Monday, 8 September 2014

The Indoor Ironman: Training Long Distance in Canada

It is September 7th and here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada it is snowing. This means that of the past 12 months we have only had 3 months where it did not snow.

To facilitate my goal of getting to 12 Ironman finishes as quickly as possible, I essentially don't have an "off-season" when it comes to triathlon training. A number of people have asked how I manage to train for these distances almost entirely indoors. This means whether it's 30 above or 30 below I have to get my runs, rides, and swims in and that means trainers and treadmills. Some people might find this to be tedious and boring but there are definitely some benefits to indoor training. The best is that the commute to my gym is 30 seconds!

SEE! Not exaggerating.

Swimming is essentially not an issue. No matter where you swim in the world, pool swims are pool swims. It would be super cool to be able to swim open water with more frequency but when you live a 12 hour drive from the ocean and your lakes are too cold to swim in for the bulk of the year it's just not in the cards. Besides, one of the coolest experiences is swimming in one of glass walled pools in the middle of a blizzard. The picture doesn't do the beauty of it justice. It's like being in the middle of a snow globe.

One of my local pools. Swimming in a snow storm is really cool.

Running and cycling is a whole different ball game. One of the things I've said about running is that the biggest difference between outside and running inside is that when you're outside and you get tired, you still have to chug your way back to where you started. But when you're on a treadmill it is very easy to just press the stop button and be done with the training session. This is the biggest downside to treadmill training, it's just SO easy to quit. However, treadmill training has its own positive side too; the ability to control your environment is a huge benefit to treadmill training. For example, on days when you're supposed to train hills it can be difficult to find a hill in your city that exactly meets the specifications on your program. Additionally, pacing your run is easy. It is tough to accidentally slow down on a treadmill. If you do you'll end up punching a hole in the wall behind you and that's just bad form.

While it may not be the ideal way to train for a marathon, the treadmill makes for a nice alternative to hypothermia and frost bite. Plus, the amount your gait changes by trying to run on icy sidewalks makes it impractical for long distance run training in my opinion.

This is the front street of my house in April. 1 month before Ironman Texas.

As for cycling, there are a great many benefits to cycling indoors. One of my (and my wife's) favourite parts of indoor cycling is that there is no traffic to contend with. With Edmonton being under snow or covered in gravel for 8 months a year it is tough to get cyclists and drivers to get on the same page. This causes some hairy moments and just adds a dimension to training that I don't care for. That being said, cycling on the open highway is absolutely exhilarating and beautiful, but the months that are nice enough to do this are few.

The view from the hill where I do my hill repeats. Not too shabby.
As you can see, when the weather permits, my city is beautiful and I do try and take advantage. One thing that is exceedingly tough to simulate on a trainer is hills. There's nothing quite like suffering up a long steep incline that just making your trainer hard to push doesn't match. That being said, when you're on a trainer there is no coasting. To keep the wheels turning you have to keep your legs moving and there's a constant tension on the crank that keeps your legs burning throughout the entire workout. Additionally, city riding means you're constantly stopping at lights and having to take your mind off of your tempo to watch out for vehicles and other hazards that don't exist in the basement. Funny story though, you need to make sure that you completely lock your bike into the trainer. On one of my early trainer rides I hadn't locked it in quite right and when I stood to do a climb my tire dropped down, hit the floor and rocketed me into my couch. My wide heard that commotion and yelled down to find out what had happened and I had to explain that I had just crashed my stationary bike.

I would definitely recommend, if you're going to start training for Ironman indoors you do a few things for yourself. The first would be to set up your own "Pain Cave." A treadmill and bike trainer in your basement that you can get set up as quickly as possible. The more effort it will take to start a workout, the less likely you are to do your workout.  I would also invest in a good quality trainer, if you intend to spend any amount of time on it it's going to be well worth the money to get a quieter trainer with tension you can adjust from your handlebars rather than having to get off and adjust the tension at the trainer itself. My Tacx Flow trainer has served me very well. I've only had to do some very small repairs to the bolts on the trainer but otherwise it has functioned perfectly. Getting a bike trainer versus a spin bike is a much better option in my opinion. the difference between riding your actual bike and a spin bike can be quite great and means the race-specific training benefit is not as great on a spin bike.

I started training in 2009 and just hit 5000 miles (8000 Km) on my bike trainer.
One of the other things I've found helpful is to keep myself surrounded by motivation. In Texas I saw a sign that said, "Run the race that is set before you." I absolutely loved this and when I got home I had my wife look on the internet to see what it would cost to get this made into a wall decal. After a quick search it turns out this if from a Biblical verse and a number of people on Etsy have it available. We contacted a nice lady and she made it to our specs and I'm so happy to have it above me when I train. I'm not religious even a little bit, I just think the sentiment is wonderful. I also have my finisher photos and medals from my 7 Ironman races and they're a nice constant reminder of why I'm suffering in the basement a couple of hours a day.

The medals from my 7 Ironman races are nearby

The final thing you're going to need in your Pain Cave is entertainment. You're not going to last long on your bike without something to take your mind off of the pain. A nice 60" TV does the trick for me. Find a collection of movies or a box set of a TV show that you want to catch up on and go to town. I like to play little games while I'm riding; one of my favorites is a 5 minute high tempo effort whenever my Edmonton Oilers score. It's just a little thing but it adds a dimension of unpredictability to the workout and takes your mind off of that constant drone.

PRO TIP 1: Feed off of the broken dreams of your fellow man. It sounds cruel but unfortunately most people that decide to start an intensive training program don't follow through with it. Kijiji is a great place to find a nice treadmill at a price that will make you smile. When I picked mine up it was still in the box. The lady that had purchased it wanted to get in shape but just didn't follow through.

PRO TIP 2: Get a yoga mat to put under your bike. This has two benefits: 1) The block you put your front wheel into will not slip and slide around. 2) The sweat you produce doesn't end up on your floor.

I hope any hopeful Arctic Ironmen like me have found this a little bit useful. If you have any comments or questions please don't hesitate to fire me an email. Also, please give me a follow on Twitter @trifattytri

1 comment:

  1. All class packages and memberships are valid on both cycling and yoga classes. We currently offer classes in both the morning and the evening Spin Class.