I’ve just returned from 4 days of sun, fun, swim, bike and run in San Diego.
Amanda, a good friend and one of my athletes, came along. Last summer, Amanda lived with us for a few weeks before setting off on a once in a lifetime worldwide travel adventure. During that time, she pulled me many laps in the pool, pushed me on the bike and listened to me talk to myself on the run; you can do this, keep the pressure on, pass her with authority. I knew we’d be a good fit for training out west.
As a coach and athlete, I think carefully placed “overload” blocks of training can be a very beneficial boost in your fitness and confidence. For most age groupers, this is not something you can or should do often because we simply do not have the time required to properly recover from it. Remember, without recovery there is no fitness gained, only fatigue accrued. Anyone can train 20+ hours a week. Doing work is not difficult. Recovering and benefitting from that work is the difficulty. I see many age groupers train far more than they can recover from and it yields nothing but fatigue, under performance or injury. Train to your limit – then look for ways you can recover more so you can train more. Separate obsessive-compulsive “activity” from doing purposeful training that will actually improve your performance.
All that said, I am not a “low volume” or “less is more” or "high volume" or “high intensity vs high miles” coach. Any coach who labels themselves into one particular approach misses the point of coaching. What works for one athlete may not work for another. Every athlete has a critical volume required to meet their goals and fit their lifestyle. Ultimately, an athlete’s “recoverability” determines how much they can train – and determining that for each athlete is the art of coaching.
All that said, these days, I know my training limit rests around 10 to 14 hours a week. Beyond that, I start to feel unbalanced, spreading myself too thin in the other areas of my life that are far more important than training. I have a family, house, business, yard, dog and hobbies. Investing my time in all of those things will yield a much higher return and much higher level of joy than investing more time in training. But every once in awhile, it’s good to push a little further. This week, I trained nearly 20 hours. To do that, I had to leave my life behind for 4 days and travel across the country. It was hard for me to justify something so selfish while burdening other people in my life with the demands of my “real” life. My husband and mother are incredibly generous with their time and support of me, I can’t thank them enough for giving me this (indulgent!) opportunity.
And yes, while I was away, it occurred to me that I need to reconsider what I find an indulgent opportunity, perhaps one that doesn’t include bike shorts and salt tabs!
With my real life 2000 miles away, I set out to swim, bike and run as much as I could tolerate for 4 days. Kurt gave me some ideas which I worked into the plan of what I know I can do and need to do when in San Diego. I’ve trained out here enough times to know where and how to push myself. This time, I did some familiar routes and tried some new things. I also brought along Amanda, knowing that having key people around to push you, to make you face your weaknesses, to ask you to keep giving it a little more is how you breakthrough.
We arrived in San Diego on Thursday. I started with an easy run along the Carmel Mountain Preserve trail followed by an easy ride along the coast. Despite the traffic and stoplights, riding along the coast is one of my favorite things to do when I arrive in San Diego – to be so close to the ocean is amazing. We made a quick stop at Nytro to be sure that our rear wheels wouldn’t fall off. Can’t say that the mechanic was all that impressed with our bike assembly skills but he gave us a “you made a good effort” as he reattached my derailleur.
The next day, we packed up the car to head to Palomar Mountain. I trash talked Amanda with stories of the climb’s length and difficulty. By the time we arrived in Pauma Valley, she feared I was already out-hydrating her, how would she out climb me? We did a short warm up before setting out from the taco shop. From there, it’s nearly 90 minutes of straight up climbing. Within a few minutes you are geared out, baking in what eventually would be a 101 degree day rising up from the valley. An unexpected stop by a construction worker gave us a chance to regroup. Amanda said I can’t do this. I said yes you can, you don’t have to be fast, you just have to finish. We made the turn towards the South Grade and Amanda started climbing like a champ, making it look effortless as she ascended the switchbacks above me. Proud moment as a coach. Rough moment as an athlete as I could not bridge the gap between us. Definitely I struggled – physically, mentally, I just wasn’t “on” but it didn’t matter – work is work, get it done. We stopped shortly at the store for water before climbing the remaining 300 feet up to the observatory at 5500 feet. It was a warm 87 degrees at top which meant for a surprisingly warm descent! Amanda descended like a pro while I descended like I needed training wheels. Thankfully, we descended the East Grade which is much shallower and straightforward (except for the potholes and big cone pines all over the road). When we returned, I did a 20 minute run off the bike. At this point, it was 101 degrees with those “who opened the over door” waves of heat you feel along the Queen K in Kona.
Afterwards, I found Amanda sitting in front of the taco shop drinking chocolate milk (for recovery) and a beer-garita (for mental health). Maybe it was heat delirium but she convinced me to take a trip to the nearby casino. And that’s how I found myself walking into a casino on Friday afternoon, sweaty, salt-caked, in running shorts, to gamble with can only be described as most of the ex-cons, addicts and unemployed of Southern California. Amanda, looking all too comfortable whipping out her players card, headed to the craps table while I wandered around finding some penny slots to play. In the end, I lost a whopping two dollars while Amanda came out one dollar ahead. As if there was any doubt that we were winners….
We got back to the hotel and I literally laid in bed for 13 hours – this is what it takes to truly recover from hard work! Impossible to do in my real life. And honestly, who would want to do that day after there! There is life to be lived beyond sleeping and training. But sure enough, I woke up the next morning feeling energized. Perfect for one of my favorite rides – Del Dios. Wanting to redeem myself from yesterday’s lackluster climbing, I just went after it today - pushing watts beyond my current fitness, going after it, taking risks. We followed a few other cyclists to the start of Harmony Grove before hitting the Elfin Forest where I warned Amanda: it’s a few miles of twisty roads that ends in a big climb. From there, I pushed the pace, attacked any incline, out of the saddle, don’t think, just go. We ended up in Leucadia heading back towards the coast – a long, drawn out ride of stop lights and Saturday traffic.
Afterwards, we drove up to Encinitas for a swim, choosing this pool for it’s proximity to Stone Brewery, our next destination. When I say I have a plan you can be sure it includes some fly! After the swim, we went to the brewery and drank beer in the beautiful surroundings of Stone Brewery. At one point, Amanda proclaimed I am happy, this was the perfect day – biking, swimming, sun, beer. I wholeheartedly agreed and then had another beer.
Sunday morning started with a swim at UCSD masters. Arriving on time meant we became free labor in pulling the covers off of the pool. Great warm up for the arms! The coach wrote a workout on a white board, you chose your base pace and then swam. A little different than how we run masters at home but an easy way to cruise through 4000+ yards without much fluff or fuss. After the past few days, I didn’t feel too zippy and knew better than to look at the pace clock. Just put your head down and do work. Don’t get caught up in judging yourself on every workout. We were also pretty sure the pool was a long 25 yards.
Later in the day, I headed out for one of my favorite runs at Penasquitos Canyon – the weather was perfect; rainy and cool. The run itself is challenging – about 12 miles out and back on packed sand, chunky rocks, steep hills adding up to nearly 1700 feet of climbing. I warmed up the first 2 miles and then pushed every hill before recovering on the downhills. At this point my legs were heavy and my mind was tired – this run was great for finding focus when fatigued and pushing off to power up hills when the legs wanted to shuffle. On the way back, I pushed the hills and set the goal to do the last 2 miles at race pace. Nailed it. Overall, I was over 20 seconds per mile faster than when I did this run 8 weeks ago. In running, there is the place you need to be, where you want to be and where you’re currently at – the closer those three things align, the better your running, the higher your confidence.
Now, it’s time for re-entry back into real life. And time to absorb all of the work. I will take today off since I’ll be stressed from the workouts and travel. I’ll also take the next 2 to 3 days fairly easy. Aside from that, most of the recovery took place before, during and after workouts. This meant doing a “pre-race” breakfast and executing my fuel plan on every single workout. Recovering with carbohydrates in the window of time that lasted the duration of the workout from the point at which it ended. Rehydrating, especially in the heat we felt on the first 2 days. And, in all honestly, it took a lot, A LOT, of carbohydrates. In general, I slept quite well which is always a good sign that you are meeting your recovery carbohydrate needs. As far as what I ate – anything/everything, I do not limit or eliminate any food groups, I just try to eat as much real food as possible. Too many athletes make eating far too complicated. They get into a hole of under recovery from trying to follow complicated, stressful eating patterns and restrictions. Keep it simple. Remember, simple is sustainable. Sustainable is successful.
As far as the workouts – we went mostly by feel. Wake up every day and see how you feel. This is not always the best way to train as you must be very in tune with the subtle signs of fatigue (ie., taking your resting HR in the morning, sleep quality, mood) and we, as overachieving athletes, are not always honest with ourselves! I pushed when I felt good and gave myself permission to just do work when I didn’t feel good. We stopped when we felt like we did enough because in my experience, you lose attention and risk injury/crashing when you push too far when you’re tired. We overloaded the bike because there’s a far lower risk of injury than overloading the run. We also abided by this rule (and I’ve learned it the hard way – by making mistakes!): never do anything today that would prevent you from doing ____ again tomorrow. Follow that rule and you’ve got a smart, simple way to approach your training.
What a fun weekend! I couldn’t imagine living near the ocean, the mountains and having bike lanes everywhere – what a dream! It was the perfect escape to do some solid work and recharge my excitement about this coming season. Hopefully I’ve also shared some tips on how you can successfully get through your own overload block. Now I’ve got a little boy to see, a pile of stinky workout laundry and a yard that needs to be mowed. Welcome home!