Ironman Burnout

Not knowing when to take a rest from Ironman training can lead to Ironman burnout and have an adverse effect on your race results.

For many, reaching the Ironman finish line just once is their main objective and often Ironman burnout prevents them from getting there.

There’s no doubt that becoming an Ironman is worthy goal because it makes you a member of a very special family.

More and more novice Ironmen are taking up the Ironman challenge. A very small segment of the world population that will ever experience what it’s like to cross the Ironman finish line.

There are those who return year after year to take on yet another Ironman. It becomes a constant cycle of training, dieting, racing and sacrificing all else to relive the magic of crossing the finish line. Often this leads to over extending oneself physically and Ironman burnout is the result.

ONE IRONMAN TOO MANY

I know from experience what a heavy toll racing year after year can take on your body and also the family, career and social aspects of your life.

Ironman burnout

Sometimes you need a break from racing

Its important to consider how year after year of tackling the Ironman can impact your life and the life of those around you.

At one stretch I raced in the Ironman for nine years in a row. It seemed that after reaching the finish line for the first time the next one presented a new set of challenges.

With the growing amount of Ironman races around the world it’s become the norm for some triathletes to take on the Ironman challenge 3 or 4 times a year.

In Ironman Los Cabos there was one guy in the race who finished this 164th Ironman. You might say he has the Ironman bug.

When I think back to when I trained all year for one race. I might just as well have raced 6 or 8 Ironman’s a year because I was constantly in a state of training or racing anyway.

These always seemed to be new challenges in the Ironman. To swim faster, run the marathon without stopping, achieve a personal best overall time, or even place in your age group and go to Kona.

IRONMAN DIMINISHING RETURNS

The problem is your body never totally recovers and it could mean that you will never realize your full potential. It gets to the point that you are just going through the motions and doing just enough to get to the finish line.

The point of diminishing returns is often reached and you stop improving from pushing too hard.

Like many, I believed that the more I raced and the more I trained, the more experience I would have and the faster I would go.

That was true for a few years, but then I started to slide backwards. Regardless of how much I trained or how long I prepared for a race, I just couldn’t improve. My times began to get slower.

Looking back I believe it was Ironman burnout brought on by years and years of constant training with insufficient rest. In my last few races I reverted back to where I started in the very beginning of my career.

I eventually gave up on trying to improve my Ironman time and just went into the races to experience the high of being part of such a great event.

It would not surprise me if this pretty well describes the triathlete who finished his 164th Ironman.

TAKE AN IRONMAN BREAK

In my case, the constant training had taken away the competitive edge that drove me in the early years of my career. Probably all I had to do was take some time off from intense training and I would have remained competitive for years.

Consider taking a year off from Ironman and “then” coming back.

I really believe that if you are planning a long Ironman career it might beneficial to take a complete year off after you’ve competed in 3 or 4 Ironman races.

This will let your body fully recover and will also give you time to get back in touch with the other aspects of your life. Take some time for all those things that were put on the back-burner while you pursued your Ironman goals.

It doesn’t necessarily mean letting yourself fall completely out of shape. There’s no reason that you can’t stay fit and compete in shorter races. Run some 10K races, Olympic distance tri’s or maybe plan one marathon a year.

Go for nice relaxing swims and go for easy bike rides in the country. Don’t worry about times and splits and training schedules. Stay physically active 3 or 4 days a week to maintain your fitness, but make it enjoyable and easy.

When you resume Ironman training after giving yourself a long break you’ll be completely rejuvenated. You should have no problem settling back into your Ironman training program.

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Women triathletes and weight training

Women triathletes and weight training for optimum results

Gaining a competitive edge is very possible when women triathletes incorporate weight training into their race preparation.

There are many who believe there is nothing to be gained by women hitting the weight room in order to improve as triathletes. However that’s a myth and weight training is becoming the norm among women of all ages.

Almost half of the people who are new to the sport of triathlon in any give year are females. Many are new to swimming, biking, or running. The concept of women lifting weights could well be foreign to them.

It’s a common misconception that the testesterone charged atmosphere of the weight rooms of the world is a male domain. Some women might feel they would sort of stand out in the weight room and so avoid it.

Recently women of all ages have been adopting weight training

These days it’s highly possible that you will see women of all ages in the weight room pumping some iron. Seniors are becoming more familiar with the advantages of improving their overall fitness. Sure they might not be using much weight but you don’t really have to lift super-heavy weights in order to realize positive results.

Weight training can improve strength, endurance, and flexibility and does not have to necessarily be geared toward having big muscles.

women triathletes and weight training

Don’t forget about strengthening hamstrings


Women triathletes and weight training should be centered around developing strength and endurance over the long haul of a triathlon run and bike especially.

I would not worry so much about specific upper body muscles but rather would focus on spending your time on exercises that focus on full body strength and endurance.

If you improve your biking ability through strengthening and conditioning, then a better run will often be the end result. So by doing one exercise properly and spending just 20 minutes in the weight room at least 2 or optimally 3 time per week you stand a very good chance of realizing better results on race day.

The squat is the best all-around weight training exercise for women triathletes

Of course this is just my own personal opinion and you can take it or leave it, but I believe that doing “squats” is most likely the key exercise for women triathletes and weight training.

Although it might seem squats only strength the lower body, nothing could be further from the truth. Of course it will greatly benefit the bike and run that comprise some 90% of an Ironman but squats also impact back and shoulder muscles for the swim.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do upper body exercises specifically for the swim, but you have to look at the time spent training/reward ratio.

weight training-woman triathletes

Squats are a key exercise for triathletes

In the early 1980’s the Puntos twins from Quebec were beginning to make a splash on the Ironman Hawaii scene as pro women triathletes.

I remember them saying back in Kona in 1984 that early in their career they struggled with the bike portion of the triathlon. They were excellent swimmers and ran well enough to consider trying to qualify for the Olympic Marathon. The twins claimed that it was being introduced to squat repetitions by their coach that made them much improved cyclists. Once they became well-rounded Ironman triathletes they reached the top of the podium and in 1984 Sylvianne and Patricia were first and second in Ironman Hawaii in Kona.

They did squat repeats almost to failure but did many, many repetitions in order to get there. They used about 50%-55% of the maximum weight they could manage. For example, when I decided to adopt their squat weight training philosophy I would max out at around 380 pounds of weight for a few squats, so I used 200 pounds for my squat repetitions. I did half-squats and not full squats. With a full squat the stress on your knees is just too much and a half-squat will produce the results you want.

I worked my way up to 75 squats at the peak of my Ironman training. They were done in 3 sets of 25 repetitions with about a 2 minute rest in between sets.

Each set was done at a fast steady pace one rep after another until the 25 were done. The third set was challenging and at first I could not do all 25 of the last set, but eventually I was able to complete the entire workout every time.

weight training and women triathletes

Weight training made Puntos Twins better cyclists.

If you look at the image, the woman pictured weight training is doing a half-squat using a squat lifting station. Also make note of her straight back as this is crucial to good form. You do have the option of putting a small weight behind your heel as she has. It does help maintain a better body position, but personally I never used it.

I found that the change in my strength and endurance especially out on the Ironman bike course was dramatic and because the bike went better, so did the run.

It made a big difference on the hills and I was able to sustain a good pace for a longer period of time on the flats. So obviously there was an improvement in both strength and endurance.

I always did 15-20 reps first with a very light weight just to warm up the muscles and they were not part of the 75 rep workout. For instance you could just use the bar with no weight to warm up.

All you really need is about 15-20 minutes in order to do the entire workout and it will produce results. I did this work-out 3 times per week and usually just before my swim work-out. I would suggest at least 2 times a week and 3 times as a maximum with rest days in between to allow time for the muscles to re-build.

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Each individual will use a different amount of weight. So for example if you are a a woman and can squat no more than 80 lbs. 4 or 5 times at your maximum, you would use 40-55 lbs. for the squat repetitions.

At that weight you should be able to do far more repetitions yet at the same time be challenging your muscles to improve in strength and endurance. At first you could try 3 sets of 10 reps and then increase it over time to 15 and then 20 and 25.

Be sure to use a squat exercise “station”as opposed to doing the squats freestyle. This allows for much more control and they have safety stops you can put in place in case you tire and have to let the weight down. When you use a squat machine you will not require a spotter in order to do the workout.

It’s all relative. The benefit is the same regardless of the difference between the amount of weight each person can squat, so don’t think you have to squat 100’s of pounds in order to see results.

So yes, I believe that women triathletes and weight training exercises can help women triathletes perform at their highest level and if you can fit it into your training schedule I would consider giving it a try for 12-14 weeks before the big race and see how you do.

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Triathlete stretching

Does triathlete stretching have a place in your first Ironman or triathlon preparation?

Stretching Is one of those gray areas that nobody seems to really understand. Sometimes I watch people go through the motions just before a race and you can just tell they are unsure exactly what it is they are supposed to be doing.

Is stretching really a good idea? A triathlete stretching improperly will most likely do more harm than good.

I tried it for a year or so and came to the conclusion that for me it was a waste of time. Actually more to the point, it did more harm than good. I injured myself twice in the process and ended up missing training time.

I think part of the problem is that people(like I did myself)just go ahead and start stretching without a full understanding of what they should be trying to accomplish. Ultimately this can result in injury from attempting too much too soon.

I truly believe there are better and safer ways to prepare your muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments before they are stressed by training or racing.

WHEN STRETCHING MAKES SENSE

I watch young kids in swim clubs who stretch every day for fifteen or twenty minutes before a training session and that makes sense to me. Their bodies are used to it and it is part of their everyday routine. Also, they’re being supervised by a coach.

When it comes to triathlete stretching it makes more sense to me to swim, bike or run slowly at the beginning of a training session for at least 5-10 minutes. This lets your body ease naturally into the function they will be doing in a few minutes at a faster pace.

If you stretch now and have a regular program and it works for you, then you should stick with it. Otherwise I wouldn’t even start unless you receive knowledgeable guidance and are willing to stay with it on a daily basis.

STRETCHING SHOULD BE UNIQUE TO YOUR SPORT

A common mistake made by many people is to just do what they see other people doing in the gym or perhaps in the moments leading up to the start of a race.

That’s not a good idea for several reasons. First of all, you have no idea what they’re stretching for as far as what they are hoping to gain or what sport they’re involved in.

Triathlete stretching

Should triathlete stretching be part of your program?


Secondly, there is no guarantee they are even doing the stretch properly themselves, and thirdly you have no idea how long stretching has been part of their routine.

For instance, they may have been stretching for several years and you may not be quite ready to stretch quite the way they are. Just possibly the triathlon stretching you should be doing is different from their program.

TRIATHLETE STRETCHING THE COMMON SENSE WAY

The best way to prepare your body for a particular training session is to ease into it. For instance, if you’re planning a two hour training run, walk at a good pace for five or ten minutes and then ease into your running rhythm. This way, you’re warming up the muscles you’ll be using beforehand without having to stretch.

If it’s a swimming workout do a few easy laps before beginning the workout you have planned. If you’re biking, sit up in the seat and spin in an easy gear until your muscles warm up. While you’re at you can also do some shoulder shrugs to loosen up shoulder and back muscles. This is especially helpful if you expect to be in the aero position for an extended time.

For more information on being a more successful triathlete or Ironman be sure to have a look at the books I have written that have helped many triathletes around the world realize their Ironman and triathlon dreams and goals.

You can visit my ironstruck book store and find the perfect book for the new or experienced triathlete doing their very first try a tri triathlon or the Ironman.

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Triathlete weight training

Is triathlete weight training essential? No. Can it help? Yes, if it’s done right.

Many triathletes are unsure whether they should include weight training as part of there over-all program. They’re not sure if it will make a difference in their triathlon race results.

Weight training is sort of a grey area for many triathletes who are new to the sport. It can be challenging figuring out exactly what they should be doing in order to get the most out of their available training time.

So should you or shouldn’t you make triathlete weight training part of your over-all triathlon training schedule?

IS WEIGHT TRAINING FOR TRIATHLETES ESSENTIAL?

I’m sure many of you who are new to triathlon have never set foot in a weight room. Maby you feel out of place in the testosterone-charged world of “see how much I can lift grunts” and clanging metal plates. Or at least that’s the impression you might have.

Yes, it may have been like that several decades ago, but not so much anymore. The weight rooms of today are no longer the sole domain of the muscle-bound set. People from all walks of life and all sorts of body types and athletic ability are found in weight rooms now.

Even the medical community sees the value in weight training as it pertains to strength and flexibility. Weight training can be useful to most people in one form or another.

Is it essential to lift for triathletes to lift weights along with all the other training they’re doing? No, not at all. Will it help prepare for and have better results on the big day if you do? Yes, I believe it can if you go about it the right way.

HOW DO TRIATHLETES GET THE MOST OUT OF WEIGHT TRAINING?

The first thing is to understand just how and why muscles get bigger and stronger.

The principle is really not all that complicated. When you stress your muscles by lifting a heavier weight than they’re used to, they will grow stronger in order to do what’s being asked of them.

The more weight you lift, the stronger the muscle will get. It has no choice. The muscle is simply reacting to the demands you’re placing on it. If you lift ten pounds easily and you never increase the amount of the weight, the muscle will not get bigger because it is not being stressed and can easily handle the weight.

If you increase the amount of weight to 15 pounds and it takes more effort, the muscle will eventually grow and strengthen. Our bodies are quite amazing and very adaptable.

triathlete weight training

Back when I was about 13 I played on a soccer team. I hurt my right leg (my dominant leg) and for about 3 weeks kicked just with my left against the side of the house over and over again. From that point on I was able to kick just about as well with both feet because my weaker leg adapted to the new demands.

That also explains why construction workers are quite strong and office workers have to make extra effort to stay fit. One job stresses the body physically and one job is less demanding physically.

No matter what physical activity you do on a regular basis, your body will so it’s best to adapt enable to fulfill the task. So basically if you want any muscles to get bigger and stronger it’s necessary to stress them to the point where there’s some resistance. During the rest days between workouts your body will get rid of older tissue and re-built with newer, stronger muscle tissue.

I learned over the course of my more serious triathlon training years that there was a specific way to do my weight-room workouts. There were certain exercises that seemed to make the most positive impact when I was swimming, biking, or running. There was no doubt that triathlete weight training became a very important part of my overall training program.

HOW MUCH WEIGHT-HOW MANY REPS AND SETS?

If you do a few amount of repetitions with a very heavy weight you can just barely manage to lift, chances are you will get big, pronounced muscles.

These are the sort of muscles serious weight-lifers might get who are simply trying to get bigger and stronger. That is not really your goal as a triathlete. Your goal should be to do more reps (say about 12-15). Use a weight that you can manage but challenges you as you get near the end of a second or third set of 12-15 reps. This way you’ll develop more endurance and the longer, smoother, more toned muscles that are ideal for triathletes.

In other words a triathlete weight training program with more reps with a lighter weight as opposed to just a few reps with a very heavy weight makes more sense.

I remember once when this group of teen swimmers from one of the competitive swim clubs came into the weight room and their total work-out took no more than 25-30 minutes. Their coach had them doing circuit training.

They did about 6 different upper body (arms, shoulder, back) exercises. They would do about 15 reps of one and then after a short rest switch to the next weight station and do 15 of those until they were finished the circuit. They did the circuit twice. Actually, this system might work well for triathlete weight training.

triathlete weight training aids swimming

swimmer with smooth, toned muscles

Those swimmers were doing weight exercises that improved both their strength and endurance at the same time and that should be your goal as a triathlete.

The same hold true whether you are doing upper body exercises as it does for leg exercises like hamstring curls, quad extensions, and squats. Avoid using maximum weight and try for a weight that enables you to do at least 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

Ideally, the last set should begin to challenge you and you may not be able to do them all. If you can do all three sets to easily, then you have gone the other way and used too little weight.

It it takes you 5 or 6 sessions to be able to finish all three sets, that’s perfect. Once you can do them all you have gained strength and endurance and can increase the weight a bit at a time so it becomes more challenging again.

Basically, that’s how you get stronger and how you body keeps adapting to be able to handle more and more weight. Eventually by trial and error you will work out a triathlete weight training program that will work best for you.

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Triathlon running

Understanding the fundamentals of triathlon running is vitally important.

As simplistic as it may sound, many people take running for granted and don’t realize how the dynamics of the run change when you swim and bike first.

Successful triathlon running is not as easy as it at first seems but there are several ways to have more success in the run.

Most people who are new to triathlon are a bit surprised when they struggle with the triathlon running part of the race. This is especially true when they were accomplished runners before they became triathletes.

The biggest impact is usually felt by those who are taking on their first ironman and have several marathon finishes to their credit.

They mistakenly assume that deducting a bit of time from their best marathon result will indicate what their Ironman Marathon split will be.

Unfortunately it doesn’t usually work that way in an Ironman Triathlon. There are too many variables to account for. Reaching the finish line can often take an hour or more longer then expected.

REASONS FOR DISAPPOINTING IRONMAN MARATHON RESULTS

(1)Failure to spread your energy reserves out evenly over the entire distance of your triathlon. This is especially important in a Half-Ironman or full Ironman.

It’s a long journey to get to an Ironman Triathlon start line and something one has imagined over and over again.

The atmosphere is electric no matter what Ironman race you are entered in. Often it results in many people going out way too hard when the gun sounds. Getting caught up in pre-swim anxiety can eventually impact your marathon.

The energy wasted in a poorly executed swim is unrecoverable for the rest of the day and once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. There is a direct link between a poorly planned swim and the Ironman Death March.

Usually that same poorly executed swim plan is followed by a mad dash through transition and a blistering fast bike pace that you hold for as long as you can. There is only one result from this scenario.

There will be a massive wall waiting at some point on the bike course. If you don’t hit the wall on the bike course it will most likely happen early in the run. You will suddenly loose your energy and just making it to the finish will be a challenge.

(2)Reaching the start line over-trained and under rested is a common mistake.

It’s hard to understand at first that you can actually take a much-deserved rest. You won’t lose everything you’ve gained over months, or perhaps years of training. It’s simply not the case.

Without fail there will be dozens and dozens of triathletes out training in the hot sun during any given ironman race week. They have so much pent-up energy they simply don’t know that to do with themselves.

Every single hour they are out their stressing their bodies needlessly is taking away from their best possible effort on race day.

Triathlon running

(3)Poor hydration and nutrition in the days leading up to the race and also during the bike leg can have a big impact on your run.

It you get this part wrong it’s really too late to make up for it out on the run course. If you’re playing catch-up with your food and fluid intake it’s hard to recover because you are continually burning energy and dehydrating yourself.

To really recover fluid and nutrition energy levels properly you would have to rest up for several hours. You can’t really do that because triathlon is a non-stop event and there are cut-off times to consider.

Once you get behind it’s too late and you are in for a very challenging time out on the run course.

HOW TO HAVE BETTER TRIATHLON RUNNING RESULTS

(1) One of the most important things you can do to have better triathlon running results is to know your limitations and pace yourself.

This train of thought should begin even before the gun sounds to start the swim. Have a sound swim plan in mind long before race day. It’s pointless to take off like a shot when the guns sounds unless you are a pro and are trying to keep up with the other pros.

There’s not a thing to be gained by doing the swim 8-10 minutes faster if it means stressing yourself physically and in the process burning energy you will need later.

The end result of gaining that 10 minutes in the swim could well mean taking 90 minutes longer to make it through the run later in the day. That just does not compute.

Swim well within your ability with your main focus being to get to the swim finish using as little energy as possible and being as relaxed as possible.

This means keeping your emotions in check when there is chaos all around you. It also means taking your time through the swim/bike transition.

Give your body time to re-adjust from being in the water and take it easy when you head out on the bike course.

Going out as fast as you can will sky-rocket your heart-rate for no good reason.

Save all that energy for the last part of the bike. If you feel great then, that would be the time to pick it up a little while everyone else is hitting the wall.

(2)Consider a one-month taper for an Ironman Triathlon.

With 30 days to go before the big race it’s time to begin to ease off on the gas pedal. Let your body have it’s well-deserved rest from those months of preparation.

Each of those last 4 weeks cut your training back 20% or so from the previous week.

The week of the race don’t be tempted to do 15-mile runs in the heat of the day or to head out on a 75-mile bike ride.

This is perhaps the biggest mistake that is made by most new triathletes.

All that’s really required is a few short bikes, runs, and swims in the cool of the morning or evening for a few of those days. For the rest of race week stay in the shade and do nothing but relax and dream of the finish line.

If the race is Sunday, be sure to take Friday completely off and get a good nights sleep as you may not sleep that well the eve of the race.

Do just a short run on Saturday morning to get the cobwebs out and prepare for the big day.

A few short “pick-ups” of ten seconds or so is perfect. Early in the morning run easy for 10 minute or so to warm up, do a 10-second burst at a fairly quick pace and rest for 50 seconds and repeat. Do about 5 of these and run easily back to your room. That’s it! About 15 minutes. Now just take it easy for the rest of the day and wait for Sunday’s race start.

pasta load for well-fueled Triathlon running

(3)Do your carbohydrate loading and hydrating several days before the race.

Wednesday is a good time to begin to take on lots of extra fluids for a Sunday race.

It’s also a good time to eat meals that you are accustomed to that are high in carbohydrates. It’s no time to experiment with new food or energy drinks.

If your urine is clear and copious by Saturday then you are pretty much there as far as hydration. Your last meal on race eve is best eaten fairly early in the day(I never ate past 4 p.m. the night before a race).

This will allow sufficient time for your digestive system to work so you have no stomach issues on race morning.

A light breakfast of tea and toast and perhaps a banana about 3 hours before the gun goes off and you should be well-prepared for the race.

The key to hydration and nutrition during the bike leg is to begin early on and eat and drink controlled amounts often as opposed to a huge amount once in a while.

The best time to start drinking and eating is after about 15 minutes on the bike.

Taking on food and drink too soon may irritate your stomach. It’s best to give your body time to make the switch from being horizontal in the water to vertical on the bike.

From that point on I would suggest drinking at regular 20-25 minute intervals for the duration of the bike leg. It really works well if you set the timer on your watch to beep at regular 25-minute intervals as a reminder.

Most of your eating should be done early on in the bike. Eating in the late stages of the bike is not necessary or recommended.

Food eaten late in the bike will most likely not be assimilated in time to do any good in the run and may do more harm than good.

If you do things properly on the bike course you stand a good chance of making it through the run just drinking water at each aid station and avoiding food almost completely.

IRONSTRUCK RUNNING POSTS

The National Post has excellent articles on running.