We had a bunch of family in town the other day, including a sister-in-law who recently trained for and ran a half marathon. She made a comment (to my wife, not to me) that before she embarked on her training she measured herself, top to bottom, so she could compare how fit she was to how fit she’d be after doing the half marathon. She measured her waist, her arms, her thighs, her calves, etc. etc. Then she trained for three months or more with a schedule that went a bit like this: Monday-Wednesday-Friday: Run, with the distance gradually increasing over the months; Tuesday-Thursday: toning-style weightlifting (she expressly stated she doesn’t want to "bulk up"). Now, whether she threw in some fartlek (interval) sessions or not, I have no idea. Regardless, when she got to the end of her training block, she measured again, and was surprised to find that only one measurement really changed: her calves got bigger. Everything else was about the same.
Her conclusion: my body will pretty much stay the same shape for the rest of my days.
Oh, did I mention she ran the 13.1 miles in under two hours? It sounded like she was a little discouraged, but then again, I got all this information third-hand. As to her experiment: I think she might be right about the fact that our bodies won’t ever completely change shape. You’re born with certain physical attributes, and that’s just the way it is. But, you know, I grew up weightlifting, so I know you can make changes to your shape—at least in terms of muscle size—but I also learned that patience plays a part. Cardiorespiratory endurance-style exercise, for example, takes years to adapt to, not months, and it tends to leave your body vulnerable to gaining fat back, I think.
But on top of that, I wondered if maybe there was something more she could do to optimize her training schedule. So, with my not-very-authoritative opinion, I’m going to tell you what I plan to do in my preparations for the LOTOJA relay team:
The race takes place in September, so that gives me four or five months to get ready. In those four or five months, I plan to do about 90 minutes of riding three times a week. I may attempt to squeeze in some longer rides on Saturdays, but mostly the 90-minute session should be my routine. I’ll start off with 90-minute AeT sessions and then progress to 90-minute interval sessions with the 20-minute interval followed by the 6-minute interval and then maybe a few 2-minute intervals (yes, time trial training).
Why 90 minutes? I figure that’s the best amount of time for any weekend warrior to train for an aerobic endurance race. Think about it: Most sprint triathlons last about 90 minutes, most sport-class (cat 2, whatever) mountain bike races last about 90 minutes, and cyclocross, time trials and other events are even shorter. You want to win the Tour de France? Well, you’re clearly not a weekend warrior, then, are you?
The other reason for the 90 minutes is that it lessens the impact on your family. If you’re gone for three hours most nights of the week, you can bank on your wife "accidentally" backing her car over your bike while you’re at work. Ninety minutes is long enough to build some aerobic endurance, but not so long that it will ruin your home life.
By the way, when you get home, you’re free to try to squeeze in some time-saving strength routine. If you’re doing more than two minutes per set with your weights, you’re not doing it right. In between sets, load the dishwasher or do something to abate your wife’s understandable frustration with you spending all of your time doing "bike" stuff. If possible, do your strength stuff in the living room—yes, it raises the potential for injuring your children, but it also makes your wife feel that you’re "around" a little more. Transition from weights to plyometrics during your base cycle and then try to keep those up during your interval-speed cycle.
Really, I think weekend warrior-style training is more about mitigating stress while squeezing in your workouts. I’d love to ride daily, but I think there’s too much possibility for burnout if I try it right now (maybe as things get closer to race day). I also know that I need to keep the stress of work at bay during training and racing. If I get too worked up over my job, or if I get my ego in a knot, I’ll be prone to frying myself physically and emotionally (really, they aren’t that separate). I also know it’s more important for me to work on keeping a regular, good sleep cycle through the night during training. It’s not such a big deal if I’m not well rested the day of the race, but if I’m consistently not well rested through training, that could lead to overtraining or burnout. Yuck.
I’m turning 30 tomorrow, and that’s a little scary. It means I’m graduating into the fast age groups at races, so I either have to get really fast or forget about good race results. With my family taking highest priority, putting in a bunch more training time simply isn’t an option. Nonetheless, I know the wrong physical adaptations will come from sitting on my rear end or overdoing it. Somewhere in the middle, there’s a perfect recipe, and, at the moment, I’m hoping it’ll fit into my regular 90-minute sessions.