About a year ago I wrote an article stressing the importance of structuring your workouts to replicate the specific demands of your races. The article was written in response to the carnage I witnessed at the 2017 Ironman 70.3 Augusta event while watching local athletes suffer unnecessarily in the sweltering temperatures. Less than two weeks ago I returned to Augusta to witness much improved performances by the athletes who decided to change their approach to training, anticipating the 2018 version of 70.3 to be just as demanding. Immediately after the race, and on social media for several days afterwards, some of the previous year’s participants who had worse races this year were dumbfounded as to how that could happen since they had trained much harder in preparation for this year’s event.
Since last offseason and throughout the Summer months these hard workers have regularly posted their training exploits on social media, along with announcements to assure readers that there would not be a repeat performance in 2018. They were obviously committed to putting in the training hours necessary to yield solid gains, and they expected to reap the rewards in late September. Why then, after no less than nine months of consistent training at a level harder than any before, did they not improve performance? The problem in 2017 was not a lack of effort (working harder), but a lack of direction.
In my 2017 blog article I wrote that inefficient cycling technique and failure to replicate the specific demands of the race were the two most important factors leading to meltdowns on the run by the local athletes I observed. Shorty after that blog article I began coaching some of those athletes for the 2018 season. Last week in Augusta every one of the athletes that I coached posted new PR’s for the Augusta course. They did so by simply adjusting their swim, bike, and run techniques to meet the demands of long-distance triathlon, and by structuring their training to replicate the specific demands of Ironman 70.3 Augusta.
My athletes didn’t train any harder in 2018 than they did in 2017. In fact, they probably spent less time training in 2018. How is it possible to improve performance by training less? They did so by learning to train smarter, not harder! They learned to ride the bike in a manner that did not compromise their cardiovascular system, and fatigue their primary run muscles, both of which would be key to running strong after the bike. They also did most of their outdoor training in temperatures like what they could expect Augusta. On race day they weren’t required to do anything they hadn’t done in training for the past 4 months, so I never doubted each one of them would perform extraordinarily in conditions that left them doubting their abilities a year earlier. All of them were prepared for anything the race might throw at them, and they responded accordingly.
The athletes who improved performance at this year’s race, and those who did not, were in the same boat a year ago. Their effort and commitment were never in question. All of them had arrived a point in their triathlon lives where they just couldn’t seem to get over the hump to the next level or performance, but a few of them decided that training the same way would lead to the same results in 2018. They opened their minds to a different way of doing things and were greatly rewarded for doing so. Those who decided to stick with the same training methods as 2017, but work much harder, suffered basically the same outcome as 2017. Hopefully, these athletes now understand that simply working harder will not improve their performances because there was never a problem with their effort. Some of these people are very good athletes and could be very good triathletes with proper direction. As the current season begins to wind down, athletes will begin planning their 2019 race schedules with expectations of improved performance in 2019. Those who decide to work smarter will most likely see improvement, but for those who decide only to work harder 2019 will probably be more of the same old song.
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