What I learned from my 32nd Ironman

1) It is possible to condense 6 months of Ironman training into 6 weeks:

You register for an Ironman with great intentions of training properly, allowing for a gradual mileage build up, with plenty of long rides and runs while still getting enough recovery. You even plan to put in more time in the pool, so that you can actually enjoy (and not dread) the swim. Then life gets in the way. Daughter goes study abroad and you go visit her during the summer. Son has a weeklong soccer tournament in Louisiana. Work gets busy, house needs repairs and more travel come up and suddenly the race it’s only a few weeks away. Sound familiar? Yeah, it was July and I felt completely unprepared for an early September Wisconsin Ironman. However, with a careful and almost reckless plan, I was able to do 6 months of training into roughly 6 weeks. With long rides on Sundays and Tuesdays, long runs on Saturdays, high intensity rides on Wednesdays and high intensity runs on Thursdays, and hard swims on Monday, I was able to get Ironman fit and fairly prepared for my race. Sure it was hard and painful, and I was tired all the time. I felt like I was constantly toeing that overtraining red line so it took some extra attention see that things didn’t break down. But if you have the motivation and the focus, the physical durability not to get injured, an understanding wife to put up with the chronic fatigue and lack of productivity on other aspects around the house, it can be done. At least this way the training time doesn’t drag for an entire year.

2) Recovery is key:

My good friend Wayne has a saying that goes something like this:”If my training goes according to plan, I will probably be injured by the time I get to the race!” If you’re going to train hard, and I mean really hard, getting injured as you attempt to complete the training is a real possibility (and therefore one that needs to be managed carefully so it can be avoided). So in living through the above (6 weeks training) successfully, I realized quickly that paying more attention to recovery would be crucial, especially now that I’m 50 years old. For me, the two things that had the biggest impact on facilitating a quicker and more complete recovery were recovery boots and recovery drinks.

Recovery boots, which provide graduated compression through air pressure in compartment inside a full leg boot, are now widely present in endurance sports and college athletics. They have come down in price significantly without substantially reducing the benefits. I have one of the cheapest models available and it worked wonders on my legs. After using the boots for 20-30 minutes the night before, my legs were noticeably fresher the next day workout. I had to take turns almost every night with my high school son who was playing club and high school soccer in order to use them but they definitely helped me stay physically sharp and more recovered during the high mileage weeks

Drinking a glass of Infinit Repair or one of chocolate milk every night was also astonished helpful. Yeah I’d seen the commercials and drank them occasionally. But being more diligent about drinking them after hard days helped me immensely. I’m sure that other specialty recovery drinks would have the same effect. The important point here is the focus on getting some of the right nutrients during the right time to assist with muscle and overall body recovery, and a recovery drink or a glass of chocolate milk is a convenient way to do it.

3) Train with friends when possible but don’t be afraid to go out alone:

We all know that training with friends is much more fun. However, this year all of my training partners were either injured or smarter than me, so they were training only for the short stuff. As a result, company on the long rides and runs was very limited. I did most of these workouts entirely by myself, which pretty much always meant the last half I would be alone. The first few times I kind of dreaded them, but eventually I learned to embrace them. It allowed me to work on pacing and on the mental and physical toughness that comes from grinding out endless miles alone. I actually felt like the long rides got easier and that there was a certain degree of satisfaction from being in complete control of the workout a pushing through those low spots. During the race, the benefits of all those solo relentless rides were obvious. I rarely had to look at my Garmin to see that I was hitting my goal wattage and when I got to the hills and headwinds of mile 80ish, I felt as strong and as in control as ever.

4) Trust your gut and test your equipment:

When doing an Ironman, one has to make numerous equipment choices. Some of these get oddly nerve-wracking as you approach the race. These include wheels, tires, helmet, wetsuit, apparel, etc. And many people tend to wait until the last weekend to figure these things out, only adding to the pre race stress and poor decision making. I learned that some things need to be addressed weeks before the race so that there is enough time to be tested. My aero helmet is a case in point. I don’t particularly like wearing aero helmet, especially one with a shield like mine (I like the flexibility offered by glasses). However, I have always felt like they are faster. So I started doing some research a few weeks before the race to see if the time gain offered by the aero helmet was worth the additional “discomfort”, privately hoping that it would point out that it wasn’t. To my dismay, after looking at published data and getting input from a friend who spends a lot of time in the wind tunnel, I decided that it was. Full aero helmet was the way to go if you want to go fast. Nevertheless, I still had an issue with the tinted shield that was too dark on rainy days and impacted my visibility. So I then researched again the benefits of wearing the aero helmet without the shield and came to the conclusion that my particular helmet was developed to be worn with the shield in order to get the full benefits. Once again not the conclusion I was hoping for. But the solution was not a complicated one: purchase a clear shield available aftermarket. Race day was rainy, dark and very overcast. The shield was the best spent $30 and after having ridden several times with the aero helmet, it no longer felt clunky and unfamiliar. The result was a fast ride with no visibility issues.

5) Red Bull Can Fuel a Marathon:

I’m not sure I would recommend this for everyone but it definitely worked for me. I have always liked the taste of Red Bull and have had one once in a while at country store fueling stops during my long rides. However, when the fatigue was setting in early on the run portion of Ironman Wisconsin, I had a cup of Red Bull and immediately felt better. The caffeine along with some calories and the welcoming taste were the boost that I needed. Two miles later, still nothing appealed to me except for another cup of Red Bull. The effect was pretty much the same. OK, I wasn’t breaking any speed records by then it was enough to keep me running. One of my rules at an Ironman is that if it’s working, go with it for as long as possible. 20 miles later I was still guzzling Red Bull. I must have had 15 (smallish) cups of Red Bull by the time I reached the finish line (and a couple of gus and a handful of pretzels). I haven’t had one since but I sure hope Red Bull is still a sponsor when I decide to do my next Ironman.

6) If you’re going to talk the talk you have to walk the walk once in a while:

Several weeks before the race I was really wondering whether I really wanted to do this (Ironman). What sounded like a good idea a year ago no longer sounded so appealing. Nevertheless, I decided to follow through with my plan and go for it anyway. Sometimes it’s good to go through the mental and physical challenge of such a difficult event to really truly appreciate its complexity and relive the satisfaction of completing it. It’s also good to occasionally be humbled by the length of the event and by other athletes out on the course. I’ve always said that I never wanted to be an ex-athlete, talking about how fast or how tough I used to be. So if I’m going to talk the talk (which sometimes I have to do in my business), I feel like I should also have to walk the walk with other fellow Ironman athletes from time to time.

Sandling Beach Formula 1 Sprint

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I raced Setup Events’ Sandling Beach Formula 1 sprint last weekend and had a blast!  I enjoyed the Old School Aquathon races put on by One Step Beyond and FS Series years ago, so I thought it would be fun to mix it up at the end of the season with something different again this year.  This race consisted of a 5 mile two-loop bike course inside the Sandling Beach Park, followed by an out and back 2k run, 500 meter open water swim, another 5 mile bike and 2k run, and then repeat the swim bike and run one more time (15 mile bike, 6k run and 1000 swim total).

The first bike was a self seeded time trial start, so I got near the front with Bri Gaal and several of my TMS-IOS teammates and headed out on the course a little after 9:00 am (the later start was really nice).  The course was only 2.5 miles long so there were lots of turns, a few hills and three speed bumps in each direction.    Despite these obstacles it was still possible to build some decent speed on the course.

The run was in the opposite direction from the bike course and started uphill, which made it even harder to adjust to running. However, it did have some flatter sections in the middle and a downhill finish!

The swim was nice but very shallow due to low water levels.  It was wetsuit legal (77 degrees I think), but since the swim was not first I don’t think anyone bothered to put on a wetsuit in transition.  The water actually felt perfect without a wetsuit.  It definitely felt different swimming after biking and running.  My arms felt like lead, and I felt like I was barely moving.  The shallow water certainly didn’t help.

Mentally, it was nice breaking up the bike,  run and swim into smaller chunks.  It was easier to focus on each section since they were short, even though there were 7 transitions!  It was also nice not having to worry about cars on the bike course.

I ended up 5th overall female, behind teammates Kelsey and Stephanie who were 1st and 3rd overall. Not bad considering the fact that it has been a very tough summer for me training wise.  Since turning 50 last year, I haven’t felt the same physically, and really struggled with my training in the humidity this summer, especially on the run.  However, now that the weather is finally starting to turn I am starting to feel more like myself and look forward to winter training, and hopefully a better racing season next summer!  This race also reminded me that racing in triathlons is fun, even when you’re not in the best shape.  I hope Setup Events will keep this race on the schedule for next year!

How can I get faster?

Hypothetical conversation:

Triathlete:   Hey Coach.  I’ve done all the basic things to improve my overall time.  I’ve worked on my swim technique, ridden more miles and hills, and done extensive running training including intervals & hill work.  What can I do to get faster?  

Coach:         Do you really want to know what else you can do?

Triathlete:  Yes.  Let me know and I’ll do it!!

Coach:         Get more sleep and lose some weight.

Triathlete:  No, I want to know what ELSE I can do to get faster & stronger!!!  

Ha, ha. It sounds funny but have you ever skipped over those ideas?

It seems we always want some magical technique or workout.   Or maybe just longer, harder workouts.   But when given such a simple thing as “Get more sleep & lose weight”, many triathletes just skip that.

If you are in that boat, I recommend you really think about that suggestion & reconsider.    After the 2018 season, I looked ahead to 2019 and saw some big goals.  I asked myself the same question and really thoughtfully considered getting more rest and losing some weight.  So I started in October of 2018 making sure my eating habits didn’t get out of whack at Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s Eve parties/holiday over-eating.   Not to say I didn’t eat SOME sweets and 2nd helpings at Thanksgiving but I really tried not to overdo it.  Smaller portions of desserts, more prudent choices of what to eat, etc.   My usual routine of gaining weight in the off-season only to have to work hard to lose it early in the following year was broken.   It really wasn’t that hard to do.  It just required a focus & commitment.    I saw the benefits in training and early races in 2019.    One training example:  My spring training includes a triple brick session.   I compared my triple brick stats from 2019 back to 2018.   In 2019, I weighed about 10 lbs less than the previous year and was 14 seconds/mile faster on round 2 (Zone 2) and 3 seconds  faster per mile on round 3 (Faster) with SAME heart rate!!   Your specific weight loss & run speed will vary, but all else being equal, you’ll be able to run faster and with less effort when you drop some weight!   So do it!! 

From a sleep standpoint, I was given a heart rate tool (WHOOP!) to test.   Only after using that was I clearly aware that I was getting only about 6 hours of sleep per night on average.   The Whoop! device has a sleep coach and it was recommending more sleep so I decided to try to get more sleep.  Now I’m averaging about 7 ½ hours of sleep per night.   This is a 25% improvement in sleep time from what I was averaging before.   Not only do I feel more rested, the workouts don’t seem as hard since I’m not as tired.   And as my coach says “Sleep is the best type of recovery you can get!”.   I think this has also made a difference in me not getting injured this year.   I have been doing more core/strengthening work so that has definitely helped, but I do think getting more sleep has an impact on how you feel, your attitude, how your body responds to training and how much it is ready to take on more strain.   So I would really encourage you to try to get more sleep.   You’ll see a difference and your family likely will too! 😊

So getting more sleep and losing weight is something anyone can do.  You just have to make a decision and DO IT!!   I highly recommend it as I’ve seen the results it’s had on my racing this year.  You won’t regret it and will enjoy the many benefits that come your way as a result.  Good Luck!!