Building the toolbox

“Thus I urge you to go onto your greatness if you believe it is in you. Think deeply and separate what you wish from what you are prepared to do.” – Percy Cerruty

As runners we often obsess over needing to tick certain training boxes, whether it’s intervals, hill repeats, a tempo run or a long run. For trail runners the list is even longer and may include training to power hike better, improve technical skills, etc. Even when you have a list of the different training stimulus that you think (or have been told) you need, it is incredibly daunting to try fit it all in. We want to be told that if we tick each of these boxes over some arbitrary period (like a week!!) that we will achieve whatever goal it is that we set out for ourselves. The reality is that our bodies are far more complex than a Runner’s World cookie-cutter training program would lead us to believe.

While we would never proclaim to have all (or even any) of the answers, it is crucial to try and take a step back and question why we do things the way we do and whether or not there may or may not be a better way. The improvement in athletic performance over the past 50 years would suggest that we are moving in the right direction, but looked at another way, the prevalence of injury would suggest the opposite is true. The bottom line is that what will work for Eliud Kipchoge may not work for Killian Jornet, let alone Joe Blog down the road training for his first Comrades, trying to balance 3 kids, a full time job as an accountant and his wife Suzie who thinks running and jogging are the same thing.

The human body is such a complex organism and while it is important to use different training stimuli and develop different skill sets, the body’s adaption to these will be dependent on each individual’s physiology and circumstances. The training effect that is achieved is also not mutually exclusive, what you have done before matters, therefore don’t get obsessed with one new training session that is all the rage at your local running club. Joe Blog may have played soccer at school and developed good aerobic conditioning and top end speed but has never run a tempo run before. Including a tempo run at regular intervals may therefore improve Joe’s running performance more than one of his training buddies that has been running tempo runs for years but has neglected top end speed.

When setting out a training program it is imperative to look at your current ‘toolbox’, what do you do well and what do you struggle with, and compare that to the demands of the events you find yourself most drawn to. Remember that some of these aspects might be completely physiological while others may in fact be psychological (or even more likely is a combination of both), the reality is that for most of us we will probably never know. Also keep in mind that for most people it takes years to develop the aerobic capacity to fully benefit from all the various training stimuli of higher intensity training. Our background in different sports and physical make-up will also assist or detract in developing skills like technical descending, clambering over rocks or jumping over hurdles. Keep reminding yourself that this is a journey and that the capacities and skills you looking to develop cannot be achieved overnight, in a week or for most people even in a year. This doesn’t mean you can’t get better or that trying is a futile endeavor, but it does mean that you should not put unnecessary pressure on yourself to improve 10 different things all at once. Identify your weaknesses, look at ways to improve on them in a sustainable and methodical manner, while never leaving the things you already do and are good at too far behind. The key to seeing improvement is in achieving the right balance between stress and recovery. As always, consistency remains King (or Queen).