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Coaches Blog

Complete Your Puzzle

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

by Chris Palmquist

We all know that a puzzle which is missing one or more pieces is completely unsatisfying. When I help an endurance athlete work towards achieving their goals, I imagine a similar puzzle with different pieces, all critical. Unfortunately, it is very common to obsess too much over some of the “puzzle pieces” (volume is a common obsession) while other missing pieces (for example, recovery) show up as obvious holes in your athlete puzzle. Let’s talk about some of the important parts of any athlete’s puzzle.

Appropriate Training

Our Team MPI RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) Chart below, shows all the possible training zones as well as how each type of effort feels (RPE) and compares to the athlete’s threshold heartrate, FTP and running race paces.

A complete endurance athlete needs to train in almost all these zones.

  • Zone 2 is for building the aerobic endurance piece of your puzzle. More of your training should be spend in Zone 2 than any other.

  • Work done in Zone 3 helps an athlete to build the muscular endurance required to hold a moderately strong effort for a long time.

  • Zone 4 is for raising the pace or power that an athlete can hold at their anaerobic threshold. An increase in threshold pace or power brings all the lower zone paces/power up with it.

  • Zone 5 is for the advanced endurance athlete who needs to increase her/his ability to utilize oxygen at peak effort. This puzzle piece is tiny or non-existent for most due to the advanced nature of these training sessions.

Appropriate Recovery

Plenty of sleep, rest days/weeks, off-seasons and Zone 1 active recovery workouts are as important as training sessions. While training sessions, break an athlete down, it is the recovery from those sessions that allows the athlete to absorb the training and adapt to become faster or stronger as a result.

Mental Skills and Emotional Health

Mental Skills allow an athlete to weather the inevitable “ups and downs” of training and competitive seasons. Techniques such as mindfulness and breathing can bring calm and focus back to an athlete who needs them. As coaches, we can help lead athletes to acquire the proper perspective for their racing and training. It is always important to find joy in the athlete journey and to never define oneself by the success of the last workout or race. An athlete with strong mental skills puzzle pieces will enjoy their endurance passions for the long term.


It doesn’t matter how well-trained you might be, if you try to race while dehydrated, without adequate electrolytes or improperly fueled, that training will not show up on the course. Under-fueled/hydrated training sessions will be poor and ineffective as well. Put a strong emphasis on learning your best nutrition/hydration for your activities.

Balance and Joy

Dedicate some of your puzzle to family, friends, career, recreation and other hobbies that you enjoy. Find the “balance” (unique to each person) that allows you to enjoy your endurance life without sacrificing the other people and experiences that make you whole. Seek help from sports psychologists or other counselors if you find that your relationships, health (emotional or physical) or career are suffering due to your endurance passion.


When the going gets tough, the most successful athletes trains and race with a deep sense of gratitude. Be powerfully aware that we are highly fortunate to be able to have the health, support and means to train and race as endurance athletes. Think of all that cannot do what you get to do. Instead of thinking of training as something that, “I have to do,” think of it as something that, “I get to do!” This slight change in perspective makes every tough day easier. We are the lucky ones!

Is your “endurance athlete puzzle” incomplete? Find those missing pieces to achieve your best as an athlete.

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