It’s been about 14 years since I traded my track spikes for a coach’s stopwatch and nearly a decade working in the clinic as a physical therapist. As a coach and PT, I’ve loved being a part of an athlete’s success, whether getting a Boston Marathon qualifier, a scholarship to run collegiately, or just getting back to the starting line after an injury. But what sticks out is the skill of royally screwing things up with an athlete’s preparation. Here are some highlights that come to mind:
Adaptability – Unlike robots and race horses, people operate in a highly changing and unpredictable environment, so training systems must adjust accordingly. In my younger days, I believed there was an ideal program with carefully laid out V02max charts and pace calculators. But it likely added more stress and less adaptability for the athlete than was healthy. Being rigid with an “optimal” training system and practicing a stick-to-it-no-matter-what philosophy likely created fragile athletes that didn’t perform well when things predictably didn’t go as planned. If you need to miss a session to let tissues calm down or catch up on life – or switch from a track session to a hill session because it’s snowing outside – give yourself the adaptability to do so.
Over-reliance on manual therapy – Early in my physical therapy career, I tended to overemphasize manual therapy techniques thinking I could magically cure every injured athlete’s irritated tissue with hands-on work. In some cases, people did get better, but in many cases, that time would’ve been better spent teaching athletes how to manage the issue themselves. Nowadays, I follow the crude treatment outlook of “calm shit down, build shit up.” But, if you can make the tissue stronger, more robust, and more resistant to forces acting upon it, hopefully, it’ll be less likely to break down.
Avoid the edge – Not necessarily the Knife’s Edge Trail in the Goat Rocks Wilderness (although I have heard that can be fairly sketch) – but the training edge. As a clinician, I’ve perhaps become overly cautious with training since I’ve seen enough injured athletes and coached plenty of athletes who have experienced lost training volume due to overdoing it. In my experience, you’re much better off being 5% undertrained than 5% over-trained. And if a coach can provide the psychological boost to get an athlete to perform confidently – the runner is in a much better spot when things get uncomfortable in a race. As a younger athlete, I probably didn’t listen enough to my system = overreaching and under-recovering. Now, as an old guy who doesn’t recover as well as I used to – I don’t have the luxury of riding the edge and try to vary things up as much as possible to avoid repetitive stress injuries. Mix up training, mix up your shoes (high drop, low drop, trail, road, etc.), and find other ways to make yourself a stronger runner besides just running.
The last point is still a work in progress for me as a coach and a PT since I sometimes fail to follow it –don’t chase training metrics. With activity monitors, GPS watches, Strava, and countless other apps and training tools – it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and fall into the age-old trap of “training to train versus training to race.” Even if you’re not that into racing, you still want to give your body time to recover from the stress you put on it the previous day, microcycle, and season. In my wiser years – I’ve learned to move away from measuring weekly miles and look at overall training stress, including the running, strength training, hiking, and any other stress that plays into a training week/cycle. Taking this holistic approach to training requires a bit of an ego check and avoiding the comparison trap, but it is far healthier in the long run. Additionally, the somewhat randomization of training likely provides a unique training stimulus that makes us stronger, more resilient athletes. Plus, it’s a lot more fun to mix in a variety of different complex motor tasks than overdeveloping in one direction and atrophied in all others.
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