Monday, September 29, 2008

Spending your allowance wisely

“Waste is worse than loss”
- Thomas Edison

After the positive feedback on my ‘forest for the trees’ blog (it seems there are a lot of folks out there like myself who were frustrated by the lack of applicability of the PMC chart to day-to-day training), I have decided to expand upon one of the concepts mentioned, that of a fitness ‘allowance’.

Let me elaborate – if you are a good little boy or girl, and you do all of your chores; get a good quality and quantity of sleep, eat right, stretch, receive regular massages, stay organized and manage life stressors, every 3-4 weeks your body will pay you an allowance of additional fitness (we can express these ‘fitness dollars’ as additional points added to your CTL #), that you may choose to invest, gamble or spend.

Now, before I go on pointing out the consequences of your decision as to what to do with your ‘fitness dollars’, I should point out that if you are a bad little boy or girl and you fail to do your chores for the week, you won’t get your allowance for that week, i.e. if you let work stress get the better of you, if you let the quality of your sleep trail off etc etc, don’t expect to get a fitness payout for that training block.

As mentioned in the previous blog, a fair allowance (something that is appropriate for the work you do without sending your parents bankrupt) is ~10-20TSS/d every 3-4 weeks. Now, you can choose to do any of the following with this payout:

a) You can invest in more fitness by putting your allowance towards your foundation. Placing it in a savings account that offers a very slow but assured increase on the investment that you make, specifically, we are talking about aerobic base training, with the bulk of training below the athlete’s Ventilatory Threshold 1. As Colwin points out in his book Swimming into the 21st Century, this training is anabolic & builds the swimmers ‘adaptation energy’, i.e. it builds you up, while some of the other forms of training are catabolic and tear the swimmer down.

b) You can take your allowance to Vegas and gamble it on some ‘speedwork roulette’. Earlier this year I went down to Vegas to meet up with my Dad and Brother, who flew in from Australia for a fun vacation. My brother found an affinity for the slot machines while we were down there and, at various times, was ‘up’ by a good amount. This weekend was the tail-end of a month long vacation that my brother had been on and he had some spending money that he still needed to ‘blow’. By having sufficient reserve to be able to afford to ‘play big’, if he had have timed things appropriately and walked away at his peak, he could have taken home sufficiently more money than he arrived with (of course, like most of us, he didn’t and gambled it all on ‘just one more’ proverbial roll of the dice :-), but the potential was there). On the flipside, Jen and I went down there with a limited budget, a limited foundation, and so while we had fun playing the games, we simply didn’t have enough of a reserve to ever really expect a big ‘pay out’.

c) You can spend your allowance on some fun, i.e. races. Now, nobody likes a scrooge, someone who hoards their foundation, afraid to ever use any of it. After all, the point of building your fortune is not in the actual pieces of paper that lie in your wallet or bank account, but rather on the fun and freedom that they potentially represent. However, keep in mind that from a fitness perspective, any time you race seriously (as opposed to B & C races that fall more under the ‘gamble’ category), you are running at a loss. You are using fitness that will take a significant time of base/foundation training to get back. This is not to say that we shouldn’t race, after all, racing well is kind of the point. But we should be prudent in how much of our annual salary we devote to something that we know offers no return.

So, you decide to invest your allowance. Smart choice. However, just like the real world, you have options in what to invest in. Different strategies for different levels of risk tolerance and different individual preferences. You have an extra 10-20 TSS/d to invest. What should you invest in?

Easy training: Your 10TSS/d will buy you about 2hrs of easy training to add to your week. This is a very low risk way to spend your allowance. However, as explained in my last blog, it doesn’t offer the same ‘bang for your buck’ as the following investment….

Steady Training: Your 10TSS/d will buy you about 90mins of steady training to add to your basic week each month. Steady training has a solid interest rate and for most folks offers the best return on their investment.

Mod-Hard Training: A little more risk here. Your 10 TSS/d will buy you a 1hr mod-hard main set to add to your training. This strategy is probably too risky for those with a limited foundation. However, for those who’ve been at the game for a while, there is some real benefit to diversifying your portfolio and devoting some of your fitness dollars to Mod-Hard training.

Hard Training: Your 10TSS/d will buy you a 40-50min AT workout. This is a very risky investment for those with limited foundation. However, for those with some money to play around with, training in and around the anaerobic threshold offers excellent potential return on the money invested. If you ever want to be sitting at the ‘high rollers’ table, there will come a time when placing a calculated risk on expanding your foundation with hard training will become appropriate.

So, how do you know what an appropriate investment is for you? Of course, as a coach, I’m going to say that you would be best served listening to the objective advice of your ‘financial advisor’ :-). However, for those who want to keep an eye on their own portfolio, analyzing the main sets of your training each week and seeing how balanced they are across the training spectrum (see my article on appropriate balance for Ironman athletes), looking for potential weak spots or plateaus will enable you to appropriately allocate your resources each month.

Train Smart.



ll said...

Excellent article once again Alan!

You EC-guys are crazyawesome writers!


Alan Couzens said...

Thanks Jaakko.

Did you like the music that I included for your listening pleasure?

Its from the greatest movie ever made - the Karate Kid :-)