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.


  1. Ok... first, I think your outcome goal is great. Have FUN! You're like swam forever as a kid and in college. You dabbled (although IM is not dabbling..that's big time) in this type of thing for a while and then got really serious the last few years. You are at a point where it is Key to know what you want and to do just that. I do think that you can definately go Fast at this point..yes! YOu're right, as we age we will lose some of the raw speed we had as 20-somethings. But relative to others your age, you're absolutely ahead of the game.
    You're not losing overall volume with this new plan, correct?
    I think as long as you can maitain your endurance that is specific to the distance you're're set there. (Budapest is an Oly?)
    You know how to plan workouts that are specific to your races...just remember to put in that type of work as you get closer.
    If you take excess "bulk-baggage" off your body, I do think you'll be able to get more quality out of yourself. If you want to focus on improving swim speed, I definately think swimming 4-5 x week in the future will help. Right now, 3 x week is just not really enough. (I'm speaking for myself at least...and guessing you b/c of your hx w/ swimming.) I think our swimming hx almost requires more for us to get the real feel for the water.
    this is a long response Steve, sorry.
    Holding onto your edge, the psychological drive, is critical. Without it, why bother? If you're driven to have some fun in the pool and in short fast races around Maine...I say Go for it!

  2. I can't speak with any sort of intelligence about your workout plan, but I will say that if you weren't having fun doing what you were doing, it's definitely time for a change. No matter what a one's goals are, if reaching them becomes more of a chore than a love, it's time for new goals. Variety is the spice of life, as they say, so if you're mentally tired, change things up so you can get your head back in the game.

  3. Fun and speed are good. And you are fast--. ! I think many of us move toward endurance because we don't have the speed you have. I can't be competitive at the sprint distance, so I can just put in a billion hours and get good at long course! :) But you do have that speed, and you love it, and you love the water and to swim hard and well with the lunch time Y crew. Do what you love. Do what you think is best for you and your family. :)

  4. Take a breather and like that other guy said just do your workouts now and don't think. Keep your eyes focused on the prize --- Worlds. You've come a long way baby and don't lose your focus now!

    With all that said....I'm gonna come find you after Worlds and do some heavy recruiting for MESC :)

    Oh yeah...keep having fun Steve!