Traveling tips for the perfect race-cation

Enjoying the sunset in St. Croix.

Although I consider myself a competitive triathlete, triathlon is an outlet, a stress reliever and an opportunity for me to have my “me” time. Triathlon is much more than the hobby that keeps me healthy and active but it provides me with valuable life experiences. For me, one of my most favorite things about triathlon is having the opportunity to combine traveling and racing - two things that enrich my life. Traveling to a race, although a bit stressful and expensive, can be a fun and exciting experience, filling you with lots of great memories in your triathlon journey and showing you different places and faces. 

Feeling cheesy in route to Madison, Wisconsin. 

When planning your next race-cation, there are a few important considerations that you need to take into consideration to help you minimize the stress and oh-$h!t situations (let's get real here, traveling is not easy-breezy).

My tips below are not requirements but rather suggestions based on our experiences as athletes and as coaches so that you can have the best race-cation experience possible and most importantly, put all your training to good use come race day.

Just lounging around in Mont Tremblant, Canada. 

  1. Don't wait to register for your race until the last minute. Not only will you risk your key race selling out but you will likely pay more for waiting until the last minute to register. The earlier you register for a race, the earlier you can start planning for you race. More so, registering for a race commits you to the upcoming journey so you can mentally and physically start preparing.
  2. Before you register for a race, do your research about the requirements traveling to your race venue (ex. international) as well as projected costs for flights, hotel, etc. Signing up for a race may be inexpensive but the costs can add-up quickly when you factor in the lodging and travel.
  3. Don't wait to book your lodging! I can't tell you how many athletes wait until a few weeks out to book a place to stay for a race that they registered for 6-12 months in advance. Not only do you risk having limited options near the race venue but you will likely overpay due to your last minute booking. Keep in mind that most places let you cancel (without losing any money) in advance so do yourself a favor and book your lodging as soon as you register for a race. This also goes for rental cars. Flights, however, may increase/decrease in price over the year so you may need to wait until ~3 months out to book an affordable flight.
  4. For triathletes - review the guidelines for flying with your bike and call the airline ahead of time, letting them know that you will have your bike (at least 2 weeks in advance). Be mindful of the weight limits when flying international versus domestic as well as the price fees for different airlines. Always print out the important details of flying with your special item, just in case you need to help the gate agent with your precious item (your bike is actually a special item - not a oversized item). Other options for traveling with your bike include BikeFlights and Tribike transport. If you plan to fly with your bike, make sure your rental car can accommodate your bike, luggage, you and any other people in the car.
  5. We all love having our support team at the race but it's important to weigh the pros and cons of traveling with your family versus traveling alone (or with a training buddy or just your significant other/spouse). Race day should be all about you and that includes the time that you need to dedicate to yourself leading up to the race, as you get in the zone and take care of what needs to get done for you to have a great race. For an athlete, the days leading up to a race include a lot of exercising, resting and eating with little time for exploring and entertaining. Post race should be all about your family so consider the best way for you to deliver yourself to a great race day performance and still show your family how much you appreciate their support.
  6. Traveling to a race can be costly and this brings a lot of stress. But consider the many ways that you can cut down on costs or save money for your upcoming event. Reduce the extra spending on eating out or buying alcohol or put away $50-$100 from every paycheck into your upcoming "race-cation" fund. While staying close to your race venue (within walking distance) may reduce the need to have a rental car or pay for parking, you can't put a price on a stress-free race experience. Spending a little more money on a place that meets your needs close to the race venue may provide you with a great race experience versus saving $50-$200 by staying 20-30+ minutes away. Another way to reduce stress and to cut back on extra spending is to book a place to stay with a kitchen. You can prepare all your meals in your home environment and avoid overpaying for food or eating unfamiliar food. There are many ways to reduce the costs when traveling (like sharing a big house or a hotel room) but this requires you to plan well in advance. Above all - pay for the things that will help you race better.
  7. Be sure to arrive early to your race. You'd be surprised how quickly the 48 hours goes before a half or full distance Ironman. Although it may feel like you are just waiting around for the race to start on the day before a race, it's important that you arrive to the race fresh and not exhausted from your travels. We suggest to give yourself at least 3-4 days to settle into your race environment so that you can take care of your workouts, food and anything else that needs to be done before the big day. Seeing that your big race was months in the making, don't put yourself at a competitive disadvantage by arriving the day or two before the race and feeling rushed, overwhelmed and exhausted.
  8. Keep yourself on a schedule in the 72 hours before the race. The earlier you arrive to your race, the easier it is to develop and maintain a routine leading into your race. Consider the new time zone as it relates to sleep, traveling as it relates to digestion, where you will eat, where and when you will do your pre-race workouts and anything else that needs to be on your schedule. You put a lot of work to prepare for your race so don't jeopardize your performance by trying to squeeze in too much in the 48 hours before your race.
  9. Avoid the freak-out moments by planning ahead. Whereas you may not run into any issues if you are traveling to a running race, a triathlon event requires a lot of gear and equipment. Always bring more than what you need and consider what could go wrong so that you have a plan B.
  10. Stick to what works for you. It's easy to deviate from your plan and to start changing up what worked for you - training, nutrition, gear. Avoid the impulse gear and food buys or changing up your race day nutrition in the last minute. While it's good to keep your ears open for suggestions and tips, don't assume that the advice from someone else will work for you. Trust your own plan and have confidence in what worked for you throughout your season. 


Who's ready to travel???!!!


Avoid late-season training burnout

Since starting my 2017 back in November, my motivation for training is still high and I am itching to race my last race of the season, the IM 70.3 World Championship, in just 24 days! I'm actually getting a little sad that my 2017 season is coming to an end. Although I look forward to the fall, when I have the opportunity to exercise without structure and enjoy our amazing fall weather, I really do love training with a purpose and being in the race environment. But with a close to one season comes the start of another season and I can't wait to make my return back to Ironman distance racing after this 2-year intentional break from training for the 140.6 mile distance. Ironman Austria and Ironman Wisconsin will make Ironman #12 and #13 for me in 2018!

Although it's normal to experience motivational highs and lows throughout a season, there can be a great risk for burnout when you have been training hard for a long period of time, in preparation for an important event. Typically, the symptoms occur gradually as you can't seem to find the motivation that you once had to train and you notice a loss of enjoyment for training. Not to mention, you may also be struggling with injuries, health issues or a change in mood. You may even say to yourself "I can't wait to get this race over with".

The interesting thing about burnout is that it's not always predictable. Life, work and family stress can increase the risk for burnout. You can also feel burned out when you are injured, sick or feeling a plateau in fitness.

Although we all know that athletic success requires hard work and embracing "the grind" (there will be some workouts that brighten your day and others that suck the energy out of you) but if you don't love training, you won't experience the results that you are capable of achieving.

I've been lucky that I have never lost my enjoyment for the sport of triathlon and thankfully, for many years, my body has given me some incredible results without a health or injury-related setback. Since my first Ironman back in 2006, I still love the sport as much as I did when I was introduced to the swimbikerun, multisport lifestyle. But the joy and passion that I get from training and racing does not come from one of placement or time, but self-improvement. And over the years, I've always made the conscious effort to adjust my training so that I can safely integrate training into my life, without it compromising my health or well-being. Today, I've become smarter, wiser and more experienced as an endurance triathlete (and coach) and I've learned a few effective strategies that have helped me avoid late season burnout.

  1. Avoid just checking off your workouts and simply going through the motions. If you feel obligated to train but gain little enjoyment or satisfaction from completing your workouts, you need a specific purpose or focus for why you are training, which will help you get more out of every training session.
  2. If you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, training may not be to blame but it's likely the first thing that gets removed when life feels overwhelming. Exercise is a great way to improve your mood so don't scratch your workout just because life is stressful. Give yourself permission to move blood, participating in an exercise that makes you feel good, for 20-30 minutes. You will likely feel more calm and relaxed after the workout is finished.
  3. Change up your routine if your daily grind is becoming monotonous. Go somewhere new and exciting to train, join a group or invite a training partner to join you or take a few days off from structure. Sometimes a mind/body recharge is exactly what you need.
  4. Join a group or participate in a camp for motivation. There's nothing more inspiring that training with others, in a new environment, especially when they can keep you accountable to an effort and likely bring a bit more out of your body than what you can do alone.
  5. Eat enough! If your caloric intake is not adequate and you are skimping on your sport nutrition, there's a good chance that you are sabotaging your health and performance as your body can't keep up with the workouts. Take some time away from training so that you can kick-start your appetite (or organize the diet) so that you can meet your energy needs.
  6. Remind yourself of your goals. Sure, it may be a long season and you may be looking forward to a break but what got you excited to train for your upcoming race? Since you can't control the future, make sure your goals help you stay motivated with your training journey/process.
  7. Remove the pressure on yourself that you have to get faster. Far too many burnout stories stem from an athlete pushing through fatigue, restricting the diet in order to make race weight, being extreme with the lifestyle or working out at any cost in order to boost performance or to feel more physically prepared for race day. Added pressure brings stress and anxiety but it also induces a constant state of stress for your body when you push beyond your physical capabilities.
  8. Get your sleep! Sleep is an amazing recovery tool but when you fall short on sleep or try to function in life with restless sleep, it's easy to feel run down and to lose motivation when your body no longer works to your expectations. Try to get to bed earlier and allow yourself a few days to wake-up without an alarm so that your body can get the sleep it deserves.
  9. No structure workouts are in order! Sometimes you need a break from structure. Go out and just go for a run without a watch, ride your bike for fun (and stop at the local coffee shop) or do an open water swim and enjoy the freedom of not following a black line. Or, do nothing related to your sport without guilt.
  10. More is not better. Don't let your sport control your life. If you have found yourself in a training rut, grinding away the miles and feeling an intense amount of guilt if you miss a workout or don't hit your expected watts or paces, it's time to put things into perspective. Your sport is your hobby and training is a way to keep you in great health - physically and mentally. Take a step back and figure out a strategy of doing less so that you can get more out of your hobby. 
Your sport likely requires a lot of time and energy and when motivation is high, it's easy to be all-in. But when you feel like your sport is taking over your life, controlling how you live, the constant stress of your training demands may be giving you little time to physically and mentally rest and recover.

It is important to respect your body and keep your body and mind in great health. No matter what race is on your horizon, remember that training should be fun and it should make you a better person.

 If you are feeling overwhelmed, constantly fatigue and noticing a loss of enjoyment for your sport, it's time to change your relationship with your training regime/sport and adjust your perspective so that you can finish off your season with the same joy and excitement as when you started your season. 


Banana chocolate chip muffins

I don't know how it happened (since I am known to be a monkey when it comes to banana) but somehow we ended up with 4 extremely ripe bananas on our counter last week. Since the bananas were too ripe for my liking and I don't like to waste food, I decided to make banana muffins - with a chocolate twist.

This recipe was super easy and quick and you likely have all of the ingredients at home. So the next time you find yourself with 4 spotty brown bananas, be sure to refer back to this recipe so that you can yum over your delicious homemade chocolate chip muffins. Enjoy!

  • 4 medium-sized ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup melted butter (cooled)
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup Ghirardelli chocolate premium baking chips 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Grease your muffin tin
  3. Peel bananas and place them in a big mixing bowl with the melted butter and applesauce. Small together with a fork. 
  4. Add the egg, vanilla and carrots and blend/mix until the mixture is creamy and smooth and evenly combined. 
  5. Add salt and baking soda and stir. 
  6. Add flour, chocolate chips and walnuts and mix until combined. Don't overmix. 
  7. Pour until muffin tins until 1/2-3/4th full. 
  8. Bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick pulls out clean. 
  9. Enjoy!


Why your sport nutrition product is not working for you.

As a sport dietitian, I receive a variety of sport nutrition products from companies to test out for taste, effectiveness and practicality. So guess who also gets to try out all types of sport nutrition products - Karel! Because Karel and I are firm believers in the effectiveness of sport nutrition products in training and racing, we have no trouble consuming safe, well-formulated, reputable engineered products to optimize our performance. Additionally, we don't just use sport nutrition for performance reasons but we also use sport nutrition products for health reasons, as fueling/hydrating your body properly during training and racing can protect your immune system and will keep your body functioning well during training/racing stress.

I remember not too long ago, having a conversation with Karel as he was reminiscing from his teenage cycling days, when he was racing at a national level in Europe.

Check out this stud...

Karel was telling me all about all of the sport nutrition products back in the day and well, he didn't have much of a choice. There was one product that he had access to and it was called Iso (Isotonic). And at that time, it tasted horrible. Karel had to choke it down because it tasted so nasty. But he had no other options and he was told that it would help his performance so he did what any other performance-minded athlete would do - he drank the powdered drink during training and racing because he believed it would make him a better cyclist. 

Today, sport nutrition has come very far. We have all types of sport nutrition products and most of them taste pleasantly good and many use real food ingredients. Despite plenty of research demonstrating the effectiveness of consuming carbohydrates, fluids and electrolytes, in the proper concentration, during training and racing to delay fatigue, improve perceived effort and minimize excessive dehydration, athletes continue to struggle with the usage of sport nutrition products and sadly, there are still many athletes who refuse to consume sport nutrition products in training and racing because they feel they don't need it. 

For the purpose of this blog post, I'm assuming that most athletes understand the importance of consuming sport nutrition products during training and racing but there's a common struggle when it comes to the application of sport nutrition. In other words, just because you are consuming a sport nutrition product, this doesn't mean it is actually working for you.

To assist in your sport nutrition journey, I have a few reasons why your sport nutrition products may not be working for you so that you can make the necessary changes in your diet/fueling regime to help your body achieve athletic excellence. 

Gastric emptying
Just because you are consuming a sport nutrition product, this doesn't mean that the ingested beverage/product is being emptied from the stomach and absorbed in the small intestines. If you struggle with rapid fatigue, dizziness, dehydration, nausea, bloating, gas, abdominal cramping or low blood sugar, there's a good chance that the product(s) you are consuming is not being emptied from the stomach efficiently. Here are some reasons that could be affecting gastric emptying: 
  • Relying on a straw-based hydration system (sucking fluids) versus a bottle (squeezing the liquid into your mouth). The later is highly encouraged to optimize gastric emptying. 
  • Not drinking on a schedule - increased volume in the gut increases the rate of gastric emptying. 
  • Consuming too much energy density (high osmolality or high calorie), either from overconcentrated drinks (ex. multi-hour calorie bottles), a variety of sport nutrition products (ex. solid food, sport drink powder, gummies/chews, real food, etc.) or taking in a bolus of nutrition all at once without adequate water/sodium. 
  • Trying to fuel for an intensity/duration that is greater than what the body can digest and absorb per minute/hour. Less is more when it comes to caloric consumption to optimize gastric emptying but this also means that pacing is critical. 
  • Not planning stops to refill bottles can cause sport nutrition rationing, and then overconsumption of calories/water when you stop. Plan your stop before you need to stop. 
  • Poor skills when consuming sport nutrition when exercising (ex. bike handling skills or drinking from a flask in a hydration belt).
  • What you eat in the hours before a workout as well as the day before can affect digestion and gastric emptying, which may also prevent you from keeping up with your sport nutrition intake, regularly and comfortably, during training/racing. 
Flavor and consistency
You don't have to love your sport nutrition products but you do have to like them enough to tolerate them during training and racing. Taste bud fatigue is a common issue for athletes as it's easy to get tired of consuming the same flavor of a sport drink, workout after workout, or hour after hour, in training and on race day. But this doesn't mean to ditch sport nutrition the moment you get burnt out from the taste. Here are some reasons that could be affecting the flavor and consistency of your sport drink: 
  • Environmental conditions (ex. hot and humid temps) can make it difficult to consume sport nutrition products as your body will crave cold and light-tasting beverages over a thick, warm, factory-concocted drink. However, this doesn't mean to forgo your sport nutrition beverage and choose water instead. Make sure to bring water along with you in addition to your sport drinks, to use for cooling the body and for rinsing out the mouth (give your mouth a swish of water after sipping sport nutrition). Get comfortable drinking warmish fluids, especially if you are training for a long distance event - don't be a picky athlete as warm nutrition is better than no nutrition and yes, your nutrition will get warm during long training/racing. Certainly, when you can plan for cool sport nutrition drinks, those will be easier to tolerate. 
  • Try out and vary your flavors/products. The more variety you bring to your sport nutrition products, the less likely you will get burnt out (and the more comfortable you will be with having a plan B product in training and on race day). 
  • Avoid adding protein, caffeine, aminos and other extra ingredients to your sport drink if you are sensitive to different tastes/consistencies. Aim for the most basic ingredients - carbohydrates, electrolytes, water. 
  • Add in the occasional a tummy satisfier that compliments the sweetness of your sport drink. Lemon, spearmint, chocolate or peanut butter flavored solid food can excite your taste buds, making it easier for you to stay up with your well-formulated sport drinks. 
  • Not every natural flavor will appeal to you. Whereas you may love the flavor orange in one product, you may dislike the type of natural flavoring in another product.
If you are scared to consume sport nutrition products because you've been told to avoid all processed food or you you worry about the calories or sugar or you once had a bad experience with sport nutrition products in training or on race day in the past, there's a good chance that you have forbidden the usage of sport nutrition products in training and racing or you are trying to keep sport nutrition consumption to a minimum. Here are some reasons why your mind is keeping sport nutrition products from working for you: 
  • Your brain has a direct effect on the stomach. If you find yourself bloated, with an upset stomach or psyching yourself out when you consume sport nutrition, there's a good chance that intestinal distress is the cause or product of diet-based anxiety or stress. Work through your relationship with sport nutrition so that you can learn to appreciate and tolerate sport nutrition during training and racing. 
  • The reason why sport nutrition products are processed is because companies have come up with a way to make it easy for you to consume the nutrients/energy that you need, easily, regularly and safely during training and racing. If you are putting well-formulated sport nutrition products in the same category as a candy bar, you are overlooking the ingredient component of what makes sport nutrition products designed for athletes. 
  • Most athletes that I work with who express a constant struggle with sport nutrition, typically come from a place of not using sport nutrition products properly. Either the type of product, timing of product consumption or quantity was off, making the athlete believe that no type of sport nutrition product will work. Sport nutrition is a science and not all products are created equal. To optimize the efficacy of sport nutrition, the product must contain an appropriate amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes per amount of fluid (water) to empty from the gut and to support the needs of the body. You need to like the taste and consistency and you need to have the right mindset, knowing how to use the product and you have to use it regularly. This requires some trial and error and trust in the process but most athletes can learn to tolerate sport nutrition during training and racing but need some education and assistance from a sport dietitian who understands sport nutrition products. 
  • It's not just about sport nutrition. No amount of sport nutrition will help you optimize performance if your daily diet does not provide a solid foundation of calories, macro and micronutrients. Although it's common for many athletes to overconsume sport nutrition on race day and underconsume in training (thus never properly training the gut or building confidence with nutrition, not to mention sabotaging fitness in training from not using sport nutrition appropriately), many athletes struggle with sport nutrition during training because the daily diet is not well balanced or planned. This brings added confusion to sport nutrition because the daily diet is the culprit of training/racing related issues, not sport nutrition products. 
I like this category because after you investigate all of the possible reasons why your sport nutrition product is not working for you and you just can't seem to identify the clear answer, this is when you can say "I can't blame everything on nutrition". Sometimes, your sport nutrition product won't work for you and there will be no clear answer why. But then again, it may not be the product causing the issue. Here are some other reasons why you can't blame everything on your sport nutrition product:
-Poor diet/gut health
-Restless sleep
-Intensity/effort of the workout
-Excessive caffeine consumption
-Just an off-day

I hope that you found this information beneficial and hopefully you better understand why your sport nutrition product is not working for you and how to make some easy fixes. For additional help, I highly recommend to reach out to a board certified sport dietitian for personalized assistance, who advocates the use of sport nutrition products and specializes in your sport. 


Feeling flat post race - embrace the recovery

It felt so good to be back on my tri bike for a structured training session with Karel on Saturday. It took a full week for my legs to feel full again after the Lake Logan half Ironman as I was left with a "flat" feeling in my legs for several days post race.

Here's how my week of training went after the race:

Sunday - AM 90 min EZ road bike spin on the Swamp Rabbit Trail w/ my friend Meredith
Monday - PM 90 min EZ road bike spin on the Swamp Rabbit Trail w/ Karel
Tues - AM 3000 yard interval swim w/ Karel, PM 30 min outside EZ run with Karel
Wed - Day off (private camper in town)
Thurs - AM 90 min skill focused ride on tri bike (private camper in town)
Friday - AM 40 min treadmill run
Sat - AM 3.5 hour ride w/ a 20 min strong effort at 2 hours followed by a 30 min treadmill run w/ a 20 sec surge every 5 minutes.
Sun - AM 11 mile long run w/ a 6-mile interval run on the track. Late afternoon 2800 yard interval swim.

With my big season race approaching in just 4 weeks, it was critically important that I was respectful of my body during the recovery of this race. Although my muscles felt recovered by Wednesday, I was sleeping great, eating well and my motivation was high to get back into training, come Thursday, I could tell that my legs were still empty. They just didn't have that "pop" that I was hoping for.
Because the recovery from this half Ironman was a bit longer than what I have experienced in the past, I contributed it to my big training load at Lake Placid and then going into Lake Logan a bit fatigued. Although this was all planned, the unknown was how long it would take me to recover from the half Ironman. 

After a race, most athletes are eager to get back into training because the endorphins are flowing and the excitement of racing brings a lot of motivation to work on weaknesses and improve strengths. While this can be viewed as a positive, it is important to respect the recovery process as feeling "flat" is one of the worst scenarios to push through if you are seeking performance gains. Because most athletes will be able to tell when muscle soreness has subsided (you no longer feel the ache in certain body parts), it is important to be mindful of the "flat" feeling that is often ignored after you ease back into training. Because it's natural to have waves of high and low energy when you are progressing through your development, we must embrace that you will be low in energy following a race but the goal of recovery is to regain the energy that was used during your race so that you can continue to build fitness going into your next race. If you ask your body to push through the "flat" feeling soon after a race and it's likely that you will dig yourself a deep hole that will be tough to get out of - in other words, you may end up overtraining, getting injured or feeling stale and burnt-out for the rest of your season. 

Here are some of my tips to help you embrace the recovery phase and to be overcome the flat feeling post race:
  1. Don't rush back into training by being strict with your training. While it's important to exercise to help with blood flow, don't put too much pressure on yourself that you have to be diligent with checking off your workouts. Adjust workouts so that they assist with recovery.
  2. Don't worry about losing fitness by not rushing back into training. You'll gain fitness when you let your body properly recovery so that you can push hard again.
  3. Don't be hard on your body. Avoid the tendency to rush back into training because you worry about gaining weight or because you feel "fat". At the same time, don't restrict food just because you are not training as hard/long. Respect your body during recovery by focusing on a balanced diet to help with recovery.
  4. Prioritize sleep to help with recovery. While you may be use to sleeping 6-7 hours per night, your body may need 9-10 hours to help your body heal from the damage that occurred on race day. Don't sacrifice sleep for an early morning "recovery" workout.
  5. Resist the temptation to train in a group setting as this may cause you to push harder than you should during the recovery process.
  6. Continue to use sport nutrition during your workouts, as well as fueling before/after your workouts as this will help protect your immune system.
  7. Don't isolate yourself from things that make you happy, like friends, family, pets and your children. Get outside and surround yourself with people who make you feel happy, healthy, alive and energetic.
  8. Focus on a feeling, not a metric. While you can use power, speed and heart rate to give you some awareness of what your body can do in the moment, you will know when your body can or can't push through a given effort. Certainly, if form is compromised, don't push through fatigue.
  9. Address other contributing factors that may be affecting your post race "flat" feeling, like hormones, poor sleep, poor appetite, life/work stress or a difficult race experience.
Although pushing through fatigue can help boost performance, it's important to be strategic with the timing of when you train when tired. Understanding that a race will deplete your energy levels and will compromise your muscular and cardio system, not to mention the added stress on your hormones and bones as you are asking your body to give its best, the goal of training is to improve your fitness so that you can perform on race day. Embrace the recovery and respect your body so that you can stay healthy and well, as you train hard, throughout the season.