Ian Stokell (my writing-producing partner) and I first bonded not over films but over triathlons. We spend many a writing session on the bikes brainstorming so I’ve decided to post a great article (written by him) about his prep for the Ironman Cancun 70.3 in September:

July 16, 2010

There’s something enticing about the iconic, idyllic image of the Cancun Ironman 70.3: the pristine sandy white beaches, the world-class luxury hotels, the balmy weather with its powder blue skies, and the warm crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean.

Flash back to Southern California in April this year at the competitive California Oceanside 70.3 with its cold 60 degree harbor swim. The negative: Even with a swim skull cap and booties I only made it 100 yards into the swim before my cold water-induced asthma kicked in and I had to make an unceremonious exit to the dockside and a premature end to a race I’d been training for all winter. The positive: Rethink! Enter Cancun Ironman 70.3 with its alluring idealism and those 80 degree waters. No more coldwater wetsuit swims for me!

Even without difficulty breathing in cold conditions, Ironman training is fraught with dubious opportunities for setbacks and injuries because of its relentlessly long and demanding training sessions, day after day after day. And yet injuries are part of the training cycle. It’s how you physically and mentally cope with them that are the key to eventual success.

As I write this I am four days on from badly tweaking my right Achilles tendon again for the second time in six months by simply walking down stairs!

Flexibility in your training regime is not a luxury; it’s a fundamental requirement in getting to the start line.
I’m probably not much different from many long distance triathlon athletes with regards injuries. I can’t remember the last time I had two full months back-to-back where I didn’t have to deal with some injury or setback in training. In the last 18 months I’ve lost many weeks from a bad back (fused 4th vertebrae) which I still have, bad neck (related to the bad back), IT Band Syndrome in the left knee (three months run training lost), badly sprained ankle, crushed and lacerated right foot from a motorcycle accident, Achilles tendon strain (now twice), and a seemingly ongoing right hamstring strain that I can’t quite shake off. And that doesn’t even include the usual day-to-day muscle wear-and-tear that is actually normal for Ironman training. Sound familiar? Business as usual for Ironman training I guess.

There are really two choices for an Ironman athlete faced with training-induced injury. You can either give up Ironman training completely (unlikely with the triathlete mentality or you wouldn’t be Ironman training in the first place!), or adjust your training on the fly and keep going (with lots of pre-exercise stretching). If it’s the latter, it becomes doubly important to also set achievable short- and if necessary, medium-term goals to get you through to the other side of rehab – both physical and practical.
Can’t run for two weeks? Then do more biking. Got a bad back? Then wear a wet suit for support when you swim in the pool. You have to train! Water temperature too cold so you can’t breathe? Then find an Ironman 70.3 race where that’s not an issue.

Don’t look for excuses, look for answers.

Yet training flexibility and adapting your training regime to injuries is only half the battle. Ironman is a mental game. If your mind is not in the race, your body will soon crash and burn.

Your mind has to reach the finish line before your body. Once your mind gets there, your body will follow.
So all touchy feely, New Age hocus pocus aside, it struck me recently that there is a roundabout fundamental truth in the notion of the Law of Attraction, but with a slight twist: think positive thoughts and you’ll get a positive outcome, think negative thoughts and you’re pretty much screwed!

And yet that’s really just Coaching 101. Because negative thoughts are an inevitable self-fulfilling prophesy, while positive thoughts will lead to success.
Why mention it in reference to Ironman 70.3? Well, Ironman racing and training have a pretty discerning mental palette. If you bring negative thoughts to the daily mileage table that you have to commit to, just to get to the start line, the filet minion you see on the distant finish line menu will turn into a fatty fast food cheeseburger long before you’ve had time to order a glass of water – vitamin enhanced of course!

Positive thoughts are needed to drive an Ironman athlete in those dark, early morning training days in winter when it’s cold and raining outside and, cocooned within the comforting sanctuary of warm bed clothes, the snooze button has been hit for the third time but it keeps coming back like an annoying mosquito five minutes later. Positive thoughts are needed to drive you to keep going at the end of a 15 mile training run when it feels like needles are being jabbed in to your quads with every step.

So, as seems to be the norm, my training emphasis has changed again. Now I have to settle on a delicate balance between obtaining the fastest time in the race as possible and making sure my body can even reach the finish line in an Ironman 70.3 at whatever turns out to be my race pace on the day.

Training-wise, I’m now focused on a methodical, yet simple approach to my weekly regime. Swim – two or three 2.5km swims to hopefully improve my bad technique while building endurance. Cycling – three or four two-hour “increasing resistance every 15 minute” turbos indoors to promote a steady bike leg in the race (turbo training offers a safe, predictable environment). Run – three 6-13 mile “contained speed” runs to encourage an injury free half marathon finish (with occasional interval training segments to increase such fundamentals as VO2 max).
No doubt all will soon be adjusted for whatever problem turns up tomorrow.

The bottom line? Adapt and continue. Lead with a positive mental attitude and the body will follow. In other words, be prepared to overcome whatever setback or injury presents itself with a positive mental attitude and flexibility in training. And just keep going.

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