Friday, January 30, 2009
February’s featured athlete is:
Stefanie Frank from Boulder City, Nevada
Stefanie’s start in the sport was very casual. In 2006, one of her personal training clients sent her a link to the Pumpkinman sprint triathlon. Her client wanted to know if the race would be a good goal. Stef not only said yes but agreed to sign up for the race too. Not knowing how to swim, Stefanie admits that it was probably one of the slowest sprint triathlons ever. Yet she crossed the finish line and knew then – she was hooked!
Of all three sports, running is her favorite because it is the simplest of the three and she believes she has the capability of becoming even faster. In the past year, Stef has worked hard to become more confident with her running and, as a result, has set personal bests in everything from the 5K to the half marathon.
Stefanie feels her biggest challenge is becoming more skilled and confident on the bike. At first she mistakenly thought the bike would be the easiest part of triathlon and the swimming the hardest part. In the past year, Stef has learned to enjoy swimming and now feels the bike is her limiter. Hey, when you enjoy the pool and you are confident about your running – there is only one sport left, the bike! This year she plans to work hard to improve her confidence with the bike, to become less tentative as a cyclist and more skilled overall.
Stefanie and I started working together in late 2007. Before then, she had an entire season of starting the line of several triathlons but not finishing one. Stefanie had done all of the training but come race day there was a disconnect between that training and her confidence. So, in 2008, we worked diligently at improving her confidence. A big part of this was getting Stefanie to embrace that idea that she is an athlete and then assigning her weekly exercises to strengthen her new confidence and strong athlete identity.
Once Stefanie believed in herself as an athlete, her goals and improvement became almost unstoppable. She not only trained for but completed her first half Ironman last November. Choosing what is known as one of the hardest courses in the sport, Stef made it across both start and finish lines at Silverman. No half Ironman is ever easy, especially when you get over 4 flats during the bike portion of the race! Yet Stef had it in her head that this was her race to own – and she kept moving forward and crossed that finish line.
This year, Stefanie has selected Beach 2 Battleship Half Ironman as her top goal. This will be the first time she has traveled to a race and the terrain is unlike what she is used to. Still, she has her eyes on the prize. This year she’s not just going to finish – she’s going to do “well” for herself. Each athlete defines their own goals and I know Stefanie is determined to have her very best swim, bike and run.
In the past year I have watched Stefanie bloom. Sport has transformed who she is and how she holds herself. When I first met Stefanie, she was so tentative. The Stefanie I see now is bold, brave and hungry. In the past year, she has looked for opportunities to stretch herself and grow – and embraces these opportunities whole-heartedly. No longer do small obstacles become big road blocks. She is able to keep moving forward and, most importantly, keep her momentum going towards the big picture – her goals!
This year we felt it was important for Stefanie to keep pushing herself past boundaries and expecting more. It seemed that swimming with a masters team would be that next brave step. Stefanie not only agreed but decided she wanted to go 3 days a week. It isn’t easy but she takes it each time and knows that patience with her progress and most importantly with herself will pay off this year. Not only that but she also has found herself several strong and meaningful training partners. One of her training partners, Tony, keeps her company on long workouts and pushes her when necessary. About him, Stef says:
“Training with a 69 year old training partner reinforces my conviction that for me that triathlon is a lifestyle that preserves health, vitality, youthfulness and achievement.”
As for her advice to others in the sport, Stefanie says:
“Have a good handle on why you are doing it (your heart will tell you) and not to be too hard on yourself if you are not as fast as you want to be at first. Push yourself to meet your goals, YES (having a coach helps with that)! If you are willing to put in the work and be patient you will improve and grow stronger. In my case I have improved exponentially and still feel that I have limitless potential."
Stefanie, we are so excited to see where you will go this year. 2009 is limitless and only you will determine how far you will go!
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
With so many inspiring stories and great personalities, it’s time to share my athletes with you. During 2009, I will pass along the story of one of our exceptional athletes at the start of each month. What I hope you’ll find is that each athlete is exceptional in how they focus, balance and persist towards their personal multisport goals.
Let’s get started!
Of all three sports, Danni enjoys biking the most because she loves the feeling of going fast and feeling powerful. In her words, “There is nothing better than seeing a hill up ahead, climbing it, feeling the burn in your legs, reaching the top and realizing that you could have walked but didn't.” When you live in North Carolina, power like that in your legs is a very good thing!
When I asked Danni which was the most challenging sport, she admitted – like many athletes – that it is swimming. Danni has grown to understand that swimming is a very technical sport that takes many yards of patience and diligent focus to improve technique. So how does she keep motivated despite the challenge? In her words, “it is a very important part of multisport and if I want to be good at multisport (which I do) I have to be good at swimming.”
2008 was Danni’s first season working with a coach. What has she enjoyed most about being coached? “I have enjoyed the friendship the most. Liz is a great coach, very knowledgeable of all things multisport. At the same time she is extremely good at helping yourself pick your own brain and finding what motivates you. She is there to "slap" you if you need it, to make you feel proud when you should and to help you cut yourself some slack when you have been too hard on yourself; which us “Type A” personalities tend to do a lot of.”
Danni achieved many of her goals in 2008. Her top goal was to finish her first half Ironman and finish the season feeling strong. Looking back on 2008, she has two highlights:
“The first one came in late September when I successfully completed my first half-Ironman. I would have never thought I'd be able to do it; after all I went from a non-athletic person to a sports "junkie" in the span of 3 years. I had so much fun that it did not feel like I was racing for as long as I was. It was challenging yet immensely rewarding.”
“The second one came in early December when I decided to "just run" the half marathon I had attempted to train for. During the month of November, I couldn’t shake off an illness. So Coach Liz and I decided I should not race the 1/2 marathon since I was not able to complete the training to get me to my goal of breaking 2 hours. After a few weeks of rest, I just showed up for the run to get in a good workout. You can imagine my surprise when at mile 11 I saw the clock and realized I was on pace to reach my goal. I did not set out to PR, I did not even put the effort during the race, I felt wonderful the entire morning; and yes, I crossed the finish line in under 2 hours and set an 18 min PR!”
Like many athletes, Danni balances her multisport goals with being a mom to her adorable daughter, Megan, a wife to her supportive husband, Todd, and a full-time career. When I asked her how she balances everything while keeping time for herself she said:
“This is the hardest of all the questions. It takes some creative planning and some smart managing of your time. I get up extra early in the morning to fit in my workouts while my daughter is sleeping. My husband travels so during the weekdays I am mostly limited to riding my bike indoors and running on the treadmill at home. I use my lunch hour at work to swim at the local pool, or squeeze in an outdoor run weather and time permitting. At nights I make sure that before I go to bed I have all my clothes laid out and ready to go, as well as my lunch and snacks ready for the next day. I am not saying it is easy, but with a little practice you find the combination that works for you and yours. My training time is the only time I have for myself, my selfish time. This sport keeps me centered, focused and balanced. So I make it a priority, with being a little selfish for a couple of hours of the day, I can be a better mom and wife.”
After all of her success in 2008, Danni is already looking ahead to 2009 - the year of her first Ironman. Danni admits that she has some pretty ambitious goals for this race so she will be scaling back her racing to focus on the training. She has a few other races for the year with some other goals yet considers them building blocks to Ironman success.
As Danni’s coach, I am excited about working with Danni towards her first Ironman. One thing that I enjoy most about working with Danni is her attention to being the best she can be. In the past year, she has committed to being successful in this sport and realized that success is more than just doing the workouts. She has taken the initiative to improve her nutrition, recovery and mindset. That combined with passionate enthusiasm makes Danni one of the smartest athletes out there on race day. When you race smart, you reach your goals. When she puts her mind to something, she not only thrives on the challenge but persists until she gets it right. Driven, sharp and dedicated are three words that make me think Danni will reach her 2009 goals.
For those just entering the sport, Danni has a few words of advice:
“Have fun! This is an opportunity to discover yourself, to test your limits, to see what you are made of. Be prepared to become addicted. Once you taste the accomplishment, you will want more and you won't be able to stop. And that is just half the fun!”
Thanks, Danni! Let's get going towards 2009...
Saturday, January 3, 2009
The new year is a flurry of activity with family gatherings and other festivities. Not only that but this is the time of year when athletes are a flurry of race plans, programs and schedules for the year ahead. Planning out a season can be a difficult task without some guidance. While most athletes know the right types of activities and training to do, often the struggle is with doing the right things at the right time. Here are some helpful hints for planning out a successful, healthy and positive year of training and racing.
The Big One
When you take on planning out your year, look at your season as a big picture – not a series of small races or week to week. Start by asking yourself the big one: if this was your last year in the sport, what would you want to achieve? Choose a goal that truly motivates and drives you. This will be the big one that makes you get up early to swim or tolerate running on a cold day. Your big goal needs to be realistic enough that you have a good chance of reaching it but just far enough that you will have to truly commit to get there. Don’t be afraid to dream big. If your goal is to qualify for Kona, perhaps it won’t happen this year but how close can you get to a typical qualifying time in your age group? Make that your goal and see its attainment as a stepping stone to your bigger goal (for the years ahead). Limit yourself to 1 to 3 “big” goals in a year. The distance, topography and nature of these races will be the key components around which your training plan is designed so keep their qualities consistent to make the most out of your training and racing. Once you’ve set your goals, then set out to plan races and training phases to help you achieve.
You Are Only Human
Planning your race schedule is an exciting task filled with opportunity. Triathlon is growing and the number of races in beautiful destinations, with challenging formats and promises of prize money makes all of us what to race and race a lot. With new races popping up all over the country, earlier and earlier each year, it is tempting to start racing in early spring. Keep in mind that the earlier you race, the more likely you will require a ‘mid-season break’. Ask yourself if you will have the maturity and patience to take a break in the middle of summer (honestly, can you ignore peer pressure or the glorious 75 degree cloudless day?). In general, a training program takes 4 to 5 months to deliver you to a peak. If your racing season lasts longer (ie., March through November), expect to take a 2 to 3 week transitional break in late June or early July. Not only will this break allow your body to fully recover – but also prepare you for another peak ahead. Also, consider your geographic location when planning your race schedule. If you live in a colder climate, it makes more sense to start racing in May or June when you have more time to get outside in real world conditions before taking on a race. Lastly, remember that you are only human. While competing in several Ironmans a year may be suitable for professional athletes, most age groupers balance full-time jobs, families and other demands. Think through what you can realistically handle – and what you will enjoy. You will likely enjoy a balanced, reasonable race schedule rather than an overpacked, overambitious one.
Make this year the year to race when you are 100 percent race ready. As athletes we are competitive and often thrive on the race. Naturally, this makes us want to race and race…and race…and race. Yet over-racing is very costly not only in terms of financial expenses but physical toll. If at all possible, avoid “training through” a race. It is very difficult to tell yourself to “hold back” during a race and besides it is not really the point of racing. Think in terms of BRING IT. When you arrive on race day you want to be able to bring it – not train through it, coast it or see how it goes. Bringing it requires a training plan designed to help you peak and perform at your big race. That said, put appropriate time between your races to allow for the necessary build up, peak, taper and recovery so you can achieve your big goals. Arrive at your races rested, fresh and ready to go. Using this approach, you will likely find racing more satisfying and useful for making fitness gains.
Recover More, Train Less
Planning out your week can be a daunting task. While there are 7 days a week train, very few athletes actually need to fill those 7 days with training. It’s common to think that more of a good thing is…more. Overzealousness is one of the most harmful characteristics an athlete can posses. Too much training and too little recovering is a surefire way to dig yourself into a hole. Be sure to include adequate recovery in your training plan. Arriving at a race slightly undertrained is far better than arriving at a race slightly overtrained. Most athletes can benefit from a full day of recovery each week – this can be a day of yoga, massage or simply stepping away from the sport. As you plan out your weekly training, plan for easy sessions before and after harder sessions. Easy sessions need not be a waste of time – technique and form drills are quality components of “easy” days. In general, take the amount of recovery you think you need – and add even more. Monitor yourself daily for signs of fatigue, illness or lack of motivation – all indicative of approaching the edge of doing too much. Recover more, train less to get the most out of your training plan.
Post Race Rest
When planning your training phases between races, be sure to take the time to recover after a race. How much you will need to recover depends on the race distance, your fitness going into the event, your age and race conditions. Early season races require far more recovery than late season races. The same goes for long versus short races. Hot, hilly or hard races will require more recovery often than a cool and flat course. Older athletes require more recovery than the young. A good guideline is to consider taking at least 1 day of rest for every mile run in your race. Expect Olympic distance races to necessitate 6 days of recovery, nearly two weeks for a half Ironman and with the full Ironman it may take 4 to 8 weeks for your body to feel “normal” again. While this varies by individual, the point is to never short yourself on post-race recovery. If you arrived at the race ready to bring it, you likely left it all out there. Give your body time to recover from that effort and benefit from the race. Race recovery need not be time sitting on the couch. Light activities may assist with recovery; avoid running yet consider a 30 minute easy swim or bike to get the blood moving. Stay away from group training, intensity or doing too much too soon in order to promote full recovery. Finally, view this rest as part of your training. Racing is an excellent way to gain fitness but only if you allow your body to fully recover from the effort.
Work Your Weakness
Include time in your yearly training plan to step back from the volume and instead add quantity in terms of building strength. Strength training is a critical component to any training plan. Often we have a hard enough time fitting in the swim, bike and run - so strength training gets tossed aside when time is short. Take the time, especially early in season, to make time for strength training. Aim for two quality sessions a week lasting 30 to 60 minutes. It may be helpful to set up a session with a physical therapist or personal trainer to assess your weaknesses and show you the correct way to perform moves. Focus on full body movements and those that develop core strength. Weights are not necessary – there are many quality moves you can do with your own body weight. Besides, performing moves with activation of your own muscles and balancing your own weight is much closer to the actual demands of multisport than lifting a stack of weights. While weights are useful for developing certain types of strength, start first with making your own body as strong as possible in supporting itself and then grow from there. Making time for the strength now will help your body grow stronger and prepare you for that next peak in your performance this year.
If It Sounds Stupid…
It probably is. Above all, when planning out your year - be smart. It may help to enlist the help of a coach to look over your plan as an extra set of eyes ‘just in case’. Intuitively most athletes know what is right – what sounds like a good idea and what sounds just plain dumb is not that hard to set apart. Racing back to back weekends is not always the best idea. Doing a marathon 4 to 8 weeks after an Ironman – risky. Doing two Ironmans in a year spaced less than 3 months apart – unless you are superhuman or pro, rough. Going from sprint to Ironman in less than a year – generally not a good plan. Remember, you cannot rush two things in sport: muscular development and recovery. Having the strength and endurance to perform well in multisport takes muscular development. Muscular development takes time. You also cannot rush recovery. Don’t expect (or force) your body to perform while it is recovering. Improper timing of races, too much intensity in training, going hard on easy days – these are all ways to impede your recovery, stagnate performance and risk injury. Keep in mind that your ultimate goal each year is to stay healthy enough so you can finish the year and compete the next one. Make every decision for you year with longevity in mind. What you do this year should help you build to the next year – not break you down. Train smart, race smart, continue to compete.
Get The Timing Right
Timing is the critical ingredient for planning and executing a successful racing year. The great thing about intensity and speedwork is that it works. And it works quick. A solid program with speedwork takes about 4 to 6 weeks to work. After that you either need to back off or take a rest before rebuilding to start the speedwork again. So then why do you see people racing each other in spin class in January? Not sure. Call them February’s National Champion. Perfect if you are planning to peak in February. Not so great if you are trying to peak in September. Remember, if it was as easy as “go fast to go fast” then everyone would be fast. Instead, it takes time – or, rather, timing. As you move through the year, look at your training in phases. Early in the season, spend time working in your aerobic heart rate zones and less time with intensity. A few pick ups or pops sprinkled in are effective to make the neuromuscular adaptations required for speedwork later on. But doing these too often or for too long is a recipe for peaking too soon or injury. As your season approaches, speedwork becomes more useful and less risky. As race day gets closer, keep sessions race specific and sharp. And again, after the race –take your recovery. Don’t jump right back into structured, intense training. Timing is everything in sport. Peak a week too early and you’ll find yourself sluggish and slow on race day. Going too hard too soon and you’ll find yourself stale and plateaued before your season begins. Timing is everything.
A new year ahead is exciting. Commit this year to arrive at each race ready to put forth your personal best with a smart training plan that is well-timed and suitable for your goals. Look at your season as a series of training phases each building on the previous phase and ultimately put together to help you reach your big goals.
Good luck this year – train smart, race smart and pursue your best!