Monday, June 30, 2008

The Tao of Training: Fourth Insight

"...People usually fail when they are on the verge of success. So give as much care to the end as to the beginning;
Then there will be no failure..."

Of all the posts in this series, this has been the most difficult to write. Perhaps it is because this one hits so close to home for me personally.

I don't think any of us have a hard time dreaming big because as triathletes we all have some mountain to climb whether it be a goal race, or a finishing time, or place on a podium. Triathlon with its times and schedules and rankings can be very, very goal oriented. It is easy to lose sight of what attracted you to the sport in the first place. In an environment like this the actual "process of triathlon" can get overlooked. And as fitness increases it is so easy to start to believe it will continue to increase with more effort and less attention. If you fall into this pattern of belief, your behavior will soon follow and you could wind up undoing all the quality work you have done. This can signal the beginning of the end. Check out Brandon's post on a similar subject here.

The other day at the end of a solid three week block of training, feeling strong and satisfied, I picked up the phone and called a friend to see what he was up to. I hadn't talked to him in a while so, he was very excited to hear from me. He started suggesting we get together to either ride or run. As he talked a feeling of absolute dread came over me. There was a reason I hadn't talked to him in a while. Our life and training goals were very, very different. I experienced this first hand last year when I wound up on the verge of overtraining after agreeing to workout with him a few days a week. For him there was no "off" button. Sessions continued endlessly and without much purpose. It was easy to train too much and too hard when I was around him. Fortunately we both got busy and went our separate ways. And I eventually recovered.

What I have noticed in my own experience is the fitter and more confident I become, the more I think I can do both inside and outside triathlon. Ultimately time and time again this one small fallacy has wreaked havoc on my results. Calling my friend to see what was up is just one example of how a single act can have far reaching, entirely foreseeable consequences.

That experience made me sit down and consider the implications of my recent phone call. What was most troubling was the realization that I had done other things just as counterproductive before. There was the year I was tapering for a big race and had told my girlfriend I could not help her move and to either call her brother or hire movers. She did neither and I wound up spending two days, 12 hours each, lifting and moving furniture. I could feel myself actually using stores of energy and fitness in the process. I still raced but was sluggish the whole day. Needless to say my results that day were not what I was looking forward to.

The thing is decisions like this seem so small at the time. A phone call to a friend. Spending two days helping a girlfriend move. They don't seem like the end of the world or the reasons some of your personal goals are no closer now than when you first conceived of them. But if you take some time and look at your own life and find there are some phone calls you could have left unmade, or emails left unreturned, or that “can't miss” party that you could have skipped just to get a few extra hours of sleep, or taken more time to prepare better food versus grabbing something quick in a drive thru, or even just make a small adjustment to your training schedule because you sense a change is needed, then you might find that you are actually closer to realizing your goals than you think. It can be easy to forget that our goals matter to us and one of the ways we can remind ourselves is to acknowledge the larger picture in our lives and give it the attention it deserves. Of course becoming conscious of our patterns of limiting behavior and addressing them has implications that extend far outside the world of triathlon.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Week's Not Quite Over

But I'm having a really good training week. All of my workouts so far have been really productive. I had been thinking about something Lucho said/says about taking risks with your training and have tried to do some things differently -- especially with my cycling and strength work these last couple of weeks. I've added 3 strength workouts to the mix (each with a different emphasis) and do them only during the days I work following a 30 to 45 min warmup run or bike.

One of the challenges in training for me is to get all of the workouts I'd like to do in while still seeing a positive benefit from each session. But what can be most challenging for me is my work schedule and getting adequate recovery. Because I work overnight 3 days out of the week, my sleep patterns are irregular. The days I work I don't get as much sleep as the days I'm off. And the 4 days I'm off are also when I try to get in the bulk of my quality training. So I'm trying to train and recover during the same block of time.

In the past I made the mistake of attempting to stick a more "traditional" training schedule where my long rides and runs where done on the weekends. But getting off at 7AM after working for 12 hours and trying to run or ride was just too hard physically and mentally. I've since decided that just wasn't a good idea for a lot of reasons. The main one being I was having serious trouble with my weight while I was doing it. It was also ruining my training and recovery during my days off.

Because of the things I discovered going through my training logs last week I decided to do as much work on the weekdays as possible in a daily pattern consisting of swimming, yoga, riding, then running followed by more yoga targeting tight and/or tired muscles from the day's workouts. Since the last Time Trial I've shifted my week day workouts around to this new pattern and it seems to be working. I think I've come up with a workout schedule I can live with. By doing some things a little differently adding the strength work and a few relatively short but intense running and cycling sessions to the mix, I'm actually doing a few more hours of training a week and not feeling as wiped out overall. That is a good thing.

I'm not sure but I think simply because of the schedule change, I'm starting to see some more rapid gains in fitness than I'd been experiencing before. One thing I've noticed besides feeling more rested and stronger is that my resting heart rate has dropped from about 55 bpm to 42 bpm. My appetite has been really consistent lately and I think I'm seeing the benefit of eating pretty much the same stuff daily as long as it is healthy. I'm not sure what the percentages are but I know I've been getting lots of carbs, mainly from fruits and veggies. The biggest addition to my diet lately has to be my "rediscovery" that I LOVE grapefruit. Next to watermelon which is practically like eating a serving water and trace minerals, I think grapefruit is awesome. It so takes care of the hunger and the thirst at the same time. And I'm all about efficient fueling. I've also been drinking more organic fruit juices, especially cranberry juice. When I started drinking cranberry juice regularly a couple of months ago I noticed an immediate upswing in my day to day energy. Subsequent conversations with my Naturopath about this development seem to point to both the cleansing, alkaline promoting nature of the cranberry juice in the body as well as the possibility of my walking around with a low grade bladder infection.

On top of all that I went out and did another Time Trial this past Tuesday. This time I started thinking about all the cycling I'd been doing for the last few years with Du'Shun. The thing about my riding with him is that it is all about efficiency. If there is one thing I can say that I've learned from him is riding quickly with a super high cadence and saving big swings in power output for when they are really needed. This is big change from how I used to ride before when I raced. So when I went out to the Time Trial this week I decided to do the whole thing in my small chainring. What happened was that I rode entirely in my small ring and matched the speed of my previous best time. Oh and that was in conditions that were hotter and windier, and with a heart rate 10 beats lower than the prior best effort. So what I learned from that is I had been pushing too large a gear and need to maintain the efficiency as I build my strength.

Now I'm off to the gym. Cheers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why They Invented Training Logs...

So we could use them. After what happened at the time trial the week before, first I did some soul searching. Then I got down to business. I looked at my training log for the day of the time trial. Normally my workouts follow a similar pattern on Tuesdays. First I swim, then I do yoga, then I go home for a nap. In the afternoon I ride my bike. It is the same pattern every Tuesday since I got over my bike wreck. Every Tuesday except the one a couple of weeks ago. So that day according to my log I swam, went to yoga (there is a note about the air conditioning in the building being broken), and then I went for a 5 mile run. DING!!! Ok so I'm going to say this here more for my own sake than for anyone else's, changes like this need to be taken into account because there are so many things that need to be addressed. For one, there would be the additional calories and nutrients that would have to be replaced. Then there was the recovery period between yoga and my evening ride that got shortened due to the run. And it was hot. Plus it was hot in the yoga studio. So I think what happened is I just plain bonked on the time trial.

Now about my "weak ass" cycling. Yep I said it and I'm not gonna sugar coat it either. My cycling is weak. Anyway another trip through the training logs (going back as far as 10 years) yielded a lot of pertinent information. Basically my volume is way too low. I haven't spent nearly enough time on my bike. And logs going back all show the same thing, my mileage now is less than half what it had been at the same time of year. But what was also telling is how much time I spent and devoted just to overall leg strength. In the past I spent between 1 and a half to 2 hours a week just on leg strength. I was looking at the weights in the workouts and had to shake my head. 3 sets of 12 squats at 315lbs for example. And I only weighed around 142lbs at the time.

And that bought up another really good point to consider. Back then my power to weight ratio was a lot bigger. And it made up for the fact that I had absolutely no endurance when I think about it. But that is the kind of thing that can be gained from keeping a log. You can really see what was working and what wasn't and make adjustments. Now I've gotten to the point of keeping a sort of log/journal which besides workout specifics also highlights my state of mind and what I am learning from my training.

So things are better now. My advice to you? Keep a log. You never know when you are looking around for some answers, your own best advice might just come from you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


Sometimes all we can do is all we can do

This picture sums up how I've sort of been feeling the last couple of weeks. My swimming is practically nonexistent because of the sense of having to start from scratch after the bike wreck. Actually, I had sort of made peace with that by deciding to do some duathlons this year.

No what has me sort of upset is my cycling. Some things are just plain hard to take. And they can be even harder to explain. But for the sake of the blog I'll try. Last week I went out to the time trial and got completely obliterated. Not by other riders mind you. I sort of expect that at this juncture. I realize I have a 5 year fitness deficit to make up for. No what is bugging me is that 2/3 of the way through an 8 mile time trial I completely cracked. Tank empty. Game over. Completely spent. Then I caught a calf cramp and had to limp my way to the finish.

There were probably some things that were beyond, or seemingly beyond, my control like the cold front and the 40mph winds that kicked up just after I rolled across the starting mat. Winds that got worse as I rode to the turnaround. And maybe if it weren't so freaking windy, I'd have made it to the finish? I don't know. But it was that sense of my body saying "Enough!" That's what did it.

The next day I got about 2/3 of the way through my yoga class and couldn't finish that either. I got nauseous. I had to lay in corpse pose while everyone else got to do inversions. I love inversions. The yoga teacher theorized that perhaps I was still processing physical and emotional trauma from the bike accident. Perhaps?

Then the next day a planned 30 minute treadmill workout got cut to 15 minutes and I went home.

I got in some time on the bike at moderate intensity over the weekend without feeling too wiped out so Monday, I thought I'd get a baseline on the bike to set my training intensity for the month. What happened? I got crushed again! I made it about 2/3 through the workout when my heart rate monitor readings got jacked up. I still had a final max effort interval left. But I would be lying if I said I could have done it. I was already toast. The equipment malfunction was just foreshadowing. I had been crushed by yet another workout and left searching for answers.

But the reason I decided to do the bike test was to find out what happened on the time trial the week before. And even though I didn't finish the test, I already had enough information to get my answer. My cycling is weak. There I said it.

I know it isn't an general endurance/fitness issue because today I did a run test and my running is actually greatly improved. I did a 2.5 mile time trial in just over 16:05 on a hilly marked course in my neighborhood. This is down from 20:30 on the same course at the beginning of January this year. No, the problem is my cycling is just plain weak. Now I have to figure out what to do about it. I have some ideas. I think I'll write about those tomorrow. Right now I just want to go to bed...

Got Mud?

Just in case you ever wanted to see how the "other" half lives and wanted to check out a really cool mountain bike blog, check out I Faticus. This post will have resonance if you've ever raced anywhere and used a porta potty.