Runbayou: Optimal progress

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Optimal Stress + Optimal Rest = Optimal Progress

Remember the most basic law of training? Optimal stress plus optimal rest equals optimal progress. Progress towards what? Progress toward your goal. Think about it. Optimal progress depends on your goals. In other words, if your primary goal is to run a specific time in a specific marathon that is 24 weeks away, then focus your training on that goal. Create a program designed to reach peak fitness on marathon race day.

Sure, you can take a risk, over-train, and get really fast 12 weeks from the marathon...but then what? Trying to maintain that level of fitness, for 12 more weeks is risky and it could lead to injury or illness...and it might happen one week before the marathon...ouch! Remember your goal and keep your eyes on the prize!

Optimal progress: Training to recover

Suppose you changed your training focus from training hard; to training to recover. It's a subtle, but significant difference. In other words, instead of running a bit too hard on your hard day (because you can) and then running a bit too hard on your easy day (again, because you can); focus on your recovery days. Think about using your recovery days to prepare yourself for the next workout.

Then, when you're doing your hard workout, think about how much time you have to recover. Push hard, but not so hard that you can't recover and do it again.

Sub-optimal vs. optimal training

Let's take a look at a typical training week and compare optimal vs. sub-optimal training philosophy. Suppose the schedule is to do a hard workout on Tuesday and Thursday, run easy the other days and include a long slow distance run on the week-end.

During a hard workout, as you stress your body you get weaker (e.g., after you've done 10x800 fast repeats, you probably can't do 10 more just as fast). If you rest appropriately after this workout, your body recovers from, and adapts to, the stress imposed earlier.

Think about the assumption I've just made. Do you agree with it? If so, then keep reading. If not, read the assumption again...☺

Sub-optimal training - Your training partner

Suppose you and your training partner are currently equal in ability and fitness. Further, suppose your training partner pushes a bit hard. She is determined to "beat" you in most, if not all, of your training runs. Some of her sub-optimal workouts might include:

bulletShe trains a bit too fast on Tuesday. Wednesday is an easy day but because Tuesday was a bit too fast, one day isn't quite's not optimal. So, your training partner will not have optimally stressed and Thursday will be too soon to do an optimal hard workout. Recovery and/or adaptation may suffer.
bulletIf she runs a bit too fast on Wednesday, the recovery will be compromised...she will not have optimally rested...and therefore will not have optimal progress.
bulletIf she trains a bit too hard on Tuesday, and runs a bit too fast on Wednesday; she's now over-stressed and under-rested for Thursday.
bulletEven if the other "rest" days are easy, the progress has been compromised.

If she does this week after week, she's probably thinking that come race day, she'll beat you then too. And, if  she doesn't get injured, her body is likely to adapt to the point where she sees improvement. Heck she may see a PR in a few races. But if she keeps it up, the law of averages will get her. The increased risk of injury or illness or overtraining will eventually break her down.

Optimal training - You

Now suppose you follow the most basic law of training. Here's what happens.

bulletOn Tuesday, you train optimally. You run hard enough to stress your body...but you know you'll only have one day to recover before you have to stress your body again.
bulletWednesday you rest and recover optimally. Your body begins the adaptation process from the stress imposed on Tuesday.
bulletOn Thursday, your body is ready to absorb the next dose of optimal stress. You run hard again, knowing that you have a few days to recover before your long run and hard workout next week.

Week after week, your progress will be incremental but steady. Your risk of injury and/or illness will be minimized and your technique and form will improve because your workouts are comfortably hard...not death marches that you can barely complete. Yep, your training partner will still "beat" you in the training runs...maybe even beat you in some races.

Optimal progress and results

Race day is here. You've trained optimally for this day; you're tapered and ready to run your best. And, although your training partner has tapered right along with you, her body is just a bit more beat up than yours (due to all the over training and under resting). She doesn't even know it as she's beaten you in all the training runs...and maybe even a couple of insignificant races leading up to the big race.

Who do you think will win this race? If you believe that you'll beat your training partner in this story, then start training to recover NOW!

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Last modified: 07/27/08