Monday, February 1, 2016

To Bag or Not to Bag

by Gina Kehr

We have all been there. The feeling of “off” -- things are not clicking, everything feels like work. We can get this in training on multiple levels. On any given workout you may have a focus and as the workout starts things are not falling into place. What do you do? Do you try and salvage the workout and if so how? Or do you pull the plug?

The parts that make up a good triathlete are also the parts that get us into trouble. Overachieving, compartmentalizing, ultra competitive are all great qualities that can lead to success but also qualities that can lead to an oversight of what is truly going on in life and with your body. Then add to that the fact there is so much technology out there that the “old school” race and or train by feel is rare. Between those wonderful personality gifts and being consumed with numbers to give feedback on how we are performing we can often forget to ask: “How do I feel? What is my major malfunction right now and can I remedy that?”

There is a classic Youtube clip of a two computer generated triathletes talking about their upcoming races and the injuries they currently have and how they keep training because they have an upcoming race. It is quite amusing and I hate to admit it, but I have been there. It was being there that helped me to snap out of it and take a step back and start making better decisions for better performance. So let’s ask the questions again:

What do you do when you have that feeling of off in training? Do you try and salvage the workout and if so how? Or do you pull the plug and if so, how do you know that was the right thing to do?

Let’s look at an example.

You are set to do a Z4 training session. You wake up feeling not so great, you are unmotivated, and are basically not feeling it. What do you do?

You may want to bag the workout before it even got started. This is really more of a psychological issue, especially when it is a major key session that may have Z4 or Z5 or the word “test” in the title of the workout. Don’t fall for this kind of back out. This is not your body telling you you are too tired. This is your mind goofing on you and you need to learn when you are playing head games with yourself and when you really need to bag it.

Answer: The 20-minute rule. Get yourself out the door. 20 minute rules mean getting started and going for at minimum 20 minutes.

Two key points about the “20-minute rule.”

  1. Do your warm up as prescribed. For some that may be 20 minute and that may be enough to say, “Oh, I’m going to kill this.” Done. Bring it.

  2. For some, 20 minutes of your warm up gives you no feedback. Start the workout. Give it a few to several repeats to see how things are going. Many times, the body will respond and you still may not feel that great but you did hit the workout. You just pushed through and taught yourself how to stay tough when it gets difficult.

But what if you’ve done the few to several repeats and it still is not happening. Your RPE is high, you feel sluggish, your heart rate feels like it can not rise and you are nowhere near hitting the intended zones and you consider pushing through anyway. Although this does make you mentally tough it does not make you faster. It makes you tired.

How to salvage the workout
When the workout is not going as planned and is way off and not coming together, turn it into a recovery/maintenance workout. You can keep the duration just now operate in a Z1/2 (easy-steady) mode and give the body time to recover. Below are two options on what to do with that workout.

  1. If this is a key session find another day to put the session in. Rearrange the remainder of your training week so you can try and hit the intended workout. You will most likely have to drop another workout somewhere (maybe two) but that is okay as this is the key session. Do not make up the workout without adjusting the rest of your week, piling on too many key sessions on top of each other. This is a very common mistake and in the end makes the athlete tired as well.

  2. Simply fall back into your training plan after turning your key session to a Z1/2 session. No harm, no foul, you gave your body the rest it needed and now you are ready to go. You will rock the house on your next key session.

The art of balancing hard with easy and moderate is challenging. On paper the plans always look like it should not be a problem. Family, work and just pure life stress are a big part of our success in the sport. Listening to your body cues and being able to adjust on the fly is a huge asset to have when it comes to racing and training. You gotta roll with the punches. If a workout is not going well, make the necessary changed and be done with it. Do not go home and dwell that it didn’t go well and you had to make changes. You will defeat the purpose of changing as session by stressing about it. Enjoy the easy workout you did and the extra time you may have gave yourself that day and get ready for a new day.

Gina Kehr was a professional athlete for 15 years, competing in events ranging from Olympic Trials to Ironman World Championships, where she achieved five Top 10 finishes in her career. She coaches athletes of all levels and all distances. Her experience comes from her journey as a novice age group triathlete who quickly worked her way to becoming an established professional triathlete. Gina also works with the Stanford Tri team, is a coach with Stanford Masters and leads a squad of short and long course athletes. You can read more about Gina at
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