The Lavaman Olympic Distance Triathlon 2017 in the books. Racing together with my husband is one of my favorite circumstances in our endurance coaching business and seeing him placing 5th and me 2nd in our respective Age-Groups was a nice bonus. A few hours after the race I said to my husband: Aligning mental toughness and indoor training goes a long way in creating fitness and speed. Let me explain why those two considerations went through my mind. Read More...
Thursday, after we arrived in Hawaii, I looked at the countries where the athletes competing were coming from, just out of curiosity. I noticed many athletes from Hawaii, which I expected, and numerous ones from Alaska. First, I was surprised but then realized how it’s fairly convenient for them to travel to Hawaii. Couple that with a warm weather & warm water location, it makes sense that Waikaloa is a desirable racing spot. Looking at the results, 16% of all athletes combined who ended on the podium (1st to 5th place) came from the State of Alaska. What an incredible accomplishment. What could contribute to such achievements, from both genders and across all age groups? Although I did not talk to any of them in person, they obviously must train indoors a majority of the time to prepare for this event taking place so early in the year. This reveals that indoor bike trainer sessions are a valuable component of our training. Not only are they useful for time management, but they also allow for precise execution of workouts in a controlled environment – no distractions from traffic, terrain or weather. While this makes the stationary trainer a great place to produce data that is consistent and repeatable, it’s also a perfect environment to practice position, posture and pedaling mechanics. The results from Alaska support that training approach, especially from the months of October through March.
Another important component which leads to that success is developing your mental determination, or your ability to suffer. Willpower to push while tolerating the pain of lactate pooling in our muscles is key for Olympic distance triathlon success. You need to train and race at the edge of your aerobic and anaerobic limits if you want to give your best. We highly recommend experiencing that sufferfest in training sessions to know your limits and just how hard you can push yourself on race day. Thus you know you’re not going to drop dead from the high heart rates and know that the discomfort is temporary. It keeps you calm in the presence of your pain. In other words: ‘This is what it feels like when you’re pushing yourself to the limit.’ Imagine how doing most of your bike/swim/run workouts indoors due to weather builds mental toughness. Not only are the efforts themselves during the sessions mentally difficult, the repetitive trainings in each discipline week after week make it even more challenging. This is another reason why Alaska athletes did so well. In the end, they don’t really have a choice and they need to push through it if they want to race well in the early season events.
Regardless where you live, to achieve physical fitness you need to make good use of your available time. There are no secrets. If you train smart and apply the right amount of recovery, you gain fitness. Make good decisions about what is important along throughout your training is essential. Knowing when to push & when to rest is a balance that leads to faster improvements in your fitness and race times.
The athletes attending Lavaman from Alaska were forced to train mainly indoors over the winter months, but that indoor training also allowed them to adapt to the heat of Hawaii. Perhaps even more so than athletes coming from more temperate climates that allow for training outdoors year round. Here are some generic rules to implement at your next race, especially if it takes place in warmer climates you might not be accustomed to:
- Don’t change your procedure - It’s just another race, so stick with the strategies and formulas that have worked for you in the past. We’ve seen athletes lose grip of this with the fear of the occasion and start tweaking their rituals. Stay the course with your familiar race approach.
- Nail the basics - Commit to eating well, maintaining hydration, executing the plan and not getting distracted during race week.
- Show up fresh – Attending a race can be demanding with athlete check-in, and other race week logistics. It is impossible to recover once on site, so give yourself time and space before travel to taper, allowing you to arrive fresh. Enter depleted from too much training and it is unlikely you’ll rejuvenate before race day.
- Stay cool when in warmer climates - Your body will adapt to the heat during small training doses at low intensity (30-50 minutes). More time and exercise will not make you adapt quicker. Don’t be afraid to turn on the air conditioning to maintain an optimal environment for rest, sleep and low-stress living.
- Don’t over-hydrate – We are not camels. Maintain your regular routine of eating, drinking and fueling. While training, you will need to be diligent (1-1.5 liters of hydration per hour), but outside of training, manage your hydration as you usually would. Did we mention that we are not camels
- Limit the activities – Hawaii, for example, is a special location and there is usually a lot of tumult taking place. Be selective in your attendance, enjoying some of the activities but without exhausting yourself and winding up depleted come race-day.
- Control that which is under your control - Your focus should be on self-performance. This is something you can control. When you have control, you have ease of mind. When you chase something out of your control, you will likely panic and/or worry. So, let that slide away and retain focus and energy on the execution of things you can control.
- Manage the ego - Most athletes race too hard. Even an Olympic distance triathlon requires a diligent pacing strategy. The environment and occasion are challenging, so keep things simple, meaning: train, remain patient, be disciplined in your effort, follow your nutrition and hydration plan & remain process-driven. That’s the plan. Simple.
So, what was the take home message for me?
- First, when you’re doing Olympic-distance racing, having to hurt like you’ve never hurt before for two hours plus will be reality.
- Second, efficiency is the name of the game, and that applies to all race distances.
- Third, utilize training indoors to replicate race day conditions, especially if you are living in a colder/rainy climate. Implement sauna visits if you wish.