One of the things I've truly enjoyed about triathlon is that, coming from a background and career in exercise physiology, it has provided unlimited margins in regards to experimentation and defining what the "right" plan or approach is. After all, we are all after optimal results - meaning given our genetic makeup and time constraints, we want to see just how fast we can go.
When I first began training myself post college (1991), I applied all the principals I had learned in the classroom and books about endurance training. I combined this with my constant studying of Triathlete magazine, and mainly, what the big four were doing for training. The big four were Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Tinley, and Scott Molina. I began to believe that unless I was cranking out 250+ miles per week on the bike and 50+ miles per week on the run, there was no way I was going to succeed. Mind you, during this time period, I was training for sprint and Olympic distance races. Most of the exercise physiology books had yet studied triathletes and therefore most of what I did was self-experimentation. The big four were winning everything so there must be something to the mega mileage they were putting out weekly in training. For these athletes though, training and racing was their lives. I was soon to be engaged and working full time as the director of GE Capital’s Corporate Fitness program which meant I had higher priorities.
In 1996, I qualified for the Hawaii Ironman. This was going to be my first Ironman and I thought I had to up my training even more. I have been blessed with a very strong structural system. I may have the flexibility of a crowbar, but I don't get overuse injuries. My immune system did begin to break down frequently though. I was catching one cold or sinus infection after another. I convinced myself that I needed to get in a specific high volume of training each week to perform well, and thus needed to find other ways to boost my immune system. I made many radical nutrition changes thinking, hoping that this was the root of my immune stability or instability. I took lots of nutritional supplements as well - trying anything that would bolster the immune system - except reducing my training volume (which i thought would make me slower) or get more sleep (which I didn’t have/make time for). Most of my workouts felt sluggish. I was spent before even beginning them. I chalked it up to the fact that I was training for an Ironman; of course I'm going to constantly be tired! I would push through these sessions though, thinking it was making me not only stronger, but tougher.
Ironically, I began my coaching business at this time and was working closely with athletes, monitoring their progress. At the first signs of over-fatigue, I’d back them way off, or even have them take a few days off! I was a total hypocrite.
I continued to study, reading books on exercise physiology and endurance training like "The Lore of Running" by Noakes. And I continued to experiment. It has been a trial and error process and I love it. This field is my art. Working with others, be they athletes, average joes looking for fitness, or ill or broken down people looking to rehabilitate- this is my opportunity to be creative and find out what specifically works for each individual, and what also motivates them and brings out the best in them. Through working with others and through self-experimentation, I have built up quite a knowledge base of training. It also appears that everyone else on the planet is an expert at coaching and training. Tell anyone what you are doing health and training wise and more than likely you will get their opinion, and probably on what you are doing wrong. Triathletes are the worst when it comes to this. Anyone who has spent a cumulative hour reading slowtwitch.com now has their own degree in coaching and exercise physiology. Tell a triathlete you are running 4 hour per week in training and they will tell you that it's not enough and to harden the fuck up. Tell a triathlete you are doing intervals during the winter months and they will chastise you saying that you are going to peak to early and should be focused on just building a base, yet train with them and watch their ego take over as they run above threshold, yet tell you at the end that they were still aerobic. You'll hear "you are doing too much, too little, too hard, to easy, ..." Many listen to this crap to. Maybe they think that because the person offering advice is fast, they are an expert, which isn’t always the case.
Well, here are a few of my definites:
*The majority of us are not pros, and therefore, have a limited amount of time for training AND recovery. We don't have the 30+ hrs per week to put into long, aerobic base building miles, and therefore, need to make our sessions count.
*Most that have been training for a few seasons have established cumulative base, meaning their cardiovascular system is efficient and comes around quickly. What is a bigger limiter is their muscular endurance system.
*Most make the mistake to go long too soon. Why is it that the best Ironman triathletes today were the best Olympic Distance athletes five years ago?
*If going long in training, dial down the intensity. If going short, make it count. Duration usually doesn’t cripple us. Intensity doesn’t either. It's combining the two that gets us into trouble.
*On your easy days, train alone. This is when a heart rate monitor and power meter is especially useful. These tools set ceilings to assure we keep the effort dialed down, so that we are still building our economy yet we can recover easily so we can go hard on the days we are supposed to go hard.
*Power meters, heart rate monitors, and gps devices are great training and feedback tools, yet learn to "feel" your rhythm. Yes, rhythm is one of the main things that every athlete should continually seek. And when training in beautiful locations, it's far more of an experience to take in the surrounding scenery rather than stare at the numbers on your devices.
*Stay consistent - this is key, however, don’t be afraid to take a day or two off now and again. If your race is built off of one day of training, you are in trouble anyways.
*Throw out your cycling clothes from two seasons ago. Especially if training with others - please, it stinks.
I just returned from Napa which was awesome, although I over-ate and over-drank w/ no regrets, but I’ll pay the price as I head out to Tucson Saturday.