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As promised, here is part two of a blog series on multisport training, specifically derived from my recent conversion from distance runner, into a generally healthier, happier version of myself. Please see my previous blogs on the advantages and disadvantages of multisport training and my recent experience with a 70.3 triathlon.
This blog will focus on some of the things that are important for staying healthy and having fun, but can be overlooked for first timers. Veterans are likely already doing these things. We’ll touch on strength training, nutrition, race planning, training plans and coaching. In reverse order!
Coaching is important. I get it, you’re smart. But odds are, you can’t look at yourself as objectively as you need to. Professionals have coaches, so you may want to listen to the pros here. Coaches help you to set goals, to keep your expectations in check, to bounce ideas off of, to complain about fatigue, to adjust the training plan, to talk about race strategy. Coaches have typically been there and done that. Not all coaching relationships are formal, expensive or local. In this age of technology, you can have a coach who lives on the other side of the world. But the most important thing a coach can do is help give you some structure and listen to you. They will adjust the training plan and goals with your input. If you know a coach who continually gets their athletes hurt, look somewhere else for your coaching. If you have seen a bunch of athletes be successful with a coach or team, that’s probably a good place to start. Look for a coach who wants to analyze your training plan, workout performances and adjusts accordingly. Dr Feldman and Mike Roberts at Central Mass PT and Wellness served as my coaches. Neil built my schedule and was always in the office for me to bounce data and ideas off of. He was an excellent resource for adjusting the training calendar too. They both also served as coaches for race day to make sure I didn’t do anything dumb.
Training plans are as numerous as athletes. The phrase “different strokes for different folks” certainly applies. Neil and Mike put a pretty intensive plan together for me. It was about 6 months of gradual build up designed for an athlete who had an extensive background in running. The primary goals for my running training were… don’t get hurt. When I run too much, I have something come up these days. For the swimming, I took a course with Total Immersion to learn how to swim efficiently and then got some varied workouts from coach George. The biking was directed by Mike and were anchored around Saturday morning classes at his office (AKA “Fight Club”, the classes are awesome. There’s nothing quite like suffering with 20 other people at 6:30am in the dead of Winter) that were cooked up in the dark corners of his brain but gradually built through the winter. Effectively we were aiming to make sure I was really fit on the bike so that I would be able to run hard without much fatigue in my legs. My plan was pretty individualized because of the demands with surgery and time in the clinic. Not everyone needs this type of plan. Much like 5k’s, you can find “couch to Tri” workout plans that can get you started. Adjust as needed, but, see previous paragraph, run it by your coach! Generally speaking, if you have a weakness, you should probably invest a bit more time into that discipline. Also, unless you are avoiding one discipline due an injury, you should be doing at least a little bit of each discipline regularly.
Racing is an entirely different animal and could warrant its own series. Not everyone needs to race. You can train and continue to do that indefinitely, but lots of people want to gauge their fitness every once in a while. If you have never raced, you should try it. In many ways, racing is a celebration of the training you have done up to that point. It also helps you periodize your training. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it means to have periods of hard training and periods of recovery. Picture a spiral staircase that goes upwards (hard training) with landings between staircases (recovery). Usually the periods are anchored around races, so they are great for helping you plan your training. Build up to the race, taper for race day, race, then recover for a period of time before the next build. Again, refer to your coach about race strategy, race planning, etc. My particular race plan was built to suit my strengths. Survive the swim, keep everything under control on the bike, then unleash on the run.
Nutrition is often called the 4th discipline in triathlon. Like any other discipline, you have to train for it and experiment until you find what works for you. In my first 2.5 hr bike class, I almost passed out from being under-fueled and dehydrated. Lesson learned. On my first few long rides, I dabbled with some water bottle-based nutrition as well as some gels and gummy blocks. Complete success. I’ve never really be able to eat much then run throughout my whole running careers, so it was important to stay well fueled before getting off the bike for my race distance. Shorter distances have a larger margin for errors. Longer distance races like a full Ironman have only a little room for error before it will ruin your day. Practice taking on nutrition on the bike and while running. I found that I need a few minutes on the bike after the swim to burp up whatever water I inhaled while swimming before I would start taking on calories. I also made sure to take on a bit of caffeine (from the gels) early on the bike since I normally do a cup of coffee in the AM but didn’t on race day since there are…other consequences from coffee for me. Other than race day, nutrition is a very personal thing. You need to get enough calories to recover and build muscle, which is probably more than you were taking in prior to training. Be careful with sugary sports drinks. Try no or low- calorie electrolyte replacements instead. Eat whole foods including lots of vegetables and plants. Make sure you get enough protein and fats as well. Try to avoid too much pre-packaged stuff and things that are “food adjacent”. Essentially, eat a balanced diet. Coaches can help with this too.
Strength training is something that is relatively new to me. This, along with cross training, is something that I would jump in a time machine and tell younger, dumber Ben to do in order to stay healthier. Mike Roberts built me a regimen that was focused on single leg stability exercises, core stability, glute and hip strengthening and enough upper body work to improve my strength without adding much bulk. I came to really appreciate the lifting sessions twice a week. My Wednesdays were a swim in the AM, an afternoon moderate distance run followed by a lift session that would take about an hour to do. At the start of the season, I would have prioritized the run over the lift. By the end of my season, lifting was the priority as I started to appreciate the reduction in injuries from generally being stronger. Your lifting, like all of your training, should have goals that direct the training. My goals were to stay healthy and not develop any my normal muscle imbalances that lead to injuries. Again, your coach should be able to help with this, but a movement screening and assessment could be critical for this.
That’s it for my kernels of wisdom. There may be more to come as my plan to parlay my 70.3 fitness into a Fall marathon fell through. I wasn’t recovering well since I’ve been doing lots of work on rehabbing a new house while trying to still maintain the training volume I had been sustaining for 6 months. Now I’m in a recovery period and will get back to it when some of the other demands quiet down. This advice comes from my coaches. Know your body and listen to it. Listen to your coaches. Keep moving!
Ben Saviet, DPM
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