Training the Triathlete in the Present

I find that one of the keys to quickly progressing to the next level of athleticism as a triathlete is the ability to assess, understand, and determine the workout of the day based on the athlete that shows up. When I say, “the athlete that shows up,” I’m speaking metaphorically. I mean when you, the triathlete, begin your workout, which athlete are you at that moment? Are you prepared to workout to your potential? Or are you tired from a long day at the office? Are you recovered, alert, and ready to crush some intervals? Or do you feel lethargic or sore, and need some recovery time?

It’s often difficult to make a fair assessment of yourself. We all want to be prepared on race day, and many of us get it into our heads that the more training we do, the better we will perform. We build or have built for us a training schedule, and we stick to it as if our lives depend on it. Swim intervals for breakfast; track work for lunch; group ride hammer-session for dinner. “That’s what the schedule says, so that’s what I’m going to do,” becomes our mantra. But this is not always the quickest way to gain the most fitness in the long term. Learning how your body is reacting to whatever workout you choose to execute is an incredibly important skill to develop. Even more important is the ability to be objective, and make decisions about whether or not your body’s current state is capable of fully executing the workout at hand.

Here’s an example:

Over the weekend, you hammered out a long bike ride of race-specific intervals, followed by a 10k run off the bike that progressed from easy to above race effort. This was a seriously hard workout, but one that was needed to help you meet your race day goals. Now, after a “recovery day” where you swam easy for 60 minutes on Monday, it’s time for Tuesday night track work. On the menu is a set of 12×800’s at 10k pace. You’re developing run speed in this workout, which means this is another key workout which will make a serious demand from your athletic abilities. You start the workout with a light 1 mile jog. You notice how heavy your legs are feeling. You continue with a set of run drills, then some speed work of 50m strides. You feel tired. You’re not “firing” the way you usually do, but you’re getting through the workout. Here’s where the dilemma of training the triathlete — you — who showed up, comes into play. What should you do?

A. You continue on with the workout. After all, you have only 6 weeks until your ‘A’ race, and every workout counts! Besides, this is what Coach wrote for me to do today.

B. You decide that you’ll try one or two of the 800m intervals, and see what happens. If you can hold your times as expected, you’ll continue.

C. You decide to you are too tired, too fatigued to properly handle a workout like this. You jog a couple more miles, very easy effort, and head home for dinner and an early night to bed.

In the example above, there is really only one answer given the details provided, however, some of you might make a case for a second answer (I’ll explain more further down). The best answer is ‘C’. You call off the workout, cool down, and go home. Maybe this workout is rescheduled for another day, or maybe skipped altogether, but it should be obvious that your body is in no condition to be asked to perform a speed development workout. Does calling it quits for the day make you a wimp? Shouldn’t you just HTFU!? No. Calling off this workout under these conditions shows a level of athletic maturity above that of the average triathlete. If you were to try to get through this workout, you will likely be placing your body deeper into the pit of fatigue that is over training. It’s also doubtful that you’d “hit the numbers” feeling the way you do after the warm up. In other words, you’d likely run slower than what your 800m splits for 10k should be. And just because you can run the 1st or 2nd split on time is not an indication that you’re prepared for this workout. The real work won’t begin until you’re more than halfway done, and holding that number for the back half of this workout is where all the fitness gains are made. Getting the first few intervals will do nothing but making you even more tired, and will cause ever great time focusing on recovery instead of moving on to the next big workout. This is why option ‘B’ is not a good choice.

As your next workout approaches, listen to your body. Train the triathlete that shows up to the workout to ensure that you’re getting the most out of the training you do.

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