Practice Is For One Thing — Repetitions
Famous wisdom reports: Less is More. All of my mentors swear by this truth. However, the problem is what "less" equals more.
A critical task of the coach is to separate signal from noise. We live in a world of endless rubbish. And often the clearest words are buried deep. Truth, wisdom, and clarity - sadly - don't sell. Click bait, junk, and sensationalism attract. Less of the latter grouping and more of the former offerings are where you want to invest your energies.
So then, what is practice for?
For the performance oriented distance runner, my current answer is: Repetitions. Learning by doing.
The only reliable memory is muscle memory. Why? Race plans don't always work. It is the execution of the runner which wins races. Sure a plan can help, but the truth is the athlete must decide to act and then go without a second thought.
I no longer call long run days, easy run days, or any day where no repetitions take place "practice."
The designation of "practice" is reserved only for days which include repetitions which aid the athlete in refining their craft. And an effective way to ready an athlete to race is to repeatedly run at fast speeds, ideally race speed or faster. At these speeds, the athlete has no time to think. They must rely on well-honed instincts to adjust, react, or respond to the demands faced, just like in a race. And these instincts must be cultivated by repeatedly running at fast speeds, ideally race speed or faster. It is a virtuous cycle.
Sport is a physical education after all. At practice, athletes learn more by doing, less by thinking.
Save the technical coaching on drills and form for another day. Go over race strategy in a short office meeting beforehand. Correct form drills later. But not at practice.
No rousing speech. No long discourse on the structure of the session and the benefits. At practice, say less, observe more. Keep it simple, short, sweet. "Here is the day's workout. Start fast and keep accelerating. Finish it the best you can, just like a race."
Encourage the athletes to take ownership by elevating their performance and execution on the day's ask. Demand they commit 100% focus to the rep at hand — no less, no more. Hold them accountable. It will all transfer to race day.
How? Muscle Memory. Reps become habitual. Automatic. Less thinking, more racing. Which results in what both parties in the athlete-coach relationship ultimately want: less losing, more winning.
Thanks for reading. I'm glad you're here. // jm