“Do it yourself…”
It’s 2017 and the start of a new and exciting swimrun season is about to unfold! Please…can somebody turn on the lights, I am getting a bit fed up training in the dark. Anyway, below you will find some of my thoughts on how to prepare for the upcoming swimrun races. First of all, without proper training you will not get very far so let’s start with that. Mmmmh …there are so many different ways to train where to start and who to believe.
Unless you have access to an experienced (swimrun) coach it can be really difficult to know what works best for you. Browsing the web and (blindly) copying what the experts say comes at a risk in a sport that is still relatively young and (scientifically) unexplored. Most of the stuff you find on the web exists purely for commercial reasons but sometimes I am tempted to believe it (just for a day) and be instantly faster and stronger without breaking a sweat. Yeah right Thomas keep on dreaming, swimrunning stands for: “No pain no gain!”...so you better start training boy.
OK then, here we go: Jasmina and me are not part of a club and we don’t have a coach. It’s not really a choice but it just happened…as with many things in life. However, as a direct result we have developed our own training philosophy over the years. It has worked well for us, through trial and error I must say. If you are open minded and not scared to make mistakes everybody is in a position to develop their own tailor made training philosophy. Yes, it takes time but it’s fun and pays off in the long term. At the end of the road you will know your body better than anybody (or anything) else…at least that’s the way I think about it. So if you’re going to do it…..you might as well ”Do it Yourself and be in charge of it! (with your partner of course but that goes without saying). Be reminded that you can only blame yourself if things go wrong but equally also praise yourself if you book positive results. Training…for me, it’s a “life long experiment of body and mind”.
Enough said, let’s get started. The best way to build your own intuitive training approach is by asking yourself a few (pretty fundamental and critical!) questions. First one: Why train in the first place? Think about it and self reflect….what drives you to train? I have listed some of my own key motivators so yours can (and should be!) different. Once you have come up with your own list you have set some rough boundaries behind your motivation to train which will help to build a realistic annual plan. Here are some of my favourite motivators:
1. In order to reach my race season GOALS I simply have to train – Even though I enjoy training every day I could not just train for fun and not race. It adds “spice to my life” so to say.
2. Swimrun training puts things into “PERSPECTIVE”– For instance, recovery runs are like therapy where I process conversations, ideas, thoughts, memories, observations, feelings, inspiration, etc, sometimes to the point where I start laughing in the middle of a run. Sounds familiar?...mmmmh well, maybe not (yet)….but it will come one day.
3. A day without training affects my MENTAL & PHYSICAL HEALTH – It’s best explained by Jasmina: “please go out and train now….you grumpy old man!”…enough said. She has a point once and a while.
4. Training is essential to reach a COMPETITIVE level and win races – I read somewhere that winning is addictive and I think there is truth in that. However, I also believe that losing races or DNF’s are key motivators to keep
going…and do better next time. Perhaps that explains why we won 3 big swimrun races but also have 3 DNF’s. Oops, still not old enough to stop learning….damn!
5. I have a drive to continuously IMPROVE by training with a purpose – working on my weaknesses can be difficult and frustrating but when there is progress (even when it’s small)…it’s so rewarding!
6. I train to learn more about myself and my partner under different conditions – call it (PERSONAL) DEVELOPMENT with a twist.
7. Training is emotional BONDING – for me it’s the time where I have “exclusivity rights” to be with Jasmina to laugh, cry and suffer together on our journey to get to the startline.
8. Training is a perfect excuse to TRAVEL the world (preferably with the kids) and discover new places – the winters in Finland are long so we try to escape it a few times a year to see friends and suck up the sun in different places.
9. Training means being prepared to make SACRIFICES and tough decisions – getting out of my comfort zone can be confronting but I realise it is absolutely necessary to make me feel alive and appreciate the small things in life that often come for free.
10. Endurance training allows me to refuel my body regularly with lots of tasty and healthy FOOD – almost nothing beats preparing and eating a great meal after a 4 hour swimrun. I am sure PJ agrees with me on that one….!
11. Training allows me to spend quality time outside and reconnect with NATURE - space, clean air and the sensation of cold water, the elements make me feel “reborn” and recognise the power of pure human instincts.
That was pretty deep and philosophical, how about using these elements in your training plan? Yes, so my training philosophy needs to encompass these elements since it’s the foundation of why I feel like training in the first place. It’s different for everybody but it’s important to keep it in the back of your mind for the next question: When do I train and race? Well, that depends entirely on the goals you set yourself (see point No 1…what a surprise it all comes together!). Speaking for myself now, I have set the following main goals for 2017 that will help define when to train and race:
1. three key races (Hvar, Utö and the World championships)
2. staying healthy and injury free – focus on effective taper and recovery
3. improve core and leg strength for better trail running performance – it’s a bit subjective but with increased number of gym hours, off trail running and non-impact pool drills I hope to get better at it.
4. year 2016 was “lake” swimming – 2017 will be “sea” swimming so there is an urgent need to adapt to these more variable and demanding conditions
5. nowadays (with so many good teams) knowing the course inside out has become more important than ever before – especially for us who have a tendency to get lost along the way…..- let’s try to practise the course beforehand, if possible.
6. Now we have two kids so time has become even more precious – every training must have a specific purpose. There is no time for “garbage” milage
7. Identify appropriate B races to maintain race fitness or improve specific weaknesses.
Based on the above goals and thoughts I am in a position to come up with a preliminary (annual) race planning. Here it goes:
So, Hvar is start of April, Utö end of May, world champs are start of September. We are now in January and have about 2 ½ months left for Hvar, boost fitness and do Utö. Then there is a period of approximately three months to improve “long distance performance” for the world championships. So in resume, I split up the year into blocks:
Block 1: Jan up until mid Feb - BASE training (i.e. volume, strength and technique). These are the toughest months to train because its cold and dark but equally the most important months because they form the basis of building a strong body and mind that’s capable of surviving the mental and physical abuse of the upcoming race season…
Block 2 & 3: (mid Feb to end of May) two BUILD-UP phases, Feb / March for Hvar and April / May for Utö (i.e. speed endurance, hill strength, specific swimrun training sessions alternating intensity and distance). Mid February we plan to test our swimrun shape for the first time in Playitas (Canary Islands). Note that before and after each race there is a TAPER and RECOVERY period which can range anywhere between a few days to a week.
Block 4: (June / July / Aug) BUILD-UP phase for ÖtillÖ Worldchamps. This time we will make a serious attempt to practise the ÖtillÖ course in the summer period to try and equalise this tactical advantage (of our neighbours) somehow.
Block 5: (Oct / Nov / Dec) possibly one more race in October then two months of low intensity training and mental recovery. That’s it in a nutshell.
Here are some more planning thoughts on when to train and race:
1. I normally plan a maximum of 3-4 key swimrun races per year
2. Identify appropriate B-races to either test your run / swim shape or gear set-up under race conditions. Last year I did one 10km road race, 2 half marathons (road / trail) and 2 full marathons (road / trail).
3. If you live in Scandinavia try to book 1 or 2 holidays in the winter (base period) that enables you to practise quality swimrun sessions.
4. Be realistic about the number of training hours you (and your partner) can put in every week since it will determine the number of races your body can handle in a year. I will come to that in: “how and what to train?”
5. For a build-up period to be effective (in my view) reserve 6-8 weeks of training, therefore ideally two key races should not be less than two months of each other.
6. Race organisers tend to squeeze all their races in the summer period which is effectively only 5-6 months in Scandinavia. If you insist on doing more swimrun races then look for locations where it is warm all year around.
7. Allow enough time in your planning to taper and recover from each race (especially mentally).
8. I try to keep my race planning flexible, meaning I don’t commit too much at the beginning of the year allowing for training downtime due to sickness, injury, work load fluctuations and other unplanned events.
9. One thing I have learned is that a “missed” training day cannot be compensated by adding it to next day’s work-out.
10. Be confident (and listen to your body) so don’t train or race when you feel sick or have an injury. Call it luck but I have been injury free for most part of my life.
11. I said it before: When you train “be serious but don’t take it too seriously”….it’s supposed to be fun, remember!
The above is my rough annual race planning, as you can see it works in cycles i.e. base, build-up, taper, race 1, recover, build-up, taper, race 2, recover, etc. Now, one of the hardest things to do (even for experienced professional athletes) is to train effective, taper and ultimately peak on race day. Why?...because it’s not an exact science and it can be different for every race depending on many factors such as: being slightly over / under trained, race location adaptation, unfamiliar course conditions, recent injury or health issues, quality of night rest, problems with nutrition, domestic (mental) matters, etc. It’s easy to be a superstar during training sessions but then there is something wrong with the overall training plan or the way you train, if you ask me. This brings me to the third and final question: how and what to train? In order to answer it I perform several self reflection sessions to come up with key elements that should be incorporated and reflected in the base phase and build-up phases of each race. As mentioned before, there is a time, place and purpose for each kind of training. Once I have listed the key elements, I find a place for them in a mental training plan (which goes through several finetuning processes in my head). These key elements tend to be race related and take into account specific characteristics such as: total course distance, number of transitions, vertical elevation, swim vs run distances, terrain type, climate, course location, competition, etc. The logical thing to do next is to define a weekly training plan where each day of the week details what needs to be done.
However, here’s the thing….my life is not really based around a 9am to 5pm routine so it means that every day is different and training sessions are just another activity that need to fit in somewhere. So, in order to prevent burn-out we have developed a more holistic (I really had to look for this fancy word!..) and intuitive approach towards training over the years that suits not just me but the whole family. It’s a shift change in thinking: rather then mentally burdening yourself by reinforcing all the effort you put in to train, think about what the training give you….in other words swimrunning doesn’t actually stop when you take off your shoes or swimsuit. What you eat, how you sleep, who you meet, what you say and do with your partner, allowing quality playtime with your kids, it’s all a mindset that is intertwined with how you perform and feel on a run, swim or race. Just to illustrate this: I don’t plan rest days (they come naturally…so that’s one thing less to stress about), I don’t follow a strict diet, instead I eat local food and follow what’s in season, I don’t train at specific hours during the day or have a set number of training hours or kilometres in the month. I don’t limit myself to train in one or two locations only (where there is space I train, even at the airport check-in hall), I don’t use the kids as an excuse not to train – they either come with me or I find a place where they can be for a few hours. It does mean long days and making sacrifices but it’s all worth it.
So, what you will find in my next blog (Part 2) is two things: 1) the above mentioned key training elements for the base phase and build-up phase for each race and 2) a breakdown of thoughts on how to train intuitively and by feel, going more into detail about the impact of training frequency, intensity levels and different types of training. Finally, I will give you a few training examples which can be a bit unorthodox when you first read them but then again, it works for us….so “do it yourself “ and build your own. It’s not that hard if you actively think about it. Today’s popular management goeroes call it: being self conscience or being mindfulness. I just say: “Who cares dude…turn on your brain and do it yourself!”
Me: Thomas Schreven
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