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The pains for gains in triathlon training: Part 1

Written by Fiona April 04 2011

When part of your triathlon training programme says: “Ride to failure” you know you’re in for a tough session. This has been stated for each of the last three week’s turbo sessions. Warm up, build up the steady riding, increase the intensity and then give it your all until your legs fail!

(For those that don’t know, a turbo is a set up that allows you to turn your ordinary road bike into a stationary bike in the house and use the gears etc as normal. A turbo is a great way to train during winter months and to really focus on building leg power.)

I used to find turbo sessions very boring but since the Mighty Vickster began writing a triathlon training programme for me I’ve had too many other things to think about. Her turbo sessions are filled with instructions to build intensity, build speed, repeat five times, take some recovery, build again, go for flat out etc. I hardly have time to imagine being bored because there is so much to think about and so much pain to feel. Turbo also makes you sweat more than anything else.

So this turbo to failure bit. I was convinced I’d be able to keep going for the full 15 minutes as directed. I’d already completed more than 35 minutes of hard efforts and build up but I was still sure that I had 15 minutes  in my legs. Every 30 seconds I was told to build the intensity. This is when the stopwatch seemed to go on slowdown. Thirty seconds felt like three minutes and before I knew it (and after only 7 minutes) my legs had failed. They just couldn’t push any more.

Cycling to failure hurts! A lot! I can’t imagine why I thought it might not! I felt pain in my quads, hamstrings, calf muscles, lungs, shoulders and my brain! I felt sick. Drained. Wobbly. I know you’ll be thinking that it was only 7 minutes but it seemed far, far longer. I know you’ll also be thinking that I didn’t have to do any of this. But I want to get stronger and better on a bike and so you have to think of the long-term, not just the short-term pain.  (I’ve also been through this sort of training before for a running marathon and it does work.)

But even the cool down hurt after the efforts of this session!

The aim of these sessions in recent weeks has been to work mostly at aerobic threshold and above, introducing anaerobic effort. The idea is that by improving or increasing aerobic endurance work, the body will adapt by increasing heart function, blood supply to muscles, blood volume, oxygen transportation and metabolic efficiency of active muscle.

Anaerobic efforts rely on short (to medium short) powerful efforts and come from creatine phosphate to create adenosine triphosphate or glycogen (glucose) to create pyruvic acid (and often leading to conversion into lactic acid).

That’s the technical way to describe what I’ve been doing.

In layman’s terms there’s a short amount of pain and some big efforts – for the hoped-for rewards of improved ability and strength in the actual triathlon. Pains for gains… I’m trusting that it’s working!

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