When coaching people, one of the first things I try to ascertain is their level of self-motivation. How much do they want to improve? How much do they NEED someone to TELL them or MAKE them push themselves harder?
Why? Because it is a complete game changer.
If someone is happy and comfortable pushing themselves as hard as they need to, and don’t require a set pace or a person to dictate their speed, then that person is much less likely to red-line and get injured – once they have been taught how to use their effort.
If the person prefers to rely on a minutes per km pace, a lap time or any other form of watch based pace monitoring, they can become overly focused on that pace and forget to listen to their body.
I’ll give you an example… The runner has been preparing well to break his time for this event from last year. He has trained smarter and harder this year and is in the best shape he has ever been. He is confident. Come race day he has set his pace at 3min 55sec per km to be able to finish in his desired time. The first few km’s go well but the start was slow, so he ups the pace slightly for a few minutes to make up the difference. There is a bit of a climb in the course coming up but he is determined not to drop his pace so he pushes it hard up the hill. Getting to the top of the hill he is more fatigued than he’d like to be but seeing his Garmin sitting nicely in the time range he wants it to be, he pushes on. Slowing slightly to go through a drink station he realizes that he has lost a few critical seconds and pushes harder again to make up the difference.
What the runner doesn’t realize is that he has now found 3 excuses to red-line his engine, all for the sake of a few extra seconds that he may have been able to make up easily later on.
You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to understand that if you push your car’s engine too hard too often that it will be less fuel efficient, there will be more stress on the moving parts and the life of that engine will be shortened. Your body is exactly the same. Don’t get me wrong though… Pushing your body into the red SHOULD be done in training in a controlled manner BUT with the appropriate recovery cycle. Doing this in a race situation though, can spell disaster.
What I try to do is to teach people to become in-tune with their engine.
My training sessions are usually guided by a ‘time and effort’ or ’distance and effort’. My belief is that if the individual can learn to listen to their body and know precisely what it feels like to red-line, then they can confidently stay in the groove of Top End Effort without compromising the integrity of the machine. It is far better to be able to know how to manage your own energy and output than it is to be able to read a watch. This approach allows for harder efforts when you are capable of it and it also allows you to triage your body when it is struggling so that you don’t blow up.
Yes there are times when training or racing with a watch that gives you exact pace settings can be helpful, but for longer races that push your body to test its limits, I prefer to know that I am in charge of the accelerator and that my engine (body) won’t let me down when I need it most.