I've never been a fan of incorporating Back to Backs (two consecutive days of long runs) into my training. I personally have a hard time recovering from these efforts and it affects the quality of my running over the long haul- a trade-off that hasn't worked particularly well for me in the past. (Although I know other runners who swear by B2B's and consistently crush it when it's time to throw down on the trails).
Following a fast (for me) 22 mile run on roads and trails yesterday morning I was considering an early a.m "shake-out" followed by an afternoon of rest for today. But when I woke the sun was shining bright, I wanted to stretch my legs, and the idea of packing up my lap-top, the garlic and rosemary chicken wings that I laid across the grill last night, and an ice cold bottle of water for a 25 mile bike ride seemed like a good option for active recovery as well as the best possible way to spend the day.
I kept the pace relaxed, took the hills slow and steady,and broke the ride up into several sections to allow me to get some bills paid, groceries purchased, and writing accomplished in between.
What I ended up with was a solid weekend of training that has me feeling a) adequately "cooked" at the moment yet ready for a day of strength/skill work at my gym tomorrow b) anticipating the ability to perform said strength/skill work at a level that makes it worthwhile to do so and c) ready to get back on the trails on Tuesday for some fast miles in preparation for a Sunday morning race.
Despite the extensive reference material on exercise physiology, the countless pre-packaged programs for every possible athletic endeavour, and the performance gains or losses experienced by a friend or teammate who's altered their training, the real magic of successful program design lies in identifying what works for you, the athlete, the individual. And if you are a trainer or coach- what works for others.
The 1958 novel The Professional by W.C Heinz presents this point beautifully:
It is one of the most difficult of scientific endeavours, this struggle to bring an athlete up the mountains of his efforts to the peak of his performance at the precise moment when he must perform. That peak place is no bigger than the head of a pin, shrouded in the clouded mysteries of a living being, and so, although all try, most fail, for it requires not only the most diligent of climbers but the greatest of guides.
Creating a "well-designed training program to improve performance on game day" is only one aspect of coaching. It is an important one that should be respected as an accomplishment of it's own and approached with a sincere and thoughtful consideration of what the achievement means to the individual who set out to achieve it.
"Navigating a scientific endeavor shrouded in the clouded mysteries of a living being" is another aspect of coaching, closer to the heart and spirit of what many of us strive to attain through our efforts, and intricately woven into the first. This may seem like a spacey and somewhat aloof statement in the context of "sports training" but when viewed carefully, with honest and open eyes, it is clearly an integral component of everything that we do, not only as competitive athletes but as active and mobile human beings.
Without it the creation of a "well-designed training program to improve performance on game day" would be devoid of both possibility and purpose.
All training is a balance between the physical and mental compartments that make up a person. The above statement speaks as clearly to the latter as it does to the place in which the two converge. It also begs the deeper questions inherent in all of our pursuits, athletic or otherwise. When do we push ourselves harder and when do we relent. When do we accept that an athlete, a partner, a loved one,or a friend is ready to quit-and should quit. When do we push back.
In each instance in which we push, struggle, strive, and strain to see what we're made of and what we're capable of achieving these questions quietly lie in wait...
These are the thoughts that occupied my mind over 25 miles of rolling road today. It's not uncommon for the "how's " and "why's " of athletic training to cross my mind during these long hauls; and although I am both impassioned by, intrigued with, and inspired to "figure out" the first... I absolutely live for the second.