So, you’re training for an IRONMAN. They say practice makes perfect. But, for the millions of type-A triathletes out there (you know who you are), there is really no such thing as “perfect” in this sport. So, in the famous words of Arnold Palmer, “the more you practice, the luckier you get.” This, I know to be true. Practice is the common thread that weaves itself through so many of the preparations that come into play when training for an IRONMAN. Here are a few of the practices I follow daily, before, during and after training for an IRONMAN.
You probably know that you need to eat during your training sessions. But, are you practicing your nutrition during your training to mimic the exact nutrition plan you will follow come race day? Each body is different, with different needs, limitations and ways of dealing with stress. That said, it is vital that athletes test, retest and evaluate the nutrition intake plan that will work best for them well in advance of a race and during training. For instance, I know exactly when I will start feeling hungry during long workouts. And when this happens, I can get grouchy and lose focus. To help avoid this, I aim to take in 1/3 of a CLIF Bar and 3 CLIF BLOKS (in addition to my hydration) every hour during a bike ride. I also like to front load my intake, so my stomach isn’t full and I am comfortable during my run. That’s a lot of eating, and there is a lot going through my head during a ride, so I must practice this intake during the training so it is second nature come race day.
But, there is more to it. Not only is it important to practice the nutrition intake during your bike and run, but also the meals that lead up to your big workouts. Because my long workouts are always on Saturday and Sunday, my nutrition practice really begins Thursday morning. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks look almost exactly how they would two days before a race.
Bodies get tired, muscles break down, and every day stresses catch up with us. Not every training session is going to be a good one. And soon enough, the day will come when those long brick sessions, or hours in the saddle are not going to be fun ones. Your legs aren’t turning over like they usually do, your body isn’t clicking, you can’t focus, and you just can’t wait to get the workout over and done with. As I once heard someone say “the yin, yang and bang bang just isn’t coming together today.” It’s on day like these, that I try to think less about the physical practice of preparing for an IRONMAN, but rather the mental one. We all know IRONMAN is a long race, requiring a lot of hours out in the elements, in what can be some pretty harsh conditions. Use tough training days as practice for your mental strength, and staying focused for several hours on the discipline. Think about technique, and how well you can maintain it, despite the physical struggle you are encountering. Also, come to accept this feeling of being uncomfortable, and practice working through it. Understand that come race day, you will likely slip into this very head space at one point or another. Prepare yourself for how you will overcome it, and refocus yourself to carry on with the race. Practice being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
So much of being able to train for and complete and IRONMAN has to do with how well you can organize the rest of your life, and plan ahead for upcoming training sessions. Triathlon is a very gear intensive sport, so the sooner you can accomplish the practice of organization, the sooner you will be able to reap the benefits of training. Think about all of the gear that is required just for one bike/run brick session. Its. A. Lot! Organize your gear, nutrition, computers and routes the night before, so you set yourself up to wake up and get right to your workout. Do your grocery shopping and meal preparation over the weekend so you are fully stocked with healthy and nutritious food to fuel your training through the rest of the week. Get a grasp on the other responsibilities you have – work, family, friends, and structure your training schedule before the week starts in a way that fits with your other commitments. And finally, make lists. Every night, before bed, commit yourself to the practice of making a list. My personal list always includes a few key things: “take iron supplement, take multivitamin, take probiotic, feed animals,” as well as some different items that need to be accomplished the next morning as well. Not only does this allow me to organize my thoughts, but helps me fall asleep with a clear head.
VISUALIZE YOUR SUCCESS
While visualization and meditation are always great ways to refocus and center yourself, I specifically make it a habit to practice race day visualization each night before bed, 2 weeks prior to a race. Each night, set aside 10 minutes to run through your race day plan. You can think about the entire race, or just a segment of it. I like to often break the race down into different specific segments each night, and dissect each one before heading to bed. What will you eat the morning of the race? How will you feel as you are setting up your transition station? What will be running through your head as you wait in line for body marking? All these are thoughts you will have come race day, and this is all before the race even starts! By familiarizing yourself with these feelings and thoughts, you can devise a plan on to address them, and will be able to recognize and move past them on the big day.
SLEEP AND RECOVERY
And finally, and perhaps the practice that we most often overlook – rest and recovery. You’re pushing your body hard. Like, REALLY HARD. And sometimes, when we really get into it, we lose sight of how much we are truly exerting ourselves. Being tired becomes the new normal. When the workload picks up, it becomes more important than ever that we practice getting plenty of sleep and take at least a day for recovery. I will be the first one to admit, the last thing I want to do after a workout, or on a rest day, is stretch, use a foam roll or do a physical therapy exercise. But I tell myself, if I can do an IRONMAN, I can foam roll for 30 minutes. Leave whatever bands, balls and rollers you use out in the open in the living room so you remember to do the exercises. I promise, they make a lovely decorative accent piece when all placed in a nice wicker basket by the fireplace. Roll while watching television or spending time with family. And when it’s time to hit the sack, set a bed time for yourself, and develop a practice that will help prep your body and mind for some shut eye. Try making chamomile tea, lighting a candle, or reading a book.
It’s pretty amazing, when you think about it, that the more we put these actions into practice, the more this sport becomes our practice. Eventually, and these rituals morph into the day-in and day-out lifestyle that is our daily practice. Training, preparing and racing becomes more and more enjoyable, cathartic, fun and energizing. And isn’t that the ultimate goal, because in this state of practice, all luck aside, everything really does almost seem quite perfect.
Meaghan Praznik is an IRONMAN All World Athlete, and has completed 3 IRONMAN races. She will compete in her fourth race at the end of July in Whistler, Canada. Meaghan resides in Alamo, California with her husband and their 135 lb. Great Pyrenees, Gus. She is an Associate at Clif Bar & Company. Guided by the company’s five bottom lines – Sustaining our People, our Business, our Brands, our Community and the Planet – Meaghan advises on strategic communications across the CLIF Bar family of brands.