Progression and Development of Athletes is an Exercise in Stress and Rest in Their Most Important Pursuit

The top athletes in the world aren’t adhering to a “no pain no gain” model, nor are they doing highly popularized high intensity interval training or random WOD’s (workouts of the day).
Instead they are systematically alternating between bouts of very intense work and periods of easy training and recovery. The ongoing progression and development of athletes across all levels is an exercise in stress and rest in their most important pursuit.

The training of endurance athletes is a complex process. The goal of training is to stimulate the precise set of physiological adaptations needed to achieve maximum performance in a peak race.

The volume, intensity and distribution of training load and how all of these affect physiological parameters gives an insight into what it takes to be a successful distance runner. There are various ways to manipulate training for increased performance, but it is essential to understand the overall process behind how the body responds and adapts to a stimulus (workout or sequence of workouts that provokes an adaptive response).

The General Adaptation Syndrome is often referred to as the principle of supercompensation in exercise training. When a training stimulus is applied, there is an initial alarm phase where fatigue occurs, and the performance level is decreased. Following this stage with recovery, there is an adaptation phase where fatigue subsides, and adaptation takes place so that there is a supercompensation where performance increases to a level above that which it was before the training stimulus was applied. A new training stimulus can then be applied to go through the process again. It there is too little recovery, the body never fully recovers or adapts and can enter the exhaustion phase (over-training and injury risk!).
The Dose Response Relationship is another model explaining the optimal load of a workout. It refers to the interaction between the dose, the total load of the stimulus and the response, or resulting training effect.
Certain stressors can produce desirable effects, strengthening specific parts of the body that is under duress. Stress isn’t just harmful, it can also serve as a stimulus for growth and adaptation. Our adaptive stress response is rooted in inflammatory proteins and cortisol. When activated by stress, these serve as biological messengers so when the body is under threat, pre-programmed biochemical building blocks make the body stronger and more resilient.
If the amount of stress is too large or lasts too long, however, the body fails to adapt. It deteriorates instead of getting stronger- chronic stress, the exhaustion stage. The body rebels and enter a catabolic process, or a state of persistent breakdown. Rather signalling for repair and subsiding, elevated inflammation and cortisol linger at toxic levels. The adrenal system is constantly on guard and becomes overworked and fatigued leading to a myriad of health problems.
The body can withstand only so much tension before it breaks!
So stress can be positive, triggering desirable adaptations in the body or it can be negative causing harm. The effects of stress depend almost entirely on the dose and when applied in the right dose, it stimulates both physiological and psychological adaptations.

The greatest gains often follow immense struggle and discomfort with a meticulous approach to training. When you step outside your comfort zone, you will grow. Then developing a new capability requires effort. Skills come from struggle.
Just manageable challenges manifest when you feel a little out of control but not quite anxious. When the task at hand is a bit beyond your skills, you are in the sweet spot, this is what you’re after. We need to regularly venture off a known path and go down a slightly more demanding one that forces us to push at the point of resistance for growth. But we also need to pursue this growth in a healthy and sustainable way. Recovery in between bouts of stress is vital for the effort to be beneficial. Sleep needs to be prioritized-it should be reframed as something that is productive.



Recovery Runs – An crucial component of your training.

Don’t rush the process of athletic development. It takes time and patience, don’t cut corners.
We need to be consistent with our training but also with our recovery. To improve your running performance, you need to correctly balance training and recovery so your body can positively adapt. Just as  the planned hard workouts have a purpose in your training cycle of stress and improvement, so too do your recovery days.

Recovery runs support growth and adaptation. They are very similar to normal distance runs, except the pace is slower and the duration is typically shorter to enhance recovery.
When used in the day following a more intense workout, a recovery run helps to return the body to homeostasis and prepare the body for the subsequent work to be done the following day. Often overlooked, recovery runs work to enhance the supercompensation effect. The occurs over weeks and months of training as you repeatedly provide a training stress interspersed with recovery.
The pace of the recovery run should be slow enough so that it is enhancing recovery and not prolonging it. The intensity needs to be low enough so that minimal muscle damage is occurring, and the primary fuel source is fat so as not to delay glycogen replenishment. The exact pace of course varies from individual to individual. Pay attention to your body and how it reacts and your biomechanics.
The total distance of the recovery run is also an individual preference. The purpose of the recovery run is to enhance adaptation by taking you through the adaptation phase quicker. Recovery runs and normal distance runs should make up the bulk of training. The harder you run, the more aerobic recovery work is needed. The stimulates the gentle flow of blood toxins to the liver, eliminating acidosis and restoring the body to neutral. The is also why slower paced running is better than total rest. Failure to remove any mounting and prolonged acidosis will damage the body’s enzymes, muscles and red blood cells. It can also depress the nervous system.

Consistency in Training

~We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit – Aristotle

From a runner’s standpoint, the number one route to improved performance and forward progression is to aim for consistency with your training.

Concentrate on the task at hand, neither dwelling on the past nor looking too far forward. The only thing you can control is the present and when you focus on that and remain consistent, you will find your greatest success. Consistency is not a skill or a talent, you yourself have direct control over it.

Athletes must do everything in their power to stay healthy, injury free and consistent in their training for as long as possible.

Consistent daily improvements lead to big progress over time. Momentum is the backbone of progression.
Training consistently and building up gradually with the right structure and progression will reduce injury risk and improve performance.

To reduce injury risk, training must be changed gradually, i.e., volume, intensity and adding hills/speedwork.

Recovery runs need to be emphasised as much as everything else and athletes are not paying enough attention to this little detail.

Each session should have a specific purpose, including your easy runs. Could you be hitting those quality sessions even better by going 30-60 seconds slower per mile when going easy. The potential gains here are huge, even beyond the obvious that the easier load on the body means you’re more likely to keep consistently training over weeks, months and years with a healthy body.
Too high a percentage of speed work in your training week will only lead to short term gains. If you are working hard for every single workout and pushing every single workout, you are showing up for the days when you really need to work with less to give basically defeating the whole purpose of that workout date. Maximise your results on tempo/speed days by taking the other days easy.

Successful people strive for consistency, which means keeping a daily schedule. Start prioritizing your most important tasks to get the results you desire. Having a plan in place really gives us that structure we need to maintain consistent training week after week.
If you know something isn’t working however, change it, and stick to what works for you. Sometimes we need to be flexible with our methods. We need to consider a long-term vision and have the strength and capacity to make that drastic change that is going to allow us to reach our potential. In todays world, with people not being patient and wanting instant gratification too often, we default to-what can I get done to reach my performance goals now!
Along with consistency, patience is vital for success, if we become impatient, look for quick gains, we can become frustrated and feel like giving up altogether. Results do take time and sometimes just remaining patient and having faith in the training and staying consistent really does pay off. Find the minimal most effective dose that will provide you with the results you want to see. Keep focussing on this process and the results will take care of themselves.

Inconsistent consistency is a consistent road to flatlining, momentum on the other hand is the back bone to forward progression.

A well-designed training plan (that is adaptable and adjustable) specific to the athlete followed consistently will maximise results. It will have the proper mix of stress and recovery and ensures the right type of training occurs at the right time.
Wolff’s Law states that ‘the body conforms and adapts to the intensities and directions it is habitually subjected to’

Michelle Greaney

(Level 2 National Athletics Ireland Endurance Coach)

S&C for distance athletes

Long Term Athlete Development-Endurance Athletes

Unfortunately, few parents and coaches approach training with an attitude best characterised as peaking by Friday where a short-term approach is taken to training and performance with an over emphasis on immediate results .

It takes 10 years of extensive training to excel in anything

Herbert Simon Noble laureate

A specific and well-planned practice, competition and recovery regime will ensure optimum development throughout an athlete’s career. Ultimately, sustained success comes from training and performing well over the long term rather than winning in the short term. There is no shortcut to success in athletic preparation. Overemphasizing competition in the early phases of training will always cause shortcomings in athletic abilities later in an athlete’s career.
For proper development of middle- and long-distance athletes, we can separate development into 3 main phases:

Foundation (F)-Introducing the skill sets needed to train, enjoyment, establishing good habits-skill and movement development, ability to move in all planes of motion. If we take care of this early on, it allows for greater room for growth in terms of efficiency later down the road.

Development (D) -Establishing all skill sets and training ingredients into the programme, beginning individual differentiation, training to be able to train. Emphasis here shifts from purely movement to learning how to express their speed and power. From short sprints focussed on acceleration and top end speed to lengthening their ability to hold their mechanics together for longer periods of time, slightly shifting into a speed endurance emphasis while maintain top end speed. More structure is added to the training and high-end aerobic development is expanded on with introduction of short tempo, fartlek (e.g. 5-10 x 30sec pickups at 3k effort) and other aerobic workouts. It is very important to slowly introduce and progress high intensity work.

Performance (P) – Assembling those ingredients and making sure they grow, training to perform.

The ingredients can be classified into:
Movement and neuromuscular development
~biomechanics (F)
~strength, power and neural work (P)
Psychology and Motivation
~Motivation for training (F)
What fuels the desire for success? (D)
Grit, toughness and resiliency (P)
Ability to handle stress (P)
Training and conditioning
We have a whole range of intensities that cause different adaptations along a continuum and what shifts is the emphasis


⇑    ⇑
Direct end support Direct speed support
⇑                       ⇑
Aerobic support Anaerobic support

⇑⇑⇑                     ⇑⇑⇑
General Endurance General Speed

General emphasis shifts over time, initially, there is a heavy emphasis on creating a foundation across all spectrums (speed, endurance, neuromuscular, movement and the psychological side of development). Early on, the training focus is on general athleticism, experimentation here also is key with the idea of developing competencies that they can build off. As the athlete develops, there is a gradual shift towards specificity, with running and, endurance development, taking precedence. We don’t want an athlete specializing too soon.
As the athlete’s career progresses, the emphasis shifts from purely movement, to learning how to express their speed and power. The introduction of short sprints focused on acceleration and top end speed should be done first. This should be followed by looking at how to lengthen their ability to hold their mechanics together for longer periods of time, slightly shifting into a speed endurance emphasis, while maintaining top end speed.

ltad 2

The goal for long term athlete development is to bring the athlete along gradually:
Focus on the extremes before connecting!

Build general speed and endurance before trying to bring those qualities together with high loads of mixed high intensity work. We do this because we want to build an entire foundation from both ends of the spectrum before we can start building off it.
Very gradually progress volumes and intensities, we don’t want to see huge jumps in volume in endurance athletes. However, how an athlete adapts drives the training progression. If an athlete is improving at a strong level and has not hit a plateau, they are still adapting to the training load. On the other hand, if they are stagnating and plateaued (and not because of overtraining), it may be time to look at a change in volume, intensity or type of training sooner than planned.
Short term periodisation
Yearly periodisation is a condensed version of a long-term plan that looks at progression through the 4 stages in the year. The goal is to put the pieces in place early in the year before assembling them later. Exact periodization needs to be adjusted to the racing schedule, emphasis and to the individual athlete.
Principles for planning the year remain the same for ever individual:
1. All components are there, throughout the periodisation scheme, we just need to change the emphasis based on whether we are building or maintaining a component.
2. We are either building, maintaining or connecting! We spend more time building a component (both on speed and endurance side) as it takes more of an effort than maintaining it. That means a focus early on at the extremes (easy to moderate work and pure speed/biomechanics development). As we progress, we work on slightly faster aerobic work and slightly longer speed/anaerobic work). Once we shift towards emphasizing a different component, we need to do just enough to maintain it. Connecting means transitioning from one component to the next, bridging the gap. E.g., using mixed workouts where we are progressing through a range of speeds.

3. Our emphasis should funnel towards specificity as we progress towards our racing fitness.

4. Stress and adaptation, supercompensation effects. Training needs to be modulated based on stress and recovery cycles-depending on the individual and training age. Our Emphasis should funnel towards specificity.

5. As we progress towards our racing fitness, we need to move from general speed and endurance to specificity.

6. Adhere to our knowledge of stress and adaptation.

7. Recognize that we need to modulate training based on stress and recovery cycles which, again can depend on the individual and training age. What that also means in terms of putting training details together is that we need space between harder, more-stressful sessions. Occasionally, we might load up stresses to get a large supercompensation effect, but those are performed rarely and for special reasons.
Individuality is extremely important. Every athlete is physiologically and psychologically different which affects the way they handle their training and how training should be adjusted accordingly. Their natural inclinations will subtly shift what their strengths and weaknesses are which in turn shifts the way they handle their training.

Classification of athletes is a two-step process. First, we need to identify whether they are more Fast – Twitch (FT) or Slow – Twitch (ST) orientated athletes. This will help us decide whether to route them into the middle or long-distance events. We can then further subdivide our athletes into being more FT or ST orientated for the events they compete in.

To begin the classification, data must be captured that will give us an idea on their natural speed and endurance qualities. We can then compare both sides of the coin and see where they predominate. A FT orientated athlete is going to show a proclivity towards speed qualities. For example, he or she might perform better in power testing, short sprints, or have higher lactate levels during an anaerobic capacity test. The following methods can be used to classify athletes.

-Lactate testing
-VO2 testing
-Power/strength testing
-Workout and race event comparison
Adjusting training based on athlete classification is important. The differentiation of training will increase as they specialise. Early on, the training is similar among FT and ST athletes, but as they develop, it becomes more individualised. From a training perspective, the idea is to maximise the athlete’s strengths, playing towards their physiology, while at the same time making sure their weaknesses do not become a limiting factor. We always need to see if we can train the weakness and shift the limiting factor!
I like to use a short to long concept, a training strategy where athletes first achieve peak form in a short distance before extending the length of their repetition.
Trainability and Recruitment
Understanding how trainable an athlete’s basic physiology and capacities is very important when identifying potential athletes. It is one thing to have a high aerobic capacity early on but what effect does training have on it. There area several ways to tackle this problem,
We can use a staple test workout or time trail at the beginning and end of training period and to track improvement. The key is using two tests that are heavily dependent on speed and endurance and will reflect changes in training. The absolute performance is not what we are after, instead, we need to look at the improvement from beginning to the end of the training intervention. We can also utilize physiological testing to see how parameters change.
The training during this period should focus on the two parameters that influence performance the most, speed and endurance. For that period, given the age of the athletes, the training should be focused on either extreme- speed and endurance.


Hill Training- Building Speed, Power and Endurance

Mixing up your training is critical to your improvement as a runner for overall development and making you faster.

Hill work is an extremely effective way to gain more power, increase running economy and improve speed. The repetitive nature of hill workouts forces the muscular system to develop in response to the stress being placed on it, while the nervous system increases firing patterns to fast-twitch muscle fibers. Completing hill workouts also increases speed and endurance because of the resistance inherent to running up hill and the associated increase in heart rate.

Hill workouts can serve as a way to transition into more formal speedwork, or to balance intervals performed on a track or flat roads

Hills should be thought of as a form of speed work and included intentionally; they help introduce the body to faster work with less impact at a slower pace. Injury-prone runners who struggle with adding faster work will find hills provide the same stimulus.

Although hill workouts are not easy, they should be planned for and embraced as a positive training element.

Varying the steepness and length of hill repeats from short, steep sprints to longer, rolling hill runs hits all the physiological bases- speed, strength, efficiency and endurance.

They are useful for gaining more power and improving running economy and are beneficial for everyone from track runners to marathoners.

Running economy (RE), the enrgy cost of running at a given pace, is one of the physiological parameters for running performance and used to measure total efficiency of a runner. It uses oxygen intake to represent energy use and is defined by how much oxygen it takes to cover a given distance at a fixed speed. RE significantly correlates with running performance. The three types of efficiency we are concerned with are:


By keeping your heart rate up for an extended period of time provides huge aerobic development. Your body becomes more efficient at taking in oxygen and delivering it to your muscles, enabling you to run faster with the same amount of effort. It also improves anaerobic capacities.

We can use short hill reps for speed and long hill reps for endurance and strength. You will certainly reap the benefits on race day.

To tackle the hills use exaggerated, proper running form – exaggerated knee lift and arm swing leaning slightly forward from the ankles into the hill. 

Your body will naturally adjust your stride to accommodate the effort. Steeper inclines usually yield smaller and quicker steps, close to the ideal stride rate of 180-185 steps per minute. Running uphill also forces your to lift your knees, a critical element of good running form. By lifting the knees, you are recruiting the hip muscles which give you more power and propulsion with every step. The neuromuscular pathways are reinforced that make good form a default setting, even on flat courses. Another positive is that it also forces your foot to strike directly under your centre of gravity. Ground contact time is minimized by using high cadence and good running form which helps with efficiency.

Hill sprints/Blasts for power and improved stride efficiency. (10-12 sec)

Power in running terms is the ability to move with great speed or force. Power is defined as force by velocity.
In order to develop velocity in middle distance runners, plyometrics has been reported to improve running economy by improve the stretch shortening cycle (SSC)
Running is essentially a series of single spring like hops. A certain amount of force needs to be applied to the ground to propel the athlete forward.

The most specific form of plyometric training for runners is sprinting.
Steep hill sprints/blasts can be used as a method of power development to start with and then progress slowly to flat sprints on the track.
The emphasis shifts slowly from power development to a more plyometric type effect and more specific running form.
Starting with just a few blasts (running in the best technical model)
e.g. 3-5 with a full recovery of 2-3′ and increasing the volume very progressively up to 10. 

The athlete should focus on a running technique which has vigorous arm drive and high knee lift, with the hips kept high, so that they are ‘running tall’, not leaning forward.

Your first session will stimulate physiological adaptations that serve to better protect your muscles and connective tissues from damage in your next session. Known to exercise scientists as the “repeated bout effect”, these adaptations occur very quickly.

Hill Repeats – running hard up a fairly steep gradient for 45 sec to 2 minutes followed by a recovery jog back down. These are similar to speed training in nature where turnover, mechanics, power and consistency are the primary focus.

Sample workouts include

8-15 x 45s

6-12 x 1 minute

5-9 x 90s

4-8 x 2 minutes.

Descending ladder: 3 x 90s, 3 x 60s, 3 x 45s starting at 10k pace and getting progressively faster.

These workouts should be run on a hill with 4-6% gradient with good footing. Hills repeats can also be blended with tempo run efforts in between sets.

In addition to doing straight repeats, hills can be blended into the workout so that portions of the workout are done on flat ground and portions on a hill for example, 6′ tempo run, 5 x 300m hill repeats, 5′ tempo run 4 x 300m hill repeats. By doing the workout this way, you are introducing a strength component that will force muscle fibre recruitment during the hill session and then train those fibres on flat ground portion. 


A sufficient warm up of at least 10-15 minutes easy running and is necessary

Give them a go🙂⛰

Michelle Greaney
Athletes Ireland Level 2 National Endurance Coach

Strength Training for the Distance Athlete-Time to Build a Robust More Resilient Body

Simply put, strength is the ability to produce force. With my strength training approach for distance athletes, it is multidimensional and follows a planned series of programs with the goal of improving your stability, postural control, strength, power and running economy and performance. Prehab work will focus on strengthening supporting muscles to facilitate proper biomechanics to avoid injury. 

Before doing a strength and conditioning program, it is recommended that athletes go through an anatomical adaptation phase (AA) in order to maximize training adaptations and to prevent the onset of overtraining syndrome. A methodoligically structured AA phase is the foundation on which the other phases of strength training are built.

Low to medium loads at the start will aid in the adaptation level of your musculoskeletal system and prepare the body for the more challenging program inherent in the following phases of training. It also aids in the improvement of inter-muscular coordination (balance, coordination and neural firing patterns).
I incorporate drills, core strength and stability work as this will help help to prevent injuries, improve biomechanics and performance. 

Athletes should be looking to maintain muscle balance and stability and proprioception and work to maintain mobility around key joints like the hips as the miles take their toll on the body while working all planes of motion. The aim for middle distance or distance athletes is to have a big engine with a small frame and very high efficiency. We don’t want to increase our non specific muscle mass too much using conventional weight training as it will create a larger payload to be carried around the track or the road. The muscle should be very specific to running otherwise it is a liability that will come at a high energy cost.

Glute max is the largest muscle in the human body and its primary function is to extend the hip. Exerts large forces on the ground generates greater propulsive forces and controls trunk pitch. Glute medius and minimus provide hip stability and control.
Quads key function is to flex the hip and extend the knee, rectus femoris is active during swing and early stance.
Hamstrings key function is to extend the hip and flex the knee, active during late swing to prepare the limb for contact and during early stance phase.
Calf Muscle Complex-Triceps surae- gastric- soleus. Gastroc is biarticular, soleus contributes 50% vertical support force required to accelerate the body, the calf is the engine for the achilles tendon.
Foot and ankle-multiplanar and subtalar joint and plantar fascia allow the foot to pronate and expand to absorb impact during stance phase. Each individual has varying degrees of pronation and supination.

The focus in recent years has turned to the power capabilities of runners and in particular the rate of force development (RFD). This essentially refers to the speed at which force can be produced. Power then in running terms is the ability to move with great speed or force. Power is defined as force x velocity, therefore by making runners stronger, you increase their force capability. Rate of force development (RFD) plays a large role. Running is a function of power and therefore RFD. How quickly can we exert the force needed to maintain our pace.
What we want are neurally induced gains in strength and muscle fiber recruitment.
Max strength training component aims to fatigue the muscle between 4 to 6 repetitions for 3 to 5 sets with an extended rest period between sets. Exercises should be compound in nature and target the full body and are at the start of the program. A closed chain exercise like the deadlift lifts the weight upwards and away from the ground as our trunk opens up and extends just like when we run and accomplishes what we want for approx. 90% of the skeletal muscle used in running.
Athletes alike should be aware of proper technique and execution of exercises. .

Variables like contact time, flight time, vertical oscillation or leg stiffness, among others, have shown to be well linked to running performance. Specifically, those variables have been used to measure the cost of running, i.e.the energy used to move ourselves forward at a certain speed.
Thus, shorter contact times, higher flight times, shorter vertical oscillation (i.e., the vertical displacement of the Center of Mass while running, a metric indicating how much do we ‘bounce’) and higher leg stiffness (i.e., how ‘reactive’ are our steps, the higher leg stiffness, the higher elastic energy produced by our tendons) would mean greater running economy. A stiffer spring is more efficient because it delivers and receives impact force very quickly so that little of this energy is lost through dissipation.
Running Economy is the oxygen cost of maintaining a given pace. A stronger athlete with appropriate strength, stability and mobility will cover the same distance more efficiently than an athlete who has poor RE.
Runners with good RE have greater stride length and frequency than those who struggle to control their technique due to a weak body so it is important to keep this up. Running economy has been correlated with running performance

Balance the Weak Links

Just because running is a uni-directional movement, it doesn’t mean there is not a lot of rotation and lateral motion going on to produce that movement.
When we predominantly train the muscles which work to produce straight line, sagittal plane movements (quads, hamstrings) they become the ones which get worked the hardest and developed strongest, leaving the muscles which get loaded more effectively through rotation and lateral movement (glutes, obliques and adductors) yet are responsible for providing stability as we run to remain weak and deconditioned.
Many of the weak links in runners occur in the frontal (side to side) and transverse (rotational) planes of motion.
A good choice of strength exercise is the crab walk exercise which mirrors this multiplanar movement
Function at the ankle, knee and hip is maximal when the hip displays great stability.



KEEP IT SIMPLE A variety of hops, skips, jumps, and bounds make up the plyos runners use. These exercises teach the body how to maximize our rate of force development. They represent the last step in converting the muscular force development into specific running improvements.
Reactive strength-The focus here is on minimizing ground contact.
Running by itself is a plyometric event and with that in mind, the volume and complexity of plyos should be kept low and have ample recovery in between sets to keep the quality of the movement high. Sprinting is the most specific plyo to do as the ground contact times are about as low as you can get and a large amount of force is generated in a very short time.
Plyometrics improves RE by improving the concentric and eccentric coupling of muscles (stretch shortening cycle) thereby developing velocity. These are a great way for runners to learn to absorb, store and produce larger amounts of force. The potential of these exercises can only be realized if used correctly!
The first phase is learning how to jump and land.
Developing eccentric strength for landing is the most important part of plyometric training.
*The more softly a runner land’s the better.
*Landing should never be deeper than a half squat position.

Core Exercises- A little goes along way

The function of the core is to prevent excessive torso rotation, transfer force and stabilize the spine. Core training should be multi-dimensional and should begin with stability and progress onto more dynamic mobility exercises.Your ability to control your torso is essential for optimal Running Economy (RE). Just as essential is the ability to use the core section of the body to transfer force from the upper and lower extremities. An inability to transfer force, due to a weak core, leads to an inefficient RE and thus a waste of energy. Additionally insignificant core strength and imbalance can lead to compensation by other parts of the body which can lead to a number of acute and overuse injuries.

As mileage during competition phases is reduced, the volume of strength training is also reduced according to fixtures and heavy periods of mileage.
The power benefits can be maintained with regular plyometric drills incorporated into the training plan without having an adverse effect on performance.


Michelle Greaney, (MG Coaching), Strength and Conditioning, Athletics Ireland Level 2 Endurance Running Coach

Success in Running


When it comes to paving the way for success as an athlete, preparation and planning is critical.

A good overall yearly plan and well executed preparation will make it far less likely that you will fall short in actual performance.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’ ~Benjamin Franklin

  1. Consistency

The number one route to improved performance is to aim for consistency with your training.

Concentrate on the task at hand, neither dwelling on the past nor looking too far forward. The only thing you can control is the present and when you focus on that and remain consistent, you will find your greatest success. Athletes must do everything in their power to stay healthy, injury free and consistent in their training for as long as possible.

Consistent daily improvements lead to big progress over time. Momentum is the backbone of progression.

Training consistently and building up gradually with the right structure and progression will reduce injury risk and improve performance. Don’t be ambitious with your paces in a workout just because you feel good, every workout serves a purpose!!! Remember we are trying to extend our ability to run at a certain pace.

Don’t rush development. Also, workouts are not predictive, they are developmental-we are trying to change and evolve by manipulating workouts to keep getting better

Recovery runs need to be emphasised as much as everything else and athletes are not paying enough attention to this little detail.

Each session should have a specific purpose, including your easy runs. Could you be hitting those quality sessions even better by going 30-60 seconds slower per mile when going easy. The potential gains here are huge, even beyond the obvious that the easier load on the body means you’re more likely to keep consistently training over weeks, months and years with a healthy body.

Too high a percentage of speed work in your training week will only lead to short term gains. If you are working hard for every single workout and pushing every single workout, you are showing up for the days when you really need to work with less to give basically defeating the whole purpose of that workout date. Maximise your results on tempo/speed days by taking the other days easy.

A well-designed training plan (that is adaptable and adjustable) specific to the athlete followed consistently will maximise results. It will have the proper mix of stress and recovery and ensures the right type of training occurs at the right time.

2. Variety

Variability is a runners best friend.

It is critical for all endurance runners of all levels to have plenty of variety in their training.

Creating added stimuli to your training aiding progression, helping prevent injury and keep an enjoyment factor to your training. Running on a variety of different surfaces is important too.

3. Listen to your body

This is the most important thing you can take out of training. Be body intuitive. You know your body more than any training plan does.

Your training plan does not know about the poor night’s sleep you had last night or how the last week of training took a little too much out of you. But you know this and you can listen to what is going on and respond to it to increase your longevity as a runner.

4. Don’t be afraid of change

If you are not responding positively to a certain type of training, then change it. All runners and athletes have different physiological and psychological make ups, so different types of training works for some and not for others.

5. Goals

A dream written down becomes a goal. You are holding yourself accountable for what it is you want to achieve. Make this dream a reality.

All athletes should set goals for themselves- reasonable and readily achievable short term goals along the way and also longterm goals. It also creates added motivation. How are you getting better today? What will you achieve today? How will you respond to failure and setbacks? This is what sets everyone apart. Will you take a set back in your stride knowing that it is all part of the process or let it get the better of you and give up?

Don’t have a yesterday attitude by dwelling on things that didn’t go well in a previous performance or a tomorrow attitude by procrastinating and not getting things done now.

Believe in your ability to succeed.

Using the SMART principle for goal setting is used with huge success.





Be flexible with your goals. Accept that there are many ways to reach your objectives then you wont be disturbed by the changes you perhaps need to make.

6. Planning

After you have set your goals for the year ahead, it is important that you lay out a plan to help you achieve them, and to get there in the best possible condition.

Use a training diary and record everything so you can look back and reflect on things following a key race or a full season.

Also a plan should be written in pencil and not set in stone. Adjust as needed! Success in running relies on being able to make adaptations when necessary.

You need to evaluate, feedback is needed from a previous years training/racing to reveal areas that need improving or changing.

You need to decide the structure of the annual plan, are you peaking for 1 race or for 2 keys time during the year etc.

Decide your objectives and duration of each phase of annual plan

Preparation Phase (general and specific) This is the time of year that you lay speed/strength/endurance foundations to prepare for more specific training.

Competition Phase (pre comp and comp) More specific training and racing to allow you to be in the best possible shape to race. This phase only works well if you have prepared properly in preceding phase of training.

Transition/Recovery Phase This is the time of year that you allow tue body to transition from hard training and racing and focus on recovery before starting the cycle again.

Taking time off is a good idea, this is a vital part of the training process. Just as the body reacts positively to easy days of training between quality sessions, so can a bit of time away from training allow the body and mind to reach a new level of performance once back to a regular training schedule. (Supplementary training may minimise loss of fitness during the break from running)

We need to quantify training loads with our training cycles (need to look at volume/intensity/time/rate of percieved exertion (RPE)

7. Recovery

Sleep and nutrition are the two most underrated performance enhancers available to all athletes. Use these wisely and reap the rewards in your training and racing. Make your recovery specific to you. We need to monitor the following regularly:


-Sleep quality and duration

-Energy levels

Muscle soreness

-Resting Heart rate

-Cold/flu symptoms

-Fatigue and stress



8. Basics

Too many athletes seek to go after the advanced training methods before nailing the basics. Master the basic fundamental training areas, recovery methods etc. first before you try advancing your training. The basics when done well on a consistent basis lead to great results.

Understand the concept of each run you are doing. Know what is each run trying to accomplish.

As a runner, we want to run in the most efficient manner possible to limit wasting energy. Spend time working on your run mechanics to help you run more fluent and relaxed through run drills, strength and conditioning programme, hill running and strides/short sprints on flat & on steep hills. This combination will help you run more effortlessly.

9. Patience
The bottom line is that endurance training can be monotonous at times, you don’t always see quick results, you must deal with setbacks etc so patience in the process delivers time and time again.

Wishing you every success are you prepare for their next season😊

Michelle Greaney

Athletics Ireland National Level 2 Endurance Running Coach |Strength and Conditioning Coach | 




Goal Setting: Steps to Make 2019 your Best Year Yet

To achieve great things we must be patient and take a long term approach to training to grow, adapt and improve.

A systematic programme of goal setting, and working to achieve goals is highly effective in developing both physical and psychological skills. Well defined goals improve performance, helps clarify expectations, relieves boredom, and increase pride and self confidence.

Setting goals will provide:

1. Direction.

Goals are empowering tools and help you makes the right decisions

2. Motivation.

They can stretch and push you out of your comfort zone resulting in increased effort and persistence. Identifying the gap between where you are now and where you want to be creates motivation and the desire to close the gap.

3. Strategy Refinement

After setting a challenging goal, you will think longer and more creatively about how to accomplish it and how to measure progress towards achieving it.

Nobody knows their body better than you do and everybody is individual. In between busy schedules and the demands of everyday life, fitting in training can be a challenge, but if you are participating with others for a set event, it can be a great motivator.

Your training plan cannot be rigid – You must be able to modify it. Modifications and adjustments are to be expected!! We need to be able to maximise the time available to us.

Here are 3 steps for setting up your 2019 plan

  • Recognise

Decide what it is you want to achieve. This step is often the most difficult until you make your goals clear and specific, they will probably stay wishes and dreams for yet another year so choose your goals, write them down to make them real.

  • Research

Figure out the prep and then prep for the plan. Once you know exactly what you want, this step is about figuring out how to make it happen. If you research enough, you will be prepared.

There is no bad plan just bad preparation.

Fail to prepare prepare to fail

  • Reach

Start taking action and don’t be afraid to explore new territory’s.

Up until this point in your planning process, it was all just talk, once you have the blueprint in place, the only way you can get what you want is by taking consistent action.

To have what you have never had before you will have to push yourself beyond what you have done before. Decide what you need to do today in order to move closer to the next milestone. Write down the actions you need to take that you are currently not taking and then start checking the boxes!

As you roll forward into 2019, make sure you follow the steps above with the time you have available to you.

Becoming a better version of you starts by being SMART

Follow these guidelines to setting SMART goals.


Your goal should be clear and easy to understand. The more detailed you can be the better. A more specific and ambitious goal will lead to more performance improvement than a general goal.


A goal to “lose weight” or run a particular time in a 5k is not enough. Set process goals (aimed at achieving certain outcomes/performance) and get to action.

Mini goals will keep you on track to stay motivated and see progress.

To be successful we must not put all of our focus on the outcome, we must consider the process also.

Outcome: The ideal result, hopeful conclusion, best end for your goal.

Process: The skills you need, the method required to get you there.


It’s good to shoot for the stars, but don’t be too extreme. If you can’t actually attain your goal it will only serve to frustrate and dishearten you.

Likewise, a goal that is too easy is also not very motivating. Only you know your limits.


Set goals that are important to where you are in your life right now. Don’t set a goal that someone else is pressuring you to attain-that isn’t very motivating.

Time Frame

Have a clear idea of your timeline and include an end-point. Knowing that you have a deadline motivates you to get started and creates a sense of urgency.

Sometimes however, we may need to cut the dead weight. Your plan is not always going to exactly go to plan. Sometimes you will have to revisit, review and refocus.

If things stall, decide if you need to restart. Find the things that are weighing you down, remove them and start again without hesitation. It is ok to occasionally change the milestone or date and start again – just stick to the plan.

Be fully committed to achieving your goals and best of luck for 2019.

Yours in Sport

Michelle Greaney

MG Coaching

Train Hard – Recover Harder

Stress demands rest and rest supports stress

The over-arching key to sustainable performance is simplified using the growth equation:

Stress + rest = adapt/growth. It is a simple yet profound guide to structuring your days, weeks and years.

A bird’s-eye view of a training plan given by a coach will show the growth equation providing you with a bird’s-eye view to improving performance. It can’t be emphasised enough, working like this is key to a lifetime of sustainable improvement and success.

Great performers leave nothing to chance by designing each and every day to get the most out of themselves. So too can the rest of us.

In a society that glorifies grinding, short term gains and pushing to extremes, it takes guts to rest.

There are no shortcuts to places worth going. We need to be consistent with our training but also with our recovery. Burning the candle at both ends by over training and insufficient recovery results in burnout and increases the risk of injury and illness. When we are tired, our ability to train productively and think clearly is compromised. Fatigue can make cowards of us. We shouldn’t repeatedly demand more of our bodies than they can deliver! The key to diagnosing overtraining is knowing when fatigue at either end of the day has become excessive.

Training is a holism and certain aspects of an athletes lifestyle will contribute to overtraining.

In order to be good you have to train at a high level but you must also allow your body time to recover. You need to take time off, you need to run easy on some days.

Rest: give your body time and space to adapt to the training stress. You will start gaining more fitness and performing better than ever. Rest supports growth and adaptation. Rest will become as productive as additional training. We need to recover and rest properly in order to prevent injuries and maximize performance.

If we neglect rest and keep pushing, breakdown continues and eventually our health and performance suffer. But if we listen and allow the body to rest, it shifts from a catabolic (breakdown) state to an anabolic one, in which the body repairs and rebuilds so that it can come back stronger.

Sleeping is a catalyst for physical growth. Just as the brain is actively processing the work we’ve done throughout the day, when we sleep, the body is doing the same.

The best athletes in the world prioritise sleep. Sneaking in an extra hour of training at the expense of sleep is rarely a good idea.

We don’t grow when we are in the gym or logging miles on the road, we grow in our sleep. We can put in all the work in the world while we’re awake, but if we don’t sleep, much of it’s value is lost.

There are increasing marginal returns to sleep. Hours 7-9, the hours that the majority of us never get are actually the most powerful.

Extended breaks annually will keep us physically and psycholigically healthy over the years.

If we never take easy periods, we are never able to go full throttle and the hard periods end up being not that hard at all.

Unfortunately, we have lost the notion of smart work at the expense of hard work, which somehow almost always gets confused with more work.

Going through the motions.

A well timed rest day yields enormous dividends. Rest days allow you to recover from the accumulated stress of the recent past and revitalizes you so that you can push harder in the near future.

Hard work only becomes smart and sustainable work when it is supported by rest. Resting hard often takes more guts than working hard.

Recovery encompasses more than just muscle repair. It involves restoring your chemical and hormonal balance, nervous system, mental state and so much more. Don’t ignore your body when it needs to be rested.

We need to strategically insert longer periods of rest to follow longer periods of stress.

Don’t rush the process.

Athletic development and the prevention of injuries requires time and patience-do not cut corners.

Michelle Greaney 

MG Coaching

Athletics Ireland Certified Level 2 Endurance Coach