As many of you know, I’ve been sidelined the past few years with various injuries which have made it difficult for me to run at full strength for quite some time. While I have a track background, distance running has not always been my passion. However, It’s interesting how much more we desire to do things when we are temporarily restricted from doing them- and running has been no different. The past few years, I’ve craved being able to run again pain free (and sometimes simply to run at all).
So as a result, these past several months I’ve been thinking alot about running- and why it’s such a great ‘go-to’ exercise. For all you runners out there, I may be preaching to the choir. But for those of you may be considering lacing up that pair of Nikes collecting dust in the closet and going out for a mile or two, let me give you some added incentive. Check out these 10 reasons to run:
1- Running is low maintenance. All it takes is a pair of shoes and off you go. Regardless of whether you travel for work every week to a different city or are a stay-at-home parent on carpool duty, you can run. Most gyms, hotels, and even apartment communities have treadmills so even if you’re not up for braving the elements, you can get in a great workout without all the fuss.
2- Running is effective. The average number of calories burned per hour running varies on the runner, but it is higher than swimming, cycling, walking, and many other aerobic activities. The factors involved include weight of the runner, intensity of the run (speed and terrain relative to fitness level), and a host of other factors. However, at 170 lbs I burn close to 1,000 calories per hour when I’m running at a moderate (tempo) pace. That’s a lot of calories!
3- Running actually FEELS good. Experienced runners often describe a runner’s “high” they perceive when running for longer distances. Because of the methodical nature of running, it produces a euphoric feeling associated with long, rhythmic, repetitive movements, according to Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise. In an article on WebMd, Bryant says that the methodical nature (not endorphin levels) are key to the runners “feeling good” while they run. Whatever the cause, you runners can all relate!
4- Running is a great way to enjoy your surroundings. Back in a former lifetime, I worked in sales which required me to spend lots of time on the road. While it was taxing in some ways, I love pulling out my running shoes and touring a new area via running trails, sidewalks, and city streets. It was very different than simply driving around a city - it was slower, easier to feel connected. When I decided to purchase a home, I picked potential neighborhoods and would run through them, checking out the schools, the traffic, and the other homes in the area. It was a great way to get the ‘feel’ of the community. Not to mention, running is an INCREDIBLE way to see the beauty of nature. Nothing beats running by the river as the sun slowly rises and mist lifts off into the air. It’s simply breathtaking!
5- Running gives variety to a workout. Contrary to popular belief, running isn’t all the same. I love to add variety to my workouts by adding trail runs, hill sprints, running drills, track work, and even running the stairs to my training (as well as my clients’). This provides a way to alleviate any boredom that may be associated with simply placing one foot in front of the other over and over again. Changing the speed, location, intensity, duration, frequency, and other variables provides endless possibilities for a good workout, especially when combined with strength training, body weight circuits, or stretching sessions.
6- Running is a springboard to other sports. Learning to run (properly) is a great way to build an athletic foundation. Almost all land sports involve at least a marginal amount of running. Learning proper running mechanics helps provide dexterity, coordination, stability, speed, and endurance which lays the groundwork for countless other sports. Whether running has a direct correlation in a sport (such as triathlon or soccer) or simply provide a ground work (think softball or wrestling), it’s a great way to hone skills that can pay dividends down the road.
7- Running helps clear the head. This may be more anecdotal that scientific, but when I’m stressed, have a lot on my mind, or am deliberating over a problem, I like to lace up and hit the road. It provides uninterrupted ‘me’ time when I can turn inward and either focus on the problem at hand, or simply clear my head and not think at all. Many times, when struggling to find the answer to a complex problem or issue, I take a run break and choose to focus on something completely different (the beautiful scenery, or a particular podcast or playlist, or simply meditate with no distractions) and upon returning my mind is ready to tackle the problem, and I find the solution much quicker.
8- Running is the a great way to commute. DC is the home arguably the greatest number of multitaskers in the country. And it is the undisputed home of the worst commute in America, according to the US Department of Transportation. So, some help alleviate the stress of the morning commute by running to work. With a little planning, commuters can both get in their exercise for the day as well as taking a chunk out of their commute time. While many consider their commute is too long to run, consider taking the bus, Uber, metro, or carpool only part way to work then run the rest of the way (which is usually the most traffic-laden) to the office.
9- Running is a great social outlet. In a big city, running groups are a dime a dozen. Whether they are large training groups organized by the local running store, or small informal groups of a few fitness-minded friends, running can be a great way to be social with a purpose. While running is many times a solitary endeavor, having a group or friend to keep you accountable can help ensure you meet your goals, whether that’s to finish a marathon, or simply get out and move a few days a week.
10- Running is healthy. No surprise here- sustained cardiovascular exercise has almost unlimited benefits - namely a longer life. According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, “compared with non-runners, runners had 30% and 45% lower adjusted risks of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality”. And that’s not all. Because of the impact force of running, runners are shown to have increased bone density which can be valuable to stave off bone-related issues like osteopenia and osteoporosis. Combine all that with the fact that runners have lower incidence of strokes and other heart issues may have you considering digging out those Nikes after all!
If that doesn’t at least get you THINKING about those Nikes in the closet, I don’t know what will! Give it a shot- take a few laps around the block and see how you feel. If nothing else, you’ll have got your heart rate up and taken a few steps closer to a happier, healthier you!
With increasing demands on our time, our gym time, pool time, or ride time suffers. And while some fitness stalwarts are able to adapt their schedules to still get in that all important workout, there are those who adopt the ‘all or nothing approach,” choosing to forego ANY workout if they can’t get their intended hour of gym time, or 8 mile run, or 20 mi ride in.
For example, I recently learned of the husband of a client, who really needs to get back into shape. A former athlete, he didn’t feel like the ‘time was right’ for him to start working out again because he “couldn’t give it 100%.” While the desire to give everything you have to an exercise routine is noble, at times it’s simply not practical.
If we adopt the “100%” rule 100% of the time, there may not be much exercise going on. Adapting a more measured approach can help us bridge the gap between doing nothing and going all out. That measured approach starts by remembering that something is better than nothing.
I’m not saying that all workouts should be replaced with abbreviated ones; to see results we all have to put in the time. Yet shorter workouts have some particular advantages when time is short. Here’s three reasons ‘something is better than nothing’ when it comes to fitness:
So, the next time time gets away from you, sharpen your focus, up the intensity, or simply just do what you can in the time you have. You’ll work up a good sweat AND check your fitness box for the day- both of which make you feel like you’ve accomplished something… which is always better than nothing!
“So, what’s the rule about exercise when you’re sick?” I can’t count the number of times I’m asked this question during the winter, when colds and flu abounds. Die hard runners are wanting to push through coughing fits to get in training mileage for upcoming races, triathletes have been know to swim a 50, then hang on the edge of the pool trying to recover as they suffer from the flu. And everyone gets a little grossed out by that one guy in the gym who seems to be coughing all over every piece of equipment he touches.
The same can be said for injury, and I hear this question all the time: “I’m hurt but still want to train- can I run anyway?” Just think of the runner who still has that high ankle sprain, yet insists she’s “Ok to tough out a recovery run” while literally limping along the trail. Or the triathlete trying to push through yet another bout of plantar fasciitis grimacing with every step.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a hard and fast rule. The answer to both questions really is, “It depends.” Not the answer that most want to hear. This conundrum is real: take too much time off, and risk loosing fitness you’ve worked so hard to gain. Take little (or NO) time off, continuing to train and risk the injury or illness taking too long to heal, and loosing fitness anyway. It’s not an easy answer. However, there are a few things to help narrow it down and ensure you’re able to keep maximum fitness, while allowing the body to fully recover.
But before working out the first questions I ask myself is “WHERE do I feel ill?” Ask yourself, “Does it hurt in just my head, or is it anywhere below?” Minor head colds, sinus pressure, etc. are usually ok to work though according to most medical professionals. In fact, getting the body moving helps to improve circulation and break up some sinus pressure. In addition, exercise releases ‘feel good’ endorphins, which contributes to feeling better after a workout when you’re feeling under the weather. However, major chest congestion, persistent sore throat, stomach pain, etc. signals that something more serious is going on and rest should be the goal for the day.
My second questions is: “Do I have a fever?” Most times, a fever indicates the body is already working overtime to fight against an illness of some nature. Overly taxing it with an additional expenditure of energy will almost certainly end poorly. Don’t risk even a “light” workout when you’re running a fever. Best to rest up and consult a Doctor.
Finally, I ask If I’ve got a cough. Coughing usually indicates that the respiratory system is compromised in some way. It could just be mild sinus drainage, or something more severe such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Either way, If I’m coughing, I don’t want to do anything that will tax my cardiorespiratory system in any way. I may switch the workout to some some very light traditional strength training, without any high-intensity bouts. However, more often than not, I choose the rest option.
Let’s say you’re ship shape with the immune system, but you rolled your ankle recently. Or have some IT band issues flaring up. Or you’re super sore from the weekend bootcamp, crossfit workout, or long run. Or maybe you’ve got some tennis elbow or plantar fasciitis. When do you lay off the workouts and when do you suck it up and push through? Again, the answer is the same as with illness: It depends.
For me, the injury question boils down to origin of the pain: If I can answer the questions, “How did this happen” and “where do I hurt”, I usually know what to do. If the condition is chronic, meaning this is something that flares up on a regular basis, such as nagging knee pain or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), then I usually continue with my workout regimen, but alter subsequent workouts as to allow for minimal impact on the affected area. For example, If my legs are super sore from a strength session, I will change my planned long run to a swim workout which engages the body aerobically, but limits direct impact on the legs. The increased circulation from the full-body movement helps pump oxygenated blood into the legs and helps remove toxins from the sore area. Usually in a day or two, I should be fine to resume my original training schedule.
However, if the injury is acute, rest (and an appointment with the PT or sports chiropractor) is usually the first course of action for me. For example, if while doing some speed work on the track, I feel a twinge in the hamstring followed by acute pain that does not abate, this is an signal telling me to stop as there is something acutely wrong, probably a muscle strain (pull or tear). Typically, an acute injury needs time to heal, in addition to rehab, so refraining from regular training impact on that particular area is best initially. In this example, I might stop running for a week or two, but under the supervision of a good PT, continue rehab work and moderate cycling and swimming.
As a general rule, anytime I exercise when I’m hurting or feeling sick, I always modify the workout, changing up duration, intensity, and/or volume to make the workout easier. If you’re going to train when you’re not feeling well, make sure to treat it like a recovery day. Sometimes that means taking the day off, and sometimes it just means slowing down a bit.
Have you ever had an important fitness goal you discovered you just weren’t going to reach? One TFE athlete made that discovery last weekend. By exercising 3 important principles - focus on what you can control, adapt your goal, focus on small victories - she turned what might be called a failure into an unexpected success.
Long-time TFE runner Theresa Helsel had planned the perfect race for a marathon PR. Her fitness was at peak levels. She’d chosen a flat race and fast course at the perfect location. The weather was to be cool and overcast. She’d prepared diligently, doing every workout in her training plan. Her form, fitness, and nutrition were dialed in. Her training runs indicated that she was on track not only to beat her PR, but to smash it.
A few days prior to the event, she saw the weather was going to be hot and she knew that her PR could be in jeopardy. She would have to alter her pacing and slow considerably to manage the effort in the heat. However, she came up with a plan to have her spectator friends provide additional bottles of fluids for her at certain places on the course. She couldn’t change the weather, but instead focused on what she could control - her hydration.
As she raced, she knew it wouldn’t be a PR day. Her splits started out a bit too fast for the conditions and she had to modify her pacing to adjust. The heat intensified, necessitating further adjustments to her pace. She kicked a curb while moving up onto a sidewalk and fell, skinning her hands and knees and tearing her race bib from her top. She had to stop to assess the damage to herself as well as reattach the bib (imagine trying to open and close tiny safety pins with sweaty, bloody hands). A PR was now out of the question. So, she changed her goal. She could have dropped out and saved her legs for another race. Many people would. However, she instead decided to keep moving forward and focused on racing strong for that particular day.
In the waning miles of the race, she ran steadily but was passed by several other women. Theresa reflected back on her training and the workouts she’d done in preparation for the event. While watching her competition pull further ahead, she drew strength from her past workouts, remembering those small mental and physical wins accomplished during training and up to that point in the race. She focused on those victories, which allowed her to find another gear, knowing that her legs were up to the task. She knew her training had conditioned her mind and body to push hard on tired legs. So that’s what she did. She dialed up the pace, and pushed hard to ultimately pass the pack of women just before the finish. Yet another small victory.
While the PR didn’t happen, Theresa managed to run her 4th fastest marathon ever. She ended up finishing as the 4th fastest woman overall and the top Master’s finisher. It was an epic day, but for different reasons than she’d hoped. Of the 22 marathons she’s run, including Boston and New York, she considers this race one of her best achievements. Buy focusing on what she could control, adapting her end goal, and staying motivated by small efforts, Theresa turned a struggling effort into into an incredibly rewarding one.
Maybe you haven’t run a marathon this year but you’ve lost a little steam on your health and fitness goals. A 2016 study by the University of Scranton show that 92% of people who set New Year’s goals don’t achieve them. Chances are you’ll fall into that 92% at some point in life. Too many people get sucked into a downward spiral of self doubt and demotivation once they decide they cannot reach their original goal. Like the friend who sticks with the super-restrictive fad diet for 23 days, then binges on pot stickers, Twinkies, and M&M’s after they realized they have inadvertently been eating something containing gluten. Or a pro athlete who drops out during the race after falling off the lead pack due to a mysterious ‘injury’. Your goal fail may be less extreme but no less demotivating.
If you want to stay motivated and engaged after a serious setback that put your original goal in serious jeopardy think of Theresa’s example. Focus on what you can control. Adapt your goal. Find your small victories to keep you going.
1) Focus on what you can control. Give it your best for the circumstances. Theresa’s bad weather race day is the perfect running example- If the weather for your ‘A’ race turns out to be terrible, do the best you can with what you’ve got and run as best you can for that day. If you walk away from the race having done your best for that particular day under those conditions, then mission accomplished.
2) Change the goal to keep moving forward. If your goal is to run the entire 10k, but you’ve started way too fast and are out of gas early on, change the goal to run in between every aid station. If your New Year’s resolution of daily workouts has gone off the rails, try shifting your objective to exercising twice on the weekend and once during the week. The real-world advice Rocky gave his son holds true here: “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward!” Keep moving forward with your goals. Alter them, stretch them, move them. But keep moving forward.
3) Stay motivated by small victories. While quitting is sometimes the right thing to do (check out a post about quitting here) it is usually better to reevaluate what has gotten you to this point. Take an inventory of what you’ve already accomplished in the process of striving to meet your goal is a great way to stay motivated. Remember your victories and reframe your perspective from a negative one into a positive one. A positive shift in mindset can help keep your engine firing: the five pounds lost or the energy gained even with an imperfect gym attendance can remind you not to give up.
Most of us have ambitious goals that we don’t achieve quite as we envision them. Using these three principles, we can keep ourselves motivated and keep getting faster and stronger and healthier.
I just returned from a long Thanksgiving Holiday, replete with an overabundance of long flights, friends and family, and of course FOOD. Even for me, it was tough to keep up a healthy nutrition regimen. Speaking of nutrition, the’ holiday calorie carousel’ is starting to spin. Work parties, family dinners, holiday happy hours, and sweet treats can pose a serious threat to our waistlines. In fact, most Americans gain 1-2 lbs over the Holiday season. That may not sound like a lot, until you factor in 1-2 lbs EVERY holiday season- for LIFE! And remember, 1-2 lbs is an average- there are many that put on far more than just a few pounds. Regardless of where you fall in the range, no one wants to add on any extra around the middle.
Over the last several days I’ve talked to several clients about this very thing- trying to avoid weight gain during the Holidays. So, to avoid repeating myself every time, I’ve listed out a few ideas on how to avoid packing on the pounds when you’re out at parties, get togethers, and holiday work events. Here’s 5 tips that can help tip the scales in your favor when it comes to avoiding the Holiday bulge:
1) Eat before you go out. Never show up to a holiday soiree on an empty stomach! Having a healthy snack, high in protein, will help curb the desire to munch on whatever gets presented to you at the party. Eating at home will allow you to control exactly what you take in, allowing you to know how much wiggle room you’ve got when it comes to party sacks.
2) Drink only water. Juices, soda, and alcohol all pack a high-calorie punch. Alcohol has a whopping 7 calories per gram (.03 oz.) per serving, and juices and soda contain up to 48 grams of sugar. Even diet soda contains artificial chemicals that can indirectly add on the pounds. The kidneys and liver have a hard time metabolizing these artificial chemicals, which tricks the body into storing the unrecognizable substance as fat. Drinking water is by far your best bet, but if you absolutely need a drink, one a? night is a good target.
3) Be careful with the hors d'oeuvres. Those tasty treats are often high in calories (think fried calamari, bacon wrapped dates, or cocktail meatballs swimming in BBQ sauce.) Take a look before you dive right in. Plan out which ones are worth the calories and then stick to just one or two. If you're going to indulge, make sure you have a few items from the veggie tray as well- veggies contain fiber, which both aids in digestion and helps slow sugar absorption.
4) Partner up. Both Hillary Clinton and Benito Mussolini used the slogan, “Stronger Together”. Well, that saying is relevant during political campaigns, fascist dictatorships, AND holiday parties. Before holiday hitting the party circuit, make a pact with your plus one to stick to the game plan. Having someone to be accountable to goes a long way in helping you stay motivated and on track. Your significant other will also appreciate you helping them avoid the bulge as well.
5) Don’t be obsessive. After all, it is the Holidays. The occasional sugar cookie, cup of eggnog, or glass of champagne should not derail your efforts to stay healthy during the holiday season. Give yourself a break, and remember this is a time for celebration. So celebrate. Don’t get so preoccupied with your nutrition game plan that you forget the reason for the season. If you fall off the bandwagon (or hayride;) all isn’t lost. Just get back on- reset and refocus and you’ll be fine.
There you have it. Not rocket science by any stretch, but good reminders to help you keep that waistline in check during the next several weeks of Holiday festivities. Eat before leaving, water only, watch the hors d'oeuvres, partner up, and don’t obsess. Enjoy this wonderful time of year! Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, stay well this Holiday Season!
During our last phone call prior to her first Ironman, I asked Marnie, my client to share with me her biggest take-away in her Ironman journey. She restated to me something I’d told her when she first decided to race Ironman; that all the training, the nutrition, the recovery, the strength training, was all part of the process of becoming an Ironman. Marnie had realized that becoming Ironman isn’t an outcome, it’s a process.
This process-based approach was helpful for Marnie to remember during her training. It was the process of enduring thousands of training hours, in step by step succession, that made her an Ironman. And while hearing the words “You are an Ironman” signal the end of that journey, the entire process is what got her there.
In the same way, a process-based approach can set us up for success in all fitness ventures, whether that be a race goal or a weight-loss one. So many times, we take the opposite approach in fitness- we look to lose 20 pounds by a certain date, no matter what the cost. Or, we focus all our energies around being on the podium for a particular event. Or maybe our goals in the weight room revolve around the ever popular question, “ How much can you bench?”
While these goals in and of themselves may not be necessarily bad, if we focus our energies around the outcome, and not the process, we can wind up making poor fitness decisions and not achieve our desired results. However, with a process- based approach, we can better manage our efforts. Here are three of my favorites benefits to taking this approach:
So, whatever your fitness goals, take a process-driven approach to achieving them. In the end, you’ll be better equipped to set manageable expectations, have a more productive focus, and minimize energy wasted on things outside of your control. Whether you’re racing an Ironman, running your first 5k, or just trying to drop a few pounds, success is found in the process, not the outcome. Not sure if that’s the case? Just ask Marnie.
I recently had the incredible opportunity to meet with some of the best coaches in the fitness industry at the Endurance Coaching Summit in Boulder, Co. earlier this month. It was a two and a half days packed full of incredible information about everything endurance fitness related; from cutting edge technology, to the latest and greatest from the world of performance nutrition, to what the best in the business do to motivate, inspire, and develop their athletes. Of course, the goal of the entire conference (and every coach and fitness professional there) was to find out how best to improve performance in their athletes. Seasoned athletes and weekend warriors alike want to get the best out of themselves and perform up to their potential, whether that means qualifying for the world championships, or simply giving their best effort in the gym twice a week. We all want to see positive results. We want to see improvement.
So, while attending the conference and listening to some of the best fitness minds in the world, I was hoping to find some nugget, some silver bullet, or take-away that would be the end all be all to help others improve their performance. And I found it...sort of.
After listening to 22 of some of the most accomplished coaches and athletes in the endurance world cover all sorts of topics, from nutrition to technique mastery to coaching theory to performance psychology, there was one salient theme that resounded: DO WHAT WORKS FOR YOU.
Some might think, “Wait a minute! That’s it?! That’s all?’Do what works for you!?!?’ What does that even mean?!” That’s a fair question. The answer is simple: there is no ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to fitness or to exceptional performances. There is no ‘best’ approach to nutrition, diet, measurement, periodization schedule or any other aspect of fitness.
A prime example was related by legendary 6-time Ironman World Champion and master endurance coach Dave Scott as he gave his keynote address at the summit. He spoke about having coached both 3-time Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander, AND undefeated (14-0) Ironman phenom and 4-time World Champion Chrissie Wellington. Having the same coach, one might think that each of these two multiple-time world champions would have a similar approach to training and racing. As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. Chrissie trained and raced by feel. And clearly it worked for her, remaining undefeated in her career at the Ironman distance. She didn’t watch her heart rate, her wattage on the bike, or any of the many other metrics that other coaches and athletes use to calculate performance over time. However, Craig Alexander was the polar opposite, pouring over every piece of data he could gather, paying attention to every calorie, watt, and heartbeat to ensure his optimal race performance. Yet both were career world champions and dominated their competition. Over the years, they had each found a winning formula that worked for them, yet those formulas were nothing alike.
Over the course of the conference, we heard case studies about high carb vs low carb diets, arguments for and against different training techniques, and debates around why or why not to use different coaching metrics. The reasons for each approach were all compelling and certainly had their merits, yet my takeaway was simply that everyone is different- and my role as a coach is to help people figure out what works for them. So, here are a 3 keys to help figure out YOUR best approach to fitness goals:
I’ve been thinking a lot about running as of late. Maybe it’s because race season is here. Or because after 2 years I’m finally back to full running workouts again. Or possibly it’s the my recent run in rural PA, where I enjoyed a run on some good old country roads. But most likely, it’s because I’ve been working with a few novice runners, who are just getting into the sport, and have some fairly lofty goals. I’ve had several conversations with them about injuries. And while they are novices, even experienced runners get hurt. In fact the injury rate for runners is an astounding 70%. Yikes! That’s more than football! Because of running’s repetitive nature and high impact forces, running can be as harsh on the body as it can be soothing to the soul.
So, how do you protect the feet, knees, hips, and back? How do we stave off injury? While nothing can guarantee you’ll avoid the injury bug, here are 4 keys to ensure you remain as healthy as possible when hitting the pavement or trail.
Using these tips, you can hopefully avoid that injury bug. Remember to build gradually, use a structured plan, practice good mechanics, hit the gym for strength training, and listen to your body. Need help figuring all that out? I’ve got a few ideas- reach out to me and we can get you dialed in. But in the meantime, happy running!
Well, it’s Ironman training season again! Whether you’re doing the 70.3 distance or the full 140.6, (or know someone who is) it’s a pretty daunting undertaking and will require an enormous amount of time, energy, and mental stamina. Earlier in the month, I was speaking with one of my soon-to-be first time Iron-distance triathletes about some challenges to expect and obstacles to face during her journey toward becoming an Ironman. So, I thought I’d share them with you - and whether you’re training for your first Ironman, or your 10th, here are a few tips to remember along the way to get the most out of your long-course race experience:
1) Even if the rest of the weekly workouts don't fall into place, don't skip the long ride and long run. They are the foundation of the training plan and your race strategy. They build fitness and confidence, so don't skip them. Even if the rest of the training week falls apart, carve out the time for the long ride and run.
2) Something is better than nothing. Life will get crazy and you'll have to skip workouts and alter things. Get creative - if you can't do a 3 hr ride on a sat morning, ride for an hour on the trainer before the sun comes up, then jump back on after dark to add on a few more miles. Can't swim 3000k due to time? Do 1800 but with perfect form.
3) Get buy in from your support system. Sit down with your family, friends, and co workers to discuss your goals, the commitment and sacrifice this will require of you and of them. Don't skip this step! It will be very important to get them involved. Ask early on if they are willing to be there race day, and/or if they can help you to reach your goal.
4) Nutrition, recovery, and strength work are critical to your success race day. Each of these could be separate bullet points and are huge components of keeping you injury free. Long course training beats your body down in a way you've never experienced before- it's critical to recharge. Making sure you're eating enough calories, sleeping enough, and doing your strength training work will ensure you make it to the starting line, which is WAY more difficult than getting to the finish line! Take naps during the day, do lunges in the kitchen while preparing dinner, or stretch and foam roll on the bathroom floor while supervising the kid’s bath time.
5) You've got to go slow to get fast. Stick to the training heart rate and power zones prescribed. If it's a recovery run or easy spin, resist the temptation to go faster. Your body needs time to 1) recover adequately from previous workouts, and 2) and/or to adapt to allow you to become very efficient at utilizing oxygen and fat as fuel. Don't worry about your long runs starting slow as your heart rate stays in the prescribed zones. In time, you will be able to run faster and still keep the HR low.
6) Be mindful of weather. Heat and humidity will require you to slow down and hydrate more. Adjust your workout and race expectations accordingly. Take solace that everyone will be doing so on race day- but if you've learned to do it during training, you'll know your sweat rate, caloric needs, and proper equipment that works for you in the heat. Your heart rate will get higher (cardiac drift) over the course of the workout, but with experience you'll know how far/hard to push and when to back off.
7) Invest in yourself. Ironman training is not cheap! Race entry fees alone are astronomical. So when deliberating how much to spend and on what, remember to invest in things that will give the most bang for the buck on race day. Some examples: a good training plan/working w a coach; proper fuel/hydration (find out what works for you via trial and error); massage/chiropractic as needed to keep you healthy; good running shoes for you (make sure to track mileage and change them out as needed); aerobars (if you're using a road bike); a bike fitting (will keep you healthy on the bike optimize your aero position); an aero helmet (other than aero bars, the biggest bang for your buck in terms of time saved during the ride).
8) Full ironman racing/ training is exponentially harder than 70.3 racing/training; and 70.3 racing is exponentially harder than Olympic-distance racing. Think of it as 3x as hard- and treat it with the same respect! With the shorter distances, you can cut some corners, skip long runs, shorten the bike rides, and gut it out on race day. This is much tougher to do with long-course events. So, have that mindset going in. Be prepared to suffer. Long course racing is not easy, otherwise everyone would do it. But that's what makes it awesome!
9) Don't try anything new on race day that you haven't tried before. At the race expo or in talking w fellow triathletes, you'll hear about a new fuel or gadget or technique that he or she has tried which gives them amazing results. That may be their experience but that doesn't mean it will give you the same results. I had an athlete end up in the ER instead of on the podium because he borrowed some goggle spray from an athlete just prior to starting the swim- it burned both his corneas. Race day isn't the time or place to try something new.
10) Enjoy the journey. Your race is a celebration of an incredible journey you will have accomplished. Getting to the start line prepared is a MONUMENTAL task. Hundreds of hours will have gone into this one day- make sure you enjoy the process and the day. While many times it doesn't feel like a wonderful experience to wake up at 4:45 to swim 3,000 yds and then do a 90 min run, remember that you are becoming an "Ironman" on a daily basis- it is not a singular event. While you may cross the finish line on your race day to make it official, “Ironmen” (and Ironwomen) are made on Tuesday mornings at the pool, and Friday evenings lifting at the gym, or Sunday afternoons running in the heat, not only when you cross the finish line. Enjoy the process of becoming, and enjoy the reward of making it to the start and (finish) lines.
So, those of you who are making the leap to long-course racing this year, enjoy the journey. And remember these few tips that will help you stay on track and get the most out of your long-course experience!
Of the hundreds of events I’ve competed in, I’ve dropped out of a race exactly one time. Only once. I had traveled west to race the Utah Half, a half-iron distance triathlon. I was racing in my own backyard in front of my family and friends and I knew this course well! My fitness level was at an all-time high, and this was a tune up event prior to racing as a guide for my friend and blind triathlete Richard Hunter in Ironman Florida. I was ready. I was fit. I was confident. I was certain I’d make it onto the podium, and bask in the accolades and cheers of family and friends...but it sure didn’t work out that way. A lower back disc issue flared up during the bike ride and caused me to slow to a literal crawl on the run. Rather than risk further injury and jeopardize the chance to guide Richard , I dropped out. All that work. All that time. All that money. All wasted. I didn’t even finish! I hung my head in shame as I limped back to my bewildered friends and family.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we are unable to achieve the goals we set out for. Whether that means falling short on race day, being unable to toe the line at the race we’ve dreamed of completing, or simply failing to get in all our weekly workouts, failure is a part of fitness and especially endurance racing. We’ve all heard that failing makes us stronger, that unfinished business on race day is a great motivator. Still, in the moment, we feel the sting of missed opportunity, the frustration of seemingly wasted time, energy, and money, and the heartache of coming up short. So, when those inevitable painful moments happen, how do we keep moving forward?
As we consider failed objectives, and dashed hopes, and unfulfilled expectations, I find it helpful to remember two key points to help us maintain perspective, keep motivated, and become stronger when we experience race-day or season-ending failure.
First, remember that “Not today” is different than “not ever.”
As “type-A” triathletes and runners, most of us see stopping a workout or dropping out of a race as giving up and being weak. However, making the strategic decision to stop, even when it means not meeting your immediate goals is a sign of strength, not weakness. And it does not mean that you won’t crush it next race, next year, or even the year after that.
Knowing when to slow down during a race to allow fluids to rehydrate, halting a training regimen for a week to avoid burnout, altering season goals to allow an injury to heal, or dropping out when you just want to finish, takes an enormous amount of mental and emotional strength. It shows maturity and long-range vision. When continuing the current course of action jeopardizes long-term success, stopping the race, the training, or the season shows wisdom, not weakness. “Not today”, is quite different than “not ever.” Keeping that perspective is a vital part of being a seasoned, savvy athlete, as well as a normal functioning human being. That same perspective is what allows you to learn from your mistakes, and come back stronger, faster, and better.
After you have dropped out of an event, cut a season short, or experienced similar setbacks, what then? This is my second point - you learn from it: “Race-day success is seldom achieved without race-day failure”.
A life-time ago, I learned this valuable lesson from my seasoned pole-vault coach. He taught me to learn from my failures - that they are essential tools to build our ultimate success. And unlike in triathlon or running, failure comes in spades in the pole vault. After all, the bar goes higher and higher until you fail to clear the bar- in most cases, even the eventual champion will FAIL on his or her last jump. It’s essential to learn from our failures- in the pole vault, failure came frequently. It was easy to learn what I needed to do differently to have success. But by figuring out what I was doing wrong, I could learn what do to do right. Thomas Edison is a great example of having this perspective when he said about the difficulties in perfecting the light bulb, “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways it won’t work.”
With endurance sports, we have to learn from our setbacks as well. If we don’t take the time to analyze what went wrong, we miss the opportunity to improve. This sounds easy enough, but taking the time to write out the specifics of our failures can be a sobering process. Yet it allows us to better address our weakness and improve during the next event. Maybe it’s re assessing our nutrition or hydration strategy. Or it could be looking at our rest and taper leading up to our race. Or possibly we recognize a deficiency in developed a sufficient base which lead to injury. Take the time to go through this process. Work with a coach (or an experienced veteran in your sport) who can give objective feedback and help you identify possible areas of improvement.
Since that ill-fated race day years ago, I’ve gone on to make the podium at that very same race. My time on that course had improved by over 30 minutes, and I have become a much stronger triathlete. Yet this process is a continual one. Currently I’ve made the difficult decision to take 2 seasons off to let my body heal completely after an accident and injury. Painful as it is, by choosing to delay the immediate satisfaction of race-day accomplishment, I will gain the long-term benefit of becoming a faster, stronger, and ultimately more successful triathlete. And so will you.
So, be wise in your racing and training. Remember these two nuggets of wisdom: “not today doesn’t mean not ever”, and “race-day success is seldom achieved without race-day failure”. By knowing when to quit, we can learn from our mistakes and weaknesses and become better in the long-run. While we never want to fail, sometimes sitting out, stepping back, and reevaluating is the right move to make. Sometimes, “quit happens” for a reason.