One major pitfall of reading about the training of an endurance athlete is that, if autobiographical, the author may not offer a disinterested report. A complete and unbiased record is in principle possible if the athlete wears a GPS/heartrate monitor and publishes every activity throughout a training cycle with no exception. That you are unlikely to find this reveals the problem: self-reports are, by their nature, propaganda, and you don't even know the direction of the bias. An athlete may either under-report the volume and intensity of workouts or over-report them, and it will be hard for you (and probably the athlete) to decipher the motivation behind either tendency. It may well prove worthwhile to drill deeply enough to find out, though, because you can reveal the compulsions behind sport and performance more generally.
Imagine that a competitor of mine has asked me to characterize my training in the six weeks before a big win. I may be tempted to under-report because if it seems to him that I was less prepared than he, then he will be demoralized because he will know that I have more innate talent for the competition. Imagine instead that a teammate asks me the same thing. I may over-report my preparation because I quietly hope that he will be inspired to prepare at a higher level himself.
In the case of under-reporting to my competitor, I have implied that performance depends on factors beyond his control (and that I am better than he is). In the case of over-reporting to my teammate, I have implied that his mastery may well depend on willful preparation -- and that if I performed better this time it is because I was the better-prepared. Regardless of what I actually did, does the perception of how I was able to perform make a difference to the person I reported to?
As compelling as sporting performance is to many people, it doesn't have the same gravitas as academic performance. Precisely the same problem hovers over every question about motivation in schools though. Are classrooms places where kids relative performance is determined by factors largely outside of their control, or are classrooms places for kids to develop mastery of chosen concepts and skills? If you think there is a right answer then you haven't plunged the depths of this question. It is an organic tension that lives in every school and classroom.
Rebecca Givens Rolland just published this interesting, if cumbersome, piece in the December volume of Review of Educational Research: "Synthesizing the Evidence on Classroom Goal Structures in Middle and Secondary Schools: A Meta-Analysis and Narrative Review." She found, not too surprisingly, that across many studies when students perceive that mastery goals are more important in the classroom they tend to have better outcomes than when students perceive that performance goals are more important. In other words, an emphasis on the process of learning is more motivating than an emphasis on comparative outcomes.The pitfall, and the reason this will always be a live issue, is that in order to have a goal orientation at all there has to be a performance on which some will do better than others. In order to maintain optimal motivation across all individuals teachers, like their athlete counterparts, will need to remain obtuse.