Methods of Endurance Training: Winter 2010/2011 Part 5

About a month ago in Methods of Endurance Training: Winter 2010/2011 Part 4 by looking at how I set up my winter training in terms of both structure, intensity and progressions, along with showing you the exact workouts during my two transition weeks and my first 8 weeks of training in unreadable detail.  I won’t even attempt to summarize it; go read it.

As it turned out, shortly after finishing that piece, three different events caused me to make some changes to my training and I want to look at them today and Friday.  Arguably the first is that my race schedule started to form up with the first inline race dates being announced.  This is actually a semi-annoyance of some summer endurance sports, they feel compelled to wait until after Jan 1st to start announcing races even though most athletes start their preparation late in the previous calendar year.

This is actually a pretty minor bitch to be honest, the first 8 weeks of most endurance athlete’s training is the same basic donkey work no matter how you cut it.  Knowing when the first races are doesn’t change much unless you’re crazy enough to do early February road races or some such.  In any case, finally having race dates on my schedule finally allowed me to set up the structure of my training and season in more detail than ‘just keep doing aerobic work until your brain rots’.

Other issues came up right about that time that caused me to change my training structure somewhat: I’ll talk about both below.  On top of actually knowing when I’d be racing, these went into deciding on some structural changes to my overall training plan.

And if there’s a single point to what I’m going to babble about it’s that the best plan ‘on paper’ must be modifiable and flexible when reality interjects itself.  With races on the calendar and the other issues, I had to make changes sooner rather than later.

Admittedly, they mostly fit into my overall plan already but, had they not, I would have had to make them anyhow.  An old military saying is that “No plan survives contact with the enemy” and training plans are no different: the perfect training plan rarely survives contact with reality.

Before I look at those issues, I want to summarize what had happened during the previous 8 weeks of training.

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The First 8 Weeks of Winter Training

As it turned out, the final week of training that I detailed in Methods of Endurance Training: Winter 2010/2011 Part 4 was my 8th week of base training, following my two weeks of transition.  Over those 10 weeks, I’d moved from low level aerobic work in the first few weeks to my three tempo workouts (one EFX, one run, one bike) and pretty much all aspects of my fitness had improved almost linearly.  Despite my chronic soreness from weights (soreness I’ve dealt with for 20+ years) I was clearly not overtrained as evidenced by my constant progress.

My heart rates had stayed where I wanted them/decreased on the slideboard (they were in the middle 130’s moving up to low 140’s when I was fatigued so it was nice and aerobic) and I was handing the weekly set time bumps without effort.  Mostly it was just boring.  Everything else was improving as well.

My bike power outputs had climbed almost weekly and I was hitting power outputs that I had only in early spring of the previous year; with weeks to go this gave me plenty of room to keep improving.  I had some concrete end goals that I wanted to hit in the back of my mind but there was no telling when things would level off so I wasn’t forcing it.  I was making adjustments as I adapted and it was time.

My run speeds were getting better (with only two runs per week, I wasn’t making as much progress as I had the previous year with three runs per week of course) and my EFX training levels were right where they had been if not a touch higher.  Basically all evidence pointed to me having a bigger aerobic engine (or at least the equal) to what I’d had in the previous winter.  In the weight room, I had made basically non-stop progress (some of which was regaining strength mind you but I was snatching and clean and jerking more than I ever did in my 20’s) until week 8.

My motivation was staying pretty high although I’d have the occasional ass-dragging day usually on day 3 of the Thursday/Friday/Saturday mini-block.  Between having a variety of training modes along with actually having a life (e.g. volunteer stuff, etc.), I wasn’t nearly as mentally drained as I had been in the previous winter.  Having things to do between my seemingly non-stop workouts made them not be quite so grueling since the training wasn’t the only thing I had to look forward to during the day.  The added day off was probably a big helper too.

Ultimately, all indicators in terms of my training  basically pointed to me being in even better aerobic shape compared to the previous season with nearly three months of preparation left to go.  This was good.

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And Then the Problems Started

However, as I finished writing Methods of Endurance Training: Winter 2010/2011 Part 4, I mean literally that week (week 9 of my winter cycle), a few problems cropped up that made me have to re-evaluate my overall training.

The first was a general feeling of coming up onto the edge of overtraining-land.  I had been pushing everything up almost weekly for the past 8 weeks and eventually something is going to give.   Apparently it was me and I was starting to feel like I was about to get into trouble again.

This is a very subjective thing since I don’t track morning heart rates or heart rate variability or any of the stuff you’re supposed to track any more.  The main thing I noticed was a generalized inflammation and heaviness of the legs that just wouldn’t go away.   I wasn’t experiencing the standard behavioral issues that often occur but I was feeling physically a bit beaten up.

I was noting some slight sleep issues, more waking up and such during the night, along with some generalized problems with hunger control.  All of these tend to be signs to me that I’m not recovering and/or problems are starting (I had them almost constantly in Salt Lake City for example).

A touch more concretely although still subjectively, I just didn’t feel like I was quite recovering on a daily basis; even with my two days off I was carrying the generalized soreness and such longer and into every workout.  I never felt 100% fresh for any workout which was a distinct change from the previous 8 weeks.

And while this didn’t manifest itself in actual losses of performance during my endurance workouts, I did have my first ‘bad’ workout in  the weight room that week (bad being defined here as failing to match or exceed my previous week’s PR).  It wasn’t miserable but I was starting to feel a little bit beaten up for sure; my pop was gone and my timing was a bit off on jerks.  It was noticeable to me.

And while I didn’t feel the need to take a 5-day freshening up period (yet), I did realize the importance of making some modifications to my overall training structure to make sure that I didn’t dig myself into the same hole I’d been in the previous summer.

A possibly related issue was a very minor injury that I sustained during a Thursday tempo run during Week 9.  I’m not sure what caused it, might have been ALFIE! having chewed the shit out of my running shoes that made me alter my gait but I got a slight strain in my right tensor-fasciae latae (TFL).  It was nothing serious, just a bit of pain and discomfort.

It didn’t affect any workouts except running but it wasn’t pleasant and I sure didn’t want to make it worse.  I seem to get about one of these things per year, I did it every season on the ice.   Just some minor niggling injury that takes me off of one mode of training but never actually impacts on anything that matters (e.g. skating or cycling).

The above issues would have caused me to re-evaluate my training in a number of ways regardless; but there was another major issue that surfaced at about this time that made it clear I needed to sit down and make some changes.

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The Goal of course is Racing

My primary issue in terms of altering my training structure, mind you, was the beginning of the racing season.  More specifically, the timing of the Texas Road Rash.  This was the race that had signalled my return to outdoor inline the previous year and, once again, it was pretty early in the season.  Specifically it had finally been announced for the second week in April.

This is pretty early for a summer endurance sport especially given the inconsistent Austin weather.  The basic issue, as I detailed in previous parts of the series was that I would have limited time back on my skates outdoors before it was time to race.   But timing wasn’t the only real issue.

In a normal competitive season, you use early season races as tune-ups/hard-workouts/almost testing.  You’re not nearly in peak shape (or shouldn’t be unless you want to fall apart later in the season) and the early races are just getting the system running well.  On the ice in Salt Lake City we always used the first couple of time trials to just get our bearings and back into the scheme of racing after an extended preparation period.

Ideally the most important race of the season falls near the end when you’ve had a chance to get everything running and fix weak points.  In that vein, it’s best if earlier races are relatively less important as you start coming into form, top off your fitness, get used to racing, etc.  That’s the idea but for reasons I’ll describe next, that wasn’t on the table for me at the Texas Road Rash. I intended/needed to show up loaded for bear and kick ass at this race for two main reasons.

The first is that I was still annoyed at myself for having placed second a mere two seconds back for having made a dumb tactical error.  That was easy to fix, I simply wouldn’t make that mistake a second tine.  And there wasn’t really much I could do about that during winter prep anyhow.  Tactics will come with race experience, it’s nothing you can really practice when you do all of your training alone.

Arguably the more important, and far more petty reason, that I cared about this race, is that I had some unfinished business with the kid who had beaten my by those mere 2 seconds.  Sure, I hadn’t raced outdoors in 15 years and wasn’t really in peak shape, I didn’t taper at all and was really just there to ‘race the distance’.  But it still pissed me off.  And I’ve still been hanging onto that defeat to this kid for the entire year. I don’t let stuff go easily and I sure wasn’t letting that go.

After the race in 2010 I had asked him if he was racing again in 2011.  He said yes.  I asked him if he was doing the full marathon.  He said most likely.  And I asked him if he’d be moving up to the pro division.  And he said probably.  And I told him that I’d see him then.  I had basically decided right then and there that, while he might beat me in 2011, he was going to suffer every minute in doing it.  He may have youth but I have wisdom and I intend to bring him nothing but pain during the race.  That’s the macho b.s. I fill my head with when I’m suffering through workouts anyhow.

Of somewhat less petty a focus, I was going to race the full marathon distance in the pro division regardless of his presence or absence since that’s where I need to be.  Under other circumstances, I’d have stuck at the half-marathon distance for such an early race and used it as a final tune-up to see where I stood.  But I had already decided that I was racing the full marathon in the open pro division and would make this kid suffer.  I had to be ready.

Adding to all of this was the massive problem that had occurred last year.  I had lost months of productive training due to what I described in Overtraining and Over-reaching: Results Part 1 and Overtraining and Over-reaching: Results Part 2. Rather than ending the 2010 season at a peak of fitness and building further from there, I was starting from a lower position this winter than I would have liked.

Coupled with the lateness of Houston, my overall base winter period had gotten cut a bit short; ideally I’d have had an extra month of winter training to get ready.  Mind you, there wasn’t much I could do about this actively although it was impacting on my preparation for this racing season.  Certainly I’m going to do my best to ensure that I finish this season in a good place to start my 2012 prep (yes, I am thinking that far ahead).

But the finally announced date of the Texas Road Rash, along with everything else going on that I described today, meant it was time to really sit down and plot things.  And that’s where I’ll pick up in Part 6 on Friday when I tell you about what changes I made during the last 4 weeks of training.

Read Methods of Endurance Training: Winter 2010/2011 Part 6.

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