It’s official. Ironman Canada 2020 is postponed. Sigh. We’d been hoping against hope that this race would still go on but it came as no surprise to get the email officially postponing the race. It is disappointing for all.
The road to Ironman is never easy but this is the first time in over 20 years of coaching that the road has included a trip through a pandemic! For several months we have watched many of our athletes struggle with what all the uncertainty, quarantine and cancellation of events has meant to their training.
Some of our athletes have had more time to train and others even less. Some have stayed motivated or even been more motivated while others are feeling exhausted and unmotivated. For some, training has become a lifeline to maintaining stability and focus. For others, training is much harder as they have had to learn how to navigate kids “attending” school via video and home school requirements, their own jobs, spouses working from home and just the underlying angst and stress of everything going on.
This blog was originally going to be about the mental side of training for an Ironman. As we thought about that, we realized this still applies more than ever and not just for those who had hoped to be on the starting line in late August at IMCA.
Team CLA is headed to IMCA in August 2020! 6 months! Race day is in 6 months! OH MY! Now before you start panicking we do still have some time but it is time to get serious about that little race in August. Ok, it might be time to panic just a little! Now is the time to evaluate your training.
What training? Okay that might be a problem. It’s time to evaluate the type of training you are doing as well as how well you are handling the load. Is it doable now? What about in a few months? Will you be able to handle the volume for peak training? What can we do now to help make sure you are ready and able to keep as much balance in your life as peaking for an Ironman can allow?
We don’t want to overwhelm you but want do want you to realize that undertaking the journey of an Ironman is just that. A journey. It requires commitment, drive, some sacrifice and help from everyone around you. It does take a village. It also requires realizing that even with solid preparation, race day will be challenging (which is partly why we do it, right?!).
Can you do an Ironman with only half-hearted resolve and half-hearted training? Probably. But what do you want on race day? How bad do you want it?
Team CLA is headed to IMCA in August 2020! It’s 7 months to race day. No matter if you will be swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 or doing some other big or small adventure this summer, it is time to get going! Any distance or goal can feel daunting when starting out. It is time to dig in and get going even though the gloomy, wet weather is challenging right now.
Yikes! 7 months! It’s time to start base building. Hurray! Have you made friends with your bike trainer yet?
Seven months out from race day and that means this is your base building period. What exactly does that mean?
For one, it is ok to continue to play. Check out some of our 2020 challenges for instance! But, it is also time to start putting a little focus in and to make sure you are keeping your eyes on race day even though it seems so far away.
By playing, we mean it’s ok to not be totally structured with your workouts. If you want to do some cross country skiing, snowshoeing, a little extra riding or hiking there is still room. Take time to be active and play with friends and family. It’s ok to not be regimented into thinking you MUST get in X,Y, and don’t forget Z. In fact, getting too intense with your workouts now can do some harm.
As people get nervous, it is human nature to start to feel we must start getting it all in now. We all want to get a little faster so it feels counter-intuitive to keep the training easy effort or low zone. However, it is that long and easy effort that we really do need right now. Consistent workouts are great, getting in some of all three sports as well as some strength is great, but remember we don’t want race fitness right now.
The long easy workouts are the hardest for many to do. They might not feel as important because you are not “working hard enough” or they may be boring but it is critical to develop this foundation. It’s way too early to be reaching towards time goals, pace goals or race fitness. It would be impossible for you to maintain that type of fitness for over half a year! And if you try to maintain that type of fitness gained by intense workouts, you are more likely to develop overuse injuries or other maladies which will take you off of that start line. Foundations are not built by quickly throwing together hard training but are built by steady work.
But I AM Going Easy
Are you sure? It’s time to get all nerdy about all the good things that happen when you are going at a general endurance pace. This pace is where muscle capillary development happens. You increase the amount of blood that your heart can pump. You increase aerobic enzymes. Trust us, these are all great things that will help you in an event that is going to last at least 8-9 hours but probably much longer.
If you work too hard, you miss out on the physiological changes which happen and support you on that looong race day! And don’t forget, this type of workout - a general aerobic pace - also helps you reap a lot of other health benefits like supporting good heart health, for instance. Working too hard in workouts can also sabotage your efforts mentally and start a chorus of: this is too hard! I can’t do this!
Easy effort is a pace where you can chat with friends if you are out for a run. If you are a newer runner or running is not your strongest sport, it is ok to put in walk breaks as this is a strategy many use come race day and it is a great opportunity to train this technique. This does not mean run hard intervals and then walk to catch your breath. You want to be able to chat the whole time. I can tell you from experience being able to have conversations during the run can make race day even more fun. You will be amazed by the people you meet, the stories you hear and the friendships that can develop.
If you are on a trainer, you should be able to read a book or a magazine (great chance to catch up!). If you find it difficult to concentrate, try backing off a bit and seeing if you can refocus. Swimming? It’s a little hard to go for a talk test in the water but aim for relaxed swimming where you feel like you could keep swimming forever. Imagine being in the ocean in Kona and wanting to follow all the pretty fish. If you can focus on and follow the fish you are more than likely swimming easy.
And now here is the gray. Training is never black and white. Some days the pace that felt easy last week might feel like a hard pace or more moderate pace. That is okay. Slow down if this is the case. Put your pride aside if you feel like you must hit a certain pace all the time and really learn and understand what is easy for your body on any given day. This will change with training load and all the other stressors in your life! Sometimes heart rate or power information will not be accurate or your watch may die on race day so it is really important that you learn for you what is an easy, sustainable pace.
It is difficult for you to go too easy in training. What will be too easy? Sitting on the couch and not doing any workouts at all. Stick to it, trust your training and the years of research that talk about base building. You’ll be thankful on race day.
An Opportunity for Skill Development
Winter? You know it. It’s easy to get discouraged with the cold, gray, wet and snow especially when it comes to cycling. Let’s re-frame that and look at this time as a great opportunity to spend a lot more time with your bike trainer. Woohoo! More time on your bike trainer means you get a chance to work on bike skills that will make you a more efficient rider.
As always, it’s important that you have a bike that is well fit to you including the shoe/pedal combination you are using. If you have not yet had a bike fit done, it is time! You’ll be amazed at how different riding might feel after just a few little tweaks by an experienced bike fitter. When talking about Ironman the bike is the leg where we all spend the most time so comfort is something to think about. Do you really want to be uncomfortable for 5-8 hours?
The other reason for a bike fit is that with that many hours of repetition, if something is just slightly off it is easy to develop an overuse injury. This may impact your whole season of training or might catch up to you in the weeks leading up the race or on race day. There are so many things that can go wrong on race day that we don't have control over like potholes, weather, even other athletes, that is important to take care of the things we can control. Rule of Ironman is to do all we can do to avoid things we can avoid particularly something like an overuse injury from poor bike fit. So, take time now to make sure your bike fit is spot on!
Bike Trainer Focused
Use the time on the trainer to work on an even and round pedal stroke. Insert eye roll here. Of course it is a round pedal stroke, I am on a bike with pedals that go round and round! Sorry, a truly balanced pedal stroke takes work and practice.
Most of us tend to be quad-dominant and this leads us to put much more pressure on the down-stroke using more of our quads than other leg muscles. Remember you still have a marathon to run so you want to save those quads so you can use them later on the run! Why not share the load with your glutes, hamstrings and even your calves?
There are many drills you can try and it is good to try several and see where you personally need some work. One of our favorites is the One-legged Drill - can you pedal a nice round smooth stroke with only one leg? Do you have a dead spot where you suddenly have no power or are clunky? Practice doing one-legged pedaling to minimize these dead spots. A second one we like is a Cadence Drill. Can you increase your cadence (or how many revolutions of a pedal per minute) from 80 to 90 to 100+ without bouncing in your saddle? To do this, you must stay smooth and relaxed and use an even pedal stroke using both push and pull. Once you are good at these drills, try going through all your gears so you get more comfortable shifting.
We get asked a lot about spin classes for winter training. They can be great to mix in to keep it a bit more exciting and fresh but remember, on race day you will be sitting on your bike, your saddle with your bike’s geometry for a long period of time so practicing this on your trainer for a majority of your workouts will help the rest of your body adapt.
And remember back to base building phase and keeping it easy? Spin classes or online biking sessions can get the competitive juices flowing and have you riding harder than you intend. Be mindful about what is the purpose of your ride each day and use the classes to support your workout but not dominate your riding.
Bit by Bit
You are building your foundation. Stroke by stroke, pedal by pedal, and step by step. Continuing to add sport specific strength is invaluable to making your more efficient and keeping everything together.
This doesn’t mean hours in the gym but doing short and targeted workouts where you feel the work in the particular muscles. It’s easy to quickly go through strength workout but are you actually feeling it where you should?
We have a couple of new swim specific videos for you to try out. And they don’t even require water! Slow down and get the most of these short workouts:
Truly these are short core focused routines which are good for anyone regardless if they have an Ironman in their future. We'd really appreciate it if you could subscribe to our YouTube Channel!
Yes, you still have seven months.
We know it still may be a bit overwhelming but hopefully you can see that by breaking it down you can do this. Basebuilding lets you gradually increase the volume you can handle both physically and mentally.
Tell yourself you can do this. Take a deep breath. Focus.
Let’s go! It’s time for that journey to Ironman. We can’t wait to see what you’ll accomplish on that journey.