Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thoughts on Resting and Training

"Arhh! Take a month off! You need to switch off mentally and physically. Or you're going to dig yourself into a big black hole."

Pete, thanks for the comment. I agree that I need to take it down a notch after having just raced the Ironman to rest and recover both mentally and physically. I plan to do that by lowering my volume and intensity and listening to my body.

I have now completed two years of solid training in which I have gained the ability to identify how my body is feeling and how it will react to different training stimuli and rest. When I feel like I need to take a day, week, or month off, I'll take it. The worst thing that can happen to me is to get injured or, as you say, dig myself into a deep black hole. Injuries over the last couple of years have really screwed up my run training. I hope to avoid that this year.

Having said that, I don't think complete time away for a month is necessary or beneficial. In his book "Outliers," Malcolm Gladwell describes the results of an empirical study suggesting that wealthier children and Asian children tend to get better grades in school, achieve more success on exams and scholastic tests, and attain the intellectual ability to take more advanced classes, than their less financially well-off or completely "Americanized" peers, not because wealthier and Asian children have some intrinsic intellectual talent or advantage. In fact, at younger ages and in earlier grades, the children performed relatively quite closely on all exams and scholastic tests.

Rather, the study hypothesizes that wealthier and Asian children performed better on tests as they got older because they tended to study year-round without taking a summer vacation. The parents of the wealthier children tended to hire tutors to teach their children during the summer months; and the parents of Asian children tended to ingrain in their childrens' heads at an early age that studying year round was part of their culture and a path to future success.

On the other hand, the less financially well off children tended to get summer jobs to help provide support for the family and help put food on the table. And the "Americanized" children tended to spend their summer months hanging out at the beach or amusement parks.

What ended up happening though is that, while at earlier stages of their education all children performed similarly on tests, as the children got older and advanced to higher grades, the wealthier and Asian children started to pull away more and more each year and achieve much more success on tests and in school. The authors of the study, as Gladwell describes, hypothesized that the wealthier and Asian children started to do better because they had continued to study for an extra 3 months every year. While those extra three months may have had only a marginal impact in the first couple of years of educational development, after several summers, the wealthier and Asian children started to perform substantially better on test after test; all the summers of extra studying started to add up. Indeed, based on that study, many intellectuals and politicians have advocated for eliminating or shortening the summer vacation in public schools. (The teachers' unions however have a different point of view).

Whether in fact the wealthier and Asian students started to perform better on tests because of studying during the summer months or for some other reason, I think that lesson applies well to achieving success in most things in life, including Ironman. The point of the story, and my recollection of the exact details of the story might be a little off as I read the book awhile ago, is that consistently putting in the effort, hard work, and hours, day after day, week after week, month after month, pays off, whether the purpose is to succeed in school, jobs, relationships, or hobbies.

Having just completed the Ironman, there is obviously a delicate balance between doing too much too soon and recovering. However, the opportunity cost of doing nothing, I think, is great. The goal for me right now is to recover, but not fall too far off from my current fitness level, and not too far away from my current routine, which I think is also important in achieving success. I think I can achieve this by staying in my routine, but lessening the volume, almost as an inverse taper.

It is hard to believe that I did the Ironman last Saturday. I am not naive to think that I am even close to recovered, but I do feel surprisingly relatively very fresh. I actually feel very energized. So I'll continue to train easy, recover, and hopefully maintain close to my current fitness level so that when I do start up in earnest again, I will be starting from a much higher fitness level than I would be had I taken a month off completely.


Fred Doucette said...

Outliers is a great book, as is Blink.

Yes I agree with the year round training idea, but obviously toned down for the next few months. Trying to get an hour a day of aerobic work is my ideal.

Good luck.

Brandon Grusd said...

Have you ever thought of getting a coach? A lot of the top pros have coaches. It seems that a coach would be better able to critically evaluate your training and maximize your overall performance.

You obviously put in a lot of hours in training, but looking at your times and especially swim and run performance have been pretty flat over the years. It would seem that someone who spent so much time training would have improved more than you have.

Ironboom said...

Do I need a coach? Probably not. While time this year was similar to last year, it really was a different type of race. I feel like this year's race was better than last year's. The conditions were much tougher: much choppiwe in the water; and much winder on the bike. Look, I would have like to have run faster, and probably could have had I done some longer rides. But the reality is that because of a hip groin injury that lasted throughout the summer, I only started run training in earnest 6 weeks out from the race. And even at that, I was only running 30-40 miles per week. So while my running pace s faster than it used to be - probably because of fitness gains feom biking - I simply did not have enough running miles under my leg to run a fast marathon - and hence the slower time this year. As for swimming, that was my own fault, but I also only started swim trainng 5-6 weeks out. That is just not enough training to see that much improvement; thus the similar time (again though, this years swim was better than last year becuase of the tougher conditions). My time reflects the training I did, but I overall much fitter than I was a year ago and I believe on my way to being somewhat fast. I don't think a coach is going to give me some magic program to make me substantially faster than I can do on my own. The fact is, it takes a lot of consistent work over an extended period of time.

Peter Hughes said...

Hey mate, long time follower of your blog. Too bad about your result, but you seem to have taken it on the chin and bounced back strong.

With all due respect, I think you should reconsider the coaching thing. Brandon's points are absolutely spot on. You seem have the resources and the commitment, but something isn't clicking with the self-prescribed program. The injuries and non-interest in swimming should be telling you something.

"My time reflects the training I did, but I overall much fitter than I was a year ago..."

Sorry mate, this is quite the contradiction and the letter part (again, repectfully) just doesn't add up...your time reflects your execution, which was poor because your fitness didn't support it...plain and simple. The great thing about (good) coaching is having that objective voice keeping it real and keeping you honest. Because you don't race nor TT you don't have these frequent reality checks...I see you're intent on changing that though so a good start, but your IMFL self-assessment reads a little off so again, that objectivity is key.

Some rest right now will do your body a world of's an important part of periodization. You don't need to be "Iron-fit" year round (seriously), just fit enough to get "Iron-fit" in the appropriate part of your cycle and peaking at your potential on the big day...low valleys, high peaks, blah blah blah. A very good coach will bring out the best in you when it counts.

Anyway, I don't mean to sound all have enough of the key ingredients to achieve your goals, the recipe just needs some tweaking (which you already know). Enough from this lurker...good luck with whatever path you take forward, sincerely.

Ironboom said...

Peter, I appreciate your comments. I don't disagree with what you and Brandon are saying.

I am not necessarily opposed to the idea of a coach in principle, I just think I can get there on my own and just as quickly. The concern I have about getting a coach is putting my complete trust in him/her; I am not sure I can do that unless the particular coach is at the top. In addition, I like the challenge of learning through my mistakes and the process of getting to know myself better mentally and physically.

I didn't mean to make any contradictory remarks. I don't disagree with you. My race time did reflect my current fitness level - 10:14 shape.

What I meant to say is that despite going 10:14, I think I had a better race than when I went 10:12. It was no surprise to me that my swim and run times would be similar to last year; I said as much in a blog post leading up to the race. I simply did not train my swim and run enough. I also think, despite the slower time, that I am closer to going sub 10 than I was a year ago.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I honestly do not think there was anything I could have done differently in those 6 weeks leading up to the race. I.e., I don't think a coach would have been able to make me any fitter or faster than I made myself given my fitness level at the beginning of those 6 weeks. Granted, I made the mistake of not swimming enough before then, but it is a choice I made; to concentrate on the bike throughout the year.

With respect to the run, when I actually did run during the marathon, my pace this year was much faster than last year. That may have been a bad strategy as I couldn't maintain it, but on the other hand, it showed me that I could actually run relatively fast in an Ironman marathon, something I couldn't do last year. So in that sense, I see improvement and view this year's marathon more successful than last year's - despite the slower time - simply because I could tell that I had put myself in a position to go much faster than I had before.

These past two races have taught me lot about racing Ironman. Unfortunately, I have not gone sub 10 yet, but I will get there. Thanks for your input.