Why Training by Feel is So Important!- by Jennifer Vollmann
I am a new triathlete and I love data! In fact, I am not sure what I like more about training, the training session or looking at the data after the session. I never participated in sports growing up (you should see me try and catch a ball, my family loves throwing things at me just to watch me cover my face in hopeless defense), but I have always loved swimming, cycling, hiking, and running for hours on end. It wasn't until I turned 30 that I took being an athlete seriously. I was never formally trained or coached in any triathlon discipline, so when I started seriously training last year, I relied heavily on data to better understand my body and how I was adapting to training. I also found that constantly looking at data is an excellent way to focus my mind during long or hard sessions.
Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene was my third 70.3 distance triathlon. I just finished a very hard speed block after Ironman 70.3 St. George. I struggled in my first two HIMs to access the speed I know I am capable of on the run. My #1 goal for this race was to run 13.1 fast! I clocked the fastest paces I’ve ever run and I knew I could pull out a big PR run. I asked my coach, Marilyn, to give extremely specific pace goals. I wanted numbers to focus on when things got hard and to make sure I was pushing the pace in the limits of what I could handle.
I started out the race with a strong swim and a controlled bike. I jumped off the bike with legs that were ready to go! I switched my Garmin and hit the pavement. I felt fresh and fast. In fact, I felt maybe I was too fast, but my watch had me at 8:30 min pace, which was right on target, so I ignored my legs and the spectors yelling “That girl can fly!” For the next 6 miles, my Garmin had me holding 8:15-8:30, right on track, but man those paces felt hard! I kept ignoring how I felt because of course the run felt hard...it’s a race! When my watch started showing mile alerts 200 yards away from the course mile markers, I assumed the course was wrong, because clearly my Garmin couldn't be wrong. I rarely look at my heart rate during the run, so when my strap felt way too tight, I said “screw it,” and ripped it off, nearly taking an eye out of a volunteer.
It was at mile 7 that I finally had to admit that my Garmin was failing me. I went from a 8:15 min pace to a 13 min on a downhill section. For the next 6.1 miles, my Garmin told me I was running between an 11-15 min mile. I might have slowed down, but no way that was my pace. I was halfway through the run and data blind! What I didn't realize at the time was that my Garmin was wrong from the start. My first three miles were not 8:30 min miles like I thought, they were 8:24, 7:21, 7:24 on a flat course! I knew my first miles felt too fast! So I had no pace data, no heart rate data and I started the run at a 10K pace. While I love numbers, my math is poor at best, especially with 6 miles to go in a 70.3. All I had to go by was feel. I quickly recalled all the times Marilyn programed sessions to help me run by feel. I focused on keeping a quick and consistent cadence and good form. I used other racers as targets to run down to keep my mind focused. I knew I was close to a PR run and I had to be consistent to get it. With a tough 6 miles and a hard sprint at the end, I pulled off a an overall 70.3 PR, a 6 minute 70.3 run PR, and a stand alone 13.1 PR.
We all learn lessons from races. CdA 70.3 taught me to always listen to my body and I need to spend more time in training trying to understand my pace and effort by feel and not just numbers. Data is a great way to understand how you are performing, but you should always compare data to how you feel. I am the most proud of this race, not because of my PR, but because I pulled out a PR by learning to listen to my body and trust my training.