Snow Pigeon – The Rock Dove in Winter
This update is the product of several weeks long seclusion in snowy Britain, in an area not particularly known for a preponderance of the white stuff. This has resulted in numerous rail delays, road closures, and an interesting psychological presentation of snow blindness that seems completely unrelated to the ocular impact of sunlight (there isn’t any) off the snow. Simply put, when it comes to a light frosting of what one triathlete has called “glitter for the world”, Oxford and London are entirely unable to cope. While frustrating to a Canadian, I’ve had to let it affect my training directly and accommodate for the impact on my daily schedule (plan three times the journey time for anything involving a train, etc.). It has also resulted in maybe the most ridiculous sight I’ve had for a long time, which I will share first, then on to things triathlon.
On the first major fall of snow, after a week of slight sprinklings, we were blessed with about six or seven centimeters (hardly even a snowfall by Edmonton standards, where it sometimes comes down in Feet at a time) and the world turned white. As I was walking into town, cognizant that just about every grocery store would shut early (they did, and were madness), I witnessed the following:
[Scene: Exterior of the Zoology / Experimental Psych building, sometime around noon, cold winter light filtered through heavy falling snow, little wind, but a crispness to the air. A black Hackney cab has just pulled up to the area leading to the front door of the building]
[Primary Action: A woman, recognizable as a senior academic figure, steps out of the passenger door at the rear of the cab. She is dressed in a long black woolen coat, and a large brimmed hat, adorned with a large, brightly coloured, knit flower, a final flourish of bright red reveals the presence of a scarf beneath the bundling coat. Over her left arm hangs a large grey bag. In her right hand is gripped a red, round container, readily identifiable to inhabitants of the UK as the largest refill one can purchase for Saxa table salt.
She proceeds towards the door of the building, walking slowly and with purpose, while her right hand wields the salt container in wide arcs, dispensing a zig-zag of sodium chloride in a wide swath in front of her. She continues this, with hardly a pause as she marches to the doorway, stepping resolutely over the salt which she has, herself, just spread.]
There wasn’t even a trace of patience to the process, no letting the salt melt into the ice, just this explosive distribution of salt, akin to a ritualization of salting the walks. In terms of its effects, having walked through that area several hours later, I can say with certainty that a 750g container of table salt dispersed over an area approximately 10m long and 2m wide, has ABSOLUTELY NO EFFECT WHEN MULTIPLE INCHES OF SNOW FALL!!!
Heaven help the UK in these times of winter, we need the support.
Onward and upward to Triathlon training in the grips of winter, as it is entirely a new game.
With January in full swing, my training has become focused on balance. Both the balance of each individual sport in relationship to the volume of training per week, and sorting out any potential muscular imbalances before the base phases of the training year begin in earnest.
One of the greatest frustrations that has been evident during the last three weeks is the lack of readily available material for people transitioning to triathlon who want to commit to it at a high level. While books like Joe Friel’s The Triathletes Handbook are stunning references for the self coached athlete, they begin the conversation at a level that is quite advanced. Similarly, the books and websites devoted to ‘beginners’ often present training advice and plans that falls short on volume or ability in key disciplines.
Navigating the various texts and plans becomes a full time job in itself, with a trial and error process of scheduling workouts that one thinks their body can handle with proper recovery periods. While the hiring of a coach might be possible for some, the significant expense of a good training bicycle and gear (if someone is coming from a running or swimming background) makes it an unlikely step for many others.
The other large issue is the lack of specificity for individuals who come from a background in one or two of the requisite sports, but are woefully behind in the third. I have experienced this directly with Swimming, as repeated readers will have noticed, my running being a strong foundation and while I lack race specific bike handling skills, my neuromuscular fitness and leg strength allows me to force through that end of the training.
Swimming on the other hand has been a month long struggle, from my first day back in the pool in December to a breakthrough yesterday after almost six weeks of reading, swimming, and stretching. If you look at beginning swimming plans, they all assume an individual is capable of swimming somewhere between 100m – 400m nonstop freestyle. What about those swimmers who can only tackle 25m at first, what material exists for them, and does the material exist that leads to a logical progression (a.k.a. how fast should one be able to step up from 25m to 50m to 100m)? I can speak from experience that it took me about 10 sessions over two weeks to get up to my first solid 50m (and by this, I do mean relatively proper technique, not just smashing through with exhausted arms). It took a further 12 sessions to get to the first 100m. I’ve found a single website that had beginner plans, though for many new to swimming, I suspect even these might be ambitious (LINK!).
With cycling and running, beginner plans for the individual disciplines are a bit more effective, and something like a ‘couch to 5k’ or beginner’s 10k plan for runners can be adapted without too much fuss. Since those individual disciplines have exponentially more international interest than competitive freestyle or triathlon, the associated literature is similarly robust.
The problem then comes in trying to put it all together. For a beginner who wants to commit serious hours a week to training, what measurements of fitness should be employed in each sport, what load can be expected, is weight training / pilates / yoga necessary to make it all work together (or value added at all? Spoiler: The answer is yes, they all are amazing additions, if the time and recovery works).
Finally, the overall goals of the race season and specific events come into play, how do you plan for the next six to eight months with only very basic understanding of your own bodies adaptation and abilities? How do you know if your schedule is too ambitious or will result in the goals you’ve set for yourself? I’m largely unconcerned with the risk of overtraining in this thinking, as most beginners are going to get sick or injured long before true overtraining becomes a risk, though under-eating is a perpetual concern.
So, with all that in mind, the next few weeks of Iron Pigeon are going to explore these balances, starting first with a write up of a bike fitting, and then diving into resources that I’ve managed to ferret out across the internet. Lastly an approach to planning a year that combines lessons from Joe Friel’s work with that of other authors to come up with an example of how one motivated beginner is tackling the year.
As you can see in the blurb at the top of the page, I’ve also officially committed to UK 70.3 Exmoor as a Rotary Charity Fundraiser. This means that I am asking for all readers’ help in hitting an ambitious target of £1200.00 by the end of May, since the event occurs on June 16th. I know times are tough for all of us, but your contributions would make a huge difference to the various causes that Rotary supports, and even a couple pounds from everyone who stops by would help hit the target!