All coaches everywhere:  Just stick to the plan. I know how to get you to your goal.

New athlete: I’m feeling good, I’m going to add XYZ to my workout, coach will never know.  Or, I’m going to do everything faster since I want to get stronger, coach will be impressed …..

Professional Coaches create plans that are created from years of objective data, hands-on experiences and an understanding of how to get from point A to point B. It’s not to be randomly fucked with by the inexperienced.  

I fucked with the plan

Today, I earned the title of newbie athlete (as if Johnny didn’t already know…lol). 

This morning I went in for my 8-week run analysis. I’ve described the process in a previous post. I was excited to see my gains because I’d been running regularly, pushing harder on every run.

While on the treadmill, I was able to keep my form and what felt like steady breathing through most of the testing. My form began to fall apart at the next to last stage. I could tell it was getting harder to keep it together for longer stretches of time.

At the beginning of my run, I was averaging about 8 min/mile. By the last stage, I had increased my pace to about 6:30/mile and was barely able to keep it together. Fatigue-sprinting had overtaken my current running style. My breathing was labored and I felt like a human sprinkler… shooting sweat and spit all over the place (Johnny has lots of sanitizer in the room). However, I was determined that I would not stop before the stage was complete, but I knew, for safety’s sake, it would be the last stage. 

I felt great but spent. After about a 10-minute cool-down period (the time needed to clear accumulated lactate from the muscles), Johnny went over the results with me.

I could tell from his tone at the beginning of the discussion, we weren’t going to be popping champagne.

My personalized approach didn’t work

As you can see from my performance comparisons below, the efficiency of my muscles … the speed I was running that generated a certain concentration of lactate … declined a little. So, in June, I didn’t produce 6 mmol/L of lactate until I was running 7 mph, whereas today, I produced it at 6.8 mph. Instead, this shows no growth, but a bit of a decline. 

In order to become a better endurance runner, I have to train my body to burn fat. This means I should stay in an “aerobic phase” of energy production: Zone 1 is my aerobic zone. This is the zone I should maintain during each run unless otherwise instructed to do so. Running in Zones 2-4 aren’t going to build my base, and therefore, I should avoid bouncing in and out of them. When I switch to “anaerobic metabolism”, my muscles burn glucose for energy and produce lactate as a byproduct. This is fine for a sprinter, but not for a distance runner like myself. However, my body doesn’t have nearly enough glucose to sustain this as an endurance racer. I’d just run out of energy. 

Johnny knew exactly why my performance had declined. I had been training in zone 2, not zone 1. The feelings of progress, a lack of a full understanding of how the training plan works, and impatience led me to believe that I could accelerate my progress. I modified the training to suit my desires and it showed. I REALLY want to run sub-10 minute miles but my zone 1 tops out at 11:30 / mile. I’ve been a little frustrated. So, I had been running at 11:30-10:30 min/ mile and that’s zone 2….anaerobic.  One benefit that I noticed (see the performance table) is an improvement in my heart rate at increased exercise loads. Meaning, when I’m running faster and producing more lactate my heart is not needing to work as hard… cardiovascular efficiency is good. 

We talked about what happens over time to an athlete who doesn’t either build their base (zone 1) or build their sprinting power (zones 3 & 4). They won’t get sustainable performance gains. After some time with this training approach, they plateau and end up with performance declines. 

In the end, he told me to slow down and stick to the plan. I am making good progress, I should be patient and disciplined. Day by day is the way. 

Now I’m running slower again

Based on the test results, he updated my training zones. Now zone 1 is between 14:00 – 12:30/mile….. ugh, that feels like I’m running through molasses.  

Overall, I am glad that we do these regular assessments. Without them, it would take longer to catch these decrements to my development, ultimately reducing my ability to be at optimal performance on race day in April 2020.