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.

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