The days are ticking by and time is running out. With the two most challenging and exciting events on my 2011 race calendar still to come I feel a little underdone. In a year where I put staying injury free at the top of my list I really have excelled at anything but. How Chris McCormack has stayed free from major injury throughout his entire career leaves me in awe. I think we can all agree he is blessed with injury resistant genes but it’s just as much a phenomenal feat of self management... When I work out the formula I’ll let you know – in the mean time I’ll keep searching for the most effective methods of cross training. Whilst there is still 6 weeks until the ITU Long Course World Championships I have come to understand that unlike study training cannot be crammed into a compressed period of time. Instead I am siding with the advice I was given that it is better to be two weeks underdone than fighting fit and spectating. I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting and training with a variety of very dedicated and talented people from the time I began competitive sport. I have had the chance to experiment with and see how both volume based and intensity focussed programmes affect myself and others. Distance programmes have always interested me the most; be it for Ironman, marathon swimming or running. After speaking with many athletes about their training load I often come to the conclusion that they are doing too much and yet not enough, which brings me to my thoughts on overdistance training and total volume.
Figure 1: My latest attempt at staying injury free ended in a dislocated scapula.
The thing I find most surprising when speaking to ironman finishers, marathoners and ocean swimmers is that the race in which they competed set their current distance benchmarks. By this I mean that these people took to the start line having never previously attempted a training session longer than or as even as long as an iron distance leg. Next time you meet you an ironman ask them what the furthest they have ever individually swum, biked or run, the typical answer is 3.8k, 180.2k and a marathon. So this is what shocks me, that people take to the start line of an ironman attempting to match or increase their individual distance records for each discipline on the same day - let alone back to back. This however does not go against the grain of established distance programmes. When training for races less than half ironman distance you will be regularly completing race distances and further in training. When it comes to ironman and marathons it is rare if at all to do overdistance work due to the stress it places on the body. However I stand by the idea that you should do one overdistance training session per discipline as long as it planned well in advance, tapered for and called off if any niggles are present.
Its not that I think overdistance work is necessary on physiological level but it builds confidence and gives me a mental edge. The once daunting notion of an Ironman suddenly becomes a little less insane, maybe even manageable. In my build up for Ironman I incorporated a few big volume weeks of swimming earlier in the year then in the winter I got through some solid cycling. Having never ridden over 120k in January of this year the fact that I was down for an Ironman race in December was more than worrying. I progressively built my cycling which culminated in a Sydney-Canberra ride on one freezing cold and less than fine day in July. It was one of those days when you can’t feel your fingers or toes the whole ride. Rather mysteriously I have never regained feeling in my one of my big toes – don’t say I didn’t mention the drawbacks of overdistance training. The only blip in my overdistance training was the running side of things. I have been set on running the 6 foot track for years but persistent niggles and injuries meant it had to be postponed and then abandoned. As such I will go into Ironman having only run 30k a few times previously. For myself I know that it makes me nervous running my first marathon at the end of Ironman WA, but I have no issues with the rest of it. I can’t imagine how much more mentally challenging it would be to tackle the whole thing without having done some overdistance work. I’m sure a lot of athletes and coaches may well roll their eyes at the accumulation of “junk miles” when riding from dawn to dusk. Whilst injury from this sort of training always remains a risk I think it is the best mental preparation. Besides, I’ve torn my quad putting on my wetsuit before so daily life seems to be fraught with hidden dangers!
Figure 2: 301k from Sydney-Canberra. Limited daylight in winter allowed me to see both sunrise and sunset.
As I noted I think many people are doing too much and yet not enough. I say this with the idea that typical weekly volume is too high and there is basically no use of overdistance workouts. I have always had a soft spot for high volume training, getting those miles done week in and week out. It’s the old school of thought where you run till your body breaks down, swim till you throw up, ride until you collapse and lift the heaviest weights you can. I like this notion, because I think it would be fascinating to see a world where everyone is equally gifted and the most determined, hardworking and mentally tough athlete prevails. But as it stands people are not born equal and we all react differently to types and amounts of training. With this being the case current training methodologies are moving towards a less is more approach, a notion that I still find tough to embrace.
A key turning point in my mindset was when running a 5000m track personal best (as my second session of the day) earlier this year. It had taken two years to improve that time but most importantly in between I had gone from being a runner to a triathlete. During this transition I went from running 7 days a week back to 5. So that’s what blows my mind, with less running training (and with just as many injuries) I exceeded what I used to be able to do. Sure there are many different factors, notably the cross training benefits from swimming and cycling, two more years of base work and the extra strength that comes with age. Either way its still something that I would have previously thought impossible and it really has changed my perspective on training volume. Now I find myself wondering what sessions I can do without. I am currently building my running volume back up and I’m getting through four runs a week and seeing improvements in my level of fitness. It makes me wonder if at some stage if I could run another PB on just 4 days a week...
So I say cut the fat, drop a session from your week (I know, very stressful) and see if you suffer from it. Perhaps less really is more, but just in case throw in the odd overdistance session... just to be safe.