My introduction to endurance sport was through swimming. By the ripe old age of 12 I was introduced to the concept of two workouts a day—an hour before school and two hours after and, during the summer, three hours in the morning and an hour in the afternoon.
That's a lot of aquatic sensory deprivation at a time when all of my friends got to watch Gilligan's Island, do lay-ups on the basketball court or catch a fly ball. I could do all four strokes and not much else. It's no wonder to me now that, by my 14th year, I'd committed myself to dry-land pursuits.
I didn't start running regularly until I was a junior in high school which, if you want to run competitively, is considered a late start.
A broken hand on the football field, a friend who needed someone to run with, a sister who wanted to run a marathon and a mesmerizing PBS documentary on the marathon combined to launch me headlong into a 28-year (and counting) love of man's most basic form of high-speed locomotion: running.
One day, our coach pulled the distance freaks aside and, like a back-alley drug dealer, said quietly: "If you want to be the best possible distance runners this year, you should be running in the morning, too. I'm not telling you guys that you have to run in the morning, but the guys you're trying to beat are doing exactly that."
He then went back to coaching the throwers, jumpers and sprinters. What he didn't know was that we already knew this little secret. We'd been doing two-a-days at least three times a week by the time he'd decided to enlighten us.
Why? Because we knew our competition was doing it. If they were doing it, we weren't going to be left behind. Sounds like triathletes in the making.
Running seemed pretty simple, really. Work hard and you'll be rewarded. No heart-rate monitors. No threshold testing. No engineered nutrition.
We read everything we could get our hands on and the basic message applied to this endurance activity called running was that you'll become most efficient at the thing you do the most.
Run, Run and Run Some More
If we could somehow manage 40, 50, 60 miles a week, we'd become better at each incremental jump in volume.
While there were intervals, tempo runs, and races along the way, the basic measuring stick of your fellow runners' commitment and, therefore, future potential was their weekly mileage.
The easiest way to boost this weekly total was by incorporating a second run each day: Wake up and run 30 to 45 minutes while you're still half asleep, plus keeping your normal afternoon workout schedule.
The aerobic engine and musculoskeletal system you'd develop would be huge! Either that or you'd be injured.
Why the personal history lesson? To point out how common it was and still is to execute two practices a day in a given discipline—even at a relatively beginner level. That and also to demonstrate the simplicity in the concept.
Fast-forward 10 years and consider the introduction of cycling. Now, as a triathlete, I was taking in past lessons from swimming and running and trying to learn how to ride a bike? You've got to be kidding.
Doing three disciplines a week (let alone a day) was a new and much more entertaining way to satisfy the craving to be outside and moving, but how should you combine these activities?
Two workouts in a day was no problem, but they certainly wouldn't be in the same discipline. Or would they?
I've never known a triathlete to be satisfied with his or her ability at all three sports in a given season. Something usually needs work. You've heard it before, right? "I've finally gotten my swimming where I want it but my cycling seems to have gone backwards," or "I'm riding like Lance but I'm going backwards on the run."