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Coaches Blog

Build Durability -- It's Critical

Durability is the ability to withstand wear, pressure, or damage. In humans, this means the “ability of a person to do something for a long time without getting tired or being injured.” (Cambridge Dictionary) 


Durability is essential in endurance sports - and building it in the human body is a slow process. The athlete needs to perform the sport or sports in question to build the necessary endurance and add a strength regimen and (gasp!) a yoga/flexibility regimen. Muscles, bones, and joints can all exhibit durability, and the proof of durability is that no injuries are sustained. 


Often, as coaches, we’re approached by new and established athletes who want to do ultra-distance events - for example, an Ironman or run 100 miles. And they want to do it next year. Often, if an athlete doesn’t have athletic or racing experience, an Ironman or 100-mile race next year isn’t feasible--it often comes down to durability. 


Shorter distance races also require durability, but the distances are manageable. The foundation for durability is laid in the training process for a sprint triathlon or 5K run. In shorter distances, durability becomes more of a factor when the athlete gets faster. Speed is a huge factor in short-distance racing, and it’s crucial to have durability to withstand the higher effort over the shorter distance. Longer distance durability takes a very long time to build, and often, we can see the lack of durability in many athletes on the Ironman run because they’re walking much of the marathon. 


So, what can be done to improve durability? There are four significant factors that athletes can work on (and your coach should add to your training plan). They are:

  • Incremental distance increases

  • Strength training

  • Yoga/Flexibility

  • Time


Incremental distance increases apply to all sports, not just running. If I look back to my first Ironman, my cycling increased incrementally by 15 minutes per week to the longest ride of 7 hours (yeah, yeah, I’m slow on the bike!). Swimming increased incrementally to 4200, and I spent many months swimming in the 3000-3600 yard range.


Running was also a very slow process, building slowly to my long run, which was 3 hours. (If you’re a distance-based runner, I would recommend adding a mile each week to your long run once you’ve hit 10 miles. You’ll also need to decide how long you want your longest run to be.) 


Incrementally adding distance helps athletes gain cardio fitness over long distances, helps maintain/gain bone density (you’re jumping, right?!), teaches the body how to manage the added load/strain that longer distances require, and improves the mental capacity to go longer distances.


I always tell athletes that I don’t have them out riding 5.5 hours just for the sake of riding - I’m helping their bodies adapt to the longer distances (time in the saddle) and helping them manage the mental gymnastics that long-distance endurance events require. And if we have to change a tire on a longer ride or deal with nutrition issues, all the better!


Strength training helps build muscles, bones, and muscle attachments. I recommend squats, lunges, deadlifts, chest/bench presses, step-ups, rows, and core work. I use barbells, dumbbells, bands (a variety of lengths) and kettlebells. If you’re new to strength training, hire a Certified Personal Trainer for a few sessions and tell them what you need to learn to lift.


There are a few options for splitting up your strength training days. The easiest way I’ve found is to split the strength session over at least two days, and I typically write upper body strength for one day and lower body strength for the other day. 


Yoga and flexibility are essential, as well. If you’ve read my blog posts before, you know that I like Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. Her channel is full of sessions focusing on particular body parts, and you can pick the time that works best for you. A second option is the Down Dog app. You pick the session time length and what body part you want to work on, and off you go!


Lastly, TIME. And it’s the most important piece. Durability takes TIME to build. No amount of rushing is going to make an athlete more durable. Bone density and muscle mass won’t appear overnight, so approach durability with a long-term plan and give yourself some grace.


I’ve heard a lot of athletes say, “Oh, I can totally do this race even though I’m not trained. It’s going to really suck, and I’m going to hurt badly afterward, but I can do it.” Well, sure. But who wants to go into a race expecting and planning for misery because the building blocks weren’t built properly?

 

Maria Netherland is a Northwest Florida-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and Youth & Juniors Certified Coach as well as a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Performance Enhancement Specialist. Coach Maria loves working for athletes of all abilities, military athletes, and new triathletes as they pursue their goals. Maria is a veteran of the US Army and a United States Military Academy at West Point graduate. She can be reached at maria@teammpi.com.

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