The graph above depicts four distinctly different types of athlete with respect to equivalent 5k ability (i.e. selected such that if they were to race against each other they would finish at exactly the same time). This represents a very interesting condition because in the end the outcomes are the same at this particular distance, but at any every other distance away from this convergence point, their performances would likely diverge dramatically at some proportionate rate. And if you were to delve into how each athlete type achieved that fitness, you would probably find just as many different ways.
The point being, there will never be a singular “best way” to train and that is a very simple truth. If anyone ever claims to have the secret sauce to success in endurance running without first seeking to understand the athletic history, abilities, goals, and motivations of the athlete that such a training method is supposed to apply to, they are probably retelling their own story of relative success and how it worked so well for them; and therefore, it must work for everyone else too.
When adopting a training plan to maximize your chances at success, you must know:
1) Where you’ve been
2) Where you are
3) Where you want to be.
Most athletes tend to focus and maintain their efforts on what they were born to do. So if you’ve always been the powerful, explosive sprinter type with a lot of fast-twitch muscle fibers, your inclination is probably going to be to continue nurturing that ability; hitting the weight room, excelling in shorter, faster races, etc. And conversely, the natural-born endurance athlete will probably gravitate toward longer, lower-intensity efforts like the marathon. This is simply nature nurturing nature. In both of these scenarios, there are definitely more obvious and distinct training paths that will yield the best results. It becomes complicated however when there is crossover and a sprinter-type seeks to become a marathoner, and vice-versa. Such is the case presenting itself widely in the sport of obstacle course racing today where stronger, heavier, and more powerful athletes are trying to improve on their endurance game– which in the end is the name of the OCR game. Success in this different realm will likely mean that the athlete will have to make sacrifices in disciplines where he/she was most gifted, and by separating themselves from their natural inclination the risk of injury will be higher. That risk is mitigated when the person in charge of the plan (whether that be the athlete or coach) is intimately integrated into the feedback loop such that important dynamic adjustments can be made on the fly as necessary.
Even as obvious as it may seem, a very large component in this success equation that is often not given enough consideration by many coaches and programs is DRIVE. In order to most quickly and efficiently achieve maximum potential, the training plan must reasonably match and reflect the athlete’s motivational capacities and be balanced against his/her physical abilities. And because any of these things can and will change over time, the plan must move and evolve also. In essence, a well-designed program should provide a sufficient amount of regimented structure while its long-term goals are held just far enough out of reach such that it elicits the maximal amount of effort within the individual. This works in both directions; to encourage those athletes who will try to do the minimum amount of work possible; and on the opposite end, curbing overzealous athletes who don’t respect or understand the value of rest and recovery when it is warranted and end up getting injured from overuse.
Always be mindful that there may be more than one path to get from here to there. So before taking your first step ask yourself if you’re on the best one.