“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw.
Making a decision to change doesn’t magically lead to progress, you have to actively make scarifies; reconsider what you thought was “right” and embrace feeling uncomfortable. This goes for anything but I see it everyday with clients at the gym. Everybody wants to loose weight, get stronger, run faster but without making the sacrifices it takes (waking up early, proper nutrition and hydrating, doing workouts you don’t necessarily gravitate towards) the road to progress is a long one.
I don’t exclude myself in this challenge; as I hit it head on when I faced exhaustion and the breaking point before my “A” race of 2014, Ironman Maryland. After a few days of allowing myself to wallow in what was a difficult time for me, I began to formulate a plan for the next year. With the advice and support of my mentors, friends and family I looked at what I did wrong, what I did right and what I would change going into the next season.
So what exactly did I do to get myself back on track and what lies ahead for me next year?
A month off. Nothing. No gym, no running, no swimming, no biking. I walked, eventually hiked and took some restorative style yoga classes but nothing scheduled or planned. And no, it actually wasn’t hard at all. To me exercise is purely training, if I’m not training or able to elevate my fitness, I know the best thing is to rest and recover. Restorative techniques are a huge component of training that needs to be addressed. I’m very good about this on a micro scale: sleep, nutrition, foam rolling etc. but it was time to address it on the macro scale. This meant embracing that I would loose fitness, and a lot of it since my last cycle of actual training was before August…. check on feeling uncomfortable, embracing the change.
Balance. I talked about loving Ironman because of the balance it forces you to achieve. You can’t get away with workouts on low sleep, no nutrition, and you have to address each discipline. It was time to use what I learnt from training and put it into life. My good friend and pro cyclist really helped me here, reminding me that it’s ok to end your season feeling like you need a break, and you should. That means you put all your energy into it and you deserve to take a month, drink some beers, stay out late and be a normal person! Friends that I had neglected during the time I was trying to heal between Boulder and Maryland were there for me and I truly believe this might be the biggest factor to my speedy recovery. It was a comforting and powerful message to me to know that good friends are there through thick and thin. See below a rare weeknight outing of sushi and beer pairing! Lots of fun.
Heart rate variability. I am a big advocate and always have been of taking resting heart rate to monitor levels or recovery/sickness/stress etc. Heart rate variability (HRV) is one step up on that. HRV measures the variation in the time interval between heartbeats and it is way to assess stress and recovery in the nervous system. It shows the activation of your sympathetic versus non sympathetic nervous system. The key to measuring this is also the 3 minutes of deep breathing you do to get the measure. Focusing on breathing is something most people don’t do and taking the time to do this daily undoubtedly lowers your stress levels. See below for a picture…HRV is on a scale up to 100. Mine is looking pretty good at 93.
Smell the roses. Ever since I was diagnosed with severe ADHD in high school and discovered that running before school and wholesome nutrition controlled my symptoms without the aid of medication (which result in a heart arrhythmia for me) I knew that exercise is something that allows me to focus on what I need to do. I structure my day where I train and workout during the day and save all the computer/emails/coaching work for the evening when I have basically exhausted myself enough that I can actually sit still! While a very productive schedule from a time management standpoint it generally leaves me running on a hamster wheel all day. I am also extremely stimulated by technology and I have found a good way to decompress and relax, airplane mode of my phone! Whatever you do with 100%, so if you want to send emails and work, do it, but then when you want to relax, do that. Don’t do both, no one wins. So my commitment to take some time to smell the roses during the day begins! Being successful doesn’t necessarily mean being productive every minute of every day.
Reassess my weakness. One way I can always tell a client’s weaknesses is by what they naturally gravitate away from. This is where being self-coached can be complicated because everything is very subjective. I am a pretty good arguer in my own head! I have always been more of a fan of track workouts or hill repeats on the bike than long, slow and steady runs/rides. However, since I always excelled in long distance and endurance events thought that I was more of an aerobic athlete, just perhaps not quite as fast at my “aerobic” level as I would like. So last year I took a reverse periodization approach, working on my top end during the winter and getting more race specific as the season went on, in theory perfect for Ironman. This year, I will do the opposite and am taking the somewhat boring and slow approach of a 3 month deep base phase where my heart rate will never see higher than 140…ouch…bring on the uncomfortable. So if you see me running or riding like a Grandma….you know why J The upside to this is spending time running with my sister, we did the Southport Turkey Trot together and look forward to spending some time over Christmas in England pounding the pavement with my big sis, the only time I can just talk her ear off with little feedback J See below a picture of us pre-race, I was shocked by how social and jovial the back of the pack is!
Next year: So I’ve committed to make changes in my work, lifestyle and training. The same goes for my race structure, which was my biggest downfall last year. As much as I was so excited to run Boston Marathon again, I know that fixating on a marathon PR with Ironman training do not go together. I have put up my marathon hat for post Ironman when I can truly train as runner and run 26.2 the way I know I can. I might still check off another marathon on the 7 marathons 7 continents challenge, but it will be either a trail race or run at low intensity, not raced. I dabbled with the thought of doing Olympic triathlons but I have to follow the passion, Ironman. Qualifying for Boston was never a challenge for me and I know that Ironman is my challenge, my boundary. So Ironman it is, and two of them for 2015, 6 months apart, not 6 weeks! I will have two training cycles, which means two R&R periods as well. I will do two tune-up “B” races, Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico and another half ironman in prep for Ironman Arizona in September.
2015 is all about preparing for the future and the years to come. If I am to race as a professional, my true racing days will be a few years from now, so for now I need to lay down a solid foundation and make decisions in the best interest of my longevity in the sport, not the quick and easy route. Train smart, work hard, and take care of the little things, and be prepared to feel uncomfortable, change will come and so will progress.