One of my favorite card-playing movies starring Matt Damon is the film Rounders, and one of the central themes of the movie is owing money to loansharks. They refer to the interest as "juice," and this interest compounds seemingly hourly. The comparison I want to make is interest, and how it works in the science of sport. As it pertains to my own training, there have been times I've been in debt, and there are times I've lived off the interest. Across micro and macro cycles alike, we all start somewhat in debt. Do you remember your first run? I do. When a track program came to my grammar school (6th grade), I joined and was the fastest white boy since Jerry Seinfeld. 100m. 200m. Long Jump. 4x100m. Those were my events and I did not deviate. I may have run either a couple of 400s, maybe an 800m and possibly a 1600m at some point, but they were races and not runs.
No, my first run was when I was in 8th grade, and our coach instructed me to do 2.5 miles on the Count Basie track. 20 minutes sticks out in my head as the time, but looking back and I don't know if 8 minute miles is conceivable. I thought I was the most BAMF on the planet, running that far, in my white t-shirt and gray cotton shorts, and presumably my shitty Reeboks. When I went to high school later that year, I was in debt each and every day. Going for runs and getting dropped before we even got off school property, getting lost because I had never been to that part of Middletown, basically walking half of every run. The first time I ran the Freshman (2.1 mile) cross country course, I ran over 18 minutes. Two weeks later, I ran 14:51. By the end of that season, I had run a 13:50 or something. Each week I deposited my training pay check into the account, so that I had something to withdraw from on race day (twss).
Over the course of those 4 years I made improvements, but it wasn't until I really started running more miles that I saw truly signifcant benefits. When I transitioned over to triathlon in college, the 85 miles per week I was running dropped to 50, 55, and for the first time in my life, I was living off the interest. I had accrued such fitness that I was immediately competent at riding a bike, the running I was doing felt like a cakewalk and I was still one of the fastest triathletes, and my swimming was...well, it was.
I raced that way for a while. I didn't see much time improvement on the run, largely because I think I was running about as fast as I was going to in general. I rode and swam reasonable amounts, and kept pretty detailed training logs during college. When I shattered my ankle in August 2003, it was back to the drawing board, and once again, training in debt. This ebb and flow continued, and as any athlete can attest, there are times when it's your lungs that can't keep up with your legs, and times your legs can't keep up with your lungs. I began to find that, even though I had this injury, my fitness was still there, and could come back quickly. In other words, the juice was still rolling.
As the second half of the 2000s rolled around, and I moved to Baltimore, I watched as I once again started in debt. I was not in good running shape. I swam 3 times of the span of 3 years. I was getting hammered by the significantly tougher terrain of Baltimore on my bike. But just like that weak freshman in 1995, I kept going. And now I had 10 years of knowledge behind me. How hard can I go and finish this ride? How much can I run today and still be able to do something tomorrow? I've learned exactly what my body has in it for that day, week or month of training. By 2009, I was flush, living off the interest and making a killing. Every day I went out, I felt stronger and better than the day before. When that market crashed, I felt flat broke.
I described last year that when I was able to resume training in June, things came back quicker than I expected, which led to me feeling confident enough to race Arizona. It was weird though - like I was racing off the interest but training in debt. Then I discovered that it's entirely feasible. There are plenty of people I know who are able to race well, training at levels that would indicate they'd race much slower, and that comes from knowing how to get the most out of your body. For me, when I did Luray last August, I had done one or two runs over the distance of the race (10k) and I had only done a handful of "speed" workouts that were done at or just under 6 minute pace. Yet somehow, off the bike, on a rolling course, I managed to average 6:22/mi. Later, in October at the Red Bank Tri, I managed a 29:24 5 miler off the bike. I don't think if I had gone to run 5 miles that day I could have run that fast.
How was this happening? My knee never feels good, never feels fluid. I click and creak and crack whenever I take a step. My knee is sometimes so tight that I can't bend or straighten it at all (not that I have full range of motion with it anymore, anyway). My volume of training is good, my aerobic fitness is excellent, but my power, my speed and my anaerobic capacity are entirely limited. It's not secret that every person has a bottom-line capability, the "worst" they'll do on an given day. I think I had found mine. By setting the right expectations, and being smart, I was squeezing the juice for all it was worth.
And now, here we are in March, just a few weeks away from the beginning of 2011 tri season, and after this particular weekend, I feel good about the outlook. If I were selling futures, I would say that I'll be back to at least where I was in 2009. My body feels broken every day, but it's build Ford (Ironman) tough now, and I know that I have a ton of volume that I can live off of from last year. That's how I was able to do what I did this weekend, without any indication that my body should have allowed me to do it...
Friday - Took advantage of the 80 degree day and rode for 4 hours with OJ. Put in a few real hard sections, and came back feeling good. Ran 9 miles later in the day at a comfortable pace.
Saturday - Led the expedition to Frederick. Talk about living off the interest, Ben came out for what was to be his first group ride and also longest ride ever. As I've explained, Frederick is no joke. And Ben rode extremely well. But when you've been alive as long as he has, you don't just have interest, you've got a fully vested pension and 401k to draw from. Alyssa also rode real well, again using the interest she accrued from last summer and the work she's done this winter to keep the juice rolling. We ran 20 minutes off the bike, where Pat and I pushed the last 5 minutes. Got back to Baltimore, felt wiped but got in the pool for a Super GT Saturday.
Sunday - Knew it was going to be tough today. It's not often that I'll go 3 days in a row on the bike, and this was to be day #4 (rode easy 75min outside on Thursday). After 10 hours in 3 days on the bike, I wasn't sure how my body would go, but in honor of my late homey, Nate Dogg, I was determined to "rock it til the wheels come off." The nice temperatures were gone, and in their stead was cold air and cold, stiff wind. As a result, I waited until later in the day and rode once again with OJ. He defines "keeping the juice rolling" - because I call him Juice and because he was rolling. We departed Meadowbrook and headed north, dropping into Hunt Valley and splicing together a number of rides, hitting some of the nastier climbs in the county (Greenspring, Caves, a 4:14 trip up Bellemore). At just under 4 hours, this marked a 13 hour 4 day bike binge, and an approximate 200 miles.
You can go hard until your body tells you to stop. Then you recover. Then you repeat. That's what makes champions. Most of the time, I just get excited to see what my body is capable of doing. I think that's why we all do it.
For the week, on the strength of the bike volume, I was nearly at 20 hours. Hard to believe that I didn't drop below 20 for most of the 5 months I was training last year. I was going to run Sunday, as with only 3 miles on Saturday my week mileage was 35, but then I thought the better of it. If I was going to run 35-45 minutes just to get over 40 miles, there wouldn't have been much point. My legs were cooked and the riding was the focus of the weekend. The pool was 3 swims at 3k each for a total of 9000m.
Today is all about making deposits; in this case the deposit is the respite of a day of recovery. An easy swim, an easy run. It's a critical time of year now, where I'll start to transition away from slower, easier efforts to a few precise, harder ones. When you begin to introduce racing, plus the harder efforts, your body gets thrown for a loop and you can overdraw your account without knowing it, and then TD Bank will allegedly fix the problem but then they didn't tell you that you had to sign something, and then for some reason your mom is still on the account that you set up when you were like 5 years old and because TD Bank doesn't have a big presence here, they have to mail it to you and then you have to mail it back and then your mom has to go in and sign it, but that's neither here nor there.
Just remember every day that you do something, the juice will keep rolling.