It takes a lot to complete an Ironman Triathlon. You can expend around 10,000 Calories whilst undertaking the 3.8km Swim, 180km bike ride and the 42km marathon. Some describe it as one of the hardest one day events in the world. I recently completed the Wales Ironman 2017 in Tenby which has been rated as one of the toughest Ironman events on the calendar (although I didn’t know this until after I had signed up!). My training started with just over a year before the event so to achieve my goal of becoming an Ironman I had to pull upon all the resources I had. Including being an Occupational Therapist. So how did Occupational Therapy (OT) help?
1. Information gathering. The big goal was set and I needed to find out what was involved with completing an Ironman, I needed to become an Ironman sponge. I gathered information from online, from my fantastic JEMS Physiotherapist on movement, listening to invaluable podcasts such as the “Kona Edge” and the Tim Ferriss Show and from joining my local triathlon club and spending time with the Ironman triathletes there. This process is continuous throughout the entire journey.
2. Self awareness and Grading. It was all well and good collecting this information but just as important was how applicable it was in relation to my current level of ability, time, and other resources I had available. I needed to find a suitable starting point that would allow me to progress quickly without it being too advanced and difficult and being discouraged.
3. Motivation. Now I was aware what it takes in order to complete an Ironman and have decided what my training will consist of and how it will progress, I have to ensure that I stick to this program religiously to ensure I get to a suitable level within my relatively small time frame.
4. Sub goals. I set smaller sub goals strategically around the calendar which gave me a target to work towards and to ensure I kept myself accountable. These smaller sub goals, included club triathlons, bike sportives and personal training challenges, often progressing in difficulty. Once completed they gave me an overwhelming enhancement in confidence.
5. Values. Knowing your values can be an extremely powerful tool in ensuring that you maintain focus and motivation. Knowing your values is the foundation to creating the person you want to be. If we don’t know what we value in life we are at risk of being motivated by external factors. This can be extremely distracting. Whereas when we know what it is we value, our motivation can be focused on that, helping us to be the person we want to become, not what someone or some other external factor may want us to be. It enables you to find your Why.
6. Forming Useful habits. “We are what we repeatedly do” (Aristotle) and along side feeling motivated to engage in my training it was essential as someone with a full time job that it practically became part of my life without causing major disruption to other areas. I made it part of my role and identity to be training for an Ironman, saying it out loud and sharing the idea, I made it so people would ask me how my training was going and what my next training session was - I created ownership and accountability. The aim is to always maintain quality in all aspects of life in order to not create dissonance between them and the training. It can be incredibly distracting observing that other areas of your life are suffering.
7. Routine Change. I structured my ironman training into my daily routine, I exchanged aspects of my life which were not in line with my Ironman Values such as spending too long watching TV or being on social media after work for my training sessions. However, I was getting something out of TV and social media, so in order not to feel deprived and resentful I moved that routine/reward to a part of my training. On my indoor bike sessions I would watch videos on Youtube and on my runs I would listen to podcasts and audiobooks.
8. Know your rewards through your values. I am someone who strongly values growth and I could use this to enhance my motivation and create beneficial habits. I found some of the training apps such as Strava, Training Peaks and Zwift incredibly beneficial for this as it would give me either live data showing how I am working or a summary of my training and offer comparisons to other sessions. This was a big dopamine hit for me!
9. Environment. In order to achieve my potential I had to ensure that my environment reflected this. I made my home a healthy space, my home reflected my identity. I signed up to receive emails from triathlon blogs and websites, I followed triathlon accounts on twitter and instagram. I spent time with people who were also training for triathlons and were interested in training.
I am happy to say that on the 10th of September 2017 I completed Ironman Wales. It was brutally hard and beautiful all at the same time. I truly believe that without knowing who we are, what our values are and without the ability to cultivate positive habits, we cannot maximise our potential in life. In this example it was meeting the significant demands of training for and completing an Ironman Triathlon, but it doesn’t matter what it is you want out of life, Occupational Therapy has the potential to help you be the person you want to be.
Tom Cowdale - Occupational Therapist, Ironman.