Patience and the Transition back to Triathlon Training

Watching Ironman Western Australia yesterday morning brought home the contrast between this year and the last. Busselton is one of my favourite races on the calendar and having been there for the past three years it was odd to be watching online on a cold, dull morning. The differences between then and now are striking, not the weather, but my approach to training. As I transition back into training I find myself taking a more relaxed and gradual approach.

Building plans for 2011 made me appreciate how far away Austria is, there are seven months before I need to be at peak fitness. The last few years had such a packed schedule all I could do was recover, train, taper and race in short succession. Seven months is a luxury I’ve not experienced since I first started in Ironman and I need to approach training with a view to utilising the period well.

I recall blogging along similar lines shortly after Western Australia in 2009, then three months till Ironman New Zealand seemed an incredible length. Relatively it was, but I chose to build fitness quickly, a few weeks of easier training and then two weeks of the toughest work I’d done to date on Epic Camp. It had it’s pros and cons, I achieved a level of fitness I’d not reached before, but spent the subsequent month somewhat plateaued and unsure of progression.

Patience is an important characteristic for endurance athletes, the longer we race the more relevant it becomes. There are no silver bullets, no secret training which get’s you the results faster, it really comes down to putting the work in. Work harder and at some point you have to rest more, if there’s any trick it’s finding the best balance. Rushing fitness invariably leads to a slump when my body refuses to handle the continual load.

Patience is tough when you’re driven towards better performance. It’s hard to rationalise the training I’m doing now against what I want to achieve. I regularly question whether I’m biking enough, spending too much time in the gym, neglecting swimming or not ramping up the run sufficiently. My early visualisation of this period had me working much harder, I was going to run high mileage, swim daily and cycle harder than I’d managed before.

I’m not alone in these doubts or the desire to be fitter sooner, I see similar concerns from my athletes. December seems to be the most stressful time of the year, the social calendar is packed, illness is all round us, it’s cold and miserable so inevitably training suffers. I remind myself and others that these aren’t real set backs yet, the odd session lost to icy roads is not going to stop you going sub-10 at an Ironman in six months. I’m not giving anyone excuses not to train you have to do the work, but keep the year ahead in perspective.

When you look back over the season you’ll be hard pressed to identify a single specific session that directly affected your racing. Results are the culmination of a much longer period of work and whilst nobody wants to be under-performing it happens. Overall consistency matters most of all, there’s room for highs and lows, so long as you’re accumulating training time towards your goals. When you find the going hard look at it as an opportunity to make improvements in the future.

Breaks are inevitable and need to be approached sensibly. Don’t try to catch-up on lost training, in our desperation to prove our fitness we can easily create a cycle of boom and bust. With small interruptions you should be able to jump back in, if you’re unfortunate enough to be further off plan then it’s time to apply patience and build back to where you were.

I thought I’d dive back into training as before and planned my initial training block accordingly. I’d not allowed for the impact the weather would have or that motivation would develop more slowly than usual. At six in the morning when your bed is the warmest place it’s hard to get yourself to the pool! Not hitting my goals in that block was disappointing, but I was honest and recognised I’d set the bar too high.

I needed to genuinely rethink my approach and not try to pile in once more. With that feedback I was conservative in planning the current run block, forgetting ideas based around volume and looking at consistency. What matters isn’t the length of the sessions I’m doing, nor how hard they are, my first step was to be consistently training in all three sports. Once I’m there the time and effort will follow.

Holding back makes me nervous, convinced I might already be failing in my long term goals. I remind myself the fitness that will be the difference between a 9:19 PB and a sub-9 PB takes time; I need to be patient because I’m not ready to handle the training specific to that goal. This block focusses on developing fitness and resilience through consistency, each week I add a little more structured training over the last.

I could have attempted to push, I’ve survived it before, but without breaks I’ll reach my limits by February. A month lost getting back on a progressive plan and before I know it Austria is here. I’ve been through the process enough to know it’s not going to work this time. In the end I’m giving a month or two to prepare myself for that kind of effort, when it comes I’ll be ready.

Perhaps I’m providing excuses for under-performance at this point in the year. I hope not, some sessions have been missed or not gone to plan, but I’m also seeing positive results. For any athlete transitioning back into a training program it’s important there’s good training and a conscious progression towards consistency. It doesn’t have to all come at once, with patience you’ll reach the point you can perform as you want.

Ironman Training Library

From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.