Sum Of The Parts
Improving running performance comes down to creating a training environment where the sum is greater than the total of all parts. This is harder to do than most think. Many create a training situation where the sum is less than the total of all parts.
We know the cliches. Trainers rather than racers. Don't leave it all on the training track. Here I look into the concept of getting the most out of your training to maximise race performance. Despite that being the main point of training, it is easy not to achieve. I've made plenty of mistakes and had a good number of successes. Overall I would say I tend to race at a higher level than my training indicates. Back when I used to participate in exercise studies which measured performance values like VO2, muscle fibre distribution, substrate metabolism, and power output my race results at the time were consistently above lab predictions. Here are my ideas on the topic.
Know Your Target
You cannot excel in every distance at the same time, but there is a good cross over between events. Knowing the key criteria to succeed in a given event is paramount in guiding your training. It allows you to prioritise your training sessions and gives the freedom to drop what doesn't contribute much to your goal.
Benefit Versus Cost
You have to learn how you respond to training. This includes the recovery and injury risk costs as well as how much it adds to your performance in both the next few days and weeks down the track. Everyone is different. An individual training session can give you substantial gains in the right setting, but the majority of improvements comes gradually, accumulate and are typically a result of consistency. These points remind me of advice from two very successful athletes,
Robert de Castella suggested that he trained just below his training threshold each day, meaning he didn't go past his breaking point and could come back and push the envelope day after day. For the individual breakthrough session, Mark Allen has offered that you should only push your limits rarely, but when you do, push them hard.
I could have used the word recovery but I think it's been overused so much people have forgotten its real meaning. We should all be familiar with the concept that most of the adaption occurs through the recovery from hard training. This does not mean we have to be at our peak performance for every training session. It is okay to carry some soreness and fatigue depending on your program. Otherwise you can hit a place I call recovering from recovery, where you never push that envelope because you aren't quite feeling 100% almost all the time. Instead, understand there needs to be some good thought put towards what you need to do to adapt from your training. Sometimes an easy day or a skipped session for more sleep may be more beneficial than pushing out another run. Other times pushing out another run might be exactly what is needed.
Learn how to race. Important races are where you want to go above and beyond anything you have done in training. The ability to handle suffering is trainable. It is both physical and mental, find the methods that work for you to develop this. Understanding what a race really involves is important, in the long ultra races people often fail to appreciate the slowness of the event, whereas for a 10km race moments of relative high speeds are usually required. Races have ebbs and flows and a feel to them that can only be learnt by racing but are won and lost in moments. Learn to make good decisions in these moments. A surge, a decision to hold back, extra nutrition or choosing your position can set up a good result. Racing is more than just being the fittest, there is a skill to it.
Of course there is a lot to be said for just getting the work done in training, day in day out. Putting some thought into the extras can make a big difference. Think about the details. Should your hill repeats end at the top of the hill or little down over the other side? What's the difference?