With this week being my last week of Ironman training before an active recovery week followed by race week taper, my body feels amazing. With our approach to Ironman training being enhanced every year, I really feel Karel and I nailed my training for my 7th Ironman and 3rd Ironman World Championship. Every go-around we reflect on what didn't work and then we stretch the boundaries on how much I can get my body to adapt with the least amount of training stress. With this "less is more, train hard, recover harder approach" I have experienced bitter sweet feelings before my last three Ironmans. Absolutely I am ready to taper and rejuvenate from all this Ironman Kona specific training and I am excited to experience the normal "hunger" I experience on race week to get out there and let my body do it's thing. But my body and mind feel healthy. They feel strong and confident and it saddens me that this training is coming to an end. I still do not dread any workout and I continue to look forward to what my body can do with every workout I am given from Karel (and oh boy does he push me!). What's even more amazing is that instead of experiencing burnout (which I never get - ready for the season to end, sure, but never a loss of motivation), I continue to see big performance gains. I have off workouts but not as often as the great workouts. Although I pushed my body to a whole new level to qualify for Kona at 2013 Ironman Lake Placid, I challenged myself to training my brain just as much as training my body - with the help of Gloria, my mental coach (who will also be my roomie in Kona).
One thing I have learned with my journey as an endurance age group athlete, is that the mind must be as strong as the body. You can put in all the hours and miles as you want to make it look good on paper that you did the work but if you want your body to perform, your brain must be tough and ready for the challenge.
Training the brain is not easy. And this is why I rely on Gloria to help me for when I experience doubt, I know she has a toolkit to guide me in the right direction.
For example, whenever you start a training plan, for most people the first 3-4 weeks seem to fly by. Endorphins are flowing, the body feels great and everything goes as planned. But then there are the moments here and there were workouts are challenging and the doubt comes about. Looking ahead 4,8,12 weeks down the road, you think to yourself how will I ever be able to finish the race with my goals accomplished. Then, suddenly, with a balanced approach to training. Everything suddenly comes together. The puzzle pieces make more sense and although it doesn't necessarily get easy, the mind knows that race day is coming. So no more excuses, what if's or doubts but instead, confidence that the body CAN do what it was trained to do. However, for many people, the excuses, doubts and what if's continue until race day and that can be very draining and negative for a body that is primed to perform.
This week has been tough. Putting in those final workouts to my Ironman puzzle has been time-consuming and challenging. But, what's keeping me positive is that my body and mind are strong. I do not doubt my fitness and I feel very confident about my race (3rd time is the charm as they say :) Of course, knowing that I just did an IM about 12 weeks ago, I do not fear the distance and I have trust in myself that I can race smart in Kona with the notorious wind/heat race day conditions (among 1500 of the best IM athletes around the world). More than anything, I am not focusing on getting faster but instead, building confidence for race day. Learning how to overcome obstacles that occur in training is just as important as nailing a fueling plan or having several long workouts in the bank.
This morning I had a tough brick.
First off - 4500 swim.
Then a 6 mile run.
On paper, my physically trained Ironman body was ready for the distance but it was the sets that challenged my mental strength.
2 x 1700 swim w/ 1:30 rest in between
All Ironman "steady" pace
With the pieces coming together very nicely, this set allowed my mind to wander. I had plenty of time to think about anything and everything but I was forced to stay in the moment. In an Ironman, it's very easy to think about mile 20-26 of the run.....when you are at mile 1 of the swim. But with 140.6 miles to cover, what's the point of thinking ahead when you can stay in the moment. Why direct your thoughts to something that has not happened yet when you can direct all your energy to what's occurring at that moment in time.
Although good on paper, I struggled mentally with this swim because it felt easy....but on my watch it didn't look fast (relative to me). But I felt SO good in the water. It was just a mental mess going on this morning in the pool and only I could figure my way out of it. So I had two choices - be grateful that it feels easy now and it once did not feel easy 8 weeks ago (because I wasn't "trained" yet for this set) OR get frustrated and upset and throw in the towel.
I choose the first option.
I finished the swim feeling happy and confident. Confident that I did the work in the pool, happy that I still love to swim. I will not bash my body for not giving me faster times for I put in the necessary work and this was all that my body could tolerate alongside my bike and run training...and balancing life, sleep, diet, traveling, etc. I am excited to start the Kona swim with a body that loves to swim.
Next up - 6 miles of running.
I remember back in June that my endurance was not where it is today. I was getting my body back into shape after 90 days of no running and running just wasn't fun for me. I was not able to push and let my mind be my only limiter. With an amazing 10 weeks of injury-free training behind me and a great foundation from recovering so well from IM Lake Placid, I have enjoyed every run and I constantly thank my body (and continue to do all my hip/core/back exercises and stretching/foam rolling/110% Play harder icing, epson salt baths, massages 1-2 times a month).
So today, I put another workout in the Kona bank that brings me confidence for my mental tool kit.
6 x 1 miles with 30 sec walk in between.
Odd steady, even "faster" (I don't have a lot of speed in my body so I am not pushing my boundaries with my current lactic threshold).
Average pace 7:59 (including walks)
Mile 1: 8:17 min/mile, 182 HR (rush of blood)
30 sec walk: 122 HR
Mile 2: 7:25 min/mile, 161 HR
30 sec walk 132 HR
Mile 3: 7:55 min/mile, 141 HR
30 sec walk 131 HR
Mile 4: 7:06 min/mile, 150 HR
30 sec walk, 151 HR (body was speaking to me)
Mile 5: 7:57 min/mile, 146 HR
30 sec walk 143 HR
Mile 6: 7:05 min/mile, 156 HR
What made this so hard? Once again - it all came down to mind over matter. As I ran the first hard interval, my brain instantly thought "There's no way you will be able to run the last one hard." Here I am not even finished with the first interval and despite my legs speaking to me, my mind was already trying to convince me that there was no way I could do 3 sets of these. But after the recovery walk and a steady interval (which was surprisingly "fast" compared to the "fast" interval), I decided to just give it a go and instead of making excuses, just make things happen. After the 2nd interval, viola. Just one more fast to go. Although it did get tough as the lactic acid was accumulating in my oxygen deprived body, never did my body tell me that I couldn't do it.
One thing I have learned with training for sports and racing is that you can never count yourself out OR think you have it in the bag until you cross the finish line (or finish a workout). When it comes to endurance racing, the best way to succeed is to slow down the least amount possible. In other words, you don't have to be fast, you don't have to be the best at everything and you don't have to get upset if things aren't going as planned at a certain moment. What you have to do is stay in the moment. The only way to get yourself to the next interval, mile or set is to be sure your mind is just as strong as your body.
Next time that you doubt yourself, give it a go. Don't fear the hard for it will get easier. And when it does, you will likely find yourself craving another challenge of seeing where you can take your body and mind. For me, I love everything that comes with training for an endurance event for my body doesn't have to let me do what I ask for it to do when I train it. I am so incredibly grateful to my body no matter how the workout unfolds.
Thank you body....and mind.