Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Triathlon Training - Intensity, Scheduling and Potential

I thought that I'd share some thoughts that have been rattling around in my head for a while.

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Ironman -- an eight to 17-hour time trial where the average race intensity is between 1.0 and 2.0 mmol of blood lactate (mod-hard pace and below). The average competitor is completing around 13 hours. For that duration, likely average intensity is easy to steady pace (very close to AeT).

Goal is to complete the race as fast as possible. Generally, this implies optimizing run pace -- we get the greatest bang for our efforts when running. As well, a marathon "collapse" is the most costly in terms of time.

When new to endurance training the #1 goal is to create an aerobic system capable of functioning for the duration of the race (regardless of pace). The longer our race then the greater the challenge this is. How many of the average competitors are prepared to keep moving for, say, thirteen hours and ANY effort level? Endurance, and fatigue management, are key aspects for the new ultradistance athlete.

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When I was seeking to breakthrough as an elite athlete... my personal training goal was to have 1-4 hours of steady state (Aerobic Threshold; AeT) aerobic training every single day. My gut feeling is that 1-2 hours is sufficient to make continuous progress. Even on my easy days, I try to get that hour (I don't always get it). I think that consistent steady training is even more important than mega workouts.

Even a single hour of steady training, six out of seven days, is a challenging target to hit; much tougher than one would expect. When base training (and nearly all long course training is base training), keeping in mind the hour-per-day of steady work can do wonders for overall consistency. A consistent training load, with smart overload periods, works wonders for endurance development.

Strength training and sport specific strength work are important contributors to athlete durability and enhancing aerobic power. Sport specific strength work is also an excellent way to increase athlete economy.

Most endurance athletes are scared to "go easy" -- doubting the physiological value. In my early years, I certainly had a desire to "graduate" to a solid diet of mod-hard and threshold training. An in-built desire to fry myself with intensity, or excessive, training seems to be a risk that many of us face.

Most endurance athletes have a far lower tolerance for intensity than they think. As a result, illness/injury/burnout result and impair consistency. Due to the fundamental nature of consistency, the inconsistent athlete experiences a results plateau. If you've been caught at a plateau then consider if you may have habits that are impairing your ability to train daily.

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Question:
It seems to me that you regularly get 1-4 hrs of steady work in. Why do you consider this a hard goal?

Answer:
Think about your own schedule. This is a very tough goal -- I think that a week with 20 hours of steady would be extremely tough to achieve -- I track total volume but don't actually track my exact steady volume as I do a lot of endurance work on feel. At my levels of volume, a lot of the 'steady' is technically below AeT pace/power, but the pace/power is acceptable.

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Question:
Even though you emphasize frequency I'm sure you still believe you need to do the distance if not overdistance for IM biking, and long runs for the run up to 2.5 hrs and long swims, correct? Do you think it is possible for athletes to perform to their potential without doing the overdistance work?

Answer:
Absolutely, and we spoke about that with your bike volume. However, if you rush the big workouts then the consistency suffers. The way I might feel after a seven hour ride is a good example of what two hour rides used to do to me. My capacity to absorb training (any duration/intensity) is enhanced by building my overall endurance.

When I talk about week structuring -- long ride, long run, long swim -- these are the key ones around which your strength training and frequency is placed. We did a case study at the Olympic Training Center and it was fun to work with the other coaches and show them how I build schedules (for all disciplines). This is how I built the matrix that runs the training logic on this site.

Place Key Workouts
Place Strength (if the athlete elects)
Place Workout Frequency
Consider Athlete Recovery
Add up daily/sport/weekly volume as a 'reality check'

I've found that most athletes tend to start with volume and work from there. This works, but the order above can be more effective. Volume is a result, not a goal, of appropriate training.

Question:
Could you discuss the impact of AeT training on shorter races? I would assume that there is a huge amount of benefit since all triathlons have a large aerobic nature. Would you be willing to train an athlete for say olympic or 1/2 IMs on the same philosophy or do you think intervals are necessary? Could you get by or achieve your potential with just AeT and/or some tempo type workouts?

Answer:
If Lydiard can train a gold medal 800m runner using his protocol then I think that his approach can be highly effective for 1-3 hour TTs. I think some athletes resist the approach as it requires an uncommon level of humility to achieve maximum results. The areas that I would change (and will when I launch that module) are the specific preparation workouts. I still believe in the benefits of long endurance training for all distances but, say, Olympic distance success is more closely linked to LT power/pace than AeT. One also needs to train the mental side for short course racing -- to really crank for 2-3 hours is a different skill.

The difference between shorter and longer racing lies in the duration of the longest workouts as well as the definition of "steady" applied with reference to average endurance training effort. Think about an elite IMer, if I condition my body to accept 35 hrs per week of training and then drop the volume to 20 hrs -- I'll be able to add about 5 bpm to my average training effort and substitute some higher intensity key sessions. This is where the benefits of base training can really yield benefits -- a wide platform of general preparation is what enables the athlete to increase fitness from the high intensity work.

Many folks misinterpret my approach. I do not deny the (very real) physiological benefit of higher intensity. However, here's the profile of the average athlete in our sport:

athletic age of 1-3 years
10-35 pounds over ideal racing weight
30-50 hrs per week work
sleep deprived (at least 1 hr per night short)
AeT endurance less than expected race duration
flexibility poor
nutrition poor

By the way, this person is likely pretty darn healthy in a big picture sense. If you crank the intensity up on this athlete then something is going to break. Volume isn't the main killer -- intensity/lack of sleep/weak nutrition are the culprits.

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Achieving our potential... How many people in the world, know what it's like to truly achieve their potential in anything? How many people in the world have even tried? Truly dedicated themselves to it -- shed all distractions, moved into a plastic bubble, spent all day thinking about it, answering questions on it, trying to learn about it, baring their whole lives to the world so that there is no question/no doubt about what it takes. We can debate about the Glycemic Index of wheat germ, on drafting, on whether to use 10K or 5K race pace for intervals -- or we can buckle down and train all day, every day.

So, our "potential" is a moving target. These days I shoot for a more realistic target of enjoying myself and making progress in my life, as a whole. When the stars align... I give athletic excellence a shot. I have been extremely lucky to try to be my absolute best more than once. I've only really "hit it" at a couple of events but the main lessons come from the journey, not the result.

When you find something where you can work your butt off with a smile, then jump on it and roll with it. Simply persist with a smile. Give yourself about five years to see results...

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Functional Threshold Training For IM Q&A

Question:
Coming from a Olympic Distance racing background, I'm used to do this kind of training on the bike and run.

I've noted that many O.D triathletes are doing far well in IM racing (Oscar Galindez, Macca, Waldo) and recently my best friend raced an ITU points race who was won by this guy from Venezuela, who finished in 4th in IM BRAZIL 2004.

I was wondering after reading the kind of training that Gordo does for IM, should I do some sessions that would work my functional threshold (riding @ 172 HR), or just stick to TEMPO riding, because I guess then if you ride say 30' a week at your FT, you would improve your TEMPO speed also, wouldn't you?

Answer:
As a short course athlete, you will likely have all the Functional Threshold speed that you require. While some FT work can be useful, your critical limiter will be steady state aerobic endurance, and you may have a secondary limiter with the capacity to fuel yourself across a long day.

For Half Iron and Ironman distance athletes, I have found threshold and VO2max workouts to be highly attractive. They like to "go hard" -- however -- the critical limiter in nearly all elite and AG athletes is the ability to hold their aerobic zone (steady or mod-hard based on level) for anticipated race duration. I've found that much of the popular press over-emphasize intensity and, as a result, athletes do not perform enough steady state endurance training. As an example, many triathletes love to do group rides but the highly variable nature of this training doesn't lend itself to superior TTing. Same thing in the pool with a program that is heavily biased towards shorter intervals.

As well, one needs to factor in the recovery required from Threshold and VO2max sessions. By limiting these sessions, athletes can achieve (and recover from) greatly increased steady state volume -- this gives superior results as it directly targets a critical race limiter.

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