Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Tears Were Worth It...

Just short of a year ago, I started on a new venture in triathlon - working with a coach.  Not just having a coach give me a training plan and leave me to my own devices, but really committing myself to her plan, communicating regularly, and putting all my trust into her that I would come out a better athlete for it.  The truth is, it wasn't easy - mentally, physically, emotionally, any and all of it.

Scared and frustrated....
We started with a couple preliminary phone calls to get to know each other.  I knew I liked her, I was confident I had someone who knew what she was doing, passionate about the sport and her clients, and willing to take this journey with me.   Not only that but they say the best people to learn from are people who have made it to where you want to be.  Done and Done.

One of the first things we did was establish preliminary HR zones.  She gave me zones and each bike and run were to be done in said zone.  I had never really used my HR monitor before - it just laid around and occasionally I'd put it on for a run just to see what my heart was doing.  After less than 2 weeks I had had it with these 'zones'!  I was running slower than I'd ever run before (11-12 minute miles), I was having to walk uphill.  I was confident that these zones were drastically off.  I had spent the fall prior to starting with my coach working on my running and setting a shiny 2 minute PR in the 10-mile run.  I had my heart set on a nice new PR for a half-marathon in March and I was running so slowly I began to doubt whether or not I'd even be able to finish.

I began to doubt the plan, the coach, the thought that I even had a chance of doing decently well at IMLP.  I went out for a run one morning, wearing HR monitor and watch, and said 'screw it'.  I

wanted to run, and so I ran - with a skyrocketing HR and positive splits.  Later that day, I got a nice little email reminding me that I needed to stick with the zones we'd set forth or this would be a waste of time.  Ok, ok - another week went by.  I stuck to the zones, but I was upset.  I no longer looked forward to working out.  Runs became a source of stress and confidence crushers.

If you don't have one, get one.
I came back from a run feeling completely frustrated and upset.  I sunk into my comfy sack (bean-bag type chair) and sulked.  Adam was over and said, 'why don't you make a list and tell Kim you want to talk?'  I pulled out my phone and started making a list.  While I was deep in concentration working on my list, Kim texted me.  She wanted to talk, and wanted to know if I was available then or that afternoon.  I'm still skeptical that Adam wasn't secretly communicating with her, but he denies it, and I've always been told I wear my emotions on my sleeve.  Not to mention Kim is pretty in-tune with her athletes, I just didn't know it...until that day.

After a couple minutes of hesitating on whether or not I was available.  I was available, but was I ready to enter this conversation?  I didn't know, because I was truly thinking I might give up on the coaching thing and just do this on my own.  Afterall, IM Louisville 2012 didn't go too horribly awful.  I decided to be honest and tell her that I was available.  Five minutes later, my phone was ringing.  It was during that phone call that I realized and decided I was letting go.  I was going to stick to the HR zone training and give this method an honest and dedicated try.  I had one of the best female athletes in the sport guiding me, and giving up after just a few weeks wasn't what I really wanted.

After we chatted for a good while and went over what purpose of this HR training was, where we were headed and how this works.  She put me in touch with one of her athletes that'd she been working with.  Emailing back and forth with the athlete was helpful but ultimately I was still on edge about staying with my coach.  I had drafted up an entire email to another coach and was skeptical that running 11-12 minute miles was somehow really going to lead to faster times and a better aerobic engine.  As I had decided though, I was going to give this whole thing a true and honest try.  I was putting my training, my fitness, my control in her hands.


Well news flash, if you're going to adjust your zones and do true heart rate based training you have to check your ego at the door and drink a big glass of patience.  You'll probably have to walk up hills to stay in some zones, you'll have to run 10-12 minute miles at the beginning.  I thought my coach was crazy when we started this process.  I trained mostly by myself for the first few months, getting used to staying in a zone and nailing the middle of the zone as my average while speeding up as I worked toward the top of the zone throughout the workout.  It took me a good bit of time to really be able to 'run' and start at the bottom (or even below!) of the intended zone and work towards the top throughout the workout.

For me, heart rate training was all about developing the aerobic system.  Sure, I was a collegiate soccer player - an aerobic sport, right?  Not so much, I was well trained to go hard and fast for short bursts with slow jogging and some resting in between.  Sustained running (Half-marathons) meant I was running with a very high heart rate the entire time.  Probably one of the reasons my 10 mile time/pace was much better than my half-marathon time/pace.  It was difficult and is difficult to do any anaerobic activity for much longer than 90 minutes.

PR's, World's, Podiums...
With a sincere try and effort your aerobic system will develop.  You'll get faster in lower zones.  Over time the zone that you were running 10:30/min miles in will become 8:30/min miles.  I explained this to one of my friends as moving the floor down instead of trying to push the ceiling up as she struggled with the same thing just this past fall.  If we think of the ceiling as our max heart rate there is really no way we can push that up.  With age our max heart rate will even begin to decrease, so it is in our best interest to move the floor down and teach our bodies to run at lower heart rates, thereby creating a more efficient aerobic system.

Almost a year ago my coach asked me to trust her and give her just a few months.  I did, I went all in (I was nervous as heck I'd come out slower than molasses)....and it's all been completely worth it.  In 2014 I made more improvements than I ever thought possible.  I PR'd every distance that I raced.  My race results were better than I had thought possible at the beginning of the year.  As difficult as the first couple months were, the results and the fitness gains made were completely worth the struggle at the beginning of the year.


I just finished my first week of lactate threshold testing for 2015.   It's amazing looking back and comparing the results to my first tests of 2014.  There's still plenty of room for improvement but it's nice seeing things come along in a concrete sort of way.  I spent the first few weeks of the year slowing down, getting back into the zones, and getting prepared for an exciting year ahead.

I've also had the privilege of helping or at least attempting to help a few friends, patients, training buddies along that have recently started with heart rate training.  The first few months of 2014 there were plenty of doubts, plenty of tears, and more than enough frustrations on my end.  There were even some doubts as I started back to it this year and some disbelief that my body would come back around.  Once again, I was reminded, it truly is amazing what this incredible machine (aka the human body) is capable of.