Sunday, November 26, 2006

Commitment Questions

How do I know if my commitment to training for the Laser Masters Worlds next year is strong enough for me to achieve my goal of finishing in the top half of my age-group fleet?

I started asking myself this because I was struck by the difference between training to run a marathon next year and training for a sailing event. In both sports I have a clear goal but I am much more confident in my running program than in my sailing preparation. My running program comes from a book by Jeff Galloway. The marathon program is a pretty simple formula. Do these runs for 26 weeks and you are prepared to finish a marathon in such and such a time. There are even tables that tell you how to predict your marathon time based on your time to run 5k or a mile.

How much harder it is to plan a training program for a sailing event. Of course one problem is that the nature of my targets in the two sports are very different. In running I am really only competing against myself: can I run a faster time than my previous marathon? But in sailboat racing we are always testing ourselves against other competitors and they are an unknown factor. Who will turn up for the regatta? How hard will they have trained? Will they have improved since the last time we raced together and, if so, by how much?

The running program has workouts designed to develop different skills. Intervals to work on speed. Long slow runs to work on stamina. Races over shorter distances to predict marathon time and also determine the pace to run in other training. And the book tells me exactly which workouts to do when and how fast and how often. How do I know how hard to work on different sailing skills? How much time should I spend on practicing starts vs tacks vs straight line speed? How do I know when I've done enough in this session? How do I even know if I'm practicing a certain skill properly? It's tough to know whether the quality and quantity of training will achieve the desired objective.

Every day when I wake up I know exactly what I need to do in my running program. Today is the distance run. Tomorrow is cross-training. The next day I need to run 45 to 50 minutes. I would like to think that I could do something every day to improve my sailing performance. But how many days a week should I sail? If there is no wind today should I lift some weights or study a sailing DVD or both? There is no set program. No formula for success.

The running program allows time for rest and recovery. One rest day every week to allow the muscles to recover. And as the distance runs become longer in the later weeks of the program there is a mix of weeks with longer and shorter total running times in each week. How do I determine the right pacing in sailing training? How many days a week should I be sailing? Can you do too much sailing? What's the right balance of time spent at regattas vs clinics vs solo practice vs group practice? No book has all the answers.

It has to be fun though, doesn't it? If there were no joy in sailing why would we do it? But is "go out and have as much fun sailing as you can" any kind of formula for success in racing? And if not, what is?

So much uncertainty. So many different ways I could try and improve my sailing performance. Does this sound negative? Have I given you the impression that I enjoy running more than sailing? That the certainty of a formula for training is something I prefer? Nah. None of this is true.

All of this complexity, and variety of ways to train, and options to consider, and uncertainty about the competition... that's what makes sailboat racing the most fascinating, challenging, intriguing, interesting, rewarding game on the plant. At least for me. How about you?


Anonymous said...

I think part of the problem is that a marathon is a pretty well defined goal. It is a road race on relatively flat ground of a distance of about 26 miles. I say relatively flat ground, since most marathons are generally not run in mountainous or hilly terrain, like San Francisco for instance.

A sailing regatta is much harder to define, and the end result is far less predictable. Will it be heavy winds with choppy seas, or will it be light fluky breezes on almost flat seas or some other combination.

Wind direction also plays a big role, will it be a mainly downwind race or will the course require good upwind tactics, or will it be a combination of the two. In many regattas, one leg of the race can determine who is going to be a contender or not.

Your training may emphasize one aspect of sailing over another and might seriously impact your ability to win. Guess wrong and you're toast.

Also, as you pointed out, a marathon is more of a competition against oneself, with others around you. A regatta is really a competition against the other sailors.

Anonymous said...

I used to run. More for fitness, with the races a social event. But the effort in usually was dsiplayed in the results.

Now I race in PHRF spinnaker boats, and it is crew/equipment/skill&luck all wrapped up. Sometimes our good luck is not as good as others - but we have fun and do well.

I would guess the combination gives you a happy balance. Enjoy, and share - you'll likely become a role model for others . .

yes, I am thinking again of a small boat.


Anonymous said...

maybe it's important that in sailing one has to think, and it is how well you sail, not where you finish

Anonymous said...

I am a runner as well as a sailor. A better analogy to a marathon might be training for a long distance navigation without other competitors. You can certainly prepare through reading and training, and leave on the voyage with confidence that you will finish. However, to finish at the top half of a high level event like Master's World Champs, you are not competing against your own goals, equipment, and fitness level, but those of others as well and you cannot benchmark that through a standard training program.

Just like in sailing, running has many variables which effect finish times, wind, hills, weather, injuries, etc. I've always found that confidence can play a huge role in sailing and running. If you trust and believe in your training program, it may produce better results by removing doubt and allowing you to focus on the competition at hand.

Train hard, believe in yourself, and you will know that however you finish in either event, you prepared as well as you could have given resources and time.

Anonymous said...

I had similar goals for the 2005 Masters Worlds in Brazil. I made my plan a year in advance. I fell short of my goal but came close enough to feel the effort had been validated. If I were to make another such effort there would be some changes to the plan. . First, here is what was done:
I sailed late afternoons four days a week for nearly a year . Many of those days were a bust due to light air. Still, maintaining the discipline of splashing the boat was important.
I planned on more practice and fewer regattas. However, I wanted those few regattas to be high quality. Attended Midwinter’s West, ABYC Olympic class regatta and the Oday Finals.
Also attended one three day laser clinic with a two top notch coaches; so that one was on the water with us at all times. All eight attendees were planning on going to the Masters Worlds.
What would I do differently?
1] Sail some practice days in a venue that had the expected conditions. Long beach has great winds but they max out at 15 knots. Brazil was windier. I found myself hanging on rather than racing the boat.
2] Boat handling around the corners. Practicing boat handling is sheer drudgery but it is the most important path to meeting a mid fleet or a podium finish goal. A spin out or a flip costs you more places than any missed wind shift .
3] Regardless of the goal it is good to spend some time in practice sailing with someone who you believe is above the level of the goal you have made for yourself. As an example; if you wanted to win the Masters Worlds, sail with a top notch open Worlds sailor. You have to do this in practice because at a regatta the elite sailor is not going to stop and give you tips :]
4] Sail at least one big regatta that uses the trapezoid course. This type course requires a lot of buoys making it confusing. Adding to the confusion, there are often two races going on simultaneously using the same bouys; one group using an inner trap while the other uses an outer. It is good to get use to this chaos.
5] Finally, the most important thing is fitness. I tried to sail myself into shape. The challenge to this approach is that you really need to focus on good hiking form at all times. This is very difficult to self police. Hiking is painful and when sailing alone you tend to hunch and not get your shoulders out. Basically you end up in good shape to maintain bad form. Several people went the route of the personal trainer. I think their fitness level was higher with less time commitment .
So many thoughts going through my head about lessons learned . The above is just a thumb nail sketch .
. What a great journey you have embarked on . I am sure you will meet your goals.
Best Regards,

Anonymous said...

Tillerman, if there are any Blog rules regarding 'promotion', please delete my message, and accept my apologies.
At the age of 38 I decided to start racing the Lasers. I used to race 'Windsurfing' when One design classes were still around, until I was 23 years old. My goal was clear, practice enough to be a contender at the age of 45 for the Masters worlds.
Like many others I was searching for the way. Couldn't find it.
With the support of my wife we hired an elite coach, bought 15 Lasers, a coach boat and opened the Laser Training Center. Actually as owners of a windsurfing club in Cabarete, Dominican Republic since 1988, the "jump" was not too deep.
Some of the best Laser Open competitors trained here with us in the past 3 years, and more have booked for 2007.
Our coach is able to build the right program for every sailor, after a few days of sailing coaching in Cabarete.
Masters have to be fully committed, and be able to match Open sailors in some conditions for a good part of the course.
I will be 45 for the next Masters worlds. Will I be ready? Only if I race regularly in big fleets and traveling is quite an obstacle for me at the moment. More on Laser Training

Anonymous said...

I remember when Doug Peckover won the Masters Worlds back in the mid-90's, he knew that he would not be able to get a lot of good days on the water in the year proceeding the event. He focused on physical conditioning to be as strong and fit as possible, so that when his water time, and especially time spent at big regattas, came around, he did not have to worry about getting worn out during the event.

I think that it is all about balance. It may not be worth launching on those less than 5 knot days and spending time in the gym/hiking bench instead.

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