R-E-L-A-X ... How to Have Patience in Triathlon
Highly driven, ambitious, goal-oriented.
These are all positive traits that many of us triathletes take pride in. They have led us and will continue to lead us to success in our sport. Most of us are Type-A Go-Getters and when it comes to doing more (whether it’s more speedwork, more time on our bikes, or just more volume in general) we are happy to oblige. But where we might be able to gain an edge on our competition comes from a mindset that may be difficult for most of us: being patient and maintaining consistency in our training.
Those of us that started off in other sports (aside from swimming, biking, or running) had all kinds of skills we could work on that didn’t involve exercising. Sports such as soccer, lacrosse, or basketball rely on running for conditioning, but there are more specific skills you can work on that make you a better athlete. You have to work on passing, or dribbling, or juggling, or shooting. When I played lacrosse, if I was frustrated with myself or the way I was performing, I would spend hours playing wall-ball and improving my stick skills. I could even run some sprints and be totally fine to go to practice the next day and run some more sprints. In triathlon, we can’t take out our frustration or impatience with the sport by doing more triathlon. Well technically we can, but it will likely have a negative effect on our performance.
Trying to squeeze in more volume or additional workouts into your training plan can lead to overtraining or overreaching. You may start to feel fatigued, notice that your heart rate won’t increase past zone 2, start to fall into a plateau, or become unmotivated. As a coach, we love working with highly motivated athletes but our goal is to keep them highly motivated by holding them back just enough to avoid these plateaus. We know it can be boring and tedious, but having success throughout a long season relies on aerobic base training (especially for long-distance racing) and proper recovery. Zone 1-2 base training workouts enable your body to efficiently transport and utilize oxygen and don't place too much stress on your musculoskeletal system, which will lead to faster racing with fewer injuries.
I always played team sports growing up and I remember that one of my friends in high school who was on the cross country team had a shirt that said, “my sport is your sport’s punishment.” I remember my first reaction to that shirt was jealousy (which is probably when I should have known that triathlon was in my future). In college, the “punishment” became my favorite part of practice. The more additional work I put into lacrosse, the better athlete I became. Then ironically, after I graduated and started racing triathlons, I learned that I couldn’t use running (or swimming or biking) in that same way anymore. I got caught in a rut of wanting to do more and more to get myself out of a plateau, and just kept getting more tired, and less motivated, and worst of all - slower.
So as triathletes, what can we do instead of sabotaging our training when we just need a little extra, or we’ve come to rely on our training as a release, an endorphin rush, or therapy? This is truly where you can set yourself apart. Being patient and trusting your coach and/or your training plan will build mental strength that you can rely on when it comes time to race. Instead of diving into more volume, you can work on your mind by reading, meditating, or working with a mental skills coach.*
You can optimize your recovery so that when it comes time to nail a hard workout or race, you’ll have full energy to do so. Stretch, take a yoga class, ice, heat, foam roll, and don’t forget to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. There’s a fine line between being dedicated enough to get up at 4 am to fit all of your workouts in or compromising your workouts by not getting enough rest. Sleep is arguably the best form of recovery because while you’re brain rests, the blood supply to your muscles is able to increase, providing them with the necessary oxygen to facilitate recovery. Your body also releases growth hormone while you sleep, which is essential to muscle growth and repair. Lack of healthy amounts of growth hormone can lead to weight gain and decreased exercise capacity. If you’re having trouble getting enough sleep or enough restful sleep, there are helpful sleep apps and coaches that can give you strategies to help.*
And lastly, we all know the importance of eating well to support activity, so you can cover all of your bases by optimizing nutrient timing, balancing your macronutrients, and diving deeper into your individual needs by working with a nutritionist and/or doing bloodwork* to find out what your body may be deficient in. A nutrition coach* that works specifically with endurance athletes may be able to help you create a specific plan for what to put into your body during a race in order to maximize your performance and decrease the probability of bonking. You put in the hard work in training, and there’s nothing more frustrating than falling short in a race because you didn’t go in with a proper plan in place for nutrition and hydration.
We all want to train hard and push our limits. That’s why we do triathlon in the first place! The unexpected way to gain an edge is to be patient and consistent in your training and recovery. So channel your inner Aaron Rodgers and R-E-L-A-X.**
* D3 specialty coaches have been successful in assisting athletes in recovery, nutrition, as well as mental skills: Meg Forbes - Certified Nutritionist, Nick Suffredin - Race Day Fueling Expert, and Will Murray - Mental Skills Coach