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Photo credit: RunUltra.

Train as One

06-Dec-17

By Dan Stinton

Whether you’re training for your first 10km, or are an experienced marathon runner, we all like a good training plan. Strategically sellotaped to the fridge, it’s the one thing we can point to and insist that there is no possible way we could attempt the mountain of washing up, because the plan says you have to do a 45-minute tempo run, and all your race hopes depend on it. See ya later family.

Plans are available everywhere; on all the running websites (the best ones are here!), published regularly in magazines, personal trainers will offer them, friends at work will recommend them and you can even do something incredible and make one up yourself. What they don’t do, though, is take account of any slacking off, peaks or troughs in performance, interim goals and races or missed sessions. 

What if there were some software out there that analysed your exercise data, processed it and developed an on-going, real-time-updated training plan, tailored to your goals? That’s exactly what Train As One does, so, here I check it out to see what’s offered and how it can help us achieve our goals.

Train As One is a system developed by a group of athletes, including Robbie Britton and Natalie Wright, who certainly know a thing or two about training for big races, and a team with some serious IT credentials. It all sounds great doesn’t it? What’s it like in practice?

There are two versions of the plan on offer; a basic free version and a fully functioning version for £6 per month. With either option, the first steps are to create an account and enter some key information (height, weight, age etc.) along with your specific goal race and the days you’re available to train and moments later a training plan is generated.

Don’t go printing it off and sticking it on your fridge just yet though, this is just the beginning. The system initially plans sessions to understand your current running performance which build up a picture of your ability to develop the on-going “live” training plan.

There are a variety of running sessions, several that you’ll recognise; interval, threshold etc. and others you probably won’t, such as a 6-min assessment, or a perceived effort run. Each training session devised for you by the plan sets out specific paces and times for you to follow, which can be downloaded as a TCX or FIT file to use during your workout.

RUNULTRA_Train-as-one_Monthly-Plan

A Typical month of light training.

All of the activities you complete need to be set up to be automatically received from most major running apps. I use Strava and the transfer seems to be pretty much immediate. Train As One reviews the data and updates your plan accordingly, but if it hasn’t recognised your run correctly, you can manually update it. Depending on your performance and the type of run you’ve undertaken your plan is re-built and a live version is available on your calendar showing any changes to your previous plan.

For this review, I have been using the fully-functioning version, the key extras are the ability to include more than one goal race including primary or secondary races (and who doesn’t plan more than one race?), more detailed run analysis, heart-rate based workouts, a further look-ahead at the plan ahead and several other extras.

RUNULTRA_Train-as-one_Training-Session
Example of an assessment session.

Pros: What's good about Train As One?

One of the key benefits I found with the software is the suggested paces for each run. This is a massive help and really puts some perspective on how you may have been training previously, particularly if you’ve been running your slow sections too fast. Each run contains a wealth of data which will certainly keep the stats geeks happy. Several of which I unfortunately have to admit to having no idea what they mean.

RUNULTRA_Train-as-One_Graphs-and-Stats

A wealth of data generated from your activities.

The plan is very customisable, with options for programming specific sessions. For example, if you always do an interval session on a Tuesday with your local running club, you can build this into your schedule. You can adjust each session for the local temperature or the amount of elevation you’ll be doing, and in the unfortunate event you get an injury, you can either cease training, or apply pace adjustments. However, as the software advises, with any injury you really should be consulting a qualified professional to know how it will affect your training.

Whilst the plan won’t offer any alternative activities (i.e. cycling) if you do undertake one, it still transfers to the plan and updates other sessions accordingly. I found this out after recording a very short cycle to work (just over a mile each way) and noticed my planned running activities for that evening kept being modified. I ended up deleting the cycling from the plan, but who records a 1-mile cycle eh?

If you experience any problems, there’s a personal questions section on the website and, in my experience, they’ve been dealt with promptly and effectively by the team. You’re also kept abreast of any changes and updates to the software that appear on your dashboard page, however minor.

Cons: What’s not so good about Train As One?

The problem with computer-generated data is that you can sometimes get some strange results without a dash of human common sense sprinkled over it. In some cases, a slight variation in your pace/time when completing one of your suggested training runs can significantly alter your plan for the rest of the week (as an example the plan had generated a 9-minute easy run and I did a ten instead).

You do need to be ready to be quite flexible to change your planned running sessions as the calendar updates the week, which can be tricky if you have to work around other commitments. Of course, you can add custom activities, cancel a session or block out specific days if it doesn’t suit you and the plan will be re-generated accordingly.

I would have generally liked more of a variety of sessions. Whilst there’s a number of runs Train As One can plan, there has seemed to be large blocks where mainly either threshold or economy runs were planned, but repetition or intervals sessions were few and far between, and surely we all love a good interval session?!

Whilst the webpage works well on a phone screen maybe a phone app would be nice?

What else is out there?

There are many activity tracking apps out there but far less that analyse your data and create a plan out of it. Wild Now have a similar idea to Train As One, although their software is at a much earlier stage and they are currently working on linking with Strava to generate a plan from it. It’s early days yet, so not really in a position to compare or review, but the beta pages do show some promise.

Conclusion

Some people stick religiously to a training plan, whilst others just use them as an excuse to get out of the washing up. I initially used Train As One during beta testing for the build up to the Wendover Woods 50 miler in November 2016 and since then it’s come on leaps and bounds with loads more useful features that have enhanced the experience (i.e. multiple goals and adding you own sessions, for example a regular running club session).  

There’ll be moments when you’ll say “why on earth has it changed that!?”, or you’ll be thinking “not another 6-min assessment!” but with a bit of added common sense you can soon reap the benefits of a custom plan and either stick to it, or use it as a general guide to your training and build-up to a race. With the dedication of the team and the set-up of the recent “Team Train As One” programme you can clearly see there is commitment to making this a success.

Give the free version a try with your next race as the main goal and see how you like it! If it works for you, then the paid version adds a lot of functionality at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated personal trainer.

Score  
Design 8/10
Features 8/10
Performance 7/10
Value 8/10
Total 7.75/10


About the writer: Dan is a Peak District based runner who said he’d never take up cycling and has bought three bikes in the last 4 months. He likes nothing more than running into the Dark Peak and then writing about how difficult it was at All Hail the Trail.

All screenshot images taken from the trainasone.com app.

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