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Three Things Runners Do In Training That A Running Coach Will Never Ask You To Do

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

As runners we are very motivated by the goals we set for ourselves, but sometimes this leads us to make bad decisions about training. It's not that we want to make bad decisions, it just that we really want to achieve that goal. As a runner, I used to think that when my coach put something on the plan, I need to complete it exactly as planned if I want to improve. Now that I've been coaching for a few years and I have more training and racing experience under my belt, I realize that there are a lot of factors to consider. Where you run (trail vs road), the season of the year (hello Canadian winters and all those layers you need to wear!), stress at work and all the extra activities that you are doing (an afternoon of skiing with the kids, that lunchtime cross-fit class at work, etc.) will all affect the pace you can run at a particular effort.

A single blog post would never be able to list everything that could be affecting your training. Entire books are dedicated to improving running performance and my goal here is simply to highlight a few things that could be detrimental to your running success. As a runner that has had three different coaches during more than two decades of running, I have never been asked to do any of the things I'll mention below and after a few years of being a running coach myself, I'm surprised at how many runners sabotage their improvement with these decisions. Here are three things that runners think they need to do, but that a coach would never think is a good idea.

#1 - Your coach will NEVER ask you to re-do a workout because you had an off day.

Everyone has an off day. In Alexi Pappas memoire, Bravey, she mentions how her coach always told her that if you're training well then one third of your workouts will feel okay, one-third will feel great, and one-third will feel aweful. If you always feel great in every workout, then you're likely not pushing your limits. If you feel like you're draggin your feet more than half the time, then you are probably heading towards burnout. What should you do if your workout doesn't go as planned? Forget it and move on! If you have one key workout in your training buildup, and that's the one that didn't go well, then your coach might want to move it to a future date by REPLACING another workout once you're recovered. That's different from trying to do the workout again by squeezing it into your already full training schedule. This brings me to the next point...

#2 - Your coach will never ask you to squeeze in a missed workout into an already packed training schedule.

Workout days, which are days when you are either incorporating fast running or a long run, need at least one or two recovery days in between. Recovery days don't have to be complete days off; easy running counts as recovery in this scenario. You don't get fit from the intervals and tempo runs, you get fit once you recover from those runs. If you're squeezing your workouts together then you could be setting yourself up for injury and underperformance down the line. By the way, just because you did that last week and are not injured, doesn't mean that you got away with it. Often it takes time to feel the effects of that accumulated training. When I was running with the Concordia University Cross Country team, I always felt that the recovery weeks were the hardest. I would get to the recovery week after feeling great for the last two weeks of building volume, and find that the runs felt really hard even though the volume had decreased and the workouts on the schedule looked easier. So what should you do if your child had gastro and you had to miss a workout day? Forget it and move on!

#3 - Your coach will never require you to run your flat-course race pace if you're training on a hilly course or soft surface.

A lot of training plans prescribe workouts based on pace. Pace is great because it's easy to measure, and unless you're a trail runner, you likely have a pace goal for your next race. The thing is, your body doesn't care about the pace. It has physiological thresholds that correlate better with effort than with pace. Again, whole books have been written on this topic, like Matt Fitzgerald's 2022 release which is appropriately called On Pace, so read his book if you want to go into detail. The important thing to remember is that if your effort is too high because you're running on soft trails or hilly terrain, then you're no longer training the adaptation that your coach was aiming for with the workout. It takes time and experience to figure out how different paces should feel and Matt Fitzgerald's book provides some useful exercises to help you develop this skill. In the mean time, if you're not hitting the prescribed pace in your workout because you decided to run on that quiet but hilly road near your home, don't worry if your pace is a little slow. If you're working at the right effort then you will gain fitness.

These are three things that I know I've been guilty of doing, or at least thinking I should do in the past. Have you done any of them? Is there anything else that you've done in training and later found out was not benefiting your performance? Leave me a comment to let me know.

Photo: My husband, Andre, and our current coach, Bill, at the Montreal 21k in April 2023. The club we belong to (Phoenix Runners Montreal) volunteered at a water table and Andre ran the race. Coach Bill has accumulated an impressive amount of costumes and props just for this event!

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