Sometimes as a runner, the more you read about training, the less you know. Diving into the complex world of physiology terms like VO2max, Lactate Threshold, Lactate Turnpoint, Aerobic Threshold, Max Lass and so on can make you sound like you know a lot, but does all of this complex information actually help you train more efficiently and achieve better results? Based on my experience in the sport, I doubt it.
Many of the top runners from past years knew very little if anything about physiology (and some of what they did know has since been proven wrong!), yet they managed to come up with performances that are still competitive today. Jerome Drayton’s Canadian marathon record of 2:10:08 set in 1975 still stands today. And Americans Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter in their prime would’ve been contenders to make the U.S. marathon team for London, though they wouldn’t be the medal favourites they were in 1976. New Zealander Jack Foster eschewed complicated training formulas in favour of “Just going for a run everyday,” and ran a still nationally competitive 2:11 marathon at the age of 41 back in 1974.
There’s also the fact that our knowledge of physiology keeps developing over time. As recently as 20 years ago, physiologists were convinced that lactic acid was the main cause of fatigue in middle distance races. Now we know that rather than being the enemy, muscle lactate is actually used as a fuel. I wonder what else we “know” about training will be proven wrong in the future?
But beyond that, I think an over-emphasis on complicated, physiology-based training can actually have some unintended negative affects on your training. Here are 5 reasons to keep your training program simple.
1. Focus. Keeping your training program simple allows you to focus on what really matters – effort. Instead of worrying about whether your heart rate is in the right range or whether you’re running a precise tempo on the roads, you can clear your mind and focus all of your energy on just running. This clarity of focus often produces great results when you least expect it.
2. Removing Limitations. When you start to think too much about your training, you tend to artificially impose limits on yourself. If you think you’re only capable of a certain level of performance, you’re more likely to hesitate when you find yourself having an above average day. Instead, just relax and go with the flow. Sometimes you’ll be shocked at the results.
3. Confidence. The more complicated you make your training, the more variables you introduce, and the more likely you are to question whether you’re on the right track. This introduces the possibility for self-doubt and can damage your confidence in yourself and your confidence in your coach.
4. Learning to Listen to your Body. Your body knows what it needs a lot better than your pace chart, heart rate monitor or lactate analyzer does. These kinds of tools can have their place,provided you learn to take them with a grain of salt, but ultimately it’s better to learn to listen to your body. When you’re tired, take it easy, when you feel good, push yourself.
The limitation of external devices is that you never really know your physical capacity on a given day. Sure, maybe you ran a PR last week, but that result was on a day you were rested, ready and psyched up to race. Your ability from one workout to the next varies depending on what you did in the days and week leading up to the workout and those exact conditions will never quite be duplicated. As a result, pace charts etc. can never really capture your physical capacity at the moment. The answer is to learn to listen to your body and focus on effort based training.
5. Enjoyment. Finally, how are you supposed to enjoy your running if you’re constantly counting heart beats or worrying about specific paces? A runner who truly enjoys his or her training is a runner who will stick with it through thick and thin and this perseverance is one of the biggest requirements for long term success in the sport.