Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When to Call an Audible for Your Workout

As an everyday triathlete there are only so many hours in the day one can dedicate to training. Unlike our professional brethren, we have commitments away from sport - work, family, the mortgage - that have to take priority over sport. Sometimes it is impossible to get proper rest or proper nutrition, or proper recovery.

Did I really just say sometimes?

Anyway ... As an everyday endurance athlete we all have to make compromises. Reality can be a missed workout or a meal on the road. Gotta do what you gotta do, right? Right. So with the limited amount of time we have for swim/bike/run we have to squeeze out as much as we possibly can.

Sometimes this means changing things up .. calling an audible on your personal plan. At times this means simply changing around when you perform a specific workout. For example, this time of year I normally run on a Wednesday morning and do intervals on the trainer on Tuesday. If, however, the weather forecast for Wednesday is bitterly cold or snow, I will move the Wednesday run to Tuesday. In the Summer months I will often make a switch to run in the rain as opposed to riding in the rain. Not only will I still get the workouts in, the workout is probably of better quality than if I stayed with the original plan.

But what do you do when you show up for a workout not feeling it? Do you bag the workout and go to Taco Bell? Maybe. I don't suggest it, but there are times where it is more productive to walk away from a workout than to carry on. Trust me, you'll know when to walk away.

More often, you simply need to find a way to get through the workout. Sometimes it's as simple of running a big loop instead of smaller loops so you can't stop at home early. Sometimes it's just sucking it up and doing the intervals you have planned. And sometimes you call an audible.

Here's an example from last week:

My basic training week during the first few months of the year has me swimming on Friday afternoons. It fits the schedule, but is a dangerous time of the week to schedule a swim, because, you know, it's Friday afternoon and it is easy to be a little physically tired or mentally checked out, thinking of the weekend. There are days it would be so easy to just keep riding down the highway for some shuteye on the couch.

This past Friday was one of those days. The body was tired and I was lacking mental focus. Still, at 4:30 pm I drove to LA Fitness. After some dynamic stretching and a few minutes of futzing around, it was a bit after 5 pm and time to swim. When I jumped into the pool to start warming up, I knew there was a main set of 5 x 400 on tap.
Swimming Pool - The Complex Triathlete

The first 100 of my warmup felt horrible. So did the next 100. The third 100 felt even worse. From there it didn't get better. After 15 minutes of easy swimming, it was time to dig into the main set ... or go home and grab some dinner.

Here's what I did: I started the main set with Rule #4 (20 Minute Rule) in mind. As I started to swim, things felt less horrible, physically, but mentally hard. About 200 yards into the first 400 I made the decision too change the workout. Instead of 5x400 the main set became 2x1000. My stroke felt good, my heart rate appropriate for the pace, and the pace was right where it should be. All good so why the change?

The challenge that day came from the space between my ears. I knew that time spent standing at the wall between 400s would give me four opportunities to bag (what would be left of) the workout. What my experience tells me it that there is a good chance I would have done maybe 3 but probably 4x400 before calling it. By going 2x1000 I only had to put my head back into the water one time to get the full main set in. As it turns out, I did the full main set and finished the workout with a pull set, giving me 3,000 yards for the workout.

The decision to change things up allowed me to get the workout completed with a relatively minor change, but the main objective in tact.

So the next time you aren't necessarily feeling it, you have three options - suck it up with the workout as planned, bag the workout and go eat some pizza, or call an audible to keep teh spirit of teh workout in tact, but make the work a bit more palatable.

Train hard. Stay Focused.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Winter, Injury, and Dealing With a Bit of Fear

"Courage is never to let your actions be influenced by your fears." - Arthur Koestler

Last week I received an email reminding me that Ironman Coure D'Alane was 20 weeks away. For the uninitiated it surely sounds like a long way away. Especially with all the snow and cold we have had here in Eastern PA, June 29 feels like it will never come. What was my reaction? Scared me a bit.

See, this isn't my first rodeo and I know what it takes to show up in shape. There is a lot of work that has to get done. A lot. Here in February it's just some base building to get ready for the real training that has to get done come April and May. Sounds simple enough; it really is. Put in the work day after day, week after week. Simple, but not always easy.

Two things have happened this year that are different for me than previous Ironman training cycles.

First, this winter weather really sucks for training. Granted, we have been spoiled the past few years with mild temperatures and low snow totals. But come on, this is getting ridiculous!!! I have about 3 feet of snow on my front lawn and the streets are half their size. It did finally get above freezing today for the first time in who knows how long. Riding is about impossible these days, running treacherous on a good day. Especially in the pre-dawn hours where there is less traffic, but black ice is hard to see.

The other difference is I have been dealing with injury. After seeking medical advice - something I don't normally do - I found out I have a slight tear in my right meniscus. I do feel quite lucky as I fully expected to have surgery. Having some time away from run training is much, much better than having to go under the knife, then rehab. No time for that with an Ironman 20 weeks away.

Thus far, 2014 hasn't gone close to plan. By now I had expected to have a solid base of run miles in my legs as well as a solid half marathon. Instead, my longest run this year is under 12 miles and I had to bag the Myrtle Beach 1/2 Marathon  due to a weather related flight cancellation.On the bike the expectation was high intensity training during the week on the trainer complimented by one or two days each weekend outside building some mileage. Reality is more trainer time than anyone should want to put in. At least my swim training is on track.

Which leads me back to that touch of fright I suffered from last week. Training for an Ironman is a process that takes months, not weeks. It is a process I have enjoyed in the past, and plan on enjoying for quite some time into the future. But part of that enjoyment has to do with the people who help you along the way, as well as the things you get to see and experience during training. So far, 2014 has been frustrating. That frustration has led to some fear of the big race.

There are three key differences so far this year:

Not being physically 100% - I don't do well with injuries. Ignoring them, not dealing with them, is more my style. Time heals all wounds, right? Yes ... but sometimes you need to see a doctor and get some help. While hopefully on the mend, some training has been missed, some modified, certainly not as consistent as it should be. It's early

Less times training with friends - At the very least I have been running with at least one friend almost every Saturday for the past 18 years. People have come and gone from our group, but I have been the constant presence, always there if I am in town and not racing. In past winters there may have been one or two weekends that didn't work because of the weather. This year I haven't seen some of the regulars for weeks. Compound this with the Masters swim group I was training with shutting down and it has been a lot of alone time for Jon. Just as important, nobody to push or compare myself with while training.

More time training inside than ever before - I hate the treadmill. I'm not the biggest fan of the trainer. Neither is the ideal setup for me. I prefer to be outside - even on a part-time basis - but my knee and the weather have kept me inside more than ever. In winter's past I have run inside maybe 2 times on average ... ran more than that last week!!! Our basement is a very nice setup, but outside is what keeps the sanity.

In the end, I think the streak of fear is a result of the big change in race prep this time around. Plans have been modified, conditions have changed, and training has been more solitary than I prefer. But, hey, fear (and change) can be a good thing right?


I'm getting it done, and I sure as hell will be ready (barring catastrophe) come June 29.

Train hard. Stay focused.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Rule #6: Don't Be "That Guy," NOBODY Likes Him ...

"Think you can or think you can't - either way you'll be right." - Henry Ford

If you are a triathlete - or "just" a runner, or swimmer, or cyclist - you tend to be a bit more focused than the average Joe by necessity. With all the other things we have going on in life - work, family, home maintenance, proper hygiene practices, keeping up on the insanity known as Justin Bieber - it takes some dedication to get your daily workout (or two) in on a consistent basis, let alone getting up at 3 am on a Sunday morning to go do a race. Yes, we amateur athletes are a hardy bunch. Some might say crazy, but I digress.

We also tend to be a very positive group. Within my group of friends/training partners, we have a nice little banter between us. Sure, we stay on top of each other to make sure we are doing what has to be done. Sometimes it's some good ole' fashion ribbing. Sometimes it's calling someone out with " Rule Number Five" - something of a mantra among us. Other times it is listening to a pity-party after a bad race. Whatever it is, we do it with the best intentions, and we do it because we generally like and support each other.

Here's an example: A few weeks ago I bagged a 1/2 marathon in NYC for a number of reasons. It had snowed the day before ... I was having some knee issues and I was unsure of the footing ... and it was going to be ass cold. Like, 12 degrees cold. With wind. The race was to be a training run and it wasn't worth it to me so I bailed.

As expected, I heard about it. I didn't complain about the race or the abuse because I understood. I explained my rationale ... and I'm fairly certain they understand why I bailed. What I didn't do was complain or make excuses about my physical condition, the weather, the 3 am wake up call, the snow, or anything else. In fact, I didn't even tell them I was nervous about an injury that I knew was more serious that I cared to admit out loud. I could have made all kind of crazy excuses, but I didn't. I gave an explanation, they gave a bit back at me, then we moved on.

I made sure I wasn't that guy ... you know the one I am talking about. You know, "That Guy."

"That Guy" always has an excuse as to why he blew up, or ran slow, or was 324th in his age group.

"That Guy" complains about the weather ... no matter how awesome it is outside.

"That Guy" will play the victim.

"That Guy" will bring you down by just showing up.

"That Guy" always thinks small, never big. He will tell you why you can't do X, Y, and Z.

"That Guy" not only has an excuse for whatever it is on that particular day, but he also has to incessantly whine about it. Which would be fine. No. No. No Really, it would. If ... and this is a big if ... IF you were whining to somebody else.

I'm sorry, I take that back - IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE!!!!!

Back to my story ... see, I bailed out on a meaningless race (to me) because it made more sense to not do the run than it did to do it. Yes, it was cold, but I didn't use weather as the excuse. In fact, there were no excuses, no whining, just a rationale list of reasons for not racing that day. Believe me, if I was training for the Boston Marathon in April I would have sucked it up in NYC that Sunday morning.

Sometimes things don't go your way and you just need to deal with it. And by deal with it, I mean deal with it. If you don't do a scheduled race for whatever reason, or have a crappy race, or whatever, just deal with it. Shit happens. And sometimes shit that is out of your control happens. Talk to your crew about it, for sure, but don't whine and complain. While they support you, don't abuse them with crap.

Moral of the story: Don't be "That Guy."

Train hard. Stay focused.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ironman Training Review: January, 2014

As I noted here, I have not one but two full Ironman races on the schedule this year. Big racing takes some big training, but also a long-term perspective. Fitness is not built overnight, but over days/weeks/months of consistent training. Over the years I have learned that the real work is not very glamorous and, at times, can be quite boring. Yes, there are key workouts  along the way. As anyone who has gone through the prep process knows, those workouts are the exception, not the rule.

The basic periodization of an Ironman training plan is quite simple: Start by building base fitness, ramp up the mileage over time, build specific race fitness, taper into the race. Simple, but not easy.

January 1 was the official start date for my 2014 Ironman training. One of my projects during my downtime in December was to put together a broad plan for the year, using Ironman Coure D'alene on June 29 and Ironman Florida on November 1 as my two "A" races. Any other racing would be done as a compliment to these two races.
D&L Trail - Bethlehem, PA
Winter running in the Lehigh Valley (Towpath at Sand Island)

For January the original plan was to put in some solid miles on the run, building up mileage over the month, build strength on the bike, and strength and stamina in the pool. The total volume would be relatively low. Strength training and core work was also included.

Strength Training: Every year I take a few months and spend some time in the gym with some basic strength exercises. The older we get the more important this becomes. Since I'm getting old, I take it serious. I also take it serious because, although I don't necessarily look like it, I have enjoyed lifting weights for as long as I can remember. The strength focused actually started shortly after the Philly Marathon. During the month of January I deadlifted and squatted more weight than I have in many, many years. I enter February feeling strong.

Swim: For most of the month I kept the weekly yardage in the 8500 yard area, spread out over three swims, with an endurance swim and a speed session each week. After three months of very little swimming, the beginning of the month was a bit of a challenge. My speed was down and longer intervals kinda sucked. By the end of the month all was good and I was back swimming my intervals right where I was at the end of last season. The last week of the month I was in the pool more than originally planned - five times for much higher mileage. More on that below.

Bike: Unlike the last few years, very little of my time in the saddle would be outside. It has been a harsh winter here in NE Pennsylvania. Weekday rides this time of year are always inside (they happen pre-dawn) and weekends have been less than ideal. The limited riding I have done outside has been on the mountain bike, which is a nice change of pace and quite a bit of fun. I'm an old man so I'm not off on crazy trails balling downhill semi-out of control or anything like that. I enter February feeling good about the work I have put in, hitting my volume goal, but with a good chunk of specific work.

Run: Originally, the first few months of 2014 were to be dedicated to higher volume, base run training. A calf strain in mid-December made the planned volume an impossibility. Instead, I build volume over the month, topping out in the mid-30s. This worked fine, but ... and this is a big but ... but there is a knee issue. Not really sure what happened or how it happened, but it did.

Over a few weeks, what appeared to be some normal tendonitis that pops up from time to time was a much different issue. By the end of the month I was hobbling around and not running at all. Something is definitely wrong. I have been to a doctor and will have more when I have a handle on what I am dealing with. Until then we can leave it at I am currently not running due to injury.

Overall: Other than having an injury, I'm pleased with January. My bike feels about right as the swim is exceeding my expectations. The run is a concern right now. Fitness is coming back to where it should be as I am getting stronger. Volume is low and intensity levels are up.

February should be more of the same - strength building on the bike, working on speed and technique in the pool - with a bit more volume. As for the run ... I should have a better idea of what's going on very soon. I am scheduled to run a half marathon in Myrtle Beach, SC in a few weeks which I am highly certain won't be happening. Even if I can run at that point, not sure I will be running enough to go 13.1 miles. It could still happen, but I'm not betting on it.

On another note I have upgraded my tri ride for 2014. I have been riding a Quintana Roo Seduza since 2007. It has been a great bike and I have enjoyed the bike immensely. With many thousands of miles on it I had a choice to make: a major overhaul or buy a new bike. After finding a great deal on a new bike, I purchased a new Quintana Roo Illicito.

Can't wait for the weather to break so I can take her out for a spin.

Train hard. Stay focused.