You don’t have to be under 40 to get faster, as these obvious ‘rules’ apply whether you are 16 or 61
In the relatively short period of time that I have been involved in running and triathlon, I’ve learnt a great deal about what training works for me, and what doesn’t…. I’ve also incessantly asked others (some might say, a little ‘too much’) about their own training. What I’ve found is a wide range of ideas, theories and approaches across pace, volume, diet, periodisation, and more, with as many different answers to the big questions as there are people training!
However, there has been an interesting common theme in three areas that only ever seems to be recognised by those who are still improving. Its ‘just possible’ that there is a connection between these two things! And those who are ‘still improving’ aren’t just the young turks and speed goddesses!
So, what are these three amazing short cuts to the podium?
Prepare to be disappointed. None of them are short cuts (and for most of us, me included, they probably won’t see us to the podium either!) What they are instead, is a focus on three particular areas that are kind of bleedin’ obvious, but virtually all people that aren’t making progress are ignoring!*
Its about your weaknesses. In triathlon terms, I am a reasonable runner, relative to my cycling and swimming anyway. And when I look at my numbers at the end of every month, I do a lot of running. Think about it… that makes no sense whatsoever… but we’re nearly all doing it. Even within a discipline, as an OK runner, I am strongest at banging out longer distances at a decent pace. And when I look at my numbers at the end of every month, I do a lot of sub threshold/near threshold runs for distances of 6 to 10 miles.
If you really want to get faster, be brutal with your analysis of your weaknesses. Where are they, both between disciplines, and within them. Do you always find yourself overtaking people on the bike leg?… maybe your swimming is in need of work? Do you find yourself doing OK at events with 400m pool swims, but at Olympic distance in open water, you are a bit further back? Are you fading in the last 1/4 of the run leg of a sprint, or finding that all your hard work on the Olympic distance bike is wasted as all your age group fly past on the run at 2 minutes a mile faster then you can manage over the 10k distance?
We all have weaknesses… you just need to be tough on yourself and honest in identifying them, and then build training to focus on your weaknesses. Its very easy to train instead, for what you are good at, usually because you enjoy it because its your strongest suit!
No session wasted. A friend of mine, Nick Rose, who blogs here, turns out some extremely impressive performances at many tri distances (including Kona qualifications), as well as times I can only dream of in running and cycling events too.
I once asked him how he did it, as he has the challenge of balancing his training around a young family, and demanding job. His answer has stuck with me, partially because it was kind of obvious with hindsight, but also because i’ve heard and read a ton of other people make the same statement since. It requires real focus, but its simple. Every training session, whether its a 10 min stretching or yoga effort on a Sunday evening or a 6hr bike ride, is done with a purpose. It ties in to focus #1. Don’t just ride your bike for an hour if your weakness is average pace being too low on bike legs… instead, work on activity that helps increase your pace for that hour… note that i’m not answering the thorny question of what that ‘activity’ to increase your pace is today – thats a BIG subject, and one that there are better qualified people than me to answer, but just making the point about focus. Not a single session, not one, should be without a purpose.
Consistency trumps everything. So, we know where our weaknesses are, and we are focusing every session on addressing them. So that’s it right?
There is no magic bullet here. You can’t decide that your ability to hold a race pace in swims over 1500m needs to be better, so swim faster three times, and that its! (I’m guessing i’m not alone in wishing that were true though!). You have to be dedicated to getting things fixed over the long term. Do the training. Do it again. Do it again. And again…. The gains are marginal… they come a little at a time over long long periods of time. That’s long been understood for things like aerobic/cardio fitness, but has been less well accepted for things like raw power on the bike. Even today, you can still read a lot of articles on how ‘6 weeks of interval sessions on your bike will make you quicker’. It might… but it won’t be a big shift, and it will probably be at the expense of something else. Fast triathletes, swimmers, runner and cyclists build their results on seasons and multiple seasons of effort, with gains being slowly and steadily wrung out of their bodies over extended periods. The popular Science of Running blog says it all so much more articulately than I ever could……
And this doesn’t mean you’ve got to turn your whole life over to triathlon training either…. many of us, me included, don’t have the time (or again in my case, the body) to do that… but if you put in a good hour of work on the bike, and then don’t touch it again for 8 days, don’t expect to improve much!
I said it at the beginning, and i’ll repeat it at the end. Consistency trumps everything.
Importantly, while these three (extremely obvious) focuses apply to the 15yr olds just starting out, it applies equally to the bloke knocking on the door of 50 like me… and the joy is that I can still get better too*. I just need to be prepared to focus on the right things… but most of us very obviously aren’t. Do so however, and you can ignore the people who say its too late. It isn’t.
Do you think I’m right?….. or do you completely disagree?… let me know!
*just one final thought. ‘Getting better’ isn’t the answer for everyone. Some people don’t want or need to. For me, getting better is a reward in itself. Not everyone has the same motivation. Its worth me, and others not forgetting that.