Swim, Bike, Run Europe: Leaving The Comfort Zone

Will Kelsay and Jennifer Fredrickson shares their tips for overcoming obstacles and learning to break out of a comfort zone.

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Professional triathlete Will Kelsay and his partner Jennifer Fredrickson will be traveling around Europe competing in XTERRA races for 20 weeks, and they’re sharing their journey with Triathlete.com. In addition to chronicling their adventures, they hope to inspire age-groupers to take on new challenges.

Hola! This is Jennifer writing to you from Cartagena, Spain. We are here on the warm Mediterranean coast preparing for XTERRA Spain, the first off-road triathlon of our summer tour. So far, Will and I have traveled through six countries in just over 30 days in our campervan. With so much driving and relocating, we haven’t pushed ourselves hard enough to swim, bike or run as much as we’d like. We’ve had many unforeseen challenges: cold weather, lack of accommodations, steep terrain, lack of time, just being flat-out exhausted, etc. When the conditions haven’t been ideal and comfortable, we’ve made excuses to skip our workouts. But, in triathlon you can’t miss or slack on training if you want to be competitive at any level. Whether traveling across Europe or juggling busy schedules at home, consistent training is required regardless of the circumstances. We know that we will endure, but it’s going to take a valiant effort to break out of our “comfort zone.” We have a theory that we’re not alone in this struggle; breaking out of the “comfort zone” is a requirement to be a successful competitor. Those who are willing to be uncomfortable are usually the best athletes. We’ve come up with some tips to help make being uncomfortable a bit more comfortable. We’ll be following these tips this summer and hope they help you too.

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Comfort Zone

Leaving your comfort zone is unpleasant, it may feel like a risk, it may cause anxiety and stress, and it may require making difficult sacrifices. (Of course, we don’t mean that you should go too hard all the time, hurt yourself or push through an injury! Be smart and listen to your body.)

Our theory is that one’s athletic success is directly correlated with one’s ability to pursue and endure discomfort. Those who are willing to be less “comfortable” are usually the better athletes. In fact, most top competitive athletes regularly participate in workouts designed to get them “comfortable with feeling uncomfortable,” so they are ready to chase down their toughest competitors on race day.

This may be very basic and common sense, but an important, more complex, question arises: “How do you get comfortable with being uncomfortable?” We’ve come up with a list of tips/reminders that apply to newbies, age-groupers and professionals alike. As an amateur, these are things I’ve learned as “ah-ha” revelations. For Will, these are things he already knows, but must constantly overcome when competing against the best triathletes in the world. We will be putting these tips into action over the coming months and we hope you will too:

  • Commit to your training regardless of the circumstances. It may sound harsh, but suck it up and accept that conditions are rarely prefect, but if you do it anyway, you will probably have a great time. Regardless of the weather and your mood, as long as it’s safe and you are healthy, get your workout done to the best of your ability. You won’t regret it and more likely, you will feel re-energized and good about yourself for getting it done. Some of the most memorable, fun workouts happen when you’re feeling too sad, mad or very tired; in the pouring down rain, snow, wind or on the hottest days.
  • Expect to be uncomfortable, and embrace it. While it’s human nature to avoid feeling bad, accept that you can’t avoid some of the pain that comes with exercise. As the saying goes: no pain, no gain. If you’re going into your workouts expecting to feel good all the time, you’re in the wrong sport. If it’s not hurting a little bit, you’re not doing it right. Physical and mental conditioning (a practice of hanging on when things get really uncomfortable) are required to be a strong competitor. Embrace being uncomfortable so that you don’t intentionally or inadvertently avoid these character building experiences. You may learn to love the sufferfest or become addicted to it, like many are with ultra runs and Ironman races.
  • Trick and treat yourself. When you’re not feeling like sweating and your mind/body are convinced that you’re better off avoiding a sufferfest, play tricks on yourself and treat yourself with a reward to create positive reinforcement conditioning. First, you can try just putting your workout clothes on, just to see how it feels. Then you can try stepping outside. Then you can try just getting around the block. These little steps can get you past the dread of an overwhelming workout. All the while, you can come up with a way to treat yourself when you finish. Personally, I like to treat myself with my favorite dessert or wine, or a shopping trip. Speaking of shopping, splurging on clothes that you feel confident and good looking in may give you an extra mental boost too!
  • Invest in the proper gear. This sounds obvious, but it’s essential to invest in the best gear that allows you to workout in bad weather conditions, is reliable, doesn’t leave you stressing, and allows you to get the most out of each workout. If you’re like me, spending money on an expensive bike or triathlon gear can be hard—it pushes me past my comfort zone to spend $100 on a jacket or cycling shorts. But, nearly every time I’ve invested in better gear, I’m glad that I did—and I’m disappointed that I waited so long! It’s not just about gear either; it’s important to invest in things like massages and a physical therapist for injury prevention. When you feel good all over, you’re more likely to be happy during your workout and get it done. Our recommendations: Shop online for the best gear at TriSports.com. Invest in the best hydration bottles and vests from Nathan Sports. Rock out during your ride with rugged, portable speakers from Outdoor Tech. Run in a natural zero-drop position and give our toes room to move in Altra Running Shoes.
  • Invest in a coach. It’s a good idea to invest in a local or virtual coach who will hold you accountable. Having someone who is watching or checking in can be a real motivator for when you are struggling. A coach can also provide invaluable services: guidance and motivation, a structured training plan, the latest and greatest techniques, be a sounding board and answer your questions. Often times, going at it alone can limit your success.
  • Have a strategic plan. It’s important to have a strategy, rather than just winging your training, nutrition and races. If you just wing it, it’s easy to flounder and make excuses to miss workouts. Develop a year-long training plan that allows you to peak for your top races. Have a strategy for during your race that you practice before hand and execute during your race. Include nutrition and hydration plans to ensure you’re maximizing your body’s potential. Knowing what to do going into a situation helps you to handle the unexpected with less disruptions.
  • REALLY stick to a nutrition and hydration plan. One of the first tip-offs that you aren’t getting the right amount of calories or you’re dehydrated is feeling grouchy, not having fun and wanting to quit. Having the right nutrition and hydration are important to getting your workout started and completed, and are key to a successful race. So, be smart about nutrition and hydration by doing research to understand the types of foods, vitamins/minerals and calories you need, and in the proper amounts. Meet with a nutritionist and tune into your body. Keep a food diary. Develop a plan for training days and for during your race. Find a plan that works for you, experiment with different products, practice it and know how to implement it under less than ideal circumstances. Our recommendations: Try Skratch Labs for the best tasting all-natural hydration mixes and Breeze Bars all-natural, GF bars made to keep you full, and provide sustaining clean energy for your longest rides and runs. Being prepared will help alleviate the discomfort of poor nutrition.
  • Be smart. Knowledge is power, so empower yourself by learning as much as possible to be as successful as possible in any situation. Visit clubs and stores in your area, learn the best/safest routes, have an exit plan in emergency situations, and keep up with the latest research and best gear. Read articles and blogs. Participate in clinics. Learn how to prevent and manage problems before they happen. When things go wrong, which they will, you won’t have to panic or end your workout early because you’ll have the knowledge and confidence to carry on.
  • Seek out experts and fellow competitors to help you. Tough times are inevitable, so have tools at the ready to help battle the negative thoughts and lulls. Join a team or training group to connect with others who will provide excitement, fun and variety, and maybe even a little competitive spirit. Ask others what they do when they can’t get things to work right. How do they fit it all in? How to they stick to a plan? Others can provide a wealth of knowledge and also be a healthy, understanding support system when you need it. You’d be surprised how even the strongest individual can really use a boost every once and a while to push through.
  • Learn how to manage your time. It can be uncomfortable to fit everything in that you need to in just 24 hours, so be realistic and know what you are capable of accomplishing. Having a routine can help with this. Also realize that many of us are perfectionists, but you may have to be a little less perfect to get everything done. And finally, it helps to prioritize. Cut back on those time-sucking activities like televison, Facebook and bathing. Just kidding, please bathe.
  • Get creative at solving problems, and keep problem solving. You’re probably never ever going to have it all figured out. Instead, when you hit a wall, figure out a way around it, through it, over it and push on. When you fall down, get back up. There’s always going to be an obstacle and less than ideal circumstances to deal with, so getting good at problem solving will help you maximize your athletic potential.

We hope these tips are helpful! Please follow our weekly blogs here every Wednesday for the next 15 weeks. Also, please check out our friends and wonderful sponsors who have outfitted us with the best gear, nutrition and support to keep us comfortable throughout our trip: Nathan Sports, TriSports.com, Outdoor Tech, Skratch Labs, Breeze Bars, Rudy Project, Altra Running Shoes, Champion System, Reflect Sports, and minuteKEY.

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