I’m a new advocate for treadmill and spin bike training. As an outdoor enthusiast, I never thought I’d say that but lately i’ve started to see the benefits of training on a machine. I can preset the speed intervals. There’s no excuse not to pick up the pace when the belt under my feet starts spinning faster. When the weather is inclement, it’s more efficient to jump on the spin bike rather than figure out what to wear for a multi-hour bike ride and a variable forecast. And finally, when I have to spend 10 hours running and biking each week, it’s nice to be able to multitask and tune in to the news or watch a show while I’m doing it.
Set it and Forget it
Much like cruise control on a long road trip, treadmill settings can be set and then forgotten. I can set my workout plan and then follow through on it. Sixty minutes at race pace is hard, but if I never adjust the controls, my legs and feet will get it done, even if my mind is protesting. The problem with training for something and forever wanting to be better, faster, stronger is that it never gets easier. Even as I get quantifiably stronger and faster, each training session requires a push to get even stronger and even faster. It’s painful. The treadmill keeps me accountable to my goals.
Yesterday I was asked how many hours a week I devote to training. The answer is 12-16 hours per week. It sounds like a lot! My friend commented with admiration not for the actual activity, but for the dedication to my hobby. Truthfully her praise was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s not just the exercise that I love (although I do love the endorphin high every day), it’s the whole process of planning the training weeks, testing my speed and endurance once a month, eating well so that I don’t sabotage my workouts and above all, organizing my days around swimming, biking and running.
She asked me how I stay motivated. Sometimes I’m not sure. Most of the time training kind of sucks. Yesterday’s ride was over two hours long and the driving wind and rain was bitter. The day before there were several other people in my lane at the pool and their breaststroking antics were annoying. The day before that I forgot my outdoor running clothes at home and had to do my workout on the treadmill because I didn’t have a jacket. Before that I had a pretty uncomfortable run because I’d indulged in chips and candy the night before. Last week I tried compression tights for a long ride and they were so disagreeable and tight they actually left marks on my skin. Yet somehow the motivation to finish what I started carries me through all of the discomforts of actual training.
I create my workouts to the minute. For example, a 16 hour training week is 960 minutes. Swimming, biking and running is divided proportionally according to my goal time in the race. My goal is to complete Canmore Xterra 2018 in 192min, broken down as follows: 30min swim, 105min bike, 55min run, plus 2min for transitions. The training proportions correspond to the race goal: 16% time spent swimming, 55% biking and 29% running. A 960 minute training week equals 153minutes at the pool, 528minutes on the bike and 278minutes running.
A hastily scribbled post-it that holds my attention every day.
successfully-completed training weeks, denoted by a colourful spreadsheet
Each workout is subdivided into intervals. I might do a 160min bike, which is further divided into 6x20min intervals with a five-minute rest in between. My point here is not to outline every workout but to emphasize that when the training is really demanding (which lately is the case every day), I focus only on the task at hand. I only have to ride my bike for 160min today. If that’s too hard, I tell myself I only have to finish this 20-minute interval. If that’s still too hard, I tell myself that I get to rest for five minutes of easy pedalling. And if that’s still too hard, then I tell myself to tough it out and get the day’s training over with so I can get back into bed.
All this to say that the motivation doesn’t come easily. The training is excruciatingly difficult, painful, boring, lonely, frustrating. But at the end of a session, I get to colour in one day’s block on my calendar. The week is white to begin with, but at the end of the week, it’s coloured. At the end of many weeks, the entire google drive is colourful!
So is that what motivates me? Coming home and colouring in some digital boxes on the computer screen? Maybe! These boxes represent the commitment to following through on a plan that I schemed up on a frigid afternoon in March. These coloured boxes represent the complexity of the training and that it’s so much more than just pounding out the kilometres. It’s researching the best training formulas, it’s finding the most comfortable clothes so that I can stay as happy as possible on the long workouts, it’s making enough time every week to fit it all in, it’s learning which food makes me fast and what snacks make me slow. Ultimately, it’s just following through on what I started. So regardless of the wind, the rain, the uncomfortable spandex clothing, the missed junk food, the irritating swimmers at the pool, the skipped parties because of the protracted training schedule, I do it for the simple pleasure of saying that I completed a task.
Leaving their Mark
compression tights – just another thing to add to the long list of discomforts.
Training for this Ironman fits into the category of “goals.” Goals, I was told throughout my youth, are integral to success. Having a plan and sticking with it until completion will provide structure and a sense of achievement in life. A quick google search of “why goals are important” informed me that setting goals will focus my acquisition of skills and organize my time and resources so that I can make the very most of my life. There’s a Lululemon shopping bag beside me instructing me to write down two personal, two business and two health goals for the next 1, 5 and 10 years. Apparently I should do this four times per year because goal-setting will trigger my subconscious computer. We’re a goal-setting and achievement-oriented society. Paradoxically, at the yoga studio, I’m repeatedly told to embrace the present and focus on the moment.
So how to find the balance between setting goals and enjoying the present moment?
There’s no way to plan or know what’s going to happen. No amount of goal setting has any bearing on the future. The only absolute truth is the present moment. But I’m not convinced that these statements should preclude steps towards achieving a goal. Even though some goals are overwhelming at first (finishing a doctoral degree, saving for a house down payment, writing a novel, training for an Ironman), the process consists of present moments.
As I embark on this Ironman training, I recall my success in a triathlon and half Ironman in 2015. Certainly, those goals were lofty at the time and I remember some mornings being overwhelmed with training logistics. I would wake up, check my training plan and have to prepare for two workouts in different disciplines (a swim and a bike, for example, or a run followed by a bike). I would find myself panicking that I’d forget my swim goggles and be unable to complete the workout. I worried that I wouldn’t fit in the workouts plus do my full-time job plus my part-time job plus see my friends plus do laundry plus look after my brand new puppy plus make dinner plus work on my masters thesis. Yes, when viewed like that, it was physically and emotionally overwhelming. However I noticed that if I changed my perspective and viewed the goal in manageable portions and asked “what can I do right now to achieve the goal,” then the entire project was not so overwhelming.
The process of accomplishing goals is achieved through engagement in a series of moments. Today, I biked 75 minutes. Yesterday, I ran 60 minutes. Together, these minutes in the day add up to “training” and, done often enough, will get me over the finish line in an Ironman.