I've got like 75 blog posts floating around in my head right now but for some reason this one sort clarified itself for me this afternoon so I'll take a shot at it. I always think better while I'm running so this was crystal clear a couple hours ago and now of course I've forgotten half of it!
The gist of what I've been thinking about is how important it is to pay attention to your training and how you're feeling so you can look for trends... ie when do you feel like you're on fire and just nailing everything? Vs when do you feel like a total sloth and end up with a negative attitude and feel like you just suck at this whole sport? Ideally if you pay attention you can identify trends which will allow you to arrange your training in such a way as to set yourself up for more success.
I started really paying attention last year when I started working with Lucho as my coach. I figured that in order for him to understand me as an athlete (and therefore best help me!) I needed to understand myself... as much as he knows about training and getting fit, he didn't know me very well (at first) so in an effort to help him get to know me I would write all sorts of info into my Training Peaks post workout notes- anything that I thought was even remotely possibly affecting workouts good or bad- and then we would talk about it and he could help me see the trends. Then we could rearrange my training week to reflect what we thought we were discovering to see if it worked or not. Pretty cool process I thought... a never ending experiment of one, really.
So what have I noticed? It's taken me several years to figure all this out, and I'm sure I'll forget some things I thought of earlier, but here's some of it at least! In no particular order...
~I like training long. I genuinely like riding for 5 hours and then running afterward. And I really enjoy doing those long bricks solo. With other people always turns out to be good but waking up on a Saturday morning before anyone else is up and prepping all my stuff and layering on the sunscreen and heading off by myself on my bike is just something I love to do.
~I run better off the bike than I do if I don't bike first. True story. My fastest paced training run this year came off a 94 mile ride. This actually happens so often and consistently now that I have different pace goals set for myself depending on whether or not I biked first (faster if I biked first), and I plan an hour warm up ride prior to any key run I do these days b/c I know it will actually make my run better. (Clearly I am a triathlete, not a runner. Lol) Lucho and I were joking about that a couple weeks ago when I was telling him why I planned my week the way I did... and I said something like, "Well I want to PR that run so I'm going to bike first..." and he laughed about how crazy that sounded but we both knew that in my case it was true!
~I have no issues with getting through all my training on gels and sport drinks alone. And I can have the same flavors all the time.. no need for variety or anything solid. It's really a non-issue for me. I fuel like a machine when I'm training long which is great b/c I don't bonk anymore at all. I don't have stomach issues so no worries there.
~If I have an easy swim on the schedule I'm guaranteed to be bored out of my mind and swim like an absolute sloth. I hate those swims. But inevitably the next time I get in the water I swim out of my mind so I do plan those easy ones sometimes!
~Swimming 4x/week is required if I want my swim to pop. Every time I go 2-3 weeks in a row with 4 swims my swim gets better. If I only swim twice in a week (even just one week!) my swim goes to shit for the whole following week. So I'm religious about 3x/week in the pool. Though to be honest, I can't remember the last time I swam 4x in a week so that tells you where my priorities are right now.
~The more often I run, the better I feel while running. They don't have to be long runs either... for me, 3-4 miles in the morning followed by 4-5 miles in the afternoon is better than a single 8 mile run. And I always feel better on the afternoon runs.
~I need to see a big meaty week on my calendar if I'm going to get psyched about training. I'm motivated by planning workouts that I'm not altogether sure I can do... and by combining days in such a way that makes me wonder if I can do it. That gets me pumped, and most of the time I surprise myself and am capable of doing the work I set out to do. On the other hand, when I've got an easier week on tap I'm pretty much guaranteed to be bored and will likely physically feel like crap throughout all of it b/c I'm just not mentally engaged enough to care if the schedule looks too easy. I think I also skimp out on a lot of the recovery stuff that I go out of my way to do when I'm trying to tackle something big (ice baths, compression gear, etc).
~2 easy days is typically enough to bring me back to life after a solid/hard block of training. I've found I get by pretty well going 5 harder/key days then 2 easier recovery days (in a row) each week. That varies of course week to week but I can pretty much depend on the fact that after 2 easy days I'll be able to go out and hit something good on that 3rd day. Sometimes (but not always so this one I don't have figured out yet) I actually come to life on that 5th (or even 6-7th) hard day and nail something crazy but given that I don't have full understanding of that yet I don't tend to plan to build into races with that strategy. That isn't as consistent as some of the other stuff I've figured out. I'll keep testing that one though. :)
Ok so that's all I can think of for now! I'm sure if you thought about your own list of 'what makes you tick' you'd likely come up with something different to my list, but I do think paying attention and figuring this stuff out is extremely helpful in guiding your training and taking you to the next level where you want to be. This type of stuff is the reason that cookie cutter training plan would never work for me. I am not a cookie cutter athlete... and my guess is that neither are you!