Everyone's An Expert

After scanning the internet for assorted training information I've decided most of it is critical crap. A good portion of articles begin with some sort of statement about what people do wrong with their training. Something along the lines of "most athletes waste their time in workouts by doing..." "the problem with most training programs is..." After reading just a few articles on one topic it becomes clear that there is a very wide variety of advice, much of it contradictory.

Training for an Ironman triathlon is a perfect example. A brief summary of articles I read in the space of an hour include:
  • train everyday, even if it is only something
  • make sure you take one day off every week
  • never exceed your upper aerobic heart rate ever
  • you must include high intensity intervals to make Ironman pace feel easy
  • the more mileage the better, every mile is a deposit in the bank
  • do the minimum you can get away with
  • strength and weight training is a necessity to go the distance
  • eliminate all cross training

I think the trend is obvious. So the same seems to go for diet; low-carb, high-carb, more protein, eat certain percentages, stay away from this or that. With all the extra information available (not to mention more technological in shoes, clothing, recovery techniques etc.) you would think that people would be performing better in races.

Unfortunately this doesn't seem to be the case. In fact the opposite is happening. Taking the Boston Marathon as an example, the number of competitors completing the marathon in under 3 hours has declines steadily since 1979. This isn't just based on percentages. Even with an increase in the number of people competing in the event, the actual number of sub-3hour finishers has fallen as follows:

  • 1979: 3,031
  • 1981: 2,899
  • 1983: 2,647
  • 1987: 1,625
  • 1991: 1,423
  • 1995: 1,031
  • 1999: 756
  • 2003-2006: 654 average per year

With all the so-called advances in that time you really have to wonder why people are getting slower. Maybe it is worth looking at who is giving the advice. What results have previously been achieved with the methods suggested. Just because it is popular doesn't mean it works, since it looks like slowing down is latest trend.


  1. How can you eliminate all cross training when training for a Tri? Cycling, swimming, running, sounds like cross training to me!

    I guess they just want you to resist the urge to try a spot of synchro swimming while you are in the pool ;-)

  2. I would be interested to know if the average weight of competitors have increased as times have decreased.

    I have read that the average runner starts running at age 38 to lose weight. I don't know if it's completely true, but I would suspect that there is a notion of truth there.

    On the other hand, for many people the end result is simply *qualifying* for Boston. More runners, more runners trying to qualify. Once there, many people focus on Boston as an "experience" because they've already met the goal of qualifying. Likewise, since qualification times have decreased over the years, we are introducing a slower (relatively speaking) group of runners.

    Aye....too many factors to consider.

  3. Interesting post...I know one thing for sure - over training leads to injury.

  4. While there are some 'truths' in training, there are many different methods. There are also many different types of athletes who respond in different ways.

    For instance, I was reading about Steve Larsen and his fastest bike split at Ironman California 70.3 on one hour of cycling per day, using 'power cranks'. I wonder if a weekend warrior would get the same results?

    I think the Boston Marathon reflects fewer numbers of 'hard core' marathoners going around these days.


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