How to Transition like a Pro

By Laurel Wassner, Pro Triathlete

Most people know of triathlon as a combination of swimming, biking and running.  Knowing how to switch from one sport to the next is a crucial part of the race.  These transitions may be a small percentage of the overall time, but they can be the difference between winning or losing, or getting that Kona slot or missing out by a few seconds.  So, how do you go from swimming to biking and from biking to running as fast as possible?  Try these pro tips:

Transition 1:  Transition from swim to bike

-Scout out the transition area and know where your bike is racked.  Have you ever parked in a garage and then come back from shopping and lost your car and taking forever to find it?  Well, you don’t want that to happen in a race!  When you go to rack your bike the day before the race, pick out some landmarks and visual cues to help you navigate the fastest way to your bike.  For example, trees or signs.  Also, make note of how many rows of bikes you have to pass before getting to yours.  It can help to put a bright colored towel or shirt in your area or even on your handle bars. Make sure to do a practice walk through transition so you have this route in your head.

-Just like you practice swimming, biking and running, rehearse your transitions.  Organize and lay out your gear in practice and then do the same thing when you get to the race. Keep in mind that you may have less room when you get to the race site, so be flexible and adapt.

-While you are walking down to the swim start the morning of the race, make sure to take a moment to check out the swim exit and where you will be running to your bike. Keep an eye out for curbs you might have to run over or potholes / places you could trip.  And once again, visualize where you need to be when you are running out of the water.

-Some races offer volunteers to help you strip off your wetsuit. If they offer you help, take it!  Those things can be hard to get off.  One tip is to put sportslick or body glide directly on the wetsuit on the lower leg openings.  Also putting a little on the back of your hands helps getting the sleeves off.

-Rubber band your bike shoes to the bike frame like a pro.  The fastest way to get on your bike and start riding right away is to have your shoes already clipped into your pedals before you jump on the bike. Most triathlon shoes have a loop in the back that can be used to loop a rubber band from there to somewhere (a bolt or screw) on the frame.  You place your feet on top of the shoes and start pedaling and within the first few minutes slide your feet into your shoes and fasten them.  The rubber band will break. If you try this, practice it first!

Transition training can also be fun for everyone from the athlete to their support team…have fun training!

Transition 2:  Transition from biking to running

-Scout out exactly where the dismount line is.  You want to be ready to hop off the bike at the appropriate place and not get a penalty for going over the line.  Just like I mentioned above, do a walk through to navigate the best route to your bike stand.  For example, pass 7 rows and make a left.  If you used a bright colored towel or shirt – look out for it.

-Put elastic laces in your running shoes.  Huge time saver.  Also, roll your socks in to a donut shape so you can easily unroll them and slide them on.

-Have a bottle of XRCEL ready to drink.  Unscrew the cap and then lightly close it, so it will be quicker to drink.  Drink it as you are running through the transition area.

-Also, have a bottle of water with your things. You never know if you’ll come off the bike thirsty, or if it’s hot it can be handy to have it there to cool you down.

The most important thing about transitions is to stay calm. When you get out of the water, take a deep breath and think about your mental map to your bike.  If you get back to your bike and your things have been knocked around, stay focused and make sure you collect everything you need.  The more focused and calm you are, the more efficient the transition will be.

And, don’t forget to practice the details before the race!

Performance Nutrition Basics – Leg Three

Protein: Really the superstar?

Most Americans eat more protein than they need each day.  Intake beyond the body’s needs is unnecessary & can possibly have negative effects.  The big question is, what are the body’s needs?  Obviously, each person’s protein needs are different, and those needs depend on many factors.  Here are some guidelines:

Average adult (non-athlete):  0.8grams per kilogram body weight per day (about 55g/day for an average 150-pound person)

Endurance athlete (depends on training cycle): 0.8-2.0g/kg/day (55-135g/day for an average 150-pound athlete)

Other athlete with goal of building body mass: 1.4-1.8g/kg/day (127-163g/day for an average 200-pound athlete)

But here’s where the rubber meets the road: how do those numbers translate into actual food choices?

2 eggs–12g

4 ounces chicken breast–35g

4 ounces salmon–25g

1/2 cup black beans–8g

1/4 cup almonds–8g

various grains/veggies throughout the day (2 slices bread, 1 cup brown rice, 1 sweet potato)–13g

Total protein intake: 101g

This is, of course, more than what is necessary for average adults and even most athletes, except for endurance athletes during their pre-race cycle, and larger athletes looking to build mass.  All that would be required to meet any higher recommendation would be slightly larger portions.  The bottom line is, you can get all the protein your body needs to function properly, and satisfy the demands of athletic training and competition, from a healthy balanced diet. If, however you don’t have access to, or time to make, balanced meals, there are options for supplementation. At least now you will know how much protein you really need and can decide accordingly what to consume and when to consume it. Here are some of the healthiest sources of protein:

  • Chicken, turkey, ham, fillet steak, or seafood cooked in a healthy manner (grilled, baked, broiled; not fried)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Beans or legumes

Protein does, of course, have important functions in the body:

  • Maintenance & repair of body tissue (muscle, hair, skin, eyes, organs, etc.)
  •  Enzymes
  •  Hormones (insulin, secretin, etc.)
  •  Antibodies (read: immune system)

These functions are certainly important, but the functions of all the other nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fat, water, fiber) should not be considered any less important.  Getting more protein than what you need is not going to enhance or increase any of these functions/processes.  Also, excess intake of protein can be stored as fat and, depending on the sources of protein, could lead to high intake of saturated fat (see “Performance Nutrition Basics, Leg Two; Demystifying Fats”).

Just remember, all of the nutrients are important; we just need different amounts of them.  Finding a balance may be tough sometimes, but a little planning ahead can go a long way towards a healthy, balanced diet.

Janet Carter, MS, RD, LD, CPT, CLS
Dietitian/Sports Nutritionist
Endurance Athlete
dietjc24@yahoo.com
774-400-7566

Coming Soon: Performance Nutrition Basics, Leg Four; Vitamins, Minerals and Water

This blog is written using the most updated scientific information available.  The author has no financial stake in anything that’s discussed, nor is she benefiting financially from writing the blog article.  In other words, you are receiving un-biased, science-based sports nutrition information from an experienced professional who is also a seasoned endurance athlete.

5 Real life signs of overtraining or a need for a rest day

By Carrie Lester, Pro Triathlete and Coach

I am not a doctor, an exercise scientist, or any other scholar when it comes to identifying signs of overtraining or when we as athletes are simply in need of a few easy days. I am, however a coach and an athlete, and have years of experience racing as a professional athlete in my body and mind. It has taken a long time to recognize the clear signs that I am on the edge, and I see similar signs in athletes I coach as they are Age Group athletes managing work, kids, training, social commitments and basic life chores. These are my top 5 signs:

1. Mood.

This one for me is the screaming sign I am in need of some easier days.

Feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability, lack of motivation, low self esteem, low everything…it starts to become consuming. Why? Without getting into the science = HORMONES.  What we do places an awful amount of stress on our body and mind and eventually our hormones start flipping out. They control everything. When I find myself in tears for no apparent reason, its time for a rest.

2. Food choices.

Where’s the sugar?? I want it ALL the time. Hormones are out of whack, mood is down, what is going to make me feel better…SUGAR! Most of the time I eat a balanced, healthy diet. But when I am at a low point, I make bad choices. Then feel worse because I made the bad choice. And turns out it didn’t make me feel better.

3. Strength & Power.

I have none. Just deep fatigue. In any discipline I am fighting myself in whatever I do. My legs, arms, everything is heavy, and no matter how much time I give myself to “clear the pipes” in sessions it just doesn’t happen and usually ends in tears (a little over exaggerated but known to happen). 80% efforts are capped at 60% if I am lucky because I can’t go any faster, my heart won’t let me. Hills become mountains and I scramble up them.  The list goes on.

4. Sleep.

It’s restless. And not enough to recover and feel rejuvenated. I always wake feeling I want more and am usually in a pretty deep brain fog. Don’t talk to me until I have had a cold shower and coffee (which at these times you should try and avoid!)

5. The scientific signs.

As I said, I’m no scientist, but it doesn’t take one to know that what we do creates inflammation within us. At times, this will create inflammatory conditions that will show as red flags should you have blood tests or ASI tests done. THIS DOESN’T MEAN A DOCTOR PUTS YOU ON MEDICATION. I REPEAT, YOU DO NOT NEED MEDICATION. Most of these conditions WILL stabilize with the correct diet, rest and lifestyle. If they don’t, then you should seek professional help and consider other options.

If you start noticing any or all of these signs communicate with your coach (if you have one) and plan a few easy days until your signs start to turn around.  Note, I said easier days. NOT days OFF.  Sometimes taking full days off is not what we type A people need, but in extreme cases may be ok with doing so. Consider it a time of adaptation to come back stronger.

It’s important to recognize the signs and not take it out on others or ourselves. Don’t beat yourself up, but instead treat your body and mind to a few days of R&R. Eat well, sleep as much as you can, back the training off, take a mini break, go out with friends and have a good laugh. Your body & mind will thank you!

9 Ways to Stay Injury-Free this Triathlon Season

By Patrick Evoe

     If you’re a triathlete, you’re now moving from winter off season towards racing season. Your fitness is probably coming around and you’re really starting to turn the screws in training. Nothing will derail your progress faster than an injury. If you want to have a successful racing season, staying injury-free should be a top priority. Here, I want to give you some tips and ideas to keep you off the injured reserve and training and racing strong.

1) Keep up the gym work: It’s an old school mentality that strength work in the gym is only for the winter or “off season.” Most professional triathletes stay working in the gym year round now. Maintaining gym work as part of your training regime throughout your racing season will not only help your overall strength and muscle recruitment, but it will also help keep your stabilizing muscles strong, thus helping to prevent injury during your larger volume training.

2) Soft surface running: Elite runners know that the pavement is your enemy when it comes to injury prevention. You can help reduce your risk of stress fractures and other injuries from repetitive impacts by staying off of hard surfaces when you lace up your shoes. The more miles you can run on softer surfaces rather than concrete and asphalt the better. Dirt trails or roads are ideal for putting in the bigger miles, but there are other options to minimize your pavement time. Treadmills, grass soccer fields, and tracks are all other excellent options for running depending on the specific training session. If you’re faced with an area where pavement is your only option, always choose asphalt over concrete. Asphalt actually gives a little with each stride where concrete does not, so the asphalt road will provide better shock absorption than concrete, and thus less pounding. If you want to know how much “harder” concrete is than asphalt, one source I found had the measure for how much an object resists deforming (modulus of elasticity) for asphalt at 380 kpsi and concrete at 4500kpsi. The moral of this story is stick to the softer surfaces for your running miles to help prevent those repetitive stress injuries.

3) Maintain your body work: Body work is to training what flossing is to dentistry. We all know we should be doing it all of the time, but as soon as we get tired, it’s the first thing we drop. Then when you’re injured and go into a physical therapist, the first thing they ask is how much foam rolling and stretching you do. When you’re tired, the last thing you want to do is hop on the foam roll, but the reality is that keeping up with a body work regiment will help keep your body happy and healthy. Massages, stretching, and foam rolling are very effective at helping with injury prevention.

4) When in doubt, don’t – My uncle, who is a lifetime runner gave me some advice when I was a new runner. He said an old coach of his used to say that during a taper “when in doubt, don’t!” If you’re not sure if your should do something in training, you’re probably better off if you don’t do it. I like to extend that advice to injury prevention. I learned the hard way (time and time again), that if you feel tightness or a little pain coming on, stop the workout. It’s not worth risking a pull or strain just to soldier through a session and check the box on your training program. It’s better to bag that workout, take it easy for a day and come back to hammer through the rest of the training plan, than to be out for a couple weeks with a calf or hamstring pull. Trust me on this one, I was the worst offender of this during the first two thirds of my racing career. It took a lot of pulls and strains before I gained the wisdom to stop a workout as a precaution rather than let my motivation and ego keep me going during a workout.

5) Keep your warm-ups slow – Moving into your racing season, your fitness will naturally improve as you try to reach your peak. As you get fitter, you may feel urge to start out faster on your swim, bike and run workouts because your winter paces feel easier. Keep in mind that your body still needs a nice, long, and slow warm-up to get your muscles supple and malleable before you start hammering away. Always remember the common analogy that your muscles at the start of a workout are like a rubber band pulled out of the freezer. Stretch it too fast before it’s warmed up and it will snap. The same is true for your muscles. Keep your warm-ups nice and slow, even if the pace feels too easy.

6) You still need recovery blocks – You’re now counting down your final months and weeks to your key races. You’re fit, strong, and better yet, motivated. This is a great position to be in, but it can also be dangerous if you overreach. Some athletes want to build and build; add in more and more intensity. True, you need to add volume and/or intensity to create a training response, but if you don’t give yourself recovery blocks, or back off for a week here and there, you will increase your risk for burn out and injury. Remember, you never get stronger in a workout, only during the recovery!

7) Substitute a long bike for a long run – A great tip I learned from a former coach was to substitute an extra long ride for a long run periodically. We all get in the mentality of Saturday long ride, Sunday long run. It’s the triathlon way. While long runs are an essential piece to your training plan, they are also the single workout that most increases your injury risk. Now and then, my old coach would have a weekend where I didn’t have a long run. Instead, Saturday would be a medium-long to long ride (3-5 hours) with hard intensity. Then Sunday would be a long endurance ride of 5-6 hours. Just relaxed endurance pace riding. You still get a great cardiovascular boost from the double long ride but without the pounding of the long run. It’s also a great way to boost your cycling fitness. For the type-A triathletes who mentally can’t miss a long run, don’t worry, you won’t lose your run fitness by missing one long run. Of course you need to have a solid cycling base before you try this because you don’t want to end up with a cycling injury.

8) Stay on top of your hydration – As the weather warms up and your training load increases, you will be in a constant battle to stay hydrated. If you become chronically dehydrated, you increase your risk for several types of injuries; more specifically pulls and strains. Calf and lower leg pulls or strains can sometimes be attributed to chronic dehydration because the muscles are not as supple when they’re in a dehydrated state. Make hydration a priority throughout your season. It should be something you stay on top of before, during, and after all of your training.

9) Proper Fueling – A tired body and mind resulting from inadequate fueling can contribute to injury risk from fatigue due to mechanical failure or poor decision making from sub-optimal brain fueling. Athletes talk anecdotally about the dreaded bonk, but in reality, if you reach the point in a race or training where you’ve sufficiently depleted your stores to put you in that state, you’re putting yourself at risk of harming yourself. Help mitigate that risk by ensuring you keep your mind and body fueled using XRCEL’s extended release micro-gel technology as your fueling source throughout your training and racing.

After reading this, you probably recognize that injury prevention is primarily about risk reduction. As you think through your training, racing, and recovery, try to get into the mindset to mitigate as many of the injury risks inherent to our sport as you can. Setting yourself up to have your best race is as much about getting you to the starting line healthy as it is getting you there fit!

about getting you to the starting line healthy as it is getting you there fit!

How to Prepare For Hot Races

By Scott Defillipis, Pro Triathlete & Coach

Racing a triathlon in extreme heat (90 degrees Fahrenheit or above) is something that some human beings can handle naturally. These are generally smaller athletes with low sweat rates, athletes that live in warm climates and never have to go through a winter, or very efficient athletes (Miranda Carfrae is a great example). But for the rest of us that don’t go so well in the heat, we must prepare weeks before the event or risk having a melt down on the run…(trust me I’ve been there).

Here are some quick tips to help you get ready for a hot race:

-Get in a sauna! Most local gyms have one. If you don’t belong to a gym that has one, see if you can get a trial membership, even if just for a week.  You don’t have to camp out in the sauna, but spending 15-30 mins max, 2-3 times a week will expose you to extreme heat which will help you come race day. You can include this as a part of your weekly training routine if time and facilities allow or simply get in a sauna a few times 7-10 days leading into you race.

-Take a sweat test. Precision Hydration offers a free one on their webpage

Most athletes think they are taking on enough sodium but chances are they aren’t getting nearly enough as their body requires. For a heavy sweater like myself, even though I am small and efficient like Miranda, I loose so much fluid I have to consume 1000 mg of sodium an hour in hot races or its lights out by the time I get to the run

-To train in heavy clothes or not?  I have seen lots of athletes who live in cooler places, and who are preparing for Kona, overdress for training sessions during the lead up to the big race. Personally, I have never tried this nor do I plan to or instruct the athletes I train to do so…I prefer athletes to maximize their training in comfortable conditions rather than unnecessarily overheat, which could negatively affect your training program.  Having said this, if you have access to a warmer pool (82-86 degrees) to swim in before a hot race, this can be very beneficial for heat adaptation. Be sure to dial back your intensity a good 10-15%.

-Have you tried XRCEL?  XRCEL’s Patented micro-gels increase the release rate of glucose when body temperature levels rise during strenuous activity, which in return keeps the core body temperature down… When I first started using XRCEL, the man behind the science, Fred Sexton, had me try it while I was home in NJ during the Christmas Holidays. I was swimming at a local indoor pool which was quiet, warm, 84 degrees. I had a 2 hour swim scheduled, the same 2 hour swim I had done a week before, barely completing.  This time with 2 XRCELs, it was a breeze, and I even swam Lifetime Best Times.

-Preload on Sodium the day before. Take in an extra 1000-1500mg of sodium the day before in the form of added salt to meals, or simply take a few salt pills throughout the day

Come race day in the heat of the moment:

-Dial your effort level back 10-15%, forget your expectations.

-Don’t pay too much attention to watts on the bike (unless you are using it to hold you back).

-If you train with Heart Rate, then use it to keep your level of effort towards the low end of your aerobic zone.

-Forget pace on the run…Simply run your best effort in the given conditions.

-Use ice and sponges to keep your mid-section and lower back cool. If ice is not available then keep pouring water on yourself at each aid station. And don’t be afraid to walk through the aid stations to get the fluid in.

-Lastly, don’t forget your XRCEL- it helps to regulate your body temperature.  “Never Leave Transition Without It”.   

Happy Training and Racing!

Top 8 Marathons for your Bucket List

With 2018 in full swing, there’s never been a better time to dip into your marathon bucket list and pull out a winner or two. Marathons are growing in participation and popularity all around the country, but there are a handful of races that stand out for good reason.  From running through a magical kingdom to running to the top of a 14,000 foot mountain, our “Eight Great Marathons” need to be on any new or seasoned runner’s list of “must-runs!” Pick one of our bucket list marathons, grab your XRCEL, and start training for what will only be an epic marathoning experience!

Big Sur International Marathon

Imagine yourself running in the most beautiful painting of nature you have ever seen. Now, sign up for the Big Sur International Marathon and you can actually run in the marathon that boasts the most gorgeous views your running shoes have ever encountered. This is an unforgettable point-to-point course run along California Highway 1 from Big Sur to Carmel. With canopies of redwood trees, the rushing of ocean waves, and the magnificent coastal mountains, your body might forget you are running 26.2 miles. At the halfway point, you will run across the iconic Bixby Bridge where you will be greeted by a tuxedo-wearing musician playing a Yamaha Baby Grand Piano. You will also be treated to some refreshing strawberries from local farmers around mile 23 as you head towards the finish line. The sights along this race course are unlike anything you’ll ever see!

Boston Marathon

With its 122nd birthday coming up this April, the Boston Marathon is one of the oldest and most memorable marathons around. With qualifying times set by the Boston Athletic Association, runners have to push their running limits to earn a spot on the starting line, which is what makes Boston extremely special. This point-to-point course starts in the quaint town of Hopkinton and ends on the busy downtown Boston street, Boylston Street. For 26.2 miles, you are never alone thanks to the Patriot’s Day celebration in Boston where  the whole city is off of work and ready to cheer for all of the runners. Hear the roaring students from Boston University as you crest the top of the treacherous Heartbreak Hill around mile 20. You will feel the rush of energy from the emcee and spectators as you finish strong through the downtown streets and make your final turn to the gigantic finish line, painted in bright blue and yellow. You have to be fast to race Boston, but we know you can do it!

Disney Marathon

It’s the most magical marathon of them all! Not only is Disney World an amazing place to make memories with your family, but it’s also become a delightful place to test your marathon legs. With your favorite Disney characters hosting this weekend-long event, runners get to experience an enchanting run through the wonderful world of Disney for all 26.2 miles. This is a marathon that welcomes all skill levels and is known as a relatively flat and easy course. Time will fly by as runners are fully-entertained on the course by music, loud cheers, and appearances by the world’s most famous mouse! Runners also receive a one-of-a-kind finisher medal for their time in the Magic Kingdom. If you really want to challenge your marathon legs, you can sign up for the other races taking place that weekend including a 5k, 10k, and half marathon. There are special medals if you choose to take on more than just the marathon and some fun kids races, making it a weekend the whole family can enjoy!

Honolulu Marathon

Get into the holiday and aloha spirit in early December when you run the scenic Honolulu Marathon. With no time limits on race day, runners can fully enjoy and take in all of the sights and sounds on the festive course. Even better, the race does not set a cap on participants, making it a great race for all of your family and friends to enjoy together.  The runners will get the full Honolulu experience as they run through the downtown streets, which are drenched in holiday lights and decor before heading through the famous Waikiki Village and scenic climbs around Diamond Head, where the ocean can be seen and heard for miles. You will feel like a rock star at the boisterous finish line as you can see yourself finish, thanks to a 20-minute delay, on the big screen in the finisher village. Let the Hawaiian spirit engulf you as you enjoy a marathon lined with palm trees and an ocean breeze as you run 26.2 miles in paradise.

Marine Corps Marathon

Known as the “People’s Marathon,” the Marine Corps Marathon is the largest marathon in the world that doesn’t offer prize money and, instead, celebrates the honor, courage, and commitment of all the finishers. This October race was created in 2004 to raise money for wounded service members and has taken on an extraordinary life of its own.The race strives to promote physical fitness, generate community, and showcase the skill of the United States Marine Corps, many who are participating in full gear. Runners from all 50 states and more than 60 countries take their marathon journey through both Arlington, Virginia and Washington, D.C., with the streets lined with members of the military and citizens cheering for miles. The flat and fast course is designed for everyone who aspires to conquer a marathon and will leave you with a true feeling of pride when you hit the finish line.

Miami Marathon

What better way to ring in the new year than with the marathon that never sleeps? The Miami Marathon is the party-of-parties when it comes to 26.2 miles because the people of Miami know how to cheer and celebrate a race like no other! Get ready for the course to be lined with excited crowds, mile after mile as you put your marathon legs to the test. The course is a great course for novices and experts alike as it is a flat and forgiving course. Whether you want to compete for fun or qualify for the Boston Marathon, this course is for you! Don’t be surprised if you recognize many of the spots on course from a movie or T.V. show and you may even see a famous face or two. Although the speedy course is definitely the “star of the show,” this January gem is sure to keep you entertained and inspired through every mile.

New York City Marathon

It’s not only one of the most popular marathons, but it’s also the world’s biggest marathon! With over 50,000 finishers, the New York City Marathon is a true bucket list race for anyone wanting to accomplish 26.2 miles. Even with the often-cold November weather upon the race, it doesn’t stop the millions of spectators from lining the streets to cheer on all of the racers every step of the way. You’ll feel the warmth and love of this patriotic race as it is regarded as a symbol of hope and unity since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Runners get a true tour of the city as they run through the five boroughs of New York City before the epic finish line that awaits in the iconic Central Park. The New York Marathon is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime marathon experience!

Pikes Peak Marathon

There is no actual way to measure or describe the difficulty of the Pikes Peak Marathon. Held in Manitou Springs, Colorado, runners start up a mountain trail with over 7,815 feet of climbing for the first 13.1 miles, hitting the halfway mark at the top of a 14,115  foot peak. However, what goes up, must come down and runners are then left with another 13.1 miles, carefully descending down the mountain to the finish line. Qualifying times are put in place to both challenge runners and to keep them safe. Despite being a tough race, it is also one of beauty and nature. Runners will get to experience running through the soft trails and mountainous terrain, overlooking the majestic surrounding mountains. For runners who want an even tougher challenge than the marathon, you race the Pikes Peak Ascent, straight up the mountain, the day before the marathon. The Ascent also has qualifying times, but we’ll never say no to a challenge!

Avoid GI Issues and the dreaded Energy Bonk on Race Day

By Patrick Evoe

I want to ask you a simple question: why don’t you dedicate as much time and energy into perfecting and dialing in your training and race nutrition as you do for your workouts or training plan? I would argue that having a fine tuned nutrition plan is just as important as your race day fitness. It’s also equally important as the time and money you put into having excellent equipment. You need to have confidence on race day that your body will be running its best. I’ve been around triathlon for a long time and I’ve heard loads of athletes give reasons (read: excuses) for why they didn’t perform up to their racing potential. At the top, or near the top of the list is nutrition or gastrointestinal (GI) issues. Only a couple other issues will ruin a race as fast as nutrition problems. Going too hard only to blow up because of muscle fatigue, as well as catastrophic mechanical failure (including flat tires) are the other two top race ruining events. Of course if you show up to a race with an underlying injury, you’re set up for failure even before you double-knot your shoe laces.

Mechanical failure or a flat tire can be just dumb luck or the result of improperly maintained equipment. So that scenario is partially out of your control. Physically blowing up in a race results from improper pacing and an undisciplined race execution. Because of this, I’d argue that blowing up is also in your control. Race nutrition is also in your control if you take the time to devise, test, and then fine tune a race and training nutrition plan. Too many athletes do not take their race and training nutrition as seriously as they should. I think this could be because either they’re too lazy or they don’t understand its importance to their overall race performance. Think about how much time and energy you or your friends dedicate to your training and equipment. If you spent just a fraction of that time perfecting your nutritional plan, you could greatly reduce your chances of having GI issues or a dreaded energy bonk on race day.

I want to discuss what I’ve seen as the two biggest nutritional self-sabotaging mistakes athletes inflict on themselves. The first is the dreaded calorie “bonk.” This is athlete slang for simply running out of energy. This happens when your muscles demand more calories than you have available to use. Without going into the dirty details of your physiological processes, your body takes readily available calories (from what you eat), stored fat (depending on how hard you’re working), and glycogen in your muscles and liver (think your body’s fuel tank that’s filled from the food you eat in the hours and days before you work out), then converts those energy sources into a compound called ATP which is the only fuel your muscles use. I’ve over simplified it here, but if you keep this in mind, you can quickly see that if you’re working hard and don’t have enough calories in your system, at some point your gas tank will be empty and there won’t be any ATP to fuel your body.

When that happens, your body is very smart and knows that it has to protect itself and will shut down before it runs out of fuel for your critical functions (think brain, heart, lungs). When this occurs during exercise, you start to simply feel systemically terrible, maybe dizzy, maybe nauseous, and you just won’t be able to push anymore. You have now officially “bonked.” If you think about it in these terms, it sounds simple to avoid. If you continue to take in calories as you train, especially as the duration of the activity increases, you help to ensure your body always has calories in the fuel tank from which it can draw.

This isn’t as simple as eating and drinking a Thanksgiving’s feast on your swim, bike, or run. That can lead to the next issue I want to discuss. However, spending the time and effort to fine tune exactly how much and the right type of nutritional fuel you can ingest while you train can help you keep your body fueled and running strong on race day.

The flip side of the exercise nutritional equation is taking in too much or the wrong types of fuel while training or racing. This leads to GI issues, including nausea, sloshing stomach, upset stomach, bloating, and/or diarrhea. None of us like to try to deal with those issues while working out. If you take in too many calories per hour versus the intensity level of your activity, you can end up with any of the symptoms on this list. If you take in products with too much or the wrong types of sugar (I’ll explain this in a minute) your GI tract will suffer. You can end up in this same place if the calories are too concentrated in your gut versus the amount of fluid it’s taken with. Even ingesting solid versus liquid forms of fuel, or taking nutritional sources with varying amounts of protein or fat will change your personal nutritional equation and thus how your body reacts. If you aren’t confident that your nutrition plan is tried and true, then you’re leaving your GI tract up to chance on all of these variables.

I mentioned the types of sugar your body uses as fuel. It’s important to understand that not all fuel sources are created equally. Luckily for us, our bodies are very smart and adaptable. As omnivores, our bodies are great at digesting and converting a wide variety of plant and animal caloric sources into usable fuel for our bodies. For exercising, on the other hand, while we CAN use different fuel sources, we perform better using the types of fuels that our bodies most easily and efficiently convert into our muscles’ usable energy. Think about a hot flame. Many items you find will burn in that flame, but some will burn quickly, efficiently, and clean (think alcohols or natural gas), while others give off soot and dirty byproducts (think burning a tire). For sports nutrition, glucose is the most readily available caloric source for your body to convert into usable fuel (remember the ATP we talked about earlier). XRCEL Athlete Fuel uses glucose-loaded micro-gels in its suspension, formulated to release that glucose in your intestines while you exercise. Your intestines are the place where your body can absorb those calories. If you’re fueling with other forms of sugar, carbohydrates, protein, or fat while you’re training, you’re not using that clean, fast, efficient fuel your body wants. You’re burning the tire rubber instead of the Formula 1 race car fuel. This is why XRCEL is a superior exercise nutrition product. It is designed specifically to be the best at giving your body what it needs.

As you start to work on your nutrition in training, its critical that you try to test your nutrition under different scenarios. Testing a nutritional plan a couple times in training and then assuming it will be perfect on race day is one of the biggest errors I’ve seen athletes make. First, the intensity you train at is not always the same as your race intensity. As you stress your muscles and cardiovascular system more, it changes how your digestive system works. If you go out for a long easy ride while chatting with friends, I can guarantee that your GI is working very differently than it will on race day, unless of course, your race day pace is the same as your long, easy, chatting pace. Also, think about how much time you spend stopped during training sessions. Every time you stop at a red light, stop for the bathroom, stop to refill water bottles, stop to change a tire, or stop to tie a shoe. Every time you stop in training, your heart rate drops and it becomes easier for your body to digest the calories you’ve been ingesting. I know it’s very hard to have a perfect race simulation in training, and physiologically it’s not always good to do them, but you need to find ways to do workouts where you can stress your body like a race to see how it reacts to your nutrition plan. If you don’t, you’re rolling the dice on race day.

The second variable to consider for your nutrition plan is the environmental conditions. Hot versus cold, humid versus arid will change between your training and racing environments. This will not only affect your sweat rates, but also how your stomach reacts to different amounts of fuel. I know most of us cannot travel around the world to test our nutrition in different climates, but you need to find ways to keep testing your plan. This is one reason that testing your nutrition year-round is helpful. If you’re only testing on nice warm 80-degree summer days, what happens if your race day comes and a freak cold front blows in? How does your stomach react when you’re biking hard in temperatures in the 40s and 50s? Failing to test how your GI system changes for different environmental conditions is another area where I’ve seen athletes make major mistakes.

After reading this, I hope you understand why it’s important to focus on perfecting your nutritional plan. I also hope you have learned a few factors many athletes overlook while testing their plans in training. The key to all of this is to start with your initial plan, then test, test, test in training. Try different types of workouts and different environmental conditions throughout the year. Try taking in more calories, then when you think it’s too much, try backing off. You need to think of yourself as Goldilocks and find the nutritional plan that just right for YOU. I recommend XRCEL because it’s designed specifically with all of these factors in mind. It’s designed with the best type of fuel for your body as you exercise, so you don’t have to worry about using different nutrition products. You just need to figure out how much XRCEL to drink and balance that with your overall hydration plan. Don’t leave anything up to chance. This is one area where you have a lot of control in your training and racing. You can understand after reading this why I find it both perplexing and disappointing when athletes have their races ruined because they didn’t place as much importance on their nutrition as they did on their training and equipment.

Stay out of trouble, Turn up the Base: the Importance of Base Training for Marathon Runners.

By Patrick Evoe

     “I’m just working on my base for a while”

     “I’m just doing base miles right now”

We hear athletes saying these phrases like a broken record during the off season. I think sometimes athletes are saying it because they know it’s what they are supposed to say this time of year. The question is, when it comes to putting in the base miles, do they know why they are doing it, and are they doing it in the right way to gain the most benefit for their marathon racing. All phases and types of workouts have a specific purpose in your training cycle. I think sometimes base training is marginalized or over simplified because athletes don’t know its importance or how to incorporate it into their training cycles.

Base training usually coincides with your initial training period as you start your build towards your peak fitness. Athletes can spend 2-4 months during this phase working on their foundational fitness. What you do in training and how you do it during this phase directly impacts your peak fitness potential as you approach your key race. The base training is the time when you build your aerobic engine and efficiency. There are several physiological reasons why base training increases your aerobic capacity. It increases the number and density of cellular mitochondria, which produce energy. It also improves your capillary systems, or the tiny blood vessels delivering blood to your tissues and organs. Think of this as improving your cardiovascular system’s plumbing by increasing the number of pipes. When it’s time to do the more intense work, the increased volume of your pipes will allow more blood flow so you can go harder.

The second aspect of base training that many athletes lose sight of during this phase is functional strength. Not only do you want to increase your aerobic engine, you want to increase your functional running strength through both “on road” strength work as well as work in the gym. Putting both of these together will help your muscular endurance as you move into future training phases.

The more you work on your aerobic engine now, the greater capacity you’ll have to do harder sessions as you start working your other systems. The stronger you are as you start adding more intensity the more power or force you can produce. It’s a pretty straight forward concept. I’ve always liked the analogy of thinking of your fitness as a pyramid. The bottom of the pyramid is your base aerobic fitness. The next layer up is your strength and muscular endurance. As you move up the pyramid, you have your tempo work, threshold, and anaerobic systems. The larger base you have on your pyramid, the higher you can build it. The reason it’s called base training is because it truly is the foundation of your fitness.

During your foundation period, it’s also an excellent time to work on your training and racing nutrition. Because XRCEL is a newer product to the world of marathoning, you may not have had the opportunity to try it in your training and racing. Many athletes struggle with gastrointestinal (GI) issues during races from using gels and/or sports drinks. XRCEL’s patented micro-gel technology ensures that the glucose-loaded packets of calories are delivered in the right concentration, to the right place in your GI, and remains there longer to increase your body’s caloric absorption without upsetting your GI. In other words, during your base miles, its a great time to start experimenting with XRCEL as part of your exercise nutrition plan. Find the best formula for how many bottles of XRCEL per hour you like. Try drinking XRCEL before your sessions for increased energy during those workouts. You want your nutrition to be dialed in and spot-on come race day. The only way you’ll get to that point is to start working now and finding how incorporating XRCEL into your sessions works best for you.

Now that you understand what base training is and how it’s beneficial to your marathon training, let’s discuss how to incorporate it into your training to be the most effective. The aerobic component is best done by slowly increasing your mileage (both through frequency and duration) throughout your base phase, but doing most of that training at a low heart rate. This is best accomplished by establishing a heart rate ceiling. That’s your speed limit, keep your heart rate under that number. You’ll need to find your own aerobic threshold. There are a lot of articles and on-line references describing self-tests to establish your threshold heart rate. From your aerobic threshold, you can establish your training heart rate zones. Your base miles are best done in zone 2 which is your aerobic pace. During your base phase, the majority of your miles should be here. You should slowly and carefully increase your running frequency (runs per week) and total mileage in this zone. The more time you spend here, the stronger aerobic engine you’re building.

While most of your time should be done in this zone, that’s not to say you shouldn’t do any faster work. It’s good to do some work to maintain foot speed. The trick is to incorporate some faster efforts periodically without turning your run into a tempo run. You want to stay south of heart rate zone 3. Your goal is to avoid that “gray zone” or junk miles which is the feeling that you’re running pretty hard, but not too painful. The best way to maintain leg speed during your base period without training in the gray zone is to incorporate short fartlek efforts into your zone 2 runs. Try spacing out one minute hard efforts into your run, but allow enough time between each effort for your heart rate to come down and you still get time in zone 2. This will help when it’s time to start picking up the pace in your next training phase, your legs will still have some snap.

Now let’s talk about strength, but more specifically functional strength. This is not about how much can you squat or dead lift, but rather building total body strength that’s directly applicable to your running. During your base phase, I think it’s the perfect time to work on your functional strength. Too many runners think the base phase is all about slow long miles. You want to come out of this period strong and with a great aerobic engine so your body can take the intensity as you start adding those sessions later in the year.

 You can always work on your functional strength in the gym. One to three gym sessions per week, depending on the athlete and how much time you have will build a great foundation. You want to work on your core, plyometrics, major muscle groups, but also work on mobility and activation exercises. There are a lot of resources where you can learn specific exercises or routines to get the specificity for the most benefit. Don’t worry, I can tell you that you won’t get “too big” by doing gym work. That’s an antiquated fear that circulates around old school endurance athletes and especially runners. I can tell you for certain that all of the top professional and Olympic distance runners spend a lot of time in the gym working on their strength. Take some time to talk to your coach, trainers at your gym, or research for yourself to find an effective gym routine to work on your base strength this winter.

In addition to the gym, working on your functional strength while running out on the road or trails is one of the best ways to prepare for the coming marathon season and also to take your gym work and apply it directly to running. Remember that during this base period, you’re still working on your aerobic engine, so when you do any strength work in the field, the focus is on the muscle resistance and not on stressing your cardiovascular system. Try finding long hills that are not too steep and incorporate them into your runs. As you run up the hills, don’t focus on sprinting, but rather try to pick up your knees and really drive down and engage your glutes. I’ve found it especially effective on steeper sections to bound up, almost like you’re doing a jump from one stride to the next. Think of it as an over exaggeration of your normal running stride. To do this you’ll need to really slow down your pace and think of using your leg drive to propel you up as much as forward. You’ll feel the muscle fatigue building in your quads and glutes as you bound up the hill, but you’ll be able to keep your heart rate more aerobic than if you sprint up the hill like most impatient runners.

Another great way to incorporate functional strength into your base phase is to put in sets of plyometrics directly after a run. As soon as you stop your run back at your car or home, try going right into sets of squat jumps, single leg hops, double leg hops, bounding, walking lunges, and you can even throw in sets of jump rope. You’ll already be fatigued from your run, so you’ll need to really focus to keep your form and push to get the most out of this strength work. If you can incorporate uphill bounding and post-run plyometrics into your normal running to supplement your base work this winter, I think you will notice significant strength gain come springtime.

There is one more, little talked about, benefit to having a base phase as part of you your marathon build. I’m referring to the mental rewards. First, if you’re working on your base running as I’ve described here, you’re giving yourself a mental break from the intensity of tempo runs, track sessions, and other similar hard work. Even though strength work is challenging in its own right, it’s very different than that “I want to cry, this run is so hard” type intensity. Think of this time as important to recharge your mental and emotional batteries. You’ll need that mental energy as you start the big build to your key event. Execute your base phase correctly and you will be mentally fresh when you need to dig deep. The second mental benefit is that if you have a proper base training phase, you will have the confidence that you are stronger and have a better aerobic engine that ever before. You will know that because of this, your body will be able to handle a bigger work load for the rest of the year, setting yourself up for your biggest peak just in time for your “A” race this season.

10 Tips for Improving your Open Water Swimming

by Patrick Evoe

     The swimming portion of a triathlon is the triathlon discipline which gives many amateur triathletes the most anxiety. If you had a competitive swimming background before taking up triathlon, then you’re in the minority. For the rest of us, we took up swimming later in life and with that comes challenges. We do most of our swimming training in a pool, then on race day we plunge into the open water. This environment differs from the pool, requiring additional know-how to be able to thrive. As a professional triathlete, swimming was never my strength, so I had to study, practice, and learn the unique set skills open water swimming requires. If you’re looking to improve your open water swimming for next year, read through and incorporate my tips for your upcoming season.

1) Comfort – As you read on, you’ll notice that most of the content I present all relates to making you more comfortable in the open water. The swimming pool is a very controlled environment. The water’s visibility is pristine. The lines on the bottom of the pool keep you swimming straight. The lane lines prevent collisions with other swimmers. The walls and lane lines limit the amount of surface chop and waves. There’s no dangerous aquatic life. The water is usually a pleasant temperature. To most people’s comfort, you’re never more than a few meters from a wall where you can stop if you get in trouble. When you enter an open water environment, depending on the conditions where you’re swimming, you are encountering the exact opposite of all of those attributes of a swimming pool. If you’re used to this nice, safe, controlled space where you do all of your swimming, then it’s no wonder many athletes are uncomfortable when they swim in the open water. Everything you work on in your preparation for open water should include ways to make you more comfortable. The more comfortable you are out there, the better you’re going to swim.

2) Composure – First and foremost, you need to learn to keep your composure, even when it’s dicey. The environment and the competitors around you can lead to stressful situations. You first need to teach yourself to keep your composure. Trust in your swimming training and preparation. If something spooks you, you need to go into problem solving mode instead of panic mode. Don’t dwell on the fear or panic, focus on finding a solution, then move on. In my 10 years racing as a professional triathlete, I’ve had a lot of things happen in races from being stung by jelly fish to getting a black eye from being kicked in the face. You need to have the mindset to be able to stay calm and manage any situations that arise out there.

3) Nutrition – Before you train in the open water or race, you need to make sure you’re properly fueled. The main difference between here and training at a swimming pool, or your bike or run training for that matter, is that you won’t have access to nutrition while you’re swimming. Some athletes will keep a water bottle at the side of the pool to drink during swim practice, but once you’re out in a lake or the ocean, there aren’t opportunities to take on fuel or fluids. XRCEL is the perfect nutritional product to fuel your open water swimming. For a morning race, I make sure to have a bottle of XRCEL first thing when I wake up so my body can begin taking on calories even while I’m making breakfast. I make sure to have another bottle about an hour before the start gun, then a final bottle anywhere from 15-30 minutes before the start. This way, I’m continuing to top-off my fuel tanks with XRCEL. I know the extended release formula will fuel me throughout the swim. Then if it’s a triathlon, after the swim, as soon as I get on my bike, I begin drinking XRCEL to start filling my fuel tanks for the rest of the race. Make sure to think about your nutrition plan leading into your open water swimming and using XRCEL to get the most out of your performance.

4) Conditions – The open water swim environment can host a variety of different conditions that can affect your swimming, comfort level, sighting and visibility. Waves, surface chop, swells, rain, clouds, sun glare, murky water, aquatic life, water temperature, air temperature, salt water, wind, and currents will make each swimming venue different. Your best ally to dealing with these conditions is experience and scouting. The more you swim in different conditions, the more you’ll be comfortable. If you have a few days at a race venue before your event, it can be very valuable to take the time to scout out the conditions. Practice swimming in them. Try to swim as close to the time of day that your race will be so you can understand and prepare for lighting conditions. Talk to other athletes or local swimmers to try to learn as much as you can about the nuances of that swim venue. The more you experience and understand you have of different open water swimming conditions, the more comfortable (and faster) you’ll be on race day.

5) Sighting – Navigating in a pool isn’t even a skill discussed because it’s irrelevant. You have the black lines on the bottom and the walls and lane lines as you breath or in your peripheral to ensure you swim in a straight line. In a lake or the ocean, there aren’t any easy indicators to ensure you’re swimming straight or the most direct route. If you’re navigation is off, then you’ll swim further as you zig-zag your way around the course. The way to counteract your misdirection is to sight, or briefly look up as you swim along. The more you practice, the more you’ll be able to do this without breaking your stroke and slowing you down. You need to be aware that when you look up while swimming, your legs drop in the water, adversely affecting your body position in the water. This slows you down. If you can practice only raising your eyes as high in the water as you need while looking forward, you’ll maintain better speed. The more you practice, the more it will be come part of your stroke’s rhythm. The timing and looking forward will become natural. You’ll need to find out for yourself the best frequency of sighting for you. If you swim pretty straight naturally, you’ll sight less often. If your natural navigation leads you to and fro, you’ll want to sight more frequently. I found that sighting every six strokes works for me most of the time. When I get closer to a buoy or in a situation where more precise navigation is required, I tend to sight every four strokes.

6) Entry/Exit – Every open water swimming race will have a unique swimming start and swimming exit. Some races have “deep water” starts where you’ll swim to an imaginary start line (usually between two buoys), then tread water until the start gun. Some you’ll start in ankle deep or waist deep water. Others you’ll have a beach start where you run into the water and then start swimming. Take the time before the race to scout out and learn about the swim entry. How long will you run before it’s deep enough to dive and start swimming. Can you dolphin dive for a distance before you start swimming (a fast way to move forward with little energy; look up dolphin diving for more information). Are there sand bars where after swimming out, you’ll stand up again and run for a few yards? Are there waves, if so where do they break? If you can, practice diving under the waves so you’re ready on race day. Are there rocks or debris you need to be aware of if you’re running into the water. I once saw another professional triathlete actually moving rocks in the shallow water away from the path he wanted to run  into the ocean. Experiment if you’re faster running further into deeper water, or starting swimming earlier. All of these can affect the success of your race start.

The same goes for the swimming exit. How quickly does it get shallow? Are there stairs out of the water onto a dock? Debris or rocks you need to be aware of? If there are waves, study the break so you don’t get bashed swimming into shore during the race. If you have the time, learn the basics of body surfing. If you catch a good wave coming into shore, you can ride it in and gap your competitors. If you take the time to learn about and practice your swim entries and exits, you will give yourself and edge on race day.

7) Rubbing’s racing – There’s a great line from the movie Days of Thunder: “rubbin’s racin’!” Body contact with other competitors is inevitable in open water swim racing. In the pool, the most contact you’ll have is the occasional hand or arm slap from someone else if you’re both swinging your arms wide. In an open water race, there will be contact. Some will be intentional by others, but understand that most is unintentional. No one has black lines to follow like the bottom of the swimming pool, so no one (not even you) is swimming a perfectly straight line. You’re going to collide.  Also, because there is a tremendous energy and speed advantage when you draft off another competitor, it’s advantageous to be as close as possible to other swimmers in certain scenarios and positions. You’re bound to bump into each other. You need to be comfortable with that, know that even if you get bumped around, you’ll be fine. Sometimes it slows you down, but if it does, just keep swimming until you get your speed and stroke back. Try not to expend extra energy by “fighting back”. Sometimes if you can think quickly and maneuver to find some clear space, you’ll get right back into your groove. You need to think of open water as a contact sport, embrace it and just go with the flow.

In the summers, the group I train with does one open water swim per week. We practice all of the open water swim techniques I’m discussing here. One of the most valuable parts of that practice is when we get in tight groups and swim around, bumping, playing, wrestling, dunking, and messing with each other as we swim around the lake. It’s a fun way to get used to the contact and learn that even with some bumping, you’ll be okay.

8) Turns – There aren’t any aspects of normal pool swimming that prepare you for turning around a buoy in an open water swim. First of all, if you’re not alone in a race or practice swim, everyone spatially compresses from the sides as we all try to take a tight line into the turn to reduce the total distance. We also compress like an accordion going into a turn and then the pace picks up out of the turn much like car traffic. So you have everyone compressing from all directions going towards one point. This creates an inevitable melee as everyone fights for space. This is a skill that you’ll be better off if you can practice in a controlled setting before a race. In my training squad’s weekly summer swims we use floating docks as turn buoys. If there aren’t docks, we’ve had friends swim out 75-100 meters and tread water to be a human buoy. Then 2-5 of us will swim out to the turn and simulate a  race situation: trying to find the right line, fight for the best position, hold your own around the turn, then accelerate through the turn and get back into your groove. The more I’ve practiced this, the more comfortable I’ve become in races as it gets dicey. If you’re swimming in a group, having great turns can make or break you staying with your group or bridging up to the next fastest group ahead of you.

9) Drafting – Every triathlete and cyclist knows there is an advantage drafting on the bicycle. You gain an energy and efficiency advantage from the reduced wind resistance. Drafting is even more important (and it’s perfectly legal) in open water swimming. Water is 784 times denser than air, so even though you are traveling at a much lower speed swimming than cycling, drafting skills in the open water are critical. The first skill to master is drafting behind another swimmer, just behind their feet. The closer you are, the better the draft. You may even touch the person’s feet periodically, but as long as you’re not doing it constantly, you won’t annoy the lead swimmer. The farther you drift back, the less draft benefit you’ll get. It’s not easy to stay “on someone’s feet”. People don’t swim in straight lines, so you have to keep close tabs on the lead swimmer. I frequently sight and feel with my hands for the bubbles generated by the lead swimmers kick. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.

     Even better than sitting on someone’s feet, best drafting position is just off the leader’s hip, but this requires much more skill and practice. You will receive more drafting benefit when you “board short” someone. This named for board shorts swimsuits indicating that you want to tuck in between the leader’s hip and knee, the area covered by material in board shorts. You need to situate yourself tight to their body and you’ll see the biggest dafting benefits. This requires the most skill and control of your body and swim stroke. If your position or timing is off, you’ll lose the benefit from frequent colliding or swimming over one another. This is a great technique to practice with friends to see if you can get the hang of it.

10) Practice Open Water Races – I brought up earlier that my training squad meets weekly in the summer at a lake to practice every skill I discussed here. We practice our entries and exits by doing relay races from the shore so running in and out is part of your time with your team mates. We use docks as turn buoys or if none are around, have a couple friends swim out and tread water acting as turn buoys to practice our lines going into and out of turns. We practice as well the inevitable melee that comes with turns as well. We practice drafting, getting into tight groups, as well as the bumping that goes on when swimming close. Here in Boulder, we’re lucky enough to have several open water swim races throughout the summer. It’s fun to then take the skills we practice and apply them in a race situation without risking our performance in an “A” triathlon race. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be when it’s race day. Make a point to practice and put yourself into open water race situations so you can be ready to go when it comes time for your goal race.

One Bad Habit at a Time

By Scott Turner

In endurance sports, there is no shortage of amazing stories. At every turn, we are surrounded by stories of people overcoming incredible challenges through the discipline of endurance sports. Be it mental health, addiction, physical limitations or personal tragedy, many people have turned to endurance sports for help. I love hearing these stories as they remind me that all this splashing, pedaling, and running around I do can be so much more than simple exercise. It makes me feel as though the sport I love so much is part of something larger.

However, I have occasionally felt that a certain effect is lost when viewing these stories from a distance. The inspirational feeling that results from hearing someone tell their amazing story can fade quickly after reading or viewing their presentation. Often, we don’t know these people personally, so while their story is immediately impactful, those feelings aren’t reinforced beyond the initial telling.

This is where I have had an incredible privilege over the last three years or so. I have been part of an inspirational story happening right under my own roof. My Mom, Dorald “Dee” Turner, has undergone a life altering transformation that truly must be seen to be believed, and I am so proud to have even had a small role to play in this story.  I sat down recently to interview her to get her thoughts on where she’s come from and where she’s going. This story begs to be told, and while it may seem similar to so many others you have read, it has some very subtle, yet important, lessons to teach about the power of personal effort.

The roots of this story lie, perhaps unexpectedly, not in endurance sports. In the early part of 2015, my Mom’s weight sits about four hundred and twenty pounds. She cannot run due to extensive damage to her knees, her body prevents her from getting onto a bike, and her lack of self-confidence bars her from getting into a pool. That number, four hundred and twenty pounds, bears remembering, because it’s going to become important very shortly.

My Mom began this journey with very little supports in place to guide her. She simply decided that enough was enough, and this was something she was going to take on. She wanted to live a healthier life and take on the weight problem that had plagued her since early adulthood.  She stressed to me that she knew that change wasn’t going to happen overnight, and she had to be realistic about her goals. Her only driving force behind this undertaking was, “focus on one bad habit at a time.”

Fast forward to a date that she marks very specifically, October 18, 2015. She explains to me that this was the date of her first information session. Having already made drastic diet and lifestyle changes, she decided that her next steps were inside a selective weight loss program through Holy Cross Hospital. At this meeting, she learns all the requirements she will have to meet to qualify for her ultimate goal, a gastric bypass surgery. This surgery would decrease the size of her stomach allowing her to attain the drastic weight reduction that was needed to safeguard her health. In addition to further weight loss as a requirement of this program, she would be required to attend two ninety-minute weight loss courses, two three-hour infoormation sessions, several mental health screenings, numerous nutritionist appointments, and submit detailed food journals for her six to nine month attendance in the program. At the end of which, her case would be presented to a panel of doctors to ultimately decide whether to approve her for the surgery.

The ferocity with which my Mom took on this challenge was astounding. She underwent what she described as a, “total lifestyle change both physically and mentally.” She attended her first official meeting in November of 2015, and she was off to the races. She passed all her initial screenings with flying colors, and she managed to lose eighty more pounds during her time in the program even before the surgery.

At the end of the program, she was given some amazing news; she was approved for her surgery, and the date was set. She remarks, with a big smile, that they gave her July 5th, 2016, “my Independence Day.”

After recovery, she made quick use of her independence; she continued and even built on the lifestyle changes made within the program, completed three five-kilometer races, and became a spokesperson for her program. She has been invited to numerous meetings to speak to potential members and offer her story as a beacon of hope. She’s quietly made herself a resource to the other alumni of the program and helps to keep wavering members from losing their way when the post-surgery life gets more complicated.

All this progress still rings through today. At the time of writing, my Mom sits at one hundred and thirty-eight pounds. A total weight loss of about two hundred and eighty pounds. As we sit together in her kitchen in Western Maryland for the interview, she informs me proudly that she has logged two years straight in her food journal app as of that date. She tells me with an unmistakable glimmer in her eye about her plans for the future. She has already registered for several more five-kilometer races, an all women eight-kilometer race, and she will make her outdoor triathlon debut this June as her and I race together at the Escape the Cape Triathlon Series in Cape May, New Jersey.

I asked her what made her story different from all the other inspirational stories that we are told about in endurance sports. She thinks for a moment, and she tells me that her story stands out because it’s a victory on two fronts. She explains that she overcame her physical limitations in the weight loss, but the harder fought battle was the mental one. She had to overcome all the feelings of self-hatred and self-doubt, and she had to “know, really know, that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I stuck my mind to it.”

For my final question of our evening interview, I asked my Mom which steps of a race did she think were the most important, the first ones or the last ones. True to form, she picked the last ones. She remarked that the last ones are where you learn the most. I would contend that they are also where you have the greatest opportunity to teach. This, I believe, is the true power of my Mom’s story. There have been so many finish lines for this journey of hers, many opportunities for her to be “done,” and yet she continues to use her journey to teach and inspire. She has recognized that while a journey may end at some destination, the echoes of that final footfall ripple into something so much larger than can be seen. I think that her story teaches that the true power of endurance sports, or any undertaking for that matter, come from mindful participation, deliberate effort, and an awareness of the effect we can have on others.