Friday, December 28, 2007

I have a question

I came across the writings of a well-known Internet coach, and I have a question:

Why should athletes with a deviated nasal septum, such as for example myself, train slower than the ones with a normal nasal septum?

Replies in form of comments to this post. Thank you in advance for your input.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Reverse periodization? Can you please say that again really slow to see if I can understand it?

This past week I saw the term “reverse periodization” thrown around again. And this expression has always puzzled me. Reverse from what? From what some think is periodization? It used to be that ignorance was bliss. Now, it just seems that ignorance is just… an opinion.

For the benefit of all of those that think that the term “reverse periodization” makes sense, I will go through a (very) brief history of periodization. The theory of periodization started in the former Soviet Union in the 60’s. The classical work associated with periodization is Matveev’s “Periodization of Sports Training”. Central to the concept of periodization is that training for any sport should be planned going from using general training methods far from the goal competition, to using more specific training methods as competition approaches. Another important concept associated with periodization is the division of training in temporal blocks: microcycles (1-2 weeks), mesocycles (4-8 weeks) and macrocycles (6-12 months). Each macrocycle is divided into three periods: the preparation period, the competitive period and the transition period. The preparation period is further divided into a general phase and a specific phase.

For mainly political reasons, the classical theory of periodization took some time to reach US shores. Even though the work of the Soviet sports scientists was available throughout Europe in the 70’s, influencing training methods profoundly, that was not the case in the US. Enter Romanian sports scientist Tudor Bompa. Dr. Bompa is sometimes called the “Father of Periodization” in the US, but more accurately he is the translator of periodization. Through his books, he brought periodization to the US, influencing the way American sports scientists and coaches think about and plan training. The downside is that most American sports scientists have a unilateral view of what periodization is, Bompa’s view. One thing that strikes me as odd in the US is the poor background that most coaches have in the classical training planning theories. It is very hard to see further if you don’t know where the giants are.

As you can see by the definition above, periodization is a fairly broad concept that allows for many variations. Throughout the years, many periodization schemes have been devised for different sports. Instead of going through periodization schemes that most readers of the blog are not familiar with (Bondarchuk, Platonov, Navarro, Tschiene, block training, etc), I will use as an example a periodization scheme from a US sports scientist that, not surprisingly, had his formal training in Europe: Dr. Jack Daniels.

Dr. Daniels’ running training 24-week plans are divided in 4 mesocycles of 6 weeks each. The first 3 mesocycles comprise the preparation period and the last mesocycle the competitive period. More specifically, the general preparation period is represented by the first two mesocycles and the specific preparation period is the 3rd mesocycle. Dr. Daniels uses often two-week microcycles, especially during the specific preparation period. As for the training methods employed throughout, they evolve from using general (non-specific) training methods in the first two mesocycles, to using more specific training methods in the last two mesocycles. For example, in the plans geared for 5-10km, the training emphasis in the last two mesocycles (specific/competitive period) is towards functional threshold and VO2Max training, while for marathon training the emphasis is on functional threshold and marathon pace training. So there you have it, Daniels’ plans are a good example of classical periodization:
- Training going from non-specific to specific.
- Organized in cycles (micro-, meso-, macro-)

So where does that leaves us regarding the so-called “reverse periodization”? Joel Filliol wrote here that what is called “reverse periodization” is just proper periodization and planning for long-distance triathlon training. I could not agree more. The fact that are some coaches that are still prescribing VO2Max training to Ironman athletes during the specific period is just plain odd. One possible reason for this oddity is that some coaches think that VO2Max training has some kind of peak-inducing characteristics. Because this kind of training is usually featured in the last phases of training for endurance races that last under one hour, common lore is that when you start to do VO2Max training, your peak must not be far away. God forbid you do VO2Max training the first 4 weeks of your season, because you will be peaking 6-8 weeks into the season. This obviously doesn’t make any sense at all. Another possibility is that some people think that VO2Max training is specific to Ironman racing, which in that case they (and their athletes) have even more serious problems.

Due to the characteristics of Ironman racing, with a long build and few intermediate races, classical periodization concepts like the ones stated above are especially taylored to training for Ironman. Note that I wrote the word concepts. Concepts are not recipes. If you use periodization concepts, you don’t need to “reverse” anything to apply periodization to long-distance triathlon training.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Interesting validation

Andrew Coggan had some interesting validation to the "Yes, I said no rest weeks" post. Here's what he had to say about it (please disregard the largely irrelevant last item):

"Half-life of numerous physiological adaptations to endurance training (e.g., increase in mitochondrial respiratory capacity, reduction in blood lactate, reduction in submaximal heart rate) = 7-10 d

Number of half-lives required to achieve >95% of full adaptation to a given training load = 5

Minimal frequency at which training load must be increased to drive further adaptation = 7-10 d x 5 = 35-50 d = 5-7 wk

Number of years that I've personally been building my training around 6 wk cycles = 30+"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Yes, I said no rest weeks

Some time ago a triathlon coach visiting Las Cruces asked to talk to me about coaching in general. Like I said before, I am always willing to discuss triathlon training, so obviously I said yes. This coach told me he wanted to know more about the “no rest weeks” concept I had referred to on Slowtwitch.

Probably because of the success that Joe Friel’s “Triathlon Training Bible” had when it came out, the concepts associated with traditional periodization schemes are very in-grained in the triathlon community. Therefore, it became that the “right” way of training was to structure mesocycles (training periods roughly corresponding to one month) as 2 or 3 weeks of “build” and one week of “rest”. This week of “rest” as per the “Bible” is a week where you decrease training load considerably, sometimes less than 50% of the biggest “build” week. This culture of the rest week has gotten us to a point that most athletes feel they need the rest week in order to improve. Other athletes (and coaches), use the rest week as some kind of sponge, wishfully cleaning away the ill-effects of a poorly designed training cycle.

The culture of the rest week has you think that unless you rest, you won’t improve. So not incorporating rest weeks can be extremely dangerous, since it might prevent you from improving. However, this way of thinking denotes a poor understanding of the way the human body adapts to endurance training in particular, and to stress in general. Whenever a new stimulus is imposed that causes stress, the body will work in order to adapt to the new level of stress. It seems simple enough to understand. Another thing that is simple to understand is that you don’t need to have a cyclic, extended period of rest in order to adapt to a new stress. Let’s pick three examples from normal life:

- You get a new job that means more hours and more responsibility. The first weeks are hard for you to cope with the increased workload. After 3 weeks, do you walk into your boss’ office, and ask for a week where you only work afternoons in order to adapt to the new job?
- You join the Marines and go through boot camp. Everyday is very hard and you think about quitting. After 2 weeks, do you ask the drill sergeant for a week of leave in order to adapt to boot camp?
- A new baby is born in your house. That means a change of routine and a lot of lost sleep. After three weeks, do you go ask your partner for a week off in order to adapt?

These three situations, and many more that could be mentioned, serve to highlight that humans have a remarkable capacity to adapt to a new stress while that stress is imposed. Obviously recovery is an important part of the adaptation process, but again very simply put, it can be said that recovery occurs at all times that stress is not applied, and that adaptation to stress occurs at all times.

Obviously not having rest weeks impacts the way you should plan your training. As I mentioned in a previous post, the training stimulus should be changed every 6 to 8 weeks, by manipulating either volume or intensity individually, or both at the same time. Not having weeks where training load goes down considerably means that training load will be more even inside a training cycle. This will also mean that you’ll be more consistent with your training from week to week. But more importantly, it means that through this consistency, you will be able to train more over the entire cycle. And we all know that more is MORE.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hear hear!

Coach Joel posted a short follow-up to my swim articles over on his blog, go take a look!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A little something we have forgotten

Efficient locomotion of any body in a viscous fluid is something really simple: in order to go faster you need to reduce drag and/or increase propulsion. However, when it comes to swimming, it would appear that things changed, since all the “swim technique” instruction is geared towards reducing drag, but nothing is said about increasing propulsion.

Almost 40 years ago, the great swim coach Dr. James “Doc” Counsilman was the first to notice the importance of the high-elbow position at the catch for propulsion. This importance should not be underestimated: it is the single technical feature that distinguishes every level of swimmer. Forget about the way swimmers recover their arms, kick, rotate, breathe. Simply put, the way they do the catch is what makes the difference between being fast or being slow. Many times you see a swimmer that apparently does everything right: good kick, great recovery, good streamlined and horizontal position in the water. However, he/she is not fast. Why? Because they don’t have a good catch. Therefore the importance of achieving an effective catch cannot be stressed enough.

The catch that Doc Counsilman was the first to mention can be described by the following analogy: When a person lays on a surfboard and paddles out to find a wave, the arms straddle out from the sides of the board, allowing the vertical forearms and the hands to hold or catch water and propel the board forward. Swimmers should not attempt to apply propulsive force until the arms are in this high-elbow position because (…) they cannot direct water back until the arms and hands are facing forward [1]. Failure to do so results in the most common technical mistake that prevents slower swimmers to become faster swimmers: pulling with a dropped elbow.

So this is great, now that we were reminded of what was forgotten for so many years, we just need to get in the pool and apply it. This is certainly true, but the catch (pun intended) is that mastering the high-elbow pull is one of the most difficult skills to master in swimming. The reason for this is that the movement patterns that we learn in pulling ourselves using our arms are “low” elbow positions. Think for example of doing chin-ups or climbing a rope. So we need to focus os learning a new way of pulling.

Two training methods that I like to use in order to teach good pulling mechanics are paddle-only swimming and band-only swimming. Here’s what Coach Joel Filliol has to say about these two methods [2]:

- Technical Pulling - Although many use pulling as a way to increase intensity and muscular load, paddles can serve a technical purpose as well. The added pressure awareness on the hands that comes from using paddles often helps keep the elbow high and armpit open, thus reducing dropped elbows, a common technical error in freestyle. Improving the catch also enables better use of the trunk muscles, including the lats – and a key to swimming faster is engaging these muscles, rather than just the arms. If a swimmer can feel some fatigue in the lats after a good pull set, then he or she is on the right track.

- Band-only - Swimming with an ankle band is probably not one of the most popular swim drills, but it is one of the most effective. An ankle band can be made of an old bicycle tube tied into a loop, and it will eliminate the kick from your freestyle. Doing so forces a swimmer to find a way to catch more water, otherwise they don't move forward; hence, it is often called a sink-or-swim drill. When first starting out with the ankle band, it can be difficult to maintain a good body position. The legs sink and it takes quite a bit of energy to move up and down the pool. Over time, however, swimmers learn to hold more water with each stroke, and their body position will improve. At first swimmers increase their stroke rate to make up for inefficiencies in their catch, but focus on doing the drill more effectively by pulling more water. “

The Columbia Encyclopedia simply and concisively defines swimming as “self-propulsion through water”. Think about that the next time you’re in the pool.

[1] Ernest W. Maglischo, “Swimming Fastest”. -

[2] Joel Filliol, “3 key workouts for an off-season swim focus” -

Monday, December 3, 2007

Really, what should I do with my swim training?

When it comes to swim training, it seems that there are as many approaches as there are swim coaches. Some will tell you that you need to swim all four strokes, some will tell you that you only need to swim freestyle. Some will tell you to just do drills, other to just swim. Some will tell you not to kick, others that the kick is very important. And then there is front-quadrant swimming… kayak swimming… high elbow… straight arm… relaxed… Enough conflicting advice that will make your head spin.

The first question when it comes to swimming revolves around “technique”. Swimming is “90% technique” some will tell you. When asked about what is good technique, they’ll usually pull up a video from Popov or Thorpe swimming and tell you that is an example of good technique. The main problem with that approach is that most triathletes are a long way from Popov or Thorpe, not to mention a one fundamental detail: triathlon swimming is not done in a pool, but is usually done in open-water.

Therefore, in order to find out clues about what we should seek for triathlon swimming, let’s go take a look at a class of athletes that specialize in a discipline that is closest to triathlon swimming: open water swimming. If you’re used to watching triathlon swimming, the first time you watch pure swimmers swimming open water you’ll notice two things. The first is how bad their form looks. These guys don’t look like Popov or Thorpe. They have what might look like terrible strokes, they sight way more than they need, etc. The second thing you notice is how much faster they swim when compared to triathletes. When you see them rounding a buoy, it might seem they’re going twice the speed than Faris Al-Sultan rounding the boat while leading the swim in Kona. You see them take off at the start and you know that they would drop the front pack at ITU races. So clearly, if the top athletes in the discipline swim like that, why would we want to have triathletes swimming like Thorpe or Popov? Clearly their “bad” form does not prevent them from being fast.

When I started coaching triathletes in the pool, I went through the usual “technique” period. The Total Immersion book was my bible. I had technique-only days. Sessions wouldn’t go over 2400m because I felt after that my swimmers would start to lose form. My swimmers became extremely proficient at kicking on their side, at swimming one-arm, at counting strokes. Because I was doing regular testing, it became increasingly frustrating to see how slow their improvement was. So maybe that wasn’t the solution. Maybe the solution was to swim more. So slowly, from season to season, I’ve increased the mileage. And guess what, they started to improve faster! It turned out that treating swimming as any other aerobic sport and planning training accordingly had better results than focusing on “technique”.

Swimming is a difficult skill to master, especially to those that learn it later in life. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced. A lot. The problem with drills is that each drill is a different skill to learn. So introducing several drills in your routine will have you learning many different skills, not just one. Of course it can be argued that drills have a positive transfer to the actual stroke. But for those that have used drills extensively know that this transfer is a bit of wishful thinking. A drill can be used to show the swimmer a particular flaw in his/her stroke, but the correction comes from giving feedback on the whole motion, not by expecting the drill to transfer the correction to the stroke.

From all the years I’ve been coaching triathletes, I was lucky enough to have athletes progress a lot with their swimming. All of those progressed because of the commitment they put in their swimming by swimming more. Some people will say “Well, they swam faster because they were fitter, not because they have better technique”. That is a bit simplistic. What happened is that they both got fitter and achieved better technique, because in a sport like swimming, you can’t get faster by just improving one of the two. Probably their form stayed the same, or even looked worse as they improved, but as long as triathlon doesn’t have artistic marks, I will continue to focus on getting my athletes faster.

In the next post I’ll talk a little about the single most important factor that determines speed in swimming. It was pointed out by “Doc” Counsilman almost 40 years ago, maybe that’s the reason why it is so forgotten these days.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I am not a cook so don’t ask me for recipes

I often get emails from athletes asking for training advice, which is something that obviously flatters me. But in most cases, what people are looking for is an easy to use guide for success. This is the case with most posts on Forums asking for training advice. After a brief background, a very broad question is asked. To that question, most people expect a set of guidelines, a complete program is preferred, for them to follow. They expect a recipe.

In this context, the one-size-fits-all coaches have the advantage. Even knowing very little about the athlete, they will tell you what to do. Do this and you will go fast. Factors like individual characteristics of the athlete, his/her background, period of the season, time available and many other relevant factors are not important. Do this and you will go fast.

Of course coaching is a little more complex than that. Effective coaching is not made of gross exagerations and stereotypes, but of focusing on the individual characteristics of an athlete and working within the individual constraints. I hear the expression “regular age-grouper” quite a lot. However, my experience with coaching age-groupers is that there isn’t such a thing as the “regular age-grouper”. They all have different jobs, different families. They have different commitment to training and different priorities. Stereotyping athletes does not serve the interests of the athletes, but it does serve the interests of some coaches… the cook book coaches. So what exactly is effective coaching? Effective coaching is the application of solid training principles and methods to the individual athlete. Is having an effective training program that is tailored to the specific athlete. It’s a lot about individualization.

I really enjoy discussing training. However, there isn’t a lot of people I enjoy discussing training with. Not because I am an elitist (I am not) or because I don’t like to talk to people (That might have some truth to it), but because not a lot of people are capable of discussing training concepts that can then be individualized to each athlete. Most discussions about training end up being discussions about workouts. Should I ride 5 hours or 6 hours? Should I do the 2x20? Should the long run be 2:30h or 3:00h? What about 400 repeats, should I do those? One pet peeve I have is when discussion training with a coach, the coach starts talking about his own training. I don’t want to hear about your training, I want to hear about what you use with your athletes as a whole. And the more athletes you coach, and the more successful they are, the more I’ll listen.

In the next few weeks I will try to write more about triathlon training and less about coaching. But just don’t ask me for recipes. I am not a cook.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Short interview

Around Ironman Florida I gave an interview and it's finally out. Go check it out at *

*The "Get Fitter Plan" is a trademark of Will Ronco, 2007.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Old-school by choice or by default?

From where I am sitting, it seems that a lot of people are getting on the "old-school" bandwagon. Which is really easy because it's a slow moving wagon. But it also seems to me that while there are some that are old-school by choice, there are others that really have no other choice than calling themselves old-school.

Some things never change. Some things do change. I like to call old-school those that stick to the things that never change. But hat I see now is people that are sticking to the things that have changed in the last 10-20-30 years, and calling themselves old-school. I like to call old-schoo learning from those that got so many things right many years ago, not those that have seen their methods contradicted by scientific evidence and still use them. I like the term old-school for the "school" part, and the "old" serves to stress "school". Others it seems are just "old", with little or no "school".

We live in the information overload age. Even though information is a source of knowledge, it is not knowledge itself. In order to build knowledge, you have to go through information, pick what's relevant and systematize it. It can be a daunting task for us all and apparently, in response to the overwhelming quantity of information we are exposed to constantly, many people simply choose to disregard it. For those that are overwhelmed by information to the point that they refuse to go through it in order to build new knowledge, one available open door is to proclaim they are old-school. They proclaim the "old way" is better, there's the "old" without the “school” like I mentioned above, while refusing to even acknowledge there can be a new way founded on "old-school" principles. These I would call “old-schoolers by default”.
Of course there is also the new-school. Among those there are the self-titled evidence-based coaches. The "evidence-based coaching" concept is based on a misconception-ridden article that, perhaps not surprisingly, is devoid of scientific proof of the premises that it states. Anyway, these "evidence-based coaches" pride themselves in the superiority of their methods, supposedly scientifically based. However, maybe one of the readers of the blog can point me to the piece of scientific work that shows evidence that athletes using means of quantifying their training load, namely through accurately measuring power during the activity, are actually faster. Faster than the “old-school” that either uses other methods to quantify training load, or even that don't use any methods at all (!). I have yet to find such scientific evidence.

Some of the best coaches I know, read about, and learn from, are old-school. Through the considerable number of years of experience, the several dozens of athletes they coached, the knowledge they acquired and transmitted, and the scientific literature they read, they chose to be old-school. By trusting and developing the tried and true methods put forth by others before them, they are able to focus on the athlete and how to apply their training methods to the specific individual. Instead of constantly trying to re-invent the wheel, they stand on the shoulders of giants and are able to look further. And that I call being old-school.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Repetition is your friend

That was my reply when an athlete I started coaching only a few weeks ago enquired why his weekly schedule was the same as last week. This might seem shocking to some, but I often prescribe the same week two, three and even four weeks in a row. And why not? Given that the adaptations to training are also a function of, among other things, the level of fatigue the athlete is experiencing, the same week is never the same week. In fact, I can think of dozens of reasons why the same week is never the same week. The same week is perhaps more difficult to accomplish the second or third time around, which might indicate that the level of training we aimed for was probably too optimistic. Or maybe the first week of a block of training was hardly challenging and then it would be foolish to repeat that week.

Repetition is also your friend as a means to challenge and motivate. Having the same workouts from week to week is an excellent way to push for improvement, instead of just wondering if improvement is happening or not. Many times an athlete will only “nail” a workout after trying that workout a second or third time, and that can be give him/her great confidence. This obviously only works when you can measure pace or power accurately, so that improvement can be unequivocally checked.

So when does repetition stop being your friend? Well, basically when it stops serving its purpose, which is to help in the adaptation to new training stimulus. The training principle of biological adaptation tells us that in order for continued improvement, the training stimulus should be changed every 6 to 8 weeks, by manipulating either volume or intensity individually, or both at the same time. So repetition stops being an athlete's friend after he/she has reached a new level of adaptation to training.

So go ahead, find a week structure that you can stick to it for some weeks straight. Every week, even if it’s the same workout, push yourself a little further, go a little harder, push the boundary a little bit. Stick to it and be patient. You will soon reap the fruits of this approach.

Monday, October 29, 2007


Like mentioned in the “What it takes” series, being a competitive athlete means a lot of commitment and sacrifice, for a considerable amount of time. In order to put in the work, an important issue that directly affects the athlete’s motivation is trusting the training program that the athlete follows. Only from 100% commitment to the work you are putting you can expect success. And 100% commitment is not possible without 100% trust.

There are many coaches that advise their athletes to stay away from the Internet forums, with some of them even policing the forums in search for posts from their athletes. According to them, Internet forums only serve to corrupt and to confuse the athletes, making them doubt their own training. It seems that for some coaches, the ideal athlete is the one that never has doubts, never questions and follows blindly the teachings of the coach.

Not surprisingly, I have the opposite position. I believe that if an athlete fully trusts the training program he or she is following, then nothing that they pick up from a forum discussion is going to make them lose their belief in what they are doing. And even if they question some things themselves, it’s the coach’s job to explain, educate his/hers athletes about what they are doing and how it fits the bigger picture of the athlete’s development. Paraphrasing Jack Daniels, if a coach cannot explain to his athlete why he/she needs to do a particular session, then the athlete should not feel obliged to do it.

Quite frankly, I have trouble understanding the thinking behind the censory attitude from the above mentioned coaches. With very few exceptions, Jack Daniels posting on being the most notable one, the Internet forums are populated with what I like to call the “n=1” crowd. The ones that because they have only their own experience to relate to, cannot see beyond their own reality. You know those people as well as me: the masters athlete with over 15 years experience in coaching himself to mediocre results; the coach that only talks about his own experience as an athlete; the “coach” that uses the title without coaching a single athlete; the self-appointed expert with zero credentials since he posts anonymously. What kind of athlete that works with a knowledgeable coach will doubt his/her own program when reading what the self-appointed “experts” have to say? What real coach will feel threatened by what his athletes read on the Internet? Both of these insecurities do not have a place in a healthy coach/athlete relationship.

Obviously the issue of trust is not only for the athlete, but for the coach as well. The coach needs to trust his/her knowledge and ability to help the athlete achieve the goals, as that trust will instill on the athlete the trust that he/she is doing the right kind of work.

The issue of trust is very important because trust builds belief. As everyone knows, belief is a very powerful emotion. When you believe in yourself and on what you’re doing, there are no boundaries to what you can accomplish. And that’s the place you want to be in order to fulfill your potential.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What it takes part II

“An overnight success usually takes 10 years”

That is the favorite quote of one of the athletes I coach. I like the quote for being obviously true and for the values it teaches. Patience and long-term commitment are an integral part of “what it takes”.

But 10 years of doing what? In the first instalment I talked about doing the “right kind of work”. This is an expression that shocks a lot of people. Because nowadays, there is not such a thing as right or wrong. We are told that “protocol” is not important. Go ahead and one season do one thing and the next season something completely different. Do not go beyond your confort zone. Go through a random trial-and-error process to find out what works for you. Take an extended off-season. Do that for 10 years and achieve your overnight success. Good things come to those who wait, right? Wrong! What you do during those 10 years is important and will influence decisively if you achieve your overnight success or not.

Even if triathlon is a relatively young sport, it is been around long enough for plenty of people to have it figured out. Obviously that in the early days some experimenting had to be done in order to find out what worked and what did not work. But that was 10-15 years ago and now there is plenty of people out there that have this sport figured out. And you know who those people are: those that are out there winning races and whoever coaches them.

So you want to get to the next level? In that case, “what it takes” means doing what others at the level you want to achieve are already doing. For the elite athlete the answer is surprisingly simple. It means putting in the work and making the sacrifices that others are already doing. Those that enjoy a lengthy off-season, while they are doing that, someone else is somewhere training for next season, and that someone will beat you. Those that do the same kind of training from year to year, never challenging themselves, never pushing the boundaries, while they are staying within their confort zone, someone else is somewhere challenging him/herself, pushing it, and that someone will beat you. Those that keep working saying that working provides balance to their athletic life, while they are working someone else is somewhere taking a nap or having a massage and that someone will beat you. Those that do not like to travel and like to stay home because things are so much easier, while they are in the confort of their homes someone else is somewhere doing a training camp where it is sunny and warm and that someone will beat you.

At the top of age-group racing, you have both the very talented athlete with limited time to train and the not-so-talented athlete with a lot of time to train. And of course every combination in-between. So finding out what it takes by looking at what the people at the top of the pile are doing can be a very tricky thing to do. The level of competition at age-group level is low enough to have several types of approaches working. Most true elite athletes would be winning their age-group on 10-15 hours/week of training. Does that mean that if you want to achieve success at age-group level you should just be training 10-15 hours/week? Obviously not. So for the age-group athlete, finding out what it takes goes back to the basics that I mentioned in the first part: You go through the process. You put the work in. You commit and you sacrifice. The product of that commitment and that sacrifice will tell you if you have what it takes to achieve your goals.

Do you have what it takes?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What it takes part I

“What it takes” is an expression everyone likes. The question “Do I have what it takes?” is in the mind of every athlete many times during their athletic career. The question “Do you have what it takes?” is in the mind of any coach whenever he or she starts coaching a new athlete. Yet, the answer to that question is not easy. “What it takes” is very hard to quantify and even hard to show to others. Not a lot of people know what it takes and learning about it is a difficult task, as there are different paths to it.

We all recognize the importance of setting clear, realistic, achievable goals. Most athletes are capable of setting those goals for themselves and with the help of a good, experienced coach, they can have feedback about how realistic and achievable are those goals. But an entirely different question is: Do they have what it takes to achieve those goals? This question is one that is important to athletes of every level.

At both the age-group and elite level, what it takes means commitment and sacrifice. Commitment to put in the right kind of work. Sacrifice of a lot of things that are dear to us in order to put in the right kind of work. Commitment and sacrifice are nice words, words that you can find in any self-help book. Words that maybe get us out the door for the next run. But few of us realize what they really mean because few of us have an idea of what commitment and sacrifice really means. In a society where everything is served to us in a platter, everyone has an increasing difficulty in understanding the real meaning for commitment and sacrifice. And that means that few of us have what it takes.

For those that have what it takes, achieving their goals is the ultimate goal and for that they sacrifice everything else. Among the things they sacrifice is the ego-driven necessity that some athletes have of being in control of every aspect of their lives, which obviously includes their training process. Throughout my years as a coach I have encountered many self-coached athletes that, although with lofty goals and a seemingly unshakeable drive to be the best they can, simply did not have what it takes because of their inability to trust others with their training.

So the question is, do you have what it takes? Well, maybe you don’t. Most sports psychology books talk about accessing your inner potential, about achieving excellence, like it is something that is within reach of every single one of us. In reality, it is something that is accessible to very few of us. Very few of us have the necessary combination of genetic talent, mental skills and social environment in order to achieve personal excellence in triathlon. And there is really nothing wrong with that, since not being able to be a successful athlete is not a character flaw. I have met plenty of very successful people that made for very lousy triathletes.

But maybe, just maybe you have what it takes. How do you know if you have it? It is quite simple: You go through the process. You put the work in. You commit and you sacrifice. And the product of that commitment and that sacrifice will answer the question.

Do you have what it takes?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What is "The Triathlon Book"?

The Triathlon Book is a blog. It is a blog about triathlon training and coaching.