There is a lingering training culture of making sure you do every session, putting everything into every session. Terms like “No pain, no gain”, “Consistency is king” do not apply well to an endurance training program. We need to be intuitive to our bodies and use the times we feel good to turn up the training dial, recognise fatigue and recovery needs when it happens, not when the program says so. Variety and flexibility in the program is important, as a coach I will never criticise and athlete for going longer in a aerobic session, dropping a session, or switching session days because they felt ready or not for a big effort.

An experienced athlete knows his body and his real life impacts way better than a coach ever will. It is the coaches job to provide a framework, guidelines and the develop an athletes intuition. I am not a coach who expects you to follow the program as a prescription for success, a big component for success is for the athlete to make informed intuitive decisions on a day-to-day basis.

The bottom line is that the coach and athlete need to work together with frequent 2-way feedback. This allows appropriate situational variety to fit training to real life pressures, rather than consistency with the expectation that “life” must give way.

Here are my basic athlete guidelines for endurance or general fitness athletes:

  • Sleep is the number 1 priority. Recovery is king!
    • For athletes training +15 hours a week a bare minimum of 7.5 hours a night is essential, 8 hours+ recommended.
    • If you can’t achieve the minimum sleep hours, training needs to reduce to maintenance levels while the reasons for sleep loss are addressed. Training on reduced sleep is unsustainable will lead to injury, illness or at best stop progress.
    • If your sleep is reduced for more than two days for any reason, such as travel or stress, back off the training.
  • Nutrition, every day refueling.
    • Consuming sufficient daily calories to support your level of training is essential. Ladies have a tendency to consume too little, while men too many.
    • Understanding your macronutrient and micronutrient nutritional needs is essential for sustainable training, race performance and general health. A focus on real food over processed carbohydrates and proteins is highly recommended. I align to the primal principle and have my Health and Nutrition coaching certification. If you have clinical challenges I highly recommend Steph Lowe from The Natural Nutritionist.
    • For IRONMAN and Ultra distance races an appreciation for fat adaption must be developed to enable sustained performance after 8.5 hours of racing.
  • Manage yourself, develop and apply your intuition.
    •  As a coaches we can only recommend sessions based of your recent performances, recorded metrics and feedback. Your coach will never know how you feel on a day-to-day basis nor have full understanding on your day-to-day stress at work, home or play.
    • You must trust your intuition and adjust your weekly program to how you feel and around your daily priorities.
    • If you feel fatigued or ill on any day, don’t train no matter what the program says. Take the time needed to recover and return only when you are physically ready.
    • If you have niggles or injuries, follow up with your health practitioner and get the root cause corrected. Don’t carry these through training indefinitely.
    • You are the master of your training, not the coach, take responsibility for holding back on training when the situation fits. Fitness is not lost quickly. It takes the same amount of time to get back to your level of fitness as the time taken off. i.e. after 2 weeks off it will take 2 weeks to get back to the same performance level. Likewise for 4 or 6 weeks.
  • 80/20, 80% Aerobic, 20% tempo / Anaerobic
    • Endurance races are always 90%+ aerobic, hence we focus on this system.
    • With the exception of taper a 80:20 ratio of aerobic to Anaerobic intensity applies
    • Aerobic sessions are strictly below your aerobic threshold, generally a heart rate below MAF (180 – age) or your VT1 if mets tested.
    • The time of whole Anaerobic session time counts towards your 20%, not just the time above MAF.
  • Anaerobic sessions are short and sharp.
    • Mostly 45 min or less including warm-up and cool down
    • Maximum 20 min main set to ensure you maximise anaerobic adaptation
    • Weight training should be Maximal strength of 5 to 6 reps with plenty of recovery between sets.
    • VO2Max Intervals should be 10 seconds to 60 seconds will good recovery of 2.5 effort recovery ration (1 min effort = 2 min 30 recovery)
    • Sweetspot Intervals should be 3 min to 14 min, this applies to hill sessions too.
  • If you can’t nail the interval session, go home!
    • Interval sessions are about muscular adaptation and lactic tolerance.
    • If you can’t give the session 100%, best not do it and use the time to recover. Just 5% below target means you will not achieve adaptations targeted.
    • Endurance events are aerobic! Strength and speed are a second priority!
  • Record all metrics and upload to TrainingPeaks (Mandatory!)
    • Endurance sport is about efficiency which is the relationship between outputs and inputs.
    • To understand adaptation opportunities we analyse inputs (Heart Rate, Calories) against outputs (Pace and Power).
    • As a distance coach I need Heart Rate and GPS data recorded for the majority, if not all sessions, and nutrition consumption for sessions over 90 min.
  • Fat burning key for endurance success
    • The slow down in the 2nd half of the long events is almost always due to the inability of athlete’s systems to absorb high levels of carbohydrates indefinitely. To counter this we train to burn predominantly fat at aerobic intensity reducing dependency on carbohydrates.
    • No carbs are to be taken before or during aerobic sessions up to 90 min, 150 minutes for fat adapted athletes.
    • Small levels of carbs (20gm) can be taken before VO2max sessions to support fight or flight energy systems fueled by carbs.
    • Morning aerobic sessions should be done fasted, no breakfast but maybe a coffee!