Going into each new year, I have to sit down and plan out roughly what workouts I want to do with the club.
What complicates this ideally simple task is the number of different priorities, experience levels and interests in every athletics club. Rarely do we have more than 2 or 3 runners targetting the same race and when we do it is generally ‘by decree’ such as when we tell the membership that we ‘want a good crowd out for the County 5 km championships’. Even then, the target race for the club may not be the target race for the individual runners turning out. You can ask people to represent you but you cannot ask them to prioritise the club’s goals over their own. Running is too strongly an individual sport.
My solution is to simply accept this imperfection and try to provide solutions so that members and club can have their cake and eat it too. I’ve split this into two parts – one part (this one) about how to handle sessions and one about the overall annual planning process.
Individual customisation within group runs
At the beginning of the year I send out an email to all members to encourage them to attend group training. Simultanously I provided suggestion for how runners can tweak each session to their own need. I have provided you, dear reader, with a few examples below to take into your own practice:
- Adjust your pace and/or intensity: If you are doing an easy or medium run and the group is doing a Fartlek or interval sessions simply change your pace very gently so you still get your moderate run while the rest work hard.
- Example: The group is doing 5 km pace intervals with easy recovery. A runner next to you may be doing 400 m in 75 seconds and then 2 minutes dead easy. You simply speed up a little bit on the 400m and then slow down a fraction during the 2 minutes recovery. Hey, at least you are there!
- Put on the brakes: My favourite strategy when I have a runner partaking in another coach’s session (when the other coach’s session doesn’t fit our plan) is to give the runner a ‘ceiling’.
- Example: We use this with Jason (Kehoe) all the time – early cross-country season, he can partake in interval training but is only allowed to bring his heart rate up to a certain level (such as 167 the first month then 173 the second and so on). Again, the runner is ‘there’ and ‘showing their face’ but doing the correct training for them
- Add your workout back in: If the group is doing a 10 km ‘steady’ run but you have a 10 minute hard tempo planned, then I suggest simply planting the 10 minutes hard tempo in the middle of the 10 km run and run the rest of the 10 km at whatever pace you had planned. No one even needs to know what you’re doing!
It should go without saying that the normal rules of ‘train to your own level’ applies no matter what session is on. Too many runners get hurt or overtrained because they are trying to drag themselves behind better conditioned runners. When I was at my best in 2012, I often got outperformed by runners in sessions that I would go and beat solidly in races. The reason may have been that I was training quite control and well within my capabilities whereas some of my training buddies may have been ‘out on their feet’.
There’s no medals for ‘winning training’ and the only benefit can be a short-term ego boost.
I try to provide workout information earlier and earlier and with more and more details so the club runners have a chance to calibrate their own schedules with the club workouts. It’s hard to expect someone to jump into some ‘hill sprints’ when they have been building their next three weeks around a Thursday night tempo.
I’ll show some graphs of how we do this one in the next post but essentially I present the workouts in six week blocks so people can see the logic and the progression. I believe that if a club members knows ahead of time that the next 6 weeks are focused on ‘improving power’ and there’s progression of six workouts, then it makes it easier for them to place that into their own schedule or to think about how they can attend and modify it to what they are doing now.
If a runner was ‘peaking’ while the rest of us are ‘building’, for instance, then they might do the hill sprints shorter and sharper or cut down the total volume. There are many options here – almost any session can be tweaked to do something else than its original intention.
A final way to ensure runners attend group workouts even when they are not ‘exactly what they had scheduled’ is to ensure the formats are flexible. We have often used Fartleks because it is easy to insert whatever intensity you want into such a workout and to run it as a tempo (just run the recoveries faster) instead of as an interval-style workout.
Our regular Winter ‘Handicap League’ is the same – you can do anything you want on this course. You can run the 5 km or the 10 km and you can run it as hard or as easy as you want (and still be competitive). You could even run it as an interval session – just program it into your watch and speed up and slow down during the run and then meet-up with everyone else for coffee after.
Oh dear, pay walls!
I should apologise for the lack of activity here – I am obviously writing for quite a few pages (Running Culture, Mountain-Runner, ChampionsEverywhere and others) but my main constraint these days is that I need to prioritise paid work. As a coach you want to constantly educate and communicate but once you become ‘a pro’, you need to spend enough hours marketing, accounting, and delivering services to paying clients. That’s the bread and butter that keeps the mortgage paid and the food on the table.
For that reason I am playing with the idea of starting a Patreon page which would allow me to charge a small fee for my writing – which again would allow me to put writing at the top of my list of priorities (if sufficient traction is gained). I was once a top-dog trainer in a big multinational and I’d like the be able to set the time aside to put together material allowing people to learn how to coach themselves in a really user-friendly manner. Because truly I believe people must be the captains of their own ship and the coach’s job is only done once the person you work with see you as more of a sparring board than a drill sergeant. This is not my original view either: it was the key philosophy of Percy Cerutty – the great Australian coach of the 1950ies.
If I do start a Patreon page I want to ensure the concept and material is unique if not always in content (after all – most things about running has been said by someone somewhere) but in presentation. I want something that is easier to use and understand than what you would get if you bought a book or read an article on a ‘free’ internet page. I grew up believing in the necessity of ‘value-add’.