I’ve often wished someone would invent a way to add more hours to the day. Don’t you?
There are so many competing demands on your time; from work, school sports, maintaining a great relationship with your spouse and looking after your (ageing) parents - not to mention everything you do to keep the house running. Somewhere in all of that, you need to find time to fit your training in!
Whether you’re new to the sport and training for your first triathlon or you’ve been involved for a few seasons and are training for Ironman, the challenges are the same. You need to find ways to get the best results from the limited training time you have available. You can’t afford to waste time; you’re a busy woman with lots of other things to do. Your free time is limited - and extremely valuable - so you want to make it count.
You might be tempted to do all your training at the same (high) heart rate or race the clock and try to PB every training session because it seems like the quickest way to get the most fitness gains. However, the best way to get the fitness gains you desperately want is to make smart decisions.
So I’ve outlined below 5 tips to help you make smart decisions in your training.
Some of these might seem small or perhaps insignificant in the overall scheme of your training but each is critical.
Get these right and your fitness, performance gains and results will follow.
Get these wrong and you’ll risk injury, fighting off coughs and colds and feeling frustrated by your training.
You simply won’t get the fitness improvements you’d otherwise expect to see from the training you have done.
Now a word of advice ~
You may have heard these 5 tips before. None of them are new (especially if you’ve been in the sport for a few years). But how many do you currently implement? It’s one thing to know what you “should” be doing. It’s another thing to implement them and follow through.
Unfortunately, many people put these types of tactics into the “too hard” basket because they seem insignificant and they’d rather go and buy nice new, and often expensive, equipment. But these tips will not only bring you greater improvements in your training and racing but improvements in your long-term physical and mental health (plus they are far cheaper too!).
Mindset is Queen
I’m starting here because I truly believe it’s the most important place to begin. Without your head being in the right space, none of the following tips will make any significant difference.
Mindset and confidence is critical in this sport (and any sport). Confidence - or a lack of it - can be a major roadblock for women especially if you’re new to the sport. Riding on the road, using cleats, the fear of falling and the terrifying nature of open water swimming are factors that many women find daunting (and if you do, you certainly aren’t alone!).
But fear and doubt aren't just reserved for women new to the sport.
If you’ve ever doubted your ability to achieve your goal, to step up to the next race distance, to learn something new like a flying mount onto your bike or stood on the start line, looked at all the other women around you and thought to yourself “everyone else looks so fit; I don’t belong here” then your thoughts are creating a roadblock for you that will limit your improvement, performance, results and potential. All of these fears and doubts - “I’m going to crash…I can’t swim…I don’t belong…what will people say” are stories you’re telling yourself.
We tell ourselves stories all day every day. If you’re like me, the mental chatter inside my head almost never stops. So it’s important to realise when it’s happening. Sometimes you’re aware of it. But sometimes these “stories” can become so deeply ingrained in your thoughts they operate at a subconscious level and you’re hardly aware they are running through your mind. It’s important that you firstly become aware of the stories, stop and then reframe the story, by to re-writing the script, into a more positive, constructive thought process.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that “positive thoughts” translate into exceptional performance far above anything you’ve previously demonstrated. But you can’t have exceptional performance (by your standards) without it.
You can’t ride your bike safely or fast if you’re constantly worried that you might crash (because riding a bike requires confidence).
You can’t focus on executing your own race plan if you’re looking around at the other women on the start line and thinking to yourself that you don’t belong.
You might be telling yourself “I’m a bad swimmer”. And you know what? You might be! But you’ll never improve as a swimmer if you don’t shift your mindset first.
So my challenge to you today (remember our goal is to implement!) is to recognise at least 1 story you tell yourself. Given how deeply ingrained they can be, it might take you a day or two to recognise one. Once you’ve identified what it is, every time you catch that thought passing through your mind, stop and rewrite the script (“I’m becoming a better swimmer every time I get into the pool”) and then reward yourself. Pat yourself on the back. Say to yourself “good work”. The reward helps to rewire your brain so the “stop + rewrite the script” process will feel more comfortable. And like anything, it becomes easier the more you repeat the process so you’ll ultimately find yourself having the “I’m a bad swimmer” thoughts less frequently.
The swim leg in a triathlon is critical
Regardless of your race distance or whether you’re at the front of the pack or the back, the swim leg is important.
There’s an old saying in this sport; you can’t win the race in the swim but you can lose it. It’s certainly relevant for draft-legal racing or if you’re likely to be towards the front of your age group. But it’s just as important if you’re towards the middle or the back of your age group.
The stronger you are in the water and the more comfortable and relaxed you feel, the less energy you’ll burn, leaving more for the bike and the run. It’s really that simple! It won’t matter how much time you’ve spent working on your cycling and running over the last few months if you get out of the water feeling beaten up, exhausted, frazzled and tired.
I know swimming is time-consuming. But make sure when you get in the water that you’re making the most of your time. Don’t just swim lap after lap at your ‘normal’ speed. Challenge yourself to swim at a faster speed than you normally would, even if it’s just for 50m or 100m the first time you try.
Some people say you don’t really need to focus on swimming because it’s the shortest part of the race . But that approach doesn’t look at the big picture. If you want to ride and run well, you need to swim better too. So swim girl, swim!
Signs before symptoms
I’m sure you hate getting injured as much as I do!
I’ve often heard athletes complain that their injury “appeared out of nowhere”. One day they were fine and the next, they hobbled out of bed.
But unless your injury was the result of an accident, your body was sending you signs that a problem was brewing (such as tenderness or tightness) long before you started to notice the symptoms (such as pain).
As women we tend to be quite intuitive. We notice things in a social setting that go right over the heads of our partners and husbands. Your body is constantly sending you signs and signals about what’s going on; the trick is to listen and pay attention. How many times have you got out of bed and thought to yourself “Gee my right foot is a bit tight today” or “Gosh that calf is a bit tight”, thought to yourself “I’ll take care of it later” but then never done anything about it?
This is where body maintenance work such as strength training, stretching and foam rolling can really help. If you’re doing these things regularly, you’ll begin to notice when a calf or hip is unusually tight. There are many quick and easy things you can do after a session or in front of the TV at night, such as foam rolling, that will help to keep your body in check.
The faster you address these signs - whether through more body maintenance work yourself, by getting a long overdue massage or seeing a physiotherapist - the faster you’ll recover. The longer you leave it - especially if you leave it until you’re in pain - the more hard earned fitness you’ll lose, longer your recovery is likely to be and the more frustration you’ll experience.
Don't starve yourself
You’ve heard it before but food really is fuel.
The combination of overly restricting your food intake and exercising heavily is not conducive to producing the high energy levels required to be involved in this sport. It’s hard to commit to your training is you’re struggling to drag yourself off the couch!
Sure, you might want to lose a few kilos but don’t heavily restrict your body of the fuel it needs early in your training week. You’ve probably been through this (classic) cycle yourself; you decide on Sunday that you’re going to focus on your diet this week so you restrict your food intake early in the week - which, for most people, also happen to be heavy training days. But by Thursday, you’re getting tired and grumpy. Friday rolls around and all of a sudden you’re getting stuck into morning tea - and then lunch. And you decide you may as well have takeaway for dinner on Friday because you’ve blown the whole day. Don’t beat yourself up; we’ve all been there!
Unfortunately, this approach simply deprives your body of the energy it needs to fuel your heavier training sessions early in the week. This reduces how well your body adapts to the training, limits your recovery, increases your risk of injury and ultimately wastes your time and effort.
So if weight management is an issue for you, try eating a bit more on your harder or heavier training days and less on your rest / recovery days. So don’t use your rest day as a chance to overeat!
And if you’re watching your weight, skip the sports drinks for any session less than 90 minutes or if it isn’t a key session for the week. You don’t need or want the calories if you’re trying to lose some weight. Besides research shows that you’ll get the same benefit if you swirl a mouthful of sports drinks around in your mouth and then spit it out - truly!
Never skimp on sleep
Ok, I have a confession to make.
I feel very hypocritical writing this. It’s well after 11pm at night. I’m in the middle of an intense 6-day coaching course. My eyes feel like they’re about to fall out of my head and given the week I’ve had (and that still remains), I really should have gone to bed well over an hour ago.
Forget the compression tights and calf guards, sleep is the single most important thing you can do.
It’s important to do everything you can to get as much sleep as you can. For the average adult, that’s 8 hours a night! Anyone who says they can function and train at a high level on 5 hours of sleep is kidding themselves. And if you think you don’t have time to get more sleep, you’re kidding yourself too (turn off Facebook for starters!).
If you sleep less than 8 hours each night, the likelihood that you’ll get injured is 1.7x greater than if you slept for 8 hours or more. That’s a significantly higher risk which can easily be reduced with more sleep. If you aren’t sleeping properly and aren’t eating well, your body won’t fully adapt to, or recover from, the training you’ve done - meaning you’ve been wasting your limited training time and increasing your risk of injury. And you don’t want that.
I don’t want that either so I’m going to bed now too 🙂
But before I do, don’t forget our commitment to implementation. These 5 tips are all easy ways to make significant gains from the limited training time you have available. There’s nothing revolutionary or ground breaking on this list. But if you implement these smart training tips, you’ll see bigger improvements and faster results in less time.
Whatever the distance of your race, your goal remains the same; to perform at your best on the day. And whether that leaves you at the front of the pack or the back, the satisfaction, enjoyment and pride you’ll feel from setting a goal (particularly if it’s one that scares you), working towards it over a few weeks (or months) and crossing that finish line having met, or exceeding it, is the same.
So which of these tips will you focus on this week?
Originally published in Australian Triathlete PINK Edition - June 2015