Friday, September 28, 2012

Components of an Off Season Training Plan

Just over a month after my last Tri and, at soonest, still 29 weeks until my next, I’m already thinking about 2013 in its entirety. What can I say? I’m a planner. In fact, I’m a pretty good planner. To be so, you have to follow some basic rules:

The Rules of Good Planning

1)      Be flexible. Field Marshal von Moltke first said it and it’s true for lots of things outside of the military world; no plan survives first contact with the enemy.
2)      Use past experience as a guide, but don’t expect years to be identical. I’m only getting older and the fact is that I’ll eventually not be able to do some of what I set out to do.
3)      Be ready for multiple drafts. Even before I begin its execution, I’ll go back in and re-write whole sections of the plan. This is particularly true as it pertains to training for 70.3 events.
4)      Picking races is like going through the all-you-can-eat buffet. Everything looks good when you are in line, but actually competing in and completing them is another story all together—to say nothing of training for them.
5)      A training plan should be joined at the hip to a training log. In fact, in my case, they are one in the same document separated only by tabs on a spreadsheet.

Alternating Long Weeks

I don’t recall whose plan it was that recommended this, but I’ve adopted the strategy as my own. Just like the sequence of a race, I start with the swim, followed the next week by the bike and finally by the run. It keeps things mixed up and interesting and also gives different muscles a break.

That’s not to say that I don’t do all three sports each week, but just one gets my extra focus. I also seek to avoid two-a-days. They have their place, but there’s not much reason for it when my main goal is laying down a base.

Heart Rate Zone I

I mentioned last year that much of my strategy for off-season training was based on the things I learned in the book Heart Rate Training by Roy Benson and Declan Connolly:

 Their strategy involves the classic pyramid approach but with far more information than I had regarding heart rate and the energy systems the body employees at each rate. Different schools of thought set up between four and five zones for heart rate, but the four they use work well with the pyramid:

If you want to know about all of them in detail, I suggest reading the book. For the time being, my focus is on Endurance. That’s distinct from Stamina in that Endurance refers to how long you can keep going, without consideration to speed, whereas Stamina refers to how long you can maintain at a specified pace.

Endurance training is nearly 100% aerobic which means using fats rather than carbs (in the form of glycogen) as fuel. Your endurance heart rate, Zone I, is about 60% - 75% of your Max Heart Rate (MHR).

This means slowing way down on runs and rides and going a little slower in the pool. There’s not a good way to get your HR in the water without buying additional equipment which I’m trying to avoid. But since the HR strap works just fine on the bike or on foot, I keep a close eye on it when training.

Each week, I’ll be adding more time to my long workout, whatever it may be at that time. The goal on the run, for example, would be to eventually be doing long runs that would be at or near the time involved for a slow full marathon.

Doing this is harder than it seems. I found myself going at painfully slow speeds when I started out last year. My ego kept insisting that I looked like a slow poke out on my training routes, but I knew that it was serving a greater purpose.

Time vs. Distance

Distance is not a factor in my off-season plan. I do everything for specific time periods. For the purpose of tracking everything, I record how far I swam/rode/ran after I’m done, but the plan simply calls for X minutes at a particular activity.

This is nice in that I know more or less how long I’ll be training each week. It also ensures that I can’t just go faster to complete a workout. An hour is an hour whether that’s 6 or 6.5 miles, it’s not going to go by any faster. Using my Garmin Connect account, I’ll set my goals around how many hours of each activity I’m aiming for each month.

MHR Testing

Since all of this is predicated on knowing your maximum heart rate, you need to test it. The formulaic approach is 220 – Age = MHR. That’s pretty weak however and not suitable for a serious endurance athlete.

After spending the rest of the week resting and recovering from last Saturday’s adventures, I’ll be heading to the track this weekend to see just how fast I can get my heart going before it plateaus. Last year that was 171 beats per minute. I’ll be interested to see if I get a similar result.

More on the test after it happens.

In the mean time, if you're interested in the plan I have for the off-season, I've put it on Google Drive here

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