1. Training Time
The biggest challenge the Novice Masters Triathlete has is probably the difficulty of finding training time while trying to balance work, family and social commitments. This is where motivation comes in – only you can decide what you are willing to give up to fit in Triathlon Training. Usually TV time is the first to go, but unless you have been a TV addict, that may not be enough hours yet, so time discipline is crucial. :)
I have found that a good analogy for time management is the act of filling up a bucket with sand, pebbles and rocks – if you start by putting in the pebbles/sand, it is gonna be tough getting all the rocks in. If instead you start by first putting in the “rocks” of your life (in priority of importance to you), at least they get in the bucket before the smaller stuff. There is no way to fit everything in, the trick is to first put in all the important stuff when we plan the day/week/month. So to me, the first step really is deciding what is more important than Triathlon training – for me, it is Intentional Discipleship time (Quiet Time with the Lord, fellowship/service in Church, etc…), family time, and of course, my job (and the frequent traveling it requires). I make sure that my training fits around these 3 “rocks” and not the other way around. Just about everything else, I try to fit around my 4th “rock” – Triathlon Training – and if there is not enough time for everything, I don’t sweat it.
2. Setting Goals
Related to the above is goal setting. While it is good to set challenging goals, it is also important that they are realistic (achievable) and measureable. Without a frame of reference, it is easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself with the ex-swimmer/cyclist/runner around you. I have often done it and it usually leads to disappointment and demotivation – the killer of the Noice Masters Triathlete. :) I see two ways about it – if you are concerned about whether you are improving in race fitness and want to make sure that you can adapt your training plans to address weakness areas, measure your performance on a on-going basis using objective criteria like time trials or fitness tests (Joe Friel’s book has got a whole chapter on “Accessing Fitness”). On the other hand, most Novice Masters Triathletes will probably be focusing on “going the distance” so the training principles should be rather simple (more on that later). So if you, like me, cannot be bothered to take the time/effort to set up repeatable tests, just don't sweat it! :D
In terms of setting realistic goals, Joe Friel’s book has a useful chart on annual training hours versus target event (e.g. Sprint 300-500hrs, Olympic 400-600hrs, Half Ironman 500-700, Ironman 600-1200), but I suspect these are more for competing in the events rather than for completing the events – two very different goals. To take a more personal example, I have done only Sprints so far, but I am targeting a Olympic Tri in July 2007 with only 6 hours or so a week to train, which works out to be a lot less than the 400-600hrs indicated in the book, however, I have decided not to target a half ironman in 2007, as my available training hours are far short of what is suggested in the book.
3. Training Principles
Joe’s book is all about the “Periodization” of training – i.e. to grow to the full potential of a Multi-Sport athlete, one has to split training into different periods (Prep, Base, Build, Peak, Race, Transition) per year and continue for years for maximal results. If this is all getting too complex, take heart, because he also says that the 1st year of training should be primarily in the Transition and Base periods, with the focus on developing aerobic endurance, force, technique (speed skills), and muscular endurance. There is no reason to build power and anaerobic endurance. So here are some simple training principles as I understand it:
- Going the distance – The initial focus should be on being able to complete the distance and the estimated event time. I.e. the initial focus should be on being able to complete the individual distances and then working up the total training time to be somewhere near the estimated total event time. There are loads of sample “Couch to Sprint” or “Couch to Olympic” training plans in the ‘Net like the BeginnerTriathlete website which focuses on going the distance.
- Staying healthy (and able to train) –According to Joe’s book, immunity in older folks is also lower than that of the young ‘uns and thus colds/flus may be more prevalent (and I thought it was just me picking them up from the kids). I have been struggling a bit with colds/sore throats/flus, and if you are like me, here are a few pointers:
i) Get a Flu Shot – Will not stop you from getting colds/sore throats/infections, but at least saves you from nasty fevers and the like. Flu shots typically last only a year as the flu bug mutates constantly and hence a new “cocktail” is needed periodically.
ii) Get more protein – Lean meat, egg whites, etc… There is little danger in taking in too much protein – the unused stuff just turns to fat, but a lack of protein is detriment to training and also lowers your immunity system.
iii) Drink lots of water and take vitamin C regularly – Okay, I know this is common sense but I had to sneak in that one. :)
iv) Adequate rest – The 24 to 36 hours following a “breakthrough” workout (i.e. a long, hard training session), your immunity drops, so be extra watchful – avoid public places if possible and wash your hands regularly with soap. Develop good habbits like using your right hand to do stuff (open doors, press elevator buttons, etc) and your left hand if you need to touch your face. I often try to get in a breakthrough workout just before leaving on a business trip to try to get as much training time in as possible, only to wonder why I fall sick when traveling. Moving forward, I will wear a doctor’s mask if I have to fly in the 24-36 hours after a breakthrough training – betta safe than sorry! :)
- Rest Days – Stick to them! Joe suggests 2 or even 3 rest days following a breakthrough workout for us oldies. Don’t be tempted to squeeze too much into the weekend, and risk illness and injury (which may wipe out all training benefits).
- Strength Training – Especially after 50, we lose muscle mass pretty rapidly. So for the Novice Master Triathlete, strength training is recommended all year.
The Novice Masters Triathlete probably needs to be even more careful about diet than the younger atheletes due to the onset of age-related risk in heart disease. There is much written about diet of the athlete in his/her 40s/50s and beyond, but some quick pointers are:
- Protein is good – As mentioned above, protein helps build immunity and aids athletic performance. Vegans, don’t hate me, but Joe says animal sources of protein are better than vegetarian sources of protein.
- Fat is not all bad - Accordinfg to Joe, low-fat, high carbohydrate diets don’t work for atheletes – some fats needs to be introduced. Having fats in our diet help build immunity, and also builds long term recovery and capacity to train at a higher level. But before you all rush off for cheese burgers and ice cream, this means leanest cuts of meats (wild game, if possible, and all visible fats removed), seafood and poultry, and low or non fat dairy (in small quantities).
- Alkaline foods are good - One of the reasons for losing muscle mass is acidity in our blood, so eating alkaline foods helps. There is a table of acid/alkaline foods in Joe’s book, but the short of it is to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables – just what Mama said. :) A surprising piece of information is that raisins is the food item with the highest alkaline content in the table – Praise God!
Triathlon gear, and specifically the budget for it, is generally less of a problem for the Novice Masters triathlete than for the budding Juniors triathlete. In fact, most of us (myself included) seems to over-compensate for poor performance with state-of-the-art gear - afterall, a lot of us are from the "did not have the time & money to do this when I was younger" category. :) Even so, it pays to look at the equipment needed for our specialized and rather expensive sport:
a) Swim – Okay, not quite in the equipment catergory, but if you can find a Master’s swim class, join it. If, like me, you do not attend a Master’s swim class, at least get a friend or a coach to periodically check your stroke.
b) Bike – Comfort is EVERYTHING to us oldies. :) No point having a super aerodynamic position on the bike that requires you to stretch out every 15 mins! :) In general, carbon and titanium frames work best for us as they are more compliant. Yes, they cost a lot more than alloy frames but your back is worth it (plus, it is a great excuse to tell the missus why you need that expensive bike). :) I ride a road bike with clip-on aero bars, but I have been told that a properly fitted Tri bike can be just as comfortable, so if you are using the bike only for Tris, get a Tri bike. At least it will stop you from gazing forlornly at the sexy Tri bikes on the road – okay, maybe I am speaking from personal experience on that one.
c) Shoes – Expensive running shoes do not mean good running shoes, but bargain basement discount running shoes are almost always a bad idea. Proper fit to your running style is key. Pay the premium and get your shoes from a shop that can analyze your gait and recommend shoes that fit.
Well, that’s it from me then. A long post but hopefully one that helps some to avoid the trials and errors that I have been through. Until next time, train safe and God Speed!