Bigger, further, faster…

…only gives you the edges of the jigsaw.  

I’m now terming 2020 as ‘Off-Season #2’. Much has been said of the imposed lockdown restrictions and mass cancellation/ postponement of events. Despite a lack of race belt use, there’s been a raft of creative and novel virtual events to get stuck into. Be it short, sharp Zwift races or the multi-day (virtual) point-to-point endurance events with a set distance or achievement, there’s no hiding from the varied mix to motivate, incentivise and release some energy. 

In the absence of real-world events and racing, are these virtual substitutions supportive of a sustainable athlete?

The changing tent chatter of “hey, look how big my….TSS was last week” is a familiar tune to most endurance athletes. Higher this, further then and faster here are all too familiar in an environment of individual efforts governed by single-language metrics that can be compared from novice to pro. 

Guilty as sin I suspect many of us are. Big numbers, faster times are impressive for obvious reasons. 

As humans, we are drawn to benchmarks and quantitative data, of course, we are; it’s easily interpreted and can be a measure of progress. That’s why ‘FTP Builder’ is an incentivizing set of structured sessions designed to draw us back in with the carrot of a higher FTP, we’re then applauded for a one-watt increase after 8-weeks and share the ‘New FTP!’ or ‘PB!’ on social media (whilst hiding the numerical data revealing the relativity of our efforts, of course). 

Whilst bigger, further, faster gives us something to hang our hat on, is it something to obsess over or are we just creating the edges for the rest of the pieces to fit together?

As a coach, I’m very supportive of athletes engaging in stimulating events or races, virtual or otherwise, but the focus is not solely on the physiological adaptations we’re seeking when these events are planned. The load is appropriate and managed and we ask the question, what else are we prescribing here?

Benefits that are often unprescribed go missed or are not reflected upon as the focus lies with duration, km’s and testing physiological benchmarks. We set out to improve our ability to deal with the demands of our [race/ event] environment, but when do we start to consider anything but physiology? 

Triathlon is an individual sport in the main. Social distancing affords us the restriction to train in isolation (just as a bigger gear forces a lower cadence), so there’s been no better time to work on those often unprescribed aspects to prepare for the real-world environment. Here are a few things I’ve been working with athletes on during lockdown:

Exploration 

“I’m a good swimmer and can ride, but my running is rubbish…”. So often is the case that we – as coaches – are faced with generalised weaknesses (and strengths!). It’s good practice to encourage athletes to explore training routines, approaches to sessions and to feedback on sessions regularly so we can build up a picture over time – having a set up that works for an athletes body is critical for development. Often we learn these things too late in the day and ‘fit in’ what we can when we can, falling short of maximising the benefits of training. Explore, learn and make training fit you. 

Control

It’s also a significant benefit for athletes to take greater control of their training. As a coach, you’ll never understand how their body is during a session or how it ‘feels’. ‘RPE’ is often used as a retrospective measure of training intensity, but if athletes can begin to understand their body’s they will become much more effective and be able to manage performance. If you’ve put the training in, you shouldn’t simply be ‘blowing up’. 

Resilience

Being isolated is tough and mentally challenging for everyone, with only a few introverts feeling quite at home (pun unintended), meaning that naturally, our environment will require us to develop existing or new resilience techniques. Training remotely, and alone, is not all that bad with most triathlons being individual sports events – using this time to develop the mental preparation of when events do arrive could prove extremely valuable. Your head will likely falter before your body… 

Reflection 

Less darting around, more time available to reflect? Reflecting can be a powerful tool where we can then understand other people’s views, differing approaches and consider the appropriateness before dismissing something. We all learn from mistakes, but how often do we learn from “the OK” as we blast through session after session in pursuit of bigger, further, faster?

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