People who know me know I get up to all sorts of crazy training. It is very rare that the weather stops me from riding. This week I set off on a bike ride in the pouring rain. Within minutes the rain had turned to hail, but I carried on as normal and ended up riding into a 20 mph block headwind through a hail storm which lasted 25 minutes.
With this is mind, I'd like to share the greatest hits version of my crazy training, which may raise an eyebrow or two.
During this time of year, some people can’t resist the urge to get out and do as much as possible because they really want to kick ass next year, and others struggle to find motivation in the inclement weather. My advice to both groups is to follow the middle way: do as much as you need to do.
Maintaining strengths when working on your weaknesses is hard, not only physically but mentally. Attachment also comes into play. If last season you were known to be particularly good at a discipline or a type of workout, you could become attached to the idea of being that guy who is the best at that one thing.
2012 wasn’t a breakthrough year for me in the way it had been in previous years. I didn’t have any eureka moments. I didn’t learn anything new. What I did was learn how to apply existing knowledge on a higher level.
I’m writing this on the day where I finally achieved my goal of squatting 12 reps at 1.5 times my bodyweight. That strength set is the bar Alan Couzens identified for me being “strong enough.” When I started working with Alan, I didn’t really think strength was a limiter until he said for me to be able to play with the big boys I needed 10 kilos more muscle. I accepted the challenge and chalked up my hands.
I’ve always felt uncomfortable about the phrase “big goals.” The bigger they are, the longer it will take to achieve them, therefor the journey becomes more and more significant. Also, by redefining enjoyable activities into “big goals” seems to me like the easiest way to suck the fun out of something. Don’t be in a hurry to get triathlon over and done with, with goals accomplished and ticked off list.
That said, it is good to have aspirations, things you want to do, and these things do take planning.
To strength athletes, squats are known as the king of all exercises. And, despite being endurance athletes, most ironman competitors can gain a lot from adding squats to their routine.
Squats are more effective than dedicated abdominal work at developing core strength, which is necessary for maintaining good form during the ironman marathon. The movement of squatting resembles the pedaling action, so work done here resembles huge strength gains on the bike. Remember if you want to push 300 watts aerobically, you need kilos of aerobic quad muscle, so get it in the gym!
Ironman is a tough sport, but for the many-time ironman finisher the race in itself doesn’t provide motivation. Motivation has to come from within. What is more, the experienced ironman knows it’s just a race, it’s not life and death, and a terrible race isn’t dangerous. And this is what sometimes makes preparation hard, especially compared to other sports… Muay Thai for example.
Race fueling is all about knowing the maximum about of carbs you can can ingest in an hour, eating that amount and going as quick as you can without burning through your glycogen stores until the last mile of the run. Simple.
Nobody should ever start an ironman without a plan, but come race day most athletes turn the plan into a suggestion and end up deviating -- towards disaster at worst and sub-optimal at best. These deviations happen pretty early on in the race and almost always involve going too hard. Why is that?
Breakthrough training is often interpreted as a sort of magic bullet. I still hope for the day when I'll wake up to find myself swimming consecutive 1:15 100s and 6-minute mile pace doesn’t take any real effort. It hasn't happened yet though.
What is more important are the breakthroughs I’ve had in my head, and those are what I’d like to share. Those moments -- like the eureka moment we all get when we solve a math problem -- really do feel as if walls have been removed in our minds, and where things that seemed so separate and incompatible suddenly become dualities, two sides of the same coin.
In case you hadn’t noticed, April is “Mental Toughness” month on Endurance Corner. When I learned about the theme, I thought, “This is me; this will be good.” After all, I think of myself as pretty tough.
I’ve come from the “slow class” at a below average high school which was nearly closed down the year I graduated to getting an honours degree in a tough subject. I’ve beaten alcoholism and stayed away even when I’ve been homeless. I’ve been attacked with knives on several occasions. I’ve worked 16-hour overnight shifts with only a 20-minute break picking orders in warehouses. I’ve spent winters without hot water and days without food. I’ve run through a heart attack in a sprint triathlon (winning my age group). And I’ve sat through a Nelly Furtado gig for a girl.
I’d like to think all of that was for something -- even the pop concert was a learning experience -- but is this sort of toughness required for Kona?
Ultra distance races are getting more and more popular and that is a good thing. Ironman is a pretty amazing distance to race but there is more to endurance sport than getting your iron-distance time down or qualifying for Kona.
To excel at ironman means you will have built the capacity to go further if you needed. For the fast guys, getting round isn’t a big deal -- hell, there is as almost much racing going as there would be at the Ethiopian Olympic Marathon Trials! The reason so many pros don’t do the ultras is more of a factor of prize money and sponsorship obligations than physical ability. If you’re not a pro there is nothing stopping you; so look around to see what sounds fun.
When people think about traveling for races, what they sometimes mean is packing all the right stuff. If you get the packing right, everything else is easy. Putting everything you need for the day in a rucksack isn’t hard; nobody stresses when getting stuff ready for a swim session.
So why does packing for a race cause so much stress?
Limiters. For the last two years that is all I’ve been thinking about. Alan and I have been working through the elite athlete checklist. First is the body, making sure my legs are big enough and my waist is small enough. Then there is the strength aspect, measured pretty much in pull ups and squats. And then there’s the V02max part, measured in CP5.
This is all well and good, and before you do anything you need to be able to measure these attributes, assess where you currently are, where you need to be and how to get there. There is a lot written about this; but what’s not typically written is what happens to you inside your head while tackling your limiters.
When it comes to selecting a race, there are a number of factors that will influence your decision. Generally speaking, for Kona qualification, big guys need to do flat courses and skinny guys should do hilly events. If you want to get a PB go to Roth. That’s all I’ll say about the competitive side of things, as going any further is leading me outside of my knowledge base and is better discussed by the more qualified people on this website.
For me, ironman is more than just qualifying for Hawaii or getting under a magical time.
With the exception of rest weeks, I clock over 1000TSS per week for almost the whole year! That’s tough training. Since my training isn’t time constrained, I can afford to make recovery a priority.
Apart from the odd car crash, brawl or heart attack, I’ve stayed injury free for over four years. Recovery is more than just getting your legs fresh -- it’s about keeping mentally fresh.
In my life I like to make a big distinction between health and fitness. Fitness for us is how many miles at a decent pace can we put together week after week. Interesting stuff but let’s leave it to one side. I like to define health broadly as feeling good on the inside.
What does it take to be a fast age grouper? Let’s define fast as a Kona slot. To put that definition of "fast" into perspective, on a fair course that's around 9:30 for male age-groupers between their late 20s and early 40s. Typical splits work out to a combined time of five minutes for both transitions, a 60-minute swim, a 5:10 bike and a 3:15 run. That is fast.