Training: A Love Letter
“Each training session is like writing a love letter to yourself to be opened on race day,” an unrelenting spin instructor recently said between breaths as she enthusiastically motivated her class of triathlon newbies to crank up the resistance. And she’s right; every ounce of effort expended in training will bring a return on race day and you’ll be singing a sweet love song to yourself instead of barfing up your breakfast. And if you think about it, that love letter is good not just for race day, but for the rest of your life. Firmly established training habits will pay dividends long after race day by helping you maintain the routine necessary for a healthy life.
But how are you supposed to find the time to write that sweet and serenading love letter? Training for a triathlon can seem like a full-time job. And frankly, it can be a little intimidating, especially when you think of all of the other demands on your time: an actual career, family, pets, and God forbid, another hobby or sport. But I’ve found that by keeping my goals realistic and taking it one day at a time, I’m able to enjoy racing, stay marginally competitive in a few races a year, and not sacrifice the rest of the things I enjoy in life or skip out on my responsibilities.
That love letter will be sweet if you put in the time. And to help me pen my letter, I’ve identified a few key principles to keep in mind:
Rewards – This is tied with accountability for the most important principle. If you read the blogs of top triathletes and notice what they think about towards the end of a long race, you’ll find a couple things in common: food—delicious food—and usually beer, the most important rewards. Regular training schedule allows you to indulge way past the point of what non-triathletes are able to enjoy without real consequences. Don’t skip desert and go ahead with that second helping; you’re probably going to need the calories! And yeah, let’s pass on that watery beer in favor of something a little more flavorful with proper body. And if wine is your thing, why not have that second (or third?) glass?
Accountability – I wish it were all fun and games with a double scoop of ice cream, but it’s not. Training is tough and winning is even tougher. If it weren’t, everyone would be doing it and the finish would not taste nearly so sweet. And to keep you going, a little accountability never hurts. My partner and I keep each other honest on those cold mornings when heading to the pool competes with a cup of coffee in your PJs. Honestly, it’s a fairly one-way street in our relationship – she is way more disciplined than me.
While finding a life partner is one great option, there are others. You could join a triathlon team, which is pretty easy if you live in a major metropolitan area. Or, you can find a race and sucker a friend that doesn’t know any better into doing it with you. Make the race in an exotic locale such as Croatia; all the better. Then make that person train with you. And if you can’t find a friend as crazy as you and lying about how easy it is doesn’t work, just sign up for a race on your own – putting a little skin in the game means you are likely to at least show up … any why not train a little beforehand?
And don’t forget, if you want some accountability in the off season, but haven’t picked a race yet, you can always join a virtual training group on Strava or a similar application. While a virtual love letter from the depths of the internet may be less than satisfying, your time spent training with a virtual group will pay tangible dividends.
Finding the Time: This is probably the most challenging aspect of training for a race, especially if you are going for a longer event such as half or full-distance triathlon. Because training and racing doesn’t pay like your regular job, it helps to make training fit into your life, not the other way around. While there aren’t too many places where you can swim to work (unless you live in Munich), you can bike and run – and all the better if work is more than a couple miles away. If running to and from work is a little too far, you could consider biking in one day and running home, then running in and biking home the next day.
Part of finding the time is maintaining the discipline to train in the time slots that life allows. And for me, there is nothing more difficult or rewarding than those early morning workouts, which probably wouldn’t be possible without the accountability my partner helps with. I’ve never regretted a morning workout after it was over; I’m always left in a better mood the rest of the day, and find that I have more time and energy for all the other things. And it’s important to remember, you don’t need to do an early morning workout every day; just a few times a week.
Execution: This isn’t a principle so much as a tactic I use to outsmart myself. I find that by taking small steps to get myself up and out the door rather than thinking about how I am going to run 10 miles or swim 3000 meters, I am able to trick myself into training on those days when I’m less than excited. I’ll put on my running shorts and shoes, pack up my swimming bag, or take my bike off the rack and put it in the living room. Those initial steps provide just the tiniest amount of momentum I need to say “screw it, might as well train, I’m already up and halfway there.” It sounds simple, but works for me.
Long-Term Vision – It may sound a little hokey, but I try to keep an eye on the big picture. How healthy and active do I want to be when I’m 75? Am I doing the things today that will help me get there? I tend to think that exercising only gets more difficult as you get older, and even more so the longer you wait. So, let’s pick a race and start writing that love letter today!
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but these are things I keep in mind to help keep me going so I can read my love letter on race day and every other day thereafter. I’d love to hear any thoughts you have: what keeps you going; how are you writing your love letter? Drop me a note at Ariedy@Openworldracing.com or leave a comment below. And if you’re looking for a race to get you started, consider joining us in Croatia from April 25-30.