Sunday, October 26, 2008


Interestingly, I wrote this piece last week, before Hillary Biscay, Belinda Granger and Chrissie Wellington announced they were leaving Team TBB and coach Brett Sutton, and even before I heard the rumor about it. Even if this piece is not about that situation specifically, I will let the readers decide if my thoughts also apply to that particular situation.

As a general observer of the pro triathlon scene, I am often surprised by the amount of bad decisions that some athletes make and that have a significant impact in their progression in the sport. It is quite common to hear of an athlete that after a successful season fires her coach. Or on the opposite side of the spectrum, the athlete that, after years and years of underperforming, doesn’t change his attitude and/or approach to the sport.

Along with the principles of specificity or diminishing returns, there is another training principle that is very important: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it! I would think that this is common sense, but then I remember Voltaire’s quote. Staying with what works and what has brought you success before is paramount when trying to progress from year to year. The training process is nothing more than an empirical process where you try to find out what works and discard what doesn’t work. However, it only takes one bad decision to discard EVERYTHING that works.

Even if these bad decisions don’t make much sense sometimes, they need to be seen under the right lens. And that is that successful decision-making is an integral part of “what it takes”. Many athletes have the genetic talent to be top athletes, have the right mental outlook to approach training and racing, but if they lack the skill to make good decisions (or not make bad decisions), they will never fulfill their potential.

Sometimes coaches have an important role in these bad decisions, by giving bad advice to athletes. However, it all comes down to the athlete and the choice the athlete made to hire the coach in the first place. Choosing the right people to advise you is also an integral part of “what it takes”.

When things are broken, complete lack of decision in order to change a bad situation is a problem too. We all know examples of athletes that after a successful stint, never again replicate their former success. Instead of looking for new ways to get out of the slump, they keep insisting in their old ways, sometimes wasting a whole career foolishly trying to be successful again.

Decisions – Choose wisely.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beating the cheaters II

“Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win.” - Robert Heinlein

This is an interesting quote, since it represents the dilemma that drug-free Ironman athletes have before racing. They know there will be cheaters starting the race, but if they don’t race, they cannot have a shot at winning or placing.

The truth of this matter is that if you toe the line to win the race, you have to prepare yourself to beat the cheaters too. In a sport where doping controls are rare and enforcement of the drafting rules is lax, when you toe the line you have to be prepared to beat all those that will suck wheel into the podium, or those that are only finishing the race because there won’t be doping control at the end.

Beating the cheaters is part of the game. We all know who they are. We know those that only finish races that don’t have doping control. We know those that mysteriously withdraw from races citing an injury, but it was really a “treatment” course that didn’t clear in time. We know the multiple Ironman winners that blatantly drafted their way into multiple victories. We know those that are walking doping wikipedias and those that join the "training group” to get a bit of the information. If you want to win, you have to go out there and beat the cheaters.

Beating the cheaters is part of the challenge. When you start a race, you’re agreeing to the unwritten rules of the race. And those say that you’ll be racing against people that will do EVERYTHING to win. This includes doping, drafting, using illegal equipment, etc. And the challenge is to beat them, not at their game but at your own game. The game of fairness and sportsmanship.

But if you want to be fair, you need to be fair all the time. This includes either delivering or shutting up. Nobody likes a sore loser and there isn’t such a thing as the drug-free or the draft-free divisions. You either put up or shut up.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Beating the cheaters I

One thing needs to be said about Ironman racing in the US: Cheating is allowed. Be it by having very few races with doping control or the non-consistent enforcement of drafting rules, many athletes are taking advantage of the huge holes in the system to win in a fraudulent way.

The doping issue is particularly puzzling. From all the Ironman races this year in the US, only Hawaii had doping controls, or at least I hope it did. In a time when anti-doping makes sports headlines almost on a daily basis, the anti-doping practices in the Ironman circuit date back to the early 80’s. That is to say that since the inception of Ironman as a professional sport, the anti-doping procedures haven’t changed.

Who is to blame here? Even if Ironman races are sanctioned by USAT, you can understand why the Federation does not go in and test at Ironman races. Why would a Federation spend their own money to test a group of athletes that has no control over, and from which receives no benefit? The negative consequences of having any triathlete test positive would affect the whole sport, not just Ironman, with some of the fall-out landing on USAT. Going in and testing systematically Ironman athletes would be like entering a mine field, one that USAT would likely never come out in one piece. For the race organizers, having a positive test would be bad for business and it would hit their bottom line. It’s also expensive and time-consuming, so not having doping tests is a win-win situation for race organizers.

The enforcement of drafting rules is also a big issue, even if it doesn’t impact races the same way doping does. The biggest issue is the lack of consistency in the application of the rules, depending on the particular marshals working the race. It seems that things are different at different races, with head marshals many times worried about secondary questions and creating new absurd rules. I often get the impression that marshals are trying to be nice guys instead of simply enforcing the rules.

Is this situation changing in a near future? It certainly doesn’t seem likely. At the moment, in this society, the scale still tips heavily in favor of money, at the expense of fairness.

Friday, October 17, 2008

One year

It’s been one year now that I’ve started this blog. It’s been an amazing experience, since the blog allowed me to put in writing some of my coaching thoughts and concepts. It also served as motivation and reference not only to the athletes I coach, but to several readers too.

During the last year I have also ruffled more than a few feathers. I’ve killed TSS and chewed a lot of fat. I busted some myths and made some people feel threatened. Some responded in a rather vicious way, which even if it caused me some sadness, did expose them and their little ways. This also showed me I was in the right path, I am at my happiest when poking at the establishment.

Enough “I’s” and onwards to another year of The Triathlon Book!