On Jan. 1, 2011, I attempted to start my year off with a 10-day Master Cleanse. That's right—10 days of drinking nothing but a questionable concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper for every meal. The problem was that I was also starting my training for IRONMAN Texas at the same time. For some reason, I thought I'd kick-start my five-month training cycle with a little juice cleanse. It sounded admirable to kick off my New Year with a bang! By Jan. 2, 2011, my bang turned into a bust as I lay on the couch sweating like I was in drug detox and holding a compress to my head because I had a migraine that wouldn't let go. The Master Cleanse was working alright, but my IRONMAN training most certainly wasn't. My scheduled two-hour bike ride turned into me putting the bike in the car and then getting back on the couch until I stopped getting the urge to purge all of the toxins from 2010 out of my system. By the end of the second day, I gave up and went back to eating food and training like a normal human.
What possessed me to try two drastic measures with my health at the same time? Whose advice was I following here? I had read of the wonders and recommendations of the Master Cleanse, and I was simultaneously ramping up my physical well-being with a little exercise. I was trying to lose a few pounds and begin training because I thought it would make me healthier. Yikes. That's the problem with so-called “health experts” in our click-bait social media news world to those of us who are looking for quick solutions. Advice can be wrong and even downright dangerous.
Looking back, we've all been told things by teachers, parents, coaches, and other so-called experts that we believed to be true. But sometimes that sage old advice proves inaccurate or even changes. Life is full of paradoxical advice, and the training world is no exception. For all the pearls of wisdom at our disposal, there are just as many questionable techniques and approaches being thrown around. Unfortunately, sometimes the best way of learning a hard lesson is at someone else's expense.
So, take it from me, don't every try to combine the Master Cleanse with a long training session. It doesn't work.
As a coach, I have never given this advice and, I'm happy say that no coach I've ever worked with has ever given me that advice, at least overtly. Local elite triathlete, Julie Stupp, however has felt this pressure throughout her long collegiate and professional career as a swimmer, runner and triathlete to do whatever it takes to finish. We've watched people crawl to the finish or hobble their way to the end and that powerful image gets emblazoned on our brain as idyllic and heroic. It’s one thing to leave it all out there on race day, but training through actual pain doesn't make you a hero and it doesn't make you stronger than your competition. In the long run, training through an injury makes you more vulnerable and susceptible to long-term setbacks since you never give yourself time to properly heal.
Coach Advice: If you are injured or suffering any form of severe pain while training, please stop. There's certainly a difference between normal fatigue and soreness that comes from training and an abnormal pain as a result of overtraining or poor mechanics. Do not exacerbate the issue. Talk with your coach and if that coach ever says, “It's no big deal. You can train through the pain,” find another coach. He or she should ask questions to evaluate your level of pain, where the pain is (which isn't necessarily where the injury is) and make recommendations or referrals on proper health care providers including massage therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors and other sports medicine specialists. Does this cost money? Yes, but so does an entry fee that has gone unused because you're too broken to start. Invest the time and remember that there can be gain without pain. Your finish line photos look so much better when your arms are raised in victory, anyway!
USA Swimming Coach and former collegiate standout, Margot Newcomer, remembers a time not too long ago when her college swim coaches said that distance swimmers shouldn't lift weights, especially females. They said it would make you too bulky and slow. These days, both distance swimmers
and sprinters are reaping the benefits of a properly structured weight training program. (Did you see Katie Ledecky's swimming at the Olympics?) Not only does strength training help prevent injury, it also provides joint and muscle stabilization so that you're able to properly execute a movement over a longer period of time. More muscle also gives you more force–on the water or ground. Think of weight training as the glue that holds all of the other training together. Sure, you can swim, bike and run all you want, but if you don't have the core, balance and stabilization, you're as good as a house built on wet sand.
Coach Advice: Regardless of your key sport, seek a strength program that provides sport specific training and plenty of multi-planar functional movement. It adds years to your longevity!
Local triathlete, Andrea Núñez-Smith,recently relayed a humorous post on Facebook. She wrote, “I got up at 5:00 a.m. this morning for my morning workout and I went to the bathroom like I usually do first thing. Thirty minutes later my alarm went off again and when I opened my eyes, I realized I was still on the potty and decided maybe I should sleep in!” Good call there, Andrea! For some baffling reason, proper sleep is considered a weakness. People and experts on social media still brag about how much they can accomplish with little rest. Fitness fanatics post photos and selfies of their multiple workouts insisting that they #cantstopwontstop. Well, trust me, eventually you will stop. You won't have a choice. Rest days and added sleep is the time when your body pays you back by repairing itself and restoring those energy tanks. Rest days from training are key to both mental and physical restoration. Six-Time IRONMAN Champion and World Renowned Coach, Mark Allen, writes, “With chronic lack of sleep, your body stops releasing enough human growth hormone to repair itself effectively, and you can end up overeating because the hormone that shuts off your appetite when you have taken in enough calories is suppressed. Also, without enough good quality sleep your body gets stuck in a state of continual stress and ends up slowing or even completely inhibiting your ability to develop your aerobic fat burning engine.” So, if you're cranky, hungry, gaining weight and not hitting your marks in training, lack of sleep may be the culprit.
Coach Advice: Rest, repair and restore. Be like Andrea and take a rest day when you get those signals. Just make sure you're not still on the potty.
You're right. More is better if it involves a little more rest, recovery, quality strength sessions and increased nutritional value in the foods you eat. More hours of training doesn't necessarily equate to better times. More quality does.
Coach Advice: When planning your training schedule, build in the key sessions first, including your speed sessions and longer endurance workouts. Then, build in at least one strength/ conditioning session. Take a look at the time you have left between family and work life to make sure you still have time for adequate balance with those priorities coupled with rest. Also, don't underestimate the value of mental training and visualization as some key sessions as well. As Coach Mark Allen says, “A lot of the reason you train is to train your mind so that you get good at enduring and sticking with it when you don’t feel your best. This is something you can practice in every single training session— it’s not something to wait until race day to figure out how to do.”
There's a lot of training advice out there but the biggest gem came from local triathlete and coach, Claudia Spooner, when she eloquently stated that training and fitness is a gift we give to ourselves and others. Don't take that gift for granted. Ever.
Perhaps more is better— as long as it's more gratitude and appreciation for what we are asking our bodies to do for us each day.