A common theme I see amongst triathletes these days is the never ending search for the “ magic bullet” that will help take their training to the next level. Be it the latest training craze or even the latest nutritional fad that is doing the rounds. If its not the latest training craze then it’s the latest piece of technology that claims it will make you a better triathlete if you are prepared to spend hundreds or even thousands of pounds. Most seem to be in search of the magic short cut that will get them to where they want to by putting in half the work and half the effort required. As a coach I know there aren’t any short cuts or magic bullets. To get really good takes many years of layered training time, patience and a smarter approach to your training.
If you’re an athlete looking to improve performance and stay ahead of the game then ongoing experimentation and evaluation is crucial. This is not just on the macro scale but more importantly it’s at the micro scale where the biggest gains can be. I truly believe that big gains come from the accumulation of much smaller gains. It’s the quality of what goes into each and every training session that really matters but equally important is your ability to evaluate your training to see if any improvements could have been made. This process should be ongoing if you are serious about achieving a higher level of performance.
When we look at anyone who has achieved success we see a very long trail of experimentation, learning and application. Failure has usually played a big part in their success. What sets these people apart is their ability to learn from failure. The perfect example of this was Sir James Dyson who invented the first bag less Hoover. Between 1979 and 1984 he created 5127 prototypes of his first vacuum cleaner. An astonishing number but a number that shows the level of experimentation he was prepared to go through to get it get it just right. He now has a net worth of just over £3 billion pounds, which is pretty good for a guy that had to re mortgage his house to pay for the ongoing costs of his Hoover development.
Any business or industry can learn from successful people like this, because what people don’t see is the development and hard work that goes on in the background to achieve success. Triathlon training is no different, it is essentially one big experiment and if you can learn quickly from what you do you will take a much more direct route to success.
Rather than just following training plans blindly athletes should try to “self evaluate” on an ongoing basis. Self-evaluation will allow you to check your progress, development and learning, this will help you determine what has improved or what areas are still in need of improvement. The evaluation should be ongoing, not just on a weekly basis but on a day-to-day basis and definitely session to session. Why? Because this is where the most important “marginal gains” can be made. The marginal gains are the crucial jigsaw puzzle pieces that need to be put into place that will eventually lead to a higher level of performance. The great athletes of our time will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of this.
I also believe it’s a simple process that shouldn’t take too much time, it’s based around just asking yourself some key questions. The most important one being:
“How could I do it better next time?”
By aiming to do it better you are essentially fine-tuning each day or session so that you keep adding more value. It just requires you to engage your brain for a few moments to reflect on what you are doing. This can be both pre, during and post session and will require you to consider both the mental and physical aspects of your training. Asking yourself simple questions about the content, quality and the ongoing development of your sessions. Are you progressing as planned? Or could there be an area that you could improve?
Quality training isn’t just about smashing yourself to pieces or accumulating high volume each week, it’s the quality and content of what you put into each session that is far more important. The real value lies in the execution of what you were supposed to do and the decisions you made during that process and afterwards. If an athlete tells me they didn’t do a hard interval run that was planned because their achilles was tight or they decided to take a rest day because they had a cold then this is music to my coaching ears. Why? Because the athlete made the right call at the right time and didn’t put themselves in a position where they could have done more damage. This is a smart athlete that is fully engaged in the process who is making good decisions that will ultimately lead to more consistency in their training and faster progression. It’s not all just about training harder.
Whether you are working with a coach or not, keep good records of what you do and don’t be afraid to write your thoughts & feelings down, this information is priceless. Don’t just be a data junkie, your subjective feelings are in some ways far more important because they tell you so much more about what you have experienced. You might be surprised just at how much you can learn from what you write down and what you take time to reflect on.
As a coach I’ve always believed that a more “holistic” approach to training works best because you take into account the spiritual, social, psychological and the physiological needs of any athlete you are working with. All of these factors are crucial elements that play a crucial part in your development as an athlete, so should be considered as part of the training process.
When I look at my development as a coach I am a product of ongoing experimentation. What I was coaching 10 years ago is completely different to the way I do it now. I’ve needed to constantly change, evolve and challenge myself each year and each day to achieve a higher level of performance. This process will never end and neither should it for you as an athlete.
So if you’re serious about ongoing athletic development engage your brain fully in the process and be prepared to learn from yourself. The more you repeatedly practice this the better you will get at it. Triathlon isn’t just about the training. It’s about learning from yourself so that you can ultimately take the shortest route to becoming a smarter triathlete. Don’t just follow blindly, the process is so much more rewarding when you are fully part of it and don’t just sit on the outside looking in. The clues are all out there, you just need to open your eyes so you can see them.