St. Anthonys triathlon was the final race of my spring season. It was an "A" race, one where I try to peak. I've raced very well so far this year, and training has been going great. On top of that, I've traditionally tapered well so I was excited to see a breakout performance! I backed off on my workload the week leading up to the race, flew to Tampa and proceeded to have an average race....
Now don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad. Actually, by last year's standards it would've been a very strong performance. Just not up to par with what I was expecting and what I have shown so far in 2011. As a coach in a sport (swimming) where the final meets of the season are put on a pedestal compared to the rest of the season, I've seen some incredible tapers, and others that just seem to flop. At the high school level where I have coached, the latter is generally followed by some sort of tantrum, embarrassing to all in the area. It's understandable why one would be upset, after putting so much time and effort, so much sweat and pain into training just to show no significant improvement at the end... but there is no crying at the finish line, or at least there shouldn't be at high levels. Feel free to go home and throw a fit in the privacy of your own home. But just remember, at the end of the day it's just a race, it's not your life. You still have a roof over your head and there can always be another race.
Here's a great post game explosion, but this guy actually won:
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be upset, or try to figure out why the taper didn't work. In my experience with swimmers, 90% of failed tapers are due to having nothing to taper from. In other words, you have to put in the work during the season or training block in order to give yourself something to come back from. The coaches are often blamed for the athlete's lack of work ethic. Many athletes don't understand what hard work really means. But many do. And I do. And my coach does. So if it isn't that, then what is it? That last 10% really could be caused by anything. It could be just a bad day, it could be poor race execution, it could be a mental breakdown, it could be due to any number of other, unidentifiable factors.
At first I just chalked it up to a bad day... but it turns out I was sick, I just didn't know it until I landed in Milwaukee that night. Of course that would explain why every time I tried to shift into that extra gear I couldn't hold onto the effort for more than 5 minutes. It explains why I lost focus towards the end of the run and finished looking "defeated" according to one of my friends who spectated the event.
I'm not sitting here making excuses, I hate excuses. I am very analytical about how I train and race, and look for reasons why things happen. My performance was what it was, and you won't find me saying I could've beaten so and so if this or that hadn't happened. It's all part of the sport. I compete with myself, always have. Sunday I raced a 1:58 in an olympic distance triathlon where the swim was shortened from a 1500m to a 1000m due to water conditions. At my swim pace, that's ~2:04-2:05 on a true course. Like I said... very good if this had been last year. It's just that I opened this season with a 2:00 and felt great doing it, then rested more for this one and felt worse.
When I think about it though, it's not surprising really. It seems like everyone I know and spend time with has been sick in the last few weeks. My girlfriend had pnemonia, my boss at work has been sick all winter, and almost all of the people I train with came down with something recently. So this race is going in the books and it's forward from here. Time to rest, recover, and then get back to it.
To plan your future training, I like to look at the past. Specifically, I asses myself and my performance in the past training and racing block. I think all athletes would benefit from doing a personal self-assessment. The problem is that too many athletes are ego-centric and would not be totally honest with themselves. (which is what you need to improve) Continually give someone a bunch of gold stars, and they will think they are doing a great job and coast along.
*Based on zero scientific evidence, this is the system of how I asses myself, everything on a scale of 1-10
Early 2011 Self Assesment-
Overall Physical Training: 7.8 (an straight average of all the following categories)
Training-wise, I feel I have done worse here than the other 2 in hitting my key workouts and getting through everything. If there is a time constraint due to outside commitments, swimming is the first to go. I've completed almost all my workouts here, just not all in their entirety. Lots of workouts got cut short this training block and I need to get the rest of my schedule under control in order to fix this. This would probably be a 7 if I could swim straight, but it seems that it is something I fixed last year that once again needs work in open water
My cycling has made the largest improvement from last year. For years it was my weakness but so far it has actually been my strength in triathlon. I have been moving up the field from where I exit the water, which was unprecedented in prior years. Last year I tended to hold my position and before that I'd lose spots. I credit much of my cycling gains this year to using a power meter w/a coach who knows how to.
Running has also been going really well. In open, non triathlon running, it's probably my strongest single sport at the moment. My legs feel stronger and my form is better than it has been in the past. There's always room for improvement, though.
-Running off the bike: 8
This gets its own category since it is almost a different sport. A lot of it has to do with how hard you bike, and a lot of it is training your body for the transition. I've done some bricks this year but have had to split a few of them into separate workouts, again due to time constraints. I have felt ok off the bike this year, but have felt better at times in the past. This is something I expect to improve throughout the season.
I've hit most of my workouts this year, but there have been times when I've needed to skip or re-arrange things. Consistency is key to continual improvement so I need to address this immediately to keep up with my goals.
Probably the reason I have been running and cycling so well this year is because I have done a very good job at hitting the key sessions and workouts in these two sports. I've made a point to go into these sessions ready to go and have seen improvement during the season in the workouts, which has translated into success in racing. The only reason this isn't a 10 is because every so often I have underperformed in a swimming speed session. This is probably due to lack of swim fitness due to low volume.
It's much better for short course racers to have a 9 in speedwork and a 6 in volume than the other way around, but it's still important to put in the mileage/yardage. Again, due to time this score is low. I'm not saying that you should do as much volume as you can... actually that will make you slower but there is a certain amount you have to do, and I found myself cutting short some of the "aerobic" or "junk" mileage this season so far.
I have a pretty strong core, which is essential for performance across 3 sports and staying injury free through training. Early on in the season I would've given myself a 9 here. I was doing TRX classes twice a week with Kari Woodall and I felt it was making a big difference. But as racing started I haven't been to a Trx class (I have been doing some at home but it's not the same). I have definitely retained much of what I gained so it paid off. It's just hard to find time to do those classes and also get all of my swim/bike/run training in.
This score is just the average amount of hours I got per night, but I think it corresponds well to the 1-10 scale in how it effects performance. Sleep is crucial and is overlooked often. The workouts create the stimulus, but they break you down and in order to build back up there must be adequate recovery.
This number is the average of race day nutrition (9) and day to day nutrition (5). A great training plan can unravel on race day if you don't do a good job with your nutrition plan during the race, as I have showed in the past. I've done well with that this year but my day to day is awful. It's improving and is a primary focus of mine for the rest of the season.
This is the one area where I believe I excel and that there is no room for improvement. Maybe that sounds cocky, but if you look back at my athletic history it makes total sense. The only reason I'm competing at the level that I am today is because of my attitude towards the sport, my analytical approach to training, my belief that anyone can improve (even if you were super slow like I was) and a never-give-up approach. In 6 full seasons of triathlon and 4 before that of swimming/running I have never once given up on a race, workout, or goal.
Total Score (ave. of physical (x2), sleep, nutrition and mental): 7.9
So this isn't bad but could go up. It's also interesting that it is extremely close to the physical score (7.8). Here's a theory.... your physical score is directly affected by your scores in the other 3 categories, and as they rise or fall, so will your physical. It makes sense... You'll be able to hit your workouts better, and therefore make improvements if you are recovering well and are motivated.
Athlete of the week: Gerard Hubbard
More like only athlete I've featured thus far.
Gerard and I first met a few years ago at the Purdue triathlon. I was injured and spectating. I think it might have been his first triathlon, or at least one of his first. He looked like a power lifter, 5'8" and over 200lbs of solid muscle. He finished the olympic distance that day in around 3 hours. 3 years later, we raced at Age Group Nationals last September, where he raced a 2:10ish, still ripped but closer to 150lbs. That raised my eyebrows and I started paying attention to what he was doing with his training. Based on the facebook news feed, I came to realize the total dedication he put into his training. His focus was 100%, he seemed to get up before 6am almost every day to train, and the one thing in particular I noticed was his dedication to his nutrition. Personally, I consider myself to have come further that almost anyone I know and compete with at the elite amateur level to get there. I have to say almost now because Gerard makes me look like a natural. (no offense) On Sunday we went head to head and I beat him. But only by 2 minutes. Just last September the difference was 6 minutes and 3 years ago it was 45. I guarantee he will continue to surprise and also has really inspired me to take a good look at my nutrition plan and fix it. Maybe I can have similar results...