If you want to improve as a runner, your training practices (how you approach your training) is just as important as your training program. As a coach and triathlete, I am often faced with the question "how do you train?". Most runners are intelligent and familiar with various training methods. Coaches use common principles and practices, but the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method to the individual and being able to make effective decisions regarding training varies. So, when I discuss training 'programs' with an athlete, I switch the conversation to effective training practices that improve your training: you can not follow someone else's training program.
A planned performance training program is defined as the “timing, sequence and interaction of training stimuli to allow optimal adaptive responses in pursuit of a specific goal" (Vern Gambatta). In running, most training programs have similar training stimuli because they rely on similar physiological principles and have similar contextual objectives (i.e.: complete a marathon). Training programs do vary in volume (distance), frequency (how often), and intensity (how easy and hard, and we can differentiate between different theories or programs based on these difference. The task of a coach is to apply these principles, planning stimuli for the predictable adaptive responses, though this is more intuitive than we let on to our athletes. Pete Pfitzinger's coaching reflection on his coaching beliefs is a wonderful example of how coaches use tacit knowledge, not necessarily a theory or model, to guide their decisions. There are plenty of options regarding planned performance programs, so don’t feel you need to train a particular way. Though we hope to narrow down the best timing, sequence and interaction of stimuli for optimal adaptive responses, after years of running and coaching I realize that it is most likely that different programs result in the same outcomes.
The key action in the definition of a planned training program is ALLOW, and what becomes an important is trusting in your training program and believing in your goal. Before I create a training program for someone, or for myself, I ask that the person give a fair and honest assessment of their current ability, racing and training history, racing goal, and the reason(s) why they want to achieve this goal. Beyond outlining how much time they can dedicate to their goal, I also ask that it is not a program that the person is committing to: you are giving yourself every opportunity to follow your goal by prioritizing it and behaving consistently in a way that supports that goal. A successful program requires that you are consistently achieving the training targets, your training practices are important to successfully achieving your goal.
Once you have a best fit training program, I believe there are 3 common training practices that can help you make the most from your training:
1. You need to train hard enough to put stress on the body so it will adapt to even harder training. In other words, don’t train harder than you need to.
2. You should progress gradually to avoid injury, burnout, loss of interest, inconsistency and failure to progress. In other words, don’t train more than you need to.
3. You should be training with variety, using different training intensities, stress and rest, so that your body will adapt to its maximum potential. In other words, you need to listen to your body.
The reason why I focus on training practices, as opposed to training program, is because I know that most people struggle with being adaptable, flexible and confident in their training program and staying positive that they can achieve their goal. Advice I give as a coach (and to myself) is to continue to see the big picture, don’t get caught up in the details of weekly miles, average pace, or number of workouts. Most of all, don't compare the work you done to others: always trust in yourself!