Tuesday, November 4, 2014

What I learned this year in Triathlon

I have been MIA in the blog posting world for about 2 months now.  This was due to a few factors.  The primary one being that it was college soccer season up here in Minnesota and everywhere else in the country for that matter.

Days are long, not much opportunity for racing, and I finally decided to take a rest period for the first time since I have been doing triathlon, thanks to some advice and guidance from Coach Liz.

I will call this my first real season of Triathlon completed.  Last year, I really clueless of what it took to be competitive in this sport.  In this year, I have been able to train with and talk to a lot of the best athletes in the Chicagoland and Minnesota areas, and with the help of my coach and them, now have a much better concept of what it takes to become one.

I am already anxious for next season and am ready to get back into training.  Because I was able to learn a lot this past season about both myself and the triathlon world in general, I figured I would write it down to help me take these lessons into next season.

In no specific order:

1.   When you set your goals, make sure that they are SMART and hold yourself accountable to do the necessary work.    I agree that it is important to have others in your life to hold you accountable. Those people are definitely necessary to have with you, because when you want to go to bed at 9:30pm and not grab that last drink at the bar, you need support.  However, ultimately, you are the one that has to wake yourself up at the crack of dawn, push yourself through tough workouts, deal with the fatigue, and do it again the next day.  If YOU cannot see why your goal/goals are important to you and hold YOURself to the process, then no amount of outside help will get you past the tough times when they inevitably come.

2.   Always check your gear.  If you put a bottle on your bike, make sure you strap it in.  Before you leave for a race, make sure you brought your watch.  Do not put your bike computer in your tri-shorts because you think that is a good place for it and that you will totally remember that you put it there later(Thank you kind USAT worker who found my bike and put it on for me after they had closed transition).  I made many mistakes this season in regards to gear that lost me valuable seconds/minutes in each race.  This is something in my control and should be an easy fix.

3.   Recovery means resting on rest days, eating the right foods, and sleeping.  Recovery is all-encompassing.  And following the correct path is essential.  If a workout is supposed to be easy, make sure it is easy.  If you are supposed to take a day off, take it.  This was valuable to learn this year.  I don’t have a lot of rest days on schedule, but I have learned this year to actually use them.  After providing my own training plan for a while, discovering that you don’t get fat, lose fitness, etc. in one day was definitely something I took in this season.

4.  Find ways to make training fun and involve others if possible.  This season, I learned the value in training with others.  I had never biked with a group, swam much with a group, or ran with someone.  I still see the value in grinding out long hard workouts by yourself and still probably do 80% of my training this way.  But it was awesome this year to swim with Waves Masters, NN Masters, and many other Master’s groups around the country(UCSD, to University of Denver, and with many others that let me drop in on my recruiting travels).  

      It was also fun to ride with others this season as well.  From joining my buddy Greg and his IM Wisconsin training group on long rides in Barrington to cycling with tri-champ Amanda who once kindly asked me not to drop her on one of our training rides when I am pretty sure she could have put her head down and left me lose, scared, and alone in the cornfields of the SouthWest Suburbs.  I also had some great runs and rides with my friend Liz(not to be confused with coach) and Ryan throughout the season which made days when my legs felt like crap much more bearable.

5.  Do not believe everything you read.  I know that this is somewhat contradictory since I am writing something here, and I hope at least one or two people read it and believe what I say.  But there is soooo much information out there.  When I first began in this sport, I got lost in it.  Everyone has something to say about training, racing, nutrition, etc.  Everyone’s way is the right way and this way will get you to the top. 

      Many people will just write stuff to write stuff.  They have no formal education on the subject matter that they are writing about.  They will post things on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Slowtwitch forums, etc.   As far as I am concerned, Slowtwitch forums are like the YikYak of the triathlon word.  Anyone can write anything and for the most part cannot be held responsible or liable for what they say.  This is not to say that all of the information on these sites is bad information, and a lot of it is actually really entertaining, but it needs to be taken for what it is.  This should not discourage doing research, but you need to have a coach or other trusted sources who can help you with the reliability of the material.

6.     You can only do what you are capable of.  This stems a bit off of the previous lesson.  Another thing about the triathlon world is that a lot of people love to post their paces, watts, volume, etc.  I used to get too caught up in this.  You would see that Person A biked 400 miles in a week when you had only done 100 or Person B ran 15 miles at X:XX pace, and you start to doubt what you are doing or if you will ever be good enough.  

      For example, for those unfamiliar with Lionel Sanders, and those unfamiliar  would have to only include people who don’t follow the results of any races, he is an up and coming pro triathlete.  In a span of a few short years, he went from being a drug addict to multiple 70.3 and just last weekend Ironman champion.  He is, also, a training machine.  If you look at his training numbers from when he was down in Kona for a week, it is nuts.   He ran 2 full marathons in the span of 4 days.  ON A TREADMILL.  That is the ability to take yourself into a different place.  All this was done along with very large amounts of biking and swimming as well.  You can see it here.  

      But that type of training is what works for HIM.  If I were to try to do that, I would 1. Get badly injured, and 2. Probably die.  I just don’t have the time or the physical capacity to handle that type of training.  Nor would that training be beneficial for me.  I can only do my training and will not magically be able to do anything like that in the near future.   I can only stick to my workouts and my plan and follow the path.  

      There is a story that I once heard about a coach who spoke to a player about the process is to see success and reach your goals.  If I remembered where I heard it, I would definitely credit the person here, because it is a great way to look at things.
      The story goes like this: 

      A coach takes a player who has lofty/ambitious goals to a stadium. 
      He points to the top of the stadium from the bottom and says to the player, “There are two ways to get to the top, you can either run all the stairs to the top, or you can jump to the top from the side that has no step (which is about a 200 ft. vertical jump).  What are you going to do?

      The player turns to the coach and says “I will take the stairs, because it is impossible to jump that high.”  

      The coach replies, “That is exactly right.  There is no magical way to get to the top.  In order to reach the top, you need to take all the steps to get there.”

      This is what I have learned about training.  You cannot skip steps, and there is no magical way to get there.  You have to be willing to put in the work day in and out and take all the steps to reach what you want.

      7.  Listen to your Coach.  I know that this is probably just a way for me to vent out my frustration as a person who coaches for a living, but it is the truth.  It does not make any sense to have a coach and not listen to them.  If you only do 50% of what your coach tells you, you cannot possibly believe that you will get the intended results.  Your coach writes a plan or a strategy based off of their past research, studies, analysis, etc.   They are planning on you doing the work and remaining consistent.  They did not write the plan with the intention of you only doing some of it.  The success of their plan is based on you doing your part.

Therefore, you either believe in/trust what your coach says and follow what they have laid out or you don’t.  Only being “half in” will not work.  Their ideas for you are not random.  The good coaches out there just don’t go out there and say “Hey, let’s do this today.  I have no reason to believe it will work, but what the heck, it should be fun.”  Every decision is calculated and thought out to help you to get where you want.

This is very easy to say as a coach, but sometimes much more difficult to follow as an athlete.  I find that there are still times when I get caught up in the moment and “Easy” workouts are not necessarily easy.  Prime example.  Last week, I did a bike threshold test.  I was told to start at or slightly under where I averaged last time and build from there.  Me, not doing the smart thing, thought that I was more fit than my last test showed, and I started at about 15-20 watts higher than that.  Bad move.  After 5 minutes, I realized that holding this for another 20 minutes was not possible, and I was forced to back off and survive for the remaining time.   Would I have been better had I followed the plan, I can't possibly know, because I didn’t do what I was told to do. 

Your coach has a more objective view of you as an athlete that is not based off of feelings and emotions that being experienced at the time.  Listen to them.

8.  Learn from your successes/failures.  I was fortunate enough during my first coaching job to work with a former Marine who graduated top of his class in Officer training.  I was able to learn many great things from him.  And although I still am pretty messy with my stuff and only make my bed maybe one day per week, the best thing that I took away from working with him was that we need to take something away from every experience.

      We would come back from games and he would always ask, “What are your thoughts about that match?”  At first, in my immaturity, I would respond with things such as “Steve messed up that clearance which led to their goal” or “Matt missed that header that could have put us up 1-0.”  He would then ask “Why did that happen?”  I would always struggle to come up with an answer.  But eventually, after many of these talks, finding the why became less and less difficult.  The "Why" is crucial.  If you just make excuses or try to blame what happened on something that you couldn't control, then you won't take the necessary steps to try and prevent it from happening again.

      This is something that I have learned to do in triathlon as well.  Obviously, there are certain things that you cannot control(flat tire from a nail in the road, etc.), but you can control how you react to the things that happen.  And reflecting on the things that you can control/change for the future is crucial to success.

      Coach always has us answer a few questions after each race.  Reflecting on the race and putting these thoughts in writing is important.  If something went well, why did it go well?  If something did not, how can it go better next time?  What can you do to improve the result next time and what led you to where you are today.

      There are always things that can go better as you will probably never have a perfect race.  I learned the importance of looking at races in the same way I look at games and practices, and how important and necessary it is in growth.

So, there it is.  Things I learned in the past few months about triathlon.  Nothing that most people who have been doing this haven’t already learned, but it is one more step for me in the process.

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