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‘08-’09 Training Mistake Tally: 1

Kris Freeman

Thu, Aug  21, 2008 - By Zach Caldwell

Kris is an intensely conscientious athlete and as a rule he doesn’t do things by mistake. With very rare exceptions, he doesn’t miss planned training sessions and he doesn’t do unplanned sessions. Mistake number one of this year was not an exception to that rule. The plan called for a six hour run, and what he did was a six hour run. It wasn’t so much a mistake as a miscalculation. So when is a planned and executed six hour run not the right six hour run? What qualifies it as a mistake? Good question.

To understand the answer to that question you need to understand the nature of the planning process that Kris uses. Most planning processes are somewhat formulaic. Coach has a spreadsheet - coach and athlete decide how many hours of training the year should hold - and spreadsheet breaks the target hours down into months and weeks. At this point coach and athlete eyeball the plan, take into consideration external stresses - travel, school, other sports, etc - and the plan gets “tweaked”. Training hours are moved from one period to another, or shifted from one week to another. A rest week is moved from a time coinciding with a scheduled camp to another time coinciding with a family vacation, etc. Once this framework is established, training sessions are prescribed to fill in the appropriate hours. This system, or something very much like it, appears to be extremely prevalent. But it’s not what Kris uses.

By comparison Kris’s training plan doesn’t look like much. We take a timeline - a yearlong calendar, and fill in the race schedule, camp dates, and known obligations. Before we start describing any training, there needs to be a governing concept - a strategy for bringing Kris into the desired race shape at the desired times. This strategy is built in a fairly lengthy three-way conversation between Kris, Pete and myself. The process is ongoing, but is subject to one major yearly revision. Once we have a strategy, we identify training blocks according to the schedule. For each block of time we identify the training goal - the targeted gains - and we have in mind the type of stimulus required to achieve the gains as well as the expectations for stress and recovery. And that’s it. The actual training is planned roughly for each period, and more precisely on a week by week basis. The key is that the specific stimulus that we’ve identified as leading to the goal for a given period is calibrated to the state of fitness that Kris brings into that period.

This might be a little hard to grasp, but let me explain. Kris makes use of quite a lot of overdistance training. The target of one of Kris’s overdistance sessions is to take him to the point of depletion, and maybe just beyond. You can browse back through older posts for definitions and explanations if this sound unfamiliar. The point is that the point of depletion is a moving target, depending on Kris’s fitness and his glycogen stores. We don’t know, in April, how long it will take him to reach that point on August 18th. But we’ve got a pretty good idea on August 12th, and that’s when the training gets planned.

The process is time consuming and conversation intensive. It requires constant evaluation, and we’ve always got to remind ourselves what the target of the training period is. With this in mind, priorities become self-evident. I don’t know if this is a superior method, but I do know that having a plan written months in advance will not work well for Kris. He’s willing and able to train himself into an early grave, and that’s a problem.

In the past three years the process has evolved - particularly with respect to evaluating readiness for training. Two years ago the plan grew quickly - hours expanded and Kris made continual and consistent gains for the whole pre-season. He surprised both himself and me with the volume that he was sustaining. Last year we shook-out the reins a bit - allowed him to go for even more, and mistakes and miscalculations were made by everybody involved. This year the process is further refined, and we’re keeping him much closer to a state of high energy and race-readiness (if not in terms of fitness profile, then certainly in terms of available energy).

To put it simply, this year we’re working hard to avoid cumulative overload. Last year it was the intention to let the overload accumulate and build. This year we want Kris to be recovered from one capacity building session before he starts the next one. This has resulted in slightly lower training volume, but not by as much as you might expect.

So what was this big mistake? Well, Kris had a six hour run scheduled for Monday. Usually a six hour run is in the mountains, and is more of a run/hike or a hike/run depending on where it goes. But the terrain is hard enough that the motions aren’t totally repetitive and the pounding is minimized. On Monday Kris had the opportunity to do the second half of the session with his brother, so he decided to do his standard three hour run loop twice - the second time with Justin. There were two problems - it was a really hot day, and Kris’s three hour run loop happens to be 21 miles, fairly flat by comparison to his normal six hour White Mountain adventure.

So Kris ran 42 miles in scorching heat. He pounded on too much flat terrain, and he got dehydrated. When I talked to him Monday afternoon he was borderline delirious. His appetite was off - he didn’t want food. His whole system felt royally screwed. Now, I’m pretty certain that anybody who has pursued ski racing at an even moderate level can relate to these sensations - I know I’ve been there plenty of times. It’s likely that you figured it was good for you at the time - I know I did. Afterall, it’s a tough sport. The fact is, it’s a pathological sport. Last year Kris hit this state a handful of times, and we didn’t call them mistakes. The difference between last year and this year is the recognition of the difference between the planned six hour run, and the six hour run that brought Kris to his knees. Last year Kris and Justin headed out on a six hour run in July, and got lost in the woods. They came out after seven hours of running, and still had to hitchhike back to the car (to get food). Kris had planned the session as the first of back to back OD sessions (cumulative overload). In recognition of the fact that he was exhausted he didn’t go out the next day for his second OD. He did it the day after. By this year’s standards that’s two mistakes in three days.

So, yesterday - the day after his miscalculated six hour run, Kris swam with Julie for 55 minutes. Today he’s doing a double-session, but both sessions are short. He won’t train more than 2.5 hours. Tomorrow was originally planned as a 5 hour pursuit OD. That’s on hold until tomorrow morning. Kris felt better already yesterday. The OD is still available for tomorrow, but everything needs to be right. The target for the OD is to execute with relative ease and extreme quality - high pace and good motions. If that’s not going to be possible, then there will be a new plan. In any event, Kris is taking steps to avoid cumulative overload - to make his approach to the sport non-pathological. He will be recovered and ready to go when he comes back out to Whistler on the 30th for the next intensity camp.

Reprinted with permission from the Kris Freeman website at Copyright © Zach Caldwell and Kris Freeman

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