Thursday, April 21, 2016

The differences between training for a Marathon and a Half Ironman

So, I think I am okay with admitting this, although I am a little embarrassed to say it – but I underestimated a little bit, or maybe a lot of bit, what it would mean to train for and be prepared for a Half Ironman. It is a lot of work.

I know that might seem silly and a lot of you might be reading this and thinking, “Well, duh, Katelyn!” but since I have trained for Marathons before, which is twice the distance of the run portion of the Half Ironman. I thought I’d be okay. I thought I knew what it meant to stick to a plan and make sacrifices for the sake of training and I thought I knew how to put in the time it takes. But there was a lot I didn’t think about.

I started to make a list:

1. Mental and physical stress of double weekend workouts 

One of the things that is a basic standard of triathlon training is using both weekend days for workouts. A long bike ride on a Saturday, followed by a long run on a Sunday. One of the things that I wasn’t prepared for was the mental and physical stress that would have on me. By the time my long runs on Sundays come around – I am exhausted. And I still need to run. The Publix Half Marathon was the hardest and my long run this past weekend was really tough as well. My legs are tired, my body is sore, and mentally – I am tired too!

On Saturday’s, it takes so much focus and willpower for me to get out and do the bike rides. The bike rides have been a huge challenge for me this whole time and so it takes a lot of mental energy for me to make the commitment to spend hours on the bike. Aside from the stress on my body, I need to pull together a whole new volume of mental willpower and determination to get me through the Sunday workout. And beyond that, with the rest and recovery, it makes it difficult to have a social life. I was used to giving up a weekend night to go to bed early during marathon training, but now it seems like I have to give up both weekend nights and that’s a different kind of mental challenge and sacrifice.

2. Time commitment 

The actual time of it takes a lot too! On Saturday, I got up around 7:45 a.m. to be out of the house around 8:15 so that I could drive 45 minutes out to Cartersville and be on the bike. Say I start riding at 9:00 a.m., it took me 3 hours and 24 minutes to ride, so I finish on the bike at 12:30 p.m. then go out for a run, which takes me to about 1:00 p.m. before I am finished. I pack everything back up and head back to Atlanta at about 2:00 p.m.

On Saturday I exercised for 3 hours and 40 minutes. When I train for a marathon, the biggest workout that I do is a 20 mile run. When I trained for Chicago, last September my 20 mile run took me 3 hours and 20 minutes. And that was the PEAK of my workout, which a rest day before that workout and a rest day after that workout.

I’m not even at my peak of training yet and I exercised for 3 hours and 40 minutes on a Saturday, after having swam the day before, and still with an 11 mile run to do the next day. It just takes a lot of time to actually get these workouts in! My swim workouts are generally 1:30 hours and my midweek bike rides are about 1:30 hours. It’s hard to make it all work!

3. Mental difficulty of biking 

Dannnnnng is the bike hard!! I always thought it was easy to ride a bike. I never really trained for the bike portion of any of the sprint triathlons I ever did, except maybe a little. And last year I did some biking to get myself used to my new road bike and also to learn the clip in pedals. But there is a lot more to it physically and technically to learn how to pedal, how to stop properly, how to take turns without losing too much speed, how to climb, how to go downhill, how to eat and drink on the bike, how to look behind you, how to draft, how not to draft, and how to get as much out of your biking while exerting as little power as possible to save it for later.

As I mentioned before, you’re also on the bike for so much longer than running. And unlike training for running, which I usually switch up between listening to music or podcasts, I avoid ever using headphones while on the bike. So that’s a lot more time with just you and your mind to occupy. Nowadays, most people (myself included) can’t go 15 minutes without looking at their phones. It’s a lot of time to be focused on biking.

Because that’s the other thing too, you really have to be focused the whole time – especially on the roads. You need to watch your speed, look for potholes, changes in terrain, turns in the road, hills, other bikers, cars, wind, and so much more. When I run, I tend to just turn into a robot and try to forget that my body is running and become a machine. But I spend a lot of the time on the bike being hyper alert, which is a different type of mental challenge than running. I know that probably with more experience and practice, I will get to the point where I can do all the things on the bike in autopilot, but I am not there yet.

4. Difficulty of traveling 

One of the final things that has been extra hard about training for the Half Ironman that may be a little unique to me, is my travel schedule. From the beginning of the year I have been to Miami, Dubai, New Orleans, Wilmington, Mexico, and right now I am actually writing to you from San Francisco. One of the reasons that I signed up for this race in this time frame was that I thought my travel schedule was going to be light. But, I guess I’ve gone through that before. You know, like traveling for 5 weeks leading up to my first marathon, or moving in the middle of training for my second marathon, and then doing some crazy whirlwind trips around the world when training for my third marathon. My life has a way of just letting things not be normal for me.

But the hard part about training for a Half Ironman comes first when you add in all the things I’ve written above – the time commitment in both the number of days needed for training and the endurance of each of those sessions, the mental and physical stress – which is only worsened by sitting in planes and cars and being shuttled all over, and then of course just the mental awareness and alertness needed to be able to give training what it needs. It is hard when you are on the road. Especially since my work travel usually involves a good amount of time just by the simple nature of it. And travel days sometimes leave exercise impossible.

And if I do have time? Well, how am I supposed to access a bike or a pool when I am on the road for work? That’s one of the major challenges as well – access to equipment. Every time I am away, I am missing time on my bike, which is the hardest part of this Half Ironman for me and really where I should spend the majority of my training time. But it’s just not always possible.

Finally, although manageable, traveling does make eating healthy and staying hydrated a lot harder.

So, for me, this shit is hard guys. I don’t have it figured it out. I am taking things day by day.

My go for being in San Francisco this week has been to try and eat healthy, avoid alcohol, and get in 3 runs during the week and one long weekend run on Saturday. Then, I focus on coming home on Sunday and biking 60 miles.

But alas, one day at a time. One single day at a time.

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