I’ve been told for years by coaches to “train your weaknesses.” There’s some logic to the philosophy that training the weakness out of your body will make you stronger or faster and to some extent that’s true. But what often happens is that in the process of training that weakness out of the system, we neglect what actually got us to that point in the first place—our strengths—and we end up with a net zero fitness improvement.
As runners, we usually have a pretty good idea of what our strengths are and when our weaknesses bring us down. In 2008, I moved to Eugene, Oregon to pursue my dream of being a full-time athlete with the Oregon Track Club training group. At the time I had a whole lot of endurance and a huge aerobic base, but not a lot of speed. I always knew that my aerobic base was what could get me through a grueling workout, but when it came down to the 3,000-meter steeplechase I figured I needed more speed. After all, it was less than 2 miles.
So I trained that speed, with the thinking that the more I did the faster I would be. The problem was that physiologically that speed work, or anaerobic work, was slowly degrading my aerobic ability and I was also more intently focused on those workouts and less on my long runs and hills. So in the end I ended up at the same point that I began, or at least with the same performance in a 3K. I was faster, but I began to lag later in the race when I needed that aerobic capacity. A net-zero fitness improvement. The point is that while we always hear, “train your weaknesses”, what you should do is train your weakness, but not to the detriment of your strengths.