Our advice to you here is: Don't nickel and dime your life and your family for one to two hours here and there, week after week, for months before your race. Instead, keep the volume as low as you can for as long as you can, spending those training hours and the associated Spousal Approval Units (SAUs) closer to your race, where they can do you the most good.
3. Fitness = Ability to Perform More Work
The measure of your current fitness is the ability to do work: to move the mass of your body through space via wheels, water, or shoes, at X pace/speed/watts for Y distance/time. "Fitness" as you know it is simply your body's ability to perform work at a specific work rate. Don't worry about what is or is not going on inside your body, or how fit you are. Instead, focus on the output of that fitness, which is your body's ability to perform the work of pedaling a bike at 20mph for two hours or to tick away 9:00 miles on the run.
However, your body is very efficient and will only adapt itself to the stresses that you place upon it. If all you ever do is ride 20mph or run 9:00 miles, your body will not be forced to adapt to perform more work. Any training session, therefore, is nothing more than an opportunity to make your body do more work than it's accustomed to.
The cumulative effect of this increased stress applied over a week, a month, a training period, etc, is that your body is forced to adapt to this ever-increasing stress. The expression of this increased adaptation is: The ability to do more work = You can go faster and/or longer. Essentially, you have become more fit.
- Fitness is the ability to perform more work.
- My body is currently adapted to perform work at a specific work rate.
- I introduce my body to increasing levels of stress and it adapts.
- The expression of this adaptation is the ability to perform work at a higher work rate. Thus, I go faster for longer.
4. Intensity = Most Flexible Tool to Manipulate Training Load
The vehicle in which you do this work and apply training stress to your body is your training week. To express your training week as a simple equation:
Weekly Training Stress = Frequency x Volume x Relative Intensity
Frequency: Number of swims, bikes and runs per week. Largely dictated by your real life and is relatively static. You can ride three times, run four times and swim three times per week because life says you can. Once you reach the frequency that life lets you have, you're done.
Volume: The length of these sessions, measured by time. Volume is relatively flexible in the short term, becoming inflexible in the long term. That is, your Wednesday run can go from 30 minutes to 45 minutes to 60 minutes...but then becomes fixed, as life only gives you 60 minutes to run on Wednesday.
Likewise, your life can accommodate a two- to three-hour long ride relatively easily, week after week. However, the life cost of the ride rises very quickly above three to four hours. Therefore, your ride tops out at a consistent three to four hours per session because this is the volume that life says you can get done, week after week, while still wearing your husband/wife/father/mother hats on the weekends.
Your job, then, as a self-coached athlete is to maximize the work you get done in the time that life gives you.
Relative Intensity: How hard you go for each session. Intensity is infinitely more flexible, as you can manipulate training zones, paces, etc to achieve a variety of goals.
In summary, intensity is your best tool for manipulating weekly training stress because it is so flexible and is often the only tool you have.
- Frequency: Life says you can only swim x, bike y, and run z times per day week. Done.
- Volume: Life says you can only run 60 minutes on Wednesday, or ride consistently three to four hours on Saturday. Done.
- Intensity: But there is no end to the variety of Zone This, Pace That variations I can do within these fixed inputs of frequency and volume.
We'll leave you with this thought: Traditional long-course training focuses on volume as the primary training input. Frequency is fixed, intensity is always low, so the only way to introduce a training overload, forcing your body to adapt, is to manipulate training volume...up and up and up.
A three-hour ride becomes three and a half, becomes four, becomes four and a half...becomes a 14-hour week, becomes 16 hours, becomes 18, becomes 22 becomes...what? Divorced? Jobless? Homeless?
Think about this: If training volume is your primary training input, and life puts a limit on that input, what do you do then? Remember, the training box fits within the life box.
The answer is to change your perspective from "training = time" to "training = the application of work to the time that life gives me". Once you've made that mental shift, you've now freed yourself to do more work, in less time, getting much faster while retaining the delicate time balance between work, family, training and lifestyle.