Occasionally someone will ask me a question along these lines:
In thinking about ideas for a new article, I thought I would answer these questions and hopefully give you folks at home some ideas about how you can manage your triathlon training and personal lives in such a manner as to get the best out of both.
- What have you done to get to your competitive level?
- How do you maintain your focus?
- How do you find time for everything?
- Do you enjoy your sport?
Do you enjoy your sport?
First, letís start with the last question. Do you enjoy your sport? Your answer should be an emphatic yes. If your answer to this question is no, or not really, and youíre not making a living out of it, then you might want to consider a new hobby. There will certainly be training stretches that are somewhat less enjoyable than others (because theyíre so darn tough!), but you should have fun with triathlon in general. Remember, itís a hobby Ė a recreational activity. You can be as competitive as you want, and I would encourage you to be so. But if your pleasure is solely derived from beating the next guy or gal, then you should stop and take a breath. Thatís part of it, but thatís not what itís all about. That interval workout should be fun as well as challenging. That swim workout is both relaxing and a good base session. That long ride is a great way to catch up with people you havenít seen in a while.
Racing is why we train, but training is where we spend most of our time. As such, learn to enjoy your training sessions. It will make those sessions much easier. Additionally, learning to relax and enjoy your training will also help you remain relaxed and mentally positive on race day, and thatís money in the bank.
Getting in shape for a triathlon is not just about winning the race or running a PR, though those are important reasons. Itís about a healthy way of life, building confidence, and believing in yourself and your abilities. Running a PR becomes, not so much the end goal, but rather, a by-product of the lifestyle of being fit. You get my point? Keep telling yourself itís about a way of life rather than winning the race, so when you win the race you can say, ďSee, Iím glad I really enjoy this (incredibly tough training regimen which is similar to some barbarous torture scheme) wonderful sport!Ē
95% of the time, I would say yes - I enjoy training. I enjoy training by myself. I enjoy training with other people. I enjoy training short and hard as well as long and easy. I like getting outside and breathing fresh air, breaking a good sweat, and pushing my personal limits.
That other 5% is what I call a necessary evil. Those are the ten-hour work days with a double session wrapped around it. Itís that moment when youíre torn between going home and having dinner or getting in a short speed session because itís the only day of the week you can do it. Hey, you want my advice? Flip a coin. Sometimes dinner and a good nightís sleep go a long way. On the flipside, that extra session might come in handy, too. Only you can decide which one to choose Ė Iíve done well choosing both at different times. It all depends on Ö well, lots of things. Work, family, commitments, school, social life, goals, and on and onÖ
How do you maintain a focus?
Well, since weíve decided that we enjoy our sport, it should be easy to stay focused, right? All we do is pick a few races and make sure weíre ready to go. Sounds like a plan to me!
In general, thatís pretty close to the mark. Some people donít particularly care what their times are or how they place in the age-group. Theyíre just there to have fun. And more power to them! But if youíre like me, as much fun as you have with it, you do want to do well. But how?
Set goals well in advance
After your first summer or two of racing every weekend, youíve learned that:
- Thereís a race almost every weekend, if you want to do it.
- Some people actually have set training schedules.
- Racing every weekend is fun but can be a pain as well.
So you decide to pick a couple races as your main focus. Good for you. For example, this past summer I decided to focus on two races: Wildflower Long Distance and the Duke Blue Devil Iron-distance. I decided not to race in many of the Florida sprints so that I could train for these races. It was tough at times, because I enjoy the sprints and long-distance training can be pretty grueling, when it comes down to it. For those of you who donít know me, I do have a full-time job and take MBA night classes. I am a pretty busy guy (just like many of you, I know). Fitting in the training was tough, but I managed.
And my focus paid off. I turned in a respectable time at Wildflower and then took 2nd overall at the Duke Blue Devil and scored a PR on a tough course. That race made my summer.
On the flipside, I didnít do as well as I would have liked in a couple of the sprint races. But I knew that was a possibility in advance and so it didnít come as a surprise.
My point is that setting goals can and should result in a big payoff, but also has opportunity costs along the way. If you train specifically for long races you canít race every weekend and when you do, thereís a chance youíll be slower. If you train for short races youíll probably regret entering a long race on a whim. Take a good mental inventory of yourself and decide what is important to you Ė then work towards it.
Stay on top of yourself
Itís all well and good to write down a goal and stick it on the wall, but that in itself isnít going to get you there. You need to keep track of your progress. You need to keep yourself motivated. You need to be honest with how things are going. Youíre the one who paid $400 bucks to enter some race that doesnít take place until next year, buddy!
How? Daily, weekly, and monthly goals. In the business world theyíre called milestones. At the low end, a daily mileage chart is a good way to track your progress. At the high end, a highly detailed weekly training schedule and a coach you paid to yell at you when you cut mileage! Itís also a great idea to do a few races and/or threshold workouts along the way to measure your progress.
In the end, despite all the encouragement you receive from family, friends, coaches, and the competition, youíre the one who wants to accomplish something. Your achievements need to come from within. Get out there and do it!
How do you find time for everything?
The answer is, I donít. I usually donít have enough time to accomplish everything I want to do. So I prioritize. I look at:
- What I need to do (work for food, shelter, etc)
- What I want to do (spend time with family & friends, train and race, get another degree, other leisure activities)
- What I kind of want to do (travel, study a foreign language)
- What I donít want to do (use your imagination!)
I then figure out how I can accomplish as many of these things in a realistic fashion in accordance with what is most important to me. For example, on a weekday I can swim, run, go to work, and go to school in the same day, but Iíll be dog tired at the end of it, so hanging out with friends is out of the questionÖuntil the next day, that is.
With regard to training Ė I figure out what are the most important kinds of training I should be doing at a particular point in the season, then plan accordingly. Example Ė right now Iím doing nothing. Nada. Zilch. It feels great. Itís my off-season, and I needed one. In November-December Iíll run a lot of easy miles and start lifting. January-February Iíll add in easy cycling and faster running. Thatís my base season. In March Iíll add back in fast cycling and swimming. Thatís when things get busyÖ
Basically, all you can do is find a balance that allows you to do as much as you can as well as you can without negatively affecting your work or your family life. Iíve seen people neglect both, and either is a mistake. Work is important because it allows us to provide for our lives Ė but what is a life without family and friends?
Go for the gusto, but donít get such tunnel vision that you canít see other aspects of life as well. A gold medal is meaningless without people who care about you to share that accomplishment with. You donít want to learn that the hard way.
What have you done to get to your competitive level?
Well, if you havenít figured it out by now, Iíve followed the tenets Iíve outlined above. But Iíve done it for years and years. I swam competitively as a teen and young man, and when it stopped being fun Ė I stopped competing. I got into triathlon and open water swimming, and sport became fun again. I decided I wanted to do well in various races over the years Ė then planned strategies to do it. Iíve had some failures along the way, and as much as theyíve gotten me down, Iíve learned from my mistakes in order to come back stronger.
Yesterdayís failure becomes todayís lesson, which becomes tomorrowís victory. I canít emphasize enough how important this concept is to both your athletic happiness and your overall peace of mind. Despite the things that may go wrong with both your pursuit of athletic excellence or your personal or workplace life, you need to see the positives in the situation and the opportunities and possibilities that arise from the situation.
Keep on truckiní, in other words. If you wanna be in it for the long haul, donít let a flat tire end your trip. Fix it and move on!
Thatís it. The end. A summary could be something like be happy, be healthy, be great, but that sounds pretty sappy so Iíll just say get out there and do it to it, baby!
Seeya at the races,
Marty Gaal - November 2002