I competed in my first triathlon about three years ago.
I didn’t have a coach, I didn’t understand training at all, and more importantly I didn’t understand the importance of recovery. Now, three years later and after having some experience, as well as success in triathlon, I am just beginning to scrape the surface. I have been following a rigorous training schedule under my coach Chris Thomas for just about one year. In that year, I have had my ups and downs, successes and failures and I have learned a lot.
When I decided to get a coach, I had one thing on my mind, competing in my first 70.3 distance triathlon. The biggest mistake I made was not listening to my coach. He had given me a training schedule that I was supposed to follow. Instead, I would do the training he gave me and then I would do more. I thought I was helping myself, but my body was not ready for it. When he gave me a day off or told me not to race, I did it anyway. He knew something that I didn’t, my body wasn’t getting the recovery it needed. Needless to say, I had a less than disappointing performance in my first 70.3.
Whether you are young or old, it is important to listen to your body. If it is tired, sometimes the best solution is to take a day off. If you are sick, it doesn’t make you a weaker person to step back and rest for a day. In fact, rest and recovery are just as important or potentially even more important than the training itself. If you are constantly training on tired or sore muscles, you will not perform well in training, you will not be able to push your body during your workouts, and you open yourself up to injuries.
I have put together a few pieces of advice to follow for the newbie triathlete:
1) Take things slow.
It is important to build a foundation. A person that is relatively new to triathlon should not be on a program that calls for 15-20 hours of working out each week. Very few people jump into this sport and do extremely well. Mastering the skills involved to be successful takes time. Not weeks or months, but years of training. My coach who has competed for close to 15 years now tells me that he is still learning new things every race he participates in and he is one of the top ranked amateur triathletes in the world. Most people, myself included, are too busy wanting to produce results, that they forget that it takes time. My biggest mistake that I have made in triathlon is trying to push myself too hard too fast. I wanted to win so much, that I often times put my health on the line. I would train when I was sick, race when I was hurt and I wouldn’t take time to recover. This is something that took me a long time to realize, but when I did, I decided that I needed to change my outlook and my approach. Big surprise, when I changed my approach, the results started to show. This brings me to my next point:
2) Listen to your body and treat it well.
When I started listening to my body, I started to perform at a much higher level. When I was sick or needed to take a day off I did. Instead of taking the full day off however, I did something productive for my body. Some of these things included ice baths, slipping on some of my SKINS compression clothing, stretching and making sure I was fueling my body with the best foods to recover. What this did was it allowed me to recover so I could train harder and also come into races with a much higher fitness level. I was able to push my body harder because I gave it the rest and recovery it needed to perform at the highest level.
3) Eat well and use recovery tools.
These are probably two of the most important factors for me in my recovery. It is imperative that you refuel your muscles after working out. Some may argue on the specifics, but there is a 30 minute window or so after a workout that is the prime time to restore nutrients to your muscles. My drink of choice after workouts is chocolate milk as it has pretty much everything that you need in a recovery drink (ie. protein, carbs, etc.). Another huge benefit for my recovery has been my use of SKINS compression garments both in training and after working out. Compression products are proven to reduce muscle fatigue, improve circulation and help you recover faster. Beyond post working out, it is also important that you are taking in enough of the right calories daily to replace what you lost during your workouts. That doesn’t mean that you go eat your weight in pizza, but rather that you eat a balanced diet of foods that will not only replenish calories that you have lost but that will also fuel your for future workouts.
The importance of recovery is something that is often overlooked by many triathletes.
If you use some of the advice I gave you and put it in to practice, I can guarantee that you will not only perform better, but you will feel better. Remember, although you may be trying to win a race, beat a personal record, or just trying to finish the race, that there is a reason that you are competing in the first place. I may be wrong, but it is probably because you love the sport. So sit back and think about why you are doing triathlons in the first place. We all do triathlons for different reasons and we all have different goals. Whether you are training to win or just trying to finish your first triathlon, don’t forget to give your body the rest and recovery that it needs.