It’s no coincidence that many triathletes choose Ironman Chattanooga, 70.3 Chattanooga, 70.3 Augusta, or Ironman Louisville as their initial foray into long distance racing. These events have some of the highest first-timer rates in the sport for one primary reason. The swim courses are perceived to be friendlier to weaker swimmers. Each course is either current assisted, a rolling or time trial start, more-often-than-not wetsuit legal, or a combination thereof. Although choosing to participate in races that play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses is a strategy employed by even the best in the sport, most weaker swimmers do so out of fear. They are afraid of failure that could result in physical or emotional harm. Left unchecked, this fear, or more specifically anxiety, can derail an entire performance in the first few seconds or minutes of an event scheduled to last hours. It doesn’t have to be that way. Repetition and simplicity are the keys to reducing or eliminating anxiety, and maintaining control over performance.
Anxiety is a negative physical or mental reaction to situations that an athlete perceives as being stressful. The absence, or presence of anxiety depends on the degree to which the athlete perceives the outcome of the performance to be important and uncertain. The secret to controlling anxiety is actually very simple. An athlete simply needs to reduce the importance and uncertainty involved with an event.
The importance of a performance will be primarily subjective for each athlete, with higher investment usually correlating with higher importance. Perception of importance can be influenced by internal and external forces such as family, friends, coaches, sponsors, etc., but usually boils down to the fact that we are humans who are self-conscious of what others will think of us. Have you ever wondered how young children are able to learn new skills so quickly? It’s because they just want to learn the skill, and they don’t care what else is going on around them when they are trying to learn it. Adults make things more complicated than necessary, but we’ll come back to that shortly. As adults, our level of importance needs to balance out with our level of commitment to success. When performance expectations match investment, anxiety should be low. Or to put things even simpler, don’t write a one-hundred dollar check when you only have five dollars in the bank.
Although we may never be able to attempt a performance with total certainty, we can significantly reduce uncertainty through repetition. Triathletes love their routines. Specific workouts on specific days. Running the same route every week for the long run. Performing the same pre-season conditioning routines that you have done for years simply because they have done them for years. Why? Mostly because doing something differently would require that they venture out of their perceived comfort zone, and that might entail surrendering even the slightest bit of control, and worse yet, taking risks. The routine, or repetition of the routine keeps them in their “safe place”, but more specifically it reduces anxiety. Repetition also builds confidence, and confidence tells athletes that they are in control of a situation.
In a recent Trisutto blog article, coach Brett Sutton wrote about the importance of repetition for achieving exceptional performance. When training cycles and workout plans are structured properly, repetition builds confidence if there is variability to account for adaptations to the training stresses that have been repeated. Small variations in methodology require athletes to extend their comfort zones and accept new challenges, thereby leading to improvements in performance. When athletes are reluctant to variation, repetition will most likely build stagnation and frustration instead of confidence. Much of the blame for adult anxiety regarding learning new training methods is the insistence on “experts” to make the learning process as technical as possible. The reliance on technical jargon and training toys makes learning much more complicated than it needs to be, especially when adult brains are designed to perform, and conditioned to understand how and why things work. Child brains are designed to learn, so wouldn’t it only seem logical that adults might be more efficient learners if they just simplified things?
The major advantage that children have over adults when learning a skill is that they usually don’t have to unlearn poor habits. They get to start from scratch, whereas adults don’t have that luxury. As adults, we can’t simply forget poor habits, so we need to be able to override them and replace them with good habits. The way that we override poor habits is through conscious effort. We must create new muscle memory so that the new skill becomes automatic. The more you practice something, the more it becomes a muscle memory. Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. It is the repetition of desired behaviors that brings about desired changes. We also know that the simpler the task, the easier it is to concentrate on doing it correctly. Children focus on learning only what is required to master a skill. They aren’t afraid of making mistakes, and they learn from them. Adults make the process more difficult with our desire to know why and how we are learning the skill. We further complicate things by being afraid to make mistakes because we don’t want to look like idiots. Children will focus on a few simple cues, while adults try to focus simultaneously on any and every aspect of performing the skill correctly. Children also follow their natural instincts and rest when they struggle to maintain a conscious effort to practice the skill. Adults will continue practicing a skill once they begin to fatigue and their mental and physical performance begins to suffer, for no other reason than to complete the prescribed practice session. The key to successfully learning a new skill in the most expedient manner is not just repetition, but repetition of quality attempts. It’s better to take brief rest periods and perform more quality attempts than to perform more attempts of poor quality.
Trisutto methods are based on repeating the desired skill over and over, but not just doing repeats until you reach a prescribed total workout volume. The focus is on performing as many desired attempts in the allotted time. Working hard only makes you tired if done incorrectly. Working smart makes you better. We make things as simple as we can, so athletes can focus only on what is required to get better. It’s more difficult for adults to consciously learn skills, so we structure workouts that provide maximal opportunity for athletes to focus only on what is required to master the skills. The belief is that if you are provided with the proper training methods and environment, you’re going to learn whether you want to or not. If you have children, you know how important repetition is to their learning process, especially when they have a new favorite song. You will hear them play that song so many times that it becomes ingrained in your memory, like it or not. It’s done unconsciously, without requiring you to make any effort on your part to try to learn the new tune. As athletes, mastering new skills can be just as easy if we can simply embrace simplicity. Embrace your inner child. After all, it is still just a game.
Robert Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Coach Rob at his January Training Camp in Lexington, South Carolina. and his recently announced June Great Smoky Mountains Camp.
Strength training – low cadence, big gear hill reps for Trisutto camp athletes in Cyprus.
Even after all these years, and all the results I’m still asked by athletes about bike cadence. How come I’m such a proponent for ‘non-biker’ trained athletes to use low cadence? Athletes sit at home and watch the cycling on TV and question why don’t I recommend such spinning.
Let me put it in perspective for you.
Many pro cyclists train from 750km to say 1200 km per week, and do so for 10+ years prior to you watching them on the TV. Many still don’t find the magical feel on the pedals that the top small percentage do. If riders who are pro and spend 6 days a week training a minimum of 4 to 5 hrs a day can’t find ‘a feel for the pedals’ then how can someone with no background, who can only put in a maximum of 200 km a week find it? Yes there will be exceptions. But how many do you think? I don’t train for the exception but instead make adjustments when they do come along every generation or so.
Many field and lab tests have been done to attempt to show spinning is more efficient to the newcomer than just pumping the big gear, or as we call it stomping. These tests results don’t get aired much because the end results nearly always bore out the different conclusion than what the cycling fraternity were looking for in the test. Confirmation could not be given. In fact, most if not all tests showed that subjects who were not trained produced more power and sustainable speed at cadences between 60 (yes you read right) between 60 and 70 cadence. Any higher and the efficiency was lost. I’ve read studies from USA, Australia , England , and even France, and all come with the same conclusion, that over 70 cadence the subjects watt to power endurance was significantly less than the under 70 cadence group. The same riders under the same conditions lost as much as 10% of their vital scores.
In all cases heart rate began to climb at the various cadence levels, and once the riding novices were asked to hold 100 cadence, not only did their performance diminish greatly, but also their heart rate rose to levels approaching 15% below max for the entire tests. Again, across all data, I saw this was universal, and I would hope to any reasonable person not a debatable point.
Low Cadence and Total Body Force riding
So keeping in line with the specific requirements of our sport, I considered that when training for Triathlon:
a) We have to train three disciplines, not one. So our hours are limited for bike training compared to cyclists.
b) Most if not all athletes that I come in contact with are not ex-professional bike riders with an already wound in innate feel of the pedals. Thus ‘spinning’ may be detrimental to them riding to the best of their ability.
c) The race is not over once we hop off the bike. So, riding with an elevated heart rate close to ones anaerobic threshold would not be advisable if one wanted to run at a reasonable pace after the bike.
Yes these were assumptions back then when I formed my opinions, and I would think based on sound principles. Over the years experience has taught me that this judgment was indeed one of my better ones as all riders in the age group classes I have helped have made rapid and sustainable gains on the bike.
I’’m about function over form. What works for the individual is what is right. Watching a 90kg or 198lb athlete spinning down the road at 100 cadence makes me depressed, as does watching a certified level coach teach a 50kg or 110lb 5′ 2″ female to swim like Michael Phelps, who is 6′ 6″ or 185cm and looks like an aircraft carrier. It makes me cry and want to have these coaches certified in another way.
If you are not exceptional or you don’t have an innate feel for the pedals, take my tip: if you want to run to the best of your ability off the bike, and get the most out of it when you are on it, then lower cadences will produce results for you.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Cyprus in April, 2018 for insights into the Trisutto Coaching and Training methodologies.
Article Photo Credits: Mokapot Productions
Have you ever considered why you may not reach the same levels of performance as say Nicola Spirig or Daniela Ryf? You may put it down to not training hard enough or not having the time to put in that much effort. In fact. It may not be your fault.
In general, there are two categories of triathletes that perform at the highest level: the genetically talented or gifted athlete and the athlete with a highly developed capacity to train and a specific training program guiding them.
When athletes perform at the top level they often attribute their success to superior coaching, access to a great training environment or beginning training at a young age. Could their success be attributed to underlying biological predispositions? Genetic traits are thought to account for up to half the variation in performance and the other half in the athletes response to training.
These genetic qualities are not only the inherited characteristics of their parents such as height and arm length, leg length etc, but also muscle fibre type (fast and slow twitch muscle fibres) and the capacity to attain high levels of fitness (maximal oxygen uptake) or inherited cardiovascular traits.
From this perspective, whether you will make a champion or not, is governed by:
a) The type of mix in your anatomical, physiological and behavioural characteristics that you were born with;
b) Proper training, rest and nutrition, and
c) The ability of those inherited characteristics to adapt to the training, rest and nutrition.
Other factors that may affect performance include the trainability of the athlete. There are some people who are what we call “non responders”, who have great difficulty to improve in sport and of course never attain any high performance levels but still find it enjoyable to train and compete. Neuromuscular activity and biomechanics (skill) plays a part in the sport of triathlon but not to the same extent as in single sports. The nature of triathlon does not require perfect skill development. The swim, being in open water and in a group situation does not require a perfect swim stroke to perform well. The bike can be in draft legal or illegal format and does not require the same level of skill as an Olympic cyclist. The run is decided by who is the fastest after the swim and bike, not necessarily the runner with the fastest run time trial. It is often determined by the strongest, fittest runner.
Probably one of the most important factors in producing a high performing athlete is to find individuals who are highly motivated and are likely to persist over the long duration required to produce a champion.
Training over a long period can vary between individuals but could span between 10-15 years. This could be the initial learning of fundamentals of the sport; the building of performance power and capacity; and the reaching of an international level. Once the athlete has reached this level of performance, it is not uncommon that another 6-8 years of competitive experience may be needed to achieve consistent world class rankings.
So taking into account all of the above, there are also the psychological factors. This includes the ability to tolerate pain and fatigue and also dedication and diligence to train and race at such a high level. Other psychological factors that are important include motivation, aggression, focus, the ability to sustain effort, attitudes toward winning and losing, the ability to cope with anxiety and stress, management of distractions, capacity to relax and of course, coach-ability.
Coach-ability encompasses not only following a specific training program but also being tenacious, conscientious, and demonstrating a perseverance and readiness to perform. That is what you need to bring to the table if you wish to improve and succeed in this sport.
Unfortunately there is little that can be done about changing your genetic make up, you will have to live with that, but those people with a highly developed work ethic and a successful system of coaching that is guiding their efforts have a better chance of reaching your true potential.
Rob Pickard is a former National Coaching Director and High Performance Manager of Triathlon Australia, and is based in Australia. Rob is mentor for coaches studying at our Trisutto Coaching Academy
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
Coach Sutton poolside at our Cyprus base.
With many pro athletes deciding to back up from the Ironman World Championships with 70.3 or even full distance races a couple of weeks apart, a number of questions have been put to me from age group athletes:
- Can I do it physically?
- Should I?
- What impact could it have on my season / career?
For many years we have had athletes not only back up long distance events, but do it very successfully. More importantly they have then continued with a sustained, successful and consistent season (and career) after doing so.
In extreme cases we’ve seen athletes winning back to back Ironman races a week apart.
It is a very individual thing, not just physically but also mentally. I have had athletes who I believe could successfully back up, but others who were as talented or better athletes that I would never entertain the thought of them doing so.
The following rules have served me well:
1.) We would never allow a Trisutto athlete to back up long distance events at the very beginning of a season. This is simply a straight out no!
In fact I rarely sanction an Ironman as the first or second race after after a training break / early season. Instead we build the race season just as we build a training block. We do a lead in race for most Trisutto athletes. This would be a sprint race, then an Olympic distance race, then preferably a 70.3, and only then a full Ironman. A detailed breakdown of how we approach this can be found here.
2.) If an athlete is tall with long limbs, or a big strong unit, then they are different. Even if lean and in good fitness / race conditioning, their size is an inhibitor to success in backing up. So we don’t do it!
If an athlete is a male, then we usually avoid backing up. Ironman racing flattens their male hormone system which then needs time to recover. This is a much over looked fact by many coaches, and a lesson learn’t from training and racing horses.
Female athletes on the other hand recover much quicker than most males, both in day to day training, and also post race.
3.) If an athlete is wired psychologically to prepare for a single race and works all season to peak for this one race, then asking them try to regroup and refocus is a recipe for a poor outcomes.
This is especially true of races only 7 days apart, which in reality is a short 5 days with post and pre-race recovery, travel, and other stresses in order to do battle the following weekend.
4.) The factor that most overlook is if they plan to compete in the double, many athletes can harm their first race by knowing that they have a second race in only 7 – 21 days. This most definitely needs to be taken in consideration. When the going gets tough in the first race and the question is asked ‘how bad do I want it today’, the mind has to be completely focused in the moment and not looking for an escape route of a ‘back up’ race on the horizon!
5.) We only double up if:
– the above has been addressed
– if and only if, the athlete has had an uninterrupted program for at least 20 weeks, and within that 20 weeks has completed an Ironman, and a couple of 70.3 / half distance races.
I am a systems based coach, so for me the above rules are nearly etched in stone. I believe that is the reason why after completing ‘the double’ our athletes continue to be consistent for the remainder of their season, and also their career. The key is, we only go into it with a great deal of training and racing foundation. If we do not have this, then we don’t consider it!
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at his remaining training camps in 2017 in Gran Canaria.
As we head to the business end of the season, I want to address a big problem for not only age group athletes, but also pros. Putting unbearable pressure on oneself to perform before the race even starts.
Many who join our squad are more than a little surprised that as we enter our race preparation for the big days, how laid back and not revved up they are. Our results on getting it right on the big day are formidable! Thus, athletes looking for the big motivational speeches are duly disappointed!
We keep it calm, controlled and clinical!
As mentioned in previous blogs, we shun the word ‘win’. It has no meaning in itself. It can’t positively effect the outcome where one person or a team can beat another. That outcome only manifests itself if the preparation has been carried out in the best possible way, and on race day the focus is on the process.
We at Trisutto have had huge success with many athletes who before joining us, did not get their job done to the best of their abilities on the day they wanted. As a coach just as an athlete, I do have my process. That is about diffusing expectations and honing the athletes thoughts on having a clear head, to be able to then execute a planned strategy.
Here is a taste of what I try to achieve:
1) I emphasize that thinking of winning is a detriment to performance. We must have the self discipline to concentrate in the ‘now’ and to be able to execute certain skills and actions.
2) The strategy or actions have been laid out, discussed, and agreed well before race week. So it is rehearsed and completely understood as second nature.
3) Have check lists. This is so important, to take any last minute error that can provide extra pressure.
- Check list for travel
- Check list for race gear
- Check list for strategy
- Check list of how to think on the day
How many times have I seen athletes been destabilized because they left something at home! That creates anxiety.
How many times has a piece of race kit been left at the race hotel! That creates anxiety.
Check lists for strategy – when the nerves come (and they do), having something to remind the athlete of their procedure that is physical makes an enormous difference.
Check lists or some written word about how you should view competition is very important.
Quite a bit was made about what I gave Chrissie to settle her down at races – a copy of the poem ‘IF‘ by Rudyard Kipling hit the spot. Nicola Spirig has a different type of list, but it all has the ability to do one thing. The similar job as the other lists. The most important thing you can do as an athlete or coach, is to plan to diffuse anxiety! This is easier said than done. But if you follow the blueprint above, you will be amazed how it can clear your mind to have a positive outcome to your big races.
I wish the best mechanical luck to all Trisutto followers, athletes and coaches. For those who aren’t, we are about the best person on the day winning – it doesn’t have to be us! That is the honour of sport.
It still lives at Trisutto.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Lanzarote, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
In every race there are only three prizes. One for first, one for second and one for third. So unless there are only three people racing, there’s no way everybody can get a prize. So if you don’t win, if you don’t podium, are you not successful?
As a professional athlete it was something that was always in my mind. Am I succesfull? Am I successful to come fifth in an IRONMAN race, to come fourth, to come eight in a Championship race or to run a career personal best time ending up sixth place in the field? Was I a good athlete even though I only won one Challenge race? Do people perceive me as a successful athlete? Again, what is succes?
As a coach I see athletes struggle with the same question. Of course racing as a professional has its own dynamics and you strive to be the best athlete in the field. You want to make a living out of it, which is not easy in this sport. You do that by performing. To podium. To get a paycheck. Or to get that podium bonus by your sponsors. It is the ultimate implementation of being paid by performance. Something that will not work in a normal job or corporate company because there is simply no way that you can run a business by only paying people who have the best performance.
But succes and/or performance is both subjective and objective. The objective side is the simple 1, 2, 3. The subjective side is more complicated. My career best performance only got me to sixth place. There were 5 girls better then me on the day that I had my best performance. My best performance is limited by myself. I’m no Chrissie Wellington or Daniela Ryf. I’m not a Xena, the Warrior Princess or Corinne, the Welsh Wizard. And that is ok. I strive to become as good or even better then they are, but I might not have the same talent physically or mentally. Or have the right background in sports to fall back on. And that is ok. I want to make myself better, stronger and faster. So ’till this date my career best performance, even though I was not on the podium, is a succes in my books. And one of my best performances.
Whether you are successful as an amateur athlete is something you don’t need to measure by other people. You have your limitations as do the others. You just don’t know them. Maybe you were racing people who used to race professional? Or still kind of are. Or don’t have that demanding job of 50 hours a week. Or maybe the person you just overtook is working 60 hours a week. Or maybe he or she is overtaking you because training for triathlon with a demanding job is a way to get their mind at ease. Or maybe you race against people with a family. With a newborn. With four kids. And they have to juggle everything around. For them it might all be about balancing everything out.
As hard as it is, I want my athletes to look at their own performance. Making their own succes. Like getting to that finish line of a full triathlon for the first time. In one piece. Finishing to grab a beer with the family after. For me as a coach, that makes me very happy and proud. I see that as a success. Or enjoy a 15 minute best time even though it wasn’t enough for the podium. You had a great performance, so don’t beat yourself up because someone else was better on the day. Celebrate your progression. As a coach I see that progression and I see that as a success.
But success might also mean overcoming fear. Fear for a distance, or a certain race. I have experienced that. Challenge Almere last year was my fear race. My home race. The race where you want to have the best performance of your life. I feared the startline, because I was afraid I’d fail. For my friends and family. I wanted to make them proud. What if I couldn’t? Last year I finally did it. And even though I didn’t win, I celebrated my very hard fought second place like I did win. It was my succes of overcoming fear. Before the race. During the race. And even after the race, by celebrating my succes with the people that matter to me.
Success is not measured by podiums. Of course it looks great in the race report, but that doesn’t make success. That doesn’t always reflect a good performance. I landed on the podium of an IRONMAN once with a lousy performance. There were not too many girls racing that day. And I got lucky. Was that success? It looked like it to the rest of the world, but to me it has always been about performance. About getting the best out of myself. And on one day that might be a personal best time. The other it’s overcoming deep dark places during the race. You make your own succes. Not anyone else.
Mirjam Weerd is a Trisutto Coach who also races as a Professional Triathlete. Mirjam is currently based in Curaçao, and has a dedicated group of online athletes. Mirjam also hosts regular coaching clinics, sharing her vast triathlon experience and knowledge.