Part of any well-rounded athletic training program
includes realistic goal setting. Goal setting can be as simple as
losing X amount of weight and 'getting into better shape,' or include
targeting a specific time / performance goal at a specific event. In the
endurance athletic world the tendency is towards the latter although
there is nothing wrong at all with the former.
As the season progresses, you should see measurable
results via improved body composition, increased endurance, and
increased speed at certain effort levels. These interim milestones
allow you to adjust your future expectations upwards or
Interruptions and adjustments are a part of life. Most
adult triathletes have multiple commitments including family harmony
and work-related stress like travel, deadlines, and unsupportive
bosses. Your initial goal of winning your age group in a big race may
not be realistic after you had to spend two weeks visiting multiple
job sites and working 15 hour days. Or you may run into the cold hard
reality that you are not, in fact, Superman or Superwoman and can
only burn the candle at both ends for a few days at a time before you
need time off of training to mentally rest and relax.
In an ideal world, you will successfully handle all of
the above as well as the sort of training required to meet your
goals. You'll arrive at your goal race well prepared to execute and
meet or beat your personal goals.
However, that's not always the case. Everything in sum
may become overwhelming. If this sounds like you, here are a few tips
to keep yourself motivated and enjoying all the training you are able
Make sure you understand what is most important to you
and then work from there. Most of us put more value into keeping our
families happy and keeping our jobs.
Adjust your time commitment and
If your original Ironman season plan had your average
hours set at 15 hours of training per week (for example), accept that
this may be unrealistic for you. Slice a couple hours off and expect
to be 5-10% slower than you would have been. You can still have a
great day and will be in terrific shape.
Make it social.
Endurance athletics is ultimately an individual sport
where you excel through your personal work habits and individual
ability. You can take some of the sting out of lowered expectations
by expanding your worldview to value the social side of training with
groups and friends.
Enjoy the little things.
Rather than stress about not being able to repeat
sub-6 minute miles (for example) on a running interval day, revel in
the fact that you can do several miles at sub-6:30 pace and come back
to train again the following day.
Take the long view.
While this particular season or training cycle may not
be the best you could have achieved had everything else in your life
gone according to plan, doing the best you can with the time and
energy you do have will set you up for future successes, when life outside
of athletics may not be so challenging.
Success in endurance athletics is not built on one
season of training and racing alone. You may have heard of the 10,000
hour rule. This is the idea that it takes that many hours of practice
to become truly skilled in an endeavor. While it may not take quite
that much time for each individual, it gives you some idea of the
amount of work it takes to become really, really good. Those
superfast athletes you are hoping to mix it up with did not start out
that way. All of them have practiced consistently for years and
years. No one can jam that much practice into just one season!
When push comes to shove, your satisfaction in sport
is based on simple factors: Accepting your current limitations and
doing the best you can to challenge those limitations within the
framework of the rest of your life. Do that, and you will have the
mental capacity to repeat the athletic goal setting process for the
rest of your life. Rage against the machine and you will experience
untimely burnout and frustration, which will negatively affect both
your physical and mental well-being
Marty Gaal, NSCA CSCS, is a USA Triathlon coach. He
has been working with endurance athletes since 2002 and is the
co-founder of One Step Beyond. He enjoys mental toughness in the
morning with a nice cup of coffee.