Peak Run Performance Color Continuum
Updated: Jun 10, 2019
My first coach described training in simple terms: hard, controlled, easy, etc. He didn't complicate the process by trying to explain the physiology or psychology of every step. We just did what he told us to do because we trusted him and wanted to get better.
My first college coach required all incoming freshmen to read Daniel’s Running Formula so that we would better understand the training we were doing. Most of the terminology was foreign to me, but I trusted my coach and wanted to get better so I read it and tried to understand.
The more I read about training, the more I learned that while most coaches agree on fundamental principles many have created their own lexicon to describe the same concepts. For example, some coaches use the term strength to refer to resistance or weight training while others use it interchangeably with stamina. Some coaches use "scientific" terms like VO2 Max when they could just as easily say speed.
I recognize that part of the need to differ in vocabulary is due to a need to publish. (I spent far too long in academe so I am well aware of the existential need for "original" thought.) Who would want to publish a book that said the same thing others had already said unless one were to create an entirely new language in which to frame it? Similarly, I understand the need for precision, so in some cases if a coach needs to describe a nuance or phenomenon outside the standard discussion of endurance training it warrants the creation of a new term, but why an entirely new language?
When I first started coaching, I set out to simplify training by synthesizing the key terms from foundational coaches into a comprehensible, comprehensive, accessible language. After many attempts to do so, I realized that any effort on my part to communicate through words would muddy the already muddy water so I stepped away from my comfort zone (foreign languages) and decided to create a color code and continuum to illustrate the various efforts in endurance training and racing.
My goal with this continuum is to make training not only accessible to those who read English and/or have advanced degrees in Exercise Physiology, but anyone interested in running regardless of their language or level of education.
Rather than rigid lines, ranges, and zones, I intentionally blurred & blended the lines because training isn’t black and white and shouldn’t be based entirely on numeric metrics. Training is about finding the right combination of stress and rest through a variety of efforts. It’s about pushing the threshold between aerobic and anaerobic efforts while adequately recovering between efforts. I feel color illustrates this better than words.
Each color along the continuum represents an effort and purpose:
GREEN = REVITALIZATION
Green is a symbol of life and vitality. Green activities like sleep, yoga, massage, and foam rolling give life back to the body. On one end of the continuum lies revitalization.
YELLOW = SPEED
On the opposite end of the continuum lies speed. Yellow is the color eyes & skin turn when the body is depleted. Yellow efforts are anaerobic which means they require more oxygen than the body can access under duress. Anaerobic efforts are short, intense, and hard. Anaerobic efforts require considerably more recovery time between efforts to recover.
BLUE = AEROBIC BASE
Blue is the color of fully oxygenated blood. Blue efforts are aerobic meaning "with oxygen."Blue efforts use as much oxygen as is readily available during exercise without crossing the threshold into anaerobic efforts without sufficient oxygen to sustain the effort. Blue efforts increase endurance by increasing the body’s oxygen carrying capacity.
AQUA = ACTIVE RECOVERY
The blending of blue and green makes aqua. Aerobic efforts done with the intent to recover vs. build endurance are sometimes referred to as active recovery. These efforts can include recovery runs, warm ups, cool downs, and aerobic cross training like cycling, swimming, hiking, cross country skiing, aquajogging, etc.
RED = THRESHOLD
Red represents “the red line”or threshold between aerobic and anaerobic efforts. Blood turns red when it comes in contact with carbon dioxide. Threshold is often described as the effort one could sustain for one hour. For some, that might be 5K effort. For the best in the world, that could be half marathon effort. Endurance events beyond one hour must be run below the threshold to ensure that the body receives enough oxygen to sustain the effort.
PURPLE = STEADY STATE & CUT DOWNS
The blending of blue and red makes purple. Purple represents aerobic efforts just below threshold effort. These efforts can take on a couple of different forms: cut down runs that start easy & work their way up to threshold efforts, steady state runs or intervals (2 - 2.5 hour race effort - marathon effort for elites). These types of efforts prime the body for harder efforts and increase aerobic capacity.
ORANGE = CRITICAL VELOCITY, STRENGTH, & HILLS
Red and yellow combine to make orange. Orange efforts range from slightly beyond threshold efforts - what Tim “Tinman” Schwartz calls Critical Velocity - to equally as anaerobic strength and hill workouts.
COACHING BY WAY OF COLOR CODING
Despite the fact that each of our coaches speaks multiple languages and has lived and worked in multiple countries, we feel that the ability to communicate through the universal language of color helps clarify and simplify training for the vast majority of runners regardless of their running history or level of education.
We color code each activity in a training plan to better communicate its purpose and illustrate how it fits within the overall plan in relation to other activities.
The desktop version of Final Surge allows Peak Run Performance athletes to see their training color coded in a calendar mode to better understand the effort of each activity and how each activity relates to the other activities throughout the training block.
This enables us to communicate about training with athletes who may not speak the same language or have the same understanding of the various training systems as the coach.