As a coach, I get to see a perspective on training and racing very different from my own since I am privy to the diverse outlooks of my athletes. Despite their varying ages, abilities, goals and time in the sport they all have two things in common: impatience and short-term memory loss.
There are two parts to the impatience. The first is a question I get asked a lot this time of year, “Why can’t I do more?” I gently explain that in January and February one cannot and should not train as much as during the summer. Most of the important races are later in the year and it is hard to stay fresh for those races if the training load is too high too early. Winter offers a natural break in the training cycle with unpredictable weather and less daylight. A progression needs to occur so the body adapts, does not break down and absorbs the training load.
The second part to the impatience is this statement, “I want to get faster. Now.” This is a real problem with all athletes, myself included. Our desire for success and improvement is what compels us to keep training year after year. We set goals for ourselves giving us a very good idea of where we would like to be. But, it does not, should not and cannot happen overnight.
Making improvements in sports must be approached systematically. Training paces or watts must be advanced in a manner that keeps an athlete from getting injured or overtrained. Pushing the limits week after week and setting PRs in training on a regular basis is not necessarily ideal. I always know when a top athlete is headed for destruction when I hear them say, “I just put in the best training of my life”. Not infrequently, they are injured the next day.
Those who make slow and steady improvements in training are generally the athletes that are able to show up on race day. It is not about crushing it, hammering, or flogging oneself. You should always leave a little left because it is never about any single workout; it is about consistency over the long haul.
Now, I am not saying that athletes shouldn’t push themselves or try to find their limits. I regularly test my athletes by giving them workouts that are on the edge of what they are capable of handling. I share their enthusiasm when they accomplish that workout. What I am saying is that those types of workouts cannot occur all the time. Getting faster is not something that happens “now”. It is something that happens over time with hard work and patience.
Short term memory loss
Here is where the short term memory loss comes in. If you recall, the first part of impatience was the desire to do more. Very often, the same athletes that are begging to do more are the same ones who, several months down the road, are begging for a week off or looking forward to tapering for the big event. In February, they forget about the grind of training for a key race and how hard it was fitting in all of the workouts around a busy life.
There is also short term memory loss when it comes to workouts. Just today I got a call from an athlete incredibly frustrated over a dreadful swim. I reminded him that for the last few weeks he has been making progress with his swim and most of them had been quite good. “That’s true. I kind of forgot about that” was his response. How easily we overlook the good workouts in the face of a bad one or two. Write down your successes so you can go back and look them over during a rough patch. It helps.