January 3, 2011

What the heck is "training"?

This is going to be an interesting year; only a couple days into it I find myself scratching my head.
For the first time since 2007 I'm dusting off a lot of old training tools, spreadsheets, and just picked up a heart-rate monitor. I've re-read practically the entire UltraCycling.com website, re-read a lot of my old journal and blog entries, and set up the indoor trainer. I've posted some motivational quotes and sayings in the man-cave/workout room downstairs. I've refreshed the music on the MP3 player. I've joined a couple more forums, a workout tracking webpage, and have some goals set. It's time to get busy.
Professing goals to the masses is part of my motivation - but I'm approaching if differently this time. I'm the only one accountable here, and I'm pretty much writing it to capture my mindframe as I step through the process. I don't want to put any stress into the situation - I can't do that to myself. Sure, putting it on the blog kinda sets me up that way, but compared to years and goals past I can't really use these pages as a "contract". The bond is with myself, not - no offense - the readers. Hopefully, it'll still make for interesting reading as the months pass.
Really loose framework here for the purposes of these pages, however, I have my sights set on a few things - in order of importance.

My prime directive: I want a finishers trophy from The Texas 24-Hour Time Trials, namely the title event and RAAM qualifier "The Tejas 500". I've attempted this race twice before, and DNF'd twice before at roughly the halfway point. The first time it was injury, the second time it was lack of training culminating in basically riding too slow for the time limits. Learning experiences that I need to make good upon to make my third - and probably final attempt - at Tejas a success. I'm setting a reasonably achievable timeline for this goal by looking at the 2012 edition. First, if the Mayans were right it'll be the last time I get to try it. (bah) Second, it gives me a solid 20-months to get ready assuming it's still held the last week of September. There is a big gamble here, and I've seen it happen with other ultra-cycling events: the event could evaporate by then. There are a lot of races that I never got a 2nd chance at because of personnel or level of interest changes, financial issues, or what-have-you. The Tejas events, however, have international pull and have grown each year. I'll keep a pulse on things with the organizers, but I don't anticipate things changing. If they do, I'll pick something else. For the distance, however, this is probably the best event of its kind anywhere. Compared to my subsequent "2013" goal of the Furnace Creek 508, it's a TON cheaper to participate in, also. It's perfect, and I want to finally check it off my list. I may have some forthcoming secondary goals for the event itself (i.e., age group, certain distance in 12 hours, 24 hours, similar) but the primary objective is "official finisher".

Leading up to Tejas will require nearly all of the 20 months of ramp-up time. My last distance even approaching 500 miles was at the 600km brevet in 2007. Since then, and in prior "training", I have to proclaim that I was strictly a "finishing randonneur" - and many of my last dozen or so brevets were simply done on a "finishing" pace. I have never really been a true "ultra racer", and I'm okay with that assessment. I've participated in plenty of ultra events, but I failed nutritionally, mentally and in training. I'm still immensely proud of all the medals and accolades I've amassed, but I understand now where I came up short in certain areas and where I failed to break past the really big mileage barriers. I feel like I have the perspective necessary now to make some changes and put some plans into play with the patience and persistence that generally accompanies the successful ultra-racer's methodology. A lot of this comes strictly with age - and it instantly makes sense why most consistent ultra racers are usually about my age and older. I have no illusions about becoming a "world beater" or "record holder" (although I have been eying Byron Rieper's West-to-East Kansas cross-state UMCA record for a while now, in wonderment), but I do have intentions to approach the sport with more of an athletic, scheduled and proven approach. Simply rinding a bunch won't cut it, simply eating less and slimming down won't cut it, simply having a "faster" bike won't cut it. I still plan on having a lot of fun in the next couple years - but it will be balanced with some honest, hard work.

So, since the injury of late '10 is fading into the background I begin to ramp up slowly to the first stepping stone - the March 2011 200km brevet. Sure, I could probably just knock off a 200k this coming weekend based strictly on the base miles still in my body, but that would be foolish. I truly have to be patient and ensure the injury doesn't flare back up. I have to make sure I follow the same 10% increase rules that anyone coming off of an injury should follow. The past is the past, and I have to start at square-one and take things one week at a time. Therein lies the secondary goal for 2011, which is completing another full SR-series. That's a steady series of 200, 300, 400 and 600km brevets inside a short 7-week period. This tends to fly in the face of the "steady ramp-up" in some respects, but staying on task NOW will guarantee success in April.

Add into this some cross training, weight loss, diet improvement, and mental training. After the 600km brevet is finished, some rest. This is where a lot of benefits are gained - through active rest. I can't make the previous mistakes of just continuing to hammer on mileage and expect to get anywhere. I dusted off a spreadsheet that entails something like a 4-5 week rotation of mileage and effort, which should net gains and reduce the chances of another over-use injury. Keeping that 4-week rotation in mind, it's a perfect segue into goal #3: a re-try of a 2nd RUSA R-12 Award run, which should keep me on a plateau of mileage base while still allowing longer-distance venues to work on speed-at-distance.

That segues into the spring 2012 brevet season, where in contrast to this-year's goal of finishing, I will have an eye on finishing quickly. Fourth goal in line involves a "straight-thru" 600km brevet, focusing on keeping speed up and keeping sleep at bay - good Tejas training. Another rest period immediately follows that ride, and then the ramp-up towards Tejas 2012 begins with the start of that summer.

Bringing some science to the table will be a new approach with heart-rate training. I've dabbled in this arena before, without any success because I never stuck it out. I'm going to give it a good honest try this time. Intervals, fat-burning sessions, the works. This is what has really bitten hard in the past few years, and after some reading it makes a lot of sense now, in retrospect. I've merely been "riding" -- which, there isn't really anything at all wrong with... but I still find myself with goals in mind, a competitive streak, a penchant for personal challenge. Therein lies the frustration - because if commuting and finishing brevets was "enough", I'd be content. Largely, I *am* content... but I still have unfinished personal business. So, my complaints about no longer being "fast enough" have to be answered with the aforementioned return to "training", and using tools like the HRM to unlock potential that has been dulled by a few years of riding by the seat of my pants, not really pushing hard enough to net improvements but not ever taking it easy enough to get real "rest". No-man's land, in a phrase.

It feels good to have an approach again - but there will be challenges. The biggest trick will be balancing a good commuting routine with ACTUAL training. Especially with gas prices on the rise, will be tough to swallow my pride on some beautiful summer days and just drive, carpool, or discover a new bus route. Eyes on the prize. After a year car-free/light, I can afford to drive a few times this year. I have to ensure that I follow the plan, and squeeze potential out of each mile. I can't even count how many times I'd planned to "take it easy" on the commute home, only to arrive overworked and exhausted from another "hammerfest". My body knows that it's being used for something, and no matter what I do on the weekends or on the trainer I have to make sure I'm not making the assumption that "a few commutes" won't impact things. Small wonder in years past that annual average speeds have suffered, and injuries have occurred. Well, no more. While I may end up being "that guy wearing the HRM for every commute", I have to acknowledge the value of wearing it on "recovery" days to ensure I don't over-do it, as well as using it on "intensity" days to make sure I actually work hard enough to change my personal power-band for the better. Since commuting will comprise the bulk of my training time, I have to maximize it - silly as it might look doing intervals with panniers. I know what I'm doing - damn the rest.

Diet. I've behaved badly. Nobody is keeping track but me, I know this --- but remember this is more of my personal journal that a "how to be" guideline for anyone else. I'm not happy with myself right now, and that's part of the large plan, also. I work in a shop with a customer base that includes a lot of local race talent from all age groups, and there's no reason for me to make excuses about not being able to take a few months and look more like the athletic masters racers that wander into the shop. Power-to-weight ratio, injury prevention, personal image - there's nothing wrong with making sure my BMI is in-line. Done it before, and the training program is almost a guarantee I can get there again.

So, there you have it -- at this writing, that's my intent for 2011-2012. I will absolutely ensure that I won't use all this as an "excuse" to not have fun with the bike. Dark Side Rides, gravel rambles, why not?!? There is something called "training load", and heck: if a fun ride happens to occur on a particular training goal day, I'll work it in and then get back into the social groove with the group when I'm finished. There is a balance, and I haven't read a program yet that says you can't have fun while working towards a goal. Therein lies the underlying checkpoint and alter-goal: having a goal in mind, without turning into a "racer" jerk that won't ride the fun stuff. Screw that noise!

As I step through this process, watch for updates and ride reports to resume frequency. Lots to document, for sure.
Thanks, as always, for reading!

It's going to be a good year!

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