Thursday, December 17, 2015

Winter training: an insight

Having now put in a solid three weeks of training, I figured it’s a good time to provide an update and insight into what the first part of my off-season training cycle looks like. Hopefully you can take some of these insights and apply these to your own training over the winter months.

Total Volume
With no races in the near future, volume has slowly begun to creep up.  The last three weeks I put in 18:30 hours, 19:15 hours, and 20:45 hours, and this week, I’m on tap to log just over 22 hours. There were a couple of missed workouts here and there due to unforeseen conflicts, but for the most part I’ve been putting in some consistent work. I’ve said it numerous times but it bears repeating: to see improvement you don’t need to do anything crazy, you just need to put in the work day-in and day-out. Repeat, rest and reap the rewards.

The Run
My running is building slowly but I’m remaining on the cautious side of the line for now. No need to tear my legs to shreds – yet! With a lingering quad injury from the fall, I don’t want to aggravate things by pounding too much pavement. Running is a high-impact sport and it can lead to injuries if you jump in too deep.

So my volume has been slowly increasing from just over two hours in the whole week to just over 4 hours for this week. With running I’ve found that I’m less likely to pick up an injury when I spread weekly volume over four or five days, as opposed to cramming the volume into a couple of longer runs. So, as an example, my ‘long run’ this winter season started at about an hour and has increased slowly to about 75 minutes. Slow steps. Big picture.

Intensity on the run has also been slowly increasing each week. The first week I started with 10x30 seconds, then moved to 10x45 seconds, then to 10x60 seconds. I’m running these, roughly, at a 5K to 10K pace. As things progress I’ll start to add more intervals and longer intervals at race specific intensities to make sure the body is ready to go for 21.1K.

For me the run is the discipline that my coach Rich and I are least worried about. Through a few years of experimenting, we know that I can get into good running shape pretty quickly on the back of a few weeks of hard running.

So the main focus during winter is to keep the feel for faster running (with some short intervals) and then get the volume in to allow me to race the 21.1K at the required high intensity. Expect to see me at a couple of 5K races throughout the winter and spring and I may even jump into an early half-marathon since I’ve never run a stand-alone half marathon. That could be an interesting race.

Some post run strides while the ground is still dry

The Swim
This fall, I’ve been blessed to swim with the University of Waterloo Warriors swim team. I’m able to get in the pool with the Warriors four days a week for about two hours a session. I did a similar program at Western in London, swimming with their swim team. I really benefit from being in the water with other swimmers training at a high level.  We tackle some drills – mainly during warm-ups or recoveries – but the big focus is on quality swimming.

If you want to improve your swim this winter try to commit to four days in the pool per week. You don’t need to do two hours per session, but the simple act of getting into the water will help with your feel of the water. Trust me – do this and you will see improvements.  

Having a coach on deck making stroke adjustments as you swim will also increase your rate of improvement. If you’re just getting in the water and doing 60 minutes of drills each session, you’ll get better at doing drills, but this won’t necessarily translate to faster swimming.

The Bike
The bike is the big focus for me over the winter. I know I need to make more gains on the bike in order to ride with the lead pack. At Challenge Knoxville I rode with the lead pack on the bike for about 10K before my chain fell off. And at the time I was averaging about 230 watts (as a comparison, at Muskoka and Welland last year I averaged 220 watts). While I was with that lead pack in Knoxville, all I cared about was staying there, holding on, and gaining some experience. So I’ve made it a goal for this winter to hold about 235 to 240 watts next season. I’m confident that this should allow me to ride comfortably in the lead group and still run well off the bike.

That’s the plan. The execution means I’m riding about ten hours each week, mainly on the trainer. I’ve managed to do some of my easier rides outside on the mountain bike or cross bike, but all of my intensity has been on the trainer. Plug in the numbers, watch the screen and go to work.

During a typical week, I’ll hit most zones and I’ll work on all aspects of cycling. I’m not just focused on quickly increasing my Vo2 max or threshold power – I want to see slow, sustainable increases right across the board in terms of cycling.

The typical time-crunched athlete who doesn’t have time to do those longer 3x20 minute intervals on the trainer will often benefit more in the winter from doing short, high-intensity intervals. You can save the longer ‘sweet spot’ intervals for the summer when you can ride longer.

To give you an insight into my approach, I’ve gone back over my training program from last week. I logged a two-hour easy to moderate effort on Monday, a ‘micro-burst’ workout on Wednesday (this was 22X15 seconds at max effort), a two hour ride with 4x10 minutes at 230 watts on Thursday followed by two hours of really easy spinning on Saturday, right after my long run. I finished the week on Sunday with a hard 90 minute spin class that I instruct in Waterloo Region, which included some zone four intervals.  

We’ve also included two days of strength training as I am probably the weakest person on the planet! I sometimes joke that my girlfriend, Ang, has bigger biceps than me!

My strength routine centres on 15 exercises. I’ll do 12 reps of each and then repeat it three times. Strength training is great if you have the time to commit, but if strength training is taking away from your time swimming, cycling, and running, then ease off the strength stuff. Focus on the three sports because after all, we compete in swim, bike, run events and not strength events.

If you’re caught for time and still want to include some strength stuff, try doing some sport specific resistance training such as swimming with a parachute, band, or towel; cycling with a low cadence; and trail running on a loop with lots of ups, downs, and twists to it.

Overall, no matter what you’re trying to improve during the winter season, it’s best to focus on one or two goals. It’s very difficult to see large jumps in all disciplines at the same time.  So find your focus. Stick to it. Do it well. And then, consistently maintain the other aspects of your training.  Come race season 2016, you’ll be stronger and faster than race season 2015.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Consistently Inconsistent

It has now been a bit over 2 months since the last race of the season, and it seems like full on training has snuck up on me rather quickly. I have always said the best way to improve is to consistently hit workouts day in and day out. This will get you probably 80% of the way and the last 20% comes from doing the "right workouts at the right time." I must admit that since my crash I have been anything but consistent.

In the month after Barrelman I had one focus, getting my left leg back to being 100%. The week after the crash I was having some trouble standing for long periods of time and noticed a large lump on my quad. I decided I should head over to Dr. Lee, the sports med doctor at Waterloo Sports Medicine, because they never really did check my limbs at the hospital, they were more concerned about my head and internal organs. Dr. Lee said I probably tore a small part of the quad and that is what was causing the lump, essentially the lump was some of the muscle fibres that balled up when they tore. He recommended physio, massage, and that I could get back riding and swimming if they weren't causing any pain and then ease into running in a few weeks.

The bike seemed to come back the quickest, and I will admit I probably came back to quick. The two weeks back I put in 17 and 16.5 hours with about 12-14 hours of those being on the bike. Swimming was ok, but having limited range of motion in my leg made flip turns really difficult. Running took the longest to come back from and after some help from @physiodave (Dave Galloway) I was back running at about week 4. Everything sounds good and consistent right?

This is where I think I maybe jumped back into cycling to much. After just a handful of weeks of consistent training I managed to catch the cold that was going around. Ang got it early in the week and I tried doing everything to avoid it but sure enough by the end of the week I was done for. Just as I was starting to find my stroke in the pool and stride running I was out again for about 4 days.

Starting up training for the 2nd time was nearly as painful as after the crash. I always find swimming to be the most difficult to restart in. The stroke feels awful and my arms just spin in circles with no forward improvement. This is why I think it is important for all triathletes to try and get in the pool 3-4 times a week to keep a "feel" for the water so those first 10 minutes you can get straight to work instead of trying to find your feel. I'm sure jumping straight in with the UWaterloo varsity team in the middle of their first block of hard training didn't help, but I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to swim with them. Last year I really struggled to maintain a high level of swimming on my own, but doing 2 hour workouts 4 times a week with them is awesome.

I thought round 2 was going to be the final start up, and I could start getting in the miles to hopefully kick off the season at Panama 70.3 in January. However, my mtbing skills had another plan. About 3k from my house I have this awesome trail system called the Hydrocut, it is about 25k of trails with features that I would rank as beginner up to high intermediate type riders. I had been looking at this one feature all summer wanting to try it, but knowing the risk reward during the season was to high. The feature is a boulder that is to high for me too bunny hop onto but low enough that you can pop your front wheel up then throw your body forward to get the back up. I drummed up the courage and went for it. I got on top but had no momentum and nose dived off the side of the rock. Throwing me over the bars and landing on my back. Knock on wood, I think I have bones made of metal because once again luckily nothing was broken, but my ribs were bruised. The impact of running and the stretching and flipping of swimming was a no go. Another week off!

I am now on round three of starting up my training for the off season. So far things have been going well. I've now put in 2 weeks at about 20 hours of training, and I only see things going up from here. Since this post is getting a bit lengthy I'll save some of the nitty gritty training details for next week.

While training has been ramping up so has my coaching with Healthy Results. At the start of November I started doing a Sunday morning brick at Come Alive Fitness. We have had consistent numbers that I only expect to grow in the new year. Ang and I helped out in Brantford with their tri group at the Gretzky Centre by doing some stroke corrections and video of the swimmers. My personal coaching has also grown, but you haven't missed out yet I still have a few spots for the 2016 season. If you are interested in getting some help planning your season contact me asap. The Healthy Results winter defrost camps in Vegas are also filling up fast so if you or a friend are interested contact myself or Rich.

Over the Christmas Holidays I hope to get my new website launched. It is 99% of the way there just putting some finishing touches on things so keep your eyes open for that. I also started a Facebook page dedicated to my triathlon adventures. I'm going to try and regularly post updates as well as some of the better and more interesting things I come across. So if you haven't checked that out yet check it out Here.

I hope everyones off-season is going a bit better than mine.