What I have found most tantalising about endurance sports is how accessible it is. Now this might sound counter intuitive, but bear with me. The primary reason I think this way is because the most important skill that endurance athletes possess is the ability to commit or be disciplined. I used to think it was the ability to endure pain in training, that is until I discovered how exactly they trained.
A key trait of the training plans of all endurance athletes is massive volumes at low intensity. These are the sessions that are overlooked in favour of the high-intensity sessions that appear in the news, magazines, documentaries, and media in general. While these sessions are tough, the actual time spent on the as a proportion of the training week are equivalent to cents on the dollar. Yes it’s an important part of improving, but the low-intensity work is arguably more important because of the dual role they play.
Low-intensity training aids in recovery as well as building ones’ aerobic engine. Recovery is key and the most critical aspect of an athlete’s long-term sustainably and health from an injuries perspective. That’s why the mantra – easy days, easy; hard days, hard – is so popular in the endurance sports community. Recovery sessions allows the body to repair itself by getting the blood flowing. A consequence of getting the blood flowing is turning on working our aerobic engine as well, strengthening our ability to work harder at the same heart rate.
Given how much damage we do to ourselves on hard days, easy days are (if they are not, they should be) the bread and better for any endurance athlete. That’s why the book about 80/20 training is so popular i.e. 80% of the training week at low-intensity and 20% at high. The low-intensity work is inherently unexciting. The idea is to keep your heart rate as low as possible, and as stable as possible. The only way to do that is to run/cycle/swim slowly and steadily, and you need to be able to do that pretty much everyday. That’s where the commitment comes in. 80% of the training is not hard because it’s physically taxing, but more so because it’s boring. Endurance athletes necessarily have commitment and discipline, because that’s the only way anything can build up their endurance.