As performance minded athletes transition into their winter training, most come back highly motivated to strive towards new goals. At this time of year, our brains and mentality are usually ahead of our bodies in terms of what we can handle. Because of that, it’s crucial we manage our energy early in the year/season so that we can do our best and most difficult training when it matters most with relation to our key race(s).
After four years, my running stopped improving. Plateaus are inevitable. Acceptance is not! Through the help of my two coaches, Marilyn McDonald and previously, Gordo Byrn, I learned that sometimes we need to jump up and over plateaus, especially in our off season or winter months.
Ask yourself three questions:
In my first years in triathlon I didn't run that much because I didn't need too. Running was my gateway into triathlon and while I didn't have a huge history in sport, I was good at it. I was a front-of-pack runner, all I needed was the swim and the bike to put me there. It was a natural and easy choice to prioritize those other sports and rely on my run being good enough. It worked well for a while until I eventually realized that running was no longer as much of a strength; cycling and -- to a lesser extent -- swimming had caught up.
It was going to take more than a “good enough” run to race faster now.
”You’ve got to dance with the girl who brung ya.”
I stole the somewhat cryptic quote above from strength coach Dan John.
Dan is referring to an all too common problem in sports of ignoring your natural strengths. We all pop into this world with some level of uniqueness -- tall, short, long arms, wide shoulders, big head… whatever makes you a little different from the rest is likely something that you can exploit in the world of athletics.
These three simple words can create a lot of space, happiness, serenity and freedom in my life. Letting what go, you might ask?
Letting go of the “requirement” to train, to race, to produce a result that often is not all that important. Letting go of the need for money, control, certainty or even relationships. I have often thought that triathlon was the answer to my happiness.
The beginning of a new year always brings about different questions. The number one question I ask myself at the end/start of every year is what went well and what may need improvement. The critical athlete in me usually ends up very confident that my strengths went well and my never ending weakness needs improvements.
While developing a plan to improve your weakness, you should incorporate a plan to maintain your strength.
Starting and owning my first business was a dream born in high school and realized in my late 20s. The only skills I seemed to have at that time were perseverance and focus. I didn’t know enough to know how difficult it was to actually start a business. My success was born out of my fear for failure (a skill I apply frequently to my triathlon racing).
After the first few months after opening my business, I began to drown in the reality of my roles. I was the staff, manager, owner, accountant, janitor, banker and legal department. I excelled in a few of the areas but in most of them I would rate my performance as poor. Not long into the journey, the clouds cleared and I knew the next step: it was time to terminate my employment.
I’d bet that most who are on this site reading this article are highly motivated athletes who enjoy the process of learning a little everyday. Many of us are into the off-season (or what I think is better termed “dim-season,” because we’re never really “off”). The standard protocol is to reflect back on the year and find what needs to be improved to make you better, faster and stronger for the coming season(s).
Should the focus shift to…
How about both?
Quite often as coaches or athletes we search for ways to improve our weaknesses so that we can improve our overall ability as triathletes. One thing we don’t want to see happen through this process is that our strengths fall off so much that they become a liability... dare I say, a weakness. Even though the saying goes, “Train your weaknesses, race your strengths,” you still need make sure you have strengths to fall back on.
Maintaining strengths when working on your weaknesses is hard, not only physically but mentally. Attachment also comes into play. If last season you were known to be particularly good at a discipline or a type of workout, you could become attached to the idea of being that guy who is the best at that one thing.
Think back to 2012. What are the challenges that were faced by friends and teammates?
In my athletic circle, we saw:
2012 wasn’t a “bad year” -- it was surprisingly normal. Setbacks are the norm and I could create a similar list for most years. The dark days of winter provide an opportunity for self-reflection (apologies to my pals in Oz!).
When you identify yourself as a triathlete you are often asked, "What is your strength? What background did you come from?"
For some it's obvious -- swim, bike or run. For others it's less obvious -- strong stomach, ability to endure tough conditions, mental capacity, durability or ability to absorb high training/racing load without injury or illness. And then there are those who are well-rounded as triathletes with no particular discipline as a specific strength, but the strength itself is that all three events are strong and balanced.
by Kevin Purcell, D.C.
As we mature and move onward, so does the way we view our health, and by extension, performance.
Performance can be measured in the work place, in a home setting, in our communities, as mentors or in any number of athletic endeavors. Then there is the all-important measurements done “in our heads.” Each area may age in different ways and some of them seem to overlap.
Readers have probably heard the expression “getting old sucks.” I imagine that saying came from somebody who was aging because aging supplies that kind of context. Drilling deeper, we might imagine a guy or gal expressing that feeling, in any number of ways, who held onto strong memories of “what it used to be like.”
To be clear, in my view, there is nothing wrong with holding onto memories of the good old days unless the memories make the good new days seem less good. Making the present seem less attractive by focusing on memories of the past is not productive; and unless you live alone or in a cave it has the unintended risk of affecting everybody else around you.
To be fair, our relative high levels of performance don’t happen by accident; and that means there were years, countless hours, sacrifice and an emotional toll that went into a personal best in any area of a life. Hopefully, the hard work and success brought a modicum of lasting happiness. If not, it could be viewed as time spent in an odd way.
There are good reasons why a person would let a skill fade or disappear that they had worked a decade or more to master. Perhaps no longer being able to do the action that was once a “joy” as well is enough of a reason. I don’t offer any judgment. I have enough trouble trying to figure me out, let alone somebody else’s motivation.
Last month an article on Slowtwitch entitled, “Heart Tired Revisited”, stimulated an online discussion among some of my triathlete friends about whether or not the heart “gets tired.” I cast a vote for NO and I’m sticking with at least a qualified NO. But the conversation got me to thinking and reading about the broader issue of exercise-related cardiac fatigue. That’s a real concept with implications for every endurance athlete.
I am sure I heard the phrase that is the title of this column somewhere in the past, but the first time I acknowledged it is when it popped in my head during a Masters swim session in Boulder. Time and time again, I have watched people show up, blow up (in the main set), then linger on the walls as others finish the workout. I am not criticizing the process of blowing up, as I think its part of learning your limits, but repetitively training to failure is not productive. One reason is it inhibits a training plan’s volume/load/consistency/etc. The other problem is that the athlete no longer understands what it is to really blow up. By continually failing in training, the athlete already has that plan in his or her head and will probably pull the pin simply when things get difficult as opposed to “impossible.”
My hobby of triathlon takes as much work as my actual work. To quote Vince, a fellow team member/business owner at Endurance Corner, “I am a professional triathlete and a part-time business owner.” Doing both, triathlon and business, requires my personal priorities to be perfectly aligned:
When we look back and reflect on the season, the practice usually encompasses jotting down a list of what worked, what did not work, what training you enjoyed, and what training you forced yourself to get through. We may analyze every number all the nifty gadgets and testing told us about our fitness, and adjust our training so the coming season will result in better execution and less injury or training burnout.
When I look back, the lessons of my year are deeper than anything to do with training, racing, and coaching. In actuality, while it’s a “deeper” lesson, it’s much broader in perspective.
There are many different ways athletes approach their overall annual plans, but most have similarities they follow when thinking of their upcoming year. Terms like "prioritization" and "repeatable week" are all commonly used in endurance sport. Most know there needs to be an element of pacing the year and ramping up to specific work as the main event approaches.
With 2013 training kicking off for everyone, it's time to consider how you approach the winter.
2012 wasn’t a breakthrough year for me in the way it had been in previous years. I didn’t have any eureka moments. I didn’t learn anything new. What I did was learn how to apply existing knowledge on a higher level.
Rather than engaging the willfully blind, I’ve been thinking about how we could tip the scales towards clean athletes. Frankly, it’s made me sad to see that most of the triathlon media have acted to suppress discussion of the history of doping in our sport.
When I was asked by Endurance Corner’s editor to share the lessons I learned this year, I’ll admit I didn’t know where to start. Moving cities, trading employment for self-employment and turning a hobby into a career all at the same time made for quite the education. Full-time endurance coaching would seem to be ideal for training, but the transition period is an interesting one. Here are a few of the most notable and surprising lessons I learned in 2012.
Now that my breakthrough season has ended, I find myself in a new place. Content. Tired. Resting. Recovering. Eating. Making Merry. Happy.
At Masters swimming I had a friend ask me what was I getting ready for next. My response? Self-improvement. I realized after Kona that the goal was never the answer. And Kona was never the question. The last five years have truly been a journey in self-improvement.
How did I improve?
I have the pleasure of asking several athletes in different points in their development across a number of sports a lot of questions. A few things are consistent in the ones who continue to improve and do well.
I have been thinking about the topic of “lessons learned” for quite some time and there are so many lessons to be learned each year. Whether it is personal or about training, there is always some sort of nugget one can take away from his or her experiences throughout a given year. I think there are several types of lessons, both specific to individual circumstances, and macro, which can be applied to many aspects of life.
by Kevin Purcell, D.C.
Most of us in endurance sport keep a close eye on our fitness. We have benchmarks we expect to see in specific prep, after a taper and after post-race or end of season layoffs. Heart rates change, power numbers fluctuate, pace and percieved exertion look and feel different as well. Over time we are either trying to improve those benchmarks or maintain them, depending on age and depth of experience.
Do you have an idea of personal health markers and how they might change if you stopped living healthfully? And if you are only giving a part time effort toward being the healthiest you can be, do you have any idea how much more you can do?
After a decade of superior health it can be difficult to visualize what it would be like if we lost our health. What happens if we take our foot off the gas pedal; will the momentum we forged over a decade slip? The answer is yes; if we adopt a less healthy lifestyle our body will quickly become less healthy and maybe down right unhealthy.
Recently I was my own crucible and I have the laboratory data to back me up. I had a nasty injury from a stick in the eye. I could not train and wore a patch. The injuries to the cornea were slow to heal and I ended up wearing a clear plastic bandage in the eye to keep the wounds from sticking to the inside of my eyelid. About this time my mother had a series of strokes and I was driving eight hours round trip to her hospital once a week for months on end. On top of this I was dealing with cervical spine issues that created significant discomfort and arm pain. The coup de grace was the start of trigeminal neuralgia in late 2011 and lasted about eight months. If you Google trigeminal neuralgia you will see it is called the “suicide disease” and “it has been described as among the most painful conditions known to mankind.” They are not exaggerating.
After Kona in 2011, my coach Kevin Purcell and I put together the game plan for 2012:
The plan was simple and realistic because we could expect four spots in my age group and flat bike courses suit me perfectly as I’m relatively tall and, at 83kg, I’m not the lightest.
Over the past month I’ve spent time planning for athletes’ 2013 seasons, but while looking forward I have had to spend time reflecting back over the past year or two to help in getting the future correct. Simply, I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned or confirmed with my athletes (or myself) over the past year.
In my last blog post, I offered a quick retrospective on some of the things that I would like to do differently as my squad heads into 2013.
While it’s always good to look back on the past with a critical eye, it is equally important to celebrate the successes -- the changes that we made this year that led to some breakthrough performances. I’ll attempt to recount some of those in this article, so that you, the reader, can apply them to your own 2013 plan and have your own breakthrough year!