Changing Plans

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Sure thing Einstein, but then isn’t the basis of (endurance) training an adaption to physical demands by the repeated application of similar demands? The insanity then is not to give an approach enough time to bear fruit. The problem is when do you need a change? Clearly not after a week if no improvement is seen. But how long? A month? Six? A year? Several years?

When I started out in triathlon I had a clear weakness with cycling. I felt I had to get miles in my legs and quickly decided it was not possible to get those miles in a single year. A multi year plan was required. I never really decided how many years but plucked out a pretty arbitrary figure of 100,000 miles. No worrying about precisely what was done just get out and ride lots. Come rain or shine I was out there. It naturally followed on from my previous life as a fell runner and together with this found me falling in to a simple approach of training long distance at mostly steady pace.  Those who know me will vouch for the fact that I took this approach to the extreme, but it was fun and I progressed pretty rapidly to become one of the strongest cyclists in my age group. Naturally I felt that continuing with this approach would yield continued improvements. Certainly in the first three years it did. But the three years following appear now to have been a plateau. At the time, this was very difficult to see, and having a major injury in the middle of it masked the possibility my protocol had run it’s course.

My Kona performance this year to made me question it. Post injury I’d progressed consistently through to qualifying for Kona in Lanzarote. I did a big block of training in the summer and expected to race better at Kona. Despite having a comfortable enjoyable swim and arriving on the bike in a awesome frame of mind I just didn’t have any juice. My race was a huge disappointment.

Finally I questioned my approach. I asked for advice where I could get it. One piece of advice struck a cord with me and gave a change in mindset: cap my monthly hours to 100. A new challenge.

Time became a limited resource. Having maneuvered my life to provide time and flexibility to train, I’d just trained lots. Now I had to think about what I did. Keys changes were:

  1. Fewer swim sessions, all HARD. Find the minimum required to maintain my current form.
  2. Less riding. Focus on time at race intensity and intervals above
  3. Running has been reduced since my injury so this may increase. Focus is on running at target pace, track sessions and some specific work on my run technique.
  4. More efficiency in the gym

It’s important to not look at this new protocol in isolation. It’s easy to look at an athletes approach for the last season and attribute their success to that, ignoring the accumulated effects of previous seasons that laid the foundations. I look on this as my super macro plan. I’ve had 6 years of triathlon build and am now going into a season of specific race preparation.

For Ironman Western Australia I’d applied 6 weeks of the new regime. Not long enough to assess its impact but plenty of time for me to be fully rested. There were doubts. Time spent not training felt like time getting unfit. Several days each week had minimal training, which was fun but required real faith in my decision. However, I managed a rare race where I didn’t feel I could have gone much faster. My swim and bike rank with the best I’ve achieved. My run was way off my pre-injury form but pleasing. It’s early days yet for sure, but this strong performance has given me reassurance that the changes I’m making are at least not detrimental…and the fresh outlook and refined focus to my training is already beginning to play out in my racing.

Perhaps a better quote is: “A change is a good as a rest”

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