How to make your fitness and Ironman New Years resolutions sustainable and successful.
It’s that time of year when we all rush headlong into our New Years goals. We set targets and make big, exciting new plans. I’m no different and January usually signals the start of structured training for me. One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last number of seasons is to start slow.
By starting slow I don’t just mean the speed of training or the intensity but integrating the structure and volume back into my life.
It’s easy at this stage to be all gung-ho about making changes and reaching new heights in races that are still months away but as far as Ironman goes it’s not only during the race that pacing is critical. The build up and planning needs to be paced as well.
The enthusiasm I am full of on the first of January can become very depleted in March when it hasn’t stopped raining for weeks and Winter is still showing no sign of ending. Or worse when I’m exhausted and longing for a return to “normal” life in the last two months before the race. I believe enthusiasm like energy is a finite resource and must be doled out carefully, particularly early in the year.
The first month of training for us is really all about reintroducing the routine and working on the basic fitness to be able to start to handle and absorb the volume that’s going to start in month two. It’s about seeing what fits into our lives. Which sessions work and which ones are too hard to fit in. It normally takes about a month to re-establish the routine so that the frequency of training is now normal.
There is an adaptation period where I go from training once a day to twice a day 5-6 times a week and this is a difficult adaptation not only physically but it can also cause stress at home as the family also adapts to your new routine. One of the things myself and Ais do is sit down at the start of each week and map out where everything will fit in. One of the things people often forget is to allow time not only for the training but to plan meals, laundry and commuting to and from sessions etc. For example Monday and Tuesday are usually our days off work and the Monday is the day we allow for our big training day. It is usually 2 or 3 sessions and later in the season this might mean 6 or 7 hours training. This doesn’t leave a lot of time (or energy) for anything else so we try to have food planned, bought and possibly prepped on Sunday evening. Tuesday is our proper day off and we will plan to go to the cinema or into the city for lunch and coffee and browsing bookshops. We will also train Tuesday and in order to fit it in we usually do it first thing in the morning leaving the rest of the day free. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are late days for us in work, we usually do the 1-9pm in the shop so we train in the morning. Again we have to have a plan for getting food prepped and bought and making sure that the laundry is up to date so there is enough clean and dry training kit.
The discipline is one of the things that I really like about Ironman but there is always a while at the start where I struggle with it a little before settling into the routine.
The increase in frequency also naturally results in an increase in fitness and the ability to handle the increased load of the coming months. I’m a big believer in adding one stress at a time. The body and mind might be able to handle multiple stresses particularly when we are in good shape but the key area that’s affected is recovery. If you are dealing with multiple stresses your body can’t recover from the training stress. It crucial to remember that it’s during the recovery between training that we get stronger, not during the training itself.
The temptation at this time of year with the excitement and enthusiasm that comes after a break in training is often to jump straight into long bike rides and big weeks before the body, mind or your life is ready. As a result it’s too big a shock and things become impossible to sustain. Riding every day over the holidays might seem like a great way to kick start fitness but it might be better to build a sustainable routine of riding 3 days a week every week for the 6-8 months leading into your race. Consistency starts with not starting out so hard that you can’t sustain it.
Start slowly. Let your life adapt to the added stress of the frequency of training first. Then add the stress of volume and intensity.
You can read about the incredible effects of increasing volume here
If you’re doing things right and giving yourself a long enough lead into your race then building the structure into your life before adding training volume will pay huge dividends later in the year.
I have written a report based on interviews with 6 of the most successful Ironman triathletes in Ireland with over 80 Ironman, several Irish records and titles and an incredible 29 Kona qualifications between them. You can check it out here