- I'm not a trainer - these are things that have worked for me. Use at your own risk.
- I'm not a medical professional either - I don't know your fitness level, family history, illnesses, meds, etc. Use at your own risk.
- I'm not a medical professional either (part deux) - there are probably a lot of medical/terminology errors. Let me know and I'll see if there's a better way to make the point.
- Everyone is different - make sure you're doing what works for you, not just following what's listed here.
I got a lot of guidance on putting together a training program from Ian Murray, who one night back in 1999, sat down with 3 triathlon newbies and got us ready for Wildflower and Ironman California (back when it was one). Some is just stuff that I've picked up over the years from friends, books, fellow athletes, etc. We also had a talk about this at the South End, and I got some great feedback from Bill Wygant, Joel Lanz, Dianna Shuster, Dan Needham, MaryAlex, John Walker, Jim Knight, Mark, and Brenda Austin. (Apologies for those I missed.)
In my opinion, there are three things that one needs to work on when training for endurance events:
- Aerobic Fitness - improving one's cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness
- Anaerobic/Strengh Training - for endurance events, this isn't as important as aerobic fitness. But I think it does play a part in preventing injuries, and giving your body the strength to continue moving at the end of the event
- Form - no one has perfect form. Improving efficiency by just 1% can make a huge difference when your event is measured in hours (or longer)
- The length of your training program will depend on the difference between your current training and what you have to do to be prepared for the event. For shorter events, you can (and probably should) be training at a longer distance than the race distance. For longer events, you should train for less than the race distance / split the longest training session into multiple days.
- 15 weeks is typically a good amount to plan for; I wouldn't recommend more than ~6-7 months without a month of rest. If you're training for something really crazy, you'll obviously go over. But better advice is probably to make your race a multi-year goal.
- Assume 3 weeks for tapering (dependent on length of event) and three 4-week training cycles.
- For the taper, I drop down to 75% or less for week 1 of the taper, 50% or less for week 2, and 33% or less for week 3. Maintain intensity - just decrease the amount of time you train. My long swims drop by even greater amounts - ie, probably no longer than 3 hours during week 1, no longer than 2 hours during week 2, and no longer than 1.5 hours during week 3.
- Increase long workouts for 3 weeks; follow this with a rest week where every workout is 50% of usual. I usually keep my workouts during the week fairly constant (in terms of both time and effort), but increase the length of my weekend / long distance workouts. Note that as you get in better shape, you will be able to swim faster with the same effort, so you will cover a longer distance during your weekly workouts, lift more weight, etc.
- Typical recommendation is not to increase by more than 10-15% per week, but this depends on the sport and what you've done in the past. Running puts a lot of stress on the body, so I never increase my running by more than 10%. I'm a little better with swimmin, so don't always follow it there - do what feels right.
- You should have 1 critical workout every week. This will usually be your long swim, but could be a shorter sprint workout, etc. You can't miss it. When training for a long event, this is the workout that gets longer every week.
- The other workouts for the week are just to keep you in shape, prevent injury, improve form, etc. You don't have to do anything crazy. I continue working out for the same amount of time throughout my training. The distance that I go does increase slightly as I get more efficient. I usually keep it at 1.5 hours or less, even when doing something really crazy. (Per Freeda Streeter, when Allison Streeter trained for a double, she was only swimming about 3500m per day during the week.)
- Don't be afraid to change your plan if things aren't going correctly. If you've got pain in one part of your body, try doing some other form of exercise for a week.
- Running and other activities help to break up the monotony. (Running is just what I do - biking, etc. also work well.) Other activities will improve your aerobic capacity while working/stressing other parts of your body.
- I initially did Yoga to improve my core strength and flexibility. One of the added bonuses was more relaxed breathing, which makes a huge difference when you consider that you're going to be doing a lot of breathing.
- Write down what you plan to do on a wall calendar or something similar in pencil. (I create a new Calendar folder in Microsoft Outlook, print out the months I need, and then delete the folder.)
- Write what you did in a separate log. This way you can track your training and go back to see what you did right before you got injured or sick. Then you can change your training as needed. (This is why it's in pencil or on the computer.)
Example Training Week for a really long swim:
**Note - I'm beginning to rethink my training plan listed below, but am still working it out in my head. I think one might call this the working-man's training plan, where the workouts during the week are 'relatively' short, and the big stuff happens on the weekend. I've heard that a lot of people are having a lot of success with doing fairly big workouts every day of the week - 2.5-3 hours every day. The weekend workouts aren't so big for the vast majority of the year, but do get a little bigger towards the end of your training. This is obviously a lot harder to do with a job, family, school, etc., but seems to be working very well for some people.
|AM||Masters or Ocean Swimming||Short Run and Lifting||Yoga||Short Run||REST||Long Swim||Long or Recovery Swim|
|PM||REST||REST||Masters Swimming||Masters Swimming||REST||Long Swim or REST||REST|
- Majority of long distance training will be to increase aerobic fitness - meaning increasing heart/lung capacity, efficiency, veins/arteries, red blood cells, etc.
- Increasing aerobic fitness means that you can exercise faster before you enter the anaerobic zone.
- First month of training should be done at 65-low 70% of max. You're getting your body ready for what will come. This is a focused, yet easy pace - you should be able to have a casual conversation.
- Later months should be done between low 70-80% of max. This is a strong pace that you can hold forever without rest.
- Mix it up - if you're training for a long swim, this shouldn't be your only aerobic exercise. Run, ride a bicycle, walk, etc - this will take stress off of your shoulders, etc. Any way you improve aerobic efficiency is helpful.
- Masters Swimming is helpful here, but make sure you're swimming at your pace and not sprinting. Move to a slower or faster lane as necessary. (I move to a slower one - nothing to be ashamed about.)
- Anaerobic training is when you train at a high intensity for a short period of time - it's when the muscles have to use non-oxygen ways to produce energy.
- Although it's only needed for short periods, it allows you to beat the tides, catch a faster swimmer, and then sit on their feet, etc.
- (I think) Strength training helps to prevent injuries. Also strengthens tendons, and increases bone mass. It helps me to survive the last hour of my events.
- Strength training can take the form of lifting, resistance training, using paddles/fins, fartlek, etc.
- After a hard strength training session (high-intensity lifting), I have a protein recovery drink - I find it improves recovery. (No, they don't sponser me, but I wouldn't turn them down if they did.)
- When training for endurance events, I usually lift once a week (2x20 or 2x15 (increase weight if doing fewer reps)). During a rest week, I drop down to 1x20 or 1x15 without changing weight.
- Lactate Threshold is typically 85-90% of max, with Sprinting in the range of 90-100%. Training at the Lactate Threshold helps to increase the level of high intensity exercise that can be done before you are too tired and have to stop.
- Core training is very important, as that's where a lot of your power originates. Don't just lift the big weights - spend some time strengthing your core.
- Lactic acid does not cause muscles to feel sore - stop spreading this rumor. Soreness comes from the microtears and muscle inflammation. Lactic acid is actually a source of energy. (So what helps? Light exercise seems to help loosen things up. Ice is great. Massage is good, but I don't like one if I'm too sore.)
- Masters Swimming is helpful here as well (see a theme developing?).
- Get a stroke coach early in your training. Some Masters coaches will offer advice if/when they notice, but most won't. The best time to improve your form was 30 years ago. The second best time is now.
- Go back to the stroke coach again.
- Many injuries (but not all) come from overuse. If your form is off, and then you increase your training, you're bound to aggravate any earlier problems.
- A 1% improvement in efficiency makes a huge difference during longer swims.
- Be like Jim Knight - every stroke is perfect. If not, the next stroke is changed to make it better. Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.
- Every workout should include drills to improve stroke.
- Did I mention a stroke coach?
- A local (San Francisco) sports store has an Infinite Pool with a mirror on the bottom. I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds like an interesting way to see your stroke.
- Recommendations? I've been to Leslie Thomas (San Francisco) and Joel Wilson (Santa Cruz). Jim Miller, and I think Jonathan Maier, have been to Deann Joslin (Petaluma). Brenda recommends Mike McDonald (Marin).
- Masters Swimming - although some coaches are not great about providing feedback, having to swim at a set pace will help to improve form. Many other people in the pool might also offer stroke advice as well.
- Swimming in the pool is very important - you need to do that. (I would argue that the vast majority of your training should be in a pool.) But you also have to train in the environment - swimming in a pool is different from swimming in the open water. Your stroke will be different (a little longer), and you have to get used to swimming without lane lines. The same goes for trail running - the hills can be worse compared to what's on the road. You also need to build up enough ankle strength to deal with rocks, twigs, etc., without twisting your ankles.
- A few recommended swimming drills:
Swim a lap with your right arm only, breathing on your left. Return using your left arm only, breathing on your right.
Swim using your fists only.
When recovering your arm out of the water, drag your finger tips along the top of the water.
Catchup drill - leave your left arm in front of you while pulling with your right hand. Start stroking with your left hand only when your right hand has completely finished the stroke and is in front .
- Swim in a straight line. If you swim in a pool on your own, do not swim in circles like you do during masters workouts. Practice swimming back and forth down the center of the lane instead of swimming circles around the line. You (hopefully) won't be swimming in circles during your race.
- During the rest week, continue to workout the same number of days, same activities, etc., just do 50% of the time.
- Continue lifting, just do 1 set instead of 2.
- Recovery workouts are 65% or less of max.
- There must be at least 1 rest day every week. Some people recommend resting before your critical workouts (which I've done in the past), others recommend resting afterwards. Bonnie Schwartz just told me that she rests in the middle of the week - doing so means that she doesn't go into a long workout right after resting for a day, and she's able to swim for a few days after a long workout to help the muscles recover. Sounds like it makes sense - I might give it a try this year.
- Massage is really helpful - treat yourself during your rest week (or more often). Stephanie Gerk from the South-End can be reached at Therapeia Spa.
- Jim Miller recommended rolfing as an alternative to massage.
- Stress at work and at home add to your workout stress. Working out is not done in isolation - if you have a stressful day at work or at home, don't combine that with a hard workout.
- Don't do any hard training when you're sick / have a cold. Wait until you recover, then ease back into it. (I have been known to get in the pool (not the bay) and swim an easy 1000yds, but nothing more. I have also been known to do a pool swim if I feel a cold coming on - I wouldn't recommend this to anyone, but I feel that it helps the cold to take over, which means that my body will kick into overdrive to fight it. Again, just my thoughts - anyone with any medical experience is probably laughing right now.)
- Listen to your body - if you're excessively tired, not sleeping or oversleeping, grouchy, etc., take a day or two off to let your body rest and recover.
- Your body gets stronger as a result of resting after a workout. If you do the workout but don't rest, you won't give your body a chance to rebuild.
- It's better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained.
- Rest after your big event! This doesn't mean that you can't train, it just means that it doesn't need to be structured. It should be fun. (It's my month of sin!)
- My goal is to train to be healthy at the starting line, not to train to finish the event. If you've done all your work, you can just relax on the day of your event.
- As much as possible, wake-up, train, and eat the same foods at the same time that you will during your event.
- You don't always have to drink your high carb drink during 'normal' workouts. Drink water, or try NUUN.
- Train with the same eating pattern. If you'll drink at 1hr, 1.5, 2, 2.5, etc., follow the same drinking pattern in your workouts. Don't just drink whenever you feel thirsty.
- Hydrating and getting energy are not the same thing. Make sure you are balancing these correctly for your needs.
- That being said about training with the same pattern that you'll use during your race, Mike Oram suggests total body confusion. That is, swimming without knowing when you'll stop. (You'll need a buddy to tell you when it's okay to stop.) I managed to sort of use this method by setting my watch while swimming in a pool and not stopping until it beeped. Yes, it wasn't a random amount of time, but it was swimming without counting laps, looking at a clock, etc. This is training your mind for the fact that you might have to swim without knowing when you'll hit shore.
- For those that really want to take this to the illogical extreme, I think we should rent out the Infinite Pool, shut the door and turn the lights off, and swim for random amounts of time. That of course assumes that we haven't gone completely nuts after this training session.
- Mental Imagery is going to be a big part of your training. What does success look like? How will you respond to problems during the event? Failure? How can you increase / improve your focus? What can you do to reduce anxiety? Brenda Austin from the South-End can help with this - you can send me an e-mail, and I'll put you in touch with her.
- HR Measurements - having a HR monitor is helpful:
Formulas suck. But if you have to use one, try MHR = 205.8 - (0.685 * age)
Resting Heart Rate (RHR) should be measured when at rest or immediately after waking up.
Maximum Heart Rate (MHR) should be measured for the sport. Getting this hurts - you need to push yourself. Did you feel like puking? If not, do another sprint until you do. (Check with your doctor first.)
Desired Heart Rate = ((MHR - RHR) * %Intensity) + RHR
Assume Max = 180 and Resting = 50, and you want to determine HR for Aerobic Training between 72% and 80%:
72% HR = ((180 - 50) * .72) + 50 = 143
80% HR = ((180 - 50) * .80) + 50 = 154
- After high intensity lifts or really long training sessions, I have some Endurox. For 'normal' workouts, I usually try to get some 'natural' carbohydrates and protein. Pita bread and hummus is always good. Other portable options include yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, and peanut butter.
- I've found things like Yoga are very helpful - improves balance, strength, breathing, relaxation, etc. Thoughts on Tai Chi?
- Write your training goals down and put them somewhere that you'll see them every day. Also helps to let your spouse/SO plan for when you'll be around / share in the success of your training.
- I try to get more antioxidants when I'm training - green tea, berries, spinach, chocolate, some nuts, etc.
- Although Americans are over-vitaminized, I do take 1/2 a multivitamin per day when training. I think the jury is still out on this one.
- Along the same lines, you are what you eat - you eat shit and you'll probably train like shit. Eat a balanced healthy diet.
- Eating evenly throughout the day allows you to perform /train better than if you eat a few large meals.
- If you'll sweat a lot during your event, look into salt tablets and take them during training. Be sure to increase your salt uptake in the days leading up to the event - don't start on race day.
- I think I read somewhere that stretching doesn't prevent injuries. But I feel better afterwards, so I keep doing it. Don't bounce - ease into the stretch and hold it for 30 seconds or longer.
- Carry a warm fleece/wool cap with you for anytime that you get cold. Being cold in and of itself doesn't make you sick, but it makes you more susceptible to getting sick.
- When you get injured, your primary concern should be recovering so that you can train again. But was the injury due to overuse, bad form, etc., or was it due to an accident? If it's something that you can change, make sure you do.
- Environmentalize - If you're doing a cold event, try to take cold showers, sleep with fewer sheets, etc. If it's a hot (desert) event, get a floor heater for the office, etc.
- You put a lot of stress on your shoulders while you swim - use the steps or ladder to get out of the pool instead of doing a shoulder press to get up and over the gutter.
- If you've got a lot of time, a friend passed along this training link. (Haven't used it - your mileage may vary.)