How is it possible to manage a commitment to training with an unpredictable travel schedule for work and a busy family life? Matt Fisher has twice qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships under exactly these circumstances so we asked Matt for some top tips.
“Make no mistake; at age 41 I have no illusions that I’m ever going to be an elite athlete.
Instead, my goal is to be the best amateur triathlete that I can be while accepting that it is just one facet of a life that sees me prioritize on my responsibilities as a husband, father and a senior manager of a growing software company.
So for me, ‘squeezing it all in’ is a constant challenge. I’m not alone, a growing number of us MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra – I’m not sure what the female equivalent is?!) still harbour a strong drive to become better at our chosen sports, defying the ageing process and making the most of what time we might have available for training.
As someone that seems to spend an inordinate amount of time on planes, in hotels and visiting foreign cities (not nearly as glamorous as it sounds, I promise!), I thought I might share a few tips that have worked for me and helped me to qualify twice for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships – as well as manage to keep the rest of my life together somewhat.
Flexibility – Many coaches and training gurus will repeat the mantra “consistency is king”. There’s no shortage of evidence to support the theory. But for many of us, our working and family lives are the arch-enemy of consistency. I often don’t know more than a week in advance where in the world I’ll be or what I’ll be doing. And so for me, being flexible is not an option, it’s mandatory.
What I try to do is look at the week ahead (usually on a Sunday evening) and only then will I try to plan out the training for the week, usually fitting in my swim training when I’m working from home (or at least based at home in the UK). Likewise, I will try to plain my key sessions on the bike for when I’m in the UK and either have access to my road bikes or the Wattbike.
If I have to, I’ll try to use gym or spin bikes when I’m abroad, but will focus on aerobic workouts rather than ones where really I need to be measuring power. So that leaves running as my main training activity when I’m away. Let’s face it, it doesn’t take much space to throw a pair of trainers and run kit into a carry-on bag. And running in new cities can be fun – just try not to get lost! I also tend to do the bulk of my strength and conditioning workouts while I’m overseas.
So by looking at your travel, work and family commitments at the start of each week, you can at least try to plan your training so that you fit the training in as best you can, remembering not to load up too many similar heavy sessions too close to each other.
Getting your fueling right – I’m sure I’m not alone in having a tendency to put work and family commitments ahead of eating properly. For someone trying to be a half-decent athlete, however, that’s putting you on a hiding to nothing. We need calories to fuel the harder sessions and the volume of training we need to get in.
While there’s no substitute for good clean healthy eating, for those of us that live in the real world (and don’t have personal chefs!), using nutrition such as protein shakes is a convenient second-best. Taking some Elivar Prepare mid-morning ensures that while I might have done a fasted training session first thing, I’ve got something in the tank for any lunchtime sessions (which for me are usually a swim if I’m at home, or a run if I can fit it in abroad).
Likewise, refueling with a protein shake like Elivar Recover straight after a session will have the double benefit of ensuring muscle repair as well as giving you the energy to work through till supper!
Some nutritionists and coaches will say that protein recovery shakes should only be taken after hard sessions that really tax the muscular system. I disagree. There’s a growing body of research to suggest that taking protein after any type of workout is beneficial. However, like anything to do with nutrition, you just need to factor the calories into your daily intakes and not over-do it by thinking you need both a protein shake and a full lunch after a 45 minute swim.
Don’t neglect to rest – This perhaps sounds a bit nuts, but even if you’re only training six or seven hours a week, you still need to think about the need for rest. Let’s say for example that you’re away for three days and you think ‘great, I can work out like a demon for three mornings and three nights!’. Stop a second and think. We all know that the improvements come when we push the body hard and then give it a period to adapt. Loading three days of double-hard sessions isn’t giving the body a chance! For me, when I’m away I’ll try to do one or two ‘key’ sessions (the ones where I push myself) and then ensure that any other workouts are either specific recovery sessions or at least taxing a different muscle group.
Remember the big picture – Despite what I said at the top of this blog, I do have to remind myself sometime that I’m an amateur triathlete and I do it because it’s meant to be fun! Sometimes life just gets in the way and the quicker you are to accept that, the less stressed you’ll be and the more you’ll enjoy your chosen sport. After all, I quite like my life as a marketing director – I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t earn the same money as a triathlon pro!!!
So there’s some advice that I hope is useful to weekend warriors like me. Make no mistake that I have to remind myself of the points above on a regular basis. It really is difficult to combine the desire to be as competitive as you possibly can while fulfilling your obligations at home and work. But by following the guidelines above, you will continue to improve your sporting abilities without having to resort to the mid-life crisis of jacking in the day job and living on a triathlon or cycling camp for a year (as nice as that would be!).”
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