A new look at training

Last year, on 21 August, I managed to complete a half iron distance triathlon. That’s a 1.9km swim, followed by a 90km cycle, followed by a half marathon run. It was fantastic fun, but with the year having been exhausting on many other fronts, the race was followed by zero training until last week. I couldn’t bear to even touch my running shoes, gave my beloved bicycle a wide berth. Why? I love exercise. I enjoy it. My mind started drifting to a different idea: body-centred, rather than event-centred, training.

Usually, you pick a few major races to aim for during a coming year. You, or usually your trainer, then plan your training so that your body peaks at the time of the race. Now, I’m training for training’s sake. My programme consists of suggestions, not requirements. There is also scope for making note of days I didn’t train, but got a lot of exercise. For instance, last week Thursday I missed my planned swim, but I walked at least 8km in the course of the day. The space for recording what I did that day is filled with a W for Epic Walk.

So will I not race again? I plan to. However, instead of picking a race and getting my body ready for it, I am going to train for the love of it, and enter events I feel ready for at the time, at short notice.

Will this work? I don’t know. People aim for races to help motivate them. I’m weird that way, though: I just love exercise. Getting fit enough to be able to run or cycle a certain distance is enough motivation for me. I think I won’t perform as well as I would if I trained ‘properly’. That just isn’t important to me, though. I find myself left cold by the idea of aiming to complete a half iron in a faster time. Being fit enough to complete another one and feeling good when I’m done with it is a more attractive goal, and if I do it slower than my first I can’t say it really bothers me.

Watch this space then to see if this body-centred approach will yield good results. I’ll keep you updated.

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What do you want to do?

One of the things involved in working out a training programme for the coming year, was deciding what precisely it was that I wanted to do. The answer surprised me: I want to keep doing this. ‘This’ being triathlons, races, cycling holidays, running for fun, and generally just having The Little Body that Could. The start of an adventure, for me, goes like this: “Hey, I bet I’m fit enough to…” Insert anything at the end there which sounds like a challenge.

I also want to run a clockwork household, but alas, this morning Lara asked: “Mom, where are my stockings?”

And I replied: “In the oven!”

I think aiming for an Ironman or an ultramarathon or something is more realistic.

Cycling… want!

Last night, I had the unexpected privilege of helping to marshal at the Irish Criterium Cycling Championships here in Dundalk. It was a different kind of racing altogether, and very exciting to watch. My overwhelming sentiment?

“Oh, gods, I want to do that.”

This is difficult to describe. There’s a certain joy in pedalling and feeling as you do so that your body… that it works. I know that must sound really stupid, but it’s the same kind of delight I experienced when I waited for the kids in the car one day and by chance put my hand on my upper arm. And felt muscle.  I kept poking and prodding my arm then, because this was really weird. But also really great. I’d been training and training and training and in all honesty, I find it difficult to really internalise the results in my racing. I know they’re there, but somehow it remains a distant concept for me.

When you’re at the bottom of the pack and your main aim in a race is to not be dead last, your rewards lie in the sheer joy of participating. It’s in the cold harshness of the churning swim, the muscle-singing harmony of the cycle, the peaceful challenge of the run (I know how weird that sounds. Just go with me on this one, it’s peaceful and wonderful but you’re sweating bricks).

While I’m at a performance level compared to them which makes this almost sacrilege, I could empathise with the racing cyclists as they zoomed past me. I watched Alan Bingham especially (simply because he was the only participant I actually know), and while I of course can’t be sure my impression was correct, I saw him think. I saw him watch the cyclists ahead of him, could almost feel him calculate how long to chase and when to shoot past. I watched how close thy cut past the pavement at the bend where I stood, and while it was heart-stopping, it also made that same heart cry out in recognition. They’re so in tune, body and soul, with their bikes that they have the confidence to do what’s needed.

Everything in me cried out to try the same thing. To do something where I purely focus on cycling. I don’t mean leaving triathlons behind, I mean just adding some time trial type cycling to my activities.

Ah, but. It would mean I’d have to participate in leagues on weekday nights, and doing anything on a weekday night is difficult. Micky and I live very separate lives out of necessity. He works during the day, I’m home writing and seeing to the kids’ needs. We don’t have the same interests where hobbies are concerned, so on Saturdays he climbs and on Sundays I cycle. Our few hours at night to touch base, to each be surfing the net side by side (I suppose it must look weird, we love snuggling under the blankets each with our laptop on our lap) or watch Dad’s Army, IT Crowd, Blackadder, or Black Books together are precious to us.

But maybe I can make a plan. We’ll just have to see.