"Bad" training sessions and how they relate to Pirates!

Often I will hear athletes saying that they had a “bad” training session with the implication being that something is going wrong with their training. Sometimes this will ultimately lead to them changing their training or coach and very often, just like when football teams change the manager, the change makes little to no difference. The two mistakes that are made is that they are putting too much emphasis on individual sessions rather than looking holistically at the bigger training picture and they are confusing correlation with causation.

Correlation and causation are terms not often used by athletic coaches and more often likely to be used by statisticians or scientists. They relate to the fact that events that coincide are not necessarily causally related. A fun example of this is illustrated in the "Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” that global warming is caused by a lack of swashbuckling pirates sailing the oceans. You can draw a graph correlating increasing temperatures on the surface of earth with a drop in the buccaneer population. Clearly nothing rational connects these two trends; there is correlation but no causation.

So we need to look at the whole picture when we consider the session that went awry. We need to look at all the variables that are present and consider which are relevant, which are controllable, which are uncontrollable, which ones are merely correlated and what was the cause. The athlete and coach need to consider what phase of the training cycle they are in, what sessions were completed that week, what was the aim of the session, athletes mental state and stress level, what were the weather conditions: wind, rain, heat, cold all will change the way we run; nutritional status, the “wrong” shoes, iron levels …..to just name a few. There are so many variables and so much background noise that we can not simply draw a causal relationship.

So unless you have ALL the data points then don’t stress on the fact that in one particular run your rep pace was X seconds slower than the last time. I have never met any athlete, from Parkrunners to Olympians that has “good” sessions 100% of the time and “success” is extremely often a squiggly line! So if you completed a session that didn’t go strictly to plan just remember that you finished the session or workout and will have gained benefit from it. You will have a session to do tomorrow and that is the one to focus on.

Right, in the name of saving the planet I’m off to gather a motley crew and sail the seven seas.