The Road To The Woodlands. Redux.

it’s by no means perfect, but it helps tell the story…
I wrote a long post in 2015 about my preparation for IMTX. At the time, I think I was trying to reassure myself, since when I wrote it, I was at the beginning of what turned out to be a pretty bad downward spiral. I finished 9th (worst ever) at Wildflower. Then I DNF’ed IMTX about 40 miles into the bike. I struggled with insomnia, burnout, and whether or not I even wanted to train and race anymore. I managed to turn things around before IMMT, and 2015 finished as a year to remember instead of one to try to forget. I wasn’t planning on re-upping this blog, but someone posted a comment on that old post asking what had changed. The answer is, simply, a lot. But I thought if someone was interested, I might as well try to answer the question. It’s an honor that anyone cares. Truly.
To start off, we really need to back up. We can back all the way up to 2014, when I started working again with my first coach, Joel Filliol, after a disappointing 2013. I had some good results in 2014, but I’d say it was another disappointing year. 2015 started out with a lot of promise, but then quickly degraded to the point where I thought it might all be over for me as a pro. I had talked with Joel in 2014 about what it was going to take to be on the podium in Kona, and suddenly I was wondering whether or not I could even just race an Ironman – any Ironman – again.
Joel and I both felt like we were chasing continually moving goalposts. From being on the podium in Kona to simply racing well to back to being on the podium to simply not sucking. And pretty much everywhere in between. So leading into Tremblant, I made the decision to go back to what had worked before. I trained for Tremblant using a slightly modified template of my training plans with Michael Krueger. Basically, I wrote my schedule, Joel looked it over, and then I did it. And it worked. Sort of. I had a great result in Tremblant. But I found the whole process to be pretty unfulfilling. I was doing what I had done. And I was basically achieving the same results I had. But I wasn’t learning very much. And I certainly didn’t see how I was going to get any better. The outcome was good, such as it was. IMMT was a great race, but I also missed the feeling of really sharing that success with Joel. Kona was a missed opportunity due to bad luck. And IMAZ was a fair race, but three Ironmans in three months is a bit much… But the process was not. I didn’t learn a lot during that period, except maybe that I still had ability to win. Important, certainly, but not revolutionary. And not a recipe for further success.
Joel and I talked a lot about this in the offseason. Was he resigned to simply rubber stamping the training I thought I could do? Was I resigned to simply doing the training I had done because as a father of three young kids, change was simply too hard? The easy answer in both cases would have been, simply, “yes.” But that didn’t hold much appeal. I had no desire to do the same training so I could win the same sorts of races in the same sort of fashion. I wanted to learn something. I wanted to try to be better. I wanted Joel to learn something. I wanted him to be the coach and for me to be the athlete. I got huge benefit from listening to Joel’s “Real Coaching” podcast with Paulo Sousa. Especially the interview with Simon Whitfield, whom I trained with during what I think was the best process period of my career and certainly the time when I learned the most.
my worst quality as an athlete…
So we started over. Again. But I think we started over in the right place. We ignored the constantly moving goalposts. We started over with process. What was the right process for me? I didn’t care about what I had done. I woke up, I looked at the training, and I did the best I could to do what Joel had planned. I tried not to think about it too much. I tried really hard not to overthink it. I let Joel be the coach. And I was the athlete. That doesn’t mean I was mindless. I tried really hard to give good feedback. Especially about how I felt. We had some epic conversations on the phone. But Joel was the one steering the ship. My job was execution, moving the ship along the course that he had set. And to implement changes as needed. But decisions were made together. It was cooperative. And it was a process. And it was a revelation.
This year has been the most meaningful year of change in the way in which I have trained. But some stuff that I wrote in that prior post remain true. The lifestyle stuff. I still train alone. I still start my training day later in the day. We still have three kids. Mornings are still the busiest time of the day. I still try to make breakfast a lot. I still try to make dinner a lot. I still make most – if not all – of the coffees in our house. 
Anyway, onto some numbers. And, more importantly, what’s behind them. This is really the first time I’ve gone in depth looking at the past. I’ve tried to avoid that, for a lot of the reasons I’ve covered above. What I find most valuable here is not the similarities to the past, but the real differences…
Unlike last year, I’m not going to post a “typical” or “best” week. For two reasons. The first is that weeks have been more different, in general, than in the past. And the second is that I don’t think that the biggest week of training is necessarily the best. Or, more specifically, that every week had a role to play in where I’m at, and that the light weeks were as important as the heavy weeks. The easy sessions were as important as the big sessions. It was all part of the process. And I don’t want to go over 100+ days of training in detail…
2016 YTD:

Swim: 286,815m [311,000m approximately in both 2014 & 2015. 388,000m approximately in 2012; I did a huge swim block in early 2012, but I also went through huge burnout as a result.]
Bike: 4068km (149:16:41) [4979km in 161hrs in 2015. 3755km in 123hrs in 2014. 4590 in 147hrs in 2012.]
Run: 1137km (89:26:51) [1488km in 112hrs in 2015. 1157 in 92hrs in 2014. 1458km in 2012.]
What’s most noticeable to me here is that the distance discrepancy between 2015 & 2016 is much greater than the duration discrepancy. On the bike side, I biked 22hrs less but 911km less. To make up the difference in distance in the same amount of time, I’d need to ride at an average pace of almost 42kph (26mph). On the run side, I ran 22hrs less but 351km less. To make up the difference in the same amount of time, I’d need to run at an average pace of almost 16kph (10mph). So what’s the obvious takeaway? I did a lot more easy training. On the run side, I thought it might have also been that I did a lot more trail running, but I actually – on average – gained about half as much elevation per week in 2016 as in 2015 (800vm/week in 2016 vs 1700vm/week in 2015). Nope, I just ran easier. And flatter. So a lot easier…
[Quick addendum. I realized after I wrote this that most of this differential likely comes from the fact that in 2015 I ran with a Garmin FR220 which uses not very accurate GPS for elevation. Now I run with a Fenix 3 which has a much more accurate barometric altimeter. GPS for elevation virtually always grossly overstates elevation change. So I may have in fact run more hilly routes this year. Or at least it’s likely not nearly as disparate as I posted.]
And yet across the board I would say I’m in better shape than I was last year; key workouts in all three sports are as good or better than they’ve ever been. And I’m much, much happier. Now, this isn’t to say that, “less is more” or anything like that. On the technical side, the training for sure has been more “polarized.” The easiest way to see that is graphically:
time in bike power zones YTD 2016 vs 2015
time in run speed zones YTD 2016 vs 2015
On the run side, Z4 run speed work went up from about 3.5% in 2015 to about 4% in 2016. The biggest drop off? Z2 running, down to 20% in 2016 from 32% in 2015. On the bike, Z4 power work was down at 7% in 2016 from 10% in 2015. But the biggest drop off? Z3 cycling, down to 10% in 2016 from 22% in 2015. In both bike and run, the big gainer was Z1. Z1 running was up to 66% in 2016 from 46% in 2015. Z1 cycling was up to 51% in 2016 from 31%35% in 2015.

[Another addendum/edit: Andrew Coggan, on the Slowtwitch forums, pointed out that there was a discrepancy in the number of zones between 2016 and 2015, with six power zones in 2016 and eight zones in 2015. This seems to be a bug with TP, where it seems to be using whatever zones were set in the user settings (I’m guessing it was the 8-zone Durata setup; I must not have changed it) at the time rather than updating it based on what’s currently there. Anyway, I was able to re-make the graphs using WKO4, and it reveals a slightly different breakdown. The big drop off is more in Z2 cycling than Z3. 2015 Z2 cycling was 43%; 2016 Z2 was 29%. 2015 Z3 cycling was 15% down to 9% in 2016.]
But I think the physiological aspect is only part of the story. The bigger impact has been the mental side. Rather than focusing on PMC-type metrics and data, Joel and I focused on simpler “metrics” like that flow chart. Am I having fun? Am I making gains? As long as the answer to both of those was yes, things were good. And that’s really the process of improving as an athlete. Process has become a bit of a corrupted word/phrase, just like “high performance,” so I’m trying to use it less as it becomes more buzz-y and less genuine. But to me, this is what process looks like. This is what it’s all about.
I still don’t understand it – what has changed – entirely. I asked Joel about that this morning. His answer was, “self-acceptance.” We both accepted who I am, both as an athlete (physiologically and mentally) and as a person (husband, father, person-with-other-commitments). And that allowed for optimization. It allowed him to make the right training plan for me. And it made me comfortable doing that training. 
My favorite mantra of Joel’s is, “Hope is not a strategy.” And this year I don’t hope I will have a great race in Texas; I have confidence that I will. Of course, I don’t know what all this will get me in The Woodlands on May 14. But I know this is the best way – the right way – to achieve the success that I want. Success in sport is never guaranteed. That’s a big part of what makes it great. I’ve got a whole lot of other thoughts on the value of pursuing something uncertainty for another time. 
All you have is the process. Success may not follow from that. But when success does come, it only comes that way. And I’ve changed. And I’ve learned. And that is a victory in its own right. Though you better believe I still will be racing to cross the finish line in first place.

2 thoughts on “The Road To The Woodlands. Redux.

  1. I wonder if once the athlete achieves his peak abilities through tons of training, then more of the same is actually worse for him. Instead, achieve maximum awesomeness and then tone down the volume just a bit and keep things at a simmer instead of a raging boil. “Self-acceptance” keeps you just shy of the ragged edge and then you don't get blowups and overtraining issues. What works to get you to the top isn't the same as what keeps you there. What a plane does during takeoff to reach altitude is far different than what it does at cruising speed.


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