Another Endurance Nation case study in community-driven continuous improvement
As we prepare to close the doors to new members on May 1, we thought it would be valuable to discuss the evolution of our running protocol, as a demonstration of how we have worked with our community to improve our training plan products. This is valuable insight into how Team Coaching actually works, and will hopefully get more of you thinking less about “will this coach answer my question for me” and more about “how can I join a cadre of passionate athletes constantly working to make things better for us all?”
In many ways, EN is like an auto manufacturer. The Engineers, Rich and Patrick, design, manufacturer and distribute a mass produced product: the Endurance Nation training plans. These plans are then driven by a very wide range of athletes. Different athletic backgrounds, real world constraints, injury histories, body types…you name it, we got it.
Rich and Patrick are in a continual dialogue with their customers about the quality of the product and how to improve it. Imagine if Toyota created a forum where you could talk to the engineers about how the door handle should be moved here, another cup holder there would be great, I made this tweak to the exhaust system and this is what I learned. Toyota owners could all share their experiences and lessons learned from using the product. The Engineers could use all of this feedback to publish a firmware update to improve your car, right away. This is exactly how running within Endurance Nation has evolved.
October 2007, Out-Season
We launch Endurance Nation in the Fall of 2007 with our Out-Season training program. The program follows a protocol that Rich and Patrick have used for years with their 1:1 clients:
- Very light to no swimming.
- For the bike, focus on developing 40k TT fitness: lift watts/speed for a one hour time trial.
- For the run, focus on PR’ing an early spring half marathon. The program called for a good bit of half marathon-pace (HMP) running and a build up to a legit long run of about 1:45-2hrs, as preparation for the half-marathon.
We applied this protocol to a data set of about 100 athletes and were in a constant dialogue with them. This is what Endurance Nation, as a Team of coaches and athletes, identified areas of improvement:
- The volume of the running, specifically the volume of the half-marathon paced stuff, became difficult to manage within the intensity of the cycling and the running. Not a huge deal here, we issued some guidance to the team to turn this down, turn this up, etc.
- Most interestingly we learned that the cost of HMP running was not linear across VDot scores. In other words, for athletes with a VDot lower than X, running and racking up lots of time at HMP was not a big deal. However, above VDot X, HMP became very close to Tempo pace and therefore much more costly. Two people, same workouts, same prescribed relative pace, different results and recovery cost as a function of different VDot scores. A difficult problem to identify and learn from if your sample size is 8-15 one-on-one athletes. Glaringly obvious and impossible to ignore when you apply the protocol to and engage in daily conversations with 100 athletes. We issued another firmware update, telling people to turn this down, be aware of accumulated fatigue, etc.
- We made a note to reconsider this half-marathon focus for the 2008-09 rewrite of our Out-Season plans.
Coeur d’Alene and Lake Placid 2008: The Racing with Pace Manhattan Project
The gun goes off at 7am at Coeur d’Alene and 17 EN athletes, including two coaches, swim, bike and run their way around the 140 miles course. Many are riding with power. Most have been tracking their run paces, training with pace all year and are now tracking their paces on race day. Post race we gather all the data, solicit race reports, and this is what we find:
- We identify a disparity between the detail of our racing with power guidance and the relative lack of detail of our racing with pace guidance. While on the bike we express power guidance as percentages of a tested and objective Functional Threshold Power (FTP), on the run we use terms like “jog, run, zone 1-2 heart rate,” etc. We decide this is unacceptable, given our focus on quantifiable, objective metrics.
- We learn that just as we prescribe racing watts as a percentage of FTP, we can do the same on the run using our athletes’ VDot scores. We hammer out this guidance, issue it to our Lake Placid team of 20 athletes, with great success. Several massive race day and run PR’s, include a couple near or negative run splits from first timers.
This VDot pacing protocol is refined and validated across an additional four dozen EN athletes racing Ironman® Wisconsin, Kona, Florida and Arizona with pace. We exit the 2008 racing season having learned this one very important point: it’s about the VDot. If you wanna run fast on race day, you gotta be able to run fast, and that means lifting your VDot.
Simple and commonsense? Yes. Common topic of discussion? No. When was the last time you heard Ironman® athletes consider the key to running faster on race day was to run faster in training? Instead, the overwhelming dialogue in our community revolves around volume, building an “aerobic engine,” what miracle shoes can I buy, etc.