September 28, 2011

Triathlon Training: 105: The Formula for Triathlon Excellence

A few years ago my buddy and I were talking about our swim training for an upcoming Ironman race.  We commiserated over the fact that no matter what we did we just couldn’t shave much time off our time in the water.  What was really annoying was that during every training session there was always someone in the lane next to us that didn’t look anywhere near as fit but would effortlessly blow by us.  I swear that some of these guys (and gals) must have had propellers strapped to their feet!  What was that about?

Well the answer is really quite simple.  Neither of us came from a swimming background and both of us had unrealistic expectations of our swimming ability.  Sure there’s crossover fitness from other sports but the simple fact was that we hadn’t logged the laps like these other guys.  Swimmers, particularly ones that swam at the college level, have 8-10 years swimming 2-4 hours/day maybe 30 weeks or more a year in their pocket before getting involved in triathlon.  That’s somewhere between 3,000 to over 7000 hours in a sport that directly transfers to triathlon.

Give Yourself a Break

105 or 10,000 is the number most often cited when it comes to acquiring a new skill or becoming an expert.  Specifically, that it takes 10,000 correct repetitions to acquire a new skill and that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve the expert level.   Even if this is just 50% true then no matter whether you’re a novice or elite triathlete there are always more skills to develop.  So, time to focus on the task at hand:  Becoming the best triathlete you can be given the time you have available.  Here are three principles you must follow:

Let’s Get Real:  Frustration comes from having unrealistic expectations, like those of my pal and me.  By practicing realistic optimism you will move positively toward your performance goals without making yourself and those around you crazy.  Remember the 10,000 rule applies to us all and you’ve taken on a sport that combines several disciplines each with their own set of skills.  Stay positive and be patient.  Oh yea, by the way?  Unless you’re a pro-triathlete this puts triathlon training and racing stuff into the “hobby, fitness for fun” category.

Staying Focused:  Performance gains come from combining realistic optimism with focused effort.  Multi-tasking sounds great but it will only slow your progress towards improved triathlon performance.  Build drills into your training sessions and practice active breathing to clear your mind and keep you present and focused.  The better you’re able to do this, the faster you’ll acquire skills.

Spend the Time:  If it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert then we all have a long way to go so relax… but be persistent.  “Cramming” for triathlon will only leave you burned-out and injured.  Remember triathlon is a lifestyle not a single event.  If true performance improvement is what you’re looking for then focus on the long-term.  Commit to incremental gains and build solid momentum toward your goals on a daily/weekly basis.

Don’t be too concerned if you aren’t quickly closing the gap between you and the front of the pack.  Even the so called ‘natural athletes’ have to spend the time to develop their ability.  There are no short cuts so quit looking for them.

That’s it for this week.  Next time we’ll get to some race specific run training.  Until then train safe, stay healthy, and hope to see you at the races.

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