As training distances continue to sneak into 140.6 territory, new and some unexpected challenges from training at this level have begun to surface...
I'm gaining a better understanding and respect for muscle recovery. With repeated workouts reaching lactate threshold for extended amounts of time, prioritizing recovery is crucial. This means increasing sleep to 9+ hours a night, increasing frequency of self-myofascial release (SMR), and fueling smart before, during and after a workout.
My current "endurance days" are in the 2000 to 2200 meter (>1.2 miles) range for swimming, 40 to 50 mile range on the indoor bike trainer and 9 to 12 mile range for running. Neglecting recovery at this stage will not go unnoticed.
Making good use of managing the mental aspect of training has been at the forefront of my "endurance" days lately. When I began training in October 2016, the lesser distance back then allowed me to focus on form. With months of practice and learning from my mistakes, my form has taken shape to allow me to train more efficiently, opening up new doors to allow me to be more present with my thoughts.
A 2,200 meter swim can take me about an hour which is much more time than I would usually meditate for, say before bed. Swimming these longer distances take my mindfulness practice to new levels and basically create a fourth endurance sport; prolonged mental management. New skills and tools are required, as I've come to find out on my own, to effectively manage self-defeating thoughts for over an hour. A single mantra or frequent body scans may have worked for 20 minute swims but now I'm experimenting with alternating mantras, playing word association games, and practicing more in-depth body scans. Failing repeatedly at this is exactly what I expect to happen because I can't imagine the first few ideas I come up with to magically work. I expect, at this point, to complete the 2.4 mile swim in about 1:40, so I need the right tools with me.
A quick google search can provide you with quality mantras but many people enjoy coming up with their own. One mind game that works really well is choosing a theme or topics, (i.e. fictional characters, guitarists last names, countries, college sports teams, whatever you're interested in), going through the alphabet and naming 3 per letter. Body scans go back to checking form but they can delve deeper into a mind-body awareness as you swim, bike or run. Allow your consciousness to focus on and visualize what different parts of your body are doing to help you swims effectively as possible, send a little gratitude and end with picturing the whole system (you body) working in unison. This can be applied to swim, bike or run.
45 miles on the indoor trainer last Sunday took me over two hours to complete. I do distract myself with random YouTube documentaries, cheesy motivational videos and virtual bicycle group rides. Regardless, it pays to escape the stimulation on a television and practice some mindfulness for several minutes at a time. At this point, I expect to complete the bike leg in about 7 hours so it wouldn't be optimal to become dependent on distractions like YouTube to get me through a ride and I unfortunately do expect the beautiful scenery up in the Adirondacks to become repetitive and, dare I say, boring. Additionally, the time spent on long bike rides isn't just to strengthen and condition your legs, but to literally shape your body into a tucked aero position to create the least amount of wind resistance as possible. My neck does not enjoy this.
Runs have been surprisingly rewarding in terms of managing mind-wandering when done outdoors. I despise treadmills but when temperatures go down below 40 and I'm scheduled to swim on the same day, my options are limited. One small hack that continues to work for me is to run with as few external distractions as possible. Ditch the music when you run outdoors. Listening to music outdoors can not only be dangerous but it masks many of the mental challenges you'll be facing on the run portion of a triathlon. If you mostly run to stay fit, or run to train for a race that allows headphones, crank those puppies up (but still be careful with bikes/cars/bears/etc). You're not allowed to wear headphones in triathlon, so why not practice as if it were race day to optimize your end result?
Besides long hikes, I have never spent as much time with my own thoughts on a consistent basis (6 days a week, 4 months and counting) as I do tackling my current training distances. It has been incredibly rewarding. When I read articles in running, cycling, swimming or triathlon magazines/blogs that cover the mental game, it brings me joy to see more attention being brought to such a vital part of any competition. What makes spending all this time in my head different than doing so on long hikes, for example, is that I'm exerting so much more energy making it much easier for my mind to say "give up" or "just make it up tomorrow!". Having an arsenal of mental tools and skills can significantly improve your training as it has mine. The best part about having many available mental tools and skills is that they don't weigh extra and can't slow you down.
At these distances, I have to fuel smart and in a timely fashion. Every 20-30 minutes I'm on the bike or on a run, I'm replenishing calories, little by little. I've been experimenting with mostly liquid fuels and it seems UCAN superstarch is the winner.
Fueling consistently and in a timely manner has completely changed my bike rides, especially since they are mostly indoor due to the temperatures outside. I follow a simple rule I've read and heard from several professional triathlon coaches; 1 gram of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per hour (on the bike).
Any and all nutritional recommendations are welcome in the comments section. It's crucial, as I've learned from reading interviews with Ironman World Champions, to fuel during training as you would on race day to properly train your gut.
In the next month, my goal is to have a strong sense as to what will go into my Ironman special needs bag. The special needs bag is a pre-packed bag that athletes are allowed to access halfway through their bike and run. This can include items like spare CO2 cartridges and spare tubes in case of multiple flats, extra salt packs to prevent Hyponatremia, extra fuel (gels, caps, etc), socks, frozen water bottles, etc.
Additionally: I'm fundraising while training for Ironman Lake Placid. Consider supporting my cause to help sustain a beautiful transitional house for homeless youth where they learn independent living skills and are prepped to become positive members of their community.