I have one of those “want it all” type personalities. The word "can't" doesn't really exist in my vocabulary, thus I don't particularly adhere to the saying “you can’t have your cake it eat it too." Ok, so what does that proverb actually mean? According to my online research, its meaning is similar to saying “you can’t have the best of both worlds.” Meaning, it’s difficult to do or get two things at the same time, especially two things that seem “incompatible.” Sort of like saying you can't eat healthy and enjoy what you're eating, but I prefer to argue otherwise.
The reason behind my thinking about this is of course related to my training. I have some lofty goals ahead of me that will require a LOT of hard work, sacrifice and discipline. But what about having fun? Does my dedication to such goals mean my training will become all work and no play? I'm sure it could, but it doesn’t have to be!
Last year I saw a fairly significant increase in volume and intensity in my training. I was prepared mentally and physically to work my butt off, and that I most certainly did. One of my concerns was not in whether I would be able to keep up – I knew I’d figure that part out – but in whether I would lose that spark of fun and excitement along the way. I’ve heard a lot of people say that Ironman training is like a second job and in many ways can agree. It does require a fair amount of time commitment, but within that time I’ve maintained a commitment to myself to have fun with it. I don’t get paid to do any of this. In fact, I pay a good amount of money (WELL SPENT) to get my butt kicked day in and day out! That being said, the one thing that pleasantly surprised me about my training last year is that I feel I was successful in achieving my goal to “work harder AND have fun” Or in the words of my coach, “kick more butt, smile more while doing it!” Yes, I wanted the best of both worlds and learned that it is in fact possible.
The question becomes, how? How do you have your cake and eat it too? I think it boils down to perspective, attitude, training smart and knowing when to push and when to back off.
Perspective - this was key in that I came to accept that not every workout can or will be perfect. Dropping that expectation helped me to be more realistic in workout outcomes and relaxed regarding the process. I learned to focus on what I was doing right rather than what didn't go so well. Building fitness is the matter of consistency in training over time, and one workout is not going to make or break me in regards to race day preparation. On a related note, I thankfully figured out early on in the season that I simply could NOT afford to waste time or energy entertaining negative or doubtful thoughts, or in beating myself up over training.
Attitude - this was a matter of making the most of things: the good, the bad, the ugly, some days because I had no choice otherwise. The show must go on! It certainly helps that I thrive off of challenge, meaning the harder things got the happier I was, but still there were many moments that I had to give myself an “attitude check” and that truly turned around quite a few workouts and races.
Training smart - because I was working so hard on some days, I learned to adopt a more relaxed approach toward my easy days and aimed to have more fun with them. Every workout counts, but every workout doesn’t have to require laser focus and a hard effort to be beneficial. I learned how to prioritize my physical and mental energy for when it really mattered and had fun otherwise. Easy days are not just an opportunity to put in additional miles, loosen up the legs, etc, but also to continuously rekindle that love for the sport.
The year ahead looks to be very similar to last year: more volume with plenty of higher intensity sprinkled throughout. I still have some big goals to chase, and yet this year I decided to not set any time-based racing goals (minus one :) Maybe that will come closer to race day, but for now I want to focus on enjoying the process, putting in the work and simply setting myself up for success later on down the road. My priorities are to continue to “work my butt off and have fun doing it,” to put in the miles and smile more while doing it, and to make the most of the journey while remaining open in regards to where it takes me.
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and endurance athlete residing in southwest Virginia alongside her husband and dog. Through this blog she aims to share favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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