Well…..

It’s the last training check-in before Challenge Penticton Half next weekend, and I still can’t quite believe that I’m about to wrap up 8 solid months of training. So much has happened since the day I decided to commit to all of this, and while the thought of spending 6ish hours swimming, cycling and running next Sunday gives me a few butterflies in my stomach, I’m also really excited to put my training to the test!

Before I get into what’s been going on over the past month, here’s a chance for some of you to catch up on previous check-ins if you missed them:

August has been a month of mixed emotions and managing stress has been the main theme. This training recap will delve into how I dealt with it, and what my workouts will look like between now and Sunday’s race.

Managing mental stress (or not)

I talked a lot about this in the post I wrote about the biggest lesson I learned at 26, but at the end of July/early August I was in a serious mental rut. I was choosing to let things like work and various other parts of life stress me out, and most of the stress was self-imposed. To make a long story short, it took a long and very teary chat with my naturopath to convince me that I was being unrealistic with my expectations for myself.

How did this affect training? Well to be honest, I actually felt pretty good during workouts – for a while. #endorphinsforthewin! But it was the time outside of the workouts that was crappy. The mental tension did a number on my digestion (as it always does – I know I sound like a broken record) which meant bloating, feeling sluggish, tired, and just not happy. That’s not a fun place to be!

Seen on my run

To add a little unexpected fuel to the fire, I also went to Whistler to volunteer and spectate at Ironman Canada, something I thought would be a very inspiring experience. It turned out to be an ugly day weather-wise with cold temperatures, lots of rain and wind. This race had a huge drop-out rate in comparison to others, and even a good chunk of the pros pulled out. Watching age group athletes handing in their timing chips, fighting back tears as they said that they’d DNF’d pulled at my heart strings a lot. It got me thinking about the possibility of the same conditions at Challenge Penticton. It sounds silly in retrospect, but at the time, it was totally messing with my head.

When stress impacts training

While my workouts weren’t initially affected, it didn’t take long before I saw the effects there too. (After all, the body can’t distinguish mental from physical stress, so it’s no wonder this happened.) I’d find myself running or riding, feeling hotter than usual, sweating more, and sensing that my heart rate was higher than it should be for the paces I was moving at. If you’ve been reading about my athletic endeavours for a long time, you may recall that these are the exact symptoms I experienced when I found out I was anemic. I immediately assumed that’s what the problem was and made an appointment to get my blood tested ASAP.

Smashfest Queen kit

Want to know something hilarious? I went to get the blood work done and got the results back 3 days later. Last October when I was feeling great, and before I started any of this triathlon business, my ferritin was the highest it’s been in years – 12 ng/mL. This is barely inside the normal range of 12-150 for females, but still, it was a reason to celebrate because a year earlier, it was less than 4! When I got my test results back this time around, it was 24 ng/mL. TWENTY FOUR. Double the previous measurement. Clearly iron wasn’t the problem, thank freaking goodness.

Choosing to stress less

As I mentioned, it was that one chat with my naturopath that served as a wake-up call. The advice I was given by her to release my high expectations, as well as the advice from my coach the next day totally helped to turn my mindset around. He reminded me of the following things, which I keep repeating to myself:

  • There will always be high highs and low lows in training, and over-thinking the upcoming race isn’t going to do anything but cause training to suffer.
  • Even the most perfect training (and training is never perfect, even for pros) won’t guarantee that things will go smoothly on race day.
  • Less-than-ideal race performances are usually the result of poor mental fitness, not a lack of physical fitness.
  • Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t.

Not earth-shattering advice, but still, something it’s nice to be reminded of. If you’ve ever trained for an endurance sport, you’ll know that our heads give up a lot faster than our bodies do. With my coach’s wise words of advice in mind, I decided to focus solely on the single training session ahead – not the one the day after, and definitely not all the things that might happen during the race.

My Polar V800 after a 6 hour ride and run

Shifting mindset when it hurts

Endurance sports aren’t meant to be easy, and I’m fully expecting to have my mind and body put to the test on Sunday. Because I’m a planner, I’ve spent some quality time thinking about how to turn my mental state around if things start to go south on race day.

When I was getting certified by Schwinn as a spinning instructor, I was taught that a good instructor uses a mixture of associative and dissociative cues. Associative are ones that are directly associated to the workout – things like body position, leg speed, effort level, etc. Dissociative cues on the other hand, are about things external or less-specific to the workout. For example, telling participants to imagine the most beautiful place they’ve ever traveled to, thinking about a time when they achieved something really important to them, etc. They’re basically distractions from pain!

With this in mind, I figured I’d come up with a few associative and dissociative thoughts to work with during the race.

Associative:

  • Positive thinking pre-race about the day ahead (made possible by lots of planning, packing and prep early this week, as well as plenty of rest)
  • Using my heart rate numbers on my watch to guide efforts on the bike and run.
  • On the swim: Being as comfortable as possible by getting into a rhythm, then focusing on kicking hard in the last ~200m to get the blood flowing to my legs, ready for the bike.
  • On the bike: ‘Flattening out’ the hills and staying light on the pedals. This is something my coach taught me, and it means using a smaller gear (which makes it easier to pedal) while going uphill, so that my heart rate stays fairly stable instead of spiking. While doing this, I’ll be aiming to keep the pedal strokes as fluid and light as possible, instead of ‘mashing’, which is a big no-no and waste of energy. It’s all about the smooth circles!
  • On the run: Keeping my shoulders down and arms relaxed (but not floppy). I tend to tense my upper body sometimes when I run, which like pedal mashing, is a waste of energy.
  • Re-playing in my head the chorus of the My Body cover by Volbeat (originally by Young and the Giant) – specifically “My body tells me no, but I won’t quit ’cause I want more!”
  • Taking in the race atmosphere and encouragement of the spectators

Dissociative:

  • Checking out the scenery as I run/ride past – I’ve never been to Penticton and apparently it’s a beautiful place!
  • Mentally singing other songs I like (having listened to my playlists many times in training, it’s hard to get these songs out of my head!)
  • Repeatedly counting to 100. It sounds boring but it’s strangely soothing.
  • Recalling memories that made me really happy – for example, last week’s birthday celebrations, some very vivid memories from events when I lived in Ontario and the Middle East, and especially how I felt when I finished my first triathlon in July (which was awesome).
  • Thinking about all the things I can do next weekend when I’m NOT sitting on a bike saddle for 5 hours!
  • Thinking about everyone who has supported me over the last 8 months of training, moving, and settling into Vancouver.

Taper week vs last week

With one week to go, it’s taper time. Here’s a very general view of what’s on the schedule in comparison to last week, which was the final higher-volume one:

Triathlon training - larger volume week

Triathlon training - larger volume week

In addition to getting plenty of sleep, I’ll be paying extra attention to nutrition and keeping my immune system as strong as possible. My plan is to do the majority of my packing for the race early this week rather than leaving it until Friday, and hopefully this way, nothing will be forgotten!

Alright.. now I’m rambling so that’s enough for this check-in. Expect a full race report next Monday (provided I can stay awake for a few hours post-race to write it)  and have a great week!

Before you go, tell me…

  • Do you use associative and dissociative thoughts during your training or racing? What would you say you do more of?
  • What’s one thing you’re looking forward to most this week?