Professional athletes remove outside stressors and center their entire day around training, so there's time for warming up, recovery and rest
She’s an Ironman champ.
There's no doubt about it: When you watch an Ironman, you're bound to leave feeling hella inspired. That's how we felt after Clif Bar brought us out to Kona, Hawaii to watch the best of the best compete in the 2016 Ironman World Championship. And once we saw Daniela Ryf, a 29-year-old Switzerland native, cross that finish line and reclaim her title as top female finisher (not to mention break a course record by six minutes), we couldn't stop ourselves from dreaming of our own triathlon finish.
"It was the best race I could show, and it was pretty much a perfect day," she says. "The feeling of crossing that finish line is amazing and hard to describe, [but] I was full of adrenaline [during] those last few kilometers [when] the crowd got so loud. So I just went as fast as I could and I felt like I was flying into the finish. [It was] a moment I won't forget."
That said, it took a lot of work for Ryf to get to the top of that finisher's podium. A triathlete since the spry age of 14, she fell in love with the three-sport competition and realized she had a chance to qualify for the Olympics right as she was finishing high school. She went pro when she was only 20 years old, and after the 2012 Olympics Ryf decided to test her limits with longer-distance races like the Ironman 70.3.
With the expertise of Brett Sutton on her side (he's coached the likes of Siri Lindley and Chrissie Wellington in the past), Ryf says she was ready to put in the work for Ironman success.
That requires training nearly 365 days a year.
"Some days I do three one-hour runs in a day, which adds up to a broken marathon," she says. "Other days I do a hard bike session in the morning for about an hour and a half, [then I'll get in] a solid 5K swim [before riding] for another two hours. [And] some days I do all three disciplines."
Want to train like Ryf? "It's important to recognize that Daniela Ryf trains for a living," says Marni Sumbal, a sports dietitian, triathlete coach, and 11-time Ironman finisher. "Professional athletes remove outside stressors and center their entire day around training, so there's time for warming up, recovery and rest, plus there's a team of experts for physical therapy, massages, and health assessments at their disposal.
Many of their training and nutritional strategies are not designed to work for the average fitness enthusiast, so you need to adjust realistically."
Here's how Sumbal says you can scale Ryf's typical three-workouts-a-day schedule to fit into your non-professional athlete lifestyle. Ironman, here you come!:
6:50 a.m.: Coffee.
7:30 a.m.-8:30 a.m.: Run. 20-minute warmup, 20 minutes with 30-, 60- and 90-second efforts followed by the same amount of rest in between, 20-minute cooldown and stretch.
9:30 a.m.: Breakfast smoothie (oranges, berries, lupine protein, vanilla yogurt, and oats) with some bread topped with tahini and jam.
Modification: First, it's likely that you're going to have to start your day earlier, as most people have to be done sweating, get showered, and in the office by 9:30 a.m. Sumbal suggests kicking things off with a coffee and a small snack (like a banana with a smear of your favorite nut butter) by 5:20 a.m. That'll give you time to digest before starting your interval workout at 6 a.m. You can then follow Ryf's exact workout, including dynamic stretches like walking lunges, high knees, and butt kicks in your warmup, then move at your max effort for the above-mentioned time intervals.
"The goal of interval training is to slowly increase your time running at a higher intensity," says Sumbal. "Eventually, you'll be more comfortable sustaining faster speeds for longer durations. This workout is great for helping athletes build a strong running base to improve your endurance, but with the short max intervals you are forced to recruit your fast twitch muscle fibers to build a tolerance to lactic acid."
Sumbal also notes that the shorter intervals are great for helping you maintain good form throughout (which reduces your risk for injury), but it's important to keep an eye on your pacing. "You don't want to wear yourself out in the first few minutes of the main set, but rather get stronger as the set continues," she says. "What pace, or effort, you can run at max for 30 seconds will be different than what you can do for 90 seconds."
If Ryf's breakfast isn't your style, Sumbal says pairing a half-cup of oats with a half-cup of berries, an eighth-cup of chopped nuts, and your choice of milk or water is also good. And if you have to jet to the office right away, make sure you squeeze in a recovery snack (ie: an eight-ounce container of Greek yogurt with three to four dried figs) to tide you over until you sit down.
11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: 5K swim ("This could be 1K warmup, 10x400-meter with short rests around five to 15 seconds," says Ryf. "I mix it up using paddles for strength and pull bouts to keep the heart rate low, as after the hard run my legs are quite tired.")
1:30 p.m.: Large salad with beetroot, carrots, greens, seeds, and chicken, side of rice and crackers. Sauce with lots of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard.
2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m.: Nap for one hour to get some rest.
Modification: You've already gotten sweaty in the morning, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't get up and move come lunch. Rather than go for a swim, which would likely take too much time on your lunch break, Sumbal suggests going for a mid-day, 20-minute walk outside. "That key workout is already done, but it's nice to get some fresh air and move your muscles to break up a day of sitting," she says. And while you won't be able to squeeze in that mid-day nap (#realworldproblems), Sumbal says you can copy Ryf's lunch salad. If you want to deviate though, be sure to get in some protein to help your muscles recover from the day's activities (think four ounces chicken, tuna, or tempeh), add in some healthy fats (like half an avocado) to promote muscle growth, and load up on veggies.
3:00 p.m.: Small snack of fruit, nuts, and some chocolate or cake with a Red Bull or coffee. "I need something high in sugar and carbs to fill up short-term for the last session," says Ryf.
4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.: Big-gear intervals on the turbo bike (20-minute warmup, 4x10-minute hard gear with five minutes easy between, 10-minute cooldown.
6:30 p.m.: Fish or meat with side of vegetables and rice or pasta.
Modification: Once you head home from the office, it's time for your final workout of the day—but not before you have a healthy snack. Sumbal says Ryf's idea of fruit, nuts, and chocolate is a good one—it'll give you the energy boost you need to power through in the evening—though you want to watch your portion sizes. "This isn't an excuse to gorge on trail mix; just grab a handful of berries and nuts with one piece of dark chocolate and that should be enough," she says. And the Red Bull or coffee isn't necessary, so feel free to skip, especially if caffeine in the afternoon affects your sleep routine.
As for the workout itself, Sumbal says to go for a low-intensity, steady-state bike ride or swim rather than bee-lining straight for the couch. "When you're feeling exhausted from sitting all day, riding a bike or going swimming with a friend can be a fun, social, low-intensity way to get in some movement," she says. "It's good to get in physical activity when you've been desk-bound all day, and you always feel better after a workout is complete."