Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Off-Season

"How many hours/day do you put in at this time in the off-season (including stretching, foam rolling, and workouts)?  Would it be different if you were preparing for a sprint?"
            GREAT question!  Throughout the year, the weekly hours vary greatly and look different depending on where I’m at in the training cycle.  For example, my triathlon season wrapped up September 19th, and for the next 6 or so weeks, I only put in about 4-5 hours/week.  Basically, I just stayed active, but was not in any focused training.  Some people don’t start anything structured for training until January, depending on what their race schedule looks like, their goals, and the distance of their A-race.  Some focus on a single-sport in the fall after the triathlon season ends (as I did in 2013 when I ran a marathon in October).
            The week before Thanksgiving was a peak weak in my swim block (it cycles in volume within the block) so I went over 14 hours for the week: 5 hours of swimming, 3 hours of biking, 3 hours of running, 3 hours of lifting, and about 12 minutes of foam rolling.  That was a LOT for being in the off-season.  I won’t hit that again until my 2nd peak (the week before Christmas), but then it’s followed by some easy/recovery days in order to absorb the training load and adapt.  Typical weeks may otherwise be anywhere from 8-10 hours of training.
            For a sprint, I would approach it differently.  An Olympic is essentially about double the distance, so a bigger base is important.  Once doing more race specific work (build period), it would also be different in that it’d still be a lot of high intensity/very easy recovery, and I’d keep the volume lower.  Anything before January, I’d keep below 8 hours per week.  Again, my focus would be primarily on intensity: becoming more efficient in the swim, increasing FTP and VO2 on the bike, and doing max intervals, repeats and intervals on the run.  While all of these things are important for Olympic as well, there is more endurance required for it, and a delicate balance is needed.
Still my favorite quote!
            The off-season is a great opportunity to work on technique.  Swimming is the most technique driven of the three, and you can work on things like: body balance, rhythmic breathing, body rotation, catch and pull, and the kick.  You can make the biggest gains in the pool by increasing frequency (4 or more times/week).  It gives you a better feel for the water.  A big week for any of the disciplines (super-compensation week) can give you a boost, but you have to follow up with recovery in order to not become injured.  On the bike, you can work to increase your cadence and smooth your stroke.  With the run, a quicker cadence can also be worked on, landing underneath your body, the arm swing, breathing patterns, and staying relaxed. 
            The off-season can also be a great time for other sports, hobbies, and cross training (because three sports aren’t enough!).  Some triathletes like to use the winter to cross-country ski to replace a chunk of their running.  It gets the pounding off the body but is great for the aerobic engine.  I’ve heard great things about yoga too.  As stated in my previous post, it’s also the PERFECT time to hit the weights!  Before you start anything after your season ends, just remember to first take time for recovery, evaluate your last season and set goals for your next.  Then when you are in need of some motivation to get out on your trainer, run in the cold, or get up to workout while it’s still dark out, remember that champions are made in the off-season.

Stay tuned, next week is for the triathlon newbies!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Finding Focus

            As I am in the midst of planning out the 2016 race season, I’m starting to feel a lot more focused.  The past 3 years I was training for the Half Ironman distance.  After the debacle that was this past season, where I ended up switching to a shorter distance instead of racing my half that I had trained for, I’m instead going into 2016 with the focus being on the Olympic distance.  To be more specific – my focus is on Nationals, which will be in Omaha, Nebraska for 2016.  With the age-up rule, I was ranked 12th in the 30-35 age group (yikes, I’m getting old!) for Team USA. 12th!  Top 10 make podium at Nationals and that’s my goal!  I can always return to the HIM distance when the kids are older and I can get better sleep… 
            While Nationals isn’t until August next year, I’m already training for it!  For 6 months, I’ll be rotating through doing single-sport focused training blocks. 
  •       November & December: Swim Block
  •        January & February: Bike Block
  •       March & April: Run Block
I’ll be doing some BIG (high-volume) swim weeks before Thanksgiving and Christmas when we’ll be traveling and I’ll have some down time to recover from it.  I’ll swim up to 6 days/week, and hit at least 16,000 yards or more.  I’ll have mostly structured workouts, focusing on muscular endurance, sprints, and drill/form work.  Some of the workouts come from a book, others I’m writing or I’ve used in the past (threshold swims with short breaks, short sprints with longer breaks, ladders, intervals, and even using a variety of strokes).  Some are short swims of only 2,000 yards, others will be around 3,600 or so, depending on my available time and what the purpose of the workout is. 
During this time, the bike and run are basically on maintenance mode: low mileage, with low to moderate intensity.  I took a lot of time off from the bike, so I’m basically just getting back into it.  I’m including some builds and short, high-intensity intervals with the aerobic level rides, and plan to ride 3x/week for around an hour or more (outdoors on the weekends if I can – guess that might be done now).  In December, I’ll starting adding more intervals and intensity once/week in preparation for the bike block that’ll start in January.
I’m keeping my runs mostly at an easy, conversational pace as base mileage.  I’ll include some strides in about half or so of the runs.  If I’m feeling antsy for some speed, then I’ll do a fartlek (speed play) run one day/week at most.  My goal is to run 6 days/week and have my mileage build from around 15 miles/week to about 24 or so during the swim block (keeping it easy).
I’m also really putting a lot of focus on strength training right now as well.  I’m lifting with the volleyball girls, track kids, or whoever else wants to show up, 3 days/week.  I do their program with them, and then I tack on some additional stuff after.  Each day we do 2 core lifts: squat, bench, clean, deadlift, snatch, or incline.  We also have a couple auxiliary lifts: lateral pull-downs, hamstring curls, glute/ham, box jumps, etc.  I also do the mule runs with them, as well as the core work.  If I have time, I’ll also do the dot drill and ladders with them.  After that, I run through a P90x workout, which throughout the week involves: pull-ups, push-ups, triceps, biceps, legs, etc.  It takes me an hour to get through the whole thing.  I’m feeling stronger, and I’m excited to be back at it!  I also know that it can pay back in big dividends, in strength, durability and injury prevention, improving all-around athleticism.  Let’s hit the weights!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Running the Red Light

            On the morning of the Three Eagle Half Marathon, I woke up with a bad cough.  I ran it, and after the first 4 miles, I was already beginning to fall apart.  Afterwards, my body felt terrible.  It was my worst half marathon time – 10 minutes slower than my best, and about 5 minutes slower than my worst.  Yikes.  I wondered, “What is wrong with me?” and began contemplating retirement from racing.  Yup, it’s been that kind of a season.
            A couple of days later, I had such terrible back pain that I had difficulty walking.  Thankfully, I had Timber Land Chiropractic to give me several much-needed adjustments.  I also was having shoulder pain from hitting at my volleyball girls so much in practices that I was on the verge of an overuse injury and had to rein it back.  The ever-informal Polish Square Run was the weekend after the Three Eagle, and Andy and I ran it together.  It was cold, I still wasn’t feeling well, but we ran it together and had fun running for a change.
Meanwhile, the cough continued to get worse, and 10 days after it started, I had such tremendous head pressure that I thought I had a sinus infection.  I finally saw a doctor the next day and found out I had pneumonia.  I was put on an antibiotic and told to rest.  I had already been napping the last few days (I don’t ever nap either), and so I continued to.  At the same time, we were dealing with more night frustrations with Myles, who was screaming for an hour at night before we could finally get him back to sleep, only to have an early morning with him.  REST?!
            I took one week completely off from workouts.  No swimming, no biking, and no running.  One of my biggest breaks ever.  I started lifting, and pinched a nerve in my lower back, so I restricted my lifting for a couple days.  Pain is your body’s way of saying “stop” or “slow down.”  We often ignore it for as long as possible until we are forced to deal with it.  This season I have had so many caution and red flags woven at me that it felt like they outnumbered any green ones.  Sometimes you need to push through, and other times it’s better to pull back.  Distinguishing between the two can be tough, especially when you are so emotionally invested.
Andy and I took a much-needed break and went to Florida for almost a week!  Upon return, I planned to start my swim-focused block, only to be at the same time met with another nasty head cold.  I’m forging ahead despite being miserable for the time being.  I got on the bike the first day after being back, and Baya wanted to keep me company out in the garage.  She played with her bike while I rode mine.  About two-thirds through my ride, Baya ran into the wheel of my trainer and I instantly smelled the rubber from her wheel.  I yelled at her to stay away from there and her response was to cry hysterically.  Thus ended my ride.  While all of these things are very little by themselves, I feel like it has been a reflection of my entire season.  I felt like I was constantly battling something and couldn’t catch a break.  Sleep deprived, struggling to come back from this 2nd pregnancy, tight hips, back pain, 2 rounds of mastitis (the 2nd made me miss one of my 2 long runs in prep for the half marathon), and being sick more times this year than the past 5 years combined.
            I only had one decent race this year, and fortunately it was at Nationals and I did well enough to qualify for Team USA for 2016.  The rest of the season was full of one frustration after another.  Somehow I still managed to earn All-American status for the 2015 season as well.  Not sure how that happened!  And after some much needed time off, I’m ready to get back into the swing of it.  2016 HAS to be better, right?!  If you have experienced struggles like this, in any area of life really, give yourself a break.  Then you’ll be ready to come back fresh and a whole lot stronger!