Saturday, April 8, 2017

Faster at 45

I recently wrote an article for Australian Triathlete magazine about triathlon training and racing as I age. While Ironman South Africa time was not my fastest Ironman, it was my second fastest race and arguably in tougher conditions. I did Ironman Arizona in 2008 in 10:33 to win my age group that year in the W35-39 age group. That compares well with my recent W45-49 age group win at Ironman South Africa in 10:42.

I figured it might be useful to share what I am doing to maintain my times, and arguably, continue to get faster!

Swim – perhaps the biggest area of improvement for me has been the swim. Though the gains in minutes may not be massive over a 10+ year period, I feel fresher on the bike and for the rest of the race for being a strong swimmer.

My first Ironman was at Lake Placid in 2004 and my swim time was 1:13+. Since then my two fastest swims have been a 1:06 non-wetsuit swim at Ironman Los Cabos and 1:05 wetsuit swim at Ironman South Africa. I’ve also raced Kona 5x and my swims have improved from 1:24 in 2005 to 1:10 in 2016.

The biggest difference in training is that I swim with a group 3x each week and I swim more yards at each session. I used to swim 10,000yds/week with just one swim of ~4,000yds and now I swim ~15-20,000yds/week with 3x swims of 4,000yds+ and my longest swim in the 5-6,000yd range. I would describe myself as “swim fit” and it showed in the challenging swells and chop of the Indian Ocean at Ironman South Africa.

Betty Designs keeps me colorful in the pool
I also swim with the pull buoy a LOT! In fact, 80% of my swimming is probably with a buoy. I may reduce the amount of swimming with the buoy over the next several months to see if I can gain further swim improvements, but this “dependence” has not stopped me from seeing gains in open water up to this point.

Bike – I’ll be the first to admit that the bike came naturally to me from the very beginning. While I’ve learned to love swimming and I tolerate running, I truly love riding my bike and I’ve always been a strong age group cyclist.

When I began working with Matt Dixon and purplepatch fitness three years ago, he diagnosed a “lack of range” in my cycling. While I was a solid diesel engine for 70.3 and Ironman racing, I needed to add some top end watts to my cycling range. I rarely saw 250w+ and anything over 200w+ was challenging. That has changed now as I spend a lot more time above 200w and even 300w in training sessions both indoors and out.
A much improved TT position in recent years

My Ironman builds also used to include lots of long 6hr rides prior to working with Matt, and while those are still an important component, I now include endurance work on the bike via double rides in a single day. Typically it’s a challenging 90-120min trainer session in the morning followed by a 2-4hr “endurance” ride in the afternoon. These second rides are challenging since I often tag along with the PPF pros and try my hardest not to get dropped by Sarah Piampiano and Sarah Cameto  - two phenomenal cyclists in the female pro ranks! Overall, I ride less than I used to do 4-5 years ago, but every session is very focused.

Finally, the devil can be in the details on the bike and I’ve paid more attention to the little things in the last few years. By that I mean, improving my bike position to be more aerodynamic, using a lubricated chain in racing and selecting wheel, tube and tire combinations that are proven to be faster for given race conditions. Though I’ve still never ridden a disc wheel!

Run – This element is still my major “work in progress”, and I just began to see some improvements in the final six weeks before Ironman South Africa. In recent years, I’ve struggled with some foot and hamstring issues that have inhibited my ability to train the run properly. I also think my personal challenges with health and anemia show up most quickly on the run (see nutrition below).

My left foot will continue to be a problem, as I need surgery to remove a bone spur. While I have had this surgery in the past on this very same foot, the surgical solution being recommended this time around is a bigger deal with a longer recovery time. It would likely prevent me from running for 6+ months. I’m not yet at the point where I will elect surgery but it may be necessary in the next 12 months.

In 2015-2016 I struggled with a very sore hamstring after any run longer than 3-4 miles and I even had an MRI to see if there was some sort of tear… there wasn’t and I felt like an idiot when my radiologist told me that my hamstring looked absolutely fine! In consulting with my chiropractor and physical therapist, Mike Lord, the recommended solution was to strengthen the hamstring and glutes, as well as activate my core (see strength below). After a year of focused strength sessions 2x/week, I no longer have any pain or aches in my hamstring! It’s been gradual and I’ll admit that I was a bit of a skeptic that it would work but I never feel anything in that hamstring any more.

Strength and conditioning – I’m currently 2 years into a dedicated strength and conditioning program. For the first year I did 30mins 2x/week but have increased that to 2x 60mins a week since last April, working with Brendon Rearick from Movement as Medicine. The sessions are highly functional in nature and are tailored to my specific abilities and range of motion. Every single session begins with activation work focused on the core, hips and glutes. We also integrate stretching into the sessions to work on my specific challenges (tight calves, restricted range of motion through the upper back, quadriceps).

Nutrition – If I had to point to one single area of focus that has had the greatest impact on performance in the last year, it’s nutrition. I thought I had a good diet, balanced but not overly strict, with a decent amount of daily protein, but upon closer analysis, I was falling woefully short. The headline news was that I was under-fueling both my training and daily life and not consuming enough protein to properly aid recovery from training sessions. We could also talk further about my penchant for wine and chocolate but candidly, that’s still a work in progress!

I alternate fish and steak each evening dinner.

Flank steak is my *go to* red meat 
Working with Dr. Phil Goglia of PFC Nutrition, I now have a daily eating plan consisting of 8-9 meals a day and a target of 160-180g of protein. It's a simple plan to follow... in fact, I'd describe it more accurately as "eating rules of thumb", identifying when I should be eating protein, fats, veggies, starches and sugar. What’s more, having had a history of anemia, I’ve worked closely with both Phil and my personal physician, Dr. Kiki Silver, to ensure that I am absorbing the nutrients that I’m eating, and supplementing where necessary, essentially taking an iron pill each day.

Overall, I don't train any more than I have at any time in the past 10 or so years and my weekly training totals remain in the 12-20hr range, depending on where I am in the season. There might be a week or two where I top out at 25hrs (e.g. during Kona camp) for an Ironman build but the norm is closer to 15-18hrs.

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