Social media is a great place to stay in contact or gain new insight into the lives of ….well, anyone. Movie stars, comedians, politicians, athletes. It’s interesting (if not a bit voyeuristic) to get a brief insight into their daily lives. It’s no different with the endurance community. There are many athletes out there that shoot little tidbits off about how much time they spent on the bike or where they ran to today. From my viewpoint as a father, husband, business owner etc etc, the amount of time they put in and the intensity of the workouts is impressive, primarily because I have nowhere near the time to do what they do. And perhaps I’m a little bit envious at times.
In a recent build up to a big race — in this case a full distance Ironman™ triathlon — through Instagram, I saw an athlete swim 5000m at the early morning pool session. Later in the day he rode about 110 miles averaging about 22 mph on a ride with hills, and finished off with an 8-mile trail run. That was not a terribly rare occurrence.
It’s understandable that many athletes may look at these numbers and it’s a bit romantic to think of training like a pro does. I don’t think they believe they’ll have the same success, I think many athletes just want to “train like a pro” for a number of reasons. Pride? Toughness? Bragging rights?
But an athlete without the endurance history (definition: for how many years have they been putting in 10-25 hours a week of training?) AND with a job and/or a family is setting themselves up for failure by doing this.
Because what you don’t see is the time and the effort (or lack of it) that goes into the recovery process. Among the best athletes in the world, recovery is treated like an additional job. Significant time and resources are set aside for it. Frequent massages. Daily naps. Simple couch time. Expensive compression devices. Carefully crafted diets. Early bed times.
When planning a training program, the amount of time an athlete has for training isn’t the primary factor…it needs to be considered whether they have time to recover from those workouts.
You can’t simply consider ‘can I do the workouts?’, but ‘can you recover from them?’
Planning your recovery as part of the training is key to having high-quality workouts. By over-planning the training and under-valuing the recovery time, most athletes end up with a lot of junk workouts because they had to sacrifice on intensity or length. I consider a workout ‘junk’ if it didn’t advance your endurance, it didn’t make you faster, or it didn’t aid in your recovery.
That elite triathlete on Instagram told us what his workouts were that day — what didn’t make the feed was the recovery job he undertook that day.
Again, here were the workouts:
5000 m swim, 110 mile bike, 8-mile run
But here was what you didn’t get to see between them (meals are approximated but you get the idea):
5000 m swim
Head back to the house where a friend that’s a chef had prepared coffee, eggs, avocados, with homemade tef tortillas and some salsa. After breakfast, spent about 30 minutes doing some basic mobility exercises with some light yoga. Then was able to lay down with feet up for about 30-40 minutes and read a book. Got up and started to get ready for the bike ride.
110 mile bike
Got off the bike and spent 30 minutes easing into some light mobility work (no aggressive stretching and low exertion level). Plenty of hydrating. Transitioned to a late lunch of chicken, quinoa salad, mixed greens and dessert.
Spent 40 minutes in a pair of sequential compression devices for the legs while surfing on his tablet. Went down for a 90 minute nap.
Light snack and more hydration. Some days he might spend 15 minutes with a movement/massage therapist to get the muscles warmed up and ready for a run. Head over to the trail.
8-mile trail run
More mobility work as the cool down from the run begins. More hydration. Light snack. A little more couch time (or just time off the feet) and then dinner — some fish, rice, veggies, French bread, and dessert (okay and a second helping of dessert). Couch time reading or watching TV.
In bed by 8:30 to do it all over again tomorrow.
Also we shouldn’t forget that this pro athlete also has numerous years of training in this manner under their belt. It’s difficult to quantify the actual effect of this “historical fitness” but when you see the length and intensity of certain workouts done by elite athletes, it’s hard to ignore this factor in their ability to absorb these workouts.
Do you have time to recover like this? I know I don’t and I’m betting most of you out there don’t as well.
I can get up in the morning and swim for an hour or more before work. But then instead of eating a healthy breakfast, working on my flexibility for a half hour or more, I have to grab something quick to eat, get my sons up and off to school and then head to work.
I could schedule in a long bike ride in the middle of the work week if I had to (meaning if it would significantly improve my fitness), but instead of follwoing it up with another relaxed meal, some stretching, and a nap and some significant time off my feet, I’d, again, have to rush back to my responsibilities. By not resting and not getting off my feet for a period (and sitting in front of the computer doesn’t count) not only would I not be recovered in time to run later that afternoon, but I likely would have to take the next day easier as well.
And that’s the big difference: the combination of historical fitness and time spent on recovery allows elite athletes to put in day after day of hard work, while regular people would break down doing even a fraction of this.
So how to best train with a ‘normal persons schedule’?
- Don’t let training stress you out more. Know that this worry and stress does nothing to help the situation and recognize that there are very good solutions (see #2 and #3)
- Intervals: They’re not fun to think about, but they’re surprisingly enjoyable when you get into a healthy diet of them. Also they are the perfect addition to the training plan for any busy athlete. Don’t have time for a 90 minute run after work? Go out for 50 minutes, and after 15-20 of warmup, do 3-minute intervals at 5K pace or faster with 4 minutes of rest between. Do 3 or 4 of these and cool down a few minutes and you have a workout that is ‘worth’ more than your average 50-minute run and might even leave you enough time for some stretching and trunk strength work.
- Sleep : It’s usually the first thing to suffer and it shouldn’t be. It’s when we do most of our actual recovery and when it’s sacrificed, training suffers. Studies have shown that sleep loss has a greater effect on sub-maximal (read as “endurance”) performances. π So it’s more critical for endurance athletes to get more and better rest. Want to train harder, or more importantly, to get more out of your training?….then sleep better.
So to train like a pro, you need to recover like a pro. Plan workouts you can do but also make sure to schedule time for recovery.