Stating the Obvious

I was thinking back over the past few years as to what caused the improvement in my performance.  Not just in triathlons (although that was a major concern), but in running and cycling individually.  It has to be group training.  And by that I mean training with a group filled with people who are stronger, faster, and better than you.

I was a strong middle of the pack finisher a few years ago.  I was doing well, and training with some folks from the Sound Shore Runners and Multisport Club.  It was a great group - it was the first running club that my wife and I joined when we moved to the Northeast.  We wanted to find people who we could run with during the week and for long runs on weekends.  As I had been training on my own up until then I improved quickly as I now ran with people who were faster than I.  This improved my performance and I became a stronger runner, thanks in large part to Joe G who introduced me to the pain and joy of hitting the track for speed-work.

The same is true of my cycling.  There were a few cyclists and triathletes in the club,  but not many, and my cycling improved as I rode with people who were, again, stronger than I on the bike and I learned what I could from them while I was chasing them down during our morning rides.

At some point my performance leveled off.  I knew it had....I knew I was capable of more.....and I knew that I wanted to perform better.  I worked harder on my own and at one sprint triathlon a few years ago placed 3rd in my AG.  Without boring you with a lot of minutiae and drama, it was apparent that it was time to move on and find another group to train with.

I had been invited a few times during these past few years to join my friend Rich on a group ride with the triathlon club he founded.   The men and women of the Westchester Triathlon Club were Ironmen.  And I don't say that just to add emphasis in a gratuitous fashion.  I mean it literally.  Every year a handful from this great group of athletes qualifies for Kona.  Race after race (Olympic distance, 70.3, full Ironman) there are people placing, and winning, their age group.  Needless to say I was terrified to join them and gave Rich excuse after excuse as to why I was unable to join them.

My wife finally convinced me to join them for a Saturday ride.  So I sucked it up, filled two water bottles with Hammer Heed, threw a gel or two in my jersey pocket and clipped in for a leg burning, lung draining, bonk inducing, 3 hour tour.

Group rides pushed me to limits I didn't know existed.  Group runs, and speed work, challenged me to the point where I thought I was going to puke.  But I couldn't let them know that I was hurting (although I'm sure it was apparent during the first few months) and I had to finish the ride or run with the pack.  Falling off the back and slowing down wasn't an option.  Just as it was with Joe G when I first did speed-work, I knew that if I could keep up and push myself it would pay off.

It wasn't long after joining the WTC that I began stalking the AG podium on a regular basis. 

Many of us who started out at Sound Shore Multisport have moved on to other running and triathlon clubs.  But I'll never forget the friendships and lessons learned.  I still train with a few folks from there now and again, and that's something for another post.

I'm stating the obvious when I say that training with people faster than you will help you improve.  It's just hard to check the ego at the door for the first few workouts as you get your ass handed to you.