Friday, December 31, 2010

Pressing Reset

It’s the new year and now is the time. It’s time to set yourself up with patterns and behaviors that will determine the success of your 2011 season. You’re doing the training, recovering hard and trusting that in a few months, all of the work and sacrifices will get you to your goal.

Some athletes set the best goals but then fall short. Why? I’ve thought at length about what it takes to be successful. But what if we flip it. When someone falls short, what brings them there? There is a certain amount of luck that is required on race day to reach your goal. About .1 percent. Luck with the weather, equipment and other unforeseen circumstances. The remaining 99.9 percent is in your hands by way of the choices you make. So what are some of the things athletes do to derail themselves?

Mistrusting the coach or plan

It’s pretty simple. If you believe in what you are doing, it is that much more likely to work. Coaching is more about making a connection with someone you trust than it is about secret workouts or price. When you lose confidence in the plan, it doesn’t matter how great your preparation was, doubt eats away at that and robs you of energy on race day. You’ll always be wondering did I do enough? Will it work? Mistrust consumes a lot of emotional and mental energy. On race day you need both. Choose your plan or coach wisely, then commit to it 100 percent. If you have any doubts, immediately address them – be brave enough to ask the questions and also mature enough to listen to the answer.

Overanalyzing the workouts

Data is good but there can be too much of a good thing. Power files, Garmin files, WKO+ - honestly none of that matters as much as this simple question: how did you feel today? In general, you should feel good for about 80 percent of your workouts for the week. The other 20 percent falls into the categories of off energy, cumulative fatigue or reasons never to be known. The less successful get stuck in that 20 percent, start to beat themselves up, perhaps even doubt, letting a few bad workouts derail their confidence. Do the work, and a few weeks later, step back and look at the pattern over time – not the day to day. If you see an upward trend, it’s working. Stay focused on the big picture and let go of the day to day analysis.

Missing the workout window

We all lead busy lives, often going from one activity to the next. But when you consistently skip from workout back to real life without taking time to recover, you set yourself up for under-recovery. Over time, enough under-recovery will impact your performance. There are a lot of fancy formulas and numbers about what to do and when after a workout. Bottom line, within 30 minutes put something in your mouth. Whether it’s a recovery bar, chocolate milk or a well-rounded meal, your body is receptive to energy that helps you repair and rebuild. When you master that process, you grow stronger from each workout and make progress.

Searching for clues

Searching for clues is what we do often online. We read forums, blogs, Facebook status updates for clues about what we need to do. Or, for feedback that what we are doing is right or wrong. So many are convinced that what they are doing is never enough or that there has to be a secret way. Not only is all of this reading/searching information overload, but it becomes, what I call, junk food for the mind. Junk food meets our immediate needs for gratification but long term can have consequences. Spend enough time worrying about what other people are doing and comparing yourself and you’ll end up with low confidence and mistrusting your plan. This year, step back a little and feed your head the healthy stuff. Take a social media holiday, after a few days see how you feel about yourself and what you are doing.

Skipping the easy stuff for the hard stuff

The hard stuff is fun, isn’t it? It makes us sweat and leaves us with that feeling that we did something. You wake up sore the next day and feel like you worked hard, you accomplished something. Yet when you only do the hard work, you miss out on the foundation that allows you to benefit and stay healthy from the hard work. The easy work, though boring, is often the most important. Why? Because triathlon is an endurance sport. Honestly the bulk of your training should be aerobic and easy. Not la-la pace but “sustainable”. If you’re going to do something for 2 to 17 hours, you need to do it at a pace you can hold. Too much hard stuff and too little easy stuff often leads to peaking too early, injury or burnout. Take the time to slow it down and do the work that works!

Outcome vs Process

In our results-oriented culture, it’s easy to become focused on the end result while losing sight of the process. When you place all of the importance on the destination, you miss out on the beauty of the experiences, connections and lessons along the way. When an athlete falls short of their goal, it can be very black or white – success or failure. As someone who has both succeeded and failed, I’ve found that setting smaller process goals along the way, finding the lessons learned in the ‘failure’ make any endeavor a success. It’s just a matter of perspective.

It can’t be that easy

Some athletes overcomplicate what it takes for success. The truth is that to bring out the best your athletic ability, nothing replaces consistency. Consistent work is progress. The most consistent work you can do, day after day, the more likely you will succeed. Consistency is making the commitment to getting up early, running in the cold, saying no sometimes to social engagements, eating well, sleeping more, doing drills. All of these little things, done over time, add up to big success. Yes, it really can be that easy. You just do the work, day after day, and you'll get closer.

Keep it in perspective

Keep in mind that we all do this for fun. When someone takes the sport too seriously and places too much of self-worth in their performance, they set themselves up to fail. I believe Ben or Jerry once said, if it’s not fun, why do it? This goes back to setting realistic goals in the first place. If you don’t find riding your trainer for 3 hours fun, then don’t train for an early spring half Ironman. If you don’t like swimming, then consider duathlon. Remember, you choose to do this and it should be something fun. Moreover, how you do in this sport, in the big picture, does not mean much about who you are. Perspective! I often tell myself, it’s just triathlon. Whether you finish first or DFL, in the big picture of life, only the 100,000 members of USA Triathlon really care. There are billions of people in the world!

The new year is an exciting place to be. It’s that feeling of a “clean slate” that makes us feel like no matter what happened in the past, this year we can truly be something great. Sometimes we get in our own way with overthinking, unnecessary pressure or inconsistency. This year, commit to changing one thing that has stood in your way. Maybe you can recover harder, commit to your plan or set weekly goals to keep yourself motivated. Success is within reach for everyone. Keep yourself focused on what it takes to get there and expect the best from yourself.

Happy new year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


On Saturday, we had breakfast with Santa.

(it’s ok to be jealous)

Think the holidays were busy before? Have a baby. All of a sudden your holiday schedule is busting with things that you normally would avoid. From a very far distance. Including – all things Santa.

I swore I would never do this – all this Santa shit. Because it’s a slippery slope into perpetuating a lie that your children will, if given the chance, take very, very seriously. I believed in Santa until I was 10 years old. Go ahead, laugh at me! I clung to my safe naivete until that age, with my biggest concern being the fear of what if Santa doesn’t know that we relocated from Brooklyn to the suburbs of Chicago.


He found me. And soon later I found out he wasn’t real. The horror! You should have seen me when I found out there wasn’t a stork. (WHAT!?!)

In just a few days, Max turns 5 months old. He’s almost been here for half of a year! The time flies by. Wait a minute. I take that back. Considering I’ve been up at least 2 times a night for the past 20 weeks, the time has not flown by. It has ticked by, each night a new adventure of what will tonight bring? How many times will I find myself awake looking one-eyed at my iPhone at 3 am? Perhaps I speak for many new mothers when I say that while I both love the night because it means sleep (finally!), I also dread it because it means a steady stream of interrupted sleep (he’s up again!?!).

Two nights ago, we were up at 10 pm, 12:30 am, 3:15 am and 4:45 am. All that bullshit about them sleeping through the night: lies. Something that people tell you just to be sure you do your role in keeping the species alive. Hang in there, they’ll sleep through the night at 3 months! Nothing. 4 months, boys are more frequent eaters! Nothing. 5 months. Oh enough already! Just tell me that I’ll be up xx times per night for the rest of my life so perchance when he does sleep more than 4 hours I’ll consider him ahead of the curve.

(but know that I’ve already convinced myself that Max is stronger, smarter, and better than any other kid his age – that’s right he’s gifted!)

All joking aside (wait, this is not a joke, no it’s my life and it’s run on very little sleep, loads of decaf and even more bedhead), I love being a mom. No matter how many times Max wakes up, how many hours he whines at that grating monotonous I have no idea what you want whine, no matter how many times he holds his poop in for 3 days straight and when it finally arrives:

Disastrous. That’s the only word I can use to describe it.

No matter about all of that, I love the little guy. Like Chris said, it’s like falling in love. Every single day. It feels that good and exciting. Until he starts asking for the keys to the car or playing his music too loud. At that point, I reserve the right to find him slightly annoying.

Each night, we have a consistent bedtime routine. Feed, bath, winding down time, feed, book then bed. Chris leads the routine. I have to commend him: he knew Goodnight Moon after only one reading. I warned him – it’s the most pointless book you’ll ever read but kids love it. A few days later, I heard him walking upstairs while muttering good night kittens, good night mittens, good night mush, good night to the old lady whispering hush

For the love of our college educations, neither of us can figure out what all of that shit was doing in that room. And WHO eats mush!?

Despite that snoozeworthy read, Max was up at 12:15 am and 3:55 am which is pretty typical. He eats, he gets changed. While he laid in his crib chit chatting until 4:30 am, I, on the other hand, found myself once again in bed at the junction of awake and very tired but still cannot fall asleep. So, I admitted defeat, woke up and headed to morning masters.

As I walked out to the pool deck, I spotted Dr. Erin. She’s a pediatrician. And I am sure she was thrilled to have someone try to talk work with her at 5:30 am.

I asked her about what was going on. Like, seriously, how much longer will this go on.

Will I/we/he ever sleep again?

Chris wonders how I do it. The other day he told me he was going to sleep in the basement. I said why. He said because I haven’t slept well in two nights. If I didn’t need him to read Goodnight Moon, I might have walked out the door and just continued to walk west while laughing my ass off hysterically. I haven’t slept well since....when did I get pregnant!? At this point, though, I don’t even feel fatigue. I just get grumpy or prone to shouting cuss words. I realize at some point Max will understand what I’m saying and my brother’s already warned me that there is nothing cute about a 2-year saying crap (from his own experience). Given enough sleepless nights, I’ll probably need a shock collar to curb my language.

Dr. Erin gave it to me straight: he is becoming a trained night wakener.

GASP! That sounds horrible! Worse than herpes. Know why? Because it implies I have something to do with it – that’s it not just one of those random it’s just because their babies things. It means that I may have trained him to wake up during the night. Hmm...

Now, I realize I’m talking about parenting here which is a very sensitive issue. Everyone has the freedom to have their own philosophy. And, what I’ve learned is that there is no right or wrong way. Ask some people and they would say I was raised the completely wrong way. You see, I am a successful, healthy, non-obese adult despite overcoming the fact that I was raised to sleep in my own bed, pissed in diapers until I was 2 and fed formula straight from birth.

I know, it’s unbelievable to imagine that after all of that I, at age 35, actually know how to dress myself.

But it’s not that I am worried about my parenting or me. I’m not. In fact, the less I sleep, the better I seem to swim at 5:30 am. (I’ve done a lot of crazy things to get faster in the pool but if all it takes is interrupted sleeping, then that’s one of the least embarrassing) I'm worried about Max. When forced to choose between eating or sleeping, he chooses to eat. When forced to choose between laying in his own filth while sleeping or waking up, he wants to be clean. Do you know what this means? There is a good chance when he is 12 he will wake up to raid the pantry, and, like my mom, if he can't sleep in the middle of the night we might find him vacuuming.

Here it is another day. We are at morning nap time already. Sleep or no sleep – the day must go on! Forget me – there’s a little person who 100 percent depends on me for everything. Sometimes I forget I am his source of food – which let me tell you is not an easy thing! The amount of food I need to eat to stay alive, to train and sustain the life of a human being is ridiculous. If I get behind, I make less milk. If I make less milk, we have a very angry Max. I eat a lot. Some of it is good stuff and some of it is…chocolate egg nog.

Each day, workouts are fit in between feedings and naptimes and naptime is not always predictable. I try to do workouts when he’s napping but the nap could be 45 minutes or 3 hours. This means I might stop to feed during a bike ride. A few times I’ve gotten caught with an awake infant while riding my bike – which explains a power file that looks like 100 x 100 jumps @ 200 percent threshold. That would be me getting off the bike, on the bike, off the bike, on the bike. Finally I just convinced myself each stop is like a stoplight. In my basement.

One thing (among the 1000 things) I’ve learned is how much I used to take for granted. Whether it’s sleep, taking a shower without a squealing infant waiting or being able to ride my bike for 60 minutes uninterrupted, all of that was a period in time I’d like to rename the easy life. (and yes, I chose to leave the easy life) Doing what you want, when you want. Skipping a meal just because. Not having to listen to the hoarse squawking of the breast pump (when I am done with that thing, I am tossing it in the middle of I-88). The simple act of running outdoors in daylight.

Perhaps it’s not even that I used to take these things for granted, rather I didn’t have the right perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up at the pool without my swim equipment or my workout. In the past I probably would have gone back home or saved the workout for another day. Like everything needed to be perfect for something to go well! Bullshit. Perfection is a colossal waste of physical and emotional energy. These days – it’s ready or not - SWIM! BIKE! RUN! The other night I finally got to swim at 8 pm. I forgot everything but my swimsuit. And that explains why I was wearing a pair of junior-sized camouflage Speedo goggles that I found on the deck. They leaked after every 50 yards. But heck if I didn’t swim one of my fastest 100s ever!

Right now, Max is napping and I need to get on the treadmill. Yeah, I used to be one of those oh I never run on the treadmill people too but….if I’m going to run, that is how it’s going to be. Actually, I’ve become much less of those people who say “oh I never” about anything. Yeah, I never would have been the parent to wake up every time the baby peeped or pay money for Breakfast with Santa or swim 3 x broken 1000s for the mainset at 5:30 am.


But maybe parenthood changes you. Because this morning, I looked in the eye of that white board on the pool deck and said – ok arms, we’ve got less than 45 minutes to bang that set out. No hottubbing, no yapping at the wall, no lollygagging. I’ve got to get back home so Chris can go to work, I can feed the baby then work, run and drive into the city.

Goggles down. Checked the clock. Looked at the guy behind me and said, on the top.

The mainset begins. The day begins. Ready?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Traditions

I’m still here.

My laptop wasn’t stolen. I didn’t injure my typing fingers. No, my internet wasn’t down. It was just that every time I sat down to follow up my last blog all I heard in my head was …


Actually, I heard a lot of whining and tears. Which
can only mean one thing: we’ve decided to keep the kid. Yes, it's time to turn the channel back to the kid for a moment. There is life outside sport! And about the kid: there was some question about the return policy but it turns out we’ll keep him. Here’s why….

No, don't get your glasses. He really does keep getting cuter every single day.

The holidays become 100 times busier when you have a child. All of a sudden you have to do things like Breakfast with Santa, waiting in line to take pictures with Santa, Christmas cards, Christmas sweaters, Christmas bibs, Christmas.

Know what?

My whole life just barfed up Christmas. A dramatic green and red mess of bells, candy canes and Baby’s First Christmas ornaments.

All of this explains why my mom was able to talk me into going to the Bass Pro shop on Sunday for a picture with Santa. Of all things you might expect to get at the Bass Pro shop (fly fishing reel, a hootin’ flute, Dickies - if you have to ask, you don’t know and if you don’t know, don’t ask), you don’t expect to get a picture with Santa. But I hear that kids love the Bass Pro shop and that the Santa there is really, really nice.

He’s also really busy on a Sunday afternoon. 90 minute wait. We decided not to wait for that one.

We decided to make another go at it on Monday night. Who goes to Bass Pro on a Monday night at dinner time when it is 10 degrees outside?

Psst….we weren’t the only ones.

Have you been to the Bass Pro shop? I’ve got to admit – I have no interest in hunting but something about the design of the store, the backwoods, rustic d├ęcor made me want to don my best camouflage bib overalls and invite Tred Barta into my ice shanty.

There was an entire section of Ice Shantys. I’m not kidding.

(Chris was most baffled by the single-person shanty. Who would sit on the ice by themselves? Someone who is not afraid to drink alone, I said)

We found Santa snug in a section called Winter Wonderland filled with TOYS TOYS TOYS and…a line. There was a line to see Santa. But the rumors were true – it was worth it. He was a nice Santa, well-mannered and kind looking with a clean beard and a smile that reassured me he was thoroughly background checked.

Standing in line, imagine our surprise when we see Swimmy Jimmy from masters and his 4-year old son. He explains to us that they got their picture taken with Santa weeks ago. Which makes me wonder – what brings you back to Bass Pro? I see his son running around to the train table, the car racing track and I realize – this is what you do with your son on a cold winter night. You come to the Bass Pro. You look at man things. You play with cars. You climb into the tents. You look at dead animals on the walls.

And, as Jimmy mentioned, you get free fudge samples.

Santa was gentle with Max and no tears were shed. As a reward, I told Chris to buy me fudge. Hey, you cannot deny that I am 50 percent responsible for that success! I’ve been told, though, that the first picture with Santa goes well. It’s next year that has catastrophic potential, when he’s in between knowing that Santa brings presents and Santa is a large strange man with fluffy stuff hanging on his face.

(only at the Bass Pro Shop would your *free* Santa photo include a stuffed buck in the background)

We spent a good 30 minutes walking around the store. It made me want to campout. Cook out. At the very least shoot something. There was so much to look at as well as fish tanks, a waterfall and free fudge samples – on two separate sides of the store.

Max selects his tent for Ragbrai.

I started to think – when did this happen? When did we make the full transition to parenting? We join the legions of other parents with strollers and small children in tow, walking around a hunting store on a Monday night because it’s free, it’s indoors and it’s entertaining. That is the challenge of parenthood, finding those things. As I watched Jimmy and his son at the store, I sensed this might be a Monday night ritual. Some nights I see them at the pool playing. Some nights they head to Bass Pro.

Next Saturday we’ve been invited to Breakfast with Santa. You’re probably wondering what you have to do to be invited to dine with royalty (it is Santa), turns out you have to have a relative who resides in a nursing home. That’s where Santa makes his rounds before the holidays.

All of this Santa stuff makes me think – shouldn’t we take the first few years at a slower pace? Ease into it? Right now Max has no idea that 1) it is the holidays, 2) you get gifts on the holidays, 3) Santa brings you those gifts. Plus, all of this fuss about Santa when: ***SPOILER ALERT*** there really is no Santa.

In other words, we’ve got time. Is there any need to rush all of this? Yet even though he had no clue it was Christmas, no clue that Santa was a very important more or no clue that kids are right now counting down the minutes until December 25th, I couldn’t help watch Max on Santa’s lap, get a giant smile on my face and start clapping my hands like a seal arfing with excitement.

I was that parent. Proudly.

The other day, my mom showed me an entire stack of gifts she had for Max.

I just got him a few things.

True to her form, a few things looked like a mountain of gifts. An Everest size pile of trinkets, boxes and gift wrap. That’s my mom. She always made Christmas’ magical for us – we would wake up to dozens of gifts piled high in the family room. It’s a tradition she still holds on to through this day. I’m 35 years old and I go to my mom’s house to find a mountain of gifts waiting for me to unwrap.

It’s not about the gifts, though, it’s about the traditions. It’s her thing and to her – and us – it shouts CHRISTMAS! Parenthood throws a lot of challenges at you (bedtime, naptime, tantrums, fits, tears, whining, sleep deprivation, diapers that make you think where do I even start with this) but the biggest are the ones you know are truly the most important – the responsibility of shaping this little person’s life with traditions and memories. That is a lot of responsibility! The family vacations, the holidays. I realize that we need to start thinking ahead to these things, about how we’ll create the opportunities for those memories.

Is it wrong that I’ve already planned out our first family camping trip?

I find myself thinking – what will our holiday tradition be. Will be let Max open one gift on Christmas Eve? Will we pile the gifts there little by little leading up to Christmas or let him think that Santa dumps them down the chimney the night before Christmas. Will I make Christmas raviolis like a good Italian girl and say mangia to the kid even though the ricotta stuffing scares him? All of this stuff doesn’t sound important but it is. It’s what memories and magic are made of. That’s what Christmas is all about.

We’ve got a lot of thinking to do. But we’ve got time. There’s at least 3 good years before he realizes what the heck is going on during Christmas. Hopefully we’ll have our traditions and our act together by then. Until then, we’re showing up this Christmas with Max wearing his Christmas sweater, Christmas bib and we just might hang the Baby’s First Christmas ornaments from him. As long as he can’t tell how ridiculous he looks, we’re going to decorate him ridiculously as advanced payback for all those times when he’s a teenager shouting in angst that we’ll never understand him and to please drop him off down the street from school so no one sees us.

Years from now, Max will look back at his first picture with Santa and say – you took me to a hunting store for my first picture with Santa? Seriously, parents, what was wrong with you? Well, we did. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have memories of us taking you there on a cold winter night to pass the time with the train, the cars, free fudge, and some good laughs in a 4 person ice shanty.

It may just be our holiday tradition.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Fitness & Health

For some reason, a copy of Lava showed up in our mailbox.

Before bed, I was flipping through the pages, searching for content between glossy images of gritty athletes and new you need this now equipment, when I noticed a particular page. It was a picture of Laura Bennett. And it got me to thinking – I wonder how many people reading this magazine know who Laura Bennett is.

Laura is a short course specialist. She’s done a few 70.3s but that doesn’t take away from the fact that her reputation was built on short course speed. More importantly, Laura Bennett hasn’t done an Ironman. And while this magazine covered the sport of triathlon, off the pages oozed Ironman. The forums, the blogs, everything in our sport seems to ooze Ironman. And it makes me wonder: in our sport, does that make Laura Bennett a nobody?

I look at some of the athletes in our sport – from pros to age groupers – and think we’re doing a lot - half, full Ironmans, several a year. It’s a relatively “new” phenomenon, and like many new things, the benefits or consequences are still not understood. Is there research being done on this? I’m not sure. But if I was an exercise physiology student, my wheels would be turning. You see, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fitness and health. After being in the sport for over a decade as an athlete, a coach, I’ve concluded that while many of us are fit, very few of us are healthy.

And I think Ironman has a lot to do with that.

I turn the page. More pictures of athletes who have done Ironman. Pros who are now doing several of them per year. In fact, the new Kona qualification standards demand that pros do more than one Ironman to gather the points that they need. Good for Ironman. But, is it good for the athlete? How many of these events can one do before it interferes with health?

True, there are outliers in the sport, those that seem to have superhuman adaptability to pile on the miles in training and racing without much disruption to their performance or, perhaps, health. I remember reading something about Dean Karnazes, the ultramarathon man, in support of what we’ve suspected all along. He’s not like the rest of us. His blood did not show the usual suppressive markers that one would expect after doing marathon upon marathon. I suspect there are triathletes who would display the same. Knowing this, while we may be impressed by their durability and performance, should we really be inspired to do the same?

More thought on this comes after the recent coverage of Ultraman, an event of truly epic proportions that needs no other explanation than the statement that it finishes with … a double marathon. Pictures of athletes on crutches, on stretchers afterwards. Yikes. Is this good for us? Is this something we should do? And, more importantly, in ten years, where will these athletes be. Is someone studying their endocrine systems? How will this event impact their health?

I know what you’re thinking: how can someone who can “race” for hours on end be unhealthy? This begs a discussion, first, of what health truly is. While there are many athletes who are fit enough to do an event, this is no guarantee of their health. Fit is being capable of doing something. Health is much more dynamic.

The story almost writes itself – too much training or too little recovery depletes the body and causes systemic imbalance – hormonally, physiologically, emotionally, psychosocially. The end result: someone who is fit but unhealthy. In my own journey in the sport, I’ve come full circle to realize that there are times when I crossed the line into too much with too little recovery and paid the price with my health. Eventually, you run out of health currency. Pushed enough to the edge, and at times over it, you exhaust your health resources.

And health resources are not replenished quickly.

There’s a lot of buzz right now in the sport about metabolic health. You don’t need to have a degree in physiology to understand what is going on. Lew Kidder once told me that training is not rocket science. You apply a little stress, then you back off. Then you apply a little more stress and back off again. In doing so, you figure out just how much stress it takes to achieve performance. The key is balancing that with recovery. That balance is connected to metabolic health.

Yet what I’ve seen is that many athletes do not fully understand the balance. Or, they are stuck in a pattern of ignoring their body (whether it be the feeling of hunger, fatigue, their intuition) so that they cannot achieve balance. Their body gives them a message. They stopped listening. The balance becomes…upset.

Women seem particularly prone to this. Combine a history of disordered eating (which is not the same as an eating disorder; I argue that to some extent most women have disordered eating for a variety of cultural, psychological and later physiological reasons) and an extreme sport (which the half or full Ironman is) and you get a woman who is at risk for becoming metabolically unhealthy which often manifests itself through chronic inflammation (acne, allergies, asthma), thyroid problems, injury or pain (especially in the foot and knee), frequent illness, irregular menses, weight loss/gain or underperforming not otherwise explained.

I, myself, had all the signs of poor metabolic health. This is not a confessional, rather it’s a true learn from my mistakes story. I, like many others, ignored the signs of poor health. I didn’t realize to what extent until a long while later when I looked back and thought to myself – was I deaf? Blind? Hindsight has clarity, though, that we cannot judge ourselves against when in the actual moment. Combined the signs were clear – I was fit but not healthy. In fact, in my early thirties, my health had never been worse.

My skin was a mess. I developed asthma that required two pills and two inhalers – daily. Each season, my allergies got worse. For over two years, my foot had a pain in it that no doctor could diagnose and no treatment could fix. I had developed PMS that got more painful every month. I was always cold. I craved sugar or coffee. I seemed to get four major upper respiratory infections each year no matter how much medicine I took. I was irritable – a lot. I had been to dermatologists, allergists, gynecologists, nutritionists, had my blood tested, etc etc….what was going on here? I thought I was healthy? I do all of this exercise, why do I feel like a sick old person?

Therein lies the problem. I had done too much with too little recovery for too long. While I was fit, I was so unhealthy from a combination of life stresses (including but not limited to training) and poor recovery that all of my fitness was going to waste. Over time, it became the inability to perform. Nothing I did was going to fix me except to stop doing. Or, to rest.

Rest. There it is – that dirty little word. As a coach, my job is often to tell athletes what not to do. Trust me, rest is a tough sell.

I find myself now much healthier now for a lot of reasons. I got some deep rest. I spent the last year training aerobically. It’s no surprise that anaerobic training – the short, hard, give ‘em what they want – training that is sold as so sexy and time effective is indeed effective. But it comes at a cost. Done too frequently, done at the wrong time, it throws off the balance of hormones. And applied day after day, it becomes too much stress, not enough recovery.

Which is really what this is all about – too much stress, not enough recovery.

Keep in mind, it’s not just training that is stress. How often do I hear, but I love to workout, it helps me work off stress. I know, it does for me too. But the problem is training for these long course events is not working out. It’s far beyond 45 minutes on the stairmaster or a step aerobics class. Our training can become stress. And on top of that we have work, family, relationship, real world stress. The body does not compartmentalize stress. It doesn’t file away the fight you had with your spouse before you go swimming. It’s all connected. Too much stress and not enough recovery is an equation out of balance.

Finding balance. How do we do that? First, you start off by committing to work at your own health. This comes before even following a smart training plan. Proper nutrition, adequate rest, emotional maturity, supportive relationships and perspective. And when you have all of those, and you add a smart training plan, you get fitness and health which sets you up for performance. You cannot have performance without health or without fitness. Many athletes have the fitness. Very have the health.

I wonder if Ironman is partially to blame for this. Of course exercise makes us healthy. In moderation. But Ironman isn’t moderation, is it.
Moderation needs to have a place in Ironman. I believe it can be done. Whether it’s doing only one a year or skipping a year before doing another one, making sure you're optimally healthy before you begin training for one, coaches teaching athletes how to recover (and not just train), doing the least amount of training that will yield the best result, monitoring your body/blood for markers that you are crossing the line and – above all – learning to listen to your body again. If there is a message (pain, fatigue, illness, hunger), loud and clear, stop ignoring it. Five words that will always get you in trouble in sport: maybe it will go away.

Laura Bennett has longevity in sport. She’s been around. She’s been consistent. She hasn’t done an Ironman and maybe the jokes on me – maybe she’ll do one next year. Maybe a lot of pros do this because they realize if they’re going to make a living in the sport, they have to go where the money is. It’s where the media is, the money is and where I see the most growth in our sport. As a coach, that’s good for my business. Doing an Ironman? I can help! But as my business, this also scares me. Too much Ironman, especially too soon, too many year after year – all of this compromises longevity. It compromises health. Initially it means more athletes in the sport but quicker exits. How much turnover can occur before the sport is tapped out?

My business is keeping athletes healthy. The challenge is getting athletes to the start line fit but also healthy. Any coach knows that writing workouts is the easy part. Weaving those workouts into athlete’s daily life to help them achieve balance and health – that is the hard part. All athletes know that the training is important. Less believe that recovery is even more important if you want to integrate that training. It doesn’t make sense. How can work + work = less? It’s an equation you need only get out of balance once before you truly understand. Work + rest = more. Simple as that.

From my own experience, I’ve learned that you cannot accomplish anything without health. Well, you can fake it, but not for long. At some point, you run out. As I sit here trying to decide my own competitive goals for 2011, I think a lot about health, about longevity. And determining how to maintain the balance. It’s a discussion in your head that is worth your time. There are big things I want to accomplish but in the bigger picture, I want to be sustainable. I want to stretch out what time and energy I might have left to be competitive over as many years as possible. As you think through your 2011 season, think first about your health, how to maintain (or improve) it and then decide how you’ll build your fitness for where you want to go.

Why am I writing this? I’ve thought about that too. It’s far less entertaining than stories about my baby or other senseless drivel from my life (though I think that drivel does have a place in a blog). Maybe this post will make you think, make some changes and then perform better. Often performance improvement is not about working harder, it’s about working smarter. Squeezing that extra little something from what you’re already doing without changing your training. The secret is out: the training doesn’t matter much. It’s what you do in the spaces between the training that will propel you forward or dig yourself in a hole. What to fill those spaces with? It might be sleeping more, eating better, practicing relaxation – all of those little things that will add up to bigger recovery. Which, in turns, leads to better health and improved fitness.

And isn’t that what we’re all looking for?