The Anatomy of a Lousy Season

2013 will be a season to forget. I went into the year more focused than ever before on my training and racing. I had done far more work and far more workouts than ever before so how did it wind being a lousy season?

Training

The most interesting thing I, and maybe others, can learn from my experience this year is that even if you are racking up good numbers it is still possible for that work to be counterproductive. This was the first year I sustained 25-30 hours a week for a long time. Last year I’d done over 20 hours most of the year with many weeks in the mid and high 20 hour range and this year was a step forward from that volume. 20 hours felt like nothing. My running mileage was mid 50 miles/week to low 60 miles/week through much of the winter and spring leading into the season. I’d never previously sustained higher than mid 40s to mid 50s.

It wasn’t just volume. I did intense sessions in cycling, running and swimming like never before. Through much of the winter I was assigned 2-3 intense speed sessions on the treadmill each week. Some of these were sustained efforts as long as 30-45 minutes but most were intervals, some quite short at and below 5 minute pace and some 3-6 minute intervals closer to 5:20-5:40. I smashed my bike workouts in the basement all winter and spring. I spent more time than ever before above 300 watts and faster than 6 minute/mile pace. Also more time at and below 1:05 pace for 100 yards in the pool.

High volume? Plenty of intensity? All sorts of new benchmarks achieved in training? Should be a simple recipe for faster racing. Not so.

Reflecting on how things went a few things are clear. The way the training was organized was not productive for me. The weeks were too jammed full with multiple intense sessions, day after day. Every day was crowded, generally 3 sessions, sometimes only 2 and sometimes up to 4. There wasn’t much contrast between long days and not so long days. Eventually I was just getting through many of the sessions rather than really engaging with every session. Many of the sessions were done far too slow and easy to be of much use. I dragged myself through some hour runs this winter and barely went 6 miles. Some of my rides were so slow I may as well have sat on the couch. Even some of my long rides and runs were done very easy instead of steady and I got far less out of them.

The run program was particularly unproductive for me. The emphasis was on very, very slow running and very, very fast running. Those speed sessions did not give me good fitness. My best running in the past has been anchored around 2-3 very good aerobic runs each week, mixing in some tempo, racing, intervals and consistent long runs. In the past I’ve done shorter interval sessions (as little as 15-30 minutes of total work) but gone very hard. This year many of the interval sessions dragged out and were too long for me to really have the eye of the tiger. I just was not ready to run really hard for track sets of 10-15 x 800s and doing 10-15 pretty hard 800s did not give me the same results. Long runs are also very important for me and this year I did most of my pre-season long runs in a compromised state having done my most intense intervals session for the week the day before. Once the season started I did not consistently do long runs. Lots of speed, lots of jogging, few aerobic runs and spotty long runs, the results were atrocious.

Under this program I had a couple good runs in races in 2012, one great run in 2012, one really solid run in 2013, and more appalling runs than ever before in my career. In 2012 I set a new PR for most 38 minute 10ks run. On a mediocre day I should run 37, a good day 36, a solid day 35, and maybe someday 34. This year I had my two slowest half marathons ever at Quassy and Muncie and my slowest marathon ever at Louisville.

I should have seen these results coming, all the way back in January I ran an open half marathon. I’d already begun the treadmill interval sessions and I was hoping to run a PR. Instead I felt awkward the whole way and couldn’t find a strong rhythm, because I’d done almost no steady running. I suffered through a 1:25. In 2008 (2008!) I ran my last open half in 1:22. Instead of thinking critically at that stage I just brushed the result aside and kept plugging away under a futile training system.

Ultimately both the overall organization of the training and the types of sessions used were not productive for me. The emphasis was not on the simple tools that had made me successful in years past. The system left me stagnant and slower in races. I do not train 25-30 hours a week for my health. I train to race faster and if I am getting slower the training needs to change. I look forward to getting back into proper form using appropriate training this winter to redeem myself next season.

Race Schedule

Relatively frequent racing has been a big part of my best seasons in the past. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 I got stronger over the course of the season with consistent racing. This is a luxury we Minnesotans can enjoy because we have multiple events every weekend starting in May and going all the way to September.

This season I barely raced. In 2010 I used lots of local events to get into prime shape and also to build up my confidence and racing mojo before jumping into any pro races. Lots of racing and some simple aerobic training through May and June gave me my still standing half iron PR of 4:01 in July.

In 2012 my season was a bit of a mess as I still raced often but was also doing the most training I’d ever done at the same time. The results were some of my worst short course races ever. To avoid that same mess in 2013 I did fewer local races and just a handful of pro races. Going into the pro races I didn’t have the same spark I get from crushing local races. Of course racing has plenty of other benefits I missed out on this year. First, it is fun. Second, I can make a little money as some of the local races have a cash purse. Third, it is great to be out there representing my sponsors for the home crowd. I am definitely not skipping the fun of Minnesota races again in 2014!

Confidence and Attitude

As you can imagine poor results do not improve confidence. My first and only local race in the early season was the Falls Duathlon, (a great way to kick off your year, please come down next year!) and that went fine. This was my first duathlon win which was nice but it wasn’t really a great race. In June I had a major flop at Rev3 Quassy, which had been a big goal. Followed that with a fine race at Trinona (good swim and run but lousy bike) but it didn’t do anything to improve my mood. Then I didn’t race again till Muncie 70.3 which was even more depressing than Quassy. After that I had a mediocre race at the Chisago Sprint and then did Louisville. At Chisago I really realized how important the local races are. With lousy training and lousy racing I had nothing to get me fired up and feeling good.

Coaching Complications

After Muncie I really began questioning what I was doing. The lack of results from my training was shocking and discouraging. Muncie was possibly the low point of my triathlon career. Guys who I should annihilate on the bike rode away from me. Then I could barely manage a jog on the run. All after the biggest block of training I’d ever done! Clearly what I was doing was not working. I began thinking about getting rid of the coach I was working with. After a couple more weeks reflection it was obvious I needed to fire him, which I did in early August.

The deterioration and end of our relationship is a matter I will write more about in the future. Long story short, things did not go smoothly and his conduct was unpleasant, unscrupulous and unprofessional. And he is an international ‘elite’ coach. We pros need to start an Angie’s List type site for these supposed ‘elite’ coaches so we can get some proper information before starting with them. It is very frustrating to have spent 20 months paying someone a very substantial monthly fee to get slower. By skipping races and performing poorly at others I missed many paydays in 2012 and 2013. My career obviously can’t last forever so to see 2 years down the tubes due to a poor training system is infuriating. The signs were there following the 2012 season and I should have saved myself the pain of a lousy 2013 by dropping this guy earlier. Lesson learned.

That is the basic structure of a bad season. Sorry this post is obviously longer, more serious and far less entertaining than most but hopefully it is more informative. Over the coming weeks I’ll write about what I plan to do to correct the errors of 2013 and also about the issues that unraveled the relationship between myself and the coach I worked with.

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4 Responses to The Anatomy of a Lousy Season

  1. Devon, I’m looking forward to follow your success in 2014. Best to you.

  2. codystadler says:

    Sorry to hear about the mushroom cloud of a season, I could sense a bit of frustration via twitter and the few times we ran into each other. That’s surprising about the coach, though. You’ll obviously have a lot of fire for the coming season, though and that’s great (well, for you. Not for anyone you race against!). Keep pushing yourself and you’ll find your groove. Also, more squat thrusts.

  3. Julia says:

    Hey Devon sorry about the cranky knee sydrome. That isnt a code i would usually bill out but i hope you can find a PT to help you:) Rest usually is the first “suggestion!” Enjoy that new puppy, and Thea too. Take care.

  4. Chris says:

    Sorry to hear it was so difficult. Thanks for sharing. Interesting to hear your thoughts. You better be out racing more in MN next year

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