Just breathe: Why meditation is a must for all of us, especially athletes.

“Recently, I  had the privilege of spending a week at the active paradise of Thanyapura Health and Sports Resort in Phuket, Thailand. It was an amazing immersion in mind and body fitness, including yoga, meditation, triathlon training and more.

My biggest takeaway from the week was how essential meditation and yoga are to optimal mind body health and fitness. (Yoga post to follow.)  I know what many of you hard core endurance athletes are thinking, something along the lines of “Here we go again with that new age mumbo jumbo.” And before my time at Thanyapura, I’d be right there rolling my eyes with you.

What changed?  I encountered and practiced with the mind training meditation guru, Pierre at Thanyapura.  Pierre has a knack for explaining the practice of meditation in a practical way that speaks to athletes and he guides his sessions like training sessions.  This isn’t ethereal stuff, though with dedicated practice, you might find yourself transcending previous limitations, setting new PRs and levitating to new heights. Ok, maybe not the last one (unless you’re a pole vaulter), was just checking to see if you’re still paying attention.

 

20170505_144535

Mind Trainer, Meditation Coach Pierre

 

Without further ado, here’s what I learned about meditation from Coach Pierre:

Meditate on this

  • Meditation is a physical activity. Meditation is anchored in the breath. It doesn’t get more physical than breathing, does it? (Yeah, I hadn’t thought of that before either.)
  • It’s all about being engaged and in the moment. You focus on your immediate experience vs. the ongoing (often negative ) internal narrative. Most physical pain from exertion (not injury)  passes. Once we attach emotional thoughts to physical pain as is the tendency with unfocused thinking, it becomes much more difficult to endure. Also happiness is something that happens only when we are truly engaged in the moment and your senses. Meditation helps us be in the moment more and to be more engaged during and after meditation. Meditation can bring more happiness into your life.
  • Meditation can improve our athletic performance. Unguided thoughts are random and prone to negative spiral, which can sabotage your daily life and your race performance. Ever been in the middle of a triathlon  and felt like giving up? Were you in the moment,  or were you in random thought mode after your rival passed you on the bike? Meditation helps us practice being focused, which keeps us performing well and transcending pain and exertion throughout the race.
  • Just breathe and relaxation will follow. Deep exhalations stimulate the body’s relaxation response. It’s like taking a valium, except it’s good for you. Conversely, if your muscles and body are tense, your mind will look for a reason to be upset and keep you focused on it.
  • Meditation can be undertaken like interval training. (5 minutes intense focus, 5 minutes relaxed focus.) Start with bite size pieces of meditation and soon you’ll be increasing them with ease.
  • Master your mind with meditation. Our mind can be our biggest saboteur, now you’re in control. Now, go, fight, win!

In case you can’t tell, I’m a total convert now. What’s your perspective of meditation? How has it enhanced your life or your sport?

 

Roll out of your exercise rut: 10 tips to change it up for better results

Are you doing the same exercise routine day in and day out? Most likely you’re bored and not getting the results you hoped for. Guess what? Your muscles are bored too- they’ve already adapted to the activity and are at ho hum status quo. Chances are you’ve hit a plateau and your progress has halted.

You have to change it up to get the results you want and to stay committed. The great thing about triathlon is cross training is built in (swim, bike, run), but even triathletes can get in a rut. The solution? Change it up. If you’re not feeling it, forcing yourself into a prescribed workout is not always the answer and can lead to burnout. Substituting a fun activity that you don’t do often is one way to combat exercise ennui.

This weekend, instead of another bike ride, I laced up my roller blades (remember those things?) and rolled out the door. It was quite refreshing and is a great, low impact leg workout that targets different muscles than biking or running.

 

10 Tips to change it up for better results

  • Change your route regularly. If you run / bike on roads, hit the trails. At the beach? Run barefoot in the thick sand.
  • Boost your intensity / speed.  Add interval training, track workouts or hills.
  • Increase your load in the gym.  Add weight so that you can just barely do  3 sets of 8 until you’re able to do 3 sets of 12, then up it again. (And no, ladies, you won’t get too big – that takes a ton more work.)
  • Alternate exercises. Doing the exact same routine every day may make it easy to go through the motions, but unfortunately that’s all your muscles will be doing too.  And you’ll be sacrificing results and possibly inviting injury. Switch out bench presses for chest flys with dumbells, etc..
  • Include strength & core training. It will enhance everything you do and help protect you from injury. Not to mention the vanity dividends.
  • Get outside. A good dose of Vitamin D, fresh air and scenery will do wonders for your energy level and your spirit.
  • Do yoga. Your body will thank you.
  • Try something entirely different – SUP, surfing, skiing, snowboarding, wake boarding, rollerblading, soccer, softball, tennis, dancing,  limitless options.
  • Make exercise time your fun time. What physical activity makes you smile? Starts with S? I meant skipping rope, but yes, of course the other too!
  • Cultivate a handful of activity partners so you always have a playmate for different activities.

 

What do you do to roll out if your exercise ruts?

Got your race results? Athlinks does.

Having trouble keeping track of your race results? Creating spreads sheet to microanalyze your times from race to race and compare them to your closest rivals? If you compete and want to make progress, you need to hone on the details. What seems like minutia may be the key to unlocking your next PR. This is especially true when it comes to triathlons, duathlons, aquabikes,  and the like because there are so many aspects that come into play. Yes, the swim, bike, and run, but also those pesky transitions. Races have been won and lost due to transition efficiency / inefficiency as I mentioned in my Tips for Conquering the 70.3 /Half Iron post. Trust me, it stinks to miss the podium or your PR due a slack transition. Stay tuned for a tips on transitions post.

The good news is that there’s a website called Athlinks that makes it easy to “geek out” on your results and  unveil your best opportunities for improvement. Athlinks is a comprehensive database of endurance race results worldwide. If you’ve raced, your results are visible there – go check them out. Here’s what it looks like:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(And yes, the transition for my race looks super long, but a full iron was going in as well so it was super convoluted and protracted. The important / telling thing is that my transition was still “winning” comparatively speaking.

You can view your race results without joining Athlinks if you like, but joining is free and fun. Once you do, you can get a a complete (macro & micro) view of your race history, see how you rank,  calendar future events, follow your friends, stalk (figuratively speaking) your rivals, keep a training log, etc. Whether you’re racing for the podium or just for the sport of it, Athlinks is a great resource. And no, no one’s paying me to say so.

What’s your biggest opportunity for improvement? Got questions? Send ’em.

 

NC: Lake Logan Multisport Weekend

20160805_154149Located about 30 miles West of Asheville, NC, the Lake Logan Multisport Festival has something for everyone in an incredibly scenic venue. We made a family affair of it. My sister and boyfriend signed up for the 1/2 iron distance triathlon (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). I did the 1/2 iron distance swim and bike minus the run (the aquabike, designed for people who can’t run any longer, or just don’t like to). I’m the former. After a 30 some year passionate affair with running, I’ve literally “run” out of cartilage in my knee, making running extremely painful. My brother-in-law was on Daddy duty Saturday so he did the international distance (1500m swim, 24 mile bike, 10K run)  on Sunday. There’s also a sprint (500m swim, 12 mile bike, 5K run). So whether you want to go big or just jump in with a sprint, you have all the options.

The lake is lovely though there’s not much visibility. It’s always a relief not having to worry about big surf, or sharks for that matter. The bike course is gorgeous, rolling through bucolic countryside – my boyfriend said it is more hilly than rolling. It definitely works those gams. There’s very few cars on the road – it’s absolutely dreamy. The race is well organized. I definitely recommend it.

Lake Logan  1/2 iron  Triathlon / Aquabike Rating

 Difficulty: 2.5 out of 5            Scenery: 4 out of 5              Competitive field: 4 out of 5

We rented a cabin and made a weekend vacation out of it. Fun times!