Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Biohacking a Triathlon: CrossFit Style

Although my husband and I met on the college track scene training for many of the same events in the early 2000s,  our styles of training have since diverged completely.

In early 2006 as CrossFit started to gain popularity with the military types, Scott immediately took the plunge into the CrossFit style of training that combined OLY lifting, gymnastics, and functional strength. Personally, I was so over competitive running and opted for another endurance sport: triathlon. Since then, we have had a continuous argument in our household. It usually goes something like this....

Who is a better athlete? A CrossFitter or a Triathlete? A Kona World Champ or a CrossFit Games winner?
What is harder..long course triathlon or CrossFit?
What makes a better balanced athlete?
Is endurance training and logging endless hours of swimming, biking, and running healthy?
Is it absolutely necessary to log endless of amounts of long, slow distance mileage swimming, biking, and running to make it to both the start and finish line of a triathlon?
Can an athlete utilize Tabata's or CrossFit or CrossFit endurance style training and successfully complete an Ironman? 

For anyone that knows me, you can easily guess how I normally would answer most if not all of these questions.

CrossFit vs Triathlon? 

After conducting a training biohack over the past few months, I would have to say my argument no longer stands strong. While I still hold the sport of triathlon very near and dear to my heart, I think being a fast and successful triathlete requires far more than just swimming, biking, and running. And yes we all know that as triathletes we need core strength, glute strength, and a generalized strengthening routine --- but are we really going about it the right way? Let's time travel a bit, to try and understand my epiphany.

After hiring my first coach for the NOLA 70.3 in 2010, I've was hooked on the Maffetone and Mark Allen style of training. As I became more serious with the longer course triathlon, this style of heart rate training worked wonders. With more and more speed gains, my coaches beefed up the intensity but most of their coaching styles were built on this framework. In fact, most weeks were the the typical 3 sessions of swim, bike, run. (interval day, moderate day, and long slow get in the mileage day). I'm sure most of you know exactly how this feels. I went from a barely there top-3 age grouper to winning several local circuit races and earning many top 10 140.6/70.3 finishes. I was totally happy with that.

But looking back, I won't lie and tell you that those 6-7 hour days on the bike or 3 hour runs in the south in the middle of summer were fun--Especially when that was my life EVERY single weekend for probably 60-70% of the year.  I also won't fool you in saying that I made it to race day injury or sickness free. In fact, during most serious 70.3/140.6 seasons I was sick mostly every other month. And despite being a Doctor of Physical Therapy, on most days I had some semblance of a nagging injury. Thank you foam roller :)

More recently, as the popularity of CrossFit has taken off, I have dabbled with the enemy occasionally during the off seasons. A little cross training can't be that bad? As race season approached however, I dumped the CrossFit and returned to my old school style of training. It worked for me. Or so it seemed that way... Since then I've tried to be more opened minded-mostly just to put this argument to rest! Eventually I did some research, read extensive articles, and have heard several stories from fellow athletes who have used less traditional styles of triathlon training (CrossFit endurance styles) to complete long course triathlons. Was I drinking the Koolaid? Still not completely sold.

Fast forward to today.....I failed to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships this year at the FL70.3 and concluded my long course season earlier than expected. I've decided to stick to some short stuff and try out a new style of training. In fact, I eventually decided to conduct a little short course sprint experiment or Biohack if you will.

I will go into this experiment fully disclosing any confounding factors. I went into both of these races with a solid 6-7 months of aerobic base training specifically for the 70.3 distance. The largest difference however is what happened in the month leading up to each of the races. These 2 races were done on the exact same course with identical weather conditions.

Race #1
Going into this race #1, I was training 2x a week for all three disciplines. I did a speed day and a longer day. My goals were to maintain my base and to keep the speed. Most of my training was heart rate based like my usual style of training. I won't bore you with HR, power, or training files. But the getting to the basics.... On race day, my legs felt flat and speed-i-less. In fact, I was hunted down hard core in the run and had no fight in me what-so-ever. The outcome looked something like this for a 400 m swim, 17 mile bike, and 5k run and I finished 2nd OA.

Swim 7:06
Bike 42:27ave speed 22.61mph
Run 21:45 ave speed 7:00min mile

Race #2 
Over the past month going into this race, I swam, biked, and ran 1-2x a week and did a full CrossFit workout 2x a week. I improved my deadlift to 170 lbs, my back squat to 185 lbs, and my thruster weight to 65 lbs. Yes- I know this is nothing for the CrossFit types out there but is a lot for an endurance girl who weighs a buck twenty. More importantly, I shed 2 minutes off my sprint course time on the exact same course. Not only did I vastly improve my time, instead of being hunted I did the hunting in this race. I picked off 2 girls in the final stretch of the 5k with speedy legs and took the "W".

Swim 7:25
Bike 41:22ave speed 23.2mph
Run 20:53 ave speed 6:43 mile

So big deal right? For somebody who has been brainwashed for so long into a certain style of thinking/training, I'm surprised I was brave enough to conduct this experiment.  Now what? Am I going to go into a 140.6 or even a 70.3 using CrossFit or CrossFit endurance? Probably not. And I still do not think you could win Kona or an IM using this style of training. BUT for you short course triathletes out there who are lacking speed and power, this might be the missing link. And for you injury prone long course athletes, despite the bad rap CrossFit Endurance may be a good training option for you.

While I'm no CrossFit athlete games contender anytime soon... for now I'm loving the new strength gains, seeing some semblance of abs, feeling my glutes activate, successfully executing pull-ups/squats/pushups, throwing heavy weights around,  and all while continuing to tear it up in the short course swim, bike, and run :)


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