Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Adaptation - A 2009 Training Review

In the past on this blog I've been more forthcoming about my training and getting back into shape than I have been lately. Recently I've asked myself why this changed. After the examining the full spectrum of reasons, ranging from the change in my work schedule from nights to days, or from the obligations that come from training, teaching yoga, leading bootcamps and trying to work full time at a "real" job, I think I finally have gotten to the core of the issue. In the time leading up to my first Ironman at Ironman Arizona, my doubts of whether or not I'd even make it to the start of the race seemed to grow exponentially. And I have good reason to have felt that way. Traditionally, I've been injury prone. And I've tended to allow other things, professional and personal, come between me and my triathlon related goals.

Not to say that hasn't been the case this year as well. But for some reason this year things have changed. I mean I still had to deal with things like a dislocated cuboid bone in my left foot, nerve damage and a dislocated bone in my other foot, flair ups of achilles tendonosis in both legs, knee issues, IT band, shoulder, calf pulls, and lower back stuff. I've also had issues with work, on call scheduling, work related training and meetings outside of my normal hours and personal issues that at times seemed insurmountable. And lets not forget my first race this season where I almost puked in the water, and found myself both nauseous and disoriented in the middle of a lake. Or what about all of the stuff that has happened with my equipment this year (see my other posts)? We can also add the juicer I managed to "burn out" a few weeks out from Arizona to that list too. Really, my list of mishaps does seem endless. Needless to say, all of these things created some major anxiety throughout the months leading up to the ironman. That is until I began seeing the gains in my training that appeared to come from my decision to "drink" a good deal of my daily nutrition.

In retrospect, I probably needed my head examined for even buying that plane ticket to Arizona. Especially given what happened at Longhorn 70.3. And man, given what I experienced in the last couple of weeks of training prior to race day, I not only had my doubts about completing that first Ironman, but a healthy dose of pure, simple fear as well. My respect for the people who have completed an Ironman anywhere in any time has gone way, way up. No matter how fit you are 140.6 miles is still a monumental distance to cover.

So here's the thing. This is why I still went to race in Arizona. In spite of getting sick and then having someone aggravate my right knee again by digging their thumbs the same spot that had been hit with the bike pump at the Longhorn 70.3 in the four weeks leading up to the race - this year, in spite of everything I've experienced I've had more fun than I can ever recall. Even when I was racing before and was younger and much faster. Its funny. Leading up to the half Ironman, I was doing workouts my younger self would have crawled home in a heap of sweat and quivering muscles and not come back for more for at least a week. And here was getting up and doing it all over again the next day. And that gets me to the real point of this post.


Even with all of the set backs I encountered this year I started to see the results of adaptation taking place. Before I got sick, I had some really good results in my training leading up to this point. I was looking over my wattage output from my trainer power intervals for the season and prior to the Longhorn 70.3 I was averaging 25 watts more than I was at the start of the season. During a 100 mile solo effort on rolling hills my average heart rate was 134 on a very, very windy day. Whereas earlier this year my average HR on a 20 mile "flat" time trial was 158 at the same speed.

On the run I saw my ability to cover more and more ground at better speeds with lower heart rates too. The week prior to the 70.3 I ran 16 miles after two hard hours on the bike with an average heart rate of 143 at an 8:05 per mile pace. But the main thing was I was having no problem running two or three days in a row at that point. That really amazed me.

When all of this Ironman business started, I had to give some serious thought as to how best to create the most favorable conditions for my success at trying to cover this distance. But beyond covering the distance the ultimate goal was to create a body with a level of fitness capable in 3 years to be able to "race" at that distance. For me that is going "wire to wire" from each event to the next with a constant but sustainable effort. And I know this is what we most often think of when the word "Adaptation" comes to mind in terms of our triathlon related work. And granted, I think from the results my body and its capacity to handle training and racing stresses has changed for the better. But like most terms we use in the sport (or life for that matter), like "core," or "economy," "adaptation" can have a much more profound side if we take the time to examine it not just in terms of bodily response to training stimuli, but also how it relates to the larger context of our lives.

So as my year comes to a close and my training pendulum has swung decidedly to the recovery side of things, I have time to ponder what do I feel my most important adaptation for 2009 was? The thing is I don't believe my physical adaptation was the most important change that took place over the course of the year. Sure being fitter and healthier were great but for me I think the most important adaptation came when I learned to trust listening to my own body in spite of the lofty goals I had set.

In yoga there is a term known as "ahimsa" which can be translated loosely to mean "doing no harm" or "practicing non violence." So often in sport, accomplishments are pursued to the exclusion of things like harmony and joy. We can tend to overemphasize the outcome and push our bodies and ourselves further than is necessary or wise even with a long held goal clearly in sight. We can get caught up in, I don't know, the moment, our own self doubt, what have you and lose sight of ourselves. In the past, I was a repeated offender and I know it. That's why I couldn't race for 5 years prior to starting this blog. What I learned in the interim with the help of my yoga practice is this type of behavior can be considered an act of self inflicted violence. By demanding more than the body is ready or capable of delivering at any particular moment, we are doing harm both to ourselves and the goals we so strongly desire to reach be it a long coveted yoga pose or a place on the podium in a race. Understanding this delicate balance between our goals and desires and our well being can be a hard thing to master in any of life's arenas, but in triathlon the consequences of not understanding this balance can be both swift and painful. Remembering there is just as much value in the journey as the destination really changed my perspective and allowed me to enjoy my season whether I was racing as fast as I could or just out enjoying the scenery. Personally, this is where I found myself truly adapting this year. I found myself coming more into a space where I readily accepted where I was at any moment in any race or training session and let that be that. And because of it I'm healthier and happier. I accomplished all of my goals for the season and for the first time that I can remember I wasn't injured at the end of it.

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