“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out” – R. Collier
It’s officially Spring in the northern hemisphere, and the 2018 triathlon season is now upon us. After scrutinizing last year’s performances, most of us have probably taken steps that we believe will lead to improved results during the upcoming season. One of the steps that we undertake on a yearly basis is goal setting. We identify performance outcomes that are used to define individual success when the dust settles after an event or an entire season. As triathletes, we need goals to serve as incentives for us to remain committed to such a demanding lifestyle of regular physical activity, and to validate the sacrifices that are deemed necessary to our successes. Unfortunately, goals often go unfulfilled due to circumstances that are totally within our control. We often come up short in our pursuits because we set unrealistic goals that are not attainable within our desired timeframe, or we direct our attention more towards the attainment of the goal instead of the pursuit of the goal.
Raise your hand if you, or someone you know has never finished within the top fifty percent of his or her age group in an Ironman race but has declared that one of this season’s goals is to qualify for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona. History has shown that you will most likely need to finish in the top two percent of your age group to qualify for a Kona slot, so attaining your goal in one season is highly unlikely. Nonetheless, you download a popular Ironman training plan designed for elite and professional triathletes to get your game to another level because you have a few friends who are doing the same thing, and your ego won’t let you believe for one moment that you aren’t faster than any of your friends. Letting your ego and social influences formulate your goals will sabotage the season before you ever get out of the recliner. You need to take an objective inventory of your skills and determine what you are realistically capable of accomplishing in one season. Since our own biases and subjectivity will always creep in to skew our assessment, it might be best to enlist the services of a coach who will tell you what you NEED to hear instead of what you WANT to hear. Ideally, we want to set realistic “big picture” goals and then work backwards to develop a plan of attaining them. The big picture goals can be viewed as our destination, and we need regular check points along the way to ensure that we don’t get lost. To stay on the correct path, we develop check points in the form of short-term goals with the belief that if we focus only on getting to the next check point we will eventually end up at our destination. Outcome goals represent our destination, and process goals guide our journey.
Coach Robert working with athletes to set and attain realistic individual goals.
Outcome goals are big picture goals that are usually not under the control of the athlete due to their susceptibility to outside influences. Let’s say that your outcome goal for 2018 is to secure a Kona slot by finishing near the top of your age group at an Ironman qualifying event, and you believe that your season will be a failure if the goal is unfulfilled. If you develop the flu a week before your race and are unable to compete at the level required to qualify, then your season has been a failure according to your own definition of success. Your ability to secure the Kona slot is also dependent on how well, or poorly your competition performs, which is entirely out of your control. Outcome goals can also be overwhelming if you continually look to where you are trying to get and realize how far you need to go to get there. Although it isn’t recommended that athletes place too much emphasis on outcome goals, they are very important in serving as motivation to begin the journey.
There is no such thing as an overnight sensation. If you look closely enough you will find that great success stories are a culmination of small successes experienced on a regular basis over a period of time. Process goals enable athletes to train in an environment where they receive steady feedback used to continuously adjust the plan to meet fitness adaptations, and they also serve to facilitate the motivation-success cycle. The premise of the motivation-success cycle is that we set a short-term goal to motivate us to perform at a specific level and once we fulfill that goal we build on our success by setting our next short-term goal, and the cycle continues until we fulfill our big picture outcome goal. Simply progressing from one short-term goal to the next increases motivation and self-confidence on a regular basis. As we continue to progress through our training plan, the greater the likelihood of fulfilling our outcome goal. Although process goals help us build good habits, develop muscle memory, maintain focus, and are entirely within our control, there is one caveat. You must be relentless in your dedication to ensure that each process goal is fulfilled, and your commitment will usually be rewarded with small gains that may not be recognized and acknowledged by anyone other than yourself. Repetitive training doesn’t always have to be boring if you learn to track your improvements and celebrate the smallest of gains. Success is a habit built on doing the little things over and over. Chop wood, carry water. Small gains experienced on a regular basis add up to huge gains when all is said and done.
The greatest virtue a long-distance triathlete can possess is patience. Continuing to grind it out daily with the knowledge that you may see only miniscule gains, if any at all, requires patience and trust. You must have unwavering trust that your plan will get you where you want to go, and you must be patient enough to put in the work and use the smallest of gains to fuel your commitment to get up and do it all over again the next day. You can apply the same logic when developing your race plan. Break the race up into smaller, more manageable segments so you can use feedback to adjust your performance accordingly, and mentally celebrate the completion of each segment as a small victory. The day goes by much quicker when you are only thinking about the next few minutes instead of the next 8 to 17 hours. Whether training or racing, setting short-term goals allows us to celebrate small victories on a consistent basis, and who doesn’t like to win? Create an environment conducive to winning by setting realistic goals that can be attained through small, manageable efforts repeated day in and day out.
Robert Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Rob in June at his next Triathlon Camp in the USA – Great Smoky Mountains Camp
The art of continuous improvement – how we develop the best training system in the world for everyone, not just the pros.
When I’m asked about certain changes in our athlete training protocol or techniques, I point out that our Trisutto Total Body Force method (TBF) is always open to be improved.
The strength of our training program is built on daily on deck workouts we do with the best athletes in the world, plus our ability to pass on positive improvements we see being made by athletes that are challenged by improvements in their weakest disciplines.
What does that really mean?
The best squad of pro athletes in the world are always carrying out experiments in all three disciplines. When we see a better way, or a positive outcome from these athletes, we pass this information on to our coaches, and hence on to our Trisutto athletes.
This is not the usual theoretical ‘let’s run a study on 6 age groupers’ that you read on a weekly basis on forums and in magazines. Instead, where we have athletes not seeing the improvements we believe is possible for them, then we experiment with training in specific areas. We search for innovative ways to overcome the ‘road block’ and to find a solution. If we find an improvement with that particular athlete, we try it out over a period of time with another athlete that may be struggling with the same impediment to improvement. If again we have another success story, we still don’t pass the information on, but try another athlete. If this is also successful, then we incorporate this knowledge into our training system, and pass the information on to our coaches to implement should they wish to do so.
This allows all of our athletes to be at the forefront of experiments that we conduct with our pro squad in all disciplines.
‘Our strength, and our consistent results are founded on 28 years of trial and error with the best athletes in the world.’
To give an example. Nicola Spirig has just undergone a 4 month (yes 4 month, not 4 day, not 4 week) experimental swimming technique change. During that time, some of the findings have seen two of our other pros switched to the same swim technique protocol, along with two of our coaches how have also unwittingly become Guinea Pigs.
All five have shown improvements in training. Three of the five have raced and also shown improvements. These are tests that are performed in a race situation, not in a lab. These findings are now already passed on to our coaches, and hence to athletes attending Trisutto training camps.
Our strength, and our consistent results are founded on 28 years of trial and error with the best athletes in the world. This has enabled us to develop our Trisutto TBF athlete training methodology, so we can pass on our best knowledge to athletes; and also develop our Trisutto Academy to train aspiring coaches. Athletes and coaches can learn from our experience to get an edge in Triathlon.
We strive to be better than everyone else. We strive to share our information, and do so only once I believe it can help enhance the performance of our athletes.
The Kaizen method of continuous improvement is an originally Japanese management concept for gradual / continuous change (improvement). Kaizen is actually a way of life philosophy, assuming that every aspect of our life deserves to be constantly improved.
If you have been advised to try a new development, whether that be swim, bike or run, then be assured that it is no new theory from a University class room, or a late night brain storm by a coach desperately ‘looking for clues’. Instead be assured it’s been road tested by not one, but a bunch of the best athletes in the world, well before it reaches your ears.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Cyprus in April, and St.Moritz in June/July, 2018.
Article Photo Credits: James Mitchell Photography
The posting of Nicola and Celine’s birthday party set brought a number of enquiries from members of our trisutto family? Coach why didn’t we join the swim party? How come I had my birthday set and you gave me 48x100s? I wanted to do The Birthday Set!
So let’s look at what it is, and the reasoning behind the different programs for different athletes.
The set is an old swim session primarily done by some great distance swimmers back in the 1970s. I used to watch Stephen Holland (1976 Olympic Games bronze medalist) in awe as he punched out 100 x 100m all on 1 minute 10 seconds long course. This created a bit of a craze with distance swimmers of the time. The hardest set of this type that I saw was done by Bobby Hackett (1976 Olympic Silver medallist). He swam 100 x 100y leaving on 1 minute (short course yards) in the USA, then told his coach it was a piece of cake. When his coach then asked ‘the tough guy’ to do a 1500y fly, he did so with ease, and then said ‘I’ll raise you one’ and did a second 1500y fly. He indeed was a tough guy.
So I brought the 100 x 100 set in my kit bag to Triathlon as well as a few others that were ‘frowned upon’ in Triathlon. We decided that it would be the birthday set in Trisutto.
However this is where we need to explain that it is not done for everyone and not even for all of the good swimmers if it doesn’t fit with their fitness. This session done at the wrong time can be very destructive.
- take into consideration where you are in the build up to your program.
- consider fitness levels. This is our third short pro training camp. We have had athletes with birthdays on the first two camps. However our fitness levels were not where we could cope with such a physical exertion to be a positive asset.
- if you have a certain physical or stroke impediment no matter how fast you are as a swimmer, we don’t do this type of swim.
We may also use swim tools including large pull bouys to protect the shoulders from possible over use strain when swimming this (and other) sets. The ability of the swimmer doesn’t need to be a factor in not doing such an arduous session. However if one is a slow(er) swimmer then this is more than a swim session, it is an immune system test, much like a race. You will need to give yourself time to recover from it. Just as if 4km is your normal swim session, this session has also got to be treated like a race experience, and that smart rest is needed to help it be a positive to your work and not a negative.
Can it be a beneficial workout?
Of course. However it needs to be done when you are fit enough to cope, have a technique to cope with the physical strain, or use tools to alleviate that problem and help assist to make it manageable.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Cyprus in April, and St.Moritz in June/July, 2018.
If you’ve ever watched beginning tennis players, you might have noticed the lengths to which they will go to avoid using the backhand stroke. They expend valuable energy doing everything within their power to run themselves into a position to hit a forehand because they lack confidence in their backhand. In tennis, this practice is referred to as “running around your backhand”. It’s no different in triathlon. Most triathletes enter the sport with greater experience in one discipline, and running seems to be the gateway activity more often than swimming or cycling. Because we tend to gravitate towards activities in which we excel, tri newbies will usually seek out opportunities to participate in their strongest discipline and avoiding activities in which they perceive themselves as inferior. Failing to address a weakness early in training will result in the athlete arriving at a dead-end on the road to progressive improvement. Every athlete enters the sport with at least one weakness, or limiter, which must be addressed for improvement to occur.
Recently, one of the athletes that I coach was telling me about a local triathlete that he described as being a very poor swimmer, an average cyclist, and an above average runner. When my athlete suggested to him that learning to properly swim for triathlon could greatly improve overall performance, the athlete responded that he wasn’t going to waste time on swimming next season and was going to focus his efforts on becoming an even faster runner to offset his weakness in the water. Employing this strategy would be the triathlon equivalent of running around your backhand. By the end of the tennis match you struggle to even hit the forehand proficiently due to the excess energy previously expended to avoid the backhand. Because triathlon is one sport comprised of three interrelated disciplines, your inefficiencies in one discipline will affect your performance in others.
Triathlon is one sport, not three. Training must be structured so that all three disciplines interact to facilitate maximum fitness gains, while at the same time promoting optimal recovery between workouts. Every athlete enters the sport with at least one limiter. Professional, elite, and top age group athletes may have limiters, but they are still highly proficient in each discipline. They do whatever it takes to eliminate their limiters, with the knowledge that they may only improve enough to minimize the damage done by competitors who look to exploit their weaknesses. Athletes who train for triathlon as one sport not only improve performance in their weakest discipline by addressing their limiters, the increased efficiency also allows them to redirect previously wasted energy to their stronger disciplines. For example, improved efficiency on the swim results in fresher legs on the bike. Stronger bike fitness combined with a more aerodynamic position will result in fresher legs for the run. Everything that you do in one discipline will impact what you do in the others.
The predominant limiter for triathletes is the swim because the sport is so technical, and most middle-age adults with jobs and families can’t commit the necessary time required to become proficient at using the traditional mainstream swim techniques. Even if they did have the time, the return on investment is relatively small in comparison to the time requirements for such minimal gains. They simply accept being weak swimmers, and register for triathlons that are wetsuit legal and/or include a current-assisted swim. Another option is to increase swim volume and continue to use the same inefficient form. The problem with this is that although you may experience a slight fitness bump from the extra time in the pool, you will also continue to reinforce weak swim form. Since most athletes only have a limited amount of training time, the extra time dedicated to swim volume detracts from the time that may be spent working on the bike and run.
Improvement on the bike is another matter altogether. Unlike swimming and running, athletes can buy speed on the bike. Aerodynamic carbon-fiber bikes, lightweight wheels, and aero helmets are purchased by athletes under the assumption that it is possible to shave minutes off Ironman and 70.3 race times without exerting any additional physical effort. What they don’t realize is that these technical innovations were designed by engineers for athletes who have maximized gains through training and proper bike position, and are searching for the extra seconds or minutes that only technology can provide. Fortunately for equipment manufacturers, the middle and back-of-the-pack triathletes are looking for these types of shortcuts to speed in lieu of training to improve their bike prowess. Is there anything more ridiculous than someone sitting up on a ten-thousand-dollar bike with a disc wheel, while wearing an aero helmet and riding 14 mph? Save yourself thousands of dollars and just learn to train and ride the bike properly for triathlon. As with the swim, some will attempt to improve bike fitness simply by increasing their training volume. Again, you may experience a slight fitness bump due to the increased volume, but you are reinforcing inefficient form and detracting from the time that you could have been swimming or running.
Let’s say you came from a swimming or biking background and the run is your limiter. You avoid addressing the issue by packing on lots of extra pool time, or time in the saddle to offset your running weakness. The problem with running in Ironman or 70.3 races is that you begin the run already tired. Those athletes who are stronger swimmers and bikers have the luxury of being less fatigued if they pace properly in their stronger disciplines. Spending inordinate amounts of valuable training time learning to run like a runner will not address the specific task of running in long distance triathlon. Neither will performing run technique drills designed for short and middle-distance runners. Your run success isn’t based simply on your run volume. It’s also dependent on swimming and biking proficiency, and how those workouts are structured to have crossover training effects on your run. The form that you will use in a long-distance triathlon will in no way resemble the perfect running technique taught by the experts for decades. Long distance triathlon running is not about going fast, it ‘s about going slow. Why would you train to race fast if you know with certainty that you will be running slow for the entire event? If you are going to address you run limiter do so in a manner that is specific to the needs of the events for which you plan to race.
How do you address your limiter without sacrificing the gains that you have made in the other disciplines? Obviously, you need to increase the quality time spent on your limiter to improve, but the trick is to do so without increasing your total training volume, while at the same time dedicating quality time to the other disciplines. The answer is a stimulus plan. Stimulus plans are designed to focus more quality training time on your limiter, but not at the expense of the other disciplines. The plans are followed for a brief period, and then you return to normal training with improved skills and a newfound confidence. Most coaches use stimulus plans in the off-season, pre-season, or just prior to an important training block. If you want to be a well-rounded triathlete, make the choice right now to stop running around your backhand and incorporate a stimulus plan into your early season training. If you want something bad enough, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, the possibilities are unlimited.
Robert Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Rob at one of his upcoming triathlon camps in 2018; January in Lexington, South Carolina and his recently announced June Great Smoky Mountains Camp.
Trisutto Stimulus Plans are available to athletes of all abilities.
After our last blog, Am I missing out, I have received feedback from several people who have been around Trisutto for a long time asking….,why the change? I would like to pass on the answer in more detail to not just them, but all of our regular readers.
Why the change from group to non-group training?
Up until 2006 my Triathlon squads were primary ITU Olympic distance athletes with a few exceptions who competed over long distance. However since this time, when I decided to go after the Ironman distance, our squads have been primarily long course athletes with the exception being a few short course athletes.
Last year we introduced age group athletes to our program also, thus thus adding a third category to our training regimes.
As previously stated it’s my conclusion that the longer distance events need to be trained at intensities that suit the actual athlete. Going outside that personal range has no benefit when racing from 4 to 12 hours. In fact I find it quite harmful to performance; thus there is very little need for head to head training, nor the psychological impairments that at times it brings.
So to with older athletes even going short, bashing oneself into submission. I find this gives a very short term and artificial improvement that can not be sustained long term. There are many reasons for that, however I’ll stick to laying down the motor patterns in a controlled environment for each discipline is superior and longer lasting than being one of the white knuckle brigade….‘because I’m tough’
The good news for me, is short course or long course and now age group athletes, don’t seek me out unless they are courageous. Those that are not, don’t last long in my squad, just as the ‘short term in a hurry’ athletes also don’t last long with me.
No pain no gain..?
We teach athletes to use their courage on race day, to have the courage at training to read their own body and listen to it, not override it because I can gut it out better than most.
‘No pain no gain’ is one of the stupidest mantras in sport, especially if one is training for a multi hour sport.
Short Course athletes have to adapt to the numbers to be competitive. 2003 ITU Triathlon World Champion, Emma Snowsill. Photo Credit: Triathlon.org
Know your Sport
When considering elite pro short course athletes, it is true that back in the day, just as it is now, we consider what levels need to be met to be competitive. Unlike our long course training where we train at paces that adapts to our bodies, in the short version we do the opposite, we have to adapt our bodies to the numbers that are required to be competitive.
Yes, I hear you saying that makes no sense, but in reality short course is not Triathlon.
Know your sport…, it is a wet run. Thus the first 200 metres of the swim is very, very important. You won’t swim your way into the event if you are not there at the first bouy. Just as today if your not a 29 min 10 km runner in the men’s race, you are not in the top 10. If you can’t crack 34 mins in the women’s, you too will be fighting it out for 11th.
These are facts not fiction; the realities of ITU life. So short course athletes need to work at speeds during the week that are above that pace to get adaptions. Being there from the start of the drafting races and having coached many of the champions of their generations, I have documented evidence of what it took on a weekly basis to win a world title. The speed needed in 1997 didn’t cut it in 2007 and 2007 doesn’t cut it now!
Adapting to the Realities
At Trisutto we have always adapted to the new realities of what it takes. I discovered early on that when we were training as a group for ironman the results were not as I wished. Sickness, tiredness, more injuries brought on by I’m sure the fatigue of going long, but also going head to head, This had me rethink our approach, along with the so many other differences needed between long course and short course racing.
Having people ‘doing their own pacing’ was a huge break through for me. Just as throwing away the stop watch or asking people for more effort when training also resulted in massive steps forward in the actual performances.
I know that for at least 5 of my great champions, taking off the power meters all the time and the heart rate monitors for most (the Angry Bird still uses a heart rate monitor), made them from good if neurotic athletes, to absolute kick arse champions. But how do I sell that to you budding triathletes against the wall of marketing Triathlon has become!
“Sutto , you got to move with the science “ …., but the science is killing the majority of the performance. It’ hindering.ones ability to know where their levels are. The reality is playing pinball on your bike trainer (which is the ‘new’ thing I’m told) is going to give you a short term hit and then burn you out completely.
Believe me, when you learn to read your own body and to have the courage to stick to your ‘gut feel’, you too will improve out of sight and enjoy the feeling of being free!
That’s the way I see it.
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.
Feature Photo credit: Tahni Brown
Coach, if I can’t go to camp or train in a group am I missing out?
Every off season stories permeate through the Triathlon media about how great camps are, or the need to train in a group to push to even greater heights? Their objective to create buzz and to sell products.
Now I hold camps, last year personally I ran fifteen in total. Of those fifteen, only two were camps where real work was done. These were the camps that were dedicated to hard graft! When were they held? In September, for those getting ready for Kona, or for those with races in early November to also to be ready to go for the last blast of races in their season.
‘But coach what about the winter warm weather camps that we hear so much about?’ Well at Trisutto we don’t do that ridiculousness in the off season.
Our camps are educational. We run five comprehensive lectures that are must attend. We do six compulsory sessions, covering each of the three disciplines, so I can view techniques. We have five optional sessions that go with that. Do you have to attend? No definitely not.
‘But coach why would I go?’
We go to get out of the cold. We go to learn what Triathlon really is. We don’t do what most other camps do.
‘What is that?’ Blindly smash themselves every day thinking that it will improve them through sheer weight of tiredness.
I’m sure many of you have been on these camps, but what is not advertised is this. The amount of injuries accumulated by tripling bike mileage in camp, doubling run mileage of back home, and sore shoulder syndrome by Sunday night because whilst I swim two or three times a week at home, in camp we swam seven! Of course all done racing the guy next to me who I’ve never met in my life, don’t know his abilities, his heart rates or fitness levels. But I know one thing, we are on holidays and we are at camp, the sun is shining, so I’m going to war with anybody near me – in everything! Welcome to the normal Triathlon camp! If you can still eat your third portion of pasta taken from the buffet with a fork then you are soft and haven’t worked hard enough at camp.
Photo Credit: James Mitchell Photography
‘But Coach, I got Kona in October’
Here is a news flash – so has the Angry Bird, and she isn’t in the kick off camp I’m running at this very moment. Why? Because I hope she is sitting at home doing normal things and resting, as this year we really going after Kona! I can’t re-iterate enough, that starting too early makes sure the last races of the season are not what you were after.
This was rammed home to me by a couple of newbies in pro camp this week. ‘Coach, you didn’t name a time and meeting point for tomorrows morning run?’ That’s right was the answer, we are all adults, we do our own thing, were you given instructions? ‘Yes coach.’ Well go and do it at your own pace!
And there in lies what I keep trying to communicate. Ironman is not short distance. Where once I trained sprint athletes they did certain sessions as a group, we still did less than most groups together but we did fast work together pushing hard. We swim together now only as a meeting point. Within that group there may be three to five different swim sessions at the same time.
I’ll point out once again, that Nicola Spirig and Daniela Ryf might have ridden together two times in any sessions requiring hard effort, or ran twice together in any session done with some zip in the past two years. Not two days. Not two weeks. Not two months, but two years. However, yes I do train both of them.
I put this caveat for people who have never been to my squad training. It’s dangerous to your health and thus performance, in reading articles about ‘what Brett Sutton’s group do’. They really have no idea, but perception replaces reality.
- Ask an athlete that has attended any of my own camps.
- Ask if everybody trains together pushing harder.
- Ask is Brett Sutton on the pool deck screaming for athletes to go harder?
- Is he with stop watches calling out times on any interval?
- Ask someone that has been there!
Our success is about knowing when to push and when not to. It is about knowing Ironman is a personal sport. Where training outside of your numbers may make you feel good, remember pride comes before the fall, and fall you will, if you head to a camp and think drilling oneself is good for performance in 3 months time.
After the Super League Nicola was rested. She swam every second day with us working on another new swim stroke. Two full months later she left the pool and I said ‘Write that down as your second swim workout of this preparation as I was pleased with the stroke.’
What were all the other swims? Stroke work and preparation for when she is ready to start. That happened last Friday.
Daniela kicks off on the 1st of February.
Are Camps a good idea?
Camps are a splendid idea if you get in the sun and start an easy build up to your season. Smash fests for one week only to go back home to the cold and do one third of the work in the camp may be good for your ego, but does nothing for your season.
Just the way I see it.
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.
Feature Picture Credit: Cris Solak