Another week in the books for my training as summer comes to an end. This past week I was down in Adelaide following the frivolities of last weekend’s wedding and race. A change in training location was good and allowed me to fit a lot more elevation change in some of my easy afternoon or morning runs. These easy hilly trail runs are important as I adapt my training from bulk hours spent running, walking and cycling, to event specific training across trails. There are two thoughts here with ‘adapting’ my training.
1) My training volume, as measured by my Chronic Training Load in the graph below, has plateaued over the last few weeks. This indicates that I am keeping the actual stress of training the same which is good and bad. Good because I am obviously not over-training. Bad because maybe I am under-doing it? Not so I’d like to think (but of course I am being optimistic about it here).
Instead of getting my normal training volume over 17/18 hrs of running, cycling and cross-training, this past week I got it done without any cycling and instead had a lot more elevation in my normal running load (almost double the previous week). If I had kept my normal level of cycling in there as well I’m guessing I would’ve had been erring on either over-training or maybe I would’ve been in the ‘productive training’ zone according to my Suunto data which would’ve been nice but I also worked 3/5 days last week too which didn’t help my available time to go for an easy ride.
By choosing to incorporate more elevation and keeping everything else fairly similar with my training my body would’ve only recognised one variable being changed in this week’s training (the elevation). Therefore, my theory is that my internal management system would’ve recognised this change and gone, ADAPT ADAPT ADAPT, we need better ascending/descending ability this week! Hopefully that’s how it works in real life because my next two races involve a fair amount of elevation change.
2) The other thought around getting my body to adapt to training that is more race specific is less a data and numbers based thought and more feelings based. The running community is very focused on hitting the right numbers in training. Weekly mileage, heart rate at aerobic threshold, 400m reps at 70 seconds kicking down to 65 seconds on the last lap, 95% marathon pace… are all examples of running vernacular that get tossed around on podcasts and weekly running group chats. I’ve been down this path before in comparing runners to other sports, mainly climbers, and today we’re going there again. From my time climbing the most important thing about climbing something at your absolute limit I found was the ability to learn the movement/beta for each individual climb and then execute it perfectly like a dance routine. Yes, the ability to hang off a 20mm edge with 30kg of weight might’ve been important too but it’s very common to see three or four different climbers with different strength capacities all executing the same climb at their perceived limits. The climber who spends more time working on movement and projecting hard things with their strength being equal or even 10-20% less than a similar climber, will always come out on top. They will be able to push their perceived limit closer to their actual limit (and maximise their potential).
Transferring this lesson to the running world and I believe that runners do not focus enough on executing a race, especially trail running events, as a skill. The runner who can visualise the race from start to finish (quite tricky if it’s their first time racing the event, the equivalent of an ‘onsight’), know where to push on the ups, where to relax on the downs, where best to take on another gel etc. and execute this race plan the best will always beat someone with similar or even slightly better fitness. It’s all about getting that percieved limit of your ability as close as possible to your actual physiological limit. The trickier the race (more elevation, more technical course, longer time duration) the more skill required to push your perceived limit higher. Another way of looking at it is it may be great to drive a Lamborghini around a racetrack but I’ll bet you any day that a driver with loads of race experience in an old V8 Commodore will beat someone with minimal race experience in a much better car. I raced over 5kms this past Friday night (in a pair of Nike Alphafly’s, AKA Supershoes!) and I very much felt as though yes I am fit, but having rarely trained at less than 3:00/km this is not the race where I can best exemplify my skills. There’s no hills or technical running required and it’s all over in 15 minutes meaning I have no time to relax and get into my work. In essence, I was probably more the Lamborghini driver in the earlier analogy (especially considering the look of my new shoes). However, on the trails I believe I fall into the category of Mr. V8 Commodore driver.
There is no way to measure the skill level of racing as a runner hence why runners probably neglect it in favour of much more measurable things like VO2 max and splits during km reps sessions. It is helpful though I think to continually reflect and acknowledge any improvements or failures in skill specific components of running so that you can compare to yourself over time. It’s feeble comparing to other runners (that goes for any aspect of running too really to be honest) but comparing yourself to your race ability over a 12 month period is certainly beneficial to gauge whether your ability to maximise your fitness potential in a race is there or not. And, as I have alluded to earlier, this week’s training on the hills of Belair and Eden Hills, plus acknowledging my approach and result at Onkaparinga has me confident my race skills are moving in the right direction. If this were a maths equation, well, the ‘limit’ difference between my physiological limit and perceived limit would be closer to zero than it was this time last time last week. It’ll never get to zero of course, but it’s always fun to try and push it there and that’s the game that never ends!
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