Good morning, friends!
Did you have a great weekend? Mine was lovely and involved some cycling, swimming, running, and catching up with friends in Toronto over some delicious food and green juice at Fresh. I’ve said it plenty times before, but it’s a good job I don’t live in the Tdot because a large portion of my income would end up going to that restaurant. Never a disappointing trip.
In other news, several of you have been asking about training for Ironman 70.3 Muskoka in July. I figured a post to sum up what’s been going on so far was in order, so here it is!
Hiring a Coach
As I mentioned at the beginning of January, I decided to hire a coach to help me through my triathlon adventures this year. The primary reason for this was that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and wanted some expert guidance. Yes I can run, and last year there was a bit of cycling, but to be honest, I felt that some direction around the cycling and swimming portion of my training would be key to my success this year.
The other big reason was because I am a very stubborn athlete. If it were up to me, I’d go hard and fast on every swim, bike and run. I could talk for hours about what periodization is and why it’s a good idea, but am ashamed to say that I’m certainly not the best example of putting the principle into practice. Last year I intended to run a few more races than I actually did in the fall, and this was because I’d already mentally checked out shortly after SeaWheeze in August. With no real fire inside or desire to race, I was secretly very excited to take an offseason.
The beauty of having a coach is that it’s their job to make sure peaking doesn’t happen too early. As I’m about to explain, my coach has completely transformed the way I train and I definitely wouldn’t structure my plan the same if it was purely up to me. As a result, I’d burn out early and would very likely not be in my prime come July!
While this is the first time I’ve ever worked one-on-one with a coach, it’s also the first time I’ve used heart rate as the training method of choice. Since mid-December, all workouts have been either Z1 (heart rate zone 1) or ZR (recovery). Based on a selection of my previous race times, my coach figured out what my zones are and that’s what we’ve used to gauge the effort level of each workout.
How does Zone 1 heart rate training work?
At the moment, my ‘zone 1’ for cycling is between 119 and 130bpm, and for running it’s about 130-140bpm. If you’re thinking, ‘wow, that’s low‘, I thought the same thing. In the past I’ve just gone out for runs at one of two effort levels – what I’d call ‘moderately hard’ and ‘hard’ – without giving it much thought. As a result, I really only ran in 2 gears. When doing my first zone 1 run, it truly drove me nuts how slow I had to go in order to keep my heart rate within the zone. So what’s the point of all this super slowness, you may ask? Isn’t it a known thing that in order to run fast, you have to train fast? Well, sort of.
What my coach explained to me was that in order to prepare for the 70.3 mile distance properly, we’d spend a good long time at the beginning working on developing my zone 1 on the bike and run. The idea is that over time I’ll (hopefully) become more efficient and need to run faster/cycle harder in order to still stay in Z1. Make sense? He can also look at my heart rate progressions throughout my workouts to see if I’m becoming more efficient, if I’m recovering properly, if I might be dehydrated etc.
My watch of choice for all of this was the Polar M400, but I recently upgraded to the Polar V800 because it’s intended for triathlon and has heaps of cool multisport features. One of the things that has driven me absolutely craaaaazy about other watches is that the numbers are nowhere near big enough to see while moving. Polar has an app called Flow (for your phone and desktop) which makes it really easy to customize screens to show the data you want to see for each sport, and the display is plenty big enough to see with a quick glance. The most recent thing that blew my mind was that the watch can detect what stroke I’m swimming. Maybe I’m just one of those simple minds pleased by simple things, but I still think it’s pretty cool. 😉
My first block of training was a build in volume over 3 weeks, and we’ve recently entered a new block that does the same. The low intensity is still something that’s hard to wrap my head around (it feels more like a shuffle than a run), but the volume sort of makes up for it. On most days there’s 2 of the 3 sports on the agenda, and my lower volume week that just finished totalled just under 11 hours. So while I’m not dripping sweat at the end of runs and rides these days, I’m viewing this as a great time to work on mental focus, to learn what Z1 feels like, and to find ways to stay entertained. Following a black line up and down a pool, sitting on a bike trainer and running on a treadmill can get pretty monotonous, but podcasts, fresh playlists, Netflix and a bit of TV have all been keeping my mind engaged.
To sum up the workouts part, I’ve (for the first time) released total control and am trusting the process and my coach. (Type A personalities be like “WHHHHAAAAAT!?!?!”) If this was strictly run coaching, my stubbornness would probably emerge again and I might not be so compliant. Of course, we’re in regular contact talking about how I’m feeling, and he’ll adjust my workout schedule if needed. Initially, I was hesitant about having someone else dictate my training because I’m so used to being the boss of my body. But strangely and surprisingly, I’m 100% ok with it. Fewer decisions on my part means I can focus on other things and not have to worry about whether or not I’ll be ready on race day.
Of course, nutrition is an imperative part of athletic performance no matter what the A-race or end goal is. When we initially talked about nutrition, many of the day-to-day principles my coach asked me to follow fell in line with exactly what I was already doing – eating clean, staying hydrated, and focusing on lots of nutrient-dense foods. Eating while cycling and running however, was a different story.
Eating on the go
In the past, I’ve been really lazy about fuelling during long workouts and races. I don’t normally carry anything during a half marathon and to be honest, stopping for water is also something I’ll rarely do. (Insert monkey-covering-eyes emoji here – I truly am terrible about this!) But had I decided to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon last fall, my plan was going to be to train with gels and water leading up to the race, and carry one with me on the day of to see if there’d be a boost in performance. That didn’t happen, but it’s experimentation time again.
For now, we’re working on getting my gut accustomed to taking in a specific ratio of sugars, sodium and fluid. Before every workout I drink Vega sugar-free pre-workout energizer, and as the name implies, there’s no sugar in there – it just makes me feel awesome and ready to rock, and the ingredients are clean. Then for workouts that are an hour or less, it’s been mostly water, Nuun electrolyte tabs or Vega electrolyte hydrator. (Since I’ve only been training inside lately and at a low intensity, loss of fluids hasn’t been much of an issue. Water is my usual go-to for these shorter workouts.) However, because these are products are calorie-free, they won’t cut it for long sessions.
That leads to the 60/90min+ rides and runs. Again, since intensity has been so low it’s not like my body physically NEEDS calories, but the point of taking them in is to make sure my stomach will respond ok. During a race or a hard workout, there’s a whole lot of stress happening inside of us and that makes being able to predict how the digestive system will react quite difficult. So by priming mine early, the chances of GI issues happening on race day are more limited. The long-distance recommendation was Ironman PowerBar Perform, which I can’t say tastes delicious but it’s palatable enough. There are other products with similar amounts of sugars (in various forms) and sodium, but I opted for this one because it’s what’s most likely to be on the course on race day.
As for solids, we’re not quite there yet as far as testing goes. The plan is to see if I can get by on a few gels and possibly some solids left in the transition areas, but there’s plenty of time to figure things out between now and July. I’m currently reading Feed Zone Portables (highly recommended) and am hoping to try some of the whole food recipe ideas on my longer training rides.
In general, my hunger level hasn’t changed much. If anything, it might even be down a bit relative to the endless months of high-intensity training I put myself through last year. The foods on my plate are still the same, but I’ve been more intuitive and better at listening to true hunger signals. I’ve also been extra diligent about getting plenty of nutrient-dense foods in shortly after finishing up each workout. These typically consist of veggie-packed omelettes or smoothies and some fruit on the side. (Oh and in case you missed them, I’ve recently posted a bunch of new smoothie recipes made with the new and amazingly improved Vega One. Here’s some of the latest:
So what’s next?
Well, plenty of exciting things, actually! In addition to ramping up the volume some more (which I’m really looking forward to) I’m off to Las Vegas at the end of February for a mini training camp. I jumped at the chance to be able to ride my bike on a real road instead of a trainer, and am really looking forward to geeking out and learning all sorts about triathlon from my coach during the trip. With this adventure and the earlier escape from the cold to Bahrain in December, I’m feeling like a pretty lucky girl these days!
So tell me…
- Are you currently or have you ever worked with a coach? What was your experience like?
- If you’re training for a big fitness-related endeavour this year, what is it? How’s your training been going so far?
- Vegas friends: Anything in particular that I MUST see while there?