One of the keys to my progress as an athlete was increasing training volume. Sounds obvious but I’m amazed how many people myself included overlook this simplest of ideas.
We’re constantly looking for a “magic bullet” A type of training often drills or intervals, that will suddenly make us much faster but the reality for all but the most physically gifted is that it takes lots of hard work and a long time. This is one of the things I love about Ironman. A load of training and hard work could make up for my lack of natural physical talent.
Volume is the simplest part of the equation but often very hard to get right. For my first attempt at qualifying for the Ironman World Champs in Kona Hawaii I only had just over 4 months to improve from 1000th place in my last 2 attempts at the distance to the top 40 in my next race Ironman UK so there was going to have to be a massive improvement.
It was going to take some drastic changes to what I had been doing before. The main one was a huge increase in training. My weekly training hours pretty much doubled from around 10 to 18-22.
For me to absorb the extra training load there were a couple of key elements. The first was making the biggest increase on the bike and in the pool.
I didn’t increase my run mileage massively instead focusing on doing high quality sessions. I rarely ran more than 80k a week during the 6 months leading into any Ironman and often only around 60k each week. However I did regularly overload the bike. Often doubling or even trebling my normal mileage.
I was able to do this without getting injured because of the fact that there’s no impact on the bike whereas if I upped my running mileage by the same amount I would start to break down within a couple of weeks.
The second key for me in absorbing the massively increased volume the first time I made the big jump in hours was to keep most of the intensity low. My first time riding the Race The Ras sportive I hit over 1250km in 8 days. This was almost three times more mileage than any week I’d ever had on the bike before but because I rode almost all of it at a relatively steady intensity it meant I was able to absorb it and recover faster.
I only increased one stress at a time. During the 8 days I didn’t add in lots of high intensity work and I only had a couple of very short steady runs.
In training for my subsequent races I have added in higher intensity training as well and was able to cope with both volume and the intensity as a number of years consistent training made me better able to deal with more than one training stress.
One of the key learning curves was finding out where my limits were. To do this I regularly went past them while pushing for more improvement. Often to the point that a hard training block would push me so far past my capabilities that I would physically crash and wouldn’t be able to train for days due to exhaustion. The fear of failure was often all that got me out of bed in the mornings to go to the pool or get onto the bike. Exhaustion has a way of sometimes knocking the enjoyment out of training.
I spent a lot of time during my first attempt at qualifying skirting up to the edge of overloading and overtraining as the body was adapting and I had a coach who wasn’t afraid to push me hard, right up to and beyond my limits.
There was an element of risk increasing the volume as much as we did over such a short period but with a coach closely monitoring how I was dealing with it I was confident we could minimise any problems.
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This is a little bit about me and how I got into triathlon