Thursday, July 10, 2008

The art of planning a training schedule.

As a coach it's my job to plan athlete schedule's. Most of my knowledge has come from making mistakes which I feel is crucial for my ability to help athletes succeed. Coaching really is about preventing an athlete from making mistakes (not really about telling them how to do it, but how NOT to do it) and if you haven't made those mistakes then it's hard to see them coming. I'm not going to tell you how I plan my athlete's schedules but I am going to tell you how I plan my own.
The first thing I always do is lay my schedule out on paper. I make my training log a personal thing to me and I buy a blank, nicely bound book and I mark out each week with a ruler and a nice pen.. it's kind of anal but I have 12 years of logs that are more valuable to me than almost anything else I own! My training is deeply personal to me and my logs show it. I think it's critical to lay out a schedule in rough draft (pencil) form and get an over view of the entire training periodisation.
Then counting back from my goal race and only allowing myself 2 "A" races per year, I start to fill in the basic structure of periodisation. I also "step back" and pencil the rest periods that should be in place. Looking at 24 weeks of training makes it easier to see where rest is lacking. At this point the only real details I fill in are total weekly mileage goals and long run mileage goals. By looking at a 24 week schedule it is easier to plan a progression that makes sense.
That's really the easiest part- the structure of good weekly schedule is where the "art of coaching" comes in.
Below are 2 pictures (click on them to blow them up) of my pages from my training log book and are examples of precisely how NOT to plan a week. It was 4 week blocks like this that prevented me ever nearing my potential as an Ironman athlete.

If you look at several key components to the schedule you'll see that there was VERY little rest. Technically there were only 2 true rest days out of 19 with the last 2 days of the schedule being forced rest because I was "wasted"..
I planned my long run on Sunday but overlooked the overlapping training of Monday's workouts which had total time's of 7:05/ 6:15/ 8:10 (!)/ and 7:30 respectively. A true recovery workout is designed to simply increase blood flow and loosen the muscles (likened to a massage). On the bike it should never be longer than 1:30, on the run never longer than 45:00 and HR should be well below MAF. It is critical to look at your schedule in 2 week blocks because the overlapping training is often times overlooked.
I swam long on my recovery days- big mistake (in my opinion). Swimming was always my weakness and a 5k swim fatigued me more than a 9 mile run! My recovery swim days should have been 2k MAX and focused only on form.
I lifted weights during this period- huge mistake. In the bodybuilding world the athletes only lift legs hard 1-2 times per week because in order to grow and heal you need that much time between heavy leg work. As an endurance athlete there is a difference- but the recovery concepts remain the same. I was working my legs hard every single day and often times, multiple times per day.
I didn't have a son and I have the most supportive wife ever so my responsibilities were only to myself. I became a better coach (for my athletes) when my son was born. I retired from Ironman because I didn't want to come home and collapse on the floor unable to be the father I want to be. When I plan my schedule now- I write down (in permanent PEN- big difference from a pencil) the things that I plan on doing with my son and wife, these are non-negotiable activities.. running takes a backseat. If I see that we have a big day planned, I look at what I am doing the day before and do not allow a long run. No hard run either. I want energy to spend on the important things.
I feel that a self coached athlete (myself) needs to stay "fluid" with their schedules (this applies to you whether you have a family or not). Plan your week but if you have unplanned extra time you might think about "taking it when you got it" and doing one of your longer runs that may be scheduled for later in the week.
I plan my schedule 2 weeks in advance, then when I fill in my log for each day I glance over the upcoming schedule and look for mistakes. Stepping away from a schedule allows you to come back later with a different perspective. By staying fluid with your schedule you can also listen to your body more effectively and take rest days (or add more) when you feel the need.
You know the old adage "never grocery shop when you're hungry"? A similar rule applies with schedules. If you are extremely motivated you may "over coach" yourself. This means that your motivation is beyond your fitness, which is another reason I lay out the schedule in it's entirety and plan for gradual progression. By using the preplanned mileages as a guide you have a greater chance of sticking to them later.
This week we are driving to Montana for 10 days. We'll be canoeing, horse back riding and hiking in Glacier National Park so this week I am trying to load my week heavy on the front end so I can rest later in the week. I'll still get my mileage, but I am realistic about being able to run much when were there. I am also trying to waste myself a little this week so that a rest week will be warranted while we are on our trip. Look ahead and plan around the important things. Be realistic with your fitness level and whether or not you actually can race on Saturday then run long on Sunday.
I think the most important thing you can do as an athlete is to examine how much training you REALLY need to in order to reach your goals. Avoid looking at other peoples training and then trying to mimic it. I study the science of training and what the best athletes in the world are doing, it's my hobby and my job, but when I plan my own schedule I try to simply use that information as a guide and then apply it to myself. In the schedules above I simply thought that if Mark Allen was doing it then I would reach success if I did it too. If I heard that 'such and such' pro triathlete was cycling 350 miles a week... then 400 MUST better! Right?

ps- 6/17 was the most impressive day of the bunch. I was fit for sure! Even being wasted tired I was showing my potential in training. That was a solid day. The swim workout should have read "6 X 200 in sub- 2:30".. I was too tired to write.


jameson said...

good one lucho... as a self coached, highly motivated athlete I find it very easy to come with a gnarly training schedule forgetting about rest and recovery... I'm getting better but it's a work in progress.

Thanks for sharing the logs... that's some serious training!

Lucho said...

Jameson- You seem to be in "netherworld" of training... you have the potential to be one of the best professionals at Xterra. And although the log examples I gave were extreme, I still don't think I was far off from what I should have been doing to reach that next level. Your training should be equal to the task of racing at the elite level and that means taking risks. I resolved myself to not working (thanks to my wife this was possible)and dedicating myself to the Ironman 100%. You're in a weird place in that in order for you to go to the next level, you'll need to make sacrifices equal to that of your competition and your goals. Yes- you need rest and recovery, but in the off season you shouldn't be afraid to find your true limits. My problem was that I was always at my limits 52.177457 weeks out of the year.

Anonymous said...

How do you determine MAF and Aet

thank you

Lucho said...

MAF HR= 180-age and is more for Ironman.

AeT = 2.0mmol of lactate while running and is (open) marathon race pace.

Anonymous said...

MAF HR= 180-age and is more for Ironman.

I just don't get how you can use such a standard protocal when heart rates vary so much from one individual to another? I know a world class triathle who max heart rate is 178 on the run and another that is 204 they are within 2years of each other that would put one at 85%max and another at74% that is a huge difference. IF you could help me out with this that would be great
thank you

Lucho said...

MAF is a simple STARTING point for determining training effort, it is not a standard protocol. I've posted a gazillion times regarding this. There is no one formula that is infallible and one would be lazy to use such a thing! But you need a place to start.
Of course everyone is different- that goes with out saying.
Of course we all have different HR's- that too goes with out saying.
But you can either pay $100+ to go to a lab and get proper blood work done, or you can make an educated guess.. get close.. then make adjustments. There have been books written on MAF training, Mark Allen, Tim DeBoom, Peter Reid, Mike Pigg, Chuckie V.. they've all used the principle. The thing with Ironman is that the intensity has to be very low, MAF allows for this very specifically. The 180 number is a GENERALIZED view of the average (well trained) athlete's Vo2 max HR.
I've never said that MAF training is perfect for everyone. But if you're just starting out using a HR monitor then it's a good place to start rather than go about your training mindlessly. It is far superior to using the max HR formula which does not account for fitness improvement over time.
"Anonymous"- What method do you use and what method do your "world class" buddies use?

Ironboom said...

Great post Lucho. Thanks for sharing.

Ward said...

Good stuff again as usual Lucho!! I wish you would have been coahing 10 years ago..

Lucho said...

Ward- Not nearly as bad as I do. Thanks for the good word.. you too Ironboom.

Ironboom said...


I noticed that, at least on the logs you provided, you didn't employ the two runs a day strategy that you often do now for standalone marathon training. Do you think there is a place for this in Ironman training? Thanks.

Lucho said...

Ironboom- That's a tough call. Sort of the main reason to split runs up is to incur less fatigue- thereby accumulating more miles at a faster pace, and to stimulate metabolism more frequently. In the case my own schedule- I was already doing ~3 workouts per day so stimulating metabolism more frequently wasn't needed. I also wanted to feel the fatigue of mile 15+ just like at Ironman.. 2 runs would not be the same type of fatigue.
Also, the over-all mileage was never high enough to need to do 2 a days. Once you start to really push your mileage envelope you should consider splitting runs in order to keep the over-all mileage faster and more race specific.
I don't really think 2 a days on the run would be be necessary.
You will notice several 2 a days in the pool though and that was to boost my over-all yardage with out killing myself. 20k seemed to always be my breaking point- anything beyond that and my bike and run would suffer too much.

There would be an exception to this though- lets say you have to be to work at 8:00am but want to get in a long mid-week run (thereby allowing more cycling mileage on the weekends) and you end up getting a late start. Splitting the long run once in a while would be ok, particularly during a stressful work, family, or training week. Fatigue in cumulative. So a long run after 3 weeks of hard training has a much greater stimulus on your fitness than doing a long run when you're rested. If you're tired, then your legs aren't really going to notice the split. I would say to keep a majority of your long runs as 1 run though.

GZ said...

Good post, and honestly, it was not me posting anonymously before.

I remain a bit blown away at what you and JK do accomplish for HRs - meaning how low they float for you guys on efforts that would kill most of the US population.

Then I see training logs like this, I hear of 20 hr weeks from JK1 (who is also working) ... and I get it.

Do your logs ever get more detailed than this? Just curious.

kerrie said...

um wow...i think one week of your training equals one of my months!

pretty interesting crazy stuff-i also noticed the 2xday swims- and the ton of riding(and running). no wonder you find it hard to believe that i am fatigued when i am, lol.

what is "L"? i like the format of the logs and may have to try that.

are we on for the a.m?

Lucho said...

GZ- That never crossed my mind.. you're better than that. I don't really put more detail unless I think I need to. Lately I have been doing more though, not sure why.. little details like red flags drawn to indicate fatigue or soreness. It's easier to see at a glance when the red flags start to form a pattern.

Kerrie- Ya, Niwot at 7:00am.
The "L" is for Weight Lift..

GZ- come by for a run if you have time- but I know it's a long drive for you. Although we could meet at Centaurus, they just resurfaced the track ;) Let me know by ~6:00 am if you can make it to Centaurus.