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Performance Comparison in Endurance Athletes

Posted by Scott Christensen



After the race or key workout is over, it is time for an athlete performance comparison by the endurance coach.  All too frequently coaches simply analyze performance on the basis of what they have witnessed their athletes did in regard to pacing, strategy, placing order, and how the final time compares with past efforts in that event.  This type of scrutiny is called a longitudinal case study and it does have value, especially in how the athlete personally views their own performance.  Another tool that coaches can use to analyze performance is called a cross-sectional event study.  This technique compares the individual athlete’s performance only against the other performances recorded in closely related endurance events by that same individual.  A cross-sectional event analysis is valuable in understanding the strengths and physiological limitations in an athlete, and it should eventually lead to workouts designed to strengthen the diagnosed limitations.

Sports psychologists tell us that given their choice, athletes would prefer to practice techniques they are already good at.  Hence the value of having a coach, to steer the athlete to practice and strengthen areas they are not nearly as skilled in.  For example, if an endurance runner has a high VO2 max value then they probably prefer to practice long runs and tempo runs rather than Special Endurance 1 or Speed Endurance sessions on the track.  Also, most 400 meter runners would not chose to go on an eight mile run if given the choice, and all coaches know that!  This also helps explain the resistance most athletes put forth in regard to moving their event up in distance, even if it is apparent they should do so. A performance comparison can help you determine this.

Endurance events on the track are termed combined events because they combine the energy produced aerobically with supplemental energy produced by the anaerobic energy system.  The aerobic energy contribution is chiefly aligned with the extent of the individual’s VO2 max development and the anaerobic contribution is aligned in similar fashion with the individual’s ability to buffer and tolerate the negative effects of biochemical changes to the cellular fluid caused by the incomplete breakdown of carbohydrate in energy production.  Both of these energy systems need to operate at the highest level possible, in accordance with the genome of the individual, in order to achieve performance success.  This energy system harmony is only achieved through a variety of training stimuli, the extent of which can be determined through cross sectional analysis of individual performances

At this point, let us take an event cross sectional look at two common examples of distance runners and determine the means to diagnose physiological developmental issues in each using a case study apprach.

Read Coach Christensen’s The Essence of the Endurance Training Program

Katie is a ninth grader with current racing marks of: 11:19 for 3200 meters, 5:18 for 1600 meters and 2:24 for 800 meters.  Katie is five feet tall and weighs 100 pounds.  Because she is a 15 year old female it is likely that her genome directed VO2 max is near maturity.  Her current marks indicate a very well developed VO2 max value as measured by her 3200 meter time, and marks in the 1600 meters and 800 meters that do not quite measure up.  Katie has a huge aerobic engine in a small body.  Her aerobic engine is propelling her at this point in her career with little help on the anaerobic side.  This can be shown in Table 1 (line 25) in what physiologists term comparative performances.  Katie has performance values that are skewed toward the higher aerobic contribution side.  As a runner Katie enjoys long runs, tempo runs, and longer races, so if given the practice choice she will chose these activities.  Katie’s coach should be prescribing a dosage of one session per week each of Speed Endurance, Special Endurance 1 and Special Endurance 2 workouts with 2-3 minutes rest between bouts of work to improve an under-developed anaerobic energy system if she is to continue showing improvement.

Matt is an 11th grade miler that seems to be underachieving in cross country.  His current marks are: 16:55 for 5000 meters, 10:30 for 3200 meters, 4:39 for 1600 and 2:05 for 800 meters.  Matt is six feet tall and weighs 160 pounds.  As a 17 year old male his VO2 max is nearing genome directed maturity.  Matt has current marks in his event cross sectional study that are skewed toward the anaerobic energy system side of the combined zone.  Matt can tolerate the effects of acidity in the blood but does not have great aerobic development.  A look at the comparative efforts in Table 1 (line 19) will confirm this conclusion for the coach.  Matt enjoys running repeat 400 meters on the track with little rest and yearns for a position on the mile relay.   If given the choice, Matt will choose Special Endurance 1 or Special Endurance 2 sessions over any other type of workout.  His coach should be prescribing a strong VO2 max session, a long run, and a four mile tempo workout each week based on his comparative effort information if his cross country development is to develop further on the aerobic side.  Design practices to strengthen physiological weaknesses.

Prescribing proper individualized workouts is one of the most important tasks an endurance coach performs.  A great deal of information is gained in building cross sectional event charts on your athletes.  As the athlete builds more and more data into their comparison effort charts, the coach can pinpoint the most effective workloads to reach maximum development which leads to the highest level of racing success.

Comparison Performance Diagnostic Chart.  Table 1.
Scott Christensen, Stillwater Distance

Level 800 1600 3200 5000 VO2 max pace/mile
1 1:40 3:43 8:05 13:01 4:02   
2 1:42 3:46 8:13 13:14 4:06   
3 1:44 3:50 8:21 13:28 4:10  
4 1:46 3:54 8:29 13:40 4:14  
5 1:47 3:48 8:37 13:53 4:18  
6 1:49 4:01 8:46 14:06 4:23  
7 1:51 4:05 8:53 14:19 4:26  
8 1:52 4:08 9:02 14:32 4:31  
9 1:54 4:12 9:10 14:45 4:35  
10 1:56 4:16 9:18 14:58 4:39  
11 1:57 4:20 9:26 15:11 4:43  
12 1:59 4:23 9:34 15:24 4:47  
13 2:01 4:27 9:42 15:37 4:51  
14 2:03 4:31 9:50 15:50 4:55  
15 2:04 4:35 9:58 16:03 4:49  
16 2:06 4:38 10:06 16:16 5:03  
17 2:08 4:42 10:14 16:29 5:07  
18 2:09 4:46 10:22 16:42 5:11  
19 2:11 4:50 10:31 16:55 5:15  
20 2:13 4:52 10:38 17:08 5:19  
21 2:14 4:56 10:47 17:21 5:23  
22 2:16 5:00 10:55 17:34 5:27  
23 2:18 5:02 11:03 17:47 5:31  
24 2:20 5:06 11:11 18:00 5:35  
25 2:21 5:10 11:19 18:03 5:39  
26 2:23 5:14 11:27 18:26 5:43  
27 2:25 5:18 11:35 18:40 5:47  
28 2:26 5:22 11:43 18:52 5:51  
29 2:28 5:26 11:51 19:05 5:55  
30 2:30 5:30 11:59 19:19 5:59  
31 2:31 5:34 12:07 19:31 6:03  
32 2:33 5:38 12:16 19:44 6:08  
33 2:35 5:42 12:24 19:58 6:12  
34 2:37 5:44 12:32 20:10 6:16  
35 2:38 5:46 12:40 20:23 6:20  
36 2:40 5:50 12:48 20:37 6:24  
37 2:42 5:54 12:56 20:49 6:28  
38 2:43 5:58 13:04 21:02 6:32  
39 2:45 6:02 13:12 21:16 6:36  
40 2:47 6:06 13:20 21:29 6:40  
41 2:48 6:10 13:28 21:41 6:44  
42 2:50 6:14 13:36 21:55 6:48  
43 2:52 6:18 13:44 22:08 6:52  
44 2:54 6:22 13:52 22:20 6:56  
45 2:55 6:26 14:00 22:34 7:00  
46 2:57 6:30 14:08 22:47 7:04  
47 2:59 6:32 14:17 22:59 7:08  
48 3:00 6:34 14:25 23:13 7:12  
49 3:02 6:38 14:33 23:26 7:16  
50 3:04 6:42 14:41 23:38 7:20  
51 3:05 6:46 14:49 23:52 7:24  

More Middle Distance Training: Preparation of the Elite Junior Middle Distance Runner



Scott Christensen is the head track coach at Stillwater Area High School in Oak Park Heights, MN.

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