Monday, March 28, 2011

I was born this way

I actually have a topic for this blog post, which was sparked by a workout that Coach Mary had me do on Saturday. Instead of the typical late winter/early spring 3-4 hour trainer ride, I got to do (what I have affectionately dubbed) the "super brick." My particular workout was:

45 min bike/20 min run
45 min bike (tempo)/ 20 min run (tempo)
45 min bike (tempo)/20 min run (tempo)

total: 3:15

I hate tempo on the bike, but I love tempo on the run. Guess why? I am a runner! I can feel my heart rate zones on the run like nobody's business. I could tempo run with no watch, no Garmin, no HR monitor, blindfolded and naked and guarantee you I'd nail the pace.

I did not think I would like this workout (I like to get in and get out when it comes to long workouts and all of the clothing changes added probably 20 more minutes onto my time frame) because I tend to be kind of lazy. Surprisingly, I REALLY liked it. It was long enough to really feel like a workout, but the individual parts were short enough to keep my attention. I tend to have major ADD during long workouts (ESPECIALLY long bike rides) because I get bored, which leads to texting, facebooking, tweeting, and worst of all - talking on the phone all while on the bike. (Give me some credit, I normally will only talk on the phone during recovery rides, although I did make an exception on Saturday when my friend Rae, who just had run a marathon, called me to tell me about it and I was on the last leg of this bike ride).

Bricks to me are not a big deal, I like running off the bike, so I'm not really sure what the purpose of this workout was - honestly it seems to me that it would serve me better if I was concentrating on short course instead of Ironman, however this is why Mary is the coach and I am the athlete and not the other way around. I don't think this could be a replacement for a 6 hour ride because I never got the fatigue and aches that come with 6 hours on the bike.. I don't think ANYTHING can replace that feeling. I DO think it is a good "pick me up" for this time of year when I am ready to kill myself and throw my trainer out the window because at least I got to go outside for SOME of the workout! However, I am definitely ready to rock some long-ass (outdoor) bike rides because IMCDA is merely 2.5 months away!

So herein lies today's blog topic: how do we know if our bodies are predisposed for short course or long course triathlon, the 100 m dash or the marathon, the 5K or the 50K, the hurdles or the steeplechase?

For my entire life, I have struggled with short, all-out distances. Running at lactate threshold HURTS. After failing to do as well as I'd have liked at the 5K distance in cross country, after sucking at the mile in high school track, after choosing to do 1 mile repeats vs 400 repeats, and after taking 25 years to finally break 22 minutes in the 5K, I gave up and decided to concentrate on longer distances. Enter: the half marathon. A distance that was not too short, not too long, and that I liked! PR: 1:41. Then came the marathon: other than my quads blowing up at mile 16 it was fun oh wait, not fun at all. PR: 3:59. Hmm. Something does not add up.

So then I looked to my results from last season. Two races that were 2 weeks apart and were probably the best races I have ever had: Tinman and mini-Mussel. Tinman was a half-IM, my 2nd try at the distance, I PRed big time, but didn't even place in my AG. Mini-Mussel was a sprint distance race 2 weeks out from Placid after MONTHS of long, slow, endurance training, and I placed 5th OA female. So what does that say? I am better at sprints? There is just better competition at longer distance events? Who knows.

I can't honestly say that knowing the answer to this question would make a difference in what races I choose to do. If my body has more fast-twitch fibers am I going to give up Ironman? No. If my body has more slow-twitch fibers, am I going to give up sprint distance races? No. But it would be nice to know strengths and weaknesses. Where I can expect to excel and where I will have to work a little bit harder. Where I am going to see the biggest improvements because my body was made to perform its best at a particular distance, or heart rate, or level of stress.

I know you can find this stuff out by lab testing. I had my VO2 max tested in 2008. And although I can tell you what my VO2 max was back then, I don't really know what that means other than I can use it while reading Jack Daniel's book on running!

The mystery continues..


  1. I love those type of workouts. I do a duathlon type workout most sundays (run-bike-run) but sometimes I do it x2 or x3. I totally get what you mean though, I can do tempo runs no problem but bike tempo/intervals are still a struggle.

  2. Looking ahead to next week, I have a similar type of brick so I am glad to hear you liked it! I was a bit worried about it. I only hope I can be outside for it all.

  3. I did appreciate you breaking your no phone call rule for me :-) You rock!

  4. of course Rae! I was excited to hear how your race went! and I just went in and linked your blog to your name in this entry!

  5. Running around "blindfolded and naked" is sure to attract some attention. I thought you were trying to avoid picking up more guys at the pool??? haha

    I am totally a long distance runner. I may not be super fast at long distances, but my speed of the shorts distance is horrible.

  6. You still have me laughing with the comment from FB. I think a 5k is way harder than a marathon, and I think I am built for least mentally...and I like bricks, I seem to run better off the bike than just running.

  7. I've been asking myself the same question a lot lately... I'm sure there's some crazy expensive testing out there for this (?) but it will have to be trial-and-error for me to figure out what my strongest distance is.

  8. Your racing success is very impressive! I'm far from the athlete you are, but I teach college biology and was interested in your physiological discussion. From what you've said in your post, your legs most certainly specialize in the slow-twich fiber performance area. Running one mile may indeed be aided by both fast- and slow-twitch fibers (and there are several types of these), but extend that to a 5K and most of your fast-twitch fibers cease to be recruited. 5K IS (capital letters for emphasis) long-distance from a leg muscle's perspective. All of this is independent of the fact that performance is dependent on more than just muscle action; there are cardiovascular elements and cellular activities that vary from person to person. But as you say, what does it really matter? Just do the best you can!

  9. I dig this post. I've been experimenting with longer distance races, and although I'm improving, I think that middle distance is the place for me (meaning 10-13mile races instead of marathons and half distance instead of full ironman tris).

    I find it hard to get up to that redline threshold for the short stuff, and I find it equally as hard to pace myself for the long stuff. I almost always start to melt down in the home stretch...

    Happy training!


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