In the sixth installment from my new book on Endurance Lifestyle Design, I outline how I work daily to beat the traditional Endurance game…and how you can too.
It’s the Journey, not the Destination.
Remember my story of countless training hours leading to caffeine dependency, strained social life and, unfortunately still sub-par results? After the final attempt at Ironman, where I missed a slot to Kona by a mere seven seconds, I was beat. With literally no more available hours in my life to train, it was clear that I needed to reevaluate the rules and assumptions under which I had been training.
I essentially reverse-engineered my training, thinking backwards from my desired race experience. By doing this, I freed myself from thinking about total hours and volume, about mindless miles on a weekly basis. This new approach not only helped me make it to Kona, it enabled me to structure a training lifestyle that allowed me to do less and less total training each year and continue to qualify. Planning became a game, training become fun. Good results / outcomes don’t hurt. I was re-focused and re-energized…and you can be too.
At my peak, I was logging 25 hours a week. That’s a lot amount of training, but it’s still less than 15% of my entire week.
When I first started training for long-course triathlons, I spent hours planning months into the future. I scaled workouts by 10% each week to be safe, and watch the hours pile up as my free time disappeared. The only saving grace was that I was in graduate school at the time, with an incredibly flexible schedule and an unlimited amount of food (read: dining hall). Fast forward to 2008 and the epiphany that I could work just as hard in a 2.5 hour ride as I could on a 4 or 4.5 hour ride. I could get the same results in almost half the time…and I never looked back.
My story is not uncommon in New School circles. From those dedicated stay-at-home parents to full-time professionals, New School athletes are defying convention and writing their own rule book.
Here is a quick review of the fundamental elements of the new Endurance Lifestyle that you can keep in mind as you read this book.
1. Annual Planning is a Luxury Most of Us Can’t Afford. Almost every training book or guide starts with the planning process. If that’s what you are looking for here, you’ll be sorely disappointed. There are very few areas of our lives where we can plan on an annual scale and execute. And when you are breaking down your training into micro-units of months / weeks / and even days, it’s very hard to maintain a schedule that resembles what you drew out last week. One surprise work trip means the rest of your _year_ is in chaos. Instead, focus on the units you can understand and easily manipulate — your weekly rhythm. Most elements of our lives function on a weekly schedule, from garbage pick up to soccer practice to dry cleaning to work to church, etc. Based on this schedule, and the weighted importance of the activities that comprise it, you can start to outline a training schedule that fits your life. Only after you complete this step can you begin adjusting your schedule as your priorities shift throughout the year (slightly bigger emphasis on work vs training in Winter, etc.).
2. Training Is Not the Most Important Thing In Your Life. You might think it is. You might live like it is. But it’s not. From leading professionals to competitive age groupers, the tales of insane dedication, solitary hours and, eventually a loss of love for our sport, abound. Truth be told, you can really only reach your potential in anything when you are truly free to pursue it. Not free in the sense of having no friends, no family, no partners, no work….free in the sense of having the support of these other facets of your life to go out and achieve your best. One of the main reasons why we’ll begin your planning by mapping out your current life and priorities is to make sure these elements maintain their relevance as you incorporate your training.
3. Develop the Ability to Adapt. Travel. Illness. Injury. Emergencies. When you set big audacious goals for your training, life seems to throw every possible obstacle in your way. Developing the resources and perspective needed to handle the lows as well as the highs is a critical element in developing an integrated Endurance Lifestyle. Note that this is yet another reason while we strive to lead integrated lives; you never need something else more than when your training is interrupted.
4. Cultivate Other Interests to Achieve Balance. It’s not enough to have other activities on your schedule — you need to have a full on, time-consuming passion. And I don’t mean a really busy job, I mean something else that you love to do. Could be golf, could be painting, could be wine, could be your kids. Whatever it is, there needs to be a balancing element to your life outside of the all-consuming push of your sport.
5. Exchange Long-Term Training Time for Short-Term Training Events. The traditional endurance training paradigm was built around stacking ever larger blocks of training upon…slightly smaller blocks of training. The arrows pointed ever upwards to more time, more hours, more miles. The average age-group athlete doesn’t have 30+ hours a week to train (or the additional 15 hours to recover and do maintenance work). You can turn this supposed weakness into a strength by building a manageable weekly schedule that leads to improved fitness without burning credits at the family-, work-, or social-bank. In turn, you can leverage this credit to escape for mini training camps as a means of adding mileage and fitness to your regime. Everyone wins.
6. Doing Less isn’t Being Lazy.
After years of volume-oriented training, weeks filled predominantly with shorter workouts don’t seem right. It’s very easy to dismiss the “less is more” approach as being some kind of gimmick. I did too, until life and my race results conspired to show me that I had no other option. At the end of the day, your fitness isn’t based on the number of hours you have trained. Fitness is your ability to do work; to run or bike or swim or ski faster. If I can achieve my goal of running faster overall by following a training program that balances work with recovery and allows me to excel in other areas of my life (where I was previously hurting), remind me again why I’d say no? For anyone who truly doubts that a shorter workout can be sufficiently challenging, I have a few interval workouts to share.
7. Freedom of Time is More Important than Freedom of Money. So much of how we live our lives is built around doing things bigger and better by being faster. We can cook food faster in a microwave. We can research faster on line. I can do more at work b/c I spend the whole commute catching up on my voicemail and email. And yet when it comes to training, the vast majority of endurance athletes default to long steady aerobic work. One of the biggest advantages of the structure of the new Endurance Lifestyle is the additional time you gain. No, I can’t give you new time you don’t already have…but I can show you how to structure that time better. You can take that 12 hour training week in January and make it six hours…that’s 6 free hours just added to your week. What would you do with that kind of time?
8. Invest Time, Energy & Resources into Areas for Biggest Improvement. There’s a tremendous amount of noise around how to improve. You can buy equipment, change your diet with supplements, travel to exclusive camps to be hammered by pro athletes, and much more. The best ways to improve, however, are the ones that incur the least cost (money, time, etc) for the biggest gain or opportunity for improvement. You could spend $1800 on a new wheelset or you could spend $1600 on a powermeter with a disc cover or you could spend $400 on a bike fitting or drop $200 on a new aerohelmet. All of these decisions yield improvement, but it’s not all equal. Some cost more, others yield short-term gains only, etc. Being able to identify areas for quantum improvement is essential.
9. Do Cool Stuff with Your Fitness. If it’s not fun, you aren’t going to do it. Your sport is a passion for you, despite the fact that it takes so much work. That’s partly because your love for the sport consumes any potential negativity around the work required to excel. But this is a sliding scale, and things aren’t always stacked to the positive side. Setting a reasonable, effective schedule is part of the solution, but so too is making the training worthwhile. Spice up your season by breaking out of the “I race every weekend” mentality. Instead, look for unique events that will help keep you engaged and excited on a daily basis. Cycling tours, big hiking trips, and 24-hour relay races are just a few options that come to mind.
++++++++++++ END EXCERPT ++++++++++++
Click here to read Part 7 in the weekly Endurance Lifestyle Book update series. Please post your comments below and thanks for your support!