Athlete Journal: Andrew Read, Entry 23 – Learning By Doing

I love learning new things, particularly when they impact both my coaching and training. Here are some lessons I’ve learned during my Ironman training that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Click here to read other journal entries and articles by Andrew Read, and look for his new journal every Monday as he trains for Ironman Melbourne.

Journal Entry 23 – Learning By Doing

By the time you read this a new Ironman World Champion will have been crowned. It won’t be me although there are three Aussie men in the mix and one female.

The Hawaii Ironman is something that has always intrigued me. I remember watching it as a kid on Wide World of Sport and being amazed at the feats of Dave Scott, Mark Allen and Scott Tinley. Not long after that there was a national domestic triathlon series that featured our very own Olympic Distance world champions Brad Bevan and Greg Welch. Welch went on to become one of the biggest legends in a sport built for those who like to suffer. He won not only Olympic Distance World Championships but also in Kona at the Ironman World Championships.

Over the last five years the men’s race has only been won by Australians and the women’s has been won once. Not a bad record for such a tiny country and from a sport that is still quite small (although has the fastest growing participation numbers of any sport in the world).

My little Ironman adventure has some deep-seated roots for sure, but the final catalyst for this was being stuck in an airport and seeing Chris MacDougall’s book Born to Run. I bought it and read the entire thing before my plane even took off two hours later.

The last few months I’ve learned a lot. The sorts of things you can learn only from experience. The sorts of things that those who sit on the sidelines will never know. When you’re forty-one years old and trying to work plus cram in twenty hours of training per week little things add up. It’s like somehow the understanding of everything is getting multiplied.

For instance, it’s common knowledge that we need eight hours of sleep per night. Everyone says it. But do you know the effect on performance from a week of sleeping seven hours per night versus eight? I do. It’s twenty seconds per kilometer. That’s an extra fourteen minutes over the course of a marathon.

More recently I’ve learned about the use of Traumeel as a cure for muscle tears and how to train through treatment. The result of that has been that not only have I run two days in a row (something that has previously caused issues) but also I actually ran yesterday without the walk breaks. And that was on the tail of a hard three-hour ride. To finish a run without any kind of pain or concern and wake up the next day and feel the same is almost a brand new feeling.

Today’s run I even managed some five-minute kilometers. That’s not fast by normal standards but it’s been over six months since I have felt confident to run at that pace even for short stretches.

I’ve also learned how to eat while on the go. One of the most important elements of endurance racing is fueling. You obviously can’t really eat while you swim. Maybe a jellyfish or two but I’m not sure that is good for you (in Australia they’re probably poisonous because everything else is). So once you hit the bike you’ll need to eat. The funny thing about eating is that we’re used to doing it sitting upright and with a low heart rate. On my new super bike I’m bent in half in an aerodynamic position. While this is good for cheating the wind, it’s not so good for your stomach. To further complicate matters, when your heart rate is elevated because a lot of your blood supply is going to your legs instead of to the stomach to help you absorb food you may get an upset stomach. I’ve discovered that while I’ll be uncomfortable for the first five minutes after downing a gel once I’ve burped twice, one small and the second one larger, that my stomach settles. So slam gel, gulp water, burp twice and keep pace the same without any need to worry about slowing down or sitting up and coming out of my aero position.

I’ve also realized that I wasn’t taking in enough fuel. Previously I would ride for three to four hours and maybe have a couple of gels and some water. Now I have a gel every thirty minutes and my pace stays higher and there’s far less fatigue on the second half of the ride as well as on the following session – whether that is the same day or the next day.

But if you didn’t do all this how would you know it?

I love learning new things, particularly when they impact both my ability as a trainer and my own performance. So get off the couch and go put some pressure on yourself. You just might learn something.

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