Posted by: bradhammond | January 15, 2011

What works for me?

I am training to do another Ironman triathlon – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run – and even though I have over 5 months until the race I am already pretty serious about my training.  I did my first race at this distance in 2009, and I felt like I was in really good shape, so I planned to look at what I was doing back then and train fairly similarly. I have also been making some changes which I hope will help me to improve.  I will probably do one or two shorter triathlons first, and I might try some running only races before that.

Comparisons with 2009 Training

One difference is that I am spending a little more time swimming.  I was not terribly worried about the swim, knowing that I am a fairly strong swimmer, and figuring that the difference between a really great swim and a mediocre swim would be pretty insignificant (like 10 or 15 minutes).   I had a few weeks when I got in 3 hours of swimming, but usually it was about 1:30 or 1:45 per week.  Now I aim for 3 hours per week – not that I am worried about it, but I have a lot more time available for training now, and I figure that adding 1 or 2 more 45 minute swim workouts is a good way to increase my training volume without increasing my chance of injury.

In biking I am doing about the same type of rides and same amount of time for now.  Riding inside for more than an hour at a time can get pretty boring, so I won’t be doing really long rides until it is nice enough to ride outside.  I expect to spend at least as many hours running as biking until late March – I did that in 2009 and I felt like it worked out pretty well. In 2009 I felt like I injured my knee at the beginning of April, and it bothered me for running but not biking, so I didn’t run much at all in April and tried to do extra biking to make up for it. I’m hoping to not get injured, so I expect the training to be fairly  different from 2009 in April and thereafter.

This year I am running more total miles per week, but my longest run of the week is shorter.  In 2009 I would run really long each Sunday, but that Sunday run would be about half of my total running time for the week (sometimes more).  Mondays were my “rest days”, often doing a short swim, but not biking or running, and Tuesdays it would seem almost miraculous that I could do another running workout.  I did a lot of runs of 3 hours or more, but I only had 2 weeks of over 6 hours total running (6:10 and 6:15).

This time I am trying to run 40 miles / week which takes me about 6:30 or so, but with the time and distance spread more evenly.  In the past two months I have found I can handle a long run of about 14 miles without getting super sore or feeling really wiped out for the rest of the day, but the two times that I ran 16 I had to slow down more than I wanted for the last few miles and I was pretty sore after.  Most people writing advice for marathon training and Ironman training seem to feel that a weekly long run is very important, but I’m not sure how much of the benefit is physical versus mental.  I did get quite a bit of confidence when I was running 20 miles, but sometimes I felt like the more I trained the slower I got.  Right now I feel like higher total volume and easier recovery makes sense for most weeks, and I only expect to push past my comfortable distance every 4 weeks or so.

Comparisons with 2010

First, I was swimming 3 or 3.5 hours most weeks in 2010, so I am basically training the same as last year for swimming.

For the indoor biking part of last year I was doing a lot more interval training, more high cadence work, and more high resistance (both standing and sitting) than 2009.  When I first started riding outside I was a bit faster than my first outside rides of 2009, but I never got the big improvements in speed like I did in April of 2009.  In 2009 I sort of plateau’ed from the start of May through my race season, but in 2010 I wasn’t able to get up to the plateau. This is definitely an example of me not really knowing exactly what works for me! My leading theories for why I biked faster in 2009 are:

  1. Just in better shape when I started concentrating more on the bike.
  2. Not running much during April let me do more total biking without being tired from other stuff.

I am still doing some intervals and high resistance work this year, but I am sort of waiting until outdoor riding to really focus on the bike.

I am doing significantly more running than I did in the early months of 2010.  Last year I wasn’t racing anything longer than the half-iron distance, so I was doing less distance and more speed work in training. That didn’t work as well as I had hoped.  My best races were at the sprint distance, and my run splits were about the same as the year before (when I felt like I was sort of running injured) and slower than in 2008. I think I would have done better with more total running and few more continuous runs at a harder effort level, but it’s hard to be sure.

What’s working now?

I’m definitely in better shape than I was last year, at least for running, but it’s harder to be certain if I am in as good shape as in 2009.  One thing that I feel is working really well for me is soaking my legs in cold water after I run. I did this a little bit in 2009, but right now I am doing it after almost every run.  (It is easy in the winter as I can just wade into the lake and stand there for 5 or 10 minutes.  I stop with the water at the bottom of my shorts.  Not sure what I’ll do after the lake warms up, but that is months away.) I feel like this makes a big difference in helping me to recover quickly and feel good in my next workout.

Compared with the last few years I am running more miles and pushing  harder on more of the long runs.  I am not doing any intervals or hill sprints right now, (those will come later) but I push hard on at least two runs each week.  One run I do a lot is from my house to Marymoor Park and back, and I can compare my times over the 3 years I have been keeping a training log.  I did it in 1:35 in 2009, although I’m not sure if I was trying to go fast.  Last summer it took me 1:50 one time when I was pushing very hard, which was a bit depressing. I have steadily brought my times down since then – 1:29:20 (!) today, although I’m not sure how much more improvement I can hope for.

In 2009 I did a half-marathon in 1:45:50 when I was running my best, but I got a stabbing pain in the back of my knee less than a week later, and it bugged me all season, even after I took most of April off from running.  So, if I raced a half-marathon it would give me a really good idea if I am in as good shape now, but I also worry that it might increase my injury risk, especially if I am tempted to train hard too soon after it.

One thing that doesn’t seem to be working right now is dieting to lose weight.  I am about 170 lbs, which is fine for general health, but I think that losing 10 lbs or so might make me faster.  Right now, when I am months away from racing is probably the best time to lose the weight, so I made a big effort starting as soon as we got back from our Christmas trip.  Last Friday I was feeling good about the weight, as I had apparently lost 3 lbs, but I felt low on energy and I was slowing down a lot in the second half of runs.  I started taking in a few more calories, and my running improved, and I feel great but I’ve gained back a pound or so.  I’m not giving up on the idea of losing weight, but it seems pretty hard.

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