Essential Sports Nutrition

4/18/18

Are you a durable athlete?


While watching the 2018 Boston marathon, I couldn't help but think about the resiliency and durability of the top athletes - especially the winners, Des Linden and Yuki Kawauchi who remarkably embraced the wind, cold and rain while covering 26.2 miles. For both, this wasn't their fastest marathon attempt but rather, success came from being durable and resilient.

For any endurance athlete, there is great risk for injury and fatigue while training for an event lasting 90+ minutes. Certainly, every athlete training for an endurance event hopes to get to the starting line feeling fit, strong and healthy but not always does this happen. Sadly, far too many endurance fail to get to the starting line of their upcoming event due to injury or a health issue and if they do arrive, the body is weak, fragile and broken down. Because endurance sports are addicting, it's common for athletes to continue this cycle of never fully rebuilding or strengthening the body and to constantly arrive to races poorly prepared (physically and mentally).

Do you consider yourself a durable athlete? Here are some warning signs that you need to become more resilient before signing up for races or progressing with your training volume/intensity.
  • You are constantly rehabing and racing, rehabing and racing. 
  • You struggle with consistent training due to life, low motivation, restless sleep, injuries, sickness, etc.
  • Certain workouts scare you for you fear injury or falling apart from fatigue.
  • You struggle to bounce back quickly from intense or long training sessions. 
  • You can't seem to put together a solid week or two of training before you get sick, injured or exhausted. 
  • You always feel under-prepared for races but show up anyways.
  • You rely on panic training to squeeze in the workouts that you didn't do earlier in the season.
  • You tend to train for one race at a time with a long break in the off-season or after a race. 
  • Your training doesn't really make sense - it lacks specificity, structure or progression. 
  • As your race approaches, you feel more withdrawn, exhausted and fragile/weak. 
  • You don't feel strong, healthy or durable.

Durability and resilience are elusive traits among endurance athletes but sadly, many athletes are chasing the wrong methods or outcomes in becoming "race ready." Understanding the unique demands of the sport in which you are training for is critically important.

As it relates to your upcoming event and what is needed to become race ready, is speed, fat adaptation, mileage based workouts and leanness criteria for success? While these aspects of performance may help, they are not worth chasing if you have yet to build a strong, robust durable and resilient body. And perhaps if you have achieved resilience and durability, these other factors like leanness, fat adaptation and speed may not be worth chasing anymore for you have become physically and mentally capable of withstanding the demands of training, ultimately improving your chances of success by improving longevity in your sport.

Building a durable body takes time, careful planning and patience. It's not easy and thus, many athletes (and coaches) skip steps, rush the process and get inpatient, risking injury, sickness, fatigue and burnout. Sadly, there's no secret prescription or program that will speed up this process. To become a durable athlete, it takes time......a long time. And it starts with first nailing the basics (before advancing with your training volume) like good form and skills, great sleep, stress management, diet, fueling, hydration and recovery. It's then important to not let these habits slip away in an effort to train harder or longer. From a training perspective, there's no point adding more mileage or intensity to your training if you haven't built a solid foundation and learned to do things well.

When it comes to endurance events, durability will take you far. While you will not become an overnight success, overtime, you will get results. Most of all, your body will thank you and will reward you with many consistent years of training and racing. To maintain your durability, your training plan must be specific to your fitness and should allow for slow development, building a solid foundation, optimizing recovery and adaptation to your every day stressors.

There's only so much time and energy that you can dedicate to training. Put your time, focus and energy into the right strategies to foster athletic success. Do you need to be lean and fast in order to hold a sustainable effort for 3-17 hours on race day? Take a moment and ask yourself if you are trying to rush the training process, skipping steps and/or putting your energy into the wrong methods of becoming race ready.

Neglecting to build a durable, robust and resilient body will place you at risk for injury, sickness and burnout. If this is happening to you, you need to break the cycle and start building a strong body.It takes time to create a strong body structure (ex. bones, ligaments, tissues, tendons, etc.) to withstand repeated load. Avoid signing up for a long distance race just because you identify with being an endurance athlete or you feel like it's the popular thing to do.

To be a successful endurance athlete, you need to be healthy. Make sure you are taking the time to build a body that can help you stand up to the demands of your sport. Strong and durable trumps lean and fast when your sport demands resilience - both mentally and physically.