Early in my endurance sport career, quantity was all that mattered. After all, if the goal is to run a marathon, mileage is what counts. That changed a little bit after my first half-marathon (the one where more experienced runners expressed concern that I trained for a 13 mile run by running 13.5 miles). Even so, a great deal of the training for my first marathon was also based on sheer quantity of miles.
There were a couple of key outcomes of that approach. First, I spent a great deal of time fighthing issues such as shin splints, back pain, and fatigue. Second, my time was just as easily measured with a calendar as with a stopwatch.
Over time, experience and education have helped me to shift my focus from quantity to quality. Of course, time and mileage are still vital, they just take a back seat to quality. Training sessions are pointless if poor swim, bike, or run form are being reinforced. Included in this is proper bike fit, correct shoes, and appropriate attire and support equipment.
My swim sets from the past two days are a perfect example of quality over quantity. Yesterday's session was scheduled as 4000 yards, with intervals at increasing intensity and decreasing distance. After the first couple hundred yards of warmup, the lifeguards started setting up inflatables for an open swim, and asked if I would move to their meter pool. I was fine with the move, but concerned about the "meter" aspect. I decided to just swim the sets as if they were yards, and make decisions about when to stop closer to the end. I wound up completing all of the sets (total 4355 yards) and felt strong at the end. Tired, but strong. My form was good, and I still felt solid and smooth on the last several hundred meters.
Contrast that with today's swim. 3100 yards with some mixed sets. Easy, moderate, fast, drills, it was all there. After about 2500 yards, my form started to get sloppy. And I called it quits after just under 2700 yards. I hadn't managed to find my form in the 200 yards before ending the session, and it made little sense to practice poor form for another 400 yards. In a race, I'll live with poor form. Training for the race, I'd rather do it right.
The saying is to "Train like you race." Restated, "You'll race like you train." Quality over quantity. It's better to do it right over a shorter distance than to do it wrong for twice as long. Get it right, then increase the distance. That's the way to race.
Speaking of Quality and Quantity, anyone considering a Tri One-O-One event, sent me a note and I'll forward a copy of a discount e-mail I received.