The Journey to an Ironman - Rick Kleindienst

September 18, 2018

The Journey to an Ironman - Rick Kleindienst

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This week, we wanted to introduce our friend Rick - a truly inspiration figure and one of our newest ambassadors.  We met Rick a little while back after he tried Tart Cherry.  Shortly after, we connected and started to learn more about his story.  

Rick is a competitor in every sense of the word.  He is a member of the Fxck Cancer Triathlon Team and an Ironman competitor, among many other feats. 

We recently caught up with him to learn a bit more about his training regiment, his recent experience with Whole30, and some of his goals for the future. 

As a competitive athlete, we were also curious how he was incorporating our products into his lifestyle. 

Whether you're an athlete or not, Rick provides invaluable life lessons that we think are applicable both inside and outside of the sporting world. 

When we first connected, we started learning about your IronMan competitions and the training that goes into it.  Can you detail some of the training that led up to competing in your first full Ironman? What was it like?

For my first Ironman, training started for me back in November of 2017. My coach wanted me to wait until after the holidays, but I wanted to jump in. The beginning of training was straight forward and was filled with swim drills, cycling, and running easy paces. As time went on the training became more intensified with the yardage in swimming, cycling and running. As I got closer to Lake Placid, the cycling workouts became longer, where there would be workouts of 5 hours or longer. Ultimately the training ramp up prepares you for the event as the swim is 2.2 miles, bike 112 miles and the run 26.2. An ironman is an endurance sport so your body needs to be prepared.

The other key and important aspect is how you tie in nutrition when on the bike and running. To be successful, this is most important next to the training. I am not here to prescribe what works and does not, it all depends on you. What I can suggest is that you find what works through trial and error. Hammer Nutrition has some fantastic resources and guidelines to follow for fluid and food intake per an hour. My recommendation is that you try something and listen to how your body reacts, being mindful of what you are eating, and knowing what makes you feel good vs. not.

My method was solids and/or a combination of liquids on the bike, and nothing but liquid (gels, water, electrolytes) on the run. There are some great products out there, including VitalFit that help with pre and post, but this is an endurance event so I would recommend you do your research and call the company to ask questions. I have seen people fail to properly feed their body and they fall short of finishing or have extreme distress on the run from overeating on the bike.

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You mentioned that sometimes you were training a full seven days a week – how did your body handle this? Did you find yourself worn down? How were you able to overcome not only the physical toll but also the mental toll that this regiment had?

Your body is a complex and funny thing sometimes on how it reacts to stress and over training. When I did training 7 days a week, I would notice that some of my workouts would suffer from not enough time to rest in between and recovery. There were a few times that I suffered through fatigue in which I could not perform any training at all. This is certainly a wake up call. The phases of fatigue would side line me for a few days and then I would slowly have to acclimate myself back to training. I do not do 7 days as often, but life throws you many surprises and with training, sometimes I had to shift left or skip a workout, which is fine by me, as the goal is to perform at your best, and not to just check off the box that the training for that day was done.

I describe myself as someone who likes to follow a plan but also make sure that I am performing at my best. The physical and mental toll of training is one that I have worked to overcome by getting enough rest, remaining focused on the activity and predicating what I will be doing based on how I feel. That last part is most important. Listen, listen, listen to how you feel. If you do not feel like doing a specific training segment, then do not. That is how you get hurt and sideline yourself.

We love the comprehensive approach that you take to your training and are truly in awe. What does your diet look like as you train for and ultimately gear up for an event? How has it changed and how has it stayed the same?

When gearing up for an event, I do not really change anything from my regular eating plan with a combination of Whole 30 and Paleo. I take the time to make sure all the right food choices are made and things that would impact me, I stay clear of. The day of the event, I have my oatmeal 3-4 hours prior and a sweet potato 30 minutes before the event starts. However, if I am not feeling hungry, I do not eat and my nutrition during the event remains consistent each time. One strong word of advice: do not try something new prior or during an event. That is what training is for, so stick with that rule of thumb.

How big of a role do you think your coach plays in your training? Do you recommend coaching for others trying to compete on such serious levels or do you think most of the challenges can be overcome solo?

My coach Todd Wiley has played a huge role in my training as he has provided me the blueprint each and every week with the amount of swimming, cycling and running leading up and tapering before an event. Each week I am given a training plan to understand the goals of that week. What is critically important and is the reason it is highlighted, it does not mean you need to follow it to the letter. Priorities, work, life, kids, being sick, etc. get in the way of completing the training. It does not mean to stack three activities in a day just because you missed a bike, swim and run that week. It is about doing what you can within your means and making that a meaningful workout. I know as an athlete this is hard for me to grasp, but I have learned through trial and error and well-being what works each week.

I do believe that having a coach is important as a first time triathlete to understand what training needs to be done when and how often. For some, doing it on your own can be stressful and can cause an imbalance of one activity over the other. The other beneficial factor of having a coach is getting advice or having your questions answered. Especially given the fact that there are a lot of opinions out there, and every athlete has a different make up, goals and fitness level.

I think one of the hallmarks to your story is sacrifice and we see this theme of sacrificing for your goals both in and out of the sports world – what have you had to sacrifice, and do you find it all to be worth it?

Everyone must make some sacrifices in life regardless on the balance one has. I have read and talked with people that have formulated a balance with their personal and professional goals. I was reading a book most recently that highlighted a very simple approach that there is 7 days in a week and each day has 24 hours. That equates to 168 hours for the week. Now take that and subtract things like work time, sleep, spiritual, spending time with family and training.

When I did this exercise, I was in the negative. I had to take the time and think about what to sacrifice and that is tough to do. If I look at my goals and what has been accomplished to date, the things I sacrificed were time with friends, spending time doing leisure activities, reading, and spiritual aspects. I did at times had to sacrifice family time, but when this happened I did a reset, like whole 30, and evaluated my priorities. And yes, at times, my training was sacrificed to be more balanced.

I have learned quite a bit from what it takes to do a full triathlon and other events as well. Was it worth it all to sacrifice some of the things I mentioned? That is a mixed answer for me, as I tried to always maintain a balance to the best of my ability while maintaining my sanity and stress level. But as we all know, like is always that forgiving and flexible. When you feel out of balance, take the opportunity to sit and go over your allocations of time and focus on the important aspects. A day here and there of missing a workout is not going to set you back.

Last advice I can provide here: each week take a moment to rate yourself on ten areas (clarity chart). They can be any of the following or others: health, friends, family, relationships (intimate), spirituality, mission, work, finances, adventure, and hobbies. Provide a rating 1-10 on each and track week to week to see if you are making any progress in a weaker area than another. Then take the time to set some goals for the week to improve that rating. This will help with balancing things out and truly identifying the areas for opportunity.

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Let's get a bit deeper into Ironman's specifically - they can certainly be a bit intimidating for someone who's new to the sport – what do you recommend to those out there who are interested but don’t know where to start?

One of the first things I would do is start by talking to some people that have completed a triathlon or two and ask some questions. As a triathlete, I like to help others, especially if it is there first time. Look at short triathlons in your area and select one to do. Register for the event and mark your calendar so you can start to incorporate the training into your daily routine.

What I mean by short is a sprint or Olympic distance, and one that is close to your home. This will help with travel logistics, anxiety or race day jitters and your support of friends and family can easily attend.

Most triathlons do not have the swimming portion in a pool and are held on open water, such as a lake or ocean. It is a good idea to practice open water swims or even find an open water swim clinic near you prior to doing the event.

As far as equipment is concerned, if you do not have a wetsuit its ok. Just use a swim suit and a good pair of goggles (ones that won’t leak). If you have a bike, use that or borrow a bike that is a good fit. Lastly, make sure to invest in a good pair of running shoes. Go to a running store (not the mall or sports store) and try on a few pairs to see what fits best. Remember to always go a half size larger than your actually foot size.

Some other strong advice that I can provide as well, is do not go out there and try to win it all.  For your first time, make sure you hydrate, eat prior to the race (3-4 hours), and build in rest during training and prior to your event (taper). Remember that when you are in transition (swim to bike, bike to run) this time counts, but keep in mind this is your first time and just take the opportunity to experience the event, and take your time. I remember my first triathlon, I spent 6 minutes in transition. Each time you do a triathlon, you learn how to be efficient in transition. But no worries, you will get there.

Lastly, you can always volunteer at a few triathlons as well prior to even signing up for one. This is the way to go if you are on the fence, or just not sure about committing. Take the opportunity to speak with athletes after the event is over and ask your questions.

What are the biggest ways your lifestyle has changed as a result of your ironman training?

I would describe myself as a very focused individual when it comes to my goals and always striving to improve myself. When I had decided to do a full ironman, I first set my intentions and commitment with training and nutrition. Second, I looked at how I could find a balance between, training, sleep, eating right, my children and other commitments. This was a tough nut to crack and where the greatest impact on my lifestyle has changed. As an athlete training for such an event like an ironman and other races as well, it is important to get enough sleep. Since most mornings I would get up at 4 am, and sometimes earlier to complete my training, I had to shift my bedtime. So during the summer months when it was still light out at 7:30-8:00 I would be wrapping up my night and going to bed. Another way my lifestyle changed was around my nutrition. Whenever I would go out to eat and enjoy time with friends, I was very careful on what was put into my body. This did not allow me many food choices, but I did make the best of it by asking the server if certain foods they offer can be customized.

Another lifestyle change for me was to shift my mindset in the way I think and react to my training. There are good days and not so good ones when it comes to training. Frustration can build because the results that are anticipated, just do not come on some of the days I am out kicking my ass. But then there are those other days that I do great and feel like I can keep on going.  Not every day is going to be a perfect training day, and setting expectations is important. I focus on the workout and give the best effort. If things do not go as planned, I take a step back, reflect on possibly why and move on. I do not dwell or worry about it. When it comes to the events, I have shifted my mindset to not worry about what is going on around me, or the other competitors. My focus is on me and performing at my best in the race. In other words, I am competing against myself and no one else.

What do you think makes ironman/distance competitions different than other sports? How is the mindset/makeup of the competitors different?

The half ironman distance is comprised of 70.3 (1.12-mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) and the full ironman distance is comprised of 140.6 (2.2 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).  Since the sport of ironman is comprised of three sports, athletes work not only different muscle groups, but it is an endurance sport that can take up to 17 hours to finish. It is the elements of swimming, cycling and running that make it a “tri” sport and that is what differentiates it from others.

The mindset and makeup of Ironman competitors is one of intense training to prepare, having a good support system of family and friends, and focus on the goal. When you compete in an ironman distance race, Olympic or Sprint triathlon, the distance is much different, so preparation shifts, and so does your race training nutrition.  

When I did my Lake Placid Ironman, I was provided some good advice from my coach, which was to be patient, and focus on the sport at hand. There will be peaks and valleys that will happen of course, it is all on how you react and handle the peaks and valleys. I go into each race telling myself that this is going to be great, and I am going to do great. When I get into a valley or feel myself becoming frustrated I use the Mel Robbins technique to engage back into the activity by performing the countdown, 5,4,3,2,1 in a soft voice so I can hear myself. And do not be afraid to this multiple time in a race. No one is looking or listening.

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We also wanted to chat a bit about how you use nutrition to aid in your training and we've talked a bit about how you recently completed Whole 30.  How did Whole 30 change your relationship with food? What were some of the key lessons that you learned?

Over the past year and half I have done three Whole 30 (30 days of eating the right foods) and frequently do resets which has resulted in me controlling what I eat, instead of food controlling me. The program is designed to ensure you are eating healthy foods and form a relationship with the food you eat. It is not a forever plan, and it is important to understand when you feel that you’re losing control of what and how much you eat. Once I completed the 30 days, I started to reintroduce the foods I once used to eat one at a time. This process helped me determine how that food made me feel and whether that food affected my body. For example, I love oatmeal and it is a great food for me to eat prior to an event. After whole 30, I reintroduced oatmeal back into my food list. The first time I had it again I wanted to see how I would feel, and it did not have a negative impact, like bloating, stomach discomfort and so on. So that is a food which is now an option for me. Now let me describe another kind of food, sweets! I love cookies and can eat quite a few in a sitting like I used to, but this is eating without brakes. Now after whole 30, I do not really eat cookies like once before. But I do indulge every once in a while and this is a food which impacts me mentally and physically, so I do my best not to eat cookies or sweets as I know how I will feel. So there are some key lessons.

The question for me that is still tough to this day, is whether I am eating enough considering all my training hours? That question still is a work in progress. I actually spend quite a bit of time tweaking my foods according to what I am doing for training, and what is needed for a great recovery. Now I have shifted to combining Whole 30 and Paleo which are very similar yet do have their differences.

Did doing Whole 30 inspire longstanding change? How closely do you still follow the concepts? What did you change/adapt?

Yes, whole 30 did inspire long standing change in the food I eat and my relationship with food. When I go to the grocery store I select good fruits, vegetables, meats and fish. I spend time doing meal prep each week for the next making some key recipes and food in bulk that is ready to go. My freezer is stocked with foods that are all compliant and do not contain any gluten. The same goes for my pantry as well.

The concepts are still followed very closely when I am home. When traveling for work or pleasure, I do pack snacks that are whole 30 compliant, as well as some other items. I do the best I can and do not worry too much while away, as there is always time for a reset when returning.

For those out there interested in trying Whole 30, what were some of the biggest challenges? Was there anything that surprised you?

Week 1 of whole 30. This is a tough week, but is manageable if you follow the program as it is designed. I would not recommend starting the program near a holiday or when you are planning on going to some tropical island for vacation. Start in the beginning of a month so you can track to the 30 days in a month.

Some of the challenges I faced were: 1) meal prep-this takes time to do. Doing meal prep requires planning and of course going to the grocery store. 2) Selecting the right foods- Whole 30 website is full of cheat sheets, guides, recipes and a meal planner that I would strongly encourage you use. I have all the cheat sheets on my phone so this way when I am traveling, I can refer to eating out at restaurants, travel guide and algorithm for making tough choices. It is important to understand food labels and how sneaky sugars can be an ingredient (yes there is a cheat sheet for that too). 3) Shopping- the first 1-2 weeks of grocery shopping are going to take some time. Be patient, read labels and make the right choices when filling your refrigerator and pantry.

Melissa Hartwig who developed and created the whole 30 program has done a fantastic job with providing the right information on the whole 30 website. She is also an author of a few Whole 30 books on the market. I would encourage everyone read “It Starts With Food”, and “Food Freedom Forever”. These are two books that I reference quite often.

I would say that what surprised me the most was the amount of food that is filled with processed synthetic materials. The education I have received about labels and contents has been beneficial in my success. Take time to research more about Whole 30. There are plenty of blogs, podcasts and resources out there. Stick to the Whole 30 website and you should not have a problem with understanding more.

What about our products :) - How have you integrated Vitalfit into your training and what are the biggest differences that you see? 

Vitalfit Nutrition has been a big part of my training and nutritional regimen. I incorporate all the products into my daily routine and recovery.

For my pre-workout I take Tart Cherry and RedRoot. This helps with my energy levels and inflammation for a more natural recovery. Based on my training and what I am doing, I take Planted either prior to or with my breakfast as a smoothie. I also combine Planted with Source and Adapted. Both the Adapted and Source help me reenergize and get my body back to an ideal state. Lastly, at breakfast, I have the Wildly Omega.

Some of the key differences is in my energy level pre and post workouts along with a faster recovery. Most recently I did back to back triathlons and the Vital Fit products helped me achieve success in both races with a faster recovery and returning my body to an ideal state.

We've definitely covered quite a bit but we also want to chat a bit about the future.  Can you share some of your upcoming goals and why they are important to you? We’d love to know more about your team and the causes that you support!

Before the year ends I look at some goals that are achievable for me to accomplish, write them down with some loose objectives. 2019 is becoming quite a big year for me, as I have already started to set some goals. One of those goals is to complete 2 full triathlons, and 6 Half Ironman events. I have spent some time in registering for a few events already and will be going back to Lake Placid in 2019 for one of the full Ironman triathlons.

Another goal is to become a coach and get people prepared for triathlons, marathons, etc. I am taking the first step with the coaching in September and will build upon that in 2019.

I belong to the Fxck Cancer Triathlon Team and have been part of the team since the beginning of 2018. Brando McGuinness who is the founder of Fxck Cancer has done a great job in developing and getting the word out about the foundation. The triathlon team is formed with members from across the United States who represent Fxck Cancer at various triathlons, marathons, ½ marathons and so on. Jayson Williams is not only a dedicated triathlete, supporter and leader of our team. You can make a donation by going to the website www.fxckcancer.org to learn more and make a donation. Remember, to make the donation under my name as a member and active fundraiser. To consider donating, please visit Rick's Fxck Cancer website.

One of the other organizations that inspire me is the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Another goal of mine next year will be to do a triathlon or two that I will be raising money for Leukemia. My father-in-law passed away from Leukemia and my former sister-in-law does a lot of work in fundraising and putting on a 5K race each year to raise money for this organization. I am truly inspired by her commitment and Jayson’s. They are both wonderful individuals and deserve praise for all the work they do.

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What would you say to those who are trying to achieve their goals – no matter what they might be?  Is there a mindset that you believe sets you on the path to success?

Some of us fall under the mindset that the arrival of the New Year is a time to set goals and resolutions. But you can set goals for yourself throughout the year, why wait for January 1? When trying to achieve your goals, it is important to first write down what you want to accomplish or do that will bring joy and inspiration when completed. Second, pick the goals that are most relevant and some objectives, nothing too extravagant, and next, understand how long it is going to take you. Ask yourself, can I achieve this goal? Lastly, pick 1-2 goals to work towards that again are meaningful to you. No need to do them all, as that will possibly cause misalignment and keep you from achieving the goal. For example,  I want to go to the gym 2-3 times a week. There is the goal, now how will you achieve it? Some people that I talk to struggle with finding the time. Look at your schedule and determine which days are best, being realistic and give it a try. Let’s say that in the first week you get to the gym 2 times. Great! You met the goal. Maybe you maintain that for a period of time before looking at adding a third day.

It is important to set your expectations and be flexible. Like I said earlier, life is full of surprises and curve balls, it is all on how you react and adapt. If things become too stressful or life changes for you, reevaluate your goals. It is ok, the only one you must answer to is yourself. Celebrate the smallest win towards achieving a goal. Try not to make excuses as that only can impact your progress and instead figure out how you can do it. When that happens, step back, count 5,4,3,2,1 and engage yourself in the task or goal. It works trust me!

Outside of your goals/training, what does the future look like for you? Is there anything you’re particularly excited about/a more long-term mission?

My future is predicated on the path I take in order to reach my goals. Goal setting for me is very important, but what is critical is committing to them and executing on those goals.

The future for all of us is a space that is unknown and unpredictable. I like to live in the present and not worry about the future as tomorrow will worry about itself.

What excites me more than anything is seeing my children seeing the value of fitness and wellbeing, taking those two elements and incorporating them into their lives. I would like to become a coach to guide others through the process of preparing for their first 5K all the way up to an Ironman. Each of us has our own journey and knowing that we can do anything that we put our minds to is a mindset, and that mindset is a shift that for some, requires coaching and guidance. But with nutrition especially, it is unique to the individual and needs. By following some simple guidelines and establishing parameters, nutrition can be a win.

I do believe and strongly encourage that with motivation and inspiration anyone can reach their fitness and nutritional goals. What it takes is discipline of course, but this is where coaching comes into play. By me becoming coach I can touch one person at a time and make that difference in their lives.

My long-term mission is to continue participating in Ironman distance races, remain physically fit, and practicing good nutrition, which is most important to improve individual performance. Another long-term mission is to raise money for Fxck Cancer Triathlon Team and Leukemia. Both of these are a very important part of my life.

Thanks so much to Rick for taking the time to share his mission and story! Please consider supporting Rick and his Fxck Cancer team via the links below, an exceptional team with an extraordinary mission:

Support Rick and the Fxck Cancer team:
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