Trying to Train Like the Pros Do1 of 11
"So I read this article in Triathlete Magazine, and you should see what the pros are doing to win Kona! I think I'm going to do that workout tomorrow!"
Here's the trouble with trying to do what the pros do. They're pros, and we mere mortals are not. I, too, get sucked in and absorb the tips and tricks of the pros as much as anyone else. But understand that this is their full-time job, and they are trained up for their specific workouts. No two schedules are the same, and no two ability levels and pain thresholds are the same.
An athlete of mine used to say, "We are all an experiment of one," meaning what works for one person may not work for someone else. Ideally, you've hired a coach for a reason and hopefully the two of you have interviewed each other and developed an honest rapport. Your coach is writing your plan based on your limiters, schedule and very specific time goals. Pulling a workout or a new training plan out of thin air may compromise and convolute your progress.
If you do want to try something you've seen or read about, talk to your coach or wait until the offseason when you can have a little fun with your training. Both you and your coach will be much happier!
Sneaking in Extra Workouts2 of 11
"Life happens," as we say in the training world. You get sick, you travel and life obligations can derail even the best training plans. A training session or two is bound to get lost in the shuffle. This is perfectly OK, and one missed workout will not make or break your race day. As Queen Elsa sings in Disney's Frozen, "Let it Go!" Don't try to stack three and four workouts in one day simply because you missed a session earlier in the week. This will lead to inevitable fatigue, stress and injury. Frequent stacking may also lead to adrenal fatigue and overtraining which can sideline your season in a heartbeat (an exhausted one at that).
If you know in advance that you have other obligations, focus on the key sessions of your training week and do your best to complete those. For example, if you're gone from Thursday through Sunday, schedule your key sessions early in the week before you head out of town. Your coach can help determine what those key sessions should be.
A training plan is much like a recipe. If you miss a small ingredient, no one will taste the difference. However, if you start leaving out those key ingredients, your gorgeous pie may end up looking like pudding. Sticking with those key sessions turns your pudding into tasty pie on race day.
Going Too Hard All the Time3 of 11
It's so tough to give your body and mind the chance to recover and adapt to the training stresses you have placed on it, but those recovery days are when the gains are solidified. I often hear, "I know it said to stay in Zone 1 today, but I was feeling so good that I just hammered it in Zone 4." This mindset could derail future training because you are not giving your body the rest it needs to flush out the lactic build-up from the tough days. Relish those easy days. Use them as a chance to catch up on your favorite podcast or a dear friend you haven't seen in a while. Store that energy for the next tough workout which is probably right around the training corner.
Too Many Gadgets, Not Enough Smart Training4 of 11
Triathletes are the poster-children for technology geeks. I've even heard fellow triathletes say to one another, "If it's not on your Garmin, it didn't happen." We (yes, myself included) obsess over the next piece of technology that is going to shave seconds off our time. Race wheels, power meters, electronic shifting and all technology certainly have their place in the sport, but the best way to get faster is to train smarter. Technology isn't a substitute for training or slacking off on a good diet. If you have 30 lbs. to lose, a race helmet isn't going to make a huge difference, but dropping the extra weight will. Be smart and efficient.
Learn to trust your body's compass and not the half-dozen pieces of equipment strapped to you at all times. At the 2016 IRONMAN Arizona, I turned on my watch race morning and it completely froze on the home screen. That watch is my running watch, heart rate monitor, power meter and bike speedometer. I raced "electronically naked" that day and had zero data for a full IRONMAN. You know what? I listened to my body all day and it was awesome. It kept me "in the zone" and it serendipitously also ended up being a 20-minute PR. Does that mean I'll go sans watch from now on? Heck no! It does mean, however, it is possible to still have a great day if you've trained smart throughout the season.
Racing Too Much without Breaks5 of 11
If you're a beginner, pick one or two main races during the season to make your "A" efforts and allow at least three to four weeks of recovery in between key races. More-experienced triathletes can race with a little more frequency but still need adequate time to recover before starting to ramp up again.
When you race too hard all the time, your body and mind start to "boil" and you never come back down to a "simmer." You need to simmer. It keeps your training fires burning without overcooking. Much like overtraining, too much racing can lead to injury and burnout—especially if you've scripted a long season.
Training Through Injuries and Pain6 of 11
It's not uncommon for triathletes to have those little niggles and aches that accompany training at high volumes. However, there's a distinct difference between simply being sore and being injured. Use your common sense and intuition to know when to pull the plug on a training session. If your form is compromised because you're in too much pain, abort the workout and talk with your coach about potential treatments and/or training alternatives that may still provide similar aerobic benefit. Even if you eek out one workout, you're likely to compromise future training sessions and, even worse, delay healing.
Training through pain has a hefty price tag associated with it. You're emotionally frustrated because you can't do what you want to do, you're in physical pain and training through that pain can be detrimental. A short-term break from training can put valuable deposits right back into your training bank and you just may emerge richer than before.
Not Consuming Proper Fuel7 of 11
Today's diet blockbusters grace the pages of every magazine: Whole30, Paleo, Vegan, Ketogenic and more. Eating has suddenly become very confusing. Some diets advocate for whole grains and healthy carbs while others rail against it. Other diets say a high fat and high protein diet is the way to go. Which one is right? The truth is, you will adhere to the diet that fills you up adequately, gives you the most efficient energy and provides you proper nutrition for subsequent workouts. How do you know what you need?
One of the best methods for knowing how many calories to eat is to go to a sports medicine or athletic training facility and have your measurements taken. A DXA scan is the gold standard for your overall body fat percentage and your BMR—or Basal Metabolic Rate—will tell you how many calories you burn daily while at rest. There are also online calculators to help ballpark these figures.
Once you have that figure (let's say 1500 calories), you know you need to consume at least that amount to fuel your body on any given day at rest. Then, you can begin adding in the calories burned during workouts. For example, you do a bike workout that burns 500 calories and a run that burns 400 calories. That's 900 calories on top of the 1500 calories you should consume daily.
This is where the "what" you eat becomes important because no matter what way of eating you choose, you want it to include mostly whole, unprocessed foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables. It has been said you can't train your way out of a bad diet, and this is true. Believe me, I've tried to fuel my fair share of long runs on margaritas and tortilla chips since they were within my caloric budget. It doesn't work.
Doubting Yourself8 of 11
If I had a dollar for every time I've heard, "I'm so slow," or "I'm not as fast as so-and-so," I'd be one rich coach. The best advice I can give is to remember why you started the sport in the first place. Likely, you began your triathlon career as an adult to try something new and to challenge yourself. When you have those inevitable moments of doubt, remember how far you've come. In fact, list out some of the things that used to seem so foreign and difficult that are now routine. Remember when you couldn't change a tire? What about your first open water swim? Taking stock of your progress just may alleviate some of those doubts about where you're headed.
I also encourage athletes to think about their training season like the stock market. There will be daily ups and downs. Fluctuations are normal, but your goal is to be trending up by the end of the season. Suspend the doubt and, instead, trust the process.
Not Racing Your Plan9 of 11
One of my favorite quotes is, "You've planned your race. Now race your plan." If you've trained for a three-hour Olympic triathlon time, don't shoot out of the gate at a 2:30 pace. Overreaching on race day may lead to an inevitable bonk! If you've been in communication with your coach all season, you should go into your race with a fully developed race plan including pacing and nutrition strategies. Follow your plan, and you're likely to have a successful day.
Forgetting to Have Fun10 of 11
My husband likes to say he trains to alleviate stress in his life, not to create more of it. Being a triathlete is a choice and, dare I say, a gift you give to yourself and those around you. What other hobby in life allows you to do all the wonderful and carefree things you did as a kid? Every day you get to swim, bike or run is your own adult version of recess. If you're not having fun, take off the gadgets and just hop in the pool for some easy lap swimming. Get back to the basics in all three sports and do them for the sake of fitness and exercise. If you need a change of scenery, hop in a shorter distance race or register for a challenging obstacle course. If you're simply no longer having fun in the sport, take a break and see if it beckons you back. I'm willing to bet it will. Triathlon is sneaky that way. You know why? Because, at its core, it is a fun and unique way to challenge yourself to be a better person.