Deliberate Training

They say practice isn't good enough. It's deliberate practice that makes a difference. In other words, showing up at the basketball court every day will certainly make you a better player than someone who does nothing at all, but it won't really make you a better basketball player than yourself. You'll never improve that way. In order to improve, you have to do more than show up. You have to analyze your weaknesses and take deliberate strides toward reducing or eliminating them. That's deliberate practice.

In the spirit of engaging in deliberate practice, let's take a look at my last two Z4 threshold interval runs; one from last week, and one from this week.

But first, some background information. I haven't done any serious training in the form of speed work for at least a couple of years. The last time I even attempted anything like this, I injured myself. This time, my body is strong, my muscle imbalances have been corrected, and I'm ready to give training a good, solid try. Last week, I ran over fifty miles, which is the first time I've done so in at least ten years. Thus, I am not merely training, or engaging in "deliberate practice," I am also relearning how to train, in a sense, because it's been so long.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the 4 x Z4 threshold runs from the last two weeks. Here's the Strava workout analysis output graphs "by split," where a "split" in this case is the auto-lap feature on my Garmin watch. When the watch goes from "10 minute warm-up" to "6 minutes at Z4 threshold," that's one lap. When the watch goes from "6 minutes at Z4 threshold" to "1 minute recovery" that's another lap. And so on. Here's the Week 1 graph:

The darker blue bars represent the speed intervals: six minutes of running in heart rate zone #4, which is the "aerobic threshold" zone. Anything beyond zone 4 is anaerobic effort (assuming the zones are configured accurately).

Strava rated the relative effort of this entire workout at "84." Garmin assessed the workout at a 3.7 for aerobic training effect, with no anaerobic training effect at all. The average pace times for the threshold intervals are as follows:
  • 5:44/mi pace
  • 5:57/mi pace
  • 6:33/mi pace
  • 6:23/mi pace

Here's the Week 2 graph:

Strava's relative effort of this workout was "89." Garmin's aerobic training effect was 3.8, and this time I was given an anaerobic training effect assessment of 1.1. This time the average pace times were:
  • 5:46/mi pace
  • 6:08/mi pace
  • 6:26/mi pace
  • 6:16/mi pace

It's worth noting that the two workouts were slightly different. Week 1 was four repetitions of 5 minutes at aerobic threshold, with 1 minute of recovery; while Week 2's workout was four repetitions of 6 minutes at aerobic threshold and 1 minute of recovery. The longer duration of the workout - by four minutes - probably accounts for the full 5-point difference in Strava's "relative effort" score. That is, I didn't expend a lot more effort during Week 2's workout, I just worked out a little bit longer.

As for pace, my first two intervals were run at a faster pace on Week 1 versus Week 2, but my last two intervals were done at a faster pace on Week 2. Overall, the paces were close to each other: 5:46 pace for less than a mile is less than two seconds behind 5:44 pace; but keep in mind that I sustained 5:46 pace for a full minute longer.

Most importantly, despite my having to run each interval a full minute longer than the previous week, on Week 2 my average pace never dipped slower than 6:30/mile. By itself, this would suggest that I either improved my endurance in a week, or that I got better at doing interval training. On Week 2, however, unlike Week 1, I spent some time in heart rate zone 5. That fact combined with the lower reduction in pace times from interval to interval tells me that this really is an endurance improvement, not just a skill.

All the same, I think I did manage to improve the interval training skill this week, even though that fact doesn't show up in the data. This week, my threshold running felt much more comfortable, like I knew what to do. I felt far more self-assured about entering Zone 4, and the running itself felt more like confident running, and less like flailing through a struggle.

All in all, I consider this a week-over-week success. I look forward to building on that success in the coming weeks. Remember, this workout schedule is sixteen weeks long, so there is plenty of time for me to get faster and train better. It should be a good journey.

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