Thursday, September 6, 2018

Triathlon, marathon & never giving up

I'm going to share some extremely personal, difficult memories. I hope that it helps whoever needs an encouraging word during a tough time right now.  

During the first year or two of dealing with my illness, after suffering extreme fatigue day in & day out with no answers as to why, I hit a crucial point in my life. 
It was a long road but well worth the fight

I remember vividly. I was sitting at the gas station by my house waiting on traffic so I could pull onto the road to go to a training session. I just couldn’t do this. I couldn’t live like this, so very very fatigued every moment of every day. Pain everywhere, illness often. Weight piling on. “I cannot do this anymore. I can't fight this. I’m going to quit trying to find answers & give in to this illness” I said this to myself with tears in my eyes, too tired to actually cry.

When the words came out, they slapped me - the old me - awake. “You aren’t giving up. That’s not you. You are a fighter and you’re going to be alive one way or the other. Do you want to get deeper into this illness, let it take over everything, or do you want to do what you can in each moment to try and get your health back?

In that moment everything changed, and it has been different ever since. I was still sick. But I AM a fighter. I do not want my illness to define every piece of me. It’s taken too much already & tries to take more every day. So I made the decision that I wasn’t going to give up. I was not going to allow it to make me someone I wasn't.

Let me give you a little perspective about some things, and I'll do it through race history.

I did my first triathlon in 2000. Then in the middle of training for my next one, I got ill. I wasn't able to do my second tri. 

It was six years before I was healthy enough to do that second triathlon. Did you get that? I spent six entire years working on my health before I could reach that second race.

There were a lot of tears during those years. They were dark years with a lot of physical suffering. And, each season realizing my body wasn't strong enough, yet again there was disappointment. But I never forgot that day at the gas station and kept doing what I needed to do to gain back at least some of my health. That goal helped keep me going. Maybe that's why these races are important...
The struggle is real, folks!
But the celebration is great.

During that time I never lost my sights on my goal. I talked about it, had photos hanging I’d printed on local races & kept in my head that I will be healthy enough to do this again. 

Today those times are a distant memory. I've done countless triathlons since including sprints, Olympics & even 70.3 relay! I am not back to my original health but I got well enough to race. The experience is not something I would wish for but it has given me a grateful heart.

It took me at least three attempts over several years to cross the marathon finish line. 

My first try was when we lived in Indiana. I'd chosen my race, the Space Coast Marathon in Florida. Attempt one was a big giant no go. My body wasn’t strong enough to endure so many miles. 

When we moved to Arizona in 2013, I started feeling much healthier so I picked up my marathon goal again pretty quickly after the move. I hit only mile 8 in training before my body said no way. Attempt two was gone. 

The following year I tried it again. My mileage got higher but yet again, I couldn’t stay healthy long enough to train.

I took a couple more years to gain strength before trying again.   

We had since moved to Hawaii and since it was my first year there I decided to run to get to know my new city. I was going to keep going until my body said no or I crossed the finish line of a marathon.

After at least five years and three solid tries I finally crossed the finish line of my first marathon! I'm here to tell you that was a good day.
My happy face after my 1st marathon

The entire training season through race day was one of the greatest experience of my life, definitely the best training season. I felt healthier than I had in as long as I could remember, my body responded wonderfully to the miles & race day was a celebration of the many years of struggle. It was a wonderful gift from God.

I'm a lot better now than those first years. But I still have my chronic illness. It comes & goes as it pleases, and I could have months of feeling bad. There are still tears sometimes. But I always go back to that day at the gas station & keep going. Every race I see as a gift & blessing because even though I don't perform as well as I would like to, I'm able do it! That means so much.

You may be in the tough years right now. I encourage you to take care of yourself FULLY. Get healthy, get things right for yourself and never give up. Your dreams can be goals, something that IS going to happen. Believe that they can happen even if you don't really see how right now. Choose to be the person that fights & struggles & cries & gets help & if the person you ask for help doesn't follow through find someone else. Fight for yourself, trust in the fact that things get bad, really bad, but they get BETTER TOO. 

Keep your vision in front of you & let it be one of the reasons you keep going through the hard times. You may feel things won’t get better. They won’t get better if you give up. They can, and will, if you keep going. So keep going! - coach Emily Collins

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Get the best results from your endurance training

Years ago I ran a lot. I didn’t really have a goal in mind other than enjoyment. I’d head out on a run & they usually ended up being quite long. Just kinda running for the sake of running. Weekly mileage topped off at 40miles, all the same pace. This was a year round plan with very little variation. Nothing wrong with that for fun & fitness.

Then I started training for my first sprint triathlon. I now had a goal that helped me change the way I exercised. I was now “in training.” The number of workouts I did per week stayed the same but I cut mileage at least in half, each one now having a purpose. One or two were for speed, one would be longer. I added short bikes & swims to reflect the sprint distance race.

To my surprise I dropped two pant sizes & got ultra fit. I understand now why but at the time I was just surprised that doing less gave me more.
Me before a big race
I have athletes ask me about this all the time. How to train? How much, how often, how long...

Here’s a breakdown of how to plan training to get the best results.

  1.  Plan the races you’re doing labeling them as A, B or C (A top priority to peak for, C is like a training session). Believe me if you haven’t thought of this you aren’t alone.

  2.  Set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) for said race – let’s stick with the A race from here.

-As you plan your goals draw in what level you’re starting from – beginner, intermediate or advanced. 

-Do you want to just finish & create a lifestyle or take it to the next level & have some pace goals? 
-Take into consideration how many weeks you have (increase slowly is best). 
-Consider your age, fitness level, the current volume (frequency x duration), duration of your race & strengths/limiters.
-What athletic background is, what other commitments you have & how much support you have.

Think it through & be specific.
Our athletes after finishing the Honolulu Marathon

3.  Periodization. Think of planning in terms of blocks going from building a base to specific skills to peaking for competition. The base phase (or general prep) works on gaining endurance, muscle memory & limiter work. For example working on swim technique, getting used to being on the bike over longer distances, endurance vs speed. For beginners this is the biggest block of your season.

    Then move on to adding more race specifics (specific prep) like bricks, hills & speedwork etc. Continued limiter training & easing into strengths work.

    The last few weeks before tapering is the competition phase. You’ll do more higher intensity work plus race day readiness sessions, maybe a short practice race. This is where you peak for optimal performance.

    Planning your general prep, specific prep & competition phases sets you up for the what comes next...

4.  Decide the volume of training (frequency x duration) – what’s your max volume just before you taper for the A race, and what’s your initial volume of training. Then fill in the weeks in between.

So where DO you start with volume planning? Good question. 

    1.Think key (priority) & non key (optional) sessions.

Key Training Sessions - At a minimum for each discipline, athletes should have one key higher intensity training session and a key endurance session per discipline per week (microcycle). Start with the volume you’re doing now & increase through the season depending on your race distance.

You may find this minimum is enough for your body to elicit adaption for your goals. Anything more & your body starts showing signs of over training. If so hold here no matter what the next guy is doing. If you’re a beginner, hold here. You will see results with this if each workout has a purpose. In this scenario if do more you risk over training and won’t see a positive response. The workouts will suffer, you’ll end up with mediocre sessions & in turn have mediocre results.

Maybe your body can do more & is adapting like crazy. Ok, slowly add in some non key sessions. You can work on your limiters or strengths: limiters in base/specific prep phase, strengths in competition. Work on getting more time in the saddle, doing swim drills or add a mid distance run etc. Your coach can help figure this out. 

I think the question of how much volume confusing a lot of athletes. How do you know if you can do more? I'll be writing more on this in future posts.

     2. Keep in mind our bodies respond to “loading” then “unloading.” This is a balance of training then resting to allow for gains. If you train hard all the time with little to no rest, the potential will never be fulfilled. The body strengthens during rest, not during work so give it time to make those gains. This can be a struggle. It's counterintuitive to take time off but science trumps logic here.

Science says as least one day recovery per week is necessary. Incorporating a full week of recovery during training season is also a good idea, especially when training hard for a big goal.

Struggling with comparison? Keep your perspective. Maybe you’re training for your second sprint while they’re training for their fifteenth. The more advanced athlete that’s training is obviously going to have more intense workouts & most likely can handle a higher volume.  

Like I mentioned before there’s also a difference in how much training an athlete’s body is going to respond to. My husband & I can have the same race, same goal yet his body responds to way more volume than me. Mine starts breaking down long before his. I've learned to train the way I need to in order to get results. This comes with experience, so learn your body & track your metrics. 

We see so many people getting confused and I can understand why. It can be really confusing! Hopefully this has helped give you some direction. Happy training!