Times of year for Training and Times for Playing

10 03 2007

March, 10, 2007- Scott Fliegelman

“Do I have to train like this year-round if I want to be a real runner?” asked one of my athletes as she neared the end of a challenging 16-week marathon training season. It seems like such a simple and innocent question, but one that many endurance athletes would be well served to ask ourselves, especially if we are stuck on a plateau, often injured, or generally lacking chutzpah when heading out the door for yet another tempo run.

I prefer to suggest and personally follow the adage: there are times of year for training, and there are times for playing. Each comes with its very own set of expectations, and when skillfully combined throughout the year will likely produce well-rounded and well- grounded endurance athletes, for whom success is common and defined holistically.


Playing is a great way to enjoy all the hard earned fitness gleaned from training. Players tend to shun written training schedules and do little if any journaling. Instead, they gauge success based on time spent with friends vs. time spent at lactate threshold. They sleep a little later on weekends (unless it’s a powder day), eat for pleasure not for fuel, spend extra time with family, tackle home improvement projects, brown nose the boss a little bit more, and try new sports and hobbies.

So when a friend calls and asks you to join her for an early morning two-hour romp on the Mesa Trail, you don’t need to consult your training schedule that sternly requires a 30-minute Zone 1 recovery jog. Players just say yes or no based solely on entertainment value.

Running, cross training, building strength, improving weaknesses, and maintaining an acceptable level of fitness are all on the menu, but for endurance athletes looking to go to the next level, the priority remains re-charging the batteries to be physically and mentally ready to rock for the next training season!


Before even beginning a training period, it is best to ask permission of family, friends and co-workers so that we are free to be selfish enough to pursue our goals. We don’t want to put in months of sweat and miles only to learn that our kids feel neglected and resent “Daddy’s stupid running thing.” Of course, if our family has just enjoyed the latest play period, then we may be due for a three month “hall pass”, or better yet they may choose to play a role in our success by biking along with cold sports drinks, energy food, and motivation on our next really long mid-summer run.

Once in training, we are best served by establishing a reasonably challenging goal, based on the amount of time we can commit, potential obstacles, prior race times, goal race course profile, expected weather, and other unique training and racing variables.

Despite our reluctance to receive bad news, we may benefit greatly from an early season time trial, with the pure purpose of clarifying our exact level of fitness. With this information in hand, combined with some handy on-line tools or personal coaching, we can project an estimated goal race time, and then lay out the steps necessary to get there over the allotted timeframe.

Now that we are hopefully headed in the right direction, it is time to put some faith in a well-designed training schedule. So dust off the workout journal, grab that heart rate monitor or head to the track to properly gauge desired intensity, eat for fuel and recovery, hydrate proactively, rise a bit earlier, avoid new activities with high risk of injury, and generally treat yourself like the focused and determined athlete that you are– regardless of your speed.

Putting it All Together

Remember that the principles of training include the specific, progressive and periodized overload of key muscle groups and metabolic pathways, which require your body to recover and adapt, strive for a state of normalcy, and ideally become stronger and faster in anticipation that you’ll soon be asking for more of the same. Conversely, playing is a haphazard collection of stresses at best, often poorly combined with too much or too little rest, and thereby rarely producing improved performance. The latter is a perfectly wonderful world in which to exist, and may often be favorable for weight management; however, it is best to keep in mind that it is not the ideal approach for gaining endurance, strength, speed, or for setting PR’s.

The athlete I coach who ran the fall marathon has been enjoying this snowy Colorado winter with a mix of sporadic snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and generally reduced exercise, and has been quite happy playing for a few months. Given her lofty goals for this summer’s running and triathlon season however, I expect we’ll soon be seeing her at an early season time trial getting ready to start a new training season. At first she’ll be disappointed with her time, but soon after will come the confidence of knowing she’s taken her first steps toward regaining familiar fitness. If all goes well, she’ll then find herself fitter and faster than ever before, making new “fast” friends with whom to play in the snow next winter.




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