This is Part III of a four part series. Each article will look at speedwork as it relates to triathlon training. In Part III, I will discuss some common mistakes that coaches and athletes make with speedwork.

In Part I of the triathlon speedwork and high intensity training series, I gave you a brief introduction to speedwork. To summarize part I, in the words of my Masters swimming coach, "Speedwork means f***ing go fast!" In Part II, I talked about how speedwork fits into a well-designed triathlon training program. I will use Part III to discuss how coaches and athletes mess up high intensity training and speedwork.

Here is a list of the most common mistakes I see:

1) Going hard too often

According to the experience of every elite level coach and athlete I've met, the maximum number of speedwork sessions an athlete should perform in one week is three. This number has been proven both in research and in practice. Athletes who try to do too much speedwork in a given week will either a) burnout/overtrain or b) perform with suboptimal intensity. This idea of suboptimal intensity leads me into number two...

2) Going Medium-Hard

Despite the fact that it's number two on my list, I see this as the number one problem plaguing amatuer triathletes. As an athlete and as a coach, I really only advocate two speeds: 1) long, steady distance or 2) Balls to the wall fast. The former, among other things, builds aerobic capacity, increases fat metabolism, increases mitochondrial density, while the latter increases the rate at which ones body can metabolize oxygen.

Somewhere in the middle, neither hard nor easy, is the medium-hard pace. I think I have a solid idea why amatuer triathletes make this mistake, and it has to do with the fact that most of them are what Charles Staley defines as 'exercisers' as opposed to 'athletes'. Regardless of the reason, however, trust that medium-hardness is neither hard enough to make you fast, nor easy enough to let you put in enough time to see significant aerobic improvements. It just makes you good at being sucking.

Before Arthur Lydiard came around and developed the idea of aerobic condition through periodized blocks of training, runners would often just run as hard as they could for as far as they could everyday. And, runners then were much slower than runners today.

3) Not going hard ever

I was hesitant to include number three, because, sometimes, not going hard ever can be good advice for an athlete. For athletes were aerobic endurance or muscular endurance is their limiter, a few seasons of nothing but solid, long, steady distance training will build a base for a career of succesful racing.

However, once that base is built, let the speedwork rip! Sometimes, athletes training for endurance events over two hours, such as marathons, ironmans, centuries, and open-water swims, forget that they need some well placed speedwork in their training programs.

Consider that you want to run your next marathon at an 8:30min/mile pace. You run your long runs at around 9:30min/mile, and you run a couple weekly runs at 8:30min/mile to see if you can run that marathon pace. Pretty soon, both your body and your mind learn that the 8:30 pace is as fast as you can go. Then, however, you do a few sessions of 10x400m all out sprints (or similar sessions), and maybe you can hold a 6:00min/mile pace throughout. Now your body and your mind have gone way beyond that 8:30 barrier. Now, when you go back to running your normal, comfortable 8:30 pace, it will feel significantly easier.

4) Over analyzing one's speedwork

Power meters, heart rate monitors, calorimeters, altimeters, cadence sensors, GPS monitors, computers in your shoes and your helmet and your ipod, graphing results on the computer and comparing data on the internet. It's all worthless, in my opinion. Just go out, train, then go home and live your life. Too much time analyzing your training, and you often forget to do the most important thing, TRAIN! It's what many authors and coaches have termed Paralysis by Analysis.

Don't spend too much time listening to your training computer, just go hard, go long, then recover.

That's it for part III. If you can think of any other ways that people mess up their high-intensity training and their speedwork, feel free to post in the comments section.

I have been looking forward to part IV for a while now. In the next installment, I will unleash my most revolutionary training idea, one which I think has the potential to turn endurance sports on it's head. Stay tuned!


NursAdrn said... @ February 16, 2009 at 5:12 PM

When you say go hard, how hard are you thinking? I have been doing one mile repeats and barely finish them-would have to say about a 9 on a 1-10 scale of exertion. Is this what you are looking for?

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