Training Age vs. Experience

When I created Fitness Protection, I wanted client onboarding to be as streamlined and efficient as possible. This meant eliminating all questions about a client's current level of fitness and training experience.  

If prompted, most would start with the first sport they ever played (it wasn't unusual to hear about Little League!) and give me a highlight reel of everything in between.  They would give me all kinds of details....except the ones I needed.

"I've been running for 20 years" tells me nothing.  

"I've done ‎2 marathons, a whole bunch of halves, and some trail races" tells me nothing. 

"My easy pace is 8:00" tells me nothing.

If you've been training with me for awhile, you understand why the third statement tells me nothing (you may think an 8:00 pace is easy‎ but if your HR is 172 I'm gonna have to disagree with you).  The other two questions are marginally useful in determining your Experience Level, but it still isn't quite enough to figure out your Training Age. 

What's the difference?

Training Age: the length of time you have been training consistently.

Experience Level: Having done 'this thing' before.

"This Thing", specifically:

  • Are you new to running in general? 

  • If you've raced before, did you train? I mean, REALLY train either with a coached group or with a training plan you found online/in a book?

  • Did you complete more than 50% of that plan?

  • Did you understand the plan and the workouts? 

  • Are you new to training for this distance?

  • Have you ensured you have time in your schedule and the necessary support to train for this distance much less chase a time goal?

  • Have you worked with a coach before?

  • Are you aware of the nutrition/performance connection, and do you care?

A person can have twenty years of running and racing experience and a training age of 0.  It's actually more common than you think.  What is way less common is to get someone with even 5 years experience who has been training consistently (meaning, 5 days per week with no breaks longer than 3 weeks for any reason) for even 2 of those years.

Most of my clients have completed a lot of races. Few have actually trained, ever, the way they will train with me. There is a huge learning curve associated with training and I operate on the assumption that in our first race cycle together I need to teach you how to train and race (this assumption is based into the Tenacious AF plan). In subsequent cycles we can ‎fine-tune what we established in the first cycle. 

"I don't understand, I'm not a beginner, I've done this before. I should do better this time than last time, this expectation isn't irrational". 

Experience counts for sure, but it doesn't override your training age.  When the work is interrupted, so is the progress.‎ Your experience CAN give you an advantage...if you can put your ego in your pocket and do what you need do do rather than resent what needs to be done.

‎Take me, for example. I've been running for thirty-five years. I have amassed experience in training, in racing, and in working with a coach since 1997. I had my fourth child in January 2019 and suffered multiple setbacks that prevented me from training until July 2019, and I've been running consistently ever since. My training age is roughly 10 months.

That is to say, I have been building my level of fitness that is specific to running, consistently for 10 months.  It would be rational for me to expect to improve my performance in my next race, provided I don't quit or suffer a setback/injury...but it's still too soon to focus on anything other than that. It would be irrational to expect to beat the PR I set in 2006 in my next race. My Training Age that day was roughly 23 years.

At Fitness Protection, we focus on Maintaining fitness year-round so whenever you choose to race, that race cycle will be free from unnecessary pressure created by unchecked expectations. You will be excited when you cross the finish line, not disappointed, which makes it easier to keep going.

This doesn't mean we don't have goals. Quite the opposite. My goals for you are bigger than anything you've ever considered.

My biggest goal is to create a monster. This monster loves running and makes sure it has time to do it. This monster looks forward to running and gets cranky on days when it can't run. It's a predator that confidently bides its time, waiting for the right moment (to race). It doesn't need external validation or likes on Strava to feel like a monster.

At the same time, until that monster celebrates its first birthday, we need to cool it on time-based performance expectations. They've held too many of my clients back and become yet another data point that tell me nothing.

You are coached.  You are loved.  You are WELCOME.

This post first appeared in Coach MK's Fitness Protection Google Group, then republished on her blog and was updated before posting here.

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