Week 35 of Ironman Training: Chasing the M-Dot with Toughness Training

Much of Ironman training is about showing up and doing the work, whether you’re feeling 100% or not. It’s about getting through aches and pains, life’s scheduling challenges and the onslaught of mental fatigue. It’s about keeping your eye on the prize, even if that prize still feels like it’s miles away.

After flying high during last weekend’s triathlon and follow-up 2-hour ride, my body was feeling it early in the week. On Tuesday my calves were still cranky when I started my 8-mile run, and then in the midst of doing intervals, I tweaked a rib in my back AGAIN. Argh. So #%!@ frustrating.

By Wednesday my mental state was a bit in the dumper. Between my back, my tired legs and many nights of poor sleep, I was definitely not sporting the title of Little Miss Merry Sunshine when I met Matt for our 3-hour hill ride. Fortunately, Matt just got us spinning. He’s wise that way. Don’t think, just go.

I may have been cursing like a sailor at times during this ride (thankfully Matt couldn’t hear me), and every hill may have felt ten times harder than normal, but I got through it–40 miles of ups, downs, heres and theres.

One thing that kept me going was focusing on the back at Matt’s calf with his Ironman M-Dot tattoo–the perfect reminder of the iron strength and mental toughness I will need to earn the honor of becoming an Iron(wo)man myself.

Matt reminded me numerous times that there would be rough moments during my race in November, and the key to crossing the finish line would be figuring out how to manage them. Practicing mental strategies to push away the demons and negative thoughts, as well as staying hydrated and adequately fueled to power on for an entire day would be paramount.

One strategy I’ve been using over these past months (including this ride) is to focus on what feels strong at the moment. If my calves are screaming, then I focus on the strength I have in my glutes or quads. If my back is angry, I focus on my abs and pulling them in tight. If my mind is whiny, I remind myself that I am living the dream I’ve wanted to pursue since I was a teenager, and this is what it takes. In other words, “Suck it up Buttercup, and focus on the joy of this journey. And always, ALWAYS remember how lucky you are to be able to do this.”

The other thing that has helped is immersing myself in several books about mental toughness: How Bad Do You Want It, Grit, and The New Toughness Training for Sports. Each is a mix of inspiring anecdotes, science, and ideas about ways to work on your mental game. They’re good reads for those who want to push the limits and see how others have approached mastering the psychology of mind over muscle.


As I focused on exercising my mental muscle last week, here’s what my schedule looked like:

Monday: Swim 30 minutes (recovery swim after Sunday’s tri, working on technique), Strength
Tuesday: Run 1 hour 15 minutes with 5 x 5 minutes intervals in the middle
Wednesday: Bike 3 hours (hills with Matt)
Thursday: Swim 4250y with a 1000TT
Friday: Run 2 hours
Saturday: Swim 2500m  (Palm Springs)
Sunday: Bike 3 hours, Run 1 hour (Palm Springs)

Here are a few snaps from the week:

I loved seeing the remnants of the transition area from last weekend’s tri as I cruised through the East Beach parking lot during Tuesday’s run.

I know I’ve shared this before, but when I need a mental boost, I head to my workout wall to remind myself of all the work I’ve put in so far. This time it was also a good place to elevate my grumpy calves.

Then it was back to the incline board to stretch these buggers. And yes, I need a pedicure!

And then of course, more foam rolling. My Zensah compression sleeves helped too.
Thursday was a gorgeous day to do a time trial and a long swim! I was happy my rib/back felt okay as swimming relies heavily on those intercostal muscles.

Friday I completed my longest run to date–2 hours–12.2 miles, with one minute walking breaks every mile to simulate walking through the aid stations on the IMAZ course. I chose to run down in Carpinteria as that’s where I’ll be doing an Olympic distance tri (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run) at the end of September. It was a gorgeous day, and even though I felt rushed, squeezing in this run between morning errands/appointments and picking our daughter up from school, it was awesome.

Matt suggested I run in what I’ll be wearing on race day, my Smile Train Team Empower tri kit, and consciously focus on the nutrition and hydration aspects of the run as if it were race day. Also, no music! I love my tunes when I run so this was good toughness training for me. The reason behind it is that music isn’t allowed on the course during the race. I also ran in the heat of the day to get my body more and more ready for AZ temperatures. And you know what? I felt good. One small step closer. 🙂

Labor Day weekend we loaded up my bike and all my training gear, along with our giant dog, and my very patient family, and we headed to Palm Springs to visit Jeffrey’s parents. Not only was it great to spend time with his parents, but it also provided a good opportunity to train in the heat and also continue working on my mental game.

Our car thermometer read 104 degrees when we arrived–hot, but not too bad. It was 122 last time we were there so this seemed tolerable.

I had a swim on the schedule for the day so I sneaked away in the late afternoon and headed to the public pool, a wonderful facility which, much to my surprise, is hardly ever crowded. My in-laws had a hard time comprehending why I couldn’t just swim in their kidney-shaped pool in the back yard, but when I told them it would take a bizillion laps, it suddenly made sense.

For this swim, once again, I worked on my mental game. First of all, I nix’ed my music, which is huge, as I lean on it to distract me from the monotony and discomfort of the sport I’m still trying to fall in love with deeply. It was just me and my breath, continually focusing on staying tuned into my form and trying to relax and get in the groove. After a 500m warm-up, I did 2 x 1000m, and was happy that my time was not that far off from my time trial a few days earlier when I was really pushing it and also using a pull buoy. It wasn’t a super long workout, but it was a good one, and one I felt satisfied with without having to abandon my family for too long.
The next day, it was time for a brick workout–a 3-hour bike ride with a run immediately off the bike. This was another perfect opportunity to work on mental toughness as I had little sleep and it was already 87 degrees at 8:00am. The wind was also picking up.

I was looking forward to tackling some wind and heat training, but I have to admit, this wind thing rattled me. Literally.

As I headed out toward the windmills, desert grit pelted my sweaty, sunscreen-y skin. Hunkering down on my aerobars, I tried to imagine slicing through the wind like an arrow, and when a gust pummeled me from the side, I used my core and leaned into it, holding on with a white knuckle death grip. On several occasions I nearly got blown over.
I kept telling myself, “You got this, hang tough,” as I powered on, but I also knew I couldn’t afford to be stupid. If the wind caused me to veer into the car lane, which was way too close for comfort, I’d be toast. Being safe, I eventually looped around in a different direction, snapping this picture on the way. My sideways ponytail says it all. Hopefully it won’t be like this in Arizona on race day! If it is though, I know I will get through it.
Surprisingly, this ride went by really fast, reminding me that our bodies and minds really do adapt. Not long ago, 3 hours felt impossibly long. Now it just feels normal.
Afterward I was scheduled to do a 30 minute run right off my bike, but somehow my running shoes, which were sitting right by the door when I left, got placed in our car, which my family took to do an outing while I was riding. Needless to say, this did not make me happy as brick workouts are crucial to training so your body adapts to the feeling of running right after you get off the bike.

The good news though, is that because I had to wait a couple hours for them to return, it got even hotter so I could practice running in the heat.
And even better is that since I couldn’t complete my brick, I ran twice as long to make up for it. Happiness is feeling strong running 6.2 miles in 90+ degree heat with negative splits. It’s the little things. 🙂

Now as I head into Week 36 of Ironman training, I will continue to focus on discipline and mental toughness training along with all the physical aspects of training. It will be especially important as I take part in the Ventura Century this Saturday, a 103 mile ride with 5226 ft of elevation–a perfect way to kick my training into a higher gear. And of course, there will be a run after that ride to simulate what it will feel like to run a marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and riding 112 miles in AZ. Practice. Practice. Practice. Only 75 days to go!

Hugs to all of you and many thanks again for being such phenomenal supporters!


PS: As always, if you missed any of my previous posts about Ironman training, you can click on the links below:

Kicking off My Journey to Ironman Arizona
Week One of Ironman Training: Believe
Week Two of Ironman Training: The Power of Friends
Week Three of Ironman Training: I Think I Can
Week Four of Ironman Training: Progress
Week Five of Ironman Training: Wind at my Back (and Front) and Peeps by My Side
Week Six of Ironman Training: Baking a Cake
Week Seven of Ironman Training: Courage
Week Eight of Ironman Training: It’s All About the Base
OMG, You did WHAT?! (AKA Sleep Deprivation + Training = Embarrassing Moments)
Week Nine of Ironman Training: Growing Pains
Week Ten of Ironman Training: Trust
Week Eleven of Ironman Training: Speedbumps and Breakthroughs
Week Twelve of Ironman Training: A Bundle of Sticks Can’t Be Broken
Week Thirteen of Ironman Training: Spring!

Week Fourteen of Ironman Training: Rollercoaster
Week 15 and 16 of Ironman Training: Staying Happy and Healthy

Week 17 and 18 Ironman Training: Inspiration and Purple Rain
Weeks 19 through 21 of Ironman Training: Transitions

Week 22 and 23 of Ironman Training: Holy Epicness…Julie Moss
Week 24 of Ironman Training: Consistency is the Key
Week 25 of Ironman Training: Embracing New Challenges
Week 26 of Ironman Training: Hills, They’re What’s for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
Week 27 of Ironman Training: Taking This Show on the Road (Tri-cation!)
Week 27 of Ironman Training: High Altitude Tri-cation
Week 27 of Ironman Training: High Altitude Fun Continues
Week 28 of Ironman Training: Rocky Mountain High
Week 28 of Ironman Training: Finishing Aspen Strong
Week 29 and 30 of Ironman Training: Rollercoasters, Crazies, and Comebacks
Week 31 or Ironman Training: New Heights
Week 32: 100 Days to Go
Week 33: The Art of Recovery and Balance
Week 34: The Magic of Firsts