Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Training and Racing Rethink

I need help on this one, especially from all of you who are coaches or have been serious about designing training patterns. Even those of you have been on the receiving end of training plans can pitch in. Thank you in advance.

I started out as a swimmer, but more specifically, a sprinter. I was strong for 100 yards, but would typically fall apart at 150 yards. Sure, in the world of triathlon, I can swim well compared to others, but I'm really a sprinter at heart. Back in 2002, when I was focused only on swimming, I did a 500 at New Englands. I didn't know the guy I was next to, but decided to go out with him. I hit 300 in 3:05. My final time of 5:19 shows it was not a well balanced swim.

I like going fast. Fast is fun. Go all out, leave nothing in reserve. Feel like you can't move when you finish because there's so much lactic acid running through you.

No here's the problem.....the sport of triathlon discriminates against the sprint distance. Have you ever seen a sprint on TV? Do you know anyone who is really good and does only sprints? Do you read about sprints in magazines or online? We have is there a fast (Actually, there is, but it doesn't cover sports news.) Let's face it- if you're good, you go long. When most people first get involved in triathlon, they start with a sprint. Then they do some more. Then there's a fork in the road. Some, for various reasons, stay right there. But they don't stay there because they're really good at it. They stay there because they're satisfied, don't have time to train, or have other limitations. The other group moves on to Olympic races. Then you find the same fork. One group caps out there, but again, they don't stay there because they're really good at it. The rest move on to 70.3. No fork here. Once a 70.3 is done, IM is next. Look at the people who do well in Kona. Many of them were on the ITU circuit, then 70.3, then IM. That's everyone's goal.

I was an inconsistent dabbler in the sport from 1989 through 2002. That included my first IM (Great Floridian) in 1999. Six months prior, I couldn't bike 20 or run 5. Things were better for IM Wisconsin in 2004. I didn't get serious until about 2007 when I realized, "hey, I'm pretty good at this." Then the 2008 and 2009 seasons have been really good. Admittedly, there's a "big fish, small pond" syndrome here, but I'm at or near the top of age group most of the time.

The last two years were focused on making Team USA at the Olympic distance. It took a great deal of time, energy and attention, and was a challenge for the family. Making the team and qualifying for the World Championships in Budapest this September is great, but it's more of the same this summer. I'm getting a little worn down physically, but also mentally. I'm tired. And now that I made the team, I don't have a clear goal for the year. I'm going to be in the middle of the pack at Worlds. Does it really make a difference if I'm 40th or 60th? I work better with well-defined goals, and that's lacking.

So even though it isn't even May 1st and we haven't had this season's first race, my mind is already on next year. I received an email from a friend encouraging me to do the New England Swimming Champs next year. That got me thinking. I haven't been even the shell of the swimmer I used to be for a long time now. I like swimming really fast for 52 seconds or so. I like having a fast 100 fly or IM. I used to have a good 50 fly. That would be fun. Fun is good. Fun is really good. Fewer yards in practice, but really high quality. Power, speed, details.

I mentioned in my last post the book "Born to Run." Early in the book, a US coach goes to Western States to watch the Mexican tribe runners who are so good to find out why. What stands out is they are all enjoying running. That reminded me of Chrissie Wellington who smiles throughout the run. If something is enjoyable to someone, they'll be better at it. Distance training isn't always fun. It takes considerable mental effort to put in a good effort for every session.

Back to the pool- No slogging through 3500 yards hoping the fast (distance) guys don't run me over. No more sets thinking, "damn it, I should be faster than that guy." But that's exactly what happens when I'm swimming at noon after a morning bike or run. I'm going for 10-11 hours per week (I know, that isn't much compared to many of you), and I'm tired. I just don't have the physical or mental energy to stay with them. I also think the work on other muscle systems is a disadvantage when compared to those who only swim. I should be able to do sets with send times that are a multiple of 1:20, but I dread them.

Parallel to that thought was the realization that the triathlon world is skewed towards the long distances. Those are all about pacing and nutrition. Our sport misses something here. Sure, physiologically, we are better suited to back off on the intensity as we age and go longer. But if I was better suited as a sprinter when I was 20, why aren't I still better suited as a sprinter relative to others my same age?

So my thought process then moved on to next year. I'll do only sprint races, and more importantly, train appropriately. Shorter distances, less time, much better quality. If I'm only going to run a 5k, there is no need to ever run more than 50 minutes. If I'm only going to race 12 miles on the bike, there's no need to ever go more than 30. With that, I can cut my training hours down to about 8 per week, doing 7 workouts in 6 days- three swims, one bike, one run, two bricks. Only once per week do I work my legs on back to back days, giving them plenty of rest to focus on the next session. Only once per week do I have a morning workout before a noon swim, making that much stronger. And very importantly, my energy level overall should be higher with the family.

The goal race would be USAT Sprint Nationals in Burlington. Due to the skewness in the sport, I imagine much of the talent will do the Oly race the day before. Other races will be sprints only and stay in the great state of Maine. And before that, I might be a real swimmer for much of the winter, only doing one bike and one run per week until March or so- just enough to keep the feel. I'd swim 4-5 times per week, and also likely do some really good dryland training. Oh, and Alina.....maybe I'll find my way to Harvard.

This all sounded so good to me that I began wondering why I couldn't do much the same this year, although in 10-11 hours, not 8. So I've put together a weekly schedule that I'd love to get feedback on:
M- B 90 min
Tu- S 60
W- (AM) B 60, R 45 (PM) S 60
Th- R 70
F- S 45
Sat- B 2.5 hrs, R 45
That totals 10:25 per week. The Monday bike and Thursday run would include lots of intervals and hill repeats.

I think this would give me more energy, speed, quality.......and fun. And if isn't fun, why do it? Fun is good. Speed is good.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Vacation, a great book and a training update

I feel like I barely have time to write anything. Maybe it's because I have too much to talk about and I don't know how to get it all out. But I'll give it a shot, using a bunch of pictures to help tell the story.

We had an incredible trip to the BVIs. We were four families, each with a boy and a girl. Nick was the oldest, but there was another boy on our boat who is just nine months younger. There were two other girls a year older than Leah. Then there were two boys who are in second grade, and a girl in kindergarten. Everyone got along famously- at least until one boat stole the other boat's water balloons. We had two catamarans, so each family had a hull. I grew up with two of the other three dads sailing summers in Castine.

When I think about it, the trip was full of potential problems- there easily could have been problems with the flights, weather, boats or personalities. We talked with someone who was in St. John who had three solid days of rain. We saw the rain down there, but never had a problem. The only rain we had came at night (plus our return to Road Town, Tortola at the end of the cruise). The first time, I awoke in the middle of the night to light rain coming through the hatch. When I looked out, I saw nothing but stars. Strange.

Our route took us from Road Town to Norman, Peter, Spanish Town, Bitter End, Cooper, and back to Peter. Each place was great and full of stories. So here are just a few highlights...the last day, like I did three other times, I want for a short (20-30 min) open water swim. On this one, I nearly bumped into a shark (about 3 ft long), then saw a sting ray....
Peter Island
The whole group
Deadman's Bay, Peter Island
Cooper Island, perhaps the best snorkeling I've ever had.

An amazing sunset-

Saba Rock, off of Bitter End, Virgin Gorda. The entire island is one acre, taken up entirely by this restaurant and resort. One of the most spectacular settings I've seen.

Richard Branson's island, where you can stay for a cool $5,000 per night, per person.

We found a gap in the rocks at the Baths that the surf would drag the kids in and out.

Dragging the kids off the transom while sailing-

If you've made it to the bottom of this post, good work. As for triathlon......I didn't bike or run for eight days to give my knees some rest. In the last three days back home, I've done two bricks (20 & 3, 41 & 6) and run 7. I think I've overdone it a bit. When I got back in the pool at noon today, I was mentally back on our trip and tired from the last 2 1/2 days of training. I crapped out at just 1500 yards. I figure it's far better to get out and come back with some real energy in a couple of days as opposed to hating it.
On the trip I read "Born to Run." If you haven't, get a copy. It covers personal stories, anthropology, ultra racing, physiology, the sneaker industry and more. It's a great book, and could possibly change the way you run, train and race. Seriously, it's that good.
Mentally, I'm also working on a plan for next year already. It includes triathlon, but from a very different angle. More to follow.....
The season-opening race in Saturday, May 8. The Polarbear sprint includes a pool swim, which helps. I have no idea how it will go. Parts of my training have been very good compared to prior years. But then there's a week's layoff, how I feel now, and what I see others doing in training. I guess we'll see.....

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fits Like a Glove

I ride best in my aero position and on my P3. And it's been a very long time since I've done that.

Last night we went to a wine tasting / birthday party that went way too late. [And why is it that we can run/ride forever but standing up for three hours is completely exhausting?!] We got home at 12, then Christine stayed up talking with our babysitter until after 1 at which point I woke up. Then for some reason my mind latched onto a presentation I'll make in front of the Town Council in a few weeks on something I feel strongly about. I could NOT fall back asleep.

All the while, my 5:00 wake up loomed. I was going to meet Jeff S. for a ride a little after 6, and had to prep my P3. So after a cumulative three hours of sleep, I got up. It was all about mind over body. I was excited to ride long again, but was very sluggish. With the bike, I had to swap the cog on my training wheel (powertap) so it would work with the 10-speed P3, and a bunch of other items. It took way too long, and wasn't ready to go until just before 6. There goes my 30 minute trainer warm up.

But then it happened. I turned out of the driveway, settled into the aero bars, and it felt great. Fast, aero, easy to shift, all of it. I hadn't been on the machine since Nationals, but it felt like I never got off. It was just so easy.

Jeff and I had a good ride through Cumberland, up to Pineland, over to Freeport and back. It was cold, but clear and not nearly as windy as forecasted. We picked out a few sections to work, and blasted along. They were about 10 minutes each, and felt great. For me, the ride was just short of 50 miles- Jeff, who's training for IMLP, probably did about 70.

At this point, I was pretty sapped and not looking forward to my run. I debated whether I should do it later in the day after some rest. In hindsight, I definitely made the right decision and went right out for a hard two (6:40 ish) and easy 2.5. With the way I felt the rest of the day- dehydrated, sluggish, basically like I'd been run over- I never would have done it. Finally, I HATE getting into ice baths. I've done it two weeks in a row now, ice cubes and all, and that first 60 seconds is terrible. But I can tell they are good to do.

In general, training is going well. Six of the last eight weeks I've been over 10 hours. The last two were 11 and 11.5. But my knees are feeling it, much more than in years past. Even simple steps or sidewalks, if not approached deliberately, can cause a jolt. So I really feel like I could use some time off just to let my legs recover. And I don't mean just a day or two. Which leads me to...on Friday, we fly out of Boston with three other families of four to Tortola, BVI for a week of cruising. It's going to be an absolute blast. And I won't run or bike for eight days. It should set me up well for the early season. And I like the idea so much, I'm trying to think of another time to do it this summer so that I'm at my strongest in early September.