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Going Short. Ramblings of an endurance coach…

What happened to wanting to go fast?

It seems like everyone wants to go farther or do something that involves mud, freezing cold, zombies, fire, and/or electrocution. You seldom hear people talk about ripping a 5k or blowing themselves up in a sprint triathlon. I know people are going to take this the wrong way, so don’t for a second dream that I don’t think an Iron distance triathlon, 100 mile run, or a mudder are not challenging. I know they are. They require huge commitments from all angles, and are amazing feats of endurance, dedication, and mental toughness. I’ve been there myself several times, and LOVE coaching people through ultra events.

I also know that scheduling family, work, [fill in the blank], and then training is no small feet. Sometimes it’s a struggle just to get in the required volume of training over 6 months to a year, when out of no where you have some factor on your balance sheet change, leaving you much less time to devote to your ultra endurance goal. Or you put in a season’s worth of training and end up going down on your bike 3 days before the big race and you now have to fight extra hard just to finish. Or how about the weather!? Say after a years worth of training you get dealt the coldest and windiest day of the year when the normal temperature is 20 degrees warmer. Having just one thing go wrong can really put a damper on an entire years worth of training.

If it is the challenge you are looking for, how about training to go as hard as you can at a season’s worth of 5/10k races, sprint or Olympic tris, time trials, road races, and crits? If you race to your body’s maximum ability, no matter the distance, you will feel just as crappy as if you just finished an ultra distance race…I promise. The good part!? You can recover from these events in just a few days and do it all over again the next weekend if you want! In today’s endurance community, going harder and not farther may not be as glorious as crossing the finish line of an iron distance tri, but it feels just as good afterward. And since you will actually be able to walk afterwards, you can enjoy the sites, fellowship, and fun of the post race festivities!

Along the same lines, we as amateur athletes also compete in endurance sports for health and fitness right? RIGHT!? Whether its to lose weight, or just have better overall health, we are not getting paid to compete. If you look at the fittest people at any race, are they not also usually the fastest? I know this doesn’t always hold true, but for the most part, fast people are fit people.

Many people training for a long distance event generally do high volume, low intensity training. Their focus is to get in the duration and fatigue resistance required to finish the race instead of training to get to the finish as fast as possible. Therefore, very little, if any intensity is a part of their training program. Training long duration at low intensity burns fewer calories per hour than high intensity exercise. Whether it comes from fat or stored glycogen, you still have to expend more calories in a day than you take in to lose weight.  Since it comes down to burned vs. consumed, equal physical fitness can be achieved through well planned high intensity exercise. Am I advocating that you should go hard all the time? NOPE. You need the aerobic base and fatigue resistance to go fast as well. But if you want to go fast, you have to train and race at high intensity, and high intensity burns a lot of fuel very quickly.

Lastly, let’s talk about the financial aspect of going fast vs. going long. Right now the average domestic iron distance race costs around $2500 just in the race fee and travel (not counting our family coming to support us). If you solely factor out the race fee of around $625, you could essentially enter 6-10 shorter triathlons for the same amount. If in the true spirit of the multisport lifestyle you are also a cyclist or runner, with the average race costing about $30, that is a lot of racing! You can get your endorphin and/or pain fix almost every weekend! Do I advocate racing every weekend? NOPE. That’s how divorces and over training happen. Just sayin’.

In short, I am not in any way, shape, or form saying no one should ever go long. I enjoy beating myself half to death for hours too. I also love helping people reach goals they thought would never be possible for them. It’s just as much of a rush being the coach of someone who crosses that finish line. And I would NEVER tell anyone to give up on their goals. All I am saying is that there is nothing wrong with focusing on speed in shorter distance races rather than going all in on a single ultra distance event. Also, short course events are great race prep for long course events. The most specific form of training is racing! I think some folks are forgetting the reason(s) why they started competing in endurance sports to begin with. Have fun with it!

I’ll leave you with the words of the great NASCAR legend Ricky Bobby… “I just wanna go fast.”

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