Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Q: How do you train for a triathlon?

A: You knock off corners.

The closer you get to a race the closer your training should get to the actual event.  Three months ago when I signed up for the event I had to start with the basics: just going the distance.  So that was my first training block, long bikes, swims, and runs.  Don't worry about pace or times, just get in the miles.  There is no point trying to go fast if you can't first go the distance.

My second block was the next big obstacle, going hard and fast for long periods.  On the bike I attacked big, long hills, and in the pool I focused on pulling hard and refining my technique.  This was the period of getting strong, powerful.

Now that I am in my third and final training block I'm putting it all together.  Practicing biking after swimming, running after biking.  Riding on the trails instead of the roads, swimming in the lake instead of the pool.  Trying on wetsuits, practicing nutrition.  This law is called the specificity of training, that as you approach the race your workouts mimic it more and more.

Like carving something, you knock off corners.  First the big ones, the obvious ones.  Once those are gone you move onto the slightly smaller pieces, until finally you are cutting out the tiniest imperfections and the sculpture is complete.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Yesterday I was reading about paradoxes on Wikipedia and I thought I would add one to the list: the paradox of endurance sports training.  It goes something like this: the harder you train for a specific endurance sport, the less capable you become at everything else.

I just finished the last hard training before the triathlon and my poor body is shredded.  I've been so tired lately that I've been taking the car to school instead of walking, taking the elevator instead of stairs, basically avoiding all movement outside of my actual workouts.

The irony is that I'm definitely getting stronger; I'm pushing bigger gears on my bike, I'm running farther, swimming faster.  In fact I did a Nike Training Club workout on Thursday and by the end I was barely breathing hard (they used to be hell on my lungs.)

But when my muscles are this sore everyday things seem like a Herculean effort.  For example, I went to the grocery store this morning and every step was agony.  Even standing at the sink brushing my teeth required serious concentration to keep my screaming hamstrings engaged and my body from crumbling uselessly to the bathroom floor.

If someone asked me if I was in good shape now what would I say?  If he or she invited me to the park to play ultimate frisbee I would be pretty useless.  Someone who winces just walking around the apartment doesn't seem like much of an athlete.  This is the paradox.  You'd think a triathlete would probably be the generally fittest person around because of how varied swimming, biking, and running are.

Like all paradoxes this one has a resolution.  Workouts may leave you drained during training, but tapering before the race will bring you up out of the darkness of exhaustion and leave you fresh and strong for the big event.

The funny thing is that I will go all out on the big day so after that I'm going to be a mess again.  So is being broken and tired for three months with a brief window of feeling good actually fitness?  For that I don't have an answer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Block 3 Week 2

Here were my workouts for the last week:

Monday: Swim: 400 yd warm up, 100 free 100 back 100 breast x2.  Bike: 34 minute off road-very challenging trail.

Tuesday: Physical Therapy: 20 minutes yoga.  Swim: practiced bilateral breathing (much faster, but can't sustain for very long.)  Run: 20 minutes fast (too fast.)

Wednesday: Swim: 400 yard warm-up, 200 yd fast with full recovery x2.  Bike: 30 minute Zone 3.  Very tired today.

Thursday: Physical Therapy: 30 minutes yoga.

Friday: 100 yd at 2:00 x8 with 1:00 breaks, practicing bilateral breathing.

Saturday: Bike: 20 minute off-road hills (actually 'hill', very steep straight up.  Had to cut out early.) Run: 10 minutes light

Sunday: Rest.

I was exhausted by Wednesday and had to scale things back to one-a-day on Thursday and Friday.  But by Saturday I was feeling great and had a solid workout to finish the week.  Four swims, three bikes, two runs, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Resting Your Mind

At the end of each training block I take one week to drop the intensity and volume slightly to shed long-term fatigue.  These are my rest weeks.  I still workout every day, five or six days a week, so they may not look particularly restful.  But compared with what I did in the previous weeks they are definitely a respite.

One advantage I've found is that they are a rest for my mind as well as my body.  Endurance sports require a lot of intense concentration, whether it is pushing yourself beyond your normal limits or trying to hit a specific intensity during a key workout.  This is necessary to achieving your best, but can take some of the fun out of sports.

One thing I've started to do on rest weeks is to allow myself to do less structured workouts.  Rather than doing a swim session with repeat 200 yards at Zone 4 with one minute rests in between, I'll just do fast 50 yd swims until I'm tired.  No looking at the watch, no counting mileage or checking heart rates.  Just fun exercise.

On Friday night I went for a light two mile run, and on my way back to the apartment I was feeling great and really wanted to pick up the pace.  At first I rebuffed the temptation, because I wasn't planning on doing any speed work until I was running longer distances.  But my legs were calling out and I couldn't think of a good reason against it.

My stride lengthened and my Minimus MT10's started to feel like my old racing flats.  As my breathing increased I gradually accelerated into an all out sprint and the pavement and the trees whipped past me.  I hadn't ran this fast in more than a year, and it felt spectacular.  This is why I run, not for the PR's or the medals or the crowds but for the pure rush of going fast.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How Slow Can You Go?

I had an interesting race with myself yesterday in the pool: the challenge was to swim as slowly as possible.

It's the opposite of what I usually am going for, but it did take the same kind of focus and concentration.  I had been having some bad swims lately, where I go into oxygen debt early and can't hold the pace without taking breaks.  Of the three triathlon disciplines swimming is definitely the most aerobically demanding for me, and I almost always swim fast because I'm trying to work on my form and I feel sloppy and uncoordinated when I'm going slower.  But what I had been doing wasn't working for me, so I decided to step the speed way down and just make sure that I could get the distance in.

At first I was going so slowly that it seemed comical (the guy in the next lane was doing kick drills and cruising past me.)  But after five or six laps I started to get into a good rhythm and it was really relaxing.  Time almost seemed to stop and I could feel my hand slowly pulling through the water and the gentle waves of the pool rocking against me.

One thing I noticed is that it takes about 400 yards for me to get warmed up; after that my lungs felt strong and open and I could start to pick up the pace.  My usual warm up had been 200 yards which was enough to put me in oxygen debt while swimming fast but not long enough to get me warmed up to actually go fast.

At the end of the workout I had done 1000 yards in a variety of strokes in just under 30 minutes, which wasn't a bad time considering how easy the pace was.  The important thing was that I did the whole swim without having to stop to catch my breath, which I hadn't done in a long time.

Tomorrow I'll swim a mile freestyle, and I will make sure to hold that snails pace for the first 400, then slowly ratchet up the speed to see how my lungs respond to the higher tempo.  You can't go fast until you can go long, so sometimes you have to start back from the bottom and work up to speed.