Training/Workouts

“Trust the Process” – Mastering the Recovery Balance

The time for another race is getting closer and closer. I have been laying low since US Nationals, attempting to recover from a double that was more trying than I anticipated it would be. I had some struggles and some challenges getting ready to build myself back up again, both physically and mentally. This period made me consider my slow road to recovery a little deeper, and gave me the idea to put together some blog posts on my adventures, experiences and hardships with recovery from endurance athletics. Throughout this experience I told myself to “trust the process”, even when the process led me down an alternate path that I did not expect to be wandering down. This post will focus on my story, before I dive deeper into the concepts in subsequent posts.

Following my learning experience at Canadian Nationals and my redemption race at US Nationals, I tried to listen to my body and only jump into training when my body was ready (a mistake I made last season between Worlds and Lakeside). I knew that 95km of racing sandwiched around a week of travel to and from St. Paul would have an effect on my body, so I took 3 full days off following the race, and a further week to 10 days of easy recovery and endurance workouts to let the body slowly recover. My first jolt of getting back to training was to begin on the August long weekend, followed by several weeks of longer workouts to get me accustomed to the distance that I will encounter at Lakeside.

Drained

“Drained” best describes how I felt after US Nationals. Physically and emotionally.

Alas, it was then that I encountered a trial of a different sort, one that is as much external to my training as it it internal. The Tuesday following two exceptional workouts during the August long weekend was an exceptionally trying longer run interval workout, though I did manage to survive it with positive results. I hoped a good sleep and and an easy Wednesday workout would get me out of the woods and back to normal, but this would unfortunately only turn out to be the calm before the storm. I fooled myself that I was okay the next day after getting through an easy 90 minute ride without side effects, and deemed myself ready to attempt a tough brick workout on Thursday…where I cracked spectacularly and could not finish the workout.

I have been through this on several occasions in my short multisport career, and I have learned a little more with each experience. Each time, I attempted to re-integrate myself into intense endurance training after insufficient recovery from a block of hard training and racing, characterized by a feeling of overconfidence and invincibility. On all occasions, I now wish I had taken more downtime and tipped the balance that direction a bit more, in order to avoid the aborted workouts and forced rest that would follow. I did not give myself sufficient time to REBUILD (allowing your body time to physically repair the damage of the last block), REFOCUS (giving your mind time to step back and regain lost motivation) and RE-ENGAGE (slowly re-integrate your body and mind into the grind of training).

3 Rs of Recovery

My Three R’s of Recovery

After aborting my Thursday brick mid-workout, I took Friday off and Saturday, Sunday and Monday very, very easy. By Sunday and Monday I was feeling better, but resisted the urge to up the intensity (my mistake before Provincials in 2012). I did truncated “feeler” workouts Tuesday and Wednesday to gauge my recovery efforts, with good results and no “drained” feeling. Again, I resisted the urge to push through and complete the full workouts without knowing if my body was 100% (my mistake in 2013 following my last indoor track season). Thursday was a successful (again truncated) brick workout with excellent results, and another recovery day Friday was followed by absolutely no issues during tough workouts on the weekend and into this week. I feel back to normal, but time will tell if what I did will work in the long run. My race at Toronto Island this weekend will be the next indicator of success.

The full effect of my trials and subsequent efforts to correct them will likely not be known until after Lakeside. By then, I will hopefully have gotten through my blog series about my perspectives and experiences with recovery, where I would like to tackle the three concepts of REBUILD, REFOCUS and RE-ENGAGE separately, and can share some longer term results. My hope is that you, my readers, can learn my experiences and become better racers yourselves, ones who pay as much attention to the recovery process as you do the building process. Thank you to Coach Tommy Ferris of Ignition Fitness for seeing me through this tough period, and getting me through to wrap up my first season as a Multisport Canada/Recharge With Milk Ambassador at Toronto Island this Sunday, and Lakeside on September 14.

Until next time…keep Du’ing it!

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5 Tips for Aspiring Duathletes

Duathlon really is a different beast than triathlon, even though both are generally hosted on the same weekend and are often thought of as being interchangeable. Swapping that swim out for a run completely changes the dynamic of the race, and those who have experienced both can assuredly tell you that it is a different sport entirely! New duathletes need to be prepared for this shock as they navigate their first season of du’ing it. And what’s the point of having experience if you don’t share it and pass it on! Here are some tips from me that I have been sitting on for weeks and hope can help you, whether you are preparing for your first duathlon or looking for a personal best in your tenth one!

Find your limit on the first run
I always hear the advice “Don’t start too hard” given to new duathletes. And you’re going to hear it here again…if your goal is to accomplish the distance, this is definitely the best strategy for you. The first run scorch the legs no matter how much you keep in reserve, and too many matches burned on the first run could lead to a difficult ride and more difficult second run. However, I do think it is valuable to refer to this as a guideline with room for progression. As you grow as a duathlete, the harder I believe you can press on that first run. As you complete more and more du’s, you will get to know what your limit is on that first run for different distances, the point where you can maximize time savings on the first run while still keeping enough in reserve for a strong bike and second run. You can then focus on getting closer to it every time. Either way, take the first 500m-1km to get your bearings, gauge your position in the race, and work yourself up to your goal pace. There is still a long way to go to be burning a match in the opening stretch!

Finding that limit!

Finding that limit!

Brick it
Just like triathlon is not the simple sum of a swim race, a bike race, and a running race, duathlon is much more than the sum of its parts. From start to finish, duathlon is very much its own unique sport, and should be treated as such. That means supplementing your cycling and running workouts with combination brick workouts. Brick workouts for duathletes can be as simple as heading out for a short run before or after your cycling workout, or even both! As you progress through the season and as a duathlete in general, you will want to start injecting some pace into these runs to better simulate a race situation, but even just a jog around the block will suffice until you feel more comfortable with brick workouts. The point is just to get your head and your legs around the idea that you will have to bike after running, and run after cycling.

Sweat the small details
Additional time can EASILY be shaved by taking the time and the care to sweat the small details. That means considering elastic laces in your shoes for easy on/off in transition, simplifying and meticulously planning of your transition procedures and set-up to minimize the number of things you have to think about after that first run, and jogging (instead of walking) your bike in and out of transition. Without the swim, you can carry everything on you from the start, making it easier to keep your transitions simple. Especially in a shorter race, T1 should be “shoes off, helmet on, GO”, T2 should be “helmet off, shoes on, GO”. Just ask Darren Cooney, who netted an overall podium (his first?) this past weekend in Binbrook by 31 seconds over 4th, thanks in part to the 35 seconds he saved in transition.

Details

Who cares about details? I do!

Don’t forget the run/bike transition
In triathlon, there is a lot of focus on running well after a hard bike. While this is still true in duathlons, there is a lot of value to working on the other transition…the run to bike transition. Practice running before biking, to get your legs used to cycling after redlining for 5 or 10km. Start with adding a short run before (and after) your ride once or twice a week, and then progress to injecting a little bit of pace into that first run. It doesn’t have to be more than 5 or 10 minutes at around your first run pace. What is important is getting onto the bike with a little bit of running related fatigue and teaching your legs to buffer that very early on in the bike. And while you’re at it, practice that transition. Lay out your transition zone (remember: shoes off, helmet on, GO), and if you are comfortable enough with your ability to attempt a flying mount, practice that too. Attach your shoes to your bike, use elastic attached to the heel pull and hooked over a part of your bike to get them nice and flat for entry, and (most importantly) get yourself mentally prepared to think of it as a race situation.

Grab all of the low-hanging fruit
The number one way of becoming a faster duathlete is to ride your bike lots, run lots, and increase the size of your engine. Buy yourself an indoor trainer and a Netflix account so you can keep riding once the snow falls. This is the number one piece of low-hanging fruit that most duathletes miss. Once you are there, transition practice, elastic laces, and even all the fancy aero goodies you see in transition are all examples of low-hanging fruit that many people believe they are “not ready for” or “not good enough for”. Why not? As long as you enjoy the sport and are willing to commit to it, I see no harm in investing in a little bit of extra speed. If you are savvy about it you can do it on 20% of the budget than the retailers would like you to believe. Assuming you are starting on a road bike, clip-on aerobars and good bike fit can be had for $200-250, and can do wonders for your bike speed. Next, an aero helmet ($50-100 used online), a rear disc wheel cover ($100 at Wheelbuilder.com) and a between the arms bottle mount ($20 for four zipties and a bottle cage) will knock off another chunk of time. Beyond that, a deeper front wheel can be found used online by the savvy shopper for $300-500, and likely hold that value. All will give you a huge boost for less than $1000 (or about half of what you would pay for a more aero frame, for at least double the speed). Just as with transitions, make sure you get lots of practice riding with all of these goodies before you try it in a race!

Aero Goodies

Deep Front Wheel – $500 used
Disc Cover – $100
Aero Bottle Mount – $20
DIY Garmin Mount – $5
Aero Helmet (not pictured) – $50 used online

The inspiration for this post was an article that Darren pointed out to me via Twitter by professional duathlete Jez Cox, which you can read it here. Jez has a lot of fantastic ideas that got me started on thinking about the knowledge I have to share, so I highly recommend giving that a read as well. Debate is always welcomed, so feel free to chime in on Facebook/Twitter or in the comments below. I would love to hear what you have to say!

Until next time, keep Du’ing it!

Getting Progressively Stronger…in the Long Run

As I wrap up a very solid two week block of training, I got to thinking that with everyone I’ve talked to in this great sport, there is always that one workout that just gives you a certain satisfaction..a certain excitement when you see it inked into the calendar. Indeed, I have spent many an hour engaged in conversations with fellow athletes about our “favourite workouts”. They range from favourite interval workouts to long, steady runs, and have reasons varying almost as widely as the type of people I talk to. There is no right answer…what works for me may not be what works for you, and you may not get the same enjoyment out of it. But it helps to share, because this spirit of collaboration is what makes endurance athletics so great. So let’s dive right in!

For reasons only known to someone out there who is not me, my progressive long run that is one of the reasons that I look forward to my weekend training as much as I do. A progressive long run is just that…a long run (usually 60 to 120 minutes in length for me) that gets progressively faster over the course of it, with some variations. It is a departure from the previous widely-held belief of a weekly long, steady endurance run, as it adds a note of intensity and variety to what was previously a metronomic, grinding pace.

The best part of these progressive long runs is that they can be as formal or as informal as you would like. During my build up to the Grimsby and Chilly half marathons, each minute of my long runs was scripted to simulate a race effort as much as possible. It involved me doing bursts at or near race pace on legs that had already been put through a steadily increasing pace for an hour or more. But they don’t have to be that scientific. Sometimes it can be quite liberating to just go out and run, and just letting the pace naturally drop as your legs work themselves into it. This flexibility is what has made progressive long runs a staple in my training. Interestingly, I happened upon them for two reasons. One is simply through the evolution of commonly held beliefs…the other was borne out of necessity, and provides and interesting contrast between my training as a single-sport and a multisport athlete.

Let’s talk about the latter first here. When I was a single sport athlete, I had time to get everything in. A typical week involved alternating hard interval days with “easy” recovery days. Even with three hard days in a week (Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday) and a long run on Sundays, I still had 3 days available to me for recovery (though whether or not I used them properly is another post altogether!). However, when I added in the need to cycle, it became much more difficult to get all the required training in and still have enough time allotted to recovery. The answer was to combine workouts together. These progressive long runs are a perfect example, as there is a significant endurance-building effect to them, even as you depart Zone 2 (aerobic endurance) and enter Zone 3 (“The Sweet Spot”). The early portion is steady and aerobic, and the later, faster portion of the run serves to increase stamina and build strength for those tough final miles of a race (or for that run at the end of a multisport race). It also serves to recruit those fast-twitch muscle fibres that don’t see much action during the long, slow distance run, helping to build their endurance as well. The combined effect of quality and quantity only burns one day of training…perfect for the time crunched multisport athlete.

Many contemporary marathon runners have shifted their training towards this type of work, with some doing 30-40km of marathon pace work once or twice a month. The effects of running harder for longer are very real. But be forewarned…they are very difficult on the body. Doing these on a weekly basis may not be for everyone. Renowned marathon coach Renato Canova is often considered the innovator of this new way of looking at the long run, and even his athletes often are only doing these runs once or twice a month. Ensure you have allotted the proper recovery time for these workouts, as they can certainly take a toll on the body. But I will gladly trade taking a recovery day or two for the pure exhilaration of starting off slow and ratcheting the pace up slowly throughout the run until I’m sustaining a pace that has people stopping my to ask, “What, are you training for Around the Bay or something?” Nope…just your friendly neighbourhood sprint duathlon.

As for me, I just wrapped up two pretty easy weeks to give my body a rest after 4 months of hard half marathon training. Highlights of the last few weeks have been a 5W FTP improvement during my latest test, a solid 90 minute run at the Ignition Fitness Big Training Day, an excellent 5 workout in 3 day block during the middle of last week, and yes…a long progression run on Sunday to wrap it all up! Next on the docket is Harry’s Spring Run-Off (out of the elite corral) on April 5 to see where my run legs are over a shorter distance, then Paris to Ancaster for my first real bike race experience! Pretty excited for that, and of course I will be accompanied by my girlfriend Emma, who will likely be volunteering at the finish line of these races!

I am also excitedly awaiting the arrival of my new TT bike, a Felt B16 through the Ignition Fitness/Felt Bicycles sponsorship. We are also looking around for Emma’s first road bike as the weather warms up, so that she too can enjoy the thrills of running and riding! My first multisport test of the season will be at the Iron Hawk/Ontario Sprint Duathlon Championships, then a full slate of Multisport Canada races as part of the Recharge with Milk Ambassador team. Thanks to John and the guys for setting that up, and to Tommy, Roger and the Ignition Fitness crew for getting me into really good shape, both physically and mentally! So until next time, keep Du’ing it!