Ironman Training: Avoiding Rookie Mistakes
In case you missed it, we’re doing an Ironman in Whistler, BC, at the end of July. This isn’t my first rodeo, but I have really, really high hopes that this time around will go a whole lot smoother. As it gets closer, I’ve been steadily ramping up training, hitting some time/sickness/travel roadblocks on the way but generally trending in the right direction. And reflecting on where I was at this point the year I did it last time, it’s pretty amazing how different it is.
So, let’s talk about how my training is different, and why that matters.
I’m not overtrained
This is a photo of me deep in training for my first race. (I was also racing on the road with my collegiate team most weekends.) You might notice how puffy my face looks. The rest of me looked the same way: I was pretty much always puffy, always inflamed, and always uncomfortable. It took years to get over the damage I did to myself—I would walk with a cane thanks to insane DOMS, then hobble to the pool to do laps or aquajog when it hurt too much to run outside.
In short, I was a wreck (even though I had the best pit crew in the world: note my dad in the photo helping me set up my trainer). Now, I use things like HRV to keep better track of my recovery, I listen to my body, and I’m a lot more honest about what I have time and energy to do. It also helps that I have an excellent coach 😉
I’m eating A LOT better
I was a vegan when I made my first foray into Ironman. I will first say that there is NOTHING wrong with being vegan: in fact, in Fuel Your Ride, I interviewed Mo Bruno Roy as one of my top pros, and she’s vegan. The difference, though, is that I was a terrible vegan. I ate a ton of junk food. I ate almost entirely carbs, and not the veggie kind. I drank A LOT of Mountain Dew (for real). Basically, my nutrition was a nightmare. And looking back, I had a serious problem of constantly going in and out of high calorie, low calorie. I won’t say I had any kind of eating disorder, but I was really stupid. I’d save up calories and binge like crazy with massive calorie-laden dinners, i.e. half of a large pizza plus a soda plus ice cream. Ummm, what?! (I also recall thinking a healthy smoothie was fat-free vanilla yogurt, mango puree, and—swear to God—white sugar. WTF.)
So yeah. It isn’t hard to improve on that. Lots more veggies, fruit and protein in my diet. I don’t really drink soda anymore. I still have a sweet tooth, but I balance it with eating reasonably 80 percent of the time (or more, depending on the day). And I actually drink water now.
Oh, and I’m eating A LOT better in training
Did I mention I didn’t eat on the bike, or on the run, pretty much ever? I remember a 20 mile training run on 4 ounces of water at one point. And that was a run where my dad was riding beside me with a full basket of food and water!!
Now, I actually eat and drink on rides and runs. I can still improve—and I will in these next couple months as we get closer to race day. Every day, I’m putting more effort into making sure I take in what I need to—heh, heh—fuel my ride.
With all of that said, I did finish the race the first time around. It wasn’t pretty towards the end, but I did make it. However, this year, I have much higher expectations of myself: I think I’ll see a major time improvement thanks to not being overtrained and being properly fueled, but more important, I think I’ll walk away from it and not need to take two years to recover!
I’m better prepared, gear-wise
The honest truth is when I raced my first Ironman, it was in a cheap children’s bathing suit and $10 goggles, on the lowest-end triathlon bike that is made, with very little budget for proper ride nutrition before and during the race. I definitely wasn’t spending money on protein powder or recovery, either. I raced in a sleeveless Rutgers Cycling jersey and trishorts, neither of which fit, but both of which were under $25, and bargain basement shoes. I ran in a tshirt that I wrote RUCX on the night before, in tight black shorts from Walmart and a bandana around my head. I was Punk As F. And I still absolutely don’t believe that the gear makes the racer… But I think there’s going to be an improvement now that I have a good road bike (with clip-ons) rather than that cheap, kinda crappy bike. I have running shoes that fit me well. I have clothing designed for the sport that I’m doing, that fits properly. And now that I’m out of college and in the working world, I can actually afford the right recovery and ride foods. I sincerely think Ironman can be done on a budget, and I’m certainly not doing it like a baller (again, no triathlon bike!), but it is nice to not be pinching pennies getting ready for it.
Since that time, I’ve learned that for me—and for my readers and people I consult with—I’m all about getting great results and pushing ourselves to our limits. But I believe that it has to be done through the lens of wellness. From training to food to mental and emotional stress surrounding our racing and our lives, if we’re not balanced, happy human beings, we’re not going to perform at our best.
I’m all about the hard work that it takes to achieve my goals in all aspects of my life: but that’s just it. I have goals that stretch way beyond Ironman, and this time, I’m not going to get caught up in that one, singular finish line.