Coaching is not strictly a one-way relationship, strictly limited to the administration of varied degrees of physical discomfort. A smart coach, in the words of some, is able to work themselves right out of the job description. One coach mentioned that the ideal coach/athlete relationship can transform from one that is prescriptive to one that is more-collaborative in as little as one year's time. I welcome the occasional good question from an athlete...one which not only encourages me to stay on my toes, but to elaborate (in a Twitter-like (25-words, more-or-less) mode) my coaching philosophy. The post-marathon recovery-slash-prepare-for-an-upcoming-half-marathon-cycle has sparked at least one really good question from one of my athletes:
"How do you determine exactly what particular workout to run, specifically the distance and intensity?"
The answer depends much on the focus. If the athlete focus is on 5K and 10K races, events which can be trained for in five-to-six hours a week, the repeats during a workout range from 200 meters to 20 minutes, at intensities as high as nearly-all-out all the way down to anaerobic threshold pace. I usually keep the duration of each set in the workout limited to the same 20-minute rule of thumb. Depending on athlete level of experience (and other subjective conditions) I may assign three or four sets during a workout.
Intensities and distances during the time of year from late November-to-early January are maintenance, where I ask the athlete to pretty much place a check-in-the-box on the training calendar with efforts at 50-to-60 percent of maximum effort. Starting in January effort, distance, duration, amount of recovery and a couple of other variables adjust upward and downward in varying degrees until a six-to-eight week stretch (where the big racing happens) is reached in mid-April...after which the maintenance cycle begins again until early August. The August-to-November progression has cycles about a week shorter than that in January-to-May, but the difference between the two is otherwise negligible. If there's a half-marathon or a marathon on the horizon, then the classic "look at the target date, move back 16-to-24 weeks, start your training" plan is added to the mix.
When it comes to marathon training runs, in fact, when it comes to most all of the training...nearly three-fourths of the training run miles during the cycle are (ideally) run at paces which are SLOWER than my typical track workout repeat. The other 25-percent can be almost evenly divided between three workouts; two which are self-mediated and one coached by me.
To teach an athlete to become an active participant in their own training it takes a blend of art and science, discussion and debate, and in some cases a bit of trial and error. Several great reference books, thoroughly read, can provide the basic principles by which to effectively train.