Contributed by O2fitness Uber-Athlete, Michelle Faurot... I’m part of the second only 8 women team to compete in the Race Across America (RAAM) this June. As planning for RAAM goes, we were late to the gate, deciding to put together our team and crew this past summer. Administrative and logistical work immediately took its toll on workout time.
One of our first key items was to ask Julie Young of O2 Fitness to be our coach. There was never any doubt in my mind who we wanted. Julie’s palmares as women’s national cycling team member and international pro are incredibly impressive. So is her approach to coaching.
Functional strength and mobility:
With workout time limited, I decided to fully embrace Julie’s foundation workouts: trunk/core, hip mobility and activation, and rotary strength. During my training in the spring and early summer, I had treated these as optional workouts, if I had the time and the inclination (which wasn’t often.) I didn’t do them enough to remember all the nuances and checking the web site took even more time. But my triathlon racing season had been mediocre at best. I had suffered a tear to the fascia over the gluteus medius and minimus during the summer of 2013, and it was clearly causing problems. I began to realize that there was some very solid reasoning for doing these exercises. I started to “embrace the bands” and made those my priority when training time was limited. No surprise that my injured hip started to come back to life and firing! One day when I was on the trainer doing slow frequency revolution training, I concentrated on driving the pedal stroke from that injured hip. How rewarding to see my power average jump 30 watts without increasing intensity level! I was even more sold on the bands and other strength workouts that Julie was assigning. I have continued to make these workouts the cornerstone of my training. Some days they might be a little abbreviated, but they remain my top priority.
The second thing Julie encouraged me to do was work on metabolic efficiency. As a USA triathlon certified coach, I had attended a seminar on this subject. I pulled out my course info and began to think this was a good idea. I had developed a bad habit of eating up to three Clif bars per day. Sometimes prior to or during training, but often because I was too busy, and they were easy to grab, And lets face it, I liked the taste!
It was officially offseason for me, so I decided to go for it in the fall of 2014. I eliminated all potatoes and grains from my diet. I made myself eat fruits and vegetables at every meal. Training food was real food, ie bananas, almonds, mini frittatas. Those were my guidelines. I added a lot more fat to my diet: cheese (mainly sheep and goat), bacon, olives, nuts. Breakfast was a huge three egg omelet filled with veggies and topped with avocado. Mini frittatas baked with bacon saved me on training rides and traveling. Gone were my nightly helping of tortilla chips post dinner along with dark chocolate candy bars. I admit that this took some getting used to. I was the carbo queen! But the initial results were very encouraging. My hypoglycemic hunger swings were gone. I could go for hours without eating! This was huge for me – not having to worry about getting the “hangries.” The other encouraging item was that I was getting leaner. Overall I dropped more than ten pounds, and I’ve kept it off.
My focus training wise was base building, endurance paced workouts, perfect for fat burning as the fuel source. And I was slow (and I mean slow!) initially, but I was okay with that. My fat burning efficiency was about NIL. (Not surprising after all the Clif bars I had been feeding myself.) I reminded myself that my training had a long term purpose. And it was working. After a month I could make it to a hard swim practice in the early morning, with only a cup of coffee in my stomach. My cycling efforts were getting stronger. It was so nice to see real progress! When training ramped up in January I started adding more potatoes and non gluten grains around intense workouts, but MUCH fewer carbs than I ate previously. I have now eliminated most processed food.
The experiment worked for me. I developed a workable approach to address my weaknesses in nutrition. I was never maniacal about following it and didn’t give myself a hard time if I ate some cake at a birthday party. But for me, removing so many processed carbs and improving my fat burning efficiency has made a visible improvement in health and training ability, and therefore easy to stick to for the majority of the time.
Rest and Recovery:
My third area of focus on in preparing for RAAM was to actually pay attention to Julie’s rest days and rest weeks. As a driven athlete (speaking to the choir here I’m sure) I was focused on getting the workouts and hours in. As a coach, I knew rest and recovery were the key to progression, but it was easy to rationalize that I didn’t need to worry about that. We all struggle with how to fit training in our busy schedules. I decided to honor the rest days, even if I hadn’t completed all the training. This forced me to plan better for the week ahead. Sometimes I couldn’t finish the entire workout, but I went with the approach that something is better than nothing. And if I didn’t have time for a training session, I didn’t beat myself up over it and let it go. Slowly my consistency improved, and I could feel the results. When the rest weeks come, I take full advantage! I can’t over emphasize how important rest and recovery have been to my training.
This was the focus of my fall training mid September through December. I had one week of 100 cycling miles in September and a big week of 200+ miles in October when RAAM team member Kristin and her husband came to visit. Even including those big weeks, my cycling mileage for the fall averaged about 60 miles per week. Most of my long endurance workouts were hikes or snowshoes. By December I was down to 45 miles for the month. What kind of shape would I be in when cycling training ramped up?
January was the start of Julie’s training plan for our RAAM team. It was time to see how my preparation would play out. The RAAM team decided to join other local teams and Julie at a weekend long training camp in Death Valley in January. Conditions were hot and windy with 15,000 feet of climbing. It was a perfect test for our RAAM team, and I was really pleased with my performance during the camp. No physical issues, and I was able to maintain consistency throughout the camp. And my performance in relation to my compatriots was hugely improved compared to last fall – I could keep up!
My strength and endurance have continued to improve. My time up Geiger Grade has dropped 25% from last September and my time for a mock race around the 7.7 mile Franktown TT loop dropped 10% from last May. My average weekly riding volume has slowly edged up: 90 miles per week in January, 104 per week in Feb, 190 in March, and 200+ miles per week in April. And importantly, I’m not racked out after tough workouts like I was last year. This is key for RAAM as our race plan is 20 minute pulls at threshold every hour for 10 hours.
Julie has been an incredibly motivating coach for our team, and I can’t wait to get out there to set some new RAAM women’s team records with her help!