Guest post by Greg Strosaker of Predawn Runner
As a runner or other endurance athlete focused on maximizing performance, you face numerous choices on how to structure your training. Of course, you often want to run as much as possible, but you need to decide how much of various training elements such as speed work, long runs, cross training, or strength and flexibility work to include.
So how can you decide what makes the most sense for reaching your specific goal?
One model that might be helpful is to think about maximizing your return on investment. This is analogous to making financial decisions, of course, but in this case the asset is your time, not your cash. Time is the biggest limiting factor most “recreational” athletes face, so it makes sense to use it as your currency in designing training plans.
Of course, there is no one model that works for everyone. Just like for financial goals, athletic goals can vary widely.
Differences can be driven by your age, history, personality, general risk tolerance, or other factors.
Just as you wouldn’t try to match someone else’s investment portfolio, most training programs designed for general use or tailored to a friend aren’t necessarily the best fit for you either. In addition, if you don’t consciously recognize what your plan and the elements that make it up are trying to accomplish, you won’t know how to correct things if you fall short – or maybe even notice that your progress isn’t what you hoped for.
A good coach is therefore like a good financial adviser – able to assemble what you need from a range of potential choices on how to employ your key asset.
Here is the approach your coach (or you, if you are self-coached) should use:
Settle on and document your goals
This should start from the long-term (i.e, remain competitive in my age group for years to come) and then trickle back to specific goals for the season (run the New York City Marathon in 3:30). The long-term goals should embody your aspirations and the short-term goals should employ an appropriate amount of stretch – enough in both cases to maintain your motivation.
Assess the gap
Assess the gap between your goals and your current realities, and define how much improvement is required to close this gap. Is it realistic to achieve the goal in the time frame you have available? In the same way that chasing a “get rich” scheme can result in disaster, pursuing too difficult of a short-term athletic goal can lead to injury or burnout.
Perform your research
Once you know the gap you need to close, learn about the tools available to get you there. Do you need to focus on endurance? Does your injury history suggest that you need to correct an imbalance? Are you lacking a focus on speed? Just like researching markets and companies, this can give you a sense of the “lay of the land” and point out the options available.
Define the mix of investments needed
- Speed work or other difficult workouts (tempos, intervals, marathon pace, etc.) – these are the high-reward / high-risk section of your portfolio, the hot growth stocks that will power development of your key anaerobic traits. Typically these range from 10-20% of your time allocation.
- Base mileage (medium to long runs at a steady state pace) – these are the conservative blue-chip or value stocks of your training, paying healthy dividends in the form of aerobic capacity. These can be 40-60% of your investment.
- Recovery runs (or, as I call them, anticipation runs) and core/strength/mobility training – these are your low-yielding but safe investments, like insurance, treasuries, and AAA corporate bonds, that provide a safe haven from which to extend yourself the next time (and help you avoid needing to spend real money on injury treatment). These are generally 20-30% of your time.
Assess and Adjust
Continuously assess your returns and adjust your mix as needed. While you don’t want to overreact to every signal you get, an impending injury, lack of progress, or results coming in ahead of plan provide the impetus for a review of your portfolio. Make sure you are occasionally making the appropriate changes to keep working towards your goals.
Ideally, heading into each season, you’ll want to establish an ideal mix and see the schedule arranged accordingly. Not every week will hit this ideal, but over the course of the season, the allocation should look roughly in line with the plan. And the base-building period should look different than the race preparation period (the former is more “conservative”, and the latter more “aggressive”).
Bringing it all together
Of course, it’s difficult to set quantitative recommendations that fit everyone, and it can take years to find the asset allocation that will work for you. The good news about running is that you don’t have to lose your shirt in the process, like you might if make bad financial decisions. So maybe running is a great laboratory in which to experiment in finding your appetite for risk.
photo source: naldo45y