Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Preparing for the Double

So, embarking on my first real “very long” distance race off the back of my recent stumble into the hole of overtraining has been described by not just a few as “madness”. Well, who can argue? But whilst it certainly will be a tough challenge, it’s also an opportunity to implement some new training ideas that I have been discussing with my coach.

Firstly, given the short time that I left myself to prepare for the Enduroman, I am placing a fair amount of faith in the high volume of training that I have banked since signing up for my first Ironman in 2006, and our ability to monitor my response and as I focus on BIG sessions over the 6 week block (which started mid December)- without overdoing it and slipping back into the danger zone.

Designing the Plan:
No matter how many Ironman races I’ve trained for, there’s no escaping the fact that the Double is a whole different level of endurance – both physical and mental - and the need to do some very big training days, during which one gets very tired. Without this challenge, how can one be mentally prepared and learn to anticipate the needs that might arise on race day? What food works best? What clothing? How can I minimize discomfort on the bike/wetsuit/run shoes? What can I focus on the get me through this particular type of "bad patch"/agony?

It’s fortunate for me that from the very start of my ‘serious’ racing career my training has been geared towards steady volume. I’ve clocked a lot more hours than the average age-grouper between 2006 and 2010, and maintained an equivalently high training load through the two years since as a professional. But, my recent situation has forced me to be smarter than my old ways of simply cranking out the hours to get there and to figure out a way of achieving some big hours, long tiring days and fatigue simulation, without falling back into "total" fatigue.

The starting point was to evaluate what I think I can handle at this point. Historically I have an average training week of 25 hours, with about 50-60% of that consisting of weeks with over 30hours and my history has shown that I can sustain that 25-30 hour week for a pretty long block and race well afterwards, if allowed sufficient recovery time or taper. In this instance, a long taper is not an option –so it’s a question of taking that 25-30hr week and being smart with it. Here, the plan for Feb 4th-5th is to have recovery periods interspersed in my week. Historically I have been negligent of the need for recovery, until I get to a point where I’m so bombed I have no option, so this might seem obvious but it really is a new approach for me!

I do have the flexibility with my coaching work to include a big day in the middle of the week – this has enabled me to structure my week around two high-volume blocks: Saturdays will be my longest ride (because I don’t swim on Saturday mornings) followed by a short pace-oriented run. Sundays will be a short ride followed by a long run. At peak this should amount to 12 hrs riding and 3.5hrs running over the weekend. I anticipate that Sunday’s long run at the end of this big weekend will be very, very challenging for me and as such the focus of that session will be – how to get through it rather than pace or distance run. Mid-week will be a long continuous swim-bike-run day, and as the race approaches and I become more familiar and confident with the long sessions, I’ll look to include some Ironman intensity into this session. The other 4 days of the week will be very short training days with workouts focused on stability, flexibility and keeping my “top end” active in the pool. I will also include one full day off each week which is something that I have never done previously.

We've been so lucky with mild weather so far this winter (only one ride in the snow) but ,unsure of how long that will last, from 3rd January I will be based in La Santa in Lanzarote, which will enable me to get these long days (and nights!) done without fear of freezing or iced roads, or too many other distractions.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Looking back on, and learning from 2011

My time since returning from Florida has been pretty relaxed, taking some time off training and spending more time at home and with steven now that both of our racing seasons are over, and we're anticipating our first bit of British wintertime in a few years. It's nice to be in the same home for an extended period and settle into routines that do not entirely revolve around training schedules. For me that has entailed a combination of baking, lie-ins, organising and coaching a Triathlon Skills course at the local leisure centre, but also much time reviewing and discussing the previous year(s), current position and future of my triathlon racing career. I've heard this past-time described as "naval-gazing" hahhaha..but it's an important process which must have a place in the overall process. When things aren't working out as planned, it's essential to acknowledge this, try figure out why and what can be done to get things back onto the correct tradjetory.

So, what's prompted this? Well, I guess I'm wired that way anyway - the engineer geek in me is still pretty active and having diligently tracked my training data all season, at the end of the year I'll do a bit of numerical analysis anyway: basic stuff like swim bike run volume, average weekly training hours, how many days off etc - it gives me something to do between episodes of Masterchef and Live Flesh and batches of experiment baked goods.
This year's numbers actually reveal a lower overall training volume than the last few years have AND less racing than 2010…but I reached the end of the season feeling exceptionally tired and frankly, considering the DNS at Wales and DNF in Florida, not in a fit enough state to race. Considering that the 'classic' symptoms list of an overtrained athlete reads remarkably like my dating site bio would, the apparaent correlation between this lower training vol and my fitness to race should be disregarded. In fact both factors probably stem from the same cause: i was not fit to race for the same reason that I have not been able to maintain the training loads that I would expect to. Overtraining.

Anyone who knows me, my training history and philosophy will not be in the least surprised at this. I have lived by the attitude of more is better - initially, when i was first getting into the sport this was more races - an olympic distance or sprint most weekend through the summer and running races in the winter. I think it was 2005 I raced over 65 times in the year. I did not do a lot to training - I did't really need to! When I decided to move up to long distance my focus had to switch to more (low intensity) training to build up my aerobic endurance. And I did a lot: as far as I was concerned ,more was better and some very good race results proved it, and encouraged this philosophy in me. Most of the people that i raced against and trained with were doing more intensity and a lot less volume. Of course with Scott on board since I became full-time in 2009, and turned Pro in 2010 things have changed - I have some very clear pace and power targets and most of my training is now geared around that …but that underlying high-volume mindset is still there. Founder of Epic Camp, Scott is not known for his minimal approach when it comes to training. When I consider the sort of triathlete that I am and the qualities that will make me successful given that i have no prior background, no 'proper' technical training, or outstanding natural talent in either swimming, cycling or running then it's this mind-set that is my strength: if applied intelligently.

>Having been an endurance athlete for many years and prolific racer, with a higher than average training volume over the last few years I am resilient and have a great track record of being injury-free.
>Whilst I have a tendency to do too much vs. too little, I have a good work ethic & believe its essential to work very hard to succeed
>My perspective on what's possible to do in training is different than most people's due to my own experiences (with Epic Camp, Steven's training, and my own history)

Its not hard to see that with these characteristics, left unchecked I would have a tendency to get into an over-trained state fairly easily.
And I also believe that all of the above characteristics are absolutely essential for finding my potential in this sport.

Doing things different from what's 'conventional' (although, I'm not are that such a thing exists in the context of training to be a professional Ironman athlete) leaves you open to criticism and the barrage of people happily saying "i told you so" when you experience set-backs. But I feel that set-backs of one kind or another are inevitable for everyone ,no matter what your approach, and although they give us short-term frustrations they do provide us with the stimulus and information to re-evaluate and tweak our methods for the better.


Of course the first thing I needed to do was take a break. 3 weeks of less than 10hrs training and with a lot of time on my hands and some damn good reasons to get this figured, I pulled together my complete training history since 2006 and between us, Scott and I have looked for some answers. Things that have worked, lead to good race results and also looking for patterns where race results have been negatively effected. With some patterns identified and an out-line plan, or at least a set of principles, in place: to work within some new constraints whilst aiming to maintain resonance with the positive aspects of characteristics and qualities mentioned earlier, the things that make me tick I'm feeling ready and enthused again to get to work and prepare for my next event - the somewhat daunting challenge of Enduroman Double Ironman ,Lanzarote. It's not ideal timing, but I know that it's possible and I will give myself the very best chance of success there by looking after my training, nutrition and life balance in the meantime.