robbie headshot.jpg

Endurance Evolution

The training landscape of endurance sports continues to evolve at an impressive rate. Measurement, technology and improvements in methodology are all contributors. These go hand-in-hand now more than ever and are the foundation of the VQ philosophy. The things we can measure now help us make far fewer mistakes in training. Two key elements of that analysis are what we should be doing and how much we should be doing it. VQ’s latest testing protocols allow us to zero in on an athlete's exact rate-limiting factors. It’s especially gratifying to see these rate-limiters change as we address those weaknesses in training.

Testing the metabolic system on a consistent basis is where the really good stuff starts to happen. It’s crucial that we understand where change comes from. Analyzing those points for growth or loss is the key to the impact of training. The very first test creates the road map and defines rate-limiting factors. Follow-up tests measure growth and pinpoint where growth came from. Those subsequent tests are just as important though to make sure we are on target and providing an even more exacting route to improvement. It’s an ever-changing process.

The more testing I do the more I understand that we all respond to training differently, confirming what Allen Lim and I speculated so many years ago: one of the biggest challenges to anyone’s physiology is how much training s/he can handle and how that changes with age.

Allen Lim told me there is no such thing as overtraining, but “underrecovering” is real. I loved this idea because when we coached together we were always amazed by how much work great athletes could handle. We made it our job to figure out how much was too much and agreed that everyone is different and there are many factors that go into figuring this out. The easiest test was to keep adding work until an obvious performance decay appeared, then the athlete knew 100% it was too much. Since we knew at what volume of work this happened, we would use that as a benchmark.

The issue with this methodology is that our bodies do not respond consistently week after week; therefore, some weeks we may be able to tolerate more work than other weeks making it hard to isolate the exact impact of every other variable outside of training. These things include all mental stresses, sickness, injury, etc. All these things add to the work stress levels and one or all of these can push us into major fatigue and overtraining. This stress often shows itself with poor deep sleep, an increased body temp, a rise in resting heart rate, a reduction in HRV (heart rate variability) and other elements that affect recovery. There are many devices that can now measure these things and help us understand some of the effects of these stresses on recovery. So the old periodization schedule of one week on, one week off or three weeks on, one week off is no longer the answer.

Resting when athletes are tired and not recovering properly, rather than on a given schedule, has proven to be much more effective. Our ability to accurately record such metrics keeps improving, therefore we are better able to capture good data to embrace this new methodology. Access to multiple data points: the athlete’s power output, the athlete’s recovery metrics and feedback on how the athlete feels, give us a much more complete picture of the effect of training and life. My dad had it figured out 37 years ago when he took my morning pulse and tracked it in a journal. He also tracked my training hours, race results, average speed and interval type. He was way ahead of the curve on this and I was blessed to have had such a good mentor and father as my coach at such a young age. He was looking at recovery metrics before we ever knew the importance of this data.

As we think about these different metrics, we better understand that stressors outside of training play a big role in fatigue. Bad or limited sleep, work stress, poor diet, travel and other commitments can really stress the body and do more damage than massive training days. Measuring these things on a regular basis is great in combination with trusting "how you feel" and realizing these things are part of why you feel tired, fatigued or sick. As we get more in tune with recovery metrics, we can get ahead of sickness, injury and overtraining. When we start to see a trend (higher resting rate, lower HRV, poor deep sleep, elevated body temperature) developing before we actually feel bad, we can limit the potential for deep fatigue and performance downturns. Combining recovery data, training and quarterly metabolic tests completes the picture and closes the success loop of assess-train-perform.

We continuously refine the Vision Quest testing process. I am so excited about our evolution and how it has positively impacted our athletes’ training focus. It feels great to give athletes a distinct direction for growth and pair that direction with a clearer understanding of recovery. Not only can we maximize the training process, but the journey is much more motivating and fun!