Last week, I finished the most productive training block of my life.
Over the first 6 weeks of 2022, I completed volume that would have brought me to my knees last year, and I was feeling good doing it. I’ve previously mentioned (Week 5 – Silence) how deeply fatigued I used to get when training hard. So, what’s changed?
I’ve learnt so much in 14 months of full-time training, and I thought I’d share some tips that have made both my results, and my process so much better. I think, and hope, they’ll be applicable to everyone, even outside of my fairly specific use case. So, here are five key points that have enabled me to work to the level I now am:
The more, the better. At least 8 hours per night. Naps are also good.
Although the importance of sleep isn’t a particularly new revelation for me, committing to training full-time allowed me to make it a priority in my life. However, often staying up late, I became very good at pushing all my plans for the following day back a couple of hours in favour of a good night’s sleep. This behaviour kind of perpetuates a vicious circle, that trends towards becoming more and more nocturnal – not optimal.
This year, whilst sleep was already a priority, I’ve been much better at going to bed ‘on time’. This satisfies the sleep requirement and makes it so much easier to succeed throughout the day, rather than constantly playing catch up (I guess, it largely boils down to time management).
A piece of advice that really helped me was “never stay up late for something you wouldn’t be willing to wake up early for.”
Adequate fuelling during training is crucial. Bulk buying maltodextrin and fructose simplifies this process.
Nutrition as a whole is obviously a massive subject, and not one I’m overly keen to go into depth on. My diet outside of training has never really been a massive issue, although I do try to make occasional alterations as I learn more. Conversely, the way that I fuel during training has changed drastically – particularly in the last few months.
To oversimplify a very complex subject – if you don’t fuel properly within training sessions, you will underperform. If you underperform, then that session won’t elicit the desired response. This effect is compounded when training day after day, and especially when training multiple times per day.
Building up a rough understanding of how much you’re depleting your various energy stores whilst working at a given intensity is incredibly helpful. From there you can determine how many grams of carbohydrate you need to be consuming per hour, depending on the session.
The main sticking points I used to find when implementing this were cost and convenience. Sports nutrition is expensive, and if you’re consuming 40g/hr, as a minimum, over a 28-hour week, that cost adds up very quickly.
Cheap alternatives such as supermarket cereal bars and pineapple juice only go so far to cover the necessary intake. I’ve started buying maltodextrin (long-chain glucose molecules) and fructose in bulk, and it’s made this aspect of my life so much easier. Things like the ratio of maltodextrin to fructose, and the overall solution concentration are important considerations to be aware of, but that’s depth I don’t feel the need to go into right now.
Fuel your sessions while it’s most effective, whatever you’re doing. It’s so much better than trying to catch up afterwards.
Increase volume gradually.
Overtraining can happen over the course of a week, month, year, or even longer. Increase volume gradually. Have patience and trust the process. There’s no point putting in one massive year, only to be wrecked for the next.
You could train like the best in the world for 12 months. It might go well. You might see huge improvements. Unfortunately, what’s also likely to happen is that 2 or 3 years down the line, it’ll come back to bite you. You may just plateau, or you could actually start to see your performance drop because your body is completely destroyed.
The amount of training I’ve done so far in 2022 would have flattened me this time last year. I would have failed sessions, I would have been permanently grumpy, craving rest, and overall having a shit time. However, had I not had guidance from my coach, that’s exactly what I would have tried to do. Suddenly able to train full-time, I would have squeezed every possible ounce out of my body – without realising I was likely doing more harm than good.
Now, having put in the ground work over the last 14 months, my body is comfortably handling the additional stress.
I’ve not worked in a big corporate job, but I’m pretty sure this is what happens when people experience burnout, so there’s a life lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure.
Don’t overtrain – it’s unproductive.
4. Wait Some More.
Getting better takes time.
A single training block is largely irrelevant. Consistency over multiple years is key.
I think a mistake so many people make (myself very much included), is failing to look beyond the next year. In reality, a year is not a very long time.
I’m not aiming to become the best in the world next year. That would be a fruitless and pointless endeavour. If I am ever to become one of the best in the world (a discussion with a short answer, for another time), it’s going to take longer than 5 years. It takes patience and consistency over time. It’s only recently that I’ve allowed that reality to sink in.
I think this is applicable in so many professions. In every walk of life, people are impatient and in it for the quick results. Consequently, almost everyone gives up and moves on to something else too soon. Those at the top have not got there overnight, even if it seems that way from the outside. Whilst there are a handful of people with innate, incredible talent, I’m not one of them, and not very many people are.
If you stick to the process for long enough, the results will come. I truly believe that.
This obviously links to my previous point – I think the conclusion is: don’t rush the process, and be patient with the results.
5. Slow Down.
Zone 2 works. Zone 2 works. Zone 2 works.
Last week I ran the fastest half marathon of my life – at an average pace of 3:27/km. I ran straight off the back of a four-hour ride and had five hard weeks of training in my legs.
Over the last five months, I have hardly spent any time running quicker than 4:00/km – you could probably count the number of kilometres on two hands. And yet, even at race pace, I’m stronger than ever.
You do not need to go fast all the time – quite the opposite. The majority of training for endurance sport should be done in zone 2 (which essentially refers to a low intensity – if you’d like me to explain any further, drop a comment down below because I’d want to give it more time than this blog).
I’ve seen the same in my swimming. For the last few months, I feel as though my coach and I have somewhat gone against traditional swim training methods. Within this block I’ve set new best times over both 1.9km and 3.8km, without really leaving zone 2 at all.
I still don’t fully understand the training elite swimmers (and a lot of triathletes) seem to do in the pool. The amount of intensity appears to contradict everything I understand about training from a non-swimming perspective. I’d love to be enlightened if any elite swimmers out there were willing to educate me.
Long story short, not everything needs to be hard all the time. Stop suffering for the sake of suffering.
I’d love to know if anyone disagrees with anything I’ve said above, even if it’s within a context unrelated to sport.
One final thing I’ve learnt recently – having people around you to share the load helps a lot. Whether it’s a housemate to split daily chores with, a training partner to muster motivation alongside, or a dog to let you know when you’re doing something silly… a problem shared and all that…
I hope everyone who’s read this far is having a good 2022. Please do let me know if anything I’ve mentioned here deserves elaboration in a separate post.
Sleep. Eat. Wait. Wait some more. Slow Down.
03.01.22 – 11.02.22