Average Joe to Ironman Champ – A reflection of 2016

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I found triathlon a few years ago after graduating college. Up until this year, it was nothing more than a hobby and a fun way to stay in shape during those summer months. I found that the more I trained, the more beers and bratwursts I was able to eat while tailgating at Brewers games. That was my prime motivator at the time. Only in Wisconsin! After my 2015 season, after tasting some success at my first full ironman and really falling in love with the sport, I made the commitment to see how far I could push myself in triathlon. I’ve never really considered myself as a runner, biker, or swimmer and still don’t to this day. I knew my mental toughness and drive could give me some success, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect to WIN an Ironman, in my first year none the less.

The last few months I’ve had a chance to reflect on how I got to where I am today and where I’d like to go. I’ve learned so much this year and continue to learn more about myself and this sport. Although I could come up with a list 100 pages long, I’ll save you the pain and narrowed it down to six keys lessons learned this year.

  1. Get a coach!

It really does not matter whether you are training for your first ironman and just trying to finish or a seasoned veteran on the cusp of turning professional, you will benefit greatly by working with a coach. For me, this was hands down the smoking gun to my success for 2016. I started working with Blake Becker (team BBMC), a pro out of Madison, WI. I saw continual improvements on a near weekly basis in all three sports. It’s been so rewarding seeing all that hard work pay off. In the past, sure I worked hard, but I certainly didn’t improve at the rate I am improving right now. Not even close! There was many times in the past where I’d continue to push hard only to see my performance plateau. A good coach will know how to minimize this by continually changing the training stimulus which allows for physical adaptation.

What my coach also helped me with is to time when I should be pushing hard and when I should be easing off the gas to make sure I am on form, healthy, and in peak fitness for your most important race of the year. For me, this was Ironman Louisville.

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There are a lot of great coaches out there, especially in the Madison area. Referrals are a great place to start when looking for a coach. However, make sure that their coaching styles align with your needs. Are you someone that needs motivation to do a workout? Are you looking for constant communication or someone just to schedule your workouts? Everyone’s needs are different and so are the coaching styles. Triathlon can be an expensive sport, consider a coach as an investment to help keep you healthy and have the race you have always dreamed about!

I’ve decided to work with a swim coach, Laura Becherer, a few days a week for 2017. To reach that next level, my swimming needs to improve drastically. So far working with Laura, I’ve already seen some improvements and drops in splits. I’m super excited about the direction my swimming is going. Who knows, she may even make a swimmer out of me?!

  1. Consistency in training is paramount

I do believe that the best training advice you can give someone is to be consistent with their training. It can be tough to train year round, especially during the winter months in the Northern climate. However, if you want to have the most success you can, those winter months are crucial! This time should really be used as technique sessions and fitness maintenance so when spring rolls around you can hit the ground running without feeling like you are starting from ground zero. Too often people work their tails off building fitness through the summer then completely let off the gas during the winter. When spring rolls around, they found they’ve lost all of their fitness they have built from the previous summer and are likely in the exact same position as the year before, or worse! Trust me, I definitely fell into this category leading up to this year… Following a plan and training with groups is a great way to stay motivated during this time along with any other time.

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  1. Mental toughness – How bad do you want it?

I read a great book on sports psychology this year called “How Bad Do You Want It?” by Matt Fitzgerald, an elite runner and sports writer. It really taught me to embrace the suck! Too often people fear the pain they are going to feel at the end of a race. This oftentimes holds them back from reaching their fullest potential. Going into this year, I really was traumatized by horrible experiences in my first few triathlons and running races due to mistakes in pacing and nutrition (later on that shortly…). For fear of re-experiencing those pains, I’d find myself holding myself a little too far back and realizing I had more to give after crossing the finish line. Regardless of your finishing time, there really is no better satisfaction in knowing you left it all out on the course. This book really helped me turn the corner and reach my potential this year.

Although there was certainly races this year where I didn’t perform as well as I would have liked, for the most part I gave it all that I had each time I toed the line. One race in particular, was Toughman Minnesota. Although it wasn’t a great race for me, it was a GREAT mental test and has helped build that much needed mental toughness. With about 5 miles to go in the run I started to really struggle from the heat and dehydration. At the time I felt like I had my place locked down as I was guessing I had about a 4 min lead on the next person when we reached the halfway out-and-back point. My pace slowed to well above 7 min miles and I started dreading each step I took. It didn’t take long before I had someone bridge the gap and was about 1 min behind me with 3 miles to go. Three miles doesn’t sound like much, but it felt like an eternity. I knew that this race was going to be a failure if I let him beat me and would have certainly hurt my confidence heading into Ironman Louisville. I would not let temporary pain ruin my race! At one point he was less than 10 seconds behind me judging by crowd noise (I was too scared to look…). I was literally pushing with everything I had yet still couldn’t get any separation. I held my position by 15 seconds crossing that finish line. I literally couldn’t take another step…

The key to my success this year certainly isn’t my natural ability in these sports, but my deep desire to push myself as far as I can day-in and day-out. HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT? Bad enough to deal with some TEMPORARY pain!

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  1. The 4th discipline – Nutrition

I ran my first marathon when I was 17 to get my mind off of a neck injury that took me out of high school sports. It was a complete disaster… I trained so hard for it and followed my training plan to the T. I did my 20 mile runs. I had a race plan I was confident in. I was ready, or so I thought… So why was this race so bad? One thing I didn’t consider was nutrition. Having really no experience or mentors, I trained without nutrition. Come race time, apparently I thought it was a good idea to eat as many GUs as I could. Anyone who is familiar with this product can probably guess the outcome… Needless to say, I spent a good 30 minutes in porta-potties every mile or two for the second half of the race. It took me over five years to toe any race line again after that debacle.

I continued to use GU products in my triathlon career as that is what is typically offered out on the course. I have learned the hard way my body does not like this product. Each time I raced it was like I was playing Russian roulette. I often lost more than I won. It was so frustrating because I would train without issues with this product, but when it came time to race with higher intensities and stresses I would have GI issues more times than not.

That all changed when I tried HUMA gels at the Green Bay Marathon Expo earlier this year. This product is made out of Chia seeds and natural fruit juices. Reading the ingredients of this product versus GU’s it’s easy to understand which one would be easier on the stomach… I have literally had ZERO issues after completely making the switch to this product during the second half of my 2016 race season.  Never will I again choke down one of those GU packets! If you are interested in the product, please contact me and I can get you a discount.

Now there are a lot of options out there for nutrition that may work awesome for someone but not great for you. Before you completely switch based on recommendations, I recommend you try various products in your training. One thing I did a lot more of in my training is race simulations where I would do long race pace intervals while practicing my nutrition plan. I was more confident in my nutrition plan going into Ironman Louisville than I have ever been.

  1. Listen to your body

One thing I currently struggle at and will be working really hard at in 2017 is listening to my body. One downside of my drive is if there is a workout on my calendar, I will do it at all costs. I’ve learned that I am not invincible many times in 2016… Once I started training hard, more often than not a nagging injury would pop up. My back, calf, knee, shoulder, etc… At this rate, I will not be in this sport for as long as I would like unless I start taking better care of my body and putting my health in front of my workouts. Four areas where I will be focusing on to keep my body healthy in 2017 are:

  • ART therapy (Active Release Technique) sessions
  • Mobility work and dynamic warmups
  • Understanding the difference between being sore and the start of an injury and having flexibility in workouts when the latter occurs
  • Eating an anti-inflammatory diet

Before Ironman Louisville, I had an eight week stretch where I was training really hard and was feeling stronger than ever. Three weeks out, my luck ran out and I had a knee injury that left me completely sidelined. I was in pain just standing at my desk. I was desperate and was calling doctors and chiropractors to see what could be done. I was ready to try anything and everything. After a referral from a good friend, I got in contact with Dr. Tislau and Creekside Chiropractic who is licensed to perform ART therapy. I literally went from completely sidelined to 100 percent in just a couple of sessions with Dr. Tislau. He has made me a believer in ART therapy and will be my secret weapon to keep me healthy and injury free in 2017. If you are serious about your athletic performance I highly suggest you research ART therapy and find someone licensed in your area. It’s a great tool to not only treat injuries but to prevent them before they even occur.

  1. Long Course racing is a team effort

As I’ve started to have some success in my racing career, I more and more realize that to be successful in this sport is a team effort. You cannot be truly great without the support and help from those around you. So many people have impacted my life which have shaped who I am both as an athlete and as a person. Everyone from my old wrestling coach, Mike Kappers, who taught me about mental toughness. My triathlon coach, Blake Becker, who has taught me how to train and race in long course triathlon. My teammates and training buddies, who share their triathlon knowledge and push me to keep getting better. My family and friends, who are there for me no matter the outcome of my races. Last, but not least, my wife who sacrifices her time to let me chase my dreams and pushes me to be my very best.

As we wrap up 2016 I have started to plan out my 2017 race season. Next year will be a HUGE year of racing at some of the most iconic races in the world! Below are some of the races I have planned so far in rank order of priorities:

  • Ironman World Championships, Kona, HI – Oct. 14th
  • Ironman Santa Rosa, Santa Rosa, CA – July 29th
  • Ironman Wisconsin 70.3, Madison, WI – June 11th
  • Ironman 70.3 World Championships, Chattanooga, TN – Sept 9th (TBD – Still need to qualify)
  • Boston Marathon, Boston MA – April 17th
  • Toughman Wisconsin, Sherwood, WI – June 17th
  • Neenah Duathlon, Neenah, WI – May 13th
  • Seroogy’s 15k, Green Bay, WI – Feb 11th

I have some great sponsors set up for 2017.

  • Quintana Roo – The founder of the “triathlon specific” bike design who continually changes the bike scene with their revolutionary designs. http://www.quintanarootri.com/
  • Zone3 USA – One of the most recognized brands in the world specializing in wetsuits, swimwear, and triathlon apparel. https://racezone3.com/us/about-us/
  • Huma Gels – A new and growing nutrition company making all natural (and flavorful!) gel. http://www.humagel.com/company/about/
  • Epix Gear – Making custom clothing designs that stand out from the pack! http://epixgear.com/
  • Creekside Chiropractic – A one stop shop for chiropractic services, ART therapy, and message therapy located in Sheboygan, WI. http://creeksidechiro.com/
  • Attitude Sports – Full service bike shop located in Fond Du Lac, WI. I’ve been bringing my bike to Dave Haase for a few years now. There is no one I trust more to get my bike ready to race! http://www.attitudesports.com/

If you or your business would like to be a part of my team for 2017, please reach out to me for details! I look forward to representing these brands both on and off of the race course!

 

 

 

 

 

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