Self Assessment Series: Part I

Self Assessment for max performance.

A lot of things in running, much like life, are seemingly learned by trial and error. Those experiences mold our beliefs about what we are able to accomplish. For running, those experiences certainly are part of the process, but they take a lot of time and they mean going through bad races and injury just to learn more about ourselves. That got me to thinking, how do we take those experiences but couple it with some sort of self assessment to drastically shorten that learning curve? Where would we start? What would we look at? Lastly, how would we use it? These are all questions I personally would want answered for my athletes and the basis of the following self assessments that I would perform as a runner.

For New Runners:

If you are a new runner, you may be in a tough spot. Much of what you are learning right now is through trial and error and we simply don’t have a lot of data to pull anything of significance from. Really what we are doing here is twofold. One, to get an idea of what kind of potential you may have, or where your strengths/weaknesses might be. Second, lay the foundation of good training principles so that regardless of path you take, you have a good idea of what to expect.

Different Body Types

Understanding your body type

  1. Ectomorph
    1. Narrow hips and shoulders
    2. Thin build
    3. Long limbs
  2. Mesomorph
    1. Wide shoulders
    2. Narrow waist
    3. Muscular build
  3. Endomorph
    1. Wide shoulders/waist
    2. Thick rib cage
    3. Shorter limbs

What does this mean? The reality is that for beginning runners, this may really only be assessing our starting point. A little of it might be stating the obvious, like it may simply point out that we are tall and skinny, or that we need to lose a little weight. However, if we get into it a little bit, then we can maybe start to sort out some things about ourselves that will indicate where our strengths and weaknesses my lie.

Basically, most of us are middle of the road when it comes to training and performance.

Most of us, roughly 70%, are well, average. We are probably a blend of two body types and with that we can expect a few things. For you, training should be balanced, because you will respond to everything. You can expect your race results to pretty much fall in line as the distance increases, as long as you trained appropriately for each event. You’ll respond at the textbook rate of 4-6 weeks at a training level. Basically, most of us are middle of the road when it comes to training and performance.

New runners enjoying the run!

From a physiological standpoint, you are probably a pretty even blend of muscle fibers. Most people tend to have a 50/50 blend of fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibers. This means that you’ll have a pretty average VO2max to start with too. So, nothing crazy here and the majority of people fall into this category.

Then you have your mesomorphic athletes that are strong, powerful, but on a light frame. You can think of your typical sprinter in this case. They will have a lot of fast twitch muscle fibers, but also a high starting VO2max. Sprint or short fast duration is going to be there favorite and obviously, their best training. Can this person run a marathon? Absolutely, as long as they modify their approach and realize that their expected performance will probably be slower than what a shorter performance might rather indicate. This population is small, about 15%.

The last thing a new runner needs is unrealistic expectations that allow frustration to creep in. This just leads to a general non enjoyment of the sport and most will ultimately leave the sport because of it.

Lastly, you have the true marathon body type. The skinny, long limbed, light framed ectomorph. They will really be the opposite of the mesomorph. They will react a little slower to training, but they will excel in aerobic dominant events. Physiologically, they will be slow twitch dominant and actually have a slightly lower starting VO2max. These traits however, will allow for performances to be better as the distance increases. Because of their frame, they tend to recover quicker and handle high volumes of training much better.

Now, obviously not everyone will fit into a specific mold, but these are good general characteristics. A quick look in the mirror can “reflect” a lot of data before you even take your first steps. For me, the practicality is really about giving yourself a quick baseline assessment so that you can have good starting expectations about yourself. The last thing a new runner needs is unrealistic expectations that allow frustration to creep in. This just leads to a general non enjoyment of the sport and most will ultimately leave the sport because of it.

Self Evaluations:

If you have been running, then you will start to learn some things about yourself. Below are some questions to consider about training, racing and recovery that will help you gain a better understanding of yourself as a runner.

What type of training do you like?

a. Long tempo runs and intervals
b. Short/fast repeats

If you like the more aerobic type work, then it should be no surprise that you are oriented towards a slow twitch fiber type of athlete. Conversely, if you like to run short and fast, then you are probably fast twitch oriented.

What type of training are you better at?

a. Long tempo runs and intervals
b. Short/fast repeats

If you like longer stuff, chances are you’ll be better at longer races. Again, what you like and are good at are good indicators of your muscle fiber make up.

What type of training do I adapt better to?

a. Faster work: repeats that are mile to 5k pace?
b. Longer work: tempo runs, long runs.
c. Do you respond well to everything in moderate doses?

Knowing this gives us insight to some of your physiological makeup. You are going to adapt better to your strengths as a runner, that’s why they are your strengths. It’s much harder to adapt to our weaknesses. It doesn’t have to change what event you want to train for, but it will show you that it may take longer training blocks to train for races you won’t adapt as well too.

Even if you are professional, you can work on your form!

How do you perform?

a) Far superior at shorter distances (<10k) than you are to longer races b) Far superior to longer races (>10k) than you are to shorter races
c) Perform moderately well at all distances, but slightly better shorter race performances
d) Perform well across the board but lean towards better performances at longer races.

Same idea as the above question. The biggest take away here, is really starting to pinpoint that either we aren’t training appropriate for underperformances for certain race distance and/or that we are built more for longer or shorter races.

What is my current weekly mileage?

a) Under 30 miles per week
b) 30-50 miles per week
c) 50-70 miles per week
d) 70+ miles per week

More than anything, this will help us determine more about ourselves and what races distances we’d excel at given your weekly mileage. It is easier to run faster times for shorter races on lower weekly mileage. Longer races require more training and hence higher weekly mileage.

Are you stressed to run this mileage? Life situations often dictate how much we can run on a regular basis. The more things we have going on, the less time we tend to have for running.

a) Yes, it is hard for me to fit this current mileage in. If I were in a better state, I’d be able to/want to train more.
b) No, life is fairly calm and this is the mileage that I’d like to stay at.
c) No, life is good and I’d like to train more.

As much as we hate to admit, our training is dictated by outside forces. If you are in a stressful spot with work, for example, it may not be the best timing to jump into a big marathon segment. At the very least, it will help gauge expectations based on what training you’ll be able to squeeze in.

What do you recover the best from?

a) Long runs and workouts down to marathon pace
b) Strength and speed type SOS days
c) Both about the same

Again, how we recover from workouts, lets us plan our training better. If we know we need two days of recovery between a long run and a speed workout, we can plan accordingly. This allows us to maximize development and help avoid overtraining and injury. Beyond that, this gives us a glimpse into what we might be better at from a race standpoint. It may also dictate the overall length of our training segment. For instance, if we recover slowly from marathon type training, we may need to make that training block a little longer. If we recover pretty quickly from that type of work, we can maybe shorten up that segment to avoid becoming stale.

Final thoughts:

The goal with this is to help you get a better handle your own goals, abilities, and expectations. These are simple questions we can answer about ourselves that will help us shape how we approach your training. They are also great questions for coaches to ask you in order to help you become the best runner you can be. At the very least, they can help establish a baseline. From here, we’ll move on to more specific assessments that are still very Do-It-Yourself.

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