Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I am not a triathlete

Eye-catching title, isn't it?  I am celebrating my 19th year as an endurance athlete and like most athletes, have learned quite a bit in my progression of the sport, especially considering I grew up playing competitive soccer and basketball for fun.  Looking back on my sport "career" and my recent triathlon training and performances, I have realized quite a few things that I never really paid attention to.

The first is that the body's energy systems do in fact matter when developing a training program.  I received a gift from my parents in the form of more fast-twitch muscle fibers.  While it hurts more, I do pretty well at pushing my anaerobic energy system window.  This is why I have seen so much success the past two years of my triathlon career.  I have focused mostly on short-course racing: sprint and Olympic distance tri's  Luckily, it doesn't involve a ton of training but rather focused, quality training along with smart, well-planned and executed recovery.  Nothing compared to when I was ultra-running and cycling and while I thoroughly enjoyed my alone time on trails and the monster, slower days of training, it did not fit my energy system dominance.   This lower volume of training has allowed me to add more intensity, which I frequently monitor through Training Peaks (this is how I monitor my progression with my stress and recovery so I can promote optimal adaptation).

Admittedly, I almost had to focus on lower volume and higher intensity to keep up with my Teens that TRI team.  These guys and gals are getting fast and I felt compelled to exemplify what could happen at an "older" age if you train correctly with balancing life, stress and training.  No joke, I also wanted bragging rights of still being able to be faster than them (which will likely not happen next year but I will not go down without a fight!).

Now, this shift in focus from slow, long volume training to fast, high intensity training has been quite a mental exercise also.  In my training, I specifically prepare my mental game for workouts so that every quality, intense workout is a race simulation for my mental game.  I show up with my race day mentality at least 3 times per week in sessions and the other sessions are spent trying to stay ahead of or chase my Teens that TRI team.  The latter is very important to note because as I circulate among the Teens that TRI in swimming, cycling and running, I am constantly doing high-intensity, short anaerobic bouts of exercise...further enhancing my anaerobic energy system.

Interestingly, this type of training has also allowed me to focus on my mental tenacity.  When I am training in the pool, I am a swimmer.  I never once think about what I did before I got in the pool that may have fatigued me or what I will be doing after the swim in terms of a training session.  I train in the moment and give it my all.  When I am on the bike doing high intensity work, I never once think of the short and fast run off I have afterwards.  I am a cyclist only both physically and mentally.  When I hit the run, definitely one of my strengths (thank you soccer!), I never think about running off the bike.  I see myself as a 5k or 10k runner, one that has no pain but the mental focus that runners have and the ability to disassociate my mind from my body.  I don't care how hard the bike was and more importantly, I don't make mental excuses about how I fatigued myself prior to the run.  I am not a triathlete.

I had a great conversation with one of my athletes recently and we were discussing "happy places".  I told him my happy place in training (you can think of it as a motivator also) was my competition.  I don't know who my competitors are and frankly, I do not care.  What I focus on during quality training sessions is being better than each one of my competitors.  My happy place in racing shifts from an extrinsic focus of my competition to an intrinsic sense of purpose: my family.  I race to make my family and myself proud.  I want my kids to be inspired by what I do, by how I race, never give up and how I can be extremely friendly before, during and after a race but a ruthless competitor at the same time.  I want to show my family what good sportsmanship looks like while exemplifying the true heart of a competitor.

This strategy in training has led to tremendous success in my triathlon racing the past two seasons and while I know I have not quite mastered it just yet, I continue to perfect my mental and physical training skills to enhance my triathlon career.  The bonus is that I get to pass this knowledge onto the athletes with whom I work with through not only Kids that TRI and Teens that TRI but also my adult athletes at Elite Multisport Coaching.

Develop the mantra: "I am a swimmer, I am a cyclist and I am a runner" and you will reap the benefits of being a good triathlete.  You see, if you approach training and racing thinking you are a triathlete, you will likely be slow because you will always have some type of mental self sabotage where you make an excuse for a poor swim, bike or run session.  Train to your potential without excuses and without regrets.  Train hard and recover smart.

Until my next rant...

Coach Bob

1 comment:

  1. Bob, this is awesome and perfect advice for every athlete and coach! Thanks for sharing!