Friday, February 6, 2009

Good hard and stupid hard

This is a follow up on my last post. D left a comment yesterday that made me think of a comment he made out loud the other night when we were talking about this same subject, "I don't think what you think 'really hard' is is the same as what I think 'really hard' is." And actually, I think he's right. I don't think I know what "really hard" is. Or rephrased, I don't know what "really hard but in a good way" is.

It's easy to know what "bad really hard" is. If you go out every single day and run as fast and as far as possible and then go to the gym and do as many burpees as you can in 30min (ahem, Crossfit endurance), you are probably going to burn out before you can make significant progress.

But I'm not sure where the sweet spot is. I consider an interval workout where you hit the paces prescribed by a training plan based on a previous race time to be moderately hard. I consider an interval workout where you run each interval as fast as you possibly can to be really hard. Same with tempo. Tempo run at 1/2 marathon pace is moderately hard. Tempo run as fast as I think I can possibly hold the pace (and probably slowing down at the end) is really hard. Doing 2 sets of bench presses where you really have to push through those last few before you hit fatigue is moderately hard. Doing sets of 5 where hitting every single rep is a challenge is really hard.

Basically, moderately hard makes me tired the next day but able to complete an easy workout. Very hard to me would be unable to workout the next day because I was totally dead. And that's fine in weight training. You do kill yourself every day you workout and then take the next day off. But- and this addresses another of D's comments in the comments- in running and triathlon, volume- and adding volume- is important. You can think of it as another form of intensity, even.

All this also makes me wonder if I'm pushing myself appropriately in races. For example, I think of 1/2 marathon pace as being "purposeful" and 10k pace as being "comfortably hard" whereas most running guides say that the 1/2 marathon or tempo pace should be "comfortably hard," and I've even seen someone post on a RW thread that he thought the marathon pace was comfortably hard. So am I running all my races way too slow? I'm famous for throwing up or almost throwing up at the end of every race so I always thought my intensity was appropriate, but maybe not.

So that's where I'm at.

My question is this: How do you define very hard? How do you know when you're working very hard as opposed to easy or moderately hard? How do you decide how you are going to balance your hard workouts with adding/sustaining training volume? I'm not really looking for anyone to give me an answer for what I should do. I'm more curious how others have discovered what works for them. I think that will help me think about what I'm doing.