Project Ironman: The Fundamentals Part 2

Project Ironman: The Fundamentals Part 2

In part-one of my blog I covered the importance of having the right motivation and training plan to achieve your Ironman goals. These are just the first steps to success, you need to practice what you will do on race day, this not only includes the obvious, such as nutrition and pacing, but also race mindset.

Mindful Training
To achieve quality IM training with the limited time most Age Groupers have, you must invest yourself in every session, 100%. If you have a 30min easy spin scheduled as a recovery, engage yourself in the process mentally, physically and emotionally, channeling all your energy to accomplishing the aim – promoting restoration. If you get on the bike and just go through the motions, checking your e-mail, Twitter and FB feeds, then you are putting in the famous “garbage miles”. Likewise, if you do the same during rest intervals in an intensity session, you just compromised that “quality” – see my point reference the term…Use every training session to practice staying on task, focusing and concentrating without compromise. If you let the mind wander the body will follow. Ironman is an agonizingly long day. Make each moment count and you will save time and energy.

Recovery
While it is essential to listen to your body for signs and cues expressing fatigue it is also important to anticipate the need for scheduled rest. Remember that recovery is training. Consider it as a discipline. The body becomes stronger when allowed to absorb the preceding training. With the higher volume demand of IM training, especially as one approaches the race itself, recovery and regeneration become ever more important. Ignore it at your peril.

Work Your TOP
Suffering is part of IM. There is no hiding from it. Therefore as part of your physical and mental preparation you need to work your pain tolerance, or Threshold of Pain (TOP). This may include a once in a while session that takes you well outside your comfort zone. So don’t wait until race day to discover it. Practice it in training to help you develop coping mechanisms.

That also means being able to endure in solitude. While you may be “racing with 3,000 of your closest friends” the fact remains that IM is a lonely, solo effort. Those in particular who need the companionship of others to get their homework done should incorporate long solo HTFU (harden the ….. up)  sessions into their regime. The mental resilience and tenacity gained will help through those dark moments that will inevitably taunt you to quit or feel sorry for yourself. Likewise it will enhance your judgment and decision making when under pressure and fatigued.

Pacing
This is probably the biggest downfall for some of the most talented athletes. Correct pacing in an IM is key. Rehearse in training what you will execute on race day. Then on race day, have the discipline to stick to your pacing.

Cramping is a common phenomenon in IM racing, and is always addressed under nutrition. I chose to tackle it here as it is more the result of improper pacing than dehydration and electrolyte deficiency. More often than not participants get caught up in the electrifying ambiance of race day and lose all self-discipline and sense of judgement, hammering out of the gates, pushing their muscles to work at an intensity and duration they are unaccustomed to. The muscles become exceedingly stressed subverting the neuromuscular pathways and causing spasmodic contractions. Bottom line – rehearse your pacing, groove it, execute it, stick with it.

Nutrition
Nutrition (including hydration) is the fourth discipline of IM. It can be quite controversial and perplexing given the regular bombardment of contradictory information from the “latest research”. For this blog’s purpose I will only refer to nutrition preparation for IM competition vice daily dietary recommendations.

Like swimming, biking and running, you need to train it. Train your gut to ingest the quantities you need, and do so often under race pace stress, not just during a comfortable rest interval. My best advice is to take in calories frequently, rather than gulping or chewing bigger portions periodically.

One thing to be attentive to is the difference between ingestion (the quantity taken in) and rate of absorption (what is actually be taken up by your digestive system). The two are not the same and what is recommended in mainstream literature may not be suitable to you. There is no magic formula, only your individual requirements. So adhere to these two simple principles – know what you need per hour based on what you can tolerate and absorb, and ingest those calories in forms that suit your palate, and satisfy you physically and psychologically. There is no right or wrong only what works for you.

Know ahead of time what will be supplied on race course and try it. If you are accustomed to Gatorade Endurance and will race in Europe where say High5 is used or Australia where Endura is used, then sample some before to ensure that your stomach can handle the formulation. If not, then you know you need to plan around that limitation. If yes, then train with it so you have the flexibility to safely supplement on course when needed.

In training practice your nutrition and hydration timing. Rehearse it. Drill it in. Make it habitual. But be flexible. Practice and assess your nutritional decisions in training (based on the road profile ahead and environmental conditions) to minimize hesitation on race day.

If you plan to race with caffeine, train with it as well. Not every session, but periodically when doing race specific (long) sessions. Caffeine can also lead to cramping indirectly. Caffeine tempers our sense of pain and stimulates us to perform. Often caffeine is only used in races, and in higher quantities than accustomed to, to get that extra turbo charge. Add this to an already over-excited environment and the risk of pushing one’s muscles beyond what they are able to handle goes up significantly.

Fuel for performance. We have control over our nutrition (and pacing). Therefore there should be no (controllable reason) that bonking occurs, in training or racing. Plan your nutrition to optimize each training session especially on multi-session days. Avoid looking at each session in isolation. Always assess what came before, the demands and aim of the actual session and, what is to come after and when. This way you remain proactive in fueling and replenishing appropriately. This habit will preserve you on IM day because when you start reacting to nutritional needs you are already behind the 8-ball.

There is a lot involved preparing for an IM. But before you focus and obsess on the sexy marginal gains promised by the latest gadget, widget or elixir, follow these fundamental principles as the underlying foundation to your Ironman training and ultimately your race day success.

Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.

Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July.

 

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Project Ironman: The Fundamentals Part 1

Project Ironman: The Fundamentals Part 1

Every year a plethora of articles are published in various forums on how to best prepare for an Ironman. This two-part blog is not about the quickest way to your fastest Ironman, or the secret base workouts of our greatest champions. It is about the fundamentals that you should consider and address to set you up for success.

Motivation
It all starts here. This is the anchor of your resolve, the guiding beacon on your journey and the fuel that keeps the drive alive when the going gets tough, in training or on race day. You need to be both strong physically and tenacious mentally to put yourself through the Ironman ordeal, whether that’s an Age Group finisher or a podium/Kona-qualifier contender. Your reason needs to come from within, deep. It must be intrinsically generated not extrinsically fostered. Your purpose matters. Find it. Lock onto it.

The 4 D’s
To support and sustain your motivation you need:

  • Discipline – Specifically, self-discipline. This attribute enables you to stay the course, to do the homework when the body and mind are yearning for the easy way out, and to maintain control and order in adverse conditions.
  • Dedication – Which is your unrelenting commitment to achieve your goal, whatever and how ever long it takes. It is only your devotion that will enable you to reach your objective. Make lifestyle choices rather than sacrifices. Choose to change, to abstain, to do, to avoid, to act, to support your project (positive), rather than looking at it from the perspective of giving up something (negative). This will make the experience a lot more rewarding in the end.
  • Determination – That is the expression of your conviction that you can succeed, that you will succeed. It represents the mindset that never gives up.
  • Detail – In your plan. See your ironman as a project with multiple supporting tasks, not just swim, bike, run training. Assess and prioritize enablers (i.e. scheduling, family, nutrition, massage etc.) that will optimize your preparation. And when it comes to training, leave no stone unturned. Prepare and rehearse for the specific race course demands as best you can.

Planning
I am always taken aback when I hear people tell me they “hope” to achieve this at IM, or “hope” that this will happen. Hope is not a viable course of action. Only one thing will lead you to success – hard work. And I’m afraid there is no App for that.

To make good on this hard work you need a plan to guide you. Know this – if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Period. So, on your own, or with your coach, invest the time to chart a course to your objective. It need not be elaborate or complex. A penciled sketch will do. Just have something that you can refer to.

Always plan backwards and execute forwards. Work back from your IM to where you are now on the calendar to highlight the time you have. Then determine what needs to be done and how and where it will fit. This said, accept that no plan survives first contact so you must be flexible and ready to change as life intervenes (i.e. illness, work, family etc.). As long as you have a plan you know where you are headed and you are in better position to adjust and adapt should things go sideways.

Periodization
This is simply the methodical and thoughtful manipulation of volume/intensity/frequency of training in a manner best suited to (you) the athlete to achieve optimal performance on race day. Without tagging periodization with a name, or selecting a particular model off the shelf, develop a plan around your circumstances, rather than trying to squeeze yourself into a set construct. What is important is that you consider and respect the fundamental principles of progressive overload, specificity, frequency and recovery. Underlying these are of course volume and intensity.

Volume and Intensity
First off I will acknowledge my unorthodox position with respect to “quality” as it refers to intensity. It has become the most misleading term the world over. Sorry but it has. Intensity does not equal quality! Every workout, every session, short or long, high or low intensity is quality if it is appropriately placed in an athlete’s training plan and makes sense in their context. Volume, especially in the context of IM, has a quality of its own. Quality is what you do and how you do it within the volume. Intensity is the effort level applied to your training.

The fundamental problem with interchanging quality for intensity is that it infers volume is of lesser importance, and worse seduces people into believing that intensity is a (shortcut) substitute for volume. It is not. When one assesses the durability requirement for IM, physical and mental, duration has an important role to play.

While IM is an endurance event it is still a contest of speed (Finish Time=Distance/Speed). If it were an endurance contest alone then everyone crossing the finish line by cut-off time should stand on the first place podium. Sustainable race pace is key to success. Therefore, volume must be used to develop the endurance and stamina to sustain your race pace intensity over the three distances, while race pace can be developed from the get go, gradually extending the duration that it can be maintained. This means first working the race pace in short duration’s with lots of rest, then increasing the total time spent at race pace followed by cutting the recovery time to increase sustainability under fatigue.

 

Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.

Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July.

 

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.