The art and science of endurance sports


Endurance racing, whether it is running, cycling or triathlon, carries with it certain risks for all athletes regardless of age, gender and fitness level. The body is not a machine, it is a complex network of systems and structures that are influenced by every stimulus they are exposed to. Endurance racing refers to any activity, or combination of activities, that result in an effort of more than 60 minutes. This includes 10 km, half and full marathons, road cycling, and triathlons of any distance. Endurance training is an equal measure of sport science and the art of balancing personal goals with overall wellbeing.


Anyone between the ages of 15-100 is eligible. Juniors – under 20 years old – must focus on building a strong base of fitness, overall muscular stability and developing good techniques. Older racers need to balance normal age- related aches and pains with experience and knowledge gained from past performance. Fear not, studies are showing that “master” runners and triathletes – more than 40 years old – can steadily improve race times by following comprehensive training plans that focus on maintaining high levels of aerobic capacity.

Science: before starting any training plan, visit a sport medicine clinic for the “all clear” as well as a VO2max test, generally considered the best indicator of an athlete’s cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance.

Art: listen to your body; observe your sense of wellbeing and how well you recover between sessions. Include these elements in your training log.


It is useful to choose a specific race to train towards. Goals should be attainable, yet challenging enough so that you feel a sense of accomplishment. Consider recent training, your age, injury history, strengths and weaknesses when selecting races. The number of races you can do in one year depends on the distance you are training for and your ability to recover between races. Choose one or two “A” races, where you will strive to meet a specific time, and then a couple of  “B” races as fun opportunities to practice racing skills. 

Science: be realistic about what you can achieve based on your current fitness level and other time constraints in your life – work, family, friends, and vacation. 

Art: it is okay to dream a little when picking race distance and location. Reaching mini-goals on the road to the big race is a great way to peak motivation.


A well-planned training schedule is the most important tool to achieving your goal. Training plans can vary in length, but normal plans are between 16-20 weeks. Plans must take into consideration when your goal race is and how much training you will do each week. Most coaches will recommend a training plan which is split into specific periods with a defined purpose. This ensures that fitness evolves and peaks at exactly the right time. Once the plan is finished, follow it – consistency is the number one principle for crossing the finishing line on race day. Ensure that you practice hydration and refueling during training sessions and “B” races so that when race day arrives you know exactly when to take gels and fluids.

Science: endurance coaches can walk you through the development of a training plan that best suits your goals and training profile. Keep a training log of your distance, pace and heart rate and share this frequently with your coach.

Art: continually evaluate your response to training volume and frequency. Ensure that you get adequate rest as this is when the body gains fitness. Report these elements to your coach and record in your training log.


After months of training it is difficult not to place great importance on race day. The week before your “A” race is extremely important as it peaks abilities, boosts confidence, and allows for psychological rest. Start your taper week by turning mental focus from workouts to racing. The most important factors are nutrition, mental preparation and reducing workload. Fitness will peak as body systems recover. Nutrition is key throughout your training, but it becomes paramount in the five days leading up to the race. Concentrate on getting high quality protein, grains, fruits and vegetables. Carbohydrate consumption should increase in the last three days. This is not a license to eat sweets; instead reach for whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Finally, pay close attention to the weather on race day.  Dress appropriately and ensure that you drink enough fluids before and during the race. Hot days require additional attention to fluid intake. Once the gun goes off, smile and exhale. Settle into your stride and let the hard work pay off.

Science: taper week requires attention to workload, nutrition and mental preparedness. Consult your coach for a detailed plan. 

Art: visualize your race in the most positive terms. Bring key mantras and relaxation techniques to the start line. 

The silver lining is that if you train smart you will have a long and very rewarding career as an endurance athlete, ultimately learning more about yourself.

Patti Bruns is a qualified personal trainer at Aspria Arts-Loi and Royal La Rasante in Brussels and has completed many triathlons, half marathons, and both the New York City and Stockholm marathons. Email for an appointment