October 9, 2014

Six Steps for Achieving Triathlon Success

Triathlon attracts a wide range of competitors.  At one end of the scale are people who do the minimum necessary to get across the finish line.  At the opposite end are those who are thoroughly committed to perform at the highest level possible.

If you’re like me, you’re always looking for ways to move up the scale toward peak race day performance.  Whether your goal is to beat the cutoff times or to win your age group, it does require that you use the time you have available to achieve your very best performance.

Below is the six step process I use to set up my triathlon training and racing schedule to help me toward my goals.  Think of it like a template that you an overlay on your triathlon training and racing plans at any time during the season to help identify weaknesses.

Step 1:  What do You Want to Achieve and Why?   Only you know what you want to do (your external/tangible goal) and why you want to do it (your intrinsic motivation/reasons).  If you don’t nail these two then you have a major roadblock to your success in triathlon or any other area of life for that matter.

The first thing to accept is that your motives are all about you;You aren’t doing this for anyone else so let’s dispel the notion that it’s anything but selfish right up front.  Being selfish isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however.  In fact, the best way to think about it comes from a Life magazine interview with Mother Teresa.

When asked why she decided to spend her life caring for some of the most destitute people on the planet Mother Teresa said it was because of the way it made her feel to see the peace on their faces as they passed away.  It was this personal feeling, this emotional connection she felt to her goal, of caring for these people that ensured her success.

Coming up with what you want to do may be pretty simple but getting to the heart of why you want to do it may prove more of a challenge.  So be patient and think it through because it will show in your results.

Step 2:  How Big is the Gap Between Where You Are and Where You Want to Go?  The gap is the space or chasm between where you are at this point in time and where you want to be (that big goal you defined above).  In this step your focus is to establish a clear starting point on your journey toward your goals.  Now is the time to be completely honest with yourself so you can create a plan to improve your fitness, have fun, and minimize your frustration.

To close the gap from where you are to where you want to be is about taking small, doable steps to build positive momentum because nothing builds optimism like success.

Remember that to build positive momentum you must measure backwards (where you’ve come from) instead of measuring forward (your future goal).  Measuring forward will just frustrate you because it’s often like running toward the horizon…no matter how far you go you’ll never get there.

Step 3:  Do You Have What You Need to Achieve Your Goals?  Triathlon requires a unique mix of fitness, skills, and resources to be successful.  That’s why it’s important to make a list of resources available to you so you can clearly identify any limiters you need to tackle.  Here are some examples to get you started:

  1. Available equipment, such as an indoor bike trainer
  2. Easy access to swimming facilities or a gym
  3. Access to people/experts, such as a swimming instructor or triathlon club
  4. Space to train or adequate training routes for cycling and running
  5. Cash for race fees, lodging, and transportation (this is not a cheap sport).
  6. Time to trainwithout skimping on foundational things like sleep.

Step 4:  Is Your Plan Customized to Your Life?   Once you’ve completed the first three steps it’s time to build your training plan.  Remember that building a workable plan is more art than science.  While they all have common features, to be substantive your plan must be tailored to your unique situation. If it doesn’t then it’s nothing more than just a bunch of forms, which is why canned programs often don’t work…the fact is that one size does not fit all!  Here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Start with the end in mind by writing down your key races first.
  2. Build in key workouts, such as long runs and long rides, and testing days next.
  3. Only detail a week or two at a time…I prefer to develop one week at a time.
  4. Stay flexible:  Understand that no plan that covers weeks and months will survive your day-to-day life.  Things happen that impact your ability to train.  Expect it and adjust.
  5. Remember to allow for buffer time.  Buffer time is all the in-between activities, such as driving to and from the pool, showering after a run, cleaning your bike, or just lying on the floor after a hard workout.  As a rule of thumb add 30%-50% to your planned training time.  For example if you plan to train 10 hours/week then it’s a good idea to plan an additional 3-5 hours for all the other miscellaneous activities that surround your training.

Step 5:  Do You Share Your Plan with Your Family, Friends, and Co-Workers?  Your triathlon training and racing will impact everything (and every one) in your life.  And for most of us the impact will increase as the race distance increases.  That’s why it’s so important to share your plan early and often.  Here’s why:

  1. Reality check:  There’s nothing like sharing your plan with people that know you well to see if they buy what you’re selling.  If this triathlon thing is just a lark, they’ll bust you.
  2. Avoid conflicts:  Find out where your plan has to be modified to work with the schedules of family, friends, and co-workers.  There’s much less chance you’ll get into trouble for things you know about ahead of time.
  3. Buy-in:  Getting buy-in from your support team is extremely important if you want to be successful.  Remember this is a lifestyle so what you do, what you need to do, and what you plan to do will impact everyone around you on a daily basis. Tip:  Plan weekly meetings to review schedules and address any issues, especially in the weeks before your key race.  Remember to let the other people talk.  It’s not all about you…yet.

Step 6:  What New Habits do You Need to Build to be Successful?  It was Aristotle that said “you are what you repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”  And while race day is the big event, your success depends on the little things you do every day that builds momentum toward race day success.  Start by listing a few activities you’re going to do every week to get you on the right track.  Here are a few examples:

  1. Establish the habit of training 2x per day early in the season.  This might be a real challenge for you but it will pay huge dividends as the season goes on.  An easy way to get started is to make one of the workouts a short walk just so you’re building in the time and creating the habit.
  2. Create a set morning routine, such as a short run followed by a healthy smoothie, to ensure your day starts off productive. John C. Norcross, PhD as discussed in his book Changeology has determined that linking two desired behavior changes that are related is a very effective way to create new habits.
  3. Eat balanced meals consisting of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats.  Try to avoid the all too common practice of using your training as an excuse to eat junk food and sugary snacks…. remember leaner is faster.
  4. Dial down alcohol consumption to no more than 1-2 drinks/day or eliminate it completely several days/week.  Many a key training sessions have been compromised by too much alcohol the night before.

If you follow these six fundamental planning steps and execute on your plan you’ll make major leaps in your performance at your next race.  Just like that guy who sells suits on TV, “I guarantee it!”

That’s it for this week.  Until next time train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.


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