Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why You Don't Need to Train on the Course Every Week

I got a lot of interesting feedback from people about a statement I made about not training on the Madison, Wisconsin Ironman course. Most of it was very defensive or aggressive. One was just respectfully disagreeing. Here's my opinion about "training on the course".

Amateur Athletes:
As an amateur athlete, you have many responsibilities that out weigh your training; job, children, family, and financial. I appreciate that many athletes are willing to give up all of this for a crack at the Ironman dream, but before you answer, think about the consequences of your actions. One of the biggest complaints from athletes is the "loss of balance" in their lives.

My solution for you is to plan a family weekend up in Madison (or any other Ironman course). Find the hotel that is close to the race site. The best ice cream in town for the kids. The vegan restaurant that everyone loves. Whatever "floats your boat" - find it ahead of time. Bring part of your entourage and scope it out while you get one or two weekends of training in. When training, start early so you aren't missing the entire day with your group. Go once or twice.

When you are training for an Ironman understand that NOTHING at an Ironman happens quickly. Ironman is all about not slowing down versus going fast. Most amateur athletes (and some pros) don't have enough base training or time on their feet. This is because we have to work for a living or to make ends meet. While many athletes go up to Madison and endlessly ride the "Verona loop", they do so in vain because they haven't been out there on race day when things are a bit different. What is missing from the amateur athlete?

Aerobic conditioning.

Shocking, I know. What will fail you on race day is your overall endurance. Then you will go too hard. Then your stomach will shut down. Then you do the Ironman shuffle. It wasn't how many grams of sodium you got or didn't get, too much power (especially in Madison on the first loop of the bike ride - listening 30 something males?) It wasn't how you "took" the big hills.

It was fatigue - pure and simple.

My question to you, wouldn't your time be better served riding a long route from home? Think about it. What's so great about home?

1) You know the route and traffic patterns - no stopping to look at queue sheets or waiting for something going on you didn't know about. (More consistent riding with no stops.) You know the weather locally. You can control your workout sessions much more closely.

2) Upon your return, better recovery. Recover and RE-LOAD for tomorrow's session. I cannot emphasize this enough. The amateur athlete does not recover well as a group. I've seen it repeatedly.

3) You have a life. The mental aspect of racing is often left on the computer when people sign up. As a marshal, I see this EVERY DAY I work a race. Really intelligent people forgetting everything from leaving their racing flats on as they try to put on their wetsuit to leaving their swim goggles on for the bike leg, to grabbing someone else's shoes in T2. Lest we not forget, seeing our spouse, kids, dog, cat...etc. Mental health is an aspect of this too. Karen Smyers, Lothar and Nicole Leder and other pros have children and they actually get to see them.

How well do you think you'll race if you are burned out from training versus someone who is mentally fresh? You are both excited to race and fit. I'll take the mentally fresh person and spot you a touchdown or two in terms of minutes.

4) The towns. Think about the places you visit as an athlete. Now, imagine that your town is somewhere athletes go to train on the course. Imagine that every time you went to the store on EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK from June to the end of August (THREE MONTHS) that there are cyclists slowing you down. People urinating on your lawn. PowerGel wrappers in your mailbox and empty PERFORM bottles and bike bottles in every drainage ditch all summer. They come from Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Des Moines, and other places across the US. Week after week, the roads look the same. Athletes flipping you the bird as you try to pick up groceries. How happy will you be to approve the race coming back?

"But Bob, we bring millions of dollars to the city/town." Great. Have you ever said, "It's not worth it" about anything in your life? In 2005 at Ironman Wisconsin, I had golf balls miss my head by a few inches on race day while I descended a large hill - TWICE (so it was more than one person hitting golf balls.) The second one missed me by inches and I still remember hearing a ball approach and watching it rotate as it sizzled past my head - missing by about 4". I'm sure that person doesn't give a rip about "millions of dollars" coming to town.

I leave you with this. If I told you two scenarios for training. Which would you take?

Scenario A: You train on the course. Get up close and personal with every turtle in the lake, rock on the bike route and hill on the run. You spend a lot of money. You are tired from driving back and forth on weekends. You have several locals get really mad at you. You don't see your kids, a movie or friends and you still finish between 11 hours and 17 hours.


Scenario B: You train at home except for one or two weekends. You still train a bit on the course. You get LONG sessions and RECOVER completely at home with more sleep and familiar bed and food. You can recognize your kids, family, spouse, dog and may take in an occasional movie. You finish Ironman between 11 and 17 hours.

Which would you choose?

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