Back in the saddle

After taking most of October off, I’m now well into a new training block preparing for 2015. The race calendar isn’t totally finalized, but next season will be fairly balanced with half Ironman and Olympic distance races with some local 5k’s, 10k’s, and other running events sprinkled in (stay tuned for what races I’ll be doing).

What I’m most looking forward to, though, is a season of all new races. My wife and I recently relocated to the Twin Cities and aside from an early season 70.3 in Texas, I’ll be racing entirely in the state of Minnesota. There’s an extremely vibrant endurance community here, whether cycling, triathlon, running, and winter sports, like cross-country skiing (something that’s on my list of things to get into). I’m excited to jump in.

But, as I climbed back in the saddle on November 1st to start a fresh block of structured training, there are a few things I’m trying differently, whether by choice or not. The weather in November was unseasonably cold (some stints in the single digits and overnight lows in the negatives), so I decided to do a bit more indoors. I’m still trying to do as much running outside on warmer days, but reserve my quality workouts (i.e. speed work) for the treadmill or indoor track. As we move into December and January, this trend will no doubt continue.Craig_0080

I am slowly adapting to the elements here in MN. It’s actually a refreshing change from Washington DC. Sure it’s cold, and the days are short, but I’ve also found ways to embrace it, use it to my advantage (a few examples below). I’ve always preferred the cold over hotter temperatures, so the change seems to fit my personality.

Well, let’s get to it. Here are a few things I’m incorporating into my training this winter:

  • More swim frequency, more drills, more kicking. I’m by no means a natural swimmer. Having been a soccer player, and predominantly a runner, swimming was the hardest discipline to get the hang of when I transitioned to triathlon. But, with a lot of patience and diligence, I’m well over a minute faster over 100 meters now than when I took up triathlon. And though I’ve continued to improve on my swim over the years, I’ve stepped it up even more. Though my total weekly yardage is still relatively moderate (~10k), it’s still sizable for this time of the year, and it’s broken up over 5-6 days. Yup, basically starting almost every day of the week with a swim set between 1500-2500 yards. I’m also doing a lot more drills, like this set, to improve my technique and efficiency. Every-other-workout is technique oriented, with lots of kicking sets as well. (I’ve never had an extremely strong kick thanks to relatively inflexible ankles from years of soccer and running.) These sets include anything from vertical kicking to kicking-focused drills like 6-3-6.
  • Hit the weights. Though its possible (and according to many coaches, advisable) to lift all year round for an endurance athlete, many of us take the winter to up our time in the gym. So, load up that barbell and get squatting. Twice a week I’m hitting the gym and mostly doing heavy Olympic-style lifts – things like squats, deadlifts, cleans – combined with a variety of functional stuff, such as step-ups, lunges, Romanian split-squats, and lateral band walks, and a good balance of single-leg exercises (since cycling and running uses your legs unilaterally).
  • Plyometrics. Like explosive strength training, plyometrics are a great way to increase power (something I’m trying to do). Once a week I’ll incorporate hopping, skipping, jumping, bounding, and other movements that help minimize ground contact time.
  • Bricks. At least once (and ideally twice) a week I’ll do a brick session to improve leg turnover coming off the bike. Sometimes these are more traditional brick sessions, other times I’ll jump back and forth between the two, like in this workout. Indoor training is ideal for this, as I’ll start on the bike trainer and then immediately transition to the treadmill.
  • Sauna. I cap my morning workout everyday with a stint in the sauna. Check out this post where I talk about the performance-enhancing effects and how I’m experimenting with this.
  • Meditation and Cold Exposure. I spend 5-10 minutes every morning meditating and practicing deep breathing (sometimes this is in conjunction with my sauna session). I also take regularly cold showers, and sometimes stand outside without a shirt for several minutes to try and take advantage of the metabolic and hormonal benefits associated with intermittent cold exposure.
  • Greater bike and run frequency. Similar to swimming, I’ve bumped up my bike and run frequency to about four (sometimes five) times a week each. A good chunk of these sessions are at an aerobic pace to help lay some foundation and build a base, but I’m slowly beginning to insert some shorter interval work, especially on the run where I’m trying to bump up my 5k speed.

Well, I think that does it. A new training block with a few new approaches. Stay tuned for more on how these pan out over the coming weeks and months. Leave a comment with something new you’re trying in your training this winter.

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