Most favorite/least favorite workouts


By Gary Droze

At a recent coaches’ clinic, I was asked to describe which workouts I considered most important for a distance runner bent on improvement. I replied without hesitation that I considered the most important workouts to be:

1.That runner’s favorite workout.
2.That runner’s least favorite workout.

My reply sounded downright flippant, until I went on to explain it, from both physiological and psychological standpoints. Physically, all distance runners have strengths and weaknesses. Mentally, we tend to worry about whether to choose training that favors our strengths (favorite workouts) or weaknesses (least favorite workouts). I see these tendencies regularly in local runners from high school age up through grand masters. Lincoln High School teenage star Allie Hunter has rare speed for a distance runner. It is thus no surprise that she gobbles up short, fast sessions, but takes on her long, steady miles with a touch of dread. Physically, both types of workouts will help round out her running development. But because Hunter probably possesses a higher percentage of fast twitch muscle fibers than most distance runners, she has more potential to further exploit her speed. On the other hand, she must spend enough time on endurance work to keep her in a race long enough to unleash her speed for a win.

Gulf Winds Track Club masters distance runner Felton Wright is Hunter’s antithesis. Blessed (or perhaps cursed) with a preponderance of slow twitch muscle fibers, Wright takes to ten mile runs at moderately intense pace like a fish takes to water. Not surprisingly, Wright has yet to be mistaken for a sprinter. What should he do? As in Hunter’s case Wright’s best gains will come from developing his chief trait, so high-quality endurance runs should dominate his training. But to keep from being consistently outkicked by his local nemesis Sarah Doctor-Williams, Wright must also spend some time training his limited supply of fast twitch fibers.

Psychologically, a runner has much to gain by spending a lot of time refining already strong areas. Satisfaction, confidence, and enjoyment of training are all bolstered by completing workouts successfully, and the odds are that we’ll encounter more success in workouts that favor our strengths. Too, occasional work on our weaknesses may keep us from feeling completely outclassed in these areas.

In a nutshell, optimal performance generally comes from focusing energy on our strengths, while not completely neglecting our weaknesses.