Winter Workload

A week since race day and I’ve been acting out my off season plan. For seven days I’ve eaten whatever I want, slept in and avoided anything resembling exercise. I extended the off season into every aspect of life doing the absolute minimum needed! It’s been fun, but can I return to normal now?

Another fortnight of this holds no appeal. I’m itching to do something active again and I’m fed up eating cake! There’s a tradition of taking a break at the end of a season and following it with ‘off season‘ training. Two year’s chasing an endless summer means I’ve dodged tradition and know it’s not essential.

What happens when you take a training break? You start losing fitness and combined with a relaxed diet you’ll gain weight. There’s room for a little of this, but if I extended mine to three weeks I dread the point I’ll reach. The longer the break the more fitness lost. Every week off leaves me more work when I start again.

A break has its benefits – long periods of focussed training are mentally and physically tiring. Down time allows for high quality recovery. I’m not immune and needed time off during the last two years. More on the mental side when the pressure of continual structured training all seemed too much!

Costs and benefits should be balanced if you don’t feel mentally or physically drained there’s no reason to extend down time. I’m not going to force myself to take a break I’ll do whatever activity I feel like. After a few weeks I’ll think about structure and sessions.

Beyond the end of season break comes the off season. A confusing period with conflicting views on what should be done. Don’t do too much or you’ll be burnt out by race season… Winter miles, Summer smiles… Focus on intensity not mileage… If anything it’s a worse mess than the advice on Ironman training!

Being a long way from races the off season provides an opportunity to do something different. The perfect time for a single sport focus whether to eliminate weaknesses or boost strengths. A month or two dedicated to one sport can reap real benefits. When training balance is restored you come back an improved triathlete.

Winter isn’t about avoiding intensity or logging big miles nor is it just about training intensively. I see no reason to view the off season any differently to the rest of the year. The aim is a consistent training load, i.e. a mix of volume and intensity that you can perform week after week.

Admittedly weather is a good reason to adjust plans, but it’s not a good reason to train less effectively. Rather than view it as an excuse to train less view it as motivation for a focussed period of training. Identify areas to work on (probably avoiding endurance) and build the program round them.

It’s the perfect time to work on threshold power. Riding outdoors is less pleasant and I can only manage the turbo for so long. A large chunk of my riding will be spent indoors working at threshold pace. I’ll get outside a little, but I’m not going to worry about regularly long rides until Spring. Endurance will come back easily especially with a few months of FTP work.

Swimming can really benefit if any environment is unaffected by winter it’s the indoor pool. My program will continue the regular swim sessions that worked well in the build to Hawaii. There’s no magic to them it’s a combination of consistency, regularity and ensuring there’s hard work in each one. An entire winter of that will set me up for the New Year.

I realise this reads like I’ve no off season focus, but running is where I’m looking to make gains. I can chip away at times in the otherss, but know that good run training will significantly improve results. The build into ITU LD Worlds set me up to run three hour marathon pace the aim is to develop that for Ironman Austria.

It’s not a weakness, but the best area to place my efforts as the returns are huge. A high volume period of running will set me up for a faster 2011 season. It sounds like winter miles and effectively it is. I know I respond well to running a lot then running harder. Too much of the latter and I’m far more likely to injure myself.

My winter involves fewer hours of training overall, but the workload will remain the same. Time will be divided differently with a run emphasis and a reduction in cycling. Training intensity will be adjusted I may not be cycling for as long, but I’ll balance it by cycling harder. Less time on the bike, but not too large a drop in training load.

My athletes are mostly in their off seasons. For each of them I’m establishing a basic week that we’ll carry through the winter and into next year. The focus of their week is determined the same way as mine – where are the biggest gains to be made? Some sports are maintained and some developed it’s hard to improve them all at once. There’ll be harder weeks to come in the season, but none of them are taking it easy.

(When I take a break I really take a break. Regular blogging will return, but don’t expect daily posts that’s tough work! I’ll also be contributing a monthly column for Endurance Corner so watch out for posts there. The focus here will be on building my sub-9 Ironman plans, run training and working towards goals. I’m always open to suggestions by e-mail, Twitter or Facebook too.)


  • skeptical

    From the outside observer reading this blog big miles looks like what kicked you in the ass and got you injured. Then you missed out on the opportunity to train and race in Kona the way you wanted to. Now you’re planning to go and do the same thing and expect different results. Albert Einstein once said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

  • I’d agree that it’s certainly a judgement that can be made and perhaps I should have left in the comment that I’d probably not go as high a volume as I did in the summer when I edited this post.

    I can’t rule out that the 100 mile run week led to the injury or that the injury was a result of a cumulative high run load. However I can check my logs and see that I first noted the issue 10 days after the end of the 100 mile run week. Following the big mileage week I’d run a 30 mile week and then tapered into my race with a 20 mile run week. The injury itself occurred during the second of a pair of low mileage run weeks. Recovery was then aggravated by racing on the then minor issue.

    What also has to be considered is that the choice to try high volume was based on trying a different approach and seeing the result. In terms of performance compared to the past two years of training I shifted from a run pace which at my best gave a 3:10-3:15 marathon in long course to one that was closer to 3:00 hours. Not only that my perception throughout LD Worlds was that I was running easy and could up the pace if needed (hence the sub 6 minute miles to finish).

    If high volume caused the injury it also caused my best run performance of the past two years. A single sentence stating I’ll be taking a high volume approach isn’t a training plan. Of course I’ll consider the risk of injury, but I’ll also take on board the benefits I reaped. If I can approach it correctly, avoid injury and reap the same benefits then this is what’s going to take me to a faster IM marathon.

    I could of course repeat the previous lower volume, high frequency run approach, but then by your quote I would also be insane to expect to run faster than 3:10.

  • A great answer to a pointless comment Russ.

    I love the way that negative comments are so often accompanied by anonymity and so rarely by questions that may allow a more informed comment or constructive form of criticism.

    It’s also a shame that those such as ‘skeptical’ seldom find time to offer praise and congratulations in times of success.

  • RobQ

    +1 Tom – it does my head in to read negative comments written behind the veil of anonymity. Russ was running unbelievably well at the ITU worlds (I know, i saw it). One would expect if the volume had been the main instigator of the injury it would have happened earlier. Something I’ve thought (and I know Russ knows this) is to taper down more gradually from big mileage running weeks. Potentially (for running especially) the temporary adaptation in muscles, tendons, ligaments etc from big blocks may cause imbalances/issues if a rest week follows a big volume week. I know the week after Epic I developed a few niggles that i’d never had before.

  • Skeptical also doesn’t really understand the quote (also that it’s not clear Einstein ever actually said that) … if you’re doing an experiment then it may be true. But anyone with even limited experience of athletic training will realise that repeating the same protocol reaps huge rewards and improving rewards. In fact, many athletes stop a successful protocol before giving enough time reap the rewards. The key thing is realising when a given approach has reached it’s fruition and a new approach is required.
    I know I’ve mentioned this before but I’m not sure that your previous approach had reached fruition so moving to high volume was questionable. Given how you performed though it would seem you were right to do it.