Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Intensity: It’s Working For Me

emphasize the “for me” part of that post title. Far too many people, it seems, make the assumption that what works for them works for everyone else. I’ve had some success and so perhaps so will you. But then again, perhaps not.


Prior to starting with my coach at the start of this calendar year, I had effectively been following a volume based philosophy. I knew there was some value in things like intervals but I also assumed that such work was not especially valuable for long course events. The only way to get good at going long was to go long. As a result, training sessions leading up to longer events (particularly 70.3 events) were characterized by long runs and rides. I just kept swimming at around the same 1500 to 2000 yards a week because I never seemed to have too much trouble on the swim.


All of this is not to say that I was training wrong. At least I was not per se. While I don’t think the run at Ironman 70.3 Boulder went all that well, the bike did and after stumbling a bit late season, I had a PR inAustin last October. There may have been short bursts of intensity on some of the 10 mile training runs I did leading up to that race, but nothing specific or calculated.


That brings us to the philosophy my coach has when it comes to training which, in oversimplified terms is train harder, not longer. As a result, nearly all of my training has been characterized by shorter, but much more intense workouts. The exception is the pool where I am not only swimming more often per week (almost always twice and quite often three times a week) but for longer periods. Even then, however, the workouts are focused around period of intensity.


Like a lot of people, one of my greatest concerns about training this way was the increased risk of injury. Using muscles harder naturally means that there is a greater risk of over extension and injury. Having dealt with an especially nasty injury in 2013, I was especially concerned.


The counter to this problem is rest. My routine has consistently been two weeks of intensity followed by a recovery week where the overall volume is less and the difficulty (in terms of Intensity Factor for example) is lower. Additionally, the swim is often itself a recovery workout since it gives legs tired and sore from running a riding a break while my arms do most of the work.


That’s the high level summary of what my training is like. So why do I say it’s working for me? For starters there are the results. Like most triathletes, I keep fairly close track of my training. Besides uploading all of my workouts to Training Peaks for my coach to review, I continue to keep a basic spreadsheet summarizing my activity. As a result, I have details on the distance and duration of each workout.


In the case of the bike, the farthest I rode prior to the recent MTCC Experience Ride was just over 47 miles on a single ride. That was a trainer ride last winter that was also lasted the longest at three hours. The longest mileage for a given week was 95 which I did the week after Memorial Day.


Most rides, by contrast, were shorter but consisted of periods where I was going very hard as measured both by my power output and by my heart rate. Many was the time when I left the trainer soaking wet and fully exhausted. Not infrequently, I was getting off the bike only to get on the treadmill and add 15 to 45 minutes of running to the end of the workout. Those runs were sometimes nice and easy HR Zone 2 events, but some were full on brick runs where I had to do the first five minutes in HR Zone 5.


When I competed in the Summer Open Sprint in mid-May, I was, of course, ready for the kind of distances a sprint triathlon presents. The only thing for which I was not entirely prepared was the frigid water and even then I swam faster than I had been in the pool albeit below my goal pace. Pushing the bike hard through the paces was tiring (especially on the more uphill outbound stretch of that course) but manageable. Coming back, I was pushing in the mid 30 mph range. The story was much the same on the run where I was tired, but I was also faster than I had been in years past.


On June 21, however, I was facing a much different challenge. A 106 mile bike ride with significant climbs in the mountains was going to be both further and longer than any single training day I had. It was truly the first test of the effectiveness of my coach’s philosophy.


I don’t know that I would say I was overly surprised with the results, but perhaps a little bit. Make no mistake, I finished that day absolutely exhausted. My legs were tired, my mind was tired and lots of things just hurt. The pain didn’t last especially long, but I more or less left everything out on the course. That said, I never faced a hill I could not climb without too much difficulty. Of course some had me tired and glad to be at the top. I did stop and rest multiple times (and not just at rest stops) but I did get through the event and never had any doubts that I would.


Running has not been put to quite as much of a test, though there is one example that suggests the training has been effective there as well.


In the first week of June, I had a work out that was an advanced aerobic running test. While I have never had my lactate threshold measured in a lab, we determined that it was roughly 157 bpm. I have a bit lower of a max heart rate number (165 by my latest measurement) so that’s pushing pretty far into Z5. My test involved doing four 17 minute intervals at just 2 to 5 bpm below the LT rate. The first two minutes were just to build up to the right HR and then do a full 15 minutes in that range. Each set had a five minute recovery between. I slowed down to walking pace for some of these just to give myself enough of a recovery to be able to do the next set. Despite the walks and slow recovery, I still completed the two hour workout with 13.3 miles. Not my fastest half marathon time, but not too far off either.

Of course, the real test of the running will be in September when I compete in the Harvest Moon 70.3 race. I have a self-supported 70.3 and an Olympic distance race between now and then which will also be decent gauges of my performance.


It would not be honest of me to say that this training has been easy. I’ve often been so thoroughly exhausted that I want to just lie and down and sleep for about a week. The last three days featured not a brick but two bricks (Sunday and then Tuesday) both characterized by a run that involved going into Z5 multiple times. It’s the kind of pain and suffering that is difficult to ignore. Driving me on however, is both my belief and the tangible proof that all of this is working. I’ve lost a lot of weight in the last year (about 14 pounds compared to this date in 2013) and I’m swimming biking and running faster than I ever have. At 44 years old, that’s pretty encouraging!


Each of us has to walk our own path so I again want to emphasize that my sharing of the experiences I’ve had is not necessarily advocacy. If you are one who is finding that their training plan (despite having faithfully executed it) is not creating desired results, you might want to try this method. If you do so, don’t forget, plenty of rest and recovery is key. My recovery weeks are roughly 2/3 the intensity and length of the other weeks. Trust me, I don’t lose any conditioning in that time!


Thanks for reading and have a great July 4weekend!


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