No, there isn’t an ironman in the cards for 2015 (ironman is certainly not going to be an annual occurrence for this body!), but in reflecting on 2014 and seeing so many of you start ironman training (yay!), I started to think about my ironman journey and what went well and areas I would improve if there is a next time. If there is one overall theme, I think it’s:
You’ve heard this before and it might be cliche, but really, it will go by so fast. You will miss the post-workout exhausted, endorhpin-high feeling and the excitement of reviewing a new week of your training plan before you know it!
Okay, on to the training-related tips. First, I don’t consider myself fast or an extraordinary triathlete, but I did feel successful [for me] in my journey to ironman. I set out to accomplish an ironman feeling strong and racing smart, and I exceeded my own expectations. It took a lot of work for this girl that was scared of a 300m OWS and ran at an 11-minute pace (back in 2009/2010) to build up to an ironman. With that here are a few thoughts you can take or leave; keep in mind these are just what worked for me and may not be right for everyone:
1) Consider getting a coach. I know it’s not in the cards for everyone and it is expensive, but the guidance of the right coach is probably the single most effective thing to improve your performance. It will cost you money, but it will save you TIME. (for me, time>$) He or she may have options for you other than customized training (I used a pre-built plan for my 2013 half ironman training prior to ironman). A smart coach (like mine!) can help you get the most efficient workouts in the least amount of time, and make sure you are taking time for recovery and not overworking yourself. This is very valuable if you like to have any sort of life, career, or relationships outside of ironman. Plus, where did I learned the below philosophies/tips from? An experienced coach, of course.
2) Get faster and stronger before going longer, i.e. INTERVALS. Yep, shorter, harder efforts. Being a lover of endurance cycling and 100 mile rides, this was hard for me to get used to. And BOY, did those short, harder workouts kick my butt. In the end, I only did two long runs of 15 and 17 miles during my ironman training and only two rides of 100 miles or greater. No junk miles. By the time I got through all the harder, shorter workouts, going long at an easier effort was a piece of cake. Intervals also help to split things up mentally. Check out how I used mind tricks during intervals for a big training weekend here.
3) Dial in your nutrition and fuel BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER all workouts. Find what works for your gut. I noticed my performance and recovery was much improved after I found out what worked for me, which was: pre-workout snack of wasa crackers or rice cake with nut butter & toppings, infinit liquid nutrition during workouts (with the occasional bites of solid food as needed), and a small protein-rich snack after the workout followed by a larger carb/protein meal in the next hour.
Examples of pre-workout snacks (go lighter or heavier depending on the workout):
Post-workout was usually a quick Horizons milk carton for shorter workouts or for longer ones maybe a coconut water mixed with choc protein powder and bites of a bar – eaten immediately after
The I had a “real meal” within an hour. If at work, overnight oats + whey + toppings was standard. If I had time at home, protein pancakes, stir fry, or veg omelets were delicious, easy to make choices!
4) Don’t be afraid to use walk breaks during your runs. Walking is NOT failure, it is fighting fatigue. I am a big time convert. I never used to walk for fear of not being able to start running again. With a plan and an interval lap on your watch you will look forward to walk breaks and find them to be refreshing. I can’t tell you how many fit-looking individuals I passed as they were walking during the last lap of IMTX, while I stuck to my run and walk at the aid stations strategy. To see a run-walk strategy I used during a shorter 10-mile race, check out my Ten for Texas post.
5) Don’t forget recovery! I grew to love Mondays (unlike the rest of the world) because they were my rest day – I would go to bed early and sleep in as long as could be permitted before work – i.e. no morning workouts. Sleep is probably the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to recovery; I usually calculated backwards to check I’d get 7-8 hours each night. I also tried to keep up with my foam rolling, stretching, Epsom salt baths, but these were often harder to make time for; you can always put your yoga mat in front of the TV for stretching though! I also didn’t sign up for a bunch of races during my peak ironman training; I knew the recovery from a race takes time, and I don’t believe in the philosophy of using a race as “training”. Plus, races are expensive! Back to tip #1, a good coach can help you plan your season.
Bonus Tip: Get yourself to a pool (for the non-swimmers like me). Lots. I really wondered why I had so many 3,000 to 4,000+ yard swims 3x per week, but it really set me up well for a good and relatively smooth IM swim. My belief is that there is not much you can do to get better in the water except spend more time in the water and be very patient. IT TAKES SO MUCH PATIENCE. Plus, I could push hard in the pool and be at low risk for injury, unlike in running/biking, so I feel it greatly improved my cardiovascular fitness.
What are your biggest tips for endurance events? What did I forget? Happy training!