Category Archives: Triathlete Psychology

13th Annual Ironman Lecture Series

IMAZ15 run Malorie Charley closeupIt’s that time of year again! On June 15th, we’ll be starting our monthly Ironman lecture series for the 13th consecutive year. These lectures will be held on the first or second Wednesday (usually) of each month and will discuss in detail subjects pertaining to Ironman/Long Course triathlon training and racing. Subjects will include training volumes, equipment selection, nutrition, race day strategy, sports psychology/goal setting, and contingency planning.

These lectures may be some of the most important things you can do in preparing for a successful IM or long course event. Why learn the hard way? At these lectures you can learn from others’ mistakes and share your own lessons learned with your fellow IM athletes. Much of the information can be applied to ½ Ironman racing as well. Everyone is welcome to attend, if you would like to bring a friend.

The lectures will be held in the conference room of the Comfort Inn in Fountain Hills starting at 6:00PM and will usually be done by 7:30PM. The Comfort Inn is located at 17105 E. Shea Blvd, Fountain Hills AZ 85268. The dates of the lectures are listed below (dates and times subject to change). Hope to see you there!

Lecture #1 – Training Road Map – June 15th.
Lecture #2 – Nutrition – July 13th
Lecture #3 – Goal Setting – Aug 10th
Lecture #4 – Equipment Selection – Sep 14th
Lecture #5 – Contingency Plans – Oct 19th
Lecture #6 – Race Strategy – Nov 16th
Lecture #7 – Debrief/Cake – Nov 22rd (Tuesday)

Ironman/Long Course Racing Lecture Series – 2016

IMAZ15 run Malorie Charley closeupIt’s that time of year again! In June, we will be starting our monthly Ironman lecture series for the 13th consecutive year. These lectures will be held on the first or second Wednesday (usually) of each month and will discuss in detail subjects pertaining to Ironman/Long Course Triathlon training and racing. Subjects will include training volumes, equipment selection, nutrition, race day strategy, sports psychology/goal setting, and contingency planning. These lectures may be some of the most important things you can do in preparing for a successful IM or long course event. Why learn the hard way? At these lectures you can learn from others’ mistakes and share your own lessons learned with your fellow IM athletes. Much of the information can be applied to ½ Ironman racing as well. Everyone is welcome to attend, if you would like to bring a friend.

The lectures will be held in the conference room of the Comfort Inn in Fountain Hills starting at 6:00PM and will usually be done by 7:30PM. The Comfort Inn is located at 17105 E. Shea Blvd, Fountain Hills AZ 85268. The dates of the lectures are listed below (dates and times subject to change). Hope to see you there!

Lecture #1 – Training Road Map – June 15th.
Lecture #2 – Nutrition – July 13th
Lecture #3 – Goal Setting – Aug 10th
Lecture #4 – Equipment Selection – Sep 14th
Lecture #5 – Contingency Plans – Oct 19th
Lecture #6 – Race Strategy – Nov 16th
Lecture #7 – Debrief/Cake – Nov 23rd

To Brick or Not to Brick

Geeking out about the new lightsaber.

Geeking out about the new lightsaber.

“Only the Sith deal in absolutes.”

I know, I know. A hokey Star Wars reference. [Sorry, new Episode 7 trailer on the brain]. But in this, I have to agree with the Jedi. More often than not, dealing in absolutes is not a good thing.

But when it comes to the subject of bricks, people tend to fall hard one way or the other on the subject.

Generally speaking, we’re not fans of assigning bricks to our athletes for a number of reasons, which I’ll detail below. When we do, it’s for a specific purpose, which I’ll also explain.

But I want to address two points right up front, because this is a long-ish article and I don’t want you to miss these.

  • You can effectively train for triathlons, successfully compete in triathlons, call yourself a triathlete, and not do bricks.
  • You will hear many triathletes say they are running better or faster than ever because they are doing bricks. However, it is far more likely they are achieving better run results because they are running more. The fact that part of their run volume comes after a bike ride is, for the most part, irrelevant. Ultimately, it comes down to run volume and the intensity of those runs.

So back to our athletes. When they discover that their training programs are mostly brick-free—especially our long-course athletes—we’re asked, “Why? Why no bricks? I am a triathlete, therefore, I must do bricks.”

This is an absolute if you’re a triathlete, right?

Sort of like, “I am a triathlete, therefore, I must ride a tri bike.” [Author shakes head. No, this would require another blog article entirely].

But—and maybe I should have included this in the bulleted items above—there is no journal published study that says if you do bricks, you will go faster. If it’s out there, please let me know, because I would be extremely interested in reading it. In the meantime, any “evidence” that might exist to support this claim is purely anecdotal.

 

Well, shoot, I wanted to stick with a Star Wars theme, but the Black Knight with "dead" legs seemed a "nicer" image than Anakin Skywalker without legs.

Well, shoot, I wanted to stick with a Star Wars theme, but the Black Knight with “dead” legs seemed a tamer image than Anakin Skywalker without legs.

The Early Days

In the early days of triathlon, we thought “dead” running legs following the bike were a result of poor training methods. Therefore, we reasoned, our training methods needed to change to more specifically replicate what we were experiencing in a race environment.

That is, we needed to practice running after biking. So, we all did bricks.

How the word brick came to be used in triathlon parlance is debatable. It’s largely accepted that the term came about because our legs tend to feel like bricks when we get off the bike.  A story also exists of a duathlete who invented the name, one whose last name was Brick. Or perhaps, it’s that you’re stacking two workouts on top of each other, like a pile of bricks. Regardless, when we talk about brick workouts, we’re referring to running after biking.

 

What’s really happening in the transition from bike to run?

Since those early days, we’ve come to know that there are two physiological reasons for that “dead-leg” feeling from bike to run—blood shunting and neural transition.

  • Blood shunting. When cycling, blood is directed to the major working muscles required for cycling, the quadriceps. Your blood vessels dilate and the flow of blood increases. This widening of the blood vessels is called vasodilation. So, stated basically, when you jump off your bike, you’ve got a lot of blood “pooled” in your quads. This is the heavy feeling. The blood then has to shunt to the major working muscles used for running, which are the hamstrings and the calves.
  • The neural component. The nervous system is actively engaged in making biking movements—spinning, pedaling—and then, in T2, you’re asking your body to do something different and do it quickly—that is, make movements required for running, which involves impact and supporting your body weight.

It is important to note that regardless of how you train, the blood shunting has to happen and the nervous system has to adjust to new movements. The time required for these adjustments varies.

It is generally accepted that it takes about four to eight minutes for the blood shunting to occur. For some athletes, it may be less, for others, it may be more.

On the neural side, we’re talking less time than blood shunting, and your body can train to learn this “skill,” to move more rapidly from the neural patterning required for biking to that required for running. This is where shorter bike-run repeats come in and this might be applicable for certain short-course athletes.

Jabba's Palace is made of bricks, right?  Oh . . . ok, well maybe it isn't.

Jabba’s Palace is made of bricks, right?
Oh . . . ok, well maybe it isn’t.

However, it is unclear whether doing bricks allows blood shunting to occur more rapidly. Again, if there’s a journal-published study out there that shows this conclusively, we haven’t seen it.

But whether or not brick workouts speed the shunting process, you’re going to have this transitional period in any triathlon run, where you might feel a little lethargic, slow, and heavy.

I have a list below of circumstances when bricks might be warranted, and I’ve just mentioned one of those occasions above. But this is a good place to mention another one. If you’re newer to the sport and haven’t raced enough to have gotten used to the feeling of transitioning from bike to run, a short run after a bike might be ok. The good news is the more you race, the more your brain becomes accustomed to the sensation, and eventually, you stop noticing it altogether.

 

Ahh, but a LEGO Jabba's palace is made of bricks. So, there you go.

Ahh, but a Jabba’s palace from LEGO is made of bricks. So, there you go.

Bricks for the long-course athlete

“I did a seven-hour bike and then a three-hour run. I killed it.”

You hear this all the time, right? Think back to your last track workout with your tri club. Your last group ride. Your last Masters swim workout. There’s always that guy or gal that brags about their all-day-long brick. And, oh by the way, they do that every weekend. “So what are you doing?” they ask.

But think about it. Should long-course athletes really be practicing running after a long bike? This is a popular notion, however . . .

. . . the theoretical purpose of a brick is to train your body to run quickly—immediately—after the bike.

Hmm . . .

In an iron-distance race, you have 26.2 miles to “find” your legs. Even if you could train to speed the blood shunting process, how much would you gain by running the first 800 meters of an Ironman marathon quickly? Or think of it this way. Has any Ironman finisher ever lamented they ran the first mile of their marathon too slow?

 

What is really gained during a brick workout?

Since the blood shunting and neural transition take “x” amount of time, then what, specifically, is an athlete accomplishing during that “x” amount of time when running immediately following a bike workout?

Training the body’s mechanisms to reduce the amount of time it takes to shunt the blood?

Perhaps.

Training the body’s nervous system to affect a more rapid change in neural pattering from bike to run?

Probably.

Getting used to the feeling of running while the blood is shunting ?

Again, probably.

So answer me this:

What are athletes accomplishing after that “x” amount of time, when the blood shunting and neural transition are complete?

When it comes down to it, they’re completing a run workout at that point—a run workout like any other, one that could have been done before the bike, later in the day, or the next day.

 

“But, I need to learn to run on tired legs!”

Often, this is the justification for doing long bricks.

Tatooine's version of the Beeline. Was thinking of overheating here. . . . ?

Tatooine’s version of the Beeline. Was thinking of overheating here. . . . ?

So what is tired?

  1. The accumulation of too much lactic acid. You would feel this type of fatigue at the end of a 5K running race, for example.
  2. Problems with nutrition. When you don’t hit the nutrition numbers right, you can deplete your glycogen stores and bonk. Or, you may have tried to throw down too many calories. Or, you may be working at too high an intensity, which affects caloric absorption rates. Or, your fluid replacement numbers might be off—too little or too much. Or, you may have an electrolyte imbalance—too little salt.
  3. Overheating. This is what you feel in the last two hours of your long ride in the middle of July in Arizona—slow, sluggish, just get me off this *@$! bike.
  4. Loss of muscle contractility. This is fatigue due to microscopic tearing of the muscles due to impact forces and is typically the type of fatigue felt at the end of a marathon. Without going into huge detail about eccentric muscle contractions and the stress put on muscles when running, think non-weight bearing exercise (cycling) versus weight-bearing (running). You’re going to be more beat up after a run than a ride.

After a low intensity, long bike ride, accumulation of too much lactic acid is not going to be an issue, nor is loss of muscle contractility, because of the non-weight bearing nature of cycling.

Mustafar duel - Probably better image for overheating, no?

Mustafar duel – Probably a better image for overheating, no?

So, if you begin your brick run following your bike and you’re “tired,” you’re probably experiencing issues due to nutrition, or you’re overheated, or both.

To address nutrition, you would adjust your caloric, fluid, and electrolyte intake, and/or adjust the intensity of your ride for better absorption rates.

To address overheating, you would either employ better methods of cooling—wearing different clothing, splashing yourself, starting your workout earlier when the temperatures are cooler, etc.—or you would learn to adapt to the heat by training in the heat.

To summarize, the way to address nutrition issues and overheating is to . . . address nutrition issues and overheating. A brick workout is not required to do either of these things.

The possible exception would be if you wanted to learn how to run better in the heat. In this case, you would seek to train in the heat, and if you did this following the bike, the run would be occurring later in the day, when it’s probably hotter.

 

Hard to find running images in Star Wars, but this new Episode 7 R2-series droid looks to be moving at a pretty good clip.

Hard to find running images in Star Wars, but this new Episode 7 R2-series droid looks to be moving at a pretty good clip.

“But so-and-so fast person does bricks. And they’re fast!”

Elite triathletes are not fast runners off the bike because they do bricks. Genetics aside, they are fast runners off the bike because they have trained hard in running.

Why do some professional triathletes do bricks? Why do others choose not to? Without the scientific data to support the efficacy of brick workouts, it’s hard to say.

Okay, so what about anecdotal evidence? Are the pros who do bricks the only ones winning? The answer is no. Some world champions perform brick workouts, some don’t.

Elite ITU athletes racing the Olympic distance would have the most to gain by running as fast as they can off the bike, but even these athletes are split on whether to do bricks. One reason is that they race so often—sometimes every other weekend—they are, in effect, performing bricks every time they race.

And then, there are those athletes like Simon Lessing—multiple world champion at the Olympic distance, but also at the Half Iron and Ironman distance, and now a coach—who are not proponents of brick workouts and feel that running after biking in training only adds to the cumulative stress the athlete is subjected to without quantifiable gains.

By the way, over the last eleven years, we’ve coached Ironman athletes to finishing times of 8:35, 9:42, 9:56, 9:58, and numerous athletes between 10:00 and 10:30 . . . and none of them did brick training to achieve these results. Lest the reader think, “Well, yes, they performed well, but they would have done even better had they done bricks,” it’s important to note that several of these athletes wondered the same thing, and they specifically requested to add bricks to their training to see what would happen. We’re certainly not against working with an athlete to find what works best for them or to try something they are interested in pursuing, so we added bricks to the training plans of those who requested it. The result? There was no measurable improvement in their performances when bricks were added to their training regimen.

 

Okay, so the Millennium Falcon has nothing to do with this section, but this is a flippin' cool photo! Of course, none of these images have anything remotely to do with bricks, but hey, it's a long article. Something to keep you reading until the end, hopefully.

Okay, so the Millennium Falcon has nothing to do with bricks, but this is a flippin’ cool photo! Of course, none of these images have anything remotely to do with bricks, but hey, it’s a long article. Something to keep you reading until the end . . . I hope.

When might bricks be warranted?

  • Bike-run repeats. You might do a brick in the form of short, quick, bike-run repeats for the purpose of training the neural system to quickly adapt from bike to run for short course racing.
  • “Transition” bricks. A short run following a bike to “test” how well your nutrition worked on a longer bike ride. If you’ve gotten the nutrition right and you’re not overheated, you’ll tick off that thirty-minute run without issue. But even here, the run is not necessary to know this. It’s a confidence builder more than anything.
  • Time management. If your schedule is crammed to overflowing , it might be that the only way to fit in that third weekly run is to add it directly after a bike.
  • Confidence. As I mentioned above, some athletes just want the peace of mind of knowing they are capable of running after biking. For most, a quick transition brick is all that’s needed. “Yep, it’s been thirty minutes and I’m running like any other run.”

 

Why might you think twice about performing bricks?

  • Run form can be compromised. When you’re fatigued—say you didn’t get your nutrition right on the bike, or you’re overheated after finishing your five-hour ride at 11am in Arizona in July, or you’re not sleeping right because you’re trying to cram in so much training—your run form can suffer. Better to run fresh, to use good form. It will reduce the overall training stress and reduce chances of injury.
  • Quality of run workout can degrade. If you’re scheduled for a lactate threshold run, the intensity levels you need to reach for physiological adaptations to occur are extremely high. There’s a better-than-average chance that you won’t reach these high levels of effort if you’ve just come off a three-hour ride, not only because of the fatigue-related issues just discussed, but also due to the mental aspect of having to take yourself to that painful place a threshold run requires. So, it’s not uncommon for that threshold workout to morph into a tempo run or something else entirely.
  • Run duration might suffer. With time restraints, when trying to fit in a bike and a run back-to-back, often it’s the run duration that’s effected. If you need a one-hour tempo run, but try to fit it in with a bike before work, you might only have time for a thirty-minute tempo run.
  • Cumulative fatigue.  This is a biggie, particularly for long-distance athletes, because it can affect the rest of your workouts during the week. Not only might the quality of the run workout that immediately follows the bike be effected, but the cumulative fatigue from brick workouts can inhibit your ability to perform high quality workouts, like interval workouts or tempo workouts, in the days that follow, and as a result, your entire training scheme can soon devolve into a muddle of mediocre workouts.
  • Definite heat stress happening here . . . or maybe an electrolyte imbalance. Whatever it is, it's not good. Poor  Anakin. Quit while you're ahead! While you still have legs!

    Definite heat stress happening here . . . or maybe an electrolyte imbalance. Whatever it is, it’s not good. Poor Anakin. Quit while you’re ahead! While you still have legs!

    Heat stress. For our Arizona athletes who train through the summer, if you run after the bike, you are obviously running later in the day, when it’s hotter. As we all know, this often ends in a survival run rather than the completion of a quality run workout.

  • Consistency. If you’re trying to squeeze in a one-hour bike ride before work, it’s difficult enough just to accomplish this and do so consistently. But then to add a run after? Now you’re trying to squeeze in a ninety-minute workout. And for what return? That run could just as easily be accomplished by itself later in the afternoon or the following day with no deleterious effects to the training cycle. In fact, you’ll feel fresher and run with better form and at the correct intensity, as a result.
  • Too large a block of time required.  Back-to-back workouts require a larger chunk of time to complete, time that we often don’t have due to our busy schedules.

 

Ideally, if you can keep your runs separate, you can do long-duration runs and higher intensity runs, and do both with better form and at the correct intensity than you could if you make one of your runs part of a brick.

 

Listen to the Jedi Master . . .

Listen to the Jedi Master . . .

Ultimately, you need to do what is right for you.

This means you have to train not like your next door neighbor, not like the local pro, not like the guy who swims next to you in Masters, but train in the way that makes the most sense for you.

Does this mean you should never do bricks? Not necessarily. Just know that what you may or may not be gaining from doing them, might not be worth the risk of fatigue or injury or the possible negative impact to your other workouts, particularly if you’re focusing on long-distance racing.

The most important thing, really, is focusing on getting your designated swim, bike, and run workouts done consistently. Sounds simple, but for the majority of our athletes with jobs and families and all the rest, this is challenge number one. Do this, and you can still be a triathlete, while doing what’s right for you.

Now, about that tri bike . . .

Mental Toughness: See Joan McGue

Joan McGue IMAZ 2014 swimJoan McGue made the bike cut-off at Ironman Arizona this year by five seconds.  Her timing chip was pulled at the 13.1-mile mark of the run. She did not cross the finish line. But of the twenty-six Camelback Coaching athletes who toed the line on race morning—several 10-hour finishers among them—she produced the most impressive performance of the day.

On paper, Joan shouldn’t have finished the bike leg, her 160-watt threshold power not a match for 25-mph race day winds. That morning, as Bill and I stood on the Rural Road bridge, our jackets flapping in the breeze, we watched as Joan passed underneath us en route to the swim turnaround, and thought, “Oh, no.”

But she didn’t do what many athletes would have done in a similar predicament—quit.

We’ve heard the following  sentiment in races past from other athletes—some our own, some not—at various points during the bike and the run: “I can’t make the cut-off.” For most, this is not really the case. They do have the time. They do have the ability. They can make the cut-off . . . if they choose to continue. If they don’t quit.

For those who have gotten to this point, have uttered these words, many find the inner resolve—perhaps after a quick pep talk—then remount or begin jogging, as the case may be, and do their best to finish. We hold the utmost admiration for these athletes. Who power through a low moment. Who continue to push.

But others don’t and it’s interesting to watch this unfold. We’ve seen it as early as lap one on the IMAZ bike course. “I can’t make it.” And they step off. Wha—?

Certainly, if anyone had cause to do this during IMAZ 2014, it would have been Joan. She faced a daunting—most would have said impossible—task as she left T1. She knew her abilities. She saw the conditions. She could do the math. She could have dismounted right then and saved herself the trouble. But she didn’t.

We urge our “cut-off chasers” or anyone having difficulty—who doesn’t?—to follow this guiding race day tenet:  Don’t take yourself off the course, make them do it. Make them pull your chip.

Joan McGue has always adhered to this philosophy. She does not quit. And she’s a two-time Ironman finisher because of it (Ironman Canada and Ironman Arizona). She’s also represented the United States at the Duathlon World Championships and completed one of the toughest Half Ironman-distance courses out there, Wildflower.

I think it’s easy to lose sight of accomplishments like this. In the triathlon world, the efforts of a 16-hour finisher can be easily overlooked, while we sing the praises of a Kona qualifier. But when you consider the general population, we’re talking rock star status for anyone who even steps foot on the Ironman playing field. But for Joan, it’s more than that. Talk about someone who has the odds stacked against her every time she steps up to the start line. But step up, she does. She goes for it. And doesn’t stop until someone forces her to or she crosses the finish line.

Bill and I are entering our twelfth year in the full-time triathlon coaching business, and we’ve coached Joan for seven of those. Year after year, we cite her as an example in our mental toughness lectures, because there is no better example. She always rises to the occasion, tries her best, never quits, and as a result, never disappoints.

During our military careers, we routinely had to ask the question—because often, lives depended on it—“Who do you want with you when the going gets tough?”  For us, the answer lies not in talent, but in spirit. We would have picked Joan every time.

USAT Art and Science of Triathlon 2014 International Coaching Symposium Recap: Keep it Simple

USAT Art and Science of Triathlon badge 2014The USAT Art and Science of Triathlon 2014 International Coaching Symposium was held at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas this year—I know, rough—just upstairs from Interbike, where vendors showcased the latest and greatest in technologies and advancements in the bike industry.

But while bike technology continues to develop, along with other equipment and training aids found in triathlon, the overwhelming takeaway from the conference this year was that basic, current coaching principles remain valid. What was accurate twenty, thirty, forty years ago is still accurate today, and published studies continue to confirm this. So we would not categorize the information presented at this year’s conference as “learnings” so much as “affirmations.”

The other takeaway of note was communicated by this year’s keynote speaker—Michael Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman—who laid waste to the myth (and marketing) of coaches who claim to have a unique, vastly superior coaching methodology. Why? Because everything we teach is available somewhere in the public domain, and if these revolutionary coaching methods were really that great, most of us would have adopted them.

Mr. Bowman stated in no uncertain terms that there is no secret set, no highly classified training regimen, and certainly no “super coach” that dispenses training advice that no one else knows about. The “recipe” for coaching endurance athletes is the same across the board. You build foundation. You incorporate high intensity work. You strength train. You listen to your athletes, communicate, motivate.

Beyond these two main themes, I’ve listed below several topics presented at the conference, in no particular order, along with general thoughts. You’ll see a pattern in that if it’s training related, it’s not new.

1. The most important training element for any athlete is consistency, day in and day out. In other words, the hardest part of regular exercise is the “regular,” not the “exercise.” Hear! Hear! Truer words have not been spoken.

2. Lecturers across the board repeated that periodization, long duration/ low intensity work, short duration/ high intensity work, strength training, flexibility, and dedication to gaining efficiency in technique are still the hallmarks of a quality training program.

3. In speaking with other coaches, we sensed a bit of a backlash against technology. Most felt that too much time is being spent here, and it takes away from what people enjoy about the sport and what used to be fun. All the triathlon greats—Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Tinley, Scott Molina and the rest—trained and raced at the highest levels, indeed comparable with today’s highest performing athletes, with nary a Garmin in sight.

4. Triathlon is flattening in growth. USAT is trying to come up with initiatives to encourage participation by children who do not have triathlete parents.

5. USAT would like to increase diversity in its membership.

6. Speaking to the previous three points, the underlying irony is that technology could be—and probably is—inhibiting the sport’s growth. What better way to turn off someone from the inner city than introduce them to a sport that “requires” Training Peaks software, a $6,000.00 tri bike and $3,000.00 power meters?

7. In the world of bike fitting, there’s a renewed emphasis on comfort and sustainability of the rider position over pure aerodynamics. This is obviously not new.

8. In swimming, there was an emphasis on efficiency along with the recognition that open water swimming with people all around you presents a significant challenge to maintaining efficiency. Being able to remain relaxed and maintain form in that chaos is critical. Uh . . . yeah. Not new.

9. The word “doping,” never surfaced. Talk about having your head in the sand. This is one area where triathlon needs to pay attention or we risk going down the path that some of our sister sports have.

10. High intensity training is critical for maximizing performance. According to research, the most effective intervals are longer intervals as opposed to shorter intervals. That is, four- to ten-minute intervals versus fifteen- to thirty-second intervals. Nothing new here.

11. At the “high intensity” lecture, the takeaway was that less is more. This refers to the overall volume of high intensity training performed throughout the year, not the duration of the interval itself. A story was related about Paula Newby-Fraser, eight-time Ironman Hawaii winner, who, one year, tried to keep up with peers who had adopted a training regimen that included high volumes of high-intensity training, and said it was the biggest mistake of her career. She ended up injured and had a catastrophic melt-down in Kona that year.

12. Insecurity is one of the leading reasons for pursuing too much high-intensity training. We sound like broken records on this one. Trust in the plan. Be patient. Too much, too soon, can destroy all gains from a well-laid training program.

13. Vegans can compete at a high level of athletic performance, but it requires a lot of food and a lot of planning.

14. The mental aspect of racing received a lot of attention this year. Bob Bowman highlighted this in his speech about training Michael Phelps. You develop your mental toughness through training and visualization.

15. Jeff Galloway, noted long-time running coach and author, expanded on this in his lecture on the mental aspects of long-distance running. He suggested mental tricks such as mantras. His favorite is to repeat the following when you wake up early to train: “Feet on the floor. Alarm off. Coffee.”

16. Also from Jeff Galloway, the run-walk method is viable on long training runs, in addition to races. Our Ironman athletes, in particular, have known this for years.

17. Programs for kids should be fun, skills based, non-technical, and without parental interference.

18. New athletes need to remember patience. Enjoy and embrace the journey. Make Ironman a long-term goal, not a short term goal.

19. Integrity in the coaching community. In a poll among coaches who have been in the business the longest, this was a big worry. New coaches want to be big and they want it right now. Short cuts, promotion of supplements and fads, and pie-in-the-sky promises often accompany such new coaches. Athletes beware of the coach promising the moon with their trademarked “such-and-such method.” These are marketing tools, pure and simple.

20. Absent this year was the talk of fads like barefoot running, shoes that promote forefoot strikes, and CrossFit methods for getting out of bed in the morning.

Triathlete Psychology 101: Managing Inflated Race Expectations

finish lineFirst, a few “technical” definitions:

    • The clunker race – a dramatic under-performance based on capabilities predicted from training
    • The mean racea performance at or near, just above or below, a level that training indicates
    • The breakthrough race a performance at a peak level, above and beyond what training indicates

The math doesn’t lie. Think about your races over the last few years. In fact, go grab your logbooks or open whatever you need to find your race results. Please, go do this now. I’ll wait. . . .

Ok, now that you’re back, let’s look at your data. You will see that a small percentage of your races were clunkers. A small percentage were breakthroughs. But the vast majority were means.

Admit that you’re seeing this. Internalize it.

Now my question is this: Why do we view breakthrough races as the expectation, the norm, yet dismiss the clunkers as exceptions or one-offs?

We all do it, right? We have that stellar race, that breakthrough performance, and yet, we expect the next one to be off the charts, too. And the one after that. And the one after that. Giant leap after giant leap. Phenomenal PR after phenomenal PR.

But is this realistic?

The answer, of course, is no.

Most of our races are mean races, or dare I say, average. Oh! That word! Average. We spit it out like cod liver oil.

“How was your race this weekend?”

“It was average. Thanks for asking.”

“Dude, I’m so sorry. That’s rough. Really.”

The average race, which I’ll heretofore refer as the mean race to protect the sensitive psyches reading this article, is a race where the athlete performs reasonably well based on the results they see in training.

Reasonably well often includes measurable improvements, but unless it’s a drastic improvement, we tend to be disappointed.

To be fair, we’re set up to view the mean race as a disappointment partly because we expect the rapid improvement we enjoyed early in our careers. When we first jump into the sport, every race is a breakthrough. We might have started in a relatively healthy, yet untrained state. Or perhaps we came from a single-sport specialty with little experience in the other two disciplines. With the addition of consistent training, we drop huge chunks of time race to race.

But as we become more fit and we tuck more race experiences under our belts, the improvements become more and more marginal. Ouch. This is another hard word to stomach. Worse than average, even.

A marginal improvement is still an improvement. You ran a 3:15 at the P. F. Chang’s Marathon last year. You ran a 3:14 this year. Outstanding. Congratulations. Based on your consistent, structured training, you enjoyed an improvement that fell right in line with where your metrics said you should have fallen.

“But Coach, my best time the year prior to the 3:15 was a 3:45. So logically, I should have run a 2:45 this year, right?”

“Uh, well, no. The 3:45 was your first attempt ever at the distance and that was completed with spotty training at best.”

The 2:45 would be a ridiculous expectation, right? Unless you possess world class DNA, it’s not going to happen. And yet, we still expect it.

In reality, a high-performing athlete who is well-trained, highly motivated and races in reasonable environmental conditions, is doing quite well to find most results falling in the mean category.

The truth is, we become numb to the fact that we’re super fit. We enjoy improvements of a minute here and a minute there and we’re dejected. I mean, we could do this with our eyes closed, right?

But you’re ignoring the years of training you’ve put in and how fit you actually are.

It’s not until we go through a period of being untrained due to injury, or have to deal with a stress-inducing personal situation, or just get old, fat and lazy that we realize at just how high a level we were performing in these “disappointing” mean races.

So going forward, how do we address the clunkers and the breakthroughs? First, let’s remind ourselves why these races happen.

      • Clunkers are generally a result of severe environmental conditions, a lack of motivation, a poorly executed race or nutrition strategy, or some other external factor—personal stress, etc.
      • Breakthrough races are typically a result of favorable environmental conditions, extreme motivation, and a lack of personal stress.

It is important to understand that the same training routine can result in both of these races. In other words, the training did not change to produce the results, only the factors on race day did.

The common reaction to a clunker is that I need to train harder or differently. The common reaction to a breakthrough race is that I should expect that performance every time. Both of these reactions are misguided.

As you evaluate your races, be realistic. Some races are going to be clunkers. Some are going to be breakthroughs and most are going to be means. Your training is the same for all three.

So instead of reacting to the race result and adjusting training, the successful athlete sticks with the routine and knows that the breakthrough race they so crave will eventually come, even if they are few and far between. The key is to recognize when a breakthrough race is in progress and take advantage of it and enjoy it.

Having a healthy mental outlook when considering your race results will grant you the freedom to take your clunkers and breakthroughs in stride, and ultimately, allow you to more fully appreciate and enjoy your mean races. The next time someone asks how your race went, smile when you tell them that you enjoyed an average race.