Justifications Part One – The Big Picture

Starting a blog and creating some kind of public profile means anybody can find out about me. I don’t know the impression people come away with, hopefully positive. Recently chatting on a coffee stop revealed that prior to Epic Camp Steven had expected me to be totally different. In fact from what he said the impression I must have given in this blog was the opposite of what I’m like!

With this in mind and inspired by some recent commentary and criticism I feel the need to justify myself. This is going to be long. So long I’m actually splitting it into five posts over the next few days. It’ll all be out there before I race in Roth. I hope it will be of interest to at least some of you. More importantly I want it to clarify my approach to training and racing.

Long Term Planning.

To start things off I want to talk through my long term plans coming into this year and over all for this sport. It’s quite obvious my year is very event heavy by age group standards. There are those who question the wisdom of this. Certainly I must admit part of my motivation is a simple love of racing along with the challenge of racing a lot. There’s something about the process of testing yourself that drives me. Add to that I want to push and test my boundaries and the idea of six Ironman distance races in a year is born.

Is this optimal for race performance? Possibly not, but my belief is that at the Ironman distance the percentage effort we are mostly racing at allows for multiple races. There are plenty of examples of pros racing lots – Bella Bayliss, Hillary Biscay, Petr Vabrousek, Chris McDonald and lots of Team TBB guys. Sure to be fair you can balance that out with even more pro athletes racing infrequently – Craig Alexander, Normann Stadler or Cameron Brown. Both parties have displayed a range of successes, my examples of infrequent racers more so than the others!

What this says to me is that it’s perfectly possible for a highly trained, fit individual to race multiple Ironman races per year. Clearly it does happen in many instances at the professional level. You can also find examples of age groupers routinely racing; generally the limiter for these age groupers is time or money. Whether these athletes are racing at their absolute best is another matter. Without accurate analysis we’re essentially dealing in anecdote. Comparable data for this sort of test is pretty hard to come by. Should someone have some I’d certainly be interested to see references.

At this point I make an assumption. I assume my training and fitness is sufficient to handle a similar race load to some of these athletes I mentioned.I know I am not as fit as these pros, but I also know I am at a very high level of fitness. Having ridden with one or two of them in the past I’ve seen first hand what the difference between an age grouper like myself and a pro is. There is a notable difference, but I also know that the gulf isn’t as big as I expected. Perhaps it seems like hubris, but if they can do it then so can I!

Racing a lot, especially long distance racing does have implications for the way I structure my training. However, even before that adopting a full-time training regime already had massive implications. Aspects like periodisation, focussed training blocks, tapering and recovery all fit in around a larger pattern. Base, Build, Taper, Recover become a little more mixed up. Not just for me, but I’ve seen similar patterns in other full-time athletes age grouper or pro. I’ll go into details of my training blocks and methodology tomorrow.

There are a vast range of training methodologies and approaches out there. I’ve read books and web sites about many of them and probably only touched the surface. All the time I try to apply my critical faculties to determine what I agree or disagree with. There’s plenty of science touted to support the different views and as with any scientific paper one has to question the validity of the method before drawing conclusions. Much of sports science suffers from a lack of test subjects and tiny data sets. Aside from that, much of it, particularly in nutrition seems to be funded by interested parties! Coming from a background in biology I always find it a little concerning. Opinions change over time as new research comes into play so what’s considered best now may not be five years down the line.

What this means for my year’s training plan is I’ve taken what I’ve read, what I’ve learnt talking to other athletes and coaches and what my experience tells me. I’ve considered all of this and structured my approach on that basis. I am influenced by how many races I have and where they’re placed in terms of where my training blocks fit together. As with any athlete I follow a plan I believe will work well for me and will fit with my environment and personality.

I opted for a simple basic week structure. The principle being that at this point in my development there’s much to gain by slowly building fitness through consistency and volume. Similarly I choose to race a lot because I believe the racing gives me a lot of experience which will pay back over the years. I can assure you some experienced athletes have told me how sometimes it comes down to hard work and patience. I can do both! I’ll come back to the way I build my week in a couple of days.

It clearly seems like I do an awful lot. If you add up the hours I train and race then I’d agree. I love to train, I enjoy the hours I spend doing it. Whilst volume is high, the intensity isn’t always that high. I’ve encountered this before – the assumption that I must ride or run harder than I do. A big part of my training is at very easy or moderate intensities. A much smaller part is at higher intensities. I think I’ll save the debate of volume versus intensity for another time. I see value in both and prefer some degree of a mix, but ultimately must confess to being a volume orientated athlete.

Outside of the numerous Ironman races I have I have a lot of smaller B or C races. These ones I rarely taper for and are primarily there for training. A lot of that portion of intensity comes from them. What better way to get the most out of yourself than to race? I don’t often do them at my best, my body is simply too tired to. However I go in and work hard at them and enjoy some moderate success. What I do get is more valuable race experience and a very good workout. It’s also a lot of fun too and adds variety. Variety is very important when you train long hours!

What about Kona? I want to race Kona. It’s important to me and if things had gone to pla I would have that slot now. They haven’t so far. I came close in Ironman Western Australia. Then an average race in Ironman Australia and an injury for Ironman Lanzarote stopped any chances there. Ironman UK is the next chance and I’ll give it my all. Preparing with Roth three weeks earlier is unorthodox, but I’ve made my entries and will stick to them.

Originally the plan was to have my slot and use the Roth/UK combination as an experiment. Things change and I know I’m increasing the risk of missing that Hawaii slot this year. For those who already think I do too much I’ll disappoint you more by telling you my fall back plan is to race Challenge Barcelona and the ITU World Long Course Championships if I miss Kona!

To finish this incredibly long first part (and bear in mind there may be five parts in all!) I want people to realise it’s taken me time to reach this point in my training. I didn’t just jump into 30 hour training weeks one day. Whilst I’ve not been in endurance sport for that long by many standards there has been a five to six year build from big weeks being 10 hours to them hitting 40.

Personally I consider that a reasonable rate of growth. Discussing things like a rule of building training by 10% a year or similar is simply slavishly following a rule of thumb. I’m not aware of physiological issues though perhaps there is research behind the number that I’ve missed. I assume it is a convenient conservative safety guide to minimise risk to athletes in general. Sometimes if you really want to push yourself though you have to take some risks.