By Jason Koop,
Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning
This past week, I had the pleasure of being a roundtable presenter at TrainingPeaks Endurance Coaching Summit. The annual summit, which alternates locations yearly between Boulder, CO and the United Kingdom, brings together hundreds of like minded triathlon, cycling and running coaches. These coaches hail from all corners of the world and work with endurance athletes of all types, from weekend warriors to the top levels in endurance sport. The summit itself is a bit of a whirlwind, with several years worth of education, networking and business development packed into just a couple of days. Like any whirlwind activity, you are feeding through a firehose while you are there. The information, people and training discussions come at you full force. After a few days to digest the force feed, here are several takeaways ultrarunners can latch on to.
‘Women are not small men’
I’m not going to profess to know who originally penned that quote. But I can say that it has been referenced innumerably when talking about the work of Stacy Sims, one of the keynote presenters at the conference. Stacy has spent the better part of her life studying the differences between men and women and the real life training applications of those differences. Do women adapt to heat differently than men? How about recovery? Chances are, Stacy can answer those questions with a practical summary backed up by a ream of research.
My takeaway, and I feel this way both personally and industry wide, is that we have a ways to go in understanding female physiology. It has been well established that most of the research conducted, from clinical trials to sports medicine research has been done on men (for a whole host of reasons that this Outside Online article intelligently describes). For decades, findings from that research have been blindly applied to both sexes. While the research end is starting to change, and the coaching application end is starting to change with it, there will still be a period of time necessary to reevaluate some of our previous thinking.
One of the more pertinent areas of focus is how training and recovery can be manipulated during different phase of the menstrual cycle. There are even apps that coaches and athletes can use to help guide training during these phases. I expect this area to continue to receive its due focus and attention.
The science and art of coaching are converging
Having attended coaching conferences put on by the USOC, NGBs (USA Track and Field, USA Cycling, etc), coaching groups and other outfits over many years, I can attest there is always one theme that coaches are (sometimes overly) interested in: how to leverage technology to improve athletic performance. Every year, there’s always a new piece of software, recovery tracking hardware, do-hickey-this and fancy-algorithm-that to evaluate and keep track of. Some of these pieces of technology have earned their merits and will continue to be useful to athletes and coaches. Others fade into oblivion due to lack of adoption, lack of efficacy, market forces or a combination of all of the above.
This year was no different with the recent release of WKO5, complete with smart segments, a new training impact score and a list of other features all aimed at taking massive amounts of information and making sense out of it all. For several years, I’ve secretly felt that coaching was out of balance, with too much weight on the analytics side and too little on the art of coaching. For whatever reason, after attending this conference, I feel that this balance is back at an equilibrium. Case in point, Jim Miller’s ‘The Art of Coaching’ was one of the most consistently attended roundtable discussions (where attending coaches can choose from a myriad of different roundtables to attend). His main argument could be summarized as-
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‘If we could give all of the coaches here the same athlete, they would come up with more or less the same training plan. Yet, some coach/athletes would be successful and some would not.’
Brilliantly put and a reminder that training programs are a dime a dozen and coaching goes far beyond a stock training program. If you are an athlete looking to improve your performance, pick a stock training plan to work with or pick a highly qualified coach. Don’t pick the middle option of having a static training plan with a coach, because there’s no advantage.
The coaches are better
Someone please get my soapbox because I’m going to need it. One of my most consistent sources of frustration in attending conferences has always been the quality of the other attendees. Yes, I realize this makes me sound like a know-it-all smarty pants (or just a plain old a$$ hole). But, if you talk to the presenters and conference organizers and get their real opinions, off of the record, you will hear the same theme. I discretely remember a high altitude symposium at the Olympic Training Center several years ago (which is a high level, attendance-by-application-only conference) and being utterly frustrated with an attendee who did not know the difference between absolute and relative VO2max (absolute VO2max is measured in Liters of O2 per minute while relative is measured in Liters of O2 per minute per kilogram of bodyweight) and subsequently continued to waste 20 some odd minutes of a presenter’s and attendees’ time hashing out the differences. It’s something any freshman level physiology class would cover, but I digress…
The attendees at this weekend’s conference, however, were refreshingly different. The coaches knew their stuff and it was readily apparent. From the banter at lunch, to the questions asked of the keynote speakers, the coaches in attendance were on point and impressive in their knowledge base and professionalism. I’ve always applauded coaches who take the time and energy to devote to conferences like this (and as a side note, I was a bit disheartened so few trail running coaches attended). It’s a lot of time and energy to devote, but in my opinion, it’s always been worth it.
Effort of full disclosure
Although I enjoyed the conference immensely, I received no financial compensation to attend or be one of the presenters. I have no financial conflicts of interests with Training Peaks, I just hope everyone can glean some insights with the information that was presented.