6 Weeks of Ironman Training: One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

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A few weeks ago I wrote a post about some setbacks and injuries during my Ironman training. Today, I’m happy to report we’re making progress.

I haven’t broken any land speed records or set any PR’s in the last two weeks, but I’m as close to “back to normal” as I’ve been since Thanksgiving. More than a full month ago.

I mentioned in that post that in weeks 3 & 4 of training, I ran a total of 7.3 miles, which was some 20 miles less than weeks 1 & 2. Probably evidence that I **swallows ego** went out too hard in those first two weeks and didn’t ease in like I (know I) should have.

Since that post was written though, I’ve run 17.6 miles, with another 4-5 coming in a few days, putting me between 21-22 by weeks end (week ends on Sunday). Still not the 27 from the first two weeks, but who cares! It’s a heck of a lot more than 7.

Simply resting wasn’t enough

Weeks 3 & 4, I spent a lot of time simply ignoring the running. I would go out and limp through a mile, or just skip the runs entirely. I figured if I continued to swim & bike, but relax on the running, the injury would subside.

I did some stretching, got dry needled, bargained with god, etc. and coming into week 5, basically nothing had changed.

Increasing hip strength

At the time of my last post, I talked about beginning to do some hip/IT strengthening work, and I’ve been consistent with that for the last 2 weeks. I honestly believe, it’s made all the difference.

Every day I do some combination of the following:

Nothing crazy, a few sets of 10-15 of each, at least once, but sometimes twice a day.

I also do a cycle of these right before heading out on a run just to activate and warm up all the muscles I need to be using to protect my IT-band from getting overly stressed.

Adjusting running style

Strength is useful, no doubt, but some injuries don’t come solely because of a lack of strength. Not all that long ago, I clocked in with some hefty strength gains like a 350lb back squat, so overall strength couldn’t be the only issue.

I began researching proper running form, and realized I had some opportunities to further protect myself with some minor edits to my movement patterns.

For my pace and stride, I take roughly 1200 steps per mile (600 per leg) and each step carries a load of between 1.5-3x body weight. That means that over 1200 times every 7.5 minutes, I’m doing a single leg quarter squat with up to 525lbs… woof. 

Knowing that my steps, pace, and bodyweight (if you exclude the christmas cookie lbs…) would be relative constants, I needed to understand what I could, in fact, change.

Answer: Cadence & vertical oscillation.

Instead of taking long, sweeping strides, where more often than not I was heel striking, I began taking much faster, but also much shorter, choppier steps. From a metric standpoint, I went from roughly 150 steps per minute, to 170+.

The side effect of increasing the number of steps at a similar speed, is less vertical distance per step. Smaller steps keep you closer to the ground, reducing the “bounce” and thus, impact force on each step since there’s less distance to travel. In turn, such an adjustment also promotes more forward momentum as opposed to upward and well.. we’re trying to run forward are we not? So, seemed to make sense.

Progress is progress

I’d be lying to you if I said that I was 100% pain discomfort free. There are still moments when I’m out running that I feel some tension and tightness in my IT-band. The good news this time around though, is that it’s correctable. Usually when I begin to feel something, I can adjust my hips, cadence, balance, and slowly massage the feeling away over the next few steps.

That wasn’t the case 2 weeks (or even 1 week) ago, so I’ll take it.

It truly is 1 step at a time from here, but getting back up to 4800-6000+ steps, I have plenty of time to practice.

But what about swimming & biking?

Oh, that’s still happening. My schedule has been rockier recently thanks to the holidays (missed 2 of the last 6 days for each), but come the new year, with all that behind us, it’ll be full steam ahead.

Breathing is a little bit easier

In swimming, my biggest challenge has been breathing, but even that has improved greatly since the beginning of this adventure.

When I say breathing, I more specifically mean controlling my heart rate via my breath. Since my breath when swimming is controlled entirely by my stroke pace (breathing every 2, 3 or 4 strokes depending on exertion), there are plenty of times when I want to breathe, but my stroke and need for oxygen don’t quite line up.

In layman terms, I feel like I’m drowning…

That said, I’m slowly learning how to be calm in the water. The more calm I am, the less I NEED air, and the more I can control my breathing cadence.

That’s helped contribute to my success in my longest interval so far (500m) under the 10 minute mark. Even better news, after finishing up, I knew I could have kept going.

When in the pool, we do a lot of short intervals (50m, 100m, 200m, etc.), and not a ton longer than that. Being able to take a shot at 500+ every now and then, does nothing but add confidence that I am, in fact, headed in the right direction.

100RPM now feels “right”

In all my work on the bike trainer thus far, I’ve tried to keep my pedal cadence above 100RPM, even if that means operating in a lower gear.

The first few weeks of riding, I felt like the road runner with my legs moving that fast. “This can’t possibly be normal, correct, or even remotely a good idea” – Me, basically the whole time.

Since then though, I’ve fallen into a rhythm. It now feels “slow” to pedal below 95RPM, and I’ve managed to work intervals into my work where the variable is the gearing, never the cadence.

With it being as cold & slick as it’s been, I have a feeling I’ll be settling in for a long winter on the trainer, but I’m evermore looking towards hitting the roads this spring and seeing what all this work translates to on the road.

Keeping on keeping on

I’m a few weeks behind where I’d like to be on the running. After 2 weeks of Ironman training, I posted that I would be up to 10 miles by 1/8/18. I think it’s safe to say that won’t be the case now. In fact, if I manage to hit 5 miles to close out this week, I won’t get to 10 miles until 2/4/18, almost a full month off my original schedule.

With my official Ironman training beginning on 3/5/18 (30 weeks out from Ironman Maryland), I can still hit my goal of running 13.1 pre-training (every time I write that sentence it sounds stupider than the last… training for training… who would have thought… but I digress) which is pretty cool.

Swimming and biking, slow and steady is the name of the game. Small increases in duration on the bike to hit 1 hour of 100RPM work and continual breathing work in the pool to be able to swim a mile, all by March.

It all seems more doable now than ever. One day at a time, one phase at a time.

Until next time.