Monday, January 7, 2013

What's on tap for 2013: Setting goals, devising a strategy

After my last race in 2012 there was one thing I couldn't stop thinking about...

I was dead-set on jumping up to half Ironman distance triathlons in 2013. This was going to be my major goal for next year - my "A" race.

Then a couple weeks ago, I got an email: "Congratulations from USA Triathlon." I opened it and right there, staring me in the face, was my new goal for next year...the 2013 USA Triathlon Olympic Distance Age Group National Championships.

Once I saw the email, I knew this was an incredible opportunity. I felt extremely privileged to even have the opportunity to compete is such an event. And as I started thinking about my goals for 2013, I kept going back to my urge to bump up to a half Ironman in 2013. "I know I'm ready," I kept thinking. "I know I can do it." But at the same time I was conflicted with this new opportunity. Should I stay at Olympic distance for 2013 and focus on the Age Group National Championships? Should I do both?


This is probably a good point to take a slight detour to a seemingly unrelated story that turned into a very enlightening moment. Over the holiday my wife and I went back to New Jersey to visit family. Out to dinner one night for Chinese (an old family tradition on Christmas Eve), I opened a fortune cookie after dessert. Usually they simply add a little light-hearted humor to the end of the meal, but this time I found myself reflecting a bit longer after reading the short phrase. It took me a while to realize why, but it had everything to do with my aspirations in triathlon.

"Faith is knowing there is an ocean when you can only see the stream," read the small piece of paper. I don't really believe in "signs," but this seemed an obvious clue - don't push it, be patient. There it was, in black and white, a message to take a step back and think about the opportunities - ALL the opportunities - for my 2013 season.


It was pretty ironic that  I read this fortune just a few days before millions of people would make new year's "resolutions." It was even more ironic I read it while in the midst of planning for and setting goals for 2013. I think this is why it's so important to structure down time between seasons. As was the case for me, setting the next step in the journey isn't necessarily always the result of systematic analysis (though the analysis part is key to achieving the next step), but feel. Allowing the opportunity for your heart and mind to drift, and be open to all possibilities.

And with that, I knew my focus - I'm going to put everything into the National Championships.


So, I have a new "A" race for 2013 - the Age Group National Championships. Now that I've decided on a focal point for the season, it's time to structure other races around it. With the National Championships in early August, I want to make sure I have a good progression through late spring and early summer, where training becomes much more specific (but that's the subject of a future posting).

Now, with an Olympic distance triathlon focus for 2013 (at least for now - who knows, always room to add a 70.3 in late summer/early fall), it's time to prioritize and focus on weaknesses. This is where the analysis comes in (and also where it really pays off to keep a detailed training log). With a better idea of the types of triathlons I'll be doing for 2013, here are 3 things I plan to focus on during my training this winter and the reasons why.

Efficiency in the water
Any swimmer knows it's all about reducing drag. It's not always the strongest who is the fastest swimmer, but the most efficient. Coming from a running background, the swim is undoubtedly my weak link. So, this winter I'm focusing a lot of my attention on perfecting my stroke - and this means lots of drills. During my month break in December and now into January, I already started a block of heavy drill-oriented swim sessions; and I'm starting to notice some slight improvements in my 100 and 50 meter times. In addition to incorporating more drills in each individual session, I'm also increasing the frequency of sessions to develop a better feel for the water. This isn't to say that each session needs to be extremely long, but a 30-40 minute session 5 days a week will allow for strong focus without taxing the body too much. In addition to drills, I'm keeping a heavy emphasis on high-intensity-interval-based sessions.

Power on the bike
As the longest segment of the triathlon, a good bike split is key, no matter what the distance is. Just think, a half Ironman is 70.3 total miles, and 56 of those are spent on the bike - that's about 80% of the total distance. For an Olympic distance race, I'll spend about half of my time on the bike. So, when I thought about the best place to shave off minutes, the bike split was first on the list. Now, when it came to identifying where I needed improvement, there's two obvious places - first is overall power and the second is the ability to sustain that higher level of power output for longer.

With chilly temperatures and daylight at a premium, long rides or hill repeats are going to be hard to come by. But that's alright, I almost feel indoor training is more conducive to building strength and power. Here's how. First, a continued emphasis on lifting - trying to incorporate heavy lifts for power, mix in some higher repetition lifts for muscular endurance, and include a variety of single-leg movements to isolate each leg (like you do while cycling). Second is a lot more big gear, interval work - and this can be done on the indoor trainer. Cycling in bigger gears provides a similar strength-building effect because of the increased force needed to turn the pedals over. Third, and similar to swimming, I'm increasing the frequency of bike workouts, particularly since many are inside on the trainer, and decreasing the overall time of workouts, but keeping intensity high.

Running off the bike
This is somewhat related to the previous point. Any good way to improve endurance on the bike is going to subsequently help how much is left in the tank for the run. Neglect sufficient bike-specific training, and your legs will be too taxed to have a solid run split. One major improvement I noticed as my 2012 season progressed was a much better run split. This has everything to do with building a bigger base in cycling endurance over the year so my legs were better prepared to take on the run.

This goal is the most race-specific, so my training approach is equally specific. Instead of trying to address this now, it will be something I progressively work on throughout the spring as I'm able to spend more time training outside. The most important strategy to simulate running off the bike is to incorporate it into training - and this means brick workouts, or a run segment immediately following a bike segment. Brick workouts can come in all shapes and sizes (longer rides with shorter runs; shorter rides with slightly longer runs; short ride with a short run and then repeated; and so on), but the main point is to do them!


I'm really looking forward to 2013 - a new year; new goals; and new training ideas. Stay tuned to hear more about how they are working out.

Happy new year!

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