After my long run on Sunday morning (12 mile group run) I recovered in my favorite type of salt bath...and did a little thinking.
Over the past 12 years, I have spent most of my days learning about the physiology of the body. Whether it is during exercise or in relation to nutrition, over the past 4380 days, I can't really think of a day when I wasn't learning.
Although the stressful learning (aka exams) is behind me, I know have 3 credentials behind my name that qualify me to provide advice to the public in the fields of exercise science (BA), exercise physiology (MS) and nutrition (RD, LD/N). I also have a list of athletic accomplishments to help me say "been there, done that".
But with credentials come experience. At the ripe age of 30, I certainly have a lot of learning to do. I've had learning lessons along the way and I have been stubborn in several life-changing decisions/experiences. But I've been very careful to always learn in order to try to not make the same mistake twice.
In the quest to help individuals reach athletic, nutrition and health related goals, I have realized one very important thing......
It is easier to learn from the mistakes of others, than to make those mistakes yourself.
I have aways expressed my love for triathlons and that it is my lifestyle, not my life. I have a very supportive family that encourages me to reach my swim-bike-run goals but I also know how to keep things balanced.
As an outsider and a professional, I am learning the positives and negatives that come from being a triathlete, runner or endurance athlete.
Achievement, overcoming obstacles, dedication, excitement, fun, strength, courage, skill, mental and physical toughness.....
Just some of the many positives that come with signing up for a race, setting a goal and putting in the work to achieve the goal.
But then there are the negatives.
I recently read this article on the physiological impact of an Ironman on the human body and it really got me thinking.
"Do triathletes and runners take for granted the impact of "training" for an event, on the human body."
In my opinion, any event that you register for, places stress on the body. Why should a 5K be any different than an Ironman or marathon when it comes to properly preparing the body for the upcoming distance (and planned intensity/effort + recovery).
With a multitude of races occuring every single weekend, around the world, it is so easy to sign up for a race. .........perhaps, too easy that people overlook the importance of thinking through the process of what it takes to prep the mind and body for an event - at any distance.
The problem occurs when athletes do not respect the human body and whether it is a 5K or Ironman, ahletes far to often obsess about the miles and forget about the journey.
I am really starting to get worried and concerned for athletes who are new to the sport of running or triathlons as well as those who get caught up in the training miles (veterans). For it is so easy to just jump into a race or "train" for an event, without having an understanding OR appreciation of the physiological, mental and emotional impact that it can place on the body.
This is an area that I am a really passionate about because I have studied it for the past 8-12 years. You won't see me doing "B" races or racing back to back weekends. I give myself at least 3 months to "train" for most events, I give myself ample time to taper and recover from every race and I plan my schedule far in advance so that I feel little pressure to rush the recovery or training process. Right now, I am working with my athletes on their 2013 schedules so that no mistakes are made as to put races too close together or to overlook the fundamental reason why athletes sign up for races....
I believe in doing everything possible to prepare the body to perform optimally on race day, keep the body at a healthy weight and reduce risk for injury and illness.
RACING: TO PERFORM AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL POSSIBLE.
Are you preparing for a "race"?
If you don't care about reaching performance goals, you may as well be exercising. For training requires a certain amount of stress on the body to reach performance gains. However, this stress should not occur at the result of relationship problems, sickness, injuries, illness or constant fatigue. Oh, and burnout.
A few weeks ago I spoke to a wife of a recent Ironman finisher and she told me that she didn't even notice her husband was training for an Ironman. With 2 kids at home, not much changed from the normal training routine except one or two 5-6 hour workouts in the final parts of his training. This athlete was Karel's boss Jeff, who finished IM Texas in around 10 hours and 40 minutes. He trained smart and performed extremely well on race day. No injuries, sickness or burnout - just consistency and fun w/ training and not getting sucked up in the chatter as to how one must train for a triahlon.
In training for Kona and IMWI, I did 1 ride over 100 miles and it was 112 miles. I did a few rides around 5 hours and my longest run was aound 2 hours, off a 2 hour bike ride. I don't count time or miles, but rather I go by specific workout, for the day. My training is not a part-time job so I am not clocking time.
You may say that I am conditioned as an athlete, but my newbie and veteran athletes do the same thing and they consistently improve and enjoy the journey - without difficulty training for races and feeling great balance with the rest of their life. I don't do pre-made plans for my long distance athletes. Every athlete is an individual and I work with their schedule. 8-10 hours a week or 18 hours - we make it happen.
Of course, I also emphasize the other areas that allow for great performances such as strength training, sport nutrition, daily nutrition, good attitude, mental strength and of course - RECOVERY and SLEEP!
If you are training for an event, I ask you to think about the consistency in your training routine, your ability to progress and your daily committment to training. For it doesn't matter what everyone else is doing. Address how much time you can train (and recover) from training and then make the most of it.
I had a tough week of training last week. Today was a day off. I will resume training again on Tues for another 6 days of training. Performance gains don't come in 1 day or 1 month. Athletes aren't made in seasons. Considering that many of "us" don't exercise, but rather we train, keep in mind that your body goes through a lot on a daily basis. Please don't take your body for granted...only to cross a finish line because you paid for it.
Best advice: As a triathlete, I have a routine and a schedule that changes frequently, to allow me to be as consistent as possible. Because my lifestyle changes, I try to receive the most prominent physiological adaptations to the body with the least amount of training stress.
Final note: In the hospital, I see patients who are severly dehydrated from diarrhea/vomiting and are placed on IV's. I see patients with ongoing digestive problems that require tube feedings or extreme dietary changes. I see patients who are "frequent" fliers, experiencing ongoing illnesses because of the lack of desire to change and learn from past experiences and mistakes. And most of all, I see patients who aren't given second chances and would love another opportunity to do it all over again or have one more chance at life.
Oddly, the risks athletes take are not much different than my patients in the hospital. Do you assume it is ok or common to experience severe cramps, dehydration, extreme fatigue, lack of appetite, extreme weight loss (or gain) and brain fog.....just because you are training for a race - or racing to a finish line? In my opionin, there is no "easy" race or training session. I am an athlete by heart and will be one for the rest of my life - I love to push my body to its limits. But in my mind, I do not appreciate it when athletes compromise the body intentionally or without a proper plan, only to finish a race or training session to check-off the miles. Sure, some training sessions will be tough but if don't know how much is too much for your body to handle, it is time to consult a professional.
Consider the mistakes that you have made or the mistakes of others and address what you can do now to be the athlete who have aways aspired to be....knowing that you only have one shot at life, with your one and only body - I invite you to start training smarter, fueling better and living a quality and balanced life.
Never forget that life is a journey - don't rush it!
First triathlon ~2004
5th Ironman - Oct 2011
DEAR BODY: The letter I wrote my body before my 4th Ironman - a few days before I qualified for my 5th Ironman - the IM World Championships.
Thanks for reading :)