• Mindset Matters: Keeping Perspective

    Mindset Matters: Keeping Perspective

    When tackling the daunting task of racing Ironman—whether it’s your first time to cover 140.6, or you’re a multiple IM Champ—it’s essential to approach the day with the proper perspective.  I hear it all the time: “How on earth do you run an entire marathon after riding that far?” And there is also “112 miles?! I can’t even drive that far without getting tired.”

    My answer to each of these questions is pure and simple: I keep perspective.  I keep perspective by viewing the task I face through a short lens. I never look at the run as an entire marathon; I break it down and look at little segments that eventually make up the 26.2 miles. I don’t jump on the bike and think about how I’m riding the equivalent of LA to San Diego; I think about what it will take to get to mile 25, then I reassess, and reassess again. And again. 

    The short story is that I keep perspective, and I continue to modify that perspective as I go.

    When looking at a very real example of how perspective is everything, I look back to two particular years at Ironman Arizona: 2006 and 2009. 

    In 2006, I was racing against many formidable competitors, but toward the end of the day, only two great champions were challenging me for the win: Tim Deboom and Spencer Smith.  The lead I held was precarious all day long. I had been managing self doubt, self confidence, strength and weakness.  Entering lap three of three on the run, my lead had been whittled down to just 80 seconds. If I looked I could actually see the shark behind me chasing its prey.  I was vulnerable. 

    But as I rounded the final segment, about to embark on my last 8.77 miles, a friend yelled to me: “Hey Lovato, it’s an hour of your life—you can do anything for an hour.”  I heard the words, processed the wisdom, and determined that he was right. What was one tiny little hour in the big picture of my entire life.  I dug in and tolerated the pain over the next hour or so, and I won the race. 

    Often I look back at that pivotal moment when I changed perspectives.  Had I continued to think about how bad my legs hurt and how much longer I had to suffer, I might have cracked.  But seeing a hour as a tiny drop in the bucket helped me manage that monumental task.

    Fast forward three years, and I am a spectator on the sidelines of the same race. My friend and then training partner Richie Cunningham was battling his way through his first Ironman. He was holding tightly to a podium spot, and was giving everything he could to keep the position.  The day was long—as it is for all of us on the Ironman course—and the wear and tear was starting to get to him.

    When Richie had just about a lap to go, I thought back to the pearls of wisdom that helped me through my rough patch in ‘06. Seeing him in a world of hurt—knowing just how he felt—I offered what I believed to be uplifting advice: “Richie,” I yelled, “keep it up, it’s only a hour.” 

    I watched him run off, and was quite certain I had just helped him tame the beast, and that he was going to finish his last lap stronger than ever.

    His race ended with him in fourth place, notching a fast time, a finisher’s medal, and the satisfaction of becoming an Ironman.  But he suffered a great deal in the closing miles. He slowed, he was passed, and he did not maintain the same paces he had for the initial part of the run.

    Later he told me that he was doing pretty well all day. He was not super happy or super comfortable, but he was running strong and racing well.  He thought he could hold onto that third podium  spot, and he thought that right up until I told him that he had to suffer for one more hour. One long hour. One interminable, painful hour. 

    The bottom line is that I had inadvertently helped crack my friend’s mindset.  I had tried to give him the same mental nugget that helped me win the race, but I had failed to do one important thing. I had failed to put that hour in perspective. 

    Richie shared with me that an hour seemed like such a long time.  If he didn’t know that he had a whole hour to go, he might have stayed a bit stronger; he might have had the mental edge to keep pushing. But an hour seemed so long, in comparison to just a few more minutes. 

    The importance of keeping perspective could not be more clear or more obvious than when comparing these two races side-by-side. I’m not saying Richie could have won the race, and I’m not saying that I could have lost mine; I’m just saying that the power of three little words made major impacts on each of our days. 

    So remember that next time you tackle a daunting task. Relatively speaking, these races, these bike rides, these marathons are tiny components of your life.

  • Mindset Matters: Focus Forward

    Mindset Matters: Focus Forward

    If there is one thing I am constantly reminding the athletes I coach it is to put the past behind them. This applies to the big picture scenario, as well as to the minute-to-minute process within a race itself.

    While it’s important to learn from past mistakes (and successes), it becomes crippling and counterproductive if we dwell on the low points of our past.  This may sound like a rather obvious observation, but when I watch athletes repeatedly look to the past (during or after a race, for example), I am repeatedly reminded that we should all set the goal of being better at looking forward.

    There is no more symbolic or fitting time to look forward than now—at the first of the year, with last season’s shortcomings and triumphs firmly in the rear view mirror.  

    I will often take this opportunity to sit with my athletes and discuss what we have learned, but more importantly to clear the slate and begin fresh.

    A great plan for us triathletes is to make January 1st the day to begin forming new habits. Rather than set a resolution to run more than last year, to lose weight from last year, or to go faster than last year, I propose setting the goal of focusing forward at every step of the way.  

    The goals and resolutions should be centered around where you want to arrive, not where you are coming from.  Change the mindset and try to run more than you think you can run; buy a pair of jeans that are too small—then make them fit; or push the limits in your races, not setting the goal line based on last year’s times.

    Once you have in place the mentality of always looking forward (big picture), you can begin to utilize it more effectively on race day too (minute-to-minute). 

    In very few ways does the game of golf relate to triathlon; nor do the skills required to play golf translate well to the challenges of Ironman. However, there is one asset that all successful golfers possess that should be staples in every triathletes bag of tricks.  And that is the ability to put the past behind them.

    When was the last time you saw Tiger Woods hit an eagle, then pat himself on the back for the rest of the tournament? “Hey, I got the eagle on hole 10, now I’m ahead—better coast on in!”  And conversely, when was the last time you saw Rory McIlroy shank one into the woods, then just give up on the rest of the day? The valuable asset of forgetting both overwhelmingly good and overwhelmingly bad sets these guys apart.  

    And triathletes need to hone that same skill.  A poor swim, a kick in the face, a choppy sea—none of those things should be on your brain when you leave T1 on the bike.  They are done; they are behind you; move on.  A personal best; beat your training partner out of the water; made the front pack—big deal, focus on the bike ride you’re now facing.  Execute, forget, move on. 

    While I fully understand that what has happened in the first leg of a triathlon affects how we are physically prepared to handle subsequent legs, I am a big believer that an adjusted, positive, and forward-focused mindset can allow us to overcome, achieve, and realize the goals we set of having a good race—from just finishing to PR.

    With regard to the big picture focus, I understand how painful and discouraging a bad race can be. I understand that a DNF can leave lasting marks on the psyche. I understand what it feels like to fall short of a goal on race day. However, I also understand the value of taking valuable lessons from those shortcomings and then closing that chapter of the book.  24 hours after a disappointing race, it’s time to forget it even happened—take the lessons and don’t look back. The book is closed.  

    Let’s all set the goal of taking the few pearls of wisdom we have obtained through sweat and toil back throughout the course of 2014; but let’s also set the goal, the task, the challenge of not allowing the past to affect the mindset we need to make 2015 our best year yet—on and off the race course. 

  • The Importance of Practice

    The Importance of Practice

    Let’s imagine for a minute that you’ve set the goal of breaking 50 minutes for a 10k. Let’s say you’ve sat down, picked a local race, and set your sights firmly on realizing that goal: ten consecutive, nonstop five-minute kilometers.  You know it’s going to take discipline, you know it’s going to take a plan, and you know it’s going to take training.

    And so you tell your coach to lay it on you: “Train me to run those k’s!”

    You open up Training Peaks and quickly scan through the weeks ahead.  You see a pattern: regular speed work, some hill sessions, and a long run.  Each week looks pretty straightforward, and you feel you can commit to the mileage.  So you dive in.

    At first the speed sessions are tough: hitting kilometer repeats in 5:15 takes some work, but you’re doing it.  You can notch some 400 meter efforts as fast as 5:05 pace, and your 800s are in the range of 5:08-5:10 pace.  Week after week you hit the repeats, and you start to feel very comfortable with your ability to run 5:05 pace, but you have not yet consistently run 5:00 pace or faster for any  distance.  You are starting to wonder when your coach is going to tell you that you need to dive under that 5-minute barrier; when you are going to push the limits and get faster.

    But before you know it, the race is upon you and you realize that over the past several weeks you have only ever run faster than 5 minute pace once, and you did it for only about 2 miles.  You wonder if you have trained the body properly to reach your goal; you wonder if you’re ready.  You figure it’s too late to change anything, so you had better just hope for the best, jump in with two feet and see how the body handles the 5-min kilometer pace. 

    Midway through the hope-and-run plan, you find yourself cramping in the hamstrings, slowing dramatically, stitching up wildly, and wishing the finish line were near.  You stabilize somewhere around 5:10 pace and you force yourself across the line—grateful to be there, but dejected and let down.

    My guess is that every reader is thinking that this is a preposterous plan, and that training for a 10km in this manner would be something he or she would never do.  Not ever.  And most athletes would have to question at some point or another why the coach never prescribed running intervals at or below goal race pace.  Or why did we hope that we’d magically perform better on race day without the proper practice and preparation. 

    Yet my guess is that many readers—many of us athletes and coaches—have made this very same mistake when it comes to race day fueling. 

    Exactly the same as the scenario above, our bodies need practice with race fueling.  But too often we overlook the importance of practicing our race day fueling.  We dash out the door for a quick hour run without grabbing a gel or water bottle.  We head out for a long bike ride and “forget” to drink anything until the final 30 minutes when we realize we have not had a sip.

    Or we approach a key session with the intention of consuming race-appropriate calories, only to find ourselves perched up at the 7 Eleven scarfing down potato chips and coca-cola, or maybe donuts and chocolate milk because “we heard Mirinda Carfrae does that.” 

    Yet we somehow find ourselves scratching our heads and wondering what went wrong when we end up with GI distress midway through the IRONMAN marathon; or vomiting the contents of our stomach halfway through the bike ride.  Or even better, we defy logic by following a perfectly crafted fueling plan—down to the calorie—based on the advice of a coach or training partner or magazine article, without trying it in training. Repeatedly.

    Just as the body needs to experience race pace—and paces that are faster than race pace—in order to handle the efforts we expect of it on race day, the body needs very specific practice with the fueling methods we plan to utilize on race day.  And just as we might push the pace to 4:40 or 4:45 per kilometer in order to achieve that 50-minute 10k, we can also benefit in training from pushing the caloric intake a bit beyond what our exact needs will be on race day.

    In a future blog, I will address the many ways to implement this into your daily and weekly training, but first and foremost, I will reiterate the importance of practicing your fueling plan on a regular basis.  Next time you are heading out for a run and find yourself thinking “it’s only an hour run,” I challenge you to grab a gel and take it halfway through, even if you don’t feel like you’ll need it. 

    There’s no time like the present to begin eliminating the “hope-and-run” strategy from your game plan.

  • Nailing Back-to-Back Races

    Nailing Back-to-Back Races

     

    The best is yet to come—why not make it a double? Here’s how to peak for two A-races.

    by Michael Lovato

    Things have changed. In the past, one “A” race a year was enough for most triathletes, and peaking for it the solitary goal. Now with so many races to choose from, triathletes have to be creative, figuring out how to perform at their best for two or more events—and very often within a short timeframe.

    Nowhere is this double more challenging than for those hitting both world championships—IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas and the GoPro IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona. But even for those who haven’t qualified, this method of tackling two important races can be applied to any distance race: sprint, 5150, 70.3 or IRONMAN.

    At first glance, the idea of putting together solid back-to-back performances might seem intimidating. But like training, if properly planned and managed, it can be done.

    In 2010 I became intrigued by the idea of racing a late-season IRONMAN after training for and peaking at Kona. I’ve been racing IRONMAN for over a decade and I felt up to the challenge of performing well at two events (Hawaii followed by IRONMAN Cozumel six or seven weeks later). For three years I’ve managed to move from a top performance at the first to a podium at the second.

    First off, I knew I’d get in trouble if I laid a plan in stone and followed it blindly without paying close attention to how my body was responding. The timing is too tight to make errors, so I paid close attention to how I felt each day.

    Step one: Manage recovery

    IRONMAN wears down the body, both mentally and physically, and not adequately recovering from the first event could sabotage your second. I took my recovery very seriously, paying close attention to the little details like sleep, fluid replacement and adequate refueling. All sessions the first week were more exercise than training. I began with swimming, eased into cycling and followed up with some light running, trying to feel better when I finished than when I started each session.

    Recovering mentally was equally as important. Everything that goes into Kona is very demanding on one’s emotional state, and I was drained through much of late October. My body and mind would tell me when it was ready to roll again, and I patiently waited for that to happen.

    Age-grouper takeaways

    Jumping back into training too soon will be the quickest way to stall out, delay progress, and to waste valuable time. Racing takes a hefty toll on the body—so take solace in knowing that a well-timed recovery period will allow the body to return to training at a higher level of fitness than before the key race. In short: rest enough, get faster.

    →Do not neglect the emotional recovery that will be necessary. Pushing through a lack of motivation can often lead to a physical breakdown.

    →The mind will return to its state of readiness; it will want to train again.

    →Wait until the emotions say “go.” Do not go looking for that drive you had before Race Number One, just let it come back!

    Step two: Opposites attract

    My next step was to closely examine the way I trained for the first race, and to focus more on opposing workout types for my second race. In my case, I knew that the higher volume of cycling and running that I did in my Kona prep would carry me far into my Cozumel prep. I knew the endurance was adequate, and I did not need to repeat those long hours in my second build. I turned to shorter, quality-driven sessions, meant to sharpen and boost my fitness. On paper my training looked light. I never rode more than 80 or 90 miles or ran more than 15 miles. I completely ignored the hours-counting aspect of my training log, and I pushed the pace in ways that I didn’t in my Kona training.

    Age-grouper takeaways

    Questions will arise: I rode five centuries for the first IRONMAN, can’t I do that for the second? I ran four 20-milers before, don’t I need to do that again? Won’t I lose fitness if I stop doing my training like I did for the first race?  Aren’t I doing too little? Why can’t I do what my training partner is doing to prepare for this race? Does this seem like too much?

    →Note the key components of your preparation for Race Number One, and then begin to carefully assess exactly what it is you need going forward. Examining the way you performed in Race Number One can give you clues to what needs to change going forward.

    →Resist the urge to compare current sessions with their counterparts of the past. And do not compare to what your training partners are doing.

    →If you felt flat and incapable of pushing, chances are good that you were not well rested enough going into Race Number One. If you blew up early, and later struggled to keep the power high (on bike or run), there is a good chance you need to raise the threshold with some high-intensity training. In short, focus on doing opposing workout types.

    Step three: Cultivate memories

    Too many athletes excel at remembering their last workout, as opposed to remembering their last great workout. I did everything I could to think back to the last time I absolutely nailed a training session. This helped me remember that the work was still inside my body—a key part of getting me mentally ready for my second race. I frequently reminded myself that my first A-race had given me a significant training boost. My body was automatically different based on that one day of racing.

    When I arrived in Mexico for my second race, my mind was fresh, my body felt rejuvenated and fit and my readiness was undeniable. Did I know that I would go on to take second place, or even to win? Definitely not, but I was confident that I bridged the gap from A to B as intelligently and effectively as possible.

    Age-grouper takeaways

    Try working on those positive memory skills. Not all sessions go swimmingly, and not all should. As soon as that subpar training session is finished, forget about it. And start conjuring up images of the most successful and triumphant training session you’ve done in the previous six or twelve weeks. Remember the one where you felt like you could outrun Craig Alexander, and forget the one that felt turtle-like.

    →If you have already done six to twelve weeks of high-volume training for Race Number One, you still get to count that toward your training for Race Number Two.

    →If you have done multiple pace-oriented rides and runs, threshold intervals or VO2 sets for Race Number One, you still have that fitness on board for Race Number Two.

    →Training does not start over as soon as Race Number One is over.

    →You will get a huge fitness boost from Race Number One, so you are now a totally different athlete than you were prior to that event.

    Once you’ve focused on a thorough recovery plan, laid a detailed yet flexible plan and remembered how fit you really are, you’ll find that the body and the mind are ready to tackle Race Number Two. And who knows, you might even meet goals you never thought possible.

    Originally from: http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/news/articles/2013/09/racing-back-to-back-races.aspx#ixzz2iOnRGSgw