Season preview

Despite not blogging all winter, I did plan my season out.

After a season full of 100 mile bike rides and 15+ mile runs, I’m looking forward to a season that’s a little more relaxed and that allows me to do more on a Saturday than just work out and then groan on the couch for the rest of the day.

I’m doing a string of Olympic triathlons later in the summer. My goal is to PR and go under 2:30 for the full Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run). My current PR is 2:32:59 from the Echo Triathlon last year. If I’m being honest, this goal feels like a stretch for me this year. I took a break this winter, and my fitness took a hit. When I hit that time, I was in the best endurance-shape of my life. I’m not sure I can reach that level again with the effort that I’m willing to put in this year.

But the training program is still young, and I know that all the work I did last year didn’t simply disappear over the winter. So I’m willing to give it my best shot for my three bigger races and see what happens.

Races

Echo Triathlon (July 8, 2017)

Echo

This is the first triathlon I’m planning on doing in 2017. It’s a relatively flat course that lends itself to good times. I really do not think I’ll be in PR shape at this time, but it will be a good way to judge my current fitness level and make some adjustments for the rest of the season.

Jordanelle Triathlon (August 12, 2017)

Jordanelle

I’ve done this race before. The run portion of this race isn’t the full 10k, so it’s not a race that will allow me to meet my goal this season of an official PR. However, I’m excited to try this course again. The last time I did this race, I cracked on the run. The website mentioned that the run course contained “maintained paths” which I took to mean flat, hard-packed dirt. What it actually meant was short, steep uphills and downhills on some soft, rugged (for this non-trail-runner) dirt paths. This year, I want to feel good about my run.

The Brineman Triathlon (September 16, 2017)

Brineman

This race is new to me. It’s held up near the Great Salt Lake. The swim, however, is in some freshwater man-made lakes in a residential community. The bike course is flat (but probably windy!), and the run course is flat as well. This should be a fast course, and it’s probably my best chance at a PR.

Training

This winter, I bought and read The Triathlete’s Training Bible by Joe Friel. I created my own training plan based on the principles (and detailed instructions!) contained in the book. I’m planning to write a review of the book eventually, but I’d like to see how this season turns out before I do so.

With a new training approach have come some new training techniques. Not surprisingly, I’m doing a few things a little differently than I have in the past.

Weight training

While training for triathlons, I’ve never lifted to gain strength. I’ve done strength work, but it’s been for injury prevention with some core strength added in. Because true strength work is a suggested part of training in The Triathlete’s Training Bible, I’ve decided to give it a shot. I am confident enough in my form and my knowledge of my own limits that I am not worried about injuring myself. So I’ve been doing two 30 minute “heavy” (lololol) lifting sessions and one 15 minute injury prevention session where I do body-weight exercises to strengthen my stabilizer muscles (e.g. MYRTLs).

Weekly planning

In the past, I’ve had a training plan that is more or less “set,” with the specific workouts for each week determined from the beginning. This time around, I set the weekly hours and the types of workouts for the week (speed skills, aerobic endurance, muscular endurance, etc.) right from the start. But each week, I assign those hours out to specific workouts. At this point, I’m not sure if it’s making me more thoughtful (“I feel like running was underrepresented last week… I should make it more of a focus this week”) or less thoughtful (“Crap, it’s Sunday night! What am I doing tomorrow? What am I doing all week?”). More to come on that as the situation progresses.

Muscular endurance and anaerobic endurance

When I was training for my Ironman, I did almost exclusively slow aerobic work. However, for shorter distances, Friel suggests doing muscular endurance and anaerobic endurance workouts (which basically amount to interval work). The idea is that, after establishing a strong aerobic base, you get your legs (or arms) used to pushing faster paces for a sustained time. Muscular endurance workouts are going to have longer, slightly less intense intervals than anaerobic endurance workouts. I plan on including these workouts in my training as suggested, but I’m a little skeptical simply because of my own strengths and weaknesses. My strength and background is in faster, shorter events, and I set my PR in a relatively short race last year after doing almost all endurance work that season. I do intend to focus a little more on endurance than Friel suggests for someone aiming to compete in Olympic-distance races, but I’ll add in the muscular and anaerobic endurance workouts as prescribed too.

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Weekly Recap (4/10-4/16)

Monday: Swim (2550 yards); Run (45 minutes)
The swim set at Masters was complicated, so I’m not going to write it out. It was a decently hard work out. The set I was supposed to do was much too hard, so I probably didn’t push myself to the limit. It’s hard to really leave it all out there when you know that, even if you do, you won’t hit the times you are “supposed” to. The consensus of the group was that the set, as written/interpreted, was impossible, so Max the Swim Coach is probably going to tweak it and try it out on us again in a few weeks.

After work, I decided to go run for 45 minutes instead of 30. I’ve reacclimated to running, and now I need to regain some of that fitness that I lost over the winter. The run felt pretty solid, and adding the extra 15 minutes didn’t feel burdensome at all. This run was pretty flat and easy. I’m hoping to add in a hillier, longer route next week when my training hours increase.

Tuesday: Bike (1 hour); Lift 30 minutes
I rode into work and then lifted before heading into the office. I’ve really been trying to focus on doing the lifts the way they are supposed to be done.

4 x 6 dumbbell squats (25 lbs)
4 x 8 hamstring curls, each leg (with elastic band)
3 x 6 dumbbell deadlifts (25 lbs)
4 x 8 swim pull, each arm (with elastic band)
3 x 8 lateral arm raises (8 lbs)

To be honest, I’m lifting weights because outside sources advised me to. I’m not entirely convinced lifting will make me a better triathlete at my current stage. I feel like at this stage, maybe I just need more swimming/cycling/running. But I’m giving it a real shot. If nothing else, I’ll get a little stronger and not feel like such a weakling.

After work, I headed home on my bike.  The ride to and from work is interesting. It’s fairly uphill on the way in, and I wear a bag with my clothes and lunch in it (and this time, an extra pair of clothes/shoes to lift in). It’s easily an extra 10-15 pounds or so. Since my weight tends to be pretty steady (+/- five pounds or so), I never really considered how much extra weight affects climbing on the bike. It makes me want to be a little more particular in what I eat. The ride home after work is as nice as the ride in is obnoxious. I love knowing I’m in pleasant ride home after a long day and not a long, arduous one.

Wednesday: Run (60 minutes)
In the morning, I drove over to Rob’s neck of the woods and parked in front of his house. Then I ran to work from there. It actually ends up being a success all around. My commute is a few miles shorter (saving me some gas money), and it makes my run(s) fit into my day more seamlessly. After work, I run to Rob’s place, spend the evening with him, and then drive back to my place. The run in was, I’ll admit, pretty miserable. My legs were heavy because it was morning. The run is almost entirely uphill with an average grade of 3.2%. It was a beautiful morning, but I opted to run in shorts and a tank top, even though it wasn’t even 50° outside. So it was a bit chilly as well. Nevertheless, I like running into work. Starting my day with a run (especially on cool spring mornings) is refreshing. The run home was really my first warm run of the year.  At 72°, it was just warm enough to make it uncomfortable. I also did some strides

Thursday: Swim (3000 yards); Weights (30 minutes)
I was the only person at Masters this morning, which meant very little waiting around and thus a pretty long workout:

500 swim
300 kick
4 x 50 head up
4 x 25 eyes closed
100-400 pyramid (up and down)
100 easy
4 x 50 streamline off the wall

Since I was the only one there, I was able to get a good amount of feedback from Max. My catch (which has been my focus the last month or so) is looking much better. I still need to work on hip rotation and a strong kick (which I think are related). He also helped me out with my push off the wall which needs some pretty serious work.

After work, I headed to the office gym to do some lifting. Ugh, I’m so weak. My lack of power on the bike is starting to make a lot of sense.

4 x 6 squat (25 lb dumbbells)
4 x 10 hamstring curls (with elastic band)
3 x 6 one leg squats, each leg (10 lb dumbbells)
4 x 8 swim pull, each arm (with elastic band)
3 x 8 lateral arm raises (8 lb dumbbells)
2 x 10 single leg deadlifts, each leg (body weight)

My legs were pretty tired after lifting and were stiff the next day, so I know I got a good workout. For some reason, I have confidence that running more will make me faster, but I lack the confidence that lifting more will actually make me stronger. I just have to trust the process (oh, and logic, and what every knowledgeable person has said ever).

Friday: Rest
Rest day. I enjoyed it.

Saturday: Bike (2 hours)
For my bike ride, I rode a familiar route–out to the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon and back. It was actually quite chilly, so any canyons were off the table because of how cold it is to descend in chilly weather. I felt good during the ride, but I was surprisingly wiped out afterwards. I hate the little reminders that I’m really not in great shape right now, but it is what it is. I needed the break I took this winter.

CanyonWalls
So I didn’t make it *up* Big Cottonwood Canyon, but this is what I would have seen if I had.

Sunday: Bike (45 minutes)
I went out on a short bike ride on Sunday afternoon. The weather was beautiful, and it was nice to get out for a quick spin.

On taking a break

I didn’t really mean to take the kind of break I took. My intention over the winter was to keep blogging, keeping running and cycling at least once a week, and focus on my swimming.

One of those things happened.

I stopped blogging. Obviously. And, as the temperature dropped and the snow drifts grew, my determination to keep running and cycling waned. I did, however, focus on swimming. During the latter portion of the winter (the portion I wasn’t taking off entirely), I was in the pool constantly. Or, at least, it felt that way. And it paid off with PR after PR in the pool. Turns out that swimming hits all my training necessities: intense, plenty of room for improvement, enjoyable, and satisfying. I admit that I briefly considered giving up triathlon all together and just becoming a swimmer.

And a break from running (and maybe even cycling) is exactly what I needed.  By the time I ran my PR at the Thanksgiving 5k last year, I was teetering on the edge of a full-blown burnout. The rare workout that wasn’t a mental battle was still mentally and emotionally draining, as melodramatic as that sounds. I had spent the entire winter the year before training for a marathon. I spent spring and summer training for an Ironman. And I kept training relatively seriously through the fall while aiming for that 5k PR.

So of course I needed a break.

It was both inevitable and surprisingly difficult. I was hitting the point where I would have needed super-human motivation (the likes of which I just didn’t have anymore) to keep training hard. But I also faced some real guilt when I just allowed myself to relax. I was in the best shape of my life, after all. I worried I would lose all of that fitness if I didn’t keep pushing. When you train consistently, aim to perform well, and love PRs, it’s hard to just chill when you’ve still been seeing results.

After a month and a half or so, where I really did just do what I wanted when I wanted to, I dove into my swim training. I attended Masters all three days every week, as well as swimming on my own most of days Masters didn’t meet. As I mentioned, I intended to keep running and cycling a little during this period, but I just didn’t want to. So I didn’t. And, you know, my swimming improved. I hit plenty of milestones (under 30 seconds in the 50 free, 4000 yards in the one-hour swim, and sub-15 [14:34] in the 1000yd time trial, to name a few), and I feel like I made some serious progress towards becoming a Swimmer instead of just a person who swims.

All that while spring (and triathlon season) slowly crept up on me.

It wasn’t long before I couldn’t really ignore the beautiful spring weather and the advancing calendar any more. I had to start running and cycling again. I’ll admit, though, that even then, I was dragging my feet. I briefly regretted signing up for those triathlons because now I felt obligated to do them, despite my lack of excitement about the season.

It didn’t help that, a couple weeks before my training plan officially started, I took a lovely spill during a run (thanks, overly-long-shoelaces-trend!) which left my hand pretty chewed up and kept me off the bike for a few days and out of the pool for a week or so.

So when my first “training week” approached, I was a bit nervous about how I would handle it. The fact that I came down with the worst cold I’ve had all year that very week didn’t help, either. Here I was, after swimming 5-7 hours a week all winter, suddenly doing 8.5 hours of training a week, complete with running, cycling, and lifting weights. But I made it through the first week week. And the next one. Some of my runs were a little painful (going uphill with a nasty cold at a slightly higher elevation than usual after not running regularly for a few months doesn’t exactly make your lungs feel great). My second “long” ride (1.75 hours) was a rude reminder that climbing is hard and that swimming is not great cross training for cycling up hills. I had to push away thoughts of how much fitness I must have lost and force myself not to think about how tired I was after what would have been an easy recovery workout last fall.

But overall, I was surprised at how good I felt. I refused to time myself for the first few weeks in an attempt to quell insecurities around lost fitness and slow paces. I just did my best to enjoy the workouts and get used to the routine again. After a few weeks of training, I’m surprised at how natural it all feels. Though I do kind of miss lazing around with no responsibilities on weekends, it’s been wonderful to get outside again and enjoy my beautiful city.

13256971_139442399800528_1709530171_n(1)
This view is literally 8 miles (and a nice bike ride) away from my office.

And, after an initial period of getting used to running and cycling, I do feel refreshed. While I’m still uncertain if I’ll break any PRs this summer or even approach the level of fitness I had during Ironman training, I’m excited about my workouts again. I feel lucky to be running and cycling instead of obligated to do so. And, while I’ve obviously lost fitness and endurance, I’m not nearly as bad off as I feared I would be after my first couple lung-busting jogs.

When I think about how I feel about training now compared to how I felt at the end of November, there’s just no comparison. Despite being in much the same position otherwise (still a little depressed, still binge-watching way too much TV, still struggling to keep up with other “adult” things like cooking and cleaning), my workouts and my routine are making me feel better and not worse. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes dread a steep run into work or that particular section of a climb on my bike or a particularly painful set in the pool. But it’s something I ultimately want to do. It’s not a burden.

Ultimately, I think for me, taking a break was an exercise in trust. The fear around a break (in anything) is that I won’t want to go back, that taking time away from, in this case, running and cycling will make me realize how much better life is without the pressure. But, whaddya know, here I am. It turns out we come back to the things we love, even if we do initially leave feeling burned out and washed up and even if it does take a little motivation to take those first steps out the door or pump up those tires again for the first time.