I had a very interesting conversation with an athlete the other day. He made a very astute observation, a concept that I try to impress upon my mentees, but often is ignored or forgotten. He said, “You know, I have a question. It seems that triathlon rewards those that wait. A lot of guys I know have made really big gains over the last 5 years. What are your thoughts?” I thought, “Gee, I better write a blog about this!”
Excelling in three different sports at one time is no easy task. Each discipline of triathlon has its own nuances in technique, training, and recovery. It is no wonder, then, that I view training for triathlon as a long term project. That is not to say an athlete won’t or can’t make incremental improvements, but, often the biggest gains take place over years. It is not feasible, for example, to drop one hour in an Ironman in a period of 3 months and qualify for Kona, unless previous races were contested with one leg tied up. Yet, I still have athletes ask me if that is a possibility.
Meteoric improvements are rare and are reserved for those with a phenomenal athletic background. This is true both in the professional and amateur ranks. For most of us, reaching our potential, whether it is an 8 hour or 12 hour Ironman time, requires precision in training. It is a matter of learning how to swim faster and more efficiently. Athletes need to hone their skills on the bike so they execute the fastest ride possible without damaging their ability to run well. This means a steady, controlled, leave the ego at the start line kind of ride. And, perhaps the hardest part of all is discovering how to run off the bike without melting down. Plus, there is the nutritional component which if not resolved can undermine even the best prepared athlete. Putting all of these pieces together takes a Herculean effort that can only be achieved over time.
Athletes want to take shortcuts. There is the faulty notion that training more or harder will get one to their goals more quickly. In reality, anybody can train hard. It takes a special someone to delay the gratification of short term glory in an effort to achieve their long term goals. Just think about the training monsters who kill it during workouts yet fail to produce on race day? Why does this happen? Because the body only has a finite ability to produce and to suffer and if one chooses to use this up during training there is nothing left on race day physically or mentally. Trying to bypass the laws of triathlon will not work.
My theory is that consistency is the key. It sounds obvious and simple. But, I still see people ignoring this simple principle all the time. There are the “weekend warriors” that train HARD all weekend and spend the rest of the week recovering. There are the “cyclers” who train HARD for a few weeks and then limp into a rest week or two. And then there are those who know how to mete out efforts over time so that they can train well for an extended period, taper and then go HARD on race day.
Improvements come from good ‘ole fashioned training day in and day out, week after week. It is not any one workout that makes an athlete better. It is the conglomeration of workouts over time. It may be months or years, but it is having a long term plan and realizing that triathlon does reward the patient. And the athlete who precipitated this very post? He was very patient in his training (and on race day) and set a massive PR at Ironman Lake Placid.