Is This The Beginning of a Sustainable Athletic Lifestyle?

My life will sound familiar. I wake early, get training out the way and settle into the day’s tasks; late afternoon or evening I’ll train again. Big training days tend come at weekends when they can. Occasionally I sneak in extra midweek. Plans have to be adaptable; training fits around life. Contrast with last year when the focus was how could I train more: life fitted around training.

I need the time and energy to work and train without overloading my day. I need to build fitness without pressure to perform. Removing the road to Kona from my plans delivered on these fronts. The decision was right: I felt relieved to make the choice. But the absence of the single motivation behind two years of work creates a vacuum. Without that immediate need for fitness it’s easy to drift.

New found freedom. I can race when or where I like; the rules no longer apply. I may advise against a marathon in preparation for an Ironman, but only if you want to perform. I can enter whatever I want. In my excitement I hunted down as many races as I would fit on my calendar. Marathons, Ultras, I even considered the Deca-Ironman for a few days. Fortunately I never sent any entries in.

Racing more, racing long: these aren’t routes to reducing pressure. I set aside Kona so I could emphasise other areas of my life. As quickly as I’d placed them on the calendar they were gone. It didn’t take much to build sound arguments against racing ten Ironmans in ten days. I’m free to race whatever I like, but that doesn’t mean I should.

I drifted. There was a sense of irony when I wrote my Endurance Corner column. Your Best Season Ever. I wasn’t sure I could comment. I’d hardly put the foundations in place myself. Truth is the five mistakes to avoid came from the very problems I was dealing with. Breaking myself by pushing too hard, inconsistency, wanting to enter everything and largely missing the fun of training.

Plans I’d made in November – built on the assumption of going to Kona – held little relevance. Besides I’d underestimated the impact of month’s of minimal running. This really is back to basics. Progress made before Christmas was lost by a bout of illness that laid me up for a few days. Timed perfectly with festive food I started the year feeling unfit and sluggish.

How many times can I write about the need to manage training for your fitness? To carefully build the work you’re doing and not rush? Despite the frequency with which I cover the theme it took a while to sink in. I was the triathlete needing to be careful in my build up. It eventually clicked and since I’ve started running and riding a bit easier the sessions have worked.

Training isn’t fully structured yet, but I’m no longer adrift. I hold to a simple system that each week should in some way improve upon the last. Perhaps in volume, perhaps in frequency or perhaps in intensity. I’m not too stressed as long as I have time for work, life and this blog! I’ve reverted to the habits of a working triathlete: 9 to 5 is mostly about work, the rest of the time my own.

But I’m enjoying it and week on week I am improving. More importantly the desire to train is returning in full. I enjoyed my first ride of the Challenge Henley course so much – despite a cramp in the last few kilometres home – that I was back three days later. Two long rides in a single week: I wanted to be out there again. Cramp was just a sign that I needed to manage my effort more and not get carried away in the moment. I did say I was unfit!

Whilst I rekindle my love of training I’m also making solid progress with coaching. Numbers have grown quickly; I’m near capacity far earlier than expected. There’s time in the day, but insufficient room in my head! Once I can’t give an athlete the attention required I can’t take on additional clients. It’s close. I find myself considering what next? I’m exploring these steps far sooner than anticipated; I’d not planned far enough ahead.

Frustrations and lack of fitness on a personal and athletic level are balanced by success elsewhere in life. My goal has always been sustainability of the lifestyle and I’m making good progress. I never considered exactly what sustainability would look like and perhaps that’s where the difficulties lie. My work is flexible and rewarding; I’ve time to train and build towards my own sporting ambitions. What more could I want?


  • jo

    russ, i’m impressed at how quickly and solidly you HAVE built your up coaching and online mentoring. You do need to have these things in place (or at least some equivalent form of flexible income) in order to afford the luxury of your own triathlon ambitions. Building a business take a lot of energy, and esp. in the early stages you have to get it right! I think you’ve done it very well. The balance isn’t easy whilst those personal athletic ambitions are foremost in your mind, which you’ve realized. Living by what you advise should be the easiest thing in the world – but it’s not! However, it gives your work/advice integrity – and your body a break!
    So no Kona 2011? Tantes will seem empty without you. Austria? looking forward to catching up in Lanzarote… hoep you’re fit by then :o)

  • I’d be interested in you doing a post around building your coaching business, what do you think are the key elements that have enabled you to build your numbers to near capacity already. Do you think that your athletic abilities are a significant draw for you as a coach? Any tips for getting started (i.e. did you start by offering to coach people for free to get your experience up?).

  • Jo –

    Cheers. I’ve been surprised with how well it’s gone, but it definitely cut into the ability to train. As you say – long term – I need to have an income to chase my own ambitions. That’s a lot of the motivation behind reducing my own training. A year spent building my business now and not racing so hard is a good investment if I can come back better the next year and be in a position to use that fitness where I want.

    I’ll have to ask you about all the logistics involved in your training camp when we’re in Lanza. Definitely something I want to do, though so far not got beyond discussions and contemplation.

    No Kona. It’s going to feel odd reading your blogs whilst I’m in the UK. I’ll have to have breakfast of omelette and fried potatoes every day (not so different) to feel like I’m there! I’m still doing Austria, racing Challenge Henley as it’s local, possibly doing the Outlaw and I’m going to go to Vegas and do ITU Worlds. Not exactly a light schedule! I’m not going to put in the huge prep I’ve done in the last couple of years.

    I’ll be fit for some long rides by Lanza. Will be good to do some big training again!

  • Rob –

    Happy to blog on the process I’ve been through. Certainly have some viewpoints on what works well and what doesn’t.

    Fundamentally you need to create/find your market and build some reputation there. I think my own athletic performance is only partially relevant. My exact placings are less important than the fact I’ve raced quite a lot, trained quite a lot and built up a broad base of experience. But I also started out unfit and worked there, I wasn’t always into sports and I make mistakes in my own training. I’ve had some success, but it’s not been a straight path or an easy one. That’s largely the experience most of us will have.

    I didn’t start by offering free coaching; I offered cheap coaching (but didn’t cut back on quality of service). I also offered a lot of free info. That’s important. People need to be aware of my opinions in order to judge if I will work for them as a coach. Whether it’s on the internet, or locally in a club, be willing to give a lot away. Of course also be sure that someone being coached by you gets more than they would for free!

    I’ll put together a more coherent and structured post on this for you.

  • jo

    it’d be good to chat about Henley. Steven tells me its on your doorstep!?! perhaps you can take me on a recce ride..

  • Henley is literally a 30 min warm-up from my front door. I’m sure Steven’s told you we’ve ridden a lot of the course many times. I’ve done an exact lap of the course twice now happy to show you round once your back. You’ll definitely benefit from knowing the first part of the course.

    I take it Henley is on the schedule then? Is it Lanza, Henley, what else?