I know this feeling will equate to better performance down the road and I would do almost anything for better performance. Anything within legal and ethical limits, that is. But how does a person properly train and prepare as an endurance athlete? Is there a golden, secret way to achieve good results? And more importantly, is that way the only way, or are there several ways to Rome?
As some of you more "hardcore" readers might remember, I've written about this earlier (http://roadrace1.blogspot.com/2005/12/endurance-training-philosophy.html), so I'll do my best not to repeat myself too much.
I'm writing this piece after speaking to an old training buddy that has now, after much hard work, established himself as an elite cross country skier. According to him, there has been quite a bit of debate within the cross country community at home.
It has been written in stone that a cross country skier's training should consist of 90% easy to moderate long endurance sessions with the remainder focused around higher intensity intervals and "race-pace" sessions. Throughout the year, the racer would have 2-3 high intensity sessions per week and the rest would be long endurance sessions.
Well, a few scientists and doctors have recently released research claiming that all these long sessions at relatively low intensity has been a complete waste of time. They claim the athlete might as well have been sitting at home on the sofa. Instead, they suggest huge amounts of interval training and much higher intensity on longer sessions. This they say, develop the heart muscle, VO2 Max and builds the engine. They go on to state that all the claimed benefits of long sessions at lower intensity are hog-wash.
This they can claim, despite the fact that no successful endurance athlete has trained this way. Study the training log of any top cross country skier, bike racer or long distance runner and you will see that most of the time is spent on long, easy sessions.
If this was the end of the story, there would have been no debate what so ever. The cross country community would have simply written this up as something that doctors wearing white lab-coats came up with and left it with that. However, the cross country coach (Svein Tore Samdal) for the women's elite, national team started training his racers with these new principles. And the results of one very successful female skier (Marit Bjorgen) has brought the issue back on the table. The men's elite team are still following the traditional endurance training program, by the way.
Marit Bjorgen has used an extreme periodization program, where she basically has 10-14 day periods of daily, high intensity interval sessions, combined with weeks of higher volume and lower intensity. This is the core of the "problem", which method is correct? Who is doing something wrong and who is doing something right?
Personally, I believe in the traditional method for the simple reason that it has been proven to be very effective. But, this does not mean that it's my way or the highway, either. I do think it is dangerous to encourage younger athletes, with less of an established base, to attempt this "new" method of extreme periodization. This method may work with a few elite racers, with a very good base established by years of high volume training. A junior trying to emulate this program would end up injured, sick or burned out. And the truth is, most elite racers do not train this way.
This leads me to my point; To say that traditional endurance training is completely wrong is dangerous. This method is much more "adaptable" to the individual athlete as compared to the extreme periodization training. No matter how you choose to train, the most important thing is to make sure the program suits you. Trying to copy another athlete's training program is a losing proposition. If there is one thing I think we all need to get better at, it's listening to our bodies. Just because your training plan asks for a 5 hour session today, doesn't mean it's a good idea. Your training plan does not know how you are feeling. We all need to become less "slaves" to the training log and pay more attention to what our body is telling us. Also, training is hard work. It's as simple as that. Instead of losing sleep at night over whether or not you should use 2 minute intervals or 10 minute intervals, or if you should recover for 1 min or 90 seconds, focus on completing each workout 100 percent. This way, we reduce the amount of injury, illness and see more progress. And that is what it's all about, isn't it? Becoming better than we were yesterday, last week, last month or last year.