Training

Training (12)

Saturday, 03 June 2017 01:20

Donuts (AKA Zeros)

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Anyone that has heard me speak or trained with a program that I have provided knows that I am not a fan of zeros.  It is not that a "zero" in your training log doesn't happen occasionally, but I don't plan for them.  The primary reason for this is that a planned zero combined with one or two unplanned zeros during a week can easily derail what goals you have been preparing for.  This may seem unusual to some so when I further state that I would NEVER purposely plan to regularly take Monday's off you may ask why? So...from my perspective, here's why - Because if Monday starts the training week, you don't want to start off with a negative.  Unless you are a professional athlete and can get in all the training you need in a five or six day period, one full day off at the very start of your training puts undue pressure to complete your plan by Saturday or Sunday.  The type "A" person that most competitive triathletes are means that not meeting your goal can make you feel liked a failure.

Often times what will happen then, in order to overcome a poor start at the beginning of the week is that an athlete ends up trying to make up for it with too much volume in a two or three day period. If this pattern is repeated it can develop into an overuse injury.  So for me, a planned zero in the training log is something I try to avoid if at all possible.  Of course that doesn't mean zeros don't happen, they just aren't planned for.

When building your weekly plan, I have previously recommended using the 3X3 Weekly Training Method.  By doing so you will need to consider having a Primary and Additional/Alternate session for each day.  The Primary session is the one you NEED to do.  It's scheduled for a time (morning or mid-day) when you may have more control over your daily schedule.  The Additional session can be done after the Primary is completed and as a second workout that adds to your base fitness and helps accomplish meeting your minimum goal of completing at least three sessions in each sport, three times per week.  Hence 3X3.      

Endurance fitness is built over time and its main attribute is that workouts build upon previous workouts.  If you come from an endurance background in an individual sport you have that much more over those athletes that have no athletic background at all because you most likely have a fitness foundation and understand routines.  You know that every workout is not going to feel great.  By rotating sessions to ensure that you have a balance between swimming, biking and running, you will also feel the ups and downs of good and not so good workouts.  Sometimes it's important to have sessions in the same sport scheduled for back to back days and other times you will need a day in between the individual sport in order to be fresh for the next time you train in that sport.  This is often misunderstood when discussing training with single sport athletes.  The thought of not running hard with your running group because you have a swim session later in the day or vice versa is foreign to some and requires considerable planning.  By planning your schedule with Primary and Alternate/Additional sessions each day you will be able to build upon workouts but also feel recovered so that you can still complete three or more sessions in each sport during the week. 

From my experience, it takes about three years of continual and effective training to be able to actually train at higher levels.  When a person first starts training in the three sports that make up triathlon they usually make immediate gains because everything they do is more than what they were doing before becoming a triathlete.

Eventually by adding some two-a-day sessions and longer rides and runs the progression continues.  Until it doesn't. An athlete reaches a plateau that requires a change in the training schedule.  Most often that means training at higher intensity and training longer.  In order to fit all of this training into your schedule it is critical to use all seven days in the week to spread load the volume of your effort.  If you are doing the minimum nine weekly sessions then skipping one day a week will short you one or two key workouts and will have you performing only 2/3 of the sessions in a particular discipline.  If life circumstances take another day from you then you may miss another session and you now will have difficulty completing 1/3 of your sessions in a single sport.

For most triathletes without a swim background, swimming is the first to be dropped from your schedule because it's so time consuming to get to a facility compared to riding or running from your house.  Therefore, the typical triathlete tries to get by with one or two sessions a week even though they would never consider doing this with riding or running because those totals would seem dismally low.  Following the 3X3 plan is really critical when this happens.  Even 30 minutes used effectively at high intensity reaps big benefits in both performance and calorie burn especially in the pool because form deteriorates in a longer session and that is when poor habits start.  For bike and run sessions doing two shorter sessions of 30 minutes or so will provide good intensity and is actually better for burning calories than a single 60 minute session because the body is still working harder after two workouts instead of one.

Remember that less is more. If you have less donuts, you can have more donuts!  If you can be content with making a plan that doesn't plan for zeros but understand that your log will have some scattered throughout the year due to normal life influences, you will be a better triathlete for it.  

Doug Marocco is a 16X Ironman finisher with 9 trips to Kona for the Hawaii Ironman World Championships, but has never participated in the infamous "Underwear Run".    

Thursday, 04 May 2017 17:48

"Come What May" Once Again

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Another triathlon season is upon us. If you have been through the change of seasons once, twice or many times before then this is the time to grade yourself for a winter gone by. For those that have been doing this year in and year out maybe this is the year to change things up. If you have been doing long-distance racing then consider doing some shorter races and get out of the rut of long and slow. If you have only been racing short, then do something longer and build a volume of miles and challenge yourself at a longer distance event. Either way, "Come what May" as originated from Shakespeare's Macbeth is appropriate because it’s interpretation means: let whatever happens-happen, and then allow it to pass.

Throughout most of the country the month of May marks the start of triathlon race season. It can especially mean nice weather for training and racing before the heat and humidity of summer is upon us. Unless you have specifically planned an important "A" race, then you should consider it a time to work on increasing your fitness level, sharpen transitions skills and get the feel of going from swim, bike and run at race pace.

This seems to be the most prevalent time of year for triathletes to just log lots of miles without any real plan or guidance. An often heard sentiment is that they are “just getting into it” or that they have a few "B or C" races on their schedule but nothing important. Since their goal “A” race is months away the thought to start effective training within an identified plan is still months away. Although it is important to accumulate miles during the Base Phase of a Periodization Plan, an athlete still needs to have structure that will provide an adequate foundation (Base) and prepare them to move to the next two phases (Sustainment and Intensity) of their annual program. Each phase is a building block to the next and taking shortcuts or not having an actual accountability for what you will/did do to eventually reach the Peak Phase will not allow you to improve on past race results.

It is notable that the basics of how an athlete gets ready to race in events from the Olympic distance all the way up to Ironman is about the same. As was discussed in the previous article on heart rate monitor use, it is common for both new and experienced athletes involved in endurance training to be unsure of how much speed (Intensity) and distance (Volume) they can include in their workouts so they continually exercise in either a moderate or too high of heart rate. In either case, they are doing only one phase of what is required to maximize a quality race day performance. It would make sense that in the early season your training will be based on the amount of volume you were able to obtain during the off-season (winter) as well as the length of event that you will be focusing on within the first two months of your race schedule. Ensure that you use your early season to gradually build your endurance, listen to your body and discipline yourself to recover effectively. It seems common of late to do an early season half or full Ironman race when in most cases people are not able to accumulate the mileage required for the event.

There is an important distinction between training for general health and preparing to race. Some people train daily but have no interest in participating or competing in an event. I would consider this the mindset of "training to train". I have personally been following this pattern for the past decade only coming out of it occasionally for a short time to race in a few events. I enjoy the daily training regimen and after three decades of racing don't care to set PR's in the opposite direction each year. This type of training simply maintains your fitness but does not progressively move you through all phases of the Periodization Plan and therefore doesn't prepare you systematically to be at your best on race day. By planning out your early season training to properly prepare for an "A" summer race and an eventual climactic fall long distance triathlon, you will feel much stronger and avoid injury. So make the early season count in order to be at the starting line healthy and ready for your key races on this year’s schedule.

 

Doug Marocco is a former US Age Group National Champion and 9X Hawaii Ironman Finisher who tries to get in a few workouts each day.

Sunday, 16 April 2017 19:57

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

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Heart Rate (HR) based training is a common technique used to monitor and measure your effort while at rest or exercising. Measuring your heart rate by using pre-determined zones in which to train at will allow you to make maximum gains with the least amount of physical damage to your body. If you are not using one already, a heart rate monitor can be a nice piece of equipment for your training and racing efforts. By tracking your heart rate with a monitor, you will know precisely how easy or how hard your heart is working.

You will benefit most from a heart rate monitor by knowing the zones that have been developed and comparing them to the “actual effort” that you are training at. This is a far more precise way than using “perceived effort” which can vary due to a number of conditions including climate, fatigue and nutrition among other variables. The process is to use these heart rate zones in your Periodization Training Program to make each session valuable. By using a Heart Rate Monitor chart, you can calculate your effort with each activity that you do on a daily basis.

The key to the Heart Rate monitor use is to know your training zones. The zones are based on a maximum effort. The zones are based on a person’s Maximum Heart Rate and therefore are different for each person depending on age and fitness level. Using a heart rate based on the maximum heart rate of the formula 220 minus your age is somewhat accurate but does not take into consideration of a person’s current fitness, background or health. Additionally, each person is different and recovers differently so the math is not exact and should only be used as a guide. Once you have measured your max heart rate and determined the proper training zones, you will be more effective in your training.

Most training sessions are conducted in zone 2 and this is reflected in the Base Training portion of Periodization Training Program. The build portion will have you working in zone 3 and the Intensity and Peak sessions including racing will be done in zone 4. Recovery will be in Zone 1 or even easier if required depending on how overworked your system is. These zones hold true as well for the weekly training sessions that was covered in the 3X3 article last month that advocates for an athlete to do a short (intense), medium (tempo) and long (sustained) effort in each sport, each week.

•Zone 1: 60 to 70%: easy effort; ideal for warmup and cooldown session (RECOVERY)

•Zone 2: 70 to 80%: conversation level effort; most of your training is done at this HR (BASE)

•Zone 3: 81 to 93%: reasonably hard effort; breathing and talking at the same time is difficult (BUILD)

•Zone 4: 94 to 100%: hard effort; the pace is sustainable for only a short duration (INTENSITY/PEAK)

Additional information on training zones can be found at: http://support.polar.com/us-en/support/tips/Polar_Sport_Zones

Of note is that your heart rate effort will differ in each sport so you will need to test and be conscious of what heart rate zones to use depending on whether you are swimming, biking, running or cross-training. Your max heart rate for running—which will push your heart rate higher since you must do more work to overcome gravity—is higher than swimming or cycling. This is important to understand because your training zones will be different in each of the periods of training and with each sport.

The goal is to build up the volume of time and miles, then overload your training with even more training. Add some intensity, then a little taper (recover) and race. Repeat this process several times each year, year after year and you will become a better triathlete. Sometimes you may feel good when you actually should be tired and the opposite is also true by being rested but slow and lethargic. Only your heart rate will give you your actual level of output from a physiological perspective. I have personally found and understand that the more you do in zone two or the 70-80% heart rate (and not higher) the better recovered you will be when you decide to include intensity into your workouts. However, often people fall into the trap of training at 80-85% HR for many/most of their workouts. When they do this, they do not have the ability to properly recover and cannot go to a higher intensity than zone 3 or 4. This is a result of cumulative fatigue or soreness from the previous workout sessions in which the athlete has not fully recovered from.

This is very obvious when you cut volume in one sport, because you should see better results in the other sports and will usually be faster. So, for a weekly plan with a run focus of 5 runs, 3 bikes and 3 swims, the extra 2 runs make it difficult to swim or ride at your normal pace. In some ways it is OK to overload because that is how you will get better after rest, but the overload in one sport may not allow you to do quality sessions in the other sports when your plan calls for it.

For this time of year, consider using zone 2 to build your Base and on occasion (once per week, per sport) mix in some intensity or zone 3 and 4 efforts. Add in a few running races to get motivated for some early season goals and you should be "triathlon ready" by May.

 

Doug Marocco is a 9-time Hawaii Ironman finisher with a IM PR of 9:23:04, 2X USAT Age Group and 4X Military Triathlon National Champion who sill attempts to get a few workouts each day.

Sunday, 12 March 2017 15:58

What's in your training week?

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The goal for anyone that is trying to maximize their training time is to determine how they can get the most out of each session. Most likely a working person is limited on the amount of time that can be reserved for training, so intuitively this would suggest going hard at every workout and your effort will be rewarded with a better performance. This may prove true for an athlete new to exercising, however after the athlete has plateaued this eventually proves not to be true.

Using the 3X3 weekly training method as part of an annual Periodization Plan is a straight forward concept to create a season training schedule. Simply rotating three distinctly different sports to ensure that you are adequately trained for them on an individual basis is relatively easy. The difficult part is making it work with an end result of doing an event that combines all three into a single session come race day.

Periodization training has several key standards that must be followed in order to maximize performance and continue to build an overall endurance base. These seasonal phases include: Base, Build, Intensity, Peak and Recovery. Within this construct is what I have termed “the 3x3 weekly training method”. The thought, if executed properly calls for a minimum of three sessions in each discipline during a weekly (7 day) timeframe. Specifically, an athlete would do a short (intense), medium (tempo) and long (sustained) effort in each sport, each week. To build fitness to a higher level, the athlete would add additional sessions to the plan depending on near-term and long-term goals. This provides the overview of the season but does not give the specifics of what makes up a workout. I will address how to develop your 3X3 week and plug it into the Periodization Plan for the entire year.

SWIM

The three (or more) swim workouts that you do each week should allow for some base work that would include longer sets to build endurance and shorter sessions that focus faster arm turnover and a quick kick. The distance that you accumulate for the week will be dependent upon the race distance that you plan to compete at. Typically someone doing sprints and Olympic Distance racing cover 2000 to 3,000 yards/meters per session or 1.5 to 2X the actual race swim distance. Additionally since it is a non-impact sport training more does not usually lead to an overuse injury. Ironically in triathlon, the swim is the least time spent on race day but proves to be extremely taxing for the athletes that do not have a swim background.

For the majority of participants, competitive swimming is new to them and is often what they spend the least time training for. This is especially true if they have gravitated to longer race distances. Regardless, more time and consistency will pay big dividends and is especially true for Olympic and sprint distances events where the swim is usually the make-or-break leg for the top participants who make the podium. “If only I could swim better” is often the mantra of many triathletes yet they spend very little time trying to get better. Stay in contact with the water on a year round basis with at least three weekly swims and you will up your game. Total investment of actual exercise time is about 2:30-4:00 hours per week. Compare that to how much an athlete rides or runs and the difference is usually staggering especially when you consider that they can make the most improvement in terms of performance by swimming more. Of course the bike and run are the prominent part of long course racing so the swim is an afterthought. An obstacle for some is that pool time is not easy to find. If you do get to the pool, make the most of it. Get your money’s worth and spend as much time as possible until your form deteriorates. Then do kick drills if you have to. The intangibles of a faster swim allows an athlete to get out of the water sooner and therefore fresher so they can get on with the steady state portions of the race. A faster swim will also put you in a position to be near or with better competitors that will help your pace throughout the remainder of the race.

BIKE

I found cycling to be the easiest to pick up when I first starting training for triathlon. It also seems to come back easier after a layoff. With a concentrated focus, incremental gains that are proven by the clock (Heart Rate Monitor or Power Meter) can be made in a matter of a few short weeks. For triathlon it’s all about maintaining a threshold of power using an aerodynamic position and maintaining an average speed from after T1 until dismounting at T2. A good ride needs to be followed by a good run and that means being able to run immediately after getting off the bike. Ride too fast and you may be seeing those that you rode by pass you on the run. Ride too slow and you will be chasing your competition for the entire run. Using the 3x3 weekly training method you will want to ensure that you are able to race the Olympic Distance (24.8 M). This will help you pace your longer distance races with a slower effort that will take most people a 2:30-4:00 time period for a Half. Like swimming, cycling is a non-impact sport and allows you to train day in and day out with little time away from the bike. Each session matters and is equally important for a quality race performance. Be sure to include one longer training session (2-4 hours), one intense session (45-60 mins) and one at a tempo (sustained) pace (60-75 mins). If you have the opportunity to commute by bike then you will quickly increase your mileage and time spent on the bike. Make the most of it with fast tempo and surges whenever possible. Break it up and be safe but intense when you can even if it is unstructured. Having toys like a heart rate monitor, power meter or Strava adds to the tracking of your program.

RUN

The nice thing about running is that you can practice it at any time almost anywhere. Unlike swimming or cycling there are minimal equipment requirements and the time spent pays off in a big way since it is the culminating portion of a triathlon. Because running is the easiest to accommodate it seems to be the “go to” choice for most triathletes. Of course that makes sense when you can lace up and run from your front door. No driving to a gym, pool or safe riding location. Another big bonus is that there are scheduled running events most every weekend throughout the country regardless of time of year and you can work on running faster than triathlon race pace. Signing up for a longer distance running event will also pay dividends in increasing your running volume during the winter and spring months. Just like cycling, training encompasses the same concept of a three distinct sessions with a longer run (1:15-2:00 hours) and a shorter intense effort (30-45 mins) surrounding one or two tempo (45-60 mins) runs. If you can string a few days together you will see a benefit in endurance that will help at the end of a race. Running on tired legs is a positive in training because it simulates race day even better.

BRICKS

Traditionally combing a bike and a run was termed a “Brick”. However that has morphed into any combination of sessions that are consecutive in nature. Bricks help build endurance because of the time spent with a sustained effort. It also simulates a race environment much better than individual sessions because stamina is such a vital part of the sport. Because running off the bike is so difficult, the bike-run “Brick” has been a mainstay for triathletes. If it is easy than you need to ride or run harder! It should be difficult and is what makes the sport so hard but also so satisfying.

PUTTING IT TOGETHER

An issue with doing less than three sessions per week of the 3X3 weekly training method is that doing only two sessions yields a reduction of 1/3 of your weekly training totals. When you add a session in one of the sports it only amounts to an additional 1 /4 of your weekly volume so the key balance of sessions falls at three, hence my 3X3 philosophy. If you have to choose between sessions consider ensuring that you will complete three in each sport before adding to your total sessions in the other sports. With that guideline you can look to add a run session for the most ‘bang for the buck”. Running allows you to accomplish more from a fitness standpoint in a shorter period of time especially if you have to travel to ride your bike or get to a pool.

The next article will provide a 10 day schedule with detailed sessions in all three sports. It will help show how each workout and week build upon each other and make you more fit. For now, start with getting in three sessions per sport, three times per week at a minimum. That’s nine sessions in seven days. One short and intense, one middle distance with medium intensity and also a longer distance session at a comfortable pace so that it can be sustained over the duration of the entire workout. Rotate them so that you don’t have more than a few days off in between each sport and double up sessions in a single day if you are going to be adding sessions above the 3X3 plan. It’s that simple in theory, but hard to put into consistent practice.

By Doug Marocco
Doug is a 9X Hawaii Ironman finisher and a 2X US Age Group National Champion
@DouglasMarocco

Sunday, 12 February 2017 17:16

Essential Sessions

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Building a training plan requires consistency, and of course it takes dedication toward a goal to be consistent. How the plan takes place over the course of a year is through a Periodization Training Program. In general terms, Periodization Training allows an athlete to divide their season into periods that place emphasis on the following categories: Base, Build, Intensity, Taper and Peak (Race).

Unique to the sport of triathlon is the requirement to balance essential sessions in each sport within a given period of time. The theory that I have subscribed to with my own training as well as healthy athletes that I advise is to do a minimum of three key workouts in each sport during a seven day block of training. More specifically, the week would consist of a short (intense 30-45 mins) medium (tempo 60-75 mins) and long (sustained 75 mins plus) effort in each sport with additional sessions if possible. Of course time spent swimming will differ from cycling and both will differ from running. Each component has its own specific effort and time component.

In the Base and Build phases you would want to ideally have four workouts per sport if possible in order to focus on expanding your endurance. This is especially true with cycling and running since they make up a greater amount of time required during a triathlon race. As you get fitter and more experienced you can continue to add additional sessions that will divide a standard month with a weekly emphasis rotating between swimming, then cycling and also running. After this three week rotation is complete, consider doing an easy week with 9-10 workouts. This will allow for the body to recover and get ready for another round of focused sessions with a higher volume and more intensity than the previous period of training. Repeating this plan three times over a 12 week period will prepare you for a primary event on your race calendar. The time spent each week on endurance sessions will be the determining factor of what distance you will be ready to race. Doing more sessions per sport will increase your overall mileage and most likely will result in a better performance on race day. Of course if add too much, you may become continually tired and even overtrained which will inevitably show up as a regression in your performance and make you susceptible to injury or illness.

It has to be said that each athlete is an experiment of one. No two people are the same and no training programs can be exactly the same but plans all have general similarities. As working adults it is pretty standard to do shorter sessions during week and complete your longer bike and run training on the weekend when more time is available for training. If you can add a Semi-long bike/run (brick) during the week you should see a big plus in building miles and overall fitness. Plus it takes pressure off doing one third to half your training on the weekend when you may have social or family obligations.

Using the five stages of Periodization Training to develop weekly and monthly plans provides a good overview for the final piece of actually creating specific swim, bike and run workouts so that you can get the most from your time investment.

 

By Doug Marocco
Doug is a 9X Hawaii Ironman finisher and a 2X US Age Group National Champion
@douglasmarocco

Tuesday, 03 January 2017 00:42

“Go To” Swim Sets

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Doug wanted to share some of his clutch swim workouts, to help us all through the dark and cold winter days.

The purpose of these sets are to get the most triathlon specific swim training in a condensed time.  2000-2500 yards is a quality distance if you swim the main set at a hard pace.  The warm up is crucial to get comfortable in the water and then raise your Heart Rate with several short sprints prior to the main set. Use the cool down to work on stroke technique and leg strength. If you have more time consider adding distance to the warm up and cool down. Keep the main set at 1000 yards with the repeats at even efforts and the rest time the same. If you have time to do more then add it to the cooldown portion so that you can keep your main set strong.

SWIM SET 1 (2000)

Warm Up

400 any stroke

2x100 Free hard effort (:30 second rest in between)

Main Set

5x200 Free (:15 second rest in between) 

Cooldown

200 Kick with fins and kickboard

100 Back

100 Free    

SWIM SET 2 (2500)

Warm Up

500 any stroke

100 Free (hard effort) (:30 second rest in between)

2x50 Free (max effort) (:30 second rest in between)

Main Set

200 Free (:15 second rest)

300 Free with fins or Lava Pants (shorts) (:20 second rest)

Repeat 2X  

Cooldown

100 Kick with fins and kickboard

100 Back

100 Free

Tuesday, 03 January 2017 00:24

On During the Off Season

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The winter holidays are upon us and your 2016 season is most likely a wrap. The thought of getting some much needed rest is at the top of your wish list. The principles of Periodization Training don’t change during the "off season" because Recovery is part of the plan. Typically athletes start their plan in January and move forward with optimizing training as the weather gets warmer and daylight grows longer. But what if you want to be at your best for your first few races in May or June? There is good reason for this thinking because if you are at your fittest and others in your age group are only at 75%, you will have a better chance of a course personal record, being ahead of your competition or even being on the podium.

If this is a real thought then you will need to move the Periodization process back a few months so that you’re “A” race is in early spring instead of mid-summer. This can work well if you are also looking to peak again in a late fall race. This is a common method used by elite marathon runners. However, realize that if you go this route, you may be exhausted and burned out by summer when your competition is at its best so a recovery period in the middle the season is probable.  So before you get started, you need to fully recover from the previous season and ensure that you take time to heal from any nagging injuries. Winter or the “off season” is ideally the time to sleep more or rebuild from mental and physical fatigue so that you can start off strong.

Periodization training has several key periods that must be followed in order to maximize performance and build to a higher level. Included are: Base, Build, Intensity and Recovery.

 

BASE

This is the foundation of your fitness. Once you are recovered from your previous season and have started a general fitness program; you should look at your future goals and schedule that will allow you to reach them. Base training should support the Periodization plan or Systematic Approach to Training that uses Base, Build, Intensity, Taper, Race, Recover (repeat). With the method you will find that you are able to start your base off at a higher level each time and can add more distance and mileage for another Periodization plan.  At this time of year you are done with your first Base block of training and have maintained a level that will allow you to sharpen your speed and intensity for an eventual breakthrough race day performance.

BUILD

With planning to be at top fitness for an early-in-the-season race, you will need to ensure that you have a solid foundation of training before moving into the build phase. The key will be to and in the build phase for a period of 6-8 weeks. During this build phase you need to ensure that you continue to work on each sport separately to make improvements including: Swim strength and stroke proficiency, cycling strength and endurance, and run speed and lasting power through the length of the run course distance.

INTENSITY

The final few weeks prior to your first race of the season you will want to incorporate some shorter speed sessions in all three sports with intensity lasting 20-30 minutes for cycling or running and a sustained effort of half to three-quarters of the course swim distance.

RECOVERY

Once you have gone through your Base, Build and Intensity phases, you may need a short recovery period to get ready for more intense training. With a plan to break your season into two parts, this could be considered “in season” maintenance training. It is not meant to be a full suspension of training, moreover, is simply a short period to help regain a feeling of freshness for the upcoming demands of further training. It is really important to repair yourself both physically and mentally from the early season and heal any developing injuries that may be starting.

Then start the process all over again. You will be able to build on the gains from the previous periodization and have a second chance for success!

By Doug Marocco @DouglasMarocco

Doug is a 9X Hawaii Ironman finisher and a 2X US Age Group National Champion.

Sunday, 20 March 2016 15:14

Make the Early Season Count

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The month of April marks the start of triathlon race season for many people on the east coast and soon summer in all its hot and humid glory will be upon us.  Just as professional baseball players go to “spring training” or football players compete in the “pre-season,” triathletes often use their races at the beginning of the season to work on increasing their fitness level, sharpen transitions skills and get the feel for going from one discipline to another at race pace. 

Spring is often the time that many triathletes train by just logging lots and lots of miles without any real plan. They are “just getting into it” and since their goal “A” race is months away, they will not start toward it until the weather turns more consistent. Although it is important to accumulate miles during the Base Phase of Periodization, an athlete still needs to have a plan that will provide an adequate foundation (Base) to progress into the next two phases (Sustainment and Intensity). Each phase is a building block to the next and taking shortcuts or not having actual accountability for what needs to be accomplished to reach Peak Phase will not allow a person to reach their full potential or at a minimum improve on past race results.

The basics of how an athlete gets ready to race in events from the Olympic distance all the way up to Ironman is about the same. Many athletes that are new to endurance training are not sure of how much (volume) and how hard (intensity) they can push their individual or string of workouts along so they continually exercise in a moderate heart rate zone. For those that are new and exceptionally motivated they often train in the highest HR and power zones which taxes the recovery system and has a real potential for injury. In either case, they are doing only one phase of what is required with Periodization. Maximizing performance for all athletes starts by building their aerobic base and then progressing through the additional phases of a Periodization cycle.

A simple way to look at a training plan is to follow the basic concepts of plan, prepare and perform. Once you have results from a quality training session or race, then you can assess and re-do your plan to make any required changes to prepare better than the past time period. Even if everything went well, you will have to continually tweak or make adjustments to build upon past accomplishments because your base level will plateau and a only a change in volume or intensity will allow for improvement.     

PLAN

Ensure that you use your early season to gradually build your endurance while you listen to your body and discipline yourself to recover effectively. Build intensity only sparingly as well.  It seems common for many triathletes to consider doing an early season half or even full Ironman race when in most cases they have not been able to accumulate the mileage required of the event due to various factors including weather, daylight, etc... You have to seriously consider if you can be ready both physically and mentally to race the event. Even if you consider a long distance race a "training event" it is still important to be training for the distance and have a quality result to build confidence.

PREPARE

Your training cycles should progressively move you toward being comfortable with the distance you will be racing so volume and frequency are important. This will vary based on your available time and the length of event that you will be focusing on.  Be patient with your program and you will eventually see gains. You will not get in shape in a few days or weeks, but over consistent planned training.  By making adjustments to the volume, frequency and intensity of your training while incorporating a period of rest, you will see improvement in your training and racing.  Don't be confused that rest means "no activity" moreover; it means an active period with less volume, frequency and intensity.  This period will allow your body to adapt to heavy load of the Base Phase, and speed of the Intensity Phase and rebuild it for another step up of your Periodization Training.  When I develop a plan for a working athlete, I rarely build in rest days because I know that life activities require days that have less or no training. Those days become your rest day and thus you shouldn’t have another rest day that week built in. Sure, you could swap them but most people are better off with low intensity than total rest. Real rest comes from quality sleep so make that a priority when life stresses built up. 

PERFORM

The sport of triathlon is unique in that it is often difficult to measure improvement on the race course since times vary from course to course due to a variety of factors like properly measured distances, weather conditions and terrain. Rarely is a course measured exactly to meet its labeled distance. They may get the run correct but swim distance and especially the bike are dependent on the whim of the venue.  When you hear that everyone is happy about swimming a PR, most likely it was not measure properly or you were swimming with the current. The best way to  see improvement is in your training sessions.  You will know the time and distance spent in the water, on the bike and on your feet over courses that you have repeatedly done. As the season goes on, you will feel stronger and have more endurance.  The goal should be to add another 500yd in the pool, 10 more miles on the bike or another mile or two on the run. Eventually you then build on that step up and so on. It's all cumulative.  However, realize that a person still only has a certain amount of time and endurance to train. If you shift focus from one sport to another, something usually gives. Running or riding more may make your swim training sessions become slower because you have increased volume in another area and are tired. You only have so much to give and when you are spent it's time to recover and then race. Your performance should be at its best right after a peak in training followed by a short recovery phase. Depending on how it goes is how you adjust to do it all over again.

By planning out your early season training and racing through shorter more intense events you will have laid the groundwork for an epic half or full Ironman later in the year. Most importantly you will feel much stronger and avoid injury so that you are able to actually make it to the start line in September or October.  So plan, prepare, perform and make the early season count!  

 

About the author: Doug Marocco is a nine-time (9X) Hawaii Ironman finisher with a PR of 9:23:04. In addition, he has been a USAT All-American for the past two decades while winning two (2X) National Age-Group titles and four (4X) Military National Championships among his 47 overall wins. An accomplished Marathon runner, Marocco has a PR of 2:33 in his 37 finishes at the 26.2 mile distance.

"Junk miles" have often been given a bad name. If you are an aspiring triathlete, you will need to put in some time to get better and that includes "junk miles". Most age group triathletes, even competitive ones don't do enough miles to compete at their highest possible level. Life and responsibilities take priority and that is completely understandable since it is not ones chosen profession.

Anyone that is new to the sport is able to make quick gains because they are increasing time and distance in one, two or even three sports and the effect on improving endurance is immediately noticeable. However, after the initial months̶—and then years—of training have transpired anathlete will eventually reach a plateau. After that, most athletes need to be doing more. That is when the real work to get better actually begins.

We are each an "an experiment of one." Myy knowledge and experience gained over the past 30 years has proven to me that "racing" a high quality half (70.3) or Ironman distance (140.6) event requires as much 15-20 hours a week to be competitive on a high level. To consider being among those athletes battling for a slot to IM  Kona you may be doing somewhere in the area of 25-30 hours during a big block period of training. Realistically, that probably means 10,000yd in the pool with 15,000yd or so on some occasions. This is 3 to 4 sessions weekly. Since cycling makes up most of the event (if you run the run) you are looking at 200-250 (or more) miles on the bike and if you plan it right (take some Wednesday vacation days) that would be include mid-week and weekend long rides. You can add another 100 "junk miles" in somewhere else during the week for a 300 total if it's possible. This kind of volume will give you conditioning and most importantly the confidence that you will be ready for a long day of racing.

The run is another story. I consider 40 miles as a baseline and more is better except that more usually brings on injury. This can be accomplished with a long Brick (following your Wednesday long ride) and a long weekend run and another one or two shorter runs. The fine line of balancing injury and further conditioning is usually the "junk miles". Hence, more is better…until it isn’t. Yes, one more long run on tired legs may mean the difference in finishing the race strong. Or string a few of these in a row and you may end up hurt and not get to the starting line at all. Because we are an experiment of one, what someone else does may not be what works for you. However if you don’t reach that point on the edge, you just won't ever know.  

This all seems very basic and self-explanatory for a race that will take somewhere between 8 and 12 hours. Do this for 3-5 years and you will be ready to train for racing an IM. Then all you need to do is a quality 12-16 week buildup and you will be ready to do well at IM. There may be a few people with the talent to get away with less, but most can't. If you are able to do the other things right like massage, nutrition, sleep, work or life issues (no spouse/sig other or children) and the disposable income you will be even better. Combine all that just right and you could be up front for an Age Group spot on the podium in Kona!

If you break down your week with another view of 20 hours, that may consist of 10-12 hours riding (say you ride an average of 20mph)that gives the magic 200. If you can add 5 hours of running at 7-8 mph, you’re at 35-40 miles and then another 4-5 hours of swimming (with intervals) gets  you in at 15,000. Those miles are hard to sustain with a normal life that includes work, family, children, housework and so on. The real killer is having those as averages for 8-10 weeks prior to the taper for Ironman. Sure, you can surge and get a 300 mile week on the bike with a Monday holiday, but if the next 2 weeks are at 125 miles then the 3 week average is under 200—and that is short of the goal. For amateurs, it becomes a great big compromise and pressure to get in the miles needed to do well. If you don't get adequate training, or worse, you try to sustain the training without a solid winter base, or some overtime at work then fatigue, slop, and/or injury will inevitably show up.

Everyone's view of the details is slightly different, but no matter what, it is going to take time, dedication, sacrifice and perseverance. All those things most people already know, they just don't realize how much of all of it is really required. You can get by with a 75% effort and finish. The more you do the better you will get…up to reaching the fine line of doing the most you can, to be the best you can be (and then nothing more because everything over that breaks you back down). So be an experiment of one for a decade or so and see where it takes you. 

 

About the author: Doug Marocco is a nine-time (9X) Hawaii Ironman finisher with a PR of 9:23:04. In addition, he has been a USAT All-American for the past two decades while winning two (2X) National Age-Group titles and four (4X) Military National Championships among his 47 overall wins. An accomplished Marathon runner, Marocco has a PR of 2:33 in his 37 finishes at the 26.2 mile distance.

Saturday, 30 January 2016 20:07

Swim Basics: Swimming Actually is Part of Triathlon

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I, and many others, find that most triathletes can’t swim. In fact, for years my license plate while living in California read “NO SWIM”. This was mostly in reference to the sport of Biathlon (later called Duathlon), but either way was absent of water. The fact is that most triathletes don’t have solid knowledge of the basic fundamentals of swimming, but in case you don’t know, swimming is actually part of triathlon.

Regardless of a person’s swimming background or knowledge of proper stroke technique, a person will become faster by swimming more despite their form because they become more proficient and fit doing whatever they are doing. However, once people get tired, their form deteriorates and the repetitive nature of the swimming reinforces poor habits. Most new triathletes’ workouts should be geared toward a quality 1500-2000 meters with the main set performed after a short warm-up so that you are fresh when you start your swimming. After that, everything else is to help the stroke and endurance.

Occasionally it is worth doing longer workouts to build endurance and get used to swim distance closer to Ironman. Regardless it is still 3800 meters at the most for any race and the distance is nothing compared to the biking and running distances.

Below you will find some important reminders to consider while swimming:

Cross Over the Center Line

(correctly by entering about shoulder width or wider). This allows the arm to enter, drop and then start pulling while your body is rotating. It should almost feel like you are pulling on your side.

Hand Entrance

The hand should enter relatively flat with fingers, then palm, wrist, forearm and elbow following. The angle needs to be downward immediately so that your actual pull starts about 18 inches or so below and in front of your shoulder. With a slight tilt of the wrist and a loose hand, you start the pull to a point where your hand and forearm are below the chest area.

Pull

The pull is key to moving through the water. No matter what you do above water, what happens below water is what counts. A swimmer needs to enter the water with a hand continually going down on an angle that ends up at an eventual depth around 2 feet. As your body continues to move forward your arm will be pulling at the same time where the hand comes even with the elbow and is directly at chest level. At this time, the elbow remains in place and the hand continues to move under the body and back toward the feet and then moves out to the thigh.

Breathing

In order to have a smooth swim stroke, it is important to bilaterally breathe. Regardless of whether you race this way or not, you need to work on breathing on both sides of the body. There are several reasons, but of most importance is that most people raise the breathing side arm further out of the water than the non-breathing side because when they turn their head, their arm follows with it and comes out of the water higher. You do not have to breathe every other stroke. I do three on one side then cross over to three on the other. This keeps my body, kick and arm movement better balanced.

No Bicycle Swimming

Instead use Front Quadrant swimming. I say this because many people swim with one arm then the other like a bicycle crank. In reality, it should be one arm up front and the other one coming to the front and just before it gets to the front area after entering (about shoulder width) the other arm starts its pull.

Poor Kick Pattern

(corrected by an easy kick with very little movement that is balanced). Often times people kick too hard with one leg to counteract another problem (e.g., cross-over, bad head position, poor body roll).

Head Position

Keep the head low and looking at an angle out in front of you but not so far as to create excess drag. When you turn your head, it should be in sync with your body roll, not a sudden movement to breathe. If you can roll properly, the head should roll out of the water enough to have one eye out of the water, mouth out to breathe and looking at a 10 and 2 position. Often times I see people breathing way under the arm pit and looking at 5 and 7 positions.

Lack of Body Roll

The body should roll as you breathe and pull. Imagine pulling up a rope or stretching to reach the ceiling. Your hand moves up, shoulder follows and to reach as far as possible, your body rolls with it toward the ceiling. Swimming is the same concept.

Don’t Glide Too Long

Long distance (all triathlons) swimming is done with a long stroke, but that does not mean to glide so long that you lose momentum. As soon as the stroke is complete, the other stroke has already started (front quadrant swimming) and there is no real pause in movement. Unlike a team of rowers (where you can see obvious movement, glide, then movement again) swimming should appear to be a constant flow of the body moving through water.

Tools and Toys

Swimming is a minimalistic sport. Outside of shorts and goggles not much else other than a body of water is required. However, in order to help develop improvement, fins, buoys, drag suits, paddles, tubes, etc all have a part in getting faster or at least in getting a better feel for the water. They are not to be used for your entire workout but can be used in addition.

Wetsuits

This is the single best piece of equipment for any triathlete that does not come from a swim background. It’s first priority is to help keep you warm; next, it helps puts a person in the correct position to swim faster. This correction alone can make up missing out on competitive youth swimming. Speedsuits are the next closest thing when wetsuits are not legal.

Seek Help

Although you may think you are doing things correctly, most often you are not. Find someone to watch you and take video so you can watch yourself. Even people that can’t/don’t swim can see good form and bad form. They can see it in you as well and until you see yourself, you will not know what you look like.

Swim Sets – The Basics

Warm Up (W/U)

Should consist of 1 /4 to 1 /3 of your session and prepare your body for the Main Set

Examples: 300 Free easy, 100 Kick, 100 back, 2x50 Free

Main Set (MS)

Will be the primary purpose of the session and will include distance, intensity or a combination of both

Examples: 5x200 FREE or 3X300 FREE with 15 seconds rest per set

3x400 free or 2X500 FREE with 30 seconds rest per set

Cool Down (C/D)

Recover period from Main Set. Opportunity to perform drills and add total distance to the session

Examples: 200 Kick with fins, Backstroke, 1 - arm drills, Fist drills

End session with easy freestyle of 100-200

 

About the author: Doug Marocco is a nine-time (9X) Hawaii Ironman finisher with a PR of 9:23:04. In addition, he has been a USAT All-American for the past two decades while winning two (2X) National Age-Group titles and four (4X) Military National Championships among his 47 overall wins. An accomplished Marathon runner, Marocco has a PR of 2:33 in his 37 finishes at the 26.2 mile distance.