As my official Ironman training cycle quickly approaches, I have been struggling to get my arms around how to fit all my cycling in during the cold and dark winter months. So I went out searching for some information on the Internet and found a piece on minimalist Ironman training written by Matt Fizgerald, the guy that wrote the plan that I am following. I have to say, this makes me feel MUCH better about my prospects relying on the indoor bike trainer for the next few months.
High-intensity indoor cycling is time-efficient and effective
Cycling predominantly indoors can be an effective means to develop a higher level of cycling fitness with a substantially lesser time commitment to training than cycling exclusively outside. Riding indoors requires less set-up time and entails fewer stops than outdoor riding. It is also more intense—heart rates are always higher on an indoor trainer because there is no momentum and there are no downhills. Finally, the indoor cycling environment is more controlled and more conducive to high-intensity riding.
There is a small trend of predominantly indoor bike training at the top levels of triathlon these days. Andy Potts, the 2007 Ironman 70.3 World Champion, typically rides outdoors only once a week. His five or six other rides are indoor workouts featuring lots of lung-busting interval and threshold efforts and lasting only 45 minutes each, on average. Tyler Stewart, who has the fastest women’s Ironman bike split in history (4:47:59 at Ironman Florida in 2007), gets most of her bike training in the form of 90-minute interval-based indoor workouts that she teaches for other triathletes and cyclists. Like Potts, she rides outdoors just once weekly and she completes only a handful of rides longer than four hours before racing an Ironman.
I’ve recently adopted a similar approach to my Ironman bike training, and with excellent results so far. Each week I perform five rides on a CycleOps 300PT indoor trainer. Each of these rides is 30 to 45 minutes long and two feature very challenging high-intensity work. On Saturdays I hop on my Kestrel Airfoil and ride long. My power numbers are as high as they have ever been, but my time commitment to bike training is much smaller than it has been in the past. Try it and you’ll see.
For anyone that is not familiar with the bike course at Ironman France, I wanted to introduce you to my recurring nightmare. THIS is what keeps me up at night. THIS is what I am doing endless squats and lunges for. I am told that good riders (I am average, not good) take over 1.5 hours to climb the section of the race between the 50k and 70k points. The non-stop climb is roughly 1,000 meters (meters, not feet). I did the math – that’s a 7.25 mile/hr average speed. That means that where I would normally hope to finish a flat Ironman bike course in 6 hours, I am just hoping to finish France in under 8. THAT is brutal, my friends. And the real challenge here is to finish the bike course with a shred of quad strength left to finish a marathon. The only way to do that is to not push too hard… which implies a relatively low steady heart rate… and I just don’t see how that’s possible on this course. But hey – what goes up must come down, right?
The only saving grace with this is that the run course is pancake flat along the promenade in Nice. That combined with the topless beaches that run along the course, I hope that goes relatively smoothly (is there a law on race day against topless old-ladies with breasts that hang like tube socks filled with sand?? I hope so!) But it’s an out-and-back run that repeats 4 times, so it’s going to be painfully boring. And very depressing after the first loop when I realize there are 3 more to go.
Over the past year, I have had many conversations with people dealing with stress fractures in their leg from overuse. The inevitable question they ask me is, “how did you get passed yours?” While I can’t honestly say I am 100% in the clear, I can definitely say I have made some great progress through trial and error, resulting in a number of lessons learned that I think are worth sharing with others.
For background, let me remind people of my situation. My first stress fracture was diagnosed in October 2002. I was training for my first marathon (Chicago) and had been experiencing a lot of pain at the top of my tibia (felt like it was my knee) as my mileage was reaching its peak. I ran my final long training run and then I was unable to complete any of my tapering runs. Diagnosis: deep stress fracture at the top of my tibia.
From there, I had another in 2003, fought through the pain to finish the Disney Marathon in 2009, and then finally had another stress fracture later in 2009 as I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon. It seemed that the running gods simply didn’t want me running… so I finally sought out some help. That help, and what I learned from it, is what I wanted to share here. It may not be the perfect recipe, and I know everyone is different. But I do think there are some key aspects to this that will apply to most people that are dealing with how to overcome these injuries.
How to Recover from Stress Fractures
My last stress fracture turned out to be a “slow healing” fracture; it happened in September 2009 and as of my last MRI in July, it was still not fully healed. It’s now December and while I like think I am in the clear, I can’t say that for sure.
These are the steps that I took to recover. Even though it took me awhile simply due to how my body reacted, I think this still applies to someone that can heal in 6 weeks (typical).
Step 1: Rest – No Impact
The first step is the hardest. If you have a stress fracture, it’s most likely from overuse, meaning that you have been training a lot. So, stopping cold turkey is extremely difficult to do. I was on crutches, so I really didn’t have much of a choice, but after 2 weeks they were gone and my wife recognized my need for activity. She signed me up for swim lessons at the local gym (more on that later).
Step 2: Bone Stimulation
For almost a year now, I have religiously used my Exogen Bone Healing system on my left leg every morning. No way to know if it’s helping, but I have made progress where I didn’t before. This bone healing device is a little ultrasound machine that sends waves through your bone to promote healing. You strap it to your leg and let it run for 20-minutes… very easy and painless.
Step 3: Cross Train – No Running
At the point where you still feel pain, but you aren’t limping, begin to work in exercises that have light impact, but definitely no running. For me, this was the start of my obsession with triathlons. I firmly believe that because of the amount of swimming and cycling that I did as I was in the early stages of recovery, my legs gained strength and I was able to recover faster than I would have. It’s impossible to say – I can’t be both the “control” and the “test study” – but my lower legs were strong and I have to assume that helped support (and thus promote healing) my lower leg.
Step 4: Ramp Up Slowly
Once you are pain free while walking – on flat surfaces, up stairs, down stairs… never – it’s time to test out the leg. The timing of this is different for everyone. Everything I have read says 6-weeks is typical, but for me, it was about 6 months. The key here is to not go out and try to run 6 miles and race pace. I ran 1 mile 2-times a week for 2 weeks. Then I moved up to 3-times a week. Then I moved up the distance by a quarter mile each time until I was at about 3 miles. From there, I actually cut my running back to 2 days a week, but increased the distance on one of the runs. This was driven more by my triathlon training plan than anything else, but I do think it was a good way to do it. The ramp up was extremely slow, but worth it.
How to Avoid Stress Fractures (and get Faster!)
What I think is the more interesting part of this story is how to avoid stress fractures moving forward and push your training at the same time. The obvious answer for avoiding stress fractures is to not run… but for many of us, that is simply not an option. So given that, what can be done? Again, I am not going to claim that this recipe will work for everyone – but it seems to be working for me.
Step 1: Go To Physical Therapy / Biomechanics Assessment
A key aspect to my current progress is the physical therapy I went through and the work they did on my biomechanics. My sessions were at Duke Sports Medicine and the focus was on trying to determine why these stress fractures kept happening and how to recover and avoid them in the future. For me, it turned out to be weak hips. As my distance increased, so did the fatigue in my hips, causing my right side to drop, creating an imbalance and thus a strain on my left leg. By focusing on exercises that strengthened my hips and core, I have been able to maintain better form, thus preventing any more problems.
Step 2: Learn Chi Running
There are other similar methods out there, but the concept is all about improving your form so that you run lighter on your feet and thus avoid injuries. The lessons address posture and stride length – some of the keys are highlighted in the steps below. My point here is to read the book, or take a class about it.
Step 3: Shorten Your Stride / Run on your Toes
This is one of the key takeaways for me from the Chi Running techniques, but it makes total sense as something that would contribute to my stress fractures of the past. Basically, if you shorten your stride, you stop landing so hard on your heels and make impact on your mid-foot or forefoot instead. This allows the natural mechanics of your leg to dampen the impact – your calves act as a shock absorber. When you land on your heels, the impact goes straight up your leg, causing or contributing to injuries.
Step 4: Increase Your Cadence
Another big takeaway for me from Chi Running is the need to increase your cadence. Obviously, the faster the turnover, the faster you can run. But more than speed, this simply promotes the shorter stride and thus less impact. When I first started, I ran at a cadence of about 86 or 87. I now run at a cadence of around 94-95. Some people use a metronome to help them figure this out – I bought a foot pod to go with my Garmin 310xt which has been invaluable to my training.
Step 5: Use Newton Shoes
I am sure there are other options, but for me, Netwon Shoes have been a HUGE help. They promote a forward lean as is taught in Chi Running which again reduces our tendency to run on the heals of our feet. The shoes are built up in the midsole, pushing you forward so you run more on your toes.
Step 6: Eat Yogurt
A lot about my diet has changed (thanks, Mary Lynn), but I do think one key thing I have started doing is eating lots of yogurt. I religiously eat 3 cups a day (one with breakfast and 2 as part of my post-workout snack). The protein and calcium are key to building and maintaining strong bones and muscles.
Step 7: Cross Train
A lot of the marathon training programs out there talk about how you should integrate some cross training into your workouts. I never did that before. But over the past year, I have become the ultimate poster-child for how cross training can help your running. For 9 months, I was heavily focused on triathlon training with the goal of completing a half-Ironman in August 2010. I did that. My training involved only running 2 days a week, but working out for 12-15 hours a week. Implied there is a LOT of cycling and swimming. As a prepped for the Marine Corps marathon, I shifted my workouts a bit to run 3 times a week so I had some more focus on my running. I ended up shaving 36-minutes off my time at the Disney Marathon. I would say that ALL of the above contributed to that, but clearly my endurance and strength were much improved and that doesn’t happen from running 2-3 times a week.
Step 8: Hill Sprints
For me, speed work has contributed or sped up the development of my stress fractures in the past. Sprinting is simply a lot more strain on the legs. To work on speed while keeping the impact low, I have been focusing on hill sprints. Running up hill is MUCH less impact on the legs, so by sprinting up hills, you get the both worlds. No question this contributed to the improvement I realized at the Marine Corps Marathon.
That’s it. Like I said, I am no doctor, so please don’t think this is a recipe for all… but this seems to be working for me. Questions or comments? Let me know.
Ok. So, the title of this might be a bit harsh. Or perhaps you might view me as the petty one projecting myself onto others after you read my justification for such a title. But one thing I have been noticing lately is that athletes (triathletes and runners, specifically) are CONSTANTLY checking out other people’s equipment. Nothing lewd intended by that… and no, I don’t mean bikes, because that’s too obvious. You buy what is considered an expensive bike and then it’s impossible not to notice all the other people out there with bikes that are more expensive than yours. I know, it doesn’t matter, but it’s impossible not to wonder how the heck these people can afford them! My wife likes to point out that the sport of Triathlon is elitist, just as golf is, simply because it’s so damn expensive. She always complains that she only sees white people doing Triathlons… but that’s not exactly where I wanted this post to go. I digress.
No, I have been noticing something on my long runs of late. EVERY person I pass by doesn’t even try to look me in the eyes (not even a hello?). Instead, they are looking at my shoes (Newtons), my women’s Polar watch (it’s white). Or perhaps they are just looking at my shorts (this has happened my whole adult life – what can I say?). Who knows… but it is clear to me that they have zero desire to make that brief connection runners get while passing each other on the trails. Instead, they want to compare what they have to what I have. They are sizing me up and trying to figure out how good I am simply based on how expensive my gear is. Is that crazy? I am guilty of it – I do the same thing. If I see someone with cool shoes, I assume they are a seasoned athlete. So maybe it’s all in my head and, like I said, I am simply projecting my own actions onto others. I am just a petty wannabe triathlete! Damn.
I spent last week with my wife and mother-in-law on Ocracoke Island, NC. While I worked most of the time, it was relaxing and very much like a vacation… nothing like finishing up your day of work with some bodysurfing and paddle-ball on the beach. On the surface, readers of this post are probably assuming that this “work-acation” made me older simply because my mother-in-law was there. No, in fact I was very happy to have her and while it certainly wasn’t a dreamy romantic getaway, a good time was had by all.
Actually… let me take a step back. Since I started working out with Olivier last November, we have regularly checked my stats on his fancy scale – weight, % fat, % muscle, etc. The one number that I have been anamored with (if not obsessed) is the age this machine calculates. I started as a 50-year old about 10 months ago and headed into Ocracoke at a lean 39 years – still a few more to go to be under my actual age. Not sure how I can get much more fit than I am, so this damn scale has become my nemesis.
The week in Ocracoke went as well as I could have hoped from a training perspective. No two-a-day workouts, but I did get a workout in every day and each was decent. No swimming, but good [flat] bike rides and some really great runs on the beach. Yes, I was that freak carrying some HUGE shells while running down the street on my home.
At night, we ate amazing fish and lots of steamed shrimp. All said, we ate very healthy – certainly nothing fatty.
Anyway, I had my first workout with Olivier on Monday. I had gained a few pounds, increased 1 year in my age and lost a bunch of muscle mass. WTF? It’s not like I sat around doing nothing. Even though I may not have reduced my caloric intake to match my reduced energy burn, I can only conclude that there was nothing I could do – vacation makes you older.
I have been thinking a lot about this one and searching forever on the Internet for some guidance…. but nobody will just give me the answers I need! I want a simple plan for what I should eat/drink during the race. I realize it’s different for each individual and I should come up with my own.
Here is my attempt.
- Bowl of Oatmeal (1 cup) (300 calories)
- 1 Espresso
- Bagel with Peanut Butter (780 calories)
- 12-ounces of OJ (150 calories)
- 12-ounces of water
Pre-Swim (as close to start as possible)
- 200 calories worth of homemade energy bar
- 12-ounces of water
- 1 Shot Block (carry and eat just before getting in the water)
My goal on the bike is to eat 400 calories per hour, knowing that this will become increasingly difficult as the race goes on… but under 400 is ok; but not by too much.
- 1st 20 minutes, drink 12oz of plain water only.
- At each 20 minutes mark, eat 100 calories of homemade energy bar, 1 shot block, followed by water. This means that for each hour, consuming 400 calories.
- Overall, drink 1.5-1.75 bottles of water each hour. This means, I should be drinking about 5 bottles of water over the course of the ride.
- Salt. I will be using the Margarita shot blocks which have 210 mg of sodium per serving (3 bloks). I THINK that will be enough.
- Drink 1-2 cups of water at every mile marker/aid station
- Eat 1 shot block every mile with water
- 100 calories of homemade energy bar every half-hour
I will continue to refine this as the week goes on and will post the results of how my plan worked after the race.
When I am out for my long run or a long bike ride, I like to play a little game with the people I see along the way. The game is very simple, really. Let’s say you are running along a beautiful packed gravel trail through the woods in a huge local park. It’s 6am and you are clearly not there because you just happened to have the urge to run that morning. You are running because you are following a plan that caused you to set the alarm well before dawn, strap on your shoes, and go outside for a run. The purpose of that plan may be to lose weight… it may be to complete an Ironman. Regardless of the reason, you are out there because you made a commitment.
Now, it is safe to assume that anyone else you see on this trail at 6am is in the same boat. They may be much faster than you. They could be much larger than you. But you are both there and the common bond is your desire to workout.
I am a firm believer that this bond should be acknowledged. I believe that as I pass someone coming the other direction (or perhaps I pass them because I am faster?), a firm “Good morning!” is warranted. At worst, an ordinary “hello”. Every time someone says something back (I have yet to have someone give me an “F U” when I say hello – so we will assume the response is positive), I give +1 to the good guys. One point to say I have met a person that loves what they are doing and they have acknowledged that we have something in common. Nice people – people I’d like to have a beer with.
On the other hand, when I pass someone that says absolutely nothing and doesn’t even acknowledge my presence, it’s -1 for the people that hate working out and are doing it because they have to. Poor miserable bastards.
I live in Raleigh, NC. One would think that my game would favor the friendly South as compared to so called miserable Yanks running along the Esplanade in Boston. Very very wrong. It turns out Boston is full of happy athletes and Raleigh is full of cranks.