Unconventional Training Wisdom

Sami Inkinen is a very talented triathlete and a fellow member of www.ypo.org. We have compared notes on training in the past and had a chance to meet at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in October 2010. He returned to Hawaii in 2011 and absolutely crushed it, knocking an hour off of his 2010 time. He did have a sub-9 at the 2010 Ironman Arizona, but Hawaii is a much more difficult race.  His sub-9 hour time at the world championship made him runner-up in his age group and top 40 overall. It was a stellar performance from someone who achieves at a high level in both business and sport.

He is even more focused with his training than I am, but we both agree that less is more. Sometimes, I just want to be outside and ignore any rules. If I want to run for three hours in the woods, and I have the time, then I do it. Truthfully, that is when I have some of my most fun workouts. My triathlon specific training isn’t very specific at all. I love commuting to work, whether it is by bike or on foot. When I ride, it is a minimum of 14 miles each way, depending on the route. When I run, it is 17 miles with the first 8 on the Hop River Rail Trail. I only go one way when I run. I spot a vehicle the day before, ride home, run in, and then drive home. I’ve got to go to work anyway, so I make the most of my time by getting there with my legs. I build much of my training around the commuting.

If I’m aiming for peak performance (sometimes I just exercise for fun, fitness, and stress reduction), I pay attention to time/distance/heart rate, but I don’t use a cyclometer and I wouldn’t even know what to do with a power meter if I saw one. So, when Sami talks watts, I’m lost. I’m sure I could improve performance if I paid attention to that sort of thing, but I just can’t be bothered. I like to use “feel” because that is how I learned to do endurance sports 25 years ago and it has mostly worked.

Sami has a brilliant post on his blog from earlier this week that is getting circulation around the Internet. His sub-9 last weekend was the crowning achievement of his season, but his age group world championship at the Ironman 70.3 Las Vegas race in September is equally as impressive. He may train a bit more than me, but I probably race more than him, which is what I like to do.

I have the added challenge of having two children who I spend a lot of time with, and I need to support my spouse, Debbie, with her ultramarathon trail running. Both Sami and I manage small/mid-sized businesses with significant leadership responsibilities. After I read Sami’s post, I reflected on the three years since I started doing triathlons. I have a cross-country running, road cycling, mountain biking, cyclocross, and trail running background and just started swimming in 2009.

I don’t have tons of time to train, so I make it work. As mentioned, I love to race and I’ve done 30-45 races/year for the past 20 years. I’m approaching 800 overall and that is not counting high school cross-country and track. Some are as short as the local cross-country series and some are as long as an Ironman or an ultramarathon. Racing can break you down, but when I’m getting enough rest, I can succeed with getting most of my intensity from events, which motivates me. I thrive on the competition and love the social aspect of the races. When people ask why, I simply say, “That is what I do.”

2011: 35 races, including 14 triathlons (2 half’s)

2010: 31 races, including 8 triathlons (1 half, 2 full’s)

2009: 38 races, including 6 triathlons (1 half, 1 full)

I didn’t go sub-9 in Kona like Sami. He clearly has immense natural talent and a body type that is suited to endurance sports. I would love to have his power and strength.  However, a triathlete can still get improved relative performance with his approach. I have been modestly successful with long course triathlon and qualified for the 2010 Ironman World Championship with a 9:58:53 at Ironman Brasil. Sub-10 was my goal and I got it. My time in Hawaii was 10:27:31 on a tough day where I got a really bad sunburn on the bike leg. My fastest half is 4:37:35 at Timberman 70.3. I hope to go quicker at that distance and would need even better quality training to do so. I’m pretty happy with my short course biking and running, but  to improve overall (mostly sprints on road and off-road), I need to develop stronger swimming technique.

Both Debbie and I do a fair amount of training with our Chariot’s (CX-1 and CX-2) with our kids. We run a lot with it in jog stroller mode, and I occasionally pull it in trailer mode. When I’m really busy with work and family, I find that my focused training slips and I get more junk miles, but that still works for stress reduction and basic fitness. I didn’t do a long course triathlon in 2011 and I’m not sure if I’ll do one in 2012. I needed a break from Ironman. Right now, Debbie’s training and events take precedence over mine. I’m searching for some new and interesting stuff and I’m just mixing it up again while enjoying more time on trails.

Last year, when I was trying to qualify for Hawaii, I tried to average 10 hours a week of exercise. I fell short by a little. The winter months are hard and I don’t do much indoor training. I only use rollers and I’ll occasionally run on a treadmill, but prefer to be outside regardless of the conditions. In the build period before my A races, including Brasil, I did get 10-12 hours for several weeks at a time. I kept a simple spreadsheet log and always aimed for 600 minutes of quality activity. Again, I loosely define quality because I probably still had too many easy workouts with commuting and with the kids. I raced less and trained more with intervals. Unlike Sami, I did do a few brick workouts in 2010, but didn’t do any in 2011 because I did enough races.

Most of my running is on trails. I have an eclectic mix of events that I enjoy and I don’t obsess about the diversity. Avoiding roads, except for races, and the occasional jog stroller run, is a great way to avoid injury. My worst injuries in recent years have come from hard crashes, falls, and the pounding of certain events. I believe that my diversity and cross training keep me injury free. I’ve had niggling little issues like some plantar fasciitis in my left foot, but nothing has sidelined me or kept me from a workout or race.

In addition to a steady, but relatively light training schedule, I have a vegan diet and I get solid sleep. These two habits have made a huge difference for me. Other than energy drinks during races, and the occasional beer or glass of wine, I don’t consume any calories from liquids. By eating only plants, I have an incredibly lean diet that is rich in nutrients. My eating vice would be chips and salsa. We don’t have a television and you would be amazed how much time that frees up. Lately, I’ve spent a bit too much time in the evenings on the Internet, but writing is a hobby. I go to bed early so that I can get up early. Most of my workouts are in the early morning. I’m at work by 7:15 A.M. every day, so I don’t have much time and often train in the dark and cold. The best days are when I commute by bike and I can get two short rides.

Another athlete who has done  more with less is Troy Jacobson. He is the official Ironman coach and offers a myriad of training plans. I haven’t read anything about his coaching business or client training strategy, but his personal approach helped him record a great finish (9:22) last weekend. He also used a 10-12 hour/week plan. His blog post is also worth reading. Many fellow triathletes are surprised when the learn that I train less than them. I espouse that when you are busy and can’t find the time, you make the most of it.

Sami’s final paragraph is my favorite when he refers back to the business world. The same lean approach that he promotes for triathlon training should be applied to business and management if you want to yield better results. Try it.

1 Response to “Unconventional Training Wisdom”



  1. 1 consumers buy green Trackback on 22 September 2014 at 10:50 pm

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