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Motivation, Training, Video

This Ain’t Easy

I’ve had several conversations recently about the challenges of IM training. When I was home, one of my parents’ best friends — who is sort of my second mom — mentioned that one of the videos that plays while she runs on the Alter-G is recent Kona race highlights. Basically, a sufferfest captured on camera. Her reaction?

“That doesn’t make me want to run faster, it just makes me want to stop.”

On our long/hot/flat bike ride, Lauren and I talked about the mental aspect of training and racing. She said that one of the reasons she wanted to start her blog is to show people what it’s really like to do IM. There is a growing number of blogs devoted to triathlon, but guess what no one ever tells you?

This shit is HARD.

Sure, everyone knows that training 10-20 hours a week is going to be tough. But you can’t really conceptualize this until you’re in the middle of it. And some athlete-bloggers make it sound like it’s all puppies and rainbows and pink roses. It ain’t.

I appreciate reading about people’s successes in training and racing — it’s superb motivation and definitely shows how hard work pays off. Obviously I love sharing the good details with you all. But guess what? I also have a full-time job to work around. I still have to feed myself, do laundry and pay the bills (basically, be an adult). I’m not a pro and don’t have someone taking care of my every need who can give me massages after my hard workouts or cook me dinner when I finish a late track session. I spend every last penny of disposable income — of which there isn’t a ton — on gear, race fees and nutrition. There are mornings that my alarm goes off at 5:20am and my immediate reaction is to throw my phone across the room and go back to sleep. More often than not, I’m cranky about swimming until I’m down to the last few yards of my workout. It’s tough mentally. It’s tough physically.

None of this is bad, just par for the course and an important aspect of the whole experience of this crazy sport. So here’s my goal: make sure to incorporate the reality. Sure, I want to talk all about how awesome triathlon is and how much I love it and how rewarding it is to kick ass and see how training breeds results.  But I wish someone had told me that being dehydrated makes it hard to sleep at night. Or that there will be days on which your body just won’t cooperate no matter how hard you will it to. Or that the heat will make your heart rate do crazy things.

I’ve been thinking about how to keep my head in the game in the face of all this, and here are a few things I’ve come up with:

Stay focused on the goal. Every time I hit a wall, I remember the end game and why I’m doing this. Motivational videos don’t hurt.

Keep your non-tri life intact. I promised when I started this insane journey that I wouldn’t let my social life and friendships slip away. I think — and my friends probably would agree — that I’ve been fairly successful at this. Sure, I’ve backed out of a few things after particularly tough long rides (thanks to Rachel and others for loving me anyway). But for the most part, I’ve managed to attend happy hours, wine tastings, book club, etc. and actually enjoy the mental respite from training. I’m flexible enough to arrange my workouts around these events so I get the best of both worlds.

Know when to take a break. This is hard, but I have to give myself permission to back off if my body just can’t take it. It’s ok — preferable, in fact — to call it quits if a workout is going to do more harm than good. Sometimes all it takes is a good warmup and a mental game (if I swim 1000m, I can get out — at which point I’m more than likely going to finish the whole thing), but on other occasions I’d rather rest than burn out.

So here’s what I’m asking from you:

What’s your training challenge? What do you struggle to get through?

What do you wish someone had told you before you started a training cycle?

How do you make it through the down days when it comes to motivation?

Please share!



13 thoughts on “This Ain’t Easy

  1. Great post today! I have been having a really hard time keeping myself focused on training and it is nice to hear someone say that it is hard and they don’t want to get up early. I was starting to think everyone was magically waking up at the crack of dawn and hopping cheerfully out of bed. I will have to use videos to help keep my eye on the prize. I have a long way to go before I am ready for IM but I will get there.

    Posted by squirrelhead | June 9, 2011, 12:32 AM
  2. Great post! I am seriously, seriously considering an IM next year. I think I’m prepared (ha!) for the actual training portion of it, and I have no illusions that it will be sunshine and rainbows and furry bunny rabbits. But I definitely don’t have the balance thing down, even now when I’m only training 10-15 hours a week. I have no idea how you do it!!

    Posted by Beth | June 9, 2011, 7:05 AM
  3. Love this post! I am thinking about just doing a half iron man next year and think the training will be hard for that, so I can only image the training for a full. I too have a hard time waking up in the morning and pulling myself out bed because all I ever want to do is sleep. I skip my morning work outs at least once a week and then feel like crap about myself. I somehow need to get more motivation. I think you are doing great on your training and will kick some butt at your ironman!

    Posted by Sarah | June 9, 2011, 8:43 AM
  4. Thanks for such a real post- this is so true. Sometimes I think the mental aspect of IM training is harder than the physical. But I think its really important to document the struggles as well as the successes.

    Posted by traintritriagain | June 9, 2011, 9:21 AM
  5. And this is why you have all of us fellow triathlete-bloggers. We know your pain both physically and mentally! Don’t be afraid to vent anytime! Sometimes you just need to let it out 🙂

    One thing that I have found to help in the crunch of it all (which I am entering now) is making dinner a night ahead of time. That way I can get my evening workout in, come home, eat IMMEDIATELY, then cook for the next night. Gotta cook anyways, but at least I can eat immediately. Planning waaaaay ahead is key.

    I’m gonna give you a quote in reference to your post’s title. Its from Greg Lemond the cyclist: “It doesn’t get easier, you only get faster.”

    Posted by Jon | June 9, 2011, 9:30 AM
  6. Great post! I always do what I can to stay positive (it helps on the mental side for me) but there are some days where it just sucks, or I don’t have it. I actually think acknowledging those make you stronger, and more durable in the long run. There’s no guarantee that race day will be exactly as you want it (weather, how you feel, etc.) Proving to yourself that pushing through when things get tough in training sets you up to do the same thing on race day too.

    I love the quote in Jon’s comment!

    Posted by amy | June 9, 2011, 10:06 AM
  7. I, too, have worked on the fine art of rest. But on those days when motivation is fleeting, I tend to remember one thing: I’d rather hurt now when no one is watching and triumph on race day. It’s in the middle of the race when I can fall back on those workouts when I wanted to stop but didn’t.

    Posted by Dustin | June 9, 2011, 10:40 AM
  8. these past couple of weeks are when it has really hit me that this shit IS hard and it is most definitely not always fun. I skipped my 5 year college reunion last weekend, I’m leaving NYC at the ass crack of dawn this weekend to get back and ride 100, I am TIRED all. the. time. and my legs feel ready to fall off. I know it will be rewarding to cross that finish line in LP so I try and stay focused on that, but I’m with you, it’s effing tough.

    Posted by Emily | June 9, 2011, 11:10 AM
  9. It probably doesn’t motivate you to run to the pool in the morning when some freak is going to be there being like HI WHAT’S UP AREN’T YOU SO HAPPY TO SWIM.


    I believe it is hard, though I obviously don’t have firsthand tri training experience, I get really bothered by people who say “I could” or “I could have” and sit on their buts. “I could qualify for Boston” Oh really buddy? Get up off your ass and do it. Then we’ll talk.

    Posted by Victoria (District Chocoholic) | June 9, 2011, 11:12 AM
  10. Great post Emily! I think it is so important to have reality checks. Though I’m not training for a HIM or IM, I do find that balance is key, and often hard to maintain. I really find the support of friends and family to be so helpful and motivational. And, since finding all these DC tri bloggers and reading about their experience, I’m glad to know that we’re not crazy for spending so much time doing workouts, and there are others out there like me!

    Posted by 321delish | June 9, 2011, 11:35 AM
  11. Great post, Emily! Training for my half was really really tough, so I can’t even IMAGINE how tough it is to train for a full ironman. You rock! I love that you have tried extra hard to make sure that your social life doesn’t suffer. I did the same for my half. I probably could have trained a lot harder than I did, but I didn’t want to if it meant missing out on time with my friends, family, and husband. And being in grad school, I just had to accept that I would miss a few workouts here or there, but that was okay.

    When I struggle with motivation, I watch inspirational videos, like that one you posted or this one, which is my absolute fav: http://untilyoutri.com/2011/05/13/awesomesauce-pizza-and-race-prep-ii/

    I also talk to people about it, because that always makes me feel better and helps get some frustration out and realize I’m not alone. And the best thing I do is to make work out dates. It always makes it more fun to go through it with someone. But part of the problem I faced with training for the HIM was that once my bike rides started getting over 30 miles and my runs over 7, people didn’t want to go with me, haha:). (Part of the reason I’m excited to meet some more hardcore DC-area triathletes;).

    Good luck, Em! Just remember, if it wasn’t tough everyone would do it, but you chose to dedicate yourself to something this difficult and you will feel SO accomplished once you do it!

    Posted by Erin @ untilyoutri | June 9, 2011, 1:07 PM
  12. Thanks for this post. I’m training for shorter races, but still training pretty hard. And I love training just as much as the next guy. But it’s good to know that I’m not alone in waking up some mornings with very little motivation, or going to bed sore and exhausted at night wondering why I do this. In the end, of course, it’s worth it. You offer some good tips to keep things in perspective.

    Posted by traintotri | June 9, 2011, 2:31 PM


  1. Pingback: Tough Stuff « 321delish - June 22, 2011

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