I am overdue for some posts! I have three product reviews on some yummy products that I want to tell you about and I also have some other ideas floating around in my mind for post topics. But, after spending a few hours on the phone last night with one of my triathlete friends, I wanted to make sure I sat down and wrote a post about this lifestyle choice of ours as it seems to be the most relevant at the moment. (It turns out this is a long post but I think it has some good points. I hope you enjoy!)
I’m also going to say one more quick thing about the importance of taking the medications your doctor prescribes for you. Up until a few weeks ago I didn’t even realize all the important things a properly functioning thyroid did for you. But boy did I see a difference once I started taking the medication again. I had no idea that an improperly functioning thyroid could affect your emotions as much as it did. Physically, mentally and emotionally I feel 100x better. Phew! (I added this paragraph as a segue to the next part of my post because as many of you may have saw or read, I certainly wasn’t sounding so positive or upbeat about triathlon, Ironman or life in general a few weeks ago and I certainly wasn’t someone who should be giving their words of wisdom on the lifestyle of a triathlete).
As with all of life, I’ve come to realize that triathlon (or any endurance sport) is a learning experience; it’s something that becomes ingrained in your life as opposed to a hobby that you do when you feel like it. The friend with whom I was speaking last night is training for her first long endurance event and is having a hard time with the hobby to lifestyle adjustment. It wasn’t until she and I were talking that I realized how much I’ve learned and how much I’ve changed things in my life as a result of triathlon. While I’m certainly no expert and I am far from executing a plan perfectly, I thought I share some of the “wisdom” I learned over the past few years and shared with my friend last night.
Have a reason why you want to reach this goal – We’ve all heard this advice hundreds of times, but it’s usually followed by someone saying how they’re training to raise money for a charity or they are racing for a friend or family member who can’t. These are great reasons to race and I wish I was that altruistic about why I was training for Ironman. My reasons are 100% selfish and I’m finally okay with saying that. I’m doing this training because I want to; I want to see what I can accomplish; I want to push myself; I want to learn about myself; I want to be healthy and happy. It doesn’t matter what reasons you have for wanting to do this sport and you don’t have to share them with anyone, just don’t lose sight of them. There will be plenty of mornings (especially cold WI winter mornings) when staying in your warm bed sounds so much more exciting than going to the gym to swim. This will be the time to think about all of those reasons you decided you really wanted to do this training.
It’s okay to miss a workout or two – When I was training for my half-Ironman last year I was using a plan I found online. It was two workouts a day, six days a week for six months. It may have not been the best plan for me to follow, but it got me across the finish line. I didn’t do every single swim, bike or run workout in the plan but I still reached my goal. I am a type-A person in so many ways and at first I freaked out when I missed a workout because of work or if I cut a workout short because I physically couldn’t get through it (Ok, I still freak out sometimes). In so many ways triathlon has to become a huge part of your life to reach these lofty goals, but if it becomes your entire life it will no longer be fun.
I didn’t do 100% of my workouts last year and I know I won’t do 100% of my workouts this year. When I come up against a time when I find myself deciding to do a workout or not, I’ve started asking myself this question – “Am I being lazy and making excuses or is there a legitimate reason (work, friends, family, exhaustion) why I can’t get this workout done?” If I decide there is a legitimate reason then I let it go and stop obsessing about the missed workout. It’s not the end of the world. If I decide that I’m being lazy or making excuses than I ask myself a second question – “Are you ok with knowing that you didn’t do this workout simply because you were lazy?” And honestly, every once and a while the answer to that question is yes. Some days I just don’t want to do the workout. I know sitting on the couch or sleeping in is not going to help me reach my goals. If I think about all the reason why I chose this goal and sitting on the couch still sounds like the best decision, then I tell myself I’ve made that choice and I move on. Nine times out of 10 if it’s a goal you really want to reach being lazy is not going to be the acceptable alternative. On the rare occasion that it becomes the choice you pick, just remember that it was your choice and stop feeling guilty about it. Enjoy the time you’re spending not working out. (And if you’re still feeling guilty in 10 min get off the couch and do the workout).
Listen to your body – This ties in with realizing you don’t have to do every workout on your training plan. A few years ago I got to the point where my doctor had to tell me to stop working out because I was over-exercising. I wasn’t listening to my body or fueling it properly. My body was stressed to the point of exhaustion. There were days when I felt so weak I couldn’t even stand up long enough to take a shower. It has taken me a really long time to get the hang of this (and I still don’t do it all the time) but it’s important to know when your body is telling you it needs a break. Recovery is just as important as the swimming, biking and running. Go back and ask yourself the “Am I just being lazy” question if you’re not sure what your body is telling you.
I was in the pool a few weeks ago (when I was dealing with all of the thyroid issues) and I literally could not get through the workout. I was swimming some of the slowest laps in the world and my body would not move any faster. I had a mental conversation with myself for about 100 yards trying to decide if I should finish the workout or not. I finally asked myself if I was being lazy and looking for excuses not to workout or if my body really just needed the extra rest. I was already in the pool, my hair was already wet, I was going to need to take a shower either way so it would have been just as easy to stay in the pool but I decided for that workout my body really wasn’t going to finish the workout. I think this is a hard thing for endurance athletes to decide because in the back of our minds we know our goal race is not going to be easy; we will have to push ourselves to get through it and getting through the tough workouts is what makes us stronger. I completely agree with this and it this crosses my mind 100 times every time I quit a workout early. But I also know a year of training is a long time and drowning in the pool because I couldn’t move any more is not the best way to get through a training plan.
Surround yourself with supportive people – I have the most amazing and supportive friends and family. A majority of my friends are runners or triathletes as well. They understand the time it takes to do this training. They understand why I can’t stay up all night on a Friday night when I have a 7am cycling class on Saturday morning, or why I have to leave early to get in a swim workout. Use your active friends as your support group. Yesterday, for example, I knew I wasn’t going to want to get up and run so I convinced one of my friends to meet me. When I first started training for Ironman, I set up a private Facebook page for all of my local, athletic friends and I to plan runs together. Through the posts we plan runs, share words of encouragement and offer advice. And what amazes me most about my friends is that the day I signed up for Ironman, they added a post to the Facebook page to start planning their own trip out to Arizona for the event. Talk about support!!
Have a plan -One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I tend to be a planner. This definitely comes in handy for triathlon. Make a plan for your workouts – it’s usually easier to stick to them. Plan the workouts you know you aren’t going to want to do with friends. Plan your meals to ensure you are fueling properly. I’m still a novice at this one but I’m learning that if I make food on Sunday afternoon and learn to love leftovers, then I have most of my meals planned for the week. There is no extra time or thought involved. This works well for me since I tend to not think much about food until I’m already hungry. With the leftovers I just pop them in the microwave and I’m good to go. Granted, by Friday the monotony tends to get to me, but I’m working on it and figuring things out as I go. Which brings me to…
It’s all a learning experience – This is probably where I struggle the most. I’m a perfectionist in so many ways. I want to be able to go out there and run an 8-minute mile (which I’m not even close to doing by the way). I want to be able to eat healthy food all of the time (which I definitely don’t do). I want to enjoy every workout that I do (which I don’t). But, this sport reminds me every day that I’m not perfect (and never will be). I can only continue to learn something new every day and use my strengths to help me keep improving and make my life easier.
I feel I have learned so much through triathlon and how it’s become a lifestyle for me. I could write three or four more pages! For those of you that made it through the whole post, I’ll end here so you to get back to your regularly scheduled days though.