The Road To The Woodlands

it’s by no means perfect, but it helps tell the story…
“How much do you train?” This is a common question for, I think, most pros. Simon Whitfield gave me the best answer to this question, “As much as possible.” The key, then, is simply (or not so simply, as the case may be) in defining what is possible. After a lot of trial and a lot of error, I seem to have pretty much settled on what’s possible. For me. Thanks largely to my wife, this hasn’t changed too much even with three kids. Thanks Jill!
I’ve always avoided talking too much about the specifics of the training I do for a variety of reasons. The first is that, at its core, I consider the structure of my training to be the intellectual property of my coach. I also think that this sort of discussion – on specifics – often tends to be less, rather than more, helpful to age-group athletes. And, truthfully, I’ve never found the training that I do to be particularly remarkable, and I suppose I never wanted to put it out there so people could say, “that’s it?” Even when I was winning races, I was never much of a high volume trainer, at least based off of what some other athletes post about what they train. But after the past two seasons, when I struggled to match the training that brought me success, I finally feel like I’ve got my legs firmly back under me. And I guess I’ve made my peace with what’s possible for me. I expect to continue to push the envelope and to improve such that even as the absolute performances improve, on a relative basis, I figure this is pretty close to what I can manage. There is no magic in this. No secret. I definitely once thought there was, largely because I didn’t have enough faith in my own ability to reason that it was actually me – rather than the training – that was the success. This was enough to win some big races. Will it be again? I don’t know. We will see. But, thanks to Joel, I realize that magic, such as it is, is in being able to execute at this level week after week after week after week. What’s the difference between this year and last and the year before? The difference is in the consistency. I’ve already had more really good weeks to start this year than I had in all of last year. And I’ve had more long strings of good weeks that were longer than any I had last year. As I begin to taper down for Wildflower and Ironman Texas, I wanted to reflect some on the road to this point, somewhere I wasn’t sure I could get to again. It’s amazing to look back at when I thought I was here and to realize just how far away I actually was. I started thinking about this after seeing something Joel posted on his Facebook page: “My coaching heuristics in three words: Consistency, Progression, Patience.”
It all really started in late January in Mallorca. It had been a very long time – January 2009 to be exact – since I’d be at a training camp under the supervision of a coach. But Joel and I both felt that it was an important – critical even – step after a year spent rebuilding in 2014. Joel and I started 2014 together in less than optimal circumstances, only seven weeks before Ironman Texas. This year, we started off the right way, with a year together, a proper offseason behind us, and with a clear set of goals going forward. And, most importantly, a reliable and healthy me doing the training. 
The camp environment was a mix of successes and challenges. The weather in Mallorca didn’t help much, with it being in the mid 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit) most days with a lot of rain and not much sun. And, after my crash in 2010 and years and years of doing 99.9% of my rides alone, I just couldn’t get comfortable riding in a group. But it was great to have Joel watching me, seeing how I responded (or didn’t). It was great to be in a distraction free environment with like-minded individuals. It was nice to swim in a group that didn’t get in the water at 5AM. The first week was especially challenging with the time change. And the shock of being on someone else’s schedule. By the end of that first week, I was pretty disheartened. I had gotten some good training in, but all in all, I felt like I was still stuck in a bit of a rut. I wondered if maybe it wasn’t a sign that I had just seen the high point of my career, and if I wasn’t just now in a position where I was going to do my best to just sort of fade away as slowly as possible. I had originally planned to stay for three weeks total, but after that first week, I decided to change my flight home to a week earlier. Faced with the prospect of having flown across the world to come away no better than before, I decided I’d make the most of the week to come and see what happened. And it was a revelation. Getting over the jet lag helped a lot, but I also think that facing a definite timeline brought out the best in me. I had a numerically good week (I like round numbers) with 10 hours of biking (relatively low for me), 10 hours of running (relatively high for me), and 30km of swimming (quite high for me). At the end of the week, preparing to head home, I had a great talk with Joel. It was definitely a “holy shit, I can still do this” moment. After a rocky start, I left Mallorca with more than what I expected to gain from the experience. I left with confidence. After a very long day of travel home, I fell right back into the routine of training, and kept that rhythm going for quite a few more weeks until it was time to get ready for Monterrey. With such a big start to the year, Joel and I decided to rest further out from Monterrey and then build up to the race the week of, which worked out well, except for the part where I had a panic attack during the race… C’est la vie.
After Monterrey, I was in the once again (finally) familiar position of getting ready for the first A race of the season – Ironman Texas – with a solid foundation under me instead of facing a game of catchup, like last year for IMTX and in 2013 for Kona. We got back into a pretty good routine, matching the structure and flow of the earlier weeks of the season. The most notable change from early in the year was a downtick in running and an uptick in cycling. After a year and half (or so) with a heavy focus on swimming with only modest returns in the water and a clear detriment to my bike and run, we decided to go back to what had gotten me the most success and, in particular, what had shown the best returns. When I run a lot, I get a lot faster. So I ran a lot to start the year. In both January and February, I logged well over 400km. And the improvement was immediate and noticeable. With a solid foundation there, we started to ramp up the focus on the bike for March and April. Last week (not the week we are just finishing, where I’ve already started to lighten a bit for Wildflower, but the prior one) was what I’d consider a “representative” week of Ironman training. It was a big week. Rarely, if ever, will I train much more than this. But it was not an outlier in any way. There is a lot of that in this sort of posting, especially when it’s “describe an average training day” and the day that some pros list blows my mind. I don’t really have an average day; I have an average day for any given day of the week, but the days themselves are all relatively different. So here’s what I consider a very good week of Ironman training.
Some general notes. I start my training relatively late in the day. This is because mornings are the hardest time in our house, getting everyone going. So I make breakfast for everyone, make coffee for Jill if she hasn’t made it yet, watch the kids for a bit while she gets changed, etc. Jill wakes up with the twins at about 6-6:30AM. They go downstairs and have some quiet time. Quentin and I usually wake up at about 7:30AM. Banana-walnut-chocolate chip pancakes (gluten-free) are our most standard breakfast, and if I’m good, it’s on the table by 8:15AM. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Quentin goes to school at 8:45. Usually Jill takes him, and then heads off with the girls to do something. I finish up breakfast, and usually do some work on my computer. I’d love to swim closer to now – about 9:30 or so, but the pool doesn’t open until 10:30. Some days, I will ride or run first, but just as often, I start my day at 10:30. I usually finish my day a bit later – 6:00PM or 6:30PM – as a result. It seems to work well enough. I used to swim more often in the morning (our pool has lap swim M/W/F/S from 6AM-9AM), but Jill found it was better to have me around earlier in the day than later. So we adjusted. We live only a mile from the pool, so the transit time to/from doesn’t really make a difference in terms of affecting things. I typically eat dinner after everyone else – more like 8PM – even if I make dinner (which I do most of the time when it’s “normal” training, but which I do much less often during the heaviest part of Ironman training). In between sessions, I eat, try to catch up on work, etc. In the evenings, I try to catch up on work and ideally watch a bit of TV together with Jill to unwind. I go to bed between 9:30-10:00PM. I like to sleep. I used to sleep less at night, but then I would nap during the day. That’s harder with three kids, so now I usually just get a big sleep at night and the occasional 30 minute nap during the week.
I do all of my training alone.
So that’s the general stuff. Now to the week itself.
Monday: recovery day. I just swim. And it’s easy. 3km (3300yds) of pretty relaxed swimming in mid-morning. Then I take Quentin with me down to Ventura (35min drive) where I go to see my trainer/body-work guru Blair Ferguson of Ventura Training & Athletics. Blair does MAT and we do a mix of treatment and specific strength training. Quentin watches movies on my phone. I have been working with Blair on a roughly weekly basis since 2009. I don’t do massage, chiropractic or anything else. The only person who works on my body is Blair. If I was super rich, I’d bring him to all of my races. But I’m not, so I drive down to see him once a week. Quentin and I usually do something together afterwards. This week, we went out for a late lunch at Ola’s Mexican Food in Camarillo, which I fell in love with during my stay in the hospital. Jill brought me food from here almost every day. Beats hospital food by a long shot. This the boys time together, which is awesome. I usually make dinner on Monday because I don’t have much else going on. If I have to talk on the phone, I try to do it on Monday too. 
Tuesday: track day. Track Tuesday is a favorite. Being close to Ironman, track Tuesday became more like Tempo tuesday. I started the day earlier (like 9:45AM or so) with a variable speed tempo session. Run was 75 minutes with 10x800m with 2min rest done as odds @ 3:20(ish)/km pace and evens @ 3:40(ish)/km pace. The idea is to make the 3:40ish pace (somewhere between 70.3 and IM pace) feel easy. And to keep the foot speed up. This was a relatively easy session. My run fitness has been good enough that I had blown myself up a bit in prior weeks by going to hard, so this was more of a maintenance kind of run, with an eye on keeping my legs ok for the bike workouts. 
After a quick lunch, I head to the pool for what has been the normal Tuesday swim for about a year now: 4000yds with a main set of 2x(30×50) every 4th 50 fast; otherwise steady. Round 1 is band-only on 45s. Round 2 is paddles only on 40s. 
Finish the day with 90min easy (220w avg, 235w pnorm) on the road bike. Oh, I weigh about 72kg (158lbs).
Wednesday: work day. Typically one of the bigger days of mid-week block. HIIT work in the pool. 4400yds with main set of 3x(20×25 VERY fast with every 4th 25 easy. All on 30s. Then 300 paddles only long strokes on 5:00). I use a tempo trainer and just set it at 85spm. I focus on matching the tempo with good long strokes, and this has been a great addition to the staple after doing it in Mallorca. The tempo trainer helps keep me honest without someone in another lane to race against. 
Tempo day on the tri bike. 3hrs total with main set of 60min progressive TT done as: 20min @ 300w, 20min @ 320w, 20min @ 340w. This was a pretty good session as I felt in control the whole time.
Easy basic run. 45min @ 4:30/km done in the early evening around the “grass track” (1km loop of grass and dirt around the softball fields near my house).
Thursday: long run. This was the last really long run before Ironman Texas. 2:15. I had really crushed some long runs earlier in the year, but then they had sort of crushed me, so I tried to keep a bit of a lid on this and not bury myself. This is the only workout I drive to (except for swims). It’s about 15min to the Wendy Trailhead, which puts me on a trail to the ocean. It’s a great route, downhill to the ocean, uphill on the way back. The run gains about 1000vft, but it’s basically all at the start and finish, as you bomb down this huge blacktop hill to start and then have to run up it when you’re really tired near the end. (Link is to a run I did on the route last year on Strava.) I averaged 4:06/km, but the NGP is more like 4:00 with the elevation, and that’s pretty close to the pace I hold except for the monster hill. This was again a really good run, as I felt in control and not wrecked afterwards. 
After I run, I grab lunch and then head to the pool for a short 2km flush swim. This is really about focusing on swimming frequency. It’d be easy to just not swim on a day like this. But there’s a big difference – for me – between doing SOME swimming and doing none. So this is really about frequency rather than any sort of particular fitness goal.
Friday: recovery day. Friday is another easier day. I start the day with my biggest/hardest swim of the week. 5200yds with a main set of 12×300 as 6 pull paddles (pull buoy, paddles, & band) on 4:00 holding 3:35ish and 6 paddles and fins (TYR burner short fins) on 3:45 holding 3:25ish. Paddles and fins is a new-ish addition. The goal is to have good long strokes. The more tired I get (meaning the deeper into Ironman training), the more likely 
I am to rely on tools to keep this session good. When I’m still pretty fresh, I’m more likely to do something like 20×200 or 20×150 swim. But once the legs get trashed…
90min easy ride. Similar power numbers to Tuesday – 220w or so average and 230w or so normalized. Also on road bike. 
Saturday: work day. Another day of pull focus in the pool. Very similar set to Tuesday. 4000 yds with main set of 2x(15×100). Round 1 band only on 1:35, Round 2 paddles only on 1:25. There’s no change of speed here, and goal is to be a bit steadier across the board. Solid effort for all 30x100s. Plenty of rest. Usually going sub-1:20 for band only and sub 1:10 for paddles only.
Big gear day on the bike. I alternate doing big gear stuff on my road bike and on my TT bike. This week it was road bike. Main set was 8x5min with 5ish minutes (it’s a loop – shorter climb, longer descent) low cadence (sub-60rpm) at threshold watts (360-365w). Total ride time was 3hrs. 
Basic run. Not an easy run, but not hard either. 60min @ 4:15/km. Pretty steady across the hour, though of course I start out a bit slower and finish a bit faster. 
Sunday: long ride. The Ironman standard. I usually ride my road bike for this. 5hrs over a hilly route (about 2000m of evelation change). Average power of 222w with pnorm of 239w. Run off the bike. 30min @ Ironman pace (3:55/km) and 15min easy jog to cool down. That’s a full day.
Totals for the week:
Swim: 23,100yds (I credit swimming at 1100yds/15min for everything. I don’t actually pay attention to how long it takes. Since I’m consistent, I figure it doesn’t matter). So that’s 5:15 (sort of) total time.
Bike: 446km in 14hrs. 6hrs on the tri bike. 8hrs on the road bike.
Run: 86.4km in 6hrs.
Strength/gym of 1hr.
26:15 total training hours.
And now the numbers that really matter…
2015 YTD:
Swim: 311,376m [pretty much the same as 2014 YTD.]
Bike: 4979km (161:13:51) [3755km in 123hrs in 2014 YTD – 31% increase. 4590 in 147hrs in January-April, 2012.]
Run: 1488km (111:57:22) [1157 in 92hrs in 2014 YTD – 29% increase. 1458km in January-April, 2012.]
I had never even looked at any of the numbers from the prior years until I wrote this article. But, being such a data geek, I started wondering. And I was pretty pleased with what I saw.
That’s pretty much my life in a nutshell…

5 thoughts on “The Road To The Woodlands

  1. Interesting blog Jordan. One question about your swimming. I've read others recommend long strokes with a high turnover. Well, at least a lot faster than I typically do. I can't quite wrap my ahead around how the two complement each other. Long, to my mind, makes me think of total immersion type of swimming, which is obviously not conducive to increasing turnover. Can you help me understand this? Thanks.

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  2. @Christopher,

    I hope no swim coaches skewer me for this, since it's really just my best job at explaining something that I try to think about. So not sure if it's technically correct.

    But, basically, your stroke starts when you catch and it finishes when you finish moving water.

    So stroke length can be really short – even if you move your arms for a long time – if, for example, you drop your elbow early. Likewise, you can also have a visibly short stroke if you simply finish “short.”

    But this is really most important in regards to the nonsense surrounding total immersion and it's heavy emphasis on “glide.” The glide is not part of the stroke. So just because you take few strokes to get across the pool, it doesn't mean you have “long” strokes. Like, just because some TI disciple takes fewer strokes than Janet Evans to get across the pool, I guarantee you that Janet has a longer stroke.

    What you need to do is ignore the glide. You want to catch as fast as possible. So the real difference in turnover comes because you catch faster. Yes, you probably also dump the finish a bit (though that's the point of the tempo trainer – to time your finish to the beat), but in an ideal world, you figure out how fast you can go without dumping your finish. This is why it needs to be short – like 25yds/m. Because it's really hard to keep a long stroke at high turnover. So you need to have it be a short distance and then you need a bunch of rest.

    But forget about the glide. The length of stroke is defined from catch to finish. Make that part as long as possible – catch early and finish strong. Then just do it as fast as possible without compromising that length.

    I hope that makes some sense.

    //Jordan

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  3. After just seeing your post about resting up for these races this year(2016), I'm curious as to how the week looks this time around. Similar structure? Any major changes?

    Good luck!

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