Thursday, May 24, 2012

On (to) Wisconsin -- No pain, no gain?

"No pain, no gain."

We all secretly dig the macho, hard-core approach to training. It seems so logical that you've got to push hard and suffer if you want to excel. Swimming/biking/running needs to improve? More intervals, more hill climbing, more "God I'm going to puke" efforts. Toughen up. Hang with the big dogs. Pain is only temporary, after all.

No doubt there's a time when that's necessary. But so far IM training is nothing like that.

First, some science. Ironman racing is an aerobic activity, and to successfully achieve a balanced, well-executed race, athletes must be able to sustain long, non-maximal efforts. We're talking efforts that are in the lower heart rate and power zones. In fact, respected authorities on IM racing suggest you never exceed Zone 2 (out of 5 heart rate zones), also known as the Extensive Endurance zone, during the race.

So what's that translate to in my training? At this point, lots of easy-paced distance work.

So the long bike ride where you want to throw in a set of hard intervals or tough hill climbs becomes an easy-paced long ride with one eye on your HR monitor and the other on your power output (with an occasional glance at the road ahead). Ride easy and make sure that your butt gives out before your legs do. It's the same in the other disciplines -- swims have longer intervals at steady paces, and runs are conversational-paced jogs.

It's a process of building the base -- training the body to operate efficiently and adapt to the stress of longer times and distances. It's necessary, but it's rarely exciting or fun. No more weeknight tempo rides with the boys or fast morning tempo runs -- you've got your marching orders -- steady as she goes!

Yet there's a certain satisfaction that comes with this, too. You start to take pride in your ability to smooth out your effort and tackle the obstacles along the way with a calm, steady approach. And it's pleasurable to get off the bike after riding 3+ hours feeling relaxed and strong, not tired and beat up. You realize that that's the way you're going to need to execute the race -- under control, with smooth relaxed execution throughout. In the macro sense, this is probably some of the most important training I'll do, both physically and mentally.

Increased intensity will come later, of course. Once the base is in place harder efforts will be added to the workouts to add strength and speed. But that's the icing on the cake. Right now I need to bake the cake.

15 weeks to go!

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