Monday, January 20, 2020

Training slow - the time to keep the ego firmly in check

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I'm painfully aware that some readers of my blog may wonder what the hell a guy with a mere 18 months of Triathlon training under his belt is doing offering advice to the wider world.  Surely there are a lot of more qualified 'experts' out there offering a more valid view?

Well, yes, and if I come across as a know-it-all I apologise! That's not my intention at all.  If anything, a lot of my blog posts are actually a method for reminding myself of training and racing principles that will benefit me as much as you - I find the process of writing my thoughts down actually forces them into my brain.

And so it was this week that I had a bit of a re-revelation.  Why a "re"-revelation?  Well, because I already knew and trusted the theory - but for various reasons I had chosen to ignore it for a while.   This week it was time to get back on the wagon.

What was the theory I'd been ignoring?  That sometimes you have to train slower in order to race faster.  And that means putting your ego firmly in second place to your brain when training.

I get my training schedule each week from my coach Mark Shepherd (we have to do it on a weekly basis due to fluctuating work and childcare commitments). Sometimes, I look at a session and think "crikey, that's gonna be a tough one!" and then other times I admit I think "how boring".

A good example of the latter is a steady five-mile run with a max heart rate (HR) of 145bpm (just under 70% of my max HR - I'd call this Zone 2, but there are lots of different 'zone calculators' out there). To me, with my current state of fitness (still have the last remnants of a chesty cold) that means running around 5:20 to 5:40 pace per kilometre.  That feels painfully slow.

Now I like to think I'm intelligent enough to understand the benefits of training well below my anaerobic threshold.  I understand that it will make my aerobic system more efficient (while also enabling me to recover from harder sessions) and that, in turn, will benefit me on race day.

BUT... I'm also entirely capable on occasion of leaving my brain at home and becoming convinced that I need to train faster in order to race faster.  With running faster in races my number one priority at the moment, I sometimes get annoyed with myself for not being able to run faster for a given heart rate - and so I confess that over the last month or two, I've allowed myself to creep above my given HR limits on a few runs.

I guess this started when I had a cold and my heart rate just seemed to shoot up the moment I put one foot in front of the other.  Worried at the prospect of my first big race of the season coming up (Dambuster Duathlon), I chose to focus on pace goals rather than  keeping my HR in check.  As a short-term strategy, I don't think it did me too much harm (I did set new PBs at both Dambuster and Newbury, after all).

BUT (and it's a big but), now it's time to get back into the proper mindset and realise that low-HR sessions are in my schedule for a reason. It's funny how, with the right mental attitude, you can feel quite pleased with yourself for running slowly!

So maybe you too should ask whether you are training too fast and not giving yourself the foundation for race day? I won't spend too much time writing up all the reasons you should spend a portion of your training in Zone 2 (just do a Google search - plenty of experts out there who know more than I do!), but here are a few good reasons to put the ego away and train slower every now and then:

+ You are primarily burning fat for fuel - bodies like to burn glycogen (sugar/carbs) but training your body to burn fat will make it more efficient at using the available fuels on race dau

+ Good for building both muscular and aerobic endurance

+ Won't put too much strain on muscles or cause lactic build up

+ Essential for recovery from harder sessions (such as intervals)

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Matt Fisher runs - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a two-times qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs