Endurance 101 – what you need to know

Endurance 101 – what you need to know

During uncertain times, a lot of people seek a challenge, something to focus on.  Some of you will choose an endurance event as your goal. Dougal Allan, Endurance Athlete and Coach shares what you need to know …

Endurance is a word that can evoke instant nerves, fear or even panic. The Oxford dictionary defines Endurance as “the ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way”. Crikey, “unpleasant or difficult”? No wonder involvement in events such as Coast to Coast, Godzone or Ironman can be a daunting prospect to the uninitiated. Why would one willingly expose themselves to long periods of time spent uncomfortable and uncertain? My theory would be that the opposite of this, 100% comfort and living in complete certainty of what comes next, is in fact the existence to be feared most of all.

If we were designed to sit around in comfort all day long we’d never have evolved a big heart and lungs, strong limbs surrounded with muscle tissue and a highly functional brain that can override survival instincts in an effort to discover new limits. Simply put, we have all the right tools to take ourselves into regular tests of endurance and respond with each new challenge by becoming stronger and better prepared for the next.

But how do you take that initial step towards achieving an endurance-related goal that stands above anything you have done before? Here are my top tips for those wanting to set out on such a journey, where a lack of direct experience is compensated for with the right set of tools (ie. being a human being) and the right understanding of how it all works. Let’s call it ‘Endurance 101’ and we can follow the acronym S.U.C.C.E.S.S where the final destination is of course Success!


Small steps: Endurance is accumulative. People are often underwhelmed with what a day of training looks like for me. But things start to look more impressive when you look at how those days are strung together constantly and the endurance builds up as a ‘sum of all parts’. This is where it helps to be passionate about the journey and the process, rather than just the destination. I often like to remind myself to “train today, for tomorrow”. Meaning you need to train with full focus each day, but also with the understanding that what you do today will affect tomorrow. So always trust and follow the plan and don’t get carried away.

Understanding: Know what you are expecting of yourself on race day and have a plan that will help you arrive at the start line healthy and ready. If you know what needs to be in place come race day you will have a better understanding of what training sessions need to look like between now and then and how each has a direct relevance to what you are trying to achieve physically and mentally.

Consistency: This relates to the first point. There is no point being a hero on any one day as you train and prepare for your event. Instead focus on becoming a hero across weeks and months, where being consistent and chipping away in modest sized chunks becomes the name of the game. To achieve this you will need to give full respect to recovery. Sleep, eat and relax well between training sessions so you can get up the next day and continue ticking the boxes.

Community: Open your mind to the people in your sporting community. I would never have achieved the things I have as an endurance athlete if I had not been hungry for information along the way. I credit my coaches, my physio and massage therapists, my training partners, sponsors, race organisers, family members, doctors and nutritionists for the ways they have each helped shape my involvement in endurance sports over the years. If you are new to it, seek out good advice from reputable people. Having a good coach is a great starting point. You will meander less in your leanings and hold a much more direct line between the start of your journey and the ultimate goal at the end.

Experience (incl failure): Get stuck in with your training and learning and understand that all experiences: good and bad, successes and failures, are all essential in the process of preparing for an endurance event. I have been fortunate to experience a lot of success over the years, but in many ways I have grown and developed more on the occasions where I haven’t achieved what I intended to. The setbacks are not just inevitable, they are fundamental and formative. Embrace both the good and the bad and strive forwards always.

Sustainable: Let’s be honest, endurance events demand a huge investment in terms of time, energy and finances. My early years training for events like Coast to Coast were while I was still a university student. I didn’t have much time and certainly didn’t have much money. The truth is, you don’t need to be excessive. Continue to make time for important things like family activities, work commitments and recovery. Also be clear on what you actually need in the way of equipment along the way. This is where your community and coach can be invaluable. Resist the temptation to spend time, energy and money on things that won’t matter in the scheme of things. In my experience, the people that take a sustainable approach from the beginning end up making a lifelong connection to endurance sport and activities.

Success: Always be clear on how you define success. For some it is finishing an event they were not sure they could when they first set out. Others want to win. Some simply want to show their children that they will at least showcase the courage required to take a risk and have a crack. The side effects are nice too. Memories of days spent in the great outdoors with likeminded folk. Maybe a bit of weight loss and an improved state of health (both physical and mental). Whatever success looks and feels like to you, keep it close at heart along the way. In many cases, you will realise that success has happened long before the event itself does. This is the wonderful reward offered to those brave enough to give endurance sport a try.

On reflection, I think the Oxford dictionary should revisit its definition of endurance and replace the words ‘difficult’ and ‘unpleasant’ with ‘challenging’ and ‘meaningful’. Perhaps you will have your own definition too once you have started your journey. I guess that is the beauty of endurance sports, everyone defines it differently and that is OK. Remember, we are all designed to move and be active. Even for long periods of time. So take that amazing tool called your human body, follow the steps to SUCCESS outlined above and make a start on your own version of Endurance 101.

You might also be interested in Dougal’s earlier blogs:
Balancing Act
Finish Lines
C2C Training Update