by Derick Williamson
Ed. Note—we're going to call this one of our "provocative title" series here at Wattie Ink. publishing. Last month, Derick Williamson of Durata Training in Austin, Texas brought us a cool piece about using kilojoules instead of kilometers to track your long rides. Today he joins us again to talk about...well, I'm not sure yet, from the title. Definitely sounds like a departure for us, though, which is always welcome. Read on!
About a year ago, most of the athletes I work with started seeing an acronym in their training that had a few scratching their heads and asking what it was all about. The acronym was MEME, which all of you social media fans will interpret as “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, especially imitation” (thank you Wikipedia). My acronym, however, simply stood for Most Efficient Most Economical. I’d gotten pretty jaded as a coach to many athletes being so married to their devices that they were not paying attention to what efforts felt like or at what paces/powers actually felt the best for that given day. The responsibility for this dependence partially fell on folks like myself, as I’ve been working with power and paces so much for the past ten years and had advocated much of this intense focus on those metrics. I still feel like pace and power are the gold standard to which athletes should work with in respect to performance specific demands, but athletes need to incorporate some type of non-data driven training through which they pay attention to bio feedback, not digital feedback.
As an athlete when you pay attention to bio feedback (respiratory rate, leg speed/turnover, foot strike, stride length, gearing and cadence, arm drive, muscle tension etc...), you move into a more mindful state of training—a state of training in which you, the athlete, are present and fully engaged in the effort, insteadof chasing a number. Why is this important? Multiple reasons.
Firstly, MEME workouts force you to gain a better sense of the workout demands. When you pay attention to effort you can report to your coach that this felt hard or easy, achievable but challenging, and then you or your coach can use that subjective feedback to adjust the program going forward. I notice this to be especially beneficial for athletes in very hot training environments where a pace/power we might have thought achievable is no longer possible. It’s also helpful as it gives you (the athlete or coach) an indication to when it’s time to bump up the training ranges. If you’ve been doing 6x3min at 270-300w and it’s moved from challenging to only moderate in effort then it’s time to bump those ranges up or extend the workload duration.
Second, using these workouts will reveal to you how hard you can push in an event, which in turn will permit breakthrough performances. Breakthroughs happen when you are holding a pace that you’ve trained for and know is achievable but suddenly realize that you can go beyond: your breathing is so controlled, your leg turnover so fluid and body so relaxed that you—the athlete—determine it’s time to take a risk, pick up the pace a touch, and set a huge new PR. I had an athlete demonstrate this perfectly last year in a marathon. He got to mile 18 and ran a systems check: breathing rate, leg turnover, muscle tension, and how the GI was holding up—things that he had payed close attention to in training. Upon determining all of those variables were in range and felt good, he pushed his pace, took a risk and finished in a huge PR of 2:38! He could have easily just focused on the slower pace we’d determined he could do, but because he was so mindful of his fitness he knew he could push and go for it.
Third, MEME workouts offer athletes some autonomy within the effort. We’ve all been there when some days the Most Economical Most Efficient effort for the day is a little faster or a little harder than on other days where you need to back it off of a touch. And finally, to borrow a line from For Love of the Game, MEME workouts force you to “clear the mechanism." In the movie a pitcher played by Kevin Costner repeats this axiom to himself in an attempt to manage all of the distractions around him, remove interfering variables and simply reacting the way the body has been trained. In his case that was to pitch a ball; in your case it’s to simply run, ride or swim with no outside influence. That allows you to be fully present, mindful, and minimally mentally stressed.
So how do you execute these? Incorporate MEME workouts for endurance based efforts where the overriding goal is to maintain or slightly overload a volume component. These are typically prescribed with time instead distance (so no need for your GPS!), and the instructions are simple: settle into an effort that feels most economical and most efficient. Basically settle into what feels fluid and smooth for the day with the caveat not to exceed a 6 or 7 RPE out of 10. Athletes may also benefit from throwing a little intensity into MEME type efforts. This can be as simple as short bursts on the run or bike or negative split runs/rides in which a certain percentage of the time is MEME effort and then there is a percentage that is at 5k-half-marathon type effort or 40k TT or cyclocross race effort. Be creative with it!
So, take a bit of a break from the marriage that can become data overload, build in some MEME workouts and pay attention to what the body is telling you!