Every year people just get faster. Equipment gets better, technology improves, finish times seem to get faster…it’s all part of that seemingly inexorable march to a bigger better (faster) world. But at the same time, we know that nothing is guaranteed. All the fancy equipment in the world won’t put you ahead of someone who has out-trained, out-prepared and/or out-raced you. So shop all you want, but know that if you are truly going to be a better triathlete next season, you are going to have to raise the bar in many areas of your athletic life.
With a combined 20 years of coaching experience, and a toolkit developed from leading a Team of over 500 athletes, we have seen almost every possible combination of money, time and effort in the quest for a personal best. Whether you are racing for Kona, out to set a new benchmark time or just looking to finish, you can benefit from our list of refined tips. Nothing is easy in our sport, but with the proper preparation and focus, almost anything is possible. So without further ado..
#1 — Pick One Race, Just One
It’s really tempting to have a season full of activity and racing. From the perspective of your comfy armchair, all snuggled up with a laptop, a hot chocolate and your credit card, you can easily sign up for a ton of races. And you’ll feel good about it until, say, halfway through your season when you all of a sudden need to do some serious triage — work, injury, family, will all combine to take your pretty spreadsheet schedule and tear it to shreds.
We suggest that you pick one single A race for the year. This is the race that you are training towards; it’s the sun around which all your other races orbit. When you need to make sacrifices and changes, they are all done from the perspective of making this one race be your best. This isn’t to say you only do one race, or sacrifice everything else, just that there is no doubt in your mind or heart which race matters.
Some folks like to schedule “back up” events, should the former not happen or not go as planned. If you can afford it, the secondary option is a nice-to-have, especially since so many races sell out months in advance.
Side Benefit — Keeping your racing limited, or at least focused, is a great way to save a ton of cash. Triathlons aren’t cheap, and the associated travel, lodging and food costs can make even a sprint triathlon run well over $500 when the books are done.
Train Fast to Go Fast
While everyone wants to get faster, there seems to be some serious confusion in the triathlon space around how exactly that final speed can be attained. Legend and old-school coaching books continue to sell the need for many long, aerobic miles before speed can be properly added…which is all well and good if you are a PRO with 25 to 30 hours a week to train. Since we all live in a world where 14 hours is more attainable, our training approach has to shift if we want to see the same results and keep our jobs, stay married, maintain relations with our kids, etc.
Since 2007 we have been pushing our Fast Before Far approach, whereby we use the winter months to improve our athletes speed and strength at threshold. Once the weather turns and the need to add volume hits, we drop the intensity and add more miles. The net being that the average Endurance Nation athlete improves his/her Ironman® or Half Ironman® race pace on the bike by 1.5 to 2 miles per hour…often making them 30 minutes faster than last years version of themselves, and we haven’t even started to ride longer than 1. 5 hours yet. Spring is our favorite time of the year, when we unleash the Team on their training partners and hear the stories about dropping the back, putting the hurt on, and leaving lots of folks scratching their heads.
Learn All You Can About the Course & Racing
One of the biggest advantages that the members of Team EN have on the competition is that we have raced just about every single endurance event in the US. Learning about a course, conditions, equipment needs is only a search away for a race report. Some folks take it a step further to learn about lodging, family activities and more…whatever your focus, the more you can learn about your A race the better off you’ll be from a mental and physical standpoint.
Actually training on the course itself is another critical advantage. There is no substitute for actually pushing your bike — or your body — over the race course. From turns to bumps to visual landmarks, you can really build out an understanding of the event that will pay huge dividends on race day.
If you need to, organize your own training weekend on the course. You might consider attending one of our free Triathlon Rallies, or perhaps you’ll be on site to volunteer on race weekend and sign up for the next edition of the race. Maybe you’ll consider one of our Course Talks. Whatever you decide, know this should be high on your list if you have high expectations for race day!
Be Miserly With Your Time
Being serious about triathlon requires a significant time investment on your part. Early morning sessions, juggling multiple schedules, handling fatigue at work and home, these are all part of the race experience that few discuss. You might not notice the difference, living at the center of your own personal storm, but your friends, family and co-workers most certainly will notice the change.
Do yourself (and everyone else!) a favor and really examine your training before you start executing it. Odds are if you are following an old-school program where miles and time in the saddle are the main focus, at very low intensity levels, then you’ll start by putting in 14-16 hours a week. 4-5,000 yd swims, 3 hour bikes and 2 hour runs will be the norm and the numbers will only go up over the course of your year, but with little tangible benefit for your overall fitness (or race performance).
If you can save time by training smarter, go for it. Inside Endurance Nation we do this by leveraging intensity in our training plans to make sure each session is effective and as time-crunched as possible. We’d much rather have you on the start line healthy, happy, and ready to execute than have you show up mentally wasted, physically unstable, and emotionally burnt out from too much training.
Spend Your Money Wisely
Between racing, travel and equipment, the average triathlete can drop a ton of money into their passion. There are many things that money can (and can’t buy), but know this for sure: everyone knows that triathletes have money to spend. You will find coaches out there who will charge you more than $1500 a month (with a six month minimum) for coaching services…for comparison, the annual total is more than tuition at a good community college…all for your hobby!
In our experience the fastest athletes, coached or not, where the smartest and hardest working folks we know. Paying for someone else to do your thinking matters when your input matters little, say for your taxes. But paying someone else to take charge of your passion and dream is another story altogether…and that decision shouldn’t be made lightly.
Instead of buying someone else, consider investing in yourself. From getting leaner to improving your diet and recovery, there are countless ways to spend money that improve your overall performance and well-being. In a shameless plug, we can tell you that our training plans are in their 8th generation, refined annually by the Team and contain access to our online library of learning resources, including podcasts. These plans are on sale January 3 to 9th, 2011 – at 30% off! Learn more in the EN Store here.
At the end of the day, your overall race day performance is the result of countless decisions. If you can get the big ones right, the little ones will fall into place…good luck!