New Plan Of Attack

NewPlanOfAttackSo far with my Ironman racing I have followed the path of maximum fun. Much of what I enjoyed doing (long exploratory rides and runs) happen to fit nicely as the backbone of an Ironman training programme. I became a consistent performer – always qualifying for Kona and regularly getting on the podium. Though in 2008 my performances didn’t really progress I continued to back my protocol believing that it was only a matter of time before the sheer volume of work I was doing would pay off. I was backing myself, feeling that any approach needs to be given time.

Heading in to New Zealand 2009 I did the biggest block of training and was excited as to how I would race. Regular readers will know that I never found out due to a major injury. I still sometimes wonder what I would have done back then and whether I will ever have the motivation to repeat such a block just to see. In that five week build period I completed 253 hours of training.

Recovering from that injury I steadily progressed through to qualifying for Kona in Lanzarote this year. This was a big milestone for me proving that my post surgery foot was up to the the task of qualifying. I was just following my old methods. I felt it would still produce the results I was capable of. However, following a very disappointing Kona I started to doubt it. Now I think that the injury obscured my view and made it difficult to spot the pattern that my protocol of have fun and enjoy the process had plateaued. I’d got as far as I would with that approach.

Kona was seriously disappointing. I asked for help from Gordo. His first question was very insightful – “why change?” It made me think. A LOT. As he said I was having a blast 360 days of the year and had 5 days (races) which were OK but not brilliant. Yep… thats quite a good life. I realised I at least wanted to try out something else focussed on getting a stella performance and find out whether I would still enjoy it. I have ideas about what I will do post getting an Ironman performance approaching my potential but thats not for this post. I thought and decided that I would have giving a change in approach a go. Gordo gave me some suggestions on how to change. One of which was limit myself to 100 hours per month. A quick look at my log showed that in 7 years about 10% of my months have been under that cap. Simple to say but a big change. Again, this was pretty insightful into my psyche as making myself time limited got my brain switched in to gear. It got me excited.

I realised something about myself and my move through part time work to totally flexible working. I’d never performed as well as I did when I was working normal hours. The penny dropped. Perhaps it was because back then time was a limited resource so I was careful how I used it. Now time is more or less limitless (if you see what I mean) so I just do more. Yeh I can ride 8 hours today as I have loads of other days to do other stuff. It was fun and it certainly made me superbly aerobically fit and fit to perform day after day (and win three Epic Camps) but probably not ideal for racing as fast as you can for almost 9 hours (ever the optimist !).

I started pencilling out a plan through to New Zealand and immediately found myself changing my thought process.

  1. I had to decide how to allocate my time each month. It’s less than 25 hours per week. i could evenly split it or have bigger weeks and easier weeks. All had their place and I would vary it depending on the phase of training.
  2. Gym time was reduced. No faff time allowed these days
  3. Swim time was reduced. I can still swim well enough on less but I’d been focussed on being one of the BEST age group swimmers. Really not a sensible focus when I don’t need to be one of the best swimmers do be one of the best come the finish line.
  4. Bike sessions became more focussed. Intervals were scheduled. Long rides reduced to one per week with specific long intervals included. Super long rides are now scheduled as treats when time permits.
  5. Running was scheduled beyond just getting out and running. Paces, HR’s targeted ahead of time.
  6. There’s still that chasing numbers part of me but for the moment it seems content with the challenge of achieving appropriate load in limited time. It’s a new day to day challenge.

I’ve been following this since Kona and soon saw positives. It’s early days and as a natural optimist most of these are probably just in my mind rather than based on hard evidence but for now I’ll take it.

  • it immediately became clear I would have more time on my hands. That sounded good. My feeling was I would be better rested and therefore more able to hit the targets I set for each session
  • Over the long term I felt this was going to help just because I would be fresher when I race.
  • I’ve been getting tonnes of sleep. Most nights I’ve slept straight through 10 hours. Probably a sign that I was pretty run down.
  • When I swim now, even if I’m on my own, I do solid swims. I still like long steady efforts on my own, believing them appropriate for Ironman, but now they’re harder steady ;o)
  • Riding is even more fun. It’s more novel now with only riding about 3 times a week and being that little bit fresher means putting the hammer down is all the better.
  • Running has  been really slow to return after my injury. This change of approach really made me face up to some hard truths. I was deceiving myself that I was doing the right thing to get my running back (not only back but better). It takes some (lots of) uncomfortable sessions. I was running well before but that was after several years of chasing fast 10k, half and full marathon times. I just don’t have the speed now (as evidenced by the track sessions I’ve started doing again). Now I’m running with HR and pace all the time. My long run this week was done at 4:45 km/h – not as fast as I’d like but definitely a massive step up from what I was doing. I felt it afterwards and the solid ache in my legs lifted my mood that I was doing the right thing. I don’t feel it’s likely to influence Busselton too much but I’m hoping by Ironman New Zealand I will be getting close to running a good Ironman Marathon

All my training previously has largely been on feel. I did use a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM) in my early days but haven’t really for 5 or 6 years. I do believe there’s a real benefit in understanding how your body feels when it’s doing appropriate efforts and using a HRM and power meter all the time can hinder you becoming attuned to your body. Now though I am going to monitor with HRM, pace, power and be more formal in calculating my training loads. Before I was just going on Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE) to work out load. Now I will work with average HR, normalised power and critical swim speed.

The last piece is that I’m going to do testing. Finally I’ve had a lab test done. Yesterday I went to the University of Canterbury’s sport science department to have a lactate test done on the bike (thats the graph above). Very interesting, quite painful and thankfully didn’t throw up any surprises instead confirming what I’d deduced from feel. My aerobic threshold is ~ 260 watts, 130-140 bpm. My anaerobic threshold is ~ 310 watts, ~ 150 bpm. My test terminated at 375 watts ( I managed at most a minute) with a HR of 170. Prior to this I was always guessing what my maximum heart rate was. Now it’s an educated guess, which, for the moment, is punted as 175 for the bike and 185 for the run.

As well as lab testing I’ll be doing regular formal testing of myself. Already I’ve done a couple of swim tests. T60 test getting 4.24km and a 1k TT in 13:24. I’ve done some best effort intervals on the bike of around 20 minutes. I will shortly do a run MAF (Maximum Aerobic Function) test and hope to start doing regular 5k run races (depends on if there are any in this neck of the woods).

It has been, and is, a bit of struggle getting my head round this. It was easy just to fill my days with training in the belief if you out work the competition you’ll out race them. With more time not training I have more time thinking I should be training and thinking that I’m losing fitness. Now I tell myself is you still have to out work the competition but it’s more complicated (isn’t it always!) than just logging more hours.

If this works will there be any conclusions to draw? As a lover of high volume I may be held up as evidence that that doesn’t work if my performances improve on less hours. It’s more complicated than this though. It’s easy to look at training on a season scale – thats natural as it fits to our lifes but there’s nothing to say thats the macro level that actually fits with physical adaptations. I started out on this thinking it was a multi season plan (though I admit initially I felt it was only my biking needing multi season) and if you look on it at that scale I’ve done 5-6 years of solid base training and am now entering a year of “build” or “race prep”. If it works I’m not sure how many people will sign up to this 7 year plan.

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