Monday, 23 March 2009

Push On or Hold Back

As the build phase of training starts to kick in I am feeling surprisingly good. Two consecutive weeks of 17hrs training and no injuries to report. This being my 4th IM build up I am use to this feeling and the temptations that come with it. The challenge is to know when to push just that little bit more and when to hold back. The Lore of Running has some interesting things to say but the bit I found most applicable is that if you feel tired and fatigued climbing two sets of stairs then it is time to back off a bit! To the non IMer this may be obvious but it is amazing how much you can tolerate in day to day life as you ramp up the hours.

Most of you will be familiar with the valley of fatigue as shown in the diagram. The idea is that progressive cycles of increasing load (grey columns) ultimately result in better fitness levels (blue). The evidence for this is marginal especially for athletes who are time limited since it can be a challenge to fit these variable hour patterns into a working career. What I think is clear though is that at a certain volume you get to a state where the training is not working any more and the fatigue starts to prohibit recovery and performance in subsequent sessions. At this point you need a break (so say the experts). Again this will depend on lots of variables like how hard and how long the sessions you do are. However there is also the real world which does not always follow the set plan. If after 2 weeks you are feeling shot then surely it is time to take a rest, if you are feeling great then should you push on for another week of training and perhaps more intensity... and that is the real fun in IM training.
Knowing where the edge is between too much and just enough takes experience and practice. The "wise" advice is that it is better to turn up undertrained than overtrained. This is advice I would agree with for those new to IM since there is a whole learning process to go through but for those slightly longer in the tooth you have got to be prepared to experiment to find that balance. Last year I felt similar at this point in my training leading up to IM lanza, in fact if anything I felt stronger on the bike and was running faster. This year however I am trying to bring my bike to a peak a bit later (I think my biking was better about 4 weeks pre lanza than it was come race day) and I am focusing on more time and less intensity on the running, only putting in any sort of speed work in the running n the last 4 weeks. Finally doing a second IM 6 weeks after the first showed me that perhaps I am better of a short taper so this year my last big volume weekend will extend up to 13 days prerace.
Hopefully the next post will tell how good this plan is.. otherwise I will have learnt a bit more about how to do it the wrong way.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Happy when I am running

So the last few weeks have been difficult. Training has been hampered by a calf muscle that goes into cramp after a few miles running and if I continue leaves me unable to run for a few days and then the cycle repeats. Easy, you say, dont run for a bit then start back gently, get a massage etc. Did that same thing happened. Frustration starts to creep in and a fear that I will never be able to run more than 4 miles again

Look back through my training logs and I see a pattern emerging, bike volume goes up, calf injury occurs and running volume comes down. Found this out in 2005 (my first season of tri) and the nice sports physio said my hamstrings and calf muscles were shortening and I needed too do regular stretches...... so it only took me 4 weeks to recognise the cycle and make the diagnosis and institute the corrective treatment (stretching - lots). If I was this bad in my day job there would be a lot of very unhappy patients out there . Such is the limits of self coaching but at least now I feel I have regained control of the situation.

This echoes the comments of Steve who has a tough time with an injury out of the blue these last few weeks which has taken him out training for a while. Personally I find the impact of injury psychologically hard to deal with. When an injury occurs and you find your training slipping back all the commitment so far seems wasted and the motivation to make more commitments to training starts to wain as your inner voice starts to ask what is the point of getting faster or working harder on the swim and bike if you are not going to be able to run at the end of it. This happened somewhat last year when I got a similar injury 22 days out from IM Lanza and I think may have contributed to a relatively poor race. The challenge is to focus on your rehab and maintain a positive outlook but this is often difficult when you face an all or nothing scenario: basically your season is about racing as well as you can at the IM race and not even being able to start would be a complete disaster for most (the exception being those who race multiple IMs). Luckily last year I learnt that you can bounce back from one race to the next so even if I were to DNS Lanzarote I would still have Im Swissroll to aim at.

But none of this matters, I have started stretching, and I am running again. A week off serious training with a bit of manflu probably helped me recover some form and yesterday I ran 6 miles steady with no problems and today I feel GREAT. So the stretching is back in, the running volume will head up again (yeah, I know like watch the volume and intensity) and I will run a sub 3.40 at Lanzarote, or I wont but at least now I feel that might be possible!!