... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Benefits of the Long Road

As we reach and pass the halfway point of our training and our workouts continue to increase in duration and intensity, I have been thinking a lot about how different this approach is compared to our Honu training in 2015. Our training plan then was focused purely on increasing distances -- 3 weeks of build and one week of recovery. We did this for 9 weeks, then tapered for a week before the race. There was no attention paid to intensity, heart rate, drills, or technique. Interestingly, this produced a relatively fast bike split for me, but my run was extremely slow and I remember very clearly being absolutely WRECKED after every weekend long run and long ride. Like, sick-to-my-stomach, dizzy, head pounding, must-sleep-for-hours-to-function-again wrecked. I also remember spending hours at my computer at work during the week with my legs up and ice on my knees, cringing with every step from the consistent stabbing in my IT band. 

Fast forward to this year. On Friday I did my first 60-mile ride of this training. Like the first 60-mile ride of Honu training, it was challenging. There were parts that were painful, parts when I felt anxious, and parts when I wished it was over. The difference, however, came when I got off the bike. In 2015 I would have laid on the floor for an hour or so, waiting to feel normal again and trying to overcome my nausea enough to eat. This year I got off my bike, put on my running shoes, ran 45 minutes, then went to work and did several hours of ballet. When I got home that night I felt energetic and had no joint pain whatsoever. Yesterday I did my 10.5 mile run followed by a 55 minute ride on what essentially felt like fresh legs. 
 

This is the result of doing a 36-week plan that is based on purposeful, focused workouts instead of just slogging through distances as fast as you can without passing out, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Every workout has a specific goal -- not just distance covered but also the intensity you do it at and the technique you work on. Are you trying to build speed or endurance? Are you trying to improve your cadence or your power output on the bike? Are you pushing yourself to your max or trying facilitate recovery? 

If you had asked me these questions before, I would have looked at you like you were speaking Greek. Now I can tell you with every workout what I am hoping to accomplish, and it is clear both in the improvement I see and in how much faster my body recovers. 

If you are trying to choose a training plan, especially for your first Ironman, take this into account. It is about so much more than just covering the distances, and your experience can be painful or invigorating depending on what you choose. The more months you can dedicate to training your body and building up your endurance, the more pleasurable the process is. Instead of just "making it through" your workouts and ultimately your race, you can thrive and enjoy seeing your body adapt and improve. 
 

For those of us who are not elite athletes, whose bodies don't seem inclined to run 6-minute miles even after years of training, this is also the most realistic approach. Although my previous "push as hard as you can for as long as you can" method might work for shorter races, I have to recognize that the chances of me going all out for 112 miles on the bike and then keeping it together for a marathon are very slim. Mirinda Carfrae and Daniela Ryf I am not. For this reason, building up a little more slowly and allowing your body to keep up with your mileage is priceless. I might not be the fastest, but I do have staying power. We did 16 hours and twenty minutes of training this week, and I feel great!

So instead of limping around for the next two days after my long workouts, I will be thoroughly enjoying my day off in full relaxation, sans sore muscles and aching joints. Next week here we come! 

PS. If you are looking for an Ironman training plan, I highly recommend the one we're using: Matt Llerandi's 36-week Ironman training plan, originally published on the SuperCoach network. It is made of gold. 

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