Written by Coach Chris White -
One of the perks of my jobs is that I get to talk to people with different backgrounds, life stories, aspirations and approaches to life. Recently we started a series of ‘Coach Chats' with our MEC coaches and athletes, to share these stories and experiences not only as triathletes but beyond the people that we see regularly in training or on the start line of a race. The two most recent chats with MEC athletes, Stacey and David have raised the theme of 'longer term vs shorter term approaches’ in relation to their own triathlon journeys, which I think is a fascinating topic and well worth unpacking a bit further.
What both David and Stacey have in common is that they are interested in the long game. David gave himself and his coach, Michael, 5 years to develop him as an athlete, to see where they could get to and what they could achieve. Similarly, Stacey picked a goal of racing the 'Epic 5’ event with a 3-4 year timeframe. To me, this type of approach is firstly, hugely refreshing to hear and secondly, increasingly rare. There is no doubt that we are living in a time where the short term is being prioritised over the long term, whether that is media cycles, political decisions or the examples of instant gratification that are all around us, so this approach from two of our more experienced athletes, is hugely encouraging.
In particular, what intrigues me is that whilst these guys are focused on the longer term progression of their triathlon journeys, they are also seeing the benefits of that approach in the shorter term. It's a win-win. Let’s unpack 3 important areas where that seems to be the case:
Reduced Stress: Their longer term approach allows them to see daily or weekly challenges (lockdown anyone…) as small bumps in the road of an overall upwards trajectory. It gives them a perspective and sense of the bigger picture that keeps them calm about the daily problems that they face in their training and racing, whilst removing the pressure and attachment to getting a particular race result at a particular time. It strikes me that the mental benefit of thinking in that way is enormous. Less stress, less perfectionism and a clear, simple focus on just doing something every day that keeps them going in the right direction. Of course they are not immune to stress or getting overly wrapped up in the details. They have jobs, families, and responsibilities outside of triathlon just like the rest of us, but the daily ebbs and flows of those things are generally accepted as part of the journey, rather than overly stressed about.
Physical Adaptation: This longer term or macro approach also fits in with our physical development as athletes. For example our bones and tendons require years of progressive conditioning. This development over time and gradual adaptation is the basis of any successful and uninjured athlete. Whether you are starting your triathlon journey at 60 years old like David, or as a 13 year old, like some of our MEC Junior Squad, these same general rules of steady, gradual adaptation apply, so giving yourself and your body appropriate time to adapt is key. As an example, Stacey chatted about the difference in her heart rate when running 5 years ago vs running now. Around 40-50 beats per minute difference when doing an easy run is a huge change! That type of change comes from consistent training each and every day over a longer period of time.
Developing Key Skills: By emphasising the longer term, these guys give themselves the time to learn the valuable lessons and key skills that will serve them well in future. Think of all the times that you are going to get something wrong or be forced to overcome an obstacle… nutrition errors, training inconsistencies, body maintenance, mechanical failures, accidents, race strategy, bike handling, transition mistakes and so on and so on… Being exposed to these challenges and learning to problem solve our way through them is hugely important and teaches us valuable lessons. Many of these lessons are learnt by racing multiple times, training over many years. Without a longer term approach, we would simply not have the time or exposure to obstacles that are required to develop maturity and proficiency in the key skills of our sport such as calmness under pressure, pacing and patience.
It is no surprise that so many athletes ‘come of age’ and achieve their best results after several years of consistent work, so it makes sense to plan with that in mind. That longer term approach allows you to find your own way to sustainably integrate triathlon into your life, gives you the time and space to develop your key skills and physically adapt to consistent training. The bonus is that it also leads to reduced stress and the ability to ride out the obstacles in the shorter term, keeping you motivated and far more likely to stay in the sport for years to come. Win-win.
Thanks to David and Stacey for sharing their stories and prompting this blog!