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Coaches Blog

What my favorite Pumpkin Pie Recipe has to do with Training

Updated: Feb 13, 2020

by Mandi Kowal

We are getting close to Fall which means cooler temps, changing colors, football games, and pumpkin-flavored everything. I, myself, am a pumpkin pie fan, but more specifically, a fan of a particular pumpkin pie. Only one ingredient separates this from the rest. On its own, this ingredient isn’t very exciting, but it makes all the difference in the outcome. I did not create this recipe, it is from the back of a can of pumpkin. I’m not known for my cooking abilities but I sure can follow a recipe.

So what the heck does this have to do with the world of triathlon? Well, I see following a workout plan similar to following a recipe. If you want the desired outcome whether it’s a yummy pumpkin pie or to be able to run well off the bike in an IRONMAN you need to follow the recipe or training plan. Winging it or adopting someone else’s workout could lead to a sub-optimal outcome.

When a coach has been hired to create a training plan for an athlete, much information is gathered from the individual, and with the appropriate resources and knowledge, the coach makes the best plan possible. Altering the plan can impact one's ability to achieve the desired outcome.

My plan is to make this yummy pumpkin pie which comes with a proven recipe. Does it need to be fiddled with? In this case, NO because we love the outcome so I just follow the recipe. This is similar to training programs. Using research from exercise scientists, coupled with experience and knowledge of you as an individual, coaches have a good idea of what works. So why tweak it? Many athletes appreciate having a plan and follow it closely. Others get swayed by the Internet, their friends, or by reading other training plans and then feel the need to alter their plan.

What happens when we alter the plan?

Take a look at this recipe. It’s nothing too complicated but there definitely are important steps to follow and a reason behind each step.

Most peole will follow the recipe. The only time they might tweak it is if they want to change the flavor, texture or amount of calories in the dish. Following these steps ensures that we have a well-blended tasty pumpkin pie mixture to bake.

Now look at this workout my coach wrote for me:

WU: 300 swim, 200 pull, 100 kick MS: 5 x 300's steady swim, swim the odds, pull the evens, r: 20, focus on efficiency and CATCH CD: 50 choice

There is nothing complicated about this workout. It’s pretty clear. Is it the hardest workout I have done? No. Does it have loads of intensity? No. But this workout was placed on Monday for good reasons. It helped diminish the stiffness in my legs, it helped provide a mental break from work, it allowed me work on my technical limiter, and provided some much needed recovery after the big weekend. Not to mention, it helped to set me up for today’s brick. Had I not done it, or had I changed it, my sleep may have suffered, and perhaps my morning workout or future workouts. So as you trust a recipe that has been shared with you by someone whose dish you loved, trust the workout your coach has provided for you.

Within the process, there is a purpose behind every step. So when I make this pie I followed the steps above because they lead to the next step. The same can be said for the workout. If you leave out the warm up, the body will not be ready for the main set therefore not achieve the desired intensity. When this happens one misses the opportunity to train the targeted energy system.

Now let’s talk intensity. Triathletes are known for training too much in the middle zones. We think the harder the better. This is not the case if we want to train our aerobic system and are pushing hard during our effort. If the workout is for you to be in Zones 1-2 then adhere to that intensity to benefit that system. To me it’s like saying, I want to bake the pie at 500 because I can crank my oven up that high. Well, no it’s not; I don’t want a burnt pie. Again, follow the steps to avoid getting burned.

The same concept applies to duration. If the workout is supposed to be an hour, then keep it an hour. Going two hours because you can, doesn’t mean you will physiologically benefit. Remember to think of the entire process and this small part is important in its own right. I won’t be baking my pie for two hours because I’m feeling good that day. Again, stick to the plan.

I could share many more correlations between training to achieve your goal and following a recipe to bake a pie but I’m pretty sure you get the idea. This is not to say we don't make changes to a training, but when we do there are specfic reasons and specific needs.

I want to make one more important point. No plan is going to be successful if you do not communicate with your coach. The more information you can provide in terms of workout data, how you are feeling, and what is going on in your life the better he/she can coach you. And necessary tweaks can be made for the betterment of the mission. It reminds me of the year my father-in-law jumped in to help me bake pies the day before Thanksgiving. We had to communicate to assign duties, to check in on progress, and to determine what needed to be done next. It was this communication that led to a table full of yummy pies for our family.

So communicate with your coach and follow your plan, like a recipe, to ensure your “podium” performance.

Wondering what the special ingredient is that sets this recipe apart? Take a guess! The winner wins a free t-shirt.

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