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What I’ve Learned from Training (in the Past Few Weeks)

The last month or so has been one of those periods when time seems to be moving too fast, and there aren’t enough hours on the clock to get everything done that I wish that I could. I thought it would be good to take a look back and see if I could extract something useful from the blur of life passing by. Here are the things that stand out amidst the noise:

I can train when I’m sick

I follow a training plan set out by my coach, and his rule of thumb when it comes to illness is “anything above the chin, train through it.” If it’s below the chin, we consult and make decisions based on what is happening. I had the opportunity to put strategy to the test recently, and although it wasn’t a good time, it definitely proved to me that I can train through a cold. I had a doozy, which swept through the whole family. It was bad enough that I found myself taking involuntary naps and pounding cold meds daily just to remain upright. It was very hard some days to get on the bike or the treadmill. At its worst, my resolve faltered and I texted my coach for guidance. He gave me an out, saying I could cut my workout for the day in half and reduce the intensity.

I agreed. But once I got on the bike, I felt a little better. That was something I noticed all along during the course of the cold; once I got moving, I felt a little better. My head drained out a bit, I could breathe a bit more, and I could keep going. I didn’t have the energy I usually would, but I could do the workout. And it didn’t make anything worse the next day. So I didn’t take the out; I ended up riding the full scheduled 1.5 hours.

My most eloquent of post-workout commentary

My over-arching goal when it comes to triathlon is to develop relentless consistency that will break my cycle of going on-again, off-again over periods of months or years. Proving that I can get through a cold like this and not miss a workout was a key experience for me.

It doesn’t hurt to exist

Something I noticed during the past few weeks is that a certain kind of feeling has disappeared from my daily existence. When I’m out of shape and overweight, there’s a lot of constant pain involved with just going about my day. My back often hurts. Standing for extended periods hurts. It hurts to stand up or to sit down. Putting on pants is an effort, as is putting on shoes. I can remember many times that tying my own shoes caused my heartrate to elevate and my breathing to become more labored.

Lately, most of that is gone. I can put on my pants easily, with solid balance. Standing and sitting don’t cause any extraneous pain, and my back has never been better. The only pain that I really feel is residual workout pain. Sore muscles, fatigue, overall exhaustion. I will take that over a general pain of existence any day, because it’s a sign of what I accomplished. It’s a good kind of pain, and it feels like strength.

The Garmin Forerunner 935 is great

Early in the year, I picked up the tri bundle that includes the Garmin Forerunner 935 watch. It was quite a while before I got the chance to really see what it can do, and how it would hold up, because I was confined to walking workouts on the treadmill and easy bike rides on the trainer while I worked through my concussion recovery.

Now that spring has sprung and my symptoms have all but disappeared, I’ve been using it much more extensively, and I have found it to be one of the best pieces of equipment I’ve ever owned. I went through two other fitness/sports watches before this one (a TomTom and a Fitbit Ionic), and both of them failed pretty miserably in various respects. So far, the FR935 has been rock-solid. I’ve used it in the cold, the heat, indoors and out, in the pool, with structured workouts, GPS navigation and external sensors; I’ve basically thrown the book at it and it has performed reliably through all of it. The one time I had a failure was in the pool, and may have been due to user error more than anything (I was so worn out I was smashing into the wall), but even in that instance it saved and recovered most of my workout so very little was lost. That’s something no other watch I’ve tried could ever hope to do.

I’ve been swimming with one arm tied behind my back

Almost literally. I recently took advantage of a swim analysis gift I received for Christmas, and took video of myself in the pool to send off to my coach. He analyzed my stroke and sent me a video back and gave me lots to think about. (I may do a video on this later)

An examination of where my arms *should* be

My biggest area of weakness right now is my left arm, which is dead weight and doing nothing to help me move forward in the pool. I had noticed that it didn’t seem to do the same thing as my right arm, but not coming from a technical swimming background, I didn’t know if that was normal or not. Turns out yeah, it’s not normal.

I also have a very low stroke rate, which needs to pick up. Apparently there is no ideal stroke rate that applies to everyone, but mine is low enough that it stands out as needing to be sped up quite a bit.

This is all great to know and will be an opportunity for measurable improvement. However, it’s also going to mean lots of hard drills in the pool. Time to smash against some more walls.

Perspective is everything

Since escaping the shroud of post-concussion symptoms, I have objectively been on a tear. My Training Peaks is green for miles. I haven’t missed a workout in months. I’m regularly achieving new peak performances and by the numbers, everything is trending steadily up. By all metrics, I’ve surpassed the fitness level I’d achieved last fall. If you put Now-Me against Pre-Concussion-Me, I don’t think it would even be a contest.

Welcome to Concussion Valley

Still, though, just last night I found myself deeply fretting about my upcoming schedule, the state of my training, and whether I was going to be able to achieve my goals. What if there isn’t enough time to get in shape enough for my 70.3? What if the concussion put me so far back, it’ll be an insurmountable challenge just to finish? In 2015 I ran faster than I run now. Shouldn’t I be fitter at this point in the season? Not to mention the fact that my weight has plateaued (again) and eating responsibly to lose weight remains an enormous struggle. And on and on.

There is no problem here except what’s in my mind. Which just goes to show how much of this sport is entirely mental. It’s a long game, with long trends. It’s easy to assume that the odds of success are long, too, since everything else is. When the reality is that if you put in the work, you will get better. And one thing I know for sure is that I’m putting in the work. That’s really all I need to keep doing, and all I need to remember.

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