January has been a month of base training, shaking off the cobwebs, and warming up the ol' aerobic engine for larger efforts in the coming months. Emerging from the winter months, it is always a funny period of time for me. Over November and December, I did nothing to really work my aerobic engine. I lifted weights to build pure strength and this applied also to swimming where I made up my own paddle swimming progression which gradually built up speed and effort over the two months.
The first week of January is always a tough week. I start with the first of a series of bike and run progressions that are given to me by my coach. I pull up those same workouts from a year ago to see if I can use those same paces and power. It's definitely a hard moment. Like every other athlete out there, you want to improve year over year. Intellectually you know you're in the base period, but you can't help but think even in the base period I should be a tiny bit faster or have just a little bit more power. And sometimes, you do...but sometimes you don't. I intellectually know I shouldn't worry about it but yet I can't escape that thought that I should be just a little better this year, right? And if I'm not, then I start worrying about whether or not I'm going to be faster later, if I'm slower now. The anxiety builds.
My coach is fond of saying that we shouldn't rush things, and that our fitness level is our fitness level at the moment of time, whether on a training day or on race morning. His favorite line is to train "as the body invites." Trying to change things too fast will either injure you or put you into overtraining mode and both are BAD. Everybody is different and has different levels of fitness, strength, and ability to grow and get faster. Some of us are quick, and some of us just take a little longer. No matter what, it is what it is and wishing all you want isn't going to change that; nor is trying to train outside of the parameters of a given workout like pushing too hard when you're not supposed to.
For me, it's always an interesting experience. It's like my body resists coming back, like it's saying to me, "Dave I really don't believe you're back into training. So I'm going to retain my previous fitness level. Nope. Not going to continue right? I'll just maintain it some more..." This seems to go on always for about 3-3.5 weeks. Then, some switch is turned on, like my body finally says, "Oh geez, Dave IS SERIOUS about training. I gotta ramp the bod and keep up!"
On the last week of January, it was like a switch was turned on. For about 2 weeks, I was struggling at keeping energy level high during a treadmill workout of 3 sets of 5 x 3.5 minutes with a pace pattern of moderate, faster, faster, moderate, and faster than previous faster. The first time through I could only do one set before not being able to continue. My paces were too fast as I took them from last year, but I could not sustain them especially after swimming first. Then adjusting paces, I try again. But I still am only able to get through 2 sets. Then finally, using the same paces, this last week I swam and made it through the 3 sets with no dip in energy whatsoever. It was such a shocking transformation in energy level.
With cycling, it was slightly different. I was able to move through the progression and now I'm back to previous years' wattages with a little bit more added on.
I think the mental aspect is the most interesting experience. As I said before, you want to be better than last year. But you're not. And you get depressed. Angry, Determined. Scared at being slower in your races later in the year. However, once again, I remind myself to be patient and not overdo it mentally or physically. I just patiently workout at paces and wattages that my body can take at that time. I try to be aware of my body's reaction during the warmup stage as I get familiar with the paces and wattages that will occur during the main set. If during the warmup stage I don't feel like I can achieve my target paces/wattages, I back off so I can get through the workout and try again another day.
The concept of "as the body invites" is one of the most important training principles I've learned. Not only does it apply to the base period, it applies nicely all year round during all phases of your training, including race morning. You just need to be patient and have faith that you will get there, and if you are listening to your body, you'll probably even get a bit faster...!