Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sometimes, Less is More

I try to avoid the message boards as I'm not a big fan of smack talk and bravado, but lately, I've been scrolling through the forum on SlowTwitch in order to catch a glimpse at what's going on "out there" in regards to long and short course triathlon training.

Living in Gloucester, MA has plenty of advantages, one of which is that, besides my friend Christina Robeson, who lives right up the street from me (and just narrowly missed breaking the 10 hour barrier at the 2007 Ironman Florida!), there are very few triathletes in my neck of the woods. I enjoy the fact that I'm out here at the very end of the continent, on my own little island, and don't have to face down a slew of tri-geeks every time I hit the roads or pool. I don't think that I could hack living in San Diego or Boulder. The saying "ignorance is bliss" is something that I can definitely relate to. I'm so far removed to what everyone else is doing that I don't spend any time worrying about how my workouts stack up, who looks fitter, etc. I can simply operate freely: Set a goal, design a training plan that will allow me to achieve it, and then get to work.

Last year, I had a couple of key objectives: Break 4 hours for the half I.M. distance and win the overall amateur title at the 70.3 World Championship.

Well, I broke 4 hours twice and did in fact capture the overall amateur title at Clearwater. I accomplished every objective that I set for myself last year, and see no reason why I can't do so again in 2008, although this time, there's only one goal that I'll be chasing: Breaking 3:50 for the half Ironman/70.3 distance.

To date, I've been working 2 jobs while doing my best to effectively prep for long course events. Things are going to get a lot easier come June when I finally end my teaching career and will be free to focus 100% of my efforts upon my coaching business (I'm currently training 30 athletes) and my own training & racing. However, the success that I've experienced athletically despite my juggling act and limited training time has reinforced something that I've always believed to be true about training for triathlon: Sometimes, less is more.

I could ramble on and on about how important it is to find the optimal balance between stress (hard training) and recovery (active or passive) and how this balance, ultimately, will vary from individual to individual. There's no disputing the fact that in order to compete with a high degree of success, you have to consistently get out there and bust your ass week in, week out for months on end. However... when scrolling through the message boards and reading up on what some age group and elite triathletes lay down training wise on a daily/week-to-week basis, I begin to ask myself whether the majority of triathletes out there are in this sport to see how fast they can get or to simply see how much training they can subject their bodies to on a weekly basis.

I look back to the 1996 running of the Hawaii Ironman. On that day, we saw Luc Van Lierde, a man who had never run further than 30k in training or racing, catch uber biker Thomas Hellriegel in the late stages of the marathon. Luc not only won the race that day, but set the new course record (formerly held by the legendary Mark Allen) in his first attempt at the Ironman. Less than 1 year later, he went on to set the "world best" mark for the Ironman distance: 7:50; a mark that still stands to this day. Luc's record at Roth, Germany in 1997 included the fastest swim (44 min) and run (2:36) splits ever recorded.

What impressed me most about Luc Van Lierde was his approach towards training for long course triathlon. In contrast to what athletes like Hellriegel were laying down (i.e. 800 miles per week on the bike + full run and swim loads!!!) his coach, exercise physiologist Jan Olbrect, believed that when it came to training, the goal should be to execute the LEAST amount of training necessary in order to achieve the best possible result on race day.

Genius.

Any moron can go out and hammer themselves into the ground with heavy training volume day in, day out. Do this for a few months on end, taper down for a 3 or 4 weeks, and then presto: As long as you're not overly broken down, injured or sick, you'll cross the finish line and will be able to call yourself an Ironman.

Van Lierde purportedly utilized an Ironman build up that consisted of 20 - 30k swimming, 500k cycling and 90k running each week; totals that are far lower than what most pros, and even some age group triathletes record on a weekly basis when prepping for an Ironman. His total training volume, in hours, was somewhere around 27/week. Key training sessions reflected the exact stress he would subject his body to on race day. All "junk" mileage was removed from the plan. Training intensities were precisely established after blood lactate testing and analysis. His approach was nothing short of perfect.

This scientific/quality over quantity approach to long course training is what initially and continues to inspire me as both coach and athlete. Thanks to the Internet, I've had a chance to compare my own training against that of some of the top pros. Bottom line is that I'm equaling, or out splitting the times being recorded on the bike and run fronts by guys who:
  1. Are vastly superior to me, genetically/talent wise

  2. Don't have to work/can train all day

  3. Train 30 - 50% more than I do

I don't live at altitude. I don't have any sponsors paying my way. I don't have the god given talent... But I do have a training plan, and I'm starting to believe that in many ways, it's superior to anything that my competition is following.

We'll see: Less than 4 months until theory and practice collide.

2 comments:

KP said...

I agree man...

I am not going to tell you how LITTLE Alex M-M trained last year...they might kick him out of that "pro" class.

Dont get me going on Mike C. either, people would never believe it if I told them.

Let it be our secret. I want my guys (and myself) fast on Sunday, w./a number on the back!

train well,
KP

JRM said...

I believe you Kurt! I've seen your boys in action!

All the best.

Janda