The #1 Tip I Give All Endurance Athletes
I have been coaching and consulting with endurance sports athletes in some form for about four years now. I've been lucky enough to coach runners and cyclists in five countries, all of various abilities, but all amateur athletes to this point. Everyone carried a day job, but that didn't stop any of them from setting lofty goals for their cycling, running, and triathlon performance.
In my time as an athlete, and now as a coach, there is one thing that has been consistent with every athlete I've known or worked with over time:
Everyone comes into training for an event or season with the mindset that they must train hard all the time.
This manifests in a few different ways:
Athletes who believe that taking a day off is wasting training time.
Athletes who believe that reducing volume prior to key events means their performance will suffer.
Athletes who don't want to take time off because they don't want to lose hard-earned fitness gains in the short term.
Athletes who want to "hammer" their long rides or runs, thnking that harder is always better, even on long-duration workouts.
In some form or another, the mindset is the same, and it's all caused by anxiety. Let's face it: we all care about our performance. We invest time, money, and energy into our sports and we make tons of sacrifices to achieve our goals.
Those of us living in the United States are also part of a society that believes in rewarding hard work - that the way to get ahead in life is to work harder than the other guy. That mindset carries some truth in endurance sports, but unfortunately, most athletes left to their own devices will take it way too far.
So what is the first coaching conversation I have had with nearly every athlete I've ever coached or consulted with? It usually goes something like this:
"Embrace the easy."
I like this simple catchphrase because it encapsulates a few key training principles in three words.
You DON'T have to go hard every day, in fact, you shouldn't.
For most endurance athletes, your biggest gains are going to come from consistently nailing your easiest (but longest) rides and runs.
You need to take your recovery as seriously as you take your hard interval sessions.
Riding your bike or running should be fun! Also, coffee is good!
I often prescribe rides at what I call "beach cruiser speed", so a rider on a road bike might get passed or sit and chat with someone on a beach cruiser. These types of recovery rides are great ways to get a little bit of aerobic signaling (rather than a complete day off), improve circulation in your legs to aid in recovery, and in general, help you to just feel better.
A big part of recovery is feeling better. That's right, to be a successful endurance athlete, you don't have to be tired and sore all the time!
Kind of flies in the face of "no pain, no gain", right? Our bodies adapt to all of the training we do when we REST; when we SLOW DOWN; when we CHILL THE F OUT!
If you keep battering your body day after day with more and more work, more volume, and more intensity, you just generate fatigue. If you're new or coming off a layoff, your body will ramp back up to where it was before your layoff, or you'll improve somewhat as your body makes short-term adaptations to the increased workload.
If you want to really improve in endurance sports, you have to dose your body with work, and then allow it to recover and adapt.
And then you dose it with more work, recover and adapt.
And then you dose it with more work, recover and adapt.
Simply bludgeoning yourself day after day will show you some gains early on, but you will quickly plateau. Once you back off for a little bit and shed that fatigue, you'll be faster... for a time. If you don't get back to work, your body will think, "Whew, I'm glad THAT'S over!" and it will settle back into its comfortable place having made no meaningful long-term adaptation.
That's NOT what we're after.
We want to elicit meaningful change.
Meaningful change comes from being able to string together CONSISTENT work day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year.
That work should get progressively more challenging. So each time you then back off, your body knows to adapt, because it knows more is coming.
Gains made in this way are slower than smashing yourself, but they are sustainable, and most importantly, THEY STAY WITH YOU. You won't lose them when you take a couple of weeks off... you just have to get back and sharpen up again, and you'll be back to where you were previously.
Achieving that consistency year over year means you have to do work that is achievable and recoverable for your body. That means you're dosing it with the right level and amount of intensity occasionally, but otherwise, you...
Embrace the easy!
I think the single biggest difference I see between successful endurance athletes and those who either burnout or simply don't improve is this:
Successful athletes take their recovery as seriously as their training.
Simple as that. Most athletes have a decent sense of what type of work to do. Many need some tweaks in terms of how hard or how long, but in general, most people know that doing more volume will make them better. The problem is they just don't know when to "quit" so to speak... so they pile on more... more... more.
Eventually they reach a place where they're just kind of tired all the time, they're not making any real progress - short or long-term. Maybe they're lucky or they have an extensive background so they're fitter than a lot of their friends, and they can win their group ride or do well in the local 5K... but their last PR was 5 years ago, or they've never improved their power numbers since they turned 38 or whatever.
Too many people make up reasons why this is happening to them... "Oh, I'm just getting older." "Kids, man..." And those might be valid.
I'm here to tell you, anyone can get better. None of you is at your genetic maximum for your age.
The odds are VERY good that you just need a push in the right direction. Start today by taking your recovery seriously and embracing the easy!