It’s New Year’s resolution time, which means that many of you are off to start training for your first 5k, half marathon, sprint triathlon, Iron distance race, etc. As the training ramps up and you start to get into a more regimented training schedule, its important to avoid some of the pitfalls resolutions seem to bring around every year.
In order to make sure you’re hitting your goals in July, its important you get your training dialed in in January. Here are a few keys points to remember as you get back into training and shedding the holidays pounds we all put on.
If you’re working with a coach, chances are at the beginning of your training cycle they’ve given you a bunch of low intensity bike and run workouts, and some tedious drills to do in the pool to improve your swim stroke. Your engine may be revving to get some killer fartleks in, and hammer out some VO2 max work, but the best thing you can do for your body right now is to not go out too hard too soon.
Two months ago I got on the bike for the first time in 2 months. Life had kept me busy and I decided I’d just focus on running through the fall anyways. My first week back I somehow figured I could hammer out a Functional Threshold Power test, which is a 20 minute, all out, get off the bike and feel your legs buckle workout. Well I got my ass handed to me and had to throw in the towel after 10 minutes and my results from that 10 minutes were far short of what I could do two months earlier. I should have known better.
A week or two later I was doing 5 minute intervals at what I can usually hold for half an hour. It was humbling but I knew that I had to listen to my body. When getting back into training its important to recognize that as a general rule, you gain back fitness at about the same rate that you lose it when you take more than a couple weeks off. Assuming that you can just pick up right where you left off when you crossed the finish line of that late September race is just unrealistic and will leave you frustrated and probably nursing an overuse injury.
The tip; Patience is key when coming off of a break from training, be realistic about where you’re starting off and work you way back up to form with focus and professionalism.
Ever talk to an avid year round gym goer about how they feel about January at the gym? Most of them can’t stand it. Every January every machine, every treadmill, every pool lane, and every spin class is full. Fitness facilities burst at the seams with people looking to shed holiday weight and that have a set weight or size in mind as their goal. But what happens when you reach that goal? Evidently you get to reward yourself by putting more weight back on because every spring those people are back at the gym trying to get their swimsuit body back.
I like to use times and race distances as goals for the athletes that I work with because you can always go faster or further than the last race. Weights and sizes don’t afford you that luxury because once you hit your target there isn’t really any place left to go.
If you’re chasing a 2 hour half marathon, or an age group podium at the local 10k, or aiming for your first Olympic distance tri in August, the weight and sizes will sort themselves out. And you just might find that someone placing a medal around your neck and crowds of people cheering you down the finish chute is a little more rewarding than numbers on a scale.
The tip; Make your goals bigger than just pounds and sizes. The roar of a crowd beats numbers on a scale any day. Challenge yourself with what you're afraid to do and the rest will get figured out.
Rest and Work
I come from the mentality that your easy workouts should be embarrassingly easy, and your hard workouts should be painfully hard. My wife plays major league soccer and played varsity through university. She used to tell me about how their trainers would work them so hard during intervals that some of her teammates would just keep running after the interval and keep going til they hit the bathroom to go throw up.
I’ve never hit that level of intensity so I figure I’ve never pushed myself hard enough. In truth it may be that I usually avoid Indian and Thai food before hard workouts. But it helps illustrate a point, hard means hard, and easy means easy.
When your coach gives you a certain specific challenging workout the objective is to stimulate certain adaptations in your body that will help you later on in the season. This means pushing your body beyond what’s comfortable. On the flip side, easy workouts are meant to help your body recover, or help to build your aerobic engine.
Too many athletes fall into the trap of getting their training stuck in this awkward physiological middle ground where they’re never fully rested. Their easy workouts aren’t easy enough so they aren’t recovered fully when they get to a hard workout.
The tip; Listen to your coach and take the time to learn the purpose of each workout. This will help you appreciate the design of your training plan and give you a little extra motivation to do what you’re told!
Staying motivated through training in the winter months can be challenging. There’s a couple things that I always encourage others to do when they’re getting back into training.
First of all, ask yourself why you’re training and racing. Was there a life event that made you decide to take the leap and get into sport? Is there somebody or some story that brought you to where you are today? Perhaps you’re racing to inspire others around you to live a healthier lifestyle as well. If you’re reasons have gotten you this far, then they’re good reasons, and remember them or even write them down. It’ll come in handy when you’re dragging your heals to training in the cold winter months, and it’ll push you to the finish at mile 20 of the Ironman marathon.
Secondly, share your goals and your sport with others around you and encourage others to join you. Ask a friend to come with you on an easy 5k, or join you training for the local super sprint tri. Whether you know it or not you’ve probably helped inspire someone else and nothing will keep you going better than you’re helping to make your little corner of the world a healthier happier place.
The tip; Sharing your sport and involving others is one of the best way to make new training partners and inspire others. Nothing is more rewarding watching a friend or family member that you encouraged to join you cross the finish line for the first time.