I do and “own” my training. I know this is not always the case for athletes and it has not always been the case for me; however, it is how I feel accountable and excited about what I am doing. I do much better at committing to hard workouts and disciplined lifestyles if I understand and buy into the program – which means being involved with the planning. I think it was a very good reminder to coaches and athletes of the importance of a partnership.
2. Hard Work
Alberto Salazar presented three times and there was one message that was loud and clear: it takes really hard work to be a world class runner. He included many (but I am sure not all!) training plans for his top athletes that include significant mileage, quality, strength and exceptional attention to minute details. In fact, he even knows the reaction time and leg stiffness of his athletes to ensure that as little energy as possible is lost while running! While most coaches lack the resources (or need – most high school athletes have much greater potential for gains through training), it was clear that Alberto’s group does not leave anything to chance. I guess this was already a well known fact as testing pollen levels and racing Galen in a mask to reduce allergies is pretty detail oriented; however, it was still interesting to see what a typical base training week looks like and the attention to detail that many people would overlook.
I also really liked the emphasis on a mix of training that still includes short and fast work even for distance athletes. I come away from the presentations with a better understanding of how to integrate 1500m and 5000m training – which will be my focus this year.
3. Mileage and Cross Training: building the engine
“Run as many miles as you can safely run” was another commonly heard piece of advice by Alberto. This is obviously not rocket science but it is something I have come to appreciate more and more in my years as an athlete. While you need to progress mileage gradually over the years to avoid injury, Alberto was very keen on using cross training as a means to supplement aerobic base without stressing the muscle-skelton system beyond what it can take. Many of his athletes have discovered their mileage / injury threshold and use a variety of cross training techniques to supplement. Some coaches are against the idea of cross training as it is not specific enough to running but I have always enjoyed a bit of a mix of training. I feel like it helps me to recover faster by taking some of the impact of running off my legs by jumping in the pool, on the bike or on my elliptical.
While Alberto swears by his underwater treadmill, the $80,000 price tag won’t work for most training groups and I think that there are still many great alternatives for athletes of all abilities. If I were a high school or college coach working with low mileage athletes, I would definitely use cross training and an important part of my training plan. For me as an athlete, it was good to hear the confirmation that my weekly spin bike session is a productive use of my time and that if I could add another session or two a week that would also be a benefit. I would not do all my cross training on the bike though as I would not want to gain too much unnecessary muscle mass; instead, a combination of cross training would get the lungs and heart pumping and increase blood to my muscles for recovery without building unnecessary muscle (which is what happened a few years ago when I did a ton of cross training and I had massive quads that didn’t particularly help me run faster!).
4. Strength Matters
I will admit my training weakness: commitment to the weight room. I usually enjoy weights when I get in the habit of going but I find starting up and getting into a routine so much more difficult than running, training and cross training. Once I arrive in the weight room, I tend to be overly ambitious and get so sore I can’t run for a week – and it turns into a vicious cycle. However, in the last few years I have been doing much more thinking and research on the role of strength in my event and I was reminded this past weekend that I should be doing it regularly. I used to believe that weights were primarily to reduce injuries and have a strong / stable core for training but now I am becoming a bigger believer in dynamic and heavy lifting for the middle distance events as it increases power and motor units which should help you run faster. That’s what I am looking for…it is just a matter of fitting it into a week that already includes several hard workout sessions, long runs, high mileage and cross training….and recovery.
I also enjoyed Steve Magness’ contributions to Alberto’s presentations and have also enjoyed reading his blog in the past. I wished he could have given his own science background presentation for those of us who like to get a bit more into the “whys”. I remember reading on one of his blogs about strength training for runners and how sprinting is the most specific and effective way of gaining strength for runners – and who doesn’t love lacing up the spikes for some flying 60s?
5. Marathon Fueling
I decided to mix things up a bit by listening to Trent Stellingwerff present on his marathon fueling research. Although middle distance and long distance running have significantly different fueling needs, I am always interested in learning more about the keys to success in other events. Trent worked extensively with Canada’s top marathoners this year to find what their carbohydrate, fluid and caffeine requirements are during a marathon. It is also important to note that elite marathoners have much different fueling needs than recreational runners since they are running so close to their lactate threshold and are therefore relying on glucose as a fuel source more than fat. Trent has each athlete log his running, sweat rate, fuel preferences, and gastrointestinal reaction in order to figure out how many grams of carbohydrates, caffeine and ml of fluid can be consumed in an event for optimal performance.
Trent also discussed the “fasted” running principle and how many top marathoners are integrating fasted running into their training to teach their body to run fast without fuel. Then, as they are closer to race day (and obviously including race day), fuel is added back in to the body during long efforts and this is a major boost for the system.
So there’s my top 5 lessons in a nutshell! All presentations were filmed and will be available on the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre website soon. The most excited outcome for me was the extra motivation I received from listening to the sessions and learning once again the correlation between hard work, commitment, and success. Time to get out there and get it done!