This one was initially written three years ago, but it still holds true. While I think we can all agree that this can apply to any endurance event, but I would argue that there is a special kind of freak out that happens when training for an Ironman.
Ironman training WILL make you crazy. It is not a question of if it will, more when and how will it affect you --- and the only part that matters is how you take it all in stride.
If you signed up for an Ironman, whether it is your first or 20th, you need to know that at one point you will lose your mind. What we care about as coaches is not that you will lose your mind –we think that is totally normal, but how you will deal with it, and what you learn from it when it happens.
We have the opportunity to train all types of athletes – I am not really talking about speed here – more, about what their life out of sport looks like. We have some who travel on a weekly basis for work, some who have children, some who have jobs that demand 50 plus hours a week without including the commute, and some who have it all: children, demanding job, and weekly travel. Many of these athletes are long course and they are the masters of balancing it all. We work closely together to get it all in and create an equilibrium, but let’s face it – balance and 140.6 is an oxymoron. It is not a balanced lifestyle – that’s what makes it what it is, and that’s why in the end when that medal gets put around your neck, it is so very sweet. When our lives, which for most A type people get to a place where we cannot control every last thing, then we tend to lose it a little bit. There are so many factors in Ironman that are out of your control on race day and adapting to that starts with your training. The way you learn to adapt and overcome in training, is a very important tool to have in your tool kit come race day.
Back to the mind losing part. What do I mean by that? Well, it depends on who the athlete is and what life demands from them. What I want everyone to know is that it will happen, no matter how well you think you deal with stress, or how easy the rest of your life is, the training will at one point make you crack. Case in point – last year I had an athlete who was very lucky to set up his life in a way that many of us can only dream off – he cut way back at work, he had weekly massages, he did everything in his power to make it an easy process, but even with all of the cards seemingly in place, he still had his mind losing episode. It was a short freak-out, but it came. No one is immune to the stress of long course racing.
Now, the real questions from my stand-point are how we can do our best to mitigate the freak out, and what we do when that stress hits?
Let’s start with the mitigation part:
1. Hyper organization is key. In my mind the things that become overwhelming are the daily things – the laundry, cooking, cleaning. Do what you can to make those tasks easier. Set aside a day for meal prep, get bins to store your workout clothes in so you can cut down on folding times, space out the cleaning in the house so that you do one small task a day. If you start your week with all of the little things taken care of, the workouts will be less stressful and more likely to get done without excuses.
2. Avoiding procrastination. Do not put off the workout. The more you do this the harder it is get to get it done. Make a plan each week with a timeline that includes when you will work out and stick to that. If you can keep it the same each week it will become a habit. If your work schedule changes each week, then make plans around that. When we put off workouts and skip them then the guilt is compounded – it is ALWAYS easier to get it done on the day that it is scheduled rather than trying to make it up.
3. Find a dedicated tri training partner or a great group to workout with. This will help to keep you motivated and stay on task. Ironman can be really lonely and just having one other person to share the long hours with is helpful. Evolve coaches work to facilitate training partners and run group sessions to ease the training pain.
4. Remember why we do it and when the pressure gets to be too much think about how even if you are getting paid to race, you are doing it because it is a passion. You asked for this right?
The stress will come and so will the freak out even if you have done your best to try to prevent it. It’s all part of the process, so what to do?
1. Remember that is natural to freak out and that you are not the only one who feels overwhelmed. I think that sometimes athletes think that the freak out is a sign of weakness, or that they are the only one who goes through it. If you are using Facebook or Instagram posts as a judge, it can seem like the rest of your tri buddies are out there hammering, never missing a workout and holding it all together. Don’t be fooled. Embrace the freak out, work through it, learn from it, and then move on.
2. Assess why the freak out happen and address what you can do to prevent it getting out of control. When it happens, take time to address the major stressors and see what it is that is causing you to be pushed over the edge. Is it relationship pressures, house work, work, family? Take some time to look at the hours you have each week and where you are wasting time. Are you watching more than an hour of TV a night, are you drinking too much caffeine and not getting to sleep early enough and therefore missing the am workouts, do you need to find a group to get out with to get you through? Can you set aside one night to prep all meals, can you pack all of your workouts clothes, nutrition, and write down all of your swim, bike and run workouts for the week on index cards, so that you don’t have to think about. How can you incorporate your family in the workouts? I did all of my recovery workouts with my daughter in tow, either in the stroller or behind the bike. Was this ideal – maybe not, but it helped keep my husband happy! Can your partner join you for these too? Maybe the vegetable garden needs to get put off until next year.
3. Finally, know that the freak out and how you handle it is a perfect analogy for race day. Just like the training, Ironman is a long day and a lot can happen. How you deal with the stress in training can translate to how you deal with the stress in racing. Ironman is sure to throw you a few wrenches, learning how you deal with stress can help you to figure out how to deal with it on your big day. This to me is the biggest reason why the freak out needs to happen. Training is the way we get our body ready, but it is also the perfect medium for how we learn to deal with issues and solve them on the fly. If all of your training went off stress free and without a hitch, what would you do come race day if you hit a bump in the road?
And know this – the training is the tough part, when race day rolls around, it will be a breeze in comparison and when you hear your name calling for you at the finish line it will all be worth it!