Mind Games & Project Management to Endurance Training

Mind Games & Project Management to Endurance Training

By Scott Sambucci | January 16, 2017

I wrote about working in sprints last week. I think the same goes with workouts in whatever training you’re pursuing. Whether you’re training for a 10k, half-marathon or 100-mile ultra, it’s all the same:

  • The Race = The “Project”
  • Weekly workout plan = “Weekly Workout Sprints” comprised of daily workouts.
  • Daily workouts = “Daily Sprint Sessions” or “Tasks.”

Each week, or my “Weekly Workout Sprints,” is different – they take on a personality and theme of its own.

Last week’s theme was “Do Miles.” I didn’t do any lifting or Cross-Fit except on Sunday morning. The rest of the week was focused on running and returning to an evening mobility routine. I did four runs of 9, 6, 5 and 13 miles to get myself above 30 miles in a week. I hadn’t done that many miles in a week in a while and the miles were mostly longer, slower miles.

The 9-mile run on Tuesday was very slow – running 9:00 (or slower miles). My 13-miler was with GVH so I ran 8:00/miles the whole way without intervals or pickups.

Only my 5-mile run on Friday when I went to the track was “hard” running where I did a ladder workout, going hard over increasing distances – 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile, 1 mile, then back down the ladder to 1/4 mile with easy 1/4 mile segments between each hard segment.

This week’s theme is “Strength & Conditioning + Harder Miles” – more difficult, faster running and more strength and conditioning (SC). I’ve got three (3) SC sessions with fewer, but harder, miles in the week.

Strength & Conditioning:

  • Sunday: Hanging shoulder presses, followed by a CF workout of 4 x (5 pull-ups, 25 kettle bell swings & 15 goblet squats), then 2 x (5 pull-ups, 50 sit-ups)
  • Tuesday: Deadlifts with 5 pull-ups between sets, followed by a CF workout: 4 sets of Russian twists and Burpee Boxjumps. (I was toasted after this one…)
  • Friday (planned): Hanging shoulder presses, then CF with kettle bell swings and a 10-minute hard run.


  • Monday & Tuesday: off-days to recover from Saturday’s long run and Sunday’s strength & conditioning work.
  • Wednesday: 7-mile run consisting of a 2-mile warm-up then 8 x (1/4 mile hard, 1/4 recovery) for the next four miles, then a 1-mile cool down.
  • Thursday: Track workout – 3 x 1-mile time trial (TT) runs with a 1/4 mile recovery in between, for a grand total of 4 miles. Eventually, I get that up to 5-7 mile TT runs, but for now, three miles was all I needed.
  • Friday (planned): Time permitting after the SC workout, I’ll add a few easy miles to experience running after a hard SC workout.
  • Saturday (planned): 13 miles with intervals scattered throughout. This is a group run with GVH so I’ll need to figure out who to do the intervals while sticking with the group.

Having a theme each week helps me justify whatever pain I might feel along the way with each workout. Each workout is just a “task” or “daily sprint session” in my “weekly project sprint,” and each workout, set or interval is just a “job” within the “task” or “daily sprint session.” When I’m doing 8 x (1/4 mile hard, 1/4 recovery), it’s hard and it’s painful, especially the early intervals when I’m still getting my body revved up. Keeping a mindset that each interval gets me closer to finishing the day’s workout helps me bear the discomfort of that particular rep or interval. In other words, mind games…

Using the 8 x (1/4 mile hard, 1/4 recovery) workout as an example, I’ll think to myself:

  • Rep #1: Okay, let’s just do the first one to get started. Once I get started, then I’m on the way.
  • Reps #2-3: We’re on our way. Get to the midway point of the workout, then I’m on the downside.
  • Rep #4: Woohoo! Halfway done!
  • Rep #5-6: On the downside, just a couple more after these.
  • Rep #7: Only one more after this one
  • Rep #8: Last one, then we can jog it home.

Same goes with Cross-Fit workouts where I’m doing 4-10 sets in a workout. I break down the thinking into individual goals I’m hitting along the way. For me, reaching the midway point is the tipping point for most workouts – once I’m halfway, I know I’ve got whatever workout I’m doing licked.

Finally, I apply the same breakdown strategy within sets. If I’m doing sets of 25, I think:

  • Reps 1-5: Getting started
  • Reps 6-10: Now I’m in this
  • Reps 11-15: Get to 15 and then I have 10 left, and I can do 10 of anything
  • Reps 16-20: Only 5 more after these
  • Reps 21-25: Last five
  • …then I’ll add 1-2 more reps as a buffer for any bad reps in the set: I can do a couple more. The 1% rule…

For me, this process generates confidence at the end of long training cycle leading up to a race when, despite following whatever training program, however rigorous, when I’m feeling like I could have done more. If I’ve put in the time along the way and completed my “daily workout tasks” and “weekly workout sprints” then the completion of those tasks should yield a successful “Project”for me – a solid race with the opportunity to hit whatever time or completion goals I’ve set.

Looking back, I’ve almost always hit my time and races goals. Using my Ironman races as examples:

  • Ironman #1 Goal (2010): sub-13:00 attained [Race report here.]
  • Ironman #2 Goal (2011): sub-12:00 attained [Race report here.]
  • Ironman #3 Goal (2013): sub-11:00 missed… came in at ~11:15 in gnarly windy conditions on the bike. [sadly, no race report yet…]
  • Completed my first ultra marathon (2015) [Race report here.]

(Wait a minute… Maybe I should set more difficult race goals…? Oh no! Confidence crisis!)

If you’re struggling to keep motivated in a given day or week, try the mindset that each week and each workout is just another task or sprint along the way to a winning project.

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