Sunday, 1 December 2013

What Went Right?

It's been a little over a week since my breakthrough performance at Ironman Arizona and I've had a chance to really analyze what exactly happened to allow me to perform at a level I never thought I could achieve. I've broken it down into a few key areas that I think many people in my situation could really benefit from.  Once again, I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination but what I do have is experience. I'm now a 5-time Ironman finisher and with that comes 5 full "seasons" of training that are anywhere from 3 months to a year in length and there are a great deal of learning opportunities in there.

The first and most obvious difference I made in my life was diet. The past few races I've hovered around 275 lbs and this was where I thought I had stalled permanently. As I mentioned in my previous blog on diet , it doesn't matter how much you train, if you eat like trash you will not lose weight. I finally knuckled down and got back on Weight Watchers and carefully tracked my food. The result was a loss of 25 lbs between Ironman Coeur d'Alene in June and Ironman Arizona in November. Not having to haul 25 extra lbs around for 12 hours was a really big difference in my day.

The next big difference I noticed on race day was my footwear on the run. For some reason I've tried to wear minimalist shoes to run marathons. If you've seen me, there's nothing minimalist about me. I'm 250 lbs for crying out loud!!! By switching from shoes that are little more that a cover for your feet to a shoe that resembles the shoes you wear if one leg is shorter than the other I took the bulk of the ground's impact out of my legs. Thinking about the fact that a marathon is 42.2km of running and your stride is around a metre that's 21,000 times each foot will strike the ground. If you can take the impact out of each of those steps that's a major difference and the result was a marathon time over an hour faster than any I'd done before. I implore you, if you are having trouble running a minimum of 10km without walking, stop what you're doing right now and buy a pair of Hoka One Ones. Or if you just like running pain free, whatever your reason, you NEED these shoes!

Hoka One Ones. I believe that's Hawaiian for Foot Love (I haven't looked this up).

For the past year or so I'd been having trouble with my left knee and I had never really taken care of it. It was weak and would give out on me when I was skating and I finally got fed up to the point that I went to physiotherapy and got it looked after. I realized how bad it was when the physio had me do some comparative exercises to see how imbalanced I was; it was ridiculous. On the leg extension machine, where you essentially sit in a chair and straighten your leg, I was unable to even lift the pad without any additional weight on it. My leg would shake and then collapse. Yikes, I was basically getting around on one leg. In a sport where your legs do the bulk of the work taking away half of your power system is a poor decision. I really focused on doing my physio homework and I'm at a point now where my legs are approaching equality again. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I turned in a bike split that was not only almost an hour and a half faster than any race I'd ever done, it was almost 50 minutes faster than the average time for ANYONE on that course. After the bike leg I was in 45th out of 220 in my AG and 414 out of 2700 overall.

All of these changes are good, but ultimately it is your training that is going to get you over the finish line of an Ironman, or any race for that matter. When I first decided to do an Ironman I relied heavily on the tutelage of people that had done it before me. One of these mentors was Kevin Cochrane. Not only did I teach alongside Kevin but I was a student of his when I was in the 10th grade. Kevin is a MULTIPLE Ironman finisher, not sure exactly how many but over 10 anyway and I hold him in very high esteem. We were talking shortly before my first race and I was telling him how nervous I was and he gave me a piece of advice that I've kept with me since. Kevin said, "you've already done the work. You've been training hard and now you just go out and do it." I sat back and realized he was absolutely right. You don't finish an Ironman on the day of the race, it's the 4am training session before work or the 11pm session on holidays that gets you over the finish line. I've used his words in two ways, the first is to calm myself before a race but the second is during training. I channel the mantra that "today is why you finish Ironman" on training days when I'm just not feeling up to it. This pushes me through my little hiccup and allows me to finish up my set and get the maximum out of my training.

My coach Jeremy was absolutely critical and I would recommend everyone get a coach, or at least join a team where there is some accountability to your training. By nature you have to be self-motivated to finish an Ironman but it is so nice to have people to brag to about a great session. You can tell your friends and family about how well it's going but if they don't have an understanding of what exactly you're talking about you don't get the same feedback or celebration as you do from a group of like-minded athletes. Jeremy had me push my limits in terms of how hard I would train during my sessions. A great deal of my runs and rides were "tempo" where you pushed yourself beyond your comfortable pace for an extended period of time. This did a couple of things for me: it allowed me to train less because you get as much out of a session going hard for a short period of time as you do going for a long slow ride or run. Also, my body got used to going fast, so on race day when I was just coasting it was still a really quick pace. In training I was consistently running 8 minute miles for half hour sets, so on race day when I was cranking out 12 minute miles it felt like a slow jog and I maintained it for just over 5 hours.

Another major change I made from Coeur d'Alene to Arizona was a greater focus on weight training. I've read a number of triathletes who have focused more heavily on weights recently than in the past and they almost all agree that the biggest difference for them is the ability it gives them to push a little bit harder when they need it. Whether it's passing someone, summiting a hill or just enduring a little bit longer it gives them that boost. I don't lift particularly heavy, I'm not trying to bulk up, simply give myself enough strength to climb a hill with some speed.

I start my next training cycle on December 2nd for Ironman Texas taking place on May 17th. It's exciting to know that by focusing on strength, tempo and weight loss I should be in great shape heading into Ironman number 6.

Train hard my friends!

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