Monday, December 9, 2013

Anatomy of a Long Workout

I did my first long workout of the new triathlon season this past weekend.  As long workouts go, it wasn’t a particularly hard one, but it was my first brick[1] in several months and only the third time I’ve been back in the water since before the offseason started.
If you’re wondering, the workout turned out to be:
  • 200 SKIPS[2]
  • 8 x 100 @ 1:30, every 4th 100 tempo pace
  • 4 x 100 pull @ 1:30
  • 100 warm down
Stretch, and then long slow distance (LSD) run, 6.75 miles (59:30).
Anyway, while I was in the water, it occurred to me that there might be some folks out there who are new to this triathlon thing and are maybe looking for some pointers for designing their own long and/or brick workouts.  With that in mind, here are four things to think about when you’re putting your own long workouts together.

1.  Have a plan.
You should go into every workout with goals, but this is especially true for long workouts.  Why?  First, because the workouts themselves represent a huge investment of your time.  You don’t want to waste it.  And second, because you will want to avoid overuse injuries and simple over-work.  Remember, endurance training is about stringing together a continuous series of training days to build your ability to go longer, more efficiently.  You will not accomplish this if you’re so exhausted after your first long workout that you have to take the next three or four days off.
Schedule your long workouts, and let your loved ones know what you’re planning to do.  Get their buy-in.  This is an essential part of being a successful triathlete or endurance athlete.
2.  Manage your pace and effort level.
Put your focus where it belongs.  Some days, you want to do LSD training just to build your base.  Other days you want to put serious effort into riding or running, but you’re also looking to add in an element of base training, too.  In either case, the answer is not to go out there and blast it as hard as you can for as long as you can keep it together.  Rather, you want to work at a measured, comfortable pace over an extended period of time, and then if you’re trying to put in some specific emphasis work, maybe you add in some intervals or other periods of higher intensity.
3.  Managing your nutrition is the hardest part.
True story: I got up Saturday morning at 7:00, helped my wife around the house and played with my kids until 9:00, when I finally got out the door to start my workout.  Even then, I didn’t actually hit the water until after 9:30, and I didn’t manage to get started with my long run until nearly 11:00.  By the time I got home, it was 12:30, and I was starving.
How did I make it through a two+ hour workout without eating?  Am I just that tough that I don’t need to eat?
No way.  When I got up, the first thing I did was to eat a yogurt.  Before I left, I wolfed down a Clif Bar, and I had a Hammer gel before I headed out for my run.  The fact is, you have to eat.  You will not succeed without giving thought to your nutrition plan for a workout that lasts more than ninety minutes.  
I personally favor gels for workouts that last longer than an hour, and I eat pieces of Clif Bars when I’m gonna be out more than two hours.  You may have to play with it a little to learn what kind of nutrition plan will work for you, but trust me, you will need to have a plan for your nutrition.
4.  Recovery.
After your workout is over, you need to give yourself time to rest and replenish your reserves.  Eat.  Kick back.  Get yourself back together.  Realize that if you burned 1800 or 2000 calories during your outing, those need to be replenished.  I myself prefer Black IPA for this purpose, but pasta also works, as do a whole raft of other foods.
Finally, remember that you actually get faster through recovery.  Your body adapts to the amount of work you put it, and it’s through that adaptation that you become a better athlete.  This is why you need to make sure that you get good sleep, especially after a hard long workout, and it’s also why you need to schedule the occasional day off.  
Try to take one day per week where you’re not doing much of anything and rest.  This will keep you mentally fresh, help you avoid injury, and make you the best endurance athlete that you can be.  Use this time to reconnect with your family or other loved ones, because if you’re training a lot, odds are that they’re missing you.

[1] A brick workout is a workout that combines two or more disciplines of triathlon in a single effort.  The most common bricks are bike/runs, but I personally do a lot of swim/bikes or swim/runs.
[2] SKIPS - Swim, Kick, IM, Pull, Swim.  A set of 200 SKIPS is totals to 1000 yards of swimming.

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