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Endurance Athletes & Sleep

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Endurance Athletes & Sleep

For most athletes, our healthy daily lifestyles play just as big a role as our fitness training in determining our performance on race day. One of the lifestyle choices that dedicated athletes embrace is adopting good sleep habits.

Sleep is such an important factor in how we run. Studies have shown that for the endurance athlete, even minimal sleep deprivation can cause negatively impact our performance on race day. Even though sleep deprivation has little effect on physical strength, it is linked to grogginess, difficulty thinking, and agitation, which can crank up the difficulty on race day. How can you optimize your sleep hygiene to increase performance during your run, bike, or swim? Here are some tips that will help you fall into a sleepy groove.

1.     Repeat after me: Regularity

A regular sleep schedule is perhaps the most important component of good sleep hygiene that will promote a good race. This means, more specifically, waking up and going to bed at the same time each morning and night. Some marathoners travel long distances, or across time zones, to their race locations. To prepare for this, allow yourself a few days to gradually adjust your sleep schedule so you get the same amount of sleep each night and don’t suffer from jetlag on race day.

2.     Know Your Number: The Amount Counts!

The difference between 6 hours of sleep and 8 hours of sleep can be the difference between going home with the gold or with the bronze. The most widely accepted figure is 8 hours of sleep each night, but everybody has a different ideal. One way to know how much sleep you need is to catch up on your sleep over a few days: go to bed, and don’t set your alarm clock. Keep track of what time you go to sleep and what time you wake up. Generally, by the third or fourth day of this practice, you’ll have pushed the reset button on your sleep cycle, and you’ll know how much sleep you need.

3.     Cool down: Best Practices Before Bed

Your pre-bedtime ritual is vital to enhancing the quality of your sleep. Make sure to refrain from using your bed for work or browsing the web – being too productive under the covers can cause mixed signals in your brain when it’s time to close your eyes. Turning off electronics and relaxing in bed with a quiet activity like reading can help your brain prepare for sleep. Additionally, evidence suggests that exercise right before bed raises your body temperature and pumps up your adrenaline; both of these can contribute to sleeplessness or poor quality of sleep.

4. Light, Heat, & Sound: The Environment Factor

The environment around you while you sleep contributes to the quality of your sleep in many ways. Darkness – as much as you can stand – will help you produce melatonin, which is known to regulate your biological clock. Light interferes with the production of melatonin, and disrupts peaceful sleep. A cooler environment will also help you sleep well – lowering the body’s temperature signals to your brain that it’s time to fall asleep, and you will fall asleep faster and get more rest in a cooler room. Lastly, sounds like car horns or barking dogs that interrupt sleep can really lead to a decrease in how rested you are. A white noise machine, or ambient soundtrack playing, can help mask these sounds.

Following these directions and finding your body’s own groove will help you stay alert and clear on race day. Sweet dreams!


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Transitioning to Triathlons


Transitioning to Triathlons

Sick of just one sport? Ready to move on to the next level? Triathlons may be in your near future, but it's important to transition at your own pace. Read more to learn about transitioning to triathlons. 


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Jason McFaul Kona Training Camp


It was time to run 13.4 miles, which included the Natural Energy Lab. The Natural Energy Lab is . . . HOT. 

One thing I learned from Keish is there's no dilly-dallying.  He parked his car on Palani, and before I'd activated my Garmin, he was already running up Palani toward the Queen K.  Perhaps it was the days of compounded training, or just the fairly oppressive heat, but I wasn't in the mood to run. 

Herein lies one of the benefits of a training partner. Keish was already halfway up the hill. I needed to catch him. 

The Queen K is essentially a highway bordered by black lava rocks. It is desolate. It is solitary. And if you dare look at the faces of the motorists driving past you, they have a look like "Why would anybody run right now?  It's hot. It's humid. It's windy". 

And therein lies the answer. August is the hottest, windiest month of the year. We are preparing for the Ironman World Championship. There is no better place, and no better time, than right here . . . and right now. 

It's about 5 miles from Palani -- along the Queen K -- to the Natural Energy Lab. These 5 miles are lonely, with long climbs and slow descents. It doesn't help to look forward, as progress doesn't reveal itself. And while there is a tailwind, the lava rocks refuse to lean forward like flowers and trees. So you feel something on your back -- it could be a push forward, or it could be a warning. 

I turn on my music. Try to find a rhythm. Work on the things I can control:  my breathing, my stride, foot strike, and cadence. 

I began with a full water bottle. I have half a bottle left with 3 miles to the Natural Energy Lab. 

I know there is a water fountain at the Visitors Center. I dig deep, but I also do so sparingly, as the Natural Energy Lab has a reputation for compelling people to dig deeper. 

My pace is reasonable. 7-7:30/mile as I make a left turn into the Natural Energy Lab. This place is legendary for zapping what strength remains from even the toughest competitors. A few years ago on the NBC Broadcast of the Hawaii Ironman, Andreas Raelert was featured in this section, described as "a hydration science project". Sweat didn't drop from his face. It flowed. Like a waterfall. 

I fill my bottle at the Visitors Center, knowing that I need to run approximately 1.5 miles (1 mile down to the ocean with a headwind, and then .5 mile along the beach until I reach the turnaround).  


I run on the edge of the asphalt, which is reputedly releasing heat in excess of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Cars drive toward me, moving to their left in order to afford me extra space. A few give me the Shaka (hang-loose sign). I interpret this to mean I've been accepted as a temporary resident on the Big Island. Or that my shoulders are tense and I need to loosen up a bit. 

I get to the turnaround and prepare to do some real work. I squeeze an Apple Cinnamon carb-BOOM! into my mouth, chase it with a hearty blast of lukewarm water, and run toward the hottest one mile of the course. There is a crosswind coming from the ocean, but once I make the left turn into the heart of the Natural Energy Lab, it's one hot uphill mile. 

I look to the solar panels atop the Visitors Center. They do not appear to get any closer. So I count steps, try to find a rhythm, and compel myself forward with the promise of water when I complete this climb. 

The water finally comes, and after I fill my bottle, I turn right onto the Queen K for 5 miles. There is a fierce headwind, but it feels so good. My shirt is soaked. My shorts are soaked. The hot wind cools my body. 

The closer I get to Palani, the more emotional I become. I see Mark Allen and Dave Scott gutting it out during the 1989 Iron War. I see Rick and Dick Hoyt. I see Paula, Chrissie, Rinny. I see suffering and triumph.  

I'm almost to Palani when Keish pulls his car onto the shoulder. I know this is the right way to end today's run. I haven't earned the right to make that turn into town, where dreams are finally realized along Ali'i Drive.  

I'm hoping, though, that on October 11, I will make that turn.  And experience what many consider the greatest quarter mile in triathlon. 

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