Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Seeking Professional Help

Since my departure from competitive, organized sport more than 25 years ago (i.e.: when I finished high school) I have always been a self-supported athlete. Like any amateur age-grouper, I have sought advice from magazines, online forums and from friends with similar interests, but none of that has ever involved being coached in the interactive sense,

Roughly three years ago when I decided that I wanted to become a triathlete, I sifted through the oceans of data available from multiple sources, but again, did not actually seek coaching on any level. Not even a clinic.

After two seasons in the sport, my choice seemed to have been validated. I came out of 2012 in some of the best physical shape of my adult life. My final event of last season was the Rattlesnake Triathlon where I completed the entire Olympic distance in 2:46:00 including a run of 50:43 for just a fraction under 10K.

I followed that up with a half-marathon PR of 1:53:35, more than 10 minutes faster than my previous best. Even late in the season, I did a more casual half under two hours, something that seemed nearly impossible earlier that same year.

Indeed, the only real struggle I had in 2012 was on the run portion of the HITS half-iron distance triathlon. Multiple factors, most especially heat, had me doing a lot of walking in that race. However, it was only one blip on what was, for me anyway, a stellar season.

2013 turned out to be a year of struggles. Inuring my soleus muscle back in January kept me from doing any quality running for much of the late winter and early spring. Completing a full marathon in PR time in May was a pleasant surprise after that, but it also left my body feeling a little beat up.

By the time I had taken a two week vacation as well as allowed my sore legs to heal up, I was way behind the ball when it came to being ready. Unfortunately, I did not fully realize or accept this fact at the time.

Things seemed to be going pretty well at the Loveland Lake to Lake Olympic triathlon in late June. It was a longer swim, but I felt strong as left the water. The bike presented some fairly tough hills, but on the final stretch I was dropping a lot of younger people ahead of me. Then I started running and found myself walking after four miles. I figured it was mostly the heat of the day coming on.

Unfortunately, things were no better three weeks later when I returned to the Boulder Peak Triathlon. A good swim, respectable bike and smooth transitions preceded a run that was again characterized by walking around the 2/3 mark. It was hot again and I was just fried.

Another three weeks saw me back in Boulder at the Ironman 70.3 event and I was pleased to have completed the bike in just over three hours, faster than the year before with HITS. It was hot but not as hot as I headed out on the back road, two loop course that comprise the final 13.1 miles of that event. Again, heat got the best of me and I suspect I walked more than I ran. Thanks to the fast bike however, I still hit a PR and improved more than six and half minutes over my first half iron.

I had higher hopes as I ran the 2013 Rattlesnake. While I had no illusions about being as fast as the previous year, I hoped this would be the one where I got all the way through the run. No such luck. Once again, around four miles and change, I was exhausted. My heart rate was way into my top zone. I was hot and feeling weak. It ended up being my worst running performance yet at the Olympic distance.

Now, I knew there was a problem.

All season long I had trusted my self-written training plan based on the fact that I had done so well the year before. The problem was, I made some significant changes based on assumptions that I now believe were wrong.

First, despite getting faster as a result in 2012 from incorporating interval training into both my bike and run workouts, intervals were not present in my 2013 plan. The reason for this was that they had not been especially helpful at HITS and the 70.3 distance was going to be my focus in the coming year.

Second, I did not have enough long runs in my plan. It’s hard to say what happened here. Perhaps I thought that I would have established such a base from the marathon training that I would be ready. Perhaps I planned to update the schedule a little bit. Perhaps I skipped too many runs.

Looking back at what I scheduled and what I did, I not only ran less in 2013, I planned to run less. The notion that I had a good handle on how to adequately train for a season has proven to be false.

As 2013 winds down, I have taken a few steps to remediate those mistakes, mostly by upping the run mileage. Intervals would, no doubt, do some good, but I’m worried about getting injured. Nevertheless, running for longer distances and periods of time has undoubtedly improved my stamina. I've also been making sure I keep the bike mileage up so that the better performance in that area can be sustained.

The end of one season naturally has me looking forward to the next. One thing is certain even this far in advance: I don’t want to have a repeat. I also have a rough idea of my goals.

I would like to see my Olympic Distance time (using the 1.5K Swim, 40K Bike and 10K run as the basis) to about 1:36:00. That would be a 10 minute improvement. For the half iron distance, I’d like to see that drop dramatically to 5:50:00. Most of that gain would have to be on the run. I have a few ideas about how to do this, but the truth of the matter is I may very well need the help and feedback of a professional.

That I may hire a coach is by no means set in stone. However, it is a distinct possibility. Previously, I had thought that I would only go down this road if I committed to a full Ironman. That is not the case—yet—but my desire to improve is strong.

My health seems to be full restored with the soleus muscle not having bothered me for months now. I also don’t seem to be feeling any particular pain in other areas as well, all of which suggests that my strength is definitely returning.

Two upcoming races have rekindled my desire to go out and perform well and this has translated to better training and a better diet. Indeed, I've lost five pounds since the Rattlesnake.

Nevertheless, I do think that hitting these ambitious goals (especially the 70.3 time) is going to require someone who has helped other athletes make similar improvements. With that in mind, I’ll be researching a few local services and probably making a decision early in the off-season.

As I got through the process, I’ll share as much as I can on these pages. Hiring a coach is another “first time.” It will be interesting to see how it proceeds.

Thanks for reading!

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