Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Beginner's Mindset - Triathlon Training

I've been training for triathlons for the past two months and while working out has been a casual part of my activities in previous years, a few months ago, I wouldn't have even considered training for triathlons. A goal of mine for this year, when I turn 30, is to complete a fitness week, 7 days of exercises that would really test me. The wrench that was thrown into this was the repetitive stress injury I received which ended up in surgery. The surgery was the easy part. Not being able to lift for several months was a real drag. I wasn't much of a cardio person either, running 3 miles tops at a 9 min/mi pace and swimming about a mile at a time. At least not like others I knew.

A few people at work suggested that I do triathlons, as all that I was missing was the bike portion. I was on the fence about getting into cycling and I wasn't sure why. I don't know what possessed me to follow my own advice about immersing oneself into an activity. I soon found myself reaching out to friends that I knew were fast in some way. They agreed that I should find a triathlon to train towards and a training plan to match it. Pacific Grove Olympic Distance tri (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run) was a few months away and I desperately searched for a 3 month training plan. One of my friends recommended The Triathletes Training Bible by Joe Friel. I started reading, and tried to get a sense of what it would take and if I were getting in over my head. I probably was but who cares. I suppose that's what the beginners mindset is all about. Not worrying about crashing and burning, not worrying about finishing in what place. Asking anybody for help. And just going nuts about it. For once, my prior competitive experience as an archer did not translate. Before, I could call a sponsor up for more stuff. Now, I had to figure out how to keep my shoes tied.

10 weeks later, and close to tapering for the Pacific Grove Tri, I'm feeling really good about things. I just want to finish respectably. There was a lot that I learned a long the way, and I'll try to put them down here. I tried to apply my experiences from shooting, cooking, and work to reduce the risk of getting beaten by a turtle while looking like an ass.

Before training:
500 yard swim - 12 mins
5k run - 27 mins
Bike - I didn't even own one
Exercise frequency - 2-3 times/week
Resting heart rate - 66-70 bpm
Blood pressure - 120/80
Weight - 128 lbs

Now /10 weeks later:
500 yard swim - 8 mins
5k run - 22 mins
Bike - 19 mph average on flat terrain
Exercise frequency - 2 times/day except Mondays
Resting heart rate - 54-60 bpm
Blood pressure - 110/70
Weight - 121 lbs

The individual lessons I learned:

Warm up properly
Your actual bulk of exercise should count after you've warmed up through the heart rate zones. I found that it takes me a 20-30 mins to warm up well. From there you can apply the right intensity. If I don't warm up properly, I peter out early and I waste a workout.

Pace yourself
If you don't manage your energy properly, you won't finish your workout. If you are trying to burn fat, and you end up spending most of your time breathing heavy, you're in the anaerobic zone. What this means is that you're using more stored carbohydrates than fat as an energy source, when you're trying to burn mostly fat. However, there are some very intense, but shortened time workouts that are effective at reducing fat. Do some research but make sure you understand the intent of the workout before you start.

Eat poorly, perform poorly
I used to eat anything I wanted, relying on my metabolism to keep me slim. It's slowing down for sure. Being in good physical shape has three components in my opinion: looking decent, being functionally useful, being healthy. Focus on the last two, and the third will come, your ultimate reward. If you want to break things down and eat to be fit, reverse the mindset. Think about the things you could eat, to improve your health and performance, instead of counting calories and stressing over each meal. You don't need to eliminate or drastically reduce carbs. That's just ridiculous. You need to eat the right ones for the right reasons. Look over the glycemic index of common sources of carbs and eat those kinds of foods at the right times. I would say, the more you know the better off you'll be, however packaged foods companies have been giving us "knowledge," implying that because something is low fat, it's healthy. I'm generally suspicious of packaged foods. What I might touch is a packaged snack within an hour of a workout. Usually, the worst that it could be is a high glycemic index food which makes sugars available immediately for use which I'll be using shortly anyways. Otherwise, just skip it and eat something whole or real, like fruit, or meat. If you want to eat pasta, bread or other high GI foods, do so right after your workout when your body is more inclined to reload your muscles, rather than pack the unused energy on as fat.

Another item is that if you work out intensely, you need to refuel immediately your workout. A rule of thumb is a workout > 1 hr, or an intense workout, is one that you should use some sort of recovery drink immediately after. Chocolate milk is an excellent choice. I'll leave it to you to research. If you don't refuel immediately, you could compromise your next workout, or feel fatigued the next day. If you miss that workout, and you overeat, you're setting your clock back. I made the mistake of not having a recovery drink or eating immediately after a workout several times. Without fail, I was fatigued and did not perform well the next day. Some workouts were skipped. You are doing yourself a disservice by not eating right after an intense workout, in hopes that you'll keep the caloric intake down.

Perform for your friends, not just for yourself
While I strongly believe that one should follow the beat of their own drum, your friends want you to do well and get in better shape. You'll be more pleasant to be around, and have more energy. Obviously if your friends are discouraging, find new friends. If you had a ball and chain attached to your ankle I would hope you'd be looking for some bolt cutters rather than finding a better way to carry the ball. Whenever I feel like quitting early, unless I feel actual joint pain (listen to your body), I imagine friends are watching. What would they say if they saw me wuss out of a workout? This works for me because obviously if I listened to myself only, I'd be calling it quits and watching some movie.

Besides you're setting a good example without saying anything. One of the most difficult parts for me is getting through the warmup. If I'm not careful about warming up really slowly, the lactic acid burn will increase, and I then think I need a rest day. What usually cures this is thinking the above, slowing down, giving it a good 20-30 mins of warmup while peaking once into the anaerobic zone (breathing heavy) for 20-30 seconds, and slowing things back down. Use what works for you, but a nice kick in the pants usually comes when you imagine your most fit friend looking over your shoulder.

Hope those points helped. It took a bunch of trial and error. The shortened training plan wasn't exactly forgiving, and I hope that you can use some of the above in the fitness plan you choose.


Maria said...

Great post Bryan. I have been hearing a lot about the recovery chocolate milk and am sold. Also like the advice of working out like your fit friends are watching. At the kettlebell/crossfit gym I go to they take a lot of pics which makes you very aware of form too. Good luck with your continued training. You are a great inspiration!

victoria said...

Love your posts lately Bryan! I actually signed up for a half marathon in September back in March and didn't really start training seriously until a few months ago (granted I'm still not that serious about it). But for a girl who hasn't been able to run a full mile to being able to run 3, I'm quite proud of myself now. :) Amazing what giving yourself a goal can do.

I just want to finish it, which will mean I'm walking about half of it I think. :)

Bryan Yeung said...

Thanks both for the comments! It's exciting to train for something diligently and see the results. Maria, that's great you're doing Xfit. I saw your posting a little bit ago on fbook and I was impressed.

Vicky, I'm sure you can finish it. Just take it easy and watch out for running injuries. I've been trying to keep my running reasonable so I don't lose time by getting hurt.