Do or do not, there is no try – Yoda
Spring time is approaching… triathlon and race season is coming quickly into view, and the duathlon season is already under way. Most athletes will have set out new season plans and goals, based on last season’s performances. The off season for most people (October to March/April) is the time to re-build and focus on areas where marginal gains can be achieved. Hands up who is still on target with the goals that you set out?
It is around this time of year that I always get asked for tips for the upcoming triathlon season. I have compiled a few of my top tips to get you to your race, and meet your goals successfully. Whether you are triathlon training, or just trying to improve your fitness, these tips will help you stay on track.
Set Smaller Goals and Keep Training Consistent
There is no such thing as a quick fix to achieving your goals. Consistent and repetitive training is essential. Adapting your training as you progress, and gradually building up to your main goal, or ‘the’ race, eventually leads to success. However, these main goals should be paved with smaller goals. These smaller goals build motivation, confidence, and keep you focused. How many of you set small goals, that inevitably turn into big races or PB races? This is very common, especially in endurance athletes. These small goals or races should be used to form good habits and discipline. Use these races to work on your pacing. Are you disciplined enough to keep your pace controlled, and not get distracted by others around you? It is great to test yourself in a race situation as part of your training, both mentally and physically.
Breathing is a simple technique which is overlooked by some athletes. We have been doing it since the day we were born but most athletes still breath poorly. Short, shallow breathing, or chest breathing will restrict the amount of oxygen in the body. This will cause a lot of tension in the body. The initial 3 minutes of a race can determine the outcome of the race, especially if you start too fast. If your body is put into oxygen debt at the start of a race, the final outcome may not be what you had hoped for. It is very hard to build confidence and keep motivated, while reaching your goal when you have a negative experience.
Working on breathing techniques is going to be extremely important for your training. Belly breathing is one simple exercise that will help with marginal gains… are you getting total exhalation from your lungs? Your body will be fighting for fresh oxygen and if your breath is shallow, the lungs will not function to full capacity.
If you are in control of your race you will notice your breathing technique. This in turn will allow you to focus on optimum running form and technique, resulting in a better performance. The same applies when cycling.
Are you positive or negative on race day? Are you able to deal with external situations that are out of your control? This can be as simple as not allowing a fellow athlete at the start line influence how you are going to race. Remember, the first 3 minutes of a race can determine the outcome! The aim of your training mentally, is to be able to deal with external situations. Ensure you put up a barrier, and stick with the plan that will lead you to achieving the big goal you set out. This also applies to training… stick to a HR, power, and pace that is in your plan.
We all want that feeling of a good race and performance. This will build confidence, which in turn will help with your progression. The small goals achieved throughout your training will lead to a positive mind set on the big race day performance… ‘train to race – race to train’.
I believe a race performance is 80-90% mental, rather than physical. If you follow a consistent training plan, the body will be trained physically day in day out, where progression has been achieved. Make sure you train mentally too, to ensure you have a positive all round race day experience.
How good are you at sticking to the plan on race day, or do you tend to get side tracked?
Take responsibility for your performance. You are the one totally responsible for your actions. Don’t blame others, their behaviour, equipment, or any other reasons for your lack of focus, or your lack of ability to follow a plan. If you don’t get the result you wanted, take responsibility and learn from the experience.
Mistakes are OK
Make the mistakes in short races and during your triathlon training. Learn from them and move on. If you are continuously making the same mistakes and don’t learn from them, you are neglecting the mental side of your performance.
Patience is Key
The life of the endurance athlete is very repetitive and requires a lot of patience. This is especially true when the gains are very small and you are using the shorter races to measure progress.
You need to be meticulous with your small goals and have patience. Believe in the plan, and see your small gains fulfilled. Some of these small progressions will not be noticed, especially from the outside world. How many times have you seen athletes setting great race performances months before the big race, and then falling short on the big day?
Take some time to have a look at the road you are traveling. Is the plan still on track? Are you achieving your small goals and addressing the small problems in time… everyone has them! This will pave the way to eventually reaching your main goal.
Remember this is a hobby for most people, you are not a professional… enjoy the journey!
Do what you love, love what you do.