Return on Investment, a New Perspective on Triathlon Training, Part I – Introduction

Lactate Threshold, Rate of Perceived Exertion, or Functional Threshold Power? Periodization or Reverse Periodization? Tastes great or less filling?

As a triathlete it’s easy to get caught up in confusing and conflicting advice on how you should/should not train. As coaches of busy age group triathletes, just like you, we’d like you step back and consider our approach for maximizing results for our Team.

The conversation of how to train takes place within the context of relatively fixed resources: time, money, etc. Any discussion of how to train must be approached first with the question:

What approach will yield the highest rate of return, on race day, for my investment?

These are questions you deal with in your real world every day — in your job, with your family, and in your personal life — about how and where to spend your time, money, and attention on a long list of possible choices. Triathlon training is no different!

In this series we will introduce you to the concept of framing the majority of triathlon training and purchasing decisions with the context of Return on Investment. We’ll then drill this topic down into each discipline, identifying for you both high and low ROI opportunities in each sport. In the process we hope to bring you several years up the learning curve, saving you hundreds of misspent training hours–and thousands of dollars as well!

The Return on Investment question has two components:

  • The cost of inputs.
  • The absolute potential gain/time savings on race day.

Typical Age Grouper Inputs
The “stuff” we have available to “spend” on our sport

  • Time — How much time to spend swimming, biking and running each day and across a week. This should include the admin time (packing a bag, driving to a session, showering afterwards, etc) on the front and back end of each session.
  • Headspace — Every training session comes at a cost (and often a benefit) to the amount of room we have in our heads for stuff. A three hour solo trainer ride in your basement in January and a three hour Saturday ride with your friends in the sun in June are just two examples.
  • Spousal Approval Units (SAUs) — Our tongue-in-cheek term for the costs that your training decisions have on the live of those important to you.
  • Money — Pretty obvious! 🙂

The costs of each of these inputs are variable, usually as a function of their distance from race day and/or your experience in the sport.

Time
Training and admin time applied farther away from your goal race is more costly than time applied closer to your race. In addition, training time applied closer to your race generally has a greater rate of return on race day than time spent months and months in advance.

For example:

  • A three hour trainer ride on a Sunday in December — during the holidays and in the cold and dark after a long year of triathlon training, while ignoring a well-defined “honey-do” list of things you have been putting off, just because your upcoming season ends with Florida in 11 months — is much more costly than that same ride, outdoors in the sun with your friends in September.
  • Likewise, that 3hr ride in September is much more likely to have an impact on race day than the 3hr ride that did or did not happen eleven months before your race.

Headspace
It’s relatively easy to determine the time cost of a training session: time on the road + admin time (preparing, driving, showering, etc) = total time investment. However, the cost, or benefit, of that session to your headspace — the limited amount of attention, motivation, and personal investment we each have available to us — is an intangible cost and often difficult to determine.

As Ironman® coaches whose athletes are registering for races often a year in advance, we encourage you to be very, very aware of the fact that you only have so much motivation and focus to apply to the problem of training for your race. If you are putting your feet on the floor at 0530 in January and telling yourself you are “training for” Ironman® Wisconsin…that’s a very, very dangerous place to be. You are at high risk of being burned out, insane, or worse by June.

Spousal Approval Units (SAUs)
We all have an SAU account and it helps, to say the least, if we can keep that balance in the black! Your decision to make a time and head space allocation to a training event is also a decision to impose an often involuntary expense on those close to you. This is very often a debit to your SAU account. Very simply, if you’re not careful with how you spend your SAU’s, while not making an effort to accrue as many as you can here and there, you’ll find yourself in a situation where “how to train for this triathlon” is the least of your worries!

Money
A $500 expense is a $500 expense regardless of when you decide to spend it. However, the ROI of many expenses is often a function of the experience of the athlete. For example:

  • A non-swimmer spending $500 for 10 x 1h one-on-one technique coaching sessions with a knowledgable coach armed with an underwater video camara — is a high ROI investment.
  • This same athlete instead spending $500 to upgrade their aerobars to the latest and greatest they saw advertised in a magazine — is a very low ROI investment.

With regards to these inputs, we see ourselves as time and headspace investment managers, SAU balance consultants, and triathlon financial advisors. Our advice is this:

  1. Keep your training volume as low as you can for as long as you can.
  2. Frame all purchasing decisions within the ROI equation, resisting the siren call of bling.

Instead of racking up huge training and admin hours in January when they are very costly and have a low rate of return for your September goal race, try to keep your January time investment very low. Create a training plan that weights your training hours closer to your race, where they will do you the most good.

Keep your head investment low by putting short term goals in the calendar. We generally like our athletes to not be training for–or focused on–anything farther than about 8-12 weeks in the future.

Rather than nickle and diming your family for a 4-5hr ride every Saturday for months and months, we suggest you limit the length of these training sessions. Cut it short and/or do what you have to do to accrue SAU’s so you can cash them in closer to your race.

Finally, recognize a marketing pitch as just that, even going so far as to assign a dollar amount to each “promised” minute saved on race day.

We’ve found that applying the ROI lenses to all of your training and purchasing decisions is very powerful. For example:

What dollar per hour value do you place on your time on the weekends? Remember that this is YOUR time, not your boss’. This is when you likely spend time with your kids. What’s your hourly on watching (or missing) your 10yo boy’s soccer game? Let’s say that amount is $100 per hour.

  • If I can achieve the same or better results with a 4hr ride vs a 6hr ride…why would I waste $200 of your time per ride x 4 Saturdays per month x 7 months = $5600?
  • Or before I have you invest 30’ in packing a bag and driving to the gym + swimming + showering + driving x $x/hr x 3 sessions per week in January…I need to able to tell you what rate of return on that time cost investment you can expect on race day, in September.
  • The disk wheel ($1500) or aero helmet ($150)?

In future installments of this series we’ll drill down this ROI discussion into each of three sports, sharing with you our high and low ROI activities and investments for each.

 

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