Monday, April 30, 2012

Differences between multisport and single sport

I've trained for races before, and even between different disciplines there is a lot of common ground.  The principles of athletic training for all endurance sports are pretty universal, so a lot will carry over from running to swimming for example.  But this is my first time training for multisport, and there have been some phenomena that are entirely new.

The first is how tiring training for a triathlon can be.  Even when I was preparing for a marathon and doing 20 mile runs on Saturdays I was never this drained.  I think it's because between swimming, biking, and running, you are using every major muscle group, so more of you gets worn out than would for the same amount of training in just one sport.

The second is that training for multisport is like juggling- you can't ever let a ball drop.  As I've been doing more running and biking, I've inadvertently been doing shorter and shorter swims.  The result is that my swimming fitness has really dropped, and I need to spend more time in the pool to get it back.  This balancing act is so difficult because as I mentioned in the last paragraph, it is so easy to over-train.  You have to practice a sport at least every second or third day to just maintain fitness in that thing.  And if you want to improve you have to do hard, focused workouts.  But doing that for three sports at a time means that you are doing hard workouts every day, sometimes twice a day!  Your calf muscles may be getting a break when you swim, but your heart and lungs are going just as hard so they never get a chance to recover.

The best solution I've found is to make sure that most workouts are at a low intensity, and only go really hard every other day.  The other key is getting plenty of rest, so take Saturday AND Sunday off after a heavy week of training and make sure to have a rest week every three or four weeks.

Block 2 Week 3

These were my workouts this week:

Monday: 25 minutes of yoga, 12 minutes of running.

Tuesday: Swim: 200 yd warm up, 100 free 100 back 100 breast x2

Wednesday: 2 hour Zone 2 bike ride.

Thursday: Swim: 200 yd warm up, 100 yd x3 fast, 100 yd cool down.  Arms very tired, maybe because of the long bike ride the day before.  12 minute run.

Friday: 15 minute NTC strength training workout focused on abs.  20 minutes of yoga.

Saturday: Rest.

Sunday: Rest.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sometimes the best bike shorts aren't bike shorts

Biking had started to get a little uncomfortable in normal shorts and briefs, so I went out yesterday to find some real bike shorts.  Surprisingly Mad Dog Cycles didn't have a very big selection and none that I tried on were very comfortable or the right size.

My next stop was 26.2 Running Company because I knew they had some triathlon gear and I figured I would give that a chance and see if I liked the feel better.  Spoiler alert, they were much more comfortable.  Traditional bike shorts have this thick padding in the seat, which feels clunky and awkward but does help avoid saddle sores.  Tri shorts are similar to bike shorts, but they are waterproof and the shammy is thinner so you can still run in them. If I was training for a longer race and doing four hour rides I probably would have just bitten the bullet and got used to the bulkier shorts to have the cushioning.  But most of my bike workouts are pretty short and I am out of the saddle a lot climbing hills, so the thinner tri shorts seemed like the best bet.

The running store didn't have the shorts I wanted in the right size, so I made one more stop at Poco Loco Swim Shop because I knew they also had some tri gear.  They had the shorts I wanted in the right size, so my shopping trek terminated there (If Provo had a triathlon shop I wouldn't have had to go to three different stores, but such are the complications of multisport.)  I ended up with the Sugoi Turbo Tri Short, a simple black short with a sleek cut and a smooth feel.  Like all tri gear it's pretty form fitting and feels a bit like you're wearing nothing at all:

So the moral of the story is that sometimes the best bike shorts aren't bike shorts at all.  And don't go skiing with Ned Flanders.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Block 2 Week 2

This was my first full week of training since being back from bronchitis.  I lost a lot of lung capacity during those sick weeks, but I got a lot of that back during this week.  In fact, my hill workout on Saturday was the same workout I did about a month ago, and I was pushing bigger gears and it felt easier than the last time.  So I'm definitely making progress.

Monday: 25 minutes of yoga, 8 minutes of running.

Tuesday: 800 yd of swimming, ladder workout ( 50-100-150-200-150-100-50.)

Wednesday: 25 minutes of yoga, 1000 yd swim practicing flip turns.

Thursday: 60 minutes of biking in Zone 2.

Friday: 8 minutes of running.

Saturday: 33 minutes of hill workouts.  Felt great!

Sunday: Rest.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mythbusting with Tim Noakes

I've started reading the famous "Lore of Running" recently, and it's been really enlightening.  Noakes has done most of the serious medical studies on running physiology, so he is the best person to write a comprehensive book on the subject.  (It is filled with citations like "Noakes, 1998" which means he is quoting himself.)

The best part of the book is how he shoots down long-standing beliefs with hard science.  His most emphatic attack is on the "dehydration is the root of all evils" theory.  That argument goes like this: any weight lost during exercise is due to sweating, which causes dehydration.  Dehydration leads to overheating, and hyperthermia leads to at least decreased performance and at most heat stroke.  Therefore runners should drink enough to replace all fluid lost during exercise.

There are several huge flaws in this argument, which Noakes is quick to point out.  First, not all weight lost during exercise is due to sweating.  Some material is used up by metabolic processes.  Also, water is a byproduct of some of those metabolic pathways, so some of what you sweat could be that new water that was created by your muscles.  Even a perfectly hydrated person could lose as much as 3 kg of body weight through these ways.

Second, dehydration has only a minimal effect on your body's thermoregulatory system.  The bigger factors that contribute to heat stroke are the runner's weight, the environmental conditions, and the exercise intensity.  A larger person running at high intensity in hot and humid conditions would still easily develop heat stroke despite how much water he or she drinks.

Third, there is no evidence that even moderate dehydration (5-10%) impairs performance.  Early studies showed that the fastest runners in any race are usually the most dehydrated; clearly their level of hydration wasn't hindering them because they were the winners.

This exaggeration of the problems of dehydration has lead to the recommendation that you should drink as much as you sweat.  I've read this in reputable running books and magazines, and never heard an argument to the contrary until now, so clearly it has become pervasive.  But since this advice has been promulgated, cases of hyponatremia (too much water) have spiked, leading to serious injury and in many cases death.

So the best advice is drink as much as you feel you need to, which is usually around 400 mL per hour.  Noakes debunks other myths, but the arguments are pretty complicated (even though I'm a scientist I have to stop and reread a paragraph from time to time to follow his logic.)  So I will try to digest them as much as possible and share them on the blog.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Block 2 Week 1

I was still sick this week, so my training won't reflect that this is the start of training block 2, but it made more sense to label the week as such to keep track of time.  Basically I will do two weeks of training in Block 2 instead of three before my rest week.  That might actually work out better, given how exhausted I was after three weeks of training in the first block.

Monday: Still sick.  No workouts.

Tuesday: Still sick and a migraine- very bad day.

Wednesday: Played water polo for 30 minutes in my swim class.  My lungs felt ok, so the bronchitis must be on it's way out.

Thursday: 30 minutes of yoga- felt great.  Very strong.

Friday: 34 minute Zone 2-3 bike ride.  Lungs a little irritated afterwards.

Saturday: 25 minutes light swimming practicing flip turns.

Sunday: Rest.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Block 1 Week 4

Here were my workouts for last week.

Monday: 35 minutes of long, slow swimming.  Got one on one feedback from my coach, told me that my shoulders needed to rotate up out of the water rather than forward.  Very helpful.

Tuesday: 30 minutes of yoga.  Incredible flexibility, especially in the forward bends.  4 minutes of running.

Wednesday: 35 minutes of swimming, medium pace.  Included a 500 yd time trial, which I did in 10:12.  I could have gone faster, by my splits were even.

Thursday: 20 minutes of yoga, 4 minutes of running.  Beginning to feel sick.

Friday: Very sick, looks like bronchitis again.  No workouts.

Saturday: Sick.

Sunday: Sick.

This was my rest week, so I took it easy.  No high intensity workouts.  Sicknesses cut it short, but I've learned not to fight lower respiratory infections.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Righteous Indignation of the Sick Athlete

I always feel great; except when I don't.  On Thursday the familiar signs started cropping up: fatigue, runny nose, sore throat.  And another feeling quickly followed: a sense of injustice.  Everything I eat I cook from scratch, I get plenty of sleep, I workout constantly.  Shouldn't I always be healthy?

Of course even athletes get sick, but a part of me clings to that questionable logic even as my hands cling to yet another tissue.  Those of us who really take care of ourselves have the good fortune of feeling good almost constantly.  Eating well keeps you at a healthy weight, wearing yourself out during hard workouts ensures a good nights sleep at days end, and a constant string of workouts leaves you on a consistent endorphin high.  Put it all together and you start to feel invincible.

But when sickness inevitably comes, I always think, "How could this happen to ME?!  This should happen to the guy who eats nothing but junk food and never laces up his running shoes.  But me?  After all that I do?"  This is the righteous indignation of the sick athlete, and like most righteous indignation it is unfounded and a little selfish.

I try to take solace knowing that this unfamiliar crappy feeling will soon pass and I will get back to workouts and soreness and general good health.  But maybe athletes need these rest stops into sickness to keep our egos in check and remind us that we are regular people too.

P.S.  To keep my spirits up I've been listening to this French electronica band "Justice."  It is the most righteous pump-up jams you've ever heard.  Check them out.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Block 1 Week 3

This was a rough week, the previous weeks of training had really taken it's toll on my body so I took it easy at the end.

Monday: 20 min yoga, 35 min swim, 2 min run.

Tuesday: 40 min bike in the hills, moderate intensity.

Wednesday: 35 min swim, variety of strokes, high intensity.

Thursday: 30 min yoga, 20 min bike ride in Zone 2, 2 min running.

Friday: Rest day.

Saturday: 2 min run, just to shake out the legs and see how the recovery is going.

Sunday: Rest day.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My first impressions of truly minimalist running

I've been breaking in my new running shoes the last couple of weeks, or more precisely, I've been breaking in my feet to my new running shoes.  They are truly minimal, with only a 4 mm heel drop, a flexible sole, and no arch support.  It's made me realize just how minimalist running is different from running in a traditional shoe.

First, landing on the heel or even the mid-foot seems awkward.  You have to touch down first on the ball of your feet, then soften into the heel.  It is toe-heel-toe, rather than heel-toe.  The transition takes time and practice, because you really have to feel out how much weight to apply before you settle into the heel.  You have to experiment, trying out slightly different amounts of bend in the ankle and knee to decide what feels the most comfortable.  I'm still exploring this new territory.

But as I forge ahead, I've realized that minimalist running magnifies every sensation.  Whereas before when some of the cushioning was being done by the spongy shoe, now all of it must be done by the body.  It is running with the volume turned up.  First you feel the road pushing up on your toes as you touch down.  That force is transferred through your foot to your ankle, then up your Achilles tendon into your calf muscle.  From there it flows through your hamstrings into your hips, where it rebounds off of your abdominal muscles and returns all the way back down to your feet.  It isn't painful, but a gentle, elastic push and pull.

This is running for people who love running.  Therefore it isn't for everyone.  For those who run because they want to stay healthy, or to lose weight or for any of a hundred other reasons, this amplification of the running experience isn't what they are looking for.  But for those who delight in the texture of the road beneath your feet, the forces rippling through your body, the sweat dripping down your back and the wind dancing across your bare skin, this kind of movement is the ultimate experience.