Fractal Training (why streaking is bad), and how to enlarge your vessel

Q. So what separates race winners from the bulk of ‘eventers’?

A. The degree of selfishness. If you want to be a winner you need to be selfish with your energy. The less you give your energy to others and the more razor-sharp expenditure you put into your own pursuits the more winnier you’ll be.

As might be evident from my event results I don’t race to win (not saying I could actually win races if I wanted to). That’s not to say I don’t relish competition, quite the opposite. I’d rather be beaten in great competition than win a race in its absence. And that’s what makes the ethos of the MEC great, the internal rivalry is fierce, engaging, and absolutely committed getting the best out of each other. Personal performance here is a collaborative thing.

So the aim of the game for us non-winners then is to figure out best and most enjoyable training for your buck. Leaving enough energy to endure or enjoy everything else on offer in life that week. So two principles (I just kinda made up – other people may have too, I’ve done zero research) to make the most of training are keeping it fractal and managing your vessel.

Fractal training means, like coastlines and clouds, the ever changing shapes or patterns of training look pretty similar no matter if you are zoomed in looking at a couple of training sessions or a whole season. Intensity, duration, and specificity are always shifting. In other words exactly the opposite of a monotonous 30 day streak. Streaks are good for breaking habits, but bad for athletic improvement. I’m not talking about absolute chaos here, you’ll still have patterns and repeating a lot of the same stuff, it’s how you throw it together.

The basis to this are the tried and true components of improvement – overstressing, specificity, and recovery. Push beyond comfort training (overstress), work on demands specific to your event (specificity), and pull back to let your body compensate and adapt (recovery). So there are solid physiological and psychological benefits to going fractal, namely being fresh enough to be capable of and want to hit your training targets (specificity again). Plus if you do everything in primes numbers you’ll never get injured (so I really-really made that last bit up).

Which brings us to your exercise vessel. You should think of events as sets of external forces which relentlessly attempt to crush you. Your vessel is that container of training and preparation you take to your event. You want your vessel on race day to be big and hard. Obviously.

Good fractal training will make your vessel bigger and more resilient to the specific forces of the event in question. Overstressing, or plain overtraining, will temporarily crush your vessel. It’s the recovery phase in which your vessel actually expands, so keep them in balance and sync’ed against your events. All those specific training sets you mix in, the speed-work, strength sets, and endurance sessions act to make your vessel harder and less crushable.

You also want to stuff your vessel with all the other preparation you’ve been doing, like practicing eating/drinking at the frequency required while exercising at simulated race pace, carrying the same load you’ll be hauling on race day, running in the dark, or technical trail, etc, etc.

The art of it all is getting the mix of it all right in your realistic available time. If I do the same events as Mike that’s pretty easy as he cooks up great event-specific sets, all I need to do is build around them and make sure I’m fresh enough to hit them at the required intensity.

Now, making the most of your vessel on race day is another question, just having it bigger and harder than everyone else at the start line counts for little if you don’t know what to do with it.

Ps. this advice has been penned in the absence of MEC or parental oversight or professional coaching advice.

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