Recently, at a race where I was volunteering, I was chatting with a fellow runner. A week earlier he had finished his second 100-mile ultra. He was feeling very good about having finished, and why not? Much like finishing an Ironman, getting to the FINISH line at a race of that magnitude is awesome and always worth celebrating! Despite his glow at having finished, I sensed there was something else bugging him...
As we talked, I began to understand why he was frowning. He acknowledged that yes, he really struggled during the race - his finish time was far slower than he was capable of. The primary reason, he felt, was an injury that had plagued him for most of the winter and spring, which prevented him from training as he had hoped or wanted.
His mood seemed to lift as he excitedly told me that in order to rectify things, he had already begun work on developing what he felt would be his perfect training week. With a childlike grin, he described this "new" training routine as having the ideal blend of hill work, speed work, and long runs.
I chuckled to myself as I listened because I wasn't surprised. This was the same old blah-blah BS from a recently injured runner who, while well intentioned, was on the completely wrong path.
I said something to myself I often say in these situations: he simply doesn't know what he doesn't know.
Now don't get me wrong. This is a smart guy who has been running for only a few years, and it is clear he has talent. Unfortunately, he's unknowingly missing THE most important elements which will help him truly reach his potential. And he's not looking in the right places to get the answers he needs either. Training plans don't cause injury, nor do they lead directly to success. Both injury and success are essentially up to us.
What he doesn't know that I DO...and what I want to share with you today, is the secret to reaching your potential has very little to do with "the plan." In fact, it has everything to do with the "little things" that most athletes don't pay much attention to.
Honestly, of the dozens of things I speak about daily with the athletes I coach, depending upon their experience and where they are on their training journey, only a small percentage have to do with "the plan."
So, what are those "little things" that this runner might want to consider beyond obvious (to me) things like patience, recovery, daily nutrition, mindfulness, focus, and life balance/stress, to name a few?
Perhaps the most important is movement quality.
What do I mean?
Why not start by learning what the root-cause of the injury was. Only then can you get rid of it once and for all.
Many athletes and sports medicine professionals alike mistakenly believe that rest cures all. That's just wrong. Just because you rest, the root-cause doesn't magically disappear.
Many struggle chronically with the same recurring injury, often from one year to the next, because they never learn the root-cause! That's just dumb.
It was clear this runner had no clue as to the root-cause of his injury. Here's some of what he should have considered:
- Has he lacked muscle balance, appropriate mobility/flexibility, or core stability?
- Had prior injuries set his body on a path of increasing compensation which ultimately led to this injury?
- What about his foot mechanics - is he wearing the most appropriate running shoe for his unique needs?
- Did he simply need to be functionally stronger in order to handle the training load?
My advice to him, had he asked me (he didn't), would have been to start by resisting the urge to only treat the symptoms. Instead, get smarter and learn what the cause actually is.
So here's the deal folks: Yes, a well-conceived, progressive, personalized training plan is an important part of an overall training program, but it is not the most important part.
When some of the important elements mentioned above, including arguably THE most important (movement quality) are in place and are monitored carefully and regularly, THEN and only then, is it time to worry about "the plan." But not before.
Live and learn.