by Dave Latourette
When trying to become a successful athlete it’s not hard to drive yourself into submission thinking you need to be physically tough every minute of every day. The reality is we need to learn when to be physically tough, when to be mentally tough, and at times, when to be neither. Then again, being neither often takes a bit of mental fortitude. As a result, not being tough can be the toughest thing for a lot of us. The key to athletic success is not only deciding how to be tough, but what tough really is and in what scenario. There are a variety of ways to make yourself strong, durable, and in the process a better athlete.
What follows are just a few ways to discover when and how to be tough (mentally and physically) as you prep for -- and during -- your key races.
- Big picture speaking, early in the year or early in specific preparation periods it’s easy to be tough mentally and physically since deeper levels of fatigues haven’t yet set in. If you find yourself having to reach deep early in a prep period to get through workouts you may want to re-consider. Re-read my article on back half strength before going any further. The toughest part here may be in knowing that you are going to need to be even tougher in six to eight weeks so it’s best not to waste it all now.
- Be sure to selectively spend some time training against your preferences or weaknesses. For example, purposely ride an out and back training session by starting with the tailwind, making the only way home into the teeth of the wind. The decision is tough mentally and the back half of the ride is hard in body and mind. If you are lucky the wind turns around and the only tough decision was to ride out knowing the wind was going to be in your face on the way back… but don’t count on it!
- In most of our training we develop the ability to be pretty strong physically because it’s what we know we are supposed to do, right? I think it’s a good idea to actually create scenarios in training that force you to make decisions that are difficult. If you leave for a long ride or run with a group, break the session up so that you are strongest over the final third or quarter of the training session. That may mean letting your training buddy or the group go up the road for periods of time to allow you to be at you best later. This skill may serve you well on race day.
- The flip side of the above? Pick a session to selectively push your limits, whether it be in duration or intensity. Simply speaking, attempt to do something that scares you a little bit. Sometimes just getting through it makes you stronger.
- When it’s time to race, pick the points and scenarios ahead of time where you want to be the toughest (physically and mentally) and where you know you’ll need to be the toughest. Where you want to be and where you need to be may not always be in the same place. Be flexible!
In the end, do your best to create the right balance of being tough in training meanwhile leaving yourself enough room so the “well of toughness” isn’t dry when you need to take a few drinks. I -- and many others I know -- have looked into that well and found it bone dry when maybe just a sip would have helped. Be sure to save a little toughness for when it matters.
Dave Latourette is a full time triathlon coach living in Santa Rosa, California, who works with athletes from newcomer to elite. His top athletes have won USAT Age Group National Championships and raced in World Championship events that include the ITU World Championship and the Ironman World Championship. You can learn more about Dave and follow him at: TrainToEndure.com, his blog, or on twitter @dklatourette