The Challenges Of Being An Age-Group Triathlete

It's been a great season for our athletes. PR's, podium finishes, a trip to World Championships in Canada. I'm a proud of the effort and dedication my athletes have put forth.

Yet for some it's been an interesting season. Work and life are providing all the challenges they need. And that's the interesting part of being an age-group athlete. Best laid plans are often disrupted. And I'm not even talking about the potential for an injury.

One of our higher performing athletes is active duty in the Coast Guard. Just as our training was hitting a high note, and some key races were fast approaching, he'd receive orders to be away for two weeks. Okay, we adjusted. Then he was deployed to Houston to help deliver aid after the hurricane. You can't argue with that. But suddenly the training is on hold, and the season is completely upside down.

Another athlete had some new job responsibilities added to her plate. You know, a conference call with an east-Asian office on Thursday nights at a god-awful time. So Friday AM sessions are out. So we adjust the week around. But those new responsibilities sometimes mean longer days. Workouts are missed. Okay, we adjust again. But getting momentum and regularity was a challenge. Target races are rescheduled. 

And how about a new addition to the family? That will assuredly add to the stress of scheduling workouts while balancing life at home. Add to that some extra work thrown into the mix, and races have to be skipped as preparations just couldn't be accomplished. An Xterra Pan-Am qualifier last year had a heck of a time getting in one Xterra race this year.

Balancing life and work and training. That's part of being an age-group athlete. Dealing with conflicts and changes to schedules creates the need to be flexible on all fronts - for both athlete and coach alike. But it can be difficult to digest and process at the time.

It's easy to give up and say "well, this season is over", but it doesn't have to be that way. Keep your focus. Find alternatives. Change your "A" race (as annoying as that may be). Explore other racing options like targeting a mountain bike enduro instead of letting all the Xterra prep go by the wayside. Easier yet, choose a shorter distance target race. You can't get in the training hours necessary for an Ironman? Find a 70.3 instead. Or even an Olympic distance race. True it might be your ultimate goal, but move that target to next season. You have myriad options available to you.

It's not all or nothing, and that's important to keep in mind. Work with your coach to find alternatives and adjust training and racing schedules to accommodate changes as they arise. You can find a new goal to keep driving you through this season and into the next.

Equally as important: Utilize your coach during this process. That is part of our job after all. Being a coach requires not only understanding the training that's necessary for the athlete, but it requires that we be a sounding board. We're here to  listen to you, the the athlete, and help you navigate the options available to still have a successful season no matter what is thrown your way.

 

Performance Improvements and Success Stories

Recently I've written a couple of blog posts discussing the importance of improving athlete limiters and the proper development of energy systems. The goal being to ensure not only the improvement of said limiters of an athlete but to further develop their strengths as well. With that in mind I thought it was time that we highlighted a few of our athletes here at Podium Training Systems to show not only the scope of racing that happens amongst our athletes, but also the type of improvements and success they've had and how we achieved those gains.

I reached out to a small number of my athletes to see if they would be willing to share their experiences over the past season or two and provide me with what they felt were their biggest improvements.

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The Importance Of The Swim

I hear a lot of people (coaches and athletes alike) state: "You can't win a triathlon in the swim, but you can lose one in the swim". 

I've heard numerous athletes declare: "I just need to survive the swim".

I disagree with both statements. As a coach these are the first things, should an athlete of mine say such a thing, that we remove from the conversation. You can indeed win a triathlon by having a good swim. Just as you can win it by having a good bike, or run. But you have to be strong across all the disciplines to ensure that your good swim effort holds up at the end. 

Just surviving the swim? That's a great way to lose time, waste energy, and ensure you have a harder bike and run leg than is necessary.

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On Writing Workouts

During all of my various coaching certification clinics the discussion around the creation of workouts was covered in detail. The main points of interest?

  • Specificity
  • Energy systems
  • Athlete understanding of goals of workout

Of course the importance of a good warm up, cool down, and dynamic stretching, was covered as well.

Let me clarify: Did we cover 'everything' in granular detail? No. You can't cover everything in a weekend-long clinic. You need to continue your education beyond the initial course. But, all that said, the three points above have been resonating with me lately. Why?

I'm seeing too many triathlon coaches prescribe workouts that have no specifics around energy systems, and no way for the athlete to know what the goal of the workout is. In some cases guaranteeing that the athlete do nothing but train their body to run long and slow on race day. A couple of examples that I've seen (posted online) lately:

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It's Never Too Late To Learn

I was at the pool a couple of days ago -  getting in a short workout of my own - when one of the managers of the aquatics center stopped me in the middle of my set. He said: "Hey Dave, can I tell you something that I'm seeing in your stroke?"

Now, I'm a good swimmer. And I'm pretty comfortable with my stroke. But this gentleman has been around the swimming community for a long time. His wife is the head coach of a college team here in Colorado Springs. And he did his own share of swimming back in the day. So I knew he must have seen something.

He told me what he saw (it was something my left arm was doing during the recovery phase of my stroke). I made a change, and immediately felt a difference. He then commented: "Yep, that was it. Looks much smoother." I swam a little more and could tell there was definitely a positive change that was made. I thanked him for his input.

The message here? Always be open for constructive feedback. You never know where good advice might come from, and it's never too late to find ways to improve your performance.