Maximizing Training Part II

Rear cassette of a triathlon bike
December 15, 2016

Mike Ricci


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Fast forward to September, and the next phone call I receive is not the one I was expecting: my athlete, whom I'll refer to as ST, has been in a mountain bike accident and has punctured a lung, broken ribs, and is lucky to be alive. The news is not good. It seems ST will be out of commission for several months. We didn't take any chances on training, sticking exactly to the doctor's orders: nothing more than a little swimming and some spinning on the bike, trainer only.

Until January 1st, that was the extent of it. Between the bike accident and mid-November, ST decided to sign up for Ironman Florida. In his own words, he just needed a goal to prove to himself that he could still engage in the sport he loved. By mid-January, training was progressing nicely, averaging maybe five or six hours per week. Everything felt manageable and light. Half Ironman CA loomed on the horizon in March, and I could foresee the race being a challenge. With limited outdoor riding and most running on the treadmill, ST had his work cut out for him. Nevertheless, he persevered, braving the miserable March weather of SoCal to finish in 6:06. Considering his recent hiatus from training, this was an admirable performance. Following Half IM CA, ST participated in the San Diego Marathon and later tackled the World's Toughest Tri with me in tow. ST performed admirably in both races, and finally, his running seemed close to being up to speed. With his strengths back in line, it was time to focus on the bike. The next major race on the agenda was Half Vineman in August. Between the World's Toughest and Half Vineman, ST put in some solid, hard bike workouts in the desert heat. He followed the plan meticulously, and despite his hectic schedule (two kids, full-time job), his preparation was exemplary.

Unfortunately, the Half Vineman didn't go as well as we had hoped, and doubts began to creep in about IM FL. ST was on the verge of giving up the sport entirely after Half Vineman. What he forgot was that just 10 months earlier, he was lucky to be alive! After a heart-to-heart, I reminded him that some days you have it, and some days you don't. Today was one of those days that he didn't have it. Just forget it and move on. I knew if he could persevere, a nice personal best would be waiting for him at IMFL.

However, over the next few weeks, nasty windstorms, flat tires, extreme heat, and everyday stress wreaked havoc on the training plan. Following the debacle at Vineman, this wasn't good news. On the day ST was supposed to be out doing his last long ride, a 100-miler, he called me to lament about the adverse conditions. He was considering riding 5 hours on the trainer instead! I offered my advice, emphasizing that on race day, you never know what the conditions might be like. A few hours later, ST called me back, exuberant about having the best ride he's ever had, and his confidence was sky-high for IMFL! Finally, we were back on the right track!

Going into an Ironman, you never know what will happen. A bad swim, a flat tire, or nutrition issues can derail your race. I helped ST set up his race plan, opting for a conservative approach that had proven successful for many athletes before. On race day, I dropped him off at the start, and he was in good spirits. The next time I saw ST, he was heading out on the bike after a strong swim. Since IMFL is a one-loop bike course, I didn't expect to see ST again for another 5:40, give or take. However, much to my surprise, I encountered him much earlier at the 3-mile mark of the run. He shouted that he had completed the bike leg in 5:20. This coming from a guy whose previous PR was 6:12! The next time I saw ST, he was embarking on his last out-and-back on the run. Despite some fading, he looked great with about 10 miles to go. He inquired about his projected time, and after some quick mental math, I replied: "10:25!" Though he confessed to starting to fade, I encouraged him to push through when the WALL hit.

At the finish line, I waited anxiously for ST to arrive. 10:25 came and went, and I started to worry that he might have encountered some issues in the final miles. Just as that thought crossed my mind, he rounded the corner with his entire family in tow! He crossed the line in 10:28! I couldn't have been prouder of ST. All the hard work, struggles, and the accident seemed worthwhile with the performance he delivered at IMFL!

Quick Facts:
- First IM in 2002: 13:08.
- 4th Ironman in 2005: 10:28.
- Time away from an IM Hawaii qualifying slot in 2004: 1:20.
- Time away from an IM Hawaii qualifying slot in 2005: 33 minutes. Now ST can smell Hawaii!

Moral of the story: Despite the long road, I am confident that our methods and strategy have been solid. There are areas where we excelled and others where we could have done better. Nonetheless, an improvement of 2:40 in an Ironman over three seasons is quite commendable. ST has done an exceptional job executing the workouts and communicating when things go awry. Among all the factors that contributed to our success, I believe our communication has been the most crucial. Having someone you trust planning your training is essential, and my trust in ST's dedication allows me some flexibility in his training. Overall, I foresee significant achievements for ST in the years to come as our ultimate goal of reaching Kona becomes more tangible.

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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