#89: Finding my calm – IM US Championships cometh

With only 1 week of training left before race-week, this week was about final touches, race-simulations and the beginning of final prep.  This portion of the training is really NOT about coasting into the starting line, despite how tempting it is to do so……(to me) it’s about arriving at the starting line healthy, strong, confident and ready to lay it out there.

That of course sounds wonderful……however the more I compete in these longer races, with this by my definition (anything over 4 hours in multisport or 3 hours in one sport alone) being my seventh (marathon x3, 1/2 Ironman x 2, Ironman x 1), the more I realize that this relatively short 2-3 weeks known as “peaking” is so important, and one that I’m still learning.

The Struggles include: 

This isn’t me, but it’s not far
  • Race-weight Peaking – not continuing to eat as if you were doing 15-20 hours of training when you’re only doing 7-10 which would put a few extra pounds on the frame.  This doesn’t sound like much, but it’s important.  Shaving 2 pounds off your bike could cost you big bucks and speed on race day…..so why add it back in on your gut?  This has been a relative success.  My goal was to have a Body Mass Index of around 22.0 and a body fat % of 4-6%.  I’ll take my final #’s this week, but at last check I was around a BMI of 22.5 and 5.7% body fat.
  • Rest Peaking – This one is of HUGE importance.  It is very very tempting to want to squeeze in “just one more” workout…..sort of like cramming for a test.  If you think with your brain and not with your emotions, you of course realize that the “one-more” won’t do much for your fitness (if anything) is likely to leave you more depleted and tired than you should be.  Yet, balancing this objectivity and non-emotional thinking with the fact (and it is a fact) that your peak fitness is going to decline some as you turn the burners down on your training, even if only a little, is very hard.  
  • Mental Peaking – This is the one that I (admittedly) struggle the most with.  In general, I’m pretty good at the straight forward discipline to maintain my weight (years of “making weight” in wrestling will do this to a person) and as I’ve gotten more experienced with endurance sports, I’ve improved a lot at understanding and not underestimating the power of rest and recovery……but on these longer races, I still struggle to keep the mental storm under control.  All of the sudden I find myself with more time (i.e. less training).  And being the “analytical type” (some might argue this is an understatement), I start to go over the race and over and over and over again.  All of the what-if scenarios, all of the strategies, all of the potentials…….by the end, it tends to serve me well as it leaves me with a pretty well thought out race plan, but I’m not yet comfortable enough at this race distance to stay calm.  For example, it felt so good to not be nervous at all when I did the sprint and olympic distance triathlons earlier in the year…..even the 1/2 Ironman was relaxed up until race morning…..but this one, probably because I care far more deeply about the outcome…..has me anything from calm.  My strategy this time is not to fight it…..just to let it come (and go) in hopes that I can get all the way through it prior to race morning…..hopefully this time I can get to a point where I know I’m ready and I can just let it play out according to the script I’ll undoubtedly have by then.
On the “final touches” of training end of the equation – the week was pretty straight forward:
  • Get in the water at least 3 times to squeeze as much neurological efficiency as possible out of my swimming – again, I don’t think I’ll gain much speed at this point, however the idea is feel comfortable and easy in the water.  It went generally according to plan.  After 2 open water swims the week before and very limited swimming the couple weeks before then (waiting for road-rash to heal) I was pretty rusty.  Things got more smooth each session and I’m looking forward to getting another 3 in this week.
  • 2 race simulations – each b/t 2 and 3 hours on the bike and 30-ish minutes of running. The goal of these sessions is to hit it hard and test the systems….but not go long enough to leave yourself depleted.  The first of 2 was early in the week and by my standards it went about as good as it could have.  The bike leg I chose was hilly and challenging and I stayed above the pace I was looking for.  I got off and ran a 4.5 mile course that is hilly and exposed (similar to the first 4-7 miles of the IMUSC course) and it went maybe even a little better than planned.
And then there was humidity
Sort of what it felt like
  • Today I did my second race-simulation.  I hit the bike hard on another pretty hilly course…..however the big difference was that early in the week, it was 82 degrees and not terribly humid.  Today is was 89 degrees and pretty humid making the “feel like” temperature 95 (so says weather.com) yet there was a notable wind (more summer thunderstorms on their way)……and, once I again, I proved to myself that above 90 degrees (or the “feel” equivalent) and I have to dial it back some or I risk blowing up on the run.  I got off the bike and started up the road notably laboring. I got to the 1 mile mark (of roughly 4 planned) and didn’t feel great.  The 2 mile mark felt a little better but by 2.25, heading back up the “big hill” for a second time and I was shot.  I finished up the run way slower than I would like, leaving just enough of a crack in my armor to let a whole new batch of “what-ifs” enter.  I got back and took my weight and to my dismay, had lost nearly 10 lbs in my 2.5 hour effort – YIKES!  No wonder I was feeling crappy…..confirming my need to pay closer attention to the temperature.  I jumped in the cold-bath……and took a power nap.
On the horizon
I need to get my swims in and two more race-simulations….and probably a few short burst workouts just to keep me near the peak…..

But perhaps more importantly, this week starts “race-week” and one week from now, I hope to be sitting here typing about how I executed a tactically perfect race……that I was able to use all of the stored energy and all of the lessons learned along the way to crush last year’s time and put myself in position to achieve my ultimate goal of a qualifying time for Ironman World Championship in the fall.  Of course, you never do know, but I feel like I’m pretty close…..about where I had hoped to be……it’s time to get the final prep done and focus on execution.

Almost ready to get excited,

Mike E.

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