Pic: PJ and me doing some sprint sessions on the beach in Nice, France
swimrun training philosophy - part 3
Intensity In the previous two blogs (i.e. Part 1 and 2) I talked about setting up a preliminary training plan and what to train in the base & build-up phase. In this blog I will make an attempt to explain “how we train”.
For starters, I would like to mention that our way of training may not necessarily work for you and your team mate since it’s entirely designed around us. We share the same training philosophy so in every aspect it’s something we decide and discuss together on a daily basis. What you can take home (if you want..) is the “approach to how we train”.
Defining intensity in swimrunning is probably as difficult as “defining flavour in cooking” where “sense of tiredness” and “sense of sweet and sour” is a very personal and unique experience. As for cooking, some people already run to the toilet when they smell a mild chicken kebab, whereas other people don’t even break a sweat after eating an XXXHOT Vindaloo curry. Translate this to swimrunning and call it: “your mental and physical ability to absorb intensity over a certain period of time”...
People (including me..) often ask themselves the following questions: What should be my pace during a long run? During an interval session, what should be my rest period? How many hill reps should I do? How many swim meters of pull buoy and hand paddles should I incorporate into my pool work-out? When should I take a rest day? These are all valid questions that are directly and indirectly related to your ability to absorb intensity.
The “sucky” thing is that there is not a “right or wrong” answer to all these questions. Simply try and ask three different coaches the above questions and you will get 3 different answers depending on the feedback you give them. So, in my simplistic view the best way to obtain an answer is by comparing it to…..you guessed it….cooking! Whatever tastes good when you prepare a meal…IS GOOD! The same thing counts for intensity….if it FEELS good then the approach is in the right direction…(unless you’re “overcooking” it of course). What I am trying to say is that swimrunning is a bit like cooking where you constantly add ingredients (like hills, repetitions, accelerations) that essentially affect the flavour (and intensity). Now there is good and bad news…good news first: you can learn how to cook by exactly following the recipe…the bad news is that there is no guarantee that your “boef bourguignon” will taste the same as when Jamie Oliver makes it….why? Because Jamie uses his gut feeling, intuition, smell, food texture, heat and all the rest of his culinary senses to make a master piece out of it! As for swimrunning you can learn and improve by following a training program to the dot BUT there is no guarantee that the level of intensity you apply is the right one for you… Feeling intensity is something that only you can judge. Over the years I have been struggling to understand what people mean by: “raw, medium and well done” or should I say: “slow, moderate and fast”.
In order to get around this dilemma of: “should I go faster or not” I have developed a simple but effective mental feedback loop. Subconsciously I go through a step-by-step approach as far as determining the right level of intensity is concerned (TIP: think backwards and forwards in time when you do this exercise!):
Step 1: Defining the PLANNED level of intensity BEFORE a work-out:
• What phase of the training plan am I? (i.e. Base / Build-up / Taper / Recovery)
• When and what was my most recent work-out? (i.e. swim, run, swimrun, gym or rest?) How did it go (i.e. How do your run and swim muscles feel)?
• How far away from race day am I?
Step 2: Judging the ACTUAL level of intensity DURING a work-out
• How do I feel 20 minutes into the work-out (i.e. after warming-up)? (checking parameters like pace, covered distance, time, terrain, weather conditions, muscle soreness, perceived feeling of effort, etc)
Step 3: Adjusting the ACTUAL level of intensity DURING a work-out (whilst being in the moment)
• What do I decide to change at a specific moment in time and why? (i.e. add a loop because I feel good, cut-back a repetition or distance because I feel I have already been long enough at peak intensity, slowdown for a few minutes to allow my body to deal with lactic acid, let’s accelerate to simulate conditions at the later stages of a race, etc).
• Why change intensity? The only way to improve is to get out of your comfort zone and temporary increase intensity by adding a loop / repetition / accelerate or hill.
Step 4: Self reflect DURING the RECOVERY phase
• How did the work-out go? (i.e. mentally and physically map how you feel to determine the optimum rest period)
• Think max 1-2 days ahead to provisionally plan the content of your next training session.
It’s key to experiment with different kind of intensities throughout your work out at different times and for different durations. It’s the only way to identify your optimum run / swim pace over a certain distance and terrain / sea conditions. Just like adding ingredients to your meal that affect flavour you can also add hills, repetitions, loops, change rest period, focus on different muscle groups that immediately affect intensity.
Intensity can be measured by changes in heart rate, pace or perceived level of effort (i.e. feeling). The first two are relatively easy to measure but the last one is more tricky and arguably the most important one since it truly connects the mental part with the physical part. Learn to trust in your gut feeling and you don’t need a watch to tell you what pace (or HR) you’re running at. On the track I am able to judge my pace within a few seconds of what my watch is indicating. On technical trails it’s a lot harder and if I get it as close as 20 seconds per kilometres I am happy.
Just to give you a few clues on how I intuitively define slow, moderate and fast. Slow running means that you can run for over an hour and keep a conversation going with your partner. Moderate intensity for me means that you are able to run or swim at least for an hour and are able to absorb several intensity changes of different nature and different duration. If within 1 ½ to 2 minutes my HR drops below 100 it’s a good indicator. (Note: don’t use this number as a guide because I am 44 years old so you need to find out your own optimum recovery HR). Your muscles should feel tired at the end but not heavily fatigued. You should not be able to hold a conversation with your partner but merely blurt out a couple of sentences if needed. Fast means that you are running in the red zone….unable to keep a certain pace for a long time. You will feel your legs getting heavier as time passes. Muscle soreness, heavy breathing, “sweating like a pig”…wobbly legs, red faced...it’s all part of the fun. Sometimes the motto is: “no pain no gain”. Key is NOT to look at your watch during fast workouts because it will only limit your mind of what is physically possible!.....
This is where it gets complicated…at least for me to explain it. Experimenting with different intensities is one thing but it’s another thing to understand how long your rest period should be and what your next work-out should be. Again, there is no right or wrong here but I will try to give you a few clues of what works for me.
• After a long swimrun or run work-out I do an easy work-out the following day focussing on muscle groups that are not primarily used during running
• I try to do two work-outs a day where one complements the other (i.e. swim and gym or swim and run or run and Xtrainer)
• I have tried running twice a day but it does not work for me in practise…even though the second work-out is supposed to be for recovery it tends to be exhaustive and it feels like “garbage mileage” to me
• After an intense run work-out I tend to do a recovery type (longer) swim work-out. I hardly ever do a swim work-out followed by an intense run workout (unless I run back and forth to the pool from home…)
• An intense swim work-out is often followed up by a 45 minute gym work-out
• I tend to stick to my planned number of loops or repetitions so I adjust intensity levels but NOT my rest periods in interval or fartlek training
• I believe in the power of mental judgment when defining levels of intensity
• Accelerate your pace for a short while and then slow down again when your body tells you to simply stop running or swimming (it’s called the “disco traffic light effect”…..rather then running only in the green “comfort zone” try to switch from green to red and vice versa making orange your favourite starting colour to switch between red or green….). The objective is to teach your body to cope with sudden changes in intensities which is the name of the game in swimrunning where you switch multiple times from swimming to running and vice versa in a matter of a few seconds….
Intensity is what keeps the sport of swimrunning interesting and fun for me!
The fact that there is no magic formula to improve is what makes it so great….add a swimrun partner to the equation and you have a billion possibilities to get from A to B! P.S. In case you like my blog and have suggestions for future topics let me know and I will try to write something about it. In the meantime, enjoy your time figuring out what works best for you and your team mate! It’s the journey that matters…
Me: Thomas Schreven
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