(If you do not want to read my recap of our Ironman prep, scroll down to the bottom for pre-race)
If you could work less hours and get all your tasks completed in less time and still get paid the same amount, would you?
If you took a road trip and could drive an easier route to your final destination, instead of one that was of more difficulty, but still arrive to the same place at the same time, would you?
If you could study for an exam a little every day for a few months and get a B+, instead of cramming it all in over 2 weeks and get a B-, would you?
As athletes, I find we think differently than many people. For when you finish a race and your garmin lets you know that the race course was shorter than advertised, you are quick to let others know, almost as if you are disappointed that you didn’t go the full distance (albeit, likely it was a matter of tenths but still it matters). But when a race course is long, it’s easy to complain and let others know that the finish time is not accurate, feeling frustrated that your time is not comparable to similar distances and past results.
But when it comes to training, it seems as if many athletes do more than necessary often spending more time doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. Often taking the longer route and feeling impatient by the journey ahead.
In preparation for Ironman Lake Placid, Karel and I gave ourselves a 10-week training plan to specifically focus on the Ironman. 1 week being taper followed by 1 week of active recovery and 8 weeks of solid Ironman training. Not too much, but just enough of quality training to prepare our body and mind for race day without compromising the many other areas in our life that require focus, energy and commitment.
In those 8 weeks, we never found ourselves not making progress. Maybe the workout didn’t go as planned due to variables out of our control, it had to be shortened for time constraints or we played it smart by modifying the planned workout in order to keep consistent with training. What I love so much about endurance training is that the body adapts over time, not in just one workout.
We spent the first 3 weeks of our IM prep building our endurance with speed work and no long bike ride over 4 hours (or brick more than 4.5 hours). Every workout had a purpose and of course, with Karel being a rookie triathlete (just starting to train for triathlons last June) and me coming off my on/off hip/back/glute issues, it was important to not do too much too soon. I find every athlete has 4-5 great consistent weeks of training when they start a training plan. Often times, this comes in the early part of the season (often 16-20 weeks before the race) when training is not as race specific but athletes feel too good to do less.
Additionally, many athletes go into training for a race with the intention of improving health and body composition, which is great. But the idea of the perfect body image or even worse, the pressure of being a certain weight by race day and consequently putting more pressure on the diet and body than the training itself. One of the worst mistakes that an athlete can make is wanting to restrict nutrition around workouts when the body is under the most intentional physiological stress and then “rewarding” the body with food that does not enhance performance later in the day. I see it a lot with athletes that there is this constant pressure to train for a number on a scale rather than for performance. In other words, athletes are not fueling according to their assigned workout at hand and refueling based on the workout accomplished but instead the workout is reflective of past eating habits or a desire for calories burned. Thus, rather than fueling in a way that allows the body to get stronger, faster and healthier, nutrients are restricted and training load becomes too heavy and athletes find themselves entering a dangerous area of overtraining/under-eating.
I love helping athletes with their nutrition for endurance events because I want athletes to find balance with endurance training, to stay healthy and to reach personal goals. I love doing the same for fitness enthusiasts to see the diet as a way to reduce risk for disease and to maintain a great life with good health. Getting injured, burnout, sick or feeling isolated from friends and family or feeling extreme pressure for your body to adapt just as fast as your training partners are not normal parts of training for an endurance event. Remember, your body does not have to allow you to do what it does when you train for an event and you can’t expect your body to adapt at the same rate as others. You must be respectful of your body and how it adapts to training stress and realize that you have to be just as dedicated and committed to your training plan as you are to other areas of your life. Never let your race day goal get in the way of you enjoying your journey to get to the starting line.
So after the first block of our training, we then spent another 5 weeks of periodized quality training with Monday being an easy swim or full recovery day and a bit more time on the weekends for the longer brick (long bike + short run). Nearing the end of our training, we were careful to not go too hard during the week, Tues – Sun knowing that the key workouts occurred early and late week (weekend). We never felt burnt out, fatigued or questioned the “whys” as to why we are doing this while rolling out the door by 7am most weekends. Every workout for bike and run was based on time (not distance) and the swims were based on distance (not time).
We only did 2 rides longer than 100 miles, one being mileage focused (112 miles + 1 mile run off the bike) and the other based on time (5 hours + 2 mile run off the bike). Sitting on Karel’s wheel allowed me to cover more distance in the same amount of time that I could do alone but every workout included intervals where I was training myself to become more efficient in my Ironman zone. Without looking at my Training Peaks files, I have absolutely no idea how many miles I did within each bike workout or how fast I went. On average, we trained around 14-15 hours a week with typically only one workout a day in the morning. Nearing the last 3-4 weeks of peak training, the weekly hours increased to about 18-20 hours due to the longer bricks on the weekends as our training progressed.When we did Branson 70.3 in 2011 where I won as overall amateur female and Karel placed 5thage group in his first half IM (3rd triathlon) Karel trained only 10 hours a week and I trained about 12 hours (a bit more strength training and swimming and I often warm-up a bit longer than Karel).
Just like with our half IM training, we did a lot of brick workouts and speed work during the week for bike, swim and run which was totally doable because we were not burning ourselves in the ground during the weekend training. I walked during every run that I did to simulate aid stations. Karel’s longest run was 20 miles but most of his long runs of 14-16 miles included a bike in between two morning runs (ex. 10 mile run + 2-3 hour bike + 4 mile run). I did 2 long runs, 13 miles and 15 miles as I do not believe in running more than 2.5 hours for Ironman prep. For IMWI (which I qualified for Kona by placing 4thand receiving a roll down slot), I only did 2 long runs of 16 miles. Also, my long runs occur after a 1-2 hour ride. I strength train year round, however, with IM training, it rarely included lifting any weights. More functional strength exercises than anything, specifically core work and hip focused strength. Sleep and nutrition were priorities as there is no way to be consistent with training if we do not prioritize nutrition on a daily basis to keep our bodies healthy and there is no way to recover and maintain a healthy attitude and mood if we are not able to sleep restful at night. We did not let training get in the way of life and we did not let life affect our ability to enjoy our time training.
I’ve certainly learned a lot since 2006 when I trained for my first IM. I was new to the sport at the age of 24 and worried about the distance, I started with a more is better approach. But now I have my own business where I can help others reach goals and find balance in life with eating and training/exercising. By applying my background in exercise physiology and being less stubborn and more open-minded to my hubby’s thoughts (cat 1 cyclist as an “outsider looking in” approach) I’ve gradually learned that less is more and I’ve been able to execute in racing with this approach to training. Could I do more and take a risk? Sure, but that would mean that I am focusing more on what others are doing instead of thinking about myself and what I can balance in my own personal life, with my own personal goals.
Ironman training involves so much more than just putting in the miles in training. I find that many athletes waste their best performance in training by doing too much too soo. Training becomes monotonous and lack-luster. It starts as something that you want to do and turns into something you have to do, often at the expense of family/friend-time. The excitement dwindles and all of a sudden, the athlete who had high goals and expectations becomes brainwashed by his/her own thoughts to think that more is better. Never doubt the progress you have made with your fitness, which can potentially bring you to a great race day performance if you keep on doing what is working. If it isn’t working, adjust something but don’t just hope for different results or to be better tomorrow.
There are so many ways to train for an Ironman and that is why I feel so strongly that Ironman athletes should have an experienced coach to guide them along through this amazing journey. Anytime you ask your body to perform during endurance training/racing, it is important to recognize that your race day performance does not just depend on how many miles you covered in training or how much a scale says in your bathroom. Unfortunately not ever body is designed to do endurance racing but also, not ever body has to do endurance racing. Find something that challenges you but also makes you happy to make time for it. Never put so much pressure on yourself that you don’t enjoy your me-time.
We don’t own a scale in our home. We don’t force our bodies to get to a race weight, it happens naturally through training the body to perform. We do not detox, cleans, go gluten-free, paleo or follow any other extreme dietary pattern/fad that is advocated by the masses to change body composition and improve health (although I feel strongly that mass marketed diets are more focused on body image than health). We do not have an off limit food list posted on our ‘fridge and we never feel guilty around food. I am a 20-year vegetarian for animal reasons, Karel is not. We eat real food most of the time which leaves little room for the other stuff the rest of the time. There’s still room for it but it is consumed in a way that is enjoyed and appreciated.
There is no bad body image/food talk, there is no need to compare ourselves to how others train and there is a lot of emphasis on fueling before every workout, during every workout and after every workout. There is a lot of attention to each of our strengths and weaknesses as individuals in all areas of our life, as well as flexibility in our training plan as to keeping things balanced between triathlons and life. We stay active year-round but training is periodized to allow us to peak at the right time, without us burning out at any time. There is a lot of growth, confidence building and fun with every part of our training. There are highs and lows but never do we let training define us or affect how we live. We love what we choose to do for a hobby as it is our lifestyle, not our life.
The week before the race was our official “taper” – super light, exploring the course, soaking in the Placid community feel and keeping the body fresh for race day. The two weeks before the race included less volume than 3 weeks out but it maintained the same intensity. As the body recovered from the past few weeks of training, it never felt heavy, lethargic, sleepy or bloated. Nutrition didn’t change on a daily basis, only how we fueled around our workouts to support the current training load. We stuck with a schedule of 1 day easy, 2 days “training” during the two weeks out from race day until we arrived to Placid last wed to ensure that as the body started to peak for the race, we wouldn’t waste our best performance during taper as we were holding in all our energy for the race.
Wed – travel day to Placid
Thurs – lake swim (1.2 miles) + afternoon bike on climbs (rode down the last 12 miles or so of the course and then back up the climbs)
Fri – lake swim (15 minutes) to get comfortable in wetsuits (which we didn’t get until Thurs as they were with our bikes at Tri Bike Transport) followed by a 35 minute EZ spin (hard to find easy roads in Placid so we rode the run course on River Road).
Sat – race warm-up which included a 1 hour bike + 10-15 min run w/ a few “fast” efforts of 1-2 minutes on the bike (on the climbs in a high cadence) w/ 3-4 min recovery and a few 30-45 sec pick-ups on the run w/ walking in between. We also drove the descend of the bike course so that by race day we had seen all of the bike course except the two out and back sections.
Sun – 140.6 miles!
With 6 Ironman finishes behind my name and helping dozens of athletes cross endurance finishing lines, one thing I have learned with Ironman racing is that it’s not about preventing nutrition related problems but knowing how to deal with them when they come about. There is no perfect nutrition plan even if you don’t suffer from nutrition related problems at one race because every race is different and the body is always getting more efficient. Nerves, excitement, swallowing water during the swim, pushing too hard, weather, concentrated drinks at aid stations, daily diet, food choices, not sticking to your plan – there are so many factors that can affect your race day nutrition that I find that the best thing you can do is to trust that what worked in training will work on race day and remembering that your race day performance is not a long training day. On race day, you are using the body that you trained for weeks and months. In other words, your body must be fueled during training in order to execute on race day. You don’t have to train on Power bar perform and coke just because it is on the course. Can you use what is on the course on race day if tolerated? Sure, but perhaps a better fueling regime will help you become more efficient, faster and stronger by race day.
You should know exactly what worked in training with your nutrition to have confidence on race day that you have a plan that should work but keep in mind that it may need to be adjusted based on many factors and sometimes by things out of your control. This is why I feel strongly that athletes need to have a nutrition coach to also help with training for I feel many training sessions are not appropriate for race day and do not allow the body to get familiar with race day situations and fueling. I am not a fan of Ironman “day” of training as I don’t feel athletes need to bike more than 112 miles in training (or 6.5 hours – whichever comes first as I tell my athletes), run more than 2.5 hours (or 20 miles – whichever comes first) or do a brick that is more than 6.5 hours (ideally, a 100 mile ride + 2 mile run or 4 hour ride + 1 hour run or a 2 hour ride + 2 hour run are perfect race simulation workouts that you can do near the end of your IM training plan). I am a big fan of bricks as well understanding your zones for IM racing. But when it comes to daily nutrition, I do not change my diet from what has fueled my training for months at a time. Karel and I don’t believe in using the off season to get lazy but also the body and mind need a break from structure. So really, we are always maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle without the pressure to ever be x-weight, to train x-hours a week or to “allow” ourselves to lose fitness. There is absolutely no pressure with the diet and training throughout the year for us to feel any pressure on the week leading up to the race in terms of how we eat or perceive our body to look. We don’t train for fitness pageants to stand on a stage and model our bodies. We are athletes who use our bodies to cross finishing lines and we can only do that if we stay injury free and nourished. I shared almost all my meals leading up to the race on my Facebook page but my main focus for nutrition fueling on race week included:
-Water (coffee is fine too)
-No energy drinks, new supplements/pills that are promoted as ergogenic aids (performance boosters) or other medications/supplements/pills
-Prioritizing food that is made from mother nature, not in a factory.
-Wholesome food prepared by me (or Karel) as much as possible (for Placid, we didn’t eat out at all before the race and saved that for post race. I controlled the ingredients for every food item that we put into our bodies.)
-Feel confident with food choices –every food should make us feel good after we eat it
-Small meals, eating every 2-3 hours. No big meals but breakfast was typically a very satisfying meal, daily.
-At least 20-25g carbs from a sport drink (ex. Hammer heed) or electrolytes (Hammer Fizz) on race week anytime we used our bodies for training purposes.
-Electrolytes as needed (Fizz or pills) as a back-up for electrolytes
-Lots of fresh produce (fruits and veggies that are well tolerated) for vitamins and minerals
-Low fiber and fat on the 3-4 days leading up to the race. Moderate protein and high emphasis on carbohydrates that make our bellies feel good (fresh local bread, potatoes, rice, granola, honey, raisins, etc.)
-Eat when we are hungry, no clock watching. We ate on our own schedule whenever we wanted knowing that we may be married but we each have different nutritional/fueling needs. For the most part, we ate at the same time but often different food choices.
I always write out an itinerary as to what needs to get done and when, before a big race as it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the race alongside getting yourself ready and the time just rushes by. On Friday after we rode our bikes and before dinner and the mandatory athlete meeting, we spent the late afternoon preparing our transition bags which saved a lot of stress and time for Saturday. We prepared our bike bottles and run flasks with powder only, for easy filling with water on Sunday morning. We put all our individual items into separate zipper bags inside the transition bags in the case of rain (which it did on race day) as well as to ensure that when the volunteer empties out the bag in the changing tent, nothing gets lost or forgotten. I tied a bright red ribbon on my bags for easy spotting in transition. I believe in planning for every situation with transition bags for an IM but trusting myself as to what I used in training will work on race day.
On Saturday, after we did our race warm-up, we ate a filling carb-rich French toast + fruit and eggs breakfast, re-packed our transition bags, did a double check of everything and then racked our bikes a bit before 12 (I think) and hung our transition bags, then headed back to the cottage for a light lunch. We rested in the afternoon and then around 3 we headed out for one last drive of the bike course, especially the bumpy descend, except the out and back sections (which included about 13-14 miles I think). We arrived back to the condo on sat evening and for our pre race dinner around 5pm, Karel had soup and rice (pasta and chicken and a small salad on Fri) and I had ½ large sweet potato, asparagus, rice, egg and a small salad (pizza and salad on Fri). We were both a bit nervous on Saturday evening and decided it would be best to sleep in separate rooms for a good night of sleep. We reviewed the course maps and we each had our own ways to relax. Karel listened to Czech music that his dad use to listen to when he grew up and after I face-timed with my parents, I watched YouTube videos of Lake Placid Ironman from years past to get me excited about race day.
We both slept very well and went to bed around 8:30pm and woke up with multiple alarms at 3:15am.
I couldn’t believe how nervous I was! I don’t think I have ever been this nervous for a race but luckily, I have Gloria. I found myself letting a lot of things out of my control get to me which I discussed with Gloria on the phone on Friday. The weather was constantly changing (temps and rain) so although I couldn’t change it, I was concerned how to prepare for it with my clothing. This was a challenging course so of course, I was trying to stay confident with my race day plan. Then there was the unknown of how my body will perform and as any athlete knows, the mind does some crazy things before a race but seems to settle out when you are on the course. My body had been playing a lot of games with me the day before the race which was new to me and very weird. Actually, both Karel and myself. We would have waves of feeling great to feeling like we had the flu. I continued to trust my plan but I had to welcome a lot of crazy things before a race alongside thinking about my hubby and athlete Laura, both doing their first Ironman. With the coach inside of me, I felt more relaxed helping them than thinking about myself. I joked with them on race day morning as we were walking to the transition area that even with 5 Ironman’s behind me, it never gets easier to feel total calmness before a race.
My pre race meal sat perfectly as I knew it would because of how many times I did similar foods before training. I had 4 rye Wasa crackers with peanut butter, honey and raisins and ½ large banana w/ cinnamon and a few almonds. With training I have milk with my 2 wasa crackers, honey, PB and raisins and banana slices but before races in the morning, my tummy doesn’t like milk. I guesstimated this to be around 450-500 calories but did not measure. I gave my athlete Laura exact amounts of her pre race meal because I didn’t want her to doubt herself with her pre race nutrition. I did not lecture Karel at all about his pre-race meal as I know he eats according to what works in training and neither of us have nutrition/food related issues with training or racing.
Karel started his morning with oatmeal and berries and then had a waffle sandwich with peanut butter and jelly (we choose natural peanut butter and 100% fruit and sugar, no HFCS or “diet” options for jelly). He also sipped on a Bolthouse yogurt based drink (espresso/coffee I think) which has worked well for him in his past few races. We took our time in the morning with our food, coffee and water and kept the morning positive with our thoughts. Karel listened to his Czech music and I read quotes on the internet as we were waiting for our food to digest.
At 4:20am we grabbed our morning clothes bag from home and our prepared bottles (4 bottles for me, 2 with 350 calories for the first 75-90 minutes of each loop since the course consisted of only a few climbs but mostly descending and gentle rollers so I knew this would be the ideal time to take in more calories with a lower HR to ensure proper digestion and absorption and 2 bottles with 300 calories for the back half of each loop. Karel had 3 bottles with him of his custom-made Infinit formula that I created for him which was around 350 calories (around 300 calories per 2 scoops). We each had packets of pills that we made in saran wrap which included 2 Hammer endurance aminos and 1 electrolyte tablet and taped together for easy consumption by just popping in our mouth and biting off the tape. I’m a firm believer in prioritizing liquid calories as much as possible as I find too many athletes having too difficult of a race day fueling plan which requires a lot of time with a hand off the bike to eat, drink, snack, etc. and not enough time to actually digest what is being consumed. I don’t take in any solid food during training or racing but Karel had a sport bar (from Czech when we traveled there in May) for the bike. Since we both planned to use water at aid stations, we both had a gel flask in our pockets (300 calories worth of Hammer Espresso gel for me).
We also had our gadgets (Garmin 500 for me, Garmin 810 for Karel and our 910XTs), a bottle for sipping fluids in transition, sun screen, body glide, wetsuits (Xterra for me and speed suits just in case), change of clothes for post race, shopping/grocery bag (to help Karel put on his TYR wetsuit), goggles (+ backup goggles), swim cap, chip w/ safety pin to secure and bike pump. We both did not have a special needs bag for the bike and run because we both have spare tubs and CO2 on our bikes (I have two of each and the aid stations also had extras as notified in the athlete briefing). I took an electrolyte tablet and 2 endurance aminos before the race while I was eating.
We drove to Laura’s house down the road (1.5 miles, our cottage was on the run course, about 3.5 miles or so away from the race venue) and parked and finally, we both felt at ease with everything. Finally, all the training was about to be executed and the day was finally here that Karel and I had patiently waiting for. The day that he would cross his first Ironman finishing line and race for the longest he had ever raced before. I was super excited to share the day with Karel, Laura, my nutrition athletes (Fran, Maria, Stephanie) and the other 2500 athletes and as well.
We walked with Laura’s parents and boyfriend Duran to the race venue (about 15 minute walk or so) and I finally felt like I was in a good place. Everything was now out of my control. I made a few swaps with clothing for the race (jersey and arm warmers and gloves were in a backup baggie now since the weather warmed up a tiny bit and went with my Trimarni cycling shorts, tri jersey and CEP compression calf sleeves to wear under my wetsuit), I put my bottles and computer on my bike, Karel pumped up my tires and checked out my bike after he did his and it was time to make a few more stops at the potty and make our way to the swim start after body marking.
Taking a few deep breaths while walking to the swim start helped me feel more relaxed. Also, I bumped into a few people that I knew, one being a social media/twitter friend that I have never met, Kendra, who is a phenomenal athlete and person, also in my age group. Karel, Laura and I made the long walk from transition area to the swim start (on carpet) and put on our wetsuits on the beach area of Mirror Lake around 5:45am. Although we arrive to transition around 5am with the race starting around 6:32am with the new rolling age group swim start, the morning didn’t feel rushed or like we were waiting very long. Bags were racked, the bike was ready and all we needed to do was to trust the training and to let things happen as they happened.
At 6am, the new swim start was in effect as the race director let athletes swim in the side of the lake which was great to get the wetsuit adjusted and comfortable. Karel and I swam a little and I finally felt much more relaxed and ready to go. The energy was about to be released and I was reminding myself that I don’t want this day to be over. I always tell my athletes that in an Ironman, it’s a lot of training for just a one-day event and it will be over before you know it and life will be normal again the next day.
A few other things that made me smile on race day, 2 Chihuahuas that made me miss Campy. They were as loud as could be, barking at two bigger doggies. I couldn’t help but laugh because Campy has small dog syndrome as well. Also, as we were swimming warm-up in the lake, 5-6 ducks were swimming in a line through a massive amount of people in theirlake. They were awfully mad, quaking at us but didn’t let a bunch of swimmers get in their way as they somehow managed to find clean water to get to the shore side of the lake.
Around 6:15am, Mike Riley told the swimmers to exit the water and to seed ourselves in our respected anticipated swim times. Rather than a mass starts that I have done in all my Ironman events, I was really looking forward to this new swim start which took place for the first time at IMCDA in June. I feel this is a much better way to start and a lot safer than a mass start and I really looked forward to it as oppose to getting beat up by a bunch of guys trying to swim over me and my pink cap.
I found Karel seeded in the 1:01-1:10 area and gave him a big hug and kiss and wished him a great race and I told him I can’t wait to see him at the finish line waiting for me. I then seeded myself in the very back of the 60 minutes or less area. With my past 5 IM swim times being 1:08, 1:07, 1:04, 1:02, 1:08 (Kona – choppy!) and feeling confident with my swim training, I decided to challenge myself with the 60 min swimmers since many of the ladies around me said that they anticipate swimming around 60 minutes. Although the swim seeding works like a running race in that you don’t want to put yourself around individuals much faster than you, I knew that with my comfort in the water, it was better for me to get swum over than to try to fight my way through people in the first 100-200 meters of the race.
I couldn’t help but look behind me a few times at Karel, nervous for him as his first time swimming 2.4 miles in open water and starting his first ever Ironman. Laura seeded herself in 1:11-1:20 and I also tried to send positive vibes to her as well knowing that the swim leg is often a scary part of triathlons for many people and often the reason why many people do not sign up for triathlons in the first place. I was so proud of these two, along with so many other athletes for moving beyond their comfort zone by training for Ironman Lake Placid.
After the pro’s went off, we all walked a little closer to the starting banner on the sand for a walking start where our chip would start when we crossed the line on the sand. Around 6:32am, Mike Riley was pumping us up along with the crowds cheering and the techno music playing loudly.
Mike Riley said something along the lines of “have a great day athletes and I can’t wait to call you an Ironman at the finishing line.”
All of a sudden, body marked bodies and wrapped in wetsuits with bright colored caps moved quickly in front of me and I started my 910 on multisport zone and thought to myself….there’s no turning back now!!!
My feet touched the water and I skipped my way to deeper water as I looked ahead at 9 numbered buoys ahead of me. I dived into the water, started swimming and all of a sudden I was in my happy place for the first of 2 loops of this 2.4 mile swim.