Wednesday, July 13, 2011

THE TRI LIFE

When I began triathlon a few years ago, I had no idea how it would change my life, and how much I would learn about myself through a sport. I started out with a couple of sprint tris and thought I had accomplished something amazing. As I progressed to each race distance, the feeling of accomplishment also grew. It wasn't until crossing the finish line at Ironman that I realized I had just achieved one of the greatest physical accomplishments of all times and since it, I've NEVER been the same.

I am very fortunate that triathlon is my life in every way. It's what I do for work and it's what I do for sport. It's one of the most talked about subjects daily in the Allen household. It is my job, it is my husband's job. It's my sport, it's my husband's sport.When my husband does well...he gets a paycheck. When I do well, I get no money, but I get something more and it's a feeling that I can't describe to those who don't know it, but I will tell you this...I wouldn't trade it for anything.

First, I have learned so many things from my husband/coach. Being coached by a professional triathlete is something that most people pay top $$$ for, but I am so lucky and thankful to have his help daily. Just last week while swimming, I stopped and watched him for a minute. I was in awe. I was looking at this amazing athlete who has achieved so much in the sport, and has spent his entire adult life thus far racing professionally. I was not looking at my husband in the moment, but googly eyed gawking at this powerful athlete. Snap back to reality, wow that's my husband and he's taught me everything about the sport. I'm very lucky and very grateful!! When I started this sport, I knew little, but I did know this....Ironman would not just be something I would wish for, I was going for it. Before I had even done my first triathlon, I said to a group of friends..."someday, I will do an Ironman". I couldn't swim that well, had no bike skills, and really couldn't even run very well. That didn't matter to me though!! I knew that I would work hard to achieve my dream, and that's just what I've done. I'm so thankful to Rich for helping me along the way!! This year Ironman will definitely be different for me, and I can't wait to give it all that I have--body, mind and soul.

 Having a great coach is EVERYTHING in the sport! If you just want to get around a triathlon with a smile and a finish, then you may not require a coach. If you want to do well in triathlon...having a coach is an absolute must. It's not just about the coach though. You MUST commit to the work. I will tell you this, it's not easy. For those Ironman athletes reading, you know what I mean. For those who are thinking of Ironman, you have no idea, but I'm here to tell you...it's tough. It has become so much a part of my life now that I don't feel normal unless I burn 4000+ calories a day and do two or more workouts a day. Some weeks I train 18-20 hours a week, some weeks a bit less. Thankfully my job is coaching and is flexible, so I am able to get in all of my training. For those who work full time jobs and train for Ironman as well...my hat's off to you. That makes it even tougher. But again either way, you have to put in the time for training. I was shocked at the start line of Ironman Louisville last year to hear some people say that it was their first triathlon--ever! I wasn't shocked however to hear how support crews had to pull these people out of the swim and I'm sure that these were the athletes that were lying on the side of the road only 40 miles into the bike with IV drips. Not surprising at all..and this saying rings true-"If it were easy, everyone would do it". It isn't easy folks. You have to sacrifice many things to tackle this beast. Even if you do just want to get around an Ironman, you had still better be logging some serious mileage in all three disciplines.

Here's a little bit of what I do each week to train for Ironman....
 
Swimming- I average 3 to 4 swims each week. I swim anywhere from 10000m to 15000m weekly. I swim specific sets each time. One strength/speed session and the others are endurance sessions. Stroke work is important in each and every set. Richard helped me to correct my stroke and also taught me how to swim properly and I grew to love swimming so much, I decided several months ago to go to swim school for coach and instruction. I am now a certified stroke technician and am constantly working on my stroke. You can swim laps all day long, every day of the week, but if you don't have good stroke technique, you will not improve your swim time. To swim fast, you must have a good stroke and as a swimmer, you never EVER stop working on your stroke. When I swim my sets, I am constantly thinking about hand entry, catch and pull through each stroke. This has dropped my swim times drastically and my goal for Ironman... I would love for my swim to be around 60-65 mins. My last open water Ironman distance TT was clocked at 1:02. I certainly could not have gotten any better without first having my stroke analyzed and then working hard to correct mistakes. But the old saying goes...."you can't win Ironman in the swim, but you sure can lose it".

Cycling- I put in lots of time in the saddle. If I had a nickel for every mile I've gone on that bike....well, I just may be a billionaire ;) I have suffered through heat, cold, rain, saddle sores, bonks, chaffing, flats, pinches, strops and more strops, etc etc etc.  I love cycling despite all the pain it has inflicted on my poor body. Each year, I've grown stronger again thanks to my coach and learning how to cycle properly. Bike fit is important and also training the right intensities. The best way to get fast on the bike is simple...you must spend more time in the saddle! On yesterday's ride, I had to force myself to pull back. As I was cycling along, I saw myself in the race. Then I saw myself at the finish, then I realized I was pedaling faster and snapped back to reality and had to slow down. "TO RACE FAST...YOU HAVE TO TRAIN SLOW". Mark Allen said that in his book and Richard Allen says this to me all the time. You can't go hard all of the time, no one can...or should. All to often, I see other people constantly training too hard. Why oh why? It's because they think if they go full throttle all of the time, they will get better, stronger, faster. Sorry, it doesn't work that way folks. One of my mistakes from last year was that my coach had me training for Ironman the right way, but I would sneak off on the bike and go as hard as I could go, or run as fast I could go. It all came back to bite me on the big day. Every thing has changed this year and I have to say that one of the hardest parts of training is having to hold back on sessions. It is important to do so and I constantly have to remind the athletes that I coach to do this as well.

Running: My love/hate relationship with running was on going for years. I have now grown to have only a love relationship with it and it's because I have learned how to train properly. Again...always going to hard never did a thing for me except cause me pain and aggravation. I run 3 to 4x weekly now. One speed session and two endurance sessions and then maybe an easy end of week 6 miler. That's it. You don't have to run 50, 60, 70 miles each week to be a good IM runner. It's quality over quantity and this is something I have also had to learn the hard way. Like swimming, I also had to change my run technique. This took a while, hurt like hell, and once I learned this, I quickly dropped my half marathon PB to 1:38. I enjoy running now...very much! Even when it's hot out ;)

Lastly...REST! It's so important and is probably the most important and overlooked part of Ironman training. I know when I need it and I listen to my body. You had better listen to your body when it tells you to take a break. My training consists of 6 days a week on and one day rest every week. You cannot train week after week after week with no recovery. Resting at least once a week is very important. Some training programs adhere to the ho-hum concept of simply laying off and resting every 4th week. OUCH! You may end up like Superman with a pocketful of kryptonite if you train like that. Ask any good coach or even the top pros and they will tell you that recovery makes for better training. I don't know what to do with myself on rest days and I get completely bored, but I know it's important and that my body needs it!!

In only a few years I have grown and learned so much about this sport. I love being able to coach, give advice and encourage others to take up triathlon. I hope to that some of my friends who are getting into triathlon for the first time will find some of this info useful and I encourage anyone reading that if you dream of doing a triathlon....GO FOR IT. You'll be glad you did and will most likely continue in the sport. It is that addictive! Promise.

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