It was after my very first triathlon at Eagle Creek that I met Coach Doug. After chatting for a few minutes about his coaching background and the services he offered, I took the Phoenix Fitness flyer and went on my way. I was flying high on accomplishing my goal of simply finishing my first sprint triathlon. Finished! But like most athletes who achieved a goal, the sense of accomplishment was quickly replaced with “What’s next?”.
There were a few options, of course. I could sign up for a few more sprints, try an Olympic distance, or simply aim to improve my time in the next Eagle Creek event. I hadn’t given much thought to organized training or coaching up to this point.
In my initial conversation with Doug, he asked if I was involved in any training groups or had any upcoming racing goals. I hesitantly responded, “The Monumental Half-Marathon in November.” It immediately dawned on me: I didn’t know the first thing about running a mini-marathon. I asked myself:
- How would I go from 3 miles to 13.1?
- How would I substantially increase my training volume while staying injury-free?
- What do I focus on while not training? Stretching, strength, diet, fixing my chronic back pain, or a combination of everything?
- What do I focus on in my workouts? Speed, distance, or heart rate?
The number of questions is endless. Like most beginner triathletes or self-teachers, I had loosely strung together a plan based on IronFit Secrets, “The Healthynomics Podcast”, and a number of triathlon training websites. Like most learning self-teaching experiments, I Googled training plans and picked what I liked from 15-20 different programs. I had applied the “Couch to 5k” methodology to all of my training: Run X miles Y days per week, throw in a longer run on Saturday, and bike Z times per week.
As you can imagine, training efficiently and effectively is not this simple. Not only was I quadrupling my distance, but I still didn’t have answers (or too many conflicting answers) to many of my earlier questions. I needed help from an expert, so I signed up for the Phoenix Training Group that ran and biked together several times a week. Shortly after I received a call from Coach Heather inviting me to my first group run on the following Tuesday.
My First Group Runs
My first run with Phoenix wasn’t nearly as daunting as I’d imagined. The group was composed of a dozen athletes with varying skill levels from beginner (me) to elite. I remember immediately being impressed by how outgoing and friendly everyone was. After chatting for a bit and warming up, we set out from Broad Ripple to go tackle the hills.
It didn’t take long before Doug provided feedback on my running form. He explained how my hunched-over posture was likely causing a number of imbalances and restricting my breathing. I hadn’t paid much attention to my form before because after all, I’d made it this far and my goal was to run more. But within minutes of pulling my shoulder blades back and running “taller”, I immediately felt like I could breathe much better. My strides were easier and I didn’t feel the impact of my shoulders hanging over my knees in every step.
When it comes to form, even the smallest tweaks can make the biggest impact. While “running tall” may seem obvious, it’s a challenge if you spend most of your day in front of a desk. A split second of Doug’s insight dramatically improved my running ability overnight. Over the next few runs, Heather provided more feedback on my form than I could have learned in twenty YouTube videos or running articles. When she suggested a functional movement screening to pinpoint other form deficiencies and mobility issues, I was excited to learn more.
The Functional Movement Screening
I came back a week later for my functional movement screening with Heather. We started off with some basic movements and progressed into more advanced patterns. While I performed the 9-10 steps of the test and Heather took notes, I thought for sure I was challenged in just about every category possible. But to my surprise, I passed 8 out of the 10 movements. The two in which I struggled weren’t surprising, but definitely a relief knowing there would be a plan to fix them.
In the screening we identified that I had significant mobility issues in my hips, which explained my back pain and many of my form problems across the board. We also identified a deficiency in engaging my core to keep good posture while pressing, running, swimming, or cycling. Essentially everything I was doing 6 days a week! Heather assured me that we could make substantial improvements in as early as 3-4 weeks. She set me up with a series of corrective workouts that 15-20 minutes per day. As someone who could have easily spent 15-20 minutes per day with a chiropractor, I couldn’t wait to get started.
Improving My Training & Recovery
As the weeks rolled on, I felt my mobility and recovery improving almost immediately. The emphasis on stretching and warm-ups was something I something I wasn’t accustomed to, but it paid dividends quickly. While I’d read numerous articles about the importance of stretching, warm-ups and cool-downs, I was still stuck in the “Google effect” of trying to pick the right answers out of a dozen articles.
The next improvement was how I felt with increased volume. Unlike the training templates I followed before, I had a program that matched my ability and experienced coaches monitoring my form. To top it off, the Phoenix Training Group provided great people to train with. The synergy goes a long way.
On August 15, I ran my second sprint triathlon at Eagle Creek and finished with a 4-minute improvement. That seemed like a pretty significant jump after only a few weeks, but time was saved in the run leg by staying focused on my form. After a high-five, Heather rewarded me with an hour-long recovery ride the next day (but I felt great after and recovered much faster).
I’m really looking forward to making progress in both my training volume and my mobility. It’s a process that requires patience, but I’m optimistic that my next screening will show a dramatic improvement. As I close out the triathlon season with my final race or two, I’m psyched to see where my training can take me. And I certainly look forward to crossing the Monumental finish line in November with the rest of the Phoenix crew.