As a coach, I am a great believer in athletes performing high quality training sessions. I don’t remember the last time I heard any coach promoting the proliferation of junk mileage, so that in itself isn’t really worth writing about.
What I have in mind is the departure from time to time, from all the structure. Getting away from the metrics of distance, time, speed, pace, cadence, heart rate, stroke length, wattage and personal best performances.
No, sometimes, you have to switch to an entirely new qualitative paradigm – Joy.
If you’re training for an Ironman, depending upon your base level of fitness and experience at the distance, you’ll be training for anything between eighteen and twenty-four weeks, putting in ten to sixteen hours, or even more for some people. I know some athletes who can tell you to the metre how much swimming, cycling and running they did in 2016. What I’m left wondering though, is what proportion of those they actually enjoyed.
When we start in this great sport, most of us have a background in one of the three – not everyone but most. That original sport – let’s say it was running, you did because you loved it. Maybe you worked your way up to a marathon? You ran and ran and ran because you loved it. Right? Do you remember that time?
Eventually though, you looked for something else, either something more, or something different. And here we are, on the GI Tri Coach blog…
Training for triathlon, particularly Ironman, is an arduous task. It usually involves at least one sport that really, deep down, you just tolerate, or endure. You grind through sessions without loving it, ever dreaming about it, or even looking forward to it. That’s usually where it starts. You’re not really looking forward to a session but you do it anyway. Reluctantly. Eventually though, you pluck up the courage to do it – you skip the session. Soon enough you don’t only skip the session you hated but another one, that you used to quite like and before long, your training plan looks like a chess board and motivation is something you’re now finding hard to define, let alone locate.
That might sound entirely familiar to you but hopefully, not quite yet.
One of the things I have been doing with athletes lately, is breaking down the structure. Taking away performance targets or even session durations. Not all the time of course but once in a while – on a lighter week.
I have for years now, used this technique when re-building from scratch, trying to recover an athlete from despondency but lately I have used it with the most consistent and capable athletes.
Why? Because even the best athletes need a break. Not a break from training but a break from expectation.
When did you last feel the love for your sport? Swimming through the water, feeling it rush over your body as you slip through a hole in the water so narrow, you thought you’d lost weight? Ridden toward the low sun and the only sounds were the tyres on the road surface, the chain over your gears and your rhythmic breath and the only thought in your mind was “wow, I love this bike!”? Been running down a trail, the light casting shadows on the path as it passed though the bare winter branches, birdsong up ahead only mildly obscured by the crunch of your shoes beneath? The sheer joy of it all.
If you’re planning to go out training this weekend. Try one of those sessions above.
Feel the joy!
It might help you keep to your rigid training schedule for another few weeks, until once more, you say “no more” to structure and “yes please” to lovin’ it!
GI Tri Coach