September 5, 2012

Time Management and the Ironman Triathlete

This is an article that I wrote for RideCarbon recently and I thought I would share it here since a lot of peoples seasons are winding down and we're all collectively looking towards next year.
I’ve always finished each season and looked back on my training logs and smiled. Deep down I know that after a good result, I’ve known that there was nothing more I could’ve done. With each passing season I always thought that my training schedule was jam packed and I couldn’t have fit even an hour more of training into it. But the crazy thing is, year after year, I always bump that “total hours of training” time up north again.

It’s not like you magically have more hours in the year, or get less sleep, from what I know, triathletes are the masters of time management. I have no clue how the super-mom’s do it or the people who have incredibly unreliable and jumpy work commitments, but as a young athlete I am lucky enough to not have many distractions in order to streamline both training workload and nutrition to optimize performance and lifestyle. To the folks with time commitments and other obligations, I give you an incredible amount of credit; I don’t know how you pack it all into one day!

You often hear the phrase “triathlon is a lifestyle – not a hobby” and that is fairly accurate in my mind. From making smart nutritional choices each day, to waking up before the sunrise many days of the week, training for an ironman is not easy. Most folks would just rather roll over, hit the snooze button and catch a few more Z’s, rather than wake up and hop into a cold pool at the ungodly early hours before the sun rises. As a time crunched athlete, we try to maximize our workouts and get the most out of each time we pull the swim cap over our head, clip into the bike pedals or lace up the running shoes.

Many people (myself included) look at professional triathletes and wonder how they are able train for 30-40 hours weekly and continually perform at their peak. The logistics of doing this while also holding down a full time job are overwhelming to most newcomers. As someone who has gotten ridiculously close to that 30 hour mark in my own training while also holding down a 40+ hour a week full time job, I figure I might as well share some tips and tricks in how to “get it all in”. (Case in point, I am writing this article from plane seat 12C while en route to my corporate headquarters for business travel.)

However, in order to effectively plan out a routine and capitalize on the hours that you are given in the day, the first thing that a time crunched athlete needs is a solid baseline. My suggestion is to look at the last few weeks of your training and average them together to see where you stand in “total hours per week”. From this you can move onward and upward and make the most out of each day. Because if you don’t know where you are starting, then you’ll never understand how to keep moving forward.

Once you have the solid baseline of hours that you are comfortable training in a given week, you can plan out on two different fronts; first how to maximize your free time in the week by scheduling your “basic week of workouts” around your schedule and secondly, how to increase that number of hours to be able to withstand a larger or higher training load. In this article I will focus primarily on a few tips and tricks that I have found in order to schedule life around triathlon.

I like to look at my season as certain blocks of training and you probably do too; you know the usual – pre-season, base phase, build, taper, etc. I try to increase up to an average amount of hours that exceeds or builds off of where I was in the previous week/month/year. I don’t want to get into the specifics on what workouts will make you faster or when to schedule them in your week (I feel that dives a little deeper than this article will allow) I just want to focus on when to fit them all in.

The time crunch is different for each athlete as no two people’s schedules are the same and most likely are consistently changing. So before you start moving workouts around and arranging your life, there should be some introspection on how much you want your training to dictate your life and most of the time this coincides with your goals for the year. Everyone must come up with a definitive hierarchy in their own mind on where triathlon fits in relation to other things such as; family, work, social life, etc. Often times increasing stress in one area of life can cause undue tension in others so be aware as your season progresses. Many people I know wake up well before normal folks in order to get their workouts in and ensure that it does not disrupt any of the aforementioned areas of their life. Having a spouse or partner that approves and is supportive often helps too! But for the basic time crunched triathlete, managing to fit their workouts into their busy schedules is a must.

Anyone that is willing to try and improve themselves already understands that you likely have to make some sacrifices in your life to excel and as type-A triathletes, many of us don’t have a problem focusing our energy and cutting out the excess. Often triathletes err on the side of going overboard and therefore get looked at as the ridiculous person that is wearing spandex to the grocery store because post ride/run is the only time left in the day to shop! (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I’ve done it myself!) So just be leery of that! Anyway, back to the focus of this article…Some of the ways that I have found to increase training hours are specific to my schedule, but I’m sharing them in the hopes that they might be able to help you as well.

This past year I was able to run 3-4 days per week during my lunch hour. Luckily, my office had a shower that was in the janitor’s closet in the basement (which I’m sure my co-workers were thankful for as well!) that I was able to utilize to clean up quickly year round after my lunch runs. In getting out on my lunch hour and running a few miles, I was able to get a mental break from the stress of work by running with some friends thru downtown, but also I was able to get my miles in when normally I would just let that time slip away. So, if you can go out for an hour at a time and lace up your shoes for 4 days a week, that’s an additional 4 hours of training each week that you completed prior to getting home in the evening. I’d like to think of it as “free time”.

One of the other factors in increasing training hours year over year was that I was able to join a master’s swim program at a local college that met each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the ungodly hour of 5:45am. We swam for an hour and a half and this was a very supportive and fun crew (that always helps) that held you accountable and gave a reason to climb out of bed that early in the morning. With a little planning and grabbing some nutrition before heading to work, this accounted for my weekly swims of 3 times a week and (if I got in on time…) four and a half hours more of training per week.
In the summer months it takes a little more planning, but many people forget that a recovery ride or endurance ride for their commute in the morning and evening can be a very enjoyable and beneficial way to get to work, save on gas, and also get some more hours in. It takes a little planning on maybe bringing your next day’s clothing into the office the day prior and also requires a shower in your workplace, but if you can swing it, then you’re well on your way of increasing you hours in the saddle!

Myself, I used to be a night owl, but training for triathlon has turned me into a semi-morning person (having an automatic coffee maker that you can set the night before always helps too) and there are many hours that are often overlooked in people’s schedules. So before you say there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all in, take that closer look at your schedule and see if you can squeak out any more in your life. Or see if you can “kill two birds with one stone” and get your training in when you’d be normally doing something else. As one of my favorite quotes goes, “you have to make the most of the time that you are given”. So get out there and get it done friends, maybe I’ll see you someday before the sun rises!

1 comment:

Tim said...

Travis, I am sure this is a well crafted post but I just don't have time to read it. Sorry.