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There’s a difference between elite endurance athletes and the weekend warrior–but it’s not as big as you might think. Sure, genetics play a role, but training–and more specifically, the way elites train–influences whether they’re at the top or struggling to keep up in the back. These training tips don’t require quitting your job and training full time. We can’t promise you’ll be winning every race from now on, but don’t say you won’t see improvements.
1) They Know How to Run Easy
Two-time World’s Toughest Mudder veteran (4th at WTM 2015) Nickademus Hollon, owner-coach at Lucky Thirteen Endurance Coaching says, “Elites understand the fundamentals of building up an aerobic base.” Among the benefits are injury prevention, an increase in cardiovascular capacity and an ability to deal with higher intensities when speed workout gets thrown into the weekly mix. Not to mention, running easy means you save “adaptation energy.” What’s that? Basically, your ability to be competitive. Elite endurance athletes don’t race every weekend–they save their competitive juices for their A race. In other words, expect the top athletes vying for the podium at WTM to have saved their competitive drive for this race. You should, too.
2) When They Go, They Really Go
Speed training is all about raising your VO2 max. Why? The higher your VO2 the better your oxygen uptake, which means more oxygen can be delivered to your muscles and the faster you can move over a period of time. “Speed training is purposeful,” says Hollon, “and when you run easy for the majority of your runs, you’re able to actually push yourself on your hard days.” The next time you think about incorporating some speed, make sure you’re well-rested going into the intervals. If so, then you better get ready to push!
3) It’s All About The Fine Print
Are there pushing or pulling obstacles? How much swimming is involved? How long is the course? What time does it start? If you’re preparing for an upcoming race, these are all questions you need to be asking. Why? Because elite endurance athletes know that specificity training matters. “The good elite looks at his race and breaks it down to the specific components,” says Hollon. “Replicating their race is the best way to both train for the event and minimize errors due to nutrition or gear mistakes.” Does your race run through the night? Practice running in the dark with a headlamp. Is your race longer than 2 hours? Practice eating on the run. It’s an old adage, but it’s true–don’t try something new on race day.
4) They Know How to Train Secretly
For elite endurance athletes, training doesn’t just last one hour a day. Even if they're not physically working, they’re training. How? Sleep, diet, mindset and recovery play crucial roles in the success of an athlete. “You’re not just training for 1 hour and then going home to sit on the couch,” says Hollon. You’re thinking about your race every hour of every day.”
5) They Mentally Train Every Single Day
Elite endurance athletes lead normal lives that include the more mundane life tasks of waiting in line at the DMV–but they take advantage of that time to train. “Elites practice changing their mindset everyday, whether they’re at the grocery story or filing taxes, and apply that to their races,” says Hollon. Everyday obstacles, like getting too little sleep because of your newborn, or missing a meal due to work are challenges that can help your racing–if you do the work. Elites know that a positive mindset is a positive result–try using this mental trick to get through a rough day at the office, and then a rough 24 hours on course at WTM.