On New Year’s Eve of 2015 I decided I was going to do a Half Ironman triathlon. It had been an idea swirling around in my head for a while, but I always created a very long list of reasons why this was a crazy idea. For starters, 1.2 miles of open water swimming, followed by a 56-mile bike ride and finishing with a 13.1 mile run seems crazy enough all on its own, right? On top of that, most of my time is dedicated to my 3 very active children, a terrific spouse, a hound dog and a growing private nutrition practice. I had been doing shorter triathlons and half marathons for 16 years, but wasn’t sure how I would “fuel” the type of training necessary to complete such an endeavor. Where would I find the time? What would I have to give up? Would I ever get any rest?
But still, I felt it was exactly the challenge I wanted and needed, and swept up in New Year’s Eve vigor, I clinked my glass of champagne at midnight and made a resolution to try it.
After a little deliberating, I decided I would do the Steelhead Half Ironman in Benton Harbor, Michigan in August. It was 8 months away, which seemed like a very reasonable time to prepare. I am very lucky that I work with a fantastic triathlon coach, Jon Fecik, in whom I have complete faith. I knew that he would provide me with the workouts I needed to be completely prepared, but how and when I got them done was up to me to navigate. The following is a list of tips and tricks that I used to fuel myself and complete my first Half Ironman.
Number 1: Have a schedule and stick to it. Showing up and doing the work each day definitely builds as much mental confidence as it does physical strength. Some days were great and some days were really hard, but all of them made me stronger and prepared me for race day.
Number 2: Don’t use triathlon training as an “excuse” for anything with your family. I never wanted to hear myself say, “Mommy is too tired from her training to go on the Super Duper Looper with you.” Being a fun and active Mom is something I love about myself. If I was too tired from training to be a fun Mom, then this whole gig wouldn’t be worth it.
Number 3: Find a way to get adequate rest and sleep. For me, this meant I needed to get to bed earlier. No more staying up late to finish work or watch grown up tv after my kids went to bed; it was a strict 9 or 10pm bedtime at the latest.
Number 4: Try to do most of your workouts in the morning. Sometimes this meant really, really early morning, like waking-up-in-the-4’s early! Almost all of the successful mom-athletes that I know employ this rule, and after a little trial and error, I found that this really worked best for me, too. Many times I got up and did my workouts before my kids even woke up, which was great. I loved the feeling of accomplishing something first thing in the morning and having the bonus of no one missing me.
Number 5: Find some great training partners. I was particularly blessed in this area. From belonging to fantastic women’s running group to being a part of an awesome master’s swim group to being married to the best bike partner ever, I almost always had great company for training.
Number 6: Eat really well. I’ve been a dietitian for almost 20 years, so as far as good eating goes, I already felt pretty confident in this arena. However, I loved the way that I naturally wanted to eat even better all of the time. I gravitated toward food that I knew would make me feel great and would fuel my workouts. Junk foods or things that wouldn’t make me perform well lost all of their appeal. I was also hungry almost all of the time, so everything tasted so much more delicious than usual. I felt that triathlon training enhanced my mindful and intuitive eating practice, and this was really an unexpected pleasure.
Number 7: Be creative. Have a 6-mile run scheduled and your kids have an all day swim meet? Drop them off for warm up and run near the meet. You might be kind of sweaty when you return, but it gets the job done. Baby wipes and a change of clothes come in very handy in this situation.
Number 8: Love your body. Seriously, this one is very important and is one of the reasons I love triathlon so much. Love the one body you have for all the wonderful things it does for you. Complete a 3,000 yard swim? High five, body. Steady 10-mile run? Nice work, kid. 56-mile bike ride? You rock, body. It’s hard not to appreciate your body for just being that awesome.
Number 9: Own the fact that you are a triathlete. Before I signed up for the Half Ironman, I would often say, “I do triathlons” even though I had been training and competing in them for years. When I started saying “I’m a triathlete” it was very empowering and reminded me every day of my goal.
Number 10: Don’t forget to have fun. This is last, but certainly not least. Triathlon training is hard. Some days it’s really hard and you have to dig really deep to get out of bed and get out there, but most of the time it should be joyful. It is a privilege to be able to train for and compete in a sport you love. Don’t forget the joy.
So while I was initially so worried about what I would need to sacrifice, this was far outweighed by all of the things I gained. Through the experience of training, I became an even happier mom and wife, and a better dietitian and friend. What I had to give up was staying up late and watching mindless television, which was actually a great life improvement. I never ate or slept so well in my life, or felt so completely alive and healthy. I found that enjoyed my training as much as I did crossing that finish line. Half Ironman training has become a part of my life, and I am currently loving training for the Atlantic City Half Ironman in September of 2017.
Angie Dye, MS, RDN, CSSD is a Private Practice Dietitian who specializes in Intuitive Eating, Sports Nutrition and Gastrointestinal Nutrition in Hershey, PA.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Angie Dye is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She is also a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor.
Angie holds a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Prior to starting her private practice, Angie worked as a Clinical Dietitian at the University of Chicago Hospitals. She also served as adjunct faculty at Loyola University in Chicago.
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