I have advice for anyone training for anything. Go easy on yourself for those first two or three miles or the first ten minutes.
At any age, the body and mind need time to warm up. But in our data-obsessed fitness world, it is easy to feel pressure to go out the door for a run or ride, or entry into the water with that feeling “I’m going too slow.”
The pressure comes from lumping all our training under one category. We might finish a run and look at the average time and say, “That was slower than yesterday.”
Well, perhaps the first two miles were really slow because you lifted weights the day before, or are recovering from some other workout. But once you got moving, the pace dropped dramatically and you actually ran quite fast the third and fourth mile, then finished with a slow cool down. That’s a good workout in many respects.
The tendency to go hard from the get-go is even worse in cycling. We take a look at the MPH indicator on our devices and go, “I’m only going 16…” as if that were a sin. But again, our bodies need to warm up before we can process oxygen effectively. Heart rates that spike right away don’t allow blood flow to catch up with respiratory needs. We might even hit the Red Zone before the ride even gets started.
So it’s all about the warmup. That’s even more vital in the swimming pool or open water. When you dive into water colder than your body temperature, which had better be the case on most occasions, it takes a few moments and often a few laps for the muscles beneath your skin to adapt.
It is in the pool more than any other place that I beat myself up over the “average pace” that I’m swimming. During a typical workout I’ll swim 300-400 yards in warmup, then begin a set of intervals in sets of 50s, 100s and 200s. My warmup pace is around 2:00 per hundred. But when I’m swimming the 50s it drops to 1:40 per 100 on average and around 1:48 for the 100s. I’m not fast by comparison to more experienced swimmers yet those averages represent a long process of years building up to that swim stamina and better form. There’s always work to do in both arenas. But the pressure to show that final average time on my watch is an ego issue, not an expression of reality.
I include my warmup in the total swim time for reasons of ego. It makes the average pace per lap a bit slower, but I selfishly don’t want to give away even 25 yards of total swimming. I’m selfish and vain that way.
It wasn’t always like this. During my peak years while training with teammates we trotted around during warmup at whatever pace we felt like doing that day. It gave us time to talk and work off nervous energy before a hard workout. Then we’d get down to the real work of suffering through runs at the prescribed pace of the day. My workout journal would show something like, “3 mile WU, 4 X 1M at 4:55, 2M CD.” That was a nine mile workout all told, but the part that really counted was the fast-paced mile intervals at the heart of it. The rest of it was for preparation and recovery.
I also tend to train differently on the bike when I’m alone than when riding with others. Perhaps you’ve been dragged into a group ride that goes out too fast, then breaks into pieces as people peel off the back. That’s because the early pace was too hard. I have to say this is a far worse “problem” among triathletes than any other group of cyclists. The lack of need to stay in the draft of other riders makes for a “every rider for themselves” mentality and the typical tri-ride winds up in fractured batches of athletes rather than a function group ride.
Road cyclists are supposed to know better, but competitive group rides are merciless affairs. Typically you know that going into the encounter and warm up before the group takes off. But a great group ride is one in which people take turns pulling and riders can recover in the draft zone. The miles can really roll along with that brand of riding.
From the accounts that I’ve read and the anecdotes I’ve heard, the pro cyclists do ride hard and fast. But they warm up first. Because they’re pros.
So the lesson in this for all of us is simple: What part about “you need to warm up first before going hard” do we not understand?
The answer is that we do understand the importance of warming up, we just ignore it out of vanity, ego or bad habit. Or just tap the Split Timer on your device. It’s a wonderful invention.
My advice is to “let it go.” Let go of the pressure to concern yourself with average time even if your Strava reputation suffers a bit. Trust your Garmin but don’t be a slave to it. Or take the radical step of timing yourself during the warmup, clock out when it’s finished and clock back in when you’re warmed up and ready to go. It’s amazing what happens when we’re honest enough with ourselves to realize how much ego interferes with common sense when it comes to something as basic as warming up.