Thursday, August 4, 2011

What does it take?

The title of this here blog post is pretty vague; you might be asking yourself in what context is he asking this question?  What does it take to know what women want? While I'd love to hear the answer to that - and many other life-altering questions - my word vomit today will focus on what it takes to reach your potential in triathuhloning.

By no means do I consider myself an expert on this subject matter; I can only offer what little experience I've had in the just-under-3 years I've been training for multi-sport events.  Therefore, everything I say should be taken with a salt mine...

My first experience with wanting to better myself in sport came with my discovery of golf back when I was twelve or thirteen (ish).  A friend down the street had some golf clubs and a big front yard and one of the many ways we entertained ourselves was chipping golf balls back and forth on the front lawn (yes, it IS good to be easily amused!).  What started as a little spark quickly became a full blown obsession by my freshman year of high school.
Being a total, complete badass
 If I wasn't playing golf, I was thinking about it.  I'd come home from school and go play 18-27 holes in the afternoons and evenings on the local "executive" course, walking miles and miles by myself (foreshadowing!).  For the next 3.5 years, I played golf like a madman, eventually reaching a very-close-to scratch handicap on a difficult course.  Golf, like other sports, is incredibly time-intensive.  To become very good at it requires a lot of hard work and dedication.  You have to practice constantly and on a regular basis. Missing a week of playing time means that the next two weeks are going to feel very weird and strange until you "get your swing back."  Sound familiar?

Fast forward a couple of years and I've discovered a new sport: bike racing.  Much to the consternation of my parents, I'm sure, I've managed to pick some of the most expensive sports to devote myself...

Winning a crit in my first USCF omnium race

Freshman year of college I was in love; I trained (relatively) consistently and did well that year and upgraded and did pretty well my sophomore year and then I stopped being consistent and stopped doing well.  I wanted to be fast, but just wasn't willing to put in the time required to get there; unlike in golf where I LOVED putting in the work to be good.

Fast forward again a couple of years; at this point I've graduated from college and moved to Charlotte in August of 2007.  I haven't ridden my bike in 4+ months (and won't again for another 6 months) and decide that I want to start running so I sign up for a 5k.  I run 30 miles a week for 4 weeks and get my a** handed to me by, among others, an 11 year old girl (Alana Hadley, who has since become one of the fastest young runners in the country, but rule #76 is in effect).  I get frustrated as I expected more from my 4 weeks of training (why? I'll never know) and just work instead.

Habitat was hard work...

When the new year comes around I decide to get back in shape so I start running again, this time with groups.  I manage to be pretty consistent (although I don't know anything about running) for the next four or five months before someone convinces me to show up for the Tuesday night Inside-Out Sports no-holds-barred group ride.  This was quite an eye opener.  I got dropped like a bad habit.  I'm not going to say that re-kindled the flame, but it definitely made me realize that I had a LONG way to go to really get back in the ol' groove.  A little while later I was convinced to sign up for my first triathlon (which ended up being a duathlon) and got in the pool!  Voila, a triathlete was born.

On the run at Patriots International Duathlon

On the run in my 1st triathlon: NOLA 70.3 2009!

So this long and boring preamble was designed to set you - the reader - up to see that I've experienced both sides of the coin.  I've been consistent and done well and been inconsistent and done poorly.  What does that tell us?

The thing that a lot of people look for in triathlon (and endurance sports in general, but for the sake of this argument lets stick to triathlons) is a short-cut to better performances.  In most cases they have good reasons: full-time job, significant other, significant children, etc etc.  So for them, it's all about maximizing performance with the available time.  So they come up with a specific amount of time each week that they deem available for training purposes and try to make the best use of that time.

In many ways, this type of person is no different than the person with (virtually) unlimited available training hours; they both have to determine how best to use that time to maximize their potential.  As with my earlier diatribe about me ol' athletic history, consistency is the most important thing for endurance athletes.

Whether you have 10 hours available or 20 hours available, make sure you use them up week after week.  Stringing together weeks of consistent volume will make anyone faster.  I don't think this is a big secret or anything, it's just surprising how often people underestimate it's importance and/or take it for granted.

I think that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, almost anyone can get to be very, very good at triathlon (and endurance sports in general).  There is no "genetic" requirement that can limit you at a certain point.  Sure, there are anomalies; most of the ITU-level athletes have VO2 Max levels in the 75+ range would be my guess, but a better predictor of performance than VO2 max would be your lactate threshold.  Not necessarily your "genetic" traits but the ones induced by your training.

It just takes time.  A pretty long time.  To be successful you need three things:

1) Long/Short term plan (yes I sound like Nick Frank)
2) Consistency

Rome wasn't built in a day, neither is your V8 engine.