Running Triathlon

Running, Triathlon & Race walking information. Cutting edge ideas & insights from a very experienced & highly qualified endurance coach.

Monday, April 03, 2006


How to Access What You Already Know, but never Knew you Knew!

From the Olympic hopefuls that I coach to athletes just trying to break through some personal barrier, I always get the same question—“How hard or how fast should I do this repetition, or this run, or this race?”

Invariably I either ask for or have access to enough data to be able to calculate some reasonably accurate answer for them. But somehow I feel that I am cheating them of the wonderful opportunity of being able to take a risk, an opportunity to trust their intuition, which is present in each & every one of us.

Truly great training sessions come from this place of risk and vulnerability. I have read that the vast majority of great ideas from CEO’s of huge billion dollar corporations occur to them while they are out doing something relaxing and informal, not while at the office. So too our moments of true athletic brilliance occur when we least expect them. These times are characterized by a lack of effort and concerted thought. They come from being quiet and allowing our bodies to feel the rhythm, effort and pace. They come from racing from the heart.

When, for example, I prescribe a run fartlek workout of 1,2,3,4,5,4,3,2,1 minute sections, I might for example suggest 5km race effort in the 1,2 and 3 min sections and 10km race effort in the 4 and 5 minute sections. This is a highly subjective guideline when you think about it. How do we really know what pace we are running when the terrain is variable? “Effort” is a poor measure of pace. A fartlek workout basically implies the best effort you can muster for that length of repetition while bearing in mind what else you have to do for the rest of the workout. Its value actually lies in figuring out how hard you can go without falling apart and running slower for the 2nd 4,3,2 & 1 min sections. After all, this is exactly what racing is all about—how fast can I go right now, and bearing this in mind, what can I maintain for the entire distance? Is this not what it’s all about?

I find athletes work much harder when you remove the opportunity for them to assess their pace over fixed distances. If you hear your 1km split in a 10km and it translates into a much faster pace than you believe you can run for 10km, you almost always back off for fear of blowing, even if you feel great! You assess your ability not on how you feel, but on some arbitrary belief that you might not good/fit enough to maintain this pace. While there are obvious physical limitations—if your recent 10km best is 54 minutes and you run through 3km in 12 minutes it is unlikely you’ll be able to hold this pace till the end. It’s a little like skydiving—you cannot ever really experience what it feels like to jump out of a plane without actually jumping. You have to push your perceived limits to see if they really are limits.

Martin Luther King said, "Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."
It is said that you cannot cross a chasm in two small leaps—you have to go for it. As long as you temper your training with sound principles, I suggest that you go out there and trust your innate ability and experience and burst through the ceiling of your perceived limitations. Live a little, risk a little, and gain a lot. Life’s no fun if you don’t completely “explode” in some race while challenging your limits. You never know what you can achieve if you don’t lay it all on the line at some stage.