Addicted to Training? Help is at Hand

1 Mar

Addicted to Training? Help is at Hand

One day, around the end 1992, after I had spent a few years as a professional triathlete, based in Japan, while I was ill, and looking through my old training diaries, I realized the route of my problems.

I was concerned that I was getting sick too often, and was determined to find out the reason, because it was playing havoc with my training and was affecting my race results. Having studied sports science, I know the theories, that it is only by training regularly and constantly over long periods of time will you improve.

However, I was always getting sick and I was not improving from year to year.

My aim was to do 30 hours training a week in the winter, mostly longer slower sessions, cutting it down to around 20 hours a week pre-season and then down to 15 during race weeks, when the intensity was very high. This was sound in theory and would give me an average of 20 hours a week for the year. It was what all the top pro’s were boasting they did at the time.

When I look back at the 1992 season, I discovered to my shock, although there were some big weeks in at 30 hours, there were many blanks when I was sick. At the end of 1992, I decided on a big change. I added up the hours of training for the whole year and was shocked to find I had only averaged 11 hours a week!

My solution was to set out a programme for 1993 where I would aim to average 12.5 hours a week for the whole year. If I was successful this would be a 13.6% increase in my annual training volume which would be a huge jump up. The 30 hour weeks went, and were replaced by 20 hour weeks, the 20 hour weeks were replaced by 15 hour weeks, and race weeks were slashed to 4-5 hours. I built in easy recovery weeks along the way of only 8-10 hours…the results were more that much better that I really expected.

As a professional, I had all the time in the world to train. In fact it was easier to go out training than to stay at home. However, as a professional my ultimate aim was to win races, not to see how many hours a week I could train for.

Too many people forget what they are training for, and the training takes over, like an illness, they become addicted to training…”If only I can get an extra bike ride in”…”If I do an extra 1,000m swim per session I will get faster”. You must have heard people boasting such things as…” I did an awesome 200 mile bike ride yesterday” or …”We managed to get 6 sessions done over the weekend!”…or…” I did a 4 hours bike ride, and felt great so ran for an extra 2 hours afterwards” etc. etc. etc.

WHY?…What is the purpose of it all? To make the training diary look good?

I can write this because, I was that person, I was addicted to training and just kept adding in more and more, until I broke down and got sick…then I would recover and start building up more and more again. The hardest thing for me was to accept this and finally say… “NO MORE!”.

I stuck to my new regime like glue and it felt easy. I thought that I was being lazy, I was never tired, and had lots of free time. Initially, I felt guilty, as if I was cheating my sponsors, because I was training so much less, but as the weeks went past I built up a solid base.

Early season racing in 1993 was not great, but by September, when I cut back the volume back to only 5-6 hours a week, my performances went through the roof. That was the start of my most consistent and highest level of racing which was to last for the next 11 years.

I won the Japanese Olympic Distance National Championships in September 1993 and over the winter I stepped up my training a bit more and averaged about 14 hours a week in 1994. To my amazement at this low level of training, and in my one and only Ironman triathlon I set the British record at the time of 8 hours 52, at Ironman Japan.

Since I was doing so well on lower volume, higher quality training, I did not take my annual weekly average over 16 hours a week, and after 2000 when I retired I dropped it to about 10 hours a week.

This actually gave me an extra boost, so when I started to race for Great Britain again, I surprised myself at the age of  41, reaching No. 2 in the ITU World Duathlon Rankings behind the legendary Benny Vansteelant.  It was also at 41, I managed my last sub 30 min 10km run and won the Master’s 10,000m World Championships.

I am sorry it if this looks like too much self indulgence, but I want to add impact to my advice.

If as a full time athlete I could only cope with 11 to 16 hours training a week, how many hours can you cope with?

I am sure that with full time jobs and family commitments, most of you are over training and under achieving if you are attempting those heady heights of 20-30 hours training weeks.

My advice is to keep the quantity low and the quality high, and…if in doubt, cut it out!