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What I have learned training for an Ironman, COVID style

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Author: Katey Collins, LCSW – Tri Life Coach

I have been hesitant to talk much about my “Ironman training” considering our current world. I never want to come off like that entitled white girl posting workout photos of herself who is clueless to what is happening across the globe. The issues of racial, sexual orientation and gender equity are certainly more deserving of your attention than me taking about training right? Concerns of food and water insecurity and other humanitarian topics weigh on my mind.

Out of respect, love and compassion, there are some lessons from what triathletes call “Ironman training” that apply to greater humanity. For those who are not familiar, the full Ironman is a race of a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles on the bike, then a marathon run of 26.2 miles. (there is also a half Ironman which is 70.3 miles total.)

Here are some lessons I have learned during the pandemic while preparing for a full Ironman.

1. Like training, life is hard and unpredictable

Maybe you just lost your job or business. Perhaps a loved one is dying, or you are going through a divorce. We all have real struggles that are painful and excruciating at times. I too have been there, such as healing from sexual abuse as a child, doing a short-sale on our home in 2012, helplessly watching a loved one’s life be ruined by addiction. We can all agree that our time on this earth is hard and unpredictable.

For some of us, a certain goal helps us cope with the difficulties life presents. When someone sets a goal of their first 5k or marathon, triathlon…it begins on a path of excitement, hope, anticipation and belief that they will reach a monumental goal never thought possible. As the honeymoon period of training fades, the reality of, Holy crap I really committed to this? sets in. The dread of getting up at 5 am and jumping into a cold pool. You may silently, or out loud, curse your trainer when you try to sit on the toilet and wince because your hamstrings are so sore. The 85 mile bike ride you endure alone due to quarantine, rather than with the training buddies you adore. That ride suddenly becomes a sheer will of finishing the bike rather than calling your husband to pick you up because you just don’t want to pound through the hills and wind ONE MORE mile.

2. Any excuse will do, if you let it

There have been days I have told myself, this race will be cancelled, as all the other Ironman’s in 2020 have been. That, I admit, lead to me backing off on my exercise routine a bit more than I should have. Giving up on swim workouts because all the pools are closed would be a likely excuse. However, I instead took advantage of our gorgeous lakes here in Wisconsin. Closed gyms forced many athletes to get creative by incorporating at home workouts. There is always an excuse and there is often a way to adapt.

Regularly adapting your fitness routine makes challenges and surprises at home and work easier.

3. Alternatives are in abundance if you look for them

Mindset is everything. When faced with a challenge, instead of automatically thinking “I can’t do this,” think, "what other options are there? What is the silver lining here? What lessons have I learned?"

I will give you an example. After living 40 plus years with a gluten allergy that was undiagnosed, I finally learned what had been causing my allergic reactions. My life was sporadic trips to the ER, occasional emergency procedures and years of being worried every time I ate and embarrassed at restaurants when I had to bolt to the bathroom. My body essentially began fighting itself and blood allergy tests showed I was allergic to 76 foods! That leaves minimal food options and keep in mind my caloric needs are much higher than most peoples given the volume of training I do. I could have easily put my head in the sand. However, I choose to keep searching for answers and once I found them, committed to a lifestyle that made my health a priority. Now, instead of having cookies as my treat I snack on allergy friendly Enjoy Life chocolate chips. Instead of making flour-based pancakes I make banana pancakes. It is easy to mourn what you cannot have, yet when you switch gears and focus on what IS possible, the benefits are tremendous.

4. The more committed to my health and wellness I am, the better I feel

At age 45 I physically and mentally feel amazing! Getting here has been a long process, which I am grateful to my husband for his support. The doctor I see is not covered by insurance and I am not shy about scheduling a massage, chiropractor appointment and investing in coaches. I understand that saying yes to my health will pay off substantially in the long run. My ability to take care of my family and live a life that I love depends on it. I always give clients the example of the flight attendant providing the safety talk on the plane. Put your own oxygen on first before you help anyone else. They say this of course because if you are not well you cannot help the ones you love.

5. Training buddies bring inspiration, hope, encouragement, strength and happiness

When you have people you can rely on, who support and care about you and share a similar passion, it is beautiful. My favorite thing about sport is the way people are brought together. My life has been full of amazing individuals I have encountered while preparing for various challenges: high school and collegiate sports, endurance events such as triathlons, marathons and swim marathons. While COVID has put limitations on gatherings, that has not stopped athletes. They have utilized different methods such as apps to track workouts with friends remotely, smaller groups running together, virtual challenges and online groups.

I have learned training for an Ironman in 2020 that we must adapt! For some, the experience of an athletic event is:

· Celebrating life with your good friends and family members

· Seeing joy when athletes get the ultimate confidence boost of crossing the finish line

· Cheering on your training partner who recovered from an injury

· Witnessing community in action when volunteers come together

· Donations being made to worthy causes

Crossing an actual finish line may not be in the cards for some right now. As I hope the Ironman on November 7th in Florida will take place, the more important reflections that I have are:

· I know that when I exercise regularly I feel excited, happy, energetic and motivated

· When I am strong physically and mentally, I am able to serve my family, friends and clients in an exceptional way

· Together with the endurance community I can bring goodness, hope and inspiration to the world

· My active lifestyle is an example to my children, friends and family members.

· In the future I plan to participate in travel which includes the activities I love such as swimming, biking and running. However, these activities will not only be races, they will be experiences that contribute to a significant need. One trip example is through the Girls Gotta Run Foundation. A portion of the cost supports their mission which “invests in girls who use running and education to empower themselves and their communities.”

Another is a trip to South Africa to support the I Am Water Ocean Conservation Foundation.

· Lastly, I will be hosting a Waterfront Wellness Event in Lake Geneva in summer 2021 in which a portion of the profits will benefit a cause near to my heart.

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