I've been thinking about volume of training.
In the off season anything seems possible. It's easy to be all gung ho** about the kinds of hours you will put in next spring when you are currently rested and not training hard or long. I'm admitting this up front, because what I've been thinking about in terms of volume can really only be embraced when one is not dead tired and in the midst of heavy IM training. Also, I know I've discussed my thoughts on non-linear periodization previously, and I stick by my thinking there, so what follows may seem like a strange idea coming from me. Okay, all disclaimers are finished!
In looking over my last season's race results and training, I noticed a few things about my best races.
1. My best bike performances were preceded by (no shock here) lots of long hard rides on the bike. These long hard rides were often close to twice the distance of the bike portion of the race at which I PR'd.
2. The hours of my training were geared toward completing a race which was a much longer distance then at the distance at which I PR'd. (eg. In training for IM, I PR'd at the half.)
3. I had short tapers for my best races, and a peak week usually preceded the peak performance by two weeks.
4. I did not have specific time goals for my best races (except the end-of-the-season marathon). I simply wanted to beat everyone I could.
5. My best performances occurred when I was aggressive and did not fear blowing up.
What these observations say to me is that I race best when I'm training for an endurance event like Ironman, but I'm actually racing (with total confidence) shorter races. While this may seem to be stating the obvious--well OF COURSE you race well at the 1/2 if you're training for a full! I still think it's worth thinking about. If this is true, then why don't we all just train for a race that is twice what we are looking to PR at? Why not train for the marathon if you actually want to PR at the 1/2? Why not train for a 1/2 IM if you're hoping to achieve glory in the Olympic?
But the truth is, that's not how we train. We train FOR the event at which we want to PR.
I wonder if this is the best idea.
The basic thinking for completing an endurance event of any kind is that you should complete workouts that are akin to what you will do in the race, but that don't actually hit that peak mileage or time that you will have to achieve in the race. For example, it's common to run three to four 20-22 milers when preparing for a marathon, but people will look at you askance if you admit to running three to four 28-30 milers in your training. Likewise, if you're hoping to achieve at IM, you don't complete an IM before you race it. Of course not! You complete a 1/2, you go for a 120 bike ride with an hour T-Run (and that's if you're really experienced at IM--I certainly didn't do that in prep for L.P.), but you never go the distance--not until the day of the race.
When you train for a marathon, many of your training runs are over 13.1 miles. In fact, sometimes you run that far (or farther) twice in a week. When preparing for a full IM, you definitely complete over 56 miles on the bike repeatedly, and often this is followed by a long T run. So in preparing for a longer race,you're more than prepared to do a race of shorter distance. You can be pretty aggressive running a 1/2 marathon or doing a 1/2 IM if you know damn well that actually completing the event is not a problem.
The thinking, of course, is that you want to spare yourself the trauma of completing the event in its entirety before you actually race it. Your body WILL be able to achieve that distance--you don't need to prove this in a trial run risking over-training and injury as you do so. Right?
Wrong. I believe this way of approaching endurance events originated during a time when people weren't actually sure it was entirely safe to run more than 26 miles or complete a race longer than an Ironman. But we know now that ultra runners and ultra IMers double, triple, and quadruple those distances (well, maybe not quadruple on the IM). It IS, in fact, perfectly safe to run 26 miles in training or complete close to IM distances in training, as long as you've adequately prepared your body (over years, I will add) to do so. The simple truth is that people do it all the time. They just don't do it when training for a marathon or an IM--they do it when training for an ultra or a double IM.
So what am I getting at here?
Simply that it seems quite logical that if you want to PR at a particular distance, you should actually prepare for a race of a much longer distance.
Okay. I know, I know. Most of us do not have the time, energy or youth to train for a marathon by way of atually training for an ultra. Likewise, most of us are focused on just finishing an Ironman--and we really do risk serious injury, burn out and chronic fatigue if we attempt to train over certain number of hours per week. I think it's worth considering, however, that we are too cautious in our approach to training for middle-endurance events. If our focus is the half IM, for example, and we have a history of having completed the trianing and racing of an IM, then it seems only logical that employing similar training to excel at the half is wise. Likewise, if one has raced 50Ks and 50 milers, why not add in three to four runs over 26 in preparation for an ordinary marathon? What would happen?
A big fat P.R. That's what would happen.
And on that note, I'm off to ride my bike.
(FYI**an aside: I have been obsessed with the origin of the cliches I use so frequently, so the link on gung ho just explains that expression's derivation).