Athlete Journal: Andrew Read, Entry 24 – Focus on the Details

One of the questions I am getting asked all the time is how can I stand the “boredom” of Ironman training. For me, the time goes by quickly because I’m so focused on the little details.

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 24 – Focus on the Details

One of the questions I am getting asked all the time at the moment is how can I stand the “boredom” of heading out the door for a run for an hour or more, or a three to four hour bike ride or staring at the bottom of the pool for a few hours.

The answer is simple: I am so focused on what I need to be doing that the time literally flies past. When I swim, for example, I am thinking about my hand entering the water and driving immediately to the point where I begin my catch. My hand is already angled back so that my fingers are pointing straight down to form a long paddle along my forearm to my finger tips. I imagine that I have grabbed hold of a rung of a ladder and I am about to pull myself over it, keeping my arm bent. As my hand passes my hip I am thinking about keeping my wrist tight so that my hand remains a stiff paddle and doesn’t flex at all. I am also thinking about a quick flick of my leg to drive my hip over and begin the rotation that becomes my next stroke. This is also what I’m visualizing:

While I swim along I also like to keep an eye out and see what is going on along the side of the pool, what time it is, or even if I’m faster than the person in the lane next to me. So there’s plenty to keep me entertained.

Running and riding are no different. There is technique to both that needs addressing to make you as efficient as possible. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years is that skill at anything physical takes time and mindful practice to develop. Imagine that you wanted to get better at basketball and all you did was just play the game. Sure you’d get better, but it might be a slow process that way. The alternative would be to practice the relevant parts of the game from dribbling to shooting to passing and put them into small game like rehearsals along the way, occasionally playing full games.

If you think the second way is a far superior way to get better at something, you’re dead right. The weird thing is that people often don’t think you can do the same thing with running, or even lifting weights.

By breaking down the requisite skills into various sessions and mindfully practicing them you will get better a lot faster than if you just go out for a ride as many people do. The problem with just going for a ride is that usually it happens in groups. Within that group will be people who are both faster and slower, and so the ride ends up being a compromise. While it might be beneficial for some people, or even slightly beneficial for everyone, it won’t be the most effective use of time. A comment I heard recently was that you’ll find a lot of C and D grade riders on bunch rides, but not many A graders because all the A graders are off doing the exact thing they need to get better.

So that makes Ironman training a fairly lonely pursuit. Despite the fact you spend the majority of the time swimming with your head underwater, it’s actually the most social training I do at the moment, as there’s at least an opportunity to have a quick chat between intervals at the end of the pool. Running is a totally solo activity, as I have never liked running with others. I like to just focus on my breathing and staying relaxed in the upper body. Riding is also becoming a solo activity. While there are sections of my plan that require easy riding they are getting fewer and shorter in time. More and more time is spent working at faster paces and if I talk my heart rate will shoot up by several beats per minute. This sends me past my aerobic threshold and into sugar burning mode – and that’s an express train to bonking (a term used by endurance people to signify running out of precious glycogen, so get your minds out of the gutter).

It’s a good thing I like my own company and talking to myself because there are starting to be many hours per week of what externally seems to be me just running, swimming, or riding. The reality is that every single step, every pedal stroke, and every lap of the pool I am in constant communication with myself about what it is I’m doing, how I can make the next step or stroke better than the last.

Totals for the week:
Swim – 8km
Bike – 180km
Run – 26km