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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

I wonder....

When i throw my ideas about training out there in the world of ones and zeros I tend to get a lot of push back.  I wonder if maybe my pitch is wrong.

I wonder if i would get better reception if i softened my criticism of conventional wisdom and focused on taking a more pragmatic approach.

For example, here, is a typical-dime-a-dozen-conventional wisdom-based article that showed up in the 'someone you might want to follow on twitter' section of my inbox this morning.  If you read it, you will find a regurgitation of the base1-3, build 1, build 2, etc hierarchy that is currently enjoying its day in the sun at the top of the endurance training pyramid.

I wonder if the push back is because the instinctual reaction to my ideas for many is to assume i'm suggesting that this model is wrong - that it wouldn't yield good results - that all the coaches that were pushing it and all the 'science' (don't get me started here though) behind them is all just a bunch of garbage.  And if i was suggesting that, i guess it would be pretty offensive (and a defensive reaction might even be called for).

What i'm really suggesting though is that for the vast majority of athletes, even some pretty ambitious ones, there's often a pretty big gap between training theory and training reality.  And in the context of that reality (in my experience anyway), the strict adherence to my super-low-volume-high-intensity routine seems to allow for results and capabilities comparable to those enjoyed by the vast majority of that vast majority that are training based off of the conventional wisdom approach.

So i wonder if folks would find it as hard to swallow if i changed my tune and rather than arguing that my crazy approach to this whole endurance game was as sound as the conventional approach, instead argued that a consistent application of my crazy approach was as good as an inconsistent application of the tried and true program that most endurance athletes think is the only program out there - and that in reality, an inconsistent application of the latter is probably all they could ever hope for?

Ok, so as I wrote it i realized that, as true as it may be, the last sentence still sounds a bit offensive. It also begs at least two questions - 1) what percentage of folks who can inconsistently follow a conventional program would even care to save themselves hours a week by consistently doing less (but harder) work if they could still have the same results, and then,  2) of this group, what percentage even could?  Hmmm.....

I wonder.

*P.S.  Tammy, I wrote this three days ago (;


  1. What if you mixed both paradigms into a new paradigm by offering options. For example, identifying an objective for a given workout and then offering an execise prescription to meet that objective from each paradigm. Any given week could have any number of possibilities from either paradigm. If on Wednesday I find myself with extra time (yeah, right!) I could choose a longer workout. But if I find that I have less time than expected there is a viable option for a higher intensity session that works towards the same objective. Hmmm...quick - erase the comment after you read it and start on a new book!

  2. There's an additional factor that most people probably don't mention out loud: pleasure. For some people, racing isn't the end-all, it's the journey to the race that gets them going. Rather than accepting that they only have time for three ten-minute workouts a week, they'll fit in a run/ride/ski every day because it fulfills another purpose. It could be to get away from the world, or to allow themselves downtime that they otherwise wouldn't be "allowed" to schedule in good faith. If I don't exercise nearly every day I get grumpy, so even those few miles riding to and from work/school that may be "cheating" under a high-intensity-only training plan keep me bearable to be around.

    Obviously, if racing is your job you want to be the most efficient at it so you can have time to work at a job that actually pays, but for a lot of people the economy of their training is of less concern than the way it makes them feel, regardless of the measured output. I don't _think_ this is what you're doing, but if you end up preaching a one-size-fits-all high-intensity training plan, you risk alienating people by telling them they're doing things wrong, even if what they've been doing has been working.

  3. Beek - I totally agree with you, exercise fills a much greater role in peoples lives generally than just race preparation. And you're right, i'm not suggesting any sort of one sized fits all plan. I'm simply interested in exploring the interplay between physical and mental in terms of human potential (in particular how it plays out in the field of ultra-endurance activity) and during this exploration i've time and again run into folks who have basically suggested that what i'm proposing simply can't possibly work or produce success/adequate results. Obviously i feel differently. I think the conventional approach can work well. But i believe that lots of people that might be interested in doing endurance events believe that it takes oodles of time to prepare. and of course it can. but it can also take a very short amount of very focused time, at higher intensities. Of course that short amount of time isn't very enjoyable (: so those benefits are lost. But other benefits (general fitness, confidence that comes from the events themselves, etc) remain. So my ultimate goal is to challenge this idea that time automatically factors into the equation - it still might - for example someone incapable or uninterested in high intensity work will have to devote more time to reach the same fitness level as someone able and interested - but beyond this there is no magic number. Thanks for the comment!

  4. I love your final point 2, I consistently question if I can even absorb this sort of training without injury.
    A third point I would propose would be one of experience. If you don't have previous events to draw from some people may actually blow up because their race pace is too high, training sessions were too short to figure out how to fuel the engine and the mental aspect of the event taking so long.
    keep questioning the man whoever he is.

  5. Andy, thanks for restating. I can totally get behind this type of training as a way to show people that they don't need to change their lifestyles to take on bigger and harder challenges.

    Cory makes an interesting point about getting into this from the beginning. Say you're a young professional who's never really done this whole exercise thing and you want to prepare for a big race. How would you have them proceed? Is it just a deep-end sort of training with other events (run a 5K cold and see how you do, or do HIIT and stack several 5Ks to prepare for a marathon), or is there another way?

  6. I know i'm biased, but i love long events, and find them invaluable (personally) on some deep mystical level (; My thought on newbies is that there shouldn't be any fear of failure and that failure is part of the process. i've got this quote supposedly by buddha on my fridge that essentially goes - believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, unless it agrees with your OWN reason and your OWN common sense. It goes back to that piece i linked to by that guy frank (I am the one) - other people don't know our limitations. our whole lives we are taught our limitations by others and so stop experimenting to discover them ourselves. the ones we are taught very rarely match up with the ones we learn, if we're brave go against conventional wisdom. or we confuse actual limits with discomfort or something. so to cory - blowing up is awesome. especially in a race - there is a low cost of failure (money, pride, etc - no real worry.) And so yeah, beek, i'd probably goad any young professional who was interested in preparing for a big race with no experience to just try to get as fit as they could, trying to train harder if they didn't have much time, but ultimately tell them not to worry about success or failure, to let go of all that, and to go for it.

    Here's one more slightly more concrete way to look at it beek. Research has shown that even for untrained 'athletes' (not really out of shape people, but probably someone like the young professional you mentioned), HIIT training is effective and causes physiological adaptations in terms of fitness comparable to 6-10 times the volume of more conventional training (hey mom! i did an hour on the eliptical today! look at me go!). The challenge will of course be if it is their first race then they will have little confidence in their abilities (particularly in the face of conventional wisdom that is 'telling' them that they are woefully unprepared). Eventually, of course, or with enough 'attempts', the person would, IMO, learn that the HIIT training does prepare them physically. Long events are all a mental game (or maybe 90%) and it's this mental aspect that is up in the air - right now new athletes look externally for that mental confidence and find it in conventional program X - "follow me and you won't have any problems!". Of course some of them still do, or worse yet can't follow the program (time constraints, motivation, etc) and so then of course cave because of the converse of the statement - "damn, i didn't follow you so i must not be ready!". The problem in my mind is that while conventional programs obviously have some benefit and can prepare an athlete for a big event, the focus on using them as a maker (or seeking external validation in general) leaves one worse off in terms of being more in touch with your actual potential.

    So in short - i don't really care how someone trains - if they've got it in their head that they'd like to try something big - i tend to always tell em to go for it. Thanks for the discussion guys

  7. Okay. I'm ready to blow up. Just put bucks down on END-SURE. Farthest ever (and only one time) distance is 19 miles last summer. Currently doing the conventional plan and at 15-25 miles per week. This plan is meant to get me to marathon by May. No way this program will have me ready for a 50K winter trail run so I am looking to try your concept in the four weeks I have before the Sandhills. Will this experiment help proof your idea, perhaps. But for that to occur I am hoping you can, amidst your already full schedule, to point me in the right direction. Beyond concept and theory can you give me a place to start with some details to the specific workouts I should use for END-SURE instead of my floundering with frequency and how to develop proper intensity.

    I do agree with Matt about the pleasure in the workout itself. I run more for the "other" benefits than for racing in general. Therefore, 1 hour a week won't normally be my gig, but am willing to follow your direction for the END-SURE if you're able. Contrary to Cory's injury concern, I am thinking the high intensity but shorter training may lessen my chance of injury. It seems my past injuries stem from the excessive mileage and stress associated.

    Oh well, either way shooting for a 50K in one month will be an interesting journey, both before and during. I very well may blow up but if I don't ...

    Thanks for the opportunities, education, and motivation. Now get the book done, will ya.

    Dan Salyers