I was asked by an old friend the other day how in the world do I still find the time to train for and compete in Ironman races. I’ve become so used to my routine that it feels like I have plenty of time, but then I realize my schedule is likely difficult for most people to fathom. For those who do not know by now, I work as a Radiation Oncologist at the University of Kentucky – which means my job requires essentially 3 roles: (1) I treat women and children with cancer, I have typically 20-25 patients per day under treatment, and I perform procedures and run a clinic 5 days per week; (2) I assist in resident and medical student education (ongoing all the time – there’s a lot of lectures and impromptu teaching performed), and I am the associate residency program director; and (3) I am a researcher – I’ve published 5 articles in the past year, created a clinical trial that is about to open, I currently have a grant to support my research, I am chair of the audit committee and vice chair of the data safety and monitoring committee for the cancer center, and I serve on the national Gynecologic Oncology Group radiation committee. For the past 4 years, I have also worked part-time in a narcotic addiction clinic because I find it fun. I work usually between 60-70 hours per week. My wife is also a physician who races in triathlons. And then we have 2 boys, ages 4 and 6. They are currently both swimming, and are very very active boys. Still, somehow I am able to create about 10 hours per week to get my workouts in. My ability to make this happen requires several different attributes:
I am lucky in that my wife does these races as well. She understands why training and running is important to me, and the two of us work together in order to each find time to get our workouts completed. We each have negotiated mornings or evenings where the other will handle the child duty so the other can have some personal time. In addition, some people probably think my wife and I are crazy since we don’t get babysitters to go to movies or out to dinner. We get babysitters to go ride our bikes together, and early in morning at that.
Pick up any book related to training and/or coaching for endurance sports and consistency is one of the most commonly taught concepts. Each week, I have specific opportunities that I have to take advantage of. Pretty much the only opportunities I have to swim are Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Sunday mornings. If I do not make those times, then I don’t swim. I literally make a schedule and try no matter how tired or worn out I am to make those practices – although every now and then I give in to myself and go to bed early or sleep in. Either way, most weeks I do the same or similar workouts at the same time and on the same schedule.
For the most part, all of my workouts occur either before 6am or after 8pm, with exception to the weekends, in which case I am frequently heading out the door at 6 or before in order to be finished within a reasonable time frame so that I can spend as much of the day with my kids. During the week days, if I don’t get up at 4:30 or 4:45 to get my workout started, then I’m not going to get a chance later in the day. So I have to wake up and get going. I also prefer to do my long runs early in the morning. It may sound crazy, but I’ve done many 20 milers where I am done before 6am, and at work by 6:45. Along the lines of getting up early..I am also blessed with the ability to function highly without sleep!
Most coaches teach athletes that 80% of the weekly training should be done at an easy pace, with only 20% being performed at or above the level of intensity planned for the race. I can’t do that. The average Ironman athlete trains 20+ hours per week whereas I often train half of that amount. I train more like 60% at race day intensities and 40% easy, and a lot of that comes at the expense of shortening my workouts based on time constraints. I may have planned a 60 minute run, but when it comes down to it I may only have 30 minutes. So, I crank up the intensity to make my 30 minutes count. The main drawback in this approach is I am more prone to injuries and I have had my fair share of overtraining injuries and at the end of an ironman race, I don’t have the stamina that I could otherwise have, but this is the only way I can make my relatively low training volume work.
Due to my time constraints, I have to make do with whatever time I have available. I have generated some personalized workouts that allow me to be completely finished including showered and dressed in under an hour, so that if by some chance I have patients that do not show up, I can run to the university rec center and do a quick treadmill run (which means I always keep a set of run clothes and shoes in my office). Similarly, if I don’t have time, I frequently run to the pool and back rather than driving to squeeze in some extra miles.
I am religious when it comes down to drinking Diet Mountain Dew. Caffeine is the only scientifically proven performance enhancing drug that is legal according to all USADA and UCI rules; it runs in my veins, and on a typical day, I pee nuclear yellow. One of my race day quirks for the Ironman is that I always pack mountain dew and/or redbull in my special needs bags for the bike and the run. I’ve gone as far as freezing the bottles the night before, hoping for a cold beverage when I pick up my bag. Unfortunately, it never works so they’re always hot after sitting in the sun all day. In Louisville last year, the bottle actually popped open in my transition bag and all of my stuff – hat, shoes, socks were soaked in redbull. They were quickly replaced with sweat but at least I was able to smell the caffeinated goodness for the first few miles.
Get the Family Involved
Asher is finally old enough and has the physical prowess that he can ride his bike while I run. Although we do not do long runs, he likes to ride for ~30 min while I run, so I can sneek in a few workouts with him. He even did his first triathlon last year. Ande should be ready for this next summer as we are just on the cusp of breaking away from training wheels. Otherwise, I have previously made a name for myself for running with the stroller – Asher and I once ran a 1:17 half marathon in Louisville, I’ve pushed the double stroller in one of the hilliest half marathons I’ve ever done (fun…but never again), and Asher & Ande have both placed in the top 10 in many races. In addition, at least a few years ago, a close friend and training partner, John Thompson and I, would do weekly long runs sharing the stroller duty over 10-12 miles to a local bakery, and my wife would pick us up. The boys love going to races and cheering, and Asher was able to make the trip to Hawaii last year for the Ironman in Kona – he ran in the underpants run.
Not everyone has them, but I was blessed with some good genes. I grew up among football players and wrestlers. Although there were no long distance runners in my family, the athletic genes were definitely there, especially strength. I have an uncanny ability to bulk up and add muscle. I refuse to weight lift, and haven’t done so since high school, but if you’ve ever seen my calves…you’ll realize the muscle building capabilities are there
and so is my ability to remain lean, so I can forego many of the strength training and weight lifting components of training. And as it makes my wife cringe, for some reason, I stay the same weight whether I diet or eat everything in sight…lucky genes.
I have only done 5 Ironmans now, but the concept of high intensity training and periodization, tapering, etc. is old stuff for me. I don’t have a coach, and I have learned over the years what works best for me, and I stick to it. I am self motivated and I know how to get key training sessions in when I need to; and more importantly, I know when to shut it down and listen to my body.