Thursday, December 6, 2012

Maximizing Your Ability

I just finished reading 'Iron War' and it really opened my eyes to a lot of the reasons why coaches and athletes follow certain training methods and what they are supposed to accomplish. I always understood that classic training theory states that you need to start building your 'base' in the early season and as you approach your races in the spring/summer you should focus on higher intensity workouts to maximize your fitness. I usually scoffed at this type of approach because I really enjoy training with intensity and doing it all year long, and I figured that I was getting better every year so it was obviously working, right? I read that Alberto Salazar used to do crazy intense workouts all year long and he would destroy his competition at every race. The problem is that you are always riding along a razor's edge between burnout and injury and only complete rest and recovery for a long period of time can bring you back. It happened to Alberto and it happened to me... Such is life.

The one major insight I gained from reading Iron War though had to do with a study done in the US on Cross Country runners. A researcher was attempting to discover why some runners can be as successful as others while having completely different running styles or forms. The study hooked experienced and inexperienced runners up to an accelerometer and measured differences in their running stride, there was no surprise that experienced runners were more efficient and had less of a 'decceleration' phase associated with their stride. What surprised them was that both experienced and inexperienced runners tended to have a less efficient running stride when they were asked to concentrate on how they were running and to try to perfect their form. The conclusion they drew from this was that there is no one 'perfect' running form, everyone has their own unique way of running and there are only two ways to improve it. 1. run a lot of miles over many, many years, or 2. run at high intensity. When you run at high intensity you tend to 'think' less about how you are supposed to run and your body naturally finds it's most efficient way to run. That being said this flew in the face of all conventional wisdom at the time, that a runner needed to be coached and trained to run a specific way in order to be more efficient- not true!

It makes a lot of sense when you think about it, I look back at images of Dave Scott running along Mark Allen in 1989 and you could not have had two completely different running styles. Dave ran like he was trying to catch a bus 100m down the road, arms swinging wildly at his sides, feet outward in his typical duck-like run and then there was Mark, smooth, efficient, long measured strides and they both ran stride for stride and both did a 2:38 marathon at the end of an Ironman! Wow... You can't take anything away from Dave even though he lost the race that day he still did an 8:10 race and over years and years of training his body found the most efficient way for him to run, it wasn't Mark Allen's way but it was just as fast and effective.