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We live in a world where we are overloaded with information about the training of those around us – apps like Strava and social media have made sharing one’s training such a widespread phenomenon. And this makes it so easy to see what someone else has done and think “that’s cool, I’ll try that!”.

So why can’t we do this? Why shouldn’t I just find the training log of a professional athlete and try to do what they’re doing?

The thing is, the best runners in the world have also gotten to that point over many years (or even decades) of work, and have very gradually calloused their bodies to handle the stress of their training load. There’s no way that your average runner can jump into a 100 mile or more training week from nowhere, and expect their body to handle this. Our bones, muscles and tendons need months and years of training to grow stronger until they reach the point where they’re able to handle a workload like this.

But what about only copying certain workouts?

There’s nothing wrong with this, per say, but the thing is that one run or workout only really gives you a snapshot of that individual’s training and doesn’t explain how they got to that point. In addition, you don’t know what the purpose of the workout was for that athlete. For instance, maybe a marathon runner has a workout that is used to work on their leg speed – this would look very different to what a 5km runner would want to be doing to work on their speed.

On top of this, it doesn’t explain how it fits into that athlete’s overall training plan and volume, and how much relative stress that sort of workout is going to cause for that athlete. A professional athlete is going to be prioritizing their recovery which means a lot more time to sleep, and it’s also likely that they aren’t working or are only working a part-time job. Comparing this with someone who’s working a 9-to-5, and you’re looking at a completely different stress on the body. This is something that simply has to be taken into account in training. Everything we do has an impact on our body and it’s misleading if we try to ignore everything else in our lives and look at our running as a separate entity – in other words, every other stress in our life most certainly has an impact on how we respond to and recover from training.

Let’s take the example of Eliud Kipchoge: every two weeks or so, he will do a fast 30km run at approximately marathon pace (adjusted for altitude). This is an extremely challenging run but it’s something that he can handle, as his body is conditioned to this sort of workload from years and years of gradually building towards this point.

On the other hand, let’s use an example of a 5-hour marathon runner. If this athlete goes and does the same sort of workout, it would mean running for almost 4 hours at close to their maximum effort. This sort of effort would take a lot of toll and the body, and would probably require a few days or more recovery afterwards – and it definitely wouldn’t be sustainable to do this every 2 or so weeks. If the workout is creating such a disruption to training, then it’s probably not the most beneficial thing if you’re looking to achieve good, consistent and sustainable training.

But why? What’s the difference that enables Kipchoge to do this but not your amateur runner?

There are many factors at play here, but one which may jump out at you initially is the difference in time. In the Kipchoge case, this workout will be done is less than 2 hours – around half the time of our amateur runner. This introduces us to something which is a fundamental issue in training: looking at only mileage without using time as an additional metric. In terms of ‘hours of training’, doing something such as a 100-mile-week is very, very different for a Kipchoge compared to an amateur runner. We won’t get into this time vs. mileage issue now (let’s put that on hold for another article), but it’s certainly something you should think about when logging or monitoring your training.

So far, all of our points have been about why you shouldn’t be using the training of the best runners in the world to guide us – but surely this doesn’t quite add up? I mean, we have information on how the very best in the world operate in order to achieve their success – the type of information that we yearn for in almost every other field of expertise. There must be some way in which we can use this information in a productive way?

Of course! The main point behind this piece has not been to say that we should just ignore this information completely – but rather just to be wary of the manner in which we use it and to avoid blindly copying others’ training without understanding ‘the why’ behind it all. We all respond in different ways to training, and thus need slightly different methods if we want to optimize our own performance. So, the best thing you can do is to look at a pro’s workout and try to understand the rationale behind it. Then, we can take this reasoning and use it as a guide as to what you need –
perhaps this could mean taking the same workout but make some minor adjustments to personalise it for what you think will most benefit your own training needs – adjusting the volume, the rests, the terrain, etc.

To sum things up, the real ‘take home message’ from this article would be to always think about why you’re doing something in your training. Try your best to monitor (or have a coach or other 3rd party who can objectively monitor) how you respond to different things, and this will enable you to keep painting a picture of your own individual training profile as you learn more and more about your body.

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