by Russ Cox
In the six years since I started ironman I cannot think of a single breakthrough training day. There have been many memorable sessions -- some for the scenery, others for the company, some where I went further than I had before and others where I worked harder -- but no individual session stands out for leading to a breakthrough in my performance. I'm not starting another article on consistency -- it is important -- but just being consistent wasn't enough.
So when I look at six years of (mostly) consistent training, what made the difference? What took me from being another focused age-grouper to being a faster, focused age-grouper?
- Change - It's easy to become stuck in a rut, following a progressive plan that makes you fitter and probably makes you faster, but to take it a step further you might need something different.
An obvious example is the training camp. A week or two away simply doing more, not just going further, chances are working harder. These camps have often mentally and physically primed me to achieve more, both developing fitness and teaching me how much more I could do. I haven't had to go away to achieve this either; taking a week off to train at home gave similar results.
- Focus - I have never achieved my best run training and my best bike training at the same time; the two seem to be incompatible. To make breakthroughs in any of the sports I have had to focus my time on them, adopting a routine that weighed heavily in one area. Perhaps in the process I lost a little fitness elsewhere, but a singular focus on cycling took me up a level and the cost to my swim and run was negligible. While this may not be advisable in the build up to a race, off season it's an effective way to get ahead.
- Support - The biggest changes in my race performance had little to do with the sessions in my training plan; iit was what I did outside of training that made the difference. Mostly simple changes to my lifestyle that improved recovery -- more sleep and most significantly better nutrition -- to maximize the returns from my training. After a three years of committed, consistent work that never seemed to get results, it was a couple of months of focused nutrition that led to Kona qualification. The same sessions were on the plan, but improving my body composition -- dropping some excess weight -- made the difference; the next ironman I raced I finally qualified.
- Attitude - Throughout six years of extensive endurance training my attitude has changed far more than my fitness. It took a long time to build the confidence to push fully in training. Now, whether I am focusing on a single discipline or in the middle of a consistent block of training I am far more willing to test myself. It doesn't always pay off, sometimes I go too far, but that willingness to risk a little more in training has helped me breakthrough. And simply turning up to an ironman calm and confident in my abilities has enabled me to perform to my best on race day; I trusted my training and got on with the job.
Making a breakthrough in training takes work and it does take consistency, but sometimes to really make a change we have to do things differently. We have to ensure the support is there to make training as effective as possible, we have to be committed and willing to push ourselves and we have to be prepared to change to take the next step. Breakthroughs aren't easy, but the benefits speak for themselves.
Russ is a full-time triathlete and endurance coach who has raced and trained around the world. His Trains, Travels blog focuses on endurance triathlon training from an athlete's perspective, covering topics such as nutrition, training, psychological preparation and what to do during taper and recovery.