Training Age vs Experience
When I get a new client, our initial conversation (usually) starts with me asking about their current level of fitness and training experience. More often than not, they start with the first sport they ever played (no joke, we go back to little league) and give me a highlight reel of everything in between. They give me all kinds of details....except the ones I'm looking for. Their frustration with my follow-up questions is palpable. I like to think mine is not. ;-)
"I need to know what you've been doing for the past 3 months. How many runs per week, rough estimates of weekly mileage, if you've been running YOLO or following a plan."
This is where the indignation comes in. "I told you everything!" Correct. You also told me nothing.
"I've been running for 20 years" tells me nothing.
"I've done 2 marathons, a whole bunch of halves, and trail races whenever I can" tells me nothing.
"My easy pace is 8:00" tells me nothing.
If you've been training with me for awhile, you understand why the third statement tells me nothing (you may think an 8:00 pace is easy but if your HR is 172 gonna have to disagree with you). The other two questions are useful in determining your experience level, but it still isn't quite enough to know what i'm working with. Each piece is important but we need all of the pieces to see the picture.
"I ran a 2:02 half in 2012. I want to beat that at the race at the end of this plan."
Do I believe a sub-2:02 is possible for you in general? 10,000%, I think most humans can get there if they so desire. Do I think it is possible in our first training cycle together? No clue. How long will it take? No clue.
The final and most important piece of the getting-to-know-you puzzle is your training age. Your experience dictates how we approach the race itself, but your training age dictates your plan: how I incorporate intensity, how I structure your long runs, how I build out your strength progression.
What's the difference?
Training age: the length of time you have been training consistently.
Experience: Having done 'this thing' before.
"This Thing", specifically:
Are you new to running in general?
If you've raced before, did you train? I mean, REALLY train either with a coached group or with a training plan you found online/in a book?
Did you complete more than 50% of that plan?
Are you new to training for this distance?
Have you ensured you have time in your schedule and the necessary support to train for this distance?
Have you worked with a coach before?
Are you aware of the nutrition/performance connection, and do you care?
A person can have twenty years of running and racing experience and a training age of 0. It's actually more common than you think. What is way less common is to get someone with even 5 years experience who has been training consistently (meaning, 5 days per week with no breaks longer than 2 weeks for any reason) for even 3 of those years.
Most of my clients have completed a lot of races. Few have actually trained, ever, the way they will train with me. There is a huge learning curve associated with training and I operate on the assumption that in our first cycle together I need to teach you how to train and race. In subsequent cycles we can fine-tune what we established in the first cycle.
"I don't understand, I'm not a beginner, I've done this before. I should do better this time than last time, this expectation isn't irrational".
Yeah, it kinda is. Experience counts for sure, but it doesn't necessarily override your training age. When the work is interrupted, so is the progress. If you haven't maintained running fitness since that half in 2012, it may not be realistic to expect an improved result 20 weeks from now. If you haven't really taken this training thing seriously and haven't made time in your schedule to do your runs, your experience won't go very far. Your experience CAN give you an advantage...if you can put your ego in your pocket and do what you need do do rather than resent what needs to be done.
Take me, for example. I've been running for twenty years. I have considerable experience in training, in racing, and in working with a coach. I had my third child in February 2015 and started training again in May. I suffered a setback that prevented me from running until July 2015. Aside from 2 small breaks due to illness, I've been training consistently since July 2015. My training age is about 18 months. That is to say, I have been building my level of fitness that is specific to running, consistently for 18 months. It would be rational for me to expect to improve my performance in my next race, provided I don't quit or suffer a setback/injury.
My biggest goal for you is to create a monster. I hope it will be waiting for you at the end of your training plan. I hope this monster loves running and wants to do it forever. But until that monster celebrates its first birthday, we need to cool it on time-based performance expectations.
You are coached. You are loved. You are WELCOME.