Thursday, October 23, 2014

Where Coaches Go Wrong

I was discussing college track and cross country with another former NCAA competitor, and I realized I need to blog about this. Many, easily the majority, of competitive college distance runners, let alone every other sport, quit when they graduate, at least temporarily. For many, the joy of the sport that children have has been lost in a dreary 1984 like daily grind. It does not have to be this way. 

This relates to yesterday's post about happiness and the endocrine system. The endocrine system needs time to recover. Anyone who pushes physically very hard three times a week and moderately hard three or four more days per week for 25 weeks is going to need some rest so the adrenaline glands can take a break and let your body resensitize to the effects of the adrenaline. I have never heard a college coach say, "take a month off at the end of the season." Usually they recommend one to two weeks, maybe three. Don't take this to mean coaches are hard driving uncaring authority figures. Instead, I feel it is more related to the nature of training. In other words, we study for hours how workouts improve this function or that function and take a few minutes to mention eating well and getting your rest. We know from experience that two months of training is better than one month and three months is better than two months. So we think of training as an infinite incline. Do a little more or faster evey week, then you become the national champion. That however is not the truth. I don't understand all of the science behind it but when you train your body supercompensates to recover and build you stronger than before. These minicycles, after every single workout are great, but they aren't infinite. If you pump 10 microliters of a hormone like adrenaline or cortisol into your body every day, and 30 microliters (I'm making these numbers up) two or three times a week, eventually your body does not react the same way to the hormone, or externally to the stress you put it under. It's the same with coffee, eventually that one cup in the morning becomes two because one cup doesn't give the kick it used to.

The perfect example is the transition from cross country to indoor track. The better the runner the more difficult the transition. Most track programs start in early November. At this point it is the sprinters, jumpers and throwers practicing. Cross country ends for all but the varsity seven to ten people in late October. So by mid November many of them are running again. For the top people who run regionals and even nationals by the time their season finishes and they have taken a week off, everyone else on the team, maybe 50 even 100 people, are training again. The pressure to jump in workouts and start building the mileage is on. Every runner feels the need to be part of the team and to build on the successes, or make up for the failures, of the recent cross country season. The catch is, the runners who are at regionals and nationals have been putting in eight or ten or more hours of pure running, not to mention gym time and cross training, since at least June and quite possibly May. A week off doesn't cut it. 

So take a month off. That being said, "off" does not have to mean no activity. I will often be running in a week or two of a season ending big race, but often slow, short runs that keep my heart rate down. I also take more days off during the recovery. The point being, take it easy. Work hard, rest hard.

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