Rearview Mirror

by Matthew on October 3, 2011

The picture is from Dynamo Multisport Kona HQ this week.  We’ve been fortunate enough to stay at this phenomenal house the last two years.  It’s on Ali’i Drive located right before the turnaround on the run course – far away from town to get some peace from the over-stimulation of the race.

One of the gems from my second favorite Pearl Jam album, 1993’s Vs., gives us the leadoff to my season in review series.  This one is about the critical Transition Season that sets the platform for the entire upcoming race season.  It’s a nice segue to relate to the ‘now’ as most of us enter into the Transition Season after our final 2011 ‘A’ races.

I believe the next season begins two weeks after your last ‘A’ race of the current calendar year.  That two week number is something I picked up from the Australian National Team when I was coaching at Stanford.  At the time, the Aussies would have their swimmers train for two more weeks after their final meet of the year.  The training would be moderate volume, aerobic, steady-state work with some alactic moments.  The overall load was fairly low compared to their mid-year training.  But it would be more than their final two weeks leading up to the competition.  The idea here is that by training at a greater volume the two weeks after the competition, the coaches would slow down the detraining effect from immediate time off.  Physiologically this is more piggybacking off of the anaerobic efforts of the meet by adding some aerobic volume on top of that competition load to actually raise the aerobic fitness ceiling even more than pre-competition levels.  The de-training from 7-10 days off 14 days after the meet would thereby be less than if going immediately into a recovery phase.  In the end, a Recovery Phase begins the next season, and this 4-week period – the two weeks after competition and the two weeks of dedicated recovery – forms a critical period in transitioning from one season to the next.

In this context the 2011 season for me began two weeks after Kona 2010.  I spent this time catching up on some much needed sleep and dedicating more quality time with my family which often means I’m around to actually sit down for breakfast and enjoy a relaxed family ritual instead of barging in the door from either coaching or training, stuffing as much food and drink I can shovel in before taking the kids off to school.  Of all the things I miss most when I’m in the thick of a season – coaching and training – it’s the consistent relaxed family breakfast during the week and on the weekends that I really miss the most.  Those two weeks off allowed me to heal the inflamed neuromas in my feet which had derailed my Kona marathon early on in the run.  The time allowed my wife and I to re-group on some bigger family items and finalize some of the detail holes in the upcoming holidays.  I also got to re-connect with my athletes and continue some post-mortems on 2010 and 2011 planning.  In short, this time off, and I mean OFF – no swimming, biking or running – was critical.  I talk to my athletes about healing body and mind during the beginning of the Transition Season, and I mean it.

From the end of October through the end of the calendar year I did something that I hadn’t done since I swam in college.  I was consistent in training during the Transition Season.  Yep, Coach is coming clean here.  Prior to this past fall, I had used the Transition Season more as a traditional Off-Season where you train haphazardly and have more zeros (complete days off) than not.  In the past this would mean no swimming from October through December and limited time running and biking.  In weekly hours this was probably 2.5 hours of running across 3 sessions and 3-4 hours of cycling across 2-3 sessions.  5.5-6.5 hours per week with no swimming and no strength work.  Let me caveat this by saying prior to my Ironman seasons – 2006 & 2010 – I had been significantly more diligent about the running and cycling.  However, even in those Transition Seasons I still neglected the swim.  This won’t cut it when trying to compete at a high level in the amateur ranks in today’s competitive environment, particularly at the 70.3 distance where speed is plays more of a factor, and more so at the drag strip topography of Eagleman where speed is a premium more so than endurance.

The focal point of 2011 was the Eagleman 70.3. It’s one of the deepest, if not the deepest, competitive fields on the East coast because it has Kona slots.  I wanted to go into the race to allow me to compete against the field and, if fortunate, have the option to take a Kona slot if it made sense at the time for my family.  I knew that in order to be competitive my bike would have to improve significantly compared to my peer group and (this is the critical point), I would need to maintain my swimming advantage while improving incrementally on the run.  In short, this meant I had to change my own personal athletic (not coaching) approach to the Transition Season.

Like I do with my athletes, I created a Foundation Week framework and put it on repeat, with the #1 goal of trying to be as consistent as possible.  That week looked like this:

MONDAY: Swim – 60 min

TUESDAY: Strength – 45 min / Run – 45-60 min (all aerobic w/ short alactic strides)

WEDNESDAY: Bike – 60-75 min trainer session (drills/aerobic) w/ short t-run (10-20 min, all aerobic)

THURSDAY: Bike – 60-75 min trainer session (short strength/force work SFR, z3 intervals)

FRIDAY: Swim – 60 min / Run – Longer Aerobic Session, 90-140 min usually on the trails

SATURDAY: Bike – 120-180 min trainer session (all aerobic w/ some drills and alactic bursts for diversity)

SUNDAY: Bike – 60-75 min trainer session (aerobic with alactic bursts) w/ short t-run (10-20 min)

TOTALS: 2x swim (2 hours), 4x Run (3-4 hours), 4x Bike (5-6 hours), 1x Strength (.75 hours) -> 9-12 hours per week

Coming off 20+ hour training weeks in the build to Ironman, 9-12 hours is manageable, especially when the sessions are singles and not doubles.  For myself, the athlete, I prefer not to have a day off, but with this framework, if I wanted a day off, I took it, and I doubled-up on another day.  Around the holidays, I took the lower end of the range for the daily sessions, and probably dropped one of the swims here and there.  The critical factor though, like all training, was consistent, repeatable work.  This framework enabled consistency in my schedule, and built a nice aerobic foundation that kept my body healthy and mind healthy.  Speed came in alactic bursts to keep the nervous system awake and motor pathways somewhat sharp.  The concepts are Lydiard Light in principle.  This admittedly isn’t rocket science.  Consistency in training gets you 80% to where you need to be on race day.  It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, this is endurance sports’ one inalienable truth.

The consistency was one of two absolutely critical factors to what I believe was a successful Transition Season.  The second was an unplanned 8-day trip with my sister, father and step-mother to the Galapogos the first week of December.  Without going into too much detail, I got an urgent voice mail from my father Thanksgiving week asking if I could go to the Galapagos to fill in for my sister’s fiancé who had to back out at the last minute.  The Galapagos is the one trip my wife and I did not do pre-kids that I always wish we had done, so my first thought was nope, I can’t go without Elizabeth.  As is the more often than not saintly person that is my wife, she urged me to not pass up an opportunity to spend an intense amount of quality time with my sister and father while doing so in a place that she knew would inspire me.  And so I went.

I spent the first 48-hours of the trip (36 of which was in Quito where I had running access), stressing about getting a workout in.  Sound familiar?  I jammed three runs in my time in Quito, equally ridiculous because running at nearly 10,000 feet is ridiculous in and of itself and running that much in a fascinating foreign city which I had never seen is both tragic and absurd.  However, once I boarded the boat that would be home for the next 6 days, I finally was able to kill the type-A triathlete in my head, relax, and embrace the trip.  And when I did that, I was liberated to be in the moment and enjoy everything that I had wanted the trip to be when I envisioned it before I left home.  My sister and I are water-babies, astrologically (yes, Gabrielle, you would be proud I actually typed that) and physically.  To spend 6 straight days with my sister and father swimming with sea lions (Lobos!), turtles, sharks and other fascinatingly beautiful aquatic life was fodder for the soul.  When I got back to Atlanta not only was I fresh of mind, I was fresh of body.  And guess what?  I felt like I hadn’t missed a beat in my training.  Lesson learned – if you’re going to be on vacation, be in the moment and embrace it. If you straddle the fence between vacationing and working or training, you’re doing none of the above well and really are getting the benefits of neither.  The Galapagos time was a nice mid-season (Transition Season) break that provided an intense dosage of mind/body recovery that I didn’t think I needed at the time.   In retrospect, it was undeniably critical for the season.

One last thing that about the Transition Season before I sign-off on this post.  I didn’t race during the Transition Season, a conscientious choice that allowed me to focus on healing my feet, really laser in on aerobic base-building and not stress my already taxed body (and mind) after the Louisville-Kona double.  This is nothing new for me.  Personally, I prefer not to race in the Transition Season, or if I do, I usually look at the event like a nice training day where I go and participate rather than race.  It’s nice to not go to the well on the adrenal system for several consecutive months, especially as I’ve gotten older.

In short, the Transition Season looked like this – 3 Weeks completely off (2 to kick it off/1 in the middle). 9-12 hours per week for the other 7 weeks.  Again, not rocket science on the program or execution.  But it’s functional AND repeatable which ultimately leads to the all-important ‘C’ word: consistency.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Shanks October 6, 2011 at 8:54 am

Solid post. To clarify you took 2 weeks completely off AFTER the 2 weeks of continued training post Kona? Was that due to you wanting to heal an injury or from after that 2 week training post race just drop volume significantly to acquire rest but still hold onto fitness and head into that Transition phase?

Matthew October 6, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Exactly. I took the 2 weeks off, 2 weeks AFTER Kona. The purpose here is to leverage the fitness bump you get from the race to minimize the retraining effect of time off. If you can train the 2 weeks after the race, you can mitigate some of the downside deterioration.

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