A couple of years ago I was at a local seminar put on by a triathlon race director, a triathlon coach, and a nutritionist at a restaurant that was sponsoring the series of triathlons I usually participate in. The nutritionist got caught in traffic and was unable to participate, but we talked a lot about race day nutrition. Then one of the other participants asked "So what do we eat every other day?" and the coach didn't know how to answer that so she just gave a basic "you know... eat healthy stuff" kind of answer and they went on to the next question. I wish I had thrown up a hand to answer that one, because it sparked this chain of posts. and it's really cool.
Triathletes tend to be very goal oriented people. My plan for this series is to identify the different phases we go through in a typical year to achieve a goal, then specifically look at different goals to identify within those phases. The primary focus is on strategies to achieve those goals, how to set appropriate goals for you, and what you can realistically expect to get out of a year in triathlon. It's a broad range of very specific topics. I'm going to begin with the end in mind, then work my way backwards, then forwards again.
The Big Hairy Goal
It starts, you guessed it, by picking your "A" race for the year. For my example, I want to pick a 70.3 mile triathlon in the fall. WTC has purchased the Beach 2 Battleship race, so that is now known as Ironman North Carolina Beach 2 Battleship, and it is going down on October 22 this year.This is a popular race, it's a fast course, but you have to really train for it. They run a full and half iron on the same day, so it's a perfect example.
Mentally, picking the goal can be the hardest part of the entire process. You want to pick a race that will play to your strengths, the right location for you, the right time of year for you.
A good triathlon coach can help you:
- pick the right race
- with a training plan that will get you ready for that race
- calculate what your weight should be at the starting line
- calculate what your weight should be when you start a training plan
- calculate what your ideal bodyfat percentage should be and how to lower it
Triathlon coaches that I know and/or have used in the past include Malone Coaching, TriMarni Coaching, One Step Beyond (Marty Gaal), and QT2 Systems coaches Doug Maclean and Rodney Scott, and Endurance Nation. Marni Sunbal in particular is relevant to this discussion because she is certified as a nutritionist and registered dietician as well as a triathlon coach. There's a lot of letters after that name.
So if the big day is set we can start working backwards. Periodization is the concept that you don't do the same thing all year round, instead we split up the year into different phases (or periods). Each phase has specific and very different goals and approaches to nutrition and training. Specifically the phases break down as follows:
Last year's "A" race is in the books, so that leads strait into the Offseason. There should be some weight gain during the offseason, so this presents a starting point for the Weight Loss Phase when the time is right. The training plan should be established right after registering for IM70.3 NC, and for a half iron that is usually a 20 week training plan. So the Training Phase will take you right up until Race Day. And this half iron will lead straight into a celebration cheeseburger and the offseason.
We can define body composition as the ratio of muscle mass to body fat, or measuring your body fat percentage and optimizing your power to weight ratio. Muscle contains power. To push our bodies for 70.3 miles will take lots of endurance training. Strength will play a big role in being able to get and stay fast through the entire race day. Bodyfat will only slow you down.
Triathlete's typically go after "that" body. We want the 6 pack abs, Lord knows I've been chasing them for years. Each pound of excess fat costs you 3 seconds per mile when running. That means if we hit the starting line 10 lbs too heavy, it's costing us 30 seconds per mile or about 7 extra minutes of running over the half marathon.
For me, at 6'1" when I was trying to finish my first ironman, my racing weight was 165 lbs. At 165 and 14% bodyfat I was as lean and fast as I ever needed to be. So that's how I hit the starting line of IMFL back in 2011. My training weight is 175 lbs, those last 10 did melt off during the 24 weeks of my Ironman training plan. My maximum allowable offseason weight is 190 lbs. So every winter after my big race for the year, the offseason comes. And when it takes me up close to 188 lbs then it's time to start the weight loss phase. The 13 lbs between 188 and 175 will take about 7 weeks to release, then I'm ready to start that years training plan. Sometimes the offseason weight determines when I pick up again, sometimes the calendar does. But it's easy to be consistent year over year.
The next post in this series will look at the offseason and weight loss phase, comparing the approach to training and nutrition during those phases.